In a short video clip during Figures of Speech, Virgil Abloh’s show at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago, he mused on his upbringing and influences. Born the son of Ghanaian immigrants in a small town in Illinois, he discussed the wonders of growing up “in the middle of nowhere,” and the freedom it gave him to explore, and to create, without feeling beholden to any predominant ideology or method of production. [Read more…]
Toni Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, when she was 39 years old. By this time she was a divorced single mother of two sons and a respected teacher with a master’s degree in English from Cornell. She was an established a senior editor at Random House, the only Black woman in that position at the publisher. She’d championed Black authors and emphasized Black literature in the mainstream, including developing and strategically bringing out autobiographies by such Black Power luminaries as Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali. [Read more…]
Captive State was initially misunderstood. Released in March, it received mixed reviews, described by some critics as ‘murky,’ ‘lugubrious,’ and ‘unexciting.’ Despite star turns by brooding young upstart Ashton Sanders (Moonlight, Native Son), indie darling Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man In San Francisco) and industry veteran John Goodman, it grossed only $8 million against a $25 million dollar budget, making it a box-office bomb. But this film has the density and complexity to develop a cult following of its own in the coming years. It’s depiction of a group of political anarchists attempting to overthrow an alien-controlled government is inventive, if not downright ingenious, and their foundational codes — the ideals for which these men and women live and die for — are as equally powerful and persuasive as they are heartening, yet no less disturbing. [Read more…]
Life is stranger than fiction. Things happen without rhyme or reason, and we, the living, are pulled along, anchoring ourselves to friends, family, lovers; people, places, and things in an effort to stay afloat, to make sense of it all. In The Last Black Man in San Francisco the protagonist, a Black American named Jimmie Fails (played by himself and loosely based on his real life), is anchored to a house. His grandfather built it, he insists, and he’s drawn to it, returning repeatedly despite the fact that his family lost it in a wave of gentrification and it has had new owners for the last 12 years. They’re well-meaning older white liberals that were clearly beatnik artists once, dropping “hey man” into their sentences and saying they don’t want to call the cops if they catch him on the property again — but they will. It’s a thinly veiled threat couched in the kind of casual racism that hovers throughout the film, even after said owners lose the house themselves in a serendipitous twist of fate. [Read more…]
A strange thing happens when you say the word “Black” as it pertains to race. People will often curl their lips up, as if you’ve said something distasteful or inappropriate; the color might drain from their faces in an expression akin to dread. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” triggers the knee jerk response of “All Lives Matter.” The FBI identifies those that fight for Black American rights as a terrorist group under the title of “Black Identity Extremists.” And. increasingly, “Black” is used interchangeably with “Person of Color,” POC, which ostensibly is much less racially charged. This is a strange and disturbing phenomenon, since Black is not synonymous with POC: all Black people are persons of color, but all persons of color are not Black. And non-Black persons of color, or NBPOC, still benefit from and can practice anti-Black racism. [Read more…]
Announced on the last day of Black History Month, Solange Knowles’ fourth studio album, When I Get Home, surprise released at midnight as a digital drop and experimental short film. A method originally pioneered by her sister, mega-superstar Beyoncé, many other artists have since adopted the technique of the ‘surprise drop,’ eschewing the popular single. But Solange elevates it to high art with Home, a thought-provoking concept album that’s as much video installation and interactive performance piece as music. [Read more…]
There is a scene in Barry Jenkins film adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk, a novel by visionary James Baldwin, that details American racism without a word. Tish, the protagonist and narrator of the story, is working behind a perfume counter at a department store. She is visibly pregnant. Her job is not one typically given to ‘Negro’ girls, but this store considers itself progressive, and so she is allowed to offer the newest fragrance by spraying it on the back of the hands of passers by. A white man approaches and wordlessly grabs her hand instead, bringing it to his nose and lips where he sniffs her skin intimately. Tish, portrayed in a luminescent tour de force performance by 19-year-old newcomer Kiki Layne, is visibly uncomfortable but cannot recoil: not only is it her job, but this is early 1970s New York, where the Civil Rights Movement is over yet legalized racism remains right around the corner. Her discomfort is written all over her face, tinged with fear. Silently, he grips her wrist in a display of ownership – mimicking that of slavery, when white people did claim ownership of Black bodies, before releasing her and walking away. [Read more…]
Or The De Facto Proxy Of Non American Blacks In Black American/DACS Roles
By Seren Sensei
There’s been a quiet hostility simmering within the Black diaspora.
It is most apparent when discussing media representation. It tensed when veteran American actor Samuel L. Jackson wondered what a Black American — what I call the descendants of American chattel slavery (DACS) — might have brought to the American-charged racism of ‘Get Out,’ and when fellow Brits John Boyega and Iris Elba came to star Daniel Kaluuya’s defense. It arose again with the casting of British actor Daniel Ezra as the lead in the CW’S newest teen drama: a football show titled, ironically, ‘All American,’ and based on the life of real life DACS football player Spencer Paysinger. [Read more…]
A limited two-week run of The Color Purple recently closed at the famed Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, and it was a spectacle to behold. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker (that was later adapted into a landmark movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and directed by Steven Spielberg), the show follows the life of main character Celie and the lives of her family and friends in the 1930’s. The critique of the low status of Black Americans, and Black women in particular, in a society that is both racist and sexist is a major theme throughout. Yet the empowering messages of radical self-love and acceptance, faith and hope in a time of abuse and oppression, and the importance of woman empowerment feel even more current post-#MeToo. Already a brilliantly captivating work in print and on film, the musical manages to somehow be lighter in tone than both while not undermining the gravity of much of the subject matter. Black joy is conveyed the bright oranges, reds and greens of an account of Africa; the joyous yellow of a brand new pair of pants; and, of course, the color purple, which is deemed the color that “…pisses God off if you don’t stop to enjoy it.” [Read more…]
A quiet wave of veganism has tacked its roots in pop culture. Veganism, vegetarianism and to a lesser extent, pescetarianism — existing for so long on the fringe — are finally having their moment in the mainstream, with many adopting the practices of eating solely vegetables and/or cutting out red meat, pork, poultry and dairy. Celebrity chefs, actors, athletes and musicians extoll the virtues of going vegan. Vegan challenges, wherein participants attempt to go entirely vegan for an allotted amount of time, are wildly popular. Smoothie bowls run rampant on social media; vegan options have crept onto menus everywhere from five star restaurants to fast food restaurants. (The popular California hamburger chain Fatburger, was recently the first fast food chain to introduce The Impossible Burger, made entirely of plant protein.) [Read more…]
Kendrick Lamar recently made history as the first non-jazz, non-classical music artist to win the Pulitzer Prize for music, for 2017’s DAMN. Immediately it was a polarizing move. Many felt it promptly elevated Lamar’s status to “Greatest Of All Time,” catapulting him into a cohort that includes the likes of Nas and Jay-Z. Some questioned the authenticity of the win; was it a consolation prize of sorts, after Kendrick lost the 2017 album of the year Grammy and also best rap album of the year several times in the past? In a similar vein, was it an attempt to appease the #OscarsSoWhite set by giving the award to a Black hip-hop artist, the first ever. Was it also an appeal to hip-hop loving youth (as hip-hop recently surpassed rock ‘n’ roll – another Black American creation – as the most listened to genre in the United States), many of whom had no idea there even was a Pulitzer Prize for music? Or was it a well-deserved award given to a deserving artist, one of the most critically acclaimed of the last decade (so acclaimed, in fact, that some argue that DAMN. isn’t even Lamar’s best album to date, wondering why the award didn’t go to 2015’sTo Pimp A Butterfly instead)? [Read more…]
Bruno Mars is an agent of the system of white supremacy. There. I said it.
More pointedly, Mars is representative of a system that smudges out Black people, specifically Black Americans, while white and non-Black persons of color benefit from anti-Black racism and white supremacy. If Mars were white, we—the Black community—would not be okay with it. Yet despite the fact that he is not white, that still does not make him Black, and it in no way indicates that he is not benefitting from anti-Black racism as a non-Black person of color. Rather, the stark and barefaced opposite is true. [Read more…]
The excitement that Marvel’s Black Panther has touched off in masses of Black people is undeniable.
It was a cultural phenomenon before it was even released, sparking conversation around Black representation in blockbuster films — particularly the lucrative comic book movie – and the importance of having Black creatives behind the camera as well as in front of it. With a Black director, writer, costumier, hairstylist, etc. and a budget of $200 million (higher than Thor: Ragnarok, for comparison), in many ways, this movie was a first of its kind. The budget and production value of this film has never been seen before, and it appeared that Marvel, now owned by Disney, was clearly addressing criticisms of diversity by throwing their full weight behind the project. Main cast members Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and newcomer Letitia Wright led a marketing campaign that placed them front and center on magazines and billboards — occasionally dressed as actual Black Panthers and even as Jesus (side note: who else remembers when Kanye West covered Rolling Stone in a crown of thorns and the world lost its shit?). [Read more…]
In the most recent season of Charlie Brooker’s excellent The Twilight Zone meets tech anthology series, Black Mirror, an entire episode is dedicated to dating: specifically the app-driven online variety favored by millennials. In “Hang The DJ,” we meet protagonists that slog through endless hours, months, and years of misery guided by an automated system that “learns” from each doomed relationship and ultimately pairs them with their “perfect match.” But an unspoken question looms throughout the episode: why? [Read more…]
There is a scene in the film I, Tonya where Tonya Harding, played by Margot Robbie, has just skated a stellar performance. It is clear she possesses more athleticism and raw talent than the skaters before her, yet she receives low marks across the board. She approaches the judge’s table in anger. Admitting to the strength of her routine, they then criticize her nail polish (blue) and her choice of music (Zeppelin). She is told her scores would improve if she worked harder to fit in. Her response? “Suck my dick.” She then fires the well-dressed coach who sided with the judges and advises her to “lose the nail polish.” [Read more…]
The flowery language of the United States Declaration of Independence would have you believe that human life has an inherent value, one that includes inalienable rights such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But in America, a major indicator of value is actually placed on being a productive member of society, which typically means working a job that creates monetary revenue (especially if the end result is accumulated wealth and suffering was inherently involved in the process). “Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” being a “self-made” man or woman, and “rags to riches” stories permeate our collective consciousness, creating an overarching culture that links work, jobs and money to morality and value. The system of higher education has also been tied to this toxic concept, as we have equated more education to being better qualified for said jobs. And so the equation becomes: more education leads to more jobs, which leads to more earned and accumulated revenue, which leads to more “value.” [Read more…]
Echo chambers are considered by many to be the bane of intellectual thought. They dominated the news cycle after the 2016 United States presidential elections, with headline after headline blaring that echo chambers (along with fake news and Russian intervention) were partly responsible for costing Democrats the vote. Leftists, liberals, and millennials alike were blamed for the creation of “safe spaces” in polls, magazines and Internet comment sections, blinding themselves to the popularity of Donald Trump against opponent Hilary Clinton. They were blindsided because they’d secluded themselves away in worlds of their own making, left bewildered to the idea of huge swaths of the population identifying with, and voting for, a racist, sexist demagogue like Donald Trump. [Read more…]
Imagine a world where a seemingly all-powerful political party has seized control of America, upending our democratic system of checks and balances. A malevolent dictator slowly strips the rights away from underserved and marginalized groups, particularly women and people of color, under the guise of providing “stability” for the nation as a whole. And radical protest groups led primarily by Black women march through the streets, broadcast over the radio waves, and find themselves harassed, wrongfully detained, and even murdered by police. [Read more…]
One line on 4:44, the 13th solo album by rapper Jay-Z, implores listeners to “Stop me when I stop telling the truth.” If that’s the case, you can’t stop this album for its entire 34 minutes. Featuring some of his most introspective and lyrical wordplay since 2007’s American Gangster, 4:44 is essentially a comeback record after a series of projects that were commercially successful but weren’t particularly critically well-received by reviewers or fans. It finds the 47-year-old drug dealer-turned-rapper-turned-multi-millionaire businessman at a crossroads of sorts, reflecting on his choices thus far and laying out the motivations for the directions he’s going in next; each of the ten tracks weave the musings of the man Shawn Carter against the rap mogul Jay-Z and back again. [Read more…]
Sofia Coppola’s sixth movie, The Beguiled, has been making waves recently. An adaptation of a 1966 book and 1971 movie featuring Clint Eastwood, the plot follows a group of isolated Confederate women and the havoc wrought by an unexpected Union soldier who drops into their midst. Starring such recognizable names as Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning, it has been lauded as a feat of mood, art direction, acting, and costuming, with the cast as well as Coppola herself garnering platitudes: she won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival for the film, making her the first woman director in 56 years and only the second overall to win the prestigious award. Oscar buzz is already swirling.
However, the film has also generated controversary for its use of an entirely white cast against the backdrop of the Civil War-ravaged South, despite the fact that the source material included Black women characters in Edwina, a free mixed race teacher who hides her Black parentage, and Mattie, a house slave. [Read more…]