Friday, July 05, 2019

New Book: The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory

One of the most attractive qualities of Jasmine Guillory's first two novels was that  they take place in world that is diverse yet relatable to a wide variety of readers. The author has a light hand in dealing with race and the challenges of living in a multicultural yet far from post-racial world. The Wedding Party continues in that vein yet tries to integrate a bit more realism and cultural specificity this time compared to the first two books. Theo is an aide to the Mayor of Berkeley, California and Maddie is a professional stylist. Both are people of color who struggle with what their identity means for their professional careers as they navigate a world that is still predominantly white and they are still somewhat marginalized.

Guillory handles those issues with a light but honest touch. Both Theo and Maddie feel like outsiders with little room for error; they feel the pressure of knowing they have to work twice as hard as their peers to be taken seriously let alone treated equally. Their challenges are organically integrated into the love story as the two rivals get to know and support each other. Whereas they initially see each other as types, opposites who attract on a sexual basis alone, they more they share, the more they connect and respect each other, and that is the fundamental basis for their romantic relationship. That mutual connection is one of the more distinctive elements in an otherwise conventional rival/friends with secret benefits to lovers storyline.  It's a sweet, very mildly sexy story, and a predictable, yet modern and enjoyable read.

#NetGalley #The WeddingParty

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When Malcom Went to Oxford

Why "by any means necessary"? When Malcolm went to Oxford to debate the notion that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, he lit the place on fire. And he did so at the invitation of The Oxford Union's first black president, Jamaican Rhodes Scholar Anthony Abrahams. I had the pleasure of working for Tony decades later when he hosted a public affairs program in Jamaica after having served in the government and heard about this event from him. He was understandably proud! It's absolutely unequivocally worth listening to the entirety of Malcolm X's oration.

I'm sharing the full audio now to mark the 90th anniversary of Malcolm X's birth. The performance is absolutely brilliant and the event was historic and is still highly relevant today, so I hope you'll listen for those reasons, but I also love that it has a tiny bit of a Jamaican connection (of course Jamaicans have to be inna everything).

There's also a video recording of the last 12 minutes. The visuals of both Malcolm and his audience are priceless:

Henry Louis Gates wrote a great piece about that night for the Root, describing it as follows:
"In an ironic twist, Malcolm X was invited to Oxford to defend the position that former U.S. presidential nominee Barry Goldwater had staked out in his acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention—to many, the dawn of the conservative movement in America: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” ....

He had been invited by none other than the Oxford Union’s second West Indian student president, Eric Anthony Abrahams, a 24-year-old Rhodes scholar who went on to become the BBC's first black television reporter before assuming various leadership roles in the Jamaican government."

Read Gates' article here:

And you can read about what led to that invitation in this more personal piece about Tony Abrahams here:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Is Hollywood Finally Getting More Diverse?

It depends on how you define diversity. If we're aiming for some level of inclusivity in film and television rather than mere visibility, I'd suggest this four-part test: 
  1. Is there more than one person of color with a recurring speaking role? 
  2. Do those characters ever talk to each other? 
  3. About something other than race, or the needs of the White protagonist? 
  4. And do they have an independent, not entirely stereotypical storyline of their own? In other words, do these characters get to do something other than suffer, serve/strip for/sexually service, crack wise with the White protagonist, and/or take part in some other well-worn stereotypical activity that advances the plot or provides comic relief?
Think of it as a slightly more exacting version of the Bechdel test, for racial rather than gender equity. Far too often and for too long, the answer to most of these questions has been no. And when the rare TV program or movie would pass the first three criteria, they'd miss the goalpost by a mile on the fourth. In addition to playing servant or sidekick, depending on the character's ethnicity, non-white supporting characters would most often: run the local ethnic restaurant or dry cleaners; mow the lawn; act out angrily for no reason; commit crime or serve time; play sports; or rap, sing and dance.  

My hope is that this simple tool for evaluating ethnic and racial diversity in entertainment can help to do three things: make the ongoing challenge of inclusion a bit more visible; spark conversation; and help to raise the bar for diversity a little higher than the superficial tokenism that we’ve so often seen and complained about. 

To demonstrate how this metric works, I’ve applied these criteria to several popular, current television shows, and divided them into three categories of inclusivity as a result: Heck Ya!, Aim Higher, and “It’s Complicated."

Comments, questions and additional examples are all welcome. I'll write about film later this week. 

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC): The long running, still popular champion of inclusivity.
1.     There are five black doctors in the current cast including the Chief, Bailey, Jackson Avery and the two interns, plus Asian American doctor Christina Yang. And Callie, a Latina doctor who is also a lesbian.
2.     yes. frequently. Bailey and Chief especially.
3.     yes they talk about patients, medicine, etc
4.     Yes. Dr. Bailey is doing medical research project for example. 

Sleepy Hollow (FOX): A strong, surprising contender.
1.     Yes, definitely. The Police Lieutenant Abbie Mills, played by Nicole Beharie, is an African American woman; her Captain, played by Orlando Jones, is also African American, as is her sister. There’s also an Asian American police officer played by John Cho and a Latino officer as well.
2.     Yes.
3.     Yes. They talk  frequently, mostly about work and ghosts and the past.
4.     Yes. quite a bit. Abbie assists Ichabod in his quest, but she also has a robust story and past of her own. Both Abbie and her sister are complicated, strong willed, and flawed. In other words, human. 

Californication (SHOWTIME): Um no. But that could be a blessing.
  1. For a while Hank works with a black actor/rapper/entrepreneur named Samurai Apocalypse and has an affair with said rapper’s girlfriend.
  2. Yes.
  3. Yes.
  4. No. Said rapper likes to shoot people. The rapper's girlfriend mostly sleeps with other (usually White) men behind his back. She also spends money and does drugs. The rapper does have a sensitive side though. He’s in love. So there's that!
Mad Men (AMC): Nope, never. 
1.     Three African American women, Carla, Dawn and Shirley, have all been minor characters at different times in the show’s seven season run. There is also a Latino man servant/gigolo but it’s not much of a speaking role.
2.     Carla only interacts with Betty and the kids. Dawn and Shirley interact with each other just barely in season 7.
3.     Yes
4.     Dawn and Shirley never have a storyline outside of their jobs as secretaries. The Latino man is first a servant, then kind of a paid escort/gigolo, and ultimately either a thief or perhaps even a murderer.

Girls (HBO)
  1. Nope. quite famously never on a regular basis. Occasionally Girls might have a short-term guest star who is a non white person, such as the black woman who works with Hannah at Conde Nast and Hannah’s black republican boyfriend. Such occurrences are brief and far between.
  2. No. Let's end it at that.
Veep (HBO)
  1. NO. Just the Veep’s sassy secretary

Silicon Valley (HBO)
  1. Nope, just one Indian software engineer. And a sassy black stripper makes an appearance in one episode.

The Mindy Project (FOX): Close but, no, not really.
1.     Yes there’s Mindy  Lahiri, who’s a doctor and played by show creator, writer producer and Indian-American comedienne Mindy Kaling. And there is an African American nurse Tamra played gamely and yet fruitlessly by Xosha Roquemore.
2.    Yes they talk to each other.
3.    Yes.
4.    Yes for Mindy. No for Tamra. While almost no one in that doctor’s office inspires a great deal of confidence or respect, the African American nurse is kind of a sassy, gum-smacking bundle of incompetence and work avoidance.

Devious Maids (LIFETIME): Technically yes. Maybe. It really is complicated.
1.     Yes, Latina women are the main protagonists, but they are also “devious,” socially ambitious and sexy maids, who work almost exclusively for wealthy whites and use their wiles to get ahead.
2.     Yes.
3.     Yes. They talk about their families. But mainly they spend a lot of time gossiping about their wealthy employers.
4.     Yes, just barely. All the women are maids at the start of the show. There is one closeted gay Latino man who is a singer. And there used to be an African American man who was a chauffeur. One of the women is actually a professor, pretending to be a maid in order to investigate a crime.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Call for Participants: ICA 2014 Panel

Updated 10/30/13 

Dear friends:
Colleague Sarah Jackson and I are seeking participants for a panel on the ICA Conference theme of Communication and the "Good Life" as it is constructed in television in relation to issues of diversity and inclusion.   

Panel Proposal for Popular Communication and Ethnicity and Race In Communication Divisions

As Seen on TV: Identity, Inclusion, and the “Good Life”

This panel interrogates the conference theme of Communication and the “Good Life” in relation to the concepts of multiculturalism and inclusion in diverse, industrialized, postcolonial societies like the United States, the United Kingdom and others through the prism of mediated entertainment. What does the good life look like in the 21st century according to popular culture? Who is able to partake of it? What norms, values and social hierarchies are communicated in relation to race, gender, and sexual identity in these programs and through what means? Where is inequality acknowledged and how/is it challenged? 

To answer these questions, this panel will examine representations of identity and identity politics in major television dramas featuring diverse casts. We define the concept of diversity broadly and intersectionally to include race/ethnicity, ability, gender, and sexual orientation. Given the role television plays in constructing aspirational Western democratic values like equality, inclusion, and, in the United States, the “American Dream,” papers should illuminate the ways contemporary TV drama communicates dominant or subversive constructions of the good life in increasingly multicultural and multiracial societies.

Prospective participants should send submissions including a 150-word abstract, title and their institutional affiliation to and by Saturday Nov 2nd. Please include specific ideas re programs to be analyzed. We also welcome questions, and suggestions. 

Please feel free to share this with colleagues who may be interested.

Note, the final ICA deadline is November 4th:

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Running, Writing and Fundraising...

I've now committed every minute of the next month to writing, running or raising money--for Cory Booker's Senate campaign and Boston Children's Hospital. Two amazing ways to make our world a better place. Please choose one and show your support.

Boston for Cory Booker:

Boston's Children's Hospital: Carole's Run to Remember Fundraising Page

Excellence in medical care, exemplified by Boston Children's Hospital, is one of principle things that makes Boston strong.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Historic Night.

This is a historic night. I'm proud of President Obama, and I think that much respect is due to President Clinton. He played an important role with a key demographic. 

It's also a good night for progressive values and candidates in general though, which says a lot. Marriage Equality passed by popular vote in two states, two new Democratic senators were elected (both progressive and powerful women). One, Elizabeth Warren, accomplished this against a popular incumbent. Last but not least, legalized marijuana passed in CO and WA. 

All of this was accomplished amidst obstacles--long lines, new voter id laws, not to mention a hurricane that devastated Democratic strongholds on the east coast. If you lived in a city, especially in a swing state, it was harder to vote this year, harder to register to vote. These are not the accomplishments of a depleted liberal movement or an ineffectual party out of step with the country. Maybe Democrats just need a bit more optimism and conviction.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The one bright spot in an otherwise soul sucking, seemingly endless presidential campaign? Some pretty creative celebrities are reinventing the political endorsement with liberal doses of (admittedly adult) humor. So is it Whedon, Jackson or Dunham for the win?

Best Pop Cultural Resonance. Mitt's not afraid to face the horde... Zomney Pocalypse:

Somehow Dunham's seems to be eliciting the most controversy:

Most unabashedly unofficial and NSFW

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Real Romney and the Electoral Math

Does the secret video reveal "the Real Romney"? I'm not so sure. I think he's smarter than this.

A new Pew Research report provides a detailed look at key demographic patterns in presidential preference, comparing 2008 results with 2012 polling. The numbers, which show President Obama leading Romney 51 to 42 and ahead with a variety of demos, across multiple age groups and income categories, with women but not with men, and behind by 7 points with Whites overall. There are significant racial and gender gaps, but nonetheless it's a pretty diverse group.

This broad range of Obama voters is not new--the breakdowns are fairly similar to the 2008 exit poll results--but it is a reminder. The numbers make it harder to ignore something that seems to have been glossed over in the discussion of Romney's controversial comments about the 47%. Romney made his remarks about dependency and victimhood in response to a donor's question about how he would win over more voters between then and the election.  His answer was that he needed to focus on winning over a small group (5 to 10% of the electorate) of the independents but that president Obama  had a built in advantage because the Republican message of lower taxes wouldn't appeal to the 47%-- all the people at the bottom (really the bottom plus a large chunk of the middle, nearly half of all Americans) who had gotten used to dependence on the government and weren't paying any (federal income) taxes.

This explanation would justify Romney's lackluster performance in the polls so far and explain his strategy of focusing a a narrow section of the electorate moving forward, the electoral equivalent of target marketing. It makes sense except the argument is based on a bizarrely inaccurate claim about the relationship between income and voter preference. Obama doesn't own the lower and middle of the income scale and Romney, despite the electoral shorthand so many engage in, doesn't really own the upperclass.  In reality, the relationship between income and presidential preference is more complicated and variable than that. People vote their values, they vote their ideology, and yes they vote on the economy but not in a self interested, individual pocketbook way but rather with an eye to how the country or their community is doing as a whole.  35% of the lowest income folks say they're voting for Romney and about half of the high income folks making more than $100k annually plan to vote for Obama.

So this all begs the question:  Is Romney really so uninformed about who his voters are and what motivates them, or does he just not mind misleading his donors? Given all the attention to social issues and family values on the stump and at the convention, I'm guessing he and the RNC understand the complexities of voter choice. So what does that say about his belief in the 47% argument? Maybe it's not the poor and middle class that Romney disdains? Or maybe he was just reaching for a reason to lower expectations, one other than the disadvantage of his not being Latino...
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