Critics Are Already Swooning Over Ava DuVernay’s ‘Selma’

Critics Are Already Swooning Over Ava DuVernay's 'Selma'

It doesn’t hit theaters until Christmas Day, but critics are already in love with “Selma,” the civil rights drama directed by Ava DuVernay. On Monday, the American Film Institute released its best-of-the-year list of filmslist and included “Selma” among its 11 choices.

The African-American Film Critics Association also lauded the film, placing it atop their list of the year’s best films. It also named DuVernay for its best director prize, while the best actor prize went to David Oyelowo (who plays King) and John Legend’s and Common’s song “Glory” won the their pick for best song.

“Our members found the output of cinema released this year to be a truly insightful mix of titles that reflect the world we live in. The members of AAFCA were especially pleased with this range of storytelling supported by the studios that gave voice to the many sides of the experience of black people in America and around the world,” AAFCA president Gil Robertson said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “We had a lot to pick from this year from BelleDear White PeopleTop FiveTimbuktu and Selma and hope the industry will continue to provide a platform for diversity on the big screen.”    

(h/t The Hollywood Reporter)

LeBron James, Brooklyn Nets Wear ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirts in Front of Royals

Prince William and Catherine, Dutchess of Cambridge visited Barclay’s on Monday night to watch LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Brooklyn Nets. And they were treated to a lot more than just a basketball game.

James and several members of the Nets wore T-shirts that read “I Can’t Breathe” in support of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who was choked to death by the NYPD in July. A grand jury’s decision not to criminally charge the officer involved in Garner’s death has sparked days of protests in cities across the country.

Black athletes have been taking their protests to the playing fields in the weeks since grand juries declined to bring charges against officers in both Mike Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths.

Watch the SNL Ferguson Skit That Never Aired

“Saturday Night Live” tried to tackle Ferguson in this skit, which didn’t air because of time. Check it out.

There’s a New Nina Simone Film Coming to Netflix

There's a New Nina Simone Film Coming to Netflix

Academy Award nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus is at the helm of a new look at Nina Simone called, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” RadicalMedia, the company that’s producing the film, is teaming up with Netflix to make the film available for streaming in 2015, according to Shadow and Act.

“I’m thrilled that Netflix has embraced the incredible story of Nina Simone and partnered with RadicalMedia on this film,” said director Garbus. “For each of her millions of fans, Nina feels like a treasured secret. With ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?,’ I’m excited to help bring her passion, her music and her story to the world.”

The film appears to be a documentary that, in addition to looking at Simone’s singing career and social activism, will also feature never-before-heard recordings. It will also include interviews with Simone’s close friends and musical collaborators, in addition to her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, who’s gone public about her sometimes-tumultuous relationship with her late mother, who died in 2003.

Remembering Nina Simone on film has been a continuously difficult endeavor. Zoe Saldana, who’s noticeably lighter skinned than Simone, was cast to play a lead in a narrative film whose director later sued the studio that was due to release it. Simone’s daughter later criticized the film for relying on a love story that never happened.

Lisa Simone Kelly is listed as an executive producer of this latest project, so it’s unlikely to have those same problems. 


John Legend Hires Food Truck to Feed NYC Protesters

John Legend Hires Food Truck to Feed NYC Protesters

Looks like John Legend has thrown himself into the political moment. Last week, he released a protest song with Common called “Glory.” And now, there’s news that he and wife Chrissy Teigen hired a food truck over the weekend to feed New York City protesters rallying around the non-indictment of an NYPD officer is Eric Garner’s videotaped death:

From Okayplayer via Vanity Fair:

Employing the power of social media to get the word out, John Legend tweeted the locations of the trucks and the link for fans to listen to his new collaborative song “Glory” featuring Common for the upcoming film Selma - a picture from director Ava DuVernay that brings the movement behind the 1965 Voting Rights Act to the silver screen.

Read more.

Black Athletes Show Game-Day Solidarity With Eric Garner

On the first weekend of sports action since a Staten Island grand jury declined to bring criminal charges against the officer whose chokehold killed Eric Garner this past summer, several professional athletes decided to use the platforms provided by their sports to speak out against the extrajudicial killings of black men by police officers. 

Chicago Bulls point guard Derek Rose wore a T-shirt that read Garner’s infamous last words, “I can’t breathe,” during warm-ups against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.

The move earned him the ire of at least one sports columnist, who called the all-star player “inarticulate” and questioned whether he understood his actions. But Rose did earn the praise of LeBron James, who called Rose’s action “spectacular” and mentioned that he’s shopping around for a shirt of his own.

On Sunday, Detroit Lions running black Reggie Bush made a similar statement, scrawling “I Can’t Breathe” in black Sharpie across his blue warm-up shirt before a game against the the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In an interview with last month, Bush, who’s mother was a police officer for 20 years, described his anger about a Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict former police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown in August. “Just something seemed flawed about the system and about the way that situation was handled,” Bush said. “I don’t know all the facts of what happened during when Michael Brown was killed, but I just know that a young man lost his life. Was shot how many times? Six? Ten times? Ten times. That’s a little excessive.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell supported Bush’s action. “I grew up in the ’60s, where everybody was socially conscious,” Caldwell told reporters. “I believe in it. I’d be a hypocrite if I stood up here and told you any differently, because more than likely, some of those protests that Dr. [Martin Luther] King and some of the others that took a part in non-violent protests, is the reason why I’m standing here in front of you today.”

Rose and Bush were just two of a handful of pro athletes who made the action. Here’s St. Louis Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt, who was one of several players who made the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture last week:

Britt also had several names, including Mike Brown’s and Trayvon Martin’s, written on his cleats during Sunday’s game.

Britt’s teammate, offensive lineman Davin Joseph tweeted this photo of his cleats against Washington, D.C.’s NFL team on Sunday:

Here’s Cleveland Brown’s cornerback Johnson Bademosi, who told reporters: “It’s not an us-against-them thing. It’s about us standing in solidarity with those of us who know what’s going on.”

And here’s San Diego Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram:

It’s not yet clear if any of these players will be fined for their on-field actions. Both the NFL and NBA adhere to strict dress codes both before and after games. For what it’s worth, the five Rams players, including Britt, who made the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture during pre-game introductions last week weren’t fined by the team or the league.

UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union Stages 4.5 Hour Campus Sit-in

Black students at UC Berkeley staged a four and a half hour sit-in on campus Thursday to protest the extrajudicial killings of black men. The duration of the protest was a symbolic nod to the amount of time Mike Brown’s lifeless body lay in a Ferguson street in August.

According to Eater:

Around noon [on Thursday], the group blockaded The Golden Bear, one of Cal’s more popular spots for breakfast and lunch, tweeting that “No one eats until we get justice!” Surrounded by a 300-person crowd of sympathetic fellow students and community members, the students spoke out against the verdicts and a larger culture of systematic discrimination and violence by the police against the black community.

The students have continued their protest throughout the afternoon, demanding demilitarization of law enforcement, a national “End Racial Profiling” act, and investigation of the criminalization of communities of color.

(h/t Eater)

Ryan Coogler Explains Why ‘Fruitvale Station’ Wasn’t Enough

Ryan Coogler Explains Why 'Fruitvale Station' Wasn't Enough

I spent the first part of this week talking with various members of Blackout for Human Rights, a self-described leaderless network of activists, artists and everyday people that’s come together to speak out against the extrajudicial killings of black men. Formed in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s killing last August, the network staged a nationwide boycott of Black Friday, America’s busiest shopping day of the year.

I also chatted with Ryan Coogler, one of the network’s founders. Coogler directed the critically-acclaimed film “Fruitvale Station,” which follows a doom-fated Oscar Grant on the last day of his life before he was shot and killed by former Bay Area transit cop Johannes Mehserle. Coogler made it clear that the network’s strength was its diversity, and while the big names of the bunch had gotten a lot of attention, its power comes from the range ideas it gets from its members, most of whom aren’t very famous. But the celebrity part of this still intrigued me, namely in light of recent debates about how politically active black celebrities could and should be in today’s world. Remember a couple years ago when Harry Belafonte called out Beyonce and Jay-Z for being selfish? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking.

In addition to the reporting I did for this morning’s story, something interesting that didn’t quite make it into the final piece was this: why Coogler didn’t think his artwork was enough.

You made a film about these very issues called “Fruitvale Station.” Why wasn’t that enough? Why were you compelled to do more in the community?

I made that film fresh out of graduate school. I actually started working on it before I’d graduated, so I was young when I made it. When I was making the film, there was a question that I had as to how a situation like this [Oscar Grant’s murder] could happen and how it could happen so often. I was exploring that through the art form that I like to engage with and I was doing it in a way to maybe find the answers for myself, maybe raise questions in audience members.

But at the end of the day, with a work of art — which is what filmmaking is — the most you can do is give people perspective on a situation, whether that’s a fiction situation or a non-fiction situation, and you can make people think. You can trigger dialogue, trigger discussion. What you can do in terms of real work networking is kind of the same thing, but just on a more grassroots level. And on a level where more people can contribute. When you’re working on a film, only those folks who are in the film industry can contribute to making that happen. But when you have a loose network like what Blackout is, with people from all different backgrounds, all different careers, all different demographics, you can share information and talk. I’ve found in a couple months we’ve been able to get a lot done and have conversations that nobody would be able to have when they’re operating in their own bubble.

Read the story at Colorlines.

John Legend, Common Add ‘Glory’ to SELMA Soundtrack

Ava DuVernay’s SELMA doesn’t hit theaters until Christmas day, but we’re already getting a peek at the upcoming soundtrack. This week John Legend and Common released their protest song “Glory,” which coincides nicely with the rallies that have swept the country since the decision in the Eric Garner case. Listen. 

(h/t Okayplayer)

Questlove Urges Artists to Write More Protest Songs

In the aftermath of a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in Eric Garner’s chokehold death, DJ and Roots drummer and bandleader Questlove took to Instagram with a call to action for other artists, urging them to “push themselves to be a voice of the times that we live in.” See his full message below:

I urge and challenge musicians and artists alike to push themselves to be a voice of the times that we live in. I know that many see what happened to Dixie Chicks’ #NatalieMaines @mainesmusic (she bravely expressed her opinion/dismay on the Bush administration declaring war & was unjustly targeted….while in hindsight being CORRECT) suddenly there was an onslaught of radio silence from artists across the board (correction not everyone was silent, but the silence was deafening) although I’m kinda/sorta addressing the hip hop nation I really apply this challenge to ALL artists. We need new Dylans. New Public Enemys. New Simones. New De La Roachas. New ideas! But it just doesn’t stop there!! We need outlets (hello #ClearChannel #RadioOne #Vh1) to balance the system. Yeah I’m just as guilty of feeling the high of all that I despise (“Devil’s Pie” D’angelo) but the reason why this nation seems to be moving 3 steps ahead in some areas…..but then 7 steps backwards in every area is a lack of balance. I’m not saying every song gotta be “Fight The Power” but in times like these we need to be more community minded (taking a wild guess that “urban radio’s” format didn’t change much from the pre program stuff (using that word *politely*) we’ve been hearing for years. & when I say challenge I don’t mean breathless race to the finish on who makes the more banging “Fuck Tha Police” sequel. I mean real stories. Real narratives. Songs with spirit in them. Songs with solutions. Songs with questions. Protest songs don’t have to be boring or non danceable or ready made for the next Olympics. They just have to speak truth. I laugh & have fun w “Bitch You Guessed It” like everyone else. But my soul is aching man. Seriously just ONE or Two songs that change the course. This is something I feel the need and urgency to put out there. #EricGarner #MikeBrown #JusticeForAll #FeedMySoul #HandsUpDontShoot #ICantBreathe

A photo posted by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on

‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Shows Up at Art Basel

Artist Hank Willis Thomas, who is best known for “Question Bridge,” posted a shot of his new sculpture, which he showed at Art Basel, on Instagram:

#raiseup #icantbreath #ericgarner #handsupdontshoot #onedaywewillallbefree #peoplegetready

A photo posted by Hank willis Thomas (@hankwillisthomas) on

J. Cole, Azealia Banks Call Out White Appropriation of Black Music

In light of outrage in Ferguson and New York City over the failure to indict white police officers for the killings of unarmed black men, black rappers’ criticism of white artists has taken on new light. In one instance, J. Cole called out Eminem, Iggy Azealia and Justin Timberlake on a leaked version of his upcoming album “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” 

His bars include missives like:

“History repeats itself and that’s just how it goes / same way that these rappers always bite each other’s flows/ same thing that my n***a Elvis did with rock ‘n’ roll / Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and then Macklemore.”


“While silly n****s argue over who gon’ snatch the crown, / look around my n***a, white people have snatched the sound. / This year I’ll probably go to the awards dappered down / Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile.” 

Meanwhile, Azealia Banks—never one to shy away from Twitter beef—called out Iggy Azalea (whom she dubbed “Igloo Australia”)  in a series of tweets. Banks accused the pop star of appropriating black music but failing to stand up for black folks’ civil rights. Banks wrote:

Watch: Spike Lee Predicts Eric Garner Decision and NYC Protests

Watch: Spike Lee Predicts Eric Garner Decision and NYC Protests

Before joining protests in Manhattan on Wednesday night, filmmaker Spike Lee sat down for an interview with Complex to talk about the police killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Lee inserted himself into the conversation around police brutality shortly after Garner’s death last summer when he released a video that edited together the videotaped footage of Garner’s fatal encounter with NYPD officers with a Radio Raheem’s chokehold death in Lee’s 1989 film “Do the Right Thing.”

(h/t Complex)

Thousands Nationwide March for Eric Garner

Protesters across the country rallied last night for Eric Garner after a New York grand jury failed to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner’s chokehold death. The decision came a little more than a week after another grand jury in Ferguson declined to indict former Officer Darren Wilson in Mike Brown’s shooting death in August, meaning that emotions were raw and frustrations were at an all-time high. Here’s a brief scan of rallies in various cities calling for an end to the violent killing of unarmed black men by law enforcement. 

New York City:




ericgarner_nyc8.jpgericgarner_nyc2.jpgericgarner_nyc3.jpg(Photo credit: Yana Paskova/ Getty Images) 


ericgarner_oakland1.jpg ericgarner_oakland2.jpg


(Photo credit: Elijah Nouvelage/ Getty Images)

Washington, D.C.:

ericgarner_dc1.jpg ericgarner_dc2.jpg ericgarner_dc3.jpg ericgarner_dc4.jpg(Photo credit: T.J. Kirkpatrick/ Getty Images)

Los Angeles:

ericgarner_la1.jpg ericgarner_la2.jpg(Photo credit: David McNew/ Getty Images)




Charles Barkley Still Thinks Ferguson Protesters Are ‘Scumbags’

NBA Hall of Famer and current TV analyst Charles Barkley never misses an opportunity to beat the black community upside the head with his bootstrap logic. He recently called Ferguson protesters “scumbags,” and in a lengthy interview with CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Tuesday he reiterated his point that he doesn’t believe white police officers shoot people because of racism. 

Some notable quotes:

  • “We as black people, we have a lot of crooks. We can’t just wait until something like (the Brown shooting) happens. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror,” he said of people in black communities.
  • “There is a reason that [cops] racially profile us in the way that they do. Sometimes it is wrong, and sometimes it is right.”
  • “Anybody who walks out peacefully, who protests peacefully, that’s what this country was built on,” he said. “But to be burning people’s property, burning police cars, looting people’s stores, that is 100 percent ridiculous.”

Read more

Janet Mock Raises Nearly $8K (and Counting) in Books for Trans Prisoners

Author and media maker Janet Mock launched her second annual #TransBookDrive this week on Indiegogo and it’s already been a smashing success. The project, which raises money to send books to incarcerated transgender inmates in U.S. jails and prisons, has already raised nearly $8,000 in fewer than two days, already surpassing its goal of $5,000 with 28 days left.

It’s an effort that highlights a significant problem. Nearly one in six transgender people in America has been to prison — and nearly half of all transgender black people, according to Lambda Legal. Once incarcerated, transgender inmates — particularly women locked in men’s facilities — face increased risks of physical and sexual assault behind bars. 

Mock timed this year’s drive to coincide with the paperback release of her memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More.” She partnered with biyuti publishing, Black Girl Dangerous and LGBT Books to Prisoners to fulfill book requests from 200 transgender inmates. The books will be delivered in care packages that include a handwritten letter from each author. Those authors and titles include: Mia McKenzie’s “Black Girl Dangerous Anthology” and “The Summer We Got Free,” “Decolonizing trans/gender” 101 by b. binaohan, “Make Love to Rage” by Morgan Robyn Collado, “Trauma Queen” by Lovemme Corazón and Mock’s “Redefining Realness.” 

Read more about the book drive at Indiegogo

* This post has been updated. 

Toni Morrison’s New Novel Set to Hit Shelves Next Spring

Toni Morrison's New Novel Set to Hit Shelves Next Spring

Good news, Toni Morrison fans. She’s got a new novel coming out in April of 2015 called “God Help the Child.” From BuzzFeed:

Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child is a searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult. At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish…Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother…Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she’s suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother… and Sweetness, Bride’s mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

It’ll be her Morrison’s 11th novel and serve as proof that, at 83, she’s still got it.

Grace Lee Boggs, Close to Death, Asks Supporters for Help

Grace Lee Boggs, Close to Death, Asks Supporters for Help

Grace Lee Boggs, the pioneering Asian-American activist who’s helped inspire generations of community organizers, is near death. Boggs is 99 and has been in hospice care since  September, and now those closest to her are urging supporters to donate what they can to help aide her final transition. From a website set up to accept donations:

Grace has always put the needs of others before her own. But now she is in need of your support. In September 2014, Grace went into hospice care. Over the last month she has become stronger, and it seems will be with us for much longer. She has been welcoming old friends and keeping up on world events. Still, she requires 24-hour care.

As you might know, there is very little public support for quality care to keep our elders in their homes. Grace’s resources are nearly depleted and those of us around her are limited in how much financial support we can all provide. Her care costs $8,000 per month. This is frankly more money than we have ever raised.

Read more

Actor John Boyega to ‘Black Stormtrooper’ Critics: ‘Get Used To It’

Some “Star Wars” fans weren’t happy to see a black man, John Boyega, featured so prominently in the recently released trailer for “The Force Awakens.”

The actor’s response? Too bad. He posted the following on Instagram:

With love xxx

A photo posted by @jboyega on

Jacqueline Woodson Responds to National Book Awards’ Watermelon Joke

Jacqueline Woodson Responds to National Book Awards' Watermelon Joke

There have been many responses to writer Daniel Handler’s racist joke about watermelon at this year’s National Book Awards ceremony. Handler, who was emceeing the event, leveled the joke at Jacqueline Woodson, who’d ironically just won the night’s honor for young adult literature for her memoir “Brown Girl Dreaming.” “I told Jackie she was going to win,” Handler said. “And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned about her this summer — which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.”

Though Handler issued an apology on Twitter, the reaction was swift and severe. Nikky Finney, who won the award for poetry in 2011 and added a blistering acceptance speech, wrote on her personal website that Handler’s remarks were just one example of the casual racism that’s endemic in the literary world.

The words Handler spoke were spit and spoken into my face just as they have been spit and spoken into my Black face for most of my life. The truth is: his words were spit and spoken into all of our faces. His racist ‘unfortunate’ words are part of what keeps us where and what we are as a country that refuses to deal with ‘race.’

Now, Woodson herself has responded to Handler’s racism with a moving essay in the New York Times. In it, she talks about how so-called humor is often used to minimize the resilience of black folks.

In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from. By making light of that deep and troubled history, he showed that he believed we were at a point where we could laugh about it all. His historical context, unlike my own, came from a place of ignorance.

“Brown Girl Dreaming” is the story of my family, moving from slavery through Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, and ends with me as a child of the ’70s. It is steeped in the history of not only my family but of America. As African-Americans, we were given this history daily as weapons against our stories’ being erased in the world or, even worse, delivered to us offhandedly in the form of humor.

Read more at the New York Times

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