I saw Talk to Me on Sunday with HMC. It’s a beautiful film. Don Cheadle is excellent as Petey Greene, an ex-con who won the hearts of DC after getting out of the joint. Chiwitel Ejiofor is fantastic as Dewey Hughes, the guy who gives him a chance at WOL AM once Petey gets out of the joint. More in depth discussion after the jump.

Here’s my two cents… and the films synopsis cause I am not doing well with how I wanted to talk about this film. Its too fresh and I can’t be objective yet.

This film made me laugh, as well as cry. The film takes a serious turn when the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King happens in the films timeline… and Don Cheadle; damn is all I can say about his performance as a man distraught over the loss of a hero of the time and how that event stops all the bullshit going on around them in the blink of an eye. It no longer matters that Petey’s girl just gave the Nighthawk (played well by Cedric the Entertainer) a blow job or that she had strewn all Petey’s clothes all over the reception area of WOL. The King was dead and nothing else mattered.  All the bullshit between him and his woman meant nothing, the fact that he was an ex-con who was being schooled by his proper “brother” Dewey meant absolutely nothing.

The movie takes a significant turn after the marathon broadcasting of Petey Green and Dewey Hughes while they cover the chaos and rioting  that followed the news of Dr. King’s assassination. The fact that he HAD to get back to the booth and speak as well as what came out of his mouth during those scenes in the film spoke to me in a way few films have.  I wasnt alive when Dr. King was assasinated, but the raw emotions of the scenes got to me and I felt like crying myself… but in the end all of the actors blew me away with a film that more than delivered the goods, and makes me want to thank Don Cheadle for his performance, and look forward to what he has to offer in the future.

Here’s the Synopsis from the films’ official site:

Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle portrays the one and only Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene Jr. in Talk to Me. Petey’s story is funny, dramatic, inspiring – and real.

In the mid-to-late 1960s, in Washington, D.C., vibrant soul music and exploding social consciousness were combining to unique and powerful effect. It was the place and time for Petey to fully express himself – sometimes to outrageous effect – and “tell it like it is.” With the support of his irrepressible and tempestuous girlfriend Vernell Watson (Taraji P. Henson), the newly minted ex-con talks his way into an on-air radio gig. He forges a friendship and a partnership with fellow prison inmate Milo’s (Mike Epps) brother Dewey Hughes (double Golden Globe Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor).

From the first wild morning on the air, Petey relies on the more straight-laced Dewey to run interference at WOL-AM, where Dewey is the program director. At the station, Petey becomes an iconic radio personality, surpassing even the established popularity of his fellow disc jockeys, Nighthawk (Cedric The Entertainer) and Sunny Jim (Vondie Curtis Hall). Combining biting humor with social commentary, Petey openly courts controversy for station owner E.G. Sonderling (Emmy Award winner Martin Sheen).

Petey was determined to make not just himself but his community heard during an exciting and turbulent period in American history. As Petey’s voice, humor, and spirit surge across the airwaves with the vitality of the era, listeners tune in to hear not only incredible music but also a man speaking directly to them about race and power in America like few people ever have. Through the years, Petey’s “the truth just is” style – on- and off-air – would redefine both Petey and Dewey, and empower each to become the man he would most like to be.

About Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene Jr.

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 laughin’, I don’t want no cryin’, and most of all, no signifyin’.                                        — Petey Greene

Charismatic. Hilarious. Raunchy. Controversial. Tormented. Passionate. Eloquent. Truthful. Real.

As radio deejay, television personality, and activist, Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene Jr. (1931-1984) was a vital force for two decades in the black community of Washington, D.C. known as “Chocolate City” or “the other Washington.” Petey spoke out about social injustices and spoke up for racial pride during a period of unprecedented change in America.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., his childhood @23rd and L Streets NW was one of Depression era-poverty. He was brought up by his maternal grandmother, Maggie “A’nt Pig” Floyd, and attended Stevens Elementary School. But, as a teen, he started breaking the law and drinking and doing drugs. Arrests and reformatory time quickly followed. While still a teenager, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and later served in the Korean War. Upon his return home, he began drinking heavily. In 1960, a conviction for armed robbery landed him in jail.

In Virginia’s Lorton Prison, Petey’s life began to change for the better. He honed his disc jockey (a.k.a. deejay, a.k.a. dj) skills in Lorton’s work program. His grandmother sent him records to play in prison, but died while he was still incarcerated. Petey was allowed to address his fellow prisoners over the P.A. system in morning and night “shifts” of 20 minutes apiece. He found that he was good at dj’ing, and sensed that this was something he could pursue upon his release – which he began to apply himself towards.

He did indeed manage to effect an earlier release; his 10-year sentence (or, “dime”) was commuted into an early parole (“nickel”) midway through, when he helped talk a fellow inmate down from a suicide threat atop a flagpole. There was some question about whether Petey had convinced the man to scale the flagpole, but in any case it was not the last time he would personally convince someone not to kill themselves. Once out of Lorton, he headed for a rededicated existence back in the Washington he knew as his home.

Dewey Hughes, the program director for radio station WOL-AM, took a chance on Petey. Dewey had first met Petey in Lorton as a fellow inmate of Dewey’s brother, and put Petey – who had already done a stand-up act at venues around the city – on the air. “Rapping with Petey Greene” became a lightning rod for the community. WOL reached metropolitan listeners not only in Washington, D.C. but also in Maryland and Virginia.

Dewey continued managing Petey for years before (in 1980) buying WOL, which then became the foundation for Radio One, Inc. (now the U.S.’ seventh-largest radio broadcasting company, and the largest primarily for African-American and urban listeners).

Petey did not only advocate from the airwaves. Never to sit on the sidelines again after his prison time, Petey was a fully engaged and visible citizen, exhorting his community to think and to act for a “Cool City;” as in, getting proper job training (through the Washington Concentrated Employment Program) and education (“If you can’t read, you can’t do anything,” he would say), and registering to vote.

Almost immediately upon his release from prison, he co-founded the volunteer-driven Efforts for Ex-Convicts, formed to provide shelter, counseling, and job support for D.C. ex-cons during the first few months of their release; for example, he would encourage those with convictions for stealing or shoplifting to channel that expertise into legitimate work as store detectives. Petey also addressed youth groups and school assemblies to discourage children and teens from starting down the path to incarceration. He also worked as a YMCA job counselor, and kept at his stand-up act as well.

With his “Ph.D. in poverty,” he would encourage community attention be specifically paid to the needs of the poor and the old; he was not afraid to name names and provide addresses for his listeners to agitate for change.

Petey had grown up just a few blocks from the White House, and in March 1978 he finally got to visit his neighbors when he attended a dinner (for the President of Yugoslavia) as the guest of an invitee. While there, he took the opportunity to speak with President Jimmy Carter and – he claimed – steal a spoon. “From the jail house to the White House,” he noted.

Concurrent with his radio career, television was another natural outlet for Petey. He co-hosted the local show “Where It’s At,” which addressed employment issues and opportunities. Subsequently, his public access program “Petey Greene’s Washington” (also later the name of his radio show) aired in the city for years, providing an expanded forum for his community outreach, commentary, and humor. “Adjust the color of your television” was his intro to the program.

Among the thousands of listeners and/or viewers whom he made an impact on were future radio and television personalities. One of them was a Washington, D.C. disc jockey named Howard Stern. The latter – as ever – caused a stir with his guest appearances on Petey’s television show. In one (with longtime colleague Robin Quivers in the studio audience), Howard told Petey, “I’ve learned more from your show – I listen to your show, and I go on and use your material.” Petey mused, “They might not like us, but they don’t change the dial.”

In paving the way for other deejays, some might say that Petey was an original “shock jock,” but his own history and commitment to his community combined to make him more of a trailblazer in “talk radio.”

Petey won two local Emmy Awards in the 1970s, and “Petey Greene’s Washington” was later broadcast nationally by the then-newly launched cable channel Black Entertainment Television (BET).

In his later years, Petey turned to religion more than he had prior, and was finally able to quit drinking. He died of cancer in January 1984. Scores of D.C. residents – at least 10,000, and some estimates were double that amount – paid their respects in below-freezing temperatures later that month at a memorial service, which was the largest gathering for a non-government official in D.C. history.

The nonprofit United Planning Organization (formed to provide human services to the people of D.C.), where Petey worked as an employee and community advocate/consultant beginning in the late 1960s, later named its Congress Heights office (in southeastern D.C.) the Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene Community Service Center. The Center still stands today, at 2907 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.

Petey’s life story, as he told it to Lurma Rackley in the early 1980s, was published in 2003. It is entitled Laugh If You Like, Ain’t a Damn Thing Funny.

This film made me laugh, as well as cry. The film takes a serious turn when the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King happens in the films timeline… and Don Cheadle; damn is all I can say about his performance as a man distraught over the loss of a hero of the time and how that event stops all the bullshit going on around them in the blink of an eye. It no longer matters that Petey’s girl just gave the Nighthawk (played well by Cedric the Entertainer) a blow job or that she had strewn all Petey’s clothes all over the reception area of WOL. The King was dead and nothing else mattered.  All the bullshit between him and his woman meant nothing, the fact that he was an ex-con who was being schooled by his proper “brother” Dewey meant absolutely nothing.

The movie takes a significant turn after the marathon broadcasting of Petey Green and Dewey Hughes while they cover the chaos and rioting  that followed the news of Dr. King’s assassination. The fact that he HAD to get back to the booth and speak as well as what came out of his mouth during those scenes in the film spoke to me in a way few films have.  I wasnt alive when Dr. King was assasinated, but the raw emotions of the scenes got to me and I felt like crying myself..

One thought on “Talk to Me

  1. You GOTS to see this film, y’all. (colloquiallism intended)

    There has already been much comparison to Good Morning Vietnam, Private parts, etc. Frankly, that’s pure laziness. The only thing they have in common is outspoken radio personalities. Period. Yes, Petey Greene was one of the first widely known “shock jocks”. Yes, he was a rare “voice of the common people” during the politically volatile days of civil rights battles, esp. the assassination of Dr. King. Yes, he inspired and befriended a younger Howard Stern. Yes, he says more offensive phrases in the first 10 minutes of the movie than all the Lenny Bruce, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor Live shows put together. And No, they didn’t include a re-enactment of the famous “How to Eat a Watermelon” clip. But go see this anyway.

    Why? Because this is the rarest of rare things in Black Cinema.

    It’s a love story.

    And I don’t mean Taraji Henson’s Vernell, although she does a fine job, bringing depth and compassion to a composite character that could very easily have become a caricature. She looks like every cover girl from the Supremes, to Foxy Brown to some very “Dynasty” looking mourning clothes at the end, and yet still manages to stay as 3D as her Chaka-licious fro.(Note: It’s a biopic people. There’s no spoilers if you know your history. Google that ish)

    No, I mean the love story that exists between Petey Greene, and Dewey Hughes.

    Now, before y’all start rolling eyes and signifyin’ about how dare I imply any of that “funnyman” business between those two brothas, let me just say that that reaction is *exactly* why I think everyone needs to see this film. Because the world needs to see more examples of the deep and powerful love that exists when two Black men, on seemingly opposite sides of the same coin, find common ground, respect and (tell the truth and shame the devil) love.

    There was a wonderful interview with director Kasi Lemmons in which she discussed those who were skeptical as to whether or not she, as a woman, would be able to accurately depict this predominantly male story. Her response was that as a wife and mother, she’d had a lifetime of experience with Black men, and knew them as well or better as they did themselves. I think it was that same insight that kept this story from being reduced to a trite string of “oh no he didn’t” escapades. Without a lot of heavy handed dialogue, lingering camera work or mood music, Ms. Lemmons is wise enough to recognize the caliber of the actors she’s working with and allow them to do what they do best – tell the story. For example ( potential spoiler) in an uncharacteristically unguarded moment, Dewey tells Petey that they need one another, because “You say the things I’m afraid to say, and I do the things you are afraid to do”. To which the reply is: “Damn. That’s deep. That should go on a Hallmark Card.” Any other response would have been less than genuine. But you are in no doubt as to the love that is there, and that it is mutual.

    As the friend who attended this film with me remarked, you “know” these people. You know (or possibly have been) the woman who’s crazy outspoken antics guard a strong, tender heart. You know (or have been) the “Model Negro” uncomfortably stradddling the fence between “keeping it real” and “keep hope alive”. You know (or have been) the quickwitted charmer that in another life, would have been brokering deals on wall street and negotiating peace in the middle east rather than risking their lives over $20 hustles. You know them. You love them. You are one of them. And with eloquence, with humor, with great, great love, this film tells your story.

    So please, PLEASE, do yourself a favor and GO SEE THIS MOVIE. They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Well, audiences who don’t invest in quality entertainment like this when they come along will be doomed forever to a Black Cinema section consisting of Friday, Big Momma’s House, and Little Man.

    As Petey would say ” Wake up, Dammit!” And go see this film.

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