music and its dance ~ an Africa-centered s/hero's journey perspective

The biggest night in show business is the annual Academy Awards show which pulls in a television viewing audience of 40 million (give or take). It’s where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (founded in the 1920s) recognizes the merits of its most talented artists/craftspeople and honors them with a golden idol, a statue whose nick-name Oscar means ‘divine spear.’ The specter of Hollywood as an ideological battlefield where dreams and stories as cultural artifacts fight, bleed and die for acceptance in the dream factory run by mainstream [white] gods is not farfetched from the industry’s competitive, often cut-throat reality. Harsher still are the ironic implications of the Oscar award itself whose form – which brings to mind African Neteru/gods from Kemet (meaning “land of the Blacks”) – to a certain extent may have become an effective weapon in the century-old hands of the Hollywood elite. In the 21st century this idol is received as a reward for playing roles which service a so-called American Dream through black emasculation, hyper-sexualization, perversion of various types, subjugation/slavery or erasure…  

Oscar (Hollywood 1929-) / Ptah (Kemet 760BCE-)

Twelve Years a Slave, the screen treatment of the slave narrative and memoir by Solomon Northrup that won the Best Picture Oscar in 2013, made Steve McQueen the first black award-winning Producer and Director. Ever. The film won two other Oscars: Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o, and Best Adapted Screenplay for John Ridley. Ridley is currently taking heat from within the black community for his latest 2017 TV series, Guerilla – casting a black woman as a government informant while Freida Pinto leads the Black Power Struggle in 1970s UK – thus altering the history that belongs to the community by sacrificing black female warrior-hood at his personal altar. In Ridley’s own reasoning: “…part of why I chose to have a mixed race couple at the center of this is that I’m in a mixed race relationship… My wife is a fighter, my wife is an activist, and yet because our races are different there are a lot of things we have to still put up with… I’m sorry I cannot entertain a dialogue about whether the lead character in this show should be black or Asian – the lead character in this show should be a strong woman of color.”

According to Neal Gabler and others, the ruling ideology of American culture was created in the Hollywood factory assembled by Eastern European Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants such as Louis B. Meyer; Adolph Zukor; Carl Laemmle; William Fox; Samuel Goldwyn; and the Warner brothers. Founded by Meyer, MGM – a studio with the highest budgets, richest box-office takes, and “more stars than there are in the heavens” (according to Meyer) – became known for its roaring lion framed by the Latin slogan ARS GRATIA ARTIS, meaning art-for-art’s-sake. This was the Eurocentric principle that guided the creation of the American Dream, an invention Gabler refers to as a “shadow-America [that] becomes so popular and so widely disseminated that its images and its values come to devour the real America.” Author/historian Aljean Harmetz concurs, saying, “I’m not sure that there was an ‘American Dream’ before the Jews came to Hollywood and invented it.”

Intermarriage into White America was an important upward-mobility concern-hence-theme in the movies, and stars wanting to be more acceptable to the “mainstream” changed their Jewish names in real life to stage/showbiz names. However when it came to music, Jewish composers looked to Black America. According to Prof. Hasia Diner (author/historian), “Jews served as messengers in essence of Black culture. They took it. They consumed it. They integrated it into their own cultural repertoire and then introduced it to a White America that was essentially willing to listen to Jews and to partake of what Jews had to offer in a way that they never would from Blacks.” Implying that such performers should be appreciated as cultural ambassadors, Diner’s explanation ignores the egregious nature of such interpretations of black song and dance – misappropriated from Africa-centered art-for-life’s-sake cultural contexts for the sole benefit of a Eurocentric art-for-art’s-sake industry. To this day the success of the entertainment industry relies to a great extent on White entitlement to and self-profit from the objectification/subjugation of Black culture.

With most Americans watching at least one movie per week, movie houses became the temples/synagogues of what became in the 1920s and ‘30s the new Hollywood religion. Though Jewish-centric in its story-lines and concerns, the larger-than-life silver screen renditions seduced audiences into a kind of worship. Actors were regarded as gods and goddesses and Oscar (credited to Meyer in the 1920s) became the idol of a Eurocentric industrial powerhouse – the ironic self-congratulatory symbol of its cultural exploits…

Ausar’s Constellation

Two African Neteru come to mind in Oscar’s pageantry:

  1. AUSAR~ The fact that no one can seem to agree where “Oscar” originated as a name for the award fuels speculation that it is a corruption of the name Ausar. Most often depicted with his shepherd’s crook and flail (see pic above right), this African deity is said to rule the great Afterlife from his “Hunter” constellation…

Renamed “Orion” in later Greek designations, this constellation is a Nebula, a nursery where stars are born. Ausar [Greek “Osiris”] is the immortal Celestial Hunter whose weapon of choice may well be a divine spear [“Oscar”]. Within the Kemetic understanding of a person’s tripartite soul (consisting of the ka – ba – akh), the spirit (akh) of a select few are believed to travel to this constellation in the Kingdom of Ausar to experience eternity after having lived a worthy life. In the parallel universe of Hollywood an actor (“akh-ptah”) – one who transforms their spirit to embody and play that of another – may win an Oscar/ “Ausar” if their portrayal is masterful enough against other competitors in the same award category. Being awarded a personalized star on the Hollywood walk of fame is a further means of immortalizing these master crafts-persons.

Shakespeare famously noted that “all the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players. In Hollywood’s shadow-constellation, where movie sets attempt to replicate this stage, Set (god of chaos, materialism, foreigners, violence) is significant as Ausar’s adversary who kills and dis-members Ausar in his evil bid for the throne of Kemet. It’s a familiar theme played out as African tragedy (White entitlement – “colonialism” and “slavery” etc. – in the development of western capitalism and imperialism) replicated with variations in Hollywood’s illusory, biased world of heru/hero’s-journey stories. Heru – Ausar’s posthumously conceived son through Auset (Ausar‘s wife) – successfully avenges his father’s murder against evil uncle Set. Together, Ausar, Auset and Heru (divine masculine-feminine-child) are a precursor “holy trinity,” blueprint of the Christian (Graeco-Roman) homosocial reconstruction or script (“father-son-holy spirit”). Some adherents to the latter believe that Christ’s “second coming” will be from Ausar’s constellation in the heavens.

Oscar (Hollywood 1929-) / Ptah (Kemet 760BCE-)

2. PTAH~ god in charge of artists and craftsmen (picture makers) in Kemet is the other African Neteru that comes to mind in terms of his visual attributions. The Oscar statue which is awarded for outstanding movie making achievements and excellence in all facets of motion picture production is designed as if it were a “re-membered” version of Ptah, with the only significant differences being that Oscar has been redesigned to resemble an underdressed knight clasping his “Excalibur”-esque Crusader’s sword as he stands on a reel of film…. Image is key to humanity’s imagination… (see “Proverbs…” below).

Ptah is generally represented in the guise of a mummified man – sometimes with the green skin associated with Ausar …although wearing the divine beard – contained in skin-tight swaddling; but with his unbound and free arms and hands gripping a great staff made up of three attributes of the original African Neteru: power (was = scepter);  stability (djed = pillar/ backbone); and life (ankh = key of life symbol of the divine balance between masculine and feminine). Ptah usually stands on a plinth which was also one of the hieroglyphic symbols for the name of Ma’at (goddess who represents truth, divine order, balance and justice) and was the same shape as the tool used by stonemasons and architects to form a straight edge. Hanging from the back of Ptah’s neck is the Menat – a symbol with a depiction of his consort, Sekhmet.

Ptah is the demiurge who is believed by many to have existed before all things, and thus – by the will of his heart – he thought and then realized the world through the magic of his Word [via oral tradition]. Primal creator, first of all Neteru (gods), and superseded only by sun god Re and the hidden god Amun, accordingly Ptah is not created but simply is. Credited with creating the ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth which restores life, releases souls from their corpses, and allows the spirit to be able to see, hear, speak, and eat as a living being, Ptah is regarded as the funerary god of regeneration/rebirth. Ptah also plays a role in the preservation of the world and the permanence of the royal function.

Ancient scribes and sculptors in Egypt who created the best sculptures and pictures for the temples would be awarded a statue of the Egyptian God Ptah from the Pharaoh himself during a ritual that would take place in the HwtKaPth  (Temple for the Ka of Ptah). HwtKaPth was both a name for the administrative center of Egypt (present-day Memphis in the Nile Valley, home of the Shabaka Stone) as well as the name of the country as a whole. “Egypt” is a latter-day English version of the Greek and Latin corruption of HwtKaPth.

Ptah is patron of the arts, inventor of masonry, protector of craftsmen, metalworkers, carpenters, stonecutters, sculptors, and boat-builders. The Kemetic Book of the Dead (also known as The Book of the Coming Forth by Day) refers to Ptah as “a master architect and framer of everything in the universe” – including the great metal plate that was the floor of heaven and the roof of the sky and the supports that held it up. His high priest was called “chief controller of craftsmen.” It was Ptah who crafted boats for the souls of the dead to use in their afterlife travel to the Duat. From the Middle Kingdom onwards, he was one of five major gods with Re, Auset, Ausar, and Amun. Ptah-Seker-Ausar was a composite form in which the god represented three aspects of the universe: creation, stability, and death. Among his many epithets, Ptah was referred to as Ptah who listens to prayers; Ptah the beautiful face; …lord of truth; …master of justice; …master of ceremonies; and …lord of eternity.

Proverbs from the Temple of Amun~Mut~Montu in Kemet express the consciousness of the most high: “Popular beliefs on essential matters must be examined in order to discover the original thought… Images are nearer reality than cold definitions… Men need images. Lacking them they invent idols. Better then to found the images on realities that lead the true seeker to the source… ”

Remember the front door ❤

[NOTE: “PTAH ~ Hollywood Remembers…” has been updated & reposted from 3/23/14]

Malaika Mutere, Ph.D. is author of Towards an Africa-centered and pan-African theory of communication: Ubuntu and the Oral Aesthetic perspective  Communicatio 38 (2) 2012: 147-163

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Comments on: "PTAH ~ Hollywood Re-members…" (1)

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