07Dec/19

Barber Shop Chronicles Puts a Magnified Lens on the Diasporic Experience of Black Men

Barber Shop Chronicles

Inua Ellams. Portrait by Franklyn Rodgers.

Barber Shop Chronicles is one of the most ingenious plays I have watched in a long time. Finally, the Black man is not the villain, overly sexualized, the slave, or the savior for damaged Black women. He’s just human and is trying to figure this sh*t out like the rest of us! Originating in London and making it’s New York debut at BAM’s Harvey Theatre, this play is a real life look at the interpersonal relationships between men in our diasporic community. The barbershop is historically known to be the only place where our men have received any type of therapy. It’s where they discover who they are and how to treat one another and their community. Playwright/poet, Inua Ellams, and his all-male, 12-person cast do a phenomenal job of expressing true emotion and giving the rest of the world insight into what it’s like to be a melanated man. It plays in the humourous pool of sports, relationships, and race but then deep-dives into identity, fatherhood, generational trauma, and politics. 

Taking place in six different barber shops in London, Lagos, Johannesburg, Accra, Kampala, and Harare, Barber Shop Chronicles weaves us through the connections and similar experiences of these men despite their location. Each episode is sewn together with cultural music and dance that adds to the personality of the play. Every man is relatable on some level to someone you personally know or have come across. I attended the play with my partner, Will Focus. At the end he was in tears, which is a rare sight, so I couldn’t wait to hear his thoughts.

NayMarie (NM): Soooooo, what were your thoughts?
Will Focus (WF): The comedy was spot on. I noticed that they mixed several dialects from all over the diaspora. The fact that they were able to do it so seamlessly and still show that people were able to communicate in their respective dialects was awesome. I love that they drew the importance of speaking in a common tongue and having a dictionary that translates to Twi.

NM: What else?
WF: What I liked, on the political side, is the comparison between Winnie and Nelson [Mandela]. The fact that Winnie was the true hero then Nelson was brought in like how I view the Black pastors in America.
NM: As a pacifist?
WF: Yea, a pacifist. Someone who’s looking to put out that flame because it’s getting a little too hot for the European massives to handle. Or it’s a little too effective. What better way than to use her husband? I also liked the comparison between nigger and kaffir. What better way, specifically for the white audience who may not understand how significant that word is but can feel the weight when paralleled with the word nigger, to compare the use towards Africans. I like how they spoke of reclaiming our land and the one guy noted about how many of the Europeans had to die and it was retorted that African people died too. How they look out for the European but ignore the African lives lost. I love how it was reiterated that we took it BACK. It was ours to begin with and taken from us. I also like that they pointed out that the African slave trade was the biggest massacre, bigger than the Holocaust. I thought those dynamics, from a political perspective, from a social perspective, were excellent.

Barber Shop Chronicles

Tom Moutchi and David Webber. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

NM: And the tears?
WF: As it suits me personally, what brought me to tears was the Father/Son relationship dynamic. How the family is expressed through their lens in London and Africa also happens to Black boys and men in America. It shows that this is a consistent issue among us. It was funny how the drunk/disheveled one who most people would judge, had the most information. Early on, he told of how he allowed European children to call him kaffir for a pound, or twice for two pounds and it upset all of the men in the shop. Later, we discover he did it because he lived with his grandparents, after being abandoned by his father, and they were poor. It’s how he made money to survive. When he was confronted with reconciling with his father, the emotional overflow led to the truth of the situation and that brought me to tears in terms of the reality behind that. Then it was the phrase of “boys growing up to be their fathers” and me having two sons. In one scene, they said, “a child will show you how to raise them.”
NM: Word, that spoke to me.
WF: That hit a chord for me because the difference in the dynamics I have to take with my two sons is VAST, even with my daughter. They have ALL shown me that I have to approach them differently. Then it showed the older generation of men who are kind of detached from emotion with their children and don’t realize the damage they have done.
NM: That beating them is the solution…
WF: And leaving it at that without ever reconciling for the damage that they’ve done. And that’s broad and sweeping.

We chatted for a solid hour, but we want you to see the play for yourself! I would love for it to be made into a film and played on kweliTV to reach a wider audience. In the meantime, follow Inua Ellams and Barber Shop Chronicles to see where they’re playing next. It is worth all of the awards it has already received and then some. You feel it in your soul and are elated to see these conversations given priority. 

Website | Instagram

28Nov/19

Queen and Slim is Art Interpreting Life

Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith

Queen and Slim is a moving film that dives into the racial injustice of the judicial system that frequents the media and social platforms. It’s not just another film that explores this topic, it’s a film that pays attention to perspectives. Much like the 2000 film Traffic, Queen and Slim gives a look at various perspectives from different characters when dealing with racism, police harassment, and brutality while following an innocent Black woman and Black man just trying to survive. Along the way, the audience gets to follow the growth of the characters the and challenges (both mental and physical) they must face. 

Social Media Discussions and Disagreements

It’s as if the subject matter of police brutality was brought up at a family gathering during the holidays or posted on a social media thread – everyone has a different perspective that they are entitled to. Not all agree on the actions of the subjects but each has different thoughts because of their experience or career, especially those family and friends in law enforcement. Each person that Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) encounter are easily personified as those very same people. From the police officers who are in pursuit of them to their family members to a young man they meet at a body shop to a paranoid man in a trailer park who help them.  

Of course, as the protagonists of the film, they are heralded as heroes for fighting racism and murdering a cop but they didn’t do it to be heroes, they did it to survive. Their reactions to the police officer are on different spectrums – Slim being the more passive type while Queen, who is a lawyer, is more vocal.

The interesting thing is how many Black people support them and don’t blow their cover while they are on the run. Like most Black folk, they are tired of police killing innocent people such as Philando Castile. 

The film also shows the perspective of good police officers who know their job well and pose no harm to innocent people but still get categorized as a threat. This was an interesting perspective because at times people forget that there are police officers who do their job. In some cases, they become villainized and sometimes assaulted because of the negative connotation of the badge caused by bad cops. 

During the course of the film, there are characters who resemble some Black folk who don’t care about the fate of innocent Black people and only care about themselves. They are the very same people in the world who show indifference for selfish reasons or only care about making their money.  I have definitely encountered various types of people in my life and have been a little irritated at times when people cannot think objectively about the topic of police brutality, so the film did a great job of delivering the message that I try to relay when I talk to others about the subject matter. 

Waithe and Matsoukas Are A Dope Combo

Lena Waithe did a tremendous job with the characters to ensure that this wasn’t another Bonnie and Clyde or Set It Off film wild chase that the film may seem like from the trailers. It’s moreso storytelling about real people, with real problems, who face a world that is full of imperfections while dealing with their personal issues and growing together. 

The beauty of the film was the vulnerability and connection that the two characters develop during the course of the film. I really saw the two characters exchange energy as each started to take on personality traits (i.e  Slim becoming less uptight and Queen becoming more open to spirituality), from the beginning to end, its something I felt was well represented.

I was really impressed with the way the film was directed by Melina Matsoukas, the different hues and angles played to the emotions of the scenes. Especially when Queen and Slim had moments of reflection or action. I really felt apart of the scenes and felt the acting that made the characters compelling. Matsoukas directorial efforts proves that she knows how to really capture important moments. 

There were many scenes where I saw Queen and Slim as enslaved escapees back in the day, especially when they hid under floorboards when the police came looking for then in an all-white neighborhood. It also reminded me of the enslaved stacked together under a ship. 

Queen and Slim is a must-watch film that will be immortalized as a film that audiences will enjoy now and future generations will fully appreciate. My hopes are that it will reach a wide demographic who they can see the perspective of the Black people.

Queen and Slim 

Directed by: Melina Matsoukas 

Written by: Lena Waithe 

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith 

27Nov/19

Smithsonian Af-Am Museum Brings Classic Movie Posters and Augmented Reality in New Exhibit

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has added a new temporary exhibit entitled, Now Showing: African American Movie Posters. The exhibit is a collection of posters that were recovered from Larry Richards collection that will run from November 22, 2019 until November 2020. The exhibit consists of four sections – Film Pioneers, the Problem of the Color Lines, A Star is Born, and Black Power and “Blaxploitation.”

When asked about the origin of the event, the exhibit’s curator and curator for the Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA) gallery, Rhea Combs, explained, “This exhibition introduces visitors to films featuring African Americans they may be less familiar with and, at the same time, it recognizes some of the most historically and culturally relevant films made over a 70-year period. The significant artistry and design work that goes into creating not only the films but the posters that promote the films are not to be underestimated.”

Who is Larry Richards? 

Many of the posters on display come from the Larry Richards Collection that the museum acquired in 2013. There are thousands that exist in the collection of Larry Richards, but the museum only acquired 700 objects. 

Who is Larry Richards? He was a librarian at the Philadelphia Free Library who’s collection of movie items was sparked by one of his first film posters collected, The Bull Dogger, which can be seen at the entrance of the museum, that he acquired from a film festival that occurred during Black History Month. His original collections are about 2,000 items that include posters, lobby cards, photos, and more.  

Larry Richards also published a book titled African American Films Through 1959. The book includes pictures, credits, and details of Black films that were directed by Black directors or featured a predominately Black cast. Some of the very pieces of movie art can be seen in person at the museum during this exhibit. 

A visitor using the augmented reality to view videos about the film.

Augmented Reality 

This is the first time that the museum will feature this technology. It allows visitors to receive more details about the movie posters that include film snippets, interviews with museum curator, Rhea combs, set photos and more information about the film. To access this information, all visitors have to do is go online to the site http://hi.si.edu/, follow the directions, scan one of the select movie posters, and enjoy the pop-ups. 

I personally enjoyed the new feature as it allowed me to learn a lot about the films without having to wait around a huge crowd to see or hear about the films and it allowed to me easily replay videos within pop-ups! It is a new interactive way that will fully engage all visitors.

“Film can serve as a peek into ideals about culture and society.” – Rhea L. Combs, curator and head of CAAMA

Short Film Feature

Towards the back of the exhibit, there is a small viewing room, with red curtains drawn at its entry, that has a 9-minute video consisting of clips of 10 important Black directed films that span history from 1937-1974. The films include; The Exile, Dark Manhattan, Go Down, Death!, The Bronze Buckaroo, Cabin in the Sky, Carmen Jones, No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger, Right On!, and Claudine. I was excited to hear some of the amazing dialogue written by screenwriting couple Lester and Tine Pine in the film Claudine, that I will definitely watch again. 

Overall

The new Now Showing Movie Poster exhibit is worth checking out before it leaves the museum. I had fun looking at how Black culture in cinema has grown and survived over the years, even when the entertainment industry lacked diversity. It is here where you can see some of the foundations of  Black film making that have given us the likes of Kasi Lemmons, Ava Duverney, Spike Lee, and Ryan Coogler.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Location: 1400 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560

Click here for ticket info 

21Nov/19
Cassia Herron

Cassia Herron is Leading Policy on Climate Change and Food Deserts

Climate change is not a new concept. Neither is environmental racism. Unfortunately, the lack of intersectionality and prevalence of anti-Black microaggressions are barriers to progress. Mainstream activist communities often silence the voices of Black leaders within the Climate Change movement. As with many feminist movements, Black bodies are used to gain traction, but Black organizers are largely missing from many of the conversations. Shout out to our Native brothers and sisters who are also ignored, despite this being their land.

Isra Hirsi, (daughter of Rep. Ihan Omar and climate change activist) is an excellent representation of the power behind Black youth leaders. Jerome Foster, (author, National Geographic explorer, and Climate Justice leader) gives us hope about the future of the planet. While there are far too many Black climate change activists to name, there is one Black woman in the climate change fight who you definitely need to know.

That sister is the outspoken Cassia Herron.

Cassia HerronCassia Herron is one bad sister. As the board president for the Louisville Association for Community Economics (LACE) she has worked diligently to bring sustainability to marginalized communities. Whether it involves confronting hardcore Trump supporter Gov. Matt Bevin about his racist practices or holding white community organizers accountable for their lack of Black representation, she is a force to be reckoned with. This sister is on a mission to offer healthy, locally sourced food to low-income communities that suffer from food insecurity. In a recent panel conversation with NPR, Cassia discussed the urgency of addressing climate change at every stage–particularly the state and federal levels. Her organization, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, has been at the forefront of the fight in Eastern Kentucky to support the well being of coal miners. 

She points out that “trillions of dollars are spent on fossil fuels, and there are not many funds that are being invested in renewables. It’s time for us to dial it back and figure out new paths.”

While Cassia helps lead a number of climate change initiatives, the food insecurity solution is probably the most vital. There is a huge difference between the health of the predominantly Black West End of Louisville, Kentucky and the more affluent East End. In Metro Louisville, Black males have the lowest life expectancy (about 71) compared to the city’s average (around 77) and white males (81). The challenging reality of health is exacerbated by climate change. Poor air quality, doctors who don’t believe Black patients can be in as much pain as white patients, and the high levels of lead poisoning for Black families are worsened by climate change. Black families are disproportionately impacted by the lack of concern for our environment. 

Cassia Herron does the work that most of us forget about. 

Cassia HerronClimate change isn’t an issue that can be resolved overnight. For years, she has been fighting to keep the Black community at the forefront of the conversation. She went toe to toe with Walmart when they attempted to violate urban planning codes to further disenfranchise Black residents by blocking their access to public transportation. She is a rider when it comes to sustainability–especially for marginalized folks like when West Louisville was subjected to heavy environmental impacts. Rubbertown is a predominantly Black community in the West End. It is called Rubbertown because of one particular company that has polluted the surrounding neighborhood for decades. They are the number one violator of air pollution regulations in the city. A few years ago, The American Synthetic Rubber Company applied to have their production capacity increased above the recommended levels. Long story short, they were approved and they currently pollute Black communities even more. Similarly, when Louisville Gas & Electric started their tirade against protected natural land in Kentucky, Cassia was there to fight for sustainability. Despite the massive corporate/legal budget of LG&E, she has stood up to help protect Bernheim Forest from a deadly pipeline.

These fights are exhausting. Black women are already expected to work ourselves to the bone regardless of factors like racism, sexism, and health disparities. We are not allowed to be depressed or angry or too assertive. Still, Cassia Herron persists. There are so many other women in Kentucky doing work just like this. In the fight for environmental justice in Louisville, there are dozens of Black women putting their reputations, bodies, and mental health on the line to uplift our community. We want to recognize that Cassia is not the only one. 

From the global Taji Mag community all the way to Kentucky, we are sending you love, appreciation, and self-care, Sis.

20Nov/19
Barber Shop Chronicles

Internationally Acclaimed Production, Barber Shop Chronicles, Makes its New York Debut at BAM

Following two sold-out runs at the National Theatre in London, a successful run at London’s Roundhouse, and a world tour, Nigerian-born playwright Inua Ellams’ acclaimed Barber Shop Chronicles makes its New York and BAM debut December 3—8. The sold-out sensation explores the diversity of Black male identity via the intimate community of the barbershop, where men across the African diaspora have gathered for generations to discuss the world and their lives. Filled with passion, humor, and honesty, the celebrated work is inspired by Ellams’ own experiences as an immigrant.

Directed by Bijan Sheibani, Barber Shop Chronicles follows the conversations and concerns of a group of African men as they interact in six different barbershops in London, Lagos, Johannesburg, Accra, Kampala, and Harare. The all-male, 12-person cast riffs on topics both personal and political—from sports to race relations to views about fatherhood, identity, immigration, and masculinity. Music and dance knit together the individual episodes in this fast-paced production. A mastery of humor, pace, and wit, the story takes place over a single day as characters, jokes, and plotlines traverse continents and cultures.

Barber Shop ChroniclesBarber Shop Chronicles is presented in its New York premiere at Next Wave 2019—the first season under Artistic Director David Binder, in which all artists are making BAM debuts. The season runs through December 2019 and includes theater, dance, music, film, site-specific, and multi-genre work across BAM’s venues and off-site, as well as Holiday programming.

Harvey Theater at BAM Strong (651 Fulton St)
Dec 3—7 at 7:30pm; Dec 7 at 2pm; Dec 8 at 3pm
Tickets start at $35

About the Artists
Born in Nigeria in 1984, Inua Ellams is an internationally touring poet, playwright, performer, graphic artist, and designer. He is an ambassador for the Ministry of Stories and has published four books of poetry: Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All StarsThirteen Fairy Negro TalesThe Wire-Headed Heathen, and #Afterhours. His first play, The 14th Tale, was awarded a Fringe First at the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival and his fourth, Barber Shop Chronicles, sold out its run at England’s National Theatre. He is currently touring An Evening with an Immigrant and recently premiered The Half God of Rainfall, a new play in verse at Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Kiln Theatre, London. In graphic art and design, online, and in print, he tries to mix the old with the new, juxtaposing texture and pigment with flat shades of color and vector images. Ellams lives and works from London, where he founded the Midnight Run, a nocturnal urban excursion. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Bijan Sheibani was artistic director of the Actors Touring Company (2007—10) and associate director of the National Theatre (2010–15), where he directed A Taste of HoneyEmil and the DetectivesRomeo and JulietDamned by DespairThe KitchenWar Horse (US tour), Greenland, and Our Class. His other theater credits include Dance Nation (Almeida); Circle Mirror Transformation (Home, Manchester); The Brothers Size and Eurydice (Young Vic/Actors Touring Company); Barber Shop Chronicles (National Theatre/Fuel/West Yorkshire Playhouse); and Romeo and Juliet (National Theatre). Opera credits include Nothing (Glyndebourne) and Tell Me the Truth About Love (Streetwise Opera).

Watch the Barber Shop Chronicles trailer here.

Barber Shop Chronicles                                                  
Fuel/National Theatre/Leeds Playhouse                     
By Inua Ellams
Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Design by Rae Smith
Lighting design by Jack Knowles
Movement direction by Aline David
Sound design by Gareth Fry
Casting direction by Louis Hammond CDG

17Nov/19

A Look into The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion – presented by BAM and Aperture

The New Black VanguardOn November 13th, Antwaun Sargent brought four of the artists from his book, The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion, to have an unapologetic conversation about photography, art, fashion, telling Black narratives from Black perspectives, and eliminating racial barriers. The discussion, hosted at BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn, NY and powered by Aperture, was a candid look into the experiences of artists Arielle Bobb-Willis, Micaiah Carter, Tyler Mitchell, and Dana Scruggs.

“The New Black Vanguard is contemporary Black fashion photography that is inclusive and reflective of a wider world—in terms of skin color, body type, performativity of gender, and class—and also captures, celebrates, and expands the notions of beauty and agency.” — Antwaun Sargent

Candid Conversations

Antwaun first spoke with Dana Scruggs who was singing my life with her words – catering to a European aesthetic early in her career, then scraping that to uplift Black imagery and narratives, to self-publishing a magazine, to being vegan and joyous when clients provide the appropriate meals. I appreciated her representing the Black woman photographer perspective in totality. From people assuming that we’re not the photographer at all to second-guessing our methods to generally being 1 in 20+ to having to hold all other Black women photographers on our backs when we break a barrier, Dana spoke our truth. She became the first Black woman to ever photograph the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue in 2018, and, later that year, she became the first Black person to photograph the cover of Rolling Stone in its 50-year history.
 
Micaiah Carter blessed us with the importance of immortalizing the Black family through photography. He took us on a quick vintage journey that had everyone laughing and reminiscing. He noted the importance of capturing us as we are and how timeless we are. He has photographed the likes of Tracey Ellis Ross, Michael B Jordan, Taraji P. Henson, Ryan Destiny, and Pharell Williams. He spoke on how the industry will try to box you in if you photograph too many Black people. He’s proven he’s boundless though.
 
Arielle Bobb-Willis got real about the art of photography being a healing tool for mental health. The freedom to conceptualize an image from all aspects and then make it come to life can truly make you feel whole. She spoke on how it helps her work through depression and her intentionally capturing us in all forms, shapes, sizes, and moods. Her use of color and color blocking draws you into her world.
 
Tyler Mitchell came and took over for a minute. He did a monologue explaining each image from a slide show of his work. His mission was to showcase Black bodies existing, having everyday fun, and he smashed it. After his slide of a Flawless Beyonce, he played a video that hadn’t been premiered in New York. It was Black boys playing in the water, skateboarding, hula hooping, riding bikes, all at half speed so you’re really able to be immersed in their joy.
 
The panel gathered at the end for a bit of Q&A and then headed to BAMCafé for the book signing and to continue the conversation. 
About The New Black Vanguard Panelists

New Black Vanguard

(Photographer) Arielle Bobb-Willis, Union City, New Jersey, 2018, from The New Black Vanguard

New Black Vanguard

(Photographer) Micaiah Carter, Sheani, 2018, from The New Black Vanguard (Aperture, 2019)

New Black Vanguard (Photographer) Tyler Mitchell, Untitled (Twins II), New York, 2017, from The New Black Vanguard (Aperture, 2019)

New Black Vanguard

(Photographer) Dana Scruggs, Nyadhour, Elevated, Death Valley, California, 2019, from The New Black Vanguard (Aperture, 2019)

Antwaun Sargent is a writer and critic living and working in New York City. He has contributed essays to museum and gallery publications on Ed Clark, Mickalene Thomas, Arthur Jafa, Deborah Roberts, and Yinka Shonibare, among other artists. Sargent has lectured and participated in public conversations with artists at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Brooklyn Museum, MCA Denver, Art Gallery of Ontario, and Harvard and Yale universities. He has also co-organized a number of exhibitions, including The Way We Live Now at Aperture, Then and Now: Chase Hall and Cameron Welch at Jenkins Johnson Projects, and the traveling exhibition Young, Gifted and Black. His first book The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion released October 2019 and will be accompanied by a traveling exhibition.
Arielle Bobb-Willis was born and raised in New York City, with pit stops in South Carolina and New Orleans. Bobb-Willis has been using the camera for nearly a decade as a tool of empowerment. Battling with depression from an early age, Bobb-Willis found solace behind the lens and has developed a visual language that speaks to the therapeutic benefits of creativity. Her work can be seen in a group show in December 2019 at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam.
Brooklyn-based photographer Micaiah Carter’s work is a singular alchemy of contemporary youth culture, fine art, and street style combined with his certainty that the simple act of representation can be a force for change. His work contains echoes of the Black Power movement and the work of Carrie Mae Weems, Viviane Sassen, Jamel Shabazz, and Alasdair McLellan. Carter is currently working on his first monograph, 95 48, inspired by photographs of his dad and his friends from the 1970s.
Tyler Mitchell is a photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in British Vogue, American Vogue, i-D, Dazed, and The New York Times. His commercial clients include Calvin Klein, Givenchy, and Converse. His first self-published book, El Paquete (2015), documents the architecture and skateboard scenes in Havana. He was the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue in 2018, and in 2019 he was included on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list.
Dana Scruggs is a New York-based photographer, originally from the South Side of Chicago. In 2016 she launched Scruggs Magazine, a print publication dedicated to her vision of the male form, and in 2018 she had her industry breakthrough shooting ESPN’s Body Issue in 2018, becoming the first Black female photographer to photograph an athlete for the publication. Later that year, she became the first Black person to photograph the cover of Rolling Stone in its 50-year history. Her clients include Apple, Nike, The New York Times, GQ, and Essence.
Get your copy of The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion.
Photo by NayMarie for BAM

01Nov/19
Taji Mag Vol 21 Black Love

Taji Vol21: Black Love

Release Dec 7 2019 | Vol21 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Black Love! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of M’Shari Whaley of Uniquelywiredm and artist/music producer Jaymison Beverly. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, Paine Artistry is Powering Up Black Artists; our Community Spotlight; our highlighted Hair Feature; “Solo Travel: Holiday Travel & Mindful Spending” by dCarrie; “Separation > Domestication” by Jashua Sa’Ra; Wealth feature “Credit vs Cash”; “For the Love of Children” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 21 theme “Black Love;” our Fitness Feature, Michael Jai White, Receives “The Mantle of the Black Dragon” at Urban Action Showcase & Expo 2019; Vegan Fun with Delliz the Chef – Falafel with Israeli Rice Salad; Rufus & Jenny Triplett Give Us a Look at 30 Years of Marriage; “#BlackLoveConvo: “Waves Explores the Dynamics and Effects of Black Love” by Dapper Dr. Feel; A Look into The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion; Featured Art Piece by Will Focus; Must-Have Comic Series: “The Outlaws” from Concept Moon Magazine; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Taji Mag Vol 21 Black Love

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 21

Taji Mag is the epitome of the positive Black experience – elevating Black brands, narratives, and imagery. We embody the traditional and modern royalty of Pan-African people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.

29Oct/19
Dave Chapelle

Dave Chappelle, Social Commentator and Comedic Griot, is Mark Twain Prize Recipient

Mark Twain once said, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” A quote that is the embodiment of what comedians do in an, of course, humorous and entertaining way. Comedians past, such as Richard Pryor and Red Fox, have perfected this craft, but none today are doing it like Dave Chappelle. He has taken truths of political correctness, social psychology, politics, media, etc., and turned them into thought-provoking topics in joke form.  I would even argue that he could be considered the greatest and most brilliant comic living today.  

Celebration! 

It comes as no surprise that Dave Chappelle is an honoree of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Award this year as he is debatably this century’s funniest comic. The ceremony included a variety of celebs that included Erykah Badu, Yasiin bey (Mos Def), Michael Che, Common, Morgan Freeman, Tiffany Haddish, John Legend, Q-Tip, Kenan Thompson, Chance the Rapper, Chris Tucker, Grant Hill, Tamia Hill and Marlon Wayans. All came with stories about the honored guest who always provides memorable moments. 

Dave Chappelle

Duke Ellington School Band.

The Duke Ellington School Band opened the evening with a performance of the Prince song “1999,” the song that Dave Chappelle can be heard singing in his Netflix stand up, Dave Chappelle: Sticks and Stones. Chappelle also played the iconic role of Prince in a story by the late Charlie Murphy. They had the whole place rocking as Morgan Freeman’s voice echoed the Kennedy Center introducing the evening festivities. Morgan Freeman served as the announcer the whole night.

Every story told from the perspective of each featured guest in their experience with Chapelle had one thing in common, Dave Chappelle made sure to make every moment memorable and full of laughter. Tiffany Haddish came out in a green jumpsuit with her last name on the breast of it, mimicking the same jumpsuit that Dave Chapelle wore during his shows and even sung “1999” in Chappelle fashion.

“The hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself, especially when everybody is watching.” – Dave Chappelle

A montage of clips played featuring Dave Chappelle from his movies to his stand up, some that I recalled being so hilarious that I couldn’t breathe. A moment that revealed to be unscripted was the adlib of Dave Chappelle’s character, Clayton Bigbsy, the white supremacist. Then Kenan Thompson and Michael Che both brought jokes about the comedic legend while Common, John Legend, Erykah Badu performed hits from their collections.  They were all important as Dave Chappelle had a deep connection with the group, Soulquarians, he even had them all perform at his Dave Chappelle Block Party that he filmed. 

Q-Tip came out later in the night to discuss Dave Chappelle’s importance to the music community as he was known to incoperate hip-hop/soul acts into his work from the Chappelle Show to his comedy tours. Q-tip then brought out Yasmiin Bey to re-create the hilarious moment when he and Dave Chappelle tried to invite themselves in the White House.

In Closing

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle receiving the Mark Twain Prize Award. Photo by Darrel R. Todd.

The night ended in Dave Chappelle fashion with a cigarette in hand and a bunch of hilarious jokes – including one where he mentioned having ‘leverage’ to smoke in the Kennedy Center. He thanked all who have supported him from family to friends and pointed to the woman responsible for existance, his mom.

He even spoke about how at times comics sometimes don’t see eye to eye, in some cases he found a comic to be racist and even bought them drinks to talk about it. Chappelle mentioned that there’s a protected first amendment but there’s also a second amendment in case the first don’t work out. 

Chappelle expalined how his mother called him a griot from African tribes. Griots were story tellers that were in charge of keeping the oral tradition and his mother made sure that she filled him with a lot of history, which he then later turned into deliverable entertainment. This is what makes Chappelle an amazing talent, being able to provide jokes that are informative and thought provoking. 

He also spoke about the times his mother would work all day, then go watch him perform stand up, at times falling asleep from exhaustion, but she wanted to show support for the up and coming comic. 

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle and wife, Elaine. Photo by Darrel R. Todd

As Chapelle ended his speech, or, as I like to call, an improv short set, he brought out Yasiin Bey and Thundercat to perform “Umi Says”. This award ceremony is another moment that can be cataloged in the memories of everyone as it celebrated the comic icon, who has many more years left of providing laughter and much needed comedy. 

Previous recipients of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize are Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009; rescinded in 2018), Tina Fey (2010), Will Ferrell (2011), Ellen DeGeneres (2012), Carol Burnett (2013), Jay Leno (2014), Eddie Murphy (2015), Bill Murray (2016), David Letterman (2017), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (2018).

The celebration will be televised on January 7, 2020 on PBS.

27Oct/19

The New Black Vanguard is a Moderated Discussion About Inclusivity within the Fashion and Art Communities – presented by BAM and Aperture

The New Black Vanguard gives a voice to inclusivity via acclaimed photographers Arielle Bobb-Willis, Micaiah Carter, Tyler Mitchell, and Dana Scruggs. Tickets are on sale for the November 13th discussion happening at 7pm at BAM Rose Cinemas (30 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY). Tickets: $20

“The New Black Vanguard is a contemporary Black fashion photography that is inclusive and reflective of a wider world—in terms of skin color, body type, performativity of gender, and class—and also captures, celebrates, and expands the notions of beauty and agency.” — Antwaun Sargent

The New Black Vanguard is a talk moderated by writer and critic Antwaun Sargent as he engages with the work of four emerging and established Black photographers who are pushing the fashion industry towards an inclusive future. The featured photographers—Arielle Bobb-Willis, Micaiah Carter, Tyler Mitchell, and Dana Scruggs — join Sargent as they consider their photography in the collection and the cross-pollination between art, fashion, and culture in cons0tructing an image. The evening celebrates the launch of Sargent’s The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion. The richly illustrated book addresses the radical transformation taking place in fashion, art, and the visual vocabulary around beauty and the body. The evening will also include an audience Q&A and book signing.
Antwaun Sargent is a writer and critic living and working in New York City. He has contributed essays to museum and gallery publications on Ed Clark, Mickalene Thomas, Arthur Jafa, Deborah Roberts, and Yinka Shonibare, among other artists. Sargent has lectured and participated in public conversations with artists at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Brooklyn Museum, MCA Denver, Art Gallery of Ontario, and Harvard and Yale universities. He has also co-organized a number of exhibitions, including The Way We Live Now at Aperture, Then and Now: Chase Hall and Cameron Welch at Jenkins Johnson Projects, and the traveling exhibition Young, Gifted and Black. His first book The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion released October 2019 and will be accompanied by a traveling exhibition.
Arielle Bobb-Willis was born and raised in New York City, with pit stops in South Carolina and New Orleans. Bobb-Willis has been using the camera for nearly a decade as a tool of empowerment. Battling with depression from an early age, Bobb-Willis found solace behind the lens and has developed a visual language that speaks to the therapeutic benefits of creativity. Her work can be seen in a group show in December 2019 at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam.
Brooklyn-based photographer Micaiah Carter’s work is a singular alchemy of contemporary youth culture, fine art, and street style combined with his certainty that the simple act of representation can be a force for change. His work contains echoes of the Black Power movement and the work of Carrie Mae Weems, Viviane Sassen, Jamel Shabazz, and Alasdair McLellan. Carter is currently working on his first monograph, 95 48, inspired by photographs of his dad and his friends from the 1970s.
Tyler Mitchell is a photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in British Vogue, American Vogue, i-D, Dazed, and The New York Times. His commercial clients include Calvin Klein, Givenchy, and Converse. His first self-published book, El Paquete (2015), documents the architecture and skateboard scenes in Havana. He was the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue in 2018, and in 2019 he was included on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list.
Dana Scruggs is a New York-based photographer, originally from the South Side of Chicago. In 2016 she launched Scruggs Magazine, a print publication dedicated to her vision of the male form, and in 2018 she had her industry breakthrough shooting ESPN’s Body Issue in 2018, becoming the first Black female photographer to photograph an athlete for the publication. Later that year, she became the first Black person to photograph the cover of Rolling Stone in its 50-year history. Her clients include Apple, Nike, The New York Times, GQ, and Essence.

New Black Vanguard

(Photographer) Arielle Bobb-Willis, Union City, New Jersey , 2018, from The New Black Vanguard

New Black Vanguard

(Photographer) Micaiah Carter, Sheani , 2018, from The New Black Vanguard (Aperture, 2019)

New Black Vanguard (Photographer) Tyler Mitchell, Untitled (Twins II), New York, 2017, from The New Black Vanguard (Aperture, 2019)

New Black Vanguard

(Photographer) Dana Scruggs, Nyadhour, Elevated, Death Valley, California, 2019, from The New Black Vanguard (Aperture, 2019)

Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is recognized internationally for its innovative programming of dance, music, theater, opera, and film. Its mission is to be the home for adventurous artists, audiences, and ideas. BAM presents leading national and international artists and companies in its annual Winter/Spring Season and highlights groundbreaking, contemporary work in the performing arts with its Next Wave Festival each fall. Founded in 1983, the Next Wave is one of the world’s most important festivals of contemporary performing arts. BAM Film features new, independent film releases and a curated, daily repertory film program. In 2012, BAM added the Richard B. Fisher Building to its campus, providing an intimate and flexible 250-seat performance venue––the Fishman Space––as well as the Hillman Studio, a rehearsal and performance space. BAM serves New York City’s diverse population through community events, literary series, and a wide variety of educational and family programs. BAM, America’s oldest performing arts center, has presented performances since 1861, and attracts an audience of more than 750,000 people each year. Visit BAM.org.
Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation, connects the photo community and its audiences with the most inspiring work, the sharpest ideas, and with each other—in print, in person, and online. Created in 1952 by photographers and writers as “common ground for the advancement of photography,” Aperture today is a multi-platform publisher and center for the photo community. From its base in New York, Aperture Foundation produces, publishes, and presents a variety of photography projects and programs—locally, across the United States, and around the world.

26Oct/19

Exclusive: Harriet director, Kasi Lemmons, Discusses Film, Eve’s Bayou, Candy Man

Harriet director Kasi Lemmons and actress Cynthia Erivo (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

This year, director and writer, Kasi Lemmons, will bring one of the most heroic and inspiring Black woman figures to the screen, Harriet Tubman.  The film, Harriet, stars Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr,. and Jonelle Monae. It is a biopic about the life of Harriet Tubman from her first escape to freedom to being the conductor of the Underground Railroad. The film premiere was held on Oct. 22, 2019 in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian African American Musem. Taji Mag was able to speak with the director, Kasi Lemmons, about her creative process and development of the film. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was the importance of making this film and will this film impact the future of storytelling from the perspective of Black people? 

Kasi Lemmons ( KL): As filmmakers, we always ask ourselves, what are the great characters? I write from the characters all the time. Harriet Tubman was one of the greatest figures who has lived. So for me, the fact that no feature film has ever been made about Harriet and she is just such an important person for Americans, especially African American women… This hero needs to be brought to the world, a hero to me on the level of Mother Teresa and Gandhi. She’s a real superhero.

In terms of our future as storytellers, the more we can tell compelling stories that people relate to, the better. There are so many women directors right now and there are so many stories to tell, it’s always been a matter of is the industry ready to accept these stories. Now we are in a period where we can have a Black person as the lead and hero in a movie and bring characters like Harriet to the screen.   

(Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): What makes this film different from the other films that are about Black slavery? 

(KL): Harriet, to me, has always been a story about freedom. If I were to ask you to tell me the story of Harriet Tubman, you would say that she escaped from slavery and then she went back to liberate others. To me, those were like the verbs, that is the Harriet Tubman story. 

(DDF): What was your reaction when you found out that you were doing this film? 

(KL): My heart started racing, they just kind of sprung it on me and I didn’t have time to think about it, which was good in a way because I went to a meeting and the producer said it in the room. They surprised me because I thought I was just going to a general meeting. I was able to check my pulse to measure my own reaction and, as I am experiencing it, I am thinking, “your heart is really racing, I think you are very interested in this!” 

(DDF): You have mentioned in one of your articles that this feeling of excitement is like falling in love. Can you explain?

(KL): Find a good film to work on is always like falling in love to me. There’s always a process of courtship; you’re getting to be friends and then all a sudden you fall in love. With this film, I was really intrigued by it from the very beginning. The love started in my research; she is an incredible presence in my life. 

Lemmons with her husband Vondie Curtis Hall and son. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): What was your approach to creating the premonition scenes that Harriet experienced? 

(KL): I went through a lot of stages with it, then boiled it down to its most simple form, because I felt like they were like flashes of inspiration. They took many different forms, she had dreams, trances, sometimes just flashes of premonitions, and seizures. So I started to think about what seizures felt like and tried to make a shocking type of image. 

(DDF): You did some very creative things to create the premonition scene with the various colors used. How did that come about? 

(KL): When I looked up seizures and really tried to read people’s experiences of what seizures looked like to them, I would find the word monochromatic over and over again. I thought that is what I was trying to make it look like. 

(DDF): “What is a man to with a woman touched by God” is a line in the script that stood out to me. How did you come up with it? 

(KL): It’s interesting, that is a scene that I wrote the night before we shot it. The producers and executive producers at Focus Features, wanted me to try and describe what it felt like to Harriet after her husband re-married. So we imagined a scene with Marie where she would tell her what it felt like to her. I put off writing it because it was a hurdle to me – how do you write what God feels like? Then I started to explore what it would it feel like to Harriet, I wrote it the night before the shoot and they (Cynthia Erivo and Janelle Monáe) did it in two takes. 

Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): In the film, we see the evolution of the heroic woman icon, how did you go about the character development from Minty to Harriet? 

(KS): There is a huge arc that we felt in her character, she almost becomes different people. From an ordinary woman into this almost mythic side of herself, she names herself and she is apart of that. So we named them, Minty, Harriet, and Moses. Everybody participated in the character development; Me, Cynthia, and costume designer, Paul Tazewell.  We created her and it was a group effort to give you that arc. From Minty and her dress to when she becomes Harriet in her mission costume, it’s a big arc. 

(DDF): What advice would you give to your younger self at the time you made Eve’s Bayou? 

(KL): In some ways, I don’t know if I would give myself any advice. Now, where I am in life, I like the way that things unfolded. Take for instance, after I made Eve’s Bayou, I didn’t know if I was going to make another movie but that was a wonderful thing to think at that moment because I was going for broke. So I put everything into it. I’ve had ups and downs in my career. If I could talk myself through those, I would tell myself that you are going to have ups and downs but if you keep going, you get to travel the world, you’ll meet extraordinary people, you’ll work with some of the most talented people and you’ll have a great time. 

(DDF): You are also doing a CJ Madam Walker series, what brought you to do that project? 

(KL): I have been infatuated with Madam CJ Walker for 20 years. Literally 20 years ago, I was thinking, “You know, it would be dope if we did something about Madam CJ Walker!” So when that came about, I was super excited about being involved in it. Then, Octavia Spencer, she’s perfect for the role. It’s a story that has been interesting for a long time, she is the first self-made Black woman millionaire and you know hair is so special to us black women, we’ve got our own thing. I had a really good time working it. 

Kasi Lemmons on set. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): Do you hope to bring more important black women figures to film or tv? Any ideas? 

(KL): Oh, I am sure I will do more films about important Black women figures. Do I have any in mind…maybe? (laughs) 

(DDF): You were in the horror films Candyman and Silence of the Lambs.  Have you had any input or help in the development of the new Candyman film? 

(KL): I have contributed to Candyman already in that I mentor the director for the film, Nia DaCosta, since her first Sundance film. She’s great!   

(DDF):  Will you make your own horror film?

(KL): There is something that I have in mind but I have to be careful because I am extremely sensitive. I have to protect my energy a lot and be careful of what I bring into my life. When I bring in truth, beauty, and righteousness, it’s a good feeling, so I am afraid and that’s the truth. 

The film Harriet was a great film with a lot of exploration of the characters’ bravery, selflessness, spiritually, and intelligence. It stands out as a story about the perseverance of the human spirit against discrimination. Creatively, it is a departure from the usual ‘slave cry’ moments that have become rhetoric in most of the blockbuster slave themed movies and I am thankful for that. Go see Harriet November 1st. 

Harriet

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., and Janelle Monae.