M.I.A. is gearing up for the summer tour circuit and dropped by “Late Night with Seth Meyers” on Monday to perform some of her latest album, “Matangi.” She did the performance in front of a backdrop with a sign that read “1984 IS NOW” and with a remote controlled flying green saucer hanging around. Because, you know, why not?
And it’s fairly simple:
“Read everything, watch everything, listen carefully, take notes,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. She also revealed that she would love to write for “Mad Men” and described the secret to a great pitch: “Pretend you are telling your favorite idea to your smartest friend.”
Little Dragon’s highly anticipated fourth studio album, “Nabuma Rubberband,” is out today. I’ve written before about how the Swedish electronic band’s latest project was inspired by South African Kwaito, but here’s another influence: Janet Jackson.
The album artwork features a small child floating above a cityscape, an image that draws from the Janet Jackson slow jams [lead singer] Yukimi used to listen to wandering around Gothenburg during the unrelenting winter,” according to Rolling Stone. Here’s more:
“When you put some of Janet’s really slow stuff on you feel like you’re floating,” Nagano said. “That feeling really influenced me and maybe that’s why there are quite a lot of slow jams on the record. In the past we’ve been a bit self-conscious about making slow jams after ‘Twice.’ Then we wanted to make dance music which we did with Machine Dreams and then Ritual Union still had a dance vibe, but with this album it wasn’t about that. The intention was about whatever we felt strongly about.”
Read more over at Rolling Stone. And, while you’re at it, listen to this album stream:
Everyone, meet SoundClash, a new music show that will be hosted by Diplo and produced by Questlove and Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter:
Hosted by DJ/producer Diplo, “SoundClash” will bring diverse acts together on one stage to perform both hits and new collaborations in front of a live studio audience, beginning with a premiere episode featuring Fall Out Boy, Lil Wayne and British group London Grammar. The second installment will welcome Sheeran, Sia and the up-and-coming U.S. band Grouplove.
“Music fuels our passions here at VH1 and Palladia,” VH1 and Palladia prexy Tom Calderone said in a statement. “‘SoundClash’ will showcase established acts at their peak, spotlight breaking artists on the rise, and introduce what’s breaking on the music scene at that moment. But it will be the collaborative spirit between the performers on the show that will have music fans buzzing throughout the telecast and for days afterwards.”
“‘SoundClash’ is all about convergence,” QuestLove added. “It’s a place where the cutting edge of the emergent act meets the winning assuredness of the established artist. It’s a lush, level playing field where the talented blend and the genres bend in ways that will resonate with even the most discerning lovers of today’s music.”
The show premieres on July 23 on VH1 and Palladia. Read more at Variety.
Not long ago, Atlanta was a city that had the highest proportion of its residents living in public housing in the nation. Today, that proportion has dropped the zero. Like many cities in the 1990’s, Atlanta went about tearing down its World War II-era public housing projects in an effort to spread low-income families around the city instead of segregating them in areas besieged by entrenched poverty. But a new film by King Williams called “The Atlanta Way” asks a pretty basic question: Has it worked?
The answer, it turns out, is complicated. As Stephanie Garlock explains at the Atlantic Cities:
Many in metro Atlanta assume that the city’s system of private vouchers has pushed former residents out to the suburbs, particularly the increasingly poor and increasingly non-whiteClayton County to the south. But Williams’ efforts to track former public housing residents have shown this isn’t necessarily the case. “Everyone pretty much has this idea that’s really not grounded by facts,” he says.
Most of the residents that The Atlanta Way follows stayed within the city or the surrounding jurisdiction of Fulton County. Williams cites evidence from a 2011 study by Georgia States’ Deirdre Oakley, which found that most residents ended up in new places within, on average, three miles of their former homes. They also clustered in just a small fraction of the city’s census tracts, ones that remained much poorer than the city-wide average. For Williams, this shows that the ambitious goals of the demolitions and policy reforms haven’t all been met. Crime rates may have gone down in some parts of the city, particularly places where some of the most dangerous housing projects once stood, but, he says, “in terms of mobility, in terms of those people having access to jobs? That really hasn’t happened.”
Williams has launched a Kickstarter in order to finish the film. In the video above, activist Diane Wright, who was a leader in the former Hollywood Courts, explains: “They think because we live in the projects that we are the projects. We’re human beings first and foremost, and we’re residents who want to have something. If you’re going to tear down a property and displace people, they should have the opportunity to speak out.”
Pepsi launched its first in a series of music videos leading up to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. This one features Janelle Monáe singing a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” set to a short film by the artists’ collective The Young Astronauts. Upcoming videos in the series include songs by Kelly Rowland, Rita Ora, Santigold and Timbaland.
Michael Sam had to wait a long time, but he was finally selected by the St. Louis Rams as the 249th pick in this year’s NFL draft. The overall consensus is that his decision to come out of the closet—coupled with a poor showing at the NFL Draft Combine—worked against him. But where he fell was just the beginning. The real test will be how Sam’s treated now that he’s officially a member of the NFL’s fraternity.
Already, it’s off to a rocky start. Sam was televised kissing his boyfriend after getting the call from the Rams, leading to the most poignant and controversial moment of this year’s draft. Miami Dolphins player Don Jones was fined, suspended and publicly reprimanded by his team for tweeting “omg” and “horrible” after Sam’s kiss went public.
Jones later issued an apology. “I want to apologize to Michael Sam for the inappropriate comments that I made last night on social media,” he told the media. “I take full responsibility for them, and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment.
“I remember last year when I was drafted in the seventh round and all of the emotions and happiness I felt when I received the call that gave me an opportunity to play for an NFL team, and I wish him all the best in his NFL career. I sincerely apologize to Mr. (Stephen) Ross, my teammates, coaches, staff and fans for these tweets. I am committed to represent the values of the Miami Dolphins organization and appreciate the opportunity I have been given to do so going forward.”
But Jones is just one player among hundreds in a league that has suddenly found itself in a history-making moment. As much as Michael Sam has already been lauded as a hero for coming out, he’s in an uphill battle for playing time. And the only way that he, and other closeted players in the league, will truly be able to shift its culture is if they earn opportunities to play and become fixtures on the field—and in the locker room.
Good news if you’re a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie fan and live in New York City. The film adaptation of the author’s novel about Nigeria’s Civil War, “Half of a Yellow Sun,” will open in theaters this weekend. The film’s stars include Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. See more about New York’s African Film Festival.
Meanwhile, “Belle,” a highly anticipated slavery-themed film based on the real life story of a woman born to an enslaved mother and aristocratic father that’s already playing in New York City and Los Angeles, is opening in nine additional cities this weekend. Those cities include Dallas, Atlanta and San Francisco. More here.
Mother’s Day is upon us, and if you haven’t already gotten a gift, you may want to scratch flowers off the list. Michael Zelenko explains why over at VICE:
The National Retail Federation estimates that this Mother’s Day weekend, Americans will purchase more than $2 billion worth of flowers. Almost 80 percent of those flowers come from Colombia, where impoverished mothers like Lorena toil long hours to produce tokens of affection for more fortunate mothers elsewhere. While the provenance of the peonies we buy last minute at gas stations, supermarkets, and corner store bodegas remains a mystery for most Americans, for the women that produce these bouquets the cut flower industry is a harrowing reality, and Mother’s Day is a cruel joke.
Work in the cut flower industry is notoriously dangerous. Flowers are fickle, and sensitive to pests and disease. To protect their investments, companies pump highly toxic pesticides and fungicides into the greenhouses where flowers are grown. Twenty percent of these chemicals are so toxic and carcinogenic that they’re prohibited in North America and Europe. As a result, workers often suffer from rashes, headaches, impaired vision, and skin discoloration. Women, who make up 70 percent of the cut flower workforce in Colombia, report substantially higher instances of birth defects and miscarriages.
Feminist writer bell hooks caused quite a stir this week during a panel discussion at the New School in which she called Beyoncé a terrorist.
While discussing the artist’s recent Time Magazine cover with Janet Mock, hooks said, “Then you are saying, from my deconstructive point of view, that she is colluding in the construction of herself as a slave. I see a part of Beyoncé that is in fact anti-feminist — that is a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls.”
hooks’ comment has sparked spirited disagreement among black feminist scholars online. Fusion captured some of the conversation:
Britney Cooper, Rutgers University professor and co-founder of Crunk Feminist Collective:
“If hooks’ analysis held Bey’s humanity at the center, she would necessarily come to different conclusions about whether Bey is a terrorist or not.”
Cooper said she’s disappointed that hooks’ analysis “conflated Beyoncé’s brand and image with Beyoncé the person.”
“She trots out the ‘what about the children argument’ as a way to police how Beyoncé styles and presents her body. Black women should be able to be publicly grown and sexy without suffering the accusation that our sexuality is harmful, especially to children,” Cooper said.
Feminista Jones, black feminist writer:
“Beyoncé is very much in control of her image, meticulously so actually. She makes decisions about how she is presented and I’m with Ms. Mock-I believe Beyoncé presents herself in ways that make her most comfortable and happy.”
Tanisha Ford, professor at UMass-Amherst:
“We saw [Beyoncé’s power] when she took control over who could take and publish photos of her during her Mrs. Carter tour. This power allows her to shape the contours of her public image on her own terms, and it’s power that most black women (even those who are wealthy, educated, and so forth) don’t have,” Ford said.
“I think Janet Mock’s comment in response to bell hooks speaks to the reality that black women of different generations, of different social classes, of different life experiences will read and interpret Beyoncé differently,” Ford went on to say.
The debate about Beyonce’s power brings to mind Rachel Kaadzi Ghanash’s recent piece for NPR on the BeyHive (Beyonce’s unofficial fanclub) in which she writes:
Is Beyoncé a feminist? Is she a womanist? I don’t know. To me she is a cyborg. “Cyborg writing,” Donna Haraway tells us, “is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.” What I appreciate about Beyoncé is that I understand and recognize the tools seized. This is not to say that these aspects in Beyoncé align neatly — they are indeed confusing — but they demand a right that is so often denied black women: the right to be a human, a character with many identities, many aspects, attitudes, vulnerabilities, joys, heartbreaks and realities.
For the past year and a half, San Francisco’s family-owned Marcus Books has been fighting eviction. The store has been located in the city’s historically African-American Fillmore district since 1960 and has been in its current location, in the storefront of the Johnson family-owned Victorian home, since 1981, making it the oldest black-owned bookstore in the country. But this week, the Johnsons were locked out of their store — and their home — by the building’s new landlords.
In a letter to supporters, bookstore owners Tamiko, Greg and Karen Johnson wrote the following explaining the family’s plight:
It was difficult to know what to tell you about our struggle to stay in our building, its winding path of lawyers and judges and protests and promises, hopes and gravities made it difficult to report our status on a curved road. But the current property owner has changed the locks to the door of 1712 Fillmore Street.
Marcus Books missed a couple of rent payments (not such a rare thing considering that at the same time the largest US banks and even our government asked taxpayers to give them hundreds of billions of dollars of assistance). However, the mortgage holder, PLM Lender, foreclosed on the building that housed Marcus Books of San Francisco since 1981. It was sold to the Sweis family (realtors and owners of Royal Taxi in San Francisco). The Johnson family (co-owners of Marcus Books of San Francisco) has been trying to buy the building back for a year and half.
The Sweis’ bought this building in a bankruptcy “auction” (apparently, they were the only bidder) for $1.6 million. The Johnsons offered $1.8 million; the Sweis set their price at $3.20 million, hoping to double their purchase price after a few months ownership. After some public outrage resulting in public protests against the Sweis, a negotiation brought their asking price down to $2.6 million, adding a million dollar profit to their purchase without adding any improvements to the property and adding a stipulation that the entire $2.6 million be raised within 90 days.
Marcus Books supporters, including the local chapter of the NAACP; ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment; Japantown activists; Westside Community Services; Julian Davis, our fearless legal council; Carlos Levexier’s “Keep It Lit” campaign committee; local literary community including writers and other bookstores; people from all over the world: friends, family, customers, churches and unions took a stand against the bulldozing of community. Individuals, unions, and churches donated $25,000. The Community Land Trust of San Francisco garnered loan pledges of $200,000 and Westside Community Services offered a loan of $1.60 million. Though by any standards that would have been more than enough for a down payment, the Sweiss’ refused the $1.85 million start and filed for eviction.
Concurrently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution requiring every division of city government make it a priority that they each use their “powers” to help Marcus Books stay in its location. In addition, and after 5 years of efforts by John Templeton (the leader in Black California history), and Greg Johnson (co-owner of Marcus Books of San Francisco), London Breed and Malia Cohen, two San Francisco Supervisors, initiated the Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote granting landmark status.
With the numerous speeches of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee stating his commitment to righting the wrongs of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s slaughter of the thriving African American Fillmore District, we at Marcus Books believed the City would take some affirmative action on our behalf, since Marcus Books is the only surviving Black business since the Redevelopment devastation. Maybe that support is around the next bend? Well the locks have been changed, the cavalry is not in sight, and it’s time to pack up the books and store them till we find another space.
You might ask yourself, why bother? Materialism rules the day. That is not news. More often than not, we take it for granted that the “bottom line” is the only line worth respecting, though it respects no one. This is a common conception, but not right. Right is the vertical line that runs through all levels: from its spiritual top to its earthly roots. This verticality is manifested only by integrity. Integrity defies gravity in its perpetual longing for truth. Millions of people have been put out of their homes by bottom-line-feeders. It’s common, but it’s not okay, now or at any other time. Sometimes you just have to take a stand. Integrity is a verb.
In 1970, I had a vision bout rebirth. A segment of that vision informs this struggle. In this particular scene, the spirit is climbing the Tree of Humanity, being lifted higher and higher by those entwined in The Tree. The spirit never steps on anyone’s face or heart. It just carries their dreams up with it. Because it is growing towards rebirth, it gets younger with each step up. Though there are thousands of supporters at the bottom of The Tree, there are fewer at the top and the helping hands are fewer and far between. At the top of The Tree, at the stratum of the clouds, quantity has morphed in into quality. Here a storm of wind and rain rages, lightning strikes and a mad dog spirals up The Tree, snapping at the heels of the now, infant spirit. Teetering on a limb, the spirit sees a man face down in the mud at the bottom of The Tree. Seems he got there from letting go of his faith in The Tree. The surrounding clouds urge the spirit fall.
The rumors, that were whispered,
Here, the silence screams,
And branches battle shadows
To defend their dreams.
Where Black is cut in pieces,
Can’t hold myself together.
Time cuts me down,
Life me brought up,
But lead me to this weather.
The Time says, ‘Fall
To soulless ease.
To struggle is disgrace.
The gravity will grant you peace,
And hide your shameful face.’
But I am born of honor:
Descendent from above.
My Father’s name is Wisdom
And my Mother’s name is Love.
And I have strength of purpose.
That’s what my climb’s about.
As I’m cut off,
I will hold ON
And trustingly Black-out.”
(Copyright 1997, Karen Johnson)
For the hundreds of people who have lent their time, money, and prayers, we are truly grateful.
—Tamiko, Greg, and Karen Johnson, co-owners Marcus Books of San Francisco
Kara Walker’s first large-scale public project is currently on display at Brooklyn’s legendary Domino Sugar Factory. Walker’s installation is called “Subtlety” and features a gigantic figure with African features, posed to resemble a 35-foot sphinx encrusted with sugar and to receive your questions. The exhibition urges us to take into account sugar’s human cost.
The exhibition is presented in partnership with Creative Time, which also published this essay by Edwidge Danticat about Haitian workers on Dominican sugar plantations:
Recruited under false pretenses and sometimes trafficked from Haiti, many of these men and women (and children too) work in Dominican sugarcane villages, or bateyes, in conditions that barely differ from those of their 18th-century forebears. During the zafra, or cane harvest season, they work from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. Yet they are barely able to pay for the food they eat. Some have their identity papers taken from them and fall into such bottomless debt that it becomes impossible for them to leave. Their children cannot go to school or learn a trade. Given the world’s insatiable appetite for sugar, this brutal cycle might well drag into the next century.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United States imports more than 200,000 tons of sugar from the Dominican Republic each year. This makes the Dominican Republic the United States’ largest sugar partner among those countries—including Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador—that signed the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). In September 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a report on conditions in the bateyes that found evidence of “potential violations” of the CAFTA-DR agreement. The report cited child labor, forced labor (especially for those at risk of deportation) and deplorable living conditions, including a lack of sanitation facilities and potable water.
Recently the High Court of the Dominican Republic ruled that only those who have lived in the country since 1929 and have one Dominican parent are entitled to Dominican citizenship. This ruling, by most accounts, would render nearly half a million Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless.
Angela Davis, who’s back at UCLA 45 years after being fired, recently gave a wide-ranging interview with the Los Angeles Times. It’s an excerpted portion of what’s certainly a much longer transcript and touches on everything from communism to the genre of radical writing from the 1970s. But this part about “Orange is the New Black” stood out to me, in part because it’s a pop culture reference to the prison abolition work that Davis has done for decades:
Congress is working on prison-sentence reform. Many states have banned capital punishment. Isn’t this encouraging?
I’ve associated myself with the prison abolition movement; that does not mean I refuse to endorse reforms. There is a very important campaign against solitary confinement, a reform that is absolutely necessary. The difference resides in whether the reforms help to make life more habitable for people in prison, or whether they further entrench the prison-industrial complex itself. So it’s not an either-or situation.
What would a just prison system look like to you?
It’s complicated. Most of us in the 21st century abolitionist movement look to W.E.B. Du Bois’ critique about the abolition of slavery — that it was not enough simply to throw away the chains. The real goal was to re-create a democratic society that would allow for the incorporation of former slaves. [Prison abolition] would be about building a new democracy: substantive rights to economic sustenance, to healthcare; more emphasis on education than incarceration; creating new institutions that would tend to make prisons obsolete.
It is possible, but even [if it doesn’t happen], we can move to a very different kind of justice that does not require a retributive impulse when someone does something terrible.
Do you watch the prison-themed comedy-drama “Orange Is the New Black”?
I not only saw the series but I read [Piper Kerman’s] memoir. She has a much deeper analysis than one sees in the series, but as a person who has looked at the role of women’s prisons in visual culture, primarily films, I think [the series] isn’t bad. There are so many aspects that often don’t [appear in] depictions of people in those oppressive circumstances. “12 Years a Slave,” for example — one thing I missed in that film was some sense of joy, some sense of pleasure, some sense of humanity.
Will this be on the syllabus for her graduate seminar this semester?
Here’s a little body positivity for your Thrursday!
These three plus-sized beauties got together to do an empowering reinterpretation of Beyoncé “Bow Down” video. The video stars model and blogger Gabifresh, Nadia Aboulhosn and Tess Munster.
Spike Lee recently announced that he’s teaming up with Showtime to turn his debut 1986 film “She’s Gotta Have It” into a miniseries. As my colleague Stacia L. Brown writes at the Washington Post, there’s plenty of reason to worry:
There’s just one dark cloud looming over this otherwise wonderful news: Spike Lee himself. Lee is reportedly writing and directing the Showtime series, and anyone familiar with his treatment of women characters in the near-30-year span since the original “She’s Gotta Have It” knows why this might give viewers pause.
It’s true that Lee created the free-spirited avant garde Nola of our nostalgic longing. But he also undermined her agency by writing in a scene wherein one of her suitors, Jamie Overstreet, intends to “tame” her into monogamous commitment by forcing himself on her. If one of the film’s conceits is to run Nola’s sexual freedom through the sieve of “traditional” gender role reversal, where a woman is the more vocal, proactive party in sexual pursuits and men are, for the most part, compliant with her whims, then the assault reads as cautionary: Women like Nola cannot trifle with men, lest they “put her in her place.”
After being a staple in black American households for 63 years, Jet magazine will no longer publish a regular print edition — it’s making the move to digital. Johnson Publishing chairwoman Linda Johnson Rice says, “We are not saying goodbye to Jet, we are embracing the future as my father did in 1951.”
Another day, another livestream. To cap off her most recent speaking series at the New School, feminist scholar bell hooks will be talking about feminist liberation with recent film stars Lisa Fischer (“20 Feet From Stardom) and Kim Skyes (“Pariah”). Fischer, you may remember, was one of the most transcendent singers featured in “20 Feet From Stardom,” and spoke at length about the spiritual work that it takes to find longevity in the entertainment industry. The talk begins at 4pm EST.
The second season of Big Freedia’s reality TV show kicks off on June 11 on Fuse. The show follows Freedia making his debut album, putting together a live show, and dealing with his mother’s battle with cancer.
Angela Davis, on returning to UCLA 45 years after being fired by the Board of Regents for her ties to the Communist Party, had this to say to a campus magazine:
“I never in my wildest imagination would have thought accepting the position here at UCLA would have led to that kind of notoriety,” said Davis, 70, who was a professor in the history of consciousness and feminist studies from 1991 to 2008 at UC Santa Cruz and is now retired. “At that time, my sense was: ‘Why did I do this?’
“I wasn’t seeking fame,” she added. “I wasn’t seeking notoriety. I just wanted to be a teacher and an activist.”
Davis is a Distinguished Professor Emerita and will be teaching a graduate seminar in gender studies this Spring. Read more over at UCLA’s website.
For folks who are eager to take a trip down memory lane, here’s Davis’ speaking about her firing in 1969. She says that “those involved in the conspiracy seem to be either ignorant or outright distainful of the very process of education.” Davis taught her first class at UCLA on October 6, 1969. Two days later, she was fired.
In his third installment of essays over at New York Magazine, Questlove breaks down the slow and steady disappearance of black cool:
These days, the vast majority of hip-hop artists follow a script because they’re trying to succeed in a game whose rules are clear. To paraphrase Barthes: American hip-hop is usually based on imitation, and it is meant to produce artists who are users of the existing tradition, not creators. And because of that, black culture in general — which has defaulted into hip-hop — is no longer perceived as an interesting vanguard, as a source of potential disruption or a challenge to the dominant. It might be worth watching if nothing else is on, but you don’t need to keep an eye on it. And that leads to a more distressing question, not rhetorical this time: Once you don’t have a cool factor any longer — when cool gets decoupled from African-American culture — what happens to the way that black people are seen?
Are they seen? That’s also not rhetorical. The majority of any population listens to rules. Most people do what society tells them to, to a predictable degree. Those people don’t need to be monitored, because they aren’t any threat at all. There’s a second, smaller group that shows itself over time to be ungovernable. Most of those people are warehoused, locked away in prisons or otherwise contained. Neither of those two groups needs to be seen — not really, not in the sense of being significantly visible to the culture at large. But what about those rare people who remain ungovernable and free? What about the people who draw society’s surveilling gaze and gaze back levelly? Those people are cool. Pick your icon: Hendrix or Ali or Pryor. Think about how they handled being handled. And in black America, traditionally, the rest of us need those people. They produce a wide and welcome positive halo effect. They teach by example that a certain edginess and individuality can persist without being stamped out.