Friday, March 18, 2011

My Childhood Friend, His Mental Illness and Halle Berry's 'Frankie and Alice'

Halle Berry in "Frankie and Alice"
Photo Credit: Sergei Bachlakov
“I want to go home,” Kareem* said wearily over the phone from a mental institution about 15 years ago. That conversation from my high school days in Oakland rushed back to my mind during a scene from Halle Berry’s film “Frankie and Alice.” Berry plays Frankie Murdoch, a black exotic dancer in Los Angeles suffering from dissociative personality disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) the 1970s. Frankie’s mind retreats to other personalities when buried memories from her youth in Georgia resurrect. The film is based on a true story. I’m still surprised Berry wasn’t nominated for an Oscar because she gives one of her best performances in this movie. Berry convincingly switches from Frankie, to a helpless 8 –year- old child, and then to a white, racist, Southern Belle named Alice. Frankie’s therapist Dr. Oz (not to be confused with Oprah’s Oz) tries to figure out the mysterious tragic memories his patient is running from. It’s a good film about coping with mental illness and how secrets come out even when we’re not ready.

The first shot of Frankie’s room triggered memories of my childhood-friend Kareem. Sterile white walls and an uninviting gray twin bed stuffed in the corner of Frankie’s new home made me wonder. Was his room like hers? Did he have a decent view from his window? Kareem was one of my closest friends during middle school. We became friends during our tweens in the early 1990s. Kareem and I talked on the phone about things like wrestling, Tupac, girl-group TLC, roller coasters and our class crushes. He played the dozens with sharpness and schooled me on the art of wit. A lot of black kids our age weren’t into “Seinfeld,” but Kareem loved it. Kramer’s signature stumbling entrance cracked him up. Kareem was persistent in getting me to tune in and I was stubborn. I loved “Martin” and didn’t think “Seinfeld” could compare. “Just watch it!,” Kareem would say. I finally gave in after months of persuasion and was hooked.

Things changed during high school. Kareem changed. He moved about 45 minutes away from Oakland and began getting in trouble at school a lot. That was not like him. He called me a number of times and said he was hearing voices. I thought someone laced his marijuana. I called his mother. I didn’t want to get Kareem in trouble but he needed help. His mother told me she knew about the voices and doctors had diagnosed Kareem with schizophrenia. My stomach dropped. Schizophrenia? I didn’t know much about schizophrenia then. All I knew was that schizophrenia was a mental illness and this situation was serious.

The first time I ever heard cool-kid Kareem sound vulnerable was when he said, “I want to go home.” Kareem told me he didn’t belong in a mental institution. I replied that he was sick and there to get better. During our other conversations he wanted to know about my life in high school. I told him things and we still laughed like in our prior conversations. He tried to keep his spirits up. Still a part of me felt guilty. Kareem was supposed to be hanging out at football games and getting girls’ phone numbers at the mall. That was how we envisioned high school, not this. I couldn't do anything to help him.  You think you’re grown and know everything when you’re a teenager. I realized how young we really were as I saw Kareem’s life change so drastically.

Eventually I lost contact with Kareem and his family. He moved around to different facilities and his mother didn’t return my calls. I understand. She had other children, a husband, and a job to juggle in addition to Kareem. I commend her for being strong and taking care of her son. Even before “Frankie and Alice” I never stopped thinking about Kareem. Every time I catch a “Seinfeld” rerun, and watch Kramer fling open a door, I remember Kareem’s laughter. The upside to all of this oddly is Kareem was one of the lucky ones. He, like Halle Berry’s character, had access to mental-health services. Many people today aren't so fortunate. But that’s another post.

*Name changed

Fly Review and GIVEAWAY: Dove Shea Butter Cream Oil Body Wash

Shea butter has become the Betty White of skin care. It’s good and has been around for a long time, but all of a sudden is the “new thing.” Dove got hip to the shea program and released their Shea Butter Cream Oil Body Wash.  Warm vanilla and brown sugar scents accentuates the body wash. I gave the new Dove product a try and it smells as good as it sounds. Shower time is my special time to relax and get a spa feeling without going to the spa.  The creamy lather felt smooth against my skin.  Soft vanilla and brown sugar aromas mixed with the steam made for great showering experience. I left my bathroom with clean, moist skin. However, the body wash’s fragrance did not leave my bathroom. I used the body wash for three days straight then stopped. I didn't use much but my  bathroom smelled like brown sugar and vanilla for four days straight after I stopped bathing with it. I’m surprised the smell lingered for days because the frangrance doesn't last too long on the skin. It’s not strong when you apply it on your body, which is a good thing. Even my roommate noticed the fragrance emitting from my bathroom. Overall, I liked showering with Dove’s Shea Butter Cream Oil Body Wash because it left my skin clean, smooth and smelling good. But the vanilla, brown sugary scent overstayed its welcome. I have an extra 24 oz bottle of the Shea Butter Cream Oil Body Wash. If you want to give it a try, tell me why your skin is like brown sugar or vanilla or shea butter. Maybe your skin is like all 3 put together. I'll send a bottle to the fly reader who gives the best answer and a few other fly treats. Email me your answer at You have until Monday March 21st 11:59p.m. PST to win!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Revealing Hattie McDaniel
An Interview with the Star of the Play 'Hattie...What I Need You To Know'

Actress. Activist. Fashionista. Innovator. These descriptions apply to a number of Hollywood divas. But would you link them to Hattie McDaniel? Yes, the Hattie McDaniel who was the first black actor to win an Oscar. Don’t judge Lady M for her mammy characters. When the cameras were off and the head rag removed, Miss Hattie was a stylish entertainer with an interesting love life and fine taste. She loved her sorority, my sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho and believed in service. McDaniel successfully took legal action to end raced-based restrictions in real estate ownership. Actress and Philly-native Vickilyn Reynolds gives voice to the late and misunderstood actress in the musical play “Hattie... What I Need You to Know.” Reynolds, more like a vessel for McDaniel’s spirit, portrays the late actress telling her story. Reynolds wrote the play (the first she has ever written) which has traveled to New York City and Denver, McDaniel’s birth city. The play is running in Los Angeles at the Stage 52 Theater every Friday-Sunday until March 20th( go here for ticket info). Reynolds talked to me about learning self-love through Lady M, understanding her struggles and lesbian rumors surrounding the iconic actress.
Oscar Winner Hattie McDaniel. Notice the
resemblence between Miss Hattie and Vickilyn Reynolds.

You have performed all over the world and acted in film, television and theater. What inspired you to create this production?
Well I didn’t want to do it. I was ignorant to Hattie McDaniel because I thought all she did was play mammies and was a discredit to the race. Besides that, while writing this I found I had a truckload of self-hatred. People from time to time, even when I was younger, would say I look like Hattie McDaniel. I didn’t take that as a compliment. Before my brother passed away in ’95 he said, “Vickilyn, you should do a story on Hattie McDaniel.” … So I said let me do a little research on this lady. I fell in love with this woman. She was a pioneer. She was ahead of her time. I found I started loving myself through the process. I really believe this is one of my destinies.

Red Pumps & Rubbers

Photo Credit: duygu
He can't rock my boat without a life jacket. Or ride in my Benz and not wear a seat belt. He definitely can't drive my luxury car without a license and insurance. I won't accept his gift unwrapped. He's not allowed entry into this country without a passport. And he can't eat dessert without a napkin. You feel me?  No condom. No lovin'!

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD). is participating in the Red Pump Project, which is raising awareness about the disease with over 1,000 bloggers. Women all over the country are rocking red pumps in this campaign. I don't have red pumps but if I did, the picture above would be on my feet.  I'm not going to get too deep into the stats because we know they're dire. According to stats posted on the Red Pump Projects site, "women still represent 27% of all new AIDS diagnoses, with African-American women accounting for 66% of that group." And every 35 minutes a woman tests positive for HIV in the United States. I don't know if this is an issue of education or loyalty to the church, self-esteem or all of the above and more. I lost an uncle to AIDS so my family and I know first-hand this disease is real. But I want to encourage women reading this to put yourself first. Put your body first and think about it. I love good sex just like anyone else, but ain't no wee-wee better than my life. NO MAN is worth more than my life.   Here are a few things on my heart I want you to keep in mind (brace yourself because I'm going to keep it real):

    Photo Cred: Holly Williams
  • Talk to your daughters about sex. Break out the sex ed books and show pictures. Be forward and open to her questions. Talking to her about sex is not going to make her have sex. Trust me. She has hormones and is going to screw one day.  Would you rather she learn about sex from you or the guy who's been checking her out in homeroom? If you don't know what to say to refer to parenting books or your doctor. My mother and aunts were very honest about sex and I think that's one of the reasons why I wasn't sexually active until my 20s.
  • Carrying condoms does not make you a hoe. That shows you care about your body.
  • If he doesn't want to use protection you better re-think letting him rock the boat. Think about it. There's a possibility he's had unprotected sex with his ex-girlfriend in his dorm building, the woman he dated who works at the bank, that girl he told you he had one-stand with the one time in his life he had a one-night stand, and whomever else.  Which also means if any of those women had an STD, then he contracted it and could pass it on to...
  • When he says condoms are uncomfortable or don't feel good, think about how good you would feel if you tested positive. Or, if you contracted some other disease from him so he can feel "good."
  • For those of you into church I love the Lord but I'm also a realist. If premarital-sex is a sin but you're falling weak to abstinence, I'd rather you "sin" and be safe with a condom, then "sin" and be sorry. The church needs to step on this issue but that's another post.
  • If you suspect your man is cheating on you with another woman or man, consider closing up shop down there. I don't want to be lonely either, but I'd rather be alone than have him and an STD.
  • Go the OBGYN for regular checkups.
  • Get Tested.
I wish everyone reading this happy, healthy, fun SAFE sex. For Red Pump gatherings near you go here.


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