Tag Archives: racism

#BeyondLabels: Fashion Blogger Freddie Harrel On Rediscovering Her Self-Worth

Like a lot of sites focusing on diversity in the media, JUST ADD COLOR highlights a lot of stories about being defined by labels, particularly bad ones. So much in or society is dominated by how others see us and how each of us are portrayed in the media. That can do a lot of damage to a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. But with all of the labeling that happens in a lifetime, how about living beyond those stereotype-laden labels that limit us? In other words, how do we find our self-worth, despite the messaging we’ve received? #BeyondtheLabels will highlight how people who are considered “outsiders” by the media—because of race, gender, weight/size, sexuality, ability, mental health, etc.—have rediscovered their self-worth and self-acceptance.

Fashion blogger Freddie Harrel combines her love for style with her passion for helping others gain self-confidence because of her own past struggles self acceptance. Her story reminds me of the stories many women of color, black women in particular, have when it comes to accepting their hair, being told by others they were pretty “for a black girl,” and consistently being put down by the mean-spirited and well-meaning alike. Her story is also familiar to me because, like me and many other women of color, she went to a school where she was the minority. Being put in a situation of being the only black person in an institution is stressful enough, but having to deal with both outward and unspoken discrimination is even more taxing on a teenager’s mental growth into adulthood.

Her moment of clarity came after years of trying to fit in. “Before I am a woman, before I am black, I am Freddie,” she said. “…In a really non-arrogant way, I think that’s amazing. I can’t believe I’ve missed that in so many years.”

Instead of me describing her story, just watch this video, created by Stylelikeu’s “What’s Underneath Project: London.”

You can follow Harrel at her site. You can also follow Stylelikeu and see more amazing stories of self-acceptance from people of all walks of life.

Four Reasons “Underground” is Must-See Television

Did you watch WGN America’s Underground Wednesday night? I did, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be, and it still surprised me with just how much information and action they managed to pack into an hour. I was so tense throughout the hour, I was tired afterwards.

There are multitude of reasons to be a huge fan of Underground, but I’ll provide you with four great reasons you should watch the show and use it as a platform to deepen your understanding about slavery and the issues that continue to plague America.

1. Underground makes slavery relevant to today’s issues again

Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Photo credit: WGN America
Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Photo credit: WGN America

The one thing that has hurt slavery narratives in the past is that they were always told in a past, passive tense. Slavery is something that ended roughly 200 hundred years ago, but some of the narratives put in the media about slavery would make people think that the effects of slavery aren’t in effect today. Surprise, surprise for those who didn’t know this, but the effects of slavery have always been effect because there’s still two Americas within the same country. There’s still the feeling that one aspect of America doesn’t want to listen, or doesn’t care to listen, to other viewpoints. The after-effects of slavery show themselves in economic inequality, police brutality, white flight in neighborhoods, gentrification in urban areas, pay inequality, the denial of basic human rights both in the justice system and in social aspects (like allowing Flint, MI residents, many of whom are black, to drink lead-filled water from the polluted Flint River while Detroit gets its water from a different source).

What Underground does through various modes of storytelling and the usage of modern music (Kanye!) is bring slavery back to the present. Making the story modern makes the injustice that much more difficult to watch, and you can’t help but think about how this hateful practice of slavery still reverberates today. I think the handling of the characters and the story will make even the most casual and most “colorblind” of viewers wake up and think about what’s going on today and how they may or may not be playing a part in the continuing degradation of a people. In short, it’ll make folks think if they’re part of the solution or part of the problem.

2. Underground puts slaves at the forefront of their own story

L-R: Alano Miller, Aldis Hodge, Theodus Crane. Photo credit: WGN America
L-R: Alano Miller, Aldis Hodge, Theodus Crane. Photo credit: WGN America

The most annoying thing about some films about slavery or discrimination in general is that the “good” white people are put at the center of the story. Daniel José Older (who I’ve interviewed on JUST ADD COLOR before!) wrote for Salon that the Oscar-lauded 12 Years a Slave still had a white savior narrative with Brad Pitt’s character Bass saving Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup:

“About three-quarters through the movie Brad Pitt suddenly sohws up and, essentially, saves the day. Never mind that Pitt is also one of the film’s producers…In this otherwise monumental and groundbreaking film, written and directed in the age of stop-and-frisk and ‘stand your ground,’ of Trayvon and Aiyanna and Marissa and Renisha, did we really need yet another white savior narrative? We absolutely did not.”

Older also brings up Lincoln, which featured the idea that Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln alone fought for the rights of slaves, instead of showing the layered and multi-faceted effort it took to get Lincoln to actually consider ending slavery, an effort which involved abolitionists like Frederick Douglass.

“Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ erased Frederick Douglass, reinforcing the tired notion that a singular white man, through the sheer force of his moral conviction, brought slavery to an end. In ‘Lincoln,’ ans in ’12 Years,’ this cliché not only hobbles the film’s cultural relevancy, it is a narrative failure as well.”

The Help isn’t about slavery, but it still put Emma Stone’s character and her book writing journey at the center of the story, when the real story is about how these maids have been surviving amid the unchecked racism and unearned privilege of their white women “employers.”  In all of these stories, the feelings of white America—of wanting to absolve white guilt, of wanting to appease an injured ego still coming to terms with slavery itself—are at the center, when their feelings, while valuable, aren’t the feelings we should be focusing on in these stories. The characterizations should revolve primarily around the characters who are most oppressed, the characters who are facing these uphill battles on a daily basis. The focus on the white experience of learning about oppression is also another thing that keeps some slave movies stuck in a passive tone; the act of an outsider looking into a new world is a passive one, since the outsider can throw away the experience at any point. The act becomes more of a professorial anthropological exercise than one actually immersing themselves to the point of a complete understanding. A call to action doesn’t come from studying a group from afar; it comes from feeling akin to that group, feeling like your well-being depends on their well-being.

Having the oppressed tell their own story is what gives a show like Underground its power. There are two white characters that do become part of the Underground Railroad, but it already looks like they aren’t set up to be “white saviors,” necessarily. They are part of the cogs of the Railroad, but the show isn’t depicting them as being the initial catalysts. In fact, the characters exemplify the difference between viewing slaves and slave rights as an anthropological study and feeling the call to action to actually help them. John Hawkes starts out as an abolitionists of sorts, but he’s still advocating for the law, which was set up to go against black people in the first place. Elizabeth, his wife, is initially against him advocating for slave rights, but once she visits John’s brother, the evil plantation owner Tom Macon, she sees a boy fanning her from the rafters. That boy, combined with her own desire for a family, changes her mind completely about slave rights. She finally sees herself in them and feels that call to action, which spurs her husband on to do the same. But, they are working in conjunction with slaves securing their own freedom; they’re not acting as shepherds herding a flock.

L-R David Kency, Jessica De Gouw, and Marc Blucas. Photo credit: WGN America
L-R David Kency, Jessica De Gouw, and Marc Blucas. Photo credit: WGN America

The slaves themselves, not John and Elizabeth, are the leads of this story. Aldis Hodge’s Noah is the one who is hell bent on getting to freedom, and he’s not planning on going alone; he’s taking a group of slaves with him. Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Rosalee is, of course, going to go with him, but we see her come to terms with her place on the plantation and how clearly not-free she is, even though she works in the Big House. Much of this realization comes when Suzanna Macon, the “lady” of the house, starts talking about selling Rosalee’s little brother James. (Of course, there’s going to be the big realization that Rosalee and James are both Tom and Rosalee’s mother Ernestine’s children.) The slaves decide for themselves how they want the rest of their lives to play out, and they take action to make their dream of freedom come true. This makes Underground stellar television as well as a stellar take (and more truthful take) on the slave story.

(For another slave story with slaves actually at the forefront of their story, check out this Atlantic article on the film Sankofa.)

Click to read the latest issue!

3. Underground highlights the insidious nature of white privilege

(L-R) Amirah Vann and Reed Diamond. Photo credit: WGN America
(L-R) Amirah Vann and Reed Diamond. Photo credit: WGN America

There are many scenes that are terrible to watch, but the scene that probably made me want to throw up the most was the juxtaposition of the little baby’s funeral (the baby who was killed by its mother, who didn’t want it to grow up in slavery) to the birthday of Tom and Suzanna’s daughter Mary. That, coupled with the family sitting down at dinner and being waited on by the house slave staff just made me want to scream to the rafters. But these scenes are also important because it shows how ugly the phenomenon of white privilege is. Or, to put it another way for those who get blindsided by that term, I’ll use a phrase I’ve already used in this post: unearned privilege.

For those who either hate/feel offended by the term “white privilege” or don’t understand what it means, here’s the definition, per the students of The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women class at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. (The page itself is housed by Mount Holyoke College):

White privilege is a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it the most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold as a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

The definition goes onto give examples, such as interpreting types of dressing, manners of speech, and general behaviors as being “racial neutral” when in fact, as the definition states, “they are white.” It ends with this:

“…White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level.”

The definition also quotes James Baldwin, who stated, “Being white means never having to think about it.”

What is great about Underground is that it makes a point to show not just how extreme white privilege can be in how it excused and upheld slavery, but how it works its way into even the most well-intentioned of people, like Elizabeth and Tom, who still have the option to decide if they want to help slaves or not, and for a while decided not to help slaves for the sake of building a family. White privilege is something that needs to be worked out of the American system. The sooner the better, because all of us are Americans and deserve true equality, not a system based on antiquated, racially-based ideas.

4. Underground is just plain good

L-R: Aldis Hodge and Alano Miller. Photo credit: WGN America
L-R: Aldis Hodge and Alano Miller. Photo credit: WGN America

What else can I say? It’s terrific. It’s got no commercials, for one. Second, John Legend has proven himself to be a fantastic executive producer with this show; I’m still waiting on more news about that Thomas-Alexandre Dumas film. Third, it’s got a great cast: Aldis Hodge, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Alano Miller, Amirah Vann, Jessica De Gouw, Renwick Scott, Mykleti Williamson, Marc Blucas, Reed Diamond, Adina Porter, Theodus Crane, Johnny Ray Gill and Christopher Meloni, to whom I tweeted this:

Because weren’t we all rooting for Stabler to bop heads and take names? (There’s still time to stop being a wildcard and get on the right side of history, August Pullman! But his character also proves a point about white privilege; August can choose to play both sides—tricking the slave woman trying to escape by pretending to be a freedom fighter—solely for his own benefit.)

What do you love about Underground? Give your opinions below, and make sure to watch Underground Wednesdays at 10/9c on WGN America.

5 of the Top Moments from Oscars 2016

1. Chris Rock made everyone uncomfortable, and rightly so. 

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For a full month, I was on the edge of my seat waiting on what Rock would have to say, and I wasn’t disappointed. Rock is known for going for the jugular, and during the Oscars, he not only went for the jugular, but he went for all the major arteries in Hollywood’s body with glee. He made fun of everything, including Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith just being mad because Will Smith wasn’t up for Concussion (remember how Pinkett Smith started the boycott talk?) and the Oscars itself, calling it the “White People’s Choice Awards.”

Rock was put in a very difficult position to post the awards show in the midst of controversy, but he seemed more than up to the task. Even with all of the insults and jabs he leveled at Hollywood and those in the audience, I have a feeling we saw Rock holding back. If he really wanted to make people mad with the truth, he’d know exactly how to do it. But coming on stage with Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” playing in the background, telling a room full of the Hollywood elite that Hollywood is undoubtedly racist, showing a video of black people outside a Compton movie theater talking about film inequalities, and introducing Michael B. Jordan as someone who should have been nominated are all great ways to make people uncomfortable. What I wonder is how many of the “liberal” folks in the audience thought Rock wasn’t talking about them, despite him clearly saying he was addressing the “liberals” of Hollywood. That’s the unspoken joke of the night.

There were three moments in Rock’s time as host that made my jaw drop on the floor:

  1. During the Black History Moment taped segment with Angela Bassett, I could have sworn that the joke was setting up towards another elaborate jab at Will Smith. Maybe I was reading too much into the joke, but with the set up (and the choice of films, like Shark Tale), I was so sure a takedown of Smith’s career was coming, especially in light of what Rock had said about them in the monologue. The joke actually was making fun of Jack Black being in a lot of Will Smith movies, which led me to breathe out a sigh of relief.
  2. How did Rock and co. get Stacey Dash to play a part in her own takedown? Did she know what the joke was? Did she know she was the joke? In any event, I was floored. The Weeknd’s face told the story. giphy (29)
  3. The taped segment in which Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, and others showed how tough it is for black actors to get parts. The takedown of Joy was my particular favorite.

Could more have been said about all minorities who are marginalized in the industry? Certainly. There was only one guy all night who talked about how the Oscar should belong to everyone, and it was one of the guys outside of the Compton theater. Some folks were getting on Rock for not discussing the plight of all minorities in Hollywood. I’ll say that for myself, I recognized how I would have handled the situation, which is talk about how all people who are not part of white Hollywood are blocked out of all of Hollywood’s creative process, but am not Chris Rock. Rock handled it from his perspective, and his perspective is just what he presented last night—the black American experience. Would it have been nice if a bone was thrown to everyone affected? Yes. The Native cast members of The Revenant, Byung-hun Lee, Sofia Vergara, and many of the other non-black POC presenters don’t have the same opportunities either, some less so. Could his monologue have wrongly cemented it in people’s minds that #OscarsSoWhite is only about black people? It most certainly could have. With that said, I still think Rock’s hosting duties accomplished what it needed to, which is to shame the Academy on its biggest night.

2. The tonal shifts of the Oscars.

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Between Rock laying it on thick about Hollywood’s “sorority racist” mode of business and other presenters like Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman looking like they’d rather be anywhere else during certain points of the night, the rest of the presenters pretended to be cautious and/or unaware as they presented awards that, overall, only showed how white the Oscars actually are.

Even more uncomfortable were the additions of scores of non-white presenters. One reason I keep mentioning Jordan is that he should have been nominated. Heck, a lot of the presenters should have been nominated, like Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation. I say more presenters should have looked upset. In any event, the night was clearly an uncomfortable one for most people in attendance (and for most people in attendance, deservedly so).

3. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs doubles down on diversity, asks room to do the same

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I did like Boone Isaacs’ speech about the Academy’s pledge to do better, and I especially liked that she asked others in the audience to do the same. The actors are routinely forgotten about facilitators in Hollywood’s game, but on some level, they share culpability for continuing Hollywood’s mode of business. They themselves could change how films are made just by refusing to take on certain roles. For instance, if an actor or actress gets a role to play a traditionally Asian or Mexican character, they could decide not to take it in the hopes that it’ll actually go to an actor or actress that properly fits the bill.

4. Lady Gaga reminded us that it really is on us. 

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I think the most powerful song of the night was definitely Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens to You” for the documentary The Hunting Ground. Gaga’s emotional performance, coupled with the on-stage appearances of many victims of sexual assault and rape, really drove home the point of V.P. Biden’s speech beforehand; it’s truly on us to stop others from becoming sexual assault victims.

5. Leonardo DiCaprio finally gets his Oscar!

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Everyone, including the Best Actor nominees, stood up in applause for DiCaprio’s win. It was a win that has taken many years to earn, but he finally did it. He also gave us yet another great speech, in which he outlines how important it is for us to address climate change.

What did you think of the night? What were your favorite moments? Which moments didn’t you like? (Ali G. is on my list.) Write about it in the comments section!

EDIT: I did forget to mention the joke about the little Asian kid accountants. That joke really fell flat to me because 1) I didn’t get it and 2) what was the message, if there was one? In any case, it, along with Sacha Baron Cohen-as-Ali G’s joke comparing the Minions to Asian people were low points of the night.

4 Reasons Why black-ish’s Tackling of Police Brutality Was Amazing

black-ish killed the game Wednesday night! The show opened eyes, ears, hearts, and minds with its bottle episode “Hope,” in which the Johnsons sat and watched yet another case involving the death of an unarmed black man. There were several unexpected moments, including the introduction of the good-looking prosecutor and the continued acting career of Don Lemon.  But there were other reasons why the episode was a standout, and why it’ll go down in the history books as one of the most important episodes of the show’s short run.

1. black-ish tackled police brutality in an even-handed way

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What was important for black-ish to do was to give all viewpoints on the police brutality issue. Not all black people, and frankly, not all people in general, hold the same views about police brutality, and the characters on black-ish give each viewpoint merit. Dre, Ruby and Pops believe that all police are bad (despite Dre’s constantly nagging the police whenever he heard a noise outside his house) and that the system is rigged against them. Rainbow believed that there was some injustice, but the system still worked on the whole. Junior took to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book to educate himself on the world and, like a lot of young adults, feels compelled to go protest. Zoey seems like she’s constantly zoned out on her phone, but she actually is affected, probably more affected than anyone else; she, like a lot of young people, feel lost. Jack and Diane simply want to know what’s going on and why.

What’s fascinating to me is that there wasn’t any “right” or “wrong” way to feel. What happened was that everyone was expressing their viewpoints because of their personal worldviews and upbringings. Dre grew up in a neighborhood that was rampant with police for good and bad reasons, and that upbringing shaped his worldview of the police. Rainbow grew up in a commune, and her level of trust is reflective of that. Ruby and Pops come from an era that’s different even from Dre’s upbringing. The kids have grown up in a kinder world than the one Dre grew up in, and because of Dre and Rainbow’s economic and social status, they have been shielded from a lot. Their lack of experience played out with the kids feeling a sense of hopelessness and an urge to put their feet to the pavement and march. Everyone’s opinions were equally acknowledged and challenged, and everyone came out with the consensus to work together to deal with the situation at hand.

2. The episode didn’t hold back on the humor.

This wasn’t an ordinary “Special Episode” of a show, even though it was a very special episode. Black-ish did what it always does, which is discuss real world issues, but it also didn’t forget to bring the jokes. I laughed the hardest when Junior didn’t agree with Dre on some of his police brutality stats, and Dre mutters how he wants to see Junior in the back of a cop car for disagreeing with him. When you type it out, it sounds horrific, but when you hear Anthony Anderson say the words in the same manner we’ve said stuff when someone decides to eviscerate our points, it’s hilarious.

Also hilarious: The show touched on how everyone went through a Malcolm X phase during the late ’80s and early ’90s, including Dre. Every episode of A Different World looked like Dre’s “I’m blackety black” look. Compare:

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Let’s not forget Pops being a Bobcat, in his former life, not a Black Panther. “Still part of the radical cat family!”

3. Anthony Anderson gives the performance of his career, black-ish or otherwise.

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To be fair, black-ish has had some amazing moments, moments that go under the radar because it’s usually encased in Dre’s voiceover. But black-ish is always laying down the law when it comes to how the other half lived (and is still living). The discussion about swimming and the quick jab at colorism during the Season 1 finale are just two that stick out in my mind. Anderson’s moment in Wednesday’s black-ish episode, though, was one that I know will reverberate in people’s consciousness for a long time.

His statement about his pride and fear for Barack Obama as the first black U.S. President is something I’m sure a lot of people can identify with. I identified with it immediately, since my family and I were also afraid Obama would get assassinated when he got out of the car dubbed “the Beast.” Those minutes of him and Michelle walking down the street, waving happily to people, were some of the most tense moments of my life. Anderson’s tension came through in that scene, as well as his sadness and profound anger at how America consistently tries to keep black Americans back. (Just remember the beginning scene of the second act when Dre’s voice over and file footage showcase the deaths of civil rights heroes and those who wanted to make a difference, and then think back to Dre’s tear-filled eyes as he recounted what should have been one of the happiest days of his life.)

Kudos to you, Anderson; you’ve earned yourself another Image Award. Emmys: you better give Anderson a nom, if not an award next year.

4. blackish shows that the family that protests together, stays together

BLACK-ISH - "Hope" - When the kids ask some tough questions in the midst of a highly publicized court case involving alleged police brutality and an African-American teenager, Dre and Bow are conflicted on how best to field them. Dre, along with Pops and Ruby, feel the kids need to know what kind of world they're living in, while Bow would like to give them a more hopeful view about life. When the verdict is announced, the family handles the news in different ways while watching the community react, on "black-ish," WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24 (9:31-10:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Patrick Wymore) MILES BROWN, JENIFER LEWIS, MARSAI MARTIN
BLACK-ISH – “Hope” – When the kids ask some tough questions in the midst of a highly publicized court case involving alleged police brutality and an African-American teenager, Dre and Bow are conflicted on how best to field them. Dre, along with Pops and Ruby, feel the kids need to know what kind of world they’re living in, while Bow would like to give them a more hopeful view about life. When the verdict is announced, the family handles the news in different ways while watching the community react, on “black-ish,” WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24 (9:31-10:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Patrick Wymore)
MILES BROWN, JENIFER LEWIS, MARSAI MARTIN

What I loved a lot about the episode is that, in an effort to show their solidarity and to make their displeasure known, they decide to join the protest as a family unit. That message is so heartening to me, because it shows that no matter how powerless you feel (like how Zoey felt), you can still make a difference in your own way. By voicing your concerns, marching, protesting (by traditional or non-traditional means), you are changing society for the better. It also shows that if each person or each family decided to make a difference, no matter how small, imagine how much (and how quickly) society would change.

What did you think of this very important black-ish episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

4 Reasons the All Nations Network Will Be What American Television Needs

Guess what, everyone? Canada’s Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) is launching a sister channel in the United States!
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APTN is launching All Nations Network sometime this year. The 24-hour channel will be, as the press release states, “the first network to bring both native and non-native audiences in the U.S.”,  providing “native news, sports, scripted, lifestyle, feature-length movies and children’s programming written, produced, and directed by Native Americans, among others.”

APTN cites Leonardo DiCaprio’s Golden Globes speech and Jim Jarmusch’s statements about the need for Native entertainment in America.

In the midst of the discourse over the lack of diversity in Hollywood, some of entertainment’s top stars and creators have joined to endorse ANN’s U.S. entrance.   From Robert Redford to Oscar nominated actor Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves), Robbie Robertson (The Band) and acclaimed director Jim Jarmusch they have joined in endorsing the network. Their voices echo the Golden Globes speech by actor Leonardo Dicaprio who thanked the First Nations people in his acceptance speech for his award for “The Revenant.”

“I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world,” the actor said at the award ceremony held in Los Angeles. “It’s time that we recognized your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them,” added DiCaprio. “It’s time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

“There is demand for a national Native network across the country,” said award winning filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. “A vibrant new generation, a golden era of Native film-makers and artists will be born and have a dedicated channel through which to express their voices. There is a market that is waiting. There is an audience that is waiting. The time is now.”

The channel has also received the endorsement of Jarmusch, Robert Redford, Graham Greene, and Robbie Robertson.

Jean La Rose believes its high time for Native Americans to be represented in their own nation.

“We think the time is right for Native Americans to have their own channel and are happy to see the positive discussions Castalia has had with major US Pay TV operators,” says Jean La Rose, APTN’s Chief Executive Officer. “Certainly, our experience in Canada has been one of creating and providing opportunities for our producers, for our storytellers, to tell our stories, in our words, to our Peoples and to the world. Native American producers are poised and eager to have the same opportunities and we believe that we can work together to provide a unique window into the lives – past, present and future – of this community.”

The channel will be headquartered in New Mexico and is currently working closely with Native American filmmaker, Sundance Film Festival award winner and Directors Guild of America award-winner Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals and NBC’s Friday Night Lights).

This is awesome news! You need to know the four reasons the All Nations Network (ANN) will become a force to be reckoned with.

1. Proper representation of Natives

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You know as well as I do that Native Americans are barely represented in today’s television landscape. Most would say they aren’t represented at all.

The lack of representation is appalling, and that kind of lack of representation finds its way into American policy and practice. For example:

  • Many Americans only learn about Native American culture in a past-tense, historical setting; we rarely learn about the state of Native American life as it is today. This leads many to just assume that Native Americans are extinct.
  • Native Americans are subjected to a harsher climate of racism. While the media is (rightly) focused on the plight of African-Americans, the media isn’t reporting on the other atrocity that’s facing the nation: the amount of race-related and sexual abuse crimes levied against Native American communities. Combined with a lack of substantial local and national government support, Native Americans are faced with substandard living conditions (conditions that have been compared to “third world” scenarios), higher rates of crime committed against them in their communities with little to no recourse for justice, high rates of food-and-drink related illnesses such as diabetes, and poor mental health support (just last year, the suicide rate among young Native Americans was considered to be at “crisis levels.”)
  • Native Americans must routinely fight against racist imagery, such as the Washington NFL football team (you know the one), who is fighting tooth and nail to keep their racist mascot. Native Americans must also fight against the unauthorized usage of their cultural arts and culture, such as the successful outlawing of headdresses at certain music festivals and the current lawsuit the Navajo Nation has against Urban Outfitters, who has labelled several of their products as “Navajo.” The appropriation stems from the erroneous idea that Native American culture is somehow public domain. Some folks also think that by showing up in redface to a football game, or by wearing a headdress with fake war paint on their cheeks, that they are somehow “honoring” Native culture.

Will a television channel solve all of these problems? Of course not. But some of the tension surrounding these issues can be alleviated, at least minutely, with Native American people able to actually see themselves and their culture, humor, community issues and successes shown to them (and the rest of America) on the TV screen. Speaking anecdotally as a black woman, I know that my life would be 10 times harder if I wasn’t able to see shows like Sleepy Hollow, black-ish, Empire, and the smorgasbord of the ’90s sitcoms that shaped my childhood. Seeing my image on screen has helped me figure out my place in the world and it showed that despite all the wrongdoing America could level against me, I was still a valuable part of the country. To never see your image on television is something I don’t have the words to describe.

2. We’ll finally get to see what Canada’s been able to see

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Canada has been hogging all of the good programming for themselves. I’ve heard so much about Mohawk Girls and Blackstone, and I’ve never been able to watch an episode. But now that the ANN is coming, perhaps they’ll lease out some of the Canadian shows for American audiences. Maybe we’ll also get to learn more about the history and culture of Canadian First Nations as well. I’m crossing my fingers and toes that APTN gives us the goods and enlightens us at the same time.

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!
 

 

 

3. New stars on the horizon

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Speaking of Canadian shows, wouldn’t it be great to have a platform for Canadian First Nations stars in the U.S.? Also, wouldn’t it be great if the ANN becomes the launching pad for new Native American stars? Hollywood has been bad business for every minority, but Native actors are one of the most underserved and abused groups in Hollywood history. Between a lack of representation, having their history propagandized by racists, and having white actors play Native characters in redface, Native Americans have had one of the most heinous battles against Hollywood and getting proper representation. Hollywood would say that there aren’t enough Native actors to fill roles, but the catch is that Hollywood discriminates against Native actors and discourages others who could be great actors from trying out.

Hollywood has to do better on its end, for sure. With that said, a channel like ANN could become the starting point for many Native kids who have been bitten by the acting bug and are inspired by ANN programming to become the star they’ve always wanted to be. Again, seeing yourself on screen is powerful, and it makes you believe you can become anything you want to be. ANN could definitely be the moment that defines many young kids’ lives, kids who will ultimately become part of the driving force behind Hollywood’s change towards true equality.

4. More representation=less discriminatory/uneducated views

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As written up top, one single channel can’t wipe out the ills of every issue facing Native Americans. But a channel can help teach the rest of us non-Natives about the issues our Native friends and family face.

A lot of us don’t have any starting point when it comes to knowledge about contemporary Native life. And, frankly, a lot of people are too lazy to use Google to learn about it for themselves. Most of the knowledge many Americans carry around about Native Americans is false, because it all comes from movies and TV that portray a very racist, propagandized view of Native culture. Heck, movies and TV don’t even portray that there are different Native tribes, with different rituals and heritage. All we get shown is a monolithic, cartoonish view. That’s unfair to Native people, certainly. But it’s also equally unfair to us, because we have been robbed of expanding our minds and exploring the lives of our neighbors, friends, and family members. In short, we as a country have been unsympathetic to Native issues and we as a country haven’t empathized with them. Check this tweet:

We haven’t practiced the ability to see ourselves in Native Americans, and that’s one of the many shameful practices America has yet to contend with.

But, a channel like ANN can go far in helping us rectify that shame. Is it looking with rose-colored glasses? Maybe. Again, one single channel isn’t the end-all-be-all for solving centuries worth of problems. But for the upcoming generations, it can help them be more empathetic and, probably, allow them to bridge the gap better than prior generations have. At the very least, they’ll be willing to try instead of wash their hands of an entire group of people. And those of us that are older, who still want to make a difference, will be able to have an even deeper understanding of the ills that face our society. Listening to Native voices through ANN’s programming (which will include entertainment, but also news and special interest pieces, I’m sure), will help us get a true grasp on what’s happening right under our noses in America, and how we can help be better citizens and better people overall. Coming to terms with hard truths like this:

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is what’s going to make America go forward in a clear-headed, much more responsible way.

What do you think about the ANN? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

3 Reasons Why #Richonne is a Black History Month Gift

Hip hop hooray, Richonne (Rick and Michonne) is now officially canon in The Walking Dead! And, as luck would have it, such a development has happened in one of the most hallowed of months, Black History Month. This didn’t go unnoticed by many on Twitter:

So why is this the Black History Month gift we didn’t know we were going to get? Three reasons:

1. Finally, the truth is acknowledged

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Richonne has been a long time coming. Probably too long, according to some fans. The purpose was for the slow build, but with that slow build came dull love interests for Rick. Finally, Rick has figured out that he needs to be with Michonne, someone who is at his caliber of zombie-killing as well as a viable, intelligent leader.

2. Richonne made racists mad

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Now, let’s just say for the record that #notallRichonnehaters are racists. Some just genuinely don’t like it, and that’s cool. However, some don’t like Richonne (or The Flash‘s WestAllen or Sleepy Hollow‘s Ichabbie) purely for the reason that it’s a white man with a black woman. 

I’ve written before about the multiple viewpoints surrounding black woman/white man interracial relationships on television (and an article outlining more viewpoints around interracial fetishism is in this month’s issue of COLORBLOCK Magazine). But overall, a relationship like Richonne is progress. For example, Richonne shows that: 

  • The Walking Dead reflects its audience. Sure, the show still has a problem with killing off black guys. But at the very least, the inclusion of Rick and Michonne’s relationship (along with Glenn and Maggie) represents a large quantity of the audience (and America in general) who are in interracial relationships. They want to see themselves represented on screen, and what better power couple is there than Richonne?
  • Michonne is treated as any other woman on The Walking Dead. That is to say, she’s treated like a love interest. More detail on this later in the post.
  • Most audience members want to see diversity in all forms, including in their love stories. For the longest, The Walking Dead‘s only interracial love story has been Glenn and Maggie. For them to be the only ones out of all of the characters that have been on The Walking Dead (well, the only ones that are still alive, anyways) is quite astounding and, demographically speaking, doesn’t make sense. Richonne adds some much-needed diverse realism to the proceedings.

But, despite all of the positives that Richonne have going for it, there are some folks in the fandom who are pissed because Michonne is a black woman. There’s still a color barrier when it comes to relationships on television, and that color barrier seems to get even tougher in genre television. But Richonne has helped break that barrier, and those who are mad about it for the wrong reasons can fall back. 

 

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!

• Black women are shown to be viable love interests for the white male lead

Danai Gurira as Michonne and Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Danai Gurira as Michonne and Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

 

Black women have had a history of either being desexualized or hypersexualized, and both depictions act as reasons why they aren’t seen as viable love interests for the main character, especially if that main character is a white man. For example:

  • Julia Baker from the 1970s show Julia is an example I use a lot for everything, but the character is perplexing in how chaste she is. First, it’s written that her husband was killed in the Vietnam War; writing out the husband and portraying a black family without a two-parent household is an issue in itself, but Julia herself is portrayed as being the perfect black woman, a woman who is “clear” enough in attitude and personality that she can be accepted by her white neighbors, but in order to stay outwardly virtuous, she must remain unwed. She’s a symbol of black respectability rather than just being a multifaceted black woman. Diahann Carroll herself, who played Julia, called her character a “white Negro” with little to do with the black experience.
  • Grantchester featured a troubling storyline in one of its episodes. The episode featured an American jazz group that was touring England, and the jazz singer, Gloria Dee, falls in love with Sidney and sleeps with him. However, the next day, Sidney comes to regret the decision, since he only slept with her to forget about the love he had for his best friend, Amanda, who was marrying a rich jerk. Gloria’s heartbreak is touched upon, but it’s also portrayed as if heartbreak for her is par for the course. She was also depicted as being a stereotype of a black woman jazz singer; every line was hilariously cartoonish, her voice had a Mae West lilt, and her persona was that of the “bad girl.” Sidney’s disgust with himself for sleeping with Gloria gets so bad that he throws out his jazz records; while his character was throwing them out because it reminded him of his personal and moral transgressions (he’s not one to just sleep with anyone), the act could also be interpreted as him believing that jazz (a black medium) and the singer herself led him astray, not his own actions.
  • Michonne herself has been touted by some as a “strong black woman,” even though such a stereotype-laden description strips her of her roundedness as a character. There are pockets of people who feel that, in order for the show to have a feminist angle, Michonne should stay the silent warrior. But these demands aren’t placed on other women (usually white women), like Carol (who is just as deadly with weapons as Michonne) or Maggie (who is, as has been written earlier in this post, in a relationship).

The reason for this distaste and exoticism of black women has its roots in the slave trade. As Paula Byrne wrote in her book about the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, many sailors and sea captains would rape African women and girls on the ship, later claiming that black females’ supposed hypersexuality made them do it (instead of taking responsibility for a lack of morality). The myth of hypersexuality continued throughout slavery, with white plantation owners blaming their victims for their own sexual abuse. Slave owners also helped with desexualization (and a slave’s further removal from personhood) by employing slaves as caretakers, which led to the “Mammy” stereotype. Today, the remnants of both stereotypes make it hard for black women characters, and black actresses, to exist in a fully realized way. Either black characters are “tough” (desexualized), a “Mammy” or caretaker (“desexualized”) or they are a Jezebel (hypersexualized). Hardly ever have they been portrayed as human beings.

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The feeling of bias towards black women in television, especially when it comes to black women characters possibly being the love interest for white male characters, also has antebellum roots. One of the many excuses for slavery was that it kept black men in line and kept their “prey,” white women, safe. Black women were also seen as threats, but the threat was based on a black woman gaining the same rights and status as a white woman. White women during this time benefited from this white supremacist view by being uplifted as genteel prizes.

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White supremacy is a dirty word today, but white women characters (and actresses, to a certain extent) are still lifted above other characters (and actresses) for no reason other than race. The fear of a black woman “stealing” a white man, especially the white male character, still holds true for some viewers of The Walking Dead, Sleepy Hollow, The Flash and other shows that have a black female lead who shows interest in the white male lead. Because of unresolved historical issues, which has led to us seeing mostly white men/white women pairings in the first place, a black woman character with a white male lead might seem to some as a black woman not knowing her station. If Michonne wasn’t who she is, there wouldn’t be any problem.

Sharon, a guest post writer for Black Girl Nerds, summed it up succinctly:

Here’s what it comes down to: if Michonne weren’t a dark-skinned black woman, many of the people who were so surprised by Richonne would have expected it a long time ago. Were it a white actress (the kind we’re used to seeing as love interests on TV and in movies) playing the role of Michonne, sharing intimate scenes with Rick, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have been a case of if Rick and Michonne get together, but when.”

The thought that white goes with white and black goes with black is dying, thanks to the rise of black-white interracial relationships. But television still shows that pockets of this ideology is still alive and well. There are still moments when the media decides to portray black women as objects or obstacles instead of people. But thankfully, Richonne isn’t one of those moments. Richonne does the opposite; it turns the trope of the “strong black woman” on its head. Not only can a black woman be strong and kickass, but she can also be nurturing (like how Michonne is to Carl) and woman worthy of love. Basically, a black woman can be a human being.

As Rick himself, Andrew Lincoln, told TV Line:

“When we [shot it], we wanted it to have a feeling like these two great friends just looked at each other and realized, “Of course.” It was natural…and Michonne has been a mother figure and best friend to Carl for so long. And she saved Rick’s life and Carl’s life on countless occasions. There’s something rather moving about these two warriors getting together.”

So there you have it.

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

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens": Why Finn Matters In This Galaxy and A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is something I’m looking forward to intensely. The film looks amazing, particularly since it looks akin to the originals (we will not speak of the wayward turn the franchise took in between the originals and The Force Awakens). But it’s also a high-profile sci-fi film that not only features people of color in the film, but has an actor of color, John Boyega, as the main character, Finn. Some might wonder why this is important. I’ll tell you in a personal story.