Another Hard Lesson for Hollywood: Motown Founder Berry Gordy Deserves Our Respect!
Talk to me Hollywood! When are you going to learn you can’t produce an African American film, cast a mostly Black cast, hire a Black director, and then write disparaging and derogatory dialogue about one of our most revered and respected legends and expect us to wholeheartedly spend our hard earned money to see your movie. Word to Hollywood’s obviously unenlightened: We, the Black community, are way smarter than that.
The new film, “Talk to Me,” starring Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle, sounds attractive on the surface, but it has some major issues—ones we cannot and will not support. The movie is the story of Washington D.C. broadcast personality and community activist Ralph “Petey” Green. The late Petey Green was the Howard Stern of the Black radio during the 60’s—an outspoken ex con who rhymed his way into the consciousness of “Chocolate City.” Petey’s unprecedented “tell it like it is” on-air style gave voice and spirit to the Black community during an exciting and turbulent period in American history.
That’s the story line about the film the studio wants you to get excited about, but here’s the real deal—the truth. In the process of telling Petey Green’s story, our sources tell us Hollywood decided to take “creative license” and embellish some dialogue telling some downright lies about Petey’s controversial comments. In their efforts to up the ante making Green appear bold and daring, taking on Black leaders and executives of the time —- producers, writers, and some suits green lit the idea of allowing the DJ to take some vulgar cheap shots at Motown Founder and Legend, Berry Gordy. It truly makes no sense. Why attack Berry Gordy?—a phenomenal man we respect and hold in such high esteem. You can’t tarnish him, but because you’re so stupid (ill informed) and unenlightened about Black Folks, you hurt yourself and the movie about Petey Greens life’s work.
In the movie, Don Cheadle as Petey Green is seen at the radio mic unleashing a diatribe of disrespect calling Mr. Gordy a “pimp,” “hustler” and a “cheat.” Cheadle actually calls Mr. Gordy out by name. As an effort to show the powerful impact of Petey Green, people on the street are shown hearing the derogatory remarks and then immediately repeating them. This craziness goes on for what seems like forever in the film. The vicious attacks and hits on Mr. Gordy are ridiculous, uncalled for and most importantly, untrue. Associates of the late “Petey” Green say he NEVER attacked Berry Gordy on or off the air.
Which begs the question—Why is Hollywood so obsessed with unleashing these vile comments about a man we love and hold in such high esteem? Why add the “hateful untrue” dialogue to what obviously could have been a very interesting film? Producers and writers could have easily substituted any other name—people who meant ill will to our community, and that list is plenty long, but not Mr. Gordy.
Berry Gordy is a genius and a very respected and reputable businessman. He invented the Motown sound and put Black music on the international map. Motown has been home to some of the greatest artists in history and many of the most popular songs ever recorded. Gordy discovered and cultivated such talents as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Commodores, Stevie Wonder and many many more. The Motown Sound is a soundtrack for our lives. Hollywood, that’s why you can’t touch or tarnish him.
Gordy’s style and approach, promoting African-American artists and carefully crafting their public image, dress, manners and choreography, are mimicked by many in the music industry today. Sean “P. Diddy” Combs constantly says in interviews he is striving to become the next Berry Gordy and he’s not alone.
Many of us can testify to Mr. Gordy’s goodwill and good works for our community. His contributions to not only the music industry but in helping others and great causes are legendary. In his day, and maybe even including today, he created more Black millionaires than any other Black man in the history of entertainment.
My biggest concern—the younger generation will see this film and take to heart what they see and hear. They may believe the lie and not know the truth. And the truth is Mr. Gordy is one of the greatest men of our time. He’s a living legend and he deserves our respect. He certainly doesn’t deserve the tacky and lowdown attacks aimed at him in “Talk to Me.”
When Diana Ross was honored with Black Entertainment Television’s Lifetime Achievement Award a few weeks ago, she walked right onstage and gave all the credit for her success to Mr. Berry Gordy. Ross said, “This has been an incredible, incredible journey. I want to thank him (Berry Gordy) he’s in this audience. The brilliant and extraordinary Berry Gordy for getting me started (hold for applause) for believing in me for getting me started in this industry for believing in me and for his great contribution to the music industry and sometimes I’m not sure that we all give him the credit that he is due.... so when you honor me you really honor the Motown legacy.” Berry Gordy is the Motown legacy.
We agree with Ms. Ross. Berry Gordy is a brilliant and extraordinary man. He’s done way too much for the African American community to be treated or subjected to such vulgar low blows as depicted in “Talk to Me” or “Dreamgirls.”
Perhaps, you didn’t see Paramount and DreamWorks studios apologizing in full page ads to Mr. Gordy earlier this year after the debacle with “Dreamgirls.” No Oscar for the movie, guess why?
We have to be careful not to fall into the trap of allowing anyone to belittle and slander our own icons—-those who have made extraordinary contributions against all odds—-in the name of entertainment. The effects are too far reaching, and the truth and inspiration that is lost to the generations that follow is too valuable. No other community would tolerate it, and we cannot either.
Focus Features Films and all of you associated with “Talk to Me” owe Mr. Gordy a huge apology. Sorry, Don Cheadle, Director Kasi Lemmons and Cedric the Entertainer, we can’t support you on this one—we’ll take our movie money somewhere else.
To all of you associated with the film —you and the studio executives can “Talk to the Hand.”