Business of smoke and mirrors II

Blade returns?

Wesley Snipes is back and has been featuring in reports concerning his new novel.

Not bad for a brother who a few years ago was in the doldrums after a terrific run in Tinseltown, fronting a host of big-earning movies such as the seminal black Godfather New Jack City, White Men Can’t Jump, Demolition Men, Passenger 57 and the Blade franchise to name a few. “It took me two-and-a-half years to write,” said Wesley in an interview with Diannah Watson of BlackAmericaWeb.

Accoridng to Snipes, it took a lot of phone calls and emails plus 72 hours in a hotel room with co-writer Ray Norman to write the book that is published by Harper Voyager. A USA Today reviewer, Brian Truitt, gives the book three stars out of four rating, which is a pretty big deal. The book is a science fiction narrative about demons and angels. Those that have read it describe it as “cinematic”. It is not a far-fetched idea to think that Snipes is angling for a movie deal. It usually works that way in Hollywood.

A hit novel will stimulate the interest of studio bosses who are always looking to monetise projects that can be turned into franchises. Franchises tend to pay better. Like Blade. Incidentally, Snipes is slated to return as Blade in Blade 4.

Paid the cost

Snipes has been out of jail since 2013 and it has been a while since we last saw him on the silver screen. I saw an interview of him with Sway Calloway, discussing his career and more significantly, his incarcerattion over a tax bill he failed to pay. But the real reason for his recent interview was the launch of his book Talon of God. Snipes is one of black America’s most recognised acting talents alongside actors such as Denzil Washington and Samuel L Jackson. But he went to jail and I have it on good authority that the Feds like hammering celebrities to make an example. He was a well-known figure and high-earner, making about US$40 million from 1999 to 2004. Taxes will be paid. It is as sure as death.

A black thing?

Snipes was convicted on three counts of misdemeanour, for failing to file a return and was resultantly sentenced to three years in federal prison. His tax bill was US$7 million. The essential detail of his case was that his accountants gave him bad tax advice to follow a tax shelter to avoid paying taxes.

Observers say a tax shelter is more tax protest than a legitimate tax reduction strategy. Shyster accountants and managers mislead celebrities about financial matters and as I have mentioned earlier, artistes in the United States, especially black Americans, seem to be paying a heavy price.

Soul singer Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers got three years in jail for a US$3 million tax bill. Ja Rule got 28 months for US$1 million. Other black celebrities to tangle with the IRS are singer Toni Braxton, the late rock music pioneer Chuck Berry and the late funny man Richard Pryor. The list is growing, but it includes not only blacks.

The point here is that it may be a mischaracterisation of reality to suggest that only blacks are getting stick from Uncle Sam’s tax hounds. Conspiracy theories aside, the way capitalism works is that government needs its taxes. Whether they are abused is neither here nor there. Even Jesus Christ paid taxes.

Fugees lead singer

I remember Lauryn Hill. She is a mutli-Grammy award winner and mother to five Marley grandchildren amongst her accolades, but this did not stop her from spending three months in jail for owing

US$970 000. Her defence at the time was: “. . . Obviously, the danger I faced was not accepted as reasonable grounds for deferring my tax payments, as authorities, who despite being told all of this, still chose to pursue action against me, as opposed to finding an alternative solution.”

She suggested racial prejudice amongst some of the things that may have hindered her from meeting her tax obligations.

Dicey dollar showbiz

Pay day is not regular for creative sectors. This compounds their woes when it comes to financial planning. The money is not regular and it comes in lump sum cheques without taxes deducted. Then there is the superstar lifestyle and the image they have to maintain. The television appearences and the music videos create an illusion, a fantasy that is irresistable. There is nothing like believing one’s own hype, hook, line and sinker and it seems that it is not only some of us who were seduced by the tinsel of Tinseltown.

Even the very creatives that are part of the hype machine are the willing mannequins.

How else can someone explain a person like former boxing champion Mike Tyson rifling through a reported US$120 million if they do not believe that they are invincible money-making machines, who are so valuable that the greenback will chase them to the very ends of the earth?

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