At LaGuardia Community College, Visiting Fulbright Scholar Steven Gilbers discusses African-American English through the comparison of East Coast and West Coast hip-hop. In a classroom filled with students and professors, Mr. Gilbers proceeds to break down hip-hop culture and the importance of authenticity in the hip-hop community. “Another crucial part of hip-hop culture is this […]
“Watch Me!” he declares at the start of his one- man show,” County of Kings”– and watch we did. The story of Lemon Andersen, poet, writer, and actor, is one worth watching in the documentary “Lemon,”, which follows the writing and production of Mr. Andersen’s spoken word, “hip- hip autobiography.”
The film starts off by showing Mr. Andersen’s anticipation and preparation for his performance of “County of Kings,” at the acclaimed Public Theater, while making his way to the stage. As he opens the door to the stage, we are taken into Mr. Andersen’s life, building up to the show. Getting a look into the life of a Brooklyn-born, half Puerto Rican, half Norwegian, growing up in the crack era of New York City, you get a feel for the inspiration for his poetry. He tells stories of losing his father, mother, and stepfather at a young age and all the events leading up to his multiple imprisonments.
Although most ex-cons would want to forget their past and drop the title, Mr. Andersen holds strong to the label, using his experiences in jail as a motivator for all his endeavors to do the right thing. “I’m a three time felon with a Tony Award,” is the famous line from the film that gives you a sense of the changes he has made in his life and how far he has come from being on the wrong side of the law to an award- winning poet and performer.
Seeing the past and the present struggles, he had to make a means for his family. We take a journey with Mr. Andersen as he tries to do it through safer, more artistic means, the second time around. He professes that “[poetry] is going to be [his] meal ticket out of the hood,” and that’s exactly what happened when he started off in the HBO series Russell Simmons presents Def Poetry in 2002. His time with the show gained him some fame, recognition and even a Tony Award for Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. He was able
to move out of “the hood,” but unfortunately as the show’s run was over, so was his successes, forcing him to return to his old neighborhood.
With his return to performing at the American Place Theater, and later in the Public, his rise to fame was filled with complications and conflicts, all captured in the film, further emphasizing Mr. Andersen’s personal and professional ordeals. Watching you wonder if he would ever get his second big break. With a stroke of luck, and to the audience’s relief, he is able to team up with Spike Lee, director, actor, producer and writer, who gave the struggling performer a chance at making “County of Kings” a critically acclaimed production.
“Lemon” directors Laura Brownson and Beth Levison evoke well sought emotion by pairing snippets of Mr. Andersens’s poetry with the backstory that inspired them. Seeing images and hearing anecdotes of his raw experiences and the people he encountered, left everyone in shock and awe at the end of this captivating film. The rise and fall of such an astonishing story left everyone in the audience in MB10, where the film was screened as part of LaGuardia’s 2014 Hispanic Heritage Celebration, sympathetic to the life and family of Mr. Andersen, yearning for a longer look into his life.
Through this artistic account both directors said Mr. Andersen was able to show that no matter your upbringing you can make something of yourself through motivation and the belief that you can strive to be something bigger than anyone expected of you. Fifteen years of performing and the continued successes of his show at the Public Theater bought Mr. Andersen the ticket he needed to finally move out of the inner city, and we watched as he took his lemons and made “the best God damn lemonade.”