Tag Archives: interviews

Exclusive Interview: Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn (“Lovers in Their Right Mind”)

Lovers in Their Right Mind is a film looking to change the conversation about interracial and interfaith relationships. Much of the interracial conversation revolves around the black-white dynamic, even though there are tons of other types of interracial, intercultural, and interfaith relationships out there. Lovers in Their Right Mind, written by journalist-author Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn and screenwriter Barrington Smith-Seetachitt, focuses on the love between a black woman and an Iranian immigrant and the learning curves both go through in the relationship.

I’ve already covered Lovers in Their Right Mind on JUST ADD COLOR, so I was excited to speak with Littlejohn about the film and how her experiences influenced the film. Lovers in Their Right Mind is still in pre-production. A crowdfunding campaign will be announced later this summer. Keep up with Lovers in Their Right Mind on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

How did you come up with the story for Lovers in their Right Mind

I had co-authored a book [with Christelyn Karazin] called Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate, Mixing Race, Culture, and Creed, which was on interracial, intercultural and interfaith dating and relationships. It had been optioned by a company and they offered me an opportunity to write my vision. As I was trying to come up with the character that spoke to both the three factors of race, culture, and religion, I was looking for a singular couple that would inhabit that. While [with] that particular [book] option, they decided to go in a different direction with everybody swirling, I felt like what I had created spoke to what I wanted to see on screen, which was a different kind of conversation about black women and who they have opportunities to date. I felt like we had seen so much of black women and white men in television and film that we never get sense of black women outside of the black and white coupling. The options for black women are so much more vast…and from my own experience, that was true.

I began to look at my own dating habits…I had been dating a Persian man and the conversation of meeting families had come up. The thing he said was, they wouldn’t have a problem with you because you’re black, but because you’re American, you don’t speak Farsi, and various other things. So that’s where the idea for the outline came from, and when it was turned down, there was an actor who I knew and had interviewed, and I was talking to him about it because he was asking me what was swirling (because it was in my signature in my email account). I told him I was trying to explore this idea of an African American woman with a Persian man, and his comment was, “Well, am Persian!” So we had a really good conversation.

I had dated some Persian men before, and…when I began to look back on my own dating [experiences], it became a really great source of narrative tension and drama, comedy and romance. As I continued to research, there are a lot of wonderful similarities between the two cultures and, at least here in southern California, Iranian Americans tend to be more insular, black people live in their communities and never the ‘twain meet, it became a really great story to talk about my city that I grew up in and people in my city that never get seen on screen.

You mentioned Swirling; since the book discusses interracial relationships, what do you think America needs to know to become more educated about interracial relationships?

I think that swirling has become a hot topic because we are seeing the demographic shifts of our people. We are more a multicultural, multiracial America and globally, people are intermixing and intermarrying. You look at films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and how that was really popular; it’s not lost on pop culture that these things are happening in our own world. I think the thing I wanted to bring to the table was a different dynamic that you haven’t seen. I think with Swirling as a book, it became interesting in that it invited black women to open up their options. Many times, the books we had read previously and that I had seen were very regal-focused or focused on biology or the dearth of black men.

What I wanted to bring was a different discussion…what are some of the reasons black women don’t [date outside of their race] because black women are still the least likely to date outside of their race or culture out of any other ethnic group. What were some of the factors that were keeping black women from reaching outside of their comfort zone? I think those discussions are important to have, particularly when we look at issues like black love and black lives matter. All these things are interconnected with us socially, but what does it mean when we are looking for a mate, for someone who speaks to our heart’s desire?

Oftentimes, that social construct of race doesn’t hold up when you’re looking for someone to partner with. It’s important to look at factors beyond race when considering a mate, and I wanted to present a non-apologetic narrative that it’s okay for black women to date [outside of their race], because of the hundreds of women I spoke with, it was always [discussed] with shame, or controversy, or “My momma won’t jive with this,” or “My daddy won’t think this is great” or “My cousins will think I’m crazy.” It’s very rooted in fear. So the thing that is important to me about the book and about this movie is to see how we can reach beyond the lines of fear, beyond even the rhetoric of our own cultures and explore who we are as people and what we want; what fulfills us as people instead of subscribing to a group-think mentality.

One thing you said reminded me of Jungle Fever; in one part of the movie; you have Wesley Snipes’ character’s girlfriend hanging out with her friends, and they’re talking amongst themselves about whether they would date outside of their race. Wesley Snipes’ girlfriend says that she wouldn’t because she’s a strong black woman and feels that she should only date strong black men. It seems like she puts a very racially-charged focus on why she only dates black men, as if to prove her blackness, not whoever I might like if they aren’t black. With that said, how do you feel about some black women who feel like they need to date inside the race to prove their blackness to themselves and to the world?

Well, we [Littlejohn and Smith-Seetachitt] address this in the book and in the film. I do think that there is an identity concern among black women, that if they’re dating someone that’s not black that it somehow negates or dilutes their blackness, but that’s overwhelmingly not true. The black women that we spoke to for the book and interviewed for the film are, very definitely, black women, and own their blackness and blackness is not given or taken based on who you’re partnered with. Blackness is who you are, and they bring that sense of who they are into their relationships and give that sense of themselves into their children, they pass along that history to their children.

Rarely have I encountered women who completely buy into or absorb into another cultural…or racial construct because they have now partnered with a man who is non-black. You are who you are, and you bring that into your relationship. That’s an important thing with a relationship with anybody, whether they’re black, Latino, Persian, what have you. When you’re in a relationship, it’s not that you’re negating who you are racially. It’s that you’re sharing a part of yourself with someone. The thing that I find really exciting about interracial and intercultural dating, both personally and writing, about it is that people learn to appreciate people as people. They learn to understand different cultural traditions and understanding. There was a woman I was interviewing for the book, and she was dating a Swedish man. They eventually married and she learned how to speak Swedish and they now live in Sweden. She learned a lot about another culture that has broadened her, both in her life and work experiences.

I think there’s value in that. If we’re going to be this global community we keep saying we are, if we’re going to be this post-racial community we say we want to be, then we need to learn how to talk to people, and address people and learn about people who are different than us, in ways that allow us to appreciate people as people instead of under this blanket of colorblindness. You see my color when you see me; it’s not about being colorblind. I’m quoting Mellody Hobson here–it’s really about being color brave. It’s about looking at my color, my experiences, my heritage, my people, and getting to know that as a part of who I am. This black construct isn’t all of who I am; there are so many other things about me that are worth getting to know and that’s an important part of loosening the shackles of fear and being able to open yourself and your mind to something different. It doesn’t change who you are; it just gives you an opportunity to know who somebody else is.

Now I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate—

Sure, go ahead!

What about fetish? Because I’ve been several online forums and Facebook groups about interracial dating and experiences with interracial dating, and a topic that always comes up is when some fetishize another race. For some, it seems like the line between fetish and a regular relationship is muddied. What do you make of this issue and how it comes into the discussion?

Well, if you find that your partner is fetishizing you, then that’s a relationship you don’t want. Then to say, I’ve dated a white man, an Italian man, a Mexican man, and they fetishized me, therefore I’m not going to date any more white or Italian or Mexican men, is pretty sad! You may be missing out on some white or Italian or Mexican man somewhere down the line that adores you for who you are.

I think any kind of new experience, if there is something you’re concerned about—be it a same-race relationship or an interracial relationship—you need to talk about it. If you don’t get the answers you need or deserve, then that’s not the type of relationship you should be in with that person instead of [labeling] that race of people. I was married to a black man, but that wasn’t my cue to then say, “I will no longer date any black men.” I date men of all races and of all cultures. I date people who I find appealing and attractive, interesting, invigorating, and worthwhile. A lot of the relationships I’ve had have led me to this particular moment and to this particular story. Had I not had those experiences and turned them down, not only would I have not had those experiences, but I’d also be sitting around saying, “I don’t have any love in my life.”

Men have fetishes, women have fetishes, that’s not cool; if you feel like that’s what’s happening to you in your relationship, then move on from that relationship; don’t label the whole race of people, the whole culture of people as such and such because you’ve had one bad experience. You never know what wonderful experiences you could have with someone who appreciates you for you.

(L-R) Barrington Smith-Seetachitt and Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn. Picture courtesy Littlejohn
(L-R) Barrington Smith-Seetachitt and Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn. Picture courtesy Littlejohn

Since Lovers in their Right Mind also includes the interfaith element, how would you suggest people approach tackling interfaith issues in relationships?

I think for all of these questions, it can be summed up to talk about it [with your partner]. My religious needs and wants may be different from someone else’s, and it’s a part of being upfront in that relationships. I know a lot of Jewish-Christian relationships, a lot of Muslim-Christian relationships. It’s about what you want and need from your religion, your faith, your relationship, and what you want for your children.

I’m not going to say that I’m a dating expert–I’m a filmmaker and a journalist who’s writing about a situation that I find intriguing, and after a ton of research and this is what I came up with–but the throughline in all of it is communication. Talk about it. I think we’re so fearful of having those conversations. The same conversation you need to have with your partner about STDs and how you want to have sexual practice are the same type of conversations you need to have with your partner about faith and what your faith means to you.

I go back to My Big Fat Greek Wedding; Ian wanted [Toula], and she wanted to be married in a Greek Orthodox Church and he got that done; they got married in a Greek Orthodox Church because he felt like it was worth it for him. For other couples, it goes further; will we celebrate Christmas or will we celebrate Jewish holidays and how do we do that with our children? I think those are very individual, personal discussions, and once the couple has had them and comes to terms with what they want in their marriage, that’s between them, their God, their marriage, and their children, and nobody else really has any say in that because that’s what they decided as a couple.

…This conversation comes up for same-race people as well because they may be from different cultures. When we talk about this issue of interracial, interfaith, and intercultural, you can have intercultural experiences with people who are racially the same with you. These are conversations are still things you’d have to have.

Lovers in their Right Mind was chosen to be part of the DreamAgo’s 2016 Plume & Pellicule screenwriting atelier. How does it feel to have been chosen for that?

I’m still happy dancing! It’s a wonderful validation of the work we wanted to do. It’s really gratifying that an international workshop believed there was something valid in the story we wanted to tell. Here’s the wonderful thing; as we’ve been going through the process and getting all of our updates on things we needed to do, one of the gentlemen we’d been corresponding with…said he was very intrigued to read our script because he’s a French man married to a Persian woman.

It said to me a couple of things; that this was not an isolated story or just a cute little love story. This was something that resonated not only in the bounds of where it’s set, in Los Angeles, but it reached someone in France and the folks of DreamAgo in Switzerland. It’s not just an LA story. It’s not just a U.S. story. It’s a global story. It goes back to what I was saying; if we’re going to be this global nation of people who understand one another and work together…it makes sense to know who we are. It’s a super special honor. Hopefully, it’ll take us far. ♦

Exclusive Interview: Chantel Riley (“Race”)

Race, the biopic of Jesse Owens and his historic Olympic Games showing in 1936 Berlin, will soon be in theaters to trill and inspire audiences. The film, starring Stephan James as Owens, focuses on perseverance and success amid what would appear to be insurmountable struggle. Owens’ driven quality have inspired Chantel Riley, who plays Quincella Nickerson in the film.

JUST ADD COLOR was excited to have this exclusive interview with Riley, who talked about her stage life prior to film, how Race could be a contender for the 2017 Oscars, and her feelings about #OscarsSoWhite. To learn more about Race click here to see film stills and clips. Race comes to theaters Friday, Feb. 19.

Tell me about Quincella, your character. 

Quincella Nickerson is real, so she was actually around. She met Jesse in California. He had a track meet there and she’s always been into sports. From the research I read of her online–there’s not much–said that she was Jesse’s number one fan. Quincella Nickerson was always around when he was around. She was at all of his track meets and even at special events with celebrities and politicians, she would be around and he would invite her to the parties.

She was well known herself; she was a socialite. Her father was a businessman, very affluent in that time, especially in the 1930s; being a wealthy African-American man in the 1930s wasn’t very known in that time. So, a lot of people knew who her father was and who she was. I think she loved going out and being around people.

This is your first movie role. How is it to cut your film teeth on a project like this?

I was very shocked when I booked this role, and now I’m really excited. For it to be a movie like this is a big deal for me. I haven’t been in the industry that long, compared to most people, and to have your first film be something like this, and that this story is so powerful and for it to be about someone like Jesse, is such an honor for me. I’m so glad I can call this my first film project.

You come from the stage, having played Nala in The Lion King. First, how cool is it to have played a role like that, and second, what were some of the differences between stage and film acting that you had to get used to?

I’ve been in the [Nala] role for four years now, going on five, and it was the only thing I’ve done. It was very challenging to me at first to be on set. You have to be aware of your surroundings; you have to be aware of camera angles and…to make sure [the cameraman] can see your face. A lot of that I had to get used to. But on the stage, you just have to make sure your back’s never to the audience. When you’re on set…you’ve got to make sure you’re well aware of your surroundings and of every angle; they’ll shoot a scene from one area and they’ll shoot the exact same scene and you have to do it the exact same way from across the room. That was a little bit challenging.

Also, too, [The Lion King] was a live performance every night, so I think I pressured myself a lot to get every take perfect the first time because you’re so used to doing that onstage. You get one chance on stage in front of the audience; it’s not like you do a scene and then you’re like, “OK, guys, let me take that from the top and try this again.” You go all out. That’s definitely another major different from stage and set.

chantelriey

Race is a film that’s hoping to inspire audiences, much like 42. How did the film and its story inspire you?

Just knowing what Jesse had to go through during that time, I can’t even imagine what it’s like. I mean, it’s not too far off from what’s going on now, but just getting adversity just from the color of his skin and people looking down on him because of the color of his skin. It really taught me to push through no matter what and to not let anybody’s idea of you stop you from becoming the star you want to become or the person you really want to see yourself to be and God sees you to be also.

I just admire his courage to go through what he did, especially in a time during the Hitler regime and going to the Olympic Games…[Owens] had to make that decision [to go to the Games or stay]. He made that decision to go, and thank God he did, because he killed it, obviously, and won four gold medals. [He] proved not only to Hitler, but to the world, how amazingly talented he is and how you can be if you just put your mind to it and push. What he did for people of color was just incredible and proved to the world that we are more than what [they] think we are. It really inspired me to push.

Even in the film industry right now, #OscarsSoWhite has been going around and I don’t want to use [Hollywood’s discrimination] as an excuse to say they won’t hire me because I’m black. I want to be able to use that as a challenge and flip that around for the better for myself and say I can overcome that challenge, the same way Jesse did. I’m not going to use it as an excuse to say I’m never going to make it. No–I’m going to break that barrier and show [Hollywood] that I can make it!

#OscarsSoWhite has been a big topic. Race could be one of the films that breaks the Academy’s color barrier come nomination time in 2017. What do you think of the importance of a film like Race for our culture, especially in light of the Academy debacle?

It’s such a relief to see people that look like myself on film, and to see that people are excited about it. What it’s doing now is that it’s inspiring other filmmakers and directors and casting directors to now say, “Let’s try to make a difference here, let’s change it up and give people of color a chance.” There’s no doubt that we aren’t just as talented, just as smart, just as creative as they are. And goes for black, Hispanic, Native, Asian–we can do just as much as they can, it’s just a matter of giving us the chance to do so. That’s why I’m so excited for Race, and for the Nat Turner film that just came out at Sundance [The Birth of a Nation]. It [shows] what we are capable of doing and…[gives] us that chance to tell a story. Whether it’s a historic figure or non-historic figure, just give us the chance to tell that story.

It’s kind of bittersweet what’s going on, because it’ has to be talked about. I’m glad that it’s now being talked about and people are now making changes to make that happen. Because I believe that you have to start from the internal. Look at the makeup of the Academy. It’s like 95 percent men and 90 percent white or some kind of crazy, ridiculous number like that? It just starts form the internal source and make a change that way. And it’s not just a race difference, but age difference matters too. A guy that’s 80 years old isn’t going to understand or relate to films like Straight Outta Compton, you know what I’m saying? They definitely need to change it up and I’m glad that they are finally making that decision to do so.

What do you hope people learn from Race?

What I really hope people learn from this film is perseverance and believing in yourself to know you can make a difference. Jesse worked hard his whole life and pushed himself to limits only a few of us could ever imagine, but you see the benefits of doing so, of pushing and not letting trials and tribulations cut your dream off. We all go through it–we all have a dream and we all struggle, but you can’t let the struggle completely cut off the goal. We get to the point where we’re so close, and I just want everyone to persevere and push through because there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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.

Exclusive Interview: Dan Parent (“Die Kitty Die!”)

Archie Comics fans are well acquainted with their favorite artists, such as Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz, and if you’ve been astute fan, you might have heard about the pair’s upcoming comic book project, Die, Kitty, Dieand the project’s Kickstarter campaign. The campaign’s original $25,000 goal has not only been met, but has nearly reached double the amount originally set, with many heavyweights in the comic book industry joining in to provide special covers and pin-ups.

I’ve been a fan of Parent’s for years, and after having met him at the 2013 Miami Book Fair International, I became an even bigger fan. I’ve interviewed him before in the past, but I was excited and honored when he reached out to me to tell me about Die Kitty Die!. Check out the interview with Parent below, in which we discuss Die Kitty Die!, the Kickstarter campaign, and what fans can expect from this bewitching new series, as well as an exclusive update on that elusive Kevin Keller relaunch. The Die Kitty Die! Kickstarter campaign ends this Friday, Dec. 18, so if you’d like to contribute (click the link above), you’ve still got time!

How did you and Fernando Ruiz come up with Die Kitty Die!?

Fernando and I came up with idea for Die Kitty Die! on a plane trip to Dallas Comic Con last year. We started sketching and writing , and before you knew it, we had a story!

The Kickstarter has been uber successful. How do you feel about the success?

We are thrilled about the success of the Kickstarter. The most satisfying thing is that our fans have supported us and are looking forward to the project.

This project has a lot of popular comic book artists involved; who are some of the artists involved?

We are really lucky to have some great talent on board. Gisele Lagace is our friend, mega talent, and also a great business person. She has not only helped us set up our Kickstarter, but has contributed art to the series. Next is Jason Bone, another friend who is not only a great inker but a great artist too! Phil Jimenez and Glen Hanson are also 2 well known talents who are going to contribute to the book. And then we have superstar artist Darwyn Cooke, who is doing the cover to the trade. I’m his biggest fan, and have been lucky enough to become his friend over the years. When he agreed to do the cover, we were over the moon!

This project also has strong ties to pin-up art, specifically Dan DeCarlo (which makes sense, since both you and Ruiz are Archie artists). What about pin-up art appeals to you?

We love pin up art, as well as fashion pages . And Dan DeCarlo is a huge inspiration to all of us. So if you see signs of dan DeCarlo in our work, that’s a good thing!

What can fans of yours expect from Die Kitty Die?

Fans can expect Die Kitty Die to be a fun mix of romance, adventure, horror and comedy. It’s an homage to the comic book industry , but we also think it fills in a gap that is missing in comics right now. And that is classic comics told with a modern twist, that focus on two important things: Good story and good art!

On an unrelated note: Kevin Keller’s comic is supposed to be relaunching (at last check). What can fans expect from the relaunch?

There is supposed to be new Kevin Keller book, but that has been delayed. I’m hoping to get the ball rolling in that again in 2016!

Die Kitty Die! artwork by Dan Parent (Facebook)

Exclusive Interview: M.J. Fièvre (“A Sky the Color of Chaos”)

One of my favorite times of year in South Florida is November, when the Miami Book Fair International rolls into town. This year, M.J. Fièvre debuted her new book, A Sky the Color of Chaos, a memoir detailing her tumultuous childhood in Haiti and her journey towards understanding her father.

I was excited to learn more about Fièvre’s book and her writing process, and in this in-depth email interview, you can also learn more about Fièvre’s literary process, what she hopes the book teaches readers, and how she came to better understand her father and herself.

A Sky the Color of Chaos is avaiable from Beating Winward Press and can be bought at outlets like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books-a-Million.

Exclusive Interview: Necar Zadegan (“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”)

Bravo’s Girlfriends Guide to Divorce is coming back for a second season Dec. 1, and Necar Zadegan, who plays divorce attorney Delia, has given fans a sneak peek at some of the season’s drama in this exclusive interview with COLOR.

Zadegan, known for her roles on RakeEmily Owens, M.D., Masters of Sex, Archer and Extant, is having tons of fun playing the smart-dressing divorce lawyer who is now grappling with a realm outside of her divorce-filled life; weddings and marriage. I was happy to speak with Zadegan about her role as Delia, what’s on the horizon for the character, and her interaction with the show’s fans. Returning fans already know the score, but for new fans coming to the show, get prepared for some fun, some fashion, and some humor. As Zadegan said herself, “They’re friends who buy makeup and wear great clothes and carry great bags and in the interim, comedy ensues. That’s the season in a nutshell.”

Exclusive Interview: Rafael de la Fuente (“Empire”)

Oct. 21st’s episode of Empire, “Be True,” featured Andre trying to get his soul right with his family, himself, and with God ultimately, but one of the other developments of the night was Michael getting with that artist guy and later discovered by Jamal, who was about to tell Michael he could come on tour with him!

I was excited to have the opportunity of talking with Rafael de la Fuente about Michael’s departure from fidelity and what his actions could mean for Jamal and Michael’s future together. We also talked about de la Fuente’s quick first trip to set, working with Jussie Smollett, and his favorite Cookie moment. 

Exclusive Interview: Judith Hill

You might know Judith Hill from The Voice and 20 Feet From Stardom, but now the talented singer/songwriter has her new album, Back in Time and for longtime fans and Hill herself, this album has been a long time coming. Hill worked in the music industry as a background singer for some of pop culture’s most talented artists, and all of that hard work is shown in the versatility and artistry shown on Back in Time‘s songs.

I was very excited to be able to speak with Hill about her album, which is now available for purchase today from NPG Records, her career, and what it’s like to work in Prince’s Paisley Park Studios. You can follow Hill on JudithHill.com and on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube

Exclusive Interview: Keith David (“Boiling Pot”)

If you’re looking for an independent film that will shock and teach at the same time, try Boiling Pot. The film, which stars Keith David, Danielle Fishel (Girl Meets World), Davetta Sherwood (The Young and the Restless), and Louis Gossett, Jr., is set during the 2008 election of President Barack Obama and shows how even during a time of supposed “post-racial” elation, horrible racist attitudes still exist in both blatant and undetectable forms.

I was excited to be able to speak with David about the film and get his insights on race in America. Boiling Pot is now available on VOD.

Exclusive Interview: “EastSiders” Multi-Talent Kit Williamson Talks Season 2

Beware of slight spoilers!

One of the most popular shows on the web, EastSiders, is back with the first three episodes of its second season. All of the characters are back, some guest stars are also joining the mix, and fans will be able to see what happens next in the complicated love lives of these 30-somethings, connected by the human need to feel desired and fulfilled.

I was happy to speak with Kit Williamson, actor, director, producer and writer of EastSiders, and ask him about the second season, the writing challenges, and what (and who) else fans can expect to see.

You can watch the first three episodes right now on Vimeo On Demand. The last three episodes of the season are on their way. If you want to start from the beginning, you can buy the first season; information about where to buy and more on the show is on the EastSiders site.