Tag Archives: culture

#DifferenceMakers: Janel Martinez’s “Ain’t I Latina” Reps for Afro-Latinas Left Out of the Conversation

There is not enough focus on the people who live at the intersections of cultures and ethnicities. The Afro-Latina identity is one such group that seems to go under the radar in the media, and for no good reason. In the media, the idea of the Latina is that of a light-skinned, European or mestizo looking woman. Even in popular magazines geared towards the Latinx community and Latinas in particular, the diverse range of Latinas aren’t routinely showcased, Afro-Latinas in particular. The stereotype of what a Latina should look like isn’t capturing the full scope of those who are, in fact, Latina. Enter the much-needed site, Ain’t I Latina? to work to correct that oversight.

Ain’t I Latina was created by Honduran-American multimedia journalist Janel Martinez, who sought to give Afro-Latinas the coverage they’ve been missing in the media. Her Twitter page gives a quick summary of what you can expect:

Her bio page gives a more in-depth explanation of her site.

Ain’t I Latina? is an online destination created by an Afro-Latina for Afro-Latinas. Inspired by the lack of representation in mainstream media, as well as Spanish-language media, Janel Martinez, a 20-something journalist and New York native, wanted to create a space where millennial Latinas can celebrate their diversity. In addition to offering celebrity news, career advice, lifestyle coverage and exclusive interviews with today’s hottest Latinas, Ain’t I Latina? offers you, the reader, an opportunity to share your story.

There is a lot to take in on Ain’t I Latina, including the site’s latest interview with Evelyn Lozada and daughter Shaniece Hairston, Afro-Latina musicians and authors to look out for, theatrical portrayals of the Afro-Latina identity, etc. Most important of all, it fosters community and an outlet for women who haven’t seen themselves celebrated on the whole in media. I recommend you give Ain’t I Latina a shot.

Are you a fan of Ain’t I Latina? What do you love about the site? Give your opinions below!

Zendaya’s Mary Jane Watson could be the biracial heroine you’ve been looking for

K.C. UNDERCOVER - Disney Channel's "K.C. Undercover" stars Zendaya as K.C. Cooper. (Disney Channel/Craig Sjodin)
K.C. UNDERCOVER – Disney Channel’s “K.C. Undercover” stars Zendaya as K.C. Cooper. (Disney Channel/Craig Sjodin)

It’s official: Zendaya is playing Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Marvel film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. But why is everyone quick to assume that Mary Jane is black? What if it turns out that Mary Jane is biracial, like the actress playing her? And if this is true, how will this positively affect other biracial girls of African-American and Caucasian heritage that see her on-screen?

There has been plenty of talk about the lack of mono-racial people of color (for lack of a better word) for a while now. But it seems like most people don’t turn that conversation to a group of people of color who have been unrepresented, sometimes twice or many times over: biracial and multiracial people of color.

Technically, most of us in the U.S. have at least one other ethnicity in our heritage. But most of us claim just one. In many respects, the “one drop rule” still applies, even in the mouths of people who state that they don’t believe it. If you look black, you’re black. If you look Asian, you’re Asian, etc. Halle Berry famously said that her mother, who is white, told her to accept that she’s black, because that’s all anyone would see. Even President Barack Obama, who is biracial, is constantly called the first black president, even though that title negates the other half of his heritage. The same is happening with Zendaya’s Mary Jane; most people assume she’s playing a black Mary Jane, when it could be that she’s playing a biracial Mary Jane, a character that could draw on Zendaya’s own experiences as a biracial woman.

I should stress that I’m putting asterisks and air-quotes around the word “could.” Knowing how Marvel is at representation sometimes, there’s the overwhelming possibility that Zendaya is playing a black character. However, this particular film has the most inclusive casting of a Marvel film, and none of it seems like stunt casting. This film, as far as I’m concerned, is a watershed moment for Marvel and could signal a higher degree of focus and sensitivity towards casting. This sensitivity might also be applied to characterization. If it is, that would be a boon for biracial people, specifically those of African-American and Caucasian heritage, because biracial and multiracial people are hardly ever showcased in the media, and when they are, they are usually shown in an objectifying and dehumanizing light.

According to The Critical Media Project, the 19th and 20th centuries generally showcased biracial people as the “tragic mulatto,” the byproduct of a sordid relationship between a white and black couple. These characters were usually seen in a binary light, being tragic figures because they couldn’t fit into either the white or black worlds. The context in which these characters were viewed was from a white point of view; the only value these characters had were if they could pass as white, and if they couldn’t then their supposed tragedy made them unfit to exist in a world that only viewed race in terms of “undesirable” blackness and “exceptional” whiteness. There are several films like this that have been shown on TCM, but the most popular one has to be Imitation of Life, in which the biracial woman rejects her black mother, passes as white, and remains as such until her boyfriend leaves her because of her black heritage. (Spoiler alert: Her mother dies of a broken heart after her daughter tells her she hates her; the daughter only comes to her senses after her mother has died and she flings herself onto her mother’s casket during her funeral procession.)

Today though, biracial and multiracial people are now thought of as the product of an exotic, idealized future. This sounds like it should be positive, but it still puts biracial and multiracial people in terms of theory, not reality. To quote The Critical Media Project:

“…[T]he increasingly globalized nature of identity means that the conversation around mixed race tends to move beyond an isolated focus on black/white issues to incorporate other racial and ethnic identities. Mixed race individuals are often talked about in futuristic terms, conceptualized as modern hybrid beings that signal a faster, stronger and better world ahead. They are also often sexualized and fetishized as mysterious, exotic, sexy and extraordinary looking.”

Even though the tone of the conversation has shifted, biracial and multiracial people are still afflicted with stereotyping and objectification. Maybe one reason we rarely see biracial and multiracial people represented in the media is because too many people still view the idea of a multiracial society as a futuristic, sci-fi world that isn’t here yet, when in fact, it is here. It’s been here for centuries. In short, things have got to get out of the theoretical and into the practical when it comes to representing biracial and multiracial people as people, people who live in the now. Zendaya’s Mary Jane could go a long way in beginning to right that wrong.

The biggest film featuring an interracial family in recent memory is Infinitely Polar Bear, starring Zoe Saldana and Mark Ruffalo. Mirren Lyell for Mixed Nation also cites Nickelodeon shows Sanjay and Craig and The Haunted Hathaways as recent TV shows depicting interracial families. But there should be more films like this. Indeed, there should be more media of all types about multiracial and biracial people. As John Paul Brammer of Blue Nation Review wrote:

In the context of the media diversity debate, multiracial people exist in a precarious place. On the one hand, they seem to be left out for the sake of a more direct approach to criticism of media representation of minorities. “We need more black characters” or “We need more Asian characters” are strong demands with a history of mischaracterization and discrimination behind them. “We need more multiracial people of color” is seen as a level of intersectionality that Hollywood simply can’t process.

On the other hand, multiracial characters are often employed as copouts in the media, used to represent ethnic minorities in a more “palatable” way for mainstream audiences. Multiracial black actors with light skin are hired over black actors with darker skin. White Latinos are hired over Latinos with ethnic features.

Even films with progressive racial themes have come under fire for this. The film Dear White People, a film created to represent black people and discuss white racism, was criticized for casting as its protagonist a biracial, light-skinned black woman.

More representations of biracial and multiracial characters could help quell Hollywood’s usage of actors and actresses of mixed heritage as social and political wedges. More representations would also help build the self-esteem of many kids who don’t see characters who represent all of their heritage on screen. According to this article by Astrea Greig, MA for the American Psychological Association:

“Despite large growth, the multiracial population still comprises a very small fraction of the U.S. population (Humes, Jones, & Ramirez, 2011). Moreover, multiracial people in the media are often depicted as monoracial (CNPAAEMI, 2009; Dalmage, 2000; Shih & Sanchez, 2005). As a result of the small population and lack of media representation, multiracial youth may feel that they do not have a multiracial community and lack role models to help them understand their mixed identity (Dalmage, 2000; Shih & Sanchez, 2005). Multiracial role models are thus extremely helpful for mixed children and teens (Shih & Sanchez, 2005). Moreover, having a community of others with a mixed racial and/or ethnic background has shown to help improve psychological well-being (Iijima Hall, 2004; Sanchez & Garcia, 2009).”

If Marvel allowed it, Mary Jane Watson could be one such role model for biracial children. Her story, which as many have said is independent of race, would go a long way to represent biracial and multiracial people not as an ideal or as a tragedy, but as an ordinary person who faces personal and social issues big and small. A biracial Mary Jane would be yet a further stepping stone towards true identity equality in Hollywood and in society.

What do you think about a biracial Mary Jane? Write about it in the comments section below!

Rio Olympics: Tongan Flagbearer Pita Taufatofua Wins the Internet

Pita Taufatofua became everyone’s favorite flagbearer Aug. 5. when the taekwondo athlete and the flagbearer for the Tonga delegation marched proudly, showcasing Tongan culture as well as his well-oiled torso and arms.

As said on TODAY, Taufatofua is the first athlete from Tonga to qualify for the taekwondo competition, but not many people cared about this because, after he stepped on the national stage, tons of people had to express their thirst on Twitter.

Do you count yourself among the legions of newly-minted Taufatofua fans? Well, here you go: some photos from Getty Images and TODAY featuring Taufatofua. Enjoy.

CROSS-POST: “Finding Dory,” Disability Culture, and Collective Access

Post provided by Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project

On June 25th, I saw Finding Dory after reading many positive reviews and recommendations from my disabled friends. I wasn’t disappointed. There was so much to unpack and process when I got home that I decided to write this review/essay.

Finding Dory is film depicts more than disability, it depicts disability culture.*

I tip my crip hat to the artists, writers and directors of this latest gem from Pixar.

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Warning: Spoilers to Finding Dory, Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3

People with disabilities do not see themselves very often reflected in popular culture with authenticity steeped in the lived experience. Not only are many disabled characters played bynon-disabled people; the storytellers are usually non-disabled who craft narratives about disability by using stereotypes and cliched tropes, robbing disabled characters and stories of agency and diversity.

Finding Dory has multiple characters with disabilities that live in the community (the ocean) and in institutions (the aquarium, the quarantine section of the aquarium). The characters are part of ecosystems (the coral reef) integrated with non-disabled aquatic creatures. Best yet, Dory, voiced by Ellen Degeneres, is a disabled character that is front-and-center. She is the hero on a journey.

She saves the day not in spite of but because of her disability.

When was the last time a live-action Hollywood film had this type of disability diversity and this many disabled characters interacting with each other?!?

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3 ways Finding Dory kept it real about the disability experience

#1: Parental anxiety and support

We see Dory as a young Pacific Regal Blue tang with her parents, Jenny and Charlie, voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy.

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Jenny and Charlie are patient parents who help Dory to be upfront about her disability, encouraging her to practice, “Hi, my name is Dory and I suffer from short-term memory loss.” Not a fan of the term “suffer” but anyhoo…Seeing the group of little tangs swimming nearby, I think Jenny and Charlie were preparing Dory as she planned to venture out to socialize with her peer group.  We also see Jenny and Charlie help Dory with her memory by using songs and accommodations such as seashells that enable her to find her way home.

Jenny and Charlie are like many parents of kids with disabilities:

  • They worry about her future
  • They teach her life skills that she will need
  • They are protective about Dory and her safety (“Watch for the undertow!”)
  • They show joy and love of Dory being Dory

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I got very verklempt near the end of the film when Dory was reunited with her parents. Jenny and Charlie re-constructed their environment with rows of shells radiating from their home in the hopes that Dory will find her way back. When I saw the wide shot of their home and the long rows of seashells like streaming sun beams, I thought about Jenny and Charlie’s dedication and labor. They had every confidence that Dory would find them–they did their best at preparing Dory for the outside world and believed in her abilities. I teared up thinking about my parents and the sacrifices they made for me, such as purchasing a van with a lift (no small feat for a middle class family) and various modifications to our home when I started using an electric wheelchair.

#2: Social Exclusion and Ableism

Pixar kept it real, yo! There are the warm fuzzies and SO many feels that are de rigueur for every. Single. Pixar. Film. The filmmakers balanced the feels with moments of cruelty in Finding Dory in the form of Fluke and Rudder, the two sea lions that Marlin and Nemo encounter during their search for Dory.

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Fluke and Rudder (voiced by former cast members from The Wire Iris Elba and Dominic West) are oafish bros who occupy a prime piece of rock real estate near the aquarium. Fluke and Rudder love to sleep and guffaw in a Cockney accent. They help Marlin and Nemo get into the aquarium by calling Becky the loon to transport them via pail of water.

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Fluke and Rudder get the pail by luring in Gerald, a non-verbal sea lion who is clearly a sea lion that’s on the fringes of his social group. Gerald looks a bit goofy with his bushy eyebrows and wide-eyed expression and it reinforces his lower status within a larger hierarchy where verbal and physical ability is privileged. Fluke and Rudder bullies Gerald, taking his pail and aggressively pushing him off their rock. They pretend to include Gerald, but then they bray in their loutish sea lion voices, “Off, off, off,” chasing him from their territory.

The treatment of Gerald didn’t go unnoticed. My friend Heather Ure, a “neurodivergent femme-writer-mom” according to her Twitter bio, tweeted:

I relate to Gerald intensely, his wanting to be accepted and being taken advantage of by faux friends/allies. I was angry for Gerald but was delighted to see him in a scene after the credits where he manages to nestle himself on the rock behind Rudder and Fluke and gives a bit of a snicker. He does have agency and is tenacious in getting his place in the sun.

Isn’t that what we all want and deserve at the end of the day, a rock of one’s own and the warmth of the sun?

In another example of ableism, Marlin the clownfish, voiced by Albert Brooks, did a lot of male fishsplaining in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. Some of it was subtle and came in the form of microaggressions to Dory (when he subtly tried to dissuade Dory from attending Nemo’s field trip because the teacher didn’t want to worry about her safety in case she wandered) and more explicit instances when he blamed Dory for their predicament due to her disability.

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When Fluke and Rudder call Becky, Marlin takes one look at her ‘eccentric’ appearance and automatically discounts her abilities. Marlin’s inability to trust the disabled animals in his life and presume competence leads them into more danger. His doubts of Becky and insistence that he knows what to do is called out by Nemo, his son with a disabled fin.

Only after Nemo points out Marlin’s ableism does he flip the script and ‘thinks like Dory’ as a way to find a creative solution. This is a clear celebration of neurodiversity and neurodivergence. Heather Ure tweeted:

Writer David Chen commented on Finding Dory‘s disability hierarchy in an article where he described both Gerald and Becky:

…it separates animals who are able to speak from those who can’t. The animals who can speak have inner lives, go on adventures, have the ability to help others, possess emotional richness, and generally feel and act like full human beings…Both of these characters feel like cheap jokes. For the kids that are in the audience, they send a pretty clear message: It’s okay to laugh at people who are different, or who aren’t as smart as you are.

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To me, this is part of the disability experience of many people: ableism, social exclusion, discrimination, and segregation. You can laugh, celebrate, feel distressed and disturbed, and think critically at the same time. This is what great art does.

I’m glad the filmmakers included those scenes of ableist mistreatment of Gerald and Becky. I cringed during those scenes but I could appreciate the spectrum of the social experience of disabled people. It’s not all happy endings and the struggle is totes real.

There will always be playground bullies and people who underestimate you. Many disabled people know these subtle and not-so-subtle signs when we are not welcome or accepted: the long sighs, the eye-rolls, the sudden change of plans, the concerns about safety or accommodations, the ‘accidental’ exclusion to a party or meeting, etc.

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Dory may have memory loss, but she can sense frustration by others as if she’s a burden to them. In fact, she blames herself for losing her parents and apologizes constantly to everyone for simply existing and asking for help (i.e., internalized ableism).

The characterization of Gerald and Becky may result in laughs by some in the audience but this could also serve as an opportunity for adults and children to reflect and wonder, “Why did I laugh when Gerald was pushed in the water? Why is it ok to judge Becky’s abilities based on her looks?”

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Pixar films have never shied away from the harsh realities of life. Even with animated films geared for children or featuring young characters, it is a misconception that these films must be positive and idealistic in their storylines and characterization. Think Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro and the moments of violence in Finding Nemo (the death of Coral, Nemo’s mother) or heartbreak and rejection in Toy Story 3 (Lotso the bear being replaced and forgotten).

#3: Collective Access

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The scene that screamed disability culture to me was the one where Destiny (a whale shark with myopia voiced by Kaitlin Olson), Bailey (a beluga whale with a head injury voiced by Ty Burrell) worked together to provide access for Dory who needed someone to guide her through the pipes to find her parents. Dory communicated her needs. Destiny heard her and relayed them Bailey, encouraging him to attempt echolocation.

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Bailey is able to echolocate Dory’s location in the pipe system, relays directions to Destiny, and Destiny speaks to Dory in whale (the language of access through pipes) guiding her all the way with a slight detour into Marlin and Dory.

Patty Berne, Co-Founder and Director of Sins Invalid, described collective access in a June 10, 2015 blog post as one of ten principles of disability justice:

…we value exploring and creating new ways of doing things that go beyond able-bodied/minded normativity. Access needs do not need to be held in shame — we all have various capacities which function differently in various environments…We can share responsibility for our access needs without shame, we can ask our needs be met without compromising our integrity, we can balance autonomy while being in community, we can be unafraid of our vulnerabilities knowing our strengths are respected.

Get a bunch of disabled people together and witness the collective access organically takes place. This isn’t the kind of access mandated by law or provided by an entity or the state. Collective access is community-based and relies on each person’s talents and abilities in a web of interdependence and understanding. It feels good to see people use what they have and share it with others.  I love it when I can provide access to a disabled friend in my own small way like typing or reaching for something. And there’s no hesitation or worry about asking my friends for help because they get it, no lengthy explanation or apologies required.

The scenes of collective access in Finding Dory fill me with such pride and solidarity for these disabled animated sea creatures.

Disabled life forms, doing it for themselves. Each in their own way!!

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Another two demonstrations of collective access occurs when Hank the septopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill) moves the baby stroller through the aquarium w/ Dory inside a sippy cup.

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He’s near the ground navigating while Dory reads the signage and gives him directions.

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Dory does the same when they hijack a truck (you have to see it to believe it) and Hank’s tentacles are on the pedals and wheel. Collective access, ya’ll!

Final Random Thoughts

  • As a wheelchair user, I laughed out loud when Hank stole the truck and said, “Suck it, bipeds!” This is something I’ve uttered a million times.
  • Another major theme is about building families–both chosen families and biological ones.
  • Hank reads to me as an someone with trauma in addition to being an amputee since he does not want to be touched.

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  • It’s nice to see Marlin embrace and respect Dory not out of gratitude (she played a larger role in saving Nemo) but because of who she is by the end of the movie.
  • The ending is wonderful when Dory accepts credit for everything she’s accomplished. She is content and comfortable in her own scales.
  • Note: I am not exactly sure who voiced the roles of Gerald and Becky. In one wiki, Torbin Xan Bullock is listed the voice of Becky. In imdb.com, the same actor is listed as the voice of Gerald.

Like science fiction and fantasy, animation gives flexibility and space for new ways of telling stories and depicting characters. Perhaps that is one reason why Finding Dory is a massively better movie about disability and disability culture without explicitly being framed as one.

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About

Alice Wong is a San Francisco-based disability advocate and Staff Research Associate at the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF. Currently, she is the Founder and Project Coordinator for the Disability Visibility Project (DVP), a community partnership with StoryCorpsand an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. She is a co-partner with Andrew Pulrang and Gregg Beratan for #CripTheVote, a non-partisan online campaign encouraging the political participation of people with disabilities. You can find her on Twitter: @SFdirewolf and online: DisabilityVisibilityProject.com

*Footnote: Disability culture is described by scholar Steven E. Brown as:

People with disabilities have forged a group identity.  We share a common history of oppression and a common bond of resilience.  We generate art, music, literature, and other expressions of our lives and our culture, infused from our experience of disability.  Most importantly, we are proud of ourselves as people with disabilities.  We claim our disabilities with pride as part of our identity. We are who we are:  we are people with disabilities.

Other articles/blog posts about Finding Dory

‘Finding Dory,’ Disability, and Me

Elizabeth Picciuto, June 19, 2016, Daily Beast

The One Thing That Bothered Me About ‘Finding Dory’

David Chen, June 19, 2016, SlashFilm.com

‘Finding Dory’ isn’t just about disability — it’s about community and support

Stacia L. Brown, June 24, 2016, The Washington Post

The Inside Scoop on #BlackPantherSoLIT + What Marvel Can Learn From It

If you’ve been on the internet and haven’t heard of #BlackPantherSoLIT, then you are clearly doing something wrong. The hashtag went viral once news of Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o joining the film adpation of Black Panther spread. As countless articles have already said, the fact that the hashtag went viral two years–two years–before the film hits theaters shows how much of a need there is Marvel (and for film in general) to showcase non-white superheroes. To be even more precise, the hashtag shows how large (and how under-served) the audience is for non-white superheroes and non-white leads in general.

Take a look at moments from the hashtag for yourself:

I reached out to the creator of #BlackPantherSoLIT, @ChadwickandChill, and got their take on the creation of the hashtag and what impact it’s had. Here’s what they had to say in a statement:

I would always chatter with other fans about Chadwick and decided on December 5, 2015 to start a new page. I’ve held dedicated to engaging fans more. Starting this page was not met with the applause I expected from other core fans. I do it first to show lots of love to a cinematic light and talented Black man, Chadwick Boseman, and secondly for the fans. I don’t cheer and swoon for followers and it’s really just to engage the fandom! I’ve started other pages/campaigns as well – , ,  – and supported numerous others like . It’s all to unite fans and particularly those of us part of the African Diaspora, to edify work within our own collective versus waiting for an outside group to do so.

The goal is to not only make history with any effort, it’s to retell our own regal history and sustain it so that generations from now everyone will know that we are more than slaves and disenfranchised and we are not animals nor are we uncivilized. We are black, we are full of vitality, we are beautiful, we are supremely intelligent, innovative, creative, alive, well,  human, and thriving! Most importantly, We are kings, queens, regal through and through!

I also asked them two other questions about the hashtag, and here’s how they replied via Twitter:

So far, we’ve got Ryan Coogler writing and directing, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan as a possible villain, and Lupita Nyong’o as the love interest. Who else would you like to see join the cast?

Casting wise: I would love Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Denzel [Washington], Taraji [P. Henson],… So many to name.

What other POC Marvel superheroes/superheroines would you like to see brought to the big screen?

As far as another POC comic book hero: I’m not as versed in the comics at this stage today. As I learn, I’m sure I’ll have an opinion on that. Black Panther is stealing the show for me at this moment, it’s too historic for cinema history & Black Regality. I’m in Formation…

There are a couple of lessons Marvel, and Hollywood in general, can take from the popularity of #BlackPantherSoLit:

• Social media has its pulse on what people want: 

As I’ve said on the Sleepy Hollow episode of the Black Girl Nerds podcast, showrunners and show creators should know that their industry is just like any other industry that’s catering to others; your audience is your customer base, and it only makes sense to know what they want. Knowing what the audience wants is too easy nowadays; all you have to do is go on Twitter to see what the latest hashtags are discussing. Everyone’s discussing what they want from television and movies, so for creators of media to ignore that doesn’t make good business sense. Usually, ignoring the audience comes back to bite shows in the butt nowadays. See The 100 and, of course, Sleepy Hollow.

• People of all backgrounds want diversity in their stories, so actually give it to them:

It doesn’t make sense to have white superheroes and white characters in general stand in as the “default” American or the default human being. Entertainment, for me, is at its best when it provides a look at an idealized world that embraces all people. It’s through imagery that we know what is possible, similar to how some use religion to realize what they are actually capable of. If we never see what we could be as a society, we won’t strive for better.

Let’s remember that the biggest factor in the ’60s Civil Rights Movement was the usage of television and newspapers. There was a reason the revolution was televised; it was because without images, it would be easy for people to pretend that inequities didn’t exist. But with the eyes of the world focused on the members of the movement, they were able to hold the narrative in their own hands. The same goes for something as seemingly trivial as a superhero film. The person who holds the power can tell the story, and Hollywood’s been telling the same discriminatory story for decades. It’s time for Hollywood to give many other people the reins to tell their own stories and finally help the industry create the idealized version of America the real America can aspire to become.

• A black superhero (or a superhero of any other minority) doesn’t cater to a niche audience:

Once again, the idea that white equals “default” is at play with this thinking. How can someone not identify with someone else simply because of their skin color or culture? Hollywood has always been reticent to put a non-white face as its leading hero or heroine because of their tired “money” argument (which will be addressed in the next bullet point).

But the real reason non-white actors aren’t thought of for leading roles is because of a tribalism-rooted fear. When most of the people in Hollywood are of one color (or all straight), they will generally make entertainment that suits them and treat other voices as threats to their tribe and their perceived superiority. The majority will then believe that others won’t identify with the “minority” because they don’t. But Hollywood is out of touch, and it’s only just beginning to wake up to what the rest of the world is becoming, which is multicultural, more accepting, and tired of the “good ‘ol boy” way of doing things.

People want to see their friends, spouses, siblings, and children represented in entertainment, and it’s past time for Hollywood to do this. Black Panther doesn’t just speak to black America in a monolithic way; Black Panther speaks to the family who has adopted a black child and is searching for entertainment that reflects that child. Black Panther speaks to the woman who can finally go to a Marvel film with her black boyfriend or husband and see someone who looks like him as the superhero, not just “the best friend” to the superhero. Black Panther speaks to the son of African immigrants who can finally see portions of pan-African culture in mainstream entertainment. Black Panther speaks to more people than just the stereotyped idea of “black America.” Black Panther speaks to America, period.

• Practicing celluloid segregation isn’t where the money is:

As The Atlantic writes, Hollywood’s constant excuse for using white actors over non-white actors, that audiences want to see white faces, is a lie. University of North Carolina’s Venkat Kuppuswamy and MgGill University’s Peter Younkin studied data from Hollwyood films and their grosses, and found that more diverse casts generally fared better at the box office. It makes sense: under-served markets are desperate to see themselves on screen and will eagerly support films that showcase reflections of themselves.

Marvel is probably already realizing this in a big way with both the immediate viral success of Black Panther and the backlash against Doctor Strange with #whitewashedOUT. If you want to address more of your audience, show them in films. They’ll practically do the marketing for you, that is if the movie is actually good and is racially and culturally respectful, not just a “diversity” cash grab.

What do you think of #BlackPantherSoLIT? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Paisley Park Is In Your Heart: Prince and the Power of Individuality

“I‘m finally feeling better,” I told my mom over the phone. I’d just expelled a lot of grief I was experiencing in an hour-long rant to her. At that point in the day—around 10 to 11 in the morning—my grief wasn’t anything Prince related. In fact, like everyone else that day, little did I know the rest of my day would be consumed by the news of His Purple Majesty’s passing.

At the time, what I was ranting about was about personal stuff; my Sleepy Hollow post concerning Abbie’s death had become one of the biggest hits, if not the biggest hit, JUST ADD COLOR and my personal writing portfolio had seen. Even Variety‘s Maureen Ryan, a writer I’m a huge fan of, and Kelly Connolly, my Entertainment Weekly Community Blog boss, had read it, having found it organically (I had actually considered sending them the link to the article, but I figured that if they read it, they’d read it, and if not, then whatever.) Ryan even went a step further and highlighted a part of the article she was the most affected by and retweeted the article to her followers. I was flabbergasted and honored that I was now considered worthy to be retweeted by writing elite. That’s when the panic and fear set in.

Now that I had reached another plateau in my online writing career, what did followers expect from me? Would I have to write about every pop culture thing, even if I didn’t particularly care about it? Would I have to give my opinion on everything? And if I did give an opinion, would it be the opinion that would put me on the ever-present “problematic” lists of Twitter and Tumblr denizens? I’d already had my brushes with that before—those brushes exposed me a lot more to the hypocrisy of social media life than I would have liked to have experienced. How hypocritical was expected to be? In other words: what kind of “self” was I now allowed to have on Twitter now that more eyes were looking at what I’d have to write?

These thoughts about self-preservation, self-representation, and the inherent fakery of internet culture had consumed me for days, leading me to rant about it to my sister the night before, and then to my mom the next morning after staying in bed for far too long, dreading to start my day and deal with my social media quandaries yet again. After that hour of ranting (so much so that I was putting my mom to sleep by talking so much) and letting off steam in the form of tears, I felt better and said so. “That’s good,” my mom said. “It’s good to get it all out.”

“Yeah,” I said, already feeling lighter and finally looking forward to writing some stuff on Underground and maybe even that pesky article about Ghost in the Shell and Dr. Strange. I got out of bed, remade it, did my morning routine, and started putting some laundry away while talking to my mom about whatever else had been rattling around in my brain.

Then my sister texted me. “Prince is dead!” she exclaimed. Angina, something I’ve never really had an issue with (despite my history of chronic stress and anxiety), flared up so badly I briefly considered if I needed a paramedic myself. As strange as it sounds even to me, the most recent time I’ve felt so directionless was about two years ago, when my uncle—another person I wrongly assumed would live forever—died. Instantly, I was trying to figure out if this was a hoax—it had to be a hoax, because Prince doesn’t just die—but as I switched between my mom and Twitter, I saw that it wasn’t a hoax. It was true. “NOT PRINCE!” I yelled to my empty room and my mom on the other end. “NO! NOT PRINCE!” My mom, on the other hand, was waiting on CNN or MSNBC to confirm it. Once they did, she sounded tired. “I was waiting to see if it was true,” she said. “That’s sad.”

♦♦♦

Like the news junkie I am, I ran to my television in the living room to see what MSNBC was saying. As I watched Brian Williams say what we were all thinking at that moment—that we were all living what we thought would be a normal, uneventful Thursday only to hear the unthinkable—I started reflecting on things. It’s not unusual for me to think a lot; thinking is what jumpstarts this site every day, after all. But this train of thought, after the shock started subsiding microscopically, began to center around Prince’s way of life. More specifically, how Prince never let anyone define him; he was always in control of himself and his image.

My sister observed that Prince’s iron grip on his image might have been “a little psychotic.” But regardless of what kind of control issues Prince may have had (or probably did have, judging by how rigid he was with how Vanity 6, Sheila E., and Apollonia are all versions of the same dream woman archetype he fostered over the decades) Prince’s control over his outward persona and his introverted personal life is deeply rooted in two of his philosophical mottos:

and

“If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.”

The former is one of the reasons why Prince became known as the Prince of Shade on social media, and the latter is about his battles with Warner Bros. over owning the rights to his own music. But both also speak to how Prince carried himself and how he practiced the art of disregard for other people’s feelings about how he should live his life.

Prince became a star because of his musical talent, first and foremost. He was a musical prodigy, playing at least 27 instruments, not counting his own honeyed vocal cords. But what launched him into supernova-dom was his ability to be completely unique, particularly during a time in which everyone wanted to be unique.

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The ’80s are best known for its androgyny, the pounds and pounds of makeup women and men would wear, the frantic, desperate desire to be something new and different, something no one’s ever seen before. You had Madonna, The Culture Club’s Boy George, Adam Ant, and even “standard” R&B acts like Shalamar played with beauty and androgyny (something Charlie Murphy hilariously highlighted in his infamous Chappelle‘s Show skit about Prince). All of them, though, have to pay homage to originators of androgyny-in-music, like Little Richard, David Bowie, and even James Brown to a certain extent. And while I’m certain David Bowie, who was steeped in soul music history, did know how his bread was buttered (and often said so), Prince (as it has been said so much over the course of these strange days) was one that relished in the path paved by his musical forefathers and sought to create alchemy with the tools they left behind. He certainly did, giving the world something that was both in line with the era’s play on sex and sexuality and much more than anyone could comprehend. (Indeed, Prince himself actually said so in “I Would Die 4 You”: “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something you could never understand.”)

From where I’m sitting, Prince’s legendary status wasn’t achieved just because he participated in the ’80s androgyny; it was because he defined what it meant for him and never apologized for it or explained it. Whereas most others were still defining themselves by labels, Prince used none. To use another song, he raps “My name is Prince,” and that is the summation of it all. He is everything you saw and then more, tons more. He wasn’t man or woman, and he wasn’t something we could comprehend. The fact that he was the only one who could understand his own mystery intrigued us and made us want to be in his quirky, fascinating, dreamscape of a world.

In his way, he invited us all to discover our own mysteries. When he sang “Paisley Park is in your heart,” he wanted us to find out what made each of us special and cultivate that, just like he’d figured out how to cultivate his own specialness. Prince, who had been bullied in school and suffered from epilepsy, wanted us to create our own Paisley Parks, our own personal universes that allowed us to be the spectacular selves we want to be. He had figured out the secret, and in order to join in on his fun, you had to be willing to search for the answers to yourselves. You had to build your own personal Paisley Park, a task that’s much easier to sing about than it is to actually do.

I’d say a direct parallel to the ’80s “gimmie more” culture is right now. The ’10s are a time in which we’ve got access to everything and everyone just by using our phones, tablets, or laptops. We are closer than we ever were to celebrities, dignitaries, and presidents alike. You’d think that would satisfy us. But instead, all of this access to each other has only made us more neurotic and more prone to wanting to fit in than ever before.

Article after article after article states how Facebook (and social media in general) has led to a dramatic uptick in depression, all because we’re posturing to each other. Most of what you see on social media isn’t real. Too much of the time, there’s someone lying to you about what they’ve got, who they know, how “woke” they are or how accepting or inclusive they are. If they’re not busy trying to convince you of how much more together they are than you, then they’re busy overloading you with opinions about how to get to where they are in life and why you aren’t there. Why you and your fave “will never.” (“Will never” what, exactly?) Why you should strive to be a #carefreeblackgirl, even if you don’t feel that carefree. Why you shouldn’t express why you don’t feel as magical as the #blackgirlmagic hashtag suggests you should (Dr. Linda Chavers, who wrote in Elle about how her debilitating illness has left her feeling like a shell instead of someone who feels magical and important, received a mountain of clapbacks instead of nurturing support from a community). There are too many people out there busy tearing down others to uplift themselves. Too many times in the social media world, having your own view on the world—whether that opinion is something the majority agrees with or not—can be seen as detrimental to your social standing, much less your career.

The “gimmie more” culture has evolved into a shaming culture. Are you feminist enough? Are you queer enough? Are you alternative enough? Are you black enough (and to that end, are you carefree or magical enough)? There’s even a specific uniform for the “alt” person; just go on Tumblr and Twitter and you’ll find that a lot of folks who want to be perceived as “special” all end up looking similar, depending on what brand of “alt” they aspire to. But is wearing a uniform actually being alternative? Is critiquing others for their personal Paisley Parks building up your own?

Prince didn’t tear others down while staying in his own lane. Instead, he worked on his own stuff and released his own personal stamp on life into the world for us to marvel at. What we saw in his music and artistic representation was a manifestation of his own high self-worth. As many have said online, what they loved most about him was his ability to be himself. While most of us are struggling to find peace with our identities, Prince seemed to casually live in it and mine it for inspiration. He was his own inspiration—how many of us can say that about ourselves?

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I hate that it took Prince’s death for me to realize what was the most grand thing about him, and that he was the teacher of the most important lesson I need to learn in life. I’ve always struggled with just being myself; if you read my Mr. Robot piece, you’ll see that I’ve always had a bout with accepting my own sensitivity. But I’ve had other battles, most of them racially and culturally charged. The more I’ve become a part of the social media and online journalism/blogging spheres, the more I’ve realized how crucially important it is to have a strong sense of self-worth and self-understanding. Not only is it important just in life in general, but it’s comes in so handy when having to deal with strong personalities, a barrage of opinions, and others who are keen on tearing you down just to prove how special they are.

That’s what brings this article full circle; my rant to my mom was based in the fact that I still didn’t know how to grapple with the stress of being in a forum where almost everyone is trying to present their best, most perfect, most special selves. I couldn’t get my mind around how social media perpetuates the act of folks trying to prove their specialness by pointing out where others are “problematic” and never letting them live down whatever mistake they might have made. All I wanted to find was peace and the belief that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be without worry from what other people would have to say. I wanted relief from the stress of “fitting in,” a stress that I thought would have left me once I graduated from high school years ago.

Unfortunately, Prince’s death taught me that I have yet to own my masters, because the master—my fear—was owning me big time. I learned that I honestly don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks of me, as long as I have belief and love for myself. If I work on becoming the version of Monique want to be, then the stress of “fitting in” will go away. I will be me, and everyone else can be them, whether that’s them being their best selves or not. Like Prince, can find my own Paisley Park and happily live there in my heart. Once I discover that, I’ll be able to attract others to me, others who want to know what my mystery is. That’s a lesson we can all learn.

To quote Janelle Monaé (who was also one of the people Prince called “friend”), “Categorize me, I defy every label.” Prince challenged us to not just define ourselves, but to defy the labels people put on us and the ones we put on ourselves. He wanted us to challenge others to try to put us in boxes, and he wanted those who tried to categorize to fail. We should try to learn from his example and try to truly accept what makes us unique; if anyone tried to play us, they’d soon learn they were only playing themselves. His name was Prince. My name is Monique. Who are you?

Other articles to check out:
“Whether Or Not Prince Knew It, He Was A Disability Icon To Me” | Black Girl Dangerous
Prince never apologized for who he was. For that, he was an inspiration. | Washington Post

Prince gave black kids permission to be weirdos | Vox

Prince Knew What He Wanted: Sex, Soul and You | The New York Times

Creative Commons license linklink to Flickr download page

Ashley M. Jones’ “Magic City Gospel” Tells History of Alabama with Haunting Poetry

I have some great news to report (and some nepotism to perform)! My sister, Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award winner Ashley M. Jones, has a great book coming out called Magic City Gospel! The book is a product of three years at FIU’s creative writing program, creating a body of work representative of her life and her experiences. I was there at every step of this book, watching her create each poem and providing feedback (some of my suggestions may have found their way into her poems).

Magic-City-Gospel-Ashley-M-Jones

However, I’m not lauding this book just because she’s my sister. Jones’ Magic City Gospel is a collection of haunting poems detailing the sorrows and the highs of living in Alabama, a place soaked in the blood of black slaves and Native Americans, a place that is as known for the KKK and Jim Crow as it is fried chicken and good potato salad. In short, Magic City Gospel focuses on the strange complexity that makes Alabama, and more specifically Birmingham, a simultaneously fantastic and horrifying place to live. Here’s the official blurb and more about Ashley:

Magic City Gospel is a love song to Birmingham, the Magic City of the South. In traditional forms and free verse poems, 2015 Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award-winner Ashley M. Jones takes readers on a historical, geographical, cultural, and personal journey through her life and the life of her home state. From De Soto’s “discovery” of Alabama to George Wallace’s infamous stance in the schoolhouse door, to the murders of black men like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner in modern America, Magic City Gospel weaves its story through time, weaving Jones’ personal history with the troubled, triumphant, and complicated history of Birmingham, and of Alabama at large. In Magic City Gospel’s pages, you’ll find that “gold is laced in Alabama’s teeth,” but you will also see the dark underbelly of a state and a city with a storied past, and a woman whose history is inextricably linked to that past.

ashley-m-jonesAshley M. Jones received an MFA from Florida International University. She was a finalist in Hub City Press’ New Southern Voices Contest, Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award Contest, and the National Poetry Series. Her work has been published by the Academy of American Poets, pluck!, PMSPoemMemoirStory, Prelude, Kinfolks Quarterly, and other journals. She received a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and a 2015 B-Metro Magazine Fusion Award. She is an editor of [PANK] Magazine, and she teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

“But I wanna read some of her poetry before I trust your word, for it, Monique!” Well, lucky you; Ashley’s got tons of her work at her website, most—if not all—of it will be published in Magic City Gospel. Here’s just a sampling:

Danez Smith and Jericho Brown, two big names in today’s poetry, have already given Magic City Gospel their seal of approval:

Ashley Jones lays Alabama bare, wide, beautiful, terrifying and familiar in Magic City Gospel, this wonderful collection thick with where form, history, and even the wind are all rendered blackly and masterfully. Jones’ poems are alive with ghost and kin, God and Black girls, and all are sung, SANG really, under her capable hand. The red dirt is smeared all over this book, where we get to see Sammie Davis Jr. sing for Mike Brown & the Virgin Mary painted Black and Southern. Let Jones show you her land and her people, let me drive you across roads and time and show you what Alabama is about. —Danez Smith, author of [insert] boy

Ashley M. Jones’ Magic City Gospel is exact and exacting. Her intention is to name—and she does so in a way that renders into beauty all that is harsh about the American South. This is a poetry book that knows how to be a history book, a religious text, a book of redemption. —Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament

Ashley’s book will be out Jan. 3, 2017, but you can pre-order it right now! Click here to pre-order and secure your copy. You can also connect with Ashley through her website and Twitter.

Comic Book Stereotypes Examined in New Documentary “Je Suis Superhero”

There are quite a few stereotypes in comic books. Take, for instance, this:

Or this:

Or this craziness:

Or books that are steeped in both appropriation and stereotype:

Even the best of intentions caused this:

Nowadays, we’re getting a wave of superheroes who are not just non-white and/or non-male, but are also complex and richly-developed beyond racial, cultural, and ethnic tropes. Like these guys:

And we’re even getting fascinating stories interweaving cultural elements into existing characters, like this awesome moment with Groot:

One documentary is aiming on discussing stereotypes in the comic book industry and how the industry is working to become more inclusive. Je Suis Superhero, directed by Harleen Singh, features Eileen Kaur Alden, co-creator of the comic book Super Sikh, Vishavjit Singh, also known as Sikh Captain America, and cartoonist Keith Knight.

Singh told NBC News one of the reasons why comic books are the subject of this project. “Comics are an excellent lens on the society,” he said. “The incorporate storylines that reflect the times, but they also propagate stereotypes for their super heroes. It’s the perfect back drop for getting the message across about how generalization is not the best thing.”

Alden also told NBC News how comic book creators are now empowered to create more diverse stories. “It’s not just about slapping a diverse character into an old trope. I think what people are really craving is really diverse stories, something that’s not quite so focus grouped or old and familiar.” Alden said that comics featuring diversity were once considered “outsiders,” and now these properties are part of the mainstream.

Je Suis Superhero has reached 80 percent of its Kickstarter goal; to lend your support, click here.

New ‘Race’ Clips + Image Gallery Show Jesse Owens Go For Gold

The Jesse Owens biopic Race is on its way, and if you’re excited about seeing Stephen James in the iconic role, check out these new clips! Also posted are some film stills; both the clips and stills are courtesy of Focus Features.

We’ve been talking about #OscarsSoWhite a lot recently; once the film comes out, let’s see how the film will fare in the 2017 Oscar race. Hopefully, it’ll be right up there at the top. Race comes to theaters Feb. 19.

“Sportsmanship”

“Meet Jesse Owens”

“Do You Want to Win?”

“We Must Not Go”

Synopsis (Focus Features):

Jesse Owens’ quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy.
Directed By: Stephen Hopkins
Written By: Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse
Starring: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, Shanice Banton and William Hurt
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes

Exclusive Interview: April Reign Discusses the Effect of #OscarsSoWhite

#OscarsSoWhite has been the headlining news topic, and with so many opinions out there about the hashtag and the movement, the one opinion that’s probably the most important to understand is the opinion of the hashtag’s creator herself. April Reign, managing editor of Broadway Black, spoke with JUST ADD COLOR about the creation of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy’s decision to change the status quo, the fallout surrounding the new Academy rules, and what she hopes people take away from the movement.

What prompted you to make #OscarsSoWhite last year? Did you think it would find the life it has found on Twitter?

Creating the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag happened very organically, in which I was sitting in my family room watching the Oscar nomination announcements. …I was just disappointed in the lack of representation of people of color and marginalized communities, especially in the acting categories but also behind the camera [like] the directors, especially last year with Ava DuVernay for the movie Selma and just overall—directors, cinematographers and screenwriters and so forth. I…was venting my frustration at that time. The very first tweet was “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair.” It took off, and I had no idea then—and even today—that it would be as pervasive and as international as it has become. I’m humbled by the support I’ve received and that the hashtag has received. It’s gratifying to see that the voices of so many have made a difference.

Last year, #OscarsSoWhite hit a nerve, but this year, that nerve was hit in an even bigger way. What do you think prompted the scale of the outrage we’ve seen?

I’ve been asked that question a couple of times now and I really don’t know. The only thing that I can think is that perhaps people thought that last year was just a fluke that people of color and marginalized communities weren’t represented, and when it happened this year with the major acting categories, people said, “Oh, maybe this is an issue. Maybe this is a pattern, so let’s take more of a look at the underlying statement that #OscarsSoWhite is trying to make.”

I can say that a couple of days before the nominations were announced in 2016, people were coming to me saying “We’ve seen some of the predictions as to who the nominations are going to recognize, so maybe it’s going to #OscarsSoWhite again.” …And in fact, it definitely experienced a resurgence. While I did several interviews last year and talked about it quite a bit, I definitely did not see the amount of interest I’ve seen this year, not just nationally, but internationally. I’ve done interviews with organizations in New Zealand and Australia and Ireland and London and more BBC organizations than I knew even existed. Those are not interviews I did in 2015.

How has it been to see the reactions, both good and bad, to #OscarsSoWhite?

I’m gratified by the support, and we see that the Academy has made substantial effort to address the issues underlying in the hashtag. With respect to the criticism, I have yet to see any that was well founded. …I can give you the critiques and how they’re unfounded, but none of them really held any water when you shine a light on the underlying issues. I guess because I’m so active on social media, especially on Twitter, you’re readily available for anyone to come at you with memes and criticism of the hashtag, of you, and misunderstanding of what it’s really about. I hope that I’ve handled all of that with grace and really stayed consistent with the underlying issue, which is the lack of inclusion and diversity in film.

From what I’ve seen, you’re handling it great. 

Thank you. …There are definitely some recurring themes that sort of come at me, like “You’re making this an all black thing.” No. I’ve always said it’s all people of color, it’s all marginalized communities. It’s not just a race issue, it’s also a gender issue and a sexual orientation issue and an issue for differently-abled communities to be represented.

[Some say], “If you look at the past 15 years, black people have gotten 10 percent of the awards even though they’re 12 percent of the population, so that’s roughly equal.” Well, that’s fantastic for the last 20 years, but the Oscars have been around for 80. You can’t just cherry-pick the facts to support your narrative. And even if that is true with respect to black people, it’s not true with respect to all people of color. The fact that I’m black doesn’t mean that I’m only advocating for black people. Let’s talk about the number of Hispanic actors and actresses or Latino/Latina actors and actresses, or Asian actors an actresses. This affects everyone and everyone should be included.

If you really run the numbers from 80 years forward, it’s still even taking into account [that] it was 37 years between Sidney Poitier winning the first Oscar for Best Actor as a black man and Denzel [Washington] winning it…and there’s no inbetween. I find it inconceivable that there were no qualifying performances within that 37 year span. Similarly, we’ve had one black actress with Best Actress within the entire span of the Oscars, and that was Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball. You can’t tell me that there haven’t been outstanding performances by black actresses. Even [with nominations], there were films who weren’t nominated that are fantastic, and that’s just with respect to black people. Clearly, there have been no Asian women, no Latina women, who have ever won [Best Actress]; why is that? In 2009, the first woman [Kathyrn Bigelow] wins for Best Director? It’s inconceivable to me that we are here in 2016 and we can rattle off on our fingers, with some to spare, the number of people of color and marginalized communities who have been properly [awarded] for their work.

And also with The Revenant; the film is being celebrated for having a large Native American supporting cast, but none of them are getting nominated for their work; Leonardo DiCaprio–even though it’s great how much he has spoken out on Native American issues on their behalf–is getting nominated, and not a Native member of the supporting cast.

That’s exactly right. …Hollywood is supposed to be a liberal bastion of whatever, and yet there are still some issues. I saw that Matt Damon spoke out…about how there should be more and so and so forth, but we saw how he treated Effie Brown on Project Greenlight. It’s like, but, bruh, that wasn’t even a full year ago! [He] said [on Project Greenlight], and I’m paraphrasing poorly here, something to the effect that diversity takes its point from casting, but not necessarily from who’s behind the camera. That’s what I took from it, anyway. So yeah, we want to have a diverse cast onscreen, but that doesn’t apply to who’s behind the screen, and that’s really the issue because it’s so important that these stories are told, but also who is telling the story. Who is the director? Who is the screenwriter? Who is the producer? What experiences are they bringing to this project and that was borne out this year with Straight Outta Compton. The only thing it was nominated for was Best Original Screenplay, but the screenwriters are white. So that’s an issue as well.

Something you said a while ago goes into one of my questions: Some of the conversations surrounding #OscarsSoWhite have been, unfairly, categorizing it as being  primarily focused on black actors and as a black and white issue. How do you feel about some people keeping the conversation in a binary mode of thought instead of thinking about how Hollywood portrays all minorities?

I think it’s unnecessarily limiting and I think it’s unfortunate that they can’t get out of that box for themselves because I’m not in that box. I know why they’re doing it and I’ve had brought to me “Oh, you’re being a racist.” It’s not racism to speak truth about the lack of existence of roles for people of color. Speaking facts isn’t racism in and of itself. It it is without merit because I have never made this a black/white issue.

It’s not clear to me why people think that is. I don’t know if it’s because I’m black and they can’t see past who I am and understand that I’m multifaceted, or if it’s just easier for them to think in binary terms. But that’s not what #OscarsSoWhite is about at all. Race is just one portion of it; it’s all marginalized communities, and within race, it’s not just black people; it’s definitely about Asian people. It ‘s definitely about Latinos and Latinas and Hispanics. It’s about everyone who should be represented on the screen.

After the nominations came out, Jada Pinkett Smith released a video stating how people of color should consider reinvesting in our own community and celebrating our own. Some believe the Oscars is a lost cause, seeing how it was created to celebrate white actors in particular. Some people also view the Oscars fight as minority voices vying for white validation while not uplifting (or even attending) other awards shows like the NAACP and BET Awards. What do you think of these sentiments and the fight for the Oscars?

I feel very strongly that we should support those award shows and programs that celebrate our individuality and uniqueness. I hope that one of the outcomes of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag is that more people of color and marginalized communities continue to support and support even more the NAACP Image Awards, the Alma Awards, the BET Awards, the Soul Train Music Awards versus the Grammys [in relation to music] because it’s so very important. Those award shows were borne out of the same frustration that I have; the lack of representation of the so-called “mainstream” awards, so we had to make our own. But I will also say that I think we can multitask. We can celebrate our own and still critique for better or worse the pinnacle in film. Whether you are a fry cook or a corporate CEO, you want to be recognized for your achievements amongst your peers. If the Oscars are considered to be the top of that, why wouldn’t someone, anyone, want to receive that recognition?

We also know that very often, having “Oscar-nominated” or “Oscar winner” after your name, it brings with it some benefits. It may mean that it’s easier for someone to land a role or to even to get into auditions. It may mean you can command a higher salary or get taken more seriously the next time you want to take a chance on a film. So it does matter, and if the other award shows are uplifted to the  extent that they are on the same level of the Oscars, then fantastic. That just gives everyone more opportunity to shine.

The Academy has taken the mobilization of stars and fans seriously and released a statement promising sweeping change to the Academy and how it does business. All of this came about because of the hashtag’s popularity. How do you feel that #OscarsSoWhite has brought about this change?

I’m very encouraged by the announcement that was made by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. I appreciate that she spearheaded this issue because I know change is never easy–pushing against the status quo and something that has been in place for over 80 years had to have been difficult.  I was happy to see that the vote by the Board of Governors was unanimous; I think that’s important because it sends a message that they are serious about making changes with respect to diversity and inclusion. We’ll see how the changes are implemented and what type of pushback they’ll receive, but I still think there’s more to be done by the Academy and definitely by Hollywood.

To that point, there have been several stars old and new decrying the lack of diversity and some boycotting or standing with the boycott. Meanwhile, we’ve seen some stand against change (particularly today, with Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine, Julie Delphy and producer Gerald Molen) and other actors and actresses who have decided to remain anonymous speak out against the hashtag and the Academy’s decision. Do you think this divide is indicative of the state of Hollywood at large? To me, it seems like Hollywood’s facade of liberalism has been taken away. 

Yeah, I think that what we know—I think the numbers are from 2012—at that time, that the Academy is 94 percent white, over 75 percent male, and the average age was 63. So even though Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs invited 300 new members to the Academy; that was 300 [versus] 6000. Change is hard, so the Academy members who, for example, have not been active in film in the last decade and have now had their votes taken away, of course they’re going to speak out. It’s a change to the life that they’ve known. But I think that when the dust settles, the Academy members was the change for the better.

Although I have been pushing for more diversity with respect to people of color and marginalized communities, this is also a benefit to the white people in the industry because it gives them more of an opportunity to interact with—and act and direct and produce with—people of color and those marginalized communities that they might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. So I think everybody can win from this, and if it spurs more seasoned Academy members to get back involved in film so they can regain their ability to vote, then all the better, because there’s a reason why they’re already in the Academy. At some point, they were Oscar-nominated or Oscar winners, which means they’ve put out quality work. If they’ve been resting on their laurels for 30 years and come back into the Academy, even better.

The Academy gave themselves a deadline of 2020 for their changes to bear fruit; What kind of Hollywood would you like to see by then?

I hope to see a Hollywood that’s more diverse and inclusive than it is now. I think there’s no shortage of talented people of color and marginalized communities out there. I am hopeful that the Academy will proactively seek out these creatives, these artists, and welcome them with open arms because there are stories that need to be told. I think it’s important  and hope that that the Academy, in increasing its diversity, pressures Hollywood to do the same because the Academy can only nominate films that are made. So it’s fantastic if the Academy becomes more diverse. But if Hollywood isn’t doing the same and is only making the same homogeneous movies year after year and aren’t being thoughtful about who can play these roles or who should tell the stories behind the camera, then still, when it’s nomination time, we won’t see any difference even if he Academy wants to see more films that are representative of everyone in society.

That goes into my next question : What are your hopes for the Academy? The Academy’s statement gives the sentiment of the Academy wanting to lead from in front, not from behind; do you think the Academy can change the industry from the front?

I think they can. I think the Academy is large enough that they can exert significant influence over Hollywood, but it really comes down to the studio heads being willing to consider groups that don’t necessarily look like them and don’t have shared experiences when determining which films they’re going to greenlight. That’s really the issue, that those perspectives must be shared. I’m hoping that there will be a significant push from the Academy to Hollywood to make these stories a priority.

There are those out there who still have their head in the sand when it comes to acknowledging the racism of the Oscars and the Hollywood industry. What message do you have for those who still don’t see a problem with the Oscar nomination process and Hollywood in general?

…I strongly believe that nominations should be made based on merit, but what we know, at least before the announcement, is that Academy members are not required to watch the films before they vote. If that is the case, then one can not say that the nominations or the winners are based on merit. If the argument is that only the best people should get nominated, I agree. But how are we ensuring that the best people are even being seen? I encourage everyone to dive into the rules of the Academy because they’re on their website and [see] how decisions are actually made….For the first vote, you have to vote within your category, so directors only vote for directors and screenwriters only vote for screenwriters. We have one female in the director category period. We have one Asian man [Ang Lee] in the directors portion of the Academy period. Why is that? You can’t say there haven’t been qualified people, but if that’s all we see, and based on the numbers, it’s overwhelmingly older white men who aren’t viewing the films before they vote, then how can we say the votes are based on merit and how can we ensure that the best films are being seen?

…I think it’s imperative that you challenge yourself and see a movie that you might not normally see…Let’s just talk about when you get nominated…once you get to the second vote, everyone can vote for everything. You’ve got to watch all five films. If you’re voting for Best Actress, you’ve got to watch all five films and make your choice. You can’t base it on that a friend of yours told you it was a good film, or you really like their ad in Variety so you’re voting for them, or you feel like someone’s just due for an Oscar because they were snubbed in the past, so let’s vote for them now. That’s what happens. Or, you recognize the name of the person, and since you don’t know any of the other names, you just go with whom you know, and, to my knowledge, that’s what happens, because if you’re not watching the other films, then on what are you basing your vote? It has to be that. It has to be some personal reason as opposed to something unbiased based on the quality of the work. Therefore, it’s not based on merit, and that’s [the point] I’m trying to get back to. Make sure that diverse and inclusive films are being made, look at those, nominate those for the first round, and after that, go see all five within the category and choose which one you think is the best. That makes sense to me and I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t agree to that. [The votes] should always be merit-based, but make sure the net is cast wide enough so all the films that are great in that particular year get a shot at a nomination.