Zanele Muholi’s Absolutely Stunning Portraits of Queer Africa

Zanele Muholi's Absolutely Stunning Portraits of Queer Africa

It’s often a dangerous act of rebellion to be openly queer in many African countries. Back in 2011, Frankie Edozien reported for Colorlines on the sometimes deadly concurrent rise of U.S.-backed evangelical Christianity and a growing sense of pride among many in Ghana’s LGBT community. A 2011 report Human Rights Watch Report documented the rise of “curative rape” in South Africa and criticized that country’s government for “desperately failing lesbian and transgender people.”

Zanele Muholi is a visual artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa whose work focuses on sexuality. In 2006 she began a portraiture series called “Faces and Phases” that turns a different kind of celebratory spotlight on lesbian and transgender women in Africa. 

“I need to underscore that naming ourselves and ‘being’ is more than a fashion statement or a research topic,” Muholi said while reflecting on her work in 2009, according to Creative Time Reports. “Rather, it is a political consciousness that we do not have a choice about. To be black, lesbian and African is by its very nature political in a world that is still overwhelmingly heterosexual.”

Check out the stunning series of portraits after the jump.



New App Helps U.S. Immigrants Apply for Citizenship

New App Helps U.S. Immigrants Apply for Citizenship

Citizenship Works is a free mobile app that launched this week to help guide green card holders through the process of applying for American citizenship. Though the app is designed to help people who are currently living in the United States as legal permanent residents, its designers hope that the approach could also be used to help the nation’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants once new immigration legislation becomes law. 

The app, which is available in English and Spanish, helps applicants determine their eligibility to apply for citizenship, understand the application process, find legal resources, and study for the English and Civics tests. 

It’s available for free in the iTunes store and on Google Play for Android users. 

The app is funded by the Knight Foundation, the Silicon Valley community foundation, the New Americans campaign, and the Grove Foundation, in partnership with the Immigration Advocates Network.

Comic Book Captures Mighty Environmental Justice Adventures

Comic Book Captures Mighty Environmental Justice Adventures

A new comic book series titled Mayah’s Lot attempts to explain the everyday challenges of environmental justice advocacy through graphic novel storytelling. The main character of the series, Mayah, is recruited into the environmental justice movement when she discovers that a Los Angeles-based, greenwashed company is planning to use a lot in her neighborhood in New York to dump toxic waste. The community group Mayah joins helps her fight the company off by showing her the ropes of public policy advocacy. In the strip, Mayah becomes “Earth Girl,”a  jade-costumed superhero armed with something of a zap gun.

The conflict is resolved not by a single, caped crusader with special powers, though, but through the empowerment of Mayah’s community, which is divided into task groups and then dispatched to raise awareness, monitor pollution and do research. The moral is that no one leader can protect communities from environmental hazards, but rather that environmental justice is about “people coming together to improve their community, standing strong, [and] finding a legal solution.”

Rebecca Bratspies, a professor at City University of New York School of Law and founder of the “Center for Urban Environmental Reform,” created the book along with graphic artist Charlie LaGreca and middle school students in Queens. In Greenversations, a blog run by EPA, Bratspies said that she and LaGreca help students “identify environmental problems in their neighborhoods,” which the students then will turn into comic book narratives. 

The first story in the series is simple and accessible, but also keenly illustrates some of the more nuanced problems the environmental justice world faces, such as police keeping residents from working in lots in their own neighborhood, even to beautify them, or polluter companies serving obscured public notices buried in the back listings pages of newspapers. 

Download Mayah’s Lot here, and also watch this video for more info:

Autopsy Reveals Atlanta Rapper Chris Kelly Died of Drug Overdose

Autopsy Reveals Atlanta Rapper Chris Kelly Died of Drug Overdose

Autopsy results for Kris Kross rapper Chris Kelly were released on Monday. Kelly, 34, was found dead on May 1, 2013. The official cause of death: a drug overdose.

From Rolling Stone: 

Betty Honey of the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office in Atlanta said the specific drugs involved in the rapper’s death were unknown, but Kelly’s mother told investigators of her son’s history of drug abuse, and said that he had used cocaine and heroin the night before his death.

Read more at Rolling Stone.

Environment, Immigration and Gay Groups Pledge Fight for Civil Rights

Environment, Immigration and Gay Groups Pledge Fight for Civil Rights

A broad cross section of social justice organizations — from environmentalists to immigrant reform-focused — came together last week to announce a concerted fight to restore voting rights lost when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a key provision of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional last week. Among the groups assembled for the “tele-townhall” conference call were the NAACP, the environmental groups Sierra Club and Greenpeace, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, NCLR, Voto Latino and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, all of which were represented by their leading directors pledging pro-active fights against voter suppression efforts. 

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said that his organization’s 2.1 million members “are ready to fight” to preserve voting rights in America by “knocking on doors, making phone calls and lobbying Congress.” Brune said that the same people the Sierra Club is fighting for attacking clean energy and climate change protection laws are the same people who are trying to restrict voting. 

“We know that to protect our environment we must protect our democracy,” said Brune. 

Well before the Supreme Court decision, the Sierra Club joined forces with the NAACP for what’s called the “Democracy Initiative,” a coalition dedicated to defending progressive election reform initiatives and protecting the right to vote. 

Last week, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate produced a number of victories and near-victories for organizations fighting for marriage equality and immigration reform. Groups representing those issues said they would not back down from counteracting the SCOTUS decision on the Voting Rights Act, which NCLR President Janet Murgia called “terrible and wrong-headed” on the call.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey said the SCOTUS decision on DOMA was sweet but, “The sweetness does not erase the bitterness.”

“Those who seek to deny any of our votes seek to deny all of our votes,” said Carey. “I do have hope and we can’t stand for this, the LGBT community will not stand for this.”

Myrlie Evers-Williams, voting rights advocate and wife of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, sent a statement to the audience — which the call’s organizers number at over 17,000 — saying:  

“My husband Medgar and courageous leaders risked everything to register citizens to vote. We knew what they fought for.

I never thought that I would say this, but today the situation is just as dire.

It is not enough to just remember the legacy of Medgar Evers. It is not enough to just be members of our respective organizations.

We will have to put action to our affiliations and we will have to remember what originally brought us here.”

Mayor Chokwe Lumumba Wants to Build a ‘Solidarity Economy’ in Jackson, Miss.

Mayor Chokwe Lumumba Wants to Build a 'Solidarity Economy' in Jackson, Miss.

Change — yes, maybe even the radical kind — may be on its way to Jackson, Miss. The predominately black town elected activist Chokwe Lumumba to be its new mayor, and he’s got an ambitious plan for economic revival.

Silicon Valley Offers Helicopter Rides Amid Massive BART Strike

Silicon Valley Offers Helicopter Rides Amid Massive BART Strike

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers are striking for a second consecutive day in order to win a new contract from management. Among their demands: improved safety conditions and a long-awaited raise. Roughly 2,400 workers have taken to the picket lines to demand better treatment by a transit agency that’s been operating with an economic surplus in recent years.

But as Sam Biddle at Valley Wag put it, one Silicon Valley company, Avego, is offering frustrated commuters a chance to literally fly over society’s problems by offering up helicopter rides.

Forget about the inordinate number of San Franciscans who’ll struggle to get to work because of the strike. Forget about the striking BART employees who want a better deal from their employers. In Valleythink, “crisis” is just another way to push downloads—and so Avego cannily registered to exploit the mess.

Insensitive? Yes. Out of touch? Definitely. It’s an example of the vast gulf — in income and logic — that’s separating the have’s and have nots in Northern California.

(H/T AlterNet)


Meet Viola Davis’ New Science Fiction Character

Meet Viola Davis' New Science Fiction Character

Viola Davis is set to star as Major Gwen Anderson in the new film adaption of the 1985 cult classic science fiction book “Ender’s Game.” Check out her new look. The film will be in theaters on November 1, 2013.

Reading Rainbow Host LeVar Burton’s New Lesson: How Not to Get Shot by the Cops

Reading Rainbow Host LeVar Burton's New Lesson: How Not to Get Shot by the Cops

LeVar Burton is best known as the former host of the children’s show “Reading Rainbow.” But he has a new lesson that he’s sharing with viewers: how not to get shot by the police.

During a segment from CNN’s new documentary “The N Word” on Monday, Burton explained that, as a black man in America, he’s often stopped by the police. And he’s developed a ritual to avoid being shot by officers. 

“This is a practice I engage in every time I am stopped by law enforcement,” Burton said. “And I’ve taught this to my son who is now 33 as part of my duty as a father to ensure that he knows the kind of world in which he’s growing up. I take my hat off, I take my sunglasses off, I put them on passenger’s side. I roll down my window, I take my hands, I stick them outside the window and on the door of the driver’s side because I want that officer to be as relaxed as he can be.”

(H/T The Raw Story)


Jamie Foxx Wears Trayvon Martin T-Shirt to BET Awards for Second Straight Year

JamieFoxxTrayvon.jpgJamie Foxx took home the award for “Best Actor” at last night’s BET Awards for his performance in “Django Unchained.” And for the second year in a row, the actor made what the Los Angeles Times called a “silent statement” by eschewing red carpet fashion and instead wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with Trayvon Martin’s image. Last year, when millions of people wore hoodies to stand in solidarity with Trayvon Martin’s family as they sought an indictment of George Zimmerman, Foxx wrote on his blog, “My hoodie will be on forever.”

This 1970’s ‘Black Belt Jones’ Intro Shows Why Jim Kelly Was a Big Deal

This 1970's 'Black Belt Jones' Intro Shows Why Jim Kelly Was a Big Deal

African-American martial arts actor Jim Kelly died on Saturday at the age of 67. Kelly was best known for his role in the 1973 Bruce Lee film “Enter the Dragon.” But here’s another clip of Kelly in action on the film “Black Belt Jones” that shows off the moves that made him enough of a cultural icon to star alongside LeBron James in a 2004 Nike commercial

(H/T Shadow and Act)

Watch This 5-Year-Old Piano Prodigy Wow His 101-Year-Old Fan

Watch This 5-Year-Old Piano Prodigy Wow His 101-Year-Old Fan

Ryan Wang and Dorothy Landry are on their way to becoming besties, despite their 96-year age difference. 

(H/T Angry Asian Man)

Lauryn Hill Points Out Institutional Racism, Gets Called Crazy in Return

Lauryn Hill Points Out Institutional Racism, Gets Called Crazy in Return

Lauryn Hill is talented, troubled, and currently serving three months in jail on charges of tax evasion. But the day before her sentence started, the elusive singer posted a missive about American racism on Tumblr. Some of it made sense, some of it didn’t, but all of it is being used by the media as one more example of Hill’s alleged craziness.

An excerpt after the jump:

TAGS: Lauryn Hill

The Oscars Academy Just Added A Lot More Color

The Oscars Academy Just Added A Lot More Color

The Los Angeles Times reported last year that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a big problem. That body that’s charged with awarding America’s best actors, films, and filmmakers was overwhelmingly white (94 percent) and male (77 percent), an unrepresentative sample of the country’s rapidly browning movie-going public. 

The ramifications of such a homogenous group of cultural deciders became clear during last year’s Oscar ceremony, which failed to include pioneering Mexican-American actress Lupe Ontiveros and Native actor Russell Means (Ohlala Lakota) to its “In Memoriam” reel that features actors who have passed away.

Good news: there’s been some progress.

The Academy announced the names of 276 new members invited to join the class of 2013, including several filmmakers of color. Shadow and Act notes that the list includes Ava DuVernay, the celebrated director behind “Middle of Nowhere”; comedian Chris Tucker; Kimberly Elise; actress Paula Patton; icon Prince; Raoul Peck; Reggie Rock Bythewood; Roger Ross Williams; Stanley Nelson; Steve McQueen; Tim Story; Tina Gordon Chism; and William Greaves.


The $65 Million O.J. Simpson Movie Will Hit Theaters Next Summer

The $65 Million O.J. Simpson Movie Will Hit Theaters Next Summer

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 20 years since O.J. Simpson’s 1994 murder trial. It’s even harder to believe that no major feature films have been made about the case in which Simpson, a black Hall of Fame football player, was acquitted of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her associate Ron Goldman, who were white.

But get ready, because “An American Mystery”, a new film about the case and spectacle that showed just how deeply divided America is on race, may be released by the summer of 2014.

“‘An American Mystery’ has the capacity to challenge entrenched attitudes on a topic that has inspired visceral reactions for almost a generation,” said British filmmaker Joshua Newton, who will write and direct the project. “While we are creating an artistic work, the essence of the film is the search for truth. It was easy to determine that OJ’s participation is not consistent with our standards. Our goal is to lay bare the facts and have the audience reach their own conclusions,” he added.

Newton has already cast British actress Charlotte Kirk to play Nicole Brown Simpson in what they’re calling a  $65 million “thriller.” What’s more: Newton claims to have discovered new evidence in the case. The film’s executive producers include former NBA star Bo Kimble and Diane Watson, a former U.S. Representative from California who began discussing the project nine months ago with Newton.

O.J. Simpson reportedly tried to get involved with the project but was turned down.

The saga continues.

(H/T The Wrap)

Zimmerman Defense Lawyer’s Daughter: ‘We beat stupidity’

Zimmerman Defense Lawyer's Daughter: 'We beat stupidity'

DonWestDaughterInstragram.jpgSocial media has stepped up in support of Trayvon Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel—who had previously been berated online during her testimony in George Zimmerman’s murder trial. Zimmerman defense attorney Don West grilled Jeantel for hours over the course of two days, and drew criticism for his tactics.

Well, it seems West went out with his daughters afterwards. One of them, Molly West, posted a photo on her Instagram account, with the description “We beat stupidity celebration cones,” followed by a celebration hat, an ice cream, and happy face emoticons, and the hastags #Zimmerman #defense and #dadkilledit.

The apparent reference to Jeantel’s “stupidity,” is equally as offensive as the reference to “dad killed it,” in the middle of a trial over the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s lawyers say they’ll issue a statement soon. 

UPDATE: June 28, 2013, 7:05 pm

Buzzfeed reports that the local news station covering the trial is, which confirmed that Don West was indeed in the photo, is now comparing comparing West’s attire in attempt to match up the date the photo was taken. 

The Trouble With a More ‘Family-Friendly’ and ‘Marriage-Minded’ LGBT Pride

The Trouble With a More 'Family-Friendly' and 'Marriage-Minded' LGBT Pride

Pride celebrations are popping off in a number of cities this weekend, but Houston Pride’s decision to almost ban the distribution of condoms has raised a lot of eyebrows. Kenyon Farrow writes over at RH Reality Check about what postures like this may mean in the future:

But I have a lot of reasons to have caution this weekend about what a new “family-friendly” and “marriage-minded” LGBT community will mean. How will Pride weekend change when married gays with children decide that the femmes in string bikinis in high-heels, or the leather daddies in chaps are just too much for the kids to see?


When I was in my 20s and went to Pride parades more frequently, it was the only place that I could get condoms for free. Because they last for several years, one pride parade would last me all year—with plenty to give out to friends! I wonder if Pride Houston is too concerned with the appearance of propriety and living in era of “the new normal” than doing what’s responsible. We know Prides are sexually charged spaces—people are there to mix and mingle! And if you lose the opportunity to get people the access to safe sex materials, you might as well close up shop. There was a time when it didn’t matter if HIV was an official part of your mission statement—it was everybody’s responsibility to do what they could, and Pride was certainly a primary venue for reaching people who might not be reached any other time of the year. By comparison, Houston Splash, the Black LGBT Pride celebration that happened in early May, prominently features HIV testing and prevention messages on its website.

Kate Gosselin Has An Awful Excuse for Mocking Asians

Kate Gosselin Has An Awful Excuse for Mocking Asians

Reality television star Kate Gosselin has responded to outrage over an old photo that recently surfaced showing her in her best slant-eye impression. The picture is especially curious because Gosselin’s claim to fame is being the mom of eight half-Korean children on her show “John & Kate Plus 8.” Gosselin attempted to explain her actions in a statement on her website:

“This was a happy memory of mine. It was a happy time for me and Jon, smiling and ‘goofing off’ together. Jon and I were opening fan mail together one afternoon — which often filled the garage of our Elizabethtown home — and when we opened this plastic Asian dress up wig sent from a caring fan, we smiled, each taking turns posing in it and snapping photos (on my phone) of each other. Naturally, I ‘slanted’ my eyes to show him my best Asian impression, which made him smile.”

“This was a happy memory of mine. It was a happy time for me and Jon, smiling and ‘goofing off’ together. Jon and I were opening fan mail together one afternoon — which often filled the garage of our Elizabethtown home — and when we opened this plastic Asian dress up wig sent from a caring fan, we smiled, each taking turns posing in it and snapping photos (on my phone) of each other. Naturally, I ‘slanted’ my eyes to show him my best Asian impression, which made him smile.”

Gosselin ends with this missive: “The blaring fact that remains is that a personal photo that left a warm and happy memory, was taken and misused without my permission and opportunistically turned into something that it never was intended to be.”

Yeah, sure. That makes it all better.


Cornel West Calls Edward Snowden the ‘John Brown’ of National Security

Cornel West Calls Edward Snowden the 'John Brown' of National Security

On his radio show today with Tavis Smiley, Cornel West reiterated his support for Edward Snowden, the admitted National Security Agency leaker. Snowden came forward earlier this month as the man who had leaked documents to the media that detailed the NSA’s extensive domestic surveillance program.

On today’s show, West makes a link between the gutting of black civil rights in America and Snowden’s call for more government transparency. “Brother Edward Snowden is the John Brown of the U.S. national security state,” West said, referencing the 19th century slave abolitionist. “He’s trying to let folks know what is coming given the massive surveillance coming at us.

You can listen to the entire show at Soundcloud (West’s Snowden segment begins at 9:40):

Social Media Shows Love for Rachel Jeantel

Social Media Shows Love for Rachel Jeantel

Something unexpected happened this week in George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Rachel Jeantel, Martin’s friend who took the witness stand this week, became the center of mockery and criticism about her dark skin, her speech, and her weight. The gist of it is probably summed up best by Lolo Jones’ idiotic and uninformed tweet Thursday night:


Crunk Feminist Collective paid tribute to Jeantel’s “unbought and unbossed” posture on the stand by compiling a list of encouraging messages from supporters. 

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