Television

She’s Gotta Be Kidding

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Recently I was reminded of something. In this era of awareness concerning diversity, it’s been all too easy for me to believe that because the creators of certain projects are Black they would take greater care to accurately portray members of the African diaspora. Surely, after being annoyed by biased, inaccurate representation, African-American creators would strive to depict their fellow Black people as human beings with a modicum of sense. But no. It seems some are content to approach members of the diaspora with the same lack of care that the industry typically shows them. Take a look at the clip below.

That’s from an episode of Netflix’s hit series, She’s Gotta Have It. When I first saw it, I was appalled. (Full disclosure, I’m Canadian. I’m used to seeing Blackness and Canadianness misrepresented by the mainstream American media.) I wanted to know which of the SGHI writers hated Black British people so much that they would portray them like this—as having no clue about colonialism. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Among the people who saw the above clip was John Boyega, who referred to it as “Trash”. And while I couldn’t blame him for his perspective, the other day I was intrigued when the writer of the episode in question decided to respond.

Mr. Barry Michael Cooper chose to address Boyega via an open letter. Since reading it, I haven’t taken the time to check and see if Boyega responded, but I’ve had some thoughts of my own.

First, a bit of background: In case you don’t have time to read Cooper’s letter, you should know that the scene in question was inspired by a discussion on Twitter. A few years ago, people had a lot of opinions regarding Samuel L. Jackson’s comments on the casting of Black British actors.  (This initially occurred around the time that Get Out was receiving publicity. Its star, Daniel Kaluuya, is British.) Although Jackson later clarified his remarks, I remember that initially some were alarmed. Judging from the tone of his letter, I take it that Cooper meant for his scene to be a teachable moment. However, from where I sit, he failed tremendously.

In his note to Mr. Boyega, Mr. Cooper pointed to an article by Black British actor, David Harewood. Mr. Harewood has had roles in a variety of American productions, including his current series—Supergirl.

In his Guardian essay, Harewood refers to his time playing Martin Luther King Jr in a production of The Mountaintop. His purpose was clear: To share his thoughts on why he feels British actors are qualified to play African-American characters. However, I was troubled by his rationale. In response to the idea of Black British actors not being American “brothers”, Harewood concluded his commentary by saying, “Perhaps it’s precisely because we are not real American brothers that we [B]lack British performers have the ability to unshackle ourselves from the burden of racial realities—and simply play what’s on the page, not what’s in the history books.” (Emphasis added.)

Quite frankly I found the implications of Harewood’s words troubling. Just because a Black performer is not American, that doesn’t mean that they are automatically able to divorce themselves from the impact that racism has—whether in a historical context, or referring to its presence in one’s daily life. Overall I’m still confused about why anyone would read his essay and believe that just because it was published, it deserved serious consideration as being representative of all British people of African descent.

Racism and colonialism aren’t exclusively American issues. I feel ridiculous writing that, yet it’s not a message that everyone seems to understand. On that note, let me also state that Black folks who live outside of the United States are not, somehow, too simple-minded to be aware of the impact that colonialism has had on their culture. Why someone would feel emboldened to assume so floors me. Yet that’s what I took from the above snippet from She’s Gotta Have It. All the while Nola Darling was supposedly schooling her English lover, I was looking at my computer in disgust.

Mr. Cooper’s script and subsequent letter reminded me of a familiar problem. A few years ago Justin Bieber was called out for videos which showed him using the n-word. Back then on The View, Whoopi Goldberg was willing to excuse him. I recall her reaction was discussed on one of our morning shows. Back then she expressed the belief that in Canada “nigger” doesn’t have the same meaning that it does in America. I couldn’t help but feel both stunned and disgusted. Canadians of African descent have lived in my home country for hundreds of years. Racist language isn’t anything new to us, and its hideous meaning isn’t somehow obscured by the soil that it’s spoken on.  

In his epistle, I noticed that Mr. Cooper went to great lengths to explain the inspiration behind certain elements of his show. He was careful to use the phrase “[i]t’s not something I made up,” to enforce the fact that different aspects of his work were meant to reflect material drawn from real life. Yet that does absolutely nothing to nullify the fact that the scene’s dialogue was born out of a horribly executed idea. 

Mr. Cooper seemed peeved Boyega used the word “Trash” to describe his work. Yet I think he had every right to do so. It IS trashy–and downright harmful–to use your platform to depict characters from the diaspora as uninformed ignoramuses concerning the Black experience of people in their own country. If there were a scene on a different program involving a white American man attempting to put a Black American woman in her place and “enlighten” her—after the show’s writer was inspired by an aspect of Blackness that he’d read about once in ONE biased article–heads would be rolling.

I fail to see why a Black American lecturing a Black person of British descent as depicted in SGHI should be deemed acceptable. It’s as though the show’s writers wanted to say that surely, we must remember that only Black Americans experience racism and have a correct understanding of its historical impact. So long as those in charge of the media think that way, there’s no telling what else they believe. For all we know according to them, no Black person from anywhere else on the globe has sufficient experience or knowledge—whether of themselves or their homeland—to be able to accurately comprehend how racism could possibly influence their experience in the present day.

Ultimately Mr. Cooper’s letter seemed to me to be an overwrought attempt to excuse an incredibly insulting narrative. Deliberately portraying Black people who aren’t American as gravely out of touch isn’t endearing or uplifting. It’s degrading, it’s insulting, and it’s a habit that needs to end.

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Books, feminism, Television, The Hottest of Takes

The Handmaid’s FAIL?

Millions of years ago when I was in school, I read The Handmaid’s Tale. And I’ll confess–as with all of Margaret Atwood’s works, it gave me the creeps. I don’t remember every precise detail of its story. However, I still have enough of it with me to recall its overarching themes. It deals specifically with women’s reproductive rights and the horrors of living in a society where our agency has been removed.

Flash forward to today. A TV adaptation is about to be released. And something is amiss in the way the actors are discussing their material.

Last night I read some tweets* by a reporter who was present at a screening. Her words made me do a double-take. Then earlier today, I read this piece on Vulture’s web site. Elizabeth Moss, who plays Offred said

“Honestly, for me it’s not a feminist story — it’s a human story, because women’s rights are human rights. I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist; I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They’re women and they are humans…”

(Emphasis added.)

A part of me feels terrible. I don’t want to make assumptions about Ms. Moss. If that’s how she feels about The Handmaid’s Tale, that’s her right. But from what I read on Twitter, she wasn’t the only cast member attempting to disown her show’s heritage.

At this point I’d like to offer the film and television industry’s PR people some advice.

Firstly, “feminism” is NOT a dirty word. It is nothing to be ashamed of. The people who think it’s divisive are probably the same people who think that it’s wrong to talk about racism.

But that’s another rant for another time…

I agree completely with the Vulture piece’s opening. We’re at an interesting point in human history. A reality-TV star is president. Still, even before he was elected, people were taking to the streets–and their keyboards–unafraid to take a stand against injustice. In that light, I’d like to argue that it is more than safe for an individual to own who and what s/he is.

The same can be said for our works of art. Reading Ms. Moss’s words, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Tale’s actors were coached to deny the production’s feminist overtones. I’d like to know why. Are producers afraid of offending their audience?

Take it from me as a Black person: Not everything is for everyone. There are folks out there who will reject you for your inherent traits. Why not revel in your production’s uniqueness? Downplaying something that is so obvious to onlookers, such as The Handmaid’s Tale’s feminist elements makes you look cowardly and dishonest.

Furthermore, it’s not necessary. Your work will draw the audience that it is meant to have, period–regardless of their gender or political stance.

Denying The Handmaid’s Tale’s feminist themes is like saying Roots has nothing to do with Black people. I don’t see what the point is in dancing around the obvious, other than an attempt to win over a disinterested audience.

If that’s the case, I have the feeling that the Tale’s producers are in for a very rude awakening. And like those who regret voting for you-know-who, when certain folks have an epiphany, it won’t be pretty.

*In case you think I’m weird with my,”Someone on Twitter said something….” check out this Vanity Fair piece. I Googled after I wrote my post and the title says it all.

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diversity, Television

#ThronesYall

In this episode,  Jamie of Black Girl Nerds offers her listeners brilliant commentary on the idea of hashtag ownership. I’m about halfway through, and I have nothing to add.

…Except for a little something about online behaviour.

When I follow people on social media, it’s because their content interests me, or I like them, or both. Either way, I’m not connected to them by accident. Most importantly, if an individual is rude to someone that I follow, I notice.

Be careful of how you treat others online. Your behaviour may cause your brand more harm than good.

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Television

The “Other” Woman

 

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Cuties.

 

This post is useful, not only for Sleepy Hollow, but other shows. I’m talking about Abbie specifically. But what I have to offer is also a commentary on love, and the depiction of marginalized characters.

A writer of color who used to work on Sleepy Hollow once insisted that contrary to what fans thought, the people behind the show weren’t opposed to interracial relationships. To support his argument, he pointed to the fact that they gave us Joenny (Joe + Jenny).

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In Google, Joenny gifs are hard to come by. Meanwhile Ichabbie…? *sigh*

 

So when it comes to Crane and Abbie, what gives?

On Twitter, Roberto Orci mentioned a decision to be “chaste” in an attempt to avoid disrespectful tropes relating to Black women in relationships. This is a bit of a response.


I appreciate the producers’ concerns. However, I would like to urge them not to be so preoccupied with doing a character justice, that they forget she’s human.

As a Black woman, it’s true: I exist in a space where racism and sexism collide. However, that doesn’t mean that this space should be removed from the fullness of human experience.

In some ways, the Mills sisters have been written like normal women. Take the scenes with them at the local bar enjoying a beer. In those moments I’ve nearly squealed, “That’s something I would do!” (Maybe I need to watch more TV. I’m just not used to seeing Black women on my screen in a blue-collar setting, with a drink.)

There are other things that have felt realistic to me–costuming, dialogue, the ability to kick ass...

Those examples are a part of why I’m confused. If Sleepy Hollow is able to get certain things right about Abbie, how could their portrayal of her in a relationship be so tone deaf?

I used to believe the writers were a bunch of immature dorks who thought Abbie had cooties–or worse. Now, I realize they avoided giving her a relationship with Crane because they were afraid to get “it” wrong. Nevertheless. The “chasteness” that producers have employed isn’t respectful. It’s been insulting.

When approaching the writing of Black women in love, I need the show’s writers to think: How would you write a relationship for the average woman with Abbie’s characteristics? (I’m referring to her personality and lifestyle.) Why should her being Black make any difference? (There are factors worth considering when writing a Black woman or an interracial relationship–like having to deal with bigotry. I’m not referring to those. I’m thinking of the general picture.)

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*double sigh*

 

Promising and refusing to deliver on love for Abbie with Crane has done nothing more than mock the show’s audience. There are times when a television romance seems forced. There are also times when a relationship is a natural next step in a couple’s evolution.

Consider Sleepy Hollow’s timeline, and the characters’ rapport. Given those, I think a show about a couple who shared the same race would have had them dating by now. Hence, hesitating to follow up on romantic innuendo out of concern about offense when depicting a Black woman isn’t wise. It looks like a cop-out, whether intended that way or not.

Normally, I’d advocate this for simpler reasons, but under these circumstances, let me make a recommendation: If someone’s feeling insecure about writing relationships for characters of color, then hire writers of color. Or for God’s sake, talk to us!

I remember an old interview where one of Sleepy Hollow’s producers was asked about the program’s (first season) diversity. His reply suggested that it came naturally to him–it reflected his reality. If that’s the case, why don’t the producers ask friends and colleagues what they think of Black people in love on TV? I’m sure they’d get an earful.

(I know some of the show’s creatives are reaching out to fans, and I appreciate it. But they would have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they’d listened to us sooner.)

Lastly, I’d noticed someone on Team Sleepy Hollow mentioned that he’d been taking in our ideas, including those about “romance”. And no, that wasn’t a typo. “Romance” was mentioned. I’d wanted to shoot him one of these:

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That type of talk suggests Sleepy Hollow’s people may have a plan that depends on whether or not Nicole Beharie (Abbie) returns. If that takes place, and intimacy is, finally, pursued, I hope we’ll finally get to see Abbie and Crane not only battling bad guys, but juggling the ups and downs of a relationship. Again, I don’t know every show out there. Yet I think their romance would be a one-of-a-kind.

I’m not asking for an apocalyptic, less-cheesy Hart to Hart…But then again, maybe I am.

Lord knows. The way things have been, Abbie Mills really does deserve better.


Want more of my thoughts on Ichabbie, and Abbie as a love interest?

No chance for romance? A word about Ichabbie.

Crane’s Angels?

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Television

FOX’s Kobiyashi

This morning I noticed something.

Here’s FOX’s 2016-2017 schedule.

Sleepy Hollow isn’t returning until the middle of the season. (From what I can remember, that’s when…? January?)

Although upset over Abbie’s elimination, I’ve been thinking. Last night, I came up with what I think is an appropriate analogy.

In my opinion, this season’s finale was Sleepy Hollow ’s Kobiyashi Maru.

For those of you who don’t know Star Trek, give me a minute. In the Star Trek universe, the Kobiyashi Maru is a test that Outer-Space Explorer School Startfleet Cadets have to take in their journey to graduate from Space Explorer Camp the Academy.

I’ve read a definition that says the Kobiyashi Maru exists to test a cadet’s character.

However, I’m not referring to it that way.

I’m speaking of something every Trekkie knows:

The Kobiyashi is a no-win scenario.

Now then. Get your head out of Star Trek and step into Sleepy Hollow.

I wish everyone involved good luck, and there’s a side of me that has faith in the show’s original team. But they need to know that my wishes are conditional: I do not see Sleepy Hollow succeeding without Abbie.

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Fans’ and critics’ reactions have made things crystal clear. Talking about this elsewhere, I once said, “They can’t make things any worse.” That wasn’t a complaint, but a statement of fact.

In my most positive moments, something inside keeps saying,”They can’t make Sleepy Hollow without Abbie, and they won’t.” But I don’t hold the keys to this show’s destiny.

Ultimately,  I’m convinced that the only way for Sleepy Hollow to improve is through a complete change of course. Season 4’s scheduled appearance gives them time to make corrections.

I’m going to watch and see how things unfold.

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Television

Imagining Underground – What’s next?

For those who missed that last scene:

Yesterday I saw a prompt to discuss what people think will happen on season 2 of Underground. My mind went in several different directions…

Rosalee will be working as Harriet Tubman’s apprentice (for lack of a better word). I’m glad to know that Harriet is a character in a television series. There’s so much about her to celebrate and even more that the audience will learn from Misha and Joe’s decision to bring her to life. I look forward to seeing her relationship with Rosalee unfold.

Noah won’t stay in jail for long. I can’t wait for him to escape. As I drafted this post, I wondered if Noah, John, and Elizabeth would continue to work together. Specifically, in what capacity? Would Noah be employed in a free area as both a blacksmith and Railroad liaison? Would he have to pretend to be the Hawkes’ slave?

I’m concerned about James’ fate alone with Ms Suzanna. Will we see anything of the Macon plantation on Season 2, or will our focus be elsewhere…? And if we still see their plantation, will Bill still be around? (A bottle to the neck couldn’t stop him.) Who knows?

Ernestine. I can’t help but fear for her safety. She’s a compelling character. By the time season 2 premieres, Stine will probably have been sold to a new owner. There’s no telling who she’ll end up with. She could be facing a situation similar to the one she encountered on the Macon plantation, or things could be even worse.

I predict that August will change his mind about his profession, but I don’t know if we will see that take place in S2. I’m glad that Ben is alive, and I hope he and Jay are still around to question Mr. Pullman’s lifestyle.

What will life be like now for Boo? Will she still be living with the Hawkes’ family, or somewhere else? Meanwhile, I predict Elizabeth and John’s “station” will be fully up and running as a regular stop on the Underground Railroad. I want to see the stress they experience as they live double lives.

Hell, I want to see that for all of the characters. Underground invigorates me, like an action-packed spy thriller.

Also…

I’m glad Cato‘s alive! Watching him in Undergound‘s first episode, I never thought I’d say that, but here we are. He has a trunk full of money, so I imagine he might try to buy his freedom, or simply make a way for himself among free Black people. (The nerd in me wants to research what would have been possible.) Meanwhile, I assume Cato thinks the worst of Noah for leaving him to face that Patty Cannon Gang alone. When they cross paths he just might have vengeance on his mind.

Speaking of Patty Cannon, will she be Season 2’s new villain…?

How about you? What do you think will happen on next season of WGN’s best series?

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Television

LAST week on Underground

If you missed the latest episode and don’t like spoilers, this isn’t the post for you.

Most shows that cover serious subjects avoid giving children a lot to do. Certainly, when I’ve seen programs depict slavery, the majority of screen time is given to adult actors, while the kids appear merely for minutes, if not seconds. However last Wednesday, Underground flipped this ratio. There are several young performers on the show. Each of the last episode’s acts focused on how one of them was affected by his or her circumstances.

James’ story grieved my spirit. No longer T.R.’s playmate, the show opened with Sam and Ernestine preparing him to begin life as a field slave. Over the course of his scenes, you could see young James transform. As the reality of slave life sunk in, everything about him changed–even his posture. My heart broke when his mother, Ernestine, acknowledged the truth about her youngest child: Before his first day in the cotton fields, he didn’t even realize that he was a slave.

Ben’s segment didn’t deal with slavery. Instead, we picked up where we left off in the previous episode. He and his father, August, went to find his mother. (You might remember that she’s a patient in a mental hospital…) Eventually they located her in a nearby forest. These scenes brought to mind stories that I’d heard about healthcare before the modern age. I felt Ben’s frustration over his mother–a woman who is lost to him, yet very much alive.

Little Boo broke my heart. Moses’ death (seen in flashbacks) has left her all alone. Thankfully, Elizabeth found her, and they were able to spend a few precious moments together. Her fear and struggle over whether or not to trust a stranger really resonated with me. I can only imagine what the real Boos of her day endured.

I won’t spoil this next part in great detail, but by the end of Henry’s scenes I couldn’t help but wonder if he’s okay. In “Cradle”, his dialogue revealed an interesting note about his backstory. Period dramas that discuss slavery usually stick to tales of slaves born either to their parents in bondage, or sold away. I can’t remember one ever referencing a slave born on a breeding farm.

T.R.’s scenes revealed the end end of his friendship with James–with powerful acting by both Maceo Smedley and Toby Nichols. I also noticed a glimpse of something else. Remember the scene in the pilot when T.R. was sticking green beans up his nose? I thought,”What a harmless brat!” Yet as always, Underground‘s writers aren’t here for viewers’ assumptions. I can still hear T.R.’s last line. In spite of his initial good intentions, I believe we’ve witnessed the beginning of his heart being hardened.

Other elements that caught my eye:

Did they use modern music in “Cradle”? I couldn’t tell you. I was too much in love with the sound of the children’s choir. Kudos to Underground’s music supervisors for including their voices.

All of the children’s scenes left me thinking, and in the wake of T.R.’s scenes, I couldn’t help but ask the unanswerable: How many slaves’ lives were ruined by the whims of their owners’ children?

My next question relates to the preview for tonight’s episode:

Why do Tom and Ernestine want Sam’s departure to remain a secret? Is it because of the Reverend, or something else? If I didn’t believe otherwise, I’d think Sam was Mr. Macon’s son.

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Television

Nicole Beharie Deserves Better

Have you seen this?

Video via Nicole Beharie Daily

Shortly after I pressed “PLAY”, I almost started to cry. I definitely started to think.

As a fan, I realized how selfish I’ve been. I don’t want to let Nicole Beharie’s Abbie go. But you know what else I don’t want? For Ms. Beharie to have to put up with an abusive work environment.

One of the women in the video used the word “toxic”. I can only imagine what Nikki went through, but I have a feeling that the anecdotes that have been swirling around are only the tip of the iceberg.

Nicole Beharie,

Thank you for inspiring the girl inside of me to keep on dreaming.

Since I’ve been talking about what I want in a TV show so much these days, how about what I want for someone else…?

Photography by Indira Cesarine

Image Source

I want Nicole Beharie to wake up any given workday with a sense of fullness in her heart, knowing she’s going to spend time on material she enjoys, with colleagues and BOSSES who know and honour her worth.

If the people at Sleepy Hollow or FOX couldn’t give that to her, then shame on them.

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Television

Crane’s Angels?

I know, I know. Another piece on Sleepy Hollow‘s relationships. Sorry.

After I asked about her, Jamie from Black Girl Nerds referred to Betsy Ross as “another Katrina”. Back in the day I’m pretty sure I snarked about her on Twitter. However in retrospect, I actually understood why Katrina existed. She was there from Sleepy Hollow’s beginning. She was Crane’s wife. Although the middle of Season 2 left me cold, its bookend episodes didn’t really bother me.

But Betsy Ross? What’s the point of her character? That’s my question as I watch Sleepy Hollow‘s 3rd season. Her presence has given me a really bad impression. In every season of Sleepy, were we going to be introduced to yet another of Crane’s historically-relevant girlfriends? TPTB almost had me thinking that eventually Crane was going to come to my neck of the woods for a tryst with Laura Secord. Luckily that idea fell apart…Because I realized she was from a different era.

Not that I blame the writers and producers for trying to give Crane a love interest. I mean, it’s a shame. If only he had an intelligent, hard-working, gorgeous woman to talk to…

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In all seriousness, I’m not a hardcore Ichabbie shipper. However, there’s an affectionate dynamic between Abbie and Crane. TPTB’s intentional avoidance of pairing them together–depicting them as obviously in love but not physically affectionate–seems odd. (And when I say “odd”, I’m being generous.) It simply doesn’t make sense.

 

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