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Fashion, Glamourtunist, Pop Culture

Promenade: Prance, Pose and Preen!

April 17, 2017

       

By Dominique M. Davis

Prom season has arrived, but unfortunately not everyone may be able enjoy the occasion. The debutante ball and cotillion once reserved for social elite, aristocracy so to speak, has evolved… or has it? The (Prom)enade is one of the most exciting events of senior year; custom designed ball gowns and suiting has become the new trend for celebrating this occasion. Lets give a little historical context. In the early 1900s High Society was ruled by the Season (autumn, winter, spring and summer), and early summer was the presentation of debutantes. Probably why prom season remains to be a spring/early summer occasion. Although there seems to be a decline in the formality of social events such as cotillions, prom still maybe one of the very first occasions in a young woman’s (or young man’s) life to be among the haut monde in custom designed apparel and present as coming of age. But are we starting to see history repeat itself as the reintroduction of class inequalities threatens to prevent our youth from enjoying this celebratory event? In addition to class, prom has taken on social justice reform by pushing strict social regulations of defining traditional gender roles and norms for youth able to participate in the event. The LGBTQ community continues to advance and assert their right(s) to engage and have equal participation.

So how do we continue to make sure that we give those interested in participating the option? One project that works to ensure this occasion can be a reality for young girls is the Glass Slipper Project. Their mission is to provide junior and senior girls the experience of receiving FREE prom dresses and personal styling. Quick shoutout to my colleague Cheryl for inviting me to participate last year!

Now, let’s see what’s trending for spring. Bringing the red carpet to your home; styles inspired by celebrity couture.

Floral Inspiration: The combination of floral and lace is always a stunning combination.

Taraji graced us with her Reem  Acra gown for the 2017 SAG Awards.

 

Shane Straughter @Daretobevintage gives us regal elegance for Prom

 

Lovely Lace:

Lace- a sultry and sophisticated statement.

Lily Collins wore Zuhair Murad for the 2017 Golden Globe awards. Pretty in pink.

Looks for less:

Satin and Floral Lace can be found at luulla.com

Velvet:

Golden Globes Red Carpet: Blake Lively wore a custom-made Atelier Versace velvet gown, encrusted with Swarovski crystals.

Looks for less: Ruffles are a new season trend and add a level of flare to the strapless sweetheart bodice.

Sculpted sweetheart velvet gown can be found at aliexpress.com

Vertical Stripes:

Michelle Williams @ the 2017 SAG Awards in Louis Vuitton

Look for Less:

ELIZA J Metallic Stripe Ball Skirt found @Nordtrom.com

LA FEMME Embellished Jersey Gown found @Nordstrom.com

 

For more information about the Glass Slipper project, please visit their website at glassslipperproject.org

Boutique Dates are April 22nd and 29th located at Price Elementary School, 4351 S. Drexel, Chicago, Il.

 

Also check out Maryam Garba International for custom prom dresses. You can find her on instagram @maryamgarbaintl.

News

On Women’s Marches and Fashion – This is What Democracy Looks Like (Fashion Conscious: A Column)

March 9, 2017

by Dominique Michelle Davis

The recent Woman’s march and the ability of women to organize in a effort to protest misogyny and oppression inspired and saddened my heart to know that in 2016 as far as we’ve come we still haven’t overcame. What was inspiring was the fact that women were united and also embraced the support of males in acknowledging what has been a systemic issue in the United States and especially in the politically arena. The march was and is what democracy should reflect. Women, men, children, LGBTQ people, people of color, young and old all chanting in chorus for basic human rights and speaking truth to power.

How does this relate to fashion, pop culture and beauty? Because the beauty of life is that it comes in all forms, shapes, sizes, cultures and experiences. How we fashion our lives to cope with the struggle and challenges of reality may be only the most outer layer of us expressing ourselves, but who would want to be vulnerable and share more when the mere appearance presents a challenge and barrier toward forming a deeper connection? These are just my thoughts about the power of visual appearance and the symbolism it may represent for individual expression.

During the march a young lady was dressed in what upon first gaze was a bit odd and eccentric. Then it dawned on me, she was dressed as a Suffragist.I remember learning about this in history class, and I can acknowledge and site the names of leaders such as Susan B. Anthony and the Women’s Temperance movement with vague recollection, so I was moved to do some fact checking to jog my memory. The task of researching this bit of history also made me realize how easy it is to forget the suffering and struggle of the past when in present day it appears that equal rights is within reach. One of my favorite signs during the march stated “I still can’t believe that we still have to march for this.” That was my exact sentiment and it felt reassuring to be among a crowd who was just as dismayed and angry with the system who would vote for a reality star with no proven track record of what it takes to move a country toward a future that is accepting and embracing all life and experiences; or for that matter, how to build relationships with other countries to foster global and non-exploitative economic prosperity.

Women’s “dress codes” has evolved since the Temperance Movement. In fact, women’s dress in the 21st century is, as it was during the dress reform movements of the 19th century, a progressive movement in and of itself. Women’s garments were very restrictive in function and style and today, in America, we have the option to choose. Hopefully that will remain unchanged under this new administration. Laughing, but very serious.

Beauty, Fashion, On the Carpet, Pop Culture, WERK!

Dominique’s Oscars 2017 Recap

February 27, 2017

by Dominique Michelle Davis

Jimmy Kimmel’s witty and clever one-liners infusing political commentary with Hollywood elite was right on time and made this Oscars much more fun and funny to watch than in recent years. Though many were understandably not happy with his handling of the cast and crew of “Moonlight ” almost leaving the evening without the award that was rightfully theirs, Kimmel did shine with comic moments like his tweeting President Trump live and referencing the “overrated” Meryl Streep tweet from the petty President. One of my favorite moments of laughter.

The other highlight of the evening was Moonlight receiving awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Picture. The 2017 Oscar Awards brought a refreshing and much needed perspective in presenting inclusivity. I was in awe and admiration of Mr. Farhadi’s refusal to attend the awards because of the ridiculous and outrageous ban that President Trump has enacted against immigrants – documented and undocumented. It was inspiring to see Hollywood Celebs using this platform as a means to promote human rights and speak in opposition of laws that go against the very nature of the founding principals of the United States of America.

On the fashion front, here are my Best Dressed Looks for Oscar Night 2017:

Tony, Emmy, and now Oscar winner Viola Davis wearing Armani Privé.

 

Janelle Monae wearing Elie Saab Couture.

 

Last year’s Best Actress winner Brie Larson, wearing an Oscar de la Renta gown.

 

Nominee for Best Actress, Ruth Negga of the film “Loving,” in a glorious custom Valentino in the signature “valentino red.”

 

We always love Chrissy Teigen, and we also always love her in Zuhair Murad. A perfect match.

 

The “around the way girl” herself, Taraji P. Hensen, stealing the show as always in a sexy, sophisticated, Alberta Ferretti gown.

Interview, Pop Culture

Cultural Enthusiast, Visual Artist: An Interview with Yo Yo Lander

January 25, 2017

by Dominique Michelle Davis

(above image : “Uncomfortable” by Yo Yo Lander; all images: Yo Yo Lander)

I had the honor to interview Yo Yo Lander, visual artist and self proclaimed Cultural Enthusiast. It was a pleasure to speak with someone who is inspired from life to have created a platform of self-expression and artistic direction to create dialogue. Her medium of canvas and paint – which she employs to promote and highlight dissension with societal norms to help bridge the gap of culture – is an interesting play of art imitating life.

Dominique: How did you first discover art and how did you choose your medium?

Yo Yo: I was introduced to art from my Uncle Boykin who traveled to Africa and would send us postcards from Africa that pictured indigenous people. I would stare at the jewelry and that’s where I developed my appreciation of color. It was very different from the very bland color of Sumter, South Carolina of blacks, green and orange. I began traveling to Africa with my uncle in summers who led a group to Ghana and Ethiopia for the African Diaspora Heritage for 21 days. My uncle is a professor at Virginia Union University.

I’ve always been interested in indigenous people of Africa, Indian (Native American, and Mexican cultures). I was always excited for international food day to explore the cultures of others.

Another uncle (Uncle Curtis) was also an artist. His medium is wood. I would go visit his shed where he kept all of his work, but he never shared it with anyone. He has a great gift but he keeps it all to himself.

I was drawn to canvas for creative expression. I was not good at blending which allowed me to create my own lane and I began to highlight my “weakness” to turn it to strength, which is where I get my block coloring.

Dominique: What was your path toward becoming a visual artist?

Yo Yo: I found it difficult to verbally articulate and use art as a way of expression. I went to Howard for undergrad, but I’ve always been an eclectic person an explorer who wanted to see and experience life. I kind of just always did my own thing. I don’t want to be defined by social norms or job labels… which is how I coined my term cultural enthusiast. I’m a cultural enthusiast, a person who is able to monetize off artistic expression and who is invested into culture.

“Market Lady” by Yo Yo Lander

Dominique: Is there a therapeutic component to your artwork? Healing through art and how so? How does your artistic expression become a reflection of self?

Yo Yo: Yes. What you paint is a reflection of what I feel inside. It’s a relationship. One of my pieces was about relationships and as I was painting it helped me to reflect and understand on a deeper level the relationship I had with my sister. One of the first relationships we ever have in life. It helped me to create my work on sisterhood.

It usually takes me about 1 year to complete a group of work. I never touch my art when I’m not in the mood and I tend to find my answers in the silence. Whatever I’m seeking I always find it out. One of the most therapeutic components to painting is you get obsessed with painting. You get lost and you just want to be alone with your thoughts and lock yourself away. There are three steps to painting (1) the idea, (2) draw, (3) paint.

Dominique: How do you use your platform to inspire, create conversation and work for social justice?

Yo Yo: There’s a message in everything. Figuring out how to tie art to a story to create dialogue; a conversation piece; sometimes I don’t choose my subjects my subject chooses me.

My first commissioned piece was a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. with commissioned pieces it usually takes a month, but my spirit must align with the work.

My current catalog is heavily influenced by Ghana (last summer 2016). I’m working on a group work for the African American Museum of Art. This will be featured from October to December 2017. It is a collection of 20 pieces and I’m waiting on the spirit to guide my direction. I’m thinking of “the problem with going nowhere.” The problem with going nowhere – like Good Times; the circle of the cycle, it started to sit with me. Be patient. Every breaststroke has a meaning. To rush is a waste of time and material. [Art] is time, patience and love.

“Black American Girl” by Yo Yo Lander

Dominique: What is your advice to youth and aspiring artist?

Yo Yo: Don’t be obsessed with grades in school. Be obsessed with relationships and experiences and encourage kids to play. People forget who we are, we lose the essence of self we lose our light. In Caribbean culture youth play, let’s change the culture of how we teach our children to encourage them to explore everything and see what you like.

I never thought I would make a career from painting, but we also need to make sure we get the parents involved.

Artist Statement:

YoYo Lander is an autodidactic painter living and working in Los Angeles, CA. For YoYo creating art is therapeutic. Yoyo’s visions emanate from all that surrounds her while abroad. YoYo’s work explores unconventional color palettes, bold color contrasts, and womanhood. Her subjects are comprised of an arrangement of brown color harmonies, placed on backgrounds of both subtle and loud color blocks. Yoyo creates her interpretations using personal photographs and stories from indigenous women as her inspiration. The figurative artwork enjoins a conversation between itself and it’s audience regarding joy, identity, sisterhood and community.

Fashion, History, News, Pop Culture

Denim, Dissonance, and Social Change (Review of FIT’s “Denim” Exhibit)

April 15, 2016

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

Recently I visited the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (“FIT) and took in three of their most recent marvelous exhibits on fashion. All three were spectacular, but the one most exciting for me was “Denim: Fashion’s Frontier.” Just the week after I saw this exhibit I was scheduled to do a series of lectures on fashion and style and activism in a course I teach called “Black Freedom Movement Rhetorics.” One of the lecture was going to focus on denim in order to provide some foundations for an article I’d assigned to my students (more on that later).

The FIT exhibit did not disappoint by any means, and provided lots of great historical context and details about fashion design, marketing, and cultural meanings of denim. All of this proved to be very useful to my lecture and my student’s discussion of the  lecture and readings. What follows are photos and my commentary on the exhibit mixed with notes and additional photographs from my course lecture. It was truly a great exhibit that I highly recommend; one that helped me to seamlessly integrate fashion and style into a history of dress as rhetorical activism as enacted by various social movements, and especially within the Black Freedom Movement.

Among the first looks you see entering the exhibit is of men’s blue brushed cotton denim trousers from about 1840, and a woman’s blue denim jacket from about 1850 which would have been worn for work:

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What this was  helpful in illustrating in my lecture was the ways in which denim was/is often described as a textile gendered masculine, when in reality it was featured in women’s clothing in the 19th century just as it was with men’s clothing. Also, that the denim look here was specifically used as a jacket worn for work also points to the evidence of women working in the 19th century, and in the case of this outfit work that was performed outdoors. This too corrects another point of historical information which are histories that do not acknowledge that women did work at this time, inside and outside of the home. And, as the exhibit pointed out, the women’s look is in an hourglass shape which was in fashion at the time, and so the denim look was functional but also on trend even then. Thus denim was, even in the 19th century, being employed as a textile that was stylish.

Photo Mar 24, 5 09 20 PM

The focus on function and fashion is also evident in the look above, which was a women’s “walking suit” made in striped off white denim from about 1916. It too followed many of the trends of the day, including the skirt length and high-waist on the jacket.This is not the depiction of denim we see in everyday parlance for many decades now.

The idea of denim in people’s minds are those produced by Levi Strauss & Co. (Levi’s) – patented in 1873. This is style that has held reign on the market ever since including many years of cultural references as a symbol of Americana, leisure, and “wild, wild West” Cowboy-masculinities:

vintage-denim-cowboy-coffee-jeep2

Denim was also associated with clothing housewives for convenience of daily work, such as the iconic 1942 “Popover” dress from designer Claire McCardell:

fit-denim-frontier02

And, as all fashion is political, denim’s politicized story is in histories that show it as being worn by off-duty officers in WWII and the symbolic “Rosie the Riveter” which became symbolic for American women’s empowerment in the war years, ymbolic of work, independence, grit, and feminist sensibilities intersecting labor and dress:

rosie-riveter-1

A cultural symbol, however complex, that has lasted. Just ask Beyonce:

bey-rosie

It are these critical moments in our a world visual archive that has helped denim to endure with positive connotations, as has advertising that are now seared in our minds like this ad from the late 1960s:

Levi's Jeans advertisement from late 1960s

Denim became more controversial when, in the 1950s, it was considered disrespectable largely through its association with the teenage spirit of rebellion such as in films like James Dean’s “Rebel Without a Cause.”

James-Dean-Style-Rebel-Without-a-Cause

Since this period denim “has been dominated by countercultural and street-style associations.” For example, the 1960s hippies

halloween-hippies

or the genius and always chic Jimmie Hendrix himself:

Photos of Life at Woodstock 1969 (1)

 

In the 1970s, Denim goes high fashion, appearing on runways of top designers like Yves Saint Laurent and others who “treated it as a luxury fabric.” And by the 1980s: variations on denim “finishing” techniques like acid-washing (which is back on trend), fading (which never seemed to go away, actually). Also return to roots of how denim was employed as Americana symbol, such as Ralph Lauren’s 1981 “Prairie” collection. Brooke Shields’ Calvin Klein adds were the most visible of the time.

Brief-History-of-Jeans-MainPhoto

And by late 1990s it is a luxury item, that we now see being capitalized on everywhere by so-called “premium denim” lines like 7 for All Mankind, Lucky Brand, and fast fashion companies like H&M.

In my course, my students read an article by Dr. Tanisha Ford, a historian and assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The article titled “SNCC Women, Denim, and the Politics of Dress,” is a portion of Dr. Ford’s recent book Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul.

We focused on this history about the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) women and denim as one moment in the history of the Black Freedom Movement wherein Black women civil rights activists wore denim and engaged in other choices around their fashion and beauty that challenged expectations of respectability and propriety circulating within Black communities, including among other activists, at that time. Part of what this enabled them to do is to employ fashion as a tactic of building community with the working class Black people they were organizing in the South. Another was that it demonstrated the intersections of fashion and power as the women acted as agents of adornment toward the ends of social change in their times.

Two of the SNCC women the article discusses were sisters Dorie and Joyce Ladner, pictured here wearing their denim at the March on Washington in 1963:

Sisters Dorie and Joyce Ladner at the March on Washington

The choice to wear denim overalls, Ford shows, was an important aesthetic departure from the “Sunday’s Best” style encouraged by many Black civil rights leaders who were mindful of how Black people and their allies would be (mis)represented in their struggle for civil rights, and denim overalls was not among the sartorial acts that would be seen as acting respectably. Thus, the Ladner sister’s wearing denim to the March on Washington was a radical choice in the midst of an already massive moment for social change.

The prevalence of denim is evident in this iconic photo of writer James Baldwin, Joan Baez, and activist James Forman wearing denim at the voting rights March in Selma in 1965:

James Forman marching with writer James Baldwin and Folk singer Joan Baez

And the ways denim narrativizes some of the oppositional arrangement of fashion choices in the civil rights movements was mirrored back in the recent Ava DuVernay film, Selma as seen in the photo of Tessa Thompson and Common in the film here:

Selma-movie-Common-e1420694877667

Overall, Denim: Fashion’s Frontier, historical studies like Ford’s and other works on the history of the textile  correct the historical record that centered radicalized and gendered interpretations that obscure “the variety and breadth of denim’s history” (FIT Museum).  Such interventions demonstrate,  as anthropologists Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward argue in their study about the role of jeans in everyday use quoted in the FIT exhibit description, “Jeans seem to have taken on the role of expressing something about changing the world that no other clothing could achieve.”

I highly recommend checking out the FIT exhibit. Below are additional photos from the FIT exhibit of some of my favorites on display:

Photo Mar 24, 5 10 20 PM

Denim looks from Sacai, Chloe, and Dries van Noten.

 

Photo Mar 24, 5 10 54 PM

An elegant denim dress by Edun.

 

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A Fendi denim “Spy Bag.”

 

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Jean Paul Gaultier, of course.

 

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Sara Shelburne multi-colored striped denim and silk, 1970 in France.

 

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A high fashion trio of denim: looks from Donna Karan, Vivienne Westwood, and Moschino Jeans.

 

Photo Mar 24, 5 21 21 PM

Two piece denim look by Kenzo.

Fashion, Film, On the Carpet, WERK!

Oscar ’16 Glamourtunists of the Night

February 29, 2016

In general we found this year’s Academy Awards red carpet to be quite uninspiring. No one really blew us totally away, and in general many of the people you look forward to seeing on the red carpet weren’t even at the show this year. Also, the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations itself were repeated on the red carpet, as reflected in the fact that there were almost no people of color on the red carpet this year, and certainly none of our fashion faves. No Lupita. No Viola. No Salma Hayek. No J. Lo. It was very sad. We did manage to find some favorite looks from the men and women on the red carpet, and present you our Glamourtunists of the night:

Glamourtunists of the Night – Men

MichaelStrahan-Oscars16

The always handsome Michael Strahan stunned in a tourqoise tuxedo. He wore a similar such tuxedo in bourdeaux at the 2014 Oscars.

eddieredmayne-Oscars16

Eddie Redmayne went for a classic black tuxedo, this one from Alexander McQueen. The texture of the jacket juxtaposed to the lapel and pants looked great, as did the tailoring.

Glamourtunists of the Night – Women

Olivia Munn - Oscars 16

Olivia Munn’s coral stella McCartney gown had us at hello!

soarise ronan - Oscars16

Saorise Ronan’s custom emerald Calvin Klein was a serious show stopper. The color of the garment matched her hair color perfectly, and the plunging neckline and shimmer was definite sexy, hollywood glamour.

oliviawilde-Oscars16

This pleated, ivory dream gown by Valentino made Olivia Wilde a bell of the ball. The high-wasit line and peek-a-boo sides and cleavage baring top of the gown blended sexy and sophistication perfectly. The clutch was a bit too clunky for our taste, but everything else was perfect. Wilde’s hairstyle was also one of our favorite beauty looks of the night.

charlize theron-oscars16

Chile’ we are NEVER surprised when mother Charlize Theron comes to shut down the entire red carpet situation, and yet we are always left with our mouth hanging open by how glorious she looks. Her look last night had the same effect. Flawless! Our favorite thing about this look was the beautiful diamond necklace she wore that create the illusion of a cutout panel given where it draped between her skin and the gown.

brie larson - Oscars16

And last but not least, Brie Larson, the evening’s Best Actress winner in this cerulean, ruffle Gucci gown. The opulence of her very ornate belt is what elevated this look to such a big night without overwhelming the look itself. Well done, and congratulations Brie.

Editor's Aesthetics, Fashion, Glamourtunist, WERK!

Capes, Clutches and Consignment: The Editor’s Closet

January 25, 2016

Almost two years ago, rapper and Harlemite Cam’ron walked the runway of a Mark McNairy fashion show wearing a gray suit, a camo fitted cap, and a fur lined tweed cape, and folks thought he had lost his mind. But he looked so damn fly anyway. This past September, actor turned Central St. Martin’s fashion design student Antonio Banderas, announced his intention to start a menswear line and to experiment with making the cape a steady thing in menswear. For many men the cape as accessory has already been a thing, but this Fall capes seem to be everywhere on runways and of course on the streets. And I am all the way here for it!

As a stylist, I am so much more daring in what I put in other people’s closets than what I am willing to risk putting in my own. These are my confessions. Forgive me Diana Vreeland, for I have sinned! And I totally just wrote that line just to show you a high-fashion, Yves Saint Laurent nun.

ysl nun

From Stefano Pilati’s Fall 2010 YSL Collection.

You’re welcome. Seriously though, I think what is true for me is true for many stylists and some fashion designers too: we are so busy pushing fashion for everyone else, we run out of gas and so we find our fierce thing we do and just keep doing it. And that’s ok, we still kill it. Michael Kors, for example, has said he started wearing his all Black jacket, shirt, pant, shoe, and aviator ensembles because he was so focused on thinking about what everyone else should be wearing he wanted to deliver himself from the pressure of having to always go through his closet to make a fierce look for himself Every. Damn Day. And what could be more instant chic and elegant than all Black everything? Uh, nothing. Here are the receipts:

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Michael Kors in his signature all Black ensemble.

You better WERK, Michael Kors! I totally feel the same way, and so people for whom I have shopped with/for or styled have reaped the benefits of my creativity in style way more than I have at times. One of the things I had been putting people onto for EVER were capes, on capes, on capes. I had been obsessed with capes in womenswear first, but didn’t really lose my mind about it until I saw it in evening wear when Gwyneth Paltrow and then Lupita Nyong’o slayed our entire Universe wearing a Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren gown with capes on awards season red carpets in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

gwyneth-lupita capes

Lupita and Gwyneth: The Cape Has Arisen

I never really saw wearing capes as being a thing for myself. Then this Christmas my bae bought me a gorgeous, black and white geometric print cape. And as someone who has a very defined sense of what I do and do not wear, I freaked the hell out. I loved it at first sight, but was like “ummm, not happening” and figured it would look gorgeous in my closet or to loan to someone else. But in her new book (which I am now reading) Shonda Rhimes says it’s our “Year of Yes” or as I call 2016, my “Year of Yaaassszzz” so I questioned why my fear was on autopilot with my fashion at the moment, and decided to at least try it on. And I did. And then I twirled, and twirled some more. And then I was born again.

dog twirl

 

And now all I do is go online in search of capes. The last time this happened I began buying all the caftans, not even to wear outside, but just to sit at my desk and wear when I write. Ya’ll pray for my finances, because the devil is all in my pocketbook!

Further making capes a thing for me has been I love them with clutches, which now means I spend my weekends also buying up all the clutches. My favorite place to do this is consignment stores. On one recent shopping trip I purchased these three clutches for about $40:

Clutch2

My consignment clutches. Which one do you like the most? Mine is the green.

I paired the green clutch with the cape I got for Christmas and wore it just last week. I have upcoming fashion plans for the other two, both with a cape of course.I also found this lovely clutch at a boutique in my neighborhood, and am thinking of how to rock it. Something tells me it’ll be worn with a cape too. This is becoming a problem, folks.

Clutch5

Is there an item in your closet or something you considered too out your fashion wheelhouse to give it a shot? Tweet me, Facebook me, or leave a comment and let me know what that item is and let’s chat about how you can make it work in 2016. I mean, if I am twirling around town wearing a cape and a clutch bag, anything can happen.

– edp

Film, News, Pop Culture, Television

On Janet Hubert, Black Hollywood, and Oscar Racism

January 19, 2016

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

Yesterday a friend text me a link to actress Janet Hubert’s  (affectionately known as “Aunt Viv,” the character she originated on the 90s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” starring Will Smith) video message criticizing Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith after Pinkett Smith released a video to Facebook called “We Must Stand in Our Power.” In the video, Pinkett Smith discusses the problem of the lack of diversity within the Academy Awards, a program of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for inviting Black celebrities to perform or present the awards though Black actors, writers, directors, and other professionals rarely receive Oscar recognition. Pinkett Smith ends the video saying Black people should boycott the Oscars and other such awards, and invest in the Black communities award shows and programs, indicating that she would not be watching the Oscars and sending a shout-out to her friend Chris Rock, who will be hosting.

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The summary of Hubert’s major claims go something like this: 1) Jada Pinkett Smith could care less, she’s just a mouthpiece for her husband who is salty he didn’t get nominated for an Oscar, 2) Will Smith don’t care about other Black actors, which Hubert says is evidenced when he allegedly did not go get her and the rest of the cast the same raise he got when they were on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” together back in the day when he was asked by the cast to do so, and 3) the world has way more problems going on and boycotting the Oscars is inconsequential in comparison.

First, I take issue with Hubert reducing any woman, and in this case another Black woman, to being a mouthpiece for a man simply because she is expressing her opinion. The degree of misogyny and violence in this very premise is so disappointing because we all love Aunt Viv and expect more. It is also not true. Jada Pinkett Smith does have a record of being vocal about a number of sociopolitical issues going back many years, including comments on education, human trafficking, and rape culture. One may not always share Pinkett Smith’s perspective, but she is not one that has not had an opinion on a matter of social and political consequence and not said a word. She and Will Smith have hosted the BET Awards, and produced films and television shows featuring other Black artists. Pinkett Smith’s being vocal about social and political issues is not the thing that makes Hubert diminishing her as a mouthpiece problematic; what makes it problematic is that reducing her to a talking head is dehumanizing and disrespectful no matter what.

Even if Will Smith is just mad he didn’t get nominated or if Pinkett Smith is mad because of the same, it wouldn’t change the truth on which Pinkett Smith’s critique is based. This is what people need to focus on, not on whether or not we think the Smiths are ideal people to make the critique. The response to this clear problem is on everybody, not just them, and to say we don’t have to do anything about it because they are insincere in their critique and whining just because Will Smith didn’t get nominated is dangerous and politically naive. The stakes of this conversation as so much more than that, and it is an opportunity too raise people’s consciousness and get something accomplished regardless of whether or not you like the person speaking up. Also, Will Smith hasn’t said a word, Jada Pinkett Smith is the one calling stuff out.Those who pay attention to Black pop culture know that this is not uncommon with the Smiths, Jada Pinkett Smith tends to be the one paying attention and speaking out (no shade on Will). Why should Jada Pinkett-Smith’s critique be dismissed because of Ms. Hubert’s grievance with her husband?

By bringing up the fact that Will Smith didn’t get the entire cast a raise on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” Ms. Hubert makes her critique personal while simultaneously accusing the Smiths of being selfish. I do not want to call her bitter, because she has the right to her experience and to share it as she sees fit. I do wish she’d find a way forward for her own wellness since this feud has been over twenty years old now, but it’s her life and her right to it. So let’s just accept as a thought project that Will Smith is everything Janet Hubert says he is, this would not be the time to make it about that unless you do so in a way that forwards the conversation about the racism of the Academy Awards at the same time seeing as though that conversation is actually getting some play in this moment. Ms. Hubert could have been like ‘I don’t like his ass because he didn’t give me no coins, but the Academy Awards are still racist and sexist …’ because she knows they are, clearly. She could even have aired him out for her grievances with him and challenged them to do more on the matter. But instead she let’s the fact that she wants to shame him get in her own way, and by extension everybody’s way, and ends up silencing his wife’s very valid critique of the industry’s racism and lack of diversity, the same industry Hubert herself is critical of in the same video.

The argument Hubert makes that what is happening with the Academy Awards is not important in comparison to all the other issues happening in the world, and those specifically effecting Black people, is the most problematic point. The issue with the Academy Awards is institutional/structural racism. That is a problem. No, Oscar Racism is not the same as police brutality. It is also not cisgender and transgender Black women, children and men being killed with impunity in the streets just because they are Black. It is not poverty. It is not a lot of things that are awful and need our attention, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t important. All these things are connected and part of the same system. It is a different head on a multi-headed monster that needs to have its head knocked clean off its shoulders for real systemic and social change to take place. These are facts.

Ms. Hubert saying “people have real problems” was a dog whistle to people who do not have the economic resources and social support of Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith to encourage people to turn their heads to the criticism of Pinkett Smith. This is dangerous because it puts people in the position of having to turn their heads to being vocal about a change that could be in their own best interest or the best interest of other people who are dealing with racism in the film and television industry, and by extension, to turn their heads to the psychological violence of a lack of representation in the industry and recognition for ones good work. It matters. It is basically a call to have us dismiss what Pinkett Smith says about the academy on the basis of them being rich and successful. The fact that they are rich is such a non factor in whether or to we call the Academy Awards out for their mess. That’s the issue at hand. Let’s all focus.

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As for Jada Pinkett Smith’s video, I am here for much of what Pinkett Smith expresses. The Academy Awards have clear race bias when it comes to the history of nominations and awards. That bias is even more clear even comparing the number of Black men that have been nominated and/or won an Oscar to Black women. There are so many receipts to these facts it would be an insult to even have to debate anyone about it, but let me give you a few. Exhibit one, only one Black actress, Halle Berry has ever won the Academy Award for Best Actress. There is one White woman, Katherine Hepburn, who won that same award 4 times. Furthermore, outside of Hepburn the entire list of best actresses are White women.

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Exhibit two, someone recently commented that Halle Berry and Denzel Washington being awarded Best Actress and Best Actor in the same night in 2002 was proof that things have changed for the Academy Awards from the past, and I’m like, ummmm, NO! How many years have a White man and a White woman done that very thing year after year? Answer: Pretty much every year, the exceptions being the handful of times one of those two awardees had ben a person of color but the other was again White. And saying “a handful of times” is generous. Those are good odds, if you’re a White actor or actress in Hollywood. Not so good if you are a person of color, and certainly not if you’re a woman of color in Hollywood. So Pinkett Smith and everyone who is outraged by the Academy Awards is clearly right on this front.

Where I think Pinkett Smith misses the mark is the following. First, many Black artists and Black people have already had this very same call for Black people  to invest in our own awards shows, art programs, and so forth. Actress, comedian and producer Mo’Nique, who won an Academy Award for the film “Precious,” has said in interview that while she sees why the Oscar is so important to people for her winning the NAACP Image Award was her big moment. Many others have said and feel the same. So this is not a new observation or call. I am glad, however, that Pinkett Smith feels it is time for she and other A-list Black Hollywood people to do the same. May I suggest Pinkett-Smith and any Black actors who join her start by petitioning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Oscar Awards producer Reginald Hudlin, and Pinkett Smith’s friend Chris Rock? They could ask the three of them, not because they are Black but because it is right and they are in leadership roles within the Academy and Academy Awards, to make some hard decisions about how to address this problem today and not just show up to work and say “this is wrong”  but the show must go on, which is basically what they are saying. I mean, the fact that Boone Isaacs can only say she is disappointed with the lack of diversity (she said the same thing last year when the #OscarsSoWhite campaign emerged by the way, and ain’t a damn thing change!) and Rock makes a joke via Twitter about the Oscars being “the White BET Awards” (boy, bye!), shows the sea of sickness in which we are swimming when dealing with racism in Hollywood.

I also disagree with Pinkett Smith’s statement that the Academy has the right to honor and invite whomever they choose. If the decision they make is one that is discriminatory and reflection of deeply held structural racism as an institution, and clearly this is the case (see above receipts), then they do not have the right to continue as they have been. It has to stop. Saying that Black people need to invest in our own award shows is fine, but that doesn’t mean that the Academy gets to go about the business of not being accountable to diversity and social justice. No, ma’am. These things go hand in hand. Change has to come to the Academy Awards, and Black  Hollywood celebs who have valued it over the Image Awards and other Black created and operated honors need to do better. It’s not either or, it’s both and.

What I would have liked is to see not just Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee (who also announced a boycott of the Oscar’s via instagram) be the two who piped up individually, but to see Black Hollywood collectively come together and say “No more!” Imagine what it would do if Pinkett Smith, Lee, and other Black celebrities and allies wrote and signed an open letter detailing the decades of discriminatory practices within the Academy Awards and demanding change. Imagine what it would look like if the NAACP were to say, we will hold the Image Awards on the same day as the Oscars every year and ask all Black artists, Black people and other people of color and White allies to do the same. Their is precedent (though not nearly the same as what is happening with the Oscars, so I do not mean to draw a correlation of sameness) that offers a good model they might pursue. I was but a child when in 1991 when 1,603 Black women took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times referred to as “African American Women In Defense of Ourselves.” The ad came in the wake of the hearing regarding Clarence Thomas’s sexual harassment of Anita Hill. During the hearing politicians, the media, and general public were responsible for so many historically inaccurate, pathologizing, and demonizing comments about Black women and Black womanhood that the petition these women made  helped put the voices of Black women in the center of their own stories in the public, and not continue to be misrepresented and talked over (as Hill had literally been talked over in the hearings and how Black women were and still are) in everyday life. This is what it means for people to come together publicly and say enough is enough.

Yes, one persons critique does matter on its own, but when you have the social and economic resources to draw support from others toward the good it should be used. Black Hollywood, and by this I mean the collective, are in this position, and I wish they would exercise it for the good of social change in the ways many Black people without the same social, political and economic resources do so everyday. I think Pinkett Smith knows as much given her request, but it can be more than what she has proposed and it can be organized and occur on a much larger scale.

What I do not think that Black Hollywood is willing to confront is that the racism of the Academy Awards depends on their silence and it has bought that silence for years for many of them with the promise of maybe they too winning an Academy Award if they play nice. At the very least it has promised them work (however meager that work is) if they keep their head down, mouth shut, and continue to play the game. I still believe that the only reason Viola Davis didn’t win an Oscar for “The Help” was because she did interviews talking about the lack of diversity in the industry during the period when everyone is campaigning for an Oscar. She risked it then and is still risking it now because it is the right thing to do, others should do the same they have nothing to lose whether they realize it or not because here is the truth: meritocracy, even in Hollywood, is a myth that does not and has never benefited Black excellence, so just doing the work ain’t gonna get you a thing. So, you might as well speak truth to power and sleep well, with or without an Oscar.

Black hollywood needs to look to their Black actor ancestors, in particular Paul Robeson, Ruby Dee, and Ossie Davis to name only a few, who made decisions to speak up for the truth of social injustice all over the world even when it cost them professionally, socially, and politically. In fact, today’s celebs do not even have to start by being an activist global citizen like Robeson and his wife Eslanda Goode Robeson, or getting thrown in jail for civil disobedience like Dee and Davis. They can start at home with their other A-list friends by saying enough is enough and doing something about it right where they stand.