Documentary in the Works for America’s First Muslim Frat

Documentary in the Works for America's First Muslim Frat

America’s first Muslim-American fraternity is hitting the big screen. Alif Laam Meem, also known as Alpha Lambda Mu or simply ALM, has ridden a wave of national media attention to since its founding in 2013. Now, filmmakers Dylan Hollingsworth and Wheeler Sparks are out to make a documentary that they say will “explore the Muslim American identity, as well as the challenges of living by faith in a secular society.”

The film is tentatively titled “Brotherhood: America’s Favorite Muslim Fraternity” and set to be released in 2015.

(Huffington Post)

Star Wars Fans, Get Ready: Lupita Nyong’o Cast in Episode VII

Star Wars Fans, Get Ready: Lupita Nyong'o Cast in Episode VII

Just in case you didn’t already love Lupita Nyong’o, she’s decided to join the cast of “Star Wars Episode VII.”

The new film is being directed by J.J. Abrams and is scheduled to be released December of 2015.

(Star Wars)

Yuri Kochiyama’s Activism ‘Sustained By People in the Movement’

Yuri Kochiyama's Activism 'Sustained By People in the Movement' Play

Pioneering Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama passed away on Sunday night. She was 93 years old. For some, she’s known as the woman who cradled Malcolm X as he lay dying on stage at the Audubon Ballroom in 1965 (“I just picked up his head and put it in my lap,” she recounted in a 2008 interview with Democracy Now! “I said, “Please, Malcolm! Please, Malcolm! Stay alive!”). But even that iconic image of her doesn’t do enough to capture the life she spent dedicated to social activism.

Kochiyama’s journey began with her family’s internment during World War II and wound its way through the Black Power and Black Arts Movements of the 1970s. She was instrumental in helping Japanese-Americans win reparations for their internment, and spent the last years of her life inspiring countless young activists.

“Most people make life; some people make history,” her biographer Diane Fujino told the San Francsico Chronicle in 2005 ahead of the release of “Yuri Kochiyama, Heartbeat of Struggle.” “Yuri organized her life around making history. I think of her as a very ordinary person, who’s done extraordinary things.”

She embodied the multiracial spirit of racial justice, and while there are plenty of tributes — like this song from Seattle-based hip-hop group Blue Scholars, or this heartfelt essay from Kochiyama’s granddaughter, Maya, or actress Sandra Oh’s performance of her speech on her internment — what’s most instructive is to listen to what she had to say about her own life. 

In 1996, Kochiyama sat down with Angela Davis to talk about activism. They picked the conversation up again 12 years later.  The documentary film, “Mountains That Take Wing” by C.A. Griffith & H.L.T. Quan, is long (more than 90 minutes) and not the best quality, but it documents how Kochiyama approached her life’s work. When asked by Davis what helped sustain her decades of activism, Kochiyama responded, “People in the movement sustain each other. It’s because their spirit is so contagious.”

Yes, Maya Angelou Was a Sex Worker

Yes, Maya Angelou Was a Sex Worker

Over at Tits and Sass, Peechington Marie wonders why Maya Angelou’s life as a sex worker in her younger years is such a closely guarded secret. The answer: respectability politics.

First, it’s important to note that Dr. Angelou wasn’t ashamed of her sex work. In fact, she said the following:

I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, “I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? - never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.” They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, “Damn I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.” They can’t forgive themselves and go on with their lives. So I wrote the book Gather Together in My Name [about her past as a sex worker]

So why isn’t that part of the story that’s being told in the wake of her passing? Marie writes:

It comes to this: there is no way, in the minds of most people, to have worked as a prostitute and not be ashamed of it. Most people believe there is no way to have held this job (and it is a job), move onto other things, and not consider it a “seamy life” or “shameful secret.” To most people, there is no way a woman of Maya Angelou’s caliber could ever have performed as a sex worker. The idea just won’t gel for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the truth. Maya Angelou: Poet Laureate, Pulitzer nominee, Tony Award winner, best selling author, poetess, winner of more than 50 honorary degrees, mother, sister, daughter, wife, National Medal of Arts winner, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, consummate and powerful woman, artist, and former sex worker. Yes, the woman you love, the woman we all love, the incomparable Dr. Maya Angelou was a sex worker and she proved, in her life and her stories, that there’s nothing wrong with it.

Read more over at Tits and Sass.

Lupita Nyong’o Options Film Rights to ‘Americanah’

Lupita Nyong'o Options Film Rights to 'Americanah'

Get ready for your world to explode: Hollywood darling Lupita Nyong’o has just optioned the film rights to Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s bestselling novel “Americanah.”

The announcement isn’t a surprise. Earlier this year, Adichie hinted in an interview that Nyong’o loved the book and was interested in some sort of collaboration. “Lupita was a very early fan of Americanah,” Adichie told Arise Entertainment 360. “And so before she was sort of well-known in the way that she is now, she wrote me … the loveliest email, a very long and passionate email about Americanah.”

Now it’s official. Adichie confirmed the deal this week during an audience Q&A at Slylist Magazine’s book club event at the Waldorf in London.

“Americanah” tells the story of a Nigerian blogger who spends her young adulthood in the United States trying to navigate dating and race in America. It won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction and was shortlisted for the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Jezebel via The Root

Pharrell Apparently Doesn’t Know That Men Can Be Feminists, Too

Pharrell Apparently Doesn't Know That Men Can Be Feminists, Too Play

Pitchfork recounts Pharrell’s awkward interview with BBC’s Channel 4 News, in which the singer stops short of calling himself a feminist:

“I’ve been asked if I’m a feminist. I don’t think it’s possible for me to be that. I’m a man. I mean… it makes sense up until a certain point, you know?”

To be fair, there’s been some controversey over men calling themselves feminists. But feminism is a movement to end sexist exploitation, not just a title. Feminist writer bell hooks wrote a whole book called “Feminism is for Everybody.” Worth a read. 

LeVar Burton Raises More Than $1.7 Million to Bring Back ‘Reading Rainbow’

LeVar Burton Raises More Than $1.7 Million to Bring Back 'Reading Rainbow' Play

LeVar Burton, the actor and longtime host of the beloved children’s edutainment show “Reading Rainbow,” is on a mission to bring the show back for new audiences. Burton has launched a Kickstarter campaign to take the show’s library online, and he’s raised more than $1.7 million (and counting) online in less than 24 hours. It’s incredible. And if that wasn’t enough, the campaign’s got an infographic that details the problem of childhood illiteracy in the U.S.:


Laverne Cox Makes History on the Cover of TIME

Laverne Cox Makes History on the Cover of TIME

“Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox is on the cover of TIME, along with a cover story by Katie Steinmetz titled, “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” The story itself is behind a paywall, but a video and interview are available for free online. Here’s an excerpt:

Where is America when it comes to the acceptance of trans people?

We are in a place now where more and more trans people want to come forward and say ‘This is who I am.’ And more trans people are willing to tell their stories. More of us are living visibly and pursuing our dreams visibly, so people can say, ‘Oh yeah, I know someone who is trans.’ When people have points of reference that are humanizing, that demystifies difference. Social media has been a huge part of it and the Internet has been a huge part of it, where we’re able to have a voice in a way that we haven’t been able to before. We’re being able to write our stories and we’re being able to talk back to the media … We are the reason. And we are setting the agenda in a different way.

Read more over at TIME. Janet Mock, author of the bestselling memoir “Redefining Realness”, wrote on Tumblr about how big of a deal this is for transgender communities. “Such a major media moment for a trans woman of color to be visible and vocal in this way, helping spark multiple conversations about identity, about the intersection of race, class, gender and so much more.”


Mia McKenzie: Writing Feels Exceptional

Mia McKenzie: Writing Feels Exceptional

Throughout June, I’ll be chatting with queer and trans artists of color about their work and their inspirations. Some are well known, others aren’t. But they’ve all got something to say about how the path toward liberation starts in the creative mind. 

For Mia McKenzie, Black Girl Dangerous is both a political and a creative starting point. The website Mckenzie founded and leads as editor-in-chief is a collection of LGBT voices of color that go against the grain. They’re proudly fat, resiliently disabled and politically unbowed. And they’ve cultivated an online space for queer and trans folks of color to write, and exist, uncensored. 

McKenzie, as founder, is at the center of that space. But BGD, as she calls it, is just one of her creative outlets. The Philly-born Bay Area resident is also an award-winning fiction writer whose debut novel “The Summer We Got Free” won a 2013 Lambda Literary Award. Below, she talks about the centrality of writing in her life, and how she’s learned to manage her quirks to get things done.

When did you start writing fiction?

I can’t remember exactly when I started writing, but I definitely did it when I was a really little girl. I remember my sisters and I would make newspapers and we would write our own stories and articles. I would write little stories when I was in elementary school, and that was probably when I was about 7. And then, in sixth grade, I remember my teacher was very focused on writing stories and binding our own little books, and that’s when I got really, really into it.

What motivated you to start writing about queer communities?

I write about what’s interesting to me, what I love, what’s in my world and what’s in my life. I write because I love reading. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a movie star [laughs]. And then I got stage fright when I was 13 and decided that a solitary writing life was for me. I think it comes from a love of character and a love of language, and a particular love for the stories of queer black people. I just love those stories, I’m so interested in them and am so deeply moved by them.

When I was younger writing stories, I felt that I was good at it and felt exceptional. Who doesn’t want to feel exceptional? Writing gave me that and it still gives me that. Once I got to college and was introduced to more women of color writers, by women of color teachers, I was able to really begin finding my own voice. That allowed me to start telling stories that really came deeply from me and my experience and the experiences of my people.

What’s the hardest thing about your craft?

Fiction writing is really hard. Writing a novel was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Just the sheer amount of work was unbelievable. It’s hard for me to describe it, but it’s so much work. The writing itself isn’t hard—the words, the characters, the ideas come to me pretty easily. But for me it’s really a matter of being disciplined about time, and that’s the hardest part.

It’s a constant struggle for me. My little ADD brain is all over the place all the time. The thing I’m learning about myself over the years is, I’m accepting that about myself. I’m not a person who’s going to be able to make a plan far out and follow it. I embrace my last minuteness. I know it’s going to get done. The stories want to come, they want to be told.

What makes you proud?

I’m really proud of my books: my novel, “The Summer We Got Free” and my Black Girl Dangerous anthology. I feel like together those two books represent years of my writing and I look at them and I see my life in them, I see my soul in them, I see my heart in them. I’m proud that I’ve written boldly—I hope—about a radical, black, queer experience in a way that’s had such an impact.

If you could talk with a queer icon from the past, who would it be? And why?

That’s a really hard question because I feel like there are so many amazing people, but I’m going to choose a trans icon named Marsha P. Johnson because, wow. Just to be around that kind, lovely energy and to be around someone who had so much love in her heart and so much courage. But also to hear her stories and get details that nobody knows, to laugh, cry and commiserate with someone who I admire so much because of her vulnerability as well as her strength. She’s someone who blazed a trail for me and all queer and trans people of color, really. We’re all indebted to her, whether we know it or not. Stonewall was a riot, not a parade, and she was right there fighting on the frontlines. We owe everything to her as a trans woman of color who fought that fight. 


This is How Maya Angelou Wants to be Remembered

This is How Maya Angelou Wants to be Remembered Play

Among all of the heartfelt eulogies that will surely pop up on the Internet to remember the extraordinary life of Dr. Maya Angelou, perhaps the most important words we can read are her own.

In an interview with Armstrong Williams that was posted to YouTube in 2008, Angelou said the following:

I think every year has been challenging. Every day challenges. Some of the challenges were more public than others. Some so private I couldn’t even mention them in public. Some having to do with health. Some having to do with prosperity. Some having to do with romantic love. Some having to do with my family. The same issues that face and beleaguer every human being in the world and still do, have beleaguered me and still do. So that the challenge for me to meet you this morning, to get up, defy gravity; to stand erect and to remain erect, and to be absolutely present with you so that everything I know I have here in this chair with me now.

I don’t know what you’re going to ask me, so I’m challenged to be as honest as possible, as courageous as possible, and as kind as possible, that’s what I’m challenged [to do].

I was challenged as a young girl; at 7-years-old I was raped, and I told the name of the rapist to my family. The man was put in jail for one day and one night and released. Three or four days later, he was found dead. The police informed my grandmother that the man was found dead and that it seemed he had been kicked to death. They said that in front of me. That traumatized me so that I stopped speaking. I thought my voice had killed the man. And I thought if I spoke, my voice might just go out and kill anybody, randomly, and I stopped speaking for six years. So I learned to read and I read every book I could find. And I memorized. The challenge, now — I was growing up in a little village in Arkansas about the size of this room — and the challenge for a black child not to speak was no small matter. Because black people believed [that you] speak when you’re spoken to, especially when I was growing up.

But my grandmother, who was a traditional Southern black lady, my grandmother said, ‘Sister, mama don’t care about what these people say about you must be a moron, or you must be an idiot ‘cause you can’t talk. Sister, mama don’t care. Mama know when you and the Good Lord get ready, you are going to be a teacher.’

…I’m strong. I have 55 doctorates. My last was from Columbia University. I teach all over the world. So, the pressure on me, the challenge on me, was always mitigated by love. That is to say it was softened by love because my grandmother loved me, my uncle loved me, and my brother loved me. I came through that. I have come through so many challenges because of love. 

And it’s with that love that Angelou created some of her most cherished work, including her iconic poem, “Phenomenal Woman.” Here she is reciting it on Oprah “Super Soul Sunday.”

Watch Georgia Anne Muldrow’s Time Lapse Visual for New Album

Watch Georgia Anne Muldrow's Time Lapse Visual for New Album Play

Georgia Anne Muldrow is getting ready to reintroduce herself to the world as an emcee with her new EP, “Ms. One.” The jazz and funk vocalist actually released a different album in 2009 under the same title, but this shorter version will feature her rapping most of the tracks. To get fans hyped about the project, Muldrow recently dropped a time lapse video of the project’s cover art featuring the track “Personal.”

Muldrow became the first woman signed to Los Angeles indie record label Stones Throw, whose roster once included Aloe Blacc and Mayor Hawthorne. And she comes from a musical family: her father is the late jazz guitarist Robert Muldrow and her mother, Rickie Byers-Beckwith, is the current musical director at Los Angeles’ Agape Spiritual Center. 

It’s nice to hear Muldrow doing more than singing the hooks these days. The project’s official release date hasn’t been released, but stay tuned. 

Film Adaptation of Edwidge Danticat’s ‘Caroline’s Wedding’ in Works

Film Adaptation of Edwidge Danticat's 'Caroline's Wedding' in Works Play

Edwidge Danticat has lent the rights to her short story “Caroline’s Wedding” to be adapted into a feature-length film. The project is currently in its developmental phase, and writer/director Easmanie Michel is trying to raise money on Kickstarter to get it started.

The story is the last piece in the author’s 1995 collection “Krik? Krak!” and focuses on the cross-generational conflicts that arise in a Haitian family when the narrator’s sister marries a non-Haitian man. 

This is the second time that there’s been talk of Danticat’s work hitting the big screen. A film adaptation of her novel “The Dew Breaker” was previously in the works with HBO, and talk had it that Danny Glover and Chiwetel Edjiofor were lined up for the project. But there’s been no update on that project in a while. 

Here’s Michel’s pitch on Kickstarter:

(Shadow and Act)

You Can Own a Pair of Brooks Brothers Chopsticks for $245

You Can Own a Pair of Brooks Brothers Chopsticks for $245

If you’re looking to waste some money, Angry Asian Man has the perfect suggestion:

Designed to grace the homes of connoisseurs, collectors and dumbasses, these chopsticks are 9½” long and accented with Brooks Brothers’ Golden Fleece® logo for an elegant finishing touch. For those who want to eat their noodles like an asshole. You can also get a matching chopstick holder for $105.

Yeah. That’s $122.50 per stick.


Chipotle Tries to Explain Why Its ‘Curated Thought’ Series Doesn’t Include Latino Authors

Chipotle Tries to Explain Why Its 'Curated Thought' Series Doesn't Include Latino Authors

Last week, Chipotle revealed its “Curated Thought” series, which will feature 10 well-known authors whose commissioned short stories will appear on the company’s bags and cups for customers’ reading pleasure. While the series includes well-known authors like Toni Morrison and Malcolm Gladwell, it doesn’t feature any Latino writers, a noticeable omission for a restaraunt that sells quasi-Mexican food.

Calling the initial campaign a “learning process,” company representatives say that they reached out to 40 authors - including a number of Latino writers - before narrowing down its “Cultivating Thought” series to 10 authors, including such celebrated scribes as Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis.

“To get the slate of 10 authors we currently have, we reached out to a diverse pool of more than 40 writers that included Latino authors,” Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold told Fox News Latino in an email. “Many more authors declined our request to submit a piece than accepted, including well known Latino writers.”

OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano blasted the company, writing, “In [author Jonathan] Foer’s world, Latino authors simply don’t exist and simply don’t appeal to his Chipotle worldview of what the chain is advertising as ‘Cultivating Thought’ — the only Mexican cultivation the two approve for their beloved burritos is the tomatoes harvested by Florida pickers.”

Others question the company’s claim that it really reached out to Latino writers in the first place. “Chipotle’s response that they ‘reached out’ to “more than 40 writers that included Latino authors” is suspect,” author Michele Serros told Fox News Latino. “Our literary community has heard nothing of this so-called outreach to Latino authors.”

Arnold, the Chipotle representative, said that if the series continues, the company will make changes. “If we move forward with this program, we will certainly look to add to the diversity of contributors, and believe we will be in a better position to attract a wider cross-section of writers with something to point to and given how well this program has been received.”

The African-American Flag is Flying Atop a School in Upstate New York

The African-American Flag is Flying Atop a School in Upstate New York

Artist David Hammons’s African-American flag is flying atop a renovated schoolhouse in Kinderhook, N.Y. a small town of 8,500 that’s about two and a half hours north of New York City. The space was redone by the Jack Shainman Gallery and the current exhibits are a sort of celebration of the region’s unique and ethnically diverse history, starting with the Mohican Indians who lived in the region in the 17th century.

There were also smaller installations featuring other Jack Shainman Gallery artists in two small galleries, including works by Michael Snow, Hank Willis Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, Richard Mosse.

smallerflag.jpgHammons’s African-American flag was created in 1990, the year in which David Dinkins was elected the first black mayor of New York City and America was deep into its decades’ long culture wars. The flag is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. 

(Hyper Allergic)

Yasiin Bey Cancels U.S. Tour Amid Unspecified Legal Issues

Yasiin Bey Cancels U.S. Tour Amid Unspecified Legal Issues

The rapper formerly known as Mos Def has canceled an upcoming summer tour of the United States due to unspecified legal reasons. Now known as Yasiin Bey, the Brooklyn native recently moved to South Africa and isn’t coming back to the States any time soon.

The Together Music Festival in Boston posted the following message on its website“We regret to inform you that due to immigration/legal issues Yasiin Bey is unable to enter back into the United States and his upcoming US tour has been canceled.”

Earlier this year, he told Rolling Stone about the move:

I lived in Brooklyn 33 years of my life. I thought I’d be buried in that place. And around seven years ago, I was like, you know, ‘I gotta go, I gotta leave.’ It’s very hard to leave. And I lived in a lot of places: Central America, North America, Europe for a while. And I came to Cape Town in 2009 and it just hit me. I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I know when a good vibe gets to you. And, you know, I thought about this place every day from when I left.

“I’m not here just for like middle-class comfort, you know. Sure, it’s a beautiful place, you got the ocean, the mountain, the botanical garden, the beautiful people, the history, the culture, the struggle and everything — maaan, let me tell you something, for a guy like me, who had five or six generations not just in America but in one town in America, to leave America, things gotta be not so good with America.”

lThe Guardian cites the rapper’s politically charged work as a possible reason, including a 2013 video in which Bey mimics the force feeding procedures endured by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. But the rapper has also dealt publicly with problems paying child support. In 2006, his former wife Maria Yepes-Smith, took him to court for failing to make his $10,000 a month payments for two daughters from their 10-year marriage. It’s all speculation at this point, since we don’t know any details about what’s really keeping him out of the U.S.

‘Just Me and Allah’: Photographs of Queer Muslims in Toronto

'Just Me and Allah': Photographs of Queer Muslims in Toronto

Photographer Samra Habib is launching a new series on queer Muslims for World Pride in June. Habib describes a relationship with Islam that’s been tumultuous. Mainstream Islam isn’t always welcoming of LGBTQ Muslims,” Habib said on Tumblr. “Yet a lot of the Muslim traditions and rituals bring queer Muslims comfort and provide a sense of belonging.”

Here’s more:

Why did you decide to participate in this photography project? 

I had made a conscious decision about a decade ago to live my life out loud. By that I mean, to not shy away from any of my identifications; be they sexual, political, cultural and/or religious. Naturally, I felt it necessary to do so because I had met so many youth who were quite conflicted and closeted and in fear of living their lives. This is a small token or gesture on my part to let them know that they should not underestimate their families or their communities.

Read more about the project.

TAGS: LGBT Muslim Queer

Forrest Whitaker Joins Scripted Drama on Hazing at HBCU’s

Forrest Whitaker Joins Scripted Drama on Hazing at HBCU's

Hazing at historically black colleges and universities is getting a lot of attention in the wake of the 2011 death of Roebrt Champion, a drum major at Florida A&M University. Forrest Whitaker recently announced that he’s partnering with Reginald Hudlin to produce a scripted drama on the subject of hazing on HBCU campses. 

(Shadow & Act)


NYC Names Chinatown Street for Bullied Pvt. Danny Chen

NYC Names Chinatown Street for Bullied Pvt. Danny Chen

Danny Chen, a 19-year-old Chinese-American solider who was relentlessly bullied and ultimately committed suicide in 2011, has been immortalized in New York City’s Chinatown. City officials unveiled Private Danny Chen Way this week.

New York Magazine detailed the racist bullying that Chen endured:

When he arrived, Chen was at the bottom of the social hierarchy: a newcomer to his unit, a lowly private, still just a teenager, in a combat zone for the first time. And the only Chinese-American in his platoon. In a meeting with Chen’s parents on January 4, Army officials said that his superiors had considered him not fit enough when he arrived, and singled him out for excessive physical exercise: push-ups, flutter-kicks, sit-ups, sprints done while carrying a sandbag. Such punishments resemble the “smokings” that drill sergeants mete out at basic training to correct mistakes. But, in Chen’s case, it wasn’t long before this campaign of “corrective training” escalated into sheer brutality.

The eight men later charged in connection with his death are all white and range in age from 24 to 35; they include one lieutenant, two staff sergeants, three sergeants, and two specialists. Members of this group allegedly harassed and humiliated Chen from almost the day he arrived at The Palace. They belittled him with racial slurs. They forced him to do push-ups with a mouthful of water, refusing to let him swallow or spit any out. And, on September 27, a sergeant allegedly yanked him out of bed and dragged him across about 50 yards of gravel toward a shower trailer as punishment for supposedly breaking the hot-water pump. He endured bruises and cuts on his back. Army officials told Chen’s family that although the leader of his platoon found out about this incident, he never reported it as he was required to.

Chen’s mother was joined by family, friends and community members at the unveiling. 

(Angry Asian Man)

Watch Kara Walker Talk Live About Her Epic Sugar Sculpture

Watch Kara Walker Talk Live About Her Epic Sugar Sculpture

Whether you’ve seen Kara Walker’s new exhibit at Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Factory in person or only heard about it, you know that it’s epic. The work features a 35-foot-tall sugar sphinx that is probably one of the most moving indictments of the historical legacy of sugar production. And while the exhibit — called “A Subtlety” — certainly speaks for itself, it helps to have the artist say a few words about it. 

On Tuesday, May 20 at 7pm Walker will be in conversation with Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad at the New York Public Library. The conversation will be livestreamed so be sure to tune in. Here’s more. 

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