Daily Dose: 10/12/17 Jason Momoa makes flippant comment about rape

All right, kiddos, big day in these streets. I’ll be doing Around The Horn on Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m. on ESPN, then hosting #TheRightTime on ESPN Radio from 4-7:30 p.m. EST. And I’ll be stressing about Nats baseball all day, starting now.

Black people are genius. No, really. The 2017 MacArthur Foundation grant winners list was released this week, and there are six of us on there. Njideka Akunyili Crosby is an artist based in Chicago. Tyshawn Sorey is a musician working out of Connecticut. Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times has a reputation that speaks for itself in this line of work. Jesmyn Ward is a writer in New Orleans. Dawoud Bey is a Chicago photographer. But my favorite person on the list is Rhiannon Giddens, who makes some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.

Keep telling me that the vestiges of slavery aren’t still alive in America. The way that our prison system is set up in certain states, that’s basically what prisoners are used as, and government officials have no problem letting that fact be known to the world. They’re borderline proud of it and have based their entire budgets around the existence of unpaid labor from people in jail. And in private practice, people are still trying to use black folks as slaves to run their business. All of this is so sickening.

Y’all need to get your man Jason Momoa. You know him, the actor whose Instagram page gets everybody tingling inside and who has starred in various movies in which he plays fantasy superhero types of all breeds. He’s Hawaiian and a dreamboat. He’s also got some really problematic views on rape and sexual assault that he made plain to the world on a panel. I obviously don’t know that guy, and everyone on that panel probably does, but how someone says that and you don’t get up and leave is just beyond me. This is not OK.

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Alex Morgan might be woke? If nothing else, she at least understands what her place as a white woman in America affords her after she found herself dealing with authorities at Walt Disney World. The story is that the U.S. women’s national soccer team player was there with her crew and things got a little loose in terms of the partying. But footage of her encounter with authorities was published, and at one point, with what she believes to be unfair treatment. She says matter of factly that she “can’t imagine what black people go through.” All righty, then.

Free Food

Coffee Break: If you don’t know what a bodega cat is, you probably haven’t lived in New York. Bodegas are a vital part of the ecosystem. And because the internet is amazing, there are social media accounts that document their lives. The person who does it is a national treasure. Read this interview.

Snack Time: YouTube is glorious. We all know that. But can you imagine a world in which there was a reasonable competitor? And who do you think could mount such an effort? Amazon, of course.

Dessert: Watch this. That is all.

Ten-year-old designer Kheris Rogers on why she’s Flexin’ in My Complexion After being bullied for her dark skin, she started a clothing line to inspire others

The world took notice of 10-year-old Kheris Rogers after 15-time Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys posted a picture of her on Instagram with the caption:I love this beautiful girl @kherispoppin and I love her mission! Keep shining.”

Kheris’ mission is to empower confidence with her clothing line Flexin’ In My Complexion, which she was inspired to create after being teased for her dark complexion in school in Los Angeles.

“Beauty has nothing to do with the outside,” Kheris said. “It has to do with your inside by being nice, smart, creative. Being beautiful means confidently knowing that you’re enough just the way you are. When I look at myself in the mirror, I say nice things like, ‘I am smart. I am kind. I am confident.’ It’s empowering.”

Earlier this year, Kheris’ 22-year-old sister, Taylor Pollard, tweeted a picture of Rogers after a fashion show that has more than 31,000 retweets and 84,000 likes. Comments came in praising her skin, hair, entire look and attitude, which helped boost her self-esteem.

Just a few days shy of her 11th birthday, Kheris spoke with The Undefeated about what it means to flex in your complexion, her definition of beautiful and her favorite thing about living in L.A. (Hint: It has to do with ice cream.)


Why did you create Flexin’ In My Complexion?
I was bullied for my dark skin complexion when I was younger [where I had to transfer to another school], so I felt that I needed to help empower others to feel comfortable in their skin color. I want to help others feel confident in their skin, knowing it is beautiful no matter how dark or light they are.

You’re only 10 and you were bullied for your skin color?
When I was in the first grade, I was one of four black kids in my class. They would call me names and wouldn’t play with me. There was an instance when we had to draw ourselves, and my teacher gave me a black crayon instead of a brown one. I felt really uncomfortable.

Your maturity and confident self-image is something that many 20- and 30-year-olds don’t have. Where did that come from?
It came from my family always telling me that I’m pretty and how being beautiful on the inside is the most important thing. My grandmother would always tell us to flex in our complexion. She put that in my head, and then I kept telling myself that.

Outside of your family, who else is a role model?
Tyra Banks! I love how she walks on and off the runway with so much confidence. But what I really love about her is how she empowers other women, and that’s what I want to do.

Who inspires your style?
I’ve always liked Zendaya’s style from watching her on the Disney Channel. My style is a mix of very girly girl and hip-hop. Some kids in my school would tease me on my style too, but everyone is unique and I love being creative with my style.

What was your reaction when you saw that Alicia Keys gave you a shoutout on Instagram?
I wanted to cry because of how surprised and excited I was. I looked on my phone, screamed and double-checked to make sure it was really her. I called my mom and was like, ‘OMG, Alicia Keys just posted my picture on her page!’

What’s your favorite Alicia Keys song?
‘Fallin’,’ I love that song.

What’s your favorite part about living in Los Angeles?
The drive-thru Baskin-Robbins that they built right by my house.

 

Rachel is the Bachelorette black women have been waiting to see In the hands of Rachel, the rose has become a rare sign of black female value

Past hurts can make you do strange things — including watching a TV show you know is absurd.

For 15 years, I turned up my nose at The Bachelor and its spin-off, The Bachelorette. When The Bachelor premiered on ABC in 2002, I was too busy raising school-age kids to be distracted by a show in which a bunch of single women cloistered themselves in a secluded mansion to compete for the hand — or other proffered body parts — of a man they’d just met. The show’s setup seemed unlikely to foster true love. I could see why the titular bachelor would enjoy a bevy of attractive females battling for his affection — offering roses to those he wanted to know better and showing the door to those he didn’t. But what sane woman would court such humiliation unless she was A) an aspiring entertainer for whom the exposure could be lucrative, or B) the type who’d do anything to have millions of eyes on her? And in a world in which romantic attraction routinely crosses color lines, the show’s overwhelmingly white cast seemed out of touch. Why bother?

The following year, ABC flipped the script, getting a gaggle of guys to vie for a Bachelorette. Though slightly more amused by the thought of a bunch of men undercutting each other to woo a woman they barely knew, I never considered watching it.

Until Rachel.

ABC’s announcement in February that it had selected its first black Bachelorette intrigued me in spite of myself. The pool of potential mates for Rachel Lindsay, 31 — a Dallas lawyer who’d been a popular contestant on the last Bachelor — would doubtless be diverse. How would Rachel, the sophisticated daughter of a district judge, negotiate the complex racial dynamics that permeate all of American life when they inevitably surfaced on the show? Would her awareness of the program’s black fans — who’d waited 33 seasons for the franchise to anoint an African-American lead and might understandably have expectations — complicate her choice? A member of the African-American Culture Committee while attending the University of Texas, Rachel — who resembles the Boomerang-era Robin Givens — was open-minded enough to have told white Bachelor Nick Viall she was falling in love with him before he sent her packing. This season, Rachel made it clear she wanted a fiance (“not … a boyfriend”) at the conclusion of her Bachelorette “journey,” and now reports that she is happily engaged to the man she chose from among three finalists in next Monday’s finale.

Although I’m a diehard Dancing with the Stars fan who loves watching klutzy celebs sweat their way to ballroom proficiency, I find most reality TV shows too anti-reality. Anyone who has recorded a smartphone video knows that pointing a camera at people compels them to change everything from their posture to their professed points of view. A dear friend who loves reality shows swears that “people’s veneers inevitably come off.” But how “real” can an engagement that results from such a show be? We’re talking about a relationship forged in a few brief dates with a man fending off dozens of competitors while everyone concerned is stumbling over camera crews and cut off from loved ones and social media.

It’s crazy, right? So why has Rachel’s Bachelorette stint so thoroughly pulled me in? Is it the fun of watching presumably smart people make fools of themselves? Memories of my own distant, wanna-meet-somebody days as a single black woman? Sure. But mostly, it’s been the irresistible weekly prospect of watching black, white, Latino and Asian men employ lying, manipulation, innuendo, self-pity — every trick in the reality TV playbook — to woo a black woman.

Why not? Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lupita and Serena may be desired by millions, but in the real dating world, being a black woman has its challenges. Sisters, who historically are more desirous than other females to date men of their own ethnicity, outnumber black men in most cities. Those willing to look beyond the black-man cohort aren’t always made to feel welcome. Despite the widespread debunking of an infamous Psychology Today blog in which an evolutionary biologist falsely suggested he had scientific evidence that black women are less attractive than other women, it’s easy for a black woman to question her worth in a culture that still glorifies European beauty.

Old wounds can go deep. As a little girl, I swooned over the romantic entreaties offered by men who pursued Disney princesses and rom-com heroines in my favorite movies. So what if none of these damsels with whom they found happily ever after resembled me? Yet, the fact that I was invisible in the love stories I adored may explain why the rapturous declarations offered by Rachel’s suitors feel oddly validating. Where else can you see dozens of attractive men rhapsodizing over a brown-skinned sister’s brilliance and beauty? Whenever Rachel has invited a competitor to join her on a coveted one-on-one date, the guys left behind gather to sigh about her sexiness and smarts all while subtly savaging the guy she’s with. It’s totally bogus. Yet part of me loves it.

I should be embarrassed to admit that. Grown women are supposed to at least pretend they’ve completely outgrown their vulnerable inner child — like mine, who felt barred from the culture’s narrow interpretation of who and what was worthy of love. Everyone wants to be seen. And even women who know they have far more to offer than their ever-changing outer packaging may find it hard to shake the old whispers that once diminished them. Like every child, the girl-I-was deserved to be valued for her all her innate beauty, including her hair’s complex texture, her nose’s roundness, her skin’s warm darkness. Part of me agrees with the male friend who calls The Bachelorette “the fakest thing I’ve ever seen.” But if Rachel being swooned over by men of every shade offers even a tiny corrective to black girls’ general feelings of invisibility, I can’t dismiss it. Pop culture is a festival of falseness. But it teaches kids — and more than a few adults — what to love (and hate) about themselves. The Bachelorette is silly and manipulative. But this season, it suggests to black fans of all ages a little-acknowledged truth: Sisters, too, deserve to be desired and cherished by every type of guy.

So I’ve played along. I rolled my eyes when roguish white suitor Lee — who relentlessly bedeviled Kenny, a black rival far too willing to take the bait — was “discovered” to have posted sexist and racist tweets. I was moved when Rachel told Dean — a sweet white Californian who whispered he was falling in love with her after their excruciating visit with his estranged father — she was falling for him, too. Shortly afterward, she gave him the boot. Not knowing what’s real or fabricated on The Bachelorette doesn’t change my last reason for watching: the possibility of witnessing a miracle. What if one of the 31 men who emerged from limousines to greet Rachel on the show’s premiere is actually her match? One who isn’t a self-promoting fraud, but a decent guy who signed on to this nutty show for fun, adventure or the what-the-hell possibility of finding true love?

The trio of remaining bachelors — one black, one Latino and one white (like THAT’S a coincidence!) — actually seem like such guys. Whichever takes a knee on Monday’s finale, I wish him, Rachel, and every sister who’ll sigh when he pops the question the happiest of ever afters …

Celebrating family: A few famous children and their famous parents Here are some you know, and others you might not

Many athletes, artists, actors and other superstars have followed in the footsteps of their parents. Some we see on the big screen, others we see on the field or basketball court. Others are behind the director’s chair making some of our favorite films. And we are all here for it.

In 2016 when the HBO hit series Ballers graced the scene, if you closed your eyes for about two seconds during scenes with break-out wide receiver Ricky, you’d think you were hearing actor Denzel Washington. That’s because the role is played by his son, John David Washington. Or when the role of director, actor and rapper Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton was played by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who had an uncanny resemblance to his father. Many superstars fit the bill of the famous parent/child combo. Here are just a few, as The Undefeated continues to celebrate families.


Maya Rudolph/Minnie Riperton

Though Maya Rudolph experienced the pain of losing her mother, singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton to breast cancer two weeks before her seventh birthday, their time together was enough for the two to bond through their love for music. “… My mom was music,” Rudolph told NPR in 2012. “Music poured out of my mother, and I’m sure I heard it before I even got here when I was in her belly. … [My parents] were on the road a lot. My brother and I would go with them, I think when we were very little, because my mom did not want to be away from us.” Through Rudolph’s own career, her Riperton lives on. Rudolph, who has established herself as an exceptional actress and cast member on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, sometimes sprinkles subtle tributes in her performances to honor her late mother.

Mario Van Peebles/Melvin Van Peebles

Actor Mario Van Peebles (left) and director Melvin Van Peebles attend the 2011 Eye On Black — A Salute To Directors at California African American Museum on Feb. 25, 2011, in Los Angeles, California.

Neilson Barnard/FilmMagic

Actor and director Mario Van Peebles has been on the screen since 1971. He has directed several episodes of shows such as 21 Jump Street but he made his feature film directorial debut in the drug-filled crime movie New Jack City, for which he is best known. This was followed by Posse in 1993, Panther in 1995 and Love Kills in 1998. He gets his art chops from his famous father Melvin Van Peebles, who is most known for the iconic film and action thriller Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

Rashida and kidada Jones/Quincy Jones

From left to right: Kidada Jones, Quincy Jones and Rashida Jones during Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party at Private Residence in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Donato Sardella/WireImage for Disney Consumer Products)

Actress and director Rashida Jones has spent her life in the celebrity world but she grew into the breakout star in the series Parks and Recreation. The daughter of writer and composer Quincy Jones, Rashida Jones’ turn into the spotlight does not come without her acknowledging her father. Her sister, designer Kidada Jones, was the best friend to entertainer Aaliyah and was engaged to Tupac Shakur. Their father was the producer, with Michael Jackson, of Jackson’s albums Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), and Bad. Rashida Jones’ new show Claws on FX has been catching waves. For Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, Rashida Jones wrote a tribute to her father for Variety.com titled Billion-Dollar Maestro.

“Although we would like to reduce a lifetime of accomplishment to the 27 Grammy Awards, seven Oscar nominations and numerous lifetime achievement awards, we shouldn’t. No, the most important contribution my dad has given this world is the life he lives. My dad is an enormous beating heart. I am deeply honored to consider myself the daughter of the best role model on earth. Happy birthday, Daddy. I love you without end.”

Tracee Ellis Ross/Diana Ross

Recording artist Diana Ross (left) and daughter actress Tracee Ellis Ross attend the 42nd Annual American Music Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Nov. 23, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross and her mother, singer Diana Ross, have always been supportive of each other. And there’s nothing that expresses a mother’s love like taking out a full-page ad when your daughter receives an Emmy nod. For Ellis Ross, this is completely normal for their mother-daughter bond. And even when Diana Ross was in her prime, she found time to be the mother Ellis Ross hopes to be when she starts a family of her own. “My mom was very glamorous, but that was her work world,” Ellis Ross told the New York Times Magazine. “Our home was filled with beautiful things. My mom had beautiful clothes; my mom is elegant; my mom is glamorous. But my mom is also really real, and I grew up with a mother who had babies crawling on her head and spitting up on her when she was wearing gorgeous, expensive things, and it was never an issue.”

Zoe Kravitz/Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet

From left to right: Zoe Kravitz, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet arrive at the Saint Laurent at The Palladium at Hollywood Palladium on Feb. 10 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Growing up with a Grammy-winning rock star father and a sultry film star mother, actress, singer and model Zoe Kravitz was bound to take advantage of her creative genes and follow in the footsteps of both parents. Kravitz’s father, Lenny, and mother, Lisa Bonet — best known as Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show — were in their 20s when they decided to elope in 1987. Yet, the pair, who divorced six years later, was sure to grant their daughter the opportunity to live as a regular kid. “[My mom] wanted to give me an opportunity to be a normal kid,” Kravitz told Complex magazine in a 2015 feature interview. “She wasn’t raised by nannies; she has a close relationship with her parents (whom she calls her “buddies”). I don’t think anyone knows how funny we are. It’s like this whole thing where people think we’re so cool and hippie and wear velvet, but we’re the nerdiest people.”

Lil’ Romeo/Master P

Master P (left) and Romeo Miller attend WE TV’s Growing Up Hip Hop premiere party at Haus on Dec. 10, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

Percy Romeo Miller III, better known as Lil’ Romeo, was always told he could do whatever he wanted to in life. And so, he tried. Lil’ Romeo captured the hearts of preteen girls across America when he entered the rap scene in 2001. From there, he went on to star in his own Nickelodeon show, and even gave his hoop dreams a chance at the University of Southern California. Now, Lil’ Romeo is spending his time following in the footsteps of his music mogul father Master P, who created his multimillion-dollar No Limit Records empire back in the early 1990s. The New Orleans native has never lost focus of what’s really important in life. Even early on in his career, Lil’ Romeo knew there was always one thing that would remain consistent: “My family,” Lil’ Romeo said during a 2003 interview with CBS. “Family always gonna be there. The material things, they come and go.” As far as Lil’ Romeo’s successful career at such a young age, Master P couldn’t believe it himself. “I never expected Romeo to grow up and be a big superstar entertainer,” Master P said. “I was just, like, ‘Man, this is my child. I want him to have better things than I had.’ ”

Jaden and Willow Smith/Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith

From left to right: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Willow Smith attend the UK film premiere of The Karate Kid at Odeon Leicester Square on July 15, 2010, in London. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

When actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith got married in 1997, no one knew two superfamous children would come of their union. Jaden and Willow Smith have both made a name for themselves. Jaden has become a young actor whose first movie debut was with his father in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness and he later starred in 2010 remake of The Karate Kid. His younger sister Willow is triple-threat singer, actor and dancer who caught the world by storm in her when she launched her music career in 2010 with Whip My Hair. The two shared their first cover together for Interview magazine’s September 2016 issue.

Willow said: “Growing up, all I saw was my parents trying to be the best people they could be, and people coming to them for wisdom, coming to them for guidance, and them not putting themselves on a pedestal, but literally being face-to-face with these people and saying, ‘I’m no better than you, but the fact that you’re coming to me to reach some sort of enlightenment or to shine a light on something, that makes me feel love and gratitude for you.’

Said Jaden: “My parents are definitely my biggest role models. And that’s where me and Willow both pull all of our inspiration from to change the world. It all comes from a concept of affecting the world in a positive way and leaving it better than it was than when we came.”

Stephen Curry/Dell Curry

Stephen Curry (left) of the Golden State Warriors poses for a portrait with his father, Dell Curry, with the Larry O’Brien trophy after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals on June 16, 2015, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Golden State Warrior star Stephen Curry grew up in the basketball world under the wings of his famous father, NBA guard Dell Curry. He learned not only the game of basketball from his father but the game of life. He uses his parents as an example of how to care for his young family. Curry’s 2015 MVP acceptance speech brought all the tears and tissue as he spoke about his father.

“I remember a lot of your career. And to be able to follow in your footsteps, it means a lot to me. This is special. I’m really proud of what you were able to do in your career, and I don’t take that for granted at all. A lot of people thought I had it easy with Pops playing in the NBA, but — I’ll get to that part at the end of the road — but it was an interesting journey, and just who you are, you made it OK for me to have family at my age when I started it, and to know that if you take care of your business, you’ll be all right. So thank you so much.”

John David Washington/Denzel Washington

From left to right: John David Washington, Pauletta Washington and Denzel Washington arrive at The Book Of Eli Los Angeles premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Jan. 11, 2010, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)

John David Washington took it as a compliment when people didn’t know he was the son of arguably one of the best black actors in Hollywood, Denzel Washington. John David Washington feared having to prove himself to masses while creating his own lane, but after gaining a following during his role as Ricky Jerret on the HBO hit series, Ballers, the trepidation over not measuring up to his father’s legacy subsided. “If I try to act like him or make movie choices like him, I’m going to fail,” John David Washington told Men’s Journal. “I love him. He’s one of my favorite actors of all time, but I can’t do that. Nobody can do that.”

Laila Ali/Muhammad Ali

Laila Ali (left) and former boxing champion Muhammad Ali during the Liberty Medal ceremony at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall on Sept. 13, 2012, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Bill McCay/WireImage)

When Laila Ali mourned the passing of her father, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died of septic shock last June, the world mourned along with her. After all, Laila Ali learned some of her best moves from her father’s cheat sheet although he wasn’t entirely the reason a career in boxing piqued her interest (she credits seeing women’s boxing for the first time on television as the main reason she became a fighter). Now, Laila Ali finds comfort in the small reminders that her father is still with her. “My son is a spitting image of my father when he was young and he has so many of his same similar characteristics and qualities,” Laila Ali told TODAY. “And he’s definitely going to live on through him. He’s learning more and more as he gets older how special papa actually was.”

Grant Hill/Calvin Hill

Grant Hill (left) and Calvin Hill attend the 29th Annual Great Sports Legends dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria on Sept. 29, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Manny Hernandez/WireImage)

Retired NBA standout and Duke-educated Grant Hill has sports in his blood. His famous Yale-educated father is retired NFL running back Calvin Hill, who spent 12 seasons in the league with the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns. Grant Hill found his talents in basketball and played in the NBA for almost two decades. In an excerpt written by Grant Hill for the book Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge by Etan Thomas with Nick Chiles, he talked about his love for his father.

“When I think about my dad, Calvin Hill, unconditional love and support are the first things that come to my mind. He has so much personal integrity in the way that he’s lived his life; he’s always been the perfect role model. From a genetic standpoint, in my mannerisms and things of that nature, I obviously got a lot from him. But now that I’m an adult with my own children, I’m getting even more from him: how to interact with my children, how to deal with adversity, how to be a role model myself. I now realize how fortunate and blessed I have been over the years to have him there.”

Barry Bonds/Bobby Bonds

Barry Bonds (center) and Bobby Bonds (right) during a ceremony honoring Barry Bonds’ 500th stolen base. (Photo by Jon Soohoo/Getty Images)

The late Bobby Lee Bonds was a speedy and powerful right fielder who spent most of his career with the San Francisco Giants. He became the second player to hit 300 career home runs and steal 300 bases along Willie Mays. So his son Barry followed in his footsteps. The left fielder spent his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants and received seven National League MVP awards and 14 All-Star selections. According to ESPN.com, in 2015 when Bonds was hired as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach, he credited his father for the things he taught him.

“It was something I had no intention of doing,” Bonds said of taking the Marlins job. “And then I started thinking about my dad and everything he taught me … I need to try this. I’ll never know if I like it unless I try. Baseball, that’s my thing, that’s who I am. With everything I’ve done as a hitter, I’m the best at that … So I kind of want to honor my dad for what he did. Honor my godfather [Mays] for what he did.”

Ken Griffey Jr./Ken Griffey Sr.

Ken Griffey Sr. (left) and Ken Griffey Jr. during the Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders at the Great American Ball Park on July 13, 2015, in Cincinnati.

On Aug. 31, 1990, Ken Griffey Sr. and his son Ken Griffey Jr. made history when they both played for the Seattle Mariners in a game against the Kansas City Royals. This father-son baseball combo was one of the toughest. At the time, Griffey Sr. was 40 years old. Griffey Sr. played right field on the Reds teams that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76. He was a three-time All-Star, and was named All-Star Game MVP in 1980. Griffey Jr. was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2016, where he talked about his father during his acceptance speech.

“To my dad, who taught me how to play this game, but more importantly he taught me how to be a man. How to work hard, how to look at yourself in the mirror each and every day, and not to worry about what other people are doing. See, baseball didn’t come easy for him. He was the 29th round pick and had to choose between football and baseball. And where he’s from in Donora, Pennsylvania, football is king. But I was born five months after his senior year and he made a decision to play baseball to provide for his family, because that’s what men do. And I love you for that.”

Ice Cube/O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Actors Ice Cube and O’Shea Jackson Jr. attend the All Def Movie Awards at Lure Nightclub on Feb. 24, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/WireImage)

If imitating your parent in front of millions seems stress-inducing, O’Shea Jackson Jr., son of rapper and actor Ice Cube, will tell you it’s every bit just as nerve-racking as it sounds. Luckily for Jackson Jr., who portrayed Ice Cube in the 2015 blockbuster Straight Outta Compton, his performance received rave reviews and struck up conversations about the similarities between the father and son. Although Jackson Jr.’s career is off the a great start, he said having his dad by his side and Ice Cube’s involvement in the movie made the process a lot smoother.

“Believe it or not, having my dad there on set calmed me down,” Jackson Jr. told NBC News. “It’s kind of like when you’re a kid and you’re doing the school plays and programs and you get that sense of relief when your parents walk in. There’s just this comfort in knowing that they’re there. My dad has been my coach my whole life, so it felt totally natural. When he’s there, I know I can’t get it wrong.”

André 3000 on the 10th anniversary of his ‘Class of 3000’ soundtrack The music icon talks everything from Sonny Rollins to ‘Dead Poets Society’ to Tyler, The Creator to the creative life

Where we were on July 3, 2007, the day the soundtrack to André Benjamin’s animated series Class of 3000 was released: It had been a year since the premiere of Outkast’s movie and soundtrack Idlewild. Three years since the duo won the Album of the Year Grammy for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Yet the musical futures of Three Stacks and Big Boi were up in the air. André 3000, especially, was keeping mum about any future projects but was dropping unannounced guest verses — “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” and “Walk It Out” among them — and stealing the show each time. The world was clamoring for more output from André, even dreaming of a solo album (fans are still begging for that album in 2017). But what many don’t know is that 3000 actually released a full-length album — just not what anyone was expecting.

Class of 3000 is the soundtrack to Andre 3000’s short-lived but brilliant Cartoon Network series. In it, André plays a music teacher who exposes his class to adventures and a new appreciation for their respective instruments. The show is like if you put The Magic School Bus in a deep fryer and put a side of yams next to it. He produced the entire album, provided vocals and, yes, even rapped. A decade later, the album is still as innovative and replayable as it was in 2007.

“It actually happened right after Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” said Benjamin via mobile. “Adult Swim was getting aggressive with television and for new content. [Then-vice president of programming for Cartoon Network] Mike Lazzo heard The Love Below and said, ‘Man, I gotta reach out to that guy and make The Love Below into some kind of animated thing.’ The show was originally supposed to be an Adult Swim show. It was going to be more edgy. But I felt The Love Below was its own entity. I wanted to create something new.”

“You don’t have to rest on what you’ve done in the past. It’s beautiful.”

André and Lazzo were at a loss as to what their new concept should be about until they took a trip around Atlanta. “André started talking about his youth,” said Lazzo, now a senior executive vice president at Cartoon Network. Andre took Lazzo to his neighborhood in southwest Atlanta — and to Sutton Middle School on the other side of town, in the wealthy Buckhead area. “It was two completely different worlds. His mom insisted he get a great education, so she got his transportation arranged. As I’m listening to all this I’m thinking, ‘André, this is the show I want to see.’ ”

Andre “3000” Benjamin during Andre “3000” Benjamin And Cartoon Network Present “Class of 3000” Premiere Event at The Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.

Rick Diamond/WireImage

As the concept for Class of 3000 began to take shape, loosely based on Benjamin’s childhood at a performing arts school, it became apparent that the show would be better off geared toward kids than on the Adult Swim imprint. André 3000 had only one demand: The show had to be about Atlanta. There’s never been a cartoon set in Atlanta, and setting Class of 3000 in the city was a way to expose its culture to a wider audience.

“I know these kids. I grew up with these kids. My childhood was put in those characters. I was [character] Lil D. I grew up in Bankhead, and I went to school in Buckhead. So I know that world. I had to ride the bus through the projects and through these rich a– houses. I was that kid; I knew both sides of it.” André 3000 tells me all of this over the phone while I’m sitting in front of the painting of Outkast in my man cave.

Wait, let me back up.


Any parent can relate to the sheer eye-gouging boredom of driving their young kids around and trying to find music that won’t warp their brains and lead them to a life of crime and sexually transmitted infections. For the most part, the kid-friendly music options available are somewhere between Radio Disney, gospel music, about three Chance the Rapper songs and an endless library of children’s movie soundtracks.

I remember buying the Class of 3000 soundtrack when it came out in 2007. It was out of a fevered desire to hear any amount of new Outkast music, and I figured it’d be great for my kids to listen to as well. Listening for the first time in years reminded me of the funkadelic, eccentric fantasy world André created with the soundtrack by immersing the listener in a jazz- and drum kit-laced fusion of unforgettable melodies and whimsical comedy. The songs are accessible to kids but deeply engaging enough for adults.

“That wasn’t supposed to be my voice on that song. That was supposed to be Lil D’s voice on that song.” — André 3000

The more we listened, the more I looked into the show. After two seasons, it had disappeared. There’s no way to get a physical copy of any season, and the soundtrack is available from only the first season. I sent feelers out, as well as direct messages for answers. Then on a Sunday morning I got an email. From André 3000. One of the artists who defined my childhood and Southern upbringing, who gave voice to my lifestyle and represented me whenever he spoke. Not only was he interested in talking about the soundtrack, he sounded downright excited to talk about a passion project that has been overlooked by so many. For someone who’s revered for his brilliance and past works, the feeling of an unheralded project has to be unfamiliar to him. Especially one so masterfully constructed.


“I watched Peanuts growing up,” said 3000, “and the music was always strong. Vince Guaraldi, a great jazz artist, was doing all the music for Peanuts. And at the time — I know it’s a sensitive subject now — but Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids had music involved. So I was really looking for a vehicle to do music. I thought it’d be dope for kids to hear something different than what they hear every day. I wanted to expose them to different sounds, and instruments they might not be hearing … on the radio.”

He said that, coming off The Love Below, he was already producing. “I decide to produce whole songs for Class of 3000. The premise is every show would feature a song that had something to do with the story.”

The actual recording of the songs for the Class of 3000 soundtrack provided a challenge somewhat foreign to André 3000 at the time: deadlines. “It was … a learning process,” he said. “I had to have those songs ready for each episode because they had to animate around those songs. I’ve always been a leisurely music producer, so it was sort of pressured.” One rushed moment led to a snafu and the most unforgettable song on the album.

“We Want Your Soul” is all frantic drums, a haunting horn and devilish laughter. And most importantly: It’s eight monstrous bars from André 3000. The problem is, those bars weren’t supposed to be there. At least not as rapped by André himself. The recording process for the album was simple. André would lay reference tracks — he’d speak in the voices of the kid characters from the show and send the track over to Cartoon Network, and they’d get the kids to say the lines over the tracks. But that didn’t happen for “We Want Your Soul.”

“There was a mistake made because we were rushing to get that song out,” Benjamin recalled. “That was supposed to be Lil D’s voice on that song.” Instead, it’s a fully rapped André 3000 song hidden in an obscure, decade-old album. A treasure trove of Outkastian excellence.

Overall, the process of trying to record as a group of children was another challenge for 3000, especially as he was fresh off a sexually charged album of lovemaking and songs such as “Spread.”

“I’d have to change my voice to act like a kid,” Benjamin said. “Had to think like a kid, and that was the hardest learning curve musically. I knew I wanted to introduce kids to certain instruments and keep it upbeat. But it was a challenge to bring my inner kid out.”

It’s a fully rapped André 3000 song hidden in an obscure, decade-old album. A treasure trove of Outkastian excellence.

He found his motivation in the form of a movie and a real-life jazz inspiration. “One of my favorite movies is Dead Poets Society, and I felt like doing that with kids. I also thought it’d be great to have this teacher teach kids in an unorthodox way, so I stepped in as the teacher, Sunny Bridges. People don’t know that the name is a nod to saxophone player Sonny Rollins. There was a legend that he stopped playing music live at a certain point and he’d just play his horn under a bridge. So that’s how the name Sunny Bridges came together.”

And for a whole generation of kids, André 3000 will be known as Sunny Bridges first and rap Mount Rushmorian music luminary second. At least, that’s how my son will first learn about Andre Benjamin.

“That is the coolest thing about the show. I’ve had a blessed career. I’ve had the Isley Brothers’ career. They came up from the ’50s and survived through the ’90s. Kids know them from different eras. Some kids know early Outkast. Some kids know ‘Hey Ya,’ singing. And some kids know Class of 3000. So when I hear a kid who knows nothing about rapping, who knows nothing about The Source Awards but who knows me from the show, it just shows you that you don’t have to stop. You don’t have to rest on what you’ve done in the past. It’s beautiful.

Andre 3000 performs on stage at Lakewood Amphitheatre on September 10, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Paul R. Giunta/FilmMagic

“When I first talked to Tyler, The Creator, one of the first things he said was, ‘Man, those songs like the crayon song and the peanut song … we were kids!’ I forget these guys that are superstars now were kids listening to the songs. It’s like, ‘Wow, those kids actually paid attention.’ They got it.”

Unfortunately, Class of 3000 now mostly only lives in the memories of people who saw the show when it aired in 2007. The show is only available for purchase on iTunes, and of course there are random clips on YouTube. Class of 3000 simply came at a time when Cartoon Network was transitioning from landmark kid-friendly shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and The Powerpuff Girls to its Adult Swim imprint. Class of 3000 was the last show that Lazzo greenlit before heading over to Adult Swim to be a senior executive vice president.

“It was a victim of that transition,” said Lazzo. “Had I stayed at Cartoon Network, I would have been superfocused on Class of 3000. It was some of the best creativity I had seen.”

There’s clearly a need to revisit the show, though, a fact not lost on Lazzo and Benjamin. You never know which shows will stick with people years later,” Lazzo said. “I think maybe it’s time to bring it back.”

I don’t want to be too idealistic — but maybe this very essay will persuade them to at the very least release the songs from the show’s second season, or get the full episodes from the series a proper Blu-ray release.

“Sometimes you just have to bring attention back to something,” André Benjamin said with excitement. “There’s room to bring the show back. Cartoon Network owns the property. It’d be up to them to bring it back in some kind of way. You know what? I think it’ll happen now.”

Summer 2017 movies are full of melanin and just plain cool John Boyega, Rihanna, Kevin Hart, Kerry Washington and ‘Tupac’: an opinionated summer film guide

All that hot weather we’ve been wishing, hoping and praying for has finally arrived — so now it’s time to head indoors! Go ahead and pack your snacks — and stuff ’em far down in your purse: Summer movie (and blockbuster) season is upon us. A number of highly anticipated films are finally hitting the multiplex, and The Undefeated Culture team has you covered on which ones are worth ordering online in advance. Now, let’s all go to the movies!


Baywatch | May 25

Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Seth Gordon

Featuring: Dwayne Johnson, Priyanka Chopra, Zac Efron, Ilfenesh Hadera

Baywatch? More like Baewatch, amirite? Either way, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s new film surely will be an excellent introduction to summer blockbusters everywhere. At 45, and fresh off so much success of The Fate of the Furious that there’s talk of his own spinoff, Johnson is at his absolute best. He can do big-deal movie thrillers, premium cable TV shows, prime-time network sketch comedy or just about anything else he decides to take on. In this film, he brings David Hasselhoff’s beloved ’90s TV series to the big screen and teaches a new recruit (played by Efron) the tricks of the trade, all in the name of solving a big old criminal plot. We smell what’s cooking.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie | June 2

Studio: DreamWorks Animation and Scholastic Entertainment

Directed by: David Soren

Featuring: Kevin Hart, Jordan Peele, Ed Helms

Kevin Hart already took home an award for Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie — well, sort of. After the animated film’s late May premiere, Hart presented and jokingly accepted the award for “top collaboration” at the Billboard Music Awards with Underpants co-star Helms. In the film, based upon Dav Pilkey’s best-selling children’s novel series, Hart voices fourth-grader George Beard, who teams up with his best friend Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) to hypnotize their cruel school principal, Mr. Krupp (Helms), into believing he’s Captain Underpants, the hero of the comics that George and Harold write together. Peele follows up his critically acclaimed thriller Get Out as the voice of George and Harold’s nemesis: child prodigy Melvin Sneedly. Watch out, Despicable Me 3Captain Underpants might just be the best animated movie of the summer.

Wonder Woman | June 2

Studio: DC Entertainment

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Featuring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright

Some of us have been waiting for a Wonder Woman feature film since Lynda Carter twirled her way into superhero lore back in the ’70s. So, stakes is high (as De La Soul would say) for the first female-led film to flesh out the mythic story of Princess Diana since Jennifer Garner portrayed Elektra in 2005. Israeli actress Gal Gadot, best known for playing Gisele Yashar in the unstoppable Fast & Furious movie franchise, is the perfect behind-kicking, take-no-prisoners crime fighter.

The Mummy | June 9

Studio: K/O Paper Products and Sean Daniel Company

Directed by: Alex Kurtzman

Featuring: Courtney B. Vance, Annabelle Wallis, Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella

Courtney B. Vance continues to ride high on his Emmy-winning portrayal of famed attorney Johnnie Cochran in FX’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson. In Mummy month, Vance takes on his newest challenge, starring alongside Cruise, Wallis and Boutella in a reboot of the box office series that Brendan Fraser made an international success (and inspired a roller coaster!). Vance plays a colonel in the film.

All Eyez on Me | June 16

Studio: Morgan Creek Productions

Directed by: Benny Boom

Featuring: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Jamal Woolard, Danai Gurira, Jamie Hector

After years of setbacks and legal dramas, the life and times of Tupac Shakur will hit the big screen in one of the most anticipated films of the year. Shakur’s saga has been the subject of seemingly countless documentaries since his 1996 murder, including a highly anticipated Steve McQueen-directed doc, but Eyez ranks as the first time ’Pac’s story receives the biopic treatment. And, much like the man himself, the film doesn’t come without its share of controversy. Shakur’s family does not support the movie, according to sources. So it’ll be interesting to see how the depiction of rap’s most beloved martyr plays out.

Cars 3 | June 16

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

Directed by: Brian Fee

Featuring: Kerry Washington, Owen Wilson, Tony Shalhoub, Chris Cooper

If you’ve got the kids with you, it’s probably best you don’t take them to see All Eyez On Me. However, variety is the spice of life, and while Kerry Washington is the proud mom of Isabelle, 2, and Caleb, 5 months, it’s going to be a while before they understand the significance of mom’s fabled role as Olivia Pope on ABC’s Scandal. That being said, it’s easy to imagine Mama Washington as very happy showing her kids her first animated role. She’ll be playing Natalie Certain. In her words, Certain is the “super-smarty-pants statistician” who “knows everything there is to know about the ins and outs of statistics when it comes to racing.” Vroom.

Transformers : The Last Knight | June 21

Studio: di Bonaventura Pictures and Hasbro Studios

Directed by: Michael Bay

Featuring: Tyrese, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael, Mark Wahlberg, Gemma Chan, Stanley Tucci

C’mon, son. Not another Transformers movie. This is the fifth installment of the series that debuted in 2007 with Shia LaBeouf in the lead. With Michael Bay in the director’s chair, these films are guaranteed to be action-packed, and people love them enough to have turned Transformers into a billion-dollar franchise. But, man, the plots of the past few movies have been absolute struggles, and now Mark Wahlberg is the main character. Meh. Will we go see Transformers: The Last Knight this summer? Probably. Only to support the homie Tyrese, though.

The Bad Batch | June 23

Studio: Annapurna Pictures and VICE Films

Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour

Featuring: Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Suki Waterhouse, Giovanni Ribisi, Jim Carrey

So there are cannibals. Yep. From the director of the buzzy “first Iranian vampire Western” emerges a film around a bunch of steroid-abusing weightlifters living in a camp based in what screams dystopian America. There’s a cult leader in another place called Comfort, and everything seems to be a comment on everything going on right now in real life. The film has been called “creepy … savage,” and if that’s your cup of tea, with Lisa Bonet’s husband Jason Momoa on deck as well, then your summer is already made.

Baby Driver | Aug. 11

Studio: Big Talk Productions, Working Title Films and Media Rights Capital

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Featuring: Tyrese, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael, Mark Wahlberg, Gemma Chan, Stanley Tucci

Yasssss to having a tiny bit of anticipation for this film: It’s been described as “an action movie … powered by music.” Prepare yourself for some laughs now, ’cause Driver — though Wright calls it “visceral, darker, more cynical” — is sure to spark an LOL or two or three. We haven’t seen Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey in the same film since Seth Gordon’s 2011 Horrible Bosses, and they had us cracking up, all up and through there. This action-packed “dark” comedy is the fix you need if you like fast cars, crime and humor. It involves a not-well-planned heist that could take a wrong turn at any time. The getaway driver is a kid named Baby who was browbeaten into working for the biggest boss (Spacey, not Rick Ross) in the crime business. Foxx plays the role of Bats, part of the crime crew.

Spider-Man: Homecoming | July 27

Studio: Marvel Studios

Directed by: Jon Watts

Featuring: Donald Glover, Marisa Tomei, Tom Holland, Zendaya, Michael Keaton, Hannibal Buress, Tyne Daly, Bokeem Woodbine, Garcelle Beauvais

Peter Parker just wants to be a normal kid. But we all know he can’t be because of a bite from a genetically modified gangster spider that gives him superhuman spidey qualities. We’re thrilled about this reboot because it’ll be far more multicultural than we’ve seen from this series before — joining the cast are Zendaya as the super-smart Michelle, Buress as a know-nothing gym teacher and Bokeem Woodbine as Shocker, a criminal who is going to give Spider-Man a run for his web. Also in this film are Garcelle Beauvais and Donald Glover. It’s lit!

Wish Upon | July 14

Studio: Busted Shark Productions

Directed by: John Leonetti

Featuring: Sydney Park, Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Sherilyn Fenn

Basically: a super-scary movie about being careful what you wish for. King, who was so great in 2013’s The Conjuring, gets seven wishes from her hoarder dad, and what had been a life of embarrassment and sadness is suddenly all gravy — until it isn’t. The Walking Dead’s Park (formerly of Nickelodeon’s Instant Mom) is in a classic best friend role.

Lady Macbeth | July 14

Studio: BBC Films

Director: William Oldroyd

Featuring: Cosmo Jarvis, Florence Pugh, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank

Having already made its way around the festival circuit to rave reviews, this film, set in Victorian England and focused clearly on “themes of abuse, violence, race and class,” is a summer thriller you can’t miss. Plus, it apparently has “more black characters than all the Austens and Downtons put together.” A racially ambiguous Cosmo Jarvis stars opposite his lover, lady of the house Florence Pugh. Naomi Ackie plays a maid, but this is not The Help. An adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, this film is noir-ish, it’s sexy and, perhaps most alluring of all, it’s quite the opposite of the typical, whitewashed 19th-century period film.

War for the Planet of the Apes | July 14

Studio: Chernin Entertainment

Director: Matt Reeves

Featuring: Woody Harrelson, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis

Break out your “Rest In Peace Harambe” T-shirts for this one. Our boy Harambe surely would’ve gone down swinging in the epic battle between apes and humans that will be depicted in July’s War for the Planet, the third installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot, which began with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011 and followed up with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014. It’s tough to pick sides between the apes, led by their intelligent king chimpanzee Caesar, and the humans, led by Col. McCullough, who’s played by the one and only Woody Harrelson. Harambe will be cheering on his homies from heaven.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets | July 21

Studio: EuropaCorp and Fundamental Films

Directed by: Luc Besson

Featuring: Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, Herbie Hancock

If you’re into sci-fi flicks where groups of species live in perfect harmony appreciating diverse cultures and experiences until an antagonist threatens to destroy everything with a pulse, this one’s for you. As it relates to Rihanna? The “Needed Me” singer stars as a shape-shifting entertainer named Bubble, and director Luc Besson described her as a complete joy to work with. The futuristic thriller is just the latest in a growing thespian résumé for RihRih. She starred as Marion Crane in the final season of Bates Motel and has a leading role in the new Ocean’s Eleven all-ladies-everything adaptation, Ocean’s Eight.

Girls Trip | July 21

Studio: Will Packer Productions

Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee

Featuring: Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish

We’ve never seen black women on film like this before — sex-positive, carefree and ready for the turn-up. From producer extraordinaire Will Packer, four college friends reunite and head down to New Orleans for the Essence Festival seeking a much-needed reprieve from the melodramas of everyday life. The girls are on tilt: A lot of raunchy, good-natured fun goes down — and we’re all the way here for it.

The Dark Tower | Aug. 4

Studio: Weed Road Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Media Rights Capital

Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel

Featuring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick

Yo, Stringer Bell is back! The fine-as-hell criminal mastermind is not playing with these Dominican and Greek drug lords who are out here trying to mess with his money on the rough streets of Baltimore. OK, that’s a lie. But some of us love The Wire and Idris Elba so much that things like movie plots, co-stars and origin story revelations are completely immaterial. So: all right, fine. Elba plays the last Gunslinger, a heroic savior in Stephen King’s sci-fi multiverse book series of the same name. He’s trying to save the Dark Tower from falling and keep civilization from crumbling, or some such thing. Whatever. Did we mention that Idris Elba is in it and has, like, a lot of scenes in the whole movie? Yeah, some of us are very excited.

Detroit | Aug. 4

Studio: Annapurna Pictures

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Featuring: John Boyega, Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie

Please, please, please let this film, which is a kind of behind-the-scenes of the 1967 Detroit riots, be on the up-and-up. Folks were nervous (and rightly so) because, according to the initial trailer and the IMDB credit list, there appears to be an erasure of black women. From the director of Zero Dark Thirty, this film is poised to tell the story of the horrifyingly relevant Algiers Motel Incident that occurred during the 1967 racial unrest in the Motor City, which was then perhaps the most industrially significant city in the nation.

Ingrid Goes West | Aug. 4

Studio: Star Thrower Entertainment and 141 Entertainment

Directed by: Matt Spicer

Featuring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Wyatt Russell and Billy Magnussen

O’Shea Jr. takes on his next big screen task — but this time he’s not playing his famous father. Instead, it’s a supporting role as Aubrey Plaza’s love interest in the dark comedy that won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this year’s Sundance Festival. Jackson credited his real-life love of Batman, of all things, with helping him land the role: His character in the film is a screenwriter obsessed with the legendary superhero.

Nutjob 2: Nutty by Nature | Aug. 11

Studio: ToonBox Entertainment, Red Rover International and Gulfstream Pictures

Directed by: Cal Brunker

Featuring: Maya Rudolph, Gabriel Iglesias, Will Arnett, Jackie Chan, Katherine Heigl

Listen. Maya Rudolph and all her “funniness” can never steer you wrong, even in animation. Whether you’re planning a staycation with the kids or you want to keep them busy on a random day, this summer movie will do the trick. Nutjob 2: Nutty By Nature picks up with Surly Squirrel and his homies. This time they are battling the evil mayor of Oakton, who is trying to get rid of their home, Liberty Park, to build an amusement park. But these animal friends are not at all here for it. They’re taking back their territory.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard | Aug. 18

Studio: Millennium Films and Cristal Pictures

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Featuring: Samuel L. Jackson, Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman

What we do know is there is a whole lot of profanity in this R-rated buddy movie: Jackson is a superefficient hitman who must be guarded by the exasperated Reynolds. Not every black and white character-driven smart-guy bromance can be the original 1982 48 Hrs. But here’s hoping?

Everybody loves Tyrel Jackson Williams in IFC’s baseball-based ‘Brockmire’ The former ‘Lab Rats’ star talks Earth, Wind & Fire, extreme juggling and Tumblr

Tyrel Jackson Williams is transitioning from Lab Rats in abrupt fashion. From 2012 to 2016, he starred on the Disney XD series as Leo Dooley, and he is now currently playing Charles, the laid-back social media genius on IFC’s Brockmire. The new show stars Hank Azaria as legendary (and fictional) baseball commentator Jim Brockmire. It’s IFC’s most highly rated show and cable’s most time-shifted comedy, so of course it’s already been renewed for a second season. Williams, 20, is also the younger brother of Everybody Hates Chris star Tyler James Williams, but he long ago stepped out of his brother’s acting shadow. Tyrel Williams talked about the differences between acting in a show for kids and a show that is definitely for mature audiences — as well as about being starstruck at an Earth, Wind & Fire concert, and his love of superheroes.

When did you realize you were famous?

The first time it happened when I was at the mall. I was just chilling with my family one Saturday. This little girl was whispering to her mom from far away and pointing. I was like, ‘What’s going on, this is weird.’ She ran over and she was like, ‘You’re on a Disney show, right?’ I was like, ‘What! Yes I am, I really am on a Disney show. I’m happy you’ve seen it.’ I was superweird about it; I didn’t know how to handle it all. I was like, ‘Wow, this is gonna start happening regularly for me.’ I was 15 … around six months after Lab Rats premiered.

Aside from age, what is the biggest difference between how Lab Rats and Brockmire fans engage with you?

There’s a lot less yelling. Usually with Lab Rats fans, everything gets really quiet for a while and then somebody screams. [With] Brockmire fans, people just walk up and are like, ‘You’re really good in Brockmire.’ And they know my name — which is something I’m not used to. I’m used to people just yelling, ‘Leo!’ at me.

“Have you seen extreme juggling?”

Have you ever been starstruck?

I’ve been starstruck meeting Elijah Wood, and Verdine White from Earth, Wind & Fire. My parents are huge fans, and I’m also a fan because I’ve heard the group my entire life. We went to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, and somehow we got to go backstage and meet Verdine. My parents were really cool about it, and I couldn’t move. Verdine is standing right in front of me, and this is real life and I’m not dreaming.

Was that the first concert you ever went to?

Yes, it was. It was an amazing first concert to go to. I was like 13 or 14.

Who’s the most famous person following you on social media?

Sarah Paulson follows me because Amanda Peet tweeted at her through my Twitter account. Amanda doesn’t have Twitter, and she doesn’t really know how it works. She got into a Twitter conversation with Sarah via my Twitter, and Sarah Paulson ended up following me.

What is your favorite social media outlet?

Tumblr — it feels like an everything social media outlet.

If you could be any athlete, dead or alive, who would you be?

Part of me wants to say Tiger Woods, just to avoid all of the controversy. That would be kind of cool for a few weeks.

Do you like any unconventional sports?

Have you seen extreme juggling? You get to knock other people over and knock the pins out of their hands, but you have to juggle the whole time. It is the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life.

How do you find out about new music?

Twitter’s helping out a lot. I follow Complex, Fader and a bunch of those news outlets and magazines. They’re usually on top of drops. Apple Music is really good about featuring new artists.

“How do you manage to sink 3s effortlessly? It makes no sense.”

What was the last book you read?

The last book that I read all the way through was Watchmen. That has one of the craziest stories I’ve ever read. Props to Alan Moore. Right now I’m reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy [by Douglas Adams]. I watched the movie, and a bunch of people were telling me the movie sucks compared to the book. I started reading the book and I was like, this is way better.

Who is your favorite athlete currently playing?

I’d have to go with Steph Curry. How do you manage to sink 3s effortlessly? It makes no sense.

Who is your favorite superhero?

Deadpool. He’s awesome, he’s powerful and just crazy. He’s hilarious, and constantly breaks the fourth wall and is aware of the fact he is in comics and movies. He’s a character like I’ve never really seen before.

What is one bad habit that you have that you wish you could shake?

I tend to procrastinate. I work better under a deadline. I’m just gonna wait until a day or two days before and prepare for it, and I never do — and I end up panicking.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Work hard, and never settle. Work as hard as you can as often as you can. … You should always be striving to be the best you possibly can.

‘Little Boxes’ and the issue of nonblack artists depicting black subjects The indie movie is just the latest in a string of works wrestling with how to authentically portray black lives

Little Boxes, a hit at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, comes out Friday in theaters and video on-demand. And yet it somehow already feels a bit anachronistic in a world where racial division is much more sharply defined than it was just months ago.

Based on writer Annie J. Howell’s own experiences in an interracial relationship, according to Reel Talk Online, Little Boxes follows a family of liberal Brooklyn intellectuals during their first days in the fictional town of Rome, Washington, which is a three-hour drive from Seattle.

Gina (Melanie Lynskey) is a white photographer and professor who just got a tenure-track position at the local college. Her black husband, Mack (Nelsan Ellis), is trying to bang out his second novel. They have an 11-year-old son, Clark (Armani Jackson), with an enormous Afro. All of them are trying to adjust to new surroundings and the unfurnished, moldy house in the middle of white exurbia.

Directed by Rob Meyer (A Birder’s Guide to Everything), Little Boxes ends on a note of Pollyanna-like optimism, suggesting the world’s racial problems could be solved if people just talked to each other more and black people didn’t make everything about race. (There is actually a line in the film in which Gina yells at Mack, “Not everyone is racist!”) It suggests that two black men can be the flies in middle-of-nowhere buttermilk and make it out OK, even as they’re side-eyeing microaggressions, in Mack’s case, or, in Clark’s case, beginning to learn that the world sees them differently. And maybe they can, although they’ll certainly sustain a few emotional scars.

Nelsan Ellis, Melanie Lynskey and Armani Jackson in a scene from “Little Boxes.”

Courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky

Little Boxes is the latest in a succession of indie films in which nonblack directors and screenwriters wrestle with black or multiracial leads in spaces that are overwhelmingly white. There’s Deidra and Laney Rob a Train (directed by Sydney Freeland, who is Navajo, and written by Shelby Farrell), as well as Morris From America (written and directed by Chad Hartigan).

These films raise questions about writing and empathy: When you have black or multiracial characters in settings that are largely white, how important is it to address race and racism? How do you present characters who are authentic when their experiences may be vastly different from your own?

Such questions aren’t limited to the big and small screens. They exist across the artistic spectrum. In literature, the current answer seems to be an explosion of sensitivity readers, who read books before they’re published in order to flag culturally insensitive stereotyping or details that are culturally inaccurate. These people are paid to submit detailed, honest critiques to authors dealing in subject matter that may be foreign to them, and they are most common in children’s and young adult literature.

Sensitivity readers are an intellectual workaround to address the consequences of white people having systematically separated themselves from everyone else in housing, education and the workplace. They are a stopgap. They are not a replacement for writers of color, and they’re not a solution to the overwhelming whiteness of the publishing industry. But they can play a valuable role.

The fracas over artist Dana Schutz’s Open Casket suggests that an art world equivalent to sensitivity readers wouldn’t be a bad idea. Schutz’s depiction of the face of murdered 14-year-old Emmett Till has perhaps drawn more publicity than any other work in this year’s Whitney Biennial because of the racial politics surrounding it and the exhibition’s own troubled reputation when it comes to race and gender (too many white guys, not enough women and people of color). Schutz is white, and her subject is the victim of one of the most notorious instances of racist terroristic violence in American history. Schutz’s work drew protests because, even though it was based on the gruesome open-casket photo of Till’s disfigured face, it was an abstraction, seemingly devoid of connection to the historic circumstances that led to his death.

“Open Casket” by Dana Schutz

MATTHIAS KOLB 12355 BERLIN / Collection of the artist

In response to Schutz’s painting, Hyperallergic’s Ryan Wong published A Syllabus for Making Work About Race as a White Artist in America. Wong suggested that rather than trying to depict black suffering, white artists instead interrogate their own histories and ties to racist institutions. “Consider the fact that your insurance company, alma mater, housing deed, bank, hospital, etc. probably all have direct ties to segregation and slavery,” Wong wrote. “Think about that uncle who served in Korea or Vietnam and how he processes the millions of civilian murders that happened ‘over there.’ Remember that, in this moment, you are sitting on land violently stolen from indigenous people. How do you recreate the archive of that intentionally erased history?”

While Open Casket drew protests and calls for Schutz’s painting to be removed, it’s not uncommon as a person of color to find yourself eagerly lapping up an exquisite work while also lamenting that your reflection in it is a little shallow. That’s what happened with the recent HBO hit Big Little Lies, written by David E. Kelley and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.

Writers for Refinery 29 and Vulture both pointed out how the character of Bonnie Carlson did a disservice to actress Zoë Kravitz’s considerable talents. Bonnie, the only black lead, is the most underwritten character on the show, and there’s no attempt to reconcile her identity as a black woman living among wealthy white liberals in Monterey, California.

It’s easy to point to Little Boxes or Big Little Lies or Open Casket as evidence of white people’s deficiencies with anything remotely having to do with race. It’s even easier to use that failure to say that white people should just stick to writing what they know and not bother writing about people of color at all.

But inclusion requires not just more people of color telling their own stories but also white artists creating nonwhite characters who are more than just the Black Best Friend. Nonblack writers and directors should stretch outside their own experiences because it’s been demonstrated, time and again, that it’s possible, if not easy, to get it right. Most black film and television writers wouldn’t be able to feed themselves if they could write only black characters. For people of color, “knowing your whites,” as sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom has argued, is a survival tactic. We cannot afford to not know them.

It’s just as important then, that they should know us too. That’s not an easy thing. Most white people have no nonwhite friends. They live in places surrounded by other white people, and decades of housing and banking policy have subsidized that existence.

So what has to happen for such art to do more than just inspire criticism about what it’s lacking?

In film and television, it’s imperative to genuinely prize collaboration. These are the moments when it’s important for actors of color to have the freedom to give honest notes about their characters and about dialogue and for writers and filmmakers to listen to them.

Maurice Berger, a research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, put it best in a piece for The New York Times about Schutz and Till:

Ultimately, the white artist who chooses to explore issues of race has a responsibility to the history and content of work they appropriate. And while some critics have made Ms. Schutz’s race the overarching issue — that a white artist should not traffic in black pain — the problem is not about her race. White artists should, and indeed have a responsibility to, examine the most vexing and intransigent issue of our time: white racism in all of its forms, from that of the complacent liberal to the neo-Nazi supremacist.

But cross-cultural work demands insight, respect, sensitivity and rigor. It also requires honesty about and self-inquiry into one’s own racial attitudes. To be an artist, no matter how expressive or interpretive, does not give anyone license — or cover — to casually appropriate African-American history and culture.

Little Boxes generally accomplishes what Berger prescribes. Meyer and Howell aren’t shy about depicting the eyeroll-inducing blind spots of white people in rural Washington state who’ve only ever known other white people.

Consider an encounter Mack has with his neighbor, Tom (David Ebert). When the two go to a local bar together, Tom tells another patron: “The thing about this guy is, if you close your eyes, you can’t even tell he’s black.” A look of familiar exasperation makes its way across Mack’s face.

While the film does a fairly good job of holding up a mirror to white racial clumsiness, it flubs some details with Mack and Clark. But it’s not malicious.

For instance, when Clark introduces himself to two neighborhood girls who become his first friends in Rome, he lists his favorite music: “AfroPunk, Bjork, ’90s hip-hop, free jazz.” It’s a small detail, but one that would stick out to anyone familiar with the Afropunk Festival, which is that no one really refers to Afropunk as a genre. It’s known more as a movement or music festival and Clark would have been more realistic had he named bands such as Morcheeba or Fishbone.

It’s also worth remembering that having a black writer or director is no guarantee that they will render black characters without issue, as evidenced by the controversy surrounding writer/director John Ridley and the upcoming Showtime miniseries Guerrilla.

Guerrilla, which stars Idris Elba and Freida Pinto, depicts the work of Britain’s black revolutionaries during the 1970s. Elba and Pinto collaborate to free a political prisoner and form a radical underground group. Audience members at a recent London screening accused Ridley, the screenwriter for 12 Years a Slave, of erasing black women from historic events. Pinto, the only female lead in Guerrilla, is Indian.

“I don’t want to make this overly personal, but part of why I chose to have a mixed-race couple at the center of this is that I’m in a mixed-race relationship,” Ridley responded. “My wife is a fighter, my wife is an activist, and yet because our races are different, there are a lot of things we have to still put up with.”

So who can we trust to tell complicated, challenging, messy stories about black people and tell them well? Such artists come in an array of races and genders, from Ava DuVernay to Steven Spielberg to Mira Nair, just to name a few. What they all share is passion, empathy and a respect for source material and the people whose stories they are telling.

In Little Boxes, there’s cause for optimism because Meyer and Howell are doing interesting work that’s absolutely necessary and not always easy: interrogating whiteness and the ways it shapes the people of color who encounter it. In an interracial relationship, those encounters aren’t just limited to the outside world. They happen right at home.

Daily Dose: 4/4/17 Haters still hating on Deshaun Watson

Sorry for being out sick yesterday, gang. The Morning Roast was very NCAA tourney-heavy on Sunday, obviously, but we’ll be filling in for Bomani Jones on #TheRightTime on Thursday and Friday, so be sure to check that out.

More often than not, Big Brother is watching. According to a new report from The Guardian, back when people were taking to the streets to protest the death of Eric Garner, the New York Police Department was doing everything it could to stop what seemed like otherwise legal demonstrations. That includes infiltrating small groups of #BlackLivesMatter activists. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s administration is still pushing “extreme vetting,” trying to take the measures even further (like asking for social media passwords), including for nations we consider allies.

My phone is my alarm clock. It also happens to be my lifeline to everything else, but one thing I certainly do is sleep with it close to me. But for one man in Alabama, that habit nearly killed him. He received a severe electric shock after a necklace he was wearing in bed came into contact with a frayed charger wire. We all know those can be awful when they don’t help your phone juice up, but, yeah, they can also be really harmful. Thankfully for Apple, he’s alive, but the story of just how he managed to save himself is pretty impressive.

How do black people communicate? Obviously in a variety of different ways, but others always seem to want to know, as if it’s a secret. The usual spheres — salon, barbershop, church, school — have become a very dated way of looking at things now that the internet is basically the globe’s communicative currency holder. And you know black people use social media as much as any group of people in America, which shouldn’t surprise you. When your voices have been quelled for so long, you find a way. Roy Wood Jr. breaks down Black Twitter on Trevor Noah’s show.

Alabama fans stay butthurt. Deshaun Watson torched the school’s oh-so-vaunted defense to win Clemson a national championship this year, but no one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is getting over it anytime soon. Last week, he was legitimately asked to leave an establishment in the college town, where he was dining with his girlfriend. Former Crimson Tide player Ryan Anderson was there, too, which just makes this whole thing a lot more childish. What he was doing eating in such a public place in that town, I don’t know, but still a very wack situation.

Free Food

Coffee Break: James Corden does everything better when he’s not in a studio. Watching the comedian serve as Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry’s life coach is about as funny as it gets. Also, watching Steph sing Disney songs will make your day better.

Snack Time: Whatever you do, do not taunt a chimp at a zoo. You just might end up with its poop on your face, and not because you fell in the cage. Gross.

Dessert: Pitbull is still doing it, man. Might be time for him to run for office.

Being a black Power Ranger New actor RJ Cyler joins the elite and small club of black superheroes

RJ Cyler is the new Blue Power Ranger. Not the Black one.

Well, he is the black one. But his costume is blue.

He was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. “Duval County,” Cyler said emphatically of the big port city. He spent most of his adolescence dancing, skating and playing a lot of video games. A DJ since he was 16, Cyler also played drums for and sang in his church choir. Though he admitted he can’t sing all that well. “I think,” he said, “they were only doing it because they felt like that was the Christian thing to do.” He also grew up watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, favoring the Red and the Blue Rangers because those were his favorite colors. “I’m not,” said Cyler, “a confused gang member or nothing like that.”

What is he? A part of a growing list of young black male actors breaking out in Hollywood — John Boyega (Star Wars), Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Corey Hawkins (24: Legacy) and Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta). He also joins the ranks of Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as blacks starring in big-budget superhero franchises that gross billions of dollars.

For Cyler, that’s Power Rangers (Lionsgate), a 21st-century reimagining of the original series that debuted on Fox Children’s Network in 1993 and aired each weekday afternoon and on Saturday mornings. The show’s initial characters, Zack, the Black Ranger; Billy, the Blue Ranger; Trini, the Yellow Ranger; Kimberly, the Pink Ranger; and Jason, the Red Ranger, will all be returning.

Last Halloween, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving dressed up as a milly-rocking Red Ranger.

During the height of the show’s popularity, if any of those original five cast members even went out in public for dinner, dozens of fans would line up for an autograph, sometimes ignoring other arguably more famous stars at the same restaurant. The Power Rangers would regularly outdraw Santa Claus at shopping malls. The Los Angeles Times once referred to Rangers mania as “the pre-adolescents’ equivalent of the Beatles.”

That impact lives on: Lil Wayne named a track from his 2012 mixtape Dedication 4, “Green Ranger,” referring to the show’s most popular character. Professional wrestler Austin Watson, who performs in WWE as Xavier Woods, has long incorporated Power Rangers into his character, even starring as the Black Ranger in a fan fiction YouTube series.

Last Halloween, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving dressed up as a milly-rocking Red Ranger. And in 2015, famed film director Joseph Kahn released a critically acclaimed fan film that envisioned the Power Rangers as dark, brooding mercenaries, a la Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. There’s also the someone’s-drunk-uncle-on-the-highway Blue Ranger who took over the internet last year.

When they’ve met the Power Rangers, even grown men have cried.


Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was created in 1993 by former music producer Haim Saban. The Godzilla-like, low-budget series about five teenagers being given intergalactic and prehistoric superpowers quickly became one of the most successful children’s television shows of the 1990s. Saban, who also produced the highly successful animated X-Men series, had his Power Rangers idea rejected by almost every major network before Fox greenlit the show in the summer of 1993.

The cast from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (from left to right): Amy Jo Johnson, Thuy Trang, Austin St. John, Walter Jones and David Yost.

Alamy

Then-Fox Children’s Network president Margaret Loesch, who was responsible for putting the show on the network, was told by the head of Fox Broadcasting to shelve the project before it even aired because it would be a “disaster.” But within months of the show’s September 1993 premiere, it was the highest-rated children’s show in America.

The most recent season of Power Rangers averages a respectable 1.5 million viewers a week, but during its first and second seasons, the show averaged 4.8 million and 6.9 million viewers a day, respectively. During its peak, five martial-arts-practicing teenagers were regularly battling the likes of Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake and Maury Povich. And at one point, Power Rangers was drawing more TV households than Oprah Winfrey. With a mixture of cartoonlike explosions and monsters, plus teenage superheroes whom the targeted audience could relate to and aspire to be, Power Rangers unearthed the secret formula to capturing the attention of candy-riddled children.

While the show’s strongest viewership was among boys age 8-11 racing home from school to watch each episode, it was No. 1 among 2- to 11-year-olds, scoring a whopping 40 share within a month of its premiere episode. Alongside Bobby’s World, Tiny Toon Adventures, X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series and Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?, Power Rangers made the now-defunct Fox Kids the most-watched channel for children’s programming in the early 1990s. A children’s research executive estimated at the time that 26 million kids were watching Fox programming in 1994, not including the millions of children watching across 40-plus other countries.

The show spawned two movies — 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie. They grossed more than $70 million combined. And according to the Los Angeles Times, 1 million videocassettes of the series were sold over a two-week span in December 1993. Power Rangers was the No. 1 boys brand in the world from 1993-97, responsible for more than $5 billion in product sales for Saban and his production company. Saban Entertainment made an estimated $1 billion in U.S. sales based off Rangers paraphernalia within its first 15 months alone, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Fox executives estimated that the total rose to $2 billion when including worldwide sales.


Tall, wiry and as baby-faced as a high school freshman, Cyler, 22, has played a teenager on numerous occasions, including in the new Power Rangers. An admitted “weirdo” who will rock a bucket hat and taco-adorned dress shirt one day and a gold grill and tie-dye T-shirt the next, he’s also a fan of Star Wars, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, and considers the Isley Brothers his favorite musical act of all time.

Growing up, he was the water boy for his middle school’s basketball team. “It was because,” he said, “I wasn’t good enough to be on the basketball team.” At Jacksonville’s Englewood High School (which boasts such distinguished alumni as the Washington Nationals’ Daniel Murphy and Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst), he was named sophomore class president. “I was definitely Theater-Band Geek/Straight-Up Boss Subgroup C [in high school],” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2015.

“At one point, Power Rangers was drawing more TV households than Oprah Winfrey.”

Cyler knew he wanted to be an actor at 16. “I used to watch the Disney Channel,” he said, “like it was a drug.” He needed to be in a career that allowed him to express his creativity, and when he heard a commercial about an acting camp in Los Angeles, he went, excelled, and the next thing he knew he had a one-way ticket out of Jacksonville, which he compared to a war battlefield. “If I wouldn’t have moved out of Jacksonville when I did, nine times out of 10 I would be in jail or dead, and that’s not just being a stereotypical thing, it’s just in my city, it’s not a place where you can just be like, ‘Oh, yeah, do this, do that.’ No, people die in my city every single day.”

In 2013, the family totally committed to his dream when his parents cashed in their retirement savings so the then-17-year-old and his mom could move to Los Angeles. After about a year of just him and his mother Katina living on the West Coast, Cyler’s “papa,” Ronald, sold the family’s home in Jacksonville and drove to California to join them. But shortly after Ronald arrived, life, said Cyler, “kicked me in my nuts.” For three months, the family was homeless. They lived out of their Toyota Highlander and at a Motel 6. The family’s faith kept them whole. “If God brought us to this place, [there was] a reason for it, so we can’t question that,” said Cyler. “We just got to remember that we gon’ make it through.”

The family got back on its feet after Cyler nabbed a role in the award-winning indie teen drama, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. “I lost my mind,” said Cyler said about booking the movie. “I just screamed … at the end of the day, God is too damn good.”

RJ Cyler attends a fan event at Y100 on March 6 in Miramar, Florida.

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Saban's Power Rangers

Which makes Cyler a busy man these days. HBO’s raunchy comedy Vice Principals premiered last summer, and the second and final season is set to air this year. In it, he plays the foul-mouthed teenage son of no-nonsense character Dr. Belinda Brown. The series premiere of the Jim Carrey-produced Showtime sitcom I’m Dying Up Here debuts in June — Cyler co-stars. And he will star alongside Brad Pitt in Netflix’s Afghanistan war satire War Machine in May. In December 2016, it was reported that Cyler will star in a “modern retelling” of Cyrano de Bergerac called Sierra Burgess Is A Loser.

That busy schedule leaves no time even for a girlfriend. “Oh, hell, no. My last — oh, Jesus Christ! My last relationship showed me why I just need to chill.” Although, now that he is more visible than ever, he has a twinkle in his eye for singer and former Disney star Zendaya. “Ever since she’s been on TV, she’s always had a really cool, cute vibe. And now that she’s growing up, she’s just bossy lady-ing it up. That vibe is like 10 times worse, and I’m like, ‘Yassssss, queen, yasssss.’ ” Zendaya, though, can’t hold a candle to actress and country music star Reba McEntire. “Reba is one fine country woman to me.”

Cyler, like many, was excited to hear about Power Rangers coming back to theaters, and about a year after the studio’s announcement, he was asked to audition. In the middle of filming War Machine, Cyler sent in his audition tape. He was soon offered the part by director Dean Israelite. “I lost my mind,” said Cyler. “I was like, ‘Hell, yeah! I’m in.’ ”


In the nearly 25-year history of Power Rangers, there have been more than 100 actors and actresses who’ve donned the show’s patented multicolored spandex suits and helmets. Of that total, 16 are black, though there was no shortage of representation on-screen. David Yost, who starred on the series from 1993-96, came out as gay in 2010. And one of the biggest headlines to emerge in the run-up to the new film is that there’s a gay character in Power Rangers: “the first big-budget superhero movie to feature an LGBT protagonist.” From the show’s inception there was a concerted effort “to avoid racial and sexual stereotyping,” Loesch, the former Fox executive, told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. (An African-American playing the Black Ranger and a Vietnamese-American playing the Yellow Ranger on the original show, though, was a coincidence.) “For a change, female characters are as vital as the males. They’re superheroes, and little girls don’t have that too often,” Loesch added.

The women performed their own stunts and went toe-to-toe with their male counterparts, leading to young girls to make up more than 40 percent of the show’s audience after its first season. The TV show appealed to a diverse audience, and dodging stereotypes in the new film, Ludi Lin, who is Asian, is a shirtless male hunk who also raps. “The fact that it was a diverse cast,” said Walter Jones, the original Black Ranger, Zack Taylor, “it gave everybody a possibility of being that hero.”

Per Adilifu Nama’s 2011 Super Black American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes, other than Eartha Kitt as Catwoman in the Batman television series (1967), Avery Brooks in A Man Called Hawk (1989) and Carl Lumbly in M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994-95), there was little to no representation of African-Americans as superheroic. While the 1990s was a golden age of black television — The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin and Living Single, and more — it did lack black characters, such as a Superman or Batman, saving the world. Black comic book heroes such as Luke Cage, Falcon and Green Lantern premiered in the 1960s and 1970s, but the Black Ranger, as a part of the culture-defining television series, became the default hero for black kids growing up in the 1990s.

From left to right: Roger Velasco, Catherine Sutherland, Selwyn Ward, Tracy Lynn Cruz and Blake Foster from Power Rangers Turbo.

Alamy

Blacks have donned every costume color on the show. In 2015, then-21-year-old Camille Hyde became the first black actress to play the Pink Ranger. Every season has a character who plays the leader role — normally the Red Ranger — and black characters have held that position three times — Jessica Jones and Empire actor Eka Darville starred as the Red Ranger in 2009. Though none has been a black woman.


Walter Emanuel Jones heard about an audition for a new kids superhero show between auditions for Star Search. Jones was trying to break into show business as an actor, singer and dancer, and Saban Entertainment was looking for a suave, hip individual who could do two of the three for its upcoming children’s show. For the Detroit native, this was an opportunity to showcase his various talents, overcome a rough childhood in the Motor City, and play a black crime fighter. Jones, a former college roommate of Jamie Foxx, beat out thousands of others to play Zack Taylor on the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

With his signature hairstyles — the hi-top fade, and later on, twists — as well as smooth dance moves and unmitigated swagger (he once dapped up the show’s robotic sidekick, Alpha 5), Jones embodied early-’90s hip-hop music, style and fashion. He even created his own form of martial arts called Hip Hop Kido — the only character in the history of the show to do so — which mixed b-boy breakdancing and Jackie Chan-inspired tae kwon do.

“It’s literally a kids movie, it’s a show. Shut up. God, Everything isn’t about race.”

Jones, when he went home to Detroit, saw firsthand the effect his casting had on little boys and girls across the country. “Listen, I grew up here,” he would tell students at his former schools. “I grew up in a single-family household with a mom who couldn’t always pay the bills … I didn’t know what my direction was going to be right away, but I found an opportunity and I took advantage of it, and I’m able to succeed. If I can do it, you can do it.”

He remembers one incident during the show’s pilot episode in which he was told to constantly say, in a stereotypical fashion,“What’s up?” when entering a scene. “They wanted me to say [it] like 25 times: What’s up, what’s up … whazzup, whazzup, what’s up, what’s up. This whole crazy thing, and I was like, ‘Can I not say what’s up that many times? It’s a bit excessive.’ ”

Actor Walter Jones attends the Third Annual Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo held at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Nov. 1, 2014, in Los Angeles.

Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Jones left the show at the height of its popularity in November 1994 over contractual issues, but unlike most former Power Rangers actors, he has carved out a nearly 30-year career, working as both a film and voice actor. “I’m proof that kids from underprivileged areas have what it takes to achieve whatever they want,” Jones told PR Newswire in 1994. “If they put their minds to it.”

The 16 actors who’ve taken on these roles — not including two who had recurring roles during seasons two and three — have unfairly been tasked with representing the millions of young black kids who’ve watched Power Rangers over the past two decades. Some readily accept that duty, recognizing the importance of black faces on television, while others are more colorblind, focusing on the broader impact the show has had on all young children.

John Mark Loudermilk, who was a part of the 2013-14 “Megaforce” seasons, and identifies as “Hispanic plus white slash half black,” was the franchise’s most recent black male character. As a child he gravitated to the Black Ranger, and once on the show, referred to himself as the “brown Billy,” in reference to the original white character. The 25-year-old, who was adopted by white parents when he was 2 weeks old, has never paid much to attention race. “Being the token brown guy, if you will, I never really thought about that,” said Loudermilk. “I don’t really look at people as a color. I see people for who they are in their heart.”

Keith Robinson, who appeared on the show in 2000 as part of “Lightspeed Rescue,” didn’t watch the show as a teenager, but once he moved to Los Angeles, he took an acting class and the first role he read for was one on Power Rangers. He played comic relief Joel Rawlings, who also happened to be a cowboy. “It was unique that they did make him a black cowboy,” he said. “Which was [something] you … see hardly ever on TV.”

Robinson, who’s since appeared in 2006’s Dreamgirls and 2007’s This Christmas, filled a void simply by existing. Representation, he realized, matters, even on a campy show about fighting poorly contrived monsters like the Pineoctopus. “You see a lot of young black boys who say, ‘Hey, there’s somebody who looks like me. I can be a superhero. and be positive.’ ”

Karan Ashley was the first black woman to play a Power Ranger, appearing in seasons 2 and 3 as Yellow Ranger Aisha Campbell. She also starred in the franchise’s first feature-length film, 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. Ashley was once in the all-girl singing group Krush, who appeared on the soundtrack for 1992’s Mo’ Money. She’s also had guest roles on Kenan and Kel, The Steve Harvey Show and One on One.

The stars of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

“I loved my character, obviously. I was the Black girl,” Ashley told the Los Angeles Sentinel in 2015. “They let me get braids — they let me be the Black girl. For me, it was such an important thing to be a positive role model for young Black girls because I felt like we had never had that on TV, especially that young.”

Nakia Burrise replaced Ashley in 1996 to become the show’s second black female character, spending two seasons playing Tanya Sloan, the Yellow Ranger. Like Ashley, Burrise also starred in a movie — 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.

The California native studied theater at UCLA, alongside former Grey’s Anatomy actor Cress Williams, and was cast in the fourth season of Power Rangers during her junior year. After leaving the show in 1997, Burrise has since appeared on Smart Guy, Moesha and various television commercials.

And she, too, directly saw the impact of her face being transmitted to millions of little black kids every day. “Power Rangers gave children and adults alike the feeling that you can do anything. ‘Oh, my gosh, I see someone on television that looks just like me and is saving the world.’ It gave them the opportunity to look up to someone.” Aside from representation for African-Americans, Burrise said, the show was also meaningful for the millions of impressionable youths tuning in as well. “There were a lot of elements to the show that really helped with bullying, self-image, making right choices in life,” she said.

“People come up to [me] all the time,” said Burrisse, “and tell me how Power Rangers or my character saved their life.”


The character Billy Cranston was the nerdy, awkward outcast of show who was always picked on by bullies, and was normally the butt of everyone’s jokes. Unlike the other well-trained members of the Power Rangers group, Billy didn’t originally know any martial arts, and was less undaunted when it came to facing raspy-voiced antagonist Rita Repulsa and her gang of Putty Patrollers. Despite those limitations, Billy was the most intelligent citizen of fictitious Angel Grove, California, most notably creating the group’s wrist communicators — the precursor to wearable technology like the Apple Watch.

Yost was nowhere near as intelligent as his character. “The writers would write these ridiculous lines with all these big words, and I had no idea what my character was saying, so I’d have to go into my dressing room and break out the dictionary.” And, as is the case for many bespectacled youths navigating adolescence, no child wanted to be the Blue Ranger. “Sorry, but our 8-year-old a—s really weren’t down with the one mega geek on the squad,” Black Nerd Problems’ Ja-Quan Greene wrote last year. But that all may change with a black man taking over.

“I used to watch the Disney Channel,” RJ Tyler said, “like it was a drug.”

Like Jones before him, Cyler brings a coolness to his character that was perhaps absent with Yost. The new Billy has traits of the old — dresses like a high school science teacher, gets picked on a lot — but he also brings in bits of Cyler. From his deadpan humor (“That’s a strong a– hologram”) to his facial reactions, all the way to his fresh shape-up, Cyler could make kids want to be the black Power Ranger, even while wearing blue. “I think he’s going to be a little bit more humorous than my Billy was, maybe,” Yost joked. The character is also on the spectrum in the new movie.

But for Cyler, color — whether referring to race or the hue of his costume — never crossed his mind when considering the movie. Heading into the audition process, he knew would be reading for the part of the Blue Ranger, believing that Billy’s persona — quirky and geeky — matched up perfectly with his. “This just sounds like me when I was 13.”

From left: Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Ludi Lin and Becky G in a scene from Power Rangers.

Kimberly French/Lionsgate via AP

During casting, there were no ethnicities designated for any of the starring roles, so he wasn’t limited to just going out for the Black Ranger because of who played the part almost 25 years ago. “Power Rangers had no business being something that was looked at as, ‘Oh, they’re doing this for racial reasons.’ It’s literally a kids movie, it’s a show. Shut up. God, Everything isn’t about race,” he said. “It’s just annoying when people read into stuff too much. It’s just like, ‘Oh, crap, there’s no way in hell that the black dude could be the smart dude?’ You guys are serious right now? It’s the dumbest s— I’ve ever heard of.”

Ever since nabbing the part, Cyler has been asked by just about everyone why he isn’t playing the Black Ranger. For those who grew up on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, nostalgia won’t allow them to accept a Zack who isn’t black, a Kimberly who isn’t a Valley Girl in distress or a Billy without blond hair and glasses. As much as the world evolves and demographics change and societal norms are broken, humans are still creatures of the past, comfortable only when things stay the same. But for Cyler, the young man who broke into Hollywood just two years ago, and whose future is as bright as the metallic armor he wears, the answer is rather simple for him.

“Bro … I’m a Power Ranger, period.”