In The Godfather a fictional Hollywood idol named Johnny Fontaine went to see the Don about a problem he was having with a studio boss. The Hollywood exec would not give him a movie role he badly needed to get his career back on track. The studio maven refused to select him for the motion picture because he ruined the innocence of a Hollywood starlet-in-training. While Fontaine lamented about his problem he made a tearful confession that he did not know what to do. The Godfather, played by Marlon Brando, jumped up and shook Fontaine and gave him a hefty slap across the face yelling, “You can act like a man!” In anger the Godfather mocked Fontaine asking him, "is this what Hollywood has turned you into?”. The Godfather “fixed” the situation by offering the studio head an offer he couldn’t refuse. Although I don’t agree with the slap, and I don’t think that crying challenges one’s manhood, I do agree that acting like a man is the way to go. Jump cut to Chris Brown at the BET Awards sobbing for the entire world to see during a tribute to Michael Jackson. After more than a year, Chris Brown, you need to act like a man.
Let me be clear – I do not condone what Brown did. But in a way I am thankful that he had his outburst with a celebrity like Rihinna. If Rihinna had not been a glistening jewel of the music industry I strongly doubt that Brown’s transgression would have come to light. But he punched and choked someone’s meal ticket and that almost cost him his sparkling career. It may still cost his career depending on what he does to right his own sinking ship. Both Rihanna and Brown are young and prone to step on traps in a mine in a relationship minefield. Clearly neither of them was ready for the strauma [stress + drama] of a dual celebrity relationship. She strikes me as an ingénue who may have seen this side of Brown before. He is someone who has anger issues that are potentially lethal to the focus of his rage. As a young sex symbol herself Rihanna should have known that Brown is routinely offered the ‘apple’ to bite. He may or may not have bitten the apple, but at the very least he lavished the smell of the orchard. She got mad at Brown plotting to assemble an ‘apple pie’. He got mad at her objecting to his ‘sweet tooth’ which resulted in his violent behavior. I am not going to totally place all the blame on Brown for his actions. As reprehensible as it was, we still do not know what Rihanna may or may not have done to push Mount Chris to erupt. I have learned that there are always three sides to every story when it comes to couples. There is one side, then the other side, and then the truth. I am offer in this episode that neither Brown nor Rihanna are completely innocent or totally to blame. Ultimately, only Brown and Rihanna really know what happened on the night of February 8, 2009. But the issue now is how does Brown get back into the game after he dropped the ball on that charged L.A. night? It will not be easy. But it’s not like shoveling toothpaste back in the tube; it can be done.
My prescription for Brown is this. Brown needs to understand that he is no longer the adorable adolescent sex symbol crooning and dancing his way into the hearts of screaming young girls. That ended forever when the first blow landed upside Rihanna’s noggin. Brown once considered a treat but he is now a threat. He has apologized in print, online, on television, and in a strange message on his website, so no more of that. Apologizing repeatedly to fans will get him nowhere; in fact, it may set Brown back. There are always skeptics of public apologies, and with good reason. We have witnessed time and again public figures and personal comrades apologizing only to later find that they were not sincere. Some even brazenly repeat the offense. If he meant the private apology made to Rihanna and she accepted it then the matter is done with. If anything, Brown should capitalize on his media moment to help prevent other young men from smacking-up their girlfriends. Brown may save a life or keep someone out of prison if he does so. That would be a more sincere public apology than the ones offered in the media.
Brown will have to erase the image of a charming yet menacing brute yoked by a five-year probation around his collar. He has to carefully craft a new image of a grown up young man who is has come out on the other side of the Rihanna catastrophe with his head unbowed. The best way to do this is to get back to what made Chris a star in the first place – make some good music, smile in the videos and keep it moving. The music will have to be better than what he released last year. Graffiti was no work of art. That CD only reminded people how far off the pedestal he fell. In fact, in most quarters Brown’s CD last year was considered so dreadful that the judge should have tacked on a littering misdemeanor because it was trash. His new music will have to redefine his post-Rihanna career. He needs to reach out to some friends and enemies if he has to in order to score some quality songs over scorching production. There are enough songwriters, producers and artists out here who have had to do mea culpas that understand Chris’s plight and may be willing to breathe life back into his collapsed musical lung.
America in general believes in second chances, maybe not a third or fourth, but definitely seconds. Brown now has a chance at a do-over for his career. His biggest supporters, the African American public, are generally a forgiving lot. We will accept punishment of our celebs only to a point, and then we turn the page. We can turn the page faster with a hit song or a blockbuster movie. Although I was never a huge fan, I would like to see Brown get his swag back and rip the mic in the studio. There is no denying his vocal and dance talent. At his best I can see a little MJ, James Brown and a young El DeBarge in him. I want to believe in Chris Brown again but this crying and the stack of apologies are a sign of a child, not a man. A man takes ownership of his mistakes, makes a humble apology to the offended, takes corrective steps and then and gets back to business. I am hoping that Chris Brown has enough fight in him to man up and get back on the block. I am ready to stand and applaud when he owns the stage again. But not when he crumples in a heap wasting an opportunity to return to “the Family”. Take a cue from the late Michael Jackson, whom Brown was supposed to be commemorating at the BET Awards. MJ beat back public vilification for his gaffes and reclaimed his stardom by masterminding “This Is It” before his premature demise. Brown must turn ‘what it was’ into his own ‘this is it’. But no Godfather is going to fix this for him. It is up to Brown to make us an offer we can’t refuse.