Are We in the Middle of the Next Black Renaissance?

BlackLivesMatterIn The New Jim Crow, author and legal scholar Michelle Alexander charts the history of different Black rights movements in the United States, and the counter-efforts that rolled back important social, political, and cultural advances that these movements engendered.

Reconstruction followed slavery, but Jim Crow stymied further attempts at Black liberation and social betterment. The Civil Rights Movement ended Jim Crow, only for poor Blacks to face stringent tough-on-crime laws and the War on Drugs, leaving one in every 15 Black men incarcerated.

Now, we have Black Lives Matter. More people are learning about the racial disparities of our prison system, our jobs, our schools, and other institutions. At the same time, musicians like Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé are creating unapologetic pro-Black music and videos, powered by young masterminds like Kahlil Joseph and Warsan Shire.

In journalism, TV, fiction, and film, Ta-Nehisi Coates continues the legacy of James Baldwin, while Hilton Als, Ava Duvernay, Jacqueline Woodson, Edward P. Jones, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Channing Dungey, and so many others lead the current surge of Black creativity and power.

We’re also in a period of hyper-awareness. Not only do more and more people protest Hollywood’s continued casting of non-white roles with white actors — we’ve now upped the ante and gone even deeper, debating the casting of such roles as Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. At the same time, we’re still seeing so many Black firsts in healthcare, in government, and in such uncommon headlines as Warren Shadd and his achievement of being the first Black piano manufacturer.

Despite recurring periods of cultural, political, and social forces repelling and subjugating it, Black culture in the United States has always gone underground, revived, and then resurged. Are we now experiencing another confluence all at once — a cultural, political, and artistic renaissance?

I touched base with several Black writers, actors, activists, and intellectuals — even a soul food critic — and asked: are we in the middle of the next Black Renaissance?

Ernest Waddell, Actor

Ernest on IMDB

I think we’re in a time where the US is becoming more tolerant of Black excellence and Black ideas. And maybe as a result, there are now more Black people who are willing to take more creative risks. I also think the Internet has given all people more of a voice. The creative renaissance of 50 years ago, 20 years ago even, seems limited to accessibility.

Rebecca Kent, Documentary Producer, Plus Pictures and CBS News

The Black Panthers, Vanguard of the Revolution

With the heightened awareness of acts of police brutality and daily acts of social injustice, we have seemingly arrived at a tipping point in Black culture which has increased Black cultural production. We’re living in a time ripe with unapologetic expression against systems of oppression through politics, song, film, and art. From Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly to Beyoncé’s Formation, artists and artistic expression have taken on a more radical tone.

While Formation has of course inspired numerous critical essays listing its merits and deficiencies, one thing is clear — it has caused much conversation and debate. Her song provided the perfect vehicle to reach the masses and infiltrate popular culture, to initiate conversations and to hopefully affect change.

Adrian Miller, Soul Food Scholar

Adrian’s website

There’s definitely more interest in African American cuisine these days, but not where one would expect. Of the various riffs on traditional soul food, the most creative energy comes from those cooking vegan soul food. That’s right, no meat with your greens, and no dairy in all of those glorious desserts. Also, the hottest soul food spot in the world is . . . Paris, France! Just in the last two weeks, I’ve gotten interview requests from French media about soul food. This fascinates me because soul food still gets a mixed reception in its home country because many see it as inherently unhealthy and essentially slave food unworthy of celebration. It’s like the 1920s all over again.

Adrienne Kennedy, Playwright

Adrienne’s blog

Do not see a Renaissance coming.

It strikes me that when my husband and I came to New York in January 1955, and he was in grad school at Columbia and I took a few writing courses at the New School, etc., that we were in a Renaissance.

Perhaps it was because I was young — Hansberry Ellison Baldwin Brooks were all to follow. …….the Village overflowed with Miles Charlie Mingus midtown Birdland Joe Williams Dizzy Count Basie and so many more. Poitier arrived at the movies.   ………but paramount was the attitude toward young blacks. our age…….the world seemed far more in tune to us and all of the above as. people. Now always we are this entity African Americans…… …..  and this antecedent.  ….increasingly by American Society seems to carry a burdensome troublesome meaning……….about us.

We are not heading toward a Renaissance. I cannot see this. No matter what our brilliance we are chained to these old definitions. A Renaissance it would seem to me has to be a world that has
rid itself of those old clichés before the new can flourish …and be defined as such. Still.

no definition. is needed for Louis Armstrong. and I cling to no definition just infinite struggle.

Adrienne Kennedy

Nafis White, MFA Candidate Digital + Media, Rhode Island School of DesigN

Nafis’ website

“Are we in the middle of the next Black Renaissance?”

When I was first asked this question I thought, well of course we’re in a Black Renaissance, because we’re seeing blackness in all its beauty all around us, all the time, and ain’t that glorious!!! To see all this representation and to see all this artistry growing where it wasn’t before, or perhaps we may think it wasn’t prevalent before.

Somewhere between the 1920s and the 1980s not much was happening, or was it? But then I got to thinking about the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, and the New Black Renaissance of the present day, and about why I feel that all of a sudden there’s such a crop of talent the world over, of melanin-laden, blessed women and men doing the damn thing.

I started wondering about representation and about what was happening in the 60’s and 70’s with Black Art and who the players were then. We had Melvin Edwards, Betye Saar, Adrian Piper, David Hammons, Fred Wilson, Senga Nengudi, Maren Hassinger, Noah Purifoy, Glenn Ligon, and a host of others, yet these artists, though credited now, were not widely recognized then, and some might argue that they’re still not widely known or given their due.

I recall seeing a stirring exhibition while in New York at PS1 in 2013, called “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles,” curated by Kellie Jones, Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, and I felt that all of a sudden, Black artists had been made visible who weren’t there in my lexicon and my life before, and it saddened me that these prolific artists were just under the radar.

Through reading Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art since 1970, I discovered some unknown players and kept adding to my knowledge of Black greats all across the scene. I love Jean-Michel Basquiat, but there are so many more people that should be made available, visible to us, and this exhibition and book got me looking and questioning why these brilliant people were absent to me for so long, especially as a fine artist who is part of the African Diaspora.

Why a Black Renaissance, and why now? We have so many gifted Black artists on the scene and so many up and coming. There is Toyin Odutola, Simone Leigh, Sanford Biggers, Carrie Mae Weems, Yinka Shonibare, Hank Willis Thomas, and Jacolby Satterwhite, Juliana Huxtable, and Niv Acosta and so, so, so many more hundreds of brilliant beings doing what they love and making immense gains and inspiring us all.

Carrie Mae Weems, from Kitchen Table Series, 1990
Carrie Mae Weems, from The Kitchen Table Series

I feel that the reason why we’re so acutely aware of all these talented people now has a lot to do with social media and the transference of information across the Internet. We have so much access and are able to find talent everywhere with a few searches.

Decades ago, you may have had to follow a crowd to find Hammons or Saar, or be in the know with curators or museums, or get lucky through word of mouth and underground artist communities. Now, you can reach out and find your artist family so much more easily. Technology allows us to make connections and collaborations so much more readily.

So, the answer to the question of, are we in the middle of the next Black Renaissance is yes, a resounding YES!, all the while knowing that there was an enormous amount of Black pioneers making art back in the day, in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s. We don’t know many as household names because they weren’t widely sold, represented, or known, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there or that they are forever gone from memory. They can be found.

Now, we thankfully can find artists more easily, and we can celebrate them while they are still alive. That is one of the many gifts of technology — we get to be a little closer while we’re all here on this wonderful planet. Don’t know Kerry James Marshall? Get in touch. Barely heard of Theaster Gates? Betta look him up. Curious about Faith Ringgold? That beautiful sister is still walking this Earth. Didn’t know Betye Saar had a daughter named Alison? Who, what?? You guessed it, she’s an artist. Get into them!!

James Rucker, Co-Founder, Color of Change

James at Netroots Nation

Are we in the midst of a Black Renaissance? The answer in my view is yes, absolutely. From my youth through today, a period spanning approximately 40 years, me and most other Black Americans approached change-making with a degree of measure, and a willingness to make do — to push the envelope of culture to fight for inclusion and increasing justice, but not too much.

Sure, you had front-line activism and pockets of pushback, but the intellectual class would be split between marginalized revolutionary types (marginalized by essentially every quarter, white, Black, and otherwise) and those who sought to make change happen, largely within certain bounds set and blessed by mainstream society. There was the balancing act of acceptance of things as they were, on one hand, and pushing for change on the other.

Today is a different day, due in large part, I think, to younger folks who’ve taken a fresh look at our country’s history — including not only the plight of Black people but others who’ve been poorly served or oppressed — then taking stock of the status quo and what justice should look like, and then demanding step-wise, not gradual, change towards justice.

I recall as a young software engineer, wanting to bring in more Black engineers into companies in which I worked but at the same time was careful to not rock the boat and attempt to bring in too many. Contrast this with a lawyer I met few years ago who is part of a well-known high-flying startup’s legal team. In response to boss’ goal of diversification, he brought in only Black lawyers for interviews to fill a set of open positions. When questioned about why all the candidates he brought in were Black, he explained that if the company wanted diversity, he was going to bring it. He was playing from a different playbook.

Similarly, after nearly a decade of running and supporting political organizations that both worked on the inside and outside of government, with arguably the most aggressive large-scale campaigns in existence, I saw young organizers throwing down with unapologetic ferocity, dismissing the idea of respectability politics, yet operating with a clear sense of strategy, context, and history. I believed I was witnessing a reinvention of the playbook for creating political and social change.

I’m talking of Black Lives Matter and similar efforts, which risked a backlash from other Black people, and certainly most non-Black Americans. Yet they are withstanding the backlash, changing the perception of what is possible and appropriate and embracing intersectionality (for them, it’s not about Black people alone, but freedom and love of humanity across the board). And there are hundreds of these folks, if not more — powerful organizers who are connected and operating within the same paradigm.

For the last few generations, Black Americans have operated within a context of extreme injustice, yet being largely polite. This despite our communities having been decimated by racist policies that affect mobility, dignity, and freedom, as well as the simple ability to live stable and happy lives. In the face of that, we have been taught — and reflected back to each other — that success is to withstand it and attempt incremental change.

It isn’t just the set of groups and efforts that fall within the Movement for Black Lives, or what may seem to be a new frontline of activism. That’s simply one facet of the kind of change in front of us. The rise of public intellectuals like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander, journalists like Shaun King — people who have gained a strong prominent voice both in the eyes of Black America and people of conscience within American in general — is testament to something bigger. And while there has been backlash, for sure, progressive white Americans are being given a more accurate report card of the state of affairs in America than has ever been present during my lifetime.

And while the work of this community of activists, intellectuals, artists, and funders, is centered on Black liberation, the landscape of problems and the push for solutions is broader. There is a critique of systems of oppression, whomever they oppress, and it is anchored by the notion of human liberation.

Activists often quote the words of Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” On the one hand, this is about those taking major risks to achieve change speaking to each other, but I’ve repeatedly witnessed these activists speaking of their desire for increased humanity and freedom for all — even for those who are in opposition, and who are part of maintaining the status quo, actively or passively.

And these voices, these Black Americans, not only speak to a new view of liberation, but they themselves largely embody it in their individual and collective identities. For them, it’s not just that who is in the fold of being loved and deserving of justice is broad, but some of the most powerful voices are LGBTQ, female, and young (and often a combination) who are not only dedicated to Black liberation, but human liberation, and beyond the borders of the United States.

Aimee Allison, Author and Activist

Aimee’s website

We are in a Black Renaissance, and it is led by Black women. Look at the freedom in hair styles, large and creative. Hear the powerful voices leading the Civil Rights movement of our day, demanding accountability from candidates, entertainers, the masses. Make them say the names of those abused and killed on the state’s dime.

There isn’t a hint of pleading, or relying on a better moral nature. It heeds Shirley Chisholm’s call to demand power directly. It draws in people from communities who themselves have suffered. Our Renaissance unifies. See how women won’t play second to any man, including Black men who expected race to be more important than being a women.

Nope, it’s intersectional all the time, and this Renaissance embraces the nuance of identity on the scales of race and sex and sexuality. Notice that we’re stronger because we lead nuance. Pick up a copy of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, and her sparse, powerful words lead a national struggle to understand what it’s like to live under racism daily. It’s a bestseller for a reason.

And read this: Black women have the highest voter turnout of any race, any gender, any group of voters. We have the power to choose presidents now. But we’ve been the most ignored power block.

Our new-style Black power comes when we tell the Democrats that we won’t let our backs be the path to the White House without our vision, our change, our leadership. Our voices are no longer silent or stigmatized as Bill Clinton found out when he tried to “Sistah Soldier” Black Lives Matter protesters last month. That doesn’t fly in this Black Renaissance.

We’re bold now, with many voices, many leaders. We define trends on Twitter. We can do a collective take-down fast when racism tries to pull a fast one. It’s ‘no more White tears’ and ‘it’s not for you.’ Yes, an amazing time to be Black in America because despite it all, we’re finding new strength, courage, and influence.

Aimee Allison’s new book, She the People: The New Politics of Women of Color, is out in September 2016.


Prince in 5 Acts

Prince-PurpleRain-Mascara“We grow up with these people. We see their movies, we hear their music on a regular basis and we really get to know them. In a sense, they become a member of our family — especially the ones we really like — so when they die, it’s like an extended member of our family dies. It’s somebody we feel like we know.”
David Kaplan, chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association, as told to Huffington Post

Prince died almost a week ago. People continue to use social media to grieve his passing and celebrate his life, one that ended way too early from still unknown causes.

He means everything to his fans, but holds a specific place in the heart depending on who you are a hipstorian focusing on his breakout period or B-sides; a member of the LGBT community who idolizes him for his androgyny and for guiding us into an earthly paradise of purple sexual liberation; a musician or ham musicologist who marvels at his multi-instrumental and vocal prowess; a Black person who applauds him for shattering normative images of the Black man and being a genre-bending hero.

He means everything to his fans. Looking back on the impact he had on my own life, and drawing inspiration from the anniversary of the birth and death of another timeless artist, William Shakespeare, it becomes a sort of work in five acts as complex as a Shakespeare play, with the same fusion of comedy and tragedy.

Act One: Exposition

My brothers and I are plopped on their twin beds, eyes positioned toward the old TV set with wood panels and knobs so loud that when you turn them, everyone in the house knows you’re channel surfing. This afternoon we’re tuned in to Prince singing I Wanna Be Your Lover on American Bandstand, January 26, 1980. Only 19, he already has all those traits he’d refine, own, and define throughout his career: sexy, bold, original, unafraid, and impossibly multi-talented despite his young age. This was something we all wanted in on.

Who is this wild and enigmatic man?

Act Two: Complications

High school. Some people have fond memories like prom, house parties, the establishment of longstanding friendships. For the rest of us, high school sucked. There I am, a shy kid on the track team, escaping my home life and my shouting father, among other disagreeable things.

June 1984. Purple Rain officially releases to a hailstorm of lace, flowers, and side-draped hair. That whole subsequent school year, Prince’s songs blare through campus, on Walkmen, from the lips of teens of all colors and stripes, and through the psyches of those particularly prone to age-appropriate angst. Which is most of us.

There I am. Locked to my Walkman and cassette tape. Coincidentally, I develop a massive crush on a Prince lookalike, a kid named Carlos Berrios on the competing Keppel High School track team. I devote pages upon melodramatic diary pages to this young man who made me so badly want to fall in love, and at the very least, forms an imagined but steadfast bond with his Minneapolis-born adult doppelgänger.

There I am on a chartered bus, heading back from a track meet. The Beautiful Ones awakens the possibility of current and future passions. When Doves Cry makes it seem like things will indeed get better, and that I’ll eventually take to the air, leave this place, and get to eat Doritos in bed and sleep in as late as I want. (If Prince does it in Purple Rain, why can’t I?)

And there I am with my older brother and our friend Mike at my first live show, at the Forum in Inglewood for the Purple Rain Tour, dressed in skimpy lacy things as colored lights flash and flowers rain down from the ceiling. (An aside: After Prince’s passing, Mike reminded me via Facebook of the Prince-inspired band that he, my brother, and I attempted to start. Suggested band names included ‘Lascivious Reflection’ and ‘Suite 707’.)

(Another aside: My second live show was that same year, to see The Three O’Clock at The Palace in Hollywood. Prince was a big fan of this band and of the Paisley Underground.)

The final scene of this act: One day while my father’s away from home, my brothers and I use a camcorder I borrowed from my track coach to create We Be Fitten’ to Throw Down, a DIY blaxploitation takeoff. The soundtrack features several Prince songs from For You and Prince, including “In Love”, “Just as Long as We’re Together”, and “I Feel for You” (which manages to make it into a living-room chase scene).

Act Three: The Climax of Action

When I come out in 1990 as someone who likes mostly women, Prince’s music is on standby. Between the works of authors like Anaïs Nin and Milan Kundera, and songs like Kiss and the dance mix of Erotic City, there’s really zero room for confusion once I get past any remaining traces of self-inflicted homophobia. Plus, how could anyone who paid close attention to Prince and grew up watching his videos have any remaining doubt once they hit college and its turbo-permissive mores?

I don’t have an awakening it’s a detonation. During the era of Anything That Moves, I leave the prude behind, and into its place steps the 24-hour party people me. Goodbye, hometown, goodbye.

Act Four: Falling Action

September 9, 2004. I’m having a post-production fundraiser for a short film I just created, Faith-Based Charity, at the Paradise Lounge in San Francisco. I’m drinking a lot. I’m not making much money at this fundraiser. So, I step outside to the sidewalk. Just a little break from my own party, I think.

A crowd’s gathered outside BeatBox next-door, and I see a white guy in a straw cowboy hat moving lights in through a side door. What’s up? I ask him. Prince after-party, I find out. Prince?? Yeah, he played at Oakland Arena tonight. Can I help you? Grab a light!

I teeter and crash through bodies, stagger up some stairs, and set the lights down before looking around. Jerome Benton’s there. Jellybean Johnson’s there. I introduce myself to Jerome and he tells me, “Don’t cause any trouble.”

A doorman guards another inner room, all white with a white couch lining the perimeter, and inside sits Morris Day. The doorman flirts and wonders why “the prettiest girl here” won’t agree to hang out with him for the night, but I have other things to do and it’s not my fundraiser or this guy.

I go inside the Morris Day room.

I immediately drop to my knees and bow before him, to which he responds, “Aw, naw, don’t do that, get up,” so instead, I sit beside him on the white couch, asking him something or other about the wife and kids, remembering in my drunken state the advice that says the best way into someone’s heart is to ask about their family.

Cut to me back in the main room of this second floor, arguing with a woman who appears to be a stage manager of some sort for Prince’s entourage. She’s trying to get me to leave and asking why I need to be there, to which I reply, “I’m here for the lights.”

“But they operate with an on-off switch.”

“Well, you see that video screen and DVD player over there? If anything happens to that, you’re screwed.”

She lets me stay. Moments later, through another side door, Prince walks in, without much fuss, and he’s right there. Right there. Close enough for me to touch, but I don’t (yet). Playing cool for now. Watching the guy in the cowboy hat give me a side glance. Sensing Jerome nearby, on the lookout for my “trouble.”

I’ll never have this chance again. So I calmly approach Prince, extend my right hand, and ask, “Mr. Prince, can I shake your hand?”

He shakes my hand. I notice we’re the same height even though he’s in heels, and I tell myself to never forget this feeling, never forget to say “warm and soft” if anyone ever asks me what Prince’s hand feels like. It was warm and soft. He smiled.

My Prince moment soon comes to an end. I offer him a flyer for my fundraiser and he slowly shakes his head. Jerome’s on me repeating, “I told you not to cause any trouble, I told you not to cause any trouble!”, just as I’m snaking my way down the stairs declaring something about how Prince won’t take the flyer for a movie about my dead mother.

Just before I leave the balcony for good, someone from Prince’s retinue announces, “I’ll take your flyer.”

But it’s too late.

Act Five: Catastrophe

On the morning of Thursday, April 21, I sit at my desk at work, checking the day’s news, and see that there’s a “death at Paisley Park.” Whoa, I think. I wonder what happened? Maybe some racy party-til-dawn gone awry? Just a few moments later, my co-worker tells me Prince died. The first thing I say is, “No.” It’s not yet denial or grieving. It’s simply a correction. After all, he was 57, and known for eating well, keeping fit, and avoiding drugs and alcohol. Everyone else dies, but for Prince this is impossible, right?

As social media starts flooding with sadness, tributes, and breaking news, I shut down emotionally. This always works well for me keeping it together until the coast is clear and I’m alone at home. After the work day ends, I find myself like so many others, reminiscing and in tears, not understanding how someone who’s such a fixture can simply no longer exist, even though I never personally knew him, and I’d only met him in person once (and not even while I was sober).

Everything that we always knew, that we took for granted, came into sharp relief how he smashed gender and racial roles and stereotypes, how he promoted women, his unyielding confidence, his colossal talent.

All the stages of grief were there on social media. I saw posts representing each one:

  • Denial: This can’t be right. Someone else died. New details will come in letting us all know the authorities were able to revive him.
  • Anger: What higher power would let an artist die so young? How can so much suffering exist in the world?
  • Bargaining: What if he’d gotten a save shot? Did he overwork himself? Did his religion kill him?
  • Depression: Shocked. Crying. Devastated. So weird saying he “was.”
  • Acceptance: He’s gone. Let’s celebrate his life and music. Let’s watch movies and videos, listen to his songs, and be with friends and family. Some of us will donate to organizations like #YesWeCode and promise ourselves we’ll do a little more.

(A Final Aside: More on Acceptance)

For me, acceptance means giving back. It means not caring a whole lot how Prince died, and promising myself I’ll turn off the social media chatter for a good couple of weeks after this information is made public.

It also means already crafting my message for people who don’t get it, even if this message is never delivered, if and when they say, “See, Prince is another bootstrap example of not letting racism stop you from success. Instead of complaining and whining, Black people should be like Prince.”

If they’ve been paying particular attention, they’ll bring up the words of Van Jones:

“After the Trayvon Martin verdict I was talking to Prince and he said, ‘You know, every time people see a young black man wearing a hoodie, they think, he’s a thug. But if they see a young white guy wearing a hoodie they think, oh that might be Mark Zuckerberg. That might be a dot-com billionaire.'”

“I said, ‘Well, yeah, Prince that’s true but that’s because of racism.’ And he said, ‘No, it’s because we have not produced enough black Mark Zuckerbergs. That’s on us. That’s on us. To deal with what we’re not doing to get our young people prepared to be a part of this new information economy.'”

The people who don’t get it will say something to the effect of, “See, you people have to do the work and not always blame racism.”

And my message to them will go like this: It’s not your place to speak for Black people. It’s not your place to interpret words spoken from one Black man to another. So, I’ll interpret them for you: Racism exists and those in a position to do so can give back and lift up, recognizing that this is one of our most powerful weapons in making white power structures irrelevant. You can be an ally. But you can’t set the tone of the argument, nor can you issue armchair directives, nor can you lead us down a path to success.

I’ll say: Unless you’re currently or formerly part of the communities that organizations like #YesWeCode serve, or you’re already helping in the fight for justice and equality, here’s what you can do: Donate funds. Respectfully decline to comment. If you happen to comment or proffer an opinion since you refuse to be “silenced,” then expect to be denounced or ignored.

This is my acceptance, and it feels pretty good. It means being ready to move on to the next phase. It’s taking ownership of my place in the cosmos. It’s giving back.

Thank you, Prince for helping us love, live, dance, come, take action, and open ourselves up to possibility.


An Interview with Domenic Priore

Domenic Priore is an American author, historian, and television producer whose focus is on popular music and its attendant youth culture. We met during the process of me doing research for a 1960s-themed feature script titled My Mirage. He’s since been an invaluable resource and friend for anything having to do with Sunset Strip in the 60s and the associated 1980s revival that it influenced.

I asked him a few questions about his book, Riot on Sunset Strip, and the impact of earlier African American and Latino bands on 1960s Los Angeles youth, culture, and music.

Your book “Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock’n’Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood” first came out in 2007. Tell me about the initial release and some of the key things that went into making this book.

When “Riot” first came out in 2007, it had been 10 years in the making, and was an attempt at doing a coffee table book with a deeper text than most, something like the book “Populuxe” (Thomas Hine, 1986 Alfred A. Knopf, New York). The “Riot” text was the definitive story of a music scene, covering elements that had not been pulled together before. There were so many incredible images available from that time, that there never was going to be a way to get the definitive photography book together on the subject.

So, in that edition, I focused on the work of two or three photographers who did so many great things, it became a showcase for their work. The catch is, both Julian Wasser and Chuck Boyd, the two primaries I purchased photos from, their work from that time was in black ‘n white, and so the only economical way to do the book was to have the core of the book black ‘n white. This compromised some great color images by other photographers which appeared also in black ‘n white.

This time out, the book is focused on the text, with swatches of photos in three sections of the book instead. Some great images now appear in color, but now, there are less photos overall. The idea is to have a book that is less expensive, so more people will read it, and then follow with a book that is more photo and ephemera-based… timelines, lists of gigs, sidebars, and all kinds of fun stuff for a follow-up.

Now you have a new edition. How is it different from the first?

My favorite thing in the new edition that did not appear previously is an interview I did with Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, where I only talked to him about one song… “For What It’s Worth”… and how that came together. It was written when he witnessed how a peaceful demonstration turned into a police riot in front of Pandora’s Box in November of 1966. That song became associated with a lot of movies and TV documentaries later, just about every time they cover the controversy and protest scenes of the ’60s, and situations within the Vietnam War, more often than not, you’ll hear “For What It’s Worth” played.

I thought it would be a good idea to really focus on just this one song with Stephen, and get to the bottom of how he wrote it, and what the thinking was behind it. There are other things throughout the book that have been updated when new information came in about things no one knew previously. When I went through the first edition of the book to “correct” it, there weren’t really too many mistakes in the actual text (the company had done the captions, and there were mistakes there, however). Some things in the original have become illuminated by new information, and those bits have been weaved into the overall story.

One of the awesome things about your book is how it captures a really multi-cultural time in rock history. What was going on musically in places like South Central LA, or East LA, before and during that time?

South Central L.A. is a really overlooked music scene, historically speaking. There was a box set called “Central Avenue Sounds” that Rhino did in the ’90s that covered the 1920s until the early ’50s. The last part of that touched on the beginning of an R&B scene in L.A., but just the very beginning. It was strong here, people were moving from other parts of the country to Central Avenue to get away from the Southern and Midwestern brand of racism. There was racism in L.A., too, but not like those places. Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris, Amos Milburn, Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner, Little Richard… all moved to L.A. at some point, and then Ike & Tina Turner came here a little later on, settling in Baldwin Hills.

So much great R&B came from L.A. then, The Robins/Coasters, The Hollywood Flames (Bobby Day came from that group), The Penguins, Don Julian & the Meadowlarks, The Olympics. As the ’50s went on, after what was covered in “Central Avenue Sounds,” the club scene moved “West” so to speak, to the Crenshaw district, to streets like Santa Barbara Avenue (now MLK), Adams Avenue, Western Avenue, clubs like the Oasis, the Californian Club, Earl Bostic’s Flying Fox and in 1966, Maverick’s Flat, which Norman Whitfield immortalized in his song “Psychedelic Shack” (recorded by The Temptations, who played there opening night).

So L.A. had all these places where Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack (then, in The Valentinos), The Treniers, and others could wail, and then by the ’60s you had the emergence of Billy Preston, The Chambers Brothers, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Brenda Holloway, Gloria Jones, Brenton Wood, Dobie Gray, The Vibrations, Round Robin, The Rivingtons, and the guys who would later become War, who were playing all through the ’60s in groups like The Creators, Afro Blues Quintet, and Señor Soul.

Their later popularity in East L.A. (as with Brenton Wood) is a sign that in those days, East L.A. had complete reverence for what was going on musically in the black community, and from East L.A., you get great bands like Thee Midniters, Cannibal & the Headhunters, The Premiers, and others coming out with their own hits, from their own scene. Of course they all blended together on bills throughout L.A. during this period, and then you had Taj Mahal (Rising Sons) and Arthur Lee, Johnny Echols and Tjay Cantrelli (Love) breaking ground with inter-racial groups in the middle of all that. Tjay, in fact, had also played with The Creators.

What’s next for you?

Well, I tend to come out with books pretty steady. Funny enough, I’m still out doing events to promote last years’ “Pacific Ocean Park: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles’ Space Age Nautical Pleasure Pier” (with Christopher Merritt, for Process Media) and then in April, another new one comes out. I’m currently working with Girl Group singer Donna Loren on a book filled with pictures taken by her father on the set of Shindig!, Batman, The Monkees, the beach movies and on a 1964 Dick Clark tour she was on featuring the Supremes, The Shirelles, The Dixie Cups, and others at the height of the Girl Group era.

Shindig! had so many amazing guests, and we’ve corralled photos of all the best of the stuff that was shot over here at the ABC studios in Los Feliz (the British groups on Shindig! were shot in the UK, so we don’t have those). But, yeah, Donna’s been real fun to work with and the title of that one will be “Donna Loren: Mover and Shaker in the Middle of a Mid-Sixties Pop Maelstrom.”


Film, Music, Life – a Conversation with Be Steadwell

This past summer, I had the opportunity not only to see Be Steadwell’s short film, Vow of Silence, at the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, but I was also able to connect with her for an interview. Vow of Silence won the Audience Award at the festival. What follows is a rumination on film, sexuality, race, inspiration, and this particular, formative moment in time for queer artists and filmmakers.

How was your time in San Francisco, the Bay area?

Aw man, it was so good. Just a lot of support.

Had you been out here before?

Yeah, I spent some time there, but it’s been like six years. It had been six years since I’d been there, and I used to wanna live there. I mean, I’ve always wanted to live there, but, yeah, it was kinda like a second home to me for awhile, and still is.

Tell me about your life. I saw your film at QWOCFF, I thought it was amazing, and I noticed you kinda making the festival rounds. In a nutshell, in brief, what’s your life story?

Aw man. How do I sum up my life story? Well, I grew up just loving pretty much all art forms. And, I was kinda shy, so singing and stuff didn’t really come up until later. I wasn’t like an outgoing, show-offy type. Then in high school I tried out for a jazz band as the singer, and got in and just started singing that way, and still doing different art forms. And then in college, I got a degree in black studies and visual arts. I joined an a cappella group, which was really nerdy but really good for me. But the school I went to, Oberlin, it’s got this fancy music conservatory.

You were at Oberlin for undergrad?

Yeah, yeah, but I wasn’t in the conservatory, and I felt like – there was a lot of snobbiness around music there, because there were all these geniuses running around, and so I did the a cappella thing but I didn’t really write while I was in college, because I think I was a little scared of being judged. Or, I just didn’t feel like I knew enough to share with people. And then after I graduated college, my friend from high school and I started a group called The Lost Bois, and we basically wrote goofy rap songs about being gay and being weird. For awhile, that was everything that we did and we started shooting and editing our own music videos, which was great. And then, I really enjoyed that. I’d never really done a video before – I’d done photography and other things, but I really loved video and I still didn’t feel music was reliable as a career, so I decided to get my MFA in film. Meanwhile, my friend was getting a real job and had less time, so I started, just for fun, writing songs on my own, and sharing them. That’s basically where it’s been. I got my MFA – the film Vow of Silence was my thesis film and after I graduated, I was trying to get jobs teaching, in colleges, teaching film, and I couldn’t find any. I couldn’t get any, and I sort of decided to do music full time, or to do art full time, because I really didn’t have other options. And it’s kind of working. I don’t know, I mean it’s really hard, but so far it’s okay.

Cool. Thank you. Did you grow up on the East Coast, then?

Yeah, I grew up in D.C.

Oh, okay. Now, I grew up as a pretty shy person, too, so I wanna ask you – what do you think contributes to shyness and what do think is the best way to keep going, to get beyond it?

Hmmm. Yeah. I think, I mean – I guess it’s different for everyone, but for me, I’m the youngest, and I’m like five, six, and eight years younger than my siblings, so I was like a little kid to everyone. Which meant, I was always just the baby. I never felt like, I felt like it was harder to be taken seriously. So there was that. And also just being different at school. I went to school with a lot of white kids, and I didn’t feel like I fit in, I didn’t feel like I was pretty or whatever, and I just felt in my own head and I didn’t think that people got it. And I still feel that way a lot. I don’t know. I guess just encouraging people to love who they are. I taught a little bit, young kids, film, and I just would really reach out to those kinda quiet kids. The outgoing kids are the ones who immediately get noticed, and get attention, and get praise, and I just feel it’s like a really weird pattern to fit into.

At your Q&A for the film, you said you wanted to explore music and spirituality. Talk a little about your process of creativity, and I know that may vary depending on what you’re working on, but what obsessions cause you to create things?

Well, the first thing that happens, is – do you use Netflix?

I do.

Yeah. Do you ever go on Netflix, and you’re looking for a movie, a particular movie, but it doesn’t exist?

Yeah, yeah.

I mean, it happens every time. And sometimes you lower your expectations but even then, you know, it’s not there. I think probably the first impulse that makes me wanna create film, and even music, is that there’s something I really want that doesn’t exist. And that sucks. And also, seeing something that does exist, that is like something that you want, feeling really human, and feeling understood, and feeling inspired, like when I saw Pariah. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but when I saw Pariah – that’s when I thought about being a filmmaker. There are so many things here. There are characters that are complex, that I understand, and relate to all of them. There’s brown people with different colors of brown and you can see their faces, and there’s richness in their skin, and there’s queerness and complexity with gender, you know? When I saw it, I was like, “Oh my god, this is so cool!” And sometimes you don’t really feel something’s missing until you see it.

Cool, yeah, I have seen Pariah and I agree with everything you just said.


Something also about Vow of Silence, is also the richness and complexity of that movie. And the fact that a young woman goes to a party and there’s someone playing a cello, and there’s a scene with her playing the cello under a bridge, and so many scenes where things just are. There are brown people in it, queer people in it, and never is it beating you over the head with any big message except for lost love, new love, personal choices, passion, art, and spirituality. So, tell me whether or not that’s a conscious decision to not have a coming out film or something that’s been done before. Is that something you’re conscious of, and how does that play a role in what you create?

Yes, yes. That’s another thing. The films, queer and lesbian films that exist. Well, typically lesbian films are almost all coming out stories, you know, these really sad, you know, this one has a boyfriend, this struggle with identity, and that’s such a small piece, you know, of our – I mean, it’s important, but that’s such a small, tiny fraction of our experiences. A lot of us are really just living lives now, and falling in love and having relationships, so that’s what I wanted to see. The other thing that happens a lot with, I think, with black films that center on black characters is like a lot of struggle and a lot of pain and drama. And that’s fair too, but I guess I just wanted to talk about love. I really didn’t want anything else in there. And I didn’t want it to be about the outside community, I didn’t want it to be about racism or homophobia because, those are real, but in my personal experience I live amongst my community and most of the time I’m really just comfortable in that space. And I’m comfortable as myself. And conflict comes up between people, you know, because of conflict, not because of sexuality or race. So, that was definitely conscious to do it that way.

I hear you and I really appreciate that. Awesome, thank you, I’m right there with you.

Are you a filmmaker?

I am a filmmaker, yeah.


Yeah, I had a film on Saturday night at the festival.

Aw man.

And now I’m starting to make all my stuff available online, just for free. So I’ll send you a link.

Yeah, please.

But I’m in the same place. And I’ll talk about myself for about 10 seconds. But um, yeah, I’m in the same place where I just wanna talk about stuff – life, love, birth, death, that are universal, that we’ve all experienced or will experience that are outside any notion of the larger racial or sexual struggle. I’m kind of over the word struggle. Not that it doesn’t exist….

Right, right….

Yeah, not that those stories aren’t important, but again, they’re just a piece of the overall humanity. I think only having one element of that story kind of deprives us of our humanity.

Yeah, and it’s like – I struggle with it because it’s like, okay, it is part of our experience. We have to, we have to confront it. You know, in theory, white people, they have the privilege to not, you know, to ignore it. Which is why they get to have movies that have nothing to do with anything but love, or you know, whatever.


But at the same time can we really ignore it? You know, it’s there. It’s always there.

Yeah, but at the same time you have to remind people that it exists, but also in doing what you’re doing, what I wanna do, it humanizes us, and it forces them – if they actually see our movies – to see us in a new and different light. And I think that that is also really important in changing the images of African Americans, queers, and people of color.

Yeah, yeah.

I don’t know if you saw that really amazing clip of four African men who were talking about stereotypes of Africans in film.

What was that?

It’s really amazing. They just kinda – they show all these images of machine guns, and it’s making fun of – they talk about the same thing. All you see is people in berets with rocket launchers.


Another question is – I guess, what do you think is unique about this moment in time, when we have things like QWOCMAP, we have – gay marriage is now legal in all states….


And, you know, I’m a little bit older, I remember when I was growing up, you’d get beat up if you were even suspected of being queer. So given that, what do you think is unique about this moment in time, and where do you see yourself in it?

Long sigh.

Ummm, hm. That’s an awesome question. But I’m not sure. I mean, it feels really good in some ways. Like, I was working at this 4th of July party. I was just like cleaning up and washing dishes and stuff – and it was mostly black folks and a lot of lesbians were there. And everyone was so happy on that day. And it wasn’t like any particular thing. It was just like everybody I saw all day was – happy. Like this is the day where I’m proud, you know, the fireworks went off, and I was kind of like, emotional. So, the marriage equality stuff, really – though that was something that wasn’t my main concern….

Same here, yeah.


But it means a lot. It really means a lot. And at the same time, I still have plenty of friends who’re planning their wedding. I just asked a woman, this really great guitarist, a black woman in D.C., to play in my band, and she said that her Christian values wouldn’t allow her to play certain songs. You know?


There’s still a lot – there’s still so much, so it’s a weird point where we definitely can fall into the trap of assuming that everything’s cool and there’s no conflict anymore, that we’re just gonna turn around like Mary Poppins….


But there’s still folks being harassed, and murdered by the police – it’s just a lot. There’s a lot. But I think as a queer artist, we – I don’t even know. I think mainly I just want us to be conscious consumers of our own art and businesses. And that will allow us to control our own media. Because in theory, I guess, lots of people could invest in it, in gay music, in gay film, and start doing that. Which will probably happen. But, I don’t think they’re gonna get it. So, my goal is to really – it’s not to get signed, it’s not to – I mean, I would love to have investors for film, because it’s expensive. Oh my god. But really staying independent and letting the audience grow and come to you. And keeping control of that creativity. That’s what I’m excited about and I hope will happen to me. That’s kinda vague, but I’m just like – I want us to find each other. And become a force. We don’t have to like all of the same things, and we won’t, but we can at least say, “Look, there’s this movie, there’s this song, there’s this visual artist, installation artist, and just have our own world, our own space.”

Cool, thank you. And my last question: how do you identify racially, if at all, and how has that affected things for you?

Yeah. I identify as black and multi-racial. So, my mom’s white and my dad’s black, and I think that my experience growing up around white kids, mostly, meant that I was black. I mean, to them. So, my experience encompasses that, and multi-racialness. But it’s cool, it’s exciting, it’s definitely more visual, I guess, now – you know, with Obama….

Uh huh.

But I think growing up it was hard to fit in. Even in college, there were some black people who straight up told me I’m not black.

Hmmmm. Yeah, I’ve gotten that kinda thing.

And there are white people who say it, too.

Yeah, yeah.

And it’s like, oh okay, well, um, maybe you should tell me what I am, then. And the conversation of race is so funny because in the end it isn’t real. I mean, it’s a construct, right.


So no one’s gonna win arguments, because it’s really a made-up thing. But experiences are real. It was a weird thing growing up and – I really just embraced who I feel that I am, and I found that most people really don’t have an issue with it. It’s just – you’re in or you’re not, you know.


So, it’s good now. But it was kind of a struggle growing up that way.

I hear you. And I did have one last question, which is what are your current artistic obsessions? Today. Or yesterday.

Hmmm. I, uh – okay. I’m trying to write a new script, and I’m actually not a good script writer, I’ve only written one script, ever, but what I do now is I sit with my script outline, and I watch movies. Just to get ideas. You know? It’s like – there’s the best friend, and there’s this interaction and that really works to show depth, and blah blah blah, so….I seem like a lazy person but I’ll watch three movies a day just with my script outline, and just try. And I love romantic comedies. I would like to write a romantic comedy, that vague structure. So I’ll watch a lot of romantic comedies, a lot of cute little indie, you know, the cute indie movies.


That’s probably my thing right now.

What’s a recent cute indie movie that you’ve seen?

Have you seen Your Sister’s Sister?

Is that the Duplass brothers?


I have not seen that one, no.


It’s so funny. It’s so funny.


And also, um, anything with that guy in it. He’s so funny. It’s brilliant. It’s three actors, it’s pretty much them the whole time, pretty much one location, and you’re just laughing and into it, the whole way through.


The whole way through. And it’s just relationships. Interactions. Oh my god I love that movie. Ah. What about you? Can you recommend anything?

Let’s see…as far as cute romantic comedies?


I tend toward the depressing. I do like romantic comedies, but for some reason, I like hard-hitting, really depressing things, like Exploding Girl, have you seen that one?

Uh uh.

With Zoe, what’s her name – Zoe Kazan. And it’s all – it won a Cassavetes Award years ago, a few years ago, and it’s mostly, it seems like it’s mostly improvised, very low-budget, set in New York, and it’s about a girl…basically she goes home for a break after being in college for awhile, and then slowly develops a relationship with this guy. And that’s it.


And she also has epileptic seizures every now and again. She’s getting over a breakup and dealing with her physical state. And that’s all there is to it.

Yeah, that’s definitely, um – yep.


I’ve also been watching a lot of TV, like Netflix Original Series, Orange is the New Black….

Yep, yep.

Which is good for schmaltzy….

I love this season! I think some people really wanted more drama. I haven’t finished it.


But I love this season, ‘cause it’s like, every scene, it’s like, they’re really talking about shit right now.

Yeah yeah, that’s true.

Taking about stuff nobody ever talks about.

That’s true. Like corporatization of prisons, and being transgender in prison….

Race, body image, ethnicity, gender, and it’s so subtle that you can miss it.

When I wanna get really deep and emotional I watch Sense8.

What is it called?

Sense8. It’s the Wachowskis?

Okay. And that’s a series?

Yeah, that’s on Netflix, too. And that’s just brilliantly – I won’t give too much away, but it’s basically just brilliantly executed, it’s set in eight different locations, main locations, around the world, and it talks about how these eight different characters’ lives and minds and hearts intersect. And they cover a lot of stuff, too – there’s a Nairobi bus driver, transgender woman living in San Francisco, and it’s just really wonderful. Yeah, Wachowskis. So, I’m actually gonna stop now, but thank you so much, this is great.

Thank you.

A Mulatto Playlist

Cinemulatto is all about laying down truth, whether it’s how to raise a mixed-race child, defining the New Tragic Mulatto, or simply locating oneself in an oft-baffling existence.

To that end, we’re here to act on the age-old trope that says music defines and shapes identity. We present to you the Mulatto Playlist, bringing together the very best of “black” and “white” music. Now you can be a mulatto, too, or just sound like one.

Here’s the perfect mixture of culturally appropriate songs for any occasion. Sit back, relax, and be a Mulatto.

Puff the Magic Dragon – Peter, Paul, and Mary

Night and Day – Al B. Sure!

I Honestly Love You – Olivia Newton-John

Don’t Call Me No Mo – Project Pat feat. Three 6 Mafia

Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver

Cat Daddy – Rej3ctz feat. Chris Brown

Surfin’ USA – Beach Boys

Gucci Mane – 911 Emergency

Dueling Banjos – Arthur Smith

Don’t Drop that Thun Thun – Finatticz

Don’t Cry Out Loud – Melissa Manchester feat. clowns

Wiggle – Jason DeRulo

Muskrat Love – The Captain and Tennille

T-Pain feat. B.o.B – Up Down (Do This All Day)‬

(You’re) Having My Baby – Paul Anka and Odia Coates – interracial parenting!

Buju Banton – Good Looking Girl

Because the internet has over 4 billion sites and we can find things like this, have a bonus track:

Mulatto Problems – Alejandro Mulatto

Feel free to suggest additions to the list!