Remembering the ‘Ungovernable’ Ella Fitzgerald’s Time in a Youth Prison

Remembering the 'Ungovernable' Ella Fitzgerald's Time in a Youth Prison

Long before she earned a reputation as a legendary jazz singer, 15-year-old Ella Fitzgerald was called “ungovernable” and unwilling to “obey the just and lawful commands of her mother” by Westchester County judge George W. Smyth. She was sent to the Hudson Reform, the only state juvenile institution that accepted both black and white children. 

Russ Immarigeon at Prison Public Memory dug up Fitzgerald’s history with the juvenile justice system to show that it’s long preyed on black and brown children. Today, there are more than 66,000 American youth who are confined in juvenile detention facilities, according to Nell Bernstein, author of “Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison.” The majority of those kids are, like Fitzgerald, sentenced to serve time for non-violence offenses; only one of every four confined youths was locked up based on a Violent Crime Index offense.

Fitzgerald suffered plenty of abuse at the hands of the state before making it big in Harlem. From Immarigeon:

Her biographers appear to agree on this: A fifteen- or sixteen-year-old Ella Fitzgerald returned, in a disheveled and homeless state, to New York City in late 1933 or early 1934. Shortly thereafter, she tried to display her dancing talents at the Apollo on 125th Street before taking its famous stage to sing. Soon, she started singing regularly with drummer Tiny Bradshaw’s band at the less-well-known Harlem Opera House. And, at the age of seventeen, within a year of leaving Hudson, Fitzgerald was singing and recording with the swinging Chick Webb and his Orchestra, where she quickly took her first steps toward being America’s “First Lady of Jazz.” 

After her death in 1996, cultural critic Margo Jefferson rembered her life this way:

 “That voice never did give us intimations of the stepfather who abused her when her mother was dead; of the aunt who rescued her, then had no time or money to care for her; of Ella herself as a teenage truant who did time in a New York State reformatory for girls, where discipline was instilled though beatings and solitary confinement. When she ran away, she went from wayward girl to urchin, shuffling alone through the streets of Harlem, singing and dancing for small change, sleeping wherever she could find a night’s bed and board.”

Read more at Prison Public Memory.


Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan Are Making Another Movie Together Again

Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan Are Making Another Movie Together Again

Director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan gained acclaim a few years ago with “Fruitvale Station,” the drama based on the last day of Oscar Grant’s life before he was shot and killed by transit cop Johannes Mehserle. Now the two are teaming up again to make “Creed,” a film that follows the grandson of a character in the “Rocky” franchise, Apollo Creed. 

More from Shadow and Act:

The story for what will be the 7th film in the “Rocky” franchise will see Michael B. Jordan play the grandson of Apollo Creed, raised in a wealthy home, living off his grandfather’s earnings, but who, despite his family not wanting him to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, has the desire to do so, as well as the natural gifts and potential that his grandfather used to become a heavyweight champion… that is until Rocky Balboa took his crown in 1979′s “Rocky II.” Creed’s grandson seeks a mentor to help train him, and, of course, that mentor turns out to be Balboa himself (Stallone), who is no longer interested in the sport, and apparently needs to be convinced to help get Creed’s grandson prepped and ready to get in the ring.

Champion boxer (and, like Coogler, Oakland native) Andre Ward is also in negotiations to join the film’s cast. It’ll start shooting in early 2015. No word yet on a release date. 

Watch Issa Rae’s Hilarious Take on Young Thug

ICYMI, Isse Rae offers up a close reading of Young Thug’s “Riches, No Bitches” on the latest episode of “Ratchetpiece Theater.”

(h/t For Harriet)

Twitter Reminds Bill Cosby That He Can’t Keep Dodging Those Rape Allegations

When Bill Cosby took to Twitter on Monday night to drum up publicity for his website by asking fans to create memes, he certainly didn’t expect an avalanche of reminders about the many rape allegations leveled against him over the years. But that’s exactly what happened. (Cosby has since deleted his initial tweet to his followers.)


Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen Shut Down Over Palestinian Program

Pittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen Shut Down Over Palestinian Program

Since 2010, Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen has gone about the idealistic goal of trying to foster understanding between warring countries. The eatery features food from regions of the world under siege by the U.S. military, serving up what Benjamin Sutton at Hyperallergic dubbed “culinary diplomacy.” But that diplomacy has been called into question recently by Israel advocacy organization B’nai B’rith in a battle over the restaurant’s Palestinian programming. Last week, the drama got so heated that death threats temporarily shut down the kitchen.

From Hyperallergic:

Attacks on Conflict Kitchen have revolved around two issues. Its Palestine-themed programming launched with a September 30 talk that featured West Bank-raised, Pittsburgh-based doctor Nael Aldweib and Ken Boas, a University of Pittsburgh professor who is also the chair of the board of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA. That event drew criticism from Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle for not including an Israeli perspective.

“Promoting understanding is at the core of Conflict Kitchen’s mission,” Rubin and Weleski wrote. “We have demonstrated this in the past by presenting the food, culture, and viewpoints of Iranians, Afghans, Cubans, North Koreans, and Venezuelans.  We believe that presenting the viewpoints of Palestinians promotes understanding of Palestinians.”

Critics have also taken aim at Conflict Kitchen’s food wrappers, some of which contain excerpts of interviews that took place in Palestine. But in a blog post last week from co-founders Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski reiterated Conflict Kitchen’s mission — and noted that they’re good at what they do. “The real story on our Palestinian version is that it is the most popular iteration to date, with 300-400 people a day coming to the restaurant,” they wrote. “Our public is approaching us with trust, support, and open minds.”

New 5Pointz Landlord Insists He Owns Graffiti Mecca’s Name

New 5Pointz Landlord Insists He Owns Graffiti Mecca's Name

It was bad enough to see the historic Manhattan graffiti mecca 5Pointz get whitewashed and then demolished earlier this year to clear the way for new condos. Now the lot’s landlord, Jerry Wolkoff, is trying to use the name for the condos he’s building there. 

From the Huffington Post:
The move makes one more bullet point in a list of grievances for the key artists and activists associated with 5Pointz, for whom Wolkoff became an enemy after his dramatic overnight whitewashing. One, Marie Cecile Flageul, acted as the group’s press liaison when plans were underway to sway the city to preserve the graffiti-smothered building. Speaking to a reporter this week, Flageul accused Wolkoff of trying to “bank off our name.” She called the name-grab “ironic,” asserting that “the same corporation which single-handedly destroyed all the artwork known as 5Pointz” is “trying to capitalize” on its cache. 
Many of the city’s legendary graffiti writers attribute the name to Jason “Meres One” Cohen, a street artist who curated the site back in the ’80s. The two new condo buildings will be part of a $400 million redevelopment plan, which Wolkoff promises will recapture some of its predecessor’s mystique, with an exterior tagging wall and artist studios inside the building. People “don’t believe that I’m going to bring them back,” he told the Huffington Post. “But they will be back.” 

Azealia Banks is Fed Up With Mainstream Music, Especially Those ‘Corny’ White Girls

Azealia Banks is Fed Up With Mainstream Music, Especially Those 'Corny' White Girls

Azealia Banks dropped her long awaited debut LP “Broke With Expensive Taste” as a surprise for fans last Thursday. Pitchfork’s Jeremy Gordon was there the next day to talk with the rapper/singer about the tortured road she’s taken since 2011, when she seemed primed for mainstream success only to flounder under Interscope for the next three years and get into a series of high profile Twitter fights.

Banks always has a lot to say about being a black woman in the industry. In June, shortly  before she was dropped from Interscope, she begged to be let go, writing on Twitter, “I’m tired of having to consult a group of old white guys about my black girl craft.” She was no less forthcoming with Pitchfork noting that even though some of her mess was of her own making, she got very little help cleaning it up.

Pitchfork: Two years ago, you told Spin that signing to a major label would be your one chance. 

Azealia Banks: At that point, I was really young and surrounded by a lot of older men who were working with me, that I was dating—a lot of older people I had to deal with. And having the male co-sign is something that people talk about a lot, especially with female rappers. Having been rejected by so many different people, I was just like, “Oh my God, I’m back in with these guys, this is my last chance.” But now I know how much it costs to go in the studio—I could make a thousand dollars and record for 12 hours and do whatever I need to fucking do. I don’t need these major label guys. These people are not my last shot. I know how to do this. I can do this. And thanks to Twitter, I can do it my own way, too.

She then goes in on the mainstream industry at large saying that having to deal with the career pressures and living in the digital public eye is “making me insane.”

Or it’ll be like, “We’re gonna pop off the white-girl rapper,” so we’ll have Gwen Stefani and Fergie, and then it’ll get worse and worse and worse. And you’re just like, “What the fuck is this?” The whole trend of white girls appropriating black culture was so corny—it was more corny than it was offensive. Trust me, I’m not offended: All the things I’m trying to run away from in my black American experience are all the things that they’re celebrating. So if they fuckin’ want them, have them; if they want to be considered oversexualized and ignorant every time they open their fucking mouth, then fucking take it. But more than that, the art is not good. These songs are not good. It’s like, “Oh my God, you’re doing this black woman impression, is that what the fuck you think of me, bitch? I need to meet the black woman that you’re imitating because I’ve never met any black woman who acts that bizarre.” It’s crazy that this becomes mainstream culture. All of America is celebrating shit like that. It’s so weird.

Read more at Pitchfork.

The World’s Getting a New Disney Princess Who’s Not White

The World's Getting a New Disney Princess Who's Not White

Disney is set to release “Moana,” its 56th animated feature, in 2016. And this time the princess is Polynesian:

Here’s more from Entertainment Weekly:

Moana is described as a “a sweeping, CG-animated comedy-adventure,” and takes place in ancient Oceania in the South Pacific. The film will tell the story of its titular character, a teenage girl and “born navigator” who “sets sail in search of a fabled island,” according to a summary from Disney. “During her incredible journey, she teams up with her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui, to traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous sea creatures, breathtaking underworlds and ancient folklore,” Disney reveals.

Read more

It’s a step in the right direction, but as Maureen Shaw wrote at Mic about merchandise sales and Disney princesses, the company’s got a long way to go:

Disney critics have long accused the company of racism and heterogeneity, and while the media powerhouse has made recent strides in diversifying its princesses, perhaps it’s not doing enough on the merchandise front. Did Disney manufacture equal shares of white versus non-white princess wares? Considering that two other princesses of color, Mulan and Pocahontas, didn’t even rank in the report, it’s an alarming possibility.

Read more

Video: Women of Color Speak Out About Street Harassment

Over at Jezebel, Collier Meyerson writes about that controversial Hollaback video on street harassment and new response from a group of women of color:

…black and brown women were excluded, as if we do not exist, or are not affected by street harassment when, in fact, we are more endangered by it. Black and brown women, women of color of size, and trans women are among our society’s most vulnerable. Black women are at a greater risk of domestic violence. For trans women, even leaving the house can be fraught with emotional and physical violence. Women of color, regardless of gender expression, have an extra layer of fear and anxiety when walking down the street. The Hollaback video’s omission of white men, and the omission of black and brown women, worked together in an sinister alchemy to reinforce centuries-old stereotypes about who needs to be saved and protected and who needs to be feared and controlled.

Hollaback did issue an apology, writing: “We agree wholeheartedly that the video should have done a better job of representing our understanding of street harassment and we take full responsibility for that.”

In the video below, several women of color talk about their experiences with street harassment, often at the hands of white men.

Azealia Banks’ Debut LP ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ Climbs U.S. iTunes Chart

Azealia Banks didn’t exactly surprise fans on Thursday when she dropped her debut LP “Broke With Expensive Taste.” The album was originally slated for a 2012 release, but after many well-publicized setbacks, it was pushed back more than two years. Banks finally left her label earlier this year, and the last night released the album without any warning on iTunes and Spotify. Within hours of its release, the album hit the number three spot on the U.S. iTunes music chart.

If you’ve got a Spotify account, you can stream the whole album below. 

Asian Woman Acts Like Creepy Dude, Talks About White Fetish

ICYMI, writer and actress Joy Regullano was tired of white men fetishizing Asian woman, so she flipped the script and turned in this hilarious video. Check it out.

(h/t Everyday Feminism)

Ryan Potter of ‘Big Hero 6’ Talks About Hapa Actors, Diversity in Casting

Ryan Potter of 'Big Hero 6' Talks About Hapa Actors, Diversity in Casting

“Big Hero 6” is Disney Pictures latest big film release and is set to hit theaters this weekend. Momo Chang at the Center for Asian American Media points out that the film itself is an homage to Japanese anime and also chatted with Ryan Potter, the 19-year-old voice actor for the film’s main character, Hiro.

So the main character, Hiro, is hapa, Japanese and white, similar to your own background. Could you relate to the character?

I mean, I could relate to the character, simply from the fact that we look similar. But then when you dive in deeper, we’re very similar, in the sense that when I set my mind to something, I get it done. Hiro’s very much the same way. We both get tunnel vision. Hiro’s much smarter than I am, but our intellect can get us into a little bit of trouble. Yeah, I mean, even when I walked into the audition the first time, I looked at the character design, and I thought, we kind of look similar!

The film also features a pretty diverse voiceover cast that includes Daniel Henney, Jamie Chung, Maya Rudolph, Damon Wayans, Jr. and Genesis Rodriguez. On that, Potter remarked:

When you hear the film, it sounds like we’re in the same room at the same time but it’s actually the opposite. We all record on our own, separately. And then the editors and sound engineers, they end up putting all the voiceover together. I mean, I worked with Maya Rudolph very briefly, maybe 20 minutes, max. But other than that, we all worked on our own.BIG HERO 6

Potter speaks to representation that’s seriously lacking in Hollywood. According to a study from the University of Southern California, Asians made up just over four percent of speaking characters across last year’s top 100 grossing movies.

Read more at the Center for Asian American Media

MTV’s ‘Rebel Music’ to Feature Indigenous Artists in North America

MTV is marking November’s Native American Heritage Month by premiering a 30-minute episode of its “Rebel Music” series on young indigenous artists in North America. The series looks at socially conscious artists across the globe. This episode, for which renowned street artist Shepard Fairey serves as an executive producer, features stories of Frank Waln, Inez Jasper, Nataanii Means and Mike Clifford. They’re all activists who channel their messages through art in an effort to combat the devastating realities of issues ranging from suicide to sexual assault in their communities.

 Here’s a sneak peek:

In a somewhat unconventional move, the episode will premiere on Rebel Music’s Facebook page next Thursday, November 13 at 4pm EST/1pm PST. Stay tuned. 

Sandra Oh Goes from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to New Animated Film

Former “Grey’s Anatomy” star Sandra Oh is trying to raise money for a new animated project called “Window Horses.” It’s about a young Chinese-Iranian-Canadian poet who goes off in search of her father at a poetry festival. 

From NBC Asian America:

The film stars Oh as Rosie and Nancy Kwan — one of Hollywood’s first major stars of Asian descent — as Gloria, Rosie’s overprotective grandmother. Much of the film’s cast has yet to be officially announced, and in an interview with CBC Radio earlier this month, Oh, who also serves as executive producer, said she was searching for actors who would help keep the authenticity of the story.

“I would like to see…the people who are actually the central storytellers be people who are not white,” Oh said. “Look at the call sheet and number one, two, three, four, five, and that’s what I’d like to see change.”

Check out the project’s Indiegogo campaign to learn more. Watch Oh talk about the project in the video below:

TAGS: Sandra Oh

Kendrick Lamar Spreads Love in First Official Video From New Album

Kendrick Lamar dropped the first official video from his forthcoming, untitled album this week. The track, “i,” has already been roundly praised by fans and was chosen as the theme song for the 2014-2015 NBA season. As Ambrosia for Heads points out, the video is just another extension of Lamar’s mission to “save lives musically.” It features Lamar leading a crowd of people dancing through everyday and sometimes heartbreaking scenes in Compton. Here’s more:

Kendrick clearly understands the grasp his music has within the Hip-Hop realm and even more importantly, he understands that the people who listen to his music believein it and look to him for direction. In his interview with Peter Rosenberg and Hot 97, K. Dot reveals that fans have personally expressed that the Top Dawg member’s music has prevented them from doing harm to themselves and even relieved them from the stranglehold of suicidal thoughts. With that knowledge at hand, Kendrick has taken it upon himself to continue that trend by delivering uplifting, lyrically driven content with his listeners in mind.

Read more. Still no word on a release date for Lamar’s sophomore LP.

Eva Longoria: ‘I Was Fortunate to Grow Up in a Family of Activists’

Actress Eva Longoria recently co-founded the Latino Victory PAC, which tossed its support behind a number of Latino Democrats who ran in the midterm elections. In this video from Fusion, Longoria talks about how her family inspired her activism. 

Listen to Georgia Anne Muldrow’s New Track, ‘Ciao’

Songstress Georgia Anne Muldrow dropped an instrumental LP back in September called “Oligarchy Sucks,” and now she’s following up with some vocals. Listen to the track “Ciao,” which Okayplayer says “packs an air of escapism that picks up where Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” left off.”

Ava DuVernay’s ‘Middle of Nowhere’ Will be on DVD, On Demand

Fans of Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” are gonna be pleased to see her award-winning film on DVD and streaming on demand early next year. The film, which follows a black couple dealing with incarceration, will be available starting January 13, 2015, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment and Code Black Films. 

The film aired on BET earlier this year and was streaming on Netflix for a brief period, but its upcoming release on DVD will be the first time that it’s made widely available since showing in theaters in 2012. 

(h/t Shadow and Act)

Video: Rosario Dawson, Wilmer Valderrama Urge Young Latino Voters to the Polls

Latino voters could influence 18 Senate and gubernatorial races in today’s midterm elections, and have the potential to swing elections in at least six states, according to a poll by Latino Decision. VotoLatino, a non-partisan organization founded by Maria Teresa Kumar and Rosario Dawson, is using its star power to turn out thousands of young Latinos to the polls this election. 

“It’s really important for people to speak up because this is the time to make our voices heard,” Dawson told Fusion at a recent VotoLatino conference in San Jose, California. “It’s not just about complaining about things at home and then wondering how they don’t get better the next day.”

Valderrama put it this way: “You gotta clean your house, and we have to clean The House.”

Lupita Nyong’o Named Glamour’s ‘Woman of the Year’

It’s been one helluva year for Lupita Nyong’o. The actress won an Oscar for her supporting role in “12 Years a Slave” and became one of the most recognized young faces in Hollywood. Now she’s been named Woman of the Year by Glamour Magazine. In an interview, she talked about being a role model to young black girls:

GLAMOUR: You’ve become a role model for many girls—black girls in particular. Who were your role models, growing up? 
LN: Oprah played a big role in my understanding of what it meant to be female and to really step into your own power. I wouldn’t even call her a role model; she was literally a reference point. You have the dictionary, you have the Bible, you have Oprah.

GLAMOUR: Do you feel a responsibility to young women out there? 
LN: I feel a responsibility to myself and my parents and the people whose love has gotten me this far—people who were in my life before fame. That’s where I get my sense of self. It’s deadly for anyone to take on that role of a deity; it’s not sustainable. I’ve got tons of flaws. Call my mother—she’ll tell you! She keeps it real. Sometimes you don’t want to hear the truth; she’ll tell it to you out of love.

Read more at Glamour

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