The internet was very good, but also very dramatic this week. Highlights: Mo’Nique, Zora Neale Hurston, Venus and Serena Williams, Ashley Ray dragged Jeremy O. Harris, Joe Rogan isn’t going anywhere, Kamila Valieva and the Olympics, Francis Ford Coppola, flour, winter, and Ye harassing Kim Kardashian.
For over a decade now, comedian Mo’Nique’s story about how she has been blacklisted by Tyler Perry and Oprah has been consistent, including in this interview on Turnt Out with TS Madison, which aired this week.
Mo’Nique starred in Lee Daniels’ 2009 film Precious, winning an Academy Award for her performance. The initial contract for Mo’Nique’s role was between her and Daniels, and it was only for her performance—it did not include any press or award campaigns. After the film’s success at Sundance, Tyler Perry and Oprah came onto the project as executive producers of the film, and both asked her to do press for it without further compensation.
After Mo’Nique initially declined and told both Perry and Oprah why, and according to the actor, they understood her reasoning. However, Perry then tried to coerce Mo’Nique into a press tour, and when she didn’t comply, he began to tell directors and others in Hollywood that she was difficult to work with, even though they never worked together as Perry joined the project after filming wrapped. Oprah stayed silent. Mo’Nique claims this impacted her ability to work on projects.
As other celebrities who know both Mo’Nique and Perry learned about this situation, they tried to talk about it with him, but according to Mo’Nique, he declined. Mo’Nique also revealed that she has a recording of a conversation with Perry in which he admits that he was wrong and said he would talk. The recording has yet to be released, but Madison confirmed that it does exist and that Mo’Nique’s summary of it is accurate. Now, according to Mo’Nique, Perry is demanding that she apologize to both himself and Oprah.
Throughout this interview, Mo’Nique clearly articulates that she denied doing a campaign as she would not have been compensated and she needed to prioritize her family. Furthermore, Mo’Nique contextualizes her experience within a long history of Black women, including Eartha Kitt and Fannie Lou Hamer, who, when they speak up, “it goes unheard until she dies. Then once she dies we go back and say, ‘she was right. Let’s make a movie out of it.”
You Don’t Know Us Negros, a new collection of nonfiction essays by Zora Neale Hurston, was released last month. Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Genevieve West, this is the first book-length collection of the author’s short nonfiction. According to critic Lauren Michele Jackson, it reveals “a Hurston who cannot be easily construed as a champion of race pride, which she once called ‘a luxury I cannot afford.’” Since Alice Walker recovered her work, Hurston’s “name has become synonymous with a certain strain of Afro-Americana.” But “reading these essays requires letting go of the agonizing business of saving Hurston from her politics, as though the writer we credit with knowing so much of her own Negro mind just so happened to forget herself on occasions where the takes haven’t aged as well as we’d prefer.”
Everything about this profile is absolutely stunning. The words by Tressie McMillan Cottom. The photos by Renell Medrano. The styling by Samira Nasr. And, of course, Venus and Serena Williams themselves.
As is common in Cottom’s work, a practice of care, love, and rigor infuses every aspect of this writing. She remembers the Williams sisters during the 1990s as “those girls with the beaded braids and big smiles who acted like someone at home loved them,” noting that “simply by being who they are, their legacies were always going to be about more than tennis.”
The last section of the dual profile is a revelatory discussion of legacy: “Freedom is an integral part of the Williams legacy,” Cottom writes. “It is a privilege that their parents fought hard for them to have. Their first acts have been master classes in freedom: to wear catsuits on the court, to grunt during play, to take time off, to pursue other interests, to come back and win when it suits them. Their freedom drives people mad… People do not like how Venus and Serena win. It is easy to imagine that freedom from the relentless discourse about their attitudes, outfits, and comportment is something they look forward to. The women do not talk much about the critics. They prefer to let the game speak for itself.”
I watched this fight between Ashley Ray and Jeremy O. Harris play out in real-time. After seeing Harris’s twelve-time Tony-nominated Slave Play, Harris shared her thoughts and critiques of the play on Twitter. While I’ve never seen the play, nor has the writer of this article, Ernest Owens (although he has read it), it is “a satire involving rape, mammy costumes, excessive use of the N-word, and abusive visuals, including a Black woman forced to eat cantaloupe off the ground,” and follows “a group of interracial couples participating in ‘Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy’ as a means of resolving the Black partners’ intimacy concerns.”
This is the best analysis of Joe Rogan that I’ve seen to date. Kimberly Nicole Foster of For Harriet breaks down the cultural significance and repercussions of Joe Rogan’s commentary, and why he isn’t going anywhere. After providing many nuances and receipts, Foster concludes that Spotify will never remove him because he makes them too much money. Throughout this video, Foster argues that Spotify, in fact, was betting on Rogan becoming embroiled in a large controversy because it boosts his numbers, thus leading to more money for the platform. As with all of her videos, Foster contextualizes this within the current cultural moment, and she discusses the implications it has on the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories and the differences between online platforms and publishers.
Fifteen-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has been the talk of the Olympics. Initially, it was due to her extreme facility in the sport, but after she tested positive for a banned substance in December, the discourse shifted. However, she was permitted to compete in the Olympics and “finished a surprising fourth” on Thursday.
This controversy had nearly everyone involved playing the blame game (although I’ve yet to see a statement of Valieva herself), and voicing concerns about the stress—and in some cases abuse—of young athletes. American commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir place primary blame on Valieva herself, while others, including the writer Justin Peters, say that blame is not so simple.
It takes a lot to put on the Olympics, and the games “are organized by the IOC, which in turn delegates responsibilities to other organizations: the international sporting federations that coordinate and oversee individual sports around the world; the national Olympic committees that oversee each nation’s entries into the Games; the national sporting federations, such as U.S. Ski & Snowboard, that supervise a sport within national boundaries. The Olympics wouldn’t happen if the IOC didn’t delegate. At the same time, a lack of centralized control makes it easy to pass the buck.”
However, many of these rules only serve “the people who run international sport—a man like Thomas Bach [President of the IOC], who can cite an alphabet soup of international compacts and subsidiary organizations as proof that the Valieva tragedy isn’t his fault. They are served insofar as they get to take credit for the good things about the Olympics while deflecting blame for all of the bad things. The rules allow them to keep pretending that the Olympics can change the world, while insisting that the world cannot change the Olympics.”
As with many people, Peters has been “thinking this week about one of the most glaring cases of American Olympic do-nothingism: the case of Sha’Carri Richardson, the 21-year-old American sprinter who, last June, tested positive for marijuana after winning the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Track and Field Trials in Oregon.” He considers the ways in which she was failed, and how anti-Blackness was also at play with Richardson’s case. As “the influence the U.S. exerts over the Olympics is greater than that of any other country, by an order of magnitude,” America could do better not only in advocating for athletes, but also in taking geopolitical stances—such as actually boycotting these Olympics instead of a “diplomatic” boycott.
In many ways, this was my first introduction to Francis Ford Coppola. I’ve never watched any of his films (the one time I tried I fell asleep), nor is he a person that I’ve researched or read about. This profile by Zach Baron was absolutely resplendent. I was particularly drawn to Coppola’s comments about giving his soul to his work, the importance of making it “as personal as you can because you are a miracle, that you’re even alive. Then your art will be a miracle because it reflects stuff from someone who there is no other one like that,” and his astute observation that “dreams are not long… Dreams don’t have time.”
Coppola discusses his dreams here with an unadulterated focus, is using $100 million of his own money to produce Megalopolis, and asks the question, “Is the society we live in the only one available to us?”
Dayna Evans has spent the past two years on a journey to connect to flour. Evans is a longtime home baker, and “a few months before the pandemic began, a friend sheepishly admitted to me that she didn’t know how flour was made. At the time, even as a dedicated hobbyist baker, I didn’t really either.” Whole grain flour has been evangelized as “better for us in every single way — for our health, for our regional grain economies, for food equity, taste, and more — for decades, and yet all it took was a global pandemic to really start asking what that meant.” Throughout this piece, Evans traces the history of the flour mill back 75,000 years to contemporary commodity flours to the resurgence of local small-batch mills, and the political and economic ramifications of this history.
Winter is my favorite season, and I prefer the snow to heat on any given day. I enjoy the quiet, crisp clarity of winter. “The experience of the cold makes it more difficult than usual to deny the very real connection between the body and the mind,” writes Matt Dinan. “Yet the applications of this insight are strangely literal, as if the actual hardening of water makes the spirit similarly gelid.”
Until reading this, however, I never considered the political and community-building aspects of the season. Sure, when there were big storms where I grew up in Michigan, neighbors helped each other shovel their driveways. But “when you’re forced to deliberate together about a course of action, people uniquely show themselves for who they are: You get to see how people think, how they weigh evidence, how risk averse or heedless they may be… Snow day deliberations are at once a part and microcosm of political life—an edifying mixture of fact and opinion, body and soul, character and institution, experience and youth, and the conflicts that attend when such things meet.”
Since the top of the New Year, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s divorce has escalated, surpassing the normal celebrity messiness. The drama accelerated to harassment “due to West’s increasingly alarming behavior, which stems from his accusations that Kardashian is withholding visitations with their four children from him. ‘I’m just wishing my daughter a public happy birthday,’ the rapper said in a now deleted video on Jan. 15, the day of his daughter Chicago’s birthday party.” This behavior has continued throughout this month, with Ye using his children as pawns. He “has also used his social media presence to target Kardashian’s current partner, comedian and Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson.”
Kardashian has publicly stated how much this behavior has harmed her and her children, and that she has feared for Davidson’s physical safety. Some are speculating that Ye is doing this in anticipation of his new album release, but he is “engaging in full fledged harassment of his estranged wife and the media has failed to contextualize this behavior as something other than typical celebrity tabloid fodder or just West being his usual provocative self.”
While “it should be noted that West is struggling with his own mental health issues … there is no ambiguity to the ongoing harm being committed here: from his releasing private conversations with his ex-wife despite her explicit wish for him not to; to threatening violence on her partner; to engaging in love bombing—a coercive technique in which a person will shower a partner of theirs with affection to later use against them.”
It is almost textbook abusive behavior. Kardashian has a lot of power and wealth, “which leads people to believe that she isn’t in the imminent danger that women of far less fortune are. Be that as it may, the passive and active enabling of West’s behavior sends a signal not only to Kardashian but also victims of this type of harassment, or even more serious abuse, that what they’re experiencing is not to be taken seriously.”
Baltimore news updates from independent & regional media
This week’s news includes: What to know ahead of Artscape weekend, Baltimore's Arts & Culture Advisory Committee, John Waters' Hollywood star, High Zero and Charm City Fringe return, André De Shields honored, Derrick Adams in LA, 2023 Trawick Prize winners, and more.
Baltimore news updates from independent & regional media
This week's news includes: Baltimore's Bishme Cromartie wins Project Runway All Stars, Stevie Walker-Webb is Center Stage's new Artistic Director, the rediscovery of Linda Smith, where to watch John Waters get his Hollywood star, the photography of Amos Badertscher, and more!