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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.

 

 

 

Fashion, History, Interview, On the Street, Pop Culture

Sankofa Couture: Interview with School of Thought Collection Creators

December 15, 2015

by Stephanie “Rhythm” Keene 

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photo credit: Mike Ryan/Brick x Birch (all photos in this post)

I recently I sat down with Maryam Pugh of Philadelphia Printworks and Donte Neal of Mars Five to discuss their fashion design collaboration, the collection “School of Thought.” The “School of Thought” collection “imagines a different world where colleges and institutions have been established based on the philosophies of Marcus Garvey, Audre Lorde, Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and James Baldwin. The collection represents the double consciousness experienced by” African diasporic people in America  “and creates a safe space for the praxis of liberation.” [Editor’s Note: The interviewer, Stephanie “Rhythm” Keene, is also featured in the “School of Thought” campaign photos wearing the ‘Tubman’ shirt]. 

Keene: How did this idea come about?

Neal: I had an art studio at the Window Factory in North Philly, and so did Maryam. I got to see the beginning of what Philadelphia Printworks was, and I always wanted to collaborate with them. Then in the beginning of 2015, we came up with this cool idea to do collegiate sweatshirts. I always wanted to do something that had a collegiate theme, and [liked] being able to do that with Philadelphia Printworks by way of using very significant black intellectuals.

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Keene: How did you choose which intellectuals to use? Will others show up later?

Neal: There was a much larger list. We wanted to, at least for this run, to do names that were a good balance between men and women.

Pugh: Any time we design a collection, there’s always that balance of trying to find people that we think are impactful and someone that has done things that we feel deserve to be brought to the light and recognized and honored. If it goes well, we can expand the collection to include other names and other products.

Neal: We wanted to make sure that we grounded ourselves somewhat in reality; if these schools existed, what would be the cornerstone of their educational system? So [for example] Garvey Industrial Institute. So we focused on the technology of industry, the building of factories, etc. Ida B. Wells was one of the writers who started writing about the lynchings in the South in the height of it, when it was going down. [Someone going to that fictional school] could be someone who maybe wants to be involved in politics, bringing important subjects to light regardless of what kind of adversity they’re [facing] at the moment. So we didn’t want to pick names out of a hat because these names are cool. These are the ‘schools of thought.’ These are the ideas of importance, and here are some people that represent these ideas.

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Keene: The timing of this project feels really important given the current state of affairs for black people, particularly in America. How intentional was that, and what are your thoughts about the images of this line, juxtaposed against images of what’s happening in America right now?

Pugh: Philadelphia Printworks has been doing this for 4 or 5 years and it’s interesting to see how the climate of the world affects the things we do. Specifically now, it’s very important that we have these positive images and think of ways we can manifest the future we’d like to see.

Neal: I hope this collection and this effort can bridge the gap between people who started with the same fire that [the youth] have now. It would be great to have youth adopt these names into their way of thinking and draw a comparison between what they’re going through now in their fight and what was going on in the times of the folks that appear on these sweatshirts.

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Pugh: Historically, the younger people are where the revolution comes from, but we can’t lose what we learned in the previous generations. It’s the idea of Sankofa – going back and trying to apply what we’ve learned from the past. With the concept of this collection, we were able to take past revolutionaries and apply it in a very futuristic way.

Neal: This is very Afrofuturistic. We are imagining our future, planting the seed for a manifestation of a bright future.

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Keene: The “A Different World” [late 80s and early 90s NBC sitcom about a fictional HBCU called Hillman College] connection is seamless. How did the idea to make that visual connection come about?

Pugh: “A Different World,” [the films] “School Daze,” “Higher Learning,” they all talked about really important topics, that unfortunately we’re still experiencing now. And I’ve seen the younger generation reach out to these shows [and films] that we grew up on and use them as a conduit, so it made sense for us to also tie our collection into it.

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Neal: For a lot of black folks, that alternate universe in which these characters existed, there was hope in this show. Being young and impressionable, seeing that show I was just like “Wow. Here are these completely normal… They don’t fit like a stereotype. This black person is like this and this black person is like that, and they’re friends and they exist in the same [space].” Seeing that was really inspirational. The impact and the positive influence that show had on black folks, that was imagined. That was written by somebody. If someone can imagine that and make such a great impact and inspire black people, why can’t we at any point imagine a product, whether it’s a book, a movie, a piece of clothing, art… We can imagine things and create a space in the future in which these ideas can exist. Who knows? Maybe one day we might have a Tubman University.

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You can purchase items from the “School of the Thought” collection here.

Follow Philadelphia Printworks on Twitter, IG, and Tumblr: @philaprint

Follow Donte Neal of Mars Five on Twitter: @donteneal_

Stephanie “Rhythm” Keene is a Philadelphia-based writer and performer. She is a co-host of The Harvest, the largest open mic experience in Philadelphia. A proud graduate of The Lincoln University (PA), she is an ally and advocate fighting for the freedom of all people. Follow her on Twitter and IG: @rhythmkeene

Books, Pop Culture

Review-Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

November 30, 2015

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

Our first Glamourtunist book recommendation is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Full of Gilbert’s signature wit, remarkable storytelling, refreshing candor, and realness, the author gives challenging though care filled arguments about what it means to do creativity without delay, and to do it right where we are in our lives. It did not disappointment me at all and will not disappoint others who are interested in conversation about what it means to engage happily and mindfully with creative life and all its precariousness and vagaries, today.

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The book begins and ends on a beautifully phrased question and statement Gilbert recounts as having been asked by the late writer Jack Gilbert (no biological relation to the author) to a student whom he was advising about her own creative work: “Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” This book has many wonderful gems within it that will inform as it affirms our choice to say yes, both for anyone who either already considers themselves an artist/creative/or someone who makes things, as well as for those who do not see themselves as being creative or have otherwise negative associations with the idea of creativity, offering stories that suggest how one can begin to see what she calls “creative living” differently and in a life they may see as not having any creative inclinations at all. Gilbert shows convincingly that creativity and ideas are an infinite resource, and that “the work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you” (221).

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What I found most exciting about this book were Gilbert’s anecdotal insights about creative living beyond various kinds of fears, from her own life and stories told to her at various moments in her life, to the creative living of others such as Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and to fellow writer in the “self-help” genre the sociologist, Brené Brown. These stories serve as useful terrain for Gilbert to invite creatives to radically remake our definitions of foundational words and phrases in art making (“creativity,” “ideas,” “discipline”) in ways that will usefully move us forward in making our art, or even to just figure out what that art we are here to make even is for those who are pondering this important question. This aspect of Big Magic I found to offer the greatest insight on how creative can show up for their work and themselves in ways that will assist them in building new rituals for creative life that make the joy and pleasure of creativity, all that truly matters. Gilbert’s discussion of perfectionism in relationship to fear was also thoughtful and encouraging, and I especially appreciated the fashion reference she used in unpacking this complicated emotional territory, writing:

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And, as I already mentioned, I am and have long been a fan of Gilbert’s realness or candor, especially her irreverent potty mouth when she says things like:

 

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I mean, HELLO! Yaaaaaassssszzzz!

I enjoyed the entire book, but the sections titled “Persistence” and “Trust” were my favorite. In “Persistence,” and in other sections of the book,” Gilbert challenges the age old discourse of the artist suffering productively for their work, and instead argues and establishes the efficacy of joy and self-care as a part of the work of creative living, thus running counter to the harmful and intergenerational embrace of suffering for one’s art. One will hopefully come from this discussion resolved to taking care of their body, mind, and soul in whatever way they cane, seeing that as part of creative living and also part of the responsibility artists have to nurturing the most important resource in creative living, which is ourselves. In “Trust,” though Gilbert does not explicitly make the book or this section about any one or more religion, her discussion about having trust in inspiration and creativity as it trusts the creative person to bring forth the work that only they can bring was, for me, a meditation on faith that linked faith in the creative process to faith in a spiritual sense as well. This discussion offered helpful consideration of the role of certain tenets of faith to recasting our relationship to creative life, such as devotion (daily practice (what I see as ritual), belief, responsibility, and ultimately, love.

Big Magic is easily among my favorite books from this year, and I am elated for many more reasons than I have named here, to suggest it to Glamourtunist readers. If you have read the book already I would love to hear from you in the comments below, or if you read the book at a later time please feel free to come back to this post and share your thoughts. Lastly, a special shout-out to the discussants in “Soul Supplies” virtual book club I co-created and co-facilitated with Dr. David Glisch-Sanchez of Soul Support Life Coaching (@soulsupportLC), where we discussed Big Magic. Your comments about the book make me excited to reread it again, and again.

You can follow Elizabeth Gilbert at @GilbertLiz and also read other people’s thoughts on the book by following #BigMagic in social media.

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion, Pop Culture, WERK!

Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Hearts!

November 26, 2015

This is probably Anna Wintour’s turkey, right? This bird is serving the children fashion on her big day, and I live. Happy Thanksgiving, dear hearts! May your souls be filled with gratitude for blessings known and unknown. Love, Team Glamourtunist

News, Pop Culture, Television

‘The Wiz’ Through Time: From Broadway to NBC

November 19, 2015

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

“The Wiz” is, by far, my very favorite musical ever. When I was a child my mother would often sing “If You Believe,” Glinda’s inspirational anthem sung to Dorothy in the musical, and immortalized forever in the movie-musical version by the famous Lena Horne. In college, around midterm and final exam time, my mother would send me me cards to encourage me through my studies and would always sign those and anything she would send to me the famous lyrics from that song, “believe in yourself, as I believe in you! I love you, Mommy.” The Wiz, and its original source material The Wizard of Oz are, I believe, the key to pretty much any existential crisis one might be having in life. Don’t take my word for it? Oprah has said that “Glinda the Good Witch” has been one of her most important role models for her life. She even chose to pose as Glinda in Harper’s Bazaar annual ‘Icons’ fashion editorial, edited by Carine Roitfeld.

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While one of Oprah’s favorite spiritual gurus, notable mystic Jean Houston, once a trusted advisor to Hillary Clinton, wrote a whole book The Wizard of Us:Transformational Lessons from Oz,” in which she shows how the now legendary tales of Dorothy’s journey through Oz – with the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Lion, and her dog Toto – offers key lessons on how to journey well and come to find that you, like Dorothy, are not just ordinary, but extraordinary. And all you need to do is believe in yourself.

So naturally, when it was announced that NBC’s third production in its live musical series would be The Wiz I lost my damn mind! I immediately started dream casting who would play which role (“Miss One”/Addaperle was my favorite, and one I obsessed over the most), who would direct it, and of course, how would the costumes look?

In recent months the answer to many of those questions have come, as the cast for the December 3 The Wiz Live! has been announced, preview trailers have begin to air on NBC and online, and we’ve even gotten to see video of the cast members performing some of the most memorable songs including Shanice Williams who landed the coveted roll of Dorothy singing “Home” with Stephanie Mills, who played the role in the original broadway production of 1975, as well as Williams and Mills, along with Amber Riley (Addaperle the Good Witch), Ne-Yo (Tin Man), Elijah Kelly (Scare Crow) and David Alan Grier (Lion), performing another favorite from the music “Ease on Down the Road.” This week, pictures of Queen Latifah as “The Wiz,” and orange Is The New Black’s Uzo Aduba as “Glinda” have got the Twitter-verse and Facebook-ville turned up for the The Wiz Live! while I and many other enthusiasts noticed Mary J. Blige’s “Evilene” conspicuously missing from photos and commercials promoting the show, which has us even more convinced at how epic both she and this production will be.

But as we anticipate the latest reimagining of The Wiz, it brings up so many memories of how it has moved through our popular culture and costume design lives for four decades. So it feels appropriate to, on the occasion of the both anniversary of The Wiz, look back at some of the ways its characters have been represented across time from the Geoffrey Holder directed broadway musical, with a score by Charlie Smalls and libretto by William F. Brown and earned 7 Tony Awards, to the latest Kenny Leon helmed production with a book by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein that will likely be a big ratings win for NBC. Let’s ease on down the road:

Dorothy and Toto

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The Original: R&B legend Stephanie Mills, then a teen, as Dorothy with Toto in The Wiz 1975.  Mills will play Aunt Em in The Wiz Live! this December.

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The iconic Diana Ross as Dorothy in 1978’s movie-musical version, directed by Sidney Lumet with a screenplay by Joel Schumacher. Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, produced the film. Critics threw shade at the film version mostly because they were like Miss Ross tried it playing a geriatric Dorothy (she was 31, while previous Dorothy’s were teens), and they also claimed it was too scary for children (side-eye). But, the movie got the last laugh because it is a cult classic and still airs pretty regularly on television. Also, Miss Ross is and always will be Miss Ross so she’s not bothered. And Berry Gordy is even richer, so he’s good too. So, take that critics.

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Yes, Ashanti played Dorothy. Why are you acting like you ain’t know? I’ll just leave this right here and keep on easin’ on down this road. She does win for best baby hair sideburns of all the Dorothy’s, so there’s that. And I have bought Ashanti music. Ya’ll remember “oh, baby!” She’s a great songwriter as well, don’t sleep.

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Shanice Williams as Dorothy and our new Toto of “The Wiz Live!”

Scarecrow

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Hinton Battle as the original Scarecrow in the 1975 broadway production.

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The one and only Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow in the 1978 movie-musical.

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Scarecrow as portrayed in 2009’s production at New York’s City Center

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Elijah Kelley will portray the Scarecrow in The Wiz Live!

Tin Man

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Tiger Haynes as Tin Man in 1975

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Beloved comedian and actor, the late Nipsey Russell, portrayed the character in the 1978 film

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2009’s stage production saw Joshua Henry as Tin Man

THE WIZ LIVE! -- Season: 2015 -- Pictured: Ne-Yo as Tinman -- (Photo by: Paul Gilmore/NBC)Singer-songwriter Ne-Yo portrays the Tin Man in December’s The Wiz Live!

Cowardly Lion

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Ted Ross played The Cowardly Lion in the 1975 musical, for which he earned a Tony Award…

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… Ross then reprised his role for the 1978 film.

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James Monroe Iglehart in the role in 2009; Iglehart later won the Tony for portraying the Genie in the broadway music “Aladdin” based on the Disney film.

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David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion in The Wiz Live!

Glinda, The Good Witch

photocredit: TheWizTheMusical.com

photocredit: TheWizTheMusical.com

DeeDee Bridgewater was the original Glinda, for which she won the Tony Award in 1975.

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The legendary Lena Horne as “Glinda” in 1978’s film.

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LaChanze, winner of the Tony in 2000 for her role in Aida, portrayed as Glinda in the 2009 production. The costume of LaChanze’s Glinda is my favorite as the color choice reminds me of artistic renderings of Yemaya, an Orisha ( within Yoruba religion and culture.

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Uzo Aduba as “Glinda” in The Wiz Live!

Addaperle,  The Good Witch

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Clarice Taylor as the original Addaperle The Good Witch in 1975

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In the film version, the character Addaperle was renamed “Miss One” in a nod to the character’s northern work as a numbers runner/illegal gambler. Thelma Carpenter played the role, and marvelously so.

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Dawnn Lewis as Addaperle in 2009’s production. Lewis is best known for her role as Jeleasa in the 980s-1990s sitcom “A Different World” and also as Robin on ABC’s “Hanging with Mr. Cooper.”

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The magnificent Amber Riley, formerly of Fox’s “Glee” and winner of “Dancing With the Stars,” will portray Addaperle in The Wiz Live!

Evilene, The Wicked Witch

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Mabel King as the Wicked Witch Evilene in 1975. King also portrayed Mabel “Mama” Thomas on the 70s sitcom “What’s Happening?” …

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King also reposed the role in the film version in 1978.

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Actress and Tichina Arnold portrayed Evilene in the 2009 production. Arnold is best known as Pam on Fox’s sitcom “Martin.”

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And finally, “The Queen of Hip Hop Soul,” Mary J. Blige rules the stage as Evilene in “The Wiz Live!”

The Wiz

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Choreographer and actor, Andre De Shields, portrayed “The Wiz” in 1975.

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Comedian and actor Richard Pryor as “The Wiz” in the 1978 film.

wizcitycenter460eOrlando Jones portrayed “The Wiz” in 2009.

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Of all the most exciting things of “The Wiz Live!” on NBC, the fact that Queen Latifah will portray The Wiz has me most excited. Get into this hair chile.’ I love the gender neutralness of how she is costumed, and that the producers went for a nontraditional casting choice.

There you have it folks, thanks for easing on down the road with me looking at highlights and key players from 40 years of The Wiz. What are you most excited to see in The Wiz Live! ? Comments, Facebook us, and Tweet us too. Would love to hear from you as we gear up for the latest iteration of the musical December 3 on NBC.

 

 

 

Beauty, Fashion, WERK!

Sistas That Slay Together, Stay Together: A Quann Sisters Photo Essay

November 10, 2015

by Eric Darnell Pritchard (photo credit (above): Hannah Thomson via vogue.com)

From Venus and Serena Williams and Gigi and Bella Hadid, to Solange Knowles and big sister Beyonce, and Jessica and Ashley Simpson, we have learned time and time again that sisters who slay together, stay together. This a photo essay dedicated to another dynamic duo: The Quann Sisters.

At the recent 2015 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Awards, a number of fashion luminaries took to the red carpet serving opulence, fierceness, elegance, and of course, luxury. A standout among the crowd at the awards, and in fashion, style and music generally, are Cipriana Quann and TK Wonder/Takenyah “TK” Quann, known affectionately to many as “The Quann Sisters.” The pair, as a result of their red carpet looks, made it onto yet another best dressed list wearing gorgeous ravishing purple (TK) and green (Cirpriana) Ohne Titel dresses to the awards event. The sisters have long been among my personal favorites in the style world, and thus their fierceness on that night was no surprise to me (or anybody else, really). As I said of Grace Jones in a recent post, The Quann Sisters too epitomize the fierceness, beauty, brilliance, and courage that is a  “black girl arrogance” that deserves praise, as they are defining genius, sophistication, and style against the grain and on their own terms in a world that has not and does not always celebrate Black women and girls.

Cipriana is founder and editor-in-chief of the lifestyle website Urban Bush Babes. TK is a musician (check out her music video “Van Gogh”) and a contributing writer for her sister’s website. The sisters, Baltimore natives, reside in NYC and in recent years have been featured in a number of print and online publications including the venerable fashion institutions Vogue  and W Magazine, respectively. Both have done much to educate people about the importance and beauty of natural hair care via their writings and visual archive as they also model as well, and are represented by IMG.

Here the Quann sisters had the following to say about their view of fashion:

“Fashion to us tells your personality, it speaks to who you are inside. I mean, some people may say style is superficial, but I think there is so much more to fashion than just appearance. Women find confidence in the clothes that they wear, so we find there is something very empowering knowing what works for you. ” – TK Wonder

“My twin and I have always been into fashion. We always joke and say in the womb we were best friends.”
– Cipriana Quann

What follows is a photo essay of the slay-age known as The Quann Sisters, who are amassing a virtual archive of photographs that will sure to be favorites in the fashion and style histories written by the future:

photo credit: Adrian Morales - snappylifestyle.com

photo credit: Adrian Morales

 

Inez & Vinoodh for Vogue Magazine February 2015

Inez & Vinoodh for Vogue Magazine February 2015

 

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photo credit: Diego Villarreal

 

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photo credit: Hannan Saleh

 

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via coveuteur.com

 

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photo credit: Diego Villarreal

 

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photo credit: Diego Villarreal

 

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photo credit: Diego Villarreal

 

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via islandboiphotography-Instagram/Joey Rosado

 

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photo credit: Tyler Joe via Elle.com

 

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photo credit: Charlotte Wales via urbanbushbabes.com

 

 

And now that your edges are all snatched and collected into little dime bags, do know that your hair will only be redistributed back to you in said bags with receipts that you have read and shared this photo essay. Also, as I am sure this photo essay will leave you wanting to see more of the Quann Sisters putting in that WERK!, you can follow them on Instagram: @ciprianaquann and @tk_wonder.

 

Beauty, Fashion, History, Pop Culture, WERK!

Rewind, 2008: Plus-Size Model Toccara Jones and Vogue Italia’s ‘All-Black Issue’

November 5, 2015

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

“I wanted to say something about weight, and I’m never allowed to do that,” said legendary fashion photographer Steven Meisel, as quoted in a June 2008 story by New York Times by fashion critic Cathy Horyn. “I met Toccara and thought, she’s beautiful. What’s the deal with her? She’s great and she’s sexy.”

Meisel was speaking on photographing plus-size model Toccara Jones, for what is now remembers as an epic moment in recent fashion history. In August of 2008, Vogue Italia published a special issue of the magazine in which they only used Black models in its editorial pages. The magazine cover featured model Liya Kebede on a fold-out cover, with models Sessilee Lopez, Jourdan Dunn and iconic supermodel Naomi Campbell on three additional covers unfurling like an accordion from Kebede’s. In addition to Campbell, many other legendary Black models including Iman, Tyra Banks, and Veronica Webb were featured, alongside a number of emerging model talents of the time.

The issue, conceived by Vogue Italia’s editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani, featured over 100 pages of editorial content shot by Meisel. In press reports Sozzani stated that the inspiration for the issue was then Senator Barack Obama, with the internationally adored Michelle Obama with him, winning the Democratic Party nomination for President, but also, and Meisel conquered, the lack of diversity in fashion on the runway, in advertisements, editorial spreads and throughout the fashion industry.

While the focus of most press coverage on the issue was initially about the fact that the magazine would be using all Black models, and lots of speculation on what models would be featured in such an iconic issue, once information on what  much of the contents of the issue was previewed the clear stunner to shut down the entire issue was model Toccara Jones. Jones, a former contestant and fan-favorite on Tyra Banks’ popular reality competition show “America’s Next Top Model,” was photographed by Meisel in a sexy, luxurious, fantasy ride of an editorial in a fashion story in which the model is depicted wearing almost nothing but a variety of fur coats. The representational and historical significance of featuring Jones is that she was a plus-sized model, so while the media frenzy that the issue was featuring Black models was fully on, here comes Jones in the issue killin’ it for Black girls and curry girls everywhere. But don’t take my word for it, here is your trip down memory lane below, but first, a shout-out to Toccara Jones! YOU DID THAT!

 

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Beauty, Music, News, Pop Culture, WERK!

On No Make-Up Adele

November 4, 2015

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

Adele Adkins insists upon coming to collect the very few edges we have left. Last week she did an old school, Harry Potter “avradacadavra” curse on our ENTIRE life, first with an open letter apologizing for being away from us so long:

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Around the same time she appeared as the latest cover model for i-D Magazine which I posted about here, serving us the cat eye of life, and I was ALREADY ready for her to leave me alone, leave her album at my doorstep, and just go away.  She’s too damn amazing. I can’t take it anymore. But of course, whereas normal people know to go have a seat when they slay the entire Universe in just a matter of days, Adele is like NAH! let me revive them JUST so I can kill them again. And so within days of saying I am sorry I won that Oscar and disappeared on ya’ll, she shows up on our iTunes like “Hello”  ?

 

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So, yesterday when I heard she was on the cover of Rolling Stone I was like, nope not looking. She will not do this to me again. Why is she in my mind this much and it hasn’t even been a full two weeks since that damn open letter? Do I need to charge her rent for living up in my head and my heart in this way? Not looking. Not ON TODAY. Welp, I looked anyway and while I do not regret it, my soul does. Because no make-up Adele is just as (if not even more) gorgeous than make-up Adele. Here are the receipts:

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Now can we all go back to our business. Of course not. We have a magazine cover to obsess over the rest of the week? Thanks, Adele. Ugh. *Wall slides*

 

Beauty, Beauty, Fashion, Film, History, Music, Pop Culture, WERK!

A Moment of Grace: In Praise of Black Girl Arrogance

November 2, 2015

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

This Grace is sufficient. Maybe she inspired you to become more flexible so you, too, could bend and contort yourself into a scene of “Island Life.” Or, perhaps she hula-hooped you into a trance, moving the cylindrical toy around her waist as she, mic in hand, belted out one of her popular songs. It could very well be her legendary beauty – her fierceness piercing the still life of every photo she has taken, or her masterful, delicious storytelling in her recently released memoirs. In whatever incarnation you encountered Grace Jones, you, like me, are likely to have gotten your life, or multiple lives because Grace slays you and you are reborn. Grace is reincarnation.

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Grace Jones represents the very best of so many aesthetically sublime and delicious possibilities and realizations for global fashion and popular culture. In addition to her album covers, music videos, and fashion editorials, she is etched into our minds through so many other moments: her role of eccentric fashion model Strangé in the 1992 film “Boomerang”; any one of the many photos of her live performances in her decades long career, such as a 1987 performance where she collaborated with artist Keith Haring for her stage costume; and her memorable runway walks such as at the Summer 1988/89 Patrick Kelly show in Paris, where she walked the runway dressed in a black bathing suit and cape adorned with an applique of neon stars and planets, red tights, a bustle of individual scarves of various colors hanging from her waste, and a hat with a long white ponytail hanging out of the top. In each of these moments and so many more, the camera shutter opens and closes on her to fulfill the promise, play, and pulchritude of every single image she has created. Her visual and performance archive is always embodying and emboldening the radical potential of fashion, music, dance, performance art and photography for exploding the neat boundaries built around race, gender, sexuality, time, and space from one moment to the next. Grace is divine.

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The icon and iconography of Grace Jones emerges as a clear archive of Black girl arrogance in all its fashionable fierceness and intervention. Black girl arrogance refers to both a spirit and embodiment of intelligent, beautiful, desirable, fierce daring that Black girls and women represent – whether on the runway or in the streets, in the classroom or the boardroom, at the piano or behind the podium – that makes their presence known in a social, political, cultural context or milieu that would rather render them unknown. It is thus at times an organic way of being, and in other moments a chosen tactic, that is always and already for one’s self. Sometimes that arrogance is refusing the gaze and living one’s life, and still other times it demands of you, “see me.” The fact that anyone else gets to witness this divinity is, well, grace. And I return to Grace Jones here to give her the respect she so deserves, but also because it is through returning to Grace that I believe Black girl arrogance, in all of its complexities and genius, is re-membered for now and for what is to come.

For instance, Black girl arrogance has once again been made legible at the intersections of fashion and style with television, film, and music. We saw it just recently in Emmy-nominated actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox’s stunning photos in Allure Magazine, and in her many other moments including her picture on a 2014 cover of Time Magazine. We see it in Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o’s boundary breaking and trendsetting beauty and glamour, which has completely raised the bar for red carpets all over the globe. We see it in Solange Knowles’ epic wedding photo, which flooded our Facebook newsfeeds, Twitter timelines, and Instagram pages with panoramic shots of gorgeous Black women adorned in radiant ivory gowns, and effecting the etherealness of any dream we wish would come true. And where Solange leaves us dreaming, big sister Beyoncé made “I woke up like this” the mantra of every bold and brilliant person ready to declare that who I am and how I am is already “Flawless.” The 2015 “Black Girls Rock” award show that aired on BET and Centric offered numerous examples of Black girl arrogance as intervention in many of the speeches including those by singer Erykah Badu, educator Nadia Lopez, FLOTUS Michelle Obama, Dr. Helene Gayle, and actress Jada Pinkett Smith. What about Rihanna’s recent performance of “Bitch Better Have My Money” at the #iHeartRadio Awards? The performance included many elements of power moments from the archive of Black women international pop star performances, from Lil’ Kim’s green wig and furs in the video for her 90s hit “Crush On You” to Diana Ross’s epic exiting of the superbowl halftime show in a helicopter that descended on the stage to whisk her away (also reminiscent of Grace Jones’ Strangé’s epic arrival in “Boomerang” via helicopter, and then a chariot driven by men). Here Rihanna’s daring is part of a continuum in her performances of Black girl arrogance, including her homage to Josephine Baker on the occasion of the legendary performer’s birthday at the red carpet of the 2014 CFDA Awards, where Rihanna was clad in a transparent bosom bearing silver beaded gown and bejeweled headdress. For Black women performers and Black girl arrogance, the archive and the ancestry matters. Grace matters.

It is imperative to note the historical antecedents for Grace Jones – the eccentric freedom of Eartha Kitt, the elegance and sophistication of Lena Horne and Ruby Dee, and the beauty folk ways of Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson most come to mind. Another historical antecedent that demonstrates Black girl arrogance, and laid important roots for Grace Jones to later help define and then defy boundaries around Blackness and femininity, appears in the wonderful documentary Versailles ’73: An American Revolution. The documentary examines the legendary battle at Versailles fashion face-off between five American and five Parisian design houses, a tale examined in greater depth in the new book The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan. Among the points made by several of the interviewees that appear in Versaille ‘73, including legendary fashion model and editor China Machado, fashion historian Barbara Summers, and fashion and beauty editor Mikki Taylor, was that the success of the American presentation at that show was the presence of Black models Norma Jean Darden, Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison, and so many others, whose walk of “affirmation” to quote Taylor, was what set the American show apart from the Parisian set.

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While Taylor’s observation about the impact of the Black models affirmative stance is in itself a rich one to engage, I look at that moment, at Grace, and the intersections of fashion and identity and submit that amongst the gems that Black models brought (and still bring) to the runway was something that is actually in excess of “affirmation”: Black girl arrogance. This Black girl arrogance, though embedded in the very movement and being-ness of the Black models at the ’73 show at Versailles is so missing from the runways of today’s fashion shows in the lack of racial ethnic diversity, as rightfully noted in the 2014 open letter of protest authored by Hardison, and models Iman and Naomi Campbell. A black girl arrogance that haunts us when we remember the days of fashion past, and are reminded of the disappeared characteristic of personality that was once an essential ingredient to the development of a signature walk and presence on the runways for any model, Black or otherwise.

I am convinced that whether or not uniqueness and personality were ever embraced, Grace Jones would still be who she was and is. What other way was there for her to be? Still, in the way that she pushes us beyond our comfort zones, and shows us what it means to create a path for one’s self through an ethos of having no fucks to give, the existence of Grace Jones and all she has meant is priceless. Here’s hoping the next era of fashion and popular culture will applaud and embrace these moments of productive defiance like the Black girl arrogance revival of which I write, on the runways, in ad campaigns, and at the head of design houses and fashion magazines. Clearly television has received the memo, as evident in shows headed by defiant, brilliant, Black women are at the top of the ratings and lording over the zeitgeist of popular culture, from Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Olivia Pope on “Scandal” and Gabrielle Union’s Mary Jane Paul on BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” to Viola Davis’s multilayered Professor Annalise Keating on ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” and most recently, leading the pack is Taraji P. Henson’s critically acclaimed and popularly adored Cookie Lyon on Fox’s juggernaut “Empire.” It is the very thing that seems to revive the very lifeblood of this global industry and persists in fashioning a future. No matter what, Grace Jones, her predecessors and descendants will carry on being their fierce self. They woke up like this.

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