Scandal, Selma and a Black President

In the round up of 2014’s mass media themes, many critics pointed to an increase in diversity. Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal magic, lovely Lupita and Selma marching into theaters it seems like a flood of great media representations of black, right?

36_Shonda_Rhimes_Cover_Embed Sure it’s great to see characters from all different back grounds displayed across network TV and in the wondrous world of scripted cable drama. Yea. But if it sounds like I’m doing the slow clap its because I can’t help but feel like our forward progress may be an illusion at best, and at worst? Well, keep reading.

BN-BD772_zamata_E_20140119084301The past year has seen its share of memorable milestones towards a more diverse media: SNL cast its first woman of color in seven years; the major networks aired shows with minority lead characters—like ABC’s Blackish and How To Get Away With Murder, NBC’s crime drama ensembles and even Fox’s Octavia Spenser drama.

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Directors and show runners like the ubiquitous Shonda Rhimes, rising star Tim Story (Think Like a Man) and Hollywood heavyweight Tyler Perry proved that there is even some color behind the camera. With these high-visibility success stories, audiences may increasingly feeling like they already see a post racial America on their screens at home.

Except, its not true.

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Remember when we elected a black president and believed that this would magically bring about racial harmony and understanding? It did’t. In the same way, seeing a few black faces on your screens may make you think that we are entering a post racial Hollywood. The truth is, it won’t.

People of color continue to be woefully underrepresented and misrepresented in media. A comprehensive survey of mass Media published last year out of UCLA showed that minorities are underrepresented in Hollywood films by a factor of 3, and in TV by a factor of anywhere from 2 to 7 .  Behind the camera of your favorite TV show is even worse with minorities directing on 4.2% of all broadcast comedies and dramas.

Selma-special-VIP-screening-6When it comes to the best films—those that take home Oscar gold—100% of winning directors are white. That’s right, in the Academy Award’s 85 years a person of color has never won for best director.  If the Selma snub at last nights Golden Globes is any indication we are unlikely to break the streak this year either.

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Underrepresentation is just half the story. Accurate voice and representation is about number in front of and behind the camera, but its also about the quality of representation. Even if the number of minorities on TV were a dead match for census numbers, if those stories continue to reinforce old stereotypes, then we can’t call it progress.

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On the quality front, 2014 was looking more like 1974—a black woman serving up sex for her powerful master, happy faces shucking and jiving to a laugh track, and Queen B twerking for the teens. And these aren’t the B and C-listers—this is what A-list black stars do to get that check.

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The illusion of progress that we toasted at the end of the year masks the steady restabilization of racist narratives of the past. We end up celebrating just a fiercer crop of mammys and jezebels. Don’t settle just for Scandal.  We need a diverse media that reflects out increasingly diverse country, but unless the industry starts making some changes in front of the camera and behind—especially in those writing rooms—we might find ourselves raising a glass to the same old same old.

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Before you trash the idea of better media with your resolution to hit the gym, there is a glimmer of hope. You see, the same UCLA study that put numbers to the lack of diversity also showed that shows with more diverse casts are more profitable. Media is made by for profit companies, so listen up suits! It seems that more color equals more green.

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Supporting media that celebrates diversity make sense. Vote for better media with your dollars. Go see Selma, and rent those series that get it right. Finally a New Year’s resolution you can keep? Watch TV and movies with diverse casts!

I Do Mind

Not to shame sex workers or Usher, but this song is just stupid.

Girl, I do mind.  If stripping is so empowering, then name a stripper.  Show me where they have the chance to wield power over anything but a penis.

Even when it comes to all those bills, strippers aren’t really rolling in the dough.  Stripper salary comparisons are hard to find, but estimated annual earning range from $25,000 to $120,000, with most falling at the low end of the scale.   Income from stripping also doesn’t take into account the emotional and physical toll of the job.  Usher, do you really want your girl grinding on old guys for a $20 bill?  You should mind.

9-to-1 Sounds Even, Right?

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These numbers refelct the best info available, which isn’t saying much.  Police killed in the line of duty as tracked by the Officer Down Memorial Page, and includes officers killed in auto accidents–26 last year.  Since they do not parse who caused the accident, I included them.  Civilians killed by police tracked by Killed By Police Facebook page–I know, I know, a Facebook page doesn’t sound credible but this is more reliable than FBI statistics, which reflect only “justifiable” homicides.  For more on the lack of stats, visit this Five Thirty Eight post on police involved killings.

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Justin Bieber in a recent move to upgrade his flagging career got an upgrade of his own from the Photoshop gods.  Hot on the heels of some steamy Calvin Klein shots featuring an oh-so-grown Biebs complete with a baby Bieber bulge comes the (shock!) word of Photoshopping.

ivb55wzlf1zgn6qvamfuTurns out the bulge was more baby than Bieber.  Photos from the photo shoot before the Photoshop were released and showed a decidedly less buff Biebs with a  decidedly more baby baby bulge in his Calvin Kleins.  Luckily for him, some things do come between him and his Calvin’s–Adobe CS6.

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A little digital nip and tuck later, naked Biebs is wearing some extra muscle, some darker skin , more body hair and a bigger boxer bump.  Can it be that the forever-young jailbait Bieber is trying to rebrand himself as a big boy?  He’s got lots of company.

Marky-MarkThe black-and-white-naked-and-cut look has been a fav of pouty pop stars trying to prove they’ve passed puberty.

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Justin Timberlake Wallpaper @ go4celebrity.com

I’d say I hop it works as well for JB as JT, but that would be a lie.  Besides, teen hearthrob comes with an expiration date, so my advice for Beiberbait?  Put your pants on and hit the studio.

Rape Jokes. Super Funny.

Bill Cosby, TV’s former favorite father has been spiraling down from his pedestal on the Cosby show as numerous rape allegations, whispered in secret for years, have finally taken hold in the court of public opinion.

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Nearly everyone has weighed in.  25+ victims have come forward, including some well known celebs like Beverly Johnson.  Industry insiders and a gaggle of commentators have come out for this side or that.   Cosby’s former costars have also made the rounds to give him a good character reference–we can’t hold that against them; sociopaths and other offenders can be quite charming, that’s part of their cover.    But not a word from Bill himself–until now.

Last night at a comedy show in Ontario, Cosby played to an adoring crowd of 2599–and 1 heckler that shouted at Cosby during the show.  He said nothing in response to being called a rapist….but when a woman got up from her seat during the show, Cosby asked her where she was going.  When the woman replied she was going to get a drink Cosby reportedly quipped, “You have to be careful drinking around me.”

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Really, Bill?  After weeks of saying nothing, you decided a flippant flirty rufie joke was the way to go?   Even the loyal fans gasped before some applauded the accused-rapist’s rape jokes.

Hope someone checked to make sure that woman made it back to her seat.

 

 

Black (Celebrity) Lives Matter (more)

Weeks of protests across the country have been missing lots of your favorite black pop stars, including one formally pink-haired princess.  Nikki Minaj has been silent on the issue of police misconduct and brutality.  Turns out, even though she has assured us that she is both a monster and a boss bitch, that she is worried about taking a hit in the pocket if she stands up for black lives.  Not so tough now…

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In a recent interview in Rolling Stone Minaj said that she feels like she can’t speak out about racism in society without her career taking a hit:

“I feel like when Public Enemy were doing ‘Fight the Power,’ we as a culture had more power — now it feels hopeless,” Minaj says. “People say, ‘Why aren’t black celebrities speaking out more?’ But look what happened to Kanye when he spoke out. People told him to apologize to Bush!”

Minaj must not have notices tens of thousands of  people around the country participating in die-ins:  laying on cold streets, in traffic, on highways, and across the sticky floors of malls.  These people– many young people squarely in Minaj’s demographic–have been unafraid to speak out and to literally lay down to stop the world and make people hear their chants of black lives matter.

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Some of these people left work or class to participate in protests risking all kinds of consequences.    But most of the protesters are not famous, and few are likely to have a corporate record deal, so admittedly, most of us have a lot less to lose than our favorite rapper.

141124_seattle_maclemoreThen again, look at Macklemore who has made a career in rap speaking out.  From celebrating thrift store swag to same sex rights, Macklemore has made millions, topping charts and hearts with his uber-unity rap.  Even Eminem, the bad boy of rap, has spoken on on a variety of social issues like suicide and poverty.  Em didn’t get black balled, he got put in car commercials .

What could possibly be different between Kanye and Nikki and Macklemore and Eminem?  Black artists don’t get the same pass, don’t get to play the same parts that their white counterparts play, even in the land that blacks created–hip hop.  Black artists can easily be labeled as radioactive for the same stances that we swoon to see white stars in.  Bill Gates can dump money wherever he wants, but when Dr. Dre gave a massive donation to USC he was criticized for not giving black enough.  Critics questioned Wyclef’s work in the wake of the Haiti earthquake.  And of course, there’s Kanye.

Of all the spheres for black celebrities to orbit, hip hop was supposed to be the genre where black lives–and voices–really did  matter.  Truth is, there is lots of great hip hop talking about these issues, but to Minaj’s point, that is the game of mainstream media.  Market forces determine the lowest common denominator for pop stars to aim at, hoping to please the bland palate of the masses while ignoring the issues of the smaller classes in the audience.  the risk is real, but is that an excuse?LeBronJames1

Despite having offered an apology to George Bush, Kanye persists. Despite the potential backlash, dozens of sports stars have made their voices heard.  Despite the cold, Black Lives Matter Protests persist.  So what’s up, pop princess?  In the face of racism we each have to chose how we will respond.  When we choose to sit on the sidelines and not risk what we have despite our best intentions, racism persists.

Minaj bemoans the hoplessness of these times–I feel her.

“[Kanye]was the unofficial spokesman for hip-hop, and he got torn apart,” she says. “And now you haven’t heard him speaking about these last couple things, and it’s sad. Because how many times can you be made to feel horrible for caring about your people before you say, ‘Fuck it, it’s not worth it, let me live my life because I’m rich, and why should I give a fuck?'”

We create these stars when we buy their shit, but they cannot be bothered to say in public that your life matters.  Go ahead, Nikki and live your life, because fuck it, it’s true–you’re rich and why should you give a fuck.   Selling out pays well.  But if you ever want to see what a real star looks like, look at the bodies dotting the pavement.  They’ll be out there, holding you down.