Daily Dose: 8/16/17 Another day, another statue downed

On The Dan Le Batard Show on Wednesday, we tried to have some fun after a very sobering day in America. Pablo Torre joined the show, and we talked about fried chicken, MLS and Filipino baseball players. Take a listen.

The United States is different today. There’s no way to describe the hardened disappointment that nearly everyone in the country feels after President Donald Trump took to a podium to defend neo-Nazis and white supremacists after a speech that was supposed to be about infrastructure. You don’t need to take a political side to be appalled by that. As a result, people all over the place are bailing out of various links to the administration. There are not two sides, unless you’re legitimately going to call yourself a Nazi sympathizer.

Speaking of presidents, Barack Obama remains as popular as ever. While all this other nonsense and violence overtakes parts of our nation, 44 tweeted a picture of him talking to babies in a window. For one, the photograph is adorable on every level. Secondly, the caption is even better. It’s currently got more than 1 million retweets and 3.5 million likes. You gotta know that this drives Trump crazy, even though he should probably be concerned with more important things. Behold the most famous tweet ever.

Baltimore is about that action. Instead of waiting for a situation like the one in Durham, North Carolina, in which protesters toppled a Confederate monument on their own, Baltimore handled it discreetly. Under the cloak of night, the city removed four more. Of course, people started in with jokes about how the situation mirrored that of the Baltimore Colts, famous for leaving town overnight in 1984. Those jokes aren’t funny. Statues that salute white supremacy and football teams ain’t even close to the same thing.

I don’t normally turn to the NFL for progressive thinking. But the way the league has handled the Ezekiel Elliott situation has been rather forward-thinking, if only because of the fact that the basic concept of believing women when it comes to accusations against athletes is not something we normally see. And now that the National Football League Players Association is appealing the Dallas Cowboys running back’s suspension, the league has responded rather forcefully, issuing a statement pointing out that victim-blaming and shaming is not the move, at all. Good for them. Here’s the rebuttal.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Kicks magazine is doing the Lord’s work. The publication about sneakers recently put out an edition featuring the Top 20 basketball shoes of all time, and I have no idea how they managed to whittle this thing down. But they’ve also got 20 different covers, which is tremendous.

Snack Time: You know what happens when you antagonize people at a rally inspired by hate groups? Well, people don’t like you, because that’s not OK. And that antagonism can come back to haunt you, big time.

Dessert: This is guaranteed to make your day.

‘Whose Streets?’ pushes back on what we think we know about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri New documentary is a potent combination of social and media criticism

Deep into Whose Streets?, the new documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, there’s footage of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, giving an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you,” Wilson tells him. At the screening I attended, there was an audible mix of gasps and laughter from the audience.

Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis spent much of the film’s run time up to that point establishing just how much racism lurked within the Ferguson Police Department and the city government. A 2015 report from the Justice Department established that Ferguson provided about as clear an illustration of institutionalized racism as could possibly exist: The city not only targeted black residents for tickets and arrests they couldn’t afford, it was also using the revenue from such stops to fund the nearly all-white police force. The court clerk, police captain and police sergeant were all implicated in sending and receiving racist emails, including one that compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.

Protester Brittany Ferrell hoists a bullhorn as her daughter hugs her in a scene from ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

And yet here was Wilson telling a national television audience that racism was anathema to policing.

Whose Streets? arrives in theaters Aug. 11, marking the third anniversary of Brown’s death (Aug. 9, 2014) and the uprisings that followed it. It’s a deeply moving work, and the passion of both the filmmakers and their subjects is palpable. “FYI I was literally homeless throughout the first year of production. Worked as a canvasser and put money back into the film,” Folayan, an activist, theater geek and former advocate for prisoners at Rikers Island, tweeted recently. Davis is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is currently featured in the permanent collection at the Blacksonian (aka, the National Museum of African American History and Culture).

The focus of Whose Streets? is the residents of Ferguson and St. Louis who keep marching and screaming for justice till they’re hoarse, who keep agitating long after the national media has turned its attention elsewhere. It establishes the movement for black lives in Ferguson as one driven by young people such as rapper Tef Poe, who are fed up with being targeted by police, and others like organizer Brittany Ferrell and her partner, Alexis Templeton, as well as Copwatch recruiter David Whitt, who want better for their children.

Whose Streets? is likely to serve as a counterweight to Detroit, the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the 1967 Detroit riots and the police murder of three unarmed black people at the Algiers Hotel. It’s not necessarily fair to compare narrative films like Detroit to documentaries, but there’s a similarity in the dynamic between the two that existed with Nina and What Happened, Miss Simone? Both Whose Streets? and What Happened, Miss Simone? end up correcting, or at least augmenting, the record of ahistorical narrative films that struggle with details in which race is central.

Nina made the mistake of casting Zoe Saldana as Simone, then putting her in makeup to darken her skin and prosthetics to make her facial features more closely resemble Simone’s. Detroit fails to imbue its characters with any depth or humanity and devolves into a slog of racist white police officers terrorizing a group of people in the Algiers.

Bigelow’s herky-jerky camerawork and editing in Detroit deliberately create a sense of chaos. Whose Streets?, by contrast, presents real footage of Ferguson buildings in flames after Brown’s death, but the overall effect is far more nuanced. It’s much easier to get a sense of what happened in Ferguson as pockets of violence and property damage pockmarked peaceful, if emotional, protests. Whose Streets? refuses to equate property damage with the loss of human life.

Folayan and Davis offer a potent work of media criticism too. Folayan and Davis communicate just how much cable news, by repeatedly and selectively broadcasting the most violent, hectic footage, was responsible for making Ferguson seem like a war zone whose residents were animalistic and out of control. That narrative was furthered by a distant, largely white media corps accepting police reports as gospel. Whose Streets? challenges that by juxtaposing footage of Ferrell and her cohorts protesting to shut down a highway in Missouri with the official police account of what happened, in which the arresting officer accused Ferrell of yelling out “tribal chants.”

For a moment, we also see what it means to send black journalists into a situation like Ferguson, where police in tanks and armored vehicles are shooting rubber bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas (a chemical agent that the Geneva Convention prohibits in warfare) at the city’s black residents. There’s a clip of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs walking through Ferguson at night with his hands above his head as police bark orders at black protesters. The police draw no distinction. He’s black, so he might as well be one of them.

Brittany Ferrell leads a line of protesters as they face off with police in ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film gives voice to a community that’s reeling, mournful and frustrated. It has little faith in a government that’s failed it repeatedly. Spliced with footage of white public officials delivering statements that are often canned and worded to avoid legal liability, Whose Streets? brings the idea of two Americas, and two wholly different realities, to life. “Question normal,” it demands of its audience.

Despite the gravity of its subject matter, Whose Streets? has moments of dark levity. One interview follows a clip of President Obama giving a statement about Brown in his trademark style of measured reason.

“I’m waiting on me to have a black president. I still ain’t had me one,” a Ferguson resident named Tory says. “Wasn’t he a constitutional professor? Ain’t no constitution in Ferguson. Tell that n—- he need to teach a new class or bring his a– to Ferguson … and figure out why we ain’t got no constitution.”

Whose Streets? is understandably close in spirit to The Hate U Give, the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas published earlier this year. The Hate U Give is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who is the sole witness as her unarmed best friend is shot and killed by a white police officer. The book, which is heavily influenced by Ferguson, is slated for a film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby and Lamar Johnson. It’s early days yet, but I suspect that the film version of The Hate U Give and Whose Streets? will serve as cinematic bookends to understanding what black people went through in Ferguson before and after Brown’s death.

The documentary ends on a hopeful note, but no one in Whose Streets? is a Pollyanna, least of all Ferrell. She’s open about the fact that she’s taking prescription medication to treat anxiety and says she’s not sure the justice she and her partner are seeking will come in their lifetimes. They’re counting on another generation of troublemakers and revolutionaries to carry on. They’re raising one in their elementary-school-aged daughter McKenzie, seen in the film with her mothers leading a crowd and screaming as loud as she can, “WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!”

Allen Iverson suspended one game for missing a game and other news of the week The Week That Was July 31-Aug. 4

Monday 07.31.17

New York Jets safety Jamal Adams, drafted to a team that went 5-11 last season, told an audience “if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field.” Teammate Morris Claiborne, not to be outdone, said he too would “die out there on that football field.” Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, on the other hand, “ain’t dying for this s—.” The Baltimore Ravens signed another quarterback who is not Colin Kaepernick. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, trying so hard to encourage star forward LeBron James stay with the team, was approved to build a jail complex in Detroit. President Donald Trump tweeted “No WH chaos.” Six hours later, recently hired White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who is not dead, lost his job. Multiple White House officials, or “the best people,” were tricked into responding to emails from a British prankster. Twelve inmates broke out of an Alabama prison using peanut butter. University of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for making YouTube videos.

Tuesday 08.01.17

Guests at a New York City hotel won’t stop having sex up against their room windows; “Guys are together, girls and girls are together. They don’t even pull the shades down,” one resident said. A congressional staffer instructed a group of interns to not leak a meeting with White House adviser Jared Kushner; it was immediately leaked. Hall of Fame basketball player Michael Jordan said eccentric helicopter dad LaVar Ball couldn’t “beat me if I was one-legged.” Ball, keeping his name in the news, said Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski “can’t hang with me back in my heyday.” “Marijuana moms” is a cute new name for mothers who like to smoke weed; meanwhile, the government still wants to arrest certain people for marijuana use. NASA is hiring a person to protect Earth from aliens. Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said Kaepernick, who hasn’t publicly spoken in months, should not talk openly about his social activism if he wants another job. Recently retired NBA player Kobe Bryant is getting thick. Two planes designated to be the new Air Force 1 were originally scheduled to be sold to a Russian airline. Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, known for hits like “I want to f—ing kill all the leakers,” invested almost half a million into an anti-bullying musical. Trump called the White House “a real dump.”

Wednesday 08.02.17

NBA Hall of Famer and BIG3 player-coach Allen Iverson, who has played in just half of his team’s games, averaging 9.1 minutes and two points per game, has been suspended one game by the league for missing a recent game. The Ravens are interested in another quarterback not named Kaepernick. Former second overall NBA draft pick Darko Milicic punched a horse in the face. The NFL released a video defining acceptable (simulating sleep) and unacceptable (twerking, pelvic thrusts) celebrations for the upcoming season. California Highway Patrol officers responded to reports of a kangaroo on an interstate highway; it was a raccoon. A 10-year-old boy named Frank, who admires Trump’s “business background,” offered to mow the lawn of the White House … for free.

Thursday 08.03.17

Trump told Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den”; Trump lost New Hampshire. Dukes of Hazzard actor Tom Wopat was arrested for allegedly peeling the sunburned skin off the arm of a woman and putting his finger between the butt cheeks of another woman; in response to the allegations, Wopat responded “F— them all.” A third person was arrested in Kentucky for allegedly digging up the grave of one of the suspect’s grandmother in search of valuables; “He should have known better because he was there in the funeral and he knew she didn’t have much to start with,” a relative said.

In “boy, he about to do it” news, special counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury for his investigation into Russian interference in the last year’s presidential election. A New Jersey man, possibly an eggplant emoji kind of guy, was kicked out of a showing of The Emoji Movie for pleasuring himself in the back row of the theater. A London pub, aptly named the Cock Tavern, banned the use of profanity; a patron responded to the restriction: “That’s bulls—.” The Secret Service, charged with protecting Trump and his family, was evicted from Trump Tower in Manhattan. Gov. Jim Justice (D-West Virginia) will switch to the Republican Party; the state party’s Twitter account said Justice “would be the worst thing to happen to WV” before last year’s election and called him “low-energy” and “Sad!” an hour before news broke of the party change.

Friday 08.04.17

Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who unearthed the Monica Lewinsky affair while investigating former President Bill Clinton for something else, in response to the Russia investigation, said, “we don’t want investigators or prosecutors to go on a fishing expedition.” Former President Barack Obama was blamed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the “culture of leaking” currently ravaging the Trump administration. Los Angeles Clippers coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers, the architect of the Austin Rivers trade, was fired from and kept his job at the same time. Former welterweight champion Amir Khan, playing himself, accused his wife in a series of early morning tweets of cheating on him with heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua; Khan’s wife, Faryal Makhdoom Khan, responded by calling her husband a cheater, a 30-year-old baby, and accused him of sleeping with a prostitute in Dubai. Joshua responded to both set of tweets with a video snippet of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” music video and a message that “I like my women BBW [Big Beautiful Women].”

Daily Dose: 8/4/17 Barack Obama celebrates his 56th birthday

What up, gang? I’m in Los Angeles right now, and Thursday night I went to see the premiere of a show called Comrade Detective from Channing Tatum and it’s funny. Anyway, I’ll be on SportsNation Friday. Tune in, kiddos.

Friday is Barack Obama’s birthday. He’s moving closer to 60, and he’s living his best life. I wonder what he does on his born day. Can you imagine what his notifications and texts are like? You were America’s favorite and one of the most hated president for eight years, now you’re out of office AND you have a summer birthday? His phone is going to be buzzing heavy for a legit 24 hours. It’s also his first birthday since he left the White House, so you KNOW it’s gonna be lit. And because she’s the absolute best, Michelle shared a throwback picture for the ages. I love this family.

One of the difficult things about police work is consequences. Our judicial system is not set up to punish people in positions of authority unless it is a widespread, consistent and documented abuse of power. And even then, it’s not easy. It’s legitimately hard, due to the way things are structured, to fire an officer and keep him out of law enforcement going forward. In fact, after termination, quite a few appeal their cases and make their way back onto the force. Check out this investigation into the numbers and reasons as to why that occurs.

I love Aziz Ansari. There’s just no other way to put it. Between his TV work, his comedy, his book and basically everything else, my man is just dope. Remember when he showed up in the Otis video and people freaked all the way out? That was just another Tuesday for your boy. And this latest interview he did with GQ reveals that he owns a rare painted portrait of Soulja Boy, which is basically the most amazing thing of all time. I love the fact that it’s all really come together for him.

The long fight between Charles Oakley and the New York Knicks is over. A while back, the franchise legend decided he wanted to put hands on the team’s owner, or at least try to, and he ended up getting thrown out of Madison Square Garden by six dudes. Then, owner James Dolan banned him from the arena. So, they ended up in court. Now, Oakley has accepted a deal to not go to the facility for a year, but left open the possibility of civil charges. Fighting a retired man with nothing to lose in court for his dignity is not a winning battle, but good luck, Dolan.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I just want to give a shout-out to my man Joel Anderson, who joins us at ESPN to cover college football and basketball. Joel is a personal friend and a great dude. He also played football at Texas Christian University and is a great Twitter follower. I’m so happy he’s part of the team and I say that with no shame whatsoever.

Snack Time: Nardwuar and D.R.A.M. seem like those two dudes who ended up getting stuck with each other as college roommates and it ended in a beautiful relationship that no one expected. This interview is total gold.

Dessert: Only musicians can make amusement parks seem this fun. Lil Yachty is having a great summer.

 

Esperanza Spalding heads to Harvard a professor and drops new project, ‘Exposure’ The singer will livestream from the studio beginning Sept. 12

The simple words “award-winning” in front of her name don’t do Esperanza Spalding enough justice. The singer, songwriter and bassist is a four-time Grammy Award winner, and she just may be having the coolest, most undefeated week in the world of announcements.

On Monday, Harvard University announced that Spalding joined the faculty of the Department of Music as professor of the practice. According to the press release from Harvard, in her new role she will teach a range of courses in songwriting, arranging, improvisation and performance, bringing her commitment to music and as a voice for social justice. The university defines professors of the practice as individuals “who have a national or international reputation as leaders” and who are “the best in the field.”

The Portland, Oregon, native took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce her new project. For her next album, Exposure, she will spend 77 hours in the studio, beginning on Sept. 12, and will stream the experience live. During the three days, Spalding and her team will fully produce the album in front of web viewers everywhere. None of the songs will be prewritten, and, according to The New York Times, her goal is to finish 10 songs.

Spalding, 32, has five solo albums. She is recognized internationally for her musicality, dazzling live performances and range as a singer and composer. The artist blends jazz, fusion, rock, funk, soul, rhythm and blues, and Brazilian musical traditions and she incorporates her style into theatrical lyrical storytelling.

Spalding gained attention in 2011 when she won Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards. She was the first jazz artist to win the title in the show’s history. But many became familiar with the 2008 Berklee College of Music alumna when she was the laureate-invited singer and bassist at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2009 when President Barack Obama was a recipient.

Her awards include the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist, Boston Music Award for Jazz Artist of the Year, Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts, Soul Train Music Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Artist/Group, Frida Kahlo Award for Innovative Creativity, and ASCAP Foundation Jazz Vanguard Award.

‘True Blood’s’ Nelsan Ellis, dead at 39, was a unique and undeniable talent He made Lafayette Reynolds an important character rarely seen on screen

Hooker, you left way too soon.

I imagine that’s what True Blood’s Lafayette Reynolds would say about the untimely death of Nelsan Ellis, the actor who created him. Ellis, a 2004 Juilliard graduate, died of heart failure at age 39, his manager said Saturday.

On True Blood, which aired on HBO from 2008 to 2014, Ellis brought to life one of the most important depictions of queerness on television, in a series that bubbled with crazy camp improbabilities. His short-order cook who moonlighted as a drug and vampire blood dealer was enticing and bawdy, femme and butch, learned and country AF. He was open and unapologetic about his love of sex and the male form while living in the tiny fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana — the type of place where it’s not necessarily safe to be gay, or black, and certainly not both at the same time.

Nelsan Ellis portraying character, Lafayette Reynolds in the show HBO show “True Blood.”

HBO

As Lafayette, Ellis expanded the country’s collective imagination of what a queer black man could look, sound and act like, starting just months before California passed Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, and years before President Barack Obama announced an “evolution” in his thinking about gay rights. And for queer black people, he was a reflection of a truth rarely seen on screens big or small, especially after the Logo series Noah’s Arc went off the air in 2006.

“Important” often implies that something is the cultural equivalent of kale: fiber-packed, nutritious, but not exactly fun. For example, Red Tails is arguably an “important” film because it’s about the Tuskegee Airmen. It’s also … not very good.

But in Ellis’ hands, Lafayette would deliver acerbic quips with the expert raise of an eyebrow, succinctly summarizing the pitfalls of patriarchy without making your eyes glaze over. He could just as easily spread his glossed lips into a smile and flutter his fake eyelashes as he could hem up a delinquent customer in a full nelson, a quality that made him eminently GIF-able.

Lafayette existed before Dan Savage launched his It Gets Better project in 2010, a nonprofit aimed at stopping queer kids from committing suicide when their adolescent years seem interminably, hopelessly miserable. And that’s significant. Certainly, it’s important for a suicidal teen to know that life improves as you get older and get away from people and attitudes that fill your life with hate. But Lafayette provided a different, necessary sort of queer hero, shaped in part by the gender-bending provocations of New Orleans sissy bounce queens Big Freedia and Katey Red, a boi that you couldn’t just push around.

My favorite scene of Ellis’ is also one of his most famous. It’s from episode five of the first season of True Blood, when a customer at Merlotte’s, the restaurant where Lafayette works, sends his burger back to the kitchen because, he tells his waitress, he doesn’t want a burger with “AIDS.”

Lafayette, fully and perfectly made up despite sweating over a hot stove, pulls his earrings off and comes swaggering out of the kitchen, head wrapped in his glittery take on Louisiana’s famous tignons. His body is a mass of gender-nonconforming contradictions: From the neck up, he’s practically coquettish, but he’s wearing a tank top that shows off his toned biceps, black Timbs and camo shorts that hang off his butt, held just so by a belt perhaps best described as ghetto fabulous.

Lafayette delivers a read in his signature Louisiana drawl, informed by Ellis’ childhood spent growing up in Bessemer, Alabama: “’Scuse me,” he says. “Who ordered the hamburger wit’ AIDS?”

“I ordered a hamburger deluxe,” the customer responds.

“In this restaurant, a hamburger deluxe come wit’ french fries, lettuce, tomato, mayo — AND AIDS,” Lafayette says, raising his voice. “DO ANYBODY GOT A PROBLEM WIT’ DAT?”

“Yeah,” says the customer. “I’m an American. I got a say in who makes my food.”

“Well, baby, it’s too late for that,” Lafayette retorts. “F—-ts been breeding your cows, raising your chickens, even brewing your beer long before I walked my sexy a– up in this m—–f—–. Everything on yo’ gotdamn table got AIDS.”

Lafayette’s altercation with the customer gets physical. “B—-, you come in my house, YOU GON’ EAT MY FOOD THE WAY I F—ING MAKE IT!” he bellows. “DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”

And just as swiftly, his temper recedes. “Tip your waitress,” he says before sauntering back to the kitchen, every set of eyes in the restaurant on him.

It wasn’t just that Lafayette was a self-affirming queen who didn’t take no mess. He was country and proud of it, providing the sort of regional stamp on queerness that would later set Moonlight apart because it was so steeped in the specifics of Miami and, furthermore, the Pork and Beans of the Liberty Square housing projects. It’s part of what makes Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) such a memorable part of The Wire — his gayness isn’t the defining feature of his character. He’s gay in a way that feels unique to the projects of Baltimore. Similarly, Williams added a regional flair to his depiction of Leonard Pine, one half of the Texas duo Hap and Leonard. Those characters — Moonlight’s Black, Lafayette, Omar and Leonard — offer a counterweight to prevailing tropes of queerness that’s white, polite, well-off, neatly domesticated, sexless and almost always cosmopolitan. When it first aired in 2005, Noah’s Arc in many ways felt like a black response to the overwhelming whiteness of Showtime’s American adaptation of Queer as Folk, another landmark show that challenged what it meant to see gay men on television. Noah’s Arc centered on a group of middle-class gay black men living in Los Angeles. It was a way to say, “Hey, black people live in gentrified gayborhoods and drink cosmopolitans and battle HIV stigma too.”

But characters like Leonard and Lafayette offer depictions of men who are able to make space for themselves in the places they call home, without having to move out of one’s oppressively small hometown.

Nelsan Ellis portraying character, Lafayette Reynolds in the show HBO show “True Blood.”

HBO

And although he’ll long be remembered for Lafayette, Ellis was more than just one character. In his too-brief career, Ellis exhibited a rare elasticity and was famously circumspect about his sexuality. Ellis’ interpretation of Lafayette was so memorable that of course he’d seem right at home as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he was. Still, Ellis managed to erase all traces of his breakout character in Get On Up, in which he played singer-songwriter and James Brown collaborator Bobby Byrd, and in The Butler, where he played Martin Luther King Jr. By the time he inhabited Mack Burns, a writer obsessed with free jazz in a straight interracial relationship in the 2017 film Little Boxes, Lafayette was nowhere to be found.

Indeed, Ellis found it insulting when entertainment professionals seemed to overlook his Juilliard bona fides by assuming that he wasn’t a character actor.

“I can’t just get upset with regular folk because all they see is the character. But when the industry can’t tell the difference, I’m like, ‘Damn, that’s a little closed-minded,’ ” Ellis told Vibe in a 2010 interview. “… When white people play a character, people expect it to be a character. But black people — we can’t just be character actors, we have to [really] be the things we’re hired for, which is what offends me. I don’t answer that question — ‘Are you gay or not?’ — when it comes down to industry people. But if it’s a regular person asking me, that just says that maybe I’m doing a good job. But when a casting director or an agent asks me that question, it takes on a deeper thing that says, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this unless you are that.’ ”

Ellis wasn’t alone in that regard. Nine years after the last episode of The Wire aired, Williams is still insisting in interviews that he’s more than just Omar Little, despite a litany of roles, gay and straight, since Omar debuted.

During his short life and career, Ellis opened our eyes to new possibilities: You can be queer and country and happy. You can be black and a character actor. You can, in short, contain multitudes. What a shame that Ellis won’t be around to show us more.

Wale officiates a WWE rap battle and other news of the week The Week That Was July 3-7

Monday 07.3.17

President Donald Trump tweeted: “At some point the Fake News will be forced to discuss our great jobs numbers, strong economy, success with ISIS, the border & so much else!” An hour later, CNBC posted that General Motors’ June U.S. sales were “down 4.7% vs. estimate 1.8% decline.” Not even a person with zero front office experience wanted to work for Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. NBC News referred to Sally Hemings, President Thomas Jefferson’s slave and victim, as the former president’s “mistress.” A family carrying $93,000 in undeclared cash on their person through the Philadelphia International Airport were returned just $3,000 of the cash after being stopped by federal agents. The city of St. Louis has decided to push its minimum wage back from $10 per hour to $7.70; Gov. Eric Greitens (R-Missouri) said the previous wage, a 23 percent difference, would “take money out of people’s pockets.” Five alcohol companies have pledged over $67 million to study whether or not there are any scientific benefits to having a glass of alcohol a day. Oregon police killed an armed man trying to steal a helicopter from a local airport. Golden State Warriors forward and NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant took about $9 million less in salary for some reason. Hip-hop artist Azealia Banks, who once called fellow rapper Iggy Azalea “Igloo Australia” and threatened to “throw a jar of my piss at her,” will join Azalea on a future song. A spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine) called assertions of the governor leaving the state for a 10-day vacation amid budget negotiations “fake news” despite two lawmakers from the same party claiming that the governor called and told them himself. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking at his son’s graduation, told students, “I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice”; four days before, the Supreme Court partially allowed the banning of Muslims from six countries. A 73-year-old Colorado woman drove an SUV into the swimming pool of a local resort. Kato Kaelin, friend of O.J. Simpson and a witness in the former football player’s murder trial, won a $12,000 raffle at a Milwaukee Brewers game. The White House refused to comment on the origin of the WWE-inspired video that Trump tweeted out on Sunday, denying that the video came from an anti-Semitic Reddit user.

Tuesday 07.4.17

CNN identified the Reddit user who created the GIF of Trump pummeling a WWE performer with a CNN logo superimposed over the wrestler’s face, which the president subsequently posted to his personal Twitter account; the user also apologized for his other offensive posts, claiming, “One of my best friends is a homosexual and one of my best friends is Jewish and one of my best friends is Muslim.” In “who made the potato salad?” news, a Washington Post food editor added cauliflower and feta cheese to his recipe. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Ric Flair, 68, and rapper Waka Flocka Flame, 31, celebrated Independence Day together. The Youngstown State University Police Department warned travelers about not wearing their seat belts to the tune of rap trio Migos’ “Bad and Boujee”: “Rain drops. Drop tops. This Independence Day weekend don’t get caught with your seatbelt OFF OFF OFF. U know what we’re saying @Migos.” In unrelated news, last month a YSU police officer was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Hip-hop artist Wale officiated a rap battle between professional wrestlers New Day and the Usos during WWE’s Smackdown Live, with the latter mentioning the alleged sex tape of one of the members of the former. ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward agreed to sign with the Boston Celtics, other reporters confirmed the report, and then minutes later Hayward’s agent refuted the alleged deal; five hours later, Hayward announced that he had indeed signed with the Celtics. Boston guard Marcus Smart tweeted, “What a celebration on this 4th of July! @gordonhayward Congrats and welcome!” and minutes later, it was reported that the Celtics were trying to trade Smart. Jazz center Rudy Gobert, Hayward’s former teammate, posted a video on his social media account singing along to Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” which includes the lyrics: “These hoes ain’t loyal.” The heirs of a Florida man who hid his dead wife’s body in a freezer for eight years to continue collecting her Social Security checks have repaid the government over $15,000. The Minnesota judge who presided over the Philando Castile manslaughter case wrote a letter of support to the jury that was responsible for acquitting Saint Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez. A tennis website said No. 82-ranked Mandy Minella pulled “a Serena” by playing a Grand Slam match while pregnant, though, unlike Serena Williams at January’s Australian Open, Minella lost in the first round of Wimbledon. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid yelled, “F— LaVar Ball!” during an Instagram livestream.

Wednesday 07.5.17

Rapper Tupac Shakur once told singer Madonna, whom he dated in the early 1990s, that he could no longer date her because she was white, and “I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was.” Corona beer signed a marketing deal with the University of Texas; the school’s athletic director called the partnership an opportunity to “promote the excitement and pageantry of collegiate sports.” Flying ants took over courts at Wimbledon. Reality television star Rob Kardashian posted nude photos of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna on his Instagram account, accusing her of cheating with multiple men and having a drug and alcohol problem. Loquacious rapper T.I. butted in, for some reason, telling Kardashian to “take this L” and not look like a “Ronald McDonald the Duck”; Kardashian, still not getting out of his own way, then responded by accusing T.I. of paying Blac Chyna to have a threesome with him and his estranged wife, Tameka “Tiny” Harris. A conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of a former Democratic National Committee staffer is now being used to sell anti-aging face cream. Hip-hop artist Lil Yachty does not eat fruit. Vatican police busted a drug-fueled gay orgy at the apartment of an aide to one of Pope Francis’s closest advisers. In the most anticipated matchup since Mitt Romney-Evander Holyfield, late-night TV host Chelsea Handler will debate recently fired TV host Tomi Lahren. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers plans to replace recently departed players Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford with 35-year-old guard Tony Allen. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson, entering his 17th season and owed $2.5 million next year, is surprisingly not expected to retire this offseason. Filming and producing virtual reality porn is apparently hard. The Amazing Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield, with the help of RuPaul’s Drag Race, came out as gay “just without the physical act.”

Thursday 07.6.17

Basketball prodigies Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball nabbed the cover of SLAM Magazine without father LaVar, who, not to be forgotten, wrote the cover story. Much like O.J. Simpson’s search for the real killer, President Donald Trump, seven months later, still hasn’t found the real hackers of the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, while speaking in Europe, the president pivoted between doubting Russia was involved in the 2016 election and blaming former President Barack Obama for not doing enough to stop Russia from meddling. Sports Illustrated found at least 40 people named after NBA Hall of Famer Shaquillle O’Neal — and two of them have younger brothers named Kobe. A female Capitol Hill reporter was barred from the House chamber because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine), best known for accusing “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” of selling drugs and impregnating white women in his state, told a local radio station that he makes up stories so the news media will “write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it’s awful”; LePage added that “the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.” USA Today celebrated National Fried Chicken Day by tweeting out a GIF of actress Octavia Spencer in a scene from The Help; the tweet was later deleted. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who apparently fell asleep during the first day of Econ 101, lectured reporters at a coal plant: “Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow.” The Cleveland Cavaliers, almost a week into NBA free agency and still without a general manager, lowballed general manager candidate Chauncey Billups by almost $2 million a year before the former NBA guard removed himself from consideration for the job on Monday. Nineteen-year Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, still not about his paper, will sign a two-year, $10 million deal to remain in the Lone Star State. Four Brazilian soccer players were kicked off their team after video of one of the players masturbating two others was released online; club president Gilmar Rosso said, “If they want to get drunk, [be] gay or not, that’s their business.” The famous “Boomshakalaka” play-by-play call from 1990s video game NBA Jam was a misquote of Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher.”

Friday 07.7.17

Blue Ivy Carter, the daughter of JAY-Z, freestyled on her father’s new album, at one point rapping, “Boom shakalaka, boom shakalaka,” even though NBA Jam debuted 19 years before she was born. The Washington Nationals-Atlanta Braves rain-delayed-despite-little-rain game ended at 1:20 a.m. EST; fans at National Park were rewarded with free soda, ice cream, water, a transit system that shut down an hour into the game — and a 5-2 Nationals loss. A U.S. Mint employee was placed on administrative leave after leaving a noose made out of the rope used to seal coin bags on the chair of an African-American colleague. Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., son of five-time All-Star Tim Hardaway Sr., received a $71 million offer sheet from the New York Knicks; the elder Hardaway made just $47.1 million in his entire 14-year career. At the book party for conservative author Milo Yiannopoulos, chants of “F— CNN” broke out while little people in yarmulkes dressed as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who is Jewish, danced among the partygoers. All but settling the matter, the Russian foreign minister said Trump accepted Vladimir Putin’s “assurances that Russia didn’t meddle in the U.S. election.” A phallic-shaped rock formation in Norway that was intentionally damaged last month has been properly restored. Rob Kardashian, who posted nude photographs of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna earlier in the week, was served with notice of a restraining order. Twenty-four-year-old rapper 21 Savage, who is dating 33-year-old model Amber Rose, said one of the benefits of dating older women is she makes him do things he doesn’t normally do, like “take vitamins and drink water.” Former college basketball coach Bobby Knight, who somehow wandered into the offices of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency back in 2015, was accused of groping four employees of the spy agency. Gonorrhea is becoming harder to treat with antibiotics. LaVar Ball shot back at Joel Embiid, saying that people who use cuss words like the 76ers center “don’t have no intellect”; Ball added that he had “three words for him: Can’t. Play. At. All,” which is actually four words.

Pots & pans: My parents, both born on July Fourth, didn’t live to see their American dream For my father, our nation was fundamentally immoral. My mother saw a work in progress.

Tomorrow, I’ll pause and think of my parents, both born on the Fourth of July. My father grew up in the rural South, part of a sharecropping family. My mother, the daughter of a laborer and a conjure woman, was born in Philly, just as our nation was.

Sometimes, after summer Sunday dinners with Monday’s toil hours away, they’d cruise into a familiar conversation. It would begin with scenic meanderings about what they’d do after they retired. It would end at a fork in the road, if not an impasse: a discussion of how black people should seek to live their lives in America.

My mother, a child of the Depression, gloried in every example of black people doing unprecedented things, from Jackie Robinson playing major league baseball to Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price in opera.

Although my mother didn’t live to see it, the election of Barack H. Obama as president of the United States exemplified her fondest dream: a black person climbing to unprecedented heights, buoyed by hard work, intelligence and faith.

My father, born before the beginning of World War I, saw America as a nation whose fundamental immorality was revealed in its inability to recognize black people as decent and hardworking. If he’d lived, he’d see post-Obama America and the rise of white nationalism here and throughout Europe as ample evidence that nothing had changed and nothing ever would.

My mother felt that things changed all the time. She helped change things in small ways. When she was a young woman, she stood up for herself on her government jobs. “Jeffery,” she’d say, “I was a pistol.”

Had she lived, my mother would have smiled while the black president of the United States spoke at her grandson’s 2016 Howard University graduation. She would have smiled when she learned that her grandson had the audacity to hope he could earn a living as a film critic.

Had he lived, my father would have shaken his head when the black president said in that graduation speech that to make progress folks had to be willing to compromise, even with those they knew were wrong. My father didn’t believe anything could be gained from compromising with people he knew were wrong.

Although my father would not have discouraged my son’s ambitions, Daddy would have shaken his head at a grandson who, like me, didn’t hope to work for himself.

Although my father worked on an assembly line in the 1960s, he’d owned a garage in the 1950s and a store before serving in the Navy during World War II. He’d also tried to start an import-export business. On occasion, he played and hit the street number. He was always looking for ways to free himself and his family from the dictates of workaday life in black America.

His childhood in a sharecropping family had taught him that the people who owned the land and kept the books also made sure that the workers remained in poverty.

My mother believed fervently in the richness of the American promise. While striving for success, she sought to stand on the shoulders of her ambition and commitment to excellence. She thought that setbacks dictated that she or the larger black community had to work harder or employ different strategies, set new goals.

My father believed that anyone who committed himself to competing in a game where he didn’t make the rules was bound to lose again and again.

Neither of my parents lived to retire. Their Sunday conversations from more than 50 years ago live only in my fond memories. But the explosive question of how black people should best pursue the American dream, or endure when that dream gets deferred, gets answered by each new generation in different ways, by individuals and through national movements, Crispus Attucks to JAY-Z, abolition to Black Lives Matter.

As always, the African-American journey continues in our country. We are not alone: We lock arms with everyone who knows that the nation’s greatness is rooted in its people rather than clever phrases. With each step forward, we carry the nation and its most cherished ideals to higher ground.

And the rockets’ red glare.

Daily Dose: 6/19/17 Another black person killed by police, this time in Seattle

The fight continues in Washington, D.C. And no, this one has nothing to do with President Donald Trump. On Monday, the Washington Redskins secured a small victory with a Supreme Court ruling that deemed the law preventing the team from registering trademarks with the word “Redskins”— or “offensive trademarks” — as unconstitutional. The controversial team name has been a topic of discussion for decades, but it intensified in May 2013 after team owner Dan Snyder staunchly vowed to never change it. Months later, President Barack Obama joined in, adding, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.” A year later, the Trademark and Trial Appeal Board ordered the cancellation of the Washington Redskins’ six federal trademarks. Now, three years and several court appearances later, we’re here. Snyder is “thrilled,” according to reports, and team attorney Lisa Blatt praised the court’s decision. The team may have won the war, but something tells me this battle is far from over.

Oh, wait! There is Trump news. Within a few hours of releasing a statement acknowledging Juneteenth, the oldest and most well-known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States, the internet quickly drew comparisons between President Trump’s issued statement and former president Barack Obama’s — one focused more on freed slaves, while the other praised men who allowed slaves to be freed. As the statement continues to be debated, most social media users have moved on to criticizing the president’s silence after an overnight van attack in London that left one pedestrian dead and 10 others wounded.

Another day, another non-conviction. If you haven’t heard about the infuriating yet unsurprising acquittal of Officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile last July. The verdict prompted marches and calls to action across the country. Castile, a 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor and registered gun owner, reached into his pocket to get his license. Fearing that Castile was retrieving a weapon, Yanez shot him multiple times and walks away a free man, as we’ve witnessed so many times before. The same song will continue: The national outrage, pain and frustration and personalized hashtags will roar, then quiet until the next unfortunate encounter.

Two days later, another police-involved shooting. A pregnant woman was fatally shot by two officers in front of several children in Seattle after reporting a burglary earlier that morning. According to police, 30-year-old Charleena Lyles displayed a knife before the two officers opened fire. Although the incident is still under investigation, family members told media outlets that Lyles had been suffering with mental health issues for the past year. The children inside the apartment at the time of the shooting were not injured.

Jay Z adds context to the recent 4:44 ads. We’ve all seen the mysterious salmon-colored background with the bold, black 4:44 displayed directly in the center. The ads, which simultaneously popped up in New York and Los Angeles and on several websites two weeks ago, sent social media sleuths into a frenzy. The only clue: the word “Tidal” in the coding that accompanied the ads. Many speculated it might be a new project from the proud papa of newborn twins, and others hoped it would be specifically about the twins.

Jay Z will be dropping a new album on June 30 as a result of a new partnership between Tidal and Sprint. In addition to the new music, the partnership will support the 1Million Project to help 1 million low-income high school students across the United States gain access to the internet. Free mobile devices and free high-speed wireless internet will be provided to participating students during their high school years.

It’s a win for all.

For the sake of black fatherhood, stop the war on drugs I get to celebrate Father’s Day with my dad after 27 years thanks to President Obama

“Your father WAS a good man, Nique. He always looked out for folks.”

“Boy, Ralph could run. You run just like him. He WAS a legend.”

“You Ralph son? He HAD a brain on him. Smart. Sorry to see that happened to him.”

Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, and playing sports made these common sayings that were spoken to me. My father, Ralph Warren, was a present memory in my life but a very distant one to friends and admirers. Hearing this, you might assume my father was deceased — maybe an accident, a bullet or maybe bad luck happening to a man many had fond memories of. That wasn’t the case at all. My father was alive and well living in Indiana, then Kentucky, then Illinois in a jail cell, sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. He wasn’t deceased, but his sentence would ensure that he would never see freedom. He would die in jail. DIE IN JAIL.

That had always hung over me with great pain, fear and anger. I would not be able to see my father grow old nor pass away in the comforts of his home because he would be in a federal prison cell. That is why on Jan. 17, 2017 — when President Barack Obama, mere days before his term was up, commuted my father’s sentence for drug trafficking and firearm charges after 27 years — I cried for hours knowing that I would know my father as a free man.


On Feb. 8, my father arrived back at the Greyhound bus station in Toledo, Ohio, where dozens of family members, including my mom and sibling, and a host of friends welcomed him back. I introduced him for the very first time to my daughter, Lois Marie. Since his release, he has edited and re-released his novel Target, begun working at a local auto supplier plant and, most importantly, spoken to recovering drug abusers and young men who have come into contact with the prison system. Together, my father and I are advocating for reduced sentencing and more funding for re-entry programs to local and federal legislators. Our lives have been affected by this “War on Drugs,” and we are on a mission to ensure it won’t reintensify.

Between 1970 and 2005, America’s prison and jail population ballooned from 300,000 to more than 2 million. America’s “War on Drugs” began under former President Richard Nixon in 1971 as a response to the increase in recreational drug use and abuse in the 1960s. Initial appropriations were geared to clinical and drug abuse prevention efforts, increased funding for prisons, directives for harsher sentences and aggressive law enforcement geared at drug cartels. It escalated under President Reagan, with the creation of mandatory minimum prison sentences in 1986 after an influx of crack cocaine in American cities targeted black and brown communities.

The American presidency from 1970 to 2005 focused on “Law and Order” to combat drug trafficking and violence, resulting in 1 in 9 black children currently having an incarcerated parent. Ninety-two percent of parents in prison are fathers, and an overwhelming proportion of these fathers are black.

Children of incarcerated parents are faced with trauma, higher chance of being in poverty, and increased rates of incarceration that create a cycle of destruction in the black community. Mass incarceration of black fathers limits the financial stability of families. Coupled with other racially prejudiced systems, mass incarceration plagues the stability of the black community.

Attorney General Eric Holder established the Smart on Crime initiative in 2014 to reduce mandatory minimum sentencing and push more funding to programs that decrease prison recidivism. Researchers from the Pew Charitable Trust agree that federal mandatory minimums don’t deter crime or reduce the number of people who return to jail. Directing prosecutors not to seek mandatory minimums for low-level and nonviolent offenses, the Obama administration’s commutation and pardon policies allowed thousands to be freed and reunited with families and society. Unfortunately, these policies came to an end with the presidential election of Donald Trump and appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

In May, Sessions directed federal prosecutors to seek the harshest indictments for drug offenses and reinstated mandated federal minimums for all charges, which includes the “three strikes” provision when disclosing to judges all facts pertaining to sentencing. This reversal of policy is not just a setback for best practices in federal prosecutions and has widespread opposition by both political parties, but it is also a setback for black fathers and their children.

Current policies for the Justice Department directed by Sessions empower prosecutors to use the full power of the federal government to enact harsh sentences for low-level and nonviolent crimes and keep the current prison population, the world’s largest, growing. We know that federal sentencing grossly prosecutes a high proportion of black males, leaving their children fatherless, without dual incomes and suffering from extreme trauma. There are no winners in this scenario, only losers. The appearance of being tough on crime from the DOJ will not reduce crime, but it will ensure millions of fatherless children who will be at risk of committing crimes themselves.

If 21st-century federal sentencing policies mirror the past 30 years of “Law and Order” mandates, we will continue to see our prison population rise and spend much-needed funding on housing prisoners instead of investing in communities, families and children. The annual cost of housing a prisoner outstrips the cost of tuition in states such as California, costing more than $75,000. Frederick Douglass in the 19th century said, “It’s easier to build strong children than broken men.” As prison and education costs rise, we as a nation have to make a choice of where our priorities lie. If we believe that families matter and children need fathers, mandatory minimums that target black men must be a policy of the past. We need to reinstate the commutation policy of the last administration so that imprisoned citizens are reinstated back to their communities.

This is the first Father’s Day I will spend with my dad in 27 years. I won’t take it for granted, because I know that many children won’t be able to celebrate it with their fathers.

They were, like me, waiting and waiting for that dream of seeing their fathers on this side of freedom. I am also vigilant for black fathers who will be targeted by the Trump administration’s arcane policies that invoke echoes of the past and have destroyed communities and families of color in the name of “Law and Order.”

On this Father’s Day, celebrate black fatherhood and work to protect it at all costs. I plan to strap my daughter into her stroller, put on my best running shoes and run just like my father, next to my father.