Network TV Is Broken. So How Does Shonda Rhimes Keep Making Hits? by Willa Paskin


Shonda Rhimes (Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser)

“I love that the gay White House chief of staff is threatening to pretend the first lady is a closeted lesbian,” Shonda Rhimes said to a roomful of writers. “It is so wrong. In the best way.” Ten of the writers — seven men, three women, five plaid button-down shirts and two pairs of outsize hipster glasses frames — were sitting in her bright Hollywood office, pens in hand, scripts in laps, going through notes for the 20th episode of “Scandal,” Rhimes’s gonzo political melodrama, which is about to finish its second season on ABC.

Continue reading @ The New York Times


“We do not believe what they say”: Viola Davis at Texas Southern U

We do not worship them

We do not worship what they have made.

We do not trust them                                                                                                            

We do not believe what they say.  

                                       — Alice Walker “Each One, Pull One”


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Viola Davis’ recent talk at TSU made me think back to Walker’s “Each One, Pull One,” especially the line “We do not believe what they say.” In a conversation with Deborah Duncan, Davis told the audience that in order to redefine herself, she had to go through a period of dispelling “everything everybody ever told her about being a black woman, because it was a lie” (Davis; emphasis mine).

Davis’ words resonated with all of us whom white supremacist-classist-racist-homophobic-sexist culture tells we aren’t good enough, we will never be pretty enough, we are too dark, too feminine, too skinny, too fat, too masculine, not “man” enough, not the right “kind” of black.

The fifth-born of six children, Davis grew up in abject poverty in Central Falls, Rhode Island. In spite of the rats that scurried across her cold floors, “big dreams were born in that house,” Davis recalled.

ImageDavis was introduced to the “craft” after seeing Cicely Tyson star in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. In Tyson, Davis said she saw a woman who looked like her mom. By providing that source of identification, Davis said Tyson “gave [her] permission to accept [herself].”

Achieving self-acceptance has been critical for sustaining herself as one of a handful of dark-skinned black actresses in Hollywood. Davis spoke candidly about the narrow scope of roles afforded black actresses in general and those who are dark-skinned in particular. While her fans (including this one) would like to see her play a love interest or rock a sexy role, none of us could name a dark-skinned sista in her 40s recently cast in a love story.

ImageDavis also spoke candidly about not wanting to play a maid. Asked if she knew the impact The Help would have, Davis exclaimed, “Yes! I knew–and not necessarily in good ways–I knew all of it! I knew white women would love it and the black community would be outraged. I was very conflicted about taking that job because I’m constantly aware of my responsibility to the African American community.” Davis said she ultimately accepted the role because it was one of the best scripts she got. She also welcomed the challenge to play a character who wasn’t “beautiful” or “flashy” and to make that character “work.”

The success of The Help has opened more doors for Davis. Her and her husband Julius Tennon (pictured above) are working on a biopic of the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who was an alumna of TSU. Davis, who will play Jordan, said she looks forward to transforming into someone who was so “iconic” and “an American hero.” I look forward to Davis transforming the iconic hero into a complex human who not only championed political causes and broke down doors but also loved, erred, felt pain, and showed vulnerability.




Running and Remembrance

ImageI ran this week. In the sticky wet spring Texas heat, I ran. I run because I have to. It reminds me that I am embodied. That I’m present. Sometimes it’s the thing that keeps me from falling apart.

I never thought I’d reach this point where it’s harder not to run that it is to run. I always thought running was so hard and that I looked like an awkward bumbler about to pass out as I made my way down sidewalks and trails. It took me awhile to even claim running as something I did. ‘I jog,’ I’d say, ‘And not very fast really. Maybe a step above a spirited power walk. A power jog.’

And then about a year and a half ago I joined Black Girls Run! I had moved to a new city and thought the group would do double-duty as a way to meet new people and to keep fit. The group served as a constant source of motivation whether I was running with a team of girls or getting-it-in on my own. It felt good knowing I never really ran alone. After a couple of 5ks, I claimed the identity of a runner. After reaching 5 miles for the first time, thanks to the motivation of a fierce crew of runners, I felt myself inching closer to a 10k.

I immediately thought of the girls after the explosions during the Boston Marathon. I held all those runners in my heart and hoped they were safe. The day after the explosion, it didn’t come as a surprise that BGR members around the country were running to honor the marathoners and their supporters (#BGR4Boston). I wasn’t running alone. 

The Boston marathoners had been running to remember too. The organizers had dedicated the 20th and 26th miles to the children and educators murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. They had invited the parents of those victims to run with them. A simple act, something as primal as running, became a way to create community around shared sentiment. I don’t mean the kind of “patriotism” that pits “us” against “them.” But a sentiment based on shared experiences of loss; a collective determination to endure in spite of suffering; and a hope that something better awaits us on the other side of unspeakable pain. Image

It’s that community of feeling that breathes hope in the face of despair and becomes a catalyst for change.




Betty Friedan and black women: Is it time for a second look? by Michelle Bernard


Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” turned 50 this week.  At the time of its publication, “Singletons” (circa 1963 defined as an unmarried woman) did not have a legal right to birth control. Married women did not have equal access to credit.  In some states, married women could not get a job without the permission of their husbands.  Occupational segregation was the norm.  The wage gap was more like a wage canyon.  Sexual harassment of women in the workplace was not yet legally actionable.  Abortion was illegal.  Every state in the nation required “fault-based” grounds for divorce.  Spousal rape was not a crime in most states.

All of this changed for all American women in the wake of Friedan’s tome.  Second wave feminism was born.  The National Organization for Women was founded.  The call for equality and women’s rights would resound in every cell of the American body politic.

All American women owe Friedan a debt of gratitude.

Yet, despite all of the above, as an African American woman, I can say that I have never met a black woman who admits to having read “The Feminine Mystique.”  I have never heard a black woman of a certain age recite with the nostalgia what I refer to as “the Friedan anthem” – “The Problem with No Name.”

Continue reading at The Washington Post

12 from 2012

Red-CarpetwebAfter a 9-mth hiatus, 4 colored girls is back! And just in time for “awards season.” Here are 12 “colored girls” who left their imprint in 2012:

  1.  ShondaRLargeImageBoxShonda Rhimes is on her grind. Juggling three multiethnically-cast network dramas at one time–one recently ended–Rhimes is poised to be a game-changer in Hollywood, or maybe we should just rename it Shondaland.
  2. 9 yr old Quvenzhané Wallis made history as the youngest Best Actress Oscar nominee for her brilliant performance as the gender-bending “Hushpuppy” in Bein Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.
  3. Six years after On Beauty, Zadie Smith’s latest novel NW pushes the boundaries of language, place,  and time. Set in North London, the female-character-driven novel explores the complexities of friendship.
  4. Though we lost sassy siren Etta James last year, her lasting influence on audiences and performers alike are a testament to the power of her voice.
  5. First lady Michelle Obama‘s speech at the DNC last year merited another shout-out from 4coloredgirls. “Affective politics” at its finest.
  6. of black women in the White House, Kerry Washington‘s performance as “Olivia Pope,” professional “fixer” and presidential paramour has over 8 million viewers tuning into Scandal each week. Olivia’s scandalous behavior with “President Grant” sets the twitterverse and blogosphere alight with debates about the show’s sexual, racial, and class politics. As if commanding our undivided attention on Thursdays weren’t enough, during her “downtime,” Washington played the love interest of slave-turned-vigilante in Django Unchained. Though her lines were sparse, she gave plenty of “face.”
  7. Also blowing up the twitterverse is hip hop’s latest bad girl Azealia Banks. Hopefully twitter squabbles and poorly-chosen insults won’t overshadow the talent of this Harlem rapper as we anticipate her first release.
  8. whitneySo many admirers of Whitney Houston mourned her passing last year but the loss seemed even more palpable for the post-civil rights generation of “colored girls” who grew up trying to imitate the trill of her voice, awestruck by her beauty, and praying that she wouldn’t be our generation’s Billie Holiday.
  9. I have been quietly admiring the luscious artwork of “colored girl” Mickalene Thomas for some time. Last year, Thomas’s first solo exhibition, Origin of the Universe, debuted at the Brooklyn Museum."Donna Summer" by Mickalene Thomas (2002)
  10. I’m not at all surprised that Donna Summer is a hero to and inspiration for Mickalene Thomas. The disco diva and cosmopolitan jet-setter packed dance floors with her sultry voice and infectious rhythms. Summer died from cancer last year, but her legacy remains with us.
  11. Pulitzer Prize-winner Natasha Trethewey was named U.S. Poet Laureate last year. The haunting verse of Native Guard speaks to the poet’s tragic history while also testifying to our collective past as Black Americans GE DIGITAL CAMERA
  12. Trethewey’s elegies have touched me in an even deeper place since My Mama joined the ancestors at the end of 2012. Her generous spirit, beauty, and radiant smile impacted everyone who met her. And so I share a piece of her memory with you.

single mothers and the recession

Always Tough, Single Motherhood Gets Worse
By Lynette Holloway

Forty-four-year-old Cassandra Jackson recently returned home to Chicago from Memphis, Tenn., in hopes of upgrading her quality of life and beating the odds faced by so many single African-American mothers: finding a job.

Continue Reading @ The Root

nicki minaj

What Nicki Minaj Means to Black Women
by Regina Bradley

I’m not a fan of Nicki Minaj. Yeah, I said it. Her voice and “characters” already took my last nerve. But with her much anticipated freshman release Pink Friday dropping November 22, Minaj is in the mouths of fans and haters alike.

I’m not concerned here, however, with Minaj’s lyricism or talent. I’m interested in what Minaj’s multiple identies suggest about women in hip-hop.

During the 2010 BET Hip Hop Awards, DJ Khaled introduced self-proclaimed entertainer Minaj as “Nicki Minaj, Nicki Minaj, Nicki Minaj, Nicki Minaj, and Nicki Minaj.” As Minaj began to speak, she significantly altered her voice five times to show her “multiple personas.” People cheered.

Whether in the capacity of video models or (f)emcees, women in hip-hop are so underrepresented that they are always fighting against the current. In the powerful (and long overdue) documentary My Mic Sounds Nice old school artists like Roxanne Shante, Salt-N-Pepa, MC Lyte, and Yo Yo talked about the need to lyrically keep their game up. Battling for them was a way to be acknowledged, heard, and visible.

Continue reading @ News One

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representation and colored girls

For Colored Girls … Is Representation Enuf?
by Christa Bell

The Tyler Perry film version of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls opens this coming week. What better moment to consider the representation of black women in popular U.S. culture. Forgive us if we cringe in anticipation …

Continue reading @ Ms. blog

And while you’re over at Ms., check out “10 Things” to Know about Ntozake Shange and For Colored Girls by C. Davida Ingram.

hijacked and hackneyed?

Early reviews are in for Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls and, from what I glean so far, theyain’t good. I’m silencing much of the critical chatter about the film for the moment. While I have little to no faith in Tyler Perry’s ability to take an amazing piece of literature and a tribe of class “A” black actresses and make something remarkable, I want to be an informed and fair cultural critic.

I’ve said much of the same to my NYU students in our discussions about film adaptations of black women’s literature. I’m teaching a course on black women’s writing traditions that spans from Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl to Sapphire’s Push. I couldn’t help but notice that a number of books on our reading list have been adapted to screen: The Color Purple, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and now, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf (yes, the whole title is important).

If far more black women’s texts have been adapted to the screen than black men’s, it is likely due to the renaissance of black women’s literary production in the 1970s and 1980s (coupled with Oprah’s bankrolling of several book-to-film projects). But I’m also interested in the fact that (black) male directors seem to be at the helm of a number of these projects. I don’t think that only black women should head black women’s cultural productions. I would much rather a skilled director of whatever gender bring black women’s stories to screen. Unfortunately Hollywood privileges dollar signs over skill and, like it or not, Perry is one of the most lucrative black directors of all time.

Even more fascinating for me is the appeal of black women’s trauma stories to Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry. Both directors have disclosed experiences of abuse that informed their interest in Precious and For Colored Girls. Perry’s appearance on Oprah to recount his childhood sexual abuse, in the weeks leading up to the release of his film may be an effort to identify with black women’s sexual trauma. To be sure, black men’s literature seldom explores the sexual abuse of black boys. It is not unlikely, then, that Daniels, Perry, and other men may see their own experiences reflected in the stories of black women.

At the same time, Hollywood greenlights Tyler Perry’s film projects because they draw box office receipts. The events that led up to Perry taking charge of a film Nzingha Stewart was set to write and direct are fuzzy and while Stewart is credited as an executive producer on the project, I can’t help but wonder if the power Perry wields in Hollywood enabled him to hijack the film that he claim’s “chose him.”

Next week, I’ll be teaching Shange’s choreopoem and allowing her words to take hold of my students’ imaginations. Most of them have never read it. As the national release of Tyler Perry’s film approaches, I can only hope that others who haven’t heard the music in Shange’s words will read it along with us.

tyler perry’s new image with "for colored girls"

Madea Takes a Break, and Tyler Perry Gets Serious
by Brooks Barnes

LOS ANGELES — Is Tyler Perry capable of highbrow cinema? The studio behind his 10th movie is determined to make audiences and Oscar voters look beyond his track record and answer yes.

Mr. Perry is the most successful black filmmaker ever. His nine pictures — from the comedic romp “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion” to the melodramatic “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?” — have brought in over $530 million at the North American box office. He also has an enormous business in stage shows and two television series on TBS.

But Mr. Perry — who writes, directs, produces and frequently stars in his films — also has a reputation as a one-man schlock factory. His movies are reviled by many critics, who complain that his original source material panders and stereotypes, while his directing is sloppy and unsubtle. Now comes “For Colored Girls,” an attempt by Mr. Perry to make a radical turn toward the art-house crowd.

continue reading @ The New York Times