Junot Diaz on Success and Catastrophe

Junot Diaz on Success and Catastrophe

Junot Diaz is a widely popular writer, probably one of the most influential of our generation. So he should feel pretty settled, right? Wrong, according to a recent interview with the Financial Times in which the author sheds some light on the financial realities of the publishing world.

So has success liberated him? “I have that deep-seated fear of catastrophe that a lot of immigrants have,” he replies. In the 11 years between Drown and Oscar Wao, his after-tax income from book sales was just $50,000 in total. Things have improved but he continues to teach at MIT. He likes the students, who he says are better for not wanting to be novelists, unlike those in other creative writing classes. “If you think learning salsa is your future, you’re going to be pretty insufferable in salsa classes.”

The author goes on to talk about his MacArthur Genius Grant, the Pulitzer and being a slow writer. Read more

Aloe Blacc Uses Images of Detroit (And Lots of Product Placement) in New Video

Aloe Blacc Uses Images of Detroit (And Lots of Product Placement) in New Video

If there’s one thing that Aloe Blacc’s team knows how to do exceptionally well, it’s how wring corporate endorsements from his new album. The singer released the video for his song “Hello World (The World is Ours)”, which also happens to be the FIFA World Cup anthem. In it, director Shane Drake draws heavily on images of downtrodden Detroit, mixed in with a prominent image of Beats headphones. (Beats Music helped build anticipation for Blacc’s latest album when  his song “The Man” was featured in a commercial starring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.) Take a look. 


R. Kelly’s Ex-Wife Has the Most Wonderful Things to Say About Their Transgender Son

R. Kelly's Ex-Wife Has the Most Wonderful Things to Say About Their Transgender Son

You can’t beat a mama’s love. When word hit the interwebs that R. Kelly had a teenage transgender son, Jay, the news was reported scandalously in some parts of the black blogesphere. But both of Jay’s parents have been hugely supportive, as this VH1 interview with Jay’s mom, Drea, proves:

All I can say about Jay is he makes it so easy to be a proud mom. For parents, we need to realize, [our kids] have their own journey. Parents get it wrong when they don’t support their children. They have to go out and fight every day and face this world. The first battle should not be at home. I think that a lot of children in the LGBT community don’t succeed because the one thing they need the most is foundation. I just tell Jay all the time, baby you won the war. You’re gonna have a lot of battles but you won the war. Mama accepts and loves you for who you are. Your family does. My dad is a retired military naval officer and all he said was, “I’m gonna mess up sometimes and [use the feminine pronoun] ‘she’ but I’m gonna eventually get the ‘he’ thing. Just give grandpa some time. I’m gonna get it dude.” That was it.

Read more.

LeBron James’ Reunion With Cleveland Touches on Midwest’s ‘Brain Drain’

LeBron James' Reunion With Cleveland Touches on Midwest's 'Brain Drain'

After weeks of holding the sports world hostage, LeBron James has finally announced that he’s returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. In a touching letter published in Sports Illustrated, James listed the intensely personal reasons for wanting to return to the place that raised him and, in the process, managed to sound like most young folks of his generation who want to make an impact.

 I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

In this, James isn’t exactly alone. Census data indicate that the state of Ohio may finally be reversing a decades-long brain drain as young people between the ages of 20 and 34 remain in the state. (James, who is 29, likened the four years he spent in Miami as “almost like college for other kids.”)

Cleveland is known as a city that’s suffered countless heartbreaks in sports, chief among them James’ 2010 decision to take his talents to South Beach. But that heartache has often meant more in a city that’s also been decimated by industrial decline. When the Republican National Committee announced that it had chosen to host its 2016 convention in Cleveland, a spurned Dallas Morning News’ editorial board wrote, “Still, no matter how much fun you have, when you wake up, you’ll still be in Cleveland.”

But it looks like more and more, Cleveland is the place to be. 

Don Cheadle Thanks Fans For Making His Miles Davis Project Happen

Don Cheadle Thanks Fans For Making His Miles Davis Project Happen

Don Cheadle thanked fans this week after raising more than $325,000 for his project on the life and work of Miles Davis. The film is called “Miles Ahead” and has been in the works for years, but it finally got the financial support it needed thanks to this successful round of crowdsourcing on Indiegogo. Cheadle will direct the project and also star in it as Davis.

In an interview with Shadow and Act last month, Cheadle described how he came up with the idea:

The project first had traction in 2008 when Miles was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his nephew told reporters that I was going to be playing him in the movie, which was the first I’d heard of it. People started calling to try and put the movie together because the family had given their blessing for me to be in it. I started working with writers and at that point it became clear that the take on the story that I wanted to do was going to have to be controlled by me. I couldn’t really translate it to someone else and have it come off in the way that I wanted and needed it to.

So we had a script very early that we went out with, and a lot of people bid on it and several studios had optioned it. And then the world collapsed - the financial crisis hit and a lot of those mini-majors went out of business. We were kind of left without a home at that point, which turned out to be, for us, a good period of time because we pulled the movie back and restructured it and brought on Steven Baigelman (“Get On Up”, “Feeling Minnesota”) who I co-wrote the movie with, and created a different story.

At that point we went out again with it, and again had a lot of bites and a lot of places that were trying to put it together. And we just finally settled on making it with the financier that we have now, and are again in earnest targeting a start date and casting it, and now we’re four weeks out.

Read more at Shadow and Act

Azealia Banks Quotes ‘The Color Purple’ After Being Dropped From Label

Azealia Banks Quotes 'The Color Purple' After Being Dropped From Label

It’s a tired but often used analogy that black artists are slaves to their record-label overseers. Nina Simone wrote in her memoir, “I Put a Spell On You,” that she probably lost a million dollars in royalties because of the contract she signed as an impressionable young artist with Bethleham Records. Lupe Fiasco famously battled it out with Atlantic Records for years before the label finally released his third album “Lasers.” And, of course, there’s A Tribe Called Quest’s infamous warning: “Industry rule number 4,080, record company people are shady.”

Now, after years of delays and creative differences with her label Interscope/Polydor, rapper Azealia Banks has finally is free of her record label. Banks seems ecstatic about the news because now she’ll be able to record and release music on her own, including her debut album “Broke With Expensive Taste,” which has reportedly been finished for more than a year. 

To celebrate the occassion, and point out the power dynamics at play, Banks quoted “The Color Purple.”

Not that Banks has done much to endear herself to fans in the years that she’s been fighting with her label. She’s gotten into several high-profile Twitter beefs with everyone from celebrity blogger Perez Hilton to fellow rappers Angel Haze and T.I.

Let’s hope that she’ll finally be able to let her music do the talking. 

(h/t Music Times)

For Asian-American Men, A New Definition of Sexy

For Asian-American Men, A New Definition of Sexy

Comedian Kristina Wong recently gave a commencement address at UCLA’s Asian Pacific Islander graduation. In it, she talked about what life was like when she was an undergad at the school, navigating her way through tough classes, professional aspirations and the demands of being an Asian-American woman in higer ed.

In a bit about the emasculation of Asian-American men, Wong re-defined what she considers sexy. From her speech:

Let’s address first of all, the emasculation of Asian men and how the media “doesn’t consider Asian men sexy.” Where the hell is the world getting these ideas that Asian men aren’t sexy?! I want to see the young Asian-American men of your generation model healthy masculinity that’s not being reflected in mainstream America.  I want the future of Asian men to show that what’s sexy is respecting a woman’s boundaries, dismantling patriarchy, fighting for social justice, all while coding the heck out of a computer program!  That’s what’s sexy! Asian-American men, are you going to be the new face of sexy?

Watch the 20-minute speech above, or read the full text after the jump. 

For Everyone Who’s Tired of Hearing ‘Not to be Racist, But…’

For Everyone Who's Tired of Hearing 'Not to be Racist, But...' Play

From the good folks with the upcoming film “Dear White People” comes this short PSA to anyone who’s ever tried to explain away their racism. 

(h/t The Huffington Post)

Laverne Cox Makes Emmy History

Laverne Cox Makes Emmy History

Add this to the list of reasons why Laverne Cox will go down in the history books: She’s the first transgender actress ever to be nominated for an Emmy Award. Cox’s nomination was one of 17 earned by the cast of “Orange is the New Black,” (OITNB) the Netflix original series that takes place inside of a women’s prison. 

It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Cox, who has risen to international stardom thanks to her role as Sophia on OITNB. In addition to her role on the show, Cox was also featured on the cover of Time magazine and anointed grand marshall of this year’s New York City Pride Parade. Matthew Breen wrote over at The Advocate about Cox’s rising cultural importance: 

She’s not an activist or a policy wonk, and yet her experiences and upbringing have aligned with this moment in American culture so precisely that to think of the unique struggles of the trans community, and its successes despite longstanding institutional and cultural barriers, it’s no surprise she’s the first name on many lips. She’s never called herself a leader and even demurs from the term role model, preferring possibility modelinstead. But she’s here, and she’s talking, and we’re listening like we never have before.

In Cox we’re witnessing the anointing of an icon.

Cox was one of a handful of actors of color to earn Emmy nominations, along with her castmate Uzo Aduba, Kerry Washington, Don Cheadle, Cicely Tyson and Angela Bassett.

See the full list of Emmy nominations here

New Doc Looks at Vietnamese Workers in the Nail Industry

New Doc Looks at Vietnamese Workers in the Nail Industry

Here’s a little known fact: A chance encounter between 20 Vietnamese refugee women and actress Tippi Hedren in 1975 triggered the onset of the ubiquitous Vietnamese nail shop across America. A new documentary called “Nailed It” is out to tell the story of incredible growth and impact a small community of people have on today’s $8 billion nail trade, according to its Indiegogo campaign.

Nail industry work has, until recently, been mostly ignored by the media. In 2007, journalist Momo Chang reported at Hyphen Magazine on the range of health problems facing nail industry workers:

In 2007, Time magazine named nail salon work as one of the worst jobs in the United States because of the toxic products used in most shops. Nevertheless, the industry has tripled in size during the last two decades and rakes in $6 billion annually. About 42 percent of the 349,370 manicurists in the United States are Asian or Pacific Islander, and 96 percent are women, according to Nails Magazine, a nail industry publication. In California, 60 to 80 percent of nail salon workers are Vietnamese American. These workers are exposed to a constant dose of toxins, every hour, for eight or more hours a day. 

For this new documentary, the filmmakers are looking to raise money for production and post-production costs totaling $15,000. They’re calling it “the definitive story of Vietnamese-Americans and their impact on American culture and the nail industry.” Read more.

Comedian Aamer Rahman Calls His Australian Home a ‘Nazi Beach Resort’

Comedian Aamer Rahman Calls His Australian Home a 'Nazi Beach Resort'

You might already be familiar with Aamer Rahman as part of the comedy duo “Fear of a Brown Planet.” He’s been performing in London these days and told the Guardian about what it was like to grow up in Australia. From the Guardian:

What’s exciting is how Rahman seems neither to exaggerate nor soft-soap the perspective of a brown-skinned man from a country he calls “a sunny Nazi beach resort, a white-power Disneyland in the ocean”. This is just how it is, and the laughs come ruefully from the indignities Rahman suffers along the way - and from the comical disparity between how white western culture sees itself and how it’s experienced by others.

Read more

Rahman’s bit about so-called “reverse racism” went viral last year. Here it is again, just in case you haven’t already seen it:

TAGS: comedy

Take a Trip Through Nigeria’s Breakdancing Scene

Take a Trip Through Nigeria's Breakdancing Scene Play

It’s long been said that hip-hop is a global phenomenon, and here’s more proof: a short documentary on Nigerian B-Boy dancer Victor “Vikbone” Kalejaiye. The film, “Portrait of a Lagos B-Boy,” takes viewers to Lagos’ vibrant breakdancing scene as Kalejaiye struggles to make a name for himself as a dancer.

(h/t Shadow and Act)

How a Latina Journalist Started the New York Times’ Race Beat

How a Latina Journalist Started the New York Times' Race Beat Play

Here’s Tanzina Vega of the New York Times on her newly created beat about race and ethnicity in America:

[The beat] really grew out of the work that I did on my old beat covering digital media and advertising. After the 2010 census showed that the Latino population had grown to 50 million, media companies and advertisers put more emphasis on the Hispanic market. So I started expanding my coverage to include ethnic media including Univision, Telemundo and the other companies that were focusing on that growing demographic.

I also wrote about Hispanic stereotypes in network television, colorism in Hollywood with the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone — which was criticized because she is lighter skinned than Simone was — and I profiled Eva Longoria, who was lauded for casting five Latina leads in her new television show but criticized because they were all maids.

In media, we were hardly living in a post-racial United States.

Vega, a native New Yorker, has done really important work on the beat, including stories on infertility rates among black women and gun owners of color.

Read more over at the New York Times

A few years ago, CUNY Journalism School caught up with Vega, who’s an alum, to talk about life at the most influential paper in the country.

Here’s a List of the Muslim-American Leaders Under FBI and NSA Watch

Here's a List of the Muslim-American Leaders Under FBI and NSA Watch

Over at The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain have compiled a list of Muslim-American leaders who’ve been under FBI and NSA surveillance. The list includes mostly civil rights lawyers and academics who seem to have wound up in the crosshairs simply because they say that Muslims in America are entitled to the same rights of citizenship as everyone else. On the list are:

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

Awad, the co-founder and executive director of CAIR who’s interviewed in the video above, isn’t happy about the revelations. A Palestinian born in Jordan who has been an American citizen for two decades, Awad once served as Vice President Al Gore’s Civil Liberties Advisory Panel to the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. He’s rubbed elbows with some of the Washington’s most powerful elites. “I’m outraged as an American citizen that my government, after decades of civil rights struggle, still spies on political activists and civil right activists and leaders,” says Awad. “I’m really angry that despite all the work that we have been doing in our communities to serve the nation, we are treated with suspicion.”

Read more at The Intercept.

Lights, Camera, Music: A Midsummer Film Preview

Lights, Camera, Music: A Midsummer Film Preview

The music of black men will be front and center on this summer’s movie screens as Hollywood turns its lens on some of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century. The life stories of James Brown, Fela Kuti and Jimi Hendrix will all get feature film treatment as Hollywood shifts its gaze from slavery (“12 Years a Slave”, “Lincoln,” “Belle”) in 2013 to the varying strains of political thought that emerged in black popular music during the 1960s. From the diasporic political consciousness in Kuti’s music to James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud” rallying cry to the eclectic mystery of Jimi Hendrix, black men’s stories are commanding more attention. We’ll also get to see the directorial debut of Native American model and actor Jason Momoa. Here, five films to look out for:

“Road to Paloma”

Theatrical release: July 11, 2014. Jason Momoa’s directorial debut follows two Native American bikers traveling across the American southwest. They’re fleeing the FBI while searching for redemption.

“Finding Fela”

Theatrical release: August 1, 2014. Not to be confused with the documentary “Finding Fela,” this film follows the cast and crew of the hit Broadway musical “Fela,” which is based on the life and music of the Afrobeat pioneer and postcolonial political activist. 

“Get On Up”

Theatrical release: August 1, 2014. Featuring a who’s-who of black Hollywood, this film stars Chadwick Boseman as James Brown, the hardest working man in show business. He appears alongside Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis and Jill Scott. 

 ”Life of Crime”

Theatrical release: August 29, 2014. This prequel to Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” starring Yasiin Bey, tells the backstory of two pivitol characters before Jackie Brown hit the scene. Tarantino isn’t involved with the project, but he’s given it his blessing. 

 “All Is by My Side”

In select theaters nationwide. Theatrical release: September 26, 2014. After years of pre-and post-production chatter, this highly anticipated look at Jimi Hendrix at the height of his fame, starring Andre “3000” Benjamin, is finally hitting theaters. It’s already screened to positive reviews in select theaters across the country.

Troy Davis’ Nephew is Raising Money for Second Year at Morehouse

Troy Davis' Nephew is Raising Money for Second Year at Morehouse

Before Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia in 2011, his case galvanized the nation. Among his strongest supporters were his family, who, as Jen Marlowe reported for Colorlines before the execution, made it their mission to bring what they saw as the injustice of Davis’ case into the national spotlight.

Davis left behind a teenage nephew, De’Juan, who grew up visiting his uncle in prison. The boy’s strength was put to the test after Davis’ execution when, months later, his mother — Davis’ sister, Martina Davis-Correia — died of breast cancer. But De’Juan’s managed to perservere and last year enrolled as a freshman at Morehouse College. He made the dean’s list his first semester while majoring in engineering, and is now on a mission to raise enough money to stay in school. See details at his Indiegogo campaign

Lauryn Hill is Touring the U.S. and Europe This Summer

Lauryn Hill is Touring the U.S. and Europe This Summer

Lauryn Hill is kicking off a late summer tour later this month at Brooklyn Bowl. Starting on July 27th, the elusive singer will tour cities along the Eastern Seaboard, Europe, and a quick stop in Southern California. Check out the dates below:

Jul 27 Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY
Jul 28 Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY
Jul 31 House Of Blues, Boston, MA
Aug 02 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
Aug 09 Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, NJ
Aug 22 Couvre-Feu festival Corsept, France
Aug 23 Rototom Sunsplash Festival Valencia, Spain
Aug 31 Pozo Saloon (Lookout Music Festival), Santa Margarita, CA
Sep 03 Roman Amphitheatre (Outlook Festival), Pula, Croatia
Sep 07 Mitsubishi Electric Halle, Dusseldorf, Germany
Sep 09 Stadtpark, Hamburg, Germany
Sep 11 Goranson Arena, Sandviken, Sweden
Sep 13 Zenith, Paris, France
Sep 17 Tap1, Copenhagen, Denmark
Sep 20 O2 Academy, Brixton London, United Kingdom
Sep 21 O2 Academy, Brixton London, United Kingdom
Sep 23 O2 Academy Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Sep 25 Manchester O2 Apollo, Longsight, United Kingdom

(h/t Okayplayer)

Urban Outfitters Is Making Money Off of a Hindu Deity

Urban Outfitters Is Making Money Off of a Hindu Deity

It’s summertime, which means Urban Outfitters is financially and culturally obligated to piss off an entire religious community.

For the second time in as many years, the Hindu community is outraged over the retailer’s attempt to profit off of Lord Ganesha, a Hindu deity. Back in 2013, the store sold an awful-looking pair of Lord Ganesha socks for $8, inciting the wrath of Hindu community leaders. Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, said: “Lord Ganesh was highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to be worshipped in temples and home shrines and not be wrapped around one’s feet.”

So if not the feet, then maybe the entire body? The store’s now selling a duvet cover featuring an illustration of Lord Ganesha by artist Valentina Ramos that costs between $129 and $169. Here’s Zed once again, in a statement to Bustle, insisting that the deity is meant to be worshipped and “not slept upon.”

Bustle’s Erin Myer summed up folks’ worst fears nicely by writing, “I shudder to think of all the 20-somethings dying to get their hipster racism on by flaunting this duvet in the middle of their Bushwick loft decorated with votive candles.”

Comedians Use South Asian Slang to Poke Fun at Entitled Hipsters

Comedians Use South Asian Slang to Poke Fun at Entitled Hipsters Play

From Arti Patel at the Huffington Post:

In a hilarious music video by Canadian YouTube comedian Superwoman (Lilly Singh) and Canadian rapper Humble the Poet (Kanwar Singh), the duo use the phrase (which basically means disapproval or “pfft” in Punjabi and other South Asian slang) to sum up the reality (and ridiculousness) of many young people today.

TAGS: comedy video

Watch This Hilarious Spoof of Bay Area Activism

Watch This Hilarious Spoof of Bay Area Activism

Who’s the greenest man in America? It’s not Al Gore. In this hilarious satire from Movement Generation, comedian Josh Healey pokes fun at Bay Area enviornmentalists while also highlighting some of the great work that’s long been happening in communities of color.

TAGS: Bay Area humor
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