entertainment

Review: New webseries “Giving Me Life: In the Land of the Deadass” will give you proper “Living Single” feels (SPOILERS)

I love Living Single. I’ve watched every episode, and I know the characters inside out. Even though we might get a reboot soon, I’ve longed for another show to give me that same comfortable vibe of friends who have each other’s backs while calling each other out on their mistakes. If you’re like me, wishing and hoping for a show to follow Living Single‘s leave, give Dafina Roberts’ Giving Me Life a watch.

Giving Me Life, a Kickstarter Creator-in-Residence project and a 2017 New York Television Festival Official Selection, focuses on a core group of friends–Nala (Lori Liang), an artivist who has to reconcile her idealism with the stark realities of making money; Leah (Natalie Jacobs), a career-driven Type A investment banker whose studying for the GMATs and only dates up; Travis (Marshall star Mark St. Cyr), a highly spiritual, charismatic guy who thought he’d found the right spiritual partner; Cam (Sly Maldonado), a lovable party boy who is actually looking for the right woman to settle down with; Jess (Nathaly Lopez), a middle school counselor who uses her counseling skills to be the listening ear for all of her friends–even though she has problems making room for a girlfriend in her life; and Gil (Jarvis Tomdio), Nala’s crush, a people pleaser and “the epitome of geek-chic.”

These friends are trying their best to make it in New York and achieve their dreams while not losing their minds in the process. Thankfully, these guys have each other, and regardless of whatever problems they have, they all have each other’s back. The camaraderie is what makes the show so easy and enjoyable to watch. So far there are only four episodes, but once you finish, you’ll wish there were more.

Honestly, the show has left me wondering why this hasn’t been snapped up for TV pilot season. I think this show is good enough to rival series like InsecureDear White People and Master of None. It definitely gives viewers everything they’re asking for in these representation-focused times. We have tons of diversity, but more than that, we have inclusion; we’re told stories that reflect the lives of real people from the perspectives of people of color. The characters are never cookie-cutter; they are dynamic, fresh, well-rounded and behave like people we’ve come in contact with before (for some of us, we might be those characters). Their different socio-economic, ethnic, and sexual spaces these characters reside drive the storylines in an organic way, and there’s never an episode that feels like it’s a “very special episode.”

Natalie Jacobs as Leah. (Giving Me Life/Facebook)

What might be the most refreshing thing about Giving Me Life is that it gives its LGBT characters room to be imperfect people. I think one failing some shows on TV have when it comes to representing LGBT characters is that there’s a tendency to make the characters the poster children for the LGBT community. There’s a compulsion to try to make them perfect or edgy in some way. The characters in Giving Me Life, however, aren’t treated like stereotypes. Their needs and wants are just as fleshed out as their straight counterparts, and they are allowed to make mistakes.

For instance, Travis believes he’s found his soulmate with his boyfriend, but realizes that his boyfriend might want more than Travis can give him. After a bad experience with swinging (something the deeply religious Travis didn’t want to do in the first place), Travis breaks up with his boyfriend, but later wonders if he made a wrong choice. Leah, on the other hand, meets and falls in love with a man who also seems like the perfect match–they’re both climbing the ladder to financial success, they enjoy a certain level of luxury, they’re both bisexual, and they both feel the strain from stereotypes placed on bisexual people. But the catch is that Leah doesn’t even know her guy’s name. Not knowing his name makes her feel thotish, and one thing Leah won’t let herself be is a thot.

Travis (Mark St. Cyr, left), with his boyfriend Clarence (Mijon Zulu) before they break up. (Giving Me Life/Twitter)

Overall, Giving Me Lifwill, in fact, give you life. You’ll feel like you’ve found a new set of friends, and it’ll leave you with the hope that more episodes come very soon.

Follow Giving Me Life via its website as well as on social media–Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and Instagram.

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What’s with Catherine Zeta-Jones playing Columbian drug lord Griselda Blanco?

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, you might have seen the high-budget trailer for Lifetime’s Griselda Blanco biopic, Cocaine Godmother. If not, here you go:

If you’re astute to representation issues, you probably know what I’m going to point out as the problem. Catherine Zeta-Jones, a Welsh woman, is playing Blanco, a Colombian woman. Why is she, though?

There are plenty Latina actresses who could have played this role, and in fact, there is one who has been lobbying for this role for a very long time–Jennifer Lopez. Lopez has been jonesing to play Blanco for years, and has created a deal with HBO to bring her TV movie to life (as to when that movie is coming remains to be seen).

Surprisingly, it’s also not the first time Zeta-Jones has been tapped to play Blanco; she was initially supposed to play the Queen of Cocaine in a biopic called The Godmother. According to W Magazine, Zeta-Jones won the role over…Jennifer Lopez. According to a source to The Sunday Times in 2016, despite Lopez’s hard lobbying for the role, she didn’t win out because “she doesn’t have the acting quality to pull it off.”

Today, neither woman are in the role–it now belongs to Oscar-nominated actress Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace). But both women are gunning to have the last word on Blanco’s life. Right now, we’re seeing Zeta-Jones’ vanity project in the lead.

This gets back to the main point of this article–why is a non-Latina actress playing a Latina figure? From where I’m sitting, it seems like another case of Hollywood (and maybe even Zeta-Jones herself) believing in casting white actors in non-white roles because they have an ethnic “look.” It’s another, subtler kind of whitewashing.

There’s a reason Zeta-Jones has been able to play Latina on more than one occasion–she played a Latina character in The Mask of Zorro opposite Antonio Banderas–and that’s because she’s a white woman who has ethnically-ambiguous looks. Casting-wise, Zeta-Jones fits the model Hollywood looks for when casting a stereotypical non-black “Latina” role; she’s, as Hollywood would describe her, “exotic” thanks to her olive skin and curvy features. But casting her also comes with the added bonus of whiteness, which adds “credibility,” and “name recognition” to the role. In this way, Zeta-Jones can play both sides, having her cake and eating it, too.

But in the stills and trailer for Cocaine Godmother, you can still see Zeta-Jones exaggerating her already ethnically-ambiguous features to the point where it starts becoming character makeup. Her naturally olive skin is bronzed even further to get it closer to Blanco’s, making her skin look like it has an unnatural tan. Her nose is somehow contoured and highlighted to look even more bulbous in an effort to match Blanco’s nose in real life. The overall look is meant to make her look less like a Welsh-English woman and more like a woman of color–the makeup treatment doesn’t want you to equate Zeta-Jones’ performance with brownface, but let’s face it; it’s brownface.

This is also not the first time a white actress has used ethnic ambiguity to their advantage. Shirley Maclaine, who has naturally hooded eyes, was able to do it in the 1962 film that’s basically posits a white woman stealing a role from a Japanese woman as a comedy, My Geisha, and in 1966’s Gambit, in which she plays opposite Michael Caine as “exotic Eurasian showgirl” Nicole Chang. Most recently, Floriana Lima, an Italian-American actress, was able to use her looks to play Latina Supergirl character Maggie Sawyer. Many more examples exist beyond these two.

Zeta-Jones is looking to have her cake and eat it too again with Cocaine Godmother. But this time, there’s a little bit of pushback.

The noise around this film is only going to grow the closer we get to the film’s 2018 TV premiere. We’ll see how the film handles the impending whitewashing discussion it’ll inevitably come up against.

Liu Yifei stuns in new “Mulan” promo shots

Disney’s Mulan is headed in the right direction finally, at least with casting its main star. Say hello to our Mulan–Liu Yifei, star of international films The Forbidden Kingdom, Outcast, and The Chinese Widow.

Liu, otherwise known as Crystal Liu in the States, has gotten the royal treatment from Disney, including a Mulan-themed photo shoot to celebrate the casting news. The photos, which Liu posted to her Instagram page, give a tease as to what Liu might look as a cinematic Mulan–of course, she’s wearing high fashion in these photos, but you can see she definitely knows how to work a camera and pose with a sword (she is a model and ambassador for fashion houses like Dior).

Mulan is expected to come to theaters in 2019. Hopefully we’ll know if we have a bisexual Li Shang by that point, if we even have Shang at all–at last check, the film is planning on totally rewriting the role into a new character, which is not only annoying, but a missed opportunity for some LGBT representation. But for now, let’s bask in the cool photos; I’ll save that axe to grind at a later date.

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This new webseries celebrates queer black women in love

The web series is the new place for inclusive messages and nuanced stories about marginalized people that aren’t always shown in the mainstream. 195 Lewis is one such example of the web series making its mark with an underserved audience.

195 Lewis focuses on a cast of black LGBTQ women of color as they live and love in Brookyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood. The show’s creators, Rae Leone Allen and Yaani Supreme, have created the show from their own experiences–like their characters, they are also black women in the LGBTQ community who hail from Brooklyn. From their experiences, they were able to create a series that finally put love between queer black women–people who are rarely ever shown on TV–on the main internet stage.

Emily J. Smith interviewed Allen for Broadly. Here are three moments from her interview worth noting.

On the inviting feeling of 195 Lewis

“We’ve been able to create this warm and embracing world. We want people to join and feel safe there.

On white male privilege in the media industry:

“The only thing we need to take from white men is their audacity. Women are different kind of creatures, we’re constantly asking questions and interrogating ourselves, we know we’ll be responsible with our art. We just need to get audacious.”

On the groundbreaking nature of 195 Lewis :

“We’re showing beautiful black women on screen loving each other and being themselves. That’s revelatory in and of itself.”

Read the full article and watch the first episode of 195 Lewis at Broadly. Follow 195 Lewis through the show’s website and social media–Facebook, Vimeo, Instagram and Twitter.

Black girls are winning! Aja Naomi King, Issa Rae and Tiffany Haddish are killing the game

There’s been a flurry of beauty and movie news that celebrates black beauty and talent! Check it out!

Aja Naomi King as L’Oreal Paris Ambassador

Instagram

Aja Naomi King is the new face of L’Oreal Paris. According to 21Ninety, King, who is best known for her work on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, will start her ambassadorship with the True Match Lumi Glow collection.

“Gratitude can’t begin to describe this feeling inside,” she wrote on Twitter. “No words can capture it…but I hope to be one more face looking back at you showing you what IS possible!!!”

Tiffany Haddish becomes an awards frontrunner

Universal Pictures

Girls Trip has put comedian Tiffany Haddish on the map, and the Oscar buzz surrounding her performance isn’t just hot air. Haddish has been named this year’s Best Supporting Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle. According to Vanity Fair, Haddish beat out other awards contenders such as Lady Bird‘s Laurie Metcalf and I, Tonya‘s Allison Janney.

“Though the New York Film Critics Circle is an insular voting body that doesn’t overlap with those who pick contenders for ceremonies like the Golden Globes and the Oscars,” wrote Yohana Desta, “it seems likely that her buzz, newly bolstered by this best-supporting actress award, could reinvigorate voters in other groups to throw their weight behind Haddish.

Issa Rae partners with CoverGirl

CoverGirl

Also from 21NinetyInsecure star Issa Rae is bringing her Awkward Black Girl magic to CoverGirl with her new lip collection.

Her collection, Melting Pout Metallics, features eight metallic lip shades, and these aren’t your average shades. With colors ranging from blue (“Sunday Blue”) a cool gray  (“Platinum Card”), vibrant purple (“Amped”) to a liquid gold (“Banger”), there are shades for even the most adventurous lipstick wearer.

Hooray, ladies!

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Get to know Frank Waln, the Lakota rapper-activist changing hip-hop

If you don’t know Frank Waln, you need to know him. The Sicangu Lakota rapper and activist has given voice to the voiceless and educated fans with his timely, moving, and politically sharp lyrics. He’s also put his words to power by working with The Dream Defenders in Palestine, fought against the Keystone XL pipeline, and regularly promotes his activism through his Twitter account. Understand Waln better by reading his own words about his music, his politics, and his message to fans old and new.

On his latest EP, The Bridge:

“The world is hungry for Indigenous voices and stories right now. This album [The Bridge], like all Indgenous art, holds centuries of Indigenous stories, personal and universal. I made this project for myself and other Indigenous people like me who need honesty, vulnerability and healing in their lives.”

On the historical background of his song, “Treaties”:

“As an Indigenous producer and songwriter, center the voices of Indigenous elders in a song is a great way to show my audience who I learn from, and to share knowledge directly from the source. Thhis song is as relevant now as it was hundreds of years ago, when the U.S. government was breaking its treaty rights. It’s happening right now with the Dakota Access and Keystone Pipelines being built onto treaty land.

How can the United States call itself the greatest country in the world when it won’t even honor the treaties that founded this country? I hope this song spurs every American citizen who hears it, Indigenous or not, to pressure our government to follow its own laws and honor its treaties. This song is about justice.”

The song that started his hip-hop journey:

“…[W]hen I was seven or eight, I fell in love with playing piano. I started teaching myself how to play keys. So, I would say, my dedication to music started at the piano when I was seven or eight. Eminem was my introduction to hip-hop. But then, when I heard the Nas song “One Mic” that’s when I decided I wanted to be a rapper. That’s really when I devoted myself to hip-hop.”

On hip-hop’s resonance with Native Americans:

“Hip-hop resonates with a lot of people of my generation, whether they be in a city or on a reservation. I was thinking about this a lot lately. When I was growing up, the representations of Natives that we saw on TV were nothing like what we were living. Nothing like our reality. It was always, like, these savage Indians of the past. Very stereotypical. The media we saw, the artwork that we saw, the images in mainstream media that we related to the most, were hip-hop. Those artists were telling stories that definitely related to things we were going through, and are going through on the reservation.”

Describing his activism:

“What I’m doing – the ideology and worldview that I’m using to approach what I do – is older than the word and concept of an “activist.” I’m just Lakota. That’s why I care about my people. That’s why I care about the earth. That’s why I care about the water. That’s why I care about my community. That’s why I care about people around me. That’s why I devote my gift of music and why I use my platform to protect those things. Because I am Lakota. That’s how I was raised by mother, and my aunties, and my community. That’s what I’m taught in my culture and in my ceremonies. A lot of time Native people get pinned as activists, but really we’re just being Native. I’m just living my life, and trying to live my life in a way that my ancestors and elders and my parents and my culture raised me.”

Listen to The Bridge and “Treaties” on Soundcloud or just scroll below. You can download both from Waln’s Bandcamp page. 

Quotes taken from Waln’s interviews with RPM.fm (1,2) and Playboy. 

Hari Kondabolu breaks down “The Problem with Apu” for Vulture

Hari Kondabolu wants you to realize why The Simpsons character Apu is a problem.

His documentary, The Problem with Apu, aims to show Simpsons fans why their favorite Qwik-E-Mart store owner is much more than just a funny character. For many, Apu is a figure embedded with offensive racial stereotypes about Indian-Americans and Indian immigrants, compounded by the fact that the voice of Apu, Hank Azaria, is putting on a stereotypical Indian accent.

Vulture’s Malika Rao (who also appeared in the documentary) interviewed Kondabolu about the film, his opinions on Apu, the struggles he had with making and editing the film, and what the conversation about Apu means to the bigger issues of representation for Indian-Americans and POC in general.

On figuring out how to to explain racism to the uninformed:

“It was fun to make a movie and to interview so many people, but the actual heart of the issue, it was a 101 course. I honestly wanted to call it Seriously? I need to explain this? Because we all know this. It’s obvious. But I had to educate people. There’s a part of the film where I had to be reminded, this is going to mainstream America. This isn’t a film that’s in festivals. I need to explain basic ideas. I really need to explain minstrelsy? I really do? And I’m like, yeah, I do. This stuff used to be called “inaccessible” though. We’re at least in the era where it’s now mind-blowing.”

How Apu represents America’s deep-seated racism:

“The issue isn’t so much the character. I’m a 35-year-old man. It’s not an offensive thing, it’s a little insulting, especially when I was a kid. To me, it’s like, how did that happen, how does that still happen, how do we keep doing it? It’s not like it’s over. We still think about representation, we still think about erasure or one-dimensional representation. This is a classic example, but it’s one example. Apu is grandfathered in. It’s like a fossil in nectar, you know what I mean? It’s a great example for us to see because it’s both then and now. Times have changed, but ultimately for me it wasn’t just about Apu. It’s really about where we are as a culture and the fact that racism isn’t a singular thing. It’s a virus. It mutates, and every era, it changes.”

The one part Kondabolu wished he put in the documentary:

“There’s this one anecdote we didn’t put in that kills me. I did some research, and Peter Sellers and Satyajit Ray knew each other [Editor’s note: Peter Sellers starred in The Party, in a role Hank Azaria has compared to Apu; Ray created The Apu Trilogy, the famous Bengali series that the Simpsons’ Apu got his name from.] Ray wanted Sellers to be in his first attempt for a film, called Alien. They hit it off. Then Ray saw Sellers in The Party and was horrified. I just met this man. This is what he thinks of me? And the voice he uses. Peter Sellers has a monkey pet in the movie. The monkey’s name is Apu, and that’s not a coincidence, especially during [the time of the release of Ray’s Apu Trilogy]. I hear that story and I think about Apu, the cartoon character. You take [Ray’s] main character and give him this voice you know he would hate. The fact that [Apu the monkey] wasn’t squashed — this is what happens when you don’t squash it. It doesn’t look the same way, but it still survived.”

On how racism and representation affects all people of color:

“There’s a history of how people of color are used and how their bodies and images are monetized. Any South Asian in this country has faced it considerably easier [than black people]. When we talk about big moments, we talk about 9/11. You’re being held by law enforcement, seen as a threat. Black people deal with that every day. So it’s from this large legacy, but it’s not the same.”

Make sure to read the full interview at Vulture.com. The Problem with Apu is now streaming on TruTV and Amazon TV, Amazon Fire, iTunes, Roku and other streaming services.