Kim Fields Lends Expertise to Lens on Talent

Kim Fields comes from an acting/directing /producing dynasty that rivals any in Hollywood.  After receiving the acting bug from her mom, seven-year-old Kim and Chip (her mother) ignited a path from their native Harlem to LA determined to find success in show business during a time when black faces on the big and small screen were a virtual paradox.  Kim’s luminous smile and personality secured her roles in commercials and eventually landed her the role of Tootie Ramsey on The Facts of Life.  Chip built a solid career as an director, consultant and dialogue coach and has appeared in numerous films, TV shows and theatre.  After 30 years in the entertainment industry, the course Kim and Chip paved allowed for countless black actors and actresses, including baby sister Alexis, to shadow their footprints.  Members of Gen X grew up with Kim, watching her on The Facts of Life.  As twenty-something’s, we watched her play bougie Regine Hunter on Living Single.  She became a part of our extended family and thanks to syndication, she is becoming known to Gen Y and future generations.  As Blondielocks, she has added another notch in her career as a poet and spoken word artist.   For the past year and a half, Kim has been the lead director for Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns and House of Payne.  This winter she will embark on the role of supervising producer and director for an upcoming Tyler Perry comedy.  Along with juggling a work schedule that must have her calendar bleeding with ink, she also balances the duties of being a wife and mother.

The elevator doors opened to Gary’s Loft, located on 28-30 West 36th Street, to expose a space almost deaf with silence –only the faint voices of Kim and young female documentary filmmaker could be heard from around the corner while the crew meticulously worked to get the interview completed in one take. The footage would be used in an upcoming episode of Lens on Talent:  A Johnson & Johnson Filmmaker’s Challenge, BET’s ground-breaking show featuring the best emerging black filmmakers and short films.  Besides making sure my platform sandals do not clunk against the wood, I became aware of the love permeating throughout the room.  As the crew watched the footage on monitors, whispered and tip-toed about and members of the media quietly waited to meet Kim, the emotion seeped into my pores and left me agog.  There were no divas on the set; everyone was devoted to the success of this project.  Just as quickly as I noticed the temper of the room, I also realized that Kim was the source behind the affection that had swept the penthouse.   She stood in a black blazer and skirt and camouflage heels, a tiny force of nature in a blonde natural updo.  She walked over to me and the other members of the press, introduced herself and shook our hands, her 10,000 watt smile beaming even brighter in person.  I chuckled inside saying, “Girl, I know who you are.”  Or maybe I did not.  Suddenly it struck me, Kim Fields is no ordinary mortal –she is a superwoman.  Not the facade illustrated in comics, but the kind women aspire to be, a woman in harmony with her feminine, spiritual and professional self.

Most people are familiar with the phrase, “Those who can – do. Those who can’tteach.”  I believe a perfect host straddles that famous sentiment, so when BET went shopping for a new host for its second season of Lens on Talent, television legend Kim Fields was a logical, insightful choice.  “I actually was approached over the summer to do some social media hosting and my big brother Blair (Underwood) was supposed to be the host for season two,” Kim reveals, “and we did a panel discussion at NYU that Johnson and Johnson sponsored.  And Blair, as you know, is now the face of the president on The Event and wasn’t able to do both schedule wise, and they said, ‘Hey, what about you.’”  Kim was familiar with the show’s concept and admired Johnson & Johnson’s eagerness to shine a spotlight on urban talent and realizing that she had time in her schedule before she goes back to work at Tyler Perry Studios, she accepted. 

The first season of Lens on Talent was hosted by actress Sanaa Lathan and was a rousing success.  Two episodes from this season have aired and featured Precious executive producer Lisa Cortés and filmmaker Nelson George, and is already showing signs that it will be just as popular as its inaugural season.  Kim is no novice at hosting.  While attending Pepperdine University she co-created, produced and hosted the award-winning Campus Spotlight: Live with Kim Fields and when she agreed to host the BET filmmaker’s showcase, she approached the project with an open mind.  “I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so I don’t think I went into it with any expectations,” she admits.  “You know you go into something… and I thought I’m going to host.  I’m going to have a few conversations and introduce some films.  But I should’ve known I that was going to be inspired because I was inspired at the panel discussion at NYU this summer.  With each guest I’m speaking to, each filmmaker’s bio that I’m reading, I’m getting reinvigorated as a filmmaker. “

After decades of acting, Kim made the decision to start directing.  Kim always had an interest for the behind-the-scenes processes of filmmaking and describes herself as a “crew baby.”   Although she admitted that being an actor assisted in her transition, she was determined to become a well-rounded director, able to attend to the needs of the actors and the crew. Therefore, learning the technical and visual aspects of directing was equally important.  For the young filmmakers selected to be a part of Lens on Talent, the opportunity to meet and chat with an industry veteran who knows what it is like to be in front of and behind the camera must be thrilling experience.  But for the aspiring directors that will be watching the show, Kim has some advice, “You gotta learn the craft, whether you learn it in a film school, read about it online, get a book, intern at some production company or on film sets,” she says, “and then surround yourself with people who know what they are doing.  I’m a huge sports fan, and I liken what I do sports.  You don’t just have a great star player here or there, you’ve got great coaches and a coaching staff and then you’ve got the front office.  It’s really a team effort.”  Although Kim has been taking on more projects behind the camera, her love of acting has not diminished.  “I’ve not retired by any means as an actor just because I’ve been directing more,” she says.  The projects she chooses are determined by scheduling and the figures on the contract.

As the afternoon continued, Kim shared her thoughts about being a black actor in Hollywood and starring in a reality TV show – quick answer no.  Still convinced that her golden lasso and bracelets were tucked safely in loft somewhere, I inquired about how she became a flesh and blood superwoman.  Superman jumps skyscrapers with a single leap and catches bullets with his teeth, but Kim Fields acts, directs, produces, hosts, writes and performs poetry and publishes short stories all while maintaining the commitments of a family.  Kim dispensed a jewel for anyone looking to achieve an order of balance.  “Balance does not always mean fifty-fifty,” she quickly points out, “balance is a constant teeter-tottering of the scales.  So sometimes it’s a matter of if I know I’m work…work…work…work…work, then there’s time that Sebastian and I specifically have that’s mommy and Sebastian time.  Same thing with Chris, you can’t pour so much into your child that you forget you’re still a spouse and a partner and a helpmate. And sometimes you’re gonna get out of rhythm, but what you do about that I think is what’s equally as important.”   As our media round table wrapped, Kim thanked all the journalists, gave us one last peek of that effervescent smile and then it was off to do another set of interviews.  I may never know if she holds any special powers outside of the gifts she possessed and honed from birth, but after smelling the scent of soul food wafting through the loft, I know Kim does one thing that every mortal does – she eats. 

Photos courtesy of and D. Austin

Ladies First

For its first original music documentary, BET decided to put women center stage in My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth about Women in Hip-Hop.  The film discussed the idea what it is like to be a female in the male dominated realm of hip-hop from industry vets like MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Missy Elliot, Trina, Eve, Medusa, Lady Bug Mecca and more.  My Mic Sounds Nice also featured commentary by Kevin Liles, Swizz Beatz, Chuck D, Quest Love, Russell Simmons, Jermaine Dupri, as well as members of the media such as Big Lez, journalist Smokey D. Fontaine and others.

The documentary begins with the start of hip-hop creating its buzz on the streets of New York City during the late 70’s, early 80’s and placed a much need spotlight on the female pioneers such as Angie Stone, Sha-Rock, Roxanne Shante and others.  It progressed into what is considered by most hip-hop heads and aficionados as the “golden age of hip-hop” during the mid ‘80s to early ‘90s as female MCs like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa and others cemented their place in hip-hop history.  The foundation these ladies paved ushered in what I call the “Hailey’s Comet “of female hip-hop artists – a flash of ladies that shimmered during the mid ‘90s and eventually faded into the horizon as the new millennium evolved.

My Mic Sounds Nice also explored the concepts of the hypersexualized MC like Foxy Brown, Trina and Little Kim, MCs that exploded based on talent and originality like Missy Elliot and Lauren Hill, as well as the pressure of being a female MC, a pressure Nicky Minaj is surely feeling now as she is attempting to resurrect the idea of a female MC back into the industry’s collective consciousness.

After the first 20 minutes, I was well on my way to giving this documentary a D+, and the “D” was not for dope.  I felt like I was watching an over packed suitcase bursting at the seams, bustling on an airport ramp to nowhere.  I contemplated how director/executive producer Ava DuVernay could cram over 30 years worth of history as well as the question of the disappearance of the female MC into an hour-long documentary.  But as the film continued, I began to see the method of her madness.   The film was just as elusive as the notion of a female hip-hop artist in today’s industry.  Slowly my opinion changed from skepticism to optimism.  My Mic Sounds Nice is not a hurried, crash course in being a woman in hip-hop.  Instead, it is a well crafted mosaic of opinions created to provoke thought and evoke change.  Like the peep shows that littered Times Square in the ‘80s, it played with viewers mind –   tantalizing, teasing, forcing the viewer to demand more as the credits rolled.  If Ava DuVernay wanted the streets to percolate with the question of “Where are the female rappers,” then she has certainly sparked the debate with this documentary.  I give My Mic Sounds Nice an A for astonishing and thank Ava DuVernay for tackling a subject that is long overdue.

Female MC’s From NYC

Diddy Honored by BET

On Monday BET aired the third annual BET Honors, an award show taped on January 16 in Washington, D.C. recognizing individuals within the black community achieving excellence within their perspective fields as well as exemplifying the mantra “Giving back to give forward.”  Actress Gabrielle Union hosted the event for the second time.

Harlem native Sean “Diddy” Combs received the Entrepreneur Award; an accolade befitting him because more than anyone in the entertainment industry, Diddy is an entrepreneur.  Known for making a way out of no way, Diddy went from being a dancer to a mogul.  His accomplishments are shining examples that affirm if one has a dream and is willing to grind hard to achieve that dream; it will one day become a reality.  Bad Boy, Justin’s, Ciroc (yes the man has his own alcohol) and Sean John – from movies to music to the runway nothing is out of Diddy’s grasp.  He is the true personification of the phrase “Veni, vidi, vici.” What realm Diddy will conquer next, one only knows.  In his acceptance speech, Diddy got personal and thanked his mother Janice Combs.  He told a poignant story of  how she worked round the clock to provide for him and his sister after his father was murdered and mentioned that he wanted to make sure that she never had to work again.  Well, he has certainly managed to attain that task and more.  A famous quote of Diddy’s is “Sleep is forbidden,” this award shows that for him failure is also forbidden.  Former boss and mentor Andre Harrell and Mary J. Blige celebrated him in song.  Considering that Blige was discovered by Diddy and their work defined the genre of hip hop soul, it was a fitting tribute.

Two Jersey girls were also honored.  The original queen of hip hop, Queen Latifah, and the iconic Whitney Houston were also two of the award recipients.  Both hailing from East Orange, these living legends prove the New Jersey isn’t the “Garden State,” it is the Star State.  Taraji P. Henson presented Queen Latifah with the Media Award as Latifah has placed her mark on every facet of the industry and has the awards to prove it.  Another legend, Patti Labelle and future legend Jasmine Sullivan paid tribute to the Queen Latifah, who’s real name is Dana Owens, in song.  Gracious as always Latifah thanked her mother and father and called people to take action in the effort to bring relief to Haiti.  Pioneer, actress, singer, producer and author, Latifah has shown through tireless hard work why she was given the title of queen and on Friday she and Diddy along with Wyclef and other stars will participate in another telethon to help bring much needed aid to the survivors of the recent earthquake in Haiti. 

There are very few that have or will achieve the levels of success that Whitney Houston has, but there were some that had written this legendary vocalist off.  How sweet it is to prove haters wrong, and after being presented with the Entertainment Award by Neo, Whitney is glowing example of what a survivor really is.  In her recent comeback to the spotlight, Whitney has shown the world that her voice was not the only gift she was blessed with.  The other is a strength that I believe may have been unknown to her until it was truly tested.  Whitney says that she stays “prayed up,” and needs nothing more that her God and her child.  Thank God that we will have the pleasure to hear that wonderful voice for many years to come.  Vocal powerhouses Jennifer Hudson and Kim Burrell tore the walls of the Warner Theatere down with songs befitting a tribute to one the best voices in the entertainment industry. 

Other performers included the musical genius of Stevie Wonder, India Arie, Trey Songz, Maxwell and Take 6.  Neurosurgeon Keith Black received the Public Service Award and educator Ruth Simmons received the Education Award.