The first film I remember seeing Viola Davis in was “Antoine Fisher” in 2002 where she played Fisher’s long sought after mother, Eva May. She was only in the film near the end for about ten minutes or so and was completely silent for most of it but in my opinion she stole the entire scene. Her performance was so indelible that it’s what I remember most about the film. That same year she also played a supporting role in one of my favorite films, “Solaris.” She played Dr. Gordon, the only Black person on a space ship crew, or actor for that matter in an all white cast. There was no missing her talent here. She was fully committed to the role, self-possessed, passionate, intense and powerful; another unforgettable performance that could have easily been underplayed by a lesser performer.
Since then she has played supporting roles in a string of hugely successful and critically acclaimed films leading up to her starring role in Shonda Rhimes hit television series, “How to Get away with Murder” as Annalise Keating, the headstrong and controversial lawyer. From taking on ignorant and insensitive comments about her dark skin and allegedly “non-classical” beauty to her decision to remove her wig and all of her make-up in one of the most talked about episodes of HTGAWM, we have been fascinated with Viola’s ability to strategically expose America to the ways in which real women, women of color particularly, negotiate public appearance and a sense of inherent value in a world designed to marginalize, fragment and fetishize our entire beings.
Remaining poised, elegant and confident in both her strengths as a formidable actress and a Black woman, we look forward to seeing Viola Davis continue to tear down these reductive standards in ways that challenge, disturb and engage as well as speak authentically to the parts of ourselves we rarely get to see on screen.
Before Issa Rae, it never would have occurred to me that I could get hooked on a web series on Youtube. But after being introduced to “The Mis-Adventures of and Awkward Black Girl” I was rushing to Youtube every week to see how J was going to deal with racial and cultural insensitivity in her workplace, making friends, dating interracially, dealing with obnoxious and annoying co-workers with odd and irritating behaviors (people who speak in really a really tone when they’re right in front of me drive me crazy as well) and also being conscious of the ways in which her own awkwardness defines her and her relationships.
Being a Black woman, working in an office, dealing with ignorance, pet peeves and tough dating choices is something that as women of color we can all relate to. But Issa’s exploration of the role in which “Awkwardness” plays in her every day life and her use of it as a metaphor for the discomfort caused by a range of social insensitivity was an application of comedy as it related to the life of a woman of color that I had never seen before in quite this way. What it means when someone really gets you has long been relegated to comedies like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” where the New York locations we natives are familiar with all feature prominently but our faces are for the most part are non-existent.
As producer, writer and director of “Misadventures of and Awkward Black Girl” Issae took it upon herself to fill a void in the white washed world of comedy and tell a story she had never seen told on network television. This web series was very much a do it yourself collaborative effort by a group of people who dedicated themselves to very involved and detailed shooting schedules while still working day jobs themselves. Thanks to the overwhelming response of viewers, followers and fans of the series, Issa has been able to finance entire seasons in response to the demand for more. Which reminds me I really need to catch up!
Since the success of this web series Issa has written a book, developed other youtube webisodes and also signed a deal with HBO to release a new show called “Insecure.”
I can’t wait to see where Issa’s adventures on a major network take her next.
I’ve had some very interesting conversations with women of color since we created the SOUL Sistah Series page and promotional commercial for the first in the series of discussions on March 29th.
One woman whom I had asked to interview for our promo commercial declined on the grounds of personal loathing for the label “Black woman.” She was born on the continent of Africa and has a very different relationship to race than that of Blacks born in America. She said that she had experienced hatred and been ostracized by Black Women because of this. While I understood her reason for declining, I also understood why Black Women born in America would find her position offensive. I was probably one of those women not too long ago before I read Chimimanda Adichie. And to be honest I still felt a sting hearing the sentiment of not wanting to be identified as “Black.” So in a way I still feel that resentment a little but like I said, after reading “Americanah” I have way more insight into the experience of people of color not born in America and their difficulty with relating to our experience here. Being raised as the daughter of a Trini-born mother helps with that as well.
The other most recent conversation was one I had at work yesterday afternoon with a co-worker who did participate in the promo commercial. It started when she shared a bad experience she had on her previous job at a Black owned and run educational organization which lead to the sharing of bad experiences we both have had at other Black run establishments in Harlem that we regretted because we wanted so much to have the opposite experience.
Both of these conversations lead me to think about the roles these negative experiences play in what we as women of color believe about what is possible for us to achieve together, with one another and for one another. It’s like the old “Black women can’t get along” stigma. It exists to divide us before we even seek to reach out to one another. And it’s not true.
Which lead to this podcast.
Daughter of legendary diva, Diana Ross, Tracee Ellis Ross is best known for a her role as the controlling but loving and supportive, Joan Clayton in the hit comedy, “Girlfriends” and now as the hilarious mother and wife, Rainbow Johnson on the hit comedy “Black-ish.”
I won’t lie. Although I was super excited for the premiere of “Black-ish,” I wasn’t taken with the modern Black family comedy right off the bat. But my husband never misses it and since I love spending quality time with him, I now watch it every week. And I have to say, I really love it. It’s smart, funny, fresh, bold, a perfect vehicle for Tracee’s quirky brand of humor. One of my favorite Tracee moments so far is the one where she goes off on her husband’s mother, played to perfection by the great Jenifer Lewis for changing her daughters hair. Nobody performs a melt down on camera as hilariously as Tracee and she manages to turn the situation into a teachable moment about tolerance and boundaries at the same time. I love it when a woman known for beauty and style is just as comfortable being apart of and creating moments where looking ridiculous and silly are required. I don’t know how I would get through life without the ability to laugh at myself and make others laugh as well.
Tracee is the creator and moderator of her very own website, traceeellisross.com where she does commentary on everything from style, beauty, rap lyrics (She’s obsessed with T-Murda), her deep love of bowls and oh yeah, her bodacious booty. She is also a huge supporter of organizations like Black Girls Rock that promote acceptance and self love among women of color and uses her own unique brand of infectious humor, honesty and self acceptance to inspire and motivate. She is a true renaissance woman; outspoken, eclectic, mutli-faceted, and seriously funny.
“In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can’t take positions that are closed. Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book — leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity”
The first book I read by Toni Morrison was assigned in high school. It was “The Bluest Eye.” In my senior year I signed up for a class dedicated to understanding Toni Morrison’s work. We read “Sula,” “Jazz” and “Tar Baby” a book I was obsessed with understanding for a period of time and which is still one of my favorite of her novels that I’ve read. “Tar Baby” is a broad, unfurling narrative, sprawling and unwinding from the shores of a Caribbean island haunted by the slaves who washed up there to the streets of New York and back again. Point of view shifts across race, gender and even plant species as Morrison incorporates even the island flora as minor characters and witnesses to the history and lives of it’s inhabitants and visitors.
Morrison’s literary voice is among the richest, most inventive, unique and celebrated among her peers. A single mother, award-winning author, editor and professor, Morrison has created Black female literary characters who are as complex, intuitive and supernatural as they are resilient, determined and conflicted. In their development these characters speak to a myriad of epic themes, which are often defined in large part by the post traumatic effects of slavery and systemic racism and sexism in America.
Morrison’s refusal to be pegged by critics as any one type of writer is a testament to her desire as a artist to be embraced for all parts of her multidimensional talent. On the page she spreads her literary wings and soars beyond the boundaries of monolithic chains and in doing so is an example to women of color everywhere to accept nothing less than the capacity to express all that we are.
Ava DuVernay’s handle on her IG account is Directher, simply, powerfully and concisely telling you who she is by transforming a term that is dominated by white male directors to tell the story of a black female film director. And in so many ways Ava has directed not only her own films but also the trajectory of her life through her passion as well as directing our attention to her phenomenal talent.
I first learned about Ava DuVernay through a good friend of hers who is also a dear friend of mine. CeCelia Falls who shares my deep and sometimes fanatic love of film invited me to the AFFRM (African Film Festival Releasing Movement) film festival for the first time in 2010 to see the debut of Ava’s film “I Will Follow.” I loved everything about it, the story, her direction, lighting, editing, score choice, the fact that it was an all black and predominantly female cast. I even wrote a review of it back when I had a film review blog on blogger.com. I wanted to promote the film as much as possible and put the full weight of my own support as a writer and movie goer behind it.
Since then she has gone on to direct and produce films, such as “Middle of Nowhere,” “Say Yes” an episode of “Scandal,” the fashion film “The Door” and her latest “Selma” an epic biopic about Martin Luther King Jr. and the formidable pioneers who were integral to his fight to represent and gain civil rights in the early post integration era of the South. I actually just saw the film myself last weekend and am certain I will never watch another Oscars ever again until they nominate at least three black black films in the same year. Fact.
Ava’s mastery of visual language, story-line, pacing and richness of character exhibit a breadth of experience that paints the experiences of women of color with broad, nuanced strokes that depict our depth and complexities with pride, reverence, honesty and care.