Sunday, July 01, 2007

Talk To Me, A Film About Broadcaster Petey Greene

Talk to Me: Film Inspired By The Life of Broadcast Legend Petey Greene

"Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson.

If the 19th century famed essayist and philosopher had lived to meet his namesake, Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene, that quote might have been his advice to the 20th century ex-con turned radio disc jockey that blazed Washington, D.C. airwaves in the 1960s. Not only did Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene live his life like an experiment, but like a mad scientist constantly testing boundaries in social behavior. Here's an example:

Not many people would dare use the subject of eating watermelon as a social commentary about African-Americans. Yet, according to Academy Award nominated actor, Don Cheadle, that's what made Petey Greene stand out among the rest.

Talk to Me, a Focus Features film, chronicles the life of Petey Greene (Don Cheadle). Beginning with him in prison, the film shows Petey honing his skills as a disc jockey through the facility's work program. Inmate, Milo (Mike Epps), loves Petey's "tell it like it is" style so much that he raves about it to his brother, Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the program director for D.C. radio station, WOL-AM. During one of Dewey's visits, Petey proudly introduces himself and asks for a job at the station upon his release. Looking down his brown nose at the prisoner, Dewey carelessly says yes thinking the request is a bunch of jive. So when a reduced sentence gets Petey released early, Dewey is more than shocked to see the ex-con and his audacious girlfriend, Vernell (Taraji P. Henson), dancing in the lobby of WOL-AM as they wait to discuss Petey's imaginary new job.

The hilarious scene sets the foundation of their relationship--two men cut from the
same cloth, but sewn in different patterns. But despite their differences, they set out to influence change in their community as a team, starting with the AM station. So to convince the worried station owner, E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen), Petey's brash on-air style is worth the risk, the dynamic duo manage to get Petey on the air uncensored. The phone lines light up and former miscreant, Petey Green, is an on-air hit.

However, Talk to Me is not soley about one man's life. Instead, it's the story of Petey and Dewy--two visionary Black men and their bond. It is a "contrast between two friends" says film director, Kasi Lemmons (Eve Bayou), "'s universal."

The flamboyant and debonair "The Nighthawk"(Cedric the Entertainer) and the Mr. Rogers wannabe, Sunny Jim (Vondie Curtis Hall) also work at the station. Another pair of male contrasts, the two are threatened by Petey's success at WOL-AM. But when riots break out in the city after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, they realize only Petey could convince angry rioters to go home.

But who does Petey rely on for support? Vernell. Strong, Black, proud, and sometimes loud, she is a true soldier for her man, despite her crush on Nighthawke. "She's his [Petey's] backbone, his pep team...She's vested in him," says Henson. But when Petey's alcoholism and cheating become unbearable, Vernell comes to realize that only Petey can save himself from self destruction.

Set in the mid to late 60s the story takes shape in an era
of social consciousness and self expression. Afros, bell bottom pants, James Brown music, war protests, riots, and the Civil Rights Movement all provide the historic landscape for the film. Talk to Me also gives us a brief history lesson in urban radio broadcasting. WOL-AM was eventually bought by Dewey and became the foundation upon which Cathy Hughes' Radio One, Inc. was built. Radio One is currently the largest African-American owned radio broadcasting company and the seventh largest in the country.

So what makes this historical film relevant to this current generation? Everything. It's ironic how many similarities exist between those highly political times and now. But where is the 2007 Petey Greene? Black, Brown, Yellow, or White? Who truly is "keeping it real" these days? And by "real" I mean honest, not ignorant. Anybody? Where is the black radio station that truly represents the best interests of it's listeners and not just the pockets of its advertisers? And last but not least, what educated Black man or woman is willing to eat watermelon in front of "company" without a fork, knife, or toothpick? Somebody, TALK TO ME!

The film opens nationwide July 13th.

"I'll tell it to the hot; I'll tell it to the cold; I'll tell it to the young; I'll tell it to the old. I don't want no laughing. I don't want no crying, and most of all, no signifyin' "
--Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene

To learn more about Petey Greene, check out Laugh If You Like, a biography written by Lurma Rackley.

Film Trailer:

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