‘Un-Tamed: Hair Body Attitude’ Celebrates Womanhood in New Black Fest

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Written by Rebecca Nichloson

Playwright/Screenwriter Keith Josef Adkins is committed to providing a space for African American artists to explore and express the nuances of the black experience. In addition to writing about black life in his own theatrical and film projects, Adkins created The New Black Fest, an annual festival which brings together black playwrights from around the world to present works with an African American focus, such as Hands Up, a series of plays written by black men in response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, as well as institutionalized racism.

This Fall, at the Martin Segal Theater at CUNY Graduate Center, five dynamic playwrights will present a series of dramatic works called Un-Tamed: Hair Body Attitude: Short Plays By Black Women, which will center on the black female experience and it’s relationship to black culture and social justice issues facing the African American community.

Featured writers include Nikkole Salter, an Obie-award winning actress and Pulitzer- Prize nominee, and Playwrights Chisa Hutchinson, Corie Thomas, Lenelle Moise, and Jocelyn Bioh.

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Keith Josef Adkins, http://www.pswbportraiture.blogspot.com

Tell me more about Un-Tamed: Hair Body Attitude.

Adkins: In the tradition of Facing Our Truth and Hands Up, I commissioned five black women playwrights to write short plays on things that resonate around hair, body, and attitude in relation to the trending conversations about women parody.

With Hands Up, where I commissioned six black male playwrights, the conversation was ‘who [are] the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement?’ Which was two or three black women.

There have been conversations about the representation of the presence of female voices in [discussions] about social justice, policing, and profiling. During the time I commissioned these playwrights, I was under the impression that the profiling issue was a black male issue, that it was predominant among black men. I still believe that to be true, statistically. But there has to be a more integrated conversation around profiling. It can’t just be about black men. There are women — Sandra Bland, the young woman at the Texas swimming pool party that was slammed [down]— so, obviously, this is a major issue and a concern.

What kind of discussions are being had in relation to black women, patriarchy, and racial profiling?

Patriarchy often makes us blind to the issues facing women. I wanted to commission five black women to write plays that give them a platform and a space to explore and expose their complexity around any issue that they feel is important for them to discuss. It was important to me that I didn’t do this on my own, but that I brought in a woman to help curate, to kind of educate me about what’s really important. So I brought in Dominique Morisseau to co-curate this particular commission. We have all our five playwrights and they’ve turned in their first drafts. It’s just really exciting. It’s going to be some really strong work.  It already has a slated presentation for October at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City at the Martin Segal Theatre.

How have the events in Ferguson, and the wave of discussions on race and police brutality, impacted your work as a playwright and your perspective on The New Black Fest?

I’ve always been interested and dedicated to diversity within the black experience. I feel like the conversation around race, racism, and privilege; particularly within the theater community, is prompting many people to reconsider how they’ve been thinking about blackness. They are paying closer attention to blackness. These conversations have given black theater practitioners license to discuss and build art around things that have always mattered to them, that they often felt they were silenced around.

Because of Black Lives Matter and other social justice concerns, there seems to be an un-silencing.

To learn more visit newblackfest.org and broadwayblack.com.

Photography credit: womenintechchat.  Originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com

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Celebrity Outrage Over Death of ‘Cecil the Lion’ Ignites Twitter and Facebook. The #CatLivesMatter Hashtag

A few months ago, the Internet was ablaze over the death surrounding ‘Cecil the Lion,’ a mainstay of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and part of a research project at Oxford University.

According to CNN, Theo Bronchorst and Honest Trymore Ndlovu, both Zimbabweans, are believed to have illegally hunted and killed 13-year-old Cecil during a time span of 40 hours. CNN also reports that Walter J. Palmer, an American dentist from Minnesota, allegedly paid $50,000 for the hunt, which has unleashed a storm of criticism against him from the online community; particularly Facebook and Twitter, with retweets of hashtags like #CatLivesMatter, a wordplay on #BlackLives Matter, and “WE ARE CECIL,” according to The New York Times.

[Related: Police Brutality Also an Issue for Women of Color]

The unanimous outrage over Cecil’s death and celebrity support of movements against animal cruelty, includingJimmy Kimmel— who fought back tears talking about Cecil— Ricky Gervais, Sharon Osborne and others, is leaving some people wondering why more public, high-profile figures aren’t expressing the same degree of concern for the unlawful arrests and racism directed toward African American men and women.

Why are celebrities more eager to speak out against animal mistreatment than they are about issues of racial and social injustice?

Howard Bergman, CEO of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, told USA Today that “Animal activism has always been a staple of Hollywood activism, it’s really in the DNA.”  Adding,

“Celebrities have found when they step into some of the race issues, they’ve gotten their hands slapped for perceived insensitivity, even when they were trying to do and say the right thing. They realize that animal activism is a win-win. In most cases, nobody objects and particularly in this specific case.”

Is it easier to care about animals than human beings?

Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Article originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com

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The ‘Transracial’ Phenomenon Rocking the Nation

Race and cultural identity differ; the same is true for biological sex and gender identity. People who describe President of the Spokane NAACP chapter, Rachel Dolezal’s, misrepresentation of herself as black, as indicative of being “transracial,” are really talking about cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is, often, an expression of the value an individual places on a particular culture, so much so, that his or her own identity is significantly informed by it.

The argument that Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner are the same, that transgender and the term, “transracial” share similar qualities, or that, because Dolezal identifies with black culture, she should be considered black, is problematic. For one, such arguments fail to recognize differences between biological sex, race, gender identity, and cultural identity. Biological sex and race are static, which isn’t the case for cultural and gender identity.

Being transgender isn’t about denial of biological sex, it’s about accepting that one’s gender identity cannot subscribe to norms espoused by society; it’s about allowing one’s own instincts and natural tendencies to determine how one chooses to live and, socially, identify.  Biologically speaking, Caitlyn Jenner keeps the sex she was born with. But, in all other ways—behaviorally and otherwise, the label of “man” is no longer appropriate.

Racism isn’t about culture.

Racism is discrimination, inequality, and social stigma directed towards a group of people based solely on the fact that they were born of a certain race and have, often times, its physical traits, ect.

Being on the receiving end of racism, as we have seen, brings with it a host of experiences unique to those who are members of that race, or another oppressed racial group. The implications of Dolezal’s actions are connected to a long history involving the topic of race and culture in this country, just as the comparison to Caitlyn Jenner relates to much research, scholarly and otherwise, concerning gender and sexuality.

With that being said, here are two transgender people of color ‘making waves’

Janet Mock: The New York Times bestselling author of Redefining Realness and the host of  So POPular! — a weekly MSNBC digital series about culture. She is a sought-afterspeaker and the founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women. Her book recounts her journey towards womanhood and serves as a inspiration for transgender people of color everywhere.

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” – Janet Mock

Laverne Cox  is an activist and actress on Netflix’s hit series Orange is the New Black. She was born in Mobile, Alabama, and was the first openly transgender person in history to receive and Emmy nomination.

“My third grade teacher called my mother and said, ‘Ms. Cox, your son is going to end up in New Orleans in a dress if we don’t get him into therapy.’ And wouldn’t you know, just last week I spoke at Tulane University, and I wore a lovely green and black dress.” – Laverne Cox.

Share your stories in the comments section.

This article originally appeared in BlackEnterprise.com

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ABC ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Creator, Shonda Rhimes, Says “Yes” to All Things Awesome.

Late last year, at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC mega-hits Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, talked about her new book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. The interview was held with New York Times best-selling author and journalist, Jake Tapper.

Year of Yes, published by Simon & Schuster, documents a year in which Rhimes, a notorious introvert, decided to say ‘yes’ to people and activities she would normally say ‘no’ to—this included speaking engagements, parties, and other social events, which Rhimes says were out of her comfort zone.

She even went as far as to describe herself as a ‘wall hugger’ at social events, telling NPR, “I’ve always been an introverted person,” and that fame and success were, to her, “daunting.”

But for an entire year, whenever she wanted to decline an invitation or new experience, she made the choice to say ‘yes,’ and the results, she says, were phenomenal.
During the panel, Rhimes talked about her childhood growing up in a highly-intellectual home where her parents encouraged her to read and write and envision her own reality. She also talked about being the only African American girl in her school and being lonely because off this. Her imaginary world, ‘Shondaland,’ served as a creative refuge.

Rhimes discussed her disdain for the term “diversity” when describing her shows, she feels she’s simply normalizing television by creating roles for actors of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and other underrepresented groups; not revolutionizing it. She also rejects the notion that she alone is responsible for breaking “the glass ceiling” by being, arguably, the only black woman to definitively own an entire evening of network television. Instead, she stated, breaking the glass ceiling is a collective effort.

During the Q&A session audience members were invited to ask questions. To my delight, my question was the first one answered by Rhimes.

I asked her if, when she first started writing, she was ever afraid of her own voice—afraid of the depth of her talent and where it might lead. Her response: “As a writer, write as if you are the only person who will read your work.” In other words, create from honesty, not the need for approval or validation.

So what can we learn from this phenomenal African American pioneer?

  • Truthful representations can lead to success. Just like the saying goes, ‘sex sales,’ in today’s competitive entertainment arena, so does the truth.
  • Stay open to new things and allow yourself to be surprised. Sometimes not knowing is a gift.
  • Build a strong support system of people who respect and inspire you.

Although my question was specific to writing, Rhimes’s advice to create from a place of truth or, at the very least, adhere to your own standards of excellence, is invaluable.

Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Originally appeared in Black Enterprise.