Taking Back Control of Black Roles in Hollywood

Written By: Aaron Barron

Just the other week I was scrolling on my Facebook feed and saw the trailer for Hidden Figures, a movie about African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson being instrumental in the launch of John Glenn to outer space. To finish the post, my friend said, “I’m glad this movie is coming out, because I’m tired of seeing slave movies”. I was really thrown off by that comment, so like most Stanford students do, I wrote about it:

There is a common sentiment in Hollywood that black roles are often overlooked on several levels. To explain this, I present this conundrum to you:

1)   Black People: Hey, there a disproportionate amount of cisgender, white male actors nominated for and given Academy Awards.

2)   Them: Well odds are they just weren’t that many black people in movies this year. You can’t help if the best movies just so happen to star white people.

3)   Black People: Well minority actors can’t assimilate into these roles due to biased hiring directors in Hollywood. Minorities aren’t given the chance to be in these writing sessions making authentic characters.

4)   Them: Biased? They just choose the most talented. Besides, there are tons of black films out there-look at Scary Movie!

5)   Black People: explodes from frustration (s/o Scary Movie though.)

I have this back-and-forth often and I only become more infuriated each time. But to be completely clear, it’s not that black films (films that portray events that relate to African American culture or star a predominately black cast) aren’t getting nominated.

To provide context, in the last several years Selma, 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, The Help, and The Blind Side were the black films to be nominated for Best Picture in the Academy Awards. What ties all these films together is their focus on the oppression of the black population. So when people say, “I’m tired of seeing movies with black people enslaved/oppressed,” it is a very valid claim, as the most highly decorated awards ceremony seems to have a preference on what they deem is worthy-not to mention those films receive the most funding to ensure an accurate portrayal. The issue with this claim, however, is that to silence the movies that speak on our history, we push away the narrative that needs to be seen by the youth to inspire and warn against repeating an ugly past.

No one is ecstatic about seeing Jamie Foxx being whipped on an IMAX screen. It’s not only surreal and emotionally draining, but there comes a sense of numbness with seeing black oppression on a screen for two and a half hours. Yet these disgusting truths are apart of our history, and the next generation is genuinely unaware with that-especially with new policies to whitewash the actual history books. Future generations know about Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X but aren’t being taught about The War on Drugs, Gentrification and most anything post-King’s death in 1968. We must be careful not to push away the stories about Solomon Northup & Michael Oher that are constantly being voided in schools. It’s up to these films to tell our own stories.

Yes, we should begin to round out and diversify black roles and have more minority roles in Hollywood-that’s very important. But these stories that we have are still amazingly directed, acted, and have broken box office records because of what we decided will matter. Let’s continue to push that in our favor while we diversify our storytelling.

There can exist a movie that has oppression but also proves to be inspirational at the same time. The movie Hidden Figures will center on a group of brave, intelligent African American women who were part of the first U.S. spaceship launches. It’s a great story that I have actually never known about, and I’m pumped to see it in theaters. But if this movie has any sort of historical accuracy, we know there will be discrimination in this movie. Yet we must see this story as significant because of the larger message it’ll send to black girls across the country. Highlighting prominent, successful black women in the STEM field. Stories like these help put into perspective our narrative, and through our voice and support we can continue to push for these types of films. The key word here is “support” (the antonym of bootleg).

If we say we want to show up for our own, we have to start by controlling our own narrative. It sucks when studios go out on a limb to create a show like The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore only to see it cancelled, but that’s when we need to be very vocal when it comes to what we want out of our entertainment. When Hollywood decides to use white actors for movies that should obviously star minorities (e.g. Gods of Egypt, The Great Wall), it’s on us to speak out on those atrocities. The black dollar should not be taken lightly: every subscription, retweet, and paypal order shows our voice and what we think matters.

We’ve been fighting for our basic human rights for centuries, and through the years we have had resilient, purposeful leaders moving our culture forward. These kings and queens deserve to have their stories recognized and we need to promote those stories and resist settling another whitewashed Hollywood film. Let’s continue to give our kid black heroes to dream about at night.

 

From SouthPark to Goldman Sachs

By: Devon Cash

A couple of weeks ago my cousin sent me the following text message:

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I literally laughed out loud because the first thing that came to mind when I read “from South Park to Goldman Sachs” was New-New’s dad from the movie ATL. You know, this guy right here:

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And even if you don’t know him, you know at least one Black man with his storyline—a brother who started from nothing, was the first in his family to attend college, worked for the man for 20 years, and now wears sweaters around his neck, goes golfing on Saturdays, and supports #AllLivesMatter. He’s the type that gives his daughter the I-only-want-what’s-best-for-you-and-you-can-do-so-much-better- than-him speeches.

As I continued to laugh and think about this archetype, I had to consider whether or not my cousin was trying to throw me some congratulatory shade. I mean it is true that I have accomplished quite a bit, but I’d also hope that my journey doesn’t appear so scripted. And it is with that hope that I talk about my experience in the financial services industry and the things I’ve learned along the way.

But for starters, I have to give you a taste of South Park, Houston, Texas. South Park is the story of social change in Houston. My grandparents purchased their home on Longmeadow & Southbank in 1972 from a middle class white family in the midst of white flight in the city. Before that time, the neighborhood was a mostly white suburb for WWII veterans. Since then, the community has been solidly Black and increasingly Hispanic, bringing with it a cultural diversity and changing demography that reflects Houston as a whole.

South Park is also community. A walk down Longmeadow will take you straight into the rec center of South Park Baptist Church, where the Sunday services are long and the mothers’ church hats are large, and where everything from food drives to middle school basketball games are commonplace.

More than anything, though, South Park is unapologetically B-L-A-C-K. You have a community on Houston’s southeast side that is home to Burger Park and the original Original Timmy Chan’s Fried Chicken (some of y’all not gone catch that), a neighborhood where a homeboy on horseback is the norm, a place that is synonymous with MLK Boulevard, a land where spinners, candy paint, and “slabs” are not relics of the past, and probably one of very few areas where one can find a pre-school (Storybook Academy, which I attended) and Ralston’s Liquor Store next door to one another. And I love it!

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And then there’s Goldman Sachs. Some of you may have never heard the name (and they’d like to keep it that way—the firm is very discrete), some of you have heard the name but don’t know what the bank does, and probably more of you are familiar with the name after the 2008 recession and have a bone to pick. In a nutshell, Goldman Sachs is the top investment bank. Unlike some popular commercial/retail banks like Bank of America and Chase, which are known for receiving deposits and making loans, investment banks like Goldman Sachs are in the business of helping companies raise money by issuing stocks and bonds. To be clear, though, most banks nowadays engage in both commercial and investment banking.

Goldman Sachs is a storied Wall Street firm, praised within the industry while condemned as a vampire squid by many on Main Street for its perceived influence in politics and international business as well as the lucrative salaries associated with the company. Many who have seen The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street may have an image of Goldman being a place of foremost corruption, decadence, and hedonism—a player in the New World Order, a great moral calamity, etc. etc.

I hate to let many of you down, but my “career” at Goldman started over some coffee and not an Illuminati blood ritual. While at Stanford, I had the chance to meet a managing director at Goldman who graduated in the early 80s. Through some networking and a lengthy interview, I landed a sophomore internship with the firm’s investment management team in Houston, helping manage the portfolios for our high net worth clients with cash deposits of at least $10 million. My 12 to13-hour days in my 10 weeks at Goldman were filled to the brim with learning about financial markets. I learned so much more in that short period of time than I had in two years in a classroom. Some of the top takeaways I got along the way:

Investment banks are involved in almost everything.

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From the use of Microsoft Word on my Apple MacBook to draft this very article to its dissemination via Google’s Gmail to its further circulation on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, I can’t deny the impact of investment banks. Again, these institutions are responsible for taking good

ideas and making them household names. Nearly all companies you know, from Coca Cola to Tesla, have been further developed with the help of an investment bank.

Don’t be afraid to be unapologetically B-L-A-C-K.

For this one, I had to fall back to my days in South Park. Even in the rigidity of financial services, I found a way to start conversations that would have otherwise been avoided. Every day, I’d circulate daily financial reports, which I named “Market Minutes,” to the office. It’s through these finance- oriented reports that I also got the chance to highlight topics important to me, including coverage of the murder of Alton Sterling, the Democratic National Convention, firm-wide diversity events, and Simone Manuel’s historic Olympics performance.

When arriving at your Goldman Sachs, don’t forget your South Park.

In the final week of my internship, I was walking towards the parking garage with a fellow summer analyst. With my suit coat and tie still on and a backpack hugging my shoulders, I was in no mood to battle the 96° weather and overwhelming humidity. My goal was to get to my car as quickly as humanly possible.

Just one block away from the garage, in front of Downtown’s Hyatt Hotel, I was stopped by an older Black man, maybe in his 40s, who was obviously homeless—he had tattered clothes and an overwhelming odor. To no surprise, the man—noticing my attire and Goldman badge—asked if I had any change to spare. I told him honestly that I didn’t have any cash on me and issued him a farewell “God bless” and a pat on the back.

After I had walked a few paces past him, the man approached me from behind—this time more aggressively. The first thing that came to my mind was me having to show this old head what these hands do. But when I turned around, I was immediately struck by the man’s countenance. He looked at me with such intensity and emotion.

The man then explained that he had been on hard times for several years and in that time, most of which was spent Downtown, not one “Black man in a suit,” as he described, had ever acknowledged him let alone spoken to him. He then told to me how being ignored by his own people, whom he was sure had similar life experiences, “fucked him up” on a regular basis. He then thanked me for not being one of them and wished me the best of luck in my future endeavors.

In conclusion, that experience, still fresh in my consciousness, caused me to understand that the few of us Black people who have had the privilege to establish ourselves are responsible for the honest, continual, and immediate process by which we uplift those of us without. That process is comprehensive. It means, for instance (using my own experiences as an example), regardless of what space/position you occupy, that you acknowledge other Black people with dignity, that you volunteer your time to mentor low-income minority students, that you maintain a commitment to activism, that you constantly challenge the status quo in homogenous places, that you donate your material resources to impactful causes, that you remember where you come from, and that you don’t compromise your self-worth.

 

Digital Mixtapes and Protests: Oh, To Be A Queer Black Millennial

By: Nicole Marie

Article retrieved from Autostraddle

For me, the summer of 2015 was quintessentially millennial. In June, I moved into my first apartment. On that same day, Rachel Dolezal resigned from her post as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP after lying about her race. One day later, Donald “I have so many websites” Trump announced his run for the Republican presidential nomination. And the day after that nine people, nine black people —

  1. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
  2. Reverend Clementa Pinckney
  3. Cynthia Hurd
  4. Tywanza Sanders
  5. Myra Thompson
  6. Ethel Lee Lance
  7. Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
  8. Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
  9. Susie Jackson

— were shot and killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a prayer service. I changed my desktop background to Bree Newsmen tearing down the confederate flag two days later. Ten days before I moved in, a police officer physically threw 15-year-old Dajerria Becton to the ground and held her at gunpoint at a pool party five minutes from where I went to high school.

In July, I cooked all my own meals and finally replaced my cracked iPhone. The United States won the Women’s World Cup against Japan 5–2 and Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell after being arrested for a minuscule traffic violation.

In August, I skipped work to go to Janelle Monae’s “Say their Name” march. I walked through the streets of San Francisco behind a woman two inches shorter than me who had the audacity to use her art to overtly call for action; to demand that the rest of the world pay attention to what was happening — the way news media outlets so easily name the police officer and fail to remember the names of those victimized. London Chanel, Mercedes Williamson, India Clarke, Shade Schuler and so many others. Trans people of color slaughtered.

We yelled their names, names of black bodies lost, bloodied, and abused. We disrupted traffic. We danced in front of the police station.

This is what it means to be quintessentially millennial for me, a young, queer, black woman. It’s small acts of growing up: paying bills, buying groceries, and learning to look straight ahead when a pervert comments on my “juicy, black ass” in the street. Because if I don’t, I could end up like Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Patreese Johnson, and Renata Hill who received prison sentences from an all white jury for defending themselves against a man who leered at them, spat on them, and pulled out chunks of their hair simply because they were black, they were gay, and they were uninterested.

Being quintessentially millennial for me is learning that I will never be human to some people. I will be a freak show, an exhibit, a llama at a petting zoo. “Can I touch your hair?” It’s knowing that a request like that is only the beginning of my own dehumanization —  that all I need is a broken tailgate light and I could end up with an officer’s knee in my back.

In 2016, I saw the world. I studied abroad in Italy. I went to Paris. I got chills in the Van Gogh museum. I avoided the news. I avoided the news. I avoided the news. I avoided the news.
May was the start of a millennial spring romance in Paris with a girl who had lived in my college dorm: characterized by Snapchat photo streaks spanning days, memes as a flirtation device, and the exchanging of digital mixtapes. It was the shit of Nicholas Sparks books minus the white heterosexual privilege. In July of 2016, I found myself in a long distance relationship…happily. For a moment, I forgot about the summer of 2015. I forgot about the panic I experienced, the insomnia, the depression. We watched the new season of Orange is the New Black together and by the end of episode 12, it suddenly all came back.

I watched the screen in disbelief as a corrections officer exerted force on an inmate until she could no longer move. Her pleas for him to “get the fuck off” were not heard. Her pleas couldn’t be heard over the commotion of a peaceful protest gone very wrong. I was in disbelief not because I couldn’t comprehend the tragic nature of what had just happened on a fictional TV show. No, I was in disbelief because of how much a nightmarish event on a Netflix original mirrored real life. I cried, holding myself together with nothing more than willpower. I cried for the summer of 2015.

A few days later I cried for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. I cried without knowing the details because I already knew what the news reports would say. I already knew what the footage would show. And yes, I cried for her. I cried for Poussey Washington. Not just because she was my favorite character, but because she was young, she was black, she was queer. In that moment, in her struggle for breath, I struggled for breath too.

Change the name and I’m her.

All the anger, outrage, sorrow.

I felt at events that happened only last year, this year, this month resurfaced in an angry lump in my throat. I felt vindicated when the women stormed the prison, COs locked their doors in fear, and Daya held a gun to Humphrey’s head. I wanted her to shoot him. I wanted so badly for the oppressive powers to understand the weight of their actions, the gravity of their prejudice.

But we are not free until all of us are free.

Audre Lorde once asked: “what are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you sicken and die of them, still in silence.”

I come back to this question often.

To be enslaved to anger is not justice.

To be enslaved to prejudice is not power.

To be enslaved to silence is not safety.

We are not free until all of us are free.

Musila Munuve, “Kenya”

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Taken by Musila (’17) His Latest Project, “Kenya”, seeks to explore and find beauty in his home country.

If you want to see more of Musila’s art, check out his website.