Tag Archives: celebrities

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.

Announcements: Tulpa, or Anne & Me Opens June 2nd

Compiled by Andrea (AJ) Plaid

Racializen and playwright Shawn Harris will premiere her play, Tulpa, or Anne and Me, this Thursday, June 2, at NYC’s Robert Moss Theater, the eco-friendly performance space located at 440 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. The show starts at 6PM.

Tulpa, or Anne&Me explores a strange friendship that begins with an artist whose lonely world gets turned upside down when Anne Hathaway crawls out of her television. As their friendship blossoms, they begin to examine how race impacts their lives as women, as friends, and as human beings.

The 90-minute show will also run on these dates:

  • Friday, June 3rd @ 4:00PM
  • Thursday, June 16 at 8:00PM
  • Sunday, June 19th @ 8:15PM

The play’s proceeds will benefit the anti-racism organization People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. While anticipating the show, you can follow behind-the-scenes convos about it, check out the show’s musical inspirations, and much more here and here!


White (Wo)Man’s Burden: Madonna, Malawi, & Celebrity Activism [Original Cut]

by Latoya Peterson, published at Jezebel.com

On Monday, Madonna broke ground on a new school project in Malawi; today, she takes to the Huffington Post to ask for donations. Her megawatt star power helped engage media attention – but are high profile celebrities actually hurting progress?

In the new issue of Arise, reporter Hannah Pool examines the idea that “all Africa ha[s] to offer the world was begging bowl.” The article, titled “Good Will Hunting” starts off with a bang:

“When high profile celebrities get shown visiting disadvantaged areas in Africa and those images get beamed out to the rest of the world, I believe they almost do more damage than good,” says Moky Makura, Nigerian-born, Johannesburg-based author, M-Net presenter and founder of the Africa our Africa blog. “We don’t want to keep reinforcing the image of a helpless continent. We will only eradicate our problems when we build economies based on commerce, not charity. To do this, Africa needs to be seen as an investment destination or trading partner, not as a charity case.

Pool then delves into the conundrum that faces many activists on the African continent – if many people are embracing the idea of “trade not aid” as a way to push forward development, who benefits from this “charitainment?” Pool elaborates:

The merging of charity and entertainment – or, as Time magazine called it, charitainment – has led to some damaging consequences. Celebrities (and their agents) have realised that being seen to care about Africa brings instant cool. About 25 years after Live Aid, A-list celebrities are forever falling out of the pages of magazines such as Hello! or OK!, tearfully waxing lyrical about how spending five minutes in an African orphanage changed their whole view on life. And thanks to Madonna and Angelina Jolie, some Western media appear to be under the impression that the best way to empty Africa’s orphanages is not the eradication of poverty but mass adoption by wealthy pop stars. Continue reading

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency [Racialicious Review]

by Latoya Peterson

On Sunday night, I sat down to watch the premiere of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency after catching two or three specials on the making of the series while browsing HBO.

Now, let me just put this out there: I approached the series with some trepidation. First, I have never read the books. The novels, written by Alexander McCall Smith, are generally well received but knock up against some very strong views I hold about the narrative and stories of people of color. Since the voices of both women and PoCs tend to be marginalized in mainstream publishing, I try to seek out and support authors who would not otherwise be heard. So, instead of buying McCall Smith’s story about a woman from Botswana, I’d rather track down a book written by a woman from Botswana. I’ve written about this before in White Authors, Ethnic Characters and fleshed out my thoughts about times when it goes right and times when it goes wrong, but have decided to err on the side of supporting smaller authors (and smaller publishing houses).

However, the series was tempting to me from the get-go, as I love Jill Scott and like to support her work. In addition, the series is on HBO with a predominantly black cast in a time when diversity on television declines with each passing year.

Jill Scott
stars as Precious Ramotswe, a kind hearted “woman of traditional build” with a penchant for mysteries and bush tea. Anika Noni Rose is Grace Makutsi, Precious’ quirky secretary. Lucian Msamati (J. L. B.Matekoni) and Desmond Dube (B K) round out the cast. Continue reading

Open Thread: Chris Brown, Rihanna, and Domestic Violence

by Latoya Peterson

The story, according to People Magazine:

Sunday night, R&B’s hottest couple, Chris Brown and Rihanna, were supposed to light up the Grammys.

Instead, the normally affectionate twosome were embroiled in a domestic violence drama that left Brown, 19, booked on felony criminal threats charges and posting $50,000 bail after turning himself in to the LAPD on Sunday at 6:34 p.m. PST.

Sources say that Rihanna (real name: Robin Fenty), 20, was the victim in the alleged assault which occurred around 12:30 a.m. on Sunday. Responding to a 911 call about a disturbance, the LAPD took statements from a female with visible injuries, who named Brown as her attacker.

Chris Brown has turned himself in; Rihanna has canceled some high profile performances as well as her birthday party. Rumors are swirling, and there isn’t much confirmed. They have not even confirmed that the “female with visible injuries” was Rihanna, though this is widely assumed to be so.

It is entirely too early to see how this is going to pan out – no one knows if Rihanna will ever admit to being the woman who called 911, if the woman involved will press charges, or what will become of Chris Brown if he has to go to court.

However, one thing I do want to mention is how this could turn into a case study on how communities – especially communities of color, deal with domestic violence. Continue reading

Miley Cyrus Thinks It’s Cool to Mock Asians

by Latoya Peterson

Now, what did the Spanish Olympic basketball team say when they did it?

Oh, right, it was a “wink.” A sign of “affection.”

Here’s what other bloggers are saying – I don’t really have any words on this one.

Angry Asian Man:

For those who don’t know who the most popular teenager in America is, Miley’s third from the left. Is this how kids are posing for photos these days? Hey! Look at us spoiled punkass hipster kids making racist gestures! Because it’s fun, and we just don’t care. And it’s, like, totally ironic or something, you know? Our friend here is Asian and the rest of us are white! Get it? Watch us all do the silly squint-eye!

Who is the Asian guy, anyway? Sitting there like a tool and letting his “friends” getting away with racist gestures. Not funny. And is it me, or is he actually trying to make his eyes look wider? Couldn’t resist getting to hang out with the cool kids, I guess. Even if it means having to deal with this idiocy. Or maybe he’s forgotten what it feels like when some jerk on the street does that out of real-ass hate.

Continue reading

LiveBlogging The Neighborhood Inaugural Ball

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García, also Published At The Instant Callback

I admit, I spent most of Inauguration Day taking it all in quietly. Even my cynical heart warmed a little during the day. I didn’t have a thing to make fun of. Thank the stars ABC gave me the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball.

8:10 — Delayed start, but: Mary J. looked GREAT, and Will.i.am struck a good note — addition by subtraction of Fergie, perhaps?
8:19 — W. had Ricky Martin. O has Maroon 5. This is progress?!
8:20 — Robin Roberts! Yay! I remember when she was a SportsCenter rookie …
8:21 — Nick Cannon is as much a DJ as George Bush was a Decider.
8:22 — Mariah has a blinged-out mic stand. Take that, Mary J.!
8:25 — Oh shit, Denzel is there?
8:30 — Denzel arrives! PLYMOUTH ROCK, GET THE F-K OFF!
8:31 — Mariah can’t lend the President her mic stand?
8:32 — “How good-looking is my wife?” Epic.
8:34 — Is that Faith Hill next to Denzel?
8:34 — Beyonce nails the first note …

8:35 — Beyonce’s mic also had some bedazzle to it. Is this the next arms race? Continue reading

Diversity and the “Cultural Elite” of New York

by Guest Contributor Joanna Eng

The September 25 issue of Time Out New York (TONY) featured a list of their favorite 40 New Yorkers who have made an impact on the city in the past 13 years. I was appalled to see that out of the 40 cultural leaders that they highlighted, only three were people of color (Jay-Z, Derek Jeter, and Junot Diaz), two weren’t even human (Spider-Man and the MetroCard), and the other 35 were white.

Right after reading the issue, I and probably hundreds of other readers wrote letters to TONY to call them out on their list’s glaring lack of diversity as it tried to represent one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. In my letter I said, “Rather than reminding us that white people are still in power, you could have been a little more creative with this list.” And I proceeded to list several people I would have liked to see on the list: Rosario Dawson, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jean Grae, David Paterson, Chang-Rae Lee, Rosie Perez, Majora Carter, Rosie Mendez, etc.

They must have gotten quite a number of these letters, because a week later they had posted a piece online called “Where are all the people of color?” In the article, a TONY editor basically continued to defend and justify the lack of diversity in the list, and sparked even more angry comments from readers. The response piece, in some ways, was even more appalling than the original list because it showed no sign of regret and stated even more clearly (in case we didn’t get the point the first time) that they believed that New York’s “cultural elite” was made up of mostly white people.

Continue reading