It’s Truly A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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Last night I went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the new film about Mister Rogers. I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS. I sat glued to the television as he grabbed a new sweater from the closet, watched VHS tapes with Mr. McFeely and saw myself in the shy, quiet-spoken Daniel puppet. It’s crazy to think of it, but so much of who I am is probably owed to those afternoons spent watching Mister Rogers.

The film itself is aptly structured like an extended episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, opening with Tom Hanks delivering an uncanny portrayal of the intro to the classic kid’s TV show. We are then taken into the story of Lloyd Vogel–an award-winning journalist at Esquire assigned to profile Mister Rogers–who’s suffering from familial discord surrounding his father.

As we weave in and out of Lloyd’s life we see a side of Fred Rogers that we never got to see on the show–though the effects are arguably the same. The moments where Lloyd and Mister Rogers interact during their “interviews” show just how expansive Fred’s kindness was. 

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Obviously, as a young kid watching the show I didn’t know exactly what I was being taught. I just knew that the show made me feel calm, it made me feel happy, I always learned something new, like if the fish in his tank could hear or how books were made. Looking back on it as an adult, the show was so much more. rogers

And the film does an amazing job of sharing that Mister Rogers understood the breadth of human emotion–that those emotions are no less present or valid in the youngest of us–and they need to be seen, validated, and expressed in compassionate ways. 

A Beautiful Day showcases that so poetically, and I cannot stress how calming and healing it is to watch this film. This almost extended vignette of how Fred changed Lloyd’s life is a beautiful representation of how Fred Rogers changed our lives and influenced so many people. I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the insightful documentary on Fred Rogers’ life, so I understood a lot about the man behind those puppets and tender moments on tough subjects like war and death and divorce. This movie showed me so much more. It showed me Mister Rogers was a true human.

The story is based on a real Esquire profile of Fred Rogers published in 1998. The real journalist, Tom Junod (who Lloyd’s character is based on), is currently a writer for ESPN.

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The movie is even more magical thanks to impressive performances by Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Cooper. Directed by Marielle Heller, I must also add that the film truly has a woman’s touch and was directed beautifully. 

The movie was screened in one of the smaller theater rooms at my local cinema and it’s safe to say that over 80% of the attendees during my matinee showing were over the age of 60 and Caucasian. So I felt compelled to write this short review because one thing is clear: the movie may not have registered with the greater masses who are running to see blockbusters like Star Wars and Jumanji–more “exciting” offerings.

But if there’s anything I can say to persuade you to watch this movie, it’s this:  It’s not easy to live on the brink of the year 2020. And it’s not easy to cope with our emotions. If you’ve ever felt hurt, angry, disappointed, wronged, broken, overwhelmed or lost–even for a moment–take an hour with Fred Rogers. I promise you’ll feel better.

LATEST PODCAST: Be Brave; Be Well ft. Shanina Dionna

If you’re looking for something new to listen to this weekend, check out the latest episode of my podcast, Meraki Mentors, which features an interview with visual artist Shanina Dionna!

In this episode, you’ll meet visual artist Shanina Dionna, a Pennsylvania-based painter who is also an arts education and mental health advocate. Through her Embryo series, Shanina spreads a message of hope and empowerment and recently received a TDC (The Dean Collection) grant, sponsored by Swizz Beatz & Alicia Keys.

“If you’re passionate about it, and you’re consistent, good things will manifest for you.” It’s a belief that Shanina is living fully. We talk about her life as a full-time freelance artist, and her role in the Philadelphia arts community. Shanina also sheds life on the business of being an artist and the importance of a business plan.

Shanina’s story is inspiring both personally and artistically, as you’ll hear in this episode, and her profound message to artists about purpose, acknowledgment and wellbeing is absolutely priceless.

As always, this episode features the following music: Aspire by Scott Holmes, and Purple Light by Blue Dot Sessions.

To follow Shanina visit: https://www.instagram.com/shaninadionna/?hl=en

Fox News interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoyerQh6hTo&feature=youtu.be

Listen to Episode 4 in the player below, read the full time-stamped transcript here or tune in on the following podcast platforms:

Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Google Podcasts | Listen on iTunes | Listen on Spotify |Listen on Stitcher | Listen on Soundcloud | Listen on YouTube | Listen on Podbean  | Listen on PlayerFM | Listen on Blubrry | Listen on Podchaser

Enjoy the episode and remember to Create & Connect!

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My Podcast Launches Today!

Hey everyone! I’ve been on a very brief hiatus over the summer so work on a very important passion project of mine that has been in the works for the past 5 months or so: my new podcast, Meraki Mentors. As some of you may know, I applied for the Spotify SoundUp Bootcamp competition earlier this year and my hunger to make this podcast a real success grew more than I could ever imagine. I joined the Facebook group, WOC Podcasters and I have learned more about audio production and marketing than probably any class I had in undergrad (no shade to Carolina or education).

Much of the summer has been filled with conducting interviews and staying up late to make graphics and think about what I wanted this show to be. It’s really an extension of many of the creative and inspiring topics I talk about on this blog, except now we’ll be talking to other women who have accomplished some amazing things in their field and have agreed to share their stories with us.

The last time that I talked about the podcast here I was in the middle of my Kickstarter campaign, hoping to purchase equipment that would allow me to make a credible show. I didn’t even have cover art yet! Now I have ALL THE THINGS. lol Well, I have most of the things that I need.

The podcast is currently available on 9 different platforms: all the ones you see here plus Player FM. If you are reading this and haven’t had a chance to listen yet, just click over to your favorite podcast platform and SUBSCRIBE to listen.

Two is better than one.

We have 3 wonderful episodes for you to enjoy and we’ll be back every Tuesday morning with a new episode for the next 9 weeks. Each season has 12 episodes with some brilliant women that I know you’ll fall in love with if you’re not familiar with them already.

I’m really excited to bring you all on this next creative endeavor with me. And I’m happy that this huge mountain of launching is behind me so I can focus on growing this community and getting back to YOU over here on Scribing Fingers. I have a ton of things on my heart to write about and many notes and half-essays strewn across my room that I will share in the coming weeks and months. But right now, it just feels good to say that I’m back and ready to share this labor of love with you.

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Follow us on social media! We are @merakimentorspodcast on Facebook & IG and @merakimentors on Twitter. There’s always something fun to do there. You can also listen to full episodes on YouTube. We have full transcripts of each interview live on the site too.

We’re your new favorite podcast, the leading podcast for women in the arts, and just another community here to make a difference.

If you’re interested in being on the show, helping out, or contributing to the blog send me a message!

MOVIE REVIEW: Netflix’s “How It Ends” Leaves More Questions Than Answers

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Somewhere between Meet the Parents and your favorite apocalyptic film lies the potential for How It Ends, the 2018 thriller produced by Netflix during their recent rollout of original entertainment. The film is described as “ominous” by the streaming giant, which is hardly an understatement for this tense, quick-moving narrative.

We meet the protagonist, Will (Theo James), just in time to witness the joy of he and his fiance, Sam (Kat Graham), finding out they’ll be parents to a baby boy. Yet this warm, fuzzy feeling is doused by a cringe-worthy dinner with Will’s future-in-laws that reveals a nearly insurmountable gulf between Will and Sam’s father, Tom (Forest Whitaker), which results in Sam’s mother (Nicole Ari Parker) “kicking him out” before the end of the meal.

Fast-forward a day and Will is preparing to fly back to Seattle to be with Sam when an unexplainable geological phenomenon hits, knocking out their Facetime call and deeming the entire US (perhaps the world) powerless.

Although the mysteriousness of the disaster is arguably part of what makes the film so edgy, it’s hard to shake the constant question of just what has sent the world into such a tailspin. Rather than focusing–or even simply relaying–what the cast is up against as they trek across barren US highways, the movie begs us to focus on the impossible mission that Tom and Will embark on to drive across the country to find Sam, who’s alone in Seattle.

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Along the way, the pair battle escaped convicts, panicked evacuees, wildfires, and more. The only reason the two men survive these incidents is thanks to Tom’s extensive knowledge gained during his decorated career as a Marine. However, when he fractures his ribs during a conflict on the highway, he never thinks to bandage himself or repair his wounds, which is a bit hard to believe for someone with enough skills to walk his future son-in-law through a makeshift needle thoracostomy halfway through the film.

Then there’s the case of Tom and Will’s companion, Ricki, a young Native American woman they pick up on their travels to help with car repairs in exchange for helping her get out West. During a speedy chase with a carful of looters who had stolen their gas, Ricki shoots out their tires causing the thieves to crash and die in flames. She subsequently “loses” it, convinced she killed the culprits, and disappears. No signs of where she went, if she survived or anything. She simply vanishes. We’re not told enough about Ricki to understand why this affected her so much, and although she makes several small comments along the way that allude to possible trauma in her past we never truly understand why she agrees to the trip in the first place.

Just before Tom succumbs to his injuries in the back of the car, he and Will share a brief moment of reconciliation that nicely patches up a conflict that was never truly explained. When Will eventually reaches Seattle and finds Sam, he must deliver the news that Tom did not survive the journey, which she doesn’t have much of an emotional response to considering she was so close to her father. In general, the few moments we have with Sam on screen lack any depth.

And then, during the last half hour of the film we are introduced to Jeremiah (Mark O’Brien), Sam’s neighbor who helped her survive the disaster. Jeremiah is obviously jealous of Will, but he’s also the only character who seems to care about discovering exactly what’s wrong with the Earth and why so many earthquakes are occurring (which is what the audience has been trying to figure out all along). Yet Will, sensing that something’s not right, becomes increasingly agitated by the “conspiracy theories” and claims not to care what’s happening or why (which is hardly practical).

One of the great strengths of the film is steering clear of cliches, which is done well when Will takes the initiative to shoot Jeremiah (rather than hesitating to defend himself as so many film characters do). His actions to get Sam away from the ensuing dust storm at the end show strong character development: we see that he’s learned from his journey and is a stronger, more astute man.

While the thrill of the chase is enough to keep your attention and the proposition is interesting, there are too many variables left open without resolution. The odd turn with Jeremiah feels like a forced attempt to create additional conflict before the movie ends. If How it Ends is a take on the finality of the world as we know it, it would be nice to at least know, How It Begins first.

How Kashif Boothe is Amplifying the Voices of Black Britains

It’s not every day that you meet someone who’s created two web series, documentaries, and is producing a talk show and podcast. This may sound like the life of a big-name media mogul, and judging by Kashif Boothe’s work ethic, in a few years that just might be true. Boothe is the mastermind behind the scripted web series Nate and Jamie, which follows two young men in their adventures in friendship and dating. The series recently led to a spinoff that premiered this year, imperfect

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I was recently introduced to Kashif’s work and was immediately blown away by his talent and production level. It’s not often that you see someone with such a large output of work in a short span of time, but anyone who knows an artist understands the innate work ethic that many of us have when pursuing our dreams. And after just one conversation, I found it palpable that Kashif is a man on a mission.

“I have a plan for what I’m doing over the next 18 months,” Kashif explained during a recent Skype interview. “We’re filming the second season of Nate and Jamie and I started planning this in December. There’s another project I want to start doing in November. Work is my life. I can count on my hand how many social things I’ve done in 2018.”

The grind is not just a phrase to throw around for Kashif, it’s his life. When his 9-5 at the Discovery Channel UK ends (where he manages TV scheduling), Kashif heads to set to work on one of his many projects, and at one point, shuffled between two jobs and video shoots on the weekend. This past January, Kashif’s team won an award. He showed up after working through the night on Saturday, shooting all Sunday and then heading to the ceremony, a weekend where he was up 40 hours straight.

For independent filmmakers and writers like Kashif, your work is your life, and with no one commissioning and paying you for the labor, everything is a matter of passion and intention. Creatives make their work because they have a voice and something to share with the world. During our talk, Kashif reflected on his own life and the work that inspired him to pursue his passion in the television and film industry.

“I remember being 13 and seeing a talk show (it may have been Tyra Banks or Talk to the Hand). I wanted to have a platform where I could create things and address topics that affect our people. I’m a fan of TV, you can really focus on character development, and with documentaries you can address topics that we don’t usually see.”

Kashif developed his style, which he describes as both comedic and educational, from watching shows like Girlfriends and Quentin Tarantino films such as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. “Even being a guy not relating to anything they [Girlfriends characters] were going through, I loved the writing, character arcs, and mixing drama and comedy…[like Tarantino] I like to have a shock factor and keep audiences guessing.”

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This drive to tell stories led Kashif to writing and producing (he’s not a fan of directing). He takes inspiration from conversations and daily observation, converting them to bullet point outlines that transform into entertaining scripts during waves of inspiration where he writes for “six or seven hours,” and then edits vigorously for weeks until he’s crafted a story he’s happy with.

Producing on little to no budget is a bit more challenging, and he admits that money is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. “It all comes from my bank account and that’s it,” he says. The very first season of Nate and Jamie, Kashif and his crew used their own equipment, focused solely on producing a good series and getting their work in front of the public. With the recent success of the show, Kashif is now using more top quality equipment, bringing in better directors and camera operators and renting professional lenses and tools to build on the series’ budding reputation.

Artistic collaboration has helped Kashif produce such successful work. “Luckily, I have met really good people who are committed to helping me with my project,” he said. “That’s sometimes hard to find: people who can put into your work like it’s their own. Sometimes it’s a trial and error to collaborate.

“My executive producer and I met on another shoot and clicked right away. You have to try to connect with someone who has the same work ethic as you and the same passion, because we’re not paid to do these projects but we enjoy what we’re doing and want to make sure it’s the best it can be.”

Kashif says social media has brought many collaborations, as creatives can now see one another’s work and reach out to like-minded artists. It’s ultimately the power of today’s digital platforms that allow content creators like Kashif to exist. One of the most notable examples of this, and one of Kashif’s inspirations, is Issa Rae, whose YouTube series Awkward Black Girl, led to her deal with HBO and the critically-acclaimed comedy series Insecure. It’s hard to imagine that such an unapologetically Black show, with characters constantly battling microaggressions at work and finding solace in often crude and graphic humor, would have even made it past the first minute of a pitch to a major network. But Issa Rae’s success on YouTube proved that her stories resonated with audiences in a way that is indeed marketable in mainstream media.

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“Fifteen years ago you couldn’t do things like this, you’d have to raise money somehow and get into festivals, but now with the Internet, YouTube and Instagram you can create your own content and don’t have to wait for a TV network. People say ‘oh we’re not represented’ but now you can just do it yourself.”

Kashif feels grateful that he can work on storylines that are fulfilling to him instead of being stuck with a TV job he might hate (“I could never work on a soap, for example”). Digital media is granting actors, filmmakers, writers and other creatives access that industry elites usually denied emerging artists. The gatekeepers of deciding what’s good art are slowly but surely turning into the hands of consumers themselves, and this makes dream chasing a more attainable reality.

“If you’re in a part of England or America where you want to be an actor or filmmaker, but you dont have the money to come to New York or LA or London, you’re gonna use whatever platform you have to get where you wanna be,” Kashif explains.

Kashif says his ultimate goal is to work independently all the time, but until then he will keep “writing scripts when he comes home from work” because “having a security blanket” to pay rent makes it easier to pursue his projects when financial support is low.

He’s currently focusing on building his style aesthetically and making good connenctions with hopes of creating a short film that will make it to top festivals like Sundance. He also hopes to start pitching to streaming services. Kashif knows his series are unlike anything on television today, and he hopes that a distribution deal will help Americans see what life is like for Black Britains.

“[America] had a number of Black shows, we had two successful black shows: a comedy sketch show called The Real McCoys and The Desmonds, which was like our Cosby show.” Outside of a few dramas depicting life in the projects, Kashif says very few UK-produced shows have illustrated Black life in England, and the few representations that exist are short-lived or poorly portray people of color, all the way down to actors with “bad line-ups” Kashif laughs. While Black Brits love shows like Black-ish and Fresh Prince because they find immense similarities in the storylines and culture, Kashif sees a void and wants to produce content that would allow Britain to reciprocate the Black talent that Hollywood has produced.

I’m excited to see what he’ll create in the coming months. He’s already collaborating with more friends on projects like the Dish podcast and Talk That Matters talk show for young, educated men. It’s given Kashif an opportunity to flex his producing muscles and discuss important issues he cares about like politics, gentrification, interracial dating, racial depiction in the media and more. With such an innovative mind and a heart for story-telling, Kashif is well on his way to becoming the next great British talent, taking on the entertainment industry by storm.

You can follow his projects on Instagram @kashifbootheentertainment.

My Thoughts on the Royal Wedding

I wanted to pop in really quickly (aside from our normally scheduled programming) to recap yesterday’s Royal Wedding (which is currently streaming on Hulu if you missed it).

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Much of the world has been preparing for the nuptials between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who are now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (the last and only Duke of Sussex was Prince Augustus Frederick, an abolitionist and liberal member of the royal family). The wedding is especially exciting because Meghan is from America, and her mother is African-American, so the idea of having an “American princess” and a “black princess” have enthralled people across the country.

Yesterday, I woke up at the bright hour of 5:30am and got to preparing an English breakfast: Sweet rolls, breakfast biscuits and English breakfast tea with some apple slices on the side. A humble and delicious attempt! I was finished just in time for Meghan to emerge from the car (which had been speeding and somehow made it on time despite a 15-minute delay earlier).

The ceremony was so entertaining I almost forgot to live-tweet, but I hopped on just in time to see some funny and heartwarming posts.

Some of the most memorable moments of the wedding were The Kingdom Choir’s beautiful rendition of Stand by Me

and 19-year-old cellist, Sheku Kanneh Mason’s mesmerizing solo.

But the moment that took the cake was the sermon on love by Bishop Michael Bruce Curry:

I don’t think anyone expected to see such a blend of cultures at the wedding, but it’s evident that Meghan made it a point to represent her African American heritage at the ceremony, and it was done with so much poise, class, and dignity. They even left the chapel to This Little Light of Mine!

And Meghan’s mom, Doria Raglund, who represented Meghan’s family all on her own, was simply stunning. She literally looks like the sweetest person ever, I just wanted to give her a hug the whole time.

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After yesterday’s beautiful messages on love, the internet made for a nice place to be for a change. So I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Bishop Curry’s sermon:

“Think and imagine a world when love is the way. … Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all. And we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new Heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family.”

Did you watch the Royal Wedding? If so, what was your favorite part? Any hats or dresses your particularly enjoyed? Let me know below!

Lemonade From a Bee

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As you probably know, #LEMONADE was released over the weekend and no one knows what to do with themselves. There are many ways to describe what is arguably Beyonce’s greatest work: Innovative. Bold. Cerebral. Emphatic. Vulnerable. Formidable. Brilliant. It’s clear that this work of art is the product of creative genius that is not only a musical gem, but a groundbreaking symbol for women of color everywhere. Lemonade isn’t the revolution many thought it would be, but it doesn’t back away from revolutionary statements, and homage to ethnic roots (check out “Freedom”).

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Serena Williams makes an appearance during “Sorry”

While the Internet is abuzz for the personal bombs Bey dropped about her relationship, what’s more amazing is her business sense and artistry. With her Formation tour starting next week, Beyonce is well on her way to passing the likes of Madonna, with one of the first female solo all-stadium tours. On top of it, Bey managed to place a very personal narrative into the context of both her family, and women at large, making her cultural heritage and gender the cornerstone of this project. She aligned herself with greatness at all levels giving the world something largely unprecedented – a visual album. And not just a music-video-for-all-tracks visual album like her last effort, but a stunning, well-curated short film with spoken word by Warsan Shire that elevates and expands every message on each track. While graphic visuals and sharp, calculated words take us from Intuition to Anger, Emptiness to Redemption, you’ll be blown away by the hour-long saga, which calls for quite a bit of analysis.

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Once you’ve seen the footage Formation makes a lot more sense as an ending anthem of triumph, self-worth, and dedication. After a product like Lemonade, Beyonce has made her voice clearly heard on all points of discussion. And if a picture’s worth a thousand words, she’s said more than we are even beginning to grasp.

The album is currently only available on Tidal (with free 90-day trials), but you can check out the film here or try a free trial at HBO Go.. My favorite track? All of them.

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A Case for Tori Kelly

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Since the Grammy’s are tonight I decided to publish a special post in support of my pick for Best New Artist. There’s a lot of great singers in this prestigious category, including the already popular Meghan Trainor, so Kelly has surely won a great deal of respect from her nomination alone. Still, a lot of people haven’t heard about her before, so I thought I’d share a bit of her story and some personal reasons why she’s such a rare gem among pop music culture today.

The 23 year-old singer-songwriter grew up in California and auditioned for American Idol but was cut during Hollywood week.

Two years later, she wrote, produced and recorded her first EP, Handmade Songs by Tori Kelly  in her bedroom and posted numerous YouTube covers on her personal channel. She became a YouTube sensation with tantalizing riffs and covers of songs like Suit and Tie and PYT. The EP performed well on iTunes and by the end of the next year popular manager Scooter Braun had signed her to Capitol Records.

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The following month she released her second EP, Foreward and toured with Ed Sheeran in the UK. It was around this time that I had the chance to see Kelly in person after having seen her on Idol and following her on YouTube for awhile. She performed a solo show at Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill that November (the same night Justin Timberlake was in Raleigh for The 20/20 Experience tour in fact) and it was AMAZING. She was sweet, talented and beautiful in every way a fan could have imagined. Singing Confetti along with her and the crowd was truly an unforgettable experience:

pepsiSince then, Kelly has been a part of several high-profile projects, and released her debut album Unbreakable Smile last summer. She was also named the the ambassador for William Rast, Timberlake’s clothing line, scored a Pepsi commercial, and won the Breakthrough Artist award from Billboard’s Women in Music. Tonight, she’s set to take the stage with fellow New Artist Grammy nominee James Bay.

What makes Tori different is not just her soulful pipes and iconic curly, big hair. It’s her undeniable faith and values that she’s managed to bring to the biggest, most secular stages in contemporary music.

 

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Tori’s signature feathers that appear on all of her albums and merchandise are taken from one of her favorite scriptures, Psalm 91:4 “He shall cover you with his feathers, and under his wings shall you trust: his truth shall be your shield and buckler.”

She also recently released a hit single, Hollow, which she told Ryan Seacrest is “directly connected to our faith and just how a lot of the time we feel really hollow inside. Jesus, for me, is the only thing that’s ever filled that [space.]” Billed as her “love song to God” the single has reached Top 100 charts in three countries and peaked at 25 on the US Top 40. She sings:

I confess (yeah), my weakness/Til you pick up the parts that are broken/Pour out your perfection on me now/And hold me/Wrap me in love, fill up my cup/Empty, cause only your love can fill up my cup.

It’s easy to see why Tori is taking the pop world by storm when you listen to her vocals, but her strong themes of faith, self-confidence, vulnerability, modesty and non-conformity don’t get the credit they deserve in today’s culture, but Kelly has changed that. She’s proven to be a talented musician and architect of her own work, and she’s stayed true to her values while enjoying the incredible ride to pop stardom that she’s always dreamed of.

So don’t miss out on Tori’s performance tonight and win or lose, we’ll all be cheering her on for her first Grammy nod tonight! Check out the dates for her tour here!

Beyonce’s Formation is Sexism in Disguise

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Beyonce has been slaying us with musical surprises ever since the un-promoted drop of her self-titled album back in 2014, the one that brought us hits like Partition, Flawless, and a wealth of visuals to last a lifetime. On the eve of Super Bowl 50, in which Coldplay will headline assisted by Yonce herself and Bruno Mars, Queen Bey has released a new track, and that’s just the beginning.

The new single, Formation, came complete with a stunning music video that doesn’t disappoint from the highly symbolic, well-thought out videos she’s released in recent years. What makes Formation so culturally earth-shattering is not that’s it’s her first song in two long years, but that it’s her first obviously political one. In a time where many have questioned the benefits of Bey’s image being one that is seen and not heard, it’s clear she took this as an opportunity to make a statement that she is well aware of the Black experience in America, that she embraces it amidst her fame, and she owns the strong allegiance she’s worked so hard to create. It’s a bold statement that lets all of her fans–and critics–know where she stands on America’s hottest issues, and she doesn’t have to sit in front of an interviewer to do it. Famed photographer Gordon Parks said that his camera was “a weapon” against injustice, and Beyonce uses her art as a weapon in a fierce way, one that many fans and celebrities across the country are proud of.

The problem with the Beyonce machine is that no one criticizes or questions her approach. While the Internet buzzed about Queen Bey “snatching edges and lives” no one saw–or at least acknowledged–the inherent flaw in Beyonce’s flawlessness. After one watch of the video it’s easy to be taken by the stunning visuals, impressive dance numbers mirroring Egyptian-style art, catchy lines, and political images: “Stop Shooting Us” written on a wall, a boy in a hoodie with his hands up to police, and images of Hurricane Katrina. But let’s remove our Beyhive caps and take a closer look.

Yonce has the tact to flag an advisory warning on the video, which certainly needs it, though it shouldn’t have to. She opens the song with a skillful homage to her family, blackness and a bit of shade thrown to the Illuminati mess that follows her every move:

Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess
Paparazzi, catch my fly, and my cocky fresh
I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)
I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces
My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana
You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma
I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
Earned all this money but they never take the country out me
I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag

It’s an awesome refrain–confident, direct and proud. Everything you expect a Beyonce track to be. But then the interlude comes in, and well, let’s just say the empowerment we think we’re getting is not what it appears:

I did not come to play with you hoes, haha
I came to slay, b****
I like cornbreads and collard greens, b****
Oh yes, you best to believe it

While it’s great that Bey is announcing her authority and sharing in our collective love for cornbread and greens, it’s problematic and disappointing that her version of feminism still includes calling other women hoes and Bs. Let’s keep that thought and continue.

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The chorus of the song continues with Bey proclaiming her power and work ethic: “I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it…I slay.” All great things. She encourages other women to “get in formation” and live up to the bar that she’s set so high. The next verse is the “line heard round the world” (something about Red Lobster as a reward for intimacy within the Black community, which I won’t repeat here) that includes a word choice seeming to exist purely for shocking purposes, or the opportunity for Bey to flip the bird at the camera, possibly in response to the media, systemic injustice, who knows.

While there’s more moments worthy of applause–“I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making” and “Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper”–Bey again goes back to the crutch of the B-word: “You know you that b**** when you cause all this conversation.”

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Formation is a song you could probably write your cultural studies dissertation on quite honestly. It’s riveting, political, and makes a statement as any good form of art should do. Even The New York Times had a round table discussion about it. But the reason why all women should take issue with Bey’s constant use of the B-word is because its history and current use is negative: it shames women for strong qualities, emasculates men for sensitivity, and is used profusely by attackers, abusers, and sexist urban male artists. To refer to another woman as such is a violent way to dominate her because you feel you’re better or have achieved more success. It’s not at all empowering. It skews our mentality towards the word so when we hear it in an abusive setting we are less likely to recognize its sting. The use of the B-word to refer to oneself as a powerful woman, is an ignorant attempt to transform a bad word into something good–which simply does not work. And when Queen Bey tells us to “get into formation” all of her fans fall into this dangerous cycle of violent, sexist language, beautifully packaged under the booty-shaking guise of Beyonce’s modern-day feminism. No. We cannot bash urban culture for objectifying women and calling them derogatory names from one side of our mouths and proudly sing Beyonce’s equally abusive language from the other side. Yonce perpetuates a false image of womanhood and is teaching generations of Beyhive fans and her own daughter to carry the same torch. If you don’t believe me, here’s an excellent and short video from Laci Green on why the B-word is damaging to the psyche and impossible to reclaim.

I still love Beyonce and I still think she makes great music. She is a true testament of hard work and talent, so don’t take this as a message to throw away your CDs and turn your backs. However, let’s not proclaim that everything Mrs. Carter touches is gold, because it’s not. As with any public figure and leader, everyone should be held accountable for their actions and stood to task when their messages encourage socially and psychologically damaging behavior. Beyonce’s fans have to stop glorifying sexist language, regardless of its intention. Kudos Beyonce, on a video well-done and taking an affirmative stand for Blackness in America, it is greatly appreciated. However, your much-needed message was drastically marred by the use of a very derogatory word towards women. Let’s all lay the B-word where it should have stayed, on a scrap piece of paper in the recording studio. This is one fan who will not be fooled.

Why I’m Not Boycotting the Oscars

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Nominations were announced yesterday morning for the 88th Academy Awards and ever since, they have been hammered by criticism for the lack of women and minorites nominated in leading acting roles. The hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, took flight on social media, especially among Black Twitter, who slammed the Academy for overlooking performances by Will Smith, Idris Elba, and Michael B. Jordan, as well as black-directed film Creed and box office hit/movie critic darling Straight Outta Compton, for which Sony made a huge marketing campaign targeted at drawing the Academy’s attention, to no avail. In response to this, and the long-standing issue of lack of diversity in Hollywood, civil rights activist Al Sharpton called out the Academy, even going so far as to call director Cheryl Boone Issacs “a pawn” and encouraged everyone to boycott the Oscars and drive the ratings down, thus sending a message straight to the powers that be.

It is evident that Hollywood is whitewashed and over-emasculated in far more than the majority of its productions and casting. No one with good sense and clarity would be able to argue otherwise. It’s a fact that many movies are made by men and studios run by men, thus the reason why each summer is filled with remakes of action franchises and comic-book cash hogs–not to condemn either as I consider myself quite the superhero fanatic, in a mild sense. There are few studios willing to hash out money for an intimate, female-driven storyline like August: Osage County for example. It’s even harder for fictional storylines to be given to minority actors (as they were in last year’s The Perfect Guy ) because Hollywood doesn’t take to kindly apparently to the idea of blind casting. And when it comes to biopics and true stories, well, it doesn’t seem that studios/producers can conjure up too many of them about minorities. And it doesn’t appear that many minority filmmakers are given the opportunity, or want to, tell the amazing stories of fellow minorities or whites. So where does that leave us? Why does it not appear meaningful to anyone that the film sweeping the Oscar buzz this year is the brainchild of a Mexican director? That puzzles me, as it shows how concerned we are with face (the actors) than leadership.

So, we know that Hollywood has issues. We know things are not perfect, or acceptable, and must change. But just as influential, if not more than, race is another factor that Sharpton ALMOST mentions: “Being left out of awards consideration is about more than just recognition for a job well-done; winning an Oscar has long-lasting cultural and economic impacts.” It does, and Oscars are also political and somewhat subjective. Here’s a perfect example of the annual Oscar-snub complaining that goes down every year, sampled from reactions to yesterday’s nominations alone (click to enlarge):

 

Now all of these talented, viable performers and filmmakers (and there’s more on this list at the bottom of the page) were notably snubbed, left out, overlooked due to the lack of publicity for their film, lack of star power, lack of favoritism, or another. However, Black Twitter think these are the only snubs to exist (click to enlarge):

 

Here’s an interesting (actually pretty harrowing) fact. An estimated 50,000 movies are made every year. About 60 or so are usually nominated for Academy Awards. Less than 1 percent. I don’t write this to make light of the situation, or to play into the “there’s no minority people in film” or “minorities don’t do exceptional work” argument, because both of those things are blatantly untrue. But to say that minorities were purposely shut out doesn’t seem to hold much ground given the circumstances, the competitors, the kind of films that win/are nominated for Oscars, and the other dozens of filmmakers and actors that could have been nominated with complete merit. It’s part of the draw when you make any form of art. I don’t think purposeful shut-outs happened during this nomination season, not on the heels of  21 nominations and wins by Blacks alone in the last five years (not even counting other minorites like Alejandro Inarritu!!!!!! Asking this question again (for a friend) does a Mexican filmmaker with a movie leading with 12 nominations not mean anything??

Therefore, to make a long story short, no I am not going to boycott the Oscars, because I believe in the magic of cinema and the outstanding work that was done by everyone nominated. I’m going to watch their films and all the minority films too. We could boycott films that aren’t diverse, hold our wallets at the box office when large studios refuse to cast minorities or women, or the like. More films and stories must be made with broader representation. Let’s do that. Let’s make those films and stories happen. But please don’t tell me a minority or a woman should have been nominated just to have them nominated, or simply because they did a really good job; not without a concrete reason as to why their product was a less than one percent effort. And when it comes to the political Academy machine, well that’s a mighty giant WE ALL need to bring down. And that should start with a restructuring of the very institution passing out all those golden statues.