Jews of Egypt
Film Review by Kam Williams
Did you notice that the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt a few years ago was followed soon thereafter by the torching of churches and the persecution of the Coptic Christians still residing in the country? This development would not be surprising to anyone familiar with the nation’s history, since Jews there had received even worse treatment at the hands of that fundamentalist group starting as far back in 1935.
Brotherhood spokesman Aly Naouito then proclaimed that, “When Jews live somewhere, they spread like cancer, and the economy only belongs to them.” His hateful propaganda campaign went on to accuse all Egyptian Jews of supporting the burgeoning Zionist Movement in neighboring Palestine.
Muslim Brotherhood-inspired anti-Semitism subsequently fomented widespread rage, leading to riots and the razing of synagogues. By 1948, a law had been passed directing Jews to convert to Islam. Those who failed to do so were jailed, lost their homes and businesses, and were pressured to apply for political asylum in Europe and elsewhere.
In October of 1956 the exodus escalated in the wake of a tripartite attack on an Egyptian port by England, France and Israel, ostensibly in response to the nationalization of the Suez Canal. At that juncture, any remaining Jews were stripped of their citizenship, and deported with no passport, nationality or birth certificate.
This harrowing ordeal is recounted in surprising detail via a combination of archival footage and present-day interviews in Jews of Egypt, a heartbreaking documentary directed by Amir Ramses. Most of the movie’s subjects are aging survivors who had been children when banished many decades ago. Yet, some still bemoan the fact that they remain barred from even visiting the once-beloved homeland where they spent their formative years.
The focus of this fascinating film is not merely the religious tensions in Egypt which unfolded over the course of the first half of the 20th Century. The picture devotes just as much attention to the considerable contributions made by Jews to the country’s cultural and industrial development.
A priceless history lesson for anyone interested in understanding the back story explaining how formerly-tolerant Egypt evolved into the religious state it is today.
Excellent (4 stars)
In Arabic and French with subtitles
Running time: 95 minutes
Distributor: ArtMattan Productions
To see a trailer for Jews of Egypt, visit
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs
Film Review by Kam Williams
Born on June 27, 1915, Grace Lee was raised in New York by modest immigrant parents from a humble Chinese background. Her mother couldn’t read or write English, although her business-minded father did save up enough cash by 1924 to open up his own restaurant, Chin Lee’s, on Broadway.
Meanwhile, Grace was a precocious wunderkind who entered Barnard College at just 16. And after graduating, she went on to earn a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr in philosophy.
However, when she subsequently attempted to pursue a professional career, prejudice reared its ugly head, as she found her horizons severely limited by the fact that she was Asian and female. She ended up moving to Chicago where she could barely make ends meet, eking out a living on $10/ week as a librarian. As for housing, the best she could afford was a rat-infested basement apartment in the ‘hood.
That experience help served to radicalize Grace who developed a lifelong empathy for the downtrodden. In the Midwest, she also met and married Jimmy Boggs an African-American activist from the South who shared her progressive political agenda.
The couple settled in Detroit where, as local civil rights leaders, they lobbied on behalf of the poor. In addition, they brought such black icons to speak there as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Even after Jimmy passed away, Grace has, for decades, remained resolutely committed to both The Movement and her adopted hometown.
All of the above is lovingly chronicled in American Revolutionary, a reverential biopic directed by Grace Lee (no relation). Though now nearly 99, the incendiary centenarian remains as fiery as ever and has made precious few concessions to age.
The picture includes glowing tributes from fellow firebrands like Angela Davis and Bill Ayers. But what most makes the movie worthwhile is merely watching Grace wax romantic about the good ole days while walking around the ruins of a devastated Motor City.
A cinematic primer on how to make a mark on the world.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Distributor: First Pond Entertainment
To see a trailer for American Revolutionary, visit
Why Every Black Woman Should Marry a Jewish Man
by Dr. Nazaree Hines-Starr
Book Review by Kam Williams
“How many times have we heard successful African-American women complain they can’t find a good man? Everyone has an opinion on the black man shortage, but none of the so-called relationship experts offer real solutions…
Is it possible that we have been missing an important match? Yes! Jewish men make wonderful husbands… as well as fantastic lovers. This book… sheds light on why successful black women, and career gals in general, and Jewish men are very compatible…
In summary, to find Mr. Right, women must date with quality in mind, such as character traits and values, they should be open to interracial dating, and apply faith in dating.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xiii-xiv)
Sometimes, a sister has to kiss a lot of frogs before finding her soul mate. In Dr. Nazaree Hines-Starr’s case, she had to date a lot of “scumbags,” as she puts it. As a black woman, she had trouble meeting single guys who were at her level “emotionally, academically or professionally. Unfortunately, most of the available African-American men she met “had managed to waste years that should have been spent in college or developing a career, chasing skirts, getting arrested, or playing video games.”
Moreover, many had “accumulated baggage” such as “rap sheets” and “baby-mama drama.” And even the rare brother who had his act together was never serious about settling down and starting a family.
So, rather than lower her standards by entertaining the advances of commitment-phobic losers from a lower socioeconomic class, Nazaree decided to expand her pool of potential suitors to include men who might not be Christian or African-American.
Lo and behold, she met her future husband over the internet at an online dating website. Although Michael was white and Jewish, love blossomed across the color and religion lines, and the couple has since married and even been blessed with the birth of a beautiful baby boy, Hayden.
Nazaree chronicles her perils in the battle-of-the-sexes and exactly how she emerged victorious with the perfect alpha male on her arm in Why Every Black Woman Should Marry a Jewish Man. The author, a gifted writer but a pharmacist by trade, is surprisingly forthcoming in her combination memoir/how-to tome whose title pretty much speaks for itself.
Begging with Chapter One, “Scumbag Files,” she takes delight in delineating the lessons she learned from a string of dates from hell. By Chapter Eight she’s done with dishing the dirt and is ready to extol the virtues of taking a dip in the snow, so to speak, meaning entering a relationship with a proverbial good Jewish boy.
Why? First of all, you don’t have to worry that he might be on the down-low, because Jewish culture isn’t homophobic. Secondly, Jewish men generally graduate from college, and they aren’t looking for someone to support them.
Furthermore, they “marry BEFORE making babies,” and “they don’t display their underwear in public.” Plus, they’re practical financially and don’t have a need to preen in macho fashion. And last but not least, they know how to please a partner in bed.
A proven approach for open-minded sisters in search of their Prince Charming.
To order a copy of Why Every Black Woman Should Marry a Jewish Man, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1490341978/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20
Guilty of Romance
Film Review by Kam Williams
Crime Saga Chronicles Descent into Depravity of Bored Housewife Moonlighting as Hooker
Written and directed by Sion Sono, Guilty of Romance is the final chapter of his “Hate Trilogy” which has already included the equally-dark offerings Exposure and Cold Fish. This installment is loosely based on a true tale ripped right out of the tabloids, namely, the 1997 strangulation of Yasuko Watanabe, a well-paid power company employee from a prominent Japanese family who had nevertheless been secretly moonlighting as a prostitute in Tokyo’s red light district.
The arguably-feminist flick film revolves around three independent women, a police detective, a hardened whore, and her late protégé new to the streetwalking trade. At the point of departure, we find officer Yoshida (Miko Muzuno) collecting clues at a grisly crime scene in Tokyo’s Red Light District.
On the ground lies the mutilated body of a woman which has been hacked in half, with her upper torso replaced by that of a department store mannequin. Furthermore, the victim was not only sexually assaulted, but her clitoris and labia have been removed, too.
As the story further unfolds, we are introduced by way of flashback to 29 year-old Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka), a frustrated housewife married to a celebrated romance novelist (Kanji Tsuda) known for his steamy bodice-rippers. Too bad the couple’s bland love life bears little resemblance to the content of his salacious page-turners. Otherwise, Izumi might not be so driven to indulge the sordid urges she’s fighting so hard to suppress.
Her slow descent to depravity starts when she decides to take a job as nude model. And it isn’t long before she’s simulating coitus in front of the camera, and not long after that that she’s actually sleeping with strangers for money. At that juncture, she’s taken under the wing of Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi), a full-time professor/part-time prostitute with a good head for business.
Plenty of gratuitous nudity is on display onscreen as the plot marches inexorably back to the gruesome opening scene. Fortunately, the film does feature a humdinger of twist that makes up for the rest of the predictable developments.
A cautionary morality play offering a new take on the world’s oldest profession.
Very Good (3 stars)
In Japanese with subtitles
Running time: 114 minutes
Distributor: Olive Films
The “Success through Stillness” Interview
with Kam Williams
Master entrepreneur and visionary Russell Simmons has influenced virtually all aspects of business and media: in music with the cofounding of the immensely successful Def Jam Recordings; in the fashion industry with the trailblazing Phat Pharm, Baby Phat, Run Athletics, and Def Jam University clothing lines; in television with HBO’s Def Comedy Jam and Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry; on Broadway with the Tony Award-winning stage production Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam; in digital with All Def Digital, All Def Music, and Narrative; as well as numerous other ventures in the financial services industry, mobile communications, and philanthropy.
A native New Yorker currently residing in Los Angeles, Mr. Simmons is the proud father of two daughters. Here, he talks about his new book: Success through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple.
Kam Williams: Hi Rush, thanks for the time.
Russell Simmons: My man, how you feel?
KW: Great! How about you brother?
RS: I’m doing fine. I’m still moving around, Kam. I’m in Texas at the South by Southwest Music Festival announcing All Def Digital’s partnership with Samsung. We’re building a platform to put a song out every week for 52 weeks called ADD52.
KW: Why’d you start All Def Digital?
RS: To give all this black talent a chance by exposing them to Hollywood, which is very segregated. Hollywood is full of very liberal people, but it still has an infrastructure that needs to be broken. So, my idea is to integrate black stars into mainstream stars. It hasn’t been explored properly. That’s what Im doing in Hollywood. And that’s what All Def Digital is doing. I’m probably going to shoot TV 10 pilots this year.
KW: Any ideas you care to share at this point?
RS: One’s a detective show for J.B. Smoove. Another’s a remake of a classic black movie that would star Chris Tucker. And I have a pilot called The Re-Education of Oliver Cooper starring the white kid from Project X where follows a black girl to a black university, like in Legally Blonde. I have so many fun projects. Another one, written by the guy from Friday [DJ Pooh], has kids from Compton growing weed in a house in Bel Air.
KW: Recently, Ride Along, did very well, despite its having a black principal cast. It was #1 at the box-office a few weeks in a row.
RS: Yeah, but 86% of its audience was made up of people of color. That tells you that the full potential of many black stars won’t be realized until their audiences are fully integrated. No one wants to sell to just 12% of the population for the entire length of their careers. It creates a difficult and less-profitable environment. But Hollywood has lived with that limiting mantra, and only a few black stars have managed to break through. It’s a whole world which needs to be changed. Fortunately, Hollywood is open to change. It’s just a question of how to go about doing it.
KW: Good luck with that. Let’s talk about your new book. AALBC’s Troy Johnson asks: How long have you been practicing meditation and how has it helped you?
RS: 20 years. Sitting in stillness has got to be the greatest asset I have in terms of attaining happiness. Nothing increases happiness like quiet time. The truth is, the only moments that make you laugh or happy are seconds of stillness. At the shock of a joke, everything disappears but the present moment. When you read a book, and it’s really, really beautiful, you’re so engaged you forget to breathe. If you’re in a car accident, and everything moves slowly, you can be shocked into the present. The past and the future disappear. Here’s another great example. If you play basketball, you get into the zone. You can’t miss. That’s the expansive mindset we’re all seeking. But that only comes when the mind is quiet and separate from the noise. And the greatest tool to eliminate the noise is meditation.
KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden says: With people connected increasingly to their "apps" and the 24-hour cycle of often-disturbing news, it is more necessary than ever to have quiet and Stillness in our lives. She asks: Did you write this book somewhat as a reaction to the noisy, always-connected culture we live in?
RS: The always-connected culture isn’t as much a contributor as Grace might think. The nervous mind, the monkey mind, will create its own noise. It doesn’t need a new toy. Sometimes, a new toy, a new technology, will focus you. The world is always trying to draw you out, so you always have to remember to go in. I didn’t write this book in reaction to the 24-hour news cycle, because “be still and know” has been taught for thousands of years before the development of this technology. The research shows that if you meditate, the mind becomes still, and they can see the functionality and gray matter in the brain increase, the nervous system calm, the immune system improve and a reduction in stress. So, quiet time is the key. We have hundreds of thousands of kids around the country meditating through the David Lynch Foundation. What I want to do with this book, and I’m giving all the profits to charity, is to teach people to meditate. All it takes is a little bit of patience. It’s a simple guide. And the more people meditate, the more it increases the positive vibrations turning the planet into a positive, happy place. The more you do that, the greater service you are to God. I introduced Oprah and Ellen to their TM [Transcendental Meditation] teachers. They both thanked me, and spoke publicly about it, which is great because they can spread the word. Ellen has been a great supporter. Russell Brand has done the same. I’ve shared meditation with a lot of hip-hop artists, inmates, and returning war veterans with PTSD, as well. I feel like this dharma, this service is part of my job.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman gives a shout out from a fellow Hollis native!
She asks: What were you most astonished to discover as a result of meditating?
RS: Coming out of my first yoga class, I was astonished that there were nothing but hot girls there. Just 55 girls, Bobby Shriver, who’s a buddy of mine, and myself. I came out of class, I was so high. I been sober 26 years, but I’m an ex-druggie. I want to talk a little bit abut two things: clarity and cloudiness. Both of them quiet the mind. One quiets it, the other numbs it. either way, there’s less thought, and the less thought, the more happiness. And when the mind is totally still, there’s only bliss. I got a piece of that reality from my first yoga class, from smiling and breathing in every difficult pose. I went, “Oh my God! I’m clear! I love this!” If I keep doing this, I’m going to give away my money. But a more happy mind leads to quietness and clarity. And that clarity helps you have a greater capacity to do more and to become more successful and more giving. So, running all my different companies has turned out to be a lot easier because I mediate twice a day and go to yoga every day.
KW: Bernadette also says: I sat a 10-day Vipassana course many years ago and afterwards, I was encouraged by a film called Doing Time, Doing Vipassana which was about meditation courses offered in prisons. The results were very encouraging. She asks: What do you think of meditation methods taught to prisoners?
RS: I think it’s very important. I’ve gone into prisons to meditate with inmates. It’s something I plan to do with Tim Robbins soon. I owe him a call about that.
KW: Bernadette asks: If you could focus all of your resources to solve one problem in our society, what one would it be?
RS: At the core of everything that is hurtful to humanity is a lack of consciousness. Unconscious behavior is at the core. Think of the 40 billion animals we abuse and eat who are born into suffering. It’s a karmic disaster. An animal products diet is like smoking 20 cigarettes a day. What I would do to change this planet is have everyone meditate and look inside. Then we’d have a happier, more service-oriented, less-needy world.
KW: Editor Lisa Loving says this book looks great. I know a crabby person whose life changed when he started meditating. She asks: Are there ever limits to an individual's ability to follow your advice? Are there certain kinds of stress, difficulty or even grief that is so staggering that it becomes impossible to cope with through meditation?
RS: Meditation helps everything, Lisa. But I couldn’t guarantee that someone could get off their medication. But I suspect that meditation instead of Ritalin would change the life of any kid with ADD.
KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier says: Some people are reluctant to try psychotherapy. They will instead deal with their stress and pain by taking drugs and/or alcohol. Do you think that meditation can be beneficial to them?
RS: Absolutely, because when you sit quietly and look inside, things that seem so difficult on the outside become a lot easier to digest. Concerns that might’ve caused a lot of anxiety just come and go. That happens to me everyday. I watch my thoughts, not only on the mat, but all through the day.
KW: Troy Johnson asks: Are you happy about how hip-hop has evolved over the past 40 years?
RS: It hasn’t changed that much at all, actually. It’s been great. It keeps getting better in some ways.
KW: Troy says: Many music fans think that the best hip-hop music is being produced by underground artists. Are there any you’re excited about?
RS: At All Def Digital we’re developing tons of them.
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Have you and the artists you work with benefited from the turmoil in the music industry?
RS: I don’t see it.
KW: Professor Hisani Dubose has a couple of questions for her music technology majors at Bloomfield College. How has the internet changed the music industry? What do artists have to do these days to get a record deal?
RS: You don’t need a record deal. You’ll have the industry begging for you, when you build your buzz. I signed Jay-Z because he was on fire. I wasn’t a genius. The record was great. I put it on The Nutty Professor soundtrack and we signed him. People build themselves up before you even have to deal with them. It’s always marketeers building their own careers. Nowadays, if you’re a great artist, you don’t have to leave the house, which is a really big difference. You’re closer to the artist. And the artist can be closer to their artistry without having to always worry about branding themselves or building something image-wise.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
RS: “My Nigga” by YG.
I probably shouldn’t even say that, because everybody gets mad. But it is my favorite record. I was just listening to it in the car. I live in hip-hop. I don’t find it to be offensive. I know there’s a debate about it. I probably shouldn’t say this to national black distribution, but they have to live with it, too. They ain’t gonna change young people. All they’re going to do is make ‘em say it more. That particular YG record is the biggest record, and I like it. That’s not helpful, is it? It’s the truth. I’m a full disclosure kind of person. Another song I just listened to was “Mere Gurudev,” a devotional record by Krishna Das.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
RS: I read “The Yoga Sutras” every day.
And also the “The Bhagavad Gita.”
Those two books sit by my bed. And I’m currently reading “The China Study.”
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
RS: different reflections at different times. I really, really try to be a good servant. It makes me happy when I’m a good giver without expectations.
KW: What are you up to next?
RS: The main thing is I’ll be going to Chicago to work with [Mayor] Rahm Emmanuel to put meditation in the schools.
KW: Thanks again for the interview, Rush, and best of luck with the book, the TV shows, and the meditation initiative.
RS: It’s a great pleasure as always talking with you, Kam.
To order a copy of Success through Stillness, visit