Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Daughter Is An Activist For Equality In Media Access
Editor’s note: Habiba Alcindor has chosen to stay out of the spotlight of her celebrity father, retired pro basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. She has worked to achieve her own success as a writer, screenplay author, producer and social justice advocate, but she attributes her creativity and love of writing to her dad, who was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor. Working for equitable access to the media — and representation within it — Alcindor has been a board member of the Sports Fans Coalition since its inception in 2009. She participated in meetings in Washington, D.C. with members of the Federal Communications Commission to protest local blackouts of football games — a battle the coalition won — and she continues to attend board meetings to address concerns facing the fans. She also volunteers with the radical media collective, Paper Tiger. Alcindor’s screenplay, “Gold Rush,” is a fictional drama based on a young man’s determination to become an NBA star like his father. It’s inspired by what she learned from her father. She sees similarities between her love of writing and producing, and her father’s passion. She hopes to garner interest in digital or broadcast placement for “Gold Rush.” Alcindor has contributed to Huffington Post and the Nation.
For the past decade I’ve been toiling away on “Gold Rush,” interviewing former players and staff on the Los Angeles Lakers professional basketball team.
I describe “Gold Rush” as “Revenge” (an ABC TV drama series) masquerading as “Entourage” (an HBO comedy drama series). Ostensibly it shows a young man coming of age with a sudden influx of money, fame and power — the gold rush. It’s the story that might have been my brother Kareem’s story if he’d joined the NBA.
The plot: 20-year-old Kendrick is drafted to a fictional team — the Los Angeles Gold Rush — the team that made his father a legend a generation ago. He’s supposed to carry on his father’s legacy, but he has no relationship with his father and he’s in fact repeating the same steps his father took, coming from nothing.
The audience might wonder “Well, why is he coming from nothing all over again? What happened with this family?” And so we gradually learn what went wrong and the history of this family which ties into generational traumas that contributed to its ruin. Kendrick is actually trying against the odds to reverse the trauma.
It’s an against-the-odds story because he has to tread the same path his father took, saddled with the same burdens, but hoping to reach a different destination. In addition, Kendrick doesn’t really want to examine too closely the underpinnings of his new reality or his past.
It’s up to his sister, LaTisha, to investigate their father’s past and examine what kind of world it is that Kendrick has entered, searching for the magical item that will make his loved-ones whole.
It’s a metadrama — a play that features another play as part of its plot — so it has ties to my own life story, which involves a very difficult relationship with my own father.
I grew up in a black Muslim separatist cult
I grew up in a black Muslim separatist cult. My mom had followed my dad into this environment, but he distanced himself from the Hanafi community once the novelty had worn off for him. I ironically ended up immersed in this radical, militant culture that he more-or-less rejected by the time I was walking and talking.
I was expected to shrug all of this off when I moved to Los Angeles at the beginning of the ’80s. I transitioned directly from this insular, religious lifestyle where my mom home-schooled me, to Los Angeles, a very artificial environment during its glossiest, most media-saturated decade.
The discovery that my dad was rich and famous awaited me there. I hadn’t seen him that way when he’d visited us in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I lived in a three-bedroom house with several other families. This transition from spiritual and political to commercial gave me a unique sense of values.
Another part of my background that shaped my consciousness was working at the Nation magazine, a bastion of the old left. It was amazing getting to work there from 2003 to 2012, when the internet revolution brought about a major cultural shift.
The age of information hit print publications hard. The Nation, in particular, had grown very comfortable with its role as gatekeeper of progressive thought. The people for whom The Nation claimed to speak — if it even recognized their existence, which was a whole other hurdle — started to acquire platforms where they could speak for themselves.
During my time at The Nation, I came to lament the contrast I saw between people who considered themselves progressive intellectuals and the activists protesting in Union Square. Union Square was right around the corner, and they were protesting for the same values. I also saw the contrast between the liberal rhetoric of the left versus how the left conducted business. Hint: no diversity or inclusion.
The Occupy movement happened the year before I left The Nation. My last article for TheNation.com, covered POCcupy, the People of Color Occupy working group that I felt should’ve driven the movement. The article barely got published because my editor was busy writing his own feature story about how to define Occupy within an intellectual framework. I do believe in centering the margins and I feel a sense of schadenfreude when I see how the margins have begun to edge out publications like The Nation.
Technology gives sports fans an identity to push for change
Technology excites me and should excite everyone. Technology is able to unite groups such as sports fans, across the country and give these groups an identity, which can be used to push for changes in how sports are marketed to the public.
Tickets to games and refreshments are so expensive. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is increasingly priced out of the range of working-class families. I’ve worked with the Sports Fans Coalition since 2009 to advocate for sports fans. Access to games is a big issue.
Equality in media access
On the flip side of access to media is inclusion in media. I love how so many more people can put themselves on TV these days.
I volunteer at the radical media collective, Paper Tiger, and we recently had to reconsider our mission statement. The organization was originally founded to teach media skills to underrepresented groups and individuals in the population. But now people don’t need training in film production to make media.
They don’t need to join their local cable access channel to distribute their material. Not only don’t they have to fellate movie producers to have their scripts produced or to work as an actor, but they importantly also don’t have to embody the physical attributes these movie producers desire, which is good for women, but means even more to women of color and queer folk.
Media has become a little rawer but I also believe that new media is trending towards greater empathy. Maybe it’s the possibility that your e-mail mocking fat feminists could go viral, or your snooty let-them-eat-cake clapback to a working-class mom in Kentucky, or the video shot on your cameraphone that forces others to witness police misconduct for themselves, or a hashtag that surfaces the reality of sexual harassment for women.
Products are no longer strictly conceived through male fantasy and marketed according to what can sell deodorant or floor polish.
I’m more than happy to live in an era where a movie like “Tangerine” can premiere at Sundance (one of the best films at Sundance, “Tangerine” was shot using an iPhone), and to stand on the brink of virtual reality.
My own marketing plan — to release a short film to the public that showcases the main characters in “Gold Rush” — depends entirely on the new media paradigm. The film was designed specifically to be seen on the internet and adds an extra dimension to the serial drama.
Through “Gold Rush,” I want to use the widespread popularity of sports to stage a grand-scale epic that cuts across class, race and gender, with an eye on surfacing new talent and new perspectives.
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