Sunday, September 13, 2015

Damn, Get Over Vanessa Williams and the Nude Photos

Leave my girl Vanessa Williams alone!
This photo was taken around 2007.

I am so TIRED of people bringing up Vanessa Williams and her nude photos from back in the ‘80s.  The woman is a great actress, has a beautiful voice and is gorgeous beyond words. That all should supersede sexy pictures, but people like to stay stuck on the negative. She didn’t kill anyone. She didn’t start a war or boil kittens. She took naked pictures. It’s time to get over it.    

I’ve been a Vanessa Williams film since I was a little kid.  The girly-girl in me loved watching pageants as a child. I remember being so excited that a black woman finally won the Miss America crown in 1983. Many African-Americans were proud. My mother kept the Ebony issue with Vanessa Williams on the cover, wearing her crown and sash, on our coffee table.  At four years old, I was too young to remember how Vanessa Williams competed in the pageant. I admired her for beauty and poise.

When news broke that Penthouse had nude photos, black people were so disappointed. Miss America represented this idea of wholesome womanhood and America’s sweetheart. The photos pushed Vanessa Williams into the nasty girl category. Apparently, a contestant expressing she’s a sexual being isn’t Miss America-like, but rating women as they strut the pageant’s stage in bathing suits is acceptable.

Less than a year of becoming the first black Miss America, she made history again becoming the first Miss America to give up her crown. Again I was too young understand, but I knew why she stepped down. Looking back, that was probably my first lesson in slut-shaming.

A few years ago I finally saw the photos of Vanessa Williams online. Yes, they were very erotic. I like erotic art and thought she looked amazing. However, I understand why those photos with that level of heat became such a big deal back in the conservative ‘80s. But you know what, I don’t give a shit about the photos. So what?! She took those photos 30+ years ago and never gave the photographer consent to publish them. Penthouse reportedly paid morefor her photos, then any others during that time. I think she was only 19 or 20 when she posed. Who hasn’t done something wild in their youth? Vanessa Williams is in her 53. Can you imagine people constantly bringing up choices you made back in your late teens, early 20’s?  The people judging her probably have done/are doing all kind of wild, kinky, freaky, nasty even illegal things on the low.

I’m addressing this issue because Vanessa Williams will be judging the Miss America pageant this Sunday. It is rumored that officials will re-crown her. However some from the Miss America committee feel she should apologize as well. To that I say, “Hell naw.”

Vanessa Williams doesn’t owe anyone an apology. She’s actually doing Miss America a favor by appearing on the show since their ratings are so low. Vanessa Williams is probably the most successful woman to wear the Miss America title. She could have let that awful scandal ruin her, instead she kicked ass in her career. And she kicked ass on many levels in the entertainment industry. Not too many people in show biz have done TV, film, music, Broadway, books, dance, and been the voice of an M & M--all successfully. Her Christmas albums are some of my favorites. The only thing shameful regarding Vanessa Williams is that with all of her amazing talent, it’s ridiculous she hasn’t won a Grammy or Emmy.  

When I hear Vanessa Williams what comes to mind are her roles in Ugly Betty, A Diva’s Christmas Carol and Soul Food. I think of opening Christmas gifts while her holiday CDs played in the background. I think of songs like Save the Best for Last and Love Is, her 90210 soundtrack duet with Brian McKnight. It’s still one of my favorite songs today. I think of having the pleasure of meeting her.

Vanessa Williams is more than her sexuality and her body. By rising above the scandal and slut-shaming she also proved that she’s more than a pageant queen. Her resilience is admirable. She has strength and courage to overcome the past and keep moving, even though journalists and TV hosts continue to bring it up today. It’s been over 30 years. How many more ways can she answer the question about the photos?!

We get it. 

 She posed.

She’s still amazing.

Move on!

Damn.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Laughs and Real Talk on Race, Bordertown and Disney with
Lalo Alcaraz


Lalo Alacraz speaking to the Oakland audience
at Sole Space. They sell shoes and open their
space to nonprofits to host events. 
Can you imagine being offered a gig by the producers of Family Guy? Can you imagine getting a call from Disney’s Pixar for a gig too? Political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, creator of the national syndicated comic strip La Cucaracha, will be contributing his talents to these mega hitters in animation.

He’s writing for the FOX series Bordertown, a funny and edgy cartoon that takes on immigration. In the fictional town Mexifornia, white border agent Bud Buckwald is struggling with the change of racial demographics in the United States.  By 2020 a majority of children in the U.S.will be children of color. Eventually whites will no longer be the majority.

“The Mexican has become the man and I’ve become the Mexican,” said Buckwald in the pilot screening I watched in Downtown Oakland. Buckwald was comparing himself to his neighbor Ernesto Gonzalez, a successful landscaper and Mexican immigrant.




I interviewed Lalo Alcaraz for my podcast when he came to Oakland to screen Bordertown. We talked about the FOX series, race, Black Twitter and police brutality. I love the piece he made in reaction to the assault of Texas teen Dajerria Becton, by police at
a pool party while she was in a bikini. Of course we spoke on the backlash he received when it was announced that he was working for Disney Pixar on the film Coco, about the beautiful Mexican holiday that honors the deceased called Diá de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.  The backlash was due to Alcaraz being heavily critical of Disney in the past.

I had too much fun in this interview. Lalo and I were cutting up. I hope you enjoy it! Listen below! 

Shout out to Sole Space in Oakland for housing the event. Please support them. They provide a free space to nonprofits to host events.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters: The Play About Young Black Womanhood I've Been Waiting For

Echo Brown is star of the PHENOMENAL
one-woman show Black Virgins Are Not
For Hipsters.
Photo: Alexis Keenan


Check out Cocoa Fly's Black Women and Sexual Empowerment Series. Follow on social media at #BlackWomenSexuality.

Updated 6/2016

I love being a Black woman. And there’s so much to being a Black woman — our loving, our struggles and triumphs, our beauty, our spirit. We’re often misrepresented and underrepresented in mainstream media. That is why I’m constantly looking for art and media by Black women that tell our stories. Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters is the play I’ve been waiting for. In her one-woman show, actress and writer Echo Brown, 31, powerfully shares her personal experience of love, sexuality, interracial dating, abuse, race and so much more. She covers the complexities of young, Black womanhood through a heartfelt blend of humor, drama and a surprising Beyoncé dance tutorial. I laughed. I cried. I danced. I left her show saying, “Damn that was deep.”

Even Alice Walker gave Brown her blessings. “What I can say is that not since early Whoopi Goldberg and early and late Anna Deavere Smith have I been so moved by a performer’s narrative,” Walker wrote on her website.

Brown’s solo show often sells out. I’m amazed this is the first show she has ever written. She said she had no acting experience prior to this production.

Brown, a Cleveland native, plays a 23-year-old version of herself. She moves to New York City after graduating from Dartmouth. Then she lands a job investigating allegations of misconduct by NYPD officers. Brown is also a virgin looking for love. She finds it on Craigslist where she meets Ryan — a cute, white hipster from Portland, living in Brooklyn. The play begins on the night she’s anticipating having sex for the first time. As she prepares for Ryan’s arrival to her apartment, she reminisces on her past experiences in life that brought her to this point.

Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters recently ended its run at the Bay Area’s Marsh Theater. This summer she’s performing the show overseas in Ireland and Germany. The play hits Oakland and the University of Chicago this fall. On top of this she is writing a book, launching a Youtube channel, and looking to perform in other venues and colleges around the country.

I spoke with Brown who lives in Oakland. We discussed her life and the issues she raises in the play.

JD: Is this based on your life?

EB: All of the events happened. How it’s put together is the art of it.

JD:. What inspired you to write the show?

EB: I just moved here from New York and had such a hard time dating out here. It’s unbelievable to me. I’ve been out here for four years and maybe dated like two or three people. I thought I was going to write this cute show about dating, then all of this trauma emerged. That’s what I needed to write and I didn’t stop.


JD: Why is a young, attractive Black woman and Dartmouth graduate a virgin at 23?

JD and EB: [Laughter]



EB: Story of my life. f you have been so conditioned with ideas, as I was, that you are unattractive because you’re too dark and you look African-- and if you receive those messages from multiple sources like people in your family, your community and the media, then you grow up with a really low self-esteem. Which is what I had and what I still struggle with. I closed myself down entirely, and was only able to come out of that when I was 23.

JD: What changed at 23?

EB: First of all, I needed to get some action. Getting no action will make you crazy.

JD and EB: [Laughter]

JD: Yes it will!

EB: Who knows when the [personal] work that you do actually blossoms. I remember the moment. I was walking down the street in New York, and feeling super lonely. And I just had a thought to myself that somebody must want to date me. That thought propelled me to look for this person. It was some kind of internal shift for me.

JD: You talk about hardships black men experience, including your brother and the legal system.

EB: When I got out of college my brother was going to prison for the first time and that was so traumatic for me. It’s not like people just go to prison and do their time. People have connections to families. You send somebody to prison, you’re sending somebody’s son, brother. It’s traumatizing. I’m worried about my brother. I’m trying to do this job. I’m trying to find somebody to love me.

JD: You have compassion for Black men. But you also share your pain of being rejected and abused by Black men. Why was it important to include this in the story?

EB: That was hard for me to put in there because Black men are so crucified in the media. It’s hard when you want to talk about an issue in the community, but you want to be united on all fronts. But it has to be in there because I’m being truthful. The people who have victimized me the most in my life have been black men.

The father that I talk about in the play is my stepfather. My actual father left me and was one of the people that called me ugly. I’ve had systematic abuse from a lot of different Black men and hardly any positive reinforcement. I wanted to balance this out by showing love to my brother, a black man in the play and not have this “Oh this white man saved me [idea].”

JD: What’s your response to someone who thinks you started dating a white guy because of your issues with black men?
EB: When I first went out and started dating on Craigslist I wasn’t looking for a white man. I went on dates with different types of people. I dated a Japanese guy. I dated a guy from Jamaica. it’s not like I set out and said, “Fuck black men, I’m going to find myself a white man.” But what I did set out to do was find somebody who wanted to date me and can see me. That was very important to me.

Ryan just happened to be the first person I came across who met that criteria. He thought I was beautiful. I had never experienced that from any guy pretty much in that way. Beautiful in the way he wanted to hold me and be in a relationship with me, and not just sleep with me. Beautiful in a way that I was valued. Even to this day I’m open to dating black men. But I haven’t had an experience where a lot of black men express interest in me.

JD: That’s deep that you said you wanted somebody who can see you.

EB: Sure, is my trauma around black men something that I have continued to think about and process? Definitely. But it’s like racism. When you are more aware of it, you can work through it and overcome those issues. It’s something I work through everyday.

Photo by Alexis Keenan 

JD: How have you healed?

EB: Healing is not a linear process. Some days I feel like I’m running shit. Other days I feel like I can’t make it in life. Healing just means that you are able to face your past and the things that happened to you with authenticity and acceptance. If we use that as a criteria for healing, then yes I have healed tremendously. I couldn’t have written a show like this five years ago because I had to come to terms with all of the abuse that happened to me.

JD: I can relate to the relationship with your mother and how she discouraged you from dating, but not for the same reasons as your mother. My mother and the mothers of a few of my friends would say, “Just focus on school!” Then you graduate from college and you’ve hardly dated. I know our mothers have been hurt and they don’t want us to be hurt.

EB: My mother was sexually abused, when she was six,, by her stepfather over and over again. It only stopped when she grabbed a knife and told him she would kill him. And this was at the age of six or seven. I think when you go through that kind of trauma it creates this environment where your sexuality is really dangerous. And it’s dangerous because there are so many predators trying to take this thing from you. Which is another reason why women have another level of shit they have to overcome. Imagine if you didn’t have to consider your body all of the time. This takes energy from us. When you’re in an environment of predators, it’s necessary to shut down your sexuality because it’s a matter of survival.

I’m absolutely happy that she did it. She’s probably the main reason I graduated from Dartmouth and I’m so focused. But I have to work to not shut myself down in that way all of the time and to keep staying open to relationships.


JD: Why is it important to tell Black women’s stories?

EB: I think it’s important because you need to be able to see yourself accurately in society. That’s how we as human beings build self-esteem, identity, self-worth. You also get part of that from your family and your community. But you should also get part of that from society. It’s always refreshing to see yourself reflected back.













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