Neil deGrasse Tyson to Kyrie Irving: “I’m glad you play basketball instead of serve as head of NASA” Astrophysicist is pop culture’s ultimate superfan

Celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to talk. Loves it. When you ask the New York native and director of the Hayden Planetarium a question, his voice lights up. Whether it’s about science or popular culture, Tyson is eager to educate, often offering more than you even asked for.

The fourth season of National Geographic’s StarTalk, his hit late-night talk show (née podcast) that features the likes of Bill Clinton and Terry Crews, premieres Oct. 15. “I care deeply about what role pop culture plays in hearts, minds and souls,” said DeGrasse. StarTalk mixes science with comedy with interesting conversation for a show both entertaining and educational — but most importantly, accessible. “I can start where you are, what you bring to the table, and I just add to that,” he said. “I think that’s part of the successful recipe of StarTalk.”

What’s a bad habit that you have?

I’m always aware of bad habits, so I’ve probably gotten rid of it already. I have an unrealistic attraction to kettle chips. The crunchier chips, [fried] in peanut oil, no shortage of salt — is that a flaw? Is it a bad habit, or is it just a habit? The real question is, if anyone has a bad habit, why haven’t they done anything about it yet if they are self-aware it is bad? I used to twirl my hair when I was a kid, but then I stopped. I notice when other people are twirling their hair, it’s interesting. I empathize with them.

“Dwayne Johnson. I used to have a body that kind of resembled his body.”

Kyrie Irving once said that the world is flat, although he later admitted to (supposedly) trolling. What would you say to him about this?

We live in a free country, where you can think and feel what you want, provided it doesn’t violate someone else’s freedoms. I greatly value that. So to Kyrie Irving I would say, ‘I’m glad you play basketball instead of serve as head of NASA.’ It’s a reminder there are jobs for people who have no idea what science is or how and why it works. And in his case, basketball is serving him well. The problem comes about if you are not scientifically literate, hold nonscientific views and rise to power over legislation and laws that would then affect us all. That’s the recipe for social and cultural disaster.

What’s the last museum you visited? Do you find yourself going to museums often?

I very much enjoy museums. The last museum I went to that was not local in New York City … it was an art museum in Sydney, Australia. There was a whole section that had aboriginal art, not only of Australians but also some from the Maori tribes of New Zealand.

“I have an unrealistic attraction to kettle chips. The crunchier chips, fried in peanut oil, no shortage of salt — is that a flaw?”

What is your favorite social media spot?

Lately, I have to say Twitter because of the value I derive from it. I have these random thoughts every day, and Twitter is a means by which I share these thoughts with the public. And in an instant, I get to see people’s reactions. Were they offended? Did they laugh? Did they misinterpret it? Did they overinterpret it? So I get a neurosynaptic snapshot of how people react to thoughts that I have. And this deeply informs public talks that I give. It’s my way to get inside people’s heads without violating their space.

People go to your Twitter feed to learn, so it’s nice to hear that you enjoy learning from your followers.

It’s not like I’m Professor Neil on Twitter. I tweet about a lot of really random things. People say, ‘Why don’t you give us the latest news?’ I’m not a news source. If I don’t think about that news today, you ain’t getting a tweet about it. I don’t start the day saying, ‘What am I going to tweet today? Let me think something up.’ No, it’s random. … You just happen to be eavesdropping in my brain. Before the end of the month I’ll be engaging in my Instagram account. I’ve yet to post to it. I deeply value photographic arts. It’ll mostly be artsy things, more artsy than purely educational. Then I write my own little caption about it.

So no pictures of your dinner?

If the dinner evokes some cosmic thought, yes, you’ll get a picture of my dinner. Otherwise, no.

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

I think about Jesse Owens often. I think about Jackie Robinson often. Simply because of how great they were at what they did, how honed they were in their performance and the fact that their existence meant more than their performance. In other words, the whole was greater than the sum of their parts: great athlete, at an important time, doing an important thing, having an influence on people in a positive direction.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I was a little bit starstruck when I interviewed Jeremy Irons. There are movies he’s been in where I just — how can you be this good in that role? How is that even possible? And just to shake his hand and interview him for StarTalk, that meant a lot to me. And here’s one you won’t expect. I’ve never met him, but I’d be delighted to. I’ve got him on my short list: Dwayne Johnson. I used to have a body that kind of resembled his body. He’s beefier in the last two years than he was about 10 years ago, when he was actually wrestling. He beefed up extra for the Fast and the Furious series, so not in that state, but in an earlier state, of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. When I looked like that, no one was interviewing me in the newspapers. No one was asking to publish my books. So he’s a modern reminder of a lost chapter of my life.

When you were wrestling in high school, did you want to become a pro wrestler?

No. No, no, no. No! You want to talk about physics — physics in pro wrestling is what allows things to look like they hurt when they don’t. But it’s the laws of physics exploited to fool you, rather than exploited to win.

What sport do you most enjoy watching, from a purely physical standpoint?

I like many. And there is physics in all sports, so I don’t rank them in this way. In fact, StarTalk because of the success of our shows where we cover sports, we spun off an entire branch called Playing With Science. It’s all the ways science has touched sports. We talk about famous catches, famous hits. We do talk about concussions. We brought in a neuroscientist to talk about [concussions] from football. We talk about NASCAR and the technology involved with that. We talk about the physics of driving around a track. There’s a lot of fun physics in essentially everything, you know why? Because there’s physics in everything.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

‘Ballers’ recap: Spencer’s still on Vegas time — and Ricky is unraveling Does The Rock always have to save everybody?

SEASON THREE, EPISODE FOUR | “RIDE OR DIE” | AUG. 13

In the world of hip-hop, no vehicle is more coveted nowadays than a Bentley truck. It seems every rapper imaginable has rhymed about copping one (or has actually copped one) — from Future, to Migos, to Rae Sremmurd to Young Thug and Travi$ Scott. 2 Chainz even has an entire song dedicated to the SUV.

Yet in the world of Ballers, which HBO just renewed for a fourth season, a Bentley truck means almost nothing to a G like Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). While stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way to a crucial meeting with Las Vegas hotel tycoon Wayne Hastings Jr. (Steve Guttenberg) about moving an NFL team to the gambling capital of the world, Spencer shifts a gear to park and straight-up abandons the truck on the highway. He’s convinced that the fastest way for him and Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry) to get to Wayne before he jets out of town is on foot.

The reason that the two financial advisers are running so late for the “biggest meeting of our lives,” as Spencer says, is that one of their clients, Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter), is on the verge of one of the worst fates an NFL player can endure. After Vernon fails to divest of the marijuana industry at the request of his team, the Cowboys owner (Christopher McDonald), aka the “Boss Man,” tells Joe he intends to cut Vernon.

The brash plan leaves Spencer with no choice but to pick up the pieces, like he always has to do, and sneak up on the Cowboys’ owner while he’s vacationing in Miami. Spencer not only gets the threat of Vernon’s release rescinded but also persuades the Boss Man to support Anderson Sport Management’s efforts to collaborate with Wayne in relocating the Oakland Raiders to Vegas.

Spencer shifts a gear and straight-up abandons the Bentley truck on the highway.

Spencer and Joe make it to Wayne just in time to relay the good news and save the partnership. But if there’s one thing true on Ballers, it’s that Spencer’s problems are always only temporarily fixed.

The life of one of Spencer’s premier clients, New England Patriots wide receiver Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), is unraveling faster than the real-life Miami Dolphins passed on Colin Kaepernick. Ricky has a child on the way, although his future child’s mom, Amber, is packing up to leave Miami (and her irresponsible boyfriend) behind. Meanwhile, Ricky’s new Patriots teammates Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski have all been practicing without him, leaving the job of scheduling training sessions to his fun-loving pothead best friend, TTD (Carl McDowell).

After an awful workout with a high school kid, the only quarterback TTD can find to throw on such short notice, Ricky storms off the field and returns home — or, to what he thinks is home. The absentminded Ricky rolls up in a house that belongs not to him but to a white family. So, after receiving a tap on the shoulder from the son of the house’s owners, Ricky out of shock delivers a right hook to the kid’s face.

“I know who you are, a–h—. You’re not going to get away with this,” the bloody-nosed kid tells Ricky.

His response? “TTD, call Spencer,” Ricky says into his cellphone.

That’s always the go-to reaction when something goes wrong: to call Spencer. The question is, whom can Spencer turn to for help?

‘Ballers’ recap: Meet Candace Brewer, the brilliant woman between Spencer and Las Vegas While Spencer is handling business, Joe and Reggie hotbox a Rolls-Royce

SEASON THREE, EPISODE THREE |“IN THE TEETH”| AUG. 6

One thing is standing in the way of Spencer Strasmore’s master plan of bringing an NFL team to Las Vegas — a brilliant woman. Sunday night on Ballers, we meet the beautiful, and trill as ever, Candace Brewer (Emayatzy Corinealdi; Hand of God, Middle of Nowhere) — a high-powered league executive who summons Spencer (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to drinks in Oakland, California, after hearing about his gutsy NFL-to-Vegas quest.

Candace and Spencer go all the way back to the former Miami Dolphins superstar’s playing days, when he insulted her live on Jay Glazer’s talk show Glazed and Confused. Candace doesn’t seem to like Spencer too much, or the idea of an NFL team relocating to a city notorious for sex, drugs and, of course, gambling.

“I just want to know if you’re an enemy of the league,” Candace point-blank says to Spencer in the shortest drinks meeting in history — she dips out before finishing her wine. We might have just met Spencer’s Kryptonite.

We might have just met Spencer’s Kryptonite.

While the big fella is in the Bay Area, his right-hand man Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry) is trying to persuade Reggie (London Brown) and Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter) to stop investing in the cannabis company, High Powered, before Vernon is blackballed by the NFL. Reggie, however, takes Joe on a little field trip to the dispensary to show him that Vernon is endorsed by a company that’s focused on much more than smoking weed. But that’s how the visit ends — with Reggie and Joe hotboxing in a Rolls-Royce to the smooth sound of Style’s P’s “Good Times.”

In the front office of the Miami Dolphins, tension is building between Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller), the team’s assistant general manager, and his boss, Larry Siefert (Dulé Hill). Charles feels some type of way when Siefert goes on Glazer’s show and fails to give him credit for one of his intelligent roster moves. Siefert is shady, and his voice is more annoying than going 1 cent over $20 when filling up your tank up at the gas station. And every time he breaks out the Southern accent, it’s hard not to remember Sam the Onion Man, Hill’s character from 2003’s Holes — as well as Sam’s famous line, “I can fix that.”

Charles and Siefert’s relationship is about to blow up. It’s inevitable. Especially after the Dolphins head coach tells Charles, “Attaching yourself to Siefert is not the move a smart man makes.”

Ricky is late to a doctor’s appointment for Amber, his girlfriend — and future child’s mother. When he finally shows up, he meets the friend whom Amber decided to bring in his place, who, to Ricky’s chagrin, is a white dude. Awkward.

The only person in the crew who really seems to be getting stuff done without being let down is Jason (Troy Garity), Vernon and Ricky’s agent, who’s working with his new client, free-agent running back Kisan Teague (Kris D. Lofton). That is, until Jason attempts to negotiate a deal with the Indianapolis Colts and receives word that the running back is under investigation for drug trafficking. Kisan vows he’s innocent. Jason’s response to the Colts general manager? “Eat a bag of d—-.” Because they’re going to find a new team.

Back in Oakland, Spencer heatedly leaves his meeting with Candace. He calls Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown, who on Ballers is involved with the front-office moves of his former team, the Oakland Raiders. Spencer promises an additional $300 million in private financing plus whatever team owner Mark Davis needs to get a deal done, and the Raiders to Vegas.

But can Spencer really deliver?

“Oh, I know I can,” he mic-drops to close the episode, cueing up none other than the 21 Savage track “Savage Mode.”

Spencer is about to go to war with Candace and everyone else in his path to Sin City.

‘Ballers’ recap: Vernon can’t ‘stay off the damn weed!’ — but for good reason Jason gets robbed, but lands a new client; Spencer reconnects with an old flame

SEASON 3, EPISODE 2 | ‘BULL RUSH’ | JULY 29

“Hey ladies, y’all want to come in for some milk and cookies after this?”

This is the funniest pickup line in television history, as delivered on Ballers by the one and only Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter) when he shoots his shot like an elementary school student — we really ain’t mad at him, though — with two models at a photo shoot. “Only if they’re chocolate chip. I don’t f— with oatmeal,” responds one of the models, who’s wearing marijuana leaf pasties.

What appeared last week to be an investment into a weed-themed clothing line is actually an endorsement deal that Reggie (London Brown) landed for Vernon with a cannabis company called High Powered. Marijuana use in the NFL might be as frowned upon as kneeling during the national anthem, although real-life players (as well as Vernon, as we learn) employ the drug as a method of recovering from injuries. Regardless, a call from the furious owner of the Dallas Cowboys (unfortunately not Jerry Jones, who would probably give Vernon a pass) sends Vernon’s adviser Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry) over to his house to convince Reggie that this deal is a bad idea.

The photo shoot, however, still goes on — and man, wait until the pictures of Vernon in a High Powered hoodie are released. They’ll definitely send ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith into a “STAY OFF THE DAMN WEE-DUH!” rant.

Though he can’t persuade Vernon to make a more strategic endorsement decision, Joe is able to set up a meeting between NFL running back Kisan Teague (Kris D. Lofton), who’s in desperate search of a new agent, and Jason (Troy Garity), who represents Vernon and Ricky Jerrett (John David Washington). The possibility of a new client sends Jason to a neighborhood park, where he’s robbed at gunpoint while waiting for Kisan to show up. Jason then interrupts Kisan at dinner, claiming he set him up, although the running back gives him his word that he wasn’t behind the stickup and knows where to find the men Jason describes. Kisan and his homies leave their Brussels sprouts at the table before pulling up on the dudes like …

Together, they get Jason’s cash back. And while he temporarily lost $540, and likely saw his life flash before his eyes, Jason gets a new client out of the situation.

Meanwhile, Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) is in Las Vegas trying to bring an NFL team to Sin City. While checking in to his hotel, he runs into an ex, Chloe (Graceland’s Serinda Swan), who as a well-connected Las Vegas executive will be a valuable asset on his quest. Who knows, maybe she’ll even become bae again.

While playing golf with the mayor of Las Vegas and meeting with a city councilman, Spencer leaves Ricky behind at the craps table. Looking to get his mind off the fact that he and his girl have a baby on the way, Ricky goes into a hot streak, only to let it all, and more, slip through his fingers while egged on by Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter and rapper Travis $cott to go big or go home. Ricky loses $1 million at the table, meaning the $5 million that Spencer owes him can’t be reimbursed soon enough.

Caption: Ricky at the craps table

Spencer’s dinner with Councilman Sawyer to discuss funding a new NFL stadium in Vegas with public money turns into a trip to a monster truck show. And for some odd reason, Spencer elects to drive one of the monster trucks, which he flips. Upon safely removing himself from the wreck, he announces to the screaming crowd, “I’m going to bring a professional football team here to the great fans of Las Vegas!”

With all the news surrounding the latest chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) study on NFL players, wouldn’t it be super ironic if Spencer next week found out he had a concussion? That headache-inducing crash is part of the price Spencer is willing to pay to get the NFL in Vegas.

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?

The brothas have arrived on ‘The Bachelorette’ Rachel Lindsay’s season is about to be lit; here’s a breakdown of the contestants

Shoutout to Amy Kaufman for thread-tweeting the contestants of the newest season of The Bachelorette, starring office fave Rachel Lindsay. Honestly, I’m shocked they found this many black people to sign up for this show. I always assumed they just couldn’t find any, since The Bachelor/Bachelorette is really white people-ish. But no more! As an avid consumer of trash TV, I have some thoughts. Here are my genuine reactions as I scrolled down the incredibly diverse but to-be-honest-not-as-sexy-as-I-was-hoping list.

Adam, 27, is a freak, and I’m a lil freaked out by it.

Alex, 28, says his favorite artist is The Rock. OK, I guess. Great hair, though.

Anthony, 26. Not a fan of bald guys. The scalp doesn’t do it for me. This take gets mixed reactions from the people in the office, but I don’t care.

Blake E, 31, isn’t making it past the first rose ceremony. Speaking of rose ceremonies, I honestly thought they got like, cuff links or something. But Clinton tells me that they definitely get roses. Yay for gender neutrality!

Blake K., 29, looks like office cutie Justin McCraw. Not even kidding. Which means Blake will also be the office fav and we’re all rooting for him.

Brady, 29. Meh. Second white guy I’ve seen with this haircut so far. Something tells me I’ll be seeing more.

Bryan, 37, is also a freak! Gotta love a man who knows what he wants.

Bryce, 30. A firefighter. Crimson Chin. I used to date a firefighter. He was crazy, though. I’m hoping Bryce isn’t also crazy, but Clinton says being crazy is a prerequisite for the job.

Dean, 26, is woke bae, but he’s not cute enough to make it past the first rose ceremony.

DeMario, 30. Another black guy! With a black name! And he wants a lion named Denzel, which is super black! And he made a Britney Spears joke! (fun fact: I’m a B. Spears stan.) Love this guy already.

Diggy, 31. He looks like he’s a senior inventory analyst, which isn’t a bad thing. 😏

Eric, 29. Already I think this is the most black guys I’ve ever seen on this show, and I’m not even done yet.

Fred, 27. Hello there, Carlton Banks. Goodbye, Carlton Banks. Next.

Grant, 29. Dorky cute, and he’s a doctor! Something tells me Rachel is gonna like him.

Iggy, 30. Little bit of a weirdo judging from his bio, but maybe he can get a cool thing going with Diggy. Wonder if they did that on purpose.

Jack, 32. Can’t put my finger on it, but something’s off about this guy. It’s in the eyes.

Jamey, 32. Looks just like last year’s runner-up Robby Hayes. Probably won’t go very far.

Jedidiah, 35. Most likely a preacher’s kid. Also probably my soulmate because I, too, am a bit of a pen snob. Wish you were cuter, Jed!

Jonathan, 31. “Tickle Monster”?! Why would you tell people that! Definitely serial killer. But I’m torn, because he’s also a Britney fan. I’d be one of his victims. Go over to his house to have a Britney Spears listening party, and then he tickles me to death.

Josiah, 28. Wonder who he had sex with…

Kenny, 35, is a pro wrestler who says he and Dwayne Johnson are “very much alike.” Gotta disagree there, buddy, but I smell a bromance with Alex happening.

Kyle, 26, is a very specific kind of person I intensely dislike. But he’s cute, so Rachel might keep him around even though he won’t stop talking about gluten.

Lee, 30. If this were speed dating, it’d be a hard pass for me.

Lucas, 30, is a man who doesn’t know what he wants because those cartoon characters bear ZERO similarities to one another. Also stop fantasizing about cartoons, Lucas. (I’m a hypocrite, though, because Aladdin is bae.)

Matt, 32. Finally found the answer to my question regarding how and why Train is so popular.

Michael, 26, wasn’t good enough for the NBA, so he’s automatically on the wacker side of the black guys this season.

Milton, 31. Wack. Just wack.

Mohit, 26. My first reaction: There’s an Indian guy?! But I’d like to amend that to “South Asian,” because I really don’t know. But I’m excited! He looks way older than 26, though. Not that that’s a bad thing. …

Peter, 31, knows nothing about football and so is automatically a loser in my eyes. On this show and in life.

Rob, 30. Justin Timberlake also had blond highlights and diamond studs, so I can’t judge. Everybody glows up.

Will, 28. I don’t think he knows what show he signed up for.

I’ll be live- tweeting @yerraaa every Monday. Can’t wait for this reality show so I can ignore real real life! The season premiere of The Bachelorette airs Monday May 22 on ABC.

Dwayne Johnson should not run for president Donald Trump already ruined it for him

“Dwayne Johnson for President!” screams the headline of the this month’s GQ cover story. In it, Caity Weaver profiles the man who most came to know from his time as a wrestler, which he’s since leveraged into being one of the biggest movie stars in the world. The idea isn’t a new one, if you’ve been following the “which celebrities could actually do this” thinking since Donald Trump was elected to the Oval Office.

While it’s cute, completely viable and ultimately probably a good idea, there’s one problem — he’s too late.

Ultimately, this will be the bizarre reverse effect of the Trump administration. The “celebrity turned politician” avenue is now so sullied that the hit one’s reputation would take by entering a national campaign is not worth the value of winning.

Not to be a downer on such a fun prospect, but think about it. It isn’t about the specific politics of The Donald’s time in the Oval Office. It’s about the fact that America has been exposed and educated on how hard the job is and how embarrassing it can be when someone who hasn’t been involved in the process is suddenly in office. The likelihood that the U.S. population is willing to turn over the dignity of the position again to someone who they know only from movies is extremely slim.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Dwayne Johnson. For my money, he’s this country’s greatest export. But the time for this to ever really make sense has passed. Obama broke the line of old white guys as commanders-in-chief world. Lord knows where we’d be as a nation at that point if Hillary had won, but that clearly doesn’t matter now.

As far as celebrities who’ve mentioned they’re considering a run for Pennsylvania Avenue in the past year, Johnson is probably the best candidate, politically speaking. The hardest thing in the world to do is to get people to like you, and he excels at that in ways that are really quite remarkable. Nobody has a problem with Johnson.

Elsewhere around the celebrity dial, Chris Rock joked about it, but when Oprah Winfrey brought it up, more ears perked. It wasn’t exactly clear whether this was said in jest, but obviously her popularity and ability to put people in places to succeed is pretty unparalleled.

Which is to say, what a bummer. The idea of Johnson becoming an American president is one that’s hard not to like. While Ronald Reagan was an actor before becoming governor of California on his way to the White House, he was never the star that any of the aforementioned people are.

There is another position that suits Johnson well though, if he’s considering public office: vice president.

Misty Copeland discusses her new book, ballet culture and social activism ‘It was important for me to get out there and let people know what I believe in’

Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, sat down with reporters and fans at the National Press Club on Monday to talk about her first health and fitness book, Ballerina Body: Dancing and Eating Your Way to a Leaner, Stronger, and More Graceful You.

The 34-year-old has had an active couple of months, traveling to Cuba to spread classical dance and also speaking out against Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who made remarks that were supportive of President Donald Trump. When Under Armour began its sponsorship of Copeland in 2014, she became the first classical dancer with a sports brand endorsement.

Since starting her ballet career at age 13, Copeland has become an author and public speaker and was recognized as one of Time Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People in 2015.

Copeland answered questions about her book, which was released March 21, how she came back from a near career-ending injury, her activism and more before heading to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

What’s your relationship like with Kevin Plank since you’ve spoken out? Was there any frostiness after that? Is he still behind you 100 percent?

I’d say we’re probably closer now. … He and I have always had a very close relationship, and so I think everyone was a little taken aback by his comments that were taken out of context. … I know that it’s been very important for me. In the beginning this is so exciting. This is the first time a classical dancer has been given an endorsement with a sports brand. It’s a really big deal, and it’s brought so much attention and recognition and education to the American people, in terms of showing them that dancers are athletes and all that it takes to get there. At this point, I feel it’s not just me that represents Under Armour — Under Armour represents me. Steph Curry and Dwayne Johnson, they both agreed with me in that we have a responsibility as African-Americans to represent ourselves in a true and real way. … It was important for me to get out there and let people know what I believe in.

The Trump administration is proposing massive cuts and the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. How is this going to affect the push to see more dancers and artists of color?

Of course, I’m not happy [about the proposed cuts.] I think that right now is an even more important time for arts to have a voice and to stand up for what’s right for this country. I often speak about the opportunity I had when I traveled to Rwanda, and I worked with a program called Mind at Ease, and to be able to see the benefits of what dance can do for a child. … I’d love to start my own foundation [not right now] and be a place for people to turn to.

How did the Boys and Girls Club change your life?

Being able to go to a community center that had positive role models there and a real structure as a young child who didn’t have a lot of structure in my household, I think that it really saved me and it really set me up for the path that I’m on. I also would have never been introduced to classical ballet had I not been a member of the Boys and Girls Club. That’s where I took my first ballet class, on a basketball court there. They’ve been such a big part of forming who I am today. … I think it’s so important to have community centers like that, especially in underprivileged communities.

Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, spoke to Jeff Ballou, president of The National Press Club, during a press event in the Holeman Lounge of The National Press Club on Monday, April 17, 2017.

ç

Are you going to advocate for better grocery store selection in tough neighborhoods so people can have a balanced diet?

It was extremely difficult for me as a child [to consistently find healthy food options]. I think it’s something that would’ve helped me early on, is just the knowledge of what’s not good for me and that there are ways to make the right choices even if you don’t have fresh vegetables around you. My mother didn’t cook, so I grew up for weeks at a time eating a cup of noodles every night for dinner. … I think having that strong base as a child [of knowing how to eat well] is going to make it so much easier as an adult when you have the ability to make those decisions for yourself and get the things you need.

Are you an advocate of having proper meals in schools?

Absolutely. I definitely stand behind it. I think starting as young as possible and understanding how much nutrition plays a role in health for the rest of your life. I think a lot of Americans think if I’m physically fit or active I’m healthy, but what you’re putting into your body is more than half of it.

[What do you hope will be the] takeaway from Ballerina Body?

I hope that they feel an opportunity to start fresh no matter what age they are. That they see something that’s really attainable and it’s about looking at your life and your lifestyle different than just, ‘I’m just going to try this and it’s a fad and see if it works,’ but maybe that it just makes them look at how they approach their lives in a different way.

What advice would you give readers of how to get through a near-break-point experience?

I had surgery five years ago now. I had six stress fractures, and I was told by more than a handful of doctors that I’d never dance again. I found the one doctor who said I will, and he’s the one who performed my surgery. During that process of healing, I didn’t allow myself to step back and look at what could be. I took every single day one day at a time and being really present in the moment of each day. Like, what can I do today? I can’t walk, so I’m going to lay on the floor and work on my arms. I’m going to do something that’s going to further me and make me better when I get back to the stage. Working in small increments allowed me to not get overwhelmed. Of course there were days that I crumpled and said I can’t do this, but having that support of ‘Yes, you can’ and ‘You’re going to start again tomorrow,’ I think just looking at things that way and enjoying the process.

Since you’ve come on, have you noticed a change in attitude in classical ballet? Has it been more accommodating to women of different sizes and shapes?

I’m going to say no. I think it’s become a conversation and acknowledgement from the ballet world that I’ve never seen before. I think to even just put it out there, my experiences that African-American dancers, in particular, have been told they don’t have the right bodies for generations and generations. For me, I think that’s the way of saying you don’t have the right skin color. I think just addressing these issues is making these professional companies wake up and realize the world is looking at them, and it’s not acceptable to not accept more diversity in your companies.

Misty Copeland stretches while participating in a class with the Cuban National Ballet in Havana.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

How have you innovated ballet?

I don’t know if I have a signature movement. I think something that makes me unique is the way I hear music, and I think that has a lot to do with the music I grew up with and around and the fact that I didn’t start dancing until super late. It allows me a bit more freedom in how I interpret what I hear. … I was listening to Anita Baker and Aretha Franklin and creating in my own mind what I thought dance was.

How’d you meet Prince, and what do you think his impact is?

I met Prince a long time ago. He reached out to me and asked me to be in a music video of his. I was still a new soloist with the company, so I was like, ‘How does he even know who I am, and why does he want me in his music video?’ When I met him, I agreed to work with him because I knew I’d have an opportunity to reach more people and a completely different audience than maybe are coming to see the ballet. I ended up working with him over the course of five years, just touring the world with him, and I feel like in that time and being on stage with him and seeing him live right in front of me really made me the artist that I am today. He forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. I think his impact on the world will live on forever. I’m just so grateful for the time that I had with him and for him being so unique and pushing the boundaries and not fitting into the stereotypical mold — especially as a black man.

What’s on your playlist?

I’ve been listening to Solange and Frank Ocean … some old Mariah Carey. I love Anita Baker and Aretha Franklin. I’m very open in terms of music, but at this point I like things that make me think.

The fate of the ‘Furious’ director F. Gary Gray From Central L.A. to the world of superfast cars — and supersuccessful films — Gray has got a ticket to ride

The last time F. Gary Gray directed a movie, the world got an in-depth look at the area he grew up in. It was his 2015 Straight Outta Compton, the origin story of one of the best hip-hop collectives to ever step inside a recording booth. Rock & Roll Hall of Famers N.W.A. launched the careers of producer/impresario Dr. Dre and film star and mogul Ice Cube, both of whom have created multimillion-dollar empires and influenced not only hip-hop music, but Hollywood and culture as a whole.

Straight Outta Compton was a dream come true for Gray. It was one of 2015’s best reviewed films and it was the No. 1 movie in the country for three weeks in a row. This got the industry debating — again — the merits of black films, and how well they can do around the country and around the world. Gray had his pick of projects; certainly his name was tossed around as a contender to direct Marvel’s Black Panther. Then quite ceremoniously — on Twitter — Gray announced he’d be directing the next installation of the The Fast and the Furious franchise.

“The story and the challenge,” Gray said, explaining why he went with The Fate of the Furious, which opens on Friday. “Dom [Vin Diesel] going rogue is something that you’d never expect, if you follow the franchise at all. Dom goes into Darth Vader mode and does something that’s really surprising for a lot of the fans.” The story line is a major twist in the franchise, which this time is set in New York City, Cuba, and Iceland. “Then you combine all that with the biggest action heroes in the world, and sprinkle in a couple Oscar winners. I think that’s a great recipe for a fun ride.”

“Shooting in Cuba was profound for me.”

It’s also a recipe for another record-breaking box-office success story: $380 million globally is the prediction. The Fast franchise — this is the eighth film — destroys the notion that people of color can’t carry a film overseas. The films star a bevy of brown actors in various hues — Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Michelle Rodriguez — and does some of its best work in coveted international markets. The film’s seventh installment was its best (it also was the last for franchise star Paul Walker, who died in a 2014 car crash) and was, in terms of box office might, the fifth biggest film of all time.

Gray has done some of his best work telling diverse, well-rounded stories: 1995 cult classic Friday, 1996’s Set it Off, 2003’s The Italian Job, and 2009’s Law Abiding Citizen. “Globally, a lot of the fans can see themselves as one of the characters in these stories,” Gray said. “It feels inclusive and diverse.”

The success of the Furious film series didn’t scare Gray. It energized him. “I always want to top myself,” he said. “I always want to see what I can do that I’ve never done before.” He knows fans expect a certain spectacle from a Fast movie and believes he and his crew delivered on that. “But I wanted to push the limits of the story, the performances, the drama, and the humor. And add my twist to it. Am I nervous? Maybe a little,” he said. “But once you’ve defined what your goal is, it’s just about hitting that. How can we make this franchise, this movie, each installment, fresh — not only for the fans, but for newcomers? That was the goal.”

“Globally, a lot of the fans can see themselves as one of the characters in these stories,” Gray said. “It feels inclusive and diverse.”

Another goal? To challenge himself personally. And that mission was absolutely accomplished.

“Shooting in Cuba was profound for me. Sometimes as Westerners, you get comfortable, and when you go to a place like Cuba — you realize what things we take for granted,” he said. “Although you’re being creative and you’re shooting a movie, you walk away slightly changed, and hopefully better as a person, as a director, a storyteller.” He said he watched the Havana residents see Havana from the air for the first time as it brought tears to their eyes. “To see their beloved capital from a bird’s-eye view was profound for them, which made it profound for us.”

And if he can sharpen himself professionally, that’s the cherry on top.

“I’m walking into a franchise that has existed for 15-plus years. Actors who know their characters. And while I’ve worked with more than half of the principal cast, I had to change my approach. I had to adjust my approach to get performances,” he said. “I like to think I’m better for all of that.”

The Rock: The biggest action star in the world had to get through the WWE first Dwayne Johnson has been wrestling for years with the politics of race, pro wrestling and Hollywood

The Rock is black.

I grew up in the late ’80s and ’90s watching wrestlers who looked like me play thugs and jive-talking ex-cons while losing most of their matches. So The Rock was the black superhero I needed. And as much as he’s relied on his Samoan heritage for a starting point most other black wrestlers haven’t had the benefit of, Dwayne Johnson should be celebrated for thriving and becoming a megastar in the face of, at best, microaggressions and, at worst, outright racism. He’s an All-American heroic movie star now, but bigotry has — all puns intended — colored how he was introduced when he debuted for World Wrestling Entertainment in 1997, and the way he was received when he returned in 2011.

Johnson’s televised WWE debut at New York City’s Madison Square Garden was as “Rocky Maivia.” He won a marquee match for a pay-per-view called Survivor Series. From the moment Johnson hit WWE television he was marked as wrestling’s Next Big Superstar. And why wouldn’t he be? Wrestling’s LeBron James before LeBron James, Johnson was a 6-foot-6, 250-pound University of Miami football national champion (defensive lineman) who was athletic enough to jump from the top rope and leapfrog his opponents in the middle of the ring. Wrestling hadn’t seen anyone with his mix of size and athleticism.

But, even as the first African-American wrestler WWE had ever been really chosen for superstardom, Rocky took a circuitous route to the top. The plan was for Rocky to be a happy-go-lucky “babyface,” or good guy, who would smile and high-five fans in an era when wrestlers such as Stone Cold Steve Austin cursed and raised middle fingers. Soon, crowds began chanting “Die, Rocky, Die.” The Rocky Maivia experiment was dead.

The Rock was wrestling’s LeBron James before LeBron James.

Johnson and the WWE started over by embracing the crowd’s jeers and turning Johnson’s character into a villain. And here’s why it’s difficult to defend any notion that Johnson wasn’t considered “black” during his WWE run: Vince McMahon turned Rocky Maivia into a villain by placing him with the now-defunct and villainous black power faction The Nation Of Domination. The group, consisting of wrestlers nicknamed Farooq and D’Lo Brown among others, was a “Black Panther”/“Nation of Islam” spoof that used pro-black racial slogans (ending many promos with “by any means necessary,” a direct nod to Malcolm X) and spoke on how WWE was holding black wrestlers down. The Rock, though, initially distanced himself from the group’s racial aspects when he joined: “This isn’t about the color of my skin,” he said during a promo on an August 1997 edition of Raw in front of rabidly booing fans. “This is about respect.” Still, his association with The Nation and what they represented infuriated white audiences. The Nation used to put a fist in air at the end of their matches to a chorus of boos.

The Rock In WWF Smackdown.

Getty Images

Rock’s time with The Nation allowed him the freedom to be an amplified version of himself. He ditched the smile and terrible hair. “I’ve got f—ing chia pet on my head as a haircut,” he said in 2016 when looking back at his first match. And he switched from Rocky Maivia to The Rock: a mean-spirited, cocky, Rolex-wearing antagonist who called himself “The People’s Champ” and started ending his promos with the unforgettable “If you smell what the Rock is cooking.”

It was during this time that The Rock became a premier talker, one of the elite promo guys in wrestling history. Eventually, as much as he tried to remain a villain and make wrestling crowds hate him, his charisma was overpowering. By 1998, The Rock was one of the most popular stars in wrestling — although his ability to talk a crowd into a frenzy was a curse for his win/loss record. The Rock would lose matches at almost every major event, and then, on Monday Night Raw episodes, flash his catchphrases and make the crowd forget he ever lost. While this is a testament to his great mic work and his ability to transcend losses, it became infuriating to watch him get pinned so many times.

The Rock’s legendary career is littered with high-profile losses, namely WrestleMania 16 (aka WrestleMania 2000, because everything in the year 2000 had 2000 in its name), in which he was pinned in the main event by rival (on- and off-screen) Triple H. This marked the first time in which a good guy (The Rock) was pinned by a villain at the event. WrestleMania had been seen as WWE’s unofficial season finale in which the hero finally has his hand raised in triumph. All the great heroes had these moments; Hulk Hogan, Austin, Shawn Michaels and Randy Savage celebrated WrestleMania main event wins while confetti fell from the rafters.

ESPN Video Player

That wasn’t the case for Rocky in 2000 or in 2001 when he lost to a newly villainous Stone Cold Steve Austin. Of the 32 WrestleMania main events, bad guys have walked away the winner only four times. The Rock was the good guy who lost two of those matches. The 2001 loss is justifiable: The Rock was on his way to film Scorpion King, and it’s wrestling tradition to lose on the way out. The 2000 loss is harder to stomach. On one hand, the loss was a testament to the aforementioned belief that The Rock’s charisma can withstand any loss no matter how high-profile. It’s also evidence of The Rock being a team player willing to “put wrestlers over” or allow them to look good at his expense when other wrestlers in his position have politicked to make sure they won.

Whatever the case, The Rock was until 2012 the only megastar good guy to not have a WrestleMania main event win since the show’s inception. He returned that year and beat John Cena. To this day, The Rock is the only black wrestler, with except for the actor Mr. T and NFL legend Lawrence Taylor, to ever, in 32 years, have a main event match at WrestleMania. Not seeing The Rock win when he was in his prime feels similar to the Oscar snubs Denzel Washington was experiencing during the same era.

In 2004, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson quit wrestling to become a movie star. As we speak, The Fate of the Furious, the latest installment in one of the most successful and most diverse film franchises ever, is scheduled for an April 14 release. It’s on its eighth episode, and The Rock has starred in four of them. The seven years he spent as a wrestler prepared him to be Hollywood’s biggest action hero by placing in his path just the kind of obstacles and pitfalls he’d face before film cameras. In truth, for The Rock to make it to Hollywood, he had to fight his way through wrestling’s own showbiz universe.


Johnson’s slow exit occurred without announcement or fanfare. He’d actually started scaling back his WWE appearances in 2001. “I never ever wanted to utilize and leverage the WWE to help my movie career, which is why I had to step away,” he said in the 2012 documentary The Epic Journey Of The Rock.

The Rock, even as many fans clamored for his return, was portrayed by some of his former wrestling peers as someone who believed he was too good for wrestling. “Rock,” one anonymous WWE talent texted PWInsider in 2011, “is out for Rock.” Wrestling crowds are loyal, and the idea that someone wanted to move on to something else was an affront to their dedication. There’s a racial component as well: wrestling’s biggest star of color deciding to walk away from mostly white audiences across the country for bigger and better things? For many, it didn’t fly.

Dwayne ”The Rock” Johnson and John Cena in action during WrestleMania XXVIII at Sun Life Stadium on April 1, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

In 2009, Cena, effectively WWE’s new version of The Rock, criticized The Rock. “For him to go on the front and say, ‘I love the business’ and then not be a part of it [is something I’d never do],” Cena told MTV, seemingly speaking for other wrestlers who believed that Johnson become too big for his spandex tights — with his patented “Brahma Bull” on the back. By then The Rock was a movie star (though not the megastar he would become), having appeared in movies such as The Scorpion King, Doom and Be Cool (the last with a cast including John Travolta, Christina Milian, Cedric The Entertainer and Harvey Keitel). Cena’s comments remain interesting — especially as he’s begun appearing in movies and on television more himself, acting alongside Amy Schumer in 2015’s Trainwreck and hosting Saturday Night Live last December.

The Rock was the only megastar good guy to not have a WrestleMania main event win since the show’s inception.

And the chatter that doesn’t go away has to do with Johnson’s complex relationship with race, as well as the public’s views on his interactions with the idea of race and “what” he is, or isn’t. Johnson is half-black and half-Samoan. He is the son of Canadian-born “Soul Man” Rocky Johnson, one half of the WWE’s first tag team champions. His mother is Ata Maivia-Johnson. His maternal grandfather was wrestling legend High Chief Peter Maivia. The Maivia family tree is wrestling royalty (current WWE superstars include Roman Reigns and Nia Jax), known for in-ring instincts and charisma.

The Rock’s Polynesian/Samoan roots have allowed him to escape the plight of so many black wrestlers. He’s never portrayed a pimp or a gangster or any overtly racist stereotype typical of the WWE. Also, Johnson is a master of code-switching. At times racially ambiguous on-screen — his two white daughters in San Andreas come to mind — The Rock also rhymes alongside Busta Rhymes in the ring or wears an Afro or daps up Rick Ross when the opportunity presents itself.

The easy response is to say that The Rock is multiracial so he’s merely speaking to all sides of his heritage. However, there’s a definite benefit for him. By not playing strictly black characters, he’s allowed access to more films — his role in Fast Five was originally written for Tommy Lee Jones, for instance — that don’t need to rework scripts or recast roles based on the star’s race.


In 2001, The Rock was splitting his time between wrestling and Hollywood, but he still managed to have a classic match with Hogan in Toronto for WrestleMania 18. It was a legendary moment before one of the most rabid crowds in wrestling history. At WrestleMania 19, he had a match with Austin. The Rock won both matches, giving him the opportunity to leave with his hand raised even if it wasn’t to close out either show. At WrestleMania 20 in 2004, The Rock participated in what was to be his last match for the WWE for eight years. As he told the Wrestling Observer in 2005: “The company and I are at an odd crossroad. It was an oddly quiet ending, without any interaction or communication from the front office or [Vince McMahon]. Surprising, to say the least, especially after eight years.” He was no longer The Rock. He was Dwayne Johnson.

And still, Johnson agreed to come back for a more engaged role with WWE in 2011, hosting WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta. The announcement was made when The Rock made a surprise return on the Feb. 15 edition of Raw. And he wasted no time firing shots at Cena.

The next two years would be spent building a scripted feud between The Rock and Cena revolving around their real-life animosity. They headlined WrestleMania for two straight years, with The Rock showing up in the months leading up to each WrestleMania but staying away from WWE the rest of the year. The buildup to WrestleMania 28, which took place in The Rock’s hometown of Miami, was a fascinating mix of planned altercations and true resentment. The most noteworthy moment came on Feb. 12, 2012: Cena went off script and called out The Rock for having notes written on his wrist for his in-ring promo, causing a stare-down that was so tense it felt like they would have a real fight. They didn’t, but they had a main event match and The Rock finally got his big WrestleMania main event win. Finally.

“John and I had a real different relationship back then,” he told Jonathan Coachman in 2016. “I did not like him, and he did not like me, and it was legitimate.” Which, for someone who’s as guarded as The Rock, translates to, I hated his guts. Old habits die hard. The Rock is apparently currently beefing with his Furious co-star Vin Diesel during the run-up to the premiere.

Aside from Cena, The Rock’s biggest obstacle to a true comeback came from wrestlers who believed he was taking their deserved WrestleMania spot. Being able to main-event WrestleMania is the biggest accolade any wrestler can hope to accomplish. Wrestlers work year-round to get booked at the top spot, where more eyes are glued to a ring than at any other point in the year. So when The Rock, a part-time wrestler, got that spot, wrestlers such as Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton couldn’t wait to go public with their anger. “Anybody in the locker room that says it doesn’t piss them off,” said CM Punk, “that he works however many days a year he works when we’re working 300 days a year … they’re kidding themselves.”

All of this reeks of haterism. White wrestlers spouting ideas about The Rock staying in his place and not leaving the WWE to become more successful reeks of microaggression and racially coded language — as if they were happy with The Rock’s success as long as it served WWE, its wrestlers and their bottom line. But once he got too successful, it became a problem. The resentment has only been magnified as we roll up to this weekend’s WrestleMania.

The main event of WrestleMania 33 is a world title match between Bill Goldberg, a 50-year-old wrestler who hasn’t been active since 2004, and Brock Lesnar, who, like The Rock, left WWE in 2004 to pursue an NFL career that eventually turned into a dominant run with mixed martial arts. Both wrestlers are on “special attraction” contracts with WWE that allow them to make limited TV appearances.

As much as he tried to remain a villain, and make wrestling crowds hate him, his charisma was overpowering. By 1998, The Rock was one of the most popular stars in wrestling.

Goldberg is the current WWE Universal champion who beat full-time wrestler Kevin Owens in less than a minute. The two men are rarely on television, yet they have supplanted WWE’s full-time stars. But what’s notable here is that there hasn’t been nearly the amount of backlash from wrestlers about their spots being taken. There hasn’t been much public complaining from wrestlers about the main event.

Maybe wrestlers saw the paychecks they received from the WrestleManias in which The Rock participated, thanks to those shows having record-breaking buy rates. Maybe they’ve learned to deal with the new wave: The Rock was just the first in a new trend of part-time stars taking main events. Cena, who is now effectively a part-time wrestler who has begun guest hosting on The Today Show, has changed his tune about The Rock:

“I consider what I said back then the stupidest stuff ever,” he said on a December 2016 episode of WWE’s Talking Smack. “I was looking at it through very blinded eyes. I really wanted The Rock to come back to the WWE, and figured that hitting him where it hurts would get him back … it worked. But I’ve apologized to him in person; I’m on the web for the world to see. I was wrong, he was right. He’s now the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, he has transcended this business and I think … any time a superstar can give what he’s given to the WWE, and then transcend the WWE, that’s good for all of us.”

For the past couple of years, The Rock’s WrestleMania appearances have been surprises. He hasn’t wrestled since his WrestleMania 29 rematch with Cena in which he tore not only his abdomen but also his adductor muscles off the bone. Part of the dilemma is that any injury The Rock suffers can derail Johnson’s filming schedule for months.

Johnson’s wrestler name, The Rock, has taken on a double meaning for a man who seems to have an impenetrable surface of chiseled muscle, pearly white teeth and an infectious smile. Because, yes, Johnson smiles. A lot. His image is that of a man with a perfect life. But beneath that surface is a man who spent years battling expectations and a wrestling industry that rarely knew what to do with a star like him. For kids like me, he was a black superhero before he was a black superhero. We’ll always remember.

World Wrestling Federation’s Wrestler Rock Poses June 12, 2000 In Los Angeles, Ca.

Getty Images