All posts by Latoya Peterson

Rihanna's profile pic from the New York Times T Magazine.

#AskHerMore: On Rihanna and interviewing Black celebrities

Over on Clutch, the staff responded to a recent T Magazine profile of Rihanna with dismay, noting that the interview really isn’t about Ms. Fenty. The profile was written by artist and actress Miranda July, and appears to be more about July’s feelings about meeting Rihanna then the “revealing” conversation teased in the headline. Clutch explains:

For instance, when Rihanna recalls being sent to America as a teen, admitting, ‘That’s something I don’t think I could ever do. Send my only girl to another random country to live with people she’d just met,” July doesn’t ask what it felt like, or if she ever asked her mother about how she was able to let her baby go. Instead, we get a tidbit about a then-27-year-old July trying to figure out what to do with her life. […] I seriously doubt most people cared July “dressed for Rihanna” or that Uber Black was the “highest level of Uber [she’s] ridden” in.

The staffer also drew attention to the September New York Times Sunday* Magazine profile of Nicki Minaj, also noting the interview left much to be desired.

Reading the full profile, July is fangirling hard for Rihanna in the piece, so much so that that outside of breathless descriptions of all the other people she encounters on the way to Rihanna, it takes almost half the piece to get to Rihanna actually talking. (The same thing happened with Nicki’s interview – you are almost half-way through the piece before she speaks a word.) Some commenters, familiar with July’s work, praised the piece as yet another piece of performance art from an undoubtedly quirky artist making a larger point about society.

But part of me wonders if this is too generous of a reading. If this is the case, then July’s art came at the expense of the subject: Rihanna. This kind of treatment is frustrating because the writers don’t seem too concerned with understanding the core or essence of the celebrity they profile.

The number of celebrity “interviews” that offer little insight into the person while providing long indulgences of the writer’s stream of consciousness is an annoying trend. I felt a vague sense of deja vu while reading the T Magazine piece, and realized The Fader’s cover interview (that wasn’t) had the same problem – I have no more insight about Rihanna then I did when I started.

I wonder if that “omg can you believe I get to interview this person?” trope is just another kind of racially influenced narcissism – why center the words of the black woman I am speaking to when my inner dialogue is so much more interesting? There can’t be two subjects of a profile piece. And, interestingly enough, it’s anathema to the entire celebrity journalist code – the first rule is that you do not fan out, because it obscures your subject. If you are too busy fawning, you don’t ask follow up questions, and you don’t reveal anything new to your readers/viewers. (There are many issues with celebrity rags, but this sort of thing would not fly in People Magazine.)

July is also candid about the questions she backs away from, saying:

I wanted to ask her about being a young black woman with power in America but it seemed somehow wrong to speak of this; maybe she was postracial now. So I directed my question to a younger Rihanna, and asked if she had suddenly felt aware of race in a different way when she moved to New York.

But this too is a cop-out. I don’t think a journalist from Essence or Ebony would have shied away from this question. And I can understand a discomfort with asking questions about race, but why do a profile if you aren’t going to ask questions? Rihanna’s answer was still interesting but the writer left so much unexplored. I’m glad Miranda July got a few good selfies out of this, but the interview reads like one long missed opportunity.

This type of breathless coverage robs Rihanna of her voice. And when we take into consideration the swirl of stereotypes surrounding black female celebrities in particular, one would hope that interviewers would try harder to illuminate more of the inner lives of these successful and often misunderstood women.

*Corrected with correct magazine, thanks to @DearSpelenda on Twitter.

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“Nothing is more punk rock than surviving in a hungry sea of white noise:” Reflections on Afropunk

It’s hard not to feel something for Afropunk, even if your punk days were long behind you (if they ever existed at all.)

For me, a DC girl raised on hip-hop with a twist of go-go (but with enough friends drawing Xs on their hands to dabble a bit into other people’s rebellions), Afropunk is like gazing into the looking glass. I’ve never been, though I love that it exists. For me, Afropunk came a little too late – my black friends who were into skating and punk rock were memories long before James Spooner pulled the original film out of his mind and on to celluloid. I would have loved Afropunk when I was young, but grew up fine without it. At some point, we sort out who we are supposed to be – Afropunk wasn’t an identity then the way it is now. And after my friend Tiff sent three essays around the Afropunk festival, which happened last weekend in Brooklyn, NYC, I’m not sure what the Afropunk identity means anymore – and I’m honestly wondering if it was supposed to be an identity at all.

Over at Pitchfork, Hanif Abdurraqib bared his soul in a beautiful, moving essay on being black in punk space. You don’t need to identify with the music to feel what he’s saying. It opens with the kind of moment most of us have experienced:

I don’t remember the first time I heard a racist joke at a punk rock show. Rather, I don’t remember the first time I was grabbed into a sweaty half-hug by one of the laughing white members of my Midwest punk scene and told don’t worry about it. We don’t think of you that way. I don’t remember the first time I saw a teenage girl shoved out of the way so that a teenage boy her size, or greater, could have a better view of a stage. I don’t remember the first time that I made an excuse for being a silent witness.

And passages like this one hit home, cutting almost to the bone:

It is a luxury to romanticize blood, especially your own. It is a luxury to be able to fetishize violence, especially the violence that you inflict upon others. To use it as a bond, or to call it church, or to build an identity around it while knowing that everyone you can send home bloody will not come back for revenge. To walk home bloody. To walk home at night. At the time of writing this, a video is circulating of a black man being killed by police, on camera. Before this, there was another black man. And a black boy. And black women vanishing in jail. And black trans women vanishing into the night. I do not blame punk rock for this. I instead ask to consider the impact of continuing to glorify a very specific type of white violence and invisibility of all others in an era where there is a very real and very violent erasure of the bodies most frequently excluded from the language, culture, and visuals of punk rock. I ask myself who it serves when I see countless images showing examples of why “punk rock is a family”, images with only white men. It does no good to point at a neighborhood of burning houses while also standing in a house on fire. It is true, in 2015, the flames in the house of punk may climb up the walls more slowly than, say, the flames in the Fox News building. But the house is still on fire. Too often, the choice in punk rock and D.I.Y. spaces for non-white men is a choice between being tokenized, or being invisible.

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BEYOND THE LIGHTS - 2014 FILM STILL - Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker - Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner  Copyright © 2013 Blackbird Productions, LLC

115 Films By and About Women of Color – How Many Have You Seen?

Over the weekend, I found this excellent list of movies jai tigett complied on the Women and Hollywood blog that were created by women of color and center women of color characters. This list is exciting, especially since I’ve only seen a fraction. Here they are (with a few annotations):

35 Shots of Rum by Claire Denis (2008)

A Different Image by Alile Sharon Larkin (1982)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night by Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)

A Tale of Love by T. Minh-ha Trinh (1995)

Advantageous by Jennifer Phang (2015)

Ala Modalaindi by Nandini Bv Reddy (2011)

All About You by Christine Swanson (2001)

Alma’s Rainbow by Ayoka Chenzira (1994)

Appropriate Behavior by Desiree Akhavan (2014)

Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet (2013)

B For Boy by Chika Anadu (2013)

Bande de Filles (Girlhood) by Céline Sciamma (2014)

Belle by Amma Asante (2013) [On the “to-watch” list]

Bend it Like Beckham by Gurinder Chadha (2002) [Classic. Saw it in the theaters]

Bessie by Dee Rees (2015) [On the to watch list]

Beyond the Lights by Gina Prince-Bythewood (2014) [Most slept on movie in 2014. Great romantic drama, saw it in theaters.]

Bhaji on the Beach by Gurinder Chadha (1993)

Camila by María Luisa Bemberg (1984)

Caramel by Nadine Labaki (2007)

Chutney Popcorn by Nisha Ganatra (1999)

Circumstance by Maryam Keshavarz (2011)

Civil Brand by Neema Barnette (2002)

Compensation by Zeinabu irene Davis (1999)

Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash (1991)

Des étoiles (Under The Starry Sky) by Dyana Gaye (2014)

Descent by Talia Lugacy (2007)

Double Happiness by Mina Shum (1994)

Down in the Delta by Maya Angelou (1998)

Drylongso by Cauleen Smith (1988)

Earth by Deepa Mehta (1998)

Elza by Mariette Monpierre (2011)

Endless Dreams by Susan Youssef (2009)

Eve’s Bayou by Kasi Lemmons (1997) [Saw it as a kid, should rewatch.]

Fire by Deepa Mehta (1996) [On the to watch list.]

Frida by Julie Taymor (2002) [On the to watch list.]

Funny Valentines by Julie Dash (1999)

Girl in Progress by Patricia Riggen (2012)

Girlfight by Karyn Kusama (2000)

Goyangileul butaghae (Take Care of My Cat) by Jeong Jae-eun (2001)

Habibi Rasak Kharban by Susan Youssef (2011)

Hiss Dokhtarha Faryad Nemizanand (Hush! Girls Don’t Scream) by Pouran Derahkandeh (2013)

Honeytrap by Rebecca Johnson (2014)

How The Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer by Georgina Reidel (2005)

I Can’t Think Straight by Shamim Sarif (2008)

I Like It Like That by Darnell Martin (1994) [One of my all time faves. Own it.]

I Will Follow by Ava DuVernay (2010)

In Between Days by So-yong Kim (2006)

Incognito by Julie Dash (1999)

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge by Martha Coolidge (1999)

Invisible Light by Gina Kim (2003)

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife by Gurinder Chadha (2010)

Jumpin Jack Flash by Penny Marshall (1986)

Just Another Girl on the IRT by Leslie Harris (1992)

Just Wright by Sanaa Hamri (2010) [Watched in theaters.]

Kama Sutra by Mira Nair (1996)

Lady With a Sword by Kao Pao-shu (1971)

Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity by Mina Shum (2002)

Losing Ground by Kathleen Collins (1982)

Love & Basketball by Gina Prince-Bythewood (2000) [Watched, but deserves a reviewing]

Love the One You’re With by Patricia Cuffie-Jones (2015)

Luck By Chance by Zoya Akhtar (2009)

Mi Vida Loca by Allison Anders (1993)

Middle of Nowhere by Ava DuVernay (2012) [Meant to see this but couldn’t get into the screenings]

Mississippi Damned by Tina Mabry (2009

Mississippi Masala by Mira Nair (1991)

Mixing Nia by Alison Swan (1998)

Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair (2001)

Mosquita y Mari by Aurora Guerrero (2012) [Watched and reviewed]

Na-moo-eobs-neun san (Treeless Mountain) by So-yong Kim (2008)

Naturally Native by Valerie Red-Horse (1998)

Night Catches Us by Tanya Hamilton (2010)

Nina’s Heavenly Delights by Pratibha Parmar (2006)

Paju by Chan-ok Park (2009)

Pariah by Dee Rees (2011)

Peeples by Tina Gordon Chism (2013)

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2007)

Phat Girlz by Nnegest Likké (2006)

Picture Bride by Kayo Hatta (1994)

Radiance by Rachel Perkins (1998)

Rain by Maria Govan (2008)

Real Women Have Curves by Patricia Cardoso (2002) [Watched, liked.]

Saving Face by Alice Wu (2004)

Second Coming by Debbie Tucker Green (2014)

Sita sings the blues by Nina Paley (2008) [I remember this one being controversial, because it was a Jewish filmmaker serving a twist on a Hindu story.]

Something Necessary by Judy Kibinge (2013)

Something New by Sanaa Hamri (2006) [Saw in theaters]

Song of the Exile by Ann Hui (1990

Still the Water by Naomi Kawase (2014)

Stranger Inside by Cheryl Dunye (2001)

Sugar Cane Alley/Black Shack Alley by Euzhan Palcy (1983) [Watched this in french class back in 1998!]

The Kite by Randa Chahal Sabag (2003)

The Rich Man’s Wife by Amy Holden Jones (1996)

The Rosa Parks Story by Julie Dash (2002)

The Secret Life of Bees by Gina Prince-Bythewood (2008)

The Silence of the Palace by Moufida Tlatli (1994)

The Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye (1996)

The Women of Brewster Place by Donna Deitch (1989)

The World Unseen by Shamim Sarif (2007)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Darnell Martin (2005)

Things We Lost in the Fire by Susanne Bier (2007)

Ties That Bind by Leila Djansi (2011)

Toe to Toe by Emily Abt (2009)

Wadjda by Haifaa Al-Mansour (2012)

Water by Deepa Mehta (2005)

Whale Rider by Niki Caro (2002)

What’s Cooking? by Gurinder Chadha (2000)

Where Do We Go Now? by Nadine Labaki (2011)

Whitney by Angela Bassett (2015)

Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day by Neema Barnette (2012)

Women Without Men by Shirin Neshat (2009)

Woo by Daisy von Scherler Mayer (1998)

Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl by Joan Chen (1998)

Yelling to the Sky by Victoria Mahoney (2011)

Yo, la peor de todas (I, The Worst of All) by María Luisa Bemberg (1990)

Young and Wild by Marialy Rivas (2012)

Which ones have you seen? And what would you add to the list?

Illustration from Hazlitt

Link Love: ‘Our Brownness Does Not Belong Here’

An amazingly layered and nuanced long-read from Adnan Khan seeks to answer the question “How Brown should a Brown person be?”

His prose strings together the all the stars of racial interactions and microaggressions that form our constellation of racial identity, moving effortlessly from Indian restaurants to Wu-Tang, whiteness and anti-blackness, love songs and Harold and Kumar, the meaning of ABCD and the subtle pain that comes with forging a sense of self. Here’s a short selection:

My parents were eager for us to assimilate and there was no surplus of Indian affectations around the house—Bollywood tapes were played on the DL and we never joined a mosque or came into regular contact with other Muslim Indians. Memories of family were left unopened and ignored. I learned nothing about the cousins, uncles, and aunties who remained on the subcontinent. My mother missed India silently but my father hated the country. She visited her family occasionally, but nearly 14 years passed before my father went. When my mother wanted to send me back for a month in Grade 10, my father asked, “What’s the point?” They grew up as the first generation after Partition, during a time of chaos and uncertainty. He didn’t look back because there was nothing to look at.

My high school, meanwhile, was so multicultural that post-9/11 racism barely made it flinch. One of my oldest friends, Korean, called me a terrorist in my grade nine yearbook, and I still think of him with abiding affection. Another kid who’d casually lob the word at me was so Muslim that his last name was Islam. But I felt there was a deep shame at being Indian, some of which came from my father, who spoke badly of the country whenever he could, and some from the “smelly Indian” legacy that trails us: our body odor, our stinky food, our houses marked by a mash of unknown spices. I tried to pass as Arab. Since I was born in Saudi Arabia, I thought I could latch onto that, even though we were like mercenaries in the country, living in an isolated compound and only there for work opportunities India didn’t have. I couldn’t escape my brown skin, but at least I could be rich like an Arab. The distinction between Arab and Indian was messy, but I didn’t know that—I was only looking for a way out. This fell apart when an Egyptian asked if I could speak Arabic and I replied, no, Urdu. To be Indian meant nothing good. I had picked up enough from stray White culture to understand that the “smelly Indian” stereotype had real world implications and that we were somewhere near the bottom of a structurally explicit hierarchy.

Even though I couldn’t say why I was imagining myself as White, adopting Black culture, pretending to be Arab, I could sense that there wasn’t a clear role for me. Life was cleaved neatly: white identity (Korn), black identity (Ma$e), and brown identity (Amitabh Bachchan movies in the background, the dull dishoom-dishoom sound of our noble protagonist punching out the bad guys). I didn’t fit into any of these, so I borrowed from all. This kaleidoscope identity made it hard for me to locate myself in the world, and I felt for a long time, an ache for definition.

Read the rest, it’s worth the investment.

(via HRD CVR)


Reddit AMA: James Mickens on Being Black and STEM

Enjoying MLK Day? Please join us over at Reddit at 2 PM ET where we will talk to James Mickens:

On MLK Day (1/19) at 2 p.m. computer scientist James Mickens will be doing a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA), where he’ll field questions about his work, how he got into STEMs, and what it’s like to be a person of color in computer science.

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Are You Ready for #TheTalk?

MTV’s Look Different campaign is doing a full multiscreen take over for Martin Luther King Jr. Day,

According to a 2014 MTV study*, 73% of Millennials believe having more open constructive conversations about bias would help people become less prejudiced.

“Millennials believe strongly in fairness, but they can also find it difficult to talk openly about race – to be not simply ‘color blind’ but ‘color brave,’ said Stephen Friedman, President of MTV. “Our audience is looking for a way to bring the national conversation on race into their homes and this campaign will give them a forum to express true color bravery.”

#TheTalk will begin at 9:00 a.m. ET/PT on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day when MTV will kick off a 12-hour period in which all programming will air in black and white for the first time in the network’s history. Every commercial block will begin with personal reflections on race from luminaries including Kendrick Lamar, Common, Big Sean, Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo, Penn Badgley, Jordin Sparks, Pete Wentz, Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. John Lewis, Sen. Cory Booker and more.

One of the ideas they referenced, “color brave,” is from Melody Hobson’s TED Talk:

Read MTV’s study on Millennials and Bias here.

Share your experiences with #TheTalk here.

(Easter Egg: I’m in the “activist” video on the site.)


Dr. King on Optimism, Pessimism, and Race Relations

“There are three basic attitudes that one can take toward the question of progress in the area of race relations. And the first attitude that can be taken is that of extreme optimism. Now the extreme optimist would argue that we have come a long, long way in the area of race relations. He would point proudly to the marvelous strides that have been made in the area of civil rights over the last few decades. From this he would conclude that the problem is just about solved, and that we can sit comfortably by the wayside and wait on the coming of the inevitable.

The second attitude that one can take toward the question of progress in the area of race relations is that of extreme pessimism. The extreme pessimist would argue that we have made only minor strides in the area of race relations. He would argue that the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent that we hear from the Southland today is indicative of the fact that we have created more problems than we have solved. He would say that we are retrogressing instead of progressing. He might even turn to the realms of an orthodox theology and argue that hovering over every man is the tragic taint of original sin and that at bottom human nature cannot be changed. He might even turn to the realms of modern psychology and seek to show the determinative effects of habit structures and the inflexibility of certain attitudes that once become molded in one’s being.

From all of this he would conclude that there can be no progress in the area of race relations.

Now you will notice that the extreme optimist and the extreme pessimist have at least one thing in common: they both agree that we must sit down and do nothing in the area of race relations. The extreme optimist says do nothing because integration is inevitable. The extreme pessimist says do nothing because integration is impossible. But there is a third position, there is another attitude that can be taken, and it is what I would like to call the realistic position. The realist in the area of race relations seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites while avoiding the extremes of both.

So the realist would agree with the optimist that we have come a long, long way. But, he would go on to balance that by agreeing with the pessimist that we have a long, long way to go. And it is this basic theme that I would like to set forth this evening. We have come a long, long way but we have a long, long way to go.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Realistic Look at the Question of Progress in the Area of Race Relations,” delivered April 10, 1957 in St. Louis, MO


What I Learned About Tech and Business from Tyler Perry

by Guest Contributor Jon Gosier, originally published at

When I tell people I used to work for Tyler Perry there are overwhelmingly two reactions. The first is the number of people around the world who haven’t ever heard of him or his work. The second reaction is laughter or condescension:

“The guy who dresses like a woman?”

“The guy who makes those black films?”

“The guy who puts his name in the title of all his films?”

Yes. That guy.

Regardless of whether or not you think he’s a creative genius, he is a genius of a different type and a lot smarter than people seem to give him credit for, especially when it comes to business.

First, some background. I only worked for Tyler Perry Studios briefly from 2006 to 2007. It was just after he had closed a deal for $200 million dollars to build his studio in Atlanta and produce his first set of TV Shows, HOUSE OF PAYNE and MEET THE BROWNS, for TBS. I was a Sound Designer and Audio Engineer at the time and not involved in any business dealings so nothing I’m saying here is confidential. In fact, much of what I write here can be discovered through a few searches on Google, Wikipedia or

In any case, through following Perry over the years and reflecting on my own observations at his studio, I learned a lot that I later used to find success in the tech industry. What are some of these lessons?

1- He Knows the Business He’s In

The secret to Tyler Perry’s success is really in that second group of people I mentioned. The smug people who underestimate him.

The first lesson I learned is, rarely are successful people in the business of the things their critics think they are.

People think Tyler Perry is in the business of pleasing the public or critics. He’s not. He’s not even in the business of speaking to his ‘niche’ audience. No, Tyler Perry is in the business of making movies that earn returns for his financiers. Yes, he speaks to an audience he understands but he’s always been smart enough to focus on what matters most which is the bottom-line. Continue reading