Month: September 2017

Meet Zelda Wynn Valdes, the woman behind Hugh Hefner’s iconic Playboy Bunny

Hugh Hefner, the founder of the long-running Playboy Magazine empire, has died at age 91. I haz a sad.

First of all, before anyone decides to come for me for saying I’m a little bummed, YES, I know that Playboy is based on a sexist and, frankly, racially-biased interpretation of feminine beauty–regardless of Hefner wanting to appeal to the James Bond “lascivious gentleman” aesthetic of the 1950s and 1960s, Playboy, and the aesthetic it played upon, showcased women from the male gaze, and that’s putting it mildly. Also, despite Hefner being a supporter of civil rights and providing a platform for Malcolm X (who was interviewed for the magazine by none other than future Roots author Alex Haley), the track record for notable black Playboy models is bleak. The first black Playmate of the Month, Jennifer Jackson, made her debut in 1965, 12 years after Playboy was founded and first published. The first black Playboy cover model was Darine Stern in 1971, and according to Wikipedia, there are only 29 black Playboy Playmates of the Month (not counting Playboy‘s regular pinup shots), and the first black Playmate of the Year was Renee Tenison in 1990. (Complex has a good article on 25 of those Playmates.) In case you need more proof that Playboy has been behind the eight-ball in the area of representation, the magazine has only just had its first Mexican-American Playboy Playmate of the Year in 2013 with Raquel Pomplun.

I understand all of the issues surrounding Playboy and Hefner. And yet, I am a little downtrodden. As horrific as it might sound, generations have grown up with the presence of Hefner in his Playboy Mansion. For better or worse, he was a huge part of our pop culture fabric. And, despite all of the facts I laid down about Playboy‘s racial issues (and some I didn’t, like the fact that the majority of the black Playmates of the Month range from light beige to toffee-colored, further pushing a colorism narrative), there’s one Playboy fact involving the black image that goes routinely unnoticed–the iconic look of the Playboy Bunny comes from the mind of a black woman.

Zelda Wynn Valdes is who you have to thank for the classic Playboy Bunny costume, a costume so ingrained in our psyche that the silhouette alone tells you what you need to know.

Valdes, who died in 2001, opened the first African-American owned boutique, Chez Zelda, in Manhattan  in 1948 (the shop later moved to Midtown in 1950). She dressed some of the biggest names of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, including Dorothy Dandridge, Mae West, Ruby Dee, Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Jessye Norman, Gladys Knight, the entire 1948 bridal party of Nat King Cole and Marie Ellington, and “the black Marilyn Monroe,” Joyce Bryant. She also served as the President of the New York chapter of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers (NAFAD), an organization founded by Mary McLeod Bethune. Later in life, she also designed costumes for the Dance Theater of Harlem. She started working with the company in 1970 and continued there until she died at the age of 96.

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http://dorothydandridge.tumblr.com/post/84783602930/she-had-a-gorgeous-figure-she-was-a-person-you

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Valdes’ flattering, sexy, body-hugging designs garnered Hefner’s attention, particularly because, I’m sure, he was opening his Playboy Clubs and needed costumes for his waitresses. The original idea for the bunny costume might have been conceived by the Playboy’s director of operations Victor Lownes, but it took Valdes’ flair and artistic eye to bring that idea to fruition. Also, Valdes’ Playboy Bunny costume became the first service uniform registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, furthering Valdes’ legendary status.

http://empiricalblackness.tumblr.com/post/102352513351/the-playboy-bunny-costume-was-made-by-a-black

Or, rather, it should be a legendary status. Valdes’ contributions to Playboy, and to fashion in general, seem to go unnoticed by society at large, and that’s a shame. Valdes helped shape the idea of a glamorous woman through her high profile clients, and for better or worse, she helped shape the ideal image of the the Playboy Bunny and the conversation we have about beauty and body image.

This is where the history of the costume gets into the weeds, since, ironically, the image of the standard Playboy Bunny is this:

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Despite the fact that the design was brought to life by a black woman.

There’s also a ton that can be said about the rigorous dieting the Bunnies must have had to be on to be able to successfully make it through pre-shift weigh-ins (wherein they could only gain or lose a pound), not to mention dealing with blatant objectification. Activist Gloria Steinem famously wrote about her time as a Playboy Bunny in an article called “A Bunny’s Tale,” which was published in Show Magazine in 1963. In the article, she outlines how degrading and sexually exploitative it was to work as a Bunny. Some of those awful working conditions seemed to be alluded to in the 2011 failed NBC Mad Men-esque drama The Playboy Club. Despite the fact that the show never quite got off the ground in terms of storytelling, it did, however, provide our best modern look at the Playboy Bunny costume in action, giving us an idea of what it must have looked like to see the costume at work in its heyday. Despite the awfulness surrounding the clubs themselves, you can’t deny that these costumes don’t have a touch of glamour, and even mystery, to them.

Naturi Naughton in “The Playboy Club” (Photo credit: John Russo/NBC)

The instantly iconic look of the costume is why you always see it every year at Halloween or any type of costume party. Heck, if you’re an anime fan, you’ve probably seen this costume on several anime characters, the most notable character possibly being Bulma from Dragonball. 

The Playboy Bunny suit has not only domestic, but international appeal. To me personally, it just looks cool. Somehow, Valdes was able to imbue playfulness, sexiness, allure, and a coquettish sensibility all in a corseted teddy, black sheer stockings, and bunny ears.

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Playboy, the Playboy Clubs, and all the other trappings of Playboy Enterprises all revolve around the salability of the woman as a product, it’s true. There are tons of articles that can be (and have been) written about Hefner and his sordid, yet weirdly marketable empire of T and A. While the news of Hefner’s death is fresh, you should be able to find tons of articles out there that can supplement this one with all of the hot takes you need. Twitter alone will provide you with multiple angles on Hefner’s life and the complicated legacy he leaves behind.

At the end of the day, though, if there’s anything that can be said about Hefner, it’s that he didn’t build his empire alone. He, like most American “self-made” men, built it with the help of a talented black woman. One of these days, I’m going to don the Playboy Bunny costume to a Halloween party in Valdes’ honor. If only I could get over showing my upper thighs. 🐰

“Star Trek: Discovery”: How Michael Burnham speaks to my perfectionist, highly sensitive struggles

As I’ve stated in my SlashFilm review, I’ve always been a Star Trek fan ever since I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation with my dad about 20 years ago. But while Jean-Luc Picard will always be my favorite Star Trek captain ever (who can say no to Patrick Stewart and the way he commanded with calm authority?), Picard has to battle Spock for the title of favorite Star Trek character ever.

The reason? Because as a half human, half Vulcan, Spock has had to battle his reason with his human emotions, emotions that had the potential to get (and, in the reboot films, has gotten) the best of him. The battle between raging emotions and cold reason is a battle I face constantly. Never did I think Star Trek would continue to crystallize this struggle in such a poignant way, but the franchise succeeded again with Star Trek: Discovery‘s Michael Burnham and her relationship to her father figure (and Spock’s future father) Sarek.

I’ve stated many times on this site and in other publications about how much of my love for Star Trek stems from its ability to showcase varying struggles that exist under the umbrella of “diversity.” Thankfully, the franchise also includes psychological diversity as well, as is the case with the Vulcan race. The Vulcans have stood for many things to many viewers. Some see the Vulcans and their occasional misunderstandings as a way to thoughtfully approach the autism spectrum. Others see the Vulcans as simply uppity living cardboard figures. Speaking personally, the Vulcans have always shown a light on two of my big personal struggles–perfectionism and the highly sensitive (or even empathic) mind.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham. Photo credit: CBS

The running joke my sister and I have is that I’m a Vulcan. In fact, when I said it as self-deprication a few years ago, my sister replied thoughtfully, “You know what? I agree with that.”

I’ve always been a deep thinker, and too many times, that thinking has either gotten me in some type of mental trouble or made me appear as unable to connect with the “normal” outside world. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t connect with the outside world, because I’m so wrapped up in how other people feel, how I feel, and how to best convey those feelings to people who might not have emotions that run as deeply as mine do. As psychiatrist and Emotional Freedom author Judith Orloff accurately described, “It’s like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10. You have more receptors to feel things.”

Believe it or not, it’s not easy being a feeler, and our Western society makes sure it’s tougher than it has to be. As a society,we value loudness over softness, action over reflection, and doing over being. The stereotypes of a highly sensitive person make us out to be gooey bundles of mush that can’t defend ourselves because we’re supposedly so much weaker than the “average” person. That’s not the case–we aren’t weak. We’re actually quite strong. But you wouldn’t know it from how much emphasis people put on having an extroverted outlook and put down those of us who are reserved within ourselves.

All this leads to is, aside from a smattering of depression, a bad case of perfectionism. I call myself a “recovering perfectionist” now, but for a long time, I’ve been investigating where my perfectionism came from. I’d have to say that there are a lot of reasons for it, but one of them is because I’ve used perfectionism as a bad coping mechanism for the harsh world who can’t handle tears. I grew up comparing myself to others who I thought were better than me simply because they could they naturally handled emotions in a different way than I did. I didn’t realize that the way I handled my emotions was simply my nature–it’s as much an integral part of me as my black skin is. After growing into adulthood I’ve realized that there’s no reason to try to change myself, since my emotions work just like how they’re supposed to work. They are part of the inner strength that help make me a better version of myself each day.

Arista Arhin in Star Trek: Discovery (Photo credit: CBS)

Michael Burnham seems tailor made for this type of exploration of inner strength. I see in her what I’ve seen in me all the time. I see her struggle to adapt to her Vulcan upbringing and tamp down her human (i.e. emotional) self. I see her struggle to fit in with her Vulcan peers, possibly feeling a lack of self-esteem at not being like the others. I see the shadow of perfectionism that showed itself as cockiness when she first enters the U.S.S. Shenzhou–you can tell she thinks she knows everything about everything because she’s been the first human to graduate from the Vulcan academies and excel amid intense pressure and a stacked deck. I also see her struggle to understand that her humanness–her emotions–is what makes her great.

Her struggle against emotions is also apparent in Sarek and other Vulcans. Big fans of Star Trek know that Vulcans do, in fact, feel. As Memory-Alpha states:

“Contrary to stereotype, Vulcans did possess emotions; indeed, Vulcan emotions were far more intense, violent, and passionate than those of many other species, including even Humans. It was this passionate, explosive emotionality that Vulcans blamed for the vicious cycle of wars which nearly devastated their planet. As such, they focused their mental energies on mastering them.”

Vulcans, including human-born/Vulcan-raised members like Michael and Vulcan-human hybrids like Spock, always suffered with deep-running emotions. Here on planet Earth, there are tons of folks like me who always seem to be drowning in their own emotions, even as we attempt to tamp them down. The actual suffering doesn’t come from the emotions themselves, but from the attempt to control them. But if you unleash those emotions, then what? The fear of being out of control in any fashion is what, sadly, keeps the suffering going. It’s the Vulcans’ own fear of a lack of self-control that keeps them perpetuating what is essentially a culture of emotional abuse and intense perfectionism over and over. The aspiration to be the ultimate Vulcan, as it were, is what causes Vulcans to stay at war with themselves.

The Vulcan brain can also be a scary place to be due to their intense emotions. Again, to quote Memory-Alpha:

“The Vulcan brain was described as ‘a puzzle, wrapped inside an enigma, house inside a cranium.’ This had some basis in fact, as the Vulcan brain was composed of many layers…Unlike most humanoid species, traumatic memories were not only psychologically disturbing to Vulcans, but had physical consequences as well. The Vulcan brain, in reordering neural pathways, could literally lobotomize itself.”

The human brain can’t lobotomize itself (although it can block highly traumatic memories from ever reaching the surface), but his description of the Vulcan brain, especially the part about how much of a puzzle it is, fits the highly emotional mind as well. A mind that is constantly drenched in deep emotion is a mind that is mystery even to itself. The fact that there’s science spearheaded by the leading HSP expert, Dr. Elaine Aron, that show that the highly sensitive person has a hypersensitive wired nervous system and empathy-targeted brain is evidence that the highly sensitive mind is an overactive (and sometimes over-reactive) place. Also, like Vulcans, those who consider themselves highly sensitive or even empathic have extremely strong reactions to events as well as the mundane, due to the fact that–like Vulcans–we can usually sense the emotions of others.

James Frain and Sonequa Martin-Green as Sarek and Michael. (Photo credit: CBS)

However, with all of this going on, it’s fascinating that Sarek still saw the value in human emotions, so much so that he entrusted his ward to Capt. Georgiou in an attempt to give her the human experiences she never had. It’s also poignant to note that he only shows his true emotions to those closest to him, like when he does his best to hold back a proud smile as he introduces Michael to Georgiou for the first time. Or when he reveals to Michael through their mental connection his regret at not showing her the emotional support she needed throughout her life. His statements are made simply, but you can see the depth of feeling there. You can tell how much he loves Michael and does truly believe in her, like any good father would. Like any parent, he’s made mistakes in raising his child, and he’s emotionally intelligent enough to be able to admit that–and his emotional state surrounding this fact–to Michael. As we already know from Star Trek, Sarek sees a lot of admirable qualities in humans, so much so that he married one and had a child. Perhaps it was raising Michael that helped him open his eyes to the importance of having a balance between emotion and reason.

Showing Sarek reveal his emotional side to Michael, and Michael revealing her emotions to Georgiou, brings up another point about highly sensitive people, or at least, someone like me–it’s difficult showing your full self to the public. It’s much easier–and much more intimate–to show the full extent of your emotions to those closest to you, to those who understand you. Not everyone realizes that emotions aren’t there to be played with or used against the person; we highly sensitive people only feel safest revealing ourselves to those who mean the most to us in our lives. Those people have earned the right to know us as we are, and that is a coveted position to hold. In Star Trek terms, it is a coveted position to have a Vulcan as a friend, because they will probably be extremely loyal to you because of the position you hold in their life.

James Frain as Sarek. (Photo credit: CBS)

The scene between Sarek and Michael in the mind meld was extremely special for me. It hit home in a way I didn’t expect that scene to do. It made me feel like I finally have someone who understands my personal struggle on television, and she’s also a black woman. It showcases a different side to blackness that is rarely seen on television (so much so that tons of Star Trek fanbros are up in arms over Michael leading the series). She’s not loud or brash. She’s not sexually promiscuous. She’s not even funny, really. She’s a no-nonsense, yet naive woman who is still trying to find herself amid her place between two cultures. She’s ‘a puzzle, wrapped inside an enigma, house inside a cranium,’ and it’s good to see someone like her exist in our pop culture. She lets other black women like me, women with Vulcan brains, know that not only are they just fine, but they can–yes, I’m saying it–live long and prosper. 🖖🏾

“Star Trek: Discovery”: Was [REDACTED]’s death even necessary? (Spoilers ahead)

I have several things I’d like to spout about when it comes to CBS’ Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, I’ve already spouted some of my opinions over at SlashFilm. But what I’m focusing on right now is a section from my review in which I tackle the death of a major character.

From this point on, there will be spoilers, so leave or face the consequences.


Alright, if you’ve read below the horizontal line, you’ve either seen the first two episodes–the second one in particular–or you don’t care about spoilers. Either way, I’m divulging my opinions on the first major death of the year, Captain Phillipa Georgiou.

Photo credit: CBS

Georgiou, played by veteran actor Michelle Yeoh, basically has the same arc as Captain Pike in the Star Trek reboot film series, particularly Star Trek Into Darkness, which had him die to further both Kirk and Spock’s emotional growth. Did Pike need to die for this to happen? I don’t think so. Granted, I’m averse to killing characters anyways, but I don’t think the story really needed Pike as a casualty to move the story along. Similarly, I don’t think the second episode of Star Trek: Discovery warranted Georgiou to give her life in the line of duty just for Michael Burnham to really feel the sting of her actions (actions that were in the hopes of saving everyone, but still, they were treasonous).

The main reason I’m concerned about Yeoh’s death is that it plays on some of the same themes as the death of Veil from Into the Badlands. To quote myself from my SlashFilm review:

If there’s one negative, it’s the fact that Georgiou dies in the second episode. On the one hand, this provides Burnham’s story with more emotional weight since Burnham probably feels like Georgiou’s death is her fault. However, for Asian viewers, Georgiou’s death might feel like a setback. I write this because a black woman’s death on TV often feels like a setback for black female characters as a whole.

Take for instance Into the Badlands, one of the most inclusive shows on TV. Even with the show’s “wokeness,” as it were, to the issues that can occur with stereotypical portrayals, the series still committed the crime of killing a prominent black female character — Veil, Sunny’s wife-to-be and mother of his child — solely to propel Sunny’s emotional arc as the show heads into its third season. Many black female viewers were heated about this, since it seemed like Veil sacrificed herself even though her safety was literally steps away. Her death was even more hurtful since it came after having her tortured for the whole season.

It’s not so much the act of killing a character that’s upsetting — if a character has to die for the story, then that’s something to take into account. But killing a character that represents an underserved market is something that always has to be taken seriously. From my own talk with Into the Badlands EP Al Gough, I learned that Veil’s death was heavily discussed and argued over in the writer’s room. But what might have not been taken into the account was the fact that Veil was the only woman of color in a prominent position on the show. Killing her has now left a huge void in a show that has been buoyed in part by viewers who are, in fact, women of color. A similar outrage might happen with Georgiou’s death. She might be one two women of color in this first two episodes, but she’s also the only woman of Asian descent in a prominent role on this show. Killing her in just the second episode might ring as a slap in the face to Asian viewers, particularly Asian women. Again, like Into the Badlands, I don’t think Star Trek: Discovery means any harm. However, Georgiou’s death is something that is bound to send shockwaves throughout a community that has already fought against whitewashing in a big way in recent years, especially in 2017.

As a writer (even a writer who doesn’t like writing death), I understand that death has a purpose in a show, particularly when it’s done well. This might be a random example, but I think a great way death has been examined on a show is when Mr. Hooper died on Sesame Street. (I’m also dating myself since I can remember Mr. Hooper.) The actor who played Mr. Hooper, Will Lee, died in real life, and this provided the children’s show the unique challenge of addressing mortality to its young audience. Without getting into a tangent about how children’s shows fail to address big issues like this in today’s time of padded playsets and participation trophies, Sesame Street utilized a real life tragedy and turned it into one of the finest and most sensitive moments on television, compassionately teaching children about the inevitability of death and how to deal with life’s unanswerable questions, while also showing how to grieve and remember the memory of a loved one.

It’s a lot for a children’s show to handle, even one like Sesame Street, which regularly tackled real world issues due to Jim Henson’s insistence that the show be treated as something both kids and their parents can watch and gain something from. But Sesame Street showed how it can be done with tact and respect. For writers, it shows how to make a character’s death impactful and actually mean something. Will Georgiou’s death mean something other than a potentially lazy way of injecting more pathos into an already pathos-laden situation? I hope so. I know it’ll be referenced later in the season, but let’s hope that Georgiou’s death will have some serious weight and make a large impact on Burnham’s development.

In short, my point in my Black Girl Nerds article about Veil’s death mirrors how I feel about Georgiou’s death:

Let’s take out the racial component for a second because the devil’s advocate rebuttal to Veil’s death would be that Black women characters have just as much of a chance to die as white women characters do. In a democratically-written show, this is very true. However, if we take out the racial component, we’re still left with another woman who had to die for there to be “emotional depth.” Couldn’t there have been emotional depth built with her still living?

Just switch around the races and my sentiment is basically the same. Couldn’t there have still been emotional depth with Georgiou still alive?

Photo credit: CBS

Georgiou’s death isn’t the only surprise death from the second episode–the major Klingon threat, T’Kuvma (American Gods‘ Chris Obi), also bites the dust in a way that seems ill-advised for a show that still has several episodes left to prove itself. According to the Star Trek: Discovery brass, they have a tightly-wound plan in place that connects the first episode to the last in a very specific way. But regardless of the plan, Georgiou’s death will have a ripple effect, and not just in Burnham’s storyline, but in the viewership as well, particularly Asian viewers.

Now, I’m not an Asian woman, so maybe I’m only speculating. But if I see shades of Veil and, frankly, Sleepy Hollow’s Abbie in another female character of color, then I feel like I should say something.

What did you think about Georgiou’s death? Did you think it was egregious, or do you think it was sound storytelling? Sound off below!

Meet the director behind the Afrofuturistic film “Brown Girl Begins”

As I wrote earlier, Brown Girl Begins, inspired by the book Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson, will make its world premiere at the UrbanWorld Film Festival in New York Friday. For fans of the afrofuturist movement, this is the kind of film that’s been sorely needed; it combines classic fantasy and post-apocalyptic elements, as well as a focus on the religions and cultures of the African diaspora, particularly the Caribbean. In fact, its the first Caribbean-Canadian feature film ever made.

To quote the official synopsis:

It’s 2049 and Toronto the Good has been taken over by the wealthy. A wall has been built around the city and the poor are expelled to an island off the coast, known as The Burn. The segregated Burn dwellers have been forced to scrape out a living by bartering, recycling, and farming. Mami is the unspoken leader of the Burn, sharing her
Caribbean herb lore and leading her followers in an ancient spiritual practice. Ti-Jeanne turns 19 and the time has come for her to succeed her grandmother and become a Priestess. When Mami tries to prepare her to take part in the same possession ritual that killed her mother, Ti-Jeanne refuses. She flees with her young love Tony to the other side of the Burn in hopes of leaving the spirit business behind.

Until – out of the ashes of The Burn, a drug lord rises to take control of the remaining population and uses his right hand, Crack, to torment the Burn dwellers and prepare them for sale to mainlanders as smart slaves. When Crack begins torturing the children of the Burn, Ti-Jeanne can no longer refuse her other-worldly powers as a priestess. She is the only hope to save them. Can Ti-Jeanne handle the power of the spirits she has been so afraid of and save her people, or will her fear kill her?

So who’s exactly behind bringing this book to film form? Canadian director, TV host and activist Sharon Lewis. Lewis has worked in television, digital, print, film, and theater and has been an award-winning director, actor, producer and writer. She starred in the title role of the Cannes-nominated film Rude, the first all black above-the-line Canadian feature film, and she co-wrote, directed and produced the 1994 hit play Sistahs. As the host of CBC’s live political talk show Counterspin, she earned the highest ratings in the show’s history and became the first woman of color in Canada to host a national primetime talk show. She is also a Leo and Gemini-nominated television host for CBC’s interactive web show ZeD, and in 2005, Sharon won Best Sci-Fi Short for her directorial work on a short film she wrote and produced, Chains, which premiered at the Eugene International Film Festival.

Sharon Lewis

“I was studying directing in Los Angeles at UCLA when I walked into my favorite bookstore and saw my fellow artist and colleague Nalo Hopkinson’s award-winning novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, on the shelf,” said Lewis in a statement. “#blackgirlmagic unfolded from the moment I read the first page. I knew then that I had to bring this bold and unique story of a young black teenage heroine growing up in a post-apocalyptic Toronto to the screen.”

“Just like the epic journey of Ti-Jeanne, the heroine in the book, it has taken me time to acquire the creative skills, experience and resources needed to be ready,” she said. “…I am now part of a movement of people who have brought this project to life–all working their own magic. Ti-Jeanne. She is the future.”

Brown Girl Begins stars Mouna Traoré, Emmanuel Kabongo, Shakura S’Aida, Nigel Shawn Williams, Rachael Crawford, Hannah Chantée, award-winning Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and award-winning Trinidadian calypso artist David Rudder, billed as one of the most successful calypso artists of all time.

To get tickets to the UrbanWorld screening, visit urbanworld.org. Learn more about Brown Girl Begins through its website and Twitter page.

Three Emmys speeches that will empower and validate you

There is a lot going on in this country right now. There are police battling protesters in St. Louis (the protests stemming from yet another cop not charged for killing a black man). There are protests for DACA and the protection of the Dreamers, people who were brought into America as children and have grown up under government protections that have now been taken away, putting them at risk for deportation to countries they have no familiarity with. Meanwhile, there are hate crimes happening almost every day, including that of a biracial boy who was lynched. Thankfully, he survived, but I’m sure his psyche has been scarred forever.

With all of that going on, what possible message could the Emmys have for those of us fighting for representation, when it seems everything and everyone else wants to literally and figuratively snuff us out?

Validation. 

Yeah, the Emmys didn’t win any points by having Sean Spicer as one of the main jokey appearances of the night. For many, it was a horrible moment of playing to the “normalizing Trump” deck. While Hillary Clinton is being shunned for speaking her mind on the election and answering the question many of us had–what happened??–Spicer, who has been willing to speak lies to power at the White House press pulpit and recently defended Trump on Jimmy Kimmel Live, now gets to go on the beginnings of a redemption tour, starting with being in Colbert’s opening Emmys act.

The Emmys also didn’t deliver on reducing tone-deafness in other ways, such as Nicole Kidman’s ridiculously long (and seemingly rehearsed) acceptance speech, and Kidman’s later speech with Big Little Lies co-star Reese Witherspoon. As one Twitter user wrote, having two white Oscar winners complain about the lack of roles, when there’s a much more dire state concerning roles for everyone else, felt just a little bit gross.

But the most powerful takeaway from The Emmys last night was how amazing it was to see so many people who have been traditionally marginalized by Hollywood–and by society at large for their sexual orientation, religious beliefs, gender, and/or skin color–get recognized by the Hollywood elite. That recognition makes the Emmy board and Emmy voters pat themselves on the back for being “liberal,” but that feeling of recognition shouldn’t be for them. It’s for those winners and the people the winners represent.

The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed, Master of None‘s Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari, This is Us‘ Sterling K. Brown, Saturday Night Live‘s Kate McKinnon, Atlanta‘s Donald Glover, director Reed Morano for her work on the pilot episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, and Charlie Brooker for his script for the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror were all big moments highlighting the power of inclusive storytelling.

History was also made by Ahmed, who became the first male South Asian actor to win at the Emmys, and just the second Asian star period after Archie Panjabi. Ahmed is now also the first Muslim actor to win an Emmy. Waithe became the first black woman to win an Emmy for writing in a comedy series and Brown became the first black actor to win the Outstanding Lead Actor-Drama award since 1998. Glover’s wins earned him the titles of being the first black actor to win the award for Outstanding Lead Actor-Comedy in 32 years and the first black Best Director-Comedy winner.

Waithe and Brown’s speeches in particular showcase just how powerful it is to be seen and validated for being exactly who you are.

“I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers — every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it,” said Waithe to her “LGBTQIA family.”

“And for everybody out there that showed so much love for this episode, thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago,” she continued. “We appreciate it more than you could ever know.”

“When people who have gone through anxiety said, ‘I haven’t seen this on TV. Thank you for representing it as well as you did, and making me not feel as if something is wrong with me,'” said Brown backstage to Entertainment Weekly, referencing the anxiety his character on This is Us faces daily. “You often have this feeling that it’s just me, and then you get a chance to see somebody else go through what it is that you go through, and then you feel like you’re not alone again. I’m always really, really proud of an opportunity to tell people that they’re not alone.”

Ahmed summed up the night perfectly in his backstage interview with BuzzFeed News.

“I think what we’re starting to see is more awareness around how beneficial it can be to tell a diverse range of stories and to tell them in a way that’s authentic,” he said, adding that he found Ben Skrein giving up his role in Hellboy 3 due to cultural sensitivity particularly moving. “When you see examples of that, what you’re seeing is just more awareness around these conversations. And I think awareness is the first step to reach change,” he said.

So, when using the context of the Emmys, what does validation mean? It means being seen. “Being seen” is a phrase that gets overused on the internet, especially if you stay within certain circles on social media. But being seen is the best way to describe the feeling. Seeing people like Waithe, Brown, Ahmed, McKinnon, and Ansari getting rewarded for what they bring to the acting world–a certain point of view that reflects their uniqueness as individuals–can give viewers who aspire to be like them, but feel let down by today’s current society, hope. That hope can also be spurred into action.

Nights like the Emmys are chock full of the potential to be empowering, and despite a night full of hiccups, the Emmys still delivered on empowering moments in television. These Emmy winners showed that there is power in inclusion, because the fight isn’t about metrics or taking acting roles away–it’s about validation. It’s about someone saying that your story, your life, matters. It’s about a little kid (or, let’s face it, even a grown adult) gaining encouragement and self-esteem after seeing themselves on screen in the form of an actor winning an award. People want to act like such a simple act as that doesn’t matter, but most of the people who think that have seen themselves validated on screen and throughout society for their whole lives. Acts such as a marginalized person winning in a country that is designed specifically to target them can rewire a person’s entire trajectory for the better. These small moments are wholly important.

Hopefully, last night’s Emmys validated you in some way as well. We all have our stories to tell, and we all don’t feel qualified or allowed to tell them. We can feel as if our country doesn’t support us or love us. We can feel like our parents don’t understand us. We can feel like everyone and everything who is supposed to support us has failed us and refuses to understand our pain or our message. But we are now in an America where it is possible for actors of color and LGBGQIA actors to feel legitimate in telling their story, not a whitewashed version of it.

They can be who they are and be validated for that, and during these troubling times, that counts for something. It means that there’s still an appetite for connection. There are still people in this country who want to know about your experiences and care about how you see things. There are still many who would love to support you in spreading your story to the masses. In short, you have the permission to light the world on fire with your story as well; you can be an inspiration someone else looking for the message only you can give. As Waithe said in her speech, what makes you different is your superpower. Use it to change the world for the better.

We here

A post shared by Riz Ahmed (@rizahmed) on

Now go tell your story!

How did the Emmys positively affect you? What did you take away from it? Did you feel validated by any of the wins? Comment below. And, if you know someone who needs to hear a message of validation, let them know!

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Weekend reading: The ’90s comes back with Tim Reid, Tia Mowry and Jaleel White + more

It’s oddly comforting to see the names “Tia Mowry,” “Jaleel White” and “Tim Reid” back in the TV news cycle. I’m going to check out their new show Me Myself and I and feel like it’s TGIF again.

Here’s what’s going on around the internet:

Tia Mowry & Tim Reid join CBS comedy, ‘Me, Myself & I,’ which stars Jaleel White|Shadow and Act

Bambi Artist Tyrus Wong on PBS American Masters|HapaMama

Netflix nabs worldwide rights to musical from ‘Chewing Gum’ star Michaela Coel, ‘Been So Long’|Shadow and Act

Women Power! 115 Films by Indigenous Artists at imagineNATIVE with 72% Female Directors|Indian Country Today

Amazon Orders Fred Armisen-Maya Rudolph Comedy, Wong Kar-wai Drama, 3 Other Projects (EXCLUSIVE)|Variety

Meet the African Woman Teaching Chinese Girls How to Code|NextShark

Elaine Welteroth, Teen Vogue’s Refashionista|New York Times Magazine

American Indian Nurses: Healing Grounded in Native Values|Indian Country Today

The Women’s March Organizers Are Planning a Women’s Convention in Detroit This Fall|W Magazine

Julia Solomonoff’s Gorgeous ‘Nobody’s Watching’ Sheds New Light on the Latino Immigrant Experience|Remezcla

Gina Rodriguez to shine light on immigration rights with two new TV shows

Gina Rodriguez is making moves and preparing to educate the viewing public on immigration rights in the process.

According to Jezebel, the Jane the Virgin star has sold two shows with immigration as its focus. The first, Have Mercy, is based on a German series format and tells the story of an immigrant Latina doctor who opens her own clinic after working as a nurse’s assistant. This show has been sold to CBS, which, combined with Gloria Calderon Kellett’s History of Them, makes CBS’ new commitment to diversity seem a little more legitimate.

The second, Illegal, has been sold to The CW and is based on the life of Jane the Virgin writer and co-executive producer Rafael Agustin, who immigrated to America from Ecuador and discovered his undocumented status while attending high school.

According to The Hollywood Reporter Illegal will be an hourlong dramedy and is currently in development.

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Jordan Peele and Spike Lee to bring “Black Klansman” to big screen

What is the only way for Jordan Peele to follow up from Get Out? To tell the true story of a black man who infiltrated the KKK.

Shadow and Act has reported that Peele has partnered with Spike Lee to create the thriller Black Klansman. The film will focus on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who was able to infiltrate the KKK. This project will finally bring John David Washington, the son of Denzel Washington, to the big screen in a big way. Currently, Washington stars on Ballers, but this film, which will start production in the fall, could really make Washington a huge film star.

Peele will produce with Lee, who will also act as director. Blumhouse Productions, who helped bring Get Out to theaters, is also behind the film as a producer. Peele and Lee, according to The Hollywood Reporter, have been working on this film for the past two years.

According to Shadow and Act via The Hollywood Reporter, the film will tell the story of Stallworth who, in 1978, answered an ad in the local newspaper looking for new Klan members.

“He not only gained membership, but rose through the ranks to become the head of the local chapter. Stallworth, who is black, was able to gather all sorts of intelligence by pretending to be a white supremacist on the phone or via other forms of correspondence but sent a white fellow officer in his place for any in-person meetings,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter. “During his undercover work, Stallworth managed to sabotage several cross-burnings and other activities of the notorious hate group.”

Stallworth wrote a book about his work in 2014 called—you guessed it—Black Klansman.

The theatrical release date hasn’t been announced, but is it too early to say that this might be up for Oscar noms when it comes out?

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Ali Wong and Randall Park are #ExpressiveAsian love interests

What is really funny is that the first article for today was about the #ExpressiveAsian movement to illustrate the ridiculously racist idea some casting folks in Hollywood have against casting Asians (the belief that they aren’t “expressive”). As if to counter that racist idea, here’s talk about a rom-com film starring some very expressive Asian actors, Ali Wong and Randall Park.

Comedic actors Wong (who is also a stand-up comedian) and Park, who we know on Fresh Off the Boat, will star in a romantic comedy coming to Netflix. According to Vulture via Deadline, the film will be based on a script Wong and Park wrote with Michael Colameco. The film will follow “two childhood friends who find themselves in vastly different socioeconomic situations when they fall in love as adults.”

The film has no set release date, but you already know that people are going to shut Netflix down when this film comes to Netflix. It seems like Netflix has been hitting it out of the park these days with diverse content for diverse audiences, which is great, since its original ties with Adam Sandler weren’t helping.

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Twitter fights back against racist casting directors with #ExpressiveAsian

For Paste Magazine, Kenneth Lowe wrote a piece on whitewashing and lack of Asian visibility in Hollywood, “Bias does not come out with the whitewash.” The piece featured this anecdote from Nancy Wang Yuen, author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.

Nancy Wang Yuen points out in Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism, that actors of color generally have fewer acting opportunities, all as a result of the homogeneity of the directors’ chairs and writers’ rooms of Hollywood. Her study found that 77 percent of casting calls specify a white actor. Her book is filled with other firsthand accounts from anonymous Hollywood sources that seem to reinforce the sad truth that a mostly white industry is going to advance the interest of mostly white actors. In one interview, a Latina actor told Yuen that a casting director friend asked for her opinion on a Latino casting decision, since the director only knew “maids and gardeners” who were Latino.

“I work with a lot of different people, and Asians are a challenge to cast because most casting directors feel as though they’re not very expressive,” one other casting director told Yuen. “They’re very shut down in their emotions … If it’s a look thing for business where they come in they’re at a computer or if they’re like a scientist or something like that, they’ll do that; but if it’s something were they really have to act and get some kind of performance out of, it’s a challenge.”

The racist idea that Asian actors aren’t expressive is, first of all, confounding. But most importantly, it’s angering. Folks created the hashtag #ExpressiveAsian to showcase just how talented and, yes, expressive, Asian actors of today and of the past are and were.

Here are some of my favorites, with a slight bias towards Wang Yuen’s tweets:

Let’s hope this article and this hashtag movement will continue to change the minds of casting professionals and directors, since everyone deserves to see themselves represented on screen.

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