The Icon Mann Red Carpet: A Night of Community and Power
By Sheryl Aronson| February 2015
Walking down the red carpet at Mr. C Beverly Hills Hotel on Wednesday night were the representatives of the third annual Icon Mann, Power 50 Experience. These are successful black men who exemplify the Influential Brokers in front of and behind the scenes of the entertainment industry. All the participants held themselves with grace and dignity, diligently on a mission to build a community of men where support, inspiration, and networking flourished. The founder of the organization is Tamara Houston. She and her team provided an All-Star lineup, which included Oscar winners and nominees, actors in the film and television industry, musicians, businessmen, and artists.
The attire varied from classic black tuxes to satin gray suits to some very snazzy, buoyant additions such as a wild colorful red/purple plaid jacket and matching pants to some polka dot shoes worn by David Oyelowo. Each man had a distinctive look and each man had distinctive comments about what it meant to be an ICON MANN.
Jamal Joseph, who co-wrote “Raise It Up” and was nominated for the best original song at the 2007 Academy Awards talked about the importance of the evening’s event. “Tonight we get to stand on the shoulders of the great men that came before us, not only in film but in the Civil Right’s movement. The song “Raise It Up” celebrates young people. Each day I want to make sure I am a role model for young black men when they might think their lives don’t matter.” Jamal is also a full professor and former chair of Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division and the artistic director of the New Heritage Theater in Harlem.
A well-known face in the television world, Jason George who plays Dr. Warren on “Grey’s Anatomy” and lawyer, Dominic Taylor on the dramatic soap, “Mistresses,” approached me with a warm smile. He laughed as he said; “It’s not been a bad couple of years for me. I get to be married to Dr. Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy and be the lover of beautiful Savi a fellow lawyer on Mistresses.” Jason attributes his philosophy of life of being an ICON MANN to his grandmother from Louisiana. “I tell my kids I go to bed in the same way your great-grandmother and grandmother would be proud of me. Be aware people are always watching you and conduct your behavior accordingly.” He looked up to the heavens and said, “I know my grandmother is watching me now and she would be proud.”
Two men from the business side of the industry stopped by and reported their involvement in the organization. Charles King, one of the advisors for ICON MANN, just launched a new company, Macro Ventures. “My company will finance film and television content across the board with those platforms that focus on the multi-cultural marketplace.” Charles knew about the concept of ICON MANN from its inception. “I totally supported Tamara’s vision of from the very beginning which was bringing black men together developing a strong community of support and encouragement.”
Paul Martin, Diversity Officer at Sony Pictures works hard at ensuring the Entertainment Organization offers opportunities for all different cultural groups. A new idea in the industry, his job has only been in existence for five years. “I work for Sony Pictures Global Diversity Initiative making sure diverse voices are reflective in front and behind the camera as well as on a corporate level. I am honored to have been asked here tonight as a guest.”
Last year’s Oscar winner for best screenplay, “12 Years Slave”, John Ridley graciously gave all reporters an interview as he walked down the red carpet. I was surprised to find out that Mr. Ridley did not go to film school but did study at NYU. He had always been interested in writing about historical events. “I write about history, not just black history, it’s all a part of American history. There’s an audience for all kinds of entertainment and it’s not necessary to break it down into genre entertainment.” When asked about what it meant to him to be at the ICON MANN event that evening he said, “I am with people I have admired all my life. There are men here across the American performance arena whether it is music, film, or business and they represent people of color. It’s very special.” What’s Mr. Ridley working on now? “I have a television series coming out on ABC premiering on March 5th called “American Crime.” It’s about family, faith, and where we are in society.”
One the elders of ICON MANN, whose creative talents have illuminated the entertainment world for over 50 years and has won an Oscar for best-supporting actor in “Officer and a Gentleman”, also made sure everyone got an interview on the red carpet. Louis Gossett, Jr., refined, handsome, soft-spoken, said very simply, “Tonight I get to see the guys I never see or can get on the telephone because we are all so busy. I miss them all. Tonight is about friendship and community.” He takes his role as an elder seriously. “I am passing on my experience as an elder to the ones coming up. I am giving them my opinions and wisdom that I have gained over the years. There is a responsibility I must fulfill.” Mr. Gossett’s new television mini-series, “The Book of Negroes,” was being shown that night on BET Television.
A familiar face appeared at the beginning of the interviewing line and I was excited I would get to speak with him again. I had interviewed Blair Underwood in January 2015 at the Super Bowl Party hosted by the advertising agency, Walton Isaacson. Blair’s voice had been used for their Lexus Super Bowl commercial. Blair Underwood, looking dashing in his black suit, talked with me about his new role-playing a psychiatrist to Super Heroes on the show for ABC. “The sky is the limit with these characters that have no boundaries. I get to evaluate them. I’ve never worked on a project with superhero dynamics.” When I asked Blair what does being an ICON MANN mean to him, David Oyewolo was standing to his left giving an interview. Blair looked over at the young actor who had performed the role of one of the most iconic Black Leaders in American History, Martin Luther King. “I’ve been in show business for 30 years. Louis Gossett, Jr. and Sidney Portier have been very generous with my generation of actors and now I want to do the same and pass my knowledge and experience down to David’s generation.”
As I waited for the Golden Globe nominee, David Oyelowo, best actor in the role of Martin Luther King for the movie “Selma” to finish his interview, I thought it would be interesting to ask David what did he learn playing this iconic figure. With an extremely composed manner and speaking with an English accent, Mr. Oyelowo said, “It’s easy to be a talker but being a doer is what Martin Luther King was all about. He walked out to his calling despite his life being under stress every day. I will not be just a talker but a doer, as a father, as an actor, and as a friend, I will strive to be socially responsible.”
The definition of Icon is the following: a person regarded as a symbol of a belief, notion, community or a cultural movement. Every man that walked down the red carpet that evening exemplified what it meant to be an Icon Mann.