The Misunderstood Ghost of James Baldwin

A proliferation of recent essays, films, and books haunted by Baldwin—from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me to Jesmyn Ward’s recent essay collection The Fire This Time—attests not only to his renewed relevance, but also to his particular usefulness for challenging the logic of perpetual trauma. Each moment fundamentally resembles our forefathers’, and historical change amounts to window dressing. But much of the criticism that’s been written been written about this cohort of contemporary black writers illustrates a general tendency to mischaracterize Baldwin’s influence. These bonds always threaten to become chains for Baldwin, and lineage seems coextensive with numbing repetition. Told me I was a human being. The younger James—named, crucially, after his writer uncle rather than his father—must shirk Oedipal logic if he is to slip white supremacy’s grip. For writers like Coates, Ward, and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Baldwin is a specter that elicits an ambivalent mix of veneration and trepidation. If some contemporary black writers are drawn like moths to The Fire Next Time, it’s because they sense something important in this exit from repetition, this call to fashion the black self anew. In “My Dungeon Shook,” the first essay from The Fire Next Time, Baldwin pens a letter to his nephew and namesake James. If we’re just talking literary form, such criticism ignores these texts’ striking aesthetic feats. Coates is not just repurposing an old literary conceit; he’s also employing the skepticism toward lineage that the conceit implies. We might think of these writers as among a school of black nonfiction writers for which Baldwin is a problem as much as an interlocutor, a specter to which they return cyclically—almost compulsively—to both honor and decline. The very act of writing the letter to his son Samori represents a conscious break from the past, or at least an attempt to feel for possibilities beyond it. Toni Morrison—whose classic novel Beloved popularized the notion of a traumatic black history—unambiguously cast Coates as Baldwin’s literary son. Reading this sentence, it’s easy to be reminded of Baldwin’s letter to his nephew. The past should no longer be thought of as an inert, constricting burden, but a malleable resource. But by discussing these texts mostly in terms of how similar they are to Baldwin, or whether or not they’re deserving of Baldwin’s mantle, certain critics have committed the exact mistake that these works struggle to avoid—collapsing distinct historical moments into one. I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and chained me in the next.” This is the threat that Coates strains against throughout this book: not only the threat of being chained to outmoded and myopic assumptions, but also of passing his own wounds on to his son. If the grandfather “was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed what white people said about him,” Baldwin arrives on the scene to teach his namesake that he must craft an identity separate from the caricature—the nigger—that white America has reserved for him. White supremacy might have swapped guises, but its power remains interminable and total. Peck’s decision to have Samuel L. Nothing is new.” For Ward, every aspect of contemporary life has a corollary in the Jim Crow past. It’s no surprise that, in the aftermath of Martin’s death, Ward returns to Baldwin with an eye toward the same cyclical regularity of racist violence. “I wanted you to have your own life, apart from fear—even apart from me,” he tells Samori. With Baldwin as the centerpiece of their inquiry, a generation of black thinkers are contesting this assumption. According to this thesis, black Americans exist in a moment of foundational violence—slavery—that repeats ad infinitum. But rather than erasing distinctions between the past and present, I Am Not Your Negro gestures toward a disjunction between Baldwin’s moment and our own. What does it mean to claim a man who disdains the very notion of descent as a father? This idea challenges a thesis that writers such as Michelle Alexander have made into a commonplace in contemporary analyses of black life: Black people are merely living through endless repetitions of slavery and Jim Crow, which white supremacists massaged into subtler forms of control. Having a life apart from history’s wounds necessarily entails a life apart from the father and his assumptions, and while Samori might take up the fight against white supremacy, his fight will not be Coates’. Jackson narrate the movie, for example, points to an antiphonal ethos: It structures its relationship with Baldwin as a conversation that might produce new knowledge. “I am wounded. Such writings amount to well-written paternity tests concerned with a single, tabloid-worthy question: Who’s the father? Rather than taking that thesis as a given, they interrogate it, forcing us to consider how black people can learn from the past without uncritically accepting our ancestors’ fears, assumptions, and intellectual legacies. We hear Jackson reading Baldwin’s unfinished project, as if Jackson and Peck were helping the dead writer finish a thought he couldn’t quite complete. Coates later returns to Paris, this time with his son in tow. I had the sense, while watching I Am Not Your Negro—based on notes that James Baldwin prepared for an unfinished memoir titled Remember This House—that Peck had borrowed Baldwin’s stance. The letter framing speaks to Coates’ hope that his son’s past will be fertile ground to cultivate, a valuable resource we may tap in order to better perceive our present, carrying forward what is useful and laying down what is not. He stages an encounter between the past and present, an exchange between two voices that produces something new. “I keep seeing your face, which is also the face of your father and my brother,” he writes. “Like him, you are tough, dark, vulnerable, moody … You may be like your grandfather in this, I don’t know, but certainly both you and your father resemble him very much.” From the essay’s beginning, Baldwin weights his language with a sense that the paternal relationship means incessant reiteration. In his entry to Alain Locke’s 1925 The New Negro anthology, Arthur Schomburg described the black American past as a patch of untilled soil that the “Old Negro” had been content to stand upon rather than cultivate. Peck isn’t alone in disputing this theory. I saw Trayvon Martin’s face, and all the words blurred on the page.” On the one hand, Ward’s citation of Baldwin’s enduring prescience becomes a measure of America’s static racial politics. They want to acknowledge the long shadows that slavery and Jim Crow cast on our present without standing in them. Reflecting on his time in Paris (Baldwin’s echo abounds), Coates recalls a “wholly alien” sense that he is finally “far outside of someone else’s dream.” This experience awakens him to a state of flux that he recognizes as life’s defining fact, a fact that he realizes only when he leaves America behind—and begins to glimpse a life that isn’t shot through with the perpetual sense of anxiety, fear, and anger that white supremacy has imparted to him. To write in Baldwin’s wake means to displace the father-teacher in a Whitmanesque act of parricide—not to dutifully shoulder the same historical burdens, but to comprehend one’s own historical moment more clearly. It’s this blurring that informs Ward’s act of writing and her impulse to gather a generation of writers in whom readers might find not fathers, but “a wise aunt [or a] more present mother.” This is an exit from Oedipal logic, a break in the chain, and Ward goes to Baldwin because he allows for this. As Ghansah writes in her contribution to Ward’s collection, “The Weight,” Baldwin left no heirs—only spares, people who might one day take his place. Her litany of substitutions creates a time warp, casting the reader into a perpetual moment of oppression. In her introduction to The Fire This Time, for example, Jesmyn Ward describes the experience of Trayvon Martin’s death as the latest episode of a recurrent nightmare. This is what is missing from the attempts to verify Coates’ status as Baldwin’s heir: The turn to Baldwin is not an act of reverence or restatement of knowledge that Baldwin already gave us. Taking, perhaps, another chance to needle West, Michael Eric Dyson delivered a precise analysis of Coates and Baldwin’s prose styles, concluding that “if Baldwin couldn’t be Baldwin now, he’d more than likely be Coates, or somebody like him.” Meanwhile, Vinson Cunningham marshaled eloquent close readings and a strong command of American literary history to argue that Baldwin and Coates diverge over their investment in religion, with Baldwin playing the committed Christian preacher to Coates’ clear-eyed atheist rapper. Rather than turning Samori into an heir, Coates wants his son to take stock of what has changed between their two historical moments—not because white supremacy has evaporated, but because taking account of change allows one to cast about for the hollows and gaps that black struggle has hacked into white supremacy’s edifice. Rather, it is a practice we always conduct in the present tense, reshaping the past in order to imagine desired futures. He continues to be necessary because the conditions he describes still exist, and his writings become immutable truths. His essays propose a queered definition of reproduction, one loosed from the Oedipal rhythm embedded in the question of lineage. History is the present. Near the end of Raoul Peck’s new documentary I Am Not Your Negro, James Baldwin (via the voice of actor Samuel L. Baldwin’s writing often looks askance at biological family ties, with language that figures generational bonds as a problem, laden as they are with oppressive histories. Perhaps this is why, even as Ward honors Baldwin, his words must recede into the background, blurring on the page as Trayvon Martin’s face takes precedence. Reviewers greeted Between the World and Me, for example, with an Oedipal wave hellbent on adjudicating whether or not Coates is Baldwin’s legitimate heir. The problem here is that Baldwin—a gay man who had no children—is the last writer one should turn to for an answer to that question. Told me I was something in the world. Though Coates knows that he is too close to America’s racist past to ever move beyond the behaviors it has instilled in him, the literary form of the letter becomes a space wherein this interruption in racist violence’s damage might persist—and be passed on to his son in lieu of a traumatic inheritance. It’s certainly intended to disrupt James’ otherwise inevitable inheritance of his forefathers’ passive acceptance of received roles. This is a traumatic model of black history whose hallmark is a deadening, Oedipal regularity. Read all the pieces in the Slate Book Review. In finishing that thought, Peck also allows a new, composite voice to come to the fore. We wouldn’t be wrong, but I suspect that Baldwin intended that statement in the same spirit that moved Schomburg: History is not immutable, a fate to which we must all eventually succumb. The film asks us to ponder what we can know about our contemporary moment when we stop ventriloquizing our ancestors, and begin to speak in our own voices. No matter what particular arguments they were making, they were all operating on the premise that Coates’ formal proximity to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time demands an answer to the question of literary genealogy. His letter is an interruption in this line of descent, a familial relation not premised on the paternal. “Replace ropes with bullets,” she says. Cornel West, contrarian as ever, wrote that Coates is merely a “clever wordsmith with journalistic talent” who doesn’t live up to Baldwin’s revolutionary legacy. These feats enact a tortured ambivalence toward Baldwin that simultaneously instantiates and interrogates the history he represents. The same acknowledgement motivates Coates’ use of the letter conceit in Between the World and Me. He launched his career via literary patricide, turning on forefather Richard Wright in a cold-blooded (and unfair) display of literary bravura, and his oeuvre betrays a singular skepticism at the very idea of familial lineage. But Ward’s fantasy of Baldwin as father throws a bit of a wrinkle into her explicit pessimism. “Hound dogs with German shepherds. Baldwin intervened in the Oedipal cycle because he feared that generational bonds would become mental chains, and Coates has learned the lesson. To think otherwise, as Baldwin might say, would be criminal. Reading The Fire Next Time’s first essay, “My Dungeon Shook,” she finds such solace that she inserts Baldwin into her family tree, literalizing his status as a literary ancestor: “It was as if I sat on my porch steps with a wise father, a kind, present uncle, who … told me I was worthy of love. Titled “The Negro Digs Up His Past,” Schomburg’s essay argued that black America’s arrival as a modern people—and a new generation’s decisive break from the stereotypes associated with its forefathers—depended upon a new relationship to the past. The past and present are drawn into such a claustrophobic embrace that it seems pointless to draw distinctions between the two. We carry our history with us. Baldwin insinuates that there’s a queer aspect to the very act of writing, a self-fashioning that cuts against history’s necessities. To think otherwise is criminal.” Speaking as he does through Jackson, we might think that Baldwin is describing history’s inescapable purchase upon black life. The film interweaves archival footage of the Civil Rights Movement and Baldwin’s television appearances, contemporary images of protests and police violence in Ferguson, and original material into a volatile collage. This ambivalence is an occasion to strain against a traumatic model of history. Jackson) also speaks of the past, intoning that history “is not the past. A gray uniform with a bulletproof vest. Surviving as a black boy in America means shedding your father’s assumptions and taking up the burden of self-fashioning.

Milo Yiannopoulos Will Appear on Real Time With Bill Maher. What Fresh Hell Will it Be?

“Free speech should be something [liberals] own.”
Maher’s vehement opposition to “politically correct” culture will certainly be a main topic of conversation between the two, seeing as it’s something Yiannopoulos has often used to excuse his extremist behavior. The two are very much on opposite ends of the spectrum ideologically, but Maher has proven to have surprising crossover appeal with right-leaning thinkers—most notably, perhaps, with regard to his views on Islam. Bill Maher has booked alt-right favorite Milo Yiannopoulos to appear as the top-of-the-show guest on his HBO series Real Time this Friday, according to Deadline. Real Time With Bill Maher airs live Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. “I’ve been a longtime critic of colleges shutting people up,” Maher said last Friday in relation to the Berkeley protests. The news comes a week after Maher expressed interest in speaking with Yiannopoulos (whose racist provocations had him banned from Twitter last year) after his scheduled appearance at UC-Berkeley was shut down by protesters. Yiannopoulos will not appear on the show’s panel segment—which typically includes a mix of liberals and conservatives—and instead go one-on-one with the show’s aggressively opinionated host. Given his past history of bigoted, inflammatory statements, it could get ugly. No matter what direction their conversation goes Friday, this should provide one of the rare instances where Yiannopoulos will engage with a sharply liberal public figure before a wide, likely unfriendly audience.

Alvin Ailey’s Tribute to Moonlight Captures the Film’s Haunting Beauty Through Dance

On a bare black box stage lit blue, dancers Jamar Roberts, Christopher Taylor, and Jeremy T. Though three different actors embody the character of Chiron in three different periods of his life (tween, teen, and young adult), the spirit and direction of the actors’ performances are so powerful as to feel almost as if they are one. This gorgeous tribute to the Oscar-nominated film perfectly embodies that oneness. As choreographed by Robert Battle, artistic director of New York’s Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and directed by Anna Rose Holmer, who broke out last year with the critically acclaimed indie The Fits, Chiron’s emotional arc is rendered balletic. Villas perform to Nicholas Brittel’s signature score. One of Moonlight’s many cinematic feats lies in its casting.

Disney’s Live-Action Mulan Remake Taps Whale Rider’s Niki Caro to Direct

(Ava DuVernay, director of the upcoming A Wrinkle in Time, is set to be the first.)
Caro’s breakout film was 2002’s Whale Rider, which stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as a Māori girl who defies gender stereotypes to lead her people, while North Country features a woman fighting for equal rights in the workplace. The Reporter also announced that Bill Kong, who has produced notable crossover wuxia films such as Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, has also boarded as executive producer. In light of hiring a non-Asian director, the studio seems eager to assure fans that the film will in fact cast Chinese actors in the lead roles, despite an early spec script that had added a white lead as a love interest for Mulan. Let’s get down to business: Disney’s Mulan remake has finally found its director. Previous reports suggested that Disney was seeking an Asian director and had spoken with Ang Lee (who passed for scheduling reasons) and Jiang Wen about the project. That makes Caro well-suited for a movie like Mulan, which is based on the Chinese folk tale about a woman disguising herself as a man to take her father’s place in the army. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news on Tuesday that the studio has hired New Zealand-based director Niki Caro, whose credits include Whale Rider, North Country, and upcoming drama The Zookeeper’s Wife, to direct the new live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated classic. The announcement, according to the Reporter, makes Caro the second female director ever to helm a (live-action) Disney movie with a budget over $100 million. Mulan is just one of a slew of live-action adaptations of the studio’s most popular animated films, which include Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast, which comes out in March. The Mulan remake, a blend of the original legend and the 1998 animated movie, is scheduled for release in November 2018.

Trevor Noah Reveling in Michael Flynn’s Resignation Is All of Us

In the cycle of the Trump Administration, a delay of even a few hours means you’re bound to be working off of old news. (On Kellyanne Conway’s starkly contradictory Today Show segment, Noah asked, “How does she say that with a straight face?”)
Yet by the time 11:00 p.m. Daily Show host Trevor Noah could barely contain his glee at the irony of it all. Drain the swamp—down the previous levels!” The story was big enough for Noah to spend two segments on it, later transitioning to Republicans’ laughably evasive responses to Flynn’s lies and subsequent departure. “President Trump is a genius, people—he hires a cabinet full of terrible people, fires them one-by-one, looks like he’s a man of action. rolled around, late-night comics were already far behind on the shocking information dumps. It was the latest blow to the Trump Administration, which has seemingly turned terrible decision-making into an art form. The New York Times and CNN broke major news well after Noah’s show-taping that it wasn’t just Flynn talking with the Kremlin—several “high-level officials” of the Trump campaign reportedly engaged in “constant” communication with Russian intelligence officials. Tuesday started off with a bombshell in the political world as Michael Flynn resigned amid swirling scandal, becoming the shortest-serving National Security Advisor in modern American history. Tuesday night’s Daily Show thus provides an illuminating reminder that as these revelations continue to pile up, it’s getting harder and harder—or perhaps a little easier—to make sense of it all. “Donald Trump [is] finally draining the swamp of the people he brought to the swamp,” he quipped.

Rap Is Less Homophobic Than Ever, But It Has a Long Way to Go

I thought all the other kids knew every breath and beat of Lisa Stansfield’s “Been Around the World.” They … did not. It upsets rap’s streetwise hypermasculinity to have a cherubic, eccentric drug dealer turned cosmetologist turned rapper crooning and rhyming his way through songs about drugs and women. My first sense of being “different” arrived at age 6, when I showed up to the first year of grade school months younger than everyone else, quiet and bookish, and picked up slang and mispronunciations I had no practical use for, to keep from coming off as a smart-ass. It’s a request most rappers don’t field in a lifetime, this urge to have him qualify his sexual identity beyond what he presents to listeners on record, and a curiosity borne out of a set of standards for manhood that are unique and, I maintain, injurious to rap. (The only rapper I remember standing up for his gay fans before everyone got suspiciously “woke” was Kanye West. This lines up with early interviews where Makonnen talks about first dabbling in rap during a seven-year house arrest. As off base as they were in their interview, the Migos were right about a few things: The world is fucked up. At one point, the group praises the diversity of the Atlanta rap scene, and the interviewer brings up Makonnen coming out, news the Migos had not been privy to beforehand. Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet includes “Meet the G That Killed Me,” which, in under a minute, posits gay sex as a slippery slope toward intravenous drug use and AIDS. Every few months I’m reminded that my old dream of normalcy, or at least persecution-free eccentricity, is a lie. The urge to be more like the other boys would drive me through a string of feigned interests—I still keep tabs on the exploits of players for sports teams I don’t care about in the slightest—that never quite seemed to fit. Travis Scott called a hometown audience “a bunch of queers” for being too quiet at a show and explained that he was just “a li’l turnt up.” The Migos quickly issued a sizable note of apology after the Rolling Stone flap—“We are all fans of Makonnens music and we wish he didn’t feel like he ever had to hide himself”—leaving the dart about Makonnen’s sexuality undermining his credibility, the very remark they’re in hot water for, unchallenged. You never feel weird as a child. “A lot of times, we hear a dude going to cosmetology school, we think … he’s gay,” Hot 97 morning-show host Ebro Darden ineloquently remarked in an early interview. They are clinging to flawed hegemony because the alternative—twisting out in the wilds all alone—is a fate far more frightening than dancing with the devil they know. True to form, 50 snapped back with gay jokes about him too.)
The party line among the present generation of rap fans is that we’re a more accepting community now, but I think we’ve been lulled into the illusion of progress we haven’t quite made yet. It’s public record. (This mindset is not specific to rap; it also rears its head in a dozen guitar-based music scenes, although hip-hop shoulders more of the burden for being more pridefully brutal about it on record.) Old-fashioned homophobia provided easy targets even our most righteous minds had a go at: A Tribe Called Quest’s vile anti-gay track “Georgie Porgie” narrowly missed inclusion on the classic Low End Theory. Eventually, we meet him as a surly adult with a short temper and gold grills, and he explains the transformation to a childhood friend with a simple, “I built myself hard.” It wrecked my week. I did this too! The answer is that rap is better about homophobia than ever before, but still a long way from great. The same community buzzed for years with speculation about Atlanta rapper Young Thug’s sexuality—even though he’s a father of six with a fiancée who has been the subject of more than a few songs—because of his peculiar slang and flamboyant fashion sense. They are protecting something by attacking something else. This stuff shouldn’t be up for review. I got by on trash talk and fistfights, as one did in those cagey Dinkins and Giuliani years, and the notion that soldiering through the end of high school with my own tribe of weirdos would get me to a point where it didn’t matter what the masculine norms were, or at least keep toxic ideas about manhood out of my line of vision. Many fans have welcomed Makonnen coming out … while refusing to believe a gay cosmetologist could sell drugs. The feeling never left. This article originally appeared in Vulture. The rapper-singer beat a murder rap in 2008, after a tussle with a loaded gun in a younger friend’s car accidentally left the young man shot dead. Clayton News Daily, acommunity paper in Jonesboro, Georgia, covered the case, and a few stories made it online. They don’t catch the irony of weaponizing a culture created by young people who America left behind against another group still struggling for acceptance. Rap blogs ran both items as news, giving voice to hate speech best left to wilt unnoticed, while the question of whether the community is still homophobic in the 2010s surfaces year after year, as if the need to keep asking it doesn’t prove a lack of resolution. I punched my way out of whatever scraps I didn’t joke my way out of, lashing out through elementary and middle school and landing a short career as a self-hating high-school bully. Moonlight made me realize how much I’d let other people’s opinions alter the very fabric of who I am, and how little was won for the effort. I thought everyone obsessed over Prince’s, Janet Jackson’s, and Bobby Brown’s outfits and dance moves. (Thug continues to be lauded as a keen mind on gender fluidity, but I swear he’s just having a puckish good time with the press.) Just a week ago, Memphis rapper Young Dolph sent hometown heavyweight Yo Gotti a diss track called “Play Wit Yo Bitch,” whose biggest takeaway seemed to be that Gotti can’t be gangster because he argued with a lesbian once. Makonnen should never have had to hide who he is. They don’t see how this puts masculinity in a box. It’s work. When J. Atlanta rapper iLoveMakonnen came out as gay late last month in a series of tweets that fought back years of speculation about his sexual orientation in the press and elsewhere. Cole uses “faggot” three times in a song, he says he did it to “spawn better conversations” about homophobia in hip-hop. The same thoughts have been rattling around my own head ever since I finally caught Barry Jenkins’s brilliant Moonlight last month. This week, a picture of a young man performing fellatio blew up on Twitter among rap fans falsely purporting it to be Chicago rapper G Herbo. After the movie, I didn’t know what else to do but hang out in the dark with my old Janet and Bobby favorites, mourning the weird, sweet kid I couldn’t allow myself to be. The overwhelming fan response to Makonnen’s revelation has struck the same balance of acceptance and brutish prejudgment. Artists accept your patronage, but twist the knife by peppering music with insults and slurs, and interviews with attempts to create distance from hate and discrimination even as they flirt with the very linguistics of the stuff. An industry witch hunt for closeted mainstream rappers would last as long as the mid-2000s, but the tone and texture of homophobia in the business began to change as record sales dwindled, and with the rise of lucrative endorsement deals that laid A-list rappers’ millions at the whim of corporations sensitive to the slightest hint of consumer backlash. If your manhood was all you had, the worst thing you could paint anyone else out to be was something less than virile, less than strong. Rap masculinity is equal parts machismo and tower defense; it has to be. The story of Chiron, a quirky but perceptive little boy who struggles to come to grips with his sexuality as his schoolmates give him hell for it, felt like rolling back footage of my own awkward childhood. Rolling Stone recently ran a lengthy profile on the Migos, Atlanta rap peers of Makonnen’s and guests on his triumphant “Whip It (Remix),” following the trio through a hectic January studio day. They swear they knew he was gay all along because they buy into the idea that certain styles of dress, speech, and movement; certain interests; and certain professions differentiate straight men from gay and bisexual ones. I’m trying to get back to that. This line of thinking is unfortunate and unsurprising, but above all, goofy, since Makonnen’s record was once a point of terrible controversy in his home state. To be a rap fan that identifies as anything other than male and straight is to wade against a current pushing back at your very being, to be constantly driven by your heart to decisions your mind ought to reject. See also: Migos Finds Its Purpose on Culture Quavo suggests that it’s a knock against his credibility to come out as gay after blowing up behind trap anthems like “I Don’t Sell Molly No More” and “Look at Wrist,” echoing a cruder wing of the response to Makonnen’s announcement that posited him as a liar and a fake, since he simply can’t have been a gay criminal. I was a weird kid growing up—or so I was told. It’s true that Frank Ocean was welcomed with open arms when he came out, and Brooklyn rapper Young M.A.’s summer 2016 smash “OOOUUU” soared with boasts about sex with other women, but there’s still room for growth. It rose up from burned-out, bombed-out 1970s New York City, where young Black and Latin men denied opportunities and even simple infrastructure rerouted their pride through ostentatious dress and braggadocio. They don’t get that this is bigotry. The culture of hip-hop is a haven for castaways. Suddenly, 50 Cent, who famously told Playboy, “I don’t like gay people around me, because I’m not comfortable with what their thoughts are,” is a supporter of same-sex marriage; and T.I., who snarked, “If you can take a dick, you can take a joke,” after Tracy Morgan was blasted for a stand-up bit about stabbing a fictional gay son to death in 2011, changed his tune, too.

This Is Us Is TV’s Biggest New Hit. Sterling K. Brown Makes It Human.

This Is Us has a pattern of presenting comfortingly recognizable conflicts before complicating and subverting them, but there’s still the sheen of engineered melodrama, that sense of the gears churning behind the scenes. The show stitches together resonant insights into weight-loss struggles, commitment issues, and class inequality, in addition to racial tensions. That’s what makes Brown’s presence so valuable: His textured portrayal seeps into the other characters’ scenes as well, extending Randall’s hard-earned authenticity to the rest of the show. In the broader context of This Is Us, this is merely one storyline among many. O.J. Once again, he’s not only stealing scenes with a strikingly layered performance, but emerging as the key to its success. and This Is Us, Brown plays characters negotiating their racial identities in predominantly white environments, but where the former is realistic and mostly confined to the public sphere, the latter is a heavy-handed domestic drama, taking moments of devastation and uplift to equal emotional extremes. O.J. This Is Us is built around the history of the Pearson family, jumping between time periods as it follows Randall (Brown), his adopted twin white siblings Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley), and their parents, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). The subsequent reveal that Jack died while Randall was just a teenager gives new dimension to Brown’s initial performance—revealing it as a searing and tender reminder of grief’s long, dark shadow. The challenges Randall faces are, on paper, more obvious than Chris Darden’s: the betrayal of a mother, the stresses of work-life balance, the return of an estranged parent. As an adult, Randall is ostensibly living the American Dream, residing in a wealthy, mostly white suburb with his wife and two daughters, but his relatively stable existence is marked by an emotionally messy past. In scenes with Rebecca—Randall’s adoptive mother, whom he learns secretly kept William out of his life—Brown forcefully unveils the character’s buried resentment; it gets to the point where a make-up scene between them feels less like the magical healing fix it’s written as than well-intentioned patchwork for a very deep wound. A tearjerker fueled by smartly timed narrative twists, it’s vastly dissimilar in intent and execution from People v. As a prime-time broadcast drama, This Is Us doesn’t have the artistic latitude of a prestige cable miniseries; while creator Dan Fogelman skillfully plays with the requirements and restrictions of network TV, they’re an unavoidable influence on the finished product. His character arc jumpstarts with the unexpected arrival of his dying birth father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), which forces a painful but worthwhile reexamination of his life choices and familial relationships. Last year, Slate’s Aisha Harris hailed Sterling K. Brown elevates This Is Us above being a timely escapist weepy, lifting it towards something more ambiguous, realistic, and thought-provoking. O.J., but Brown’s value to the new show is no less immense. Brown’s performance as Christopher Darden on The People v. When Randall learns that his birth father is bisexual, Brown silently conveys nearly a dozen emotions in a few takes, even as the script limits his reaction to explicit, digestible surprise. Simpson: American Crime Story for its powerful embodiment of the “double consciousness” involved in being a black man prosecuting one of black America’s greatest heroes. The ingenuity of Brown’s work is how he transcends any and all constraints, taking a simple, neatly delinated scene and muddling it with a stare or a stutter. Brown is now a regular cast member on NBC’s runaway hit drama This Is Us. We watch him grow up without knowing his birth father, and as part of a family who, whatever their intentions, can’t fully relate to his experiences as a person of color. He makes it human. In both The People v. Yet despite the gifts of the other cast members—especially Chrissy Metz, who’s outstanding when not saddled with exploitative material—it’s Brown who imbues This Is Us’ saccharine family portrait with the depth and nuance it’s otherwise lacking. Like the show, Randall is defined by his complex conception of family. Ryan Murphy’s anthology series boasted bigger names and flashier performances, but Brown’s portrayal was essential for the way he, through Darden, so fiercely and carefully complicated the dichotomous nature of the series’ conflict. In the show’s Thanksgiving episode, Brown plays Randall’s obsessive maintaining of his adoptive father’s holiday traditions with an intensity that veers between endearing and troubled.

Conan Looks Into the La La Land Subplot No One’s Talking About: The Cursed Fedora

In retrospect, it’s strange that La La Land’s brief excursion into Trilogy of Terror territory hasn’t gotten more attention. Conan’s best defense against La La Land fanatics is simultaneously his best offense: At least someone’s trying to flesh out the black characters! La La Land turned out to be a surprisingly polarizing film for what is ostensibly a sweet, good-natured homage to classic musicals. Fortunately, Conan went where no other commenters dared, taking a look at the film’s most problematic scene and its bloody aftermath. But, as Saturday Night Live astutely pointed out weeks ago, criticizing La La Land is a fast ticket to a run-in with the taste police. But while the film has drawn praise for its references to Old Hollywood and opprobrium for its clichéd treatment of jazz, there’s one aspect no one has been brave enough to address: the cursed fedora Ryan Gosling pawns off on a hapless black couple on the Hermosa Beach pier.

Philip Pullman’s Follow-Up to His Dark Materials Is Finally Coming Out

The new series will focus on Lyra Belacqua, half of the duo at the center of the original books (and New Line Cinema’s not-very-successful film of the first book, The Golden Compass). Philip Pullman, the author of His Dark Materials, the (excellent) kids’ fantasy trilogy about overthrowing God and organized religion—really!—is finally releasing a follow-up: a forthcoming trilogy called The Book of Dust, Random House Children’s Books said today. The first thing to say is that Lyra is at the center of the story. Events involving her open the first chapter, and will close the last. Martin). Pullman is being close-lipped with the details, but said he thought of The Book of Dust as neither a sequel nor a prequel, but an “equel.” Here’s what he had to say about the story:

What can I tell you about it? As for the third and final part, my lips are sealed. I’ve always wanted to tell the story of how Lyra came to be living at Jordan College, and in thinking about it I discovered a long story that began when she was a baby and will end when she’s grown up. Slate’s Katy Waldman tried to get further details from Pullman in this great 2015 interview, to no avail. This volume and the next will cover two parts of Lyra’s life: starting at the beginning of her story and returning to her twenty years later. The engine of the plot, according to Pullman, will be a struggle over dust, a mysterious substance featured in the first series, and what Pullman describes as “the struggle between a despotic and totalitarian organization that wants to stifle speculation and inquiry, and those who believe thought and speech should be free.” In other words, it sounds like Pullman’s cooked up an extended allegory about Milo Yiannopoulis getting banned from Twitter, and frankly, we are here for it. Pullman announced he had begun work on The Book of Dust more than a decade ago, so this is great news for his fans (and a valuable example of an author actually finishing a book for George R.R. The first book, whose title has not yet been announced, will be released on October 19, and is available for pre-order now.