Oprah to Produce Ava DuVernay’s Voting Rights Film ‘Selma’

Oprah to Produce Ava DuVernay's Voting Rights Film 'Selma'

The race to finish a Martin Luther King Jr. film project is on. This week Jamie Foxx announced that he was teaming up with Oliver Stone to work on a film based on the slain Civil Rights leader’s life, and now Oprah has announced that she’s signed on to produce Ava DuVernay’s upcoming feature film, “Selma,” which is based on the 1965 Voting Rights campaign.

DuVernay took over directing duties from Lee Daniels, who faced numerous challenges in financing the project. 

Oprah joins a number of big-name producers for the project, including Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Christian Colson, who won an Oscar for producing “Slumdog Millionaire.”

(h/t Shadow and Act)

Uh Oh: Bill Cosby to Star in Another NBC Family Comedy

Uh Oh: Bill Cosby to Star in Another NBC Family Comedy

Thirty years after his the debut of his groundbreaking sitcom “The Cosby Show,” Bill Cosby is reportedly heading back to NBC to star in another family comedy. The new show will feature Cosby as the patriarch of a multigenerational family and feature his take on marriage and child-rearing — two topics that have put the comedian in the hot seat in recent years, according to Deadline.

While “The Cosby Show” is remembered fondly by most audiences, Cosby himself has stirred up controversey by repeatedly chiding black parents and their children. Back in 2008, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote at The Atlantic about the audacity of Cosby’s black conservatisim:

As Cosby sees it, the antidote to racism is not rallies, protests, or pleas, but strong families and communities. Instead of focusing on some abstract notion of equality, he argues, blacks need to cleanse their culture, embrace personal responsibility, and reclaim the traditions that fortified them in the past. Driving Cosby’s tough talk about values and responsibility is a vision starkly different from Martin Luther King’s gauzy, all-inclusive dream: it’s an America of competing powers, and a black America that is no longer content to be the weakest of the lot.

Alyssa Rosenberg argues over at Think Progress that casting Cosby, at 76, shows just how few opportunities there are for younger black actors in Hollywood:

…the idea that there’s no one new left to be discovered and made successful has a particular sting to it when it comes to Cosby. Because the number of black male characters on television are so limited, and even more so black men who have families, bringing Cosby underscores a depressing self-fulfilling assumption in Hollywood: that there are only a very small number of black actors that audiences will resonate to.

No word yet on when the series will air on NBC.

TAGS: Bill Cosby NBC

Grand Jury Fails to Indict Cop Who Shot Jonathan Ferrell

For now at least, we won’t be seeing any justice for Jonathan Ferrell, the former Florida A&M football player who was shot 10 times and killed by a white police officer last year while seeking help after a car accident. On Tuesday grand jurors in Mecklenburg County, N.C., said they lacked enough evidence to indict the officer, Randall Kerrick, for voluntary manslaughter, NBC News reports.

The case isn’t over. Grand jurors suggested the prosecutors refile with lesser charges. Prosecutors said they would refile immediately because all of the grand jurors weren’t present for the decision, although it’s unclear whether they will stick to their original charge of voluntary manslaughter. 

Ferrell was shot to death last September after he crashed his car and sought help at a house nearby. His family has filed a wrongful death suit. 


Michigan GOP Official: ‘Herd All the Indians’

Michigan GOP Official: 'Herd All the Indians'

Oakland County, Mich., Executive L. Brooks Patterson has long bashed the city of Detroit—located in neighboring Wayne County. But in a new article in The New Yorker, the GOP official goes on the record making his disdain for Detroit as obvious as his racism against Natives: 

“I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and the corn.’”

Patterson now claims that the article’s author, Paige Williams, essentially coerced him into making this statement by bringing up similar statements he made three decades ago. He also made several racially coded statements about Detroit’s black population, and there are now calls for Patterson to apologize.

Michigan, whose name derives from an Ojibwa word meaning “large lake,” is already home to 11 federally recognized Native tribes and nations. Among them, the Bay Mills Indian Community is currently party to a Supreme Court case that may result in placing critical limits on tribal sovereignty. 

How Well Does News Media Cover Race? [Report]

How Well Does News Media Cover Race? [Report]

If you’re a regular visitor to this site, chances are you feel that mainstream media typically do a poor job covering the depth and complexities of contemporary racism in the United States. You’ve probably noticed how media focus on whether or not Paula Deen or some other celebrity or public figure is intentionally racist, rather than on the institutional and structural root causes of the racial disparities that continue plague our society.

Well, as Jay Smooth tells you in attached video, you can quantify that intuition with a new report, “Moving the Race Conversation Forward.” The report comes from the researchers at Race Forward, publisher of Colorlines, who analyzed nearly 1,200 newspaper articles and transcripts from cable TV outlets  from 2013, and found that two thirds of race-focused coverage either emphasized alleged individual racism or prioritized voices that dismissed the persistence of racism as a significant force in our country today.

The report refers to this kind of coverage as “systemically absent” content, in contrast to “systemically aware” content that at least highlights policies and practices such as racial profiling or voter suppression that lead to racial disparities. As the latter term is defined, the media didn’t have to explicitly use terms like “institutional racism,” “structural racism” or “systemic racism” to be classified as “systemically aware,” but even with this low bar, the performance was poor.

The image below shows you the variations in the extent of “systemically aware” content across the most popular topics covered last year. Race-focused coverage (i.e., articles and transcripts that used the words “racism,” “racist,” “racial,” or “diversity” in the opening paragraphs) on the economy and criminal justice cracked just above the 50 percent mark for “systemically aware” content, but more than 90 percent of entertainment-focused articles were “systemically absent.” A close look at the column at right reveals that the most popular race-focused topics were politics, criminal justice, entertainment, race relations/identity, and sports. Together they accounted for about three-quarters of all racism coverage last year. Part One of the report identifies the extent of “systemically aware” content in most of the highest circulation newspapers in the country and the three major cable outlets. And in part two, Race Forward provides case studies of recent racial justice interventions designed to disrupt the dominant frames and narratives that negatively impact people of color. For more, check out the report on





Low-Wage Federal Workers Walk Off Job Today

Low-Wage Federal Workers Walk Off Job Today

This morning, food servers and janitorial workers walked off their jobs at the Pentagon and other federal buildings in the District of Columbia. According to a press release from Good Jobs Nation, “a new organization of low-wage workers employed by government contractors,” they are demanding that President Obama sign an executive order requiring companies contracting with the federal government to pay a living wage.

The federal government, according to a December 2012 Reuters investigation of federal contracting, “is one of the most potent factors driving income inequality in the United States - especially in the nation’s capital.” The remarkable three-part series, which looks at how government exacerbates inequality nationwide, not just in capital, says, “The top 5 percent of households in Washington, D.C., made more than $500,000 on average [in 2011], while the bottom 20 percent earned less than $9,500 - a ratio of 54 to 1.”

It’s not yet known the number of workers who’ve walked off their jobs* at five federal buildings, including the Pentagon for the first time.

Obama’s State of the Union address is next Tuesday, January 28. What do you hope he’ll say about income inequality?

UPDATE 2:11pm ET: Despite the sub-zero wind chills, organizer Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of Change to Win, estimates that more than 120 workers at five facilities participated in this morning’s walkout. About 40 workers walked out for the first time at the Pentagon.

Proposed $15 Los Angeles Hotel Worker Minimum Wage Would Be Boon to City’s Latinas

Proposed $15 Los Angeles Hotel Worker Minimum Wage Would Be Boon to City's Latinas

Los Angeles is gearing up for a proposed $15 an hour minimum wage fight, and Jorge Rivas at Fusion reports that the new campaign could mean big things for Los Angeles hotel industry’s predominantly Latina workforce. An estimated 80 to 85 percent of the industry’s workers are Latinas, Fusion reported. As it is, one in four Latinas in the U.S. live in poverty (PDF), a figure much higher than the 15 percent national poverty rate.

Check out the Fusion infographic in its entirety here.

Phila. Teen Claims Stop-And-Frisk Led to Injured Genitals

Phila. Teen Claims Stop-And-Frisk Led to Injured Genitals

Philadelphia police are looking into claims made by 16-year-old Darrin Manning that a patdown during a stop-and-frisk may have injured his genitals and, left him sterile. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia police have launched an internal investigation.

In early January, Manning, a sophomore at Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, was leaving the subway with a group of friends. They were heading to play at a high school basketball game when, street cameras show, police officers confronted the group. The specific reason for the stop has not yet been reported. During the encounter, however, Manning alleges that a female officer squeezed his genitals so hard it ruptured his testicle. He tells FOX 29 news:

“She patted me down again, and then I felt her reach, and she grabbed my butt. And then she grabbed and squeezed again and pulled down. And that’s when I heard something pop, like I felt it pop.”

Manning’s principal, Veronica Joyner had given hats and scarves to the group of teenagers 15 minutes before to ward off the January chill. She believes that Manning, who received emergency surgery on the night following his arrest, was sexually assaulted.

The police, according to FOX 29, say that Manning never complained of injuries during eight hours spent in custody. He still faces three misdemeanor charges: reckless endangerment of another person, simple assault, and resisting arrest. 

‘The Boondocks’ Season 4 Has an Official Air Date

'The Boondocks' Season 4 Has an Official Air Date

Huey Freeman  and company are back for a fourth season of Aaron McGruder’s hit comic-turned-cartoon “The Boondocks.” The show will air on April 21 at 10:30pm on Adult Swim. Whoop!

TAGS: Boondocks TV

Forget LeBron James and Michael Jordan, Meet Air FLOTUS

Forget LeBron James and Michael Jordan, Meet Air FLOTUS

The NBA’s Miami Heat are known for two things this season: having stellar squard of All Stars and future Hall of Famers, and video bombing one another’s video interviews. The team kept up the act on a recent visit to the White House, and Michelle Obama even got in on the action. 

Richard Sherman’s Blackness Will Take Center Stage at This Year’s Super Bowl

Richard Sherman's Blackness Will Take Center Stage at This Year's Super Bowl

There are apparently many racist white people on Twitter who would love to see a “classy,” “measured” (read: white) Denver Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning teach Seattle Seawhawks Cornerback Richard Sherman a lesson or two in civility because his blackness is getting in the way.

Sherman is now the hottest name in sports, and all the attention has very little to do with how he performed on the field. The Seattle Seahawks cornerback made a game-saving play during Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers and then gave an emotional post-game interview in which he does a bit of dramatic trash-talking that’s been widely mocked with racist invective ever since. But the ensuing drama has put racism in American sports on center stage just in time for this year’s Super Bowl.

For some background: Deadspin rounded up some of the worst of the worst after Sunday’s game (Greg Howard’s piece on the “Plight of the Conquering Negro” is also a must-read). After Sunday’s interview, Twitter’s racist trolls came out in full force and called Sherman pretty much every anti-black slur imaginable, including a”typical nigger,” “ape” and “gorilla.” One user even went as far as to write, “Someone needs to introduce Richard Sherman to George Zimmerman.#ThugLifeOver.”

Sherman later issued an apology for verbally attacking opposing player Michael Crabtree, but also used his statement to speak out against the racist verbal attacks that had come his way. 

“To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field — don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines,” Sherman wrote in the column posted on “Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.

“But people find it easy to take shots on Twitter, and to use racial slurs and bullying language far worse than what you’ll see from me. It’s sad and somewhat unbelievable to me that the world is still this way, but it is. I can handle it.”

More important background: Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates offered up some of Sherman’s biography — including a degree from Stanford — and wrote about the danger of using Sherman’s moment of individual braggadocio as somehow representative of black people everywhere:

And then there is the racism from onlookers, who are incapable of perceiving in Sherman an individual, and instead see the sum of all American fears—monkey, thug, terrorist, nigger. And then there is us, ashamed at our own nakedness, at our humanity. Racism is a kind of fatalism, so seductive, that enthralls even it’s victims. But we will not get out of this by being on our best behavior—sometimes it has taken our worse. There’s never been a single thing wrong with black people, that the total destruction of white supremacy would not fix. 

Manning, meanwhile, has long epitomized the so-called “good ole’ days” of buttoned-up, Southern-bred white quarterbacks. As Dave Zirin wrote over at The Nation:

Richard Sherman is consciously an archetype that has been branded a threat as long as African-Americans have played sports: the loud, deeply intelligent black guy who uses this outsized cultural platform to be as bombastic as he wants to be. Whether the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson or Richard Sherman, they tend to be painted with only one dimension, which makes it easier for them to be denigrated and demonized. 

Stay tuned to see how this plays out over the next two weeks.

Watch Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) Perform a Live Set of New Songs

Watch Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) Perform a Live Set of New Songs

Get your weekend started off on the right foot with an live stream (read: free) of Yasiin Bey’s performance of new material. The “show” starts at 5:30pm EST. Here’s the description that’s on YouTube:

Internationally acclaimed artist Yasiin Bey is set to perform a set of all new exclusive material Live From Africa, capturing this experience from one of the many breathtaking locations on the continent (to be disclosed at the end of the performance)— streaming worldwide in real time, this Friday on January 17th at 12:30 AM (CAT)/17:30 PM (EST).

Presented by the newly formed, Bey-helmed arts collective A COUNTRY CALLED EARTH, this performance will commemorate the birth-date of one of the world’s greatest personalities, Mohammed Ali. This is the inaugural episode for a series of live stream events taking place in Africa, entitled “The Time is Always Now.” Stay tuned for further details.

Appeals Court Rules 7,000 New Orleans Teachers Unfairly Laid off Post-Katrina

Appeals Court Rules 7,000 New Orleans Teachers Unfairly Laid off Post-Katrina

New Orleans teachers who lost their jobs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina were wrongfully terminated and deserve two to three years of back pay, an appeals court ruled on Thursdsay. The ruling affects more than 7,000 teachers who were fired and comes after years of legal wrangling, The Times-Picayune reported.

Katrina catalyzed the ground-up remaking of the New Orleans public school system, of which the mass layoffs of thousands of teachers was just one part. The layoffs also destabilized neighborhoods. 

From The Times-Picayune:

Beyond the individual employees who were put out, the mass layoff has been a lingering source of pain for those who say school system jobs were an important component in maintaining the city’s black middle class. New Orleans’ teaching force has changed noticeably since then. More young, white teachers have come from outside through groups such as Teach for America. And charter school operators often offer private retirement plans instead of the state pension fund, which can discourage veteran teachers who have years invested in the state plan.

Though many schools have made a conscious effort to hire pre-Katrina teachers and New Orleans natives, eight years later, people still come to public meetings charging that outside teachers don’t understand the local students’ culture.

Read the rest at the Times-Picayune.

Pennsylvania Voter ID Ruled ‘Unnecessarily’ Burdensome, Unconstitutional

Pennsylvania Voter ID Ruled 'Unnecessarily' Burdensome, Unconstitutional

Pennsylvania Judge Bernard McGinley ruled today that the voter ID law passed in 2012 was a violation of the state’s constitutional protections of the right to vote. Judge McGinley found that the burdens imposed on voters who lacked the documents to obtain a photo ID if they didn’t have one, or lacked access to state offices that supplied IDs were too heavy and could lead to massive disenfranchisement. From the judge’s ruling:

“The burdens the Voter ID Law entails are unnecessary and not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest. And the record is rife with testimony from numerous Pennsylvania voters whose right to vote will be — and indeed already has been — denied or substantially and unnecessarily burdened by the Voter ID law.”

The state court agreed that hundreds of thousands of voters would suffer disenfranchisement because of a number of restrictions and obstacles imposed by the state on those seeking photo ID to vote. Lawyers from ACLU, Advancement Project and other legal organizations presented dozens of witnesses who testified to how difficult it was for them to get ID, many of them denied.

The judge also found the state’s voter education campaign — mandated by another court for the state to produce billboards, brochures and other ads about the voter ID law to make sure all were aware of it — to be confusing and ineffective. 

This case has ping-ponged from court to court on appeals, starting with a ruling in August of 2012 denying a temporary halt on the law that civil rights attorneys requested so that it would not be in effect for the November presidential elections. The state’s supreme court later told the judge to revisit that decision, though, and to grant the halt if he couldn’t guarantee that no one would be disenfranchised. Unable to make that assurance, the judge blocked the law for the November elections, but with the confusing requirement that poll workers could ask voters for photo ID, though voters didn’t have to show it. And, in fact, voters were confused on Election Day. 

Today’s ruling is based on last year’s trial asking for a permanent block of the law, on the grounds that it was both too restrictive and violated constitutional equal protection rights for people of color. Curiously, Judge McGinley found that the voter ID law did not discriminate based on race, despite evidence provided that the law would unfairly disadvantage thousands of voters of color and Puerto Ricans in particular. The state government may appeal this decision back to the state supreme court, but there’s one wrinkle: Pennsylvania has a new attorney general, Kathleen Kane, a Democrat who is less sympathetic to the state’s hopes to preserve the law than her conservative predecessor Linda Kelly, who was attorney general when this case first went to court. 

On a press call earlier today, Ben Geffen of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia said he hoped that instead of spending more taxpayer dollars on an appeal, the state would put that money toward better voter education and registration efforts. 

“The only fraud uncovered in this case is the ID law itself, which is exposed as a voter suppression tool adopted to game elections,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Fast Food Worker Naquasia LeGrand Wows on Colbert

Fast Food Worker Naquasia LeGrand Wows on Colbert

Fast-food worker and organizer Naquasia LeGrand took on host Stephen Colbert last night and came out like a champ. “I have never spoken to someone in your industry without yelling the phrase, How long does it take to fry something, where’s my order?” Colbert says, perhaps speaking for many currently debating whether LeGrand should earn $15 an hour. That new minimum wage—and the right to organize without retaliation—is what she’s fighting for along with hundreds of other fast-food workers across the country.

LeGrand, who works for a New York City-based KFC, currently earns $8 an hour and works a 15-hour shift. It’s impossible to take on a second part-time job, she says, because managers don’t give workers set schedules.

(h/t The Colbert Report)

National Bill Would Make College More Affordable for Undocumented Students

National Bill Would Make College More Affordable for Undocumented Students

On Thursday, congressional lawmakers kicked off a new effort to help make college more affordable for undocumented students. Proposed by Washington Sen. Patty Muray and Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, the Investing in Students to Achieve Tuition Equity (IN-STATE) for DREAMers Bill would create a $750 million grant program to be handed out over a decade in the form of need-based financial aid to states which currenly provide in-state tuition and financial aid eligibility to undocumented students. According to the lawmakers’ estimates, 1.8 million undocumented students could be helped by the bill. The grant program would be paid for by increasing F-1 student visa fees $150 to $350, the Huffington Post reported. 

Currently, 19 states offer in-state tuition to undocumented students, but many fewer—just Texas, California and New Mexico—allow undocumented students to apply for state financial aid. 

Polis and Murray wrote in an op-ed for The Hill:

Over the last decade, the cost of a college degree has skyrocketed, and average annual costs at public colleges and universities have increased by more than 100 percent.  The American Dream Grants established by our legislation would supplement existing state financial aid funding for all students and help ensure that states continue to invest in their higher education systems and pass along cost savings to students.

In addition to the difference that affordable tuition makes for students, we’ve already seen that states benefit from equitable tuition policies, too.  By allowing all qualified students to access higher education, states can invest in thousands of additional students every year who are able to pursue their dreams, start a career, and contribute to their local economies.

Because undocumented students are considered out-of-state residents—even in the states where they reside and may have spent the entirety of their childhood—they are forced to pay out-of-state tuition which is two and sometimes three times the in-state tuition price. What’s more, undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid, and unless states proactively extend tuition equity to undocumented students, college can become prohibitively expensive.

Willow and Jaden Smith Team Up For a New Song

Willow and Jaden Smith Team Up For a New Song

Looks like Willow Smith isn’t quite satisfied with being an ordinary kid. She teamed up with big brother Jaden for a new track called “5” produced by Ta-Ku. And while the content may seem a little bit too mature for a 13-year-old, all-in-all, it’s pretty good. Check it out.

(h/t Afropunk)

Watch Lupita Nyong’o Emotional Critics’ Choice Awards Speech

Watch Lupita Nyong'o Emotional Critics' Choice Awards Speech

Sure, she might have been snubbed at the Golden Globes, but Hollywood’s new “it” girl got a big dose of industry recognition at last night’s Critics’ Choice Awards, where she took home the award for best supporting actress. But beware with this video: It’ll have you in tears, too.

(h/t Vulture)

You Probably Won’t Like The Gap’s ‘MLK Event’

You Probably Won't Like The Gap's 'MLK Event'

Monday is a federal holiday that observes the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Accepting the holiday proved difficult with some politicians and some states—so much so that organizers launched a boycott against the state of Arizona, and inspired Public Enemy’s By The Time I Get to Arizona. Today, however, MLK Day is observed without protest. Some people treat it as a day off, while others take time to remember the struggle for racial justice. I personally don’t let the day go by without reading King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Some retailers use the holiday, however, to hold sales. Offering discounts on clothing on that holiday may prove offensive enough for some people—but The Gap is promoting what it calls an “MLK Event.” The company’s website and emails to its potential customers do not include one mention of the civil rights movement, racial justice, or King himself—but do feature several white women, who are promoting 50 percent off 500 styles from The Gap. 

Are you going out shopping on Monday? Why or why not? 

Colin Kaepernick Wears 13-Year-Old Designer’s Fashion Line

Colin Kaepernick Wears 13-Year-Old Designer's Fashion Line

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been getting a lot of attention this post-season for his unique fashion sense. The 26-year-old biracial quarterback isn’t a button-up kinda of guy, and his outfits reflect that: snapbacks, sneakers, hoodies, not to mention the tattoos. After San Francisco beat the Carolina Panthers in last week’s divisional playoff game, Kaepernick made it clear that he’s not afraid to take chances in fashion when he wore a vest designed by 13-year-old Jeremiah Jones, who lives in Long Beach, California.

From The Post Game:

Jones was watching the 49ers game with family Sunday when his sister noticed Kaepernick wearing one of Jones’ signature vests at his postgame press conference. They rewinded the TV and sure enough, Kaepernick had on the JY Collection Vest.

Upon seeing his vest on his favorite player, Jeremiah called his father and business partner, Ed.

“He just started screaming,” Jeremiah says of his father’s reaction. “I was speechless at that point.”

Although he’s only 13, Jones surprisingly isn’t exactly a rookie when it comes to his own line. He’s got 27,000 followers on Twitter, a website, and counts his father as his business partner. They sent Kaepernick a birthday package last November that included a red vest and a Postive Achiever Award, something Jones usually gives out to classmates who make the honor roll or have perfect class attendence. He didn’t hear back from Kaepernick, but got the biggest endorsement of his life when he tuned in to watch last weekend’s post-game press conference and saw Kaepernick sporting his red vest.

“I just want to thank him for wearing my brand,” Jeremiah later told the media. “There’s not too many 13-year-olds out there that can say Colin Kaepernick wore their brand.”

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