Ric Flair and black fandom in wrestling The ‘Nature Boy’ is one man in a long, complex history for professional wrestling

About halfway through Nature Boy, ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary (Nov. 7, 10 p.m. EST, ESPN) on WWE legend Ric Flair, the conversation turns to Flair’s transcending impact on popular culture. The flamboyant grappler, known for his loud fashion sense, “heel” tactics, braggadocio and quick tongue, was reminiscent of a young Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, captivating audiences not only with his physical dexterity but also with his ability to sell himself.

And Flair most surely sold himself. He was the man whom women wanted to be with and men wanted to be like. He was the 16-time world champion, no matter how much he would cheat to win, and made sure you never forgot it.

“I mean, why did people like Ali?” Flair asks in the documentary. “No one has marketed themselves in boxing like Ali.”

Moments later, rapper Snoop Dogg appears on the screen and explains how Flair pulled from and was an inspiration of the early roots of hip-hop and black culture. “As a kid growing up watching Ric Flair, he was very inspirational to myself and a lot of other hip-hop artists because he represented what we wanted to be,” Snoop Dogg said. “We wanted to be Ric Flair; we wanted to be flamboyant and the ‘kiss-stealin, wheelin-and-dealin,’ we wanted to be all of that.

“He was a part of our culture and our life. That’s why we love him and we cherish him. We’ve always held him high in the black community, because Ric is one of us.”

Snoop Dogg, who has hosted and appeared on WWE’s flagship show Monday Night Raw on multiple occasions and was inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame in 2016, paints a peculiar portrait of Flair, he of white working-class roots, bleach-blond hair and 1 percenter persona, as “one of us.” But between the luxurious clothes, brash delivery and unmitigated swagger, how was Flair any different, color aside, from an Ali or Denzel Washington or N.W.A.?

Flair was one of the greatest heels, or bad guys, in professional wrestling history, making you want to hate him as easily as Floyd “Money” Mayweather would some three decades later. But unlike Mayweather, Flair had the charm, personality and lifestyle to make every man envy him. He was also an early adopter of the overindulgent persona that took over 2000s hip-hop. To borrow from Jay-Z, Flair flaunted the “Money, Cash, H–s,” at one point owning 15 $10,000 robes, a pair of $600 custom-made shoes (gators, presumably) and a $15,000 Rolex. Not to mention all of the women.

“You see the Rolex watch, you see the glasses, you see the beautiful women, Baby Doll and Precious,” said Glen Thomas, 39, co-host of the Wrestling Marks of Excellence podcast. “You hear Ric Flair talking about the night they had in Vegas … and you see the sunglasses and the $5,000 Armani suits and shoes and you see the belt, you desire to be that. I didn’t know about Disney World, but I knew about Space Mountain.”

In recent years, the 68-year-old has been reborn as an apparent icon of black culture. Indianapolis Colts players mimicked Flair’s famous “Rolex-wearin’ ” promo during a postgame speech in 2015; rapper Pusha T shouted his trademark “Woo” catchphrase on 2012’s “Don’t Like”; and Flair “ran” for president with rapper Waka Flocka Flame in 2016.

But Flair, who hasn’t been a regular performer since retiring from WWE in 2008, is just one man in a long, complex history of professional wrestling. The “Nature Boy,” as a character, lives in a universe of offensive, sexist, anti-gay and, most glaringly, racist content — there are multiple instances of blackface being used in WWE. Which begs the question: Why do black fans continue to tune in?

There are many reasons, it turns out. Wrestling combines the visual presentation of cinema, the never-ending continuity of television and the pure athleticism of professional sports. In between the perilous stunts and knee-slapping comedy also lie real-world consequences, as evidenced by former wrestler Daniel Bryan having to retire because of repeated concussions. A bit of nostalgia is baked in as well. The average age of a pro wrestling viewer is 54 years old, compared with just 40 for the NBA, with many current viewers having watched the product since its heyday in the late 20th century.

“It’s one of those things where I can’t remember the start date,” said Camille Davis, 28, co-host of the Milwaukee-based TECKnical Foul sports podcast. “It’s kind of like when I think back about why I started sports: It’s just something that was always around.”

Whether it was a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin or deacon from church, most fans of wrestling had a familial introduction to the National Wrestling Alliance, World Championship Wrestling or WWE. Like anyone who grew up a fan of other sports, it wasn’t out of the norm to be a wrestling fan.

Black fans followed the established stars of the 1980s and 1990s like everyone else: Flair, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan. It didn’t even matter that none of these stars weren’t black; wrestling wasn’t immediately about race for those who grew up watching it.

But as black fans got older, many started to also gravitate to the male and female performers who looked like them. For older fans, there was Koko B. Ware, “Iceman” King Parsons, Bobo Brazil and “Sailor” Art Thomas. The most popular and transcendent of the early black wrestlers, though, was Junkyard Dog, who co-starred in Hogan’s Saturday morning cartoon show, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.

For younger fans who grew up in the 1990s, professional wrestling’s renaissance era, they had what felt like an abundance of talent to root for. There was Harlem Heat, composed of real-life brothers Booker T and Stevie Ray; strongman Ahmed Johnson; black nationalist stable Nation of Domination; female grappler Jacqueline Moore; and, of course, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

The Rock, who debuted in WWE in 1996, was the biggest star in the company’s history, winning multiple championships and eventually becoming the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. As half-Samoan, half-black, The Rock was one of the most visible black people in the country, a role model for many young people.

“The Rock was more of an inspiration,” said Brian Waters, 31, who’s hosted internet radio show The Wrestling Wrealm since 2011. “Knowing that he was half-black, half-Samoan, I was like, well, it don’t matter, he’s black. It’s kind of like Barack Obama. It don’t matter, he got a little black in him.”

Once black fans become aware of their own blackness, they would tend to root for the black wrestlers, no different from rooting for the Doug Williamses and Mike Vicks of football, the Williams sisters of tennis or the Tiger Woodses of golf.

This partially explains the ascent of The New Day, an all-black trio of wrestlers who have been a fan favorite for going on three years straight. But, surprisingly, race wasn’t the only factor in the popularity.

“I didn’t like New Day because they were black,” said Davis. “It was more so because they were funny. And even then I’m like not really big on The New Day train. There’s no real black wrestlers I feel like that they even give a chance to achieve.”

For black female fans, like Davis, the female wrestlers weren’t given much of an opportunity to achieve either. There have been only five black women’s champions in WWE history: Moore, Jazz, Alicia Fox, Naomi and Sasha Banks. Moore, in 2016, became the first and only African-American woman to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Even with this black female representation for young women, the wrestlers had such unrealistic body proportions, from Moore’s bust to Jazz’s bulk, that not all viewers could relate to them.

“None of the women wrestlers are technically going to look like me, because their bodies are never going to look like how my body looked or was going to look,” said LaToya Ferguson, 29, who writes about wrestling for pop culture blog Uproxx. “I could enjoy them and appreciate them, but I don’t think I ever really had that connection a lot of girls wanted to have of the Divas.”

While children normally learn about race as young as 6 months old, research shows that they don’t learn about “racism” until they’re teenagers or young adults. For African-Americans who watched wrestling, this meant many didn’t notice the problematic storylines in WWE involving African-Americans until they were adults. And there were plenty.

In 1990, white wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper donned blackface while in a storyline with black performer Bad News Brown, who was supposed to be the bad guy in the feud. Less than a decade later, all-white stable D-Generation X, who, like Piper, were the supposed good guys, painted their skin black while facing off with The Rock and the Nation of Domination. In the 2000s, Shelton Benjamin, one of the most gifted athletes in the company’s history, was accompanied to the ring by a Hattie McDaniel-like “momma” character, while all-black duo Cryme Tyme sported cornrows and platinum grills and stole from other wrestlers as their gimmick.

But two incidents stand out the most. In 2003, white wrestler Triple H delivered a racially charged promo against Booker T, calling the black performer’s hair “nappy” and telling him that “people like him” don’t win championships in the WWE. “He almost called him everything except for the N-word,” Thomas said.

And it didn’t end there for Booker T. Two years later, WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon called John Cena, who is white and replaced The Rock as the company’s most prominent star, the N-word on live television as a perplexed Booker T walked past.

Despite these incidents, and many more in American professional wrestling’s nearly 200-year history, black fans haven’t wavered. They still make up nearly a quarter of WWE’s total audience, according to Nielsen, and have many reasons for not jumping ship.

Professional wrestling, like the NFL or MLB, is a form of communal entertainment, with fans tuning in live every week because their close friends or family members are following along as well. If they aren’t one of the 3 million people watching Monday Night Raw on the USA Network, they’re filling up more basketball arena seats than the NBA team that owns the building or watching thousands of hours of content on the WWE Network. Like any parent, wrestling fans can also pass down their fandom to their kids. There are times when the product will let you down or offend you, but how is that any different from a fan pushing his or her kids to root for the Cleveland Browns?

There is a lack of diversity and problematic storylines for wrestlers of color, but black viewers tolerate those same issues in other forms of entertainment. Many African-Americans watched network dramas in the decades before Kerry Washington became the first black female lead in a television show since 1974 when she starred in Scandal. Movie ticket sales still sold in the billions in the years leading up to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. And in sports, despite boycott threats from African-American NFL fans over treatment of black athletes, namely Colin Kaepernick, in response to player protests during the national anthem, NFL games still draw in tens of millions of viewers.

Fans of wrestling just want to be entertained. It’s the golden age of wrestling right now, with the most gifted performers in the history of the “sport” performing right now, whether in WWE or on the independent circuit, including Kentucky-raised Ricochet, the most popular non-WWE black wrestler in the world. And depending on who you talk to, wrestling can be both this amazing art form — “I feel like it’s one of the last true performance arts,” Ferguson said — and guilty pleasure.

“It’s the best soap opera I’ve seen, the best television,” Waters said. “I guess I’m one of those people that if you told me I could only have one channel, it would be USA [Network].”

Thomas added: “People watch Scandal, they watch How To Get Away With Murder, they watch Law & Order: SVU. That’s your TV show, that’s your escape for two hours. That’s your soap opera. Wrestling is my soap opera, where I can suspend my disbelief for three hours on a Monday or two hours on a Tuesday.”

The NFL without Odell There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market

It was written all over Odell Beckham Jr.’s face. He didn’t have to say a word. His fractured ankle — suffered in Sunday’s 27-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, which dropped a decrepit New York Giants squad to 0-5 on the season — will require surgery. Beckham tallied 97 yards on five catches and one touchdown before going down. In what could be his final 2017 image, the league’s most dynamic talent sat demoralized on the back of a cart in tears.

The NFL has many faces. Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling. The owners’ resistance to Kaepernick’s impact. Von Miller’s eccentricity. Ezekiel Elliott’s future. Cam Newton’s drama. The New England Patriots’ dominance. Marshawn Lynch’s silence. But Beckham is the face of fun (“fun” being subjective in this case) in a billion-dollar league with very serious — mental health, domestic violence, First Amendment, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — issues.

The loss of Beckham is a hit stick to the league’s cultural capital. He’s set to cash in more than $10 million in endorsements. Nike can’t be too happy: In May, the company and Beckham came to terms on the richest shoe deal in NFL history — nearly $5 million a year for five years. Beckham’s wardrobe, the football equivalent of Russell Westbrook’s, makes nearly as many headlines as the wind sprints, acrobatic one-hand catches and intricate end zone routines that could moonlight as music videos.

Beckham is the most followed NFL player on Instagram, with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively.

In a quarterback-driven league where fan loyalty largely resides with the entire team, Beckham is an individual, non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him) whose brand is just as much about name on the back of his jersey (fourth overall in 2016 sales) as the team logo on his helmet. Beckham’s social media influence is huge — he’s the most followed NFL player on Instagram with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively. With 55 percent of all 18- to 29-year-olds in America on Instagram, Beckham’s appeal to the younger crowd separates himself from his peers.

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On his off days, Beckham is a regular fixture at NBA games. He has the respect of LeBron James. Kaepernick, too. He’s won the adoration of Drake (and likely a spare set of keys to his mansion). He even, allegedly, friend-zoned Rihanna. He texts Michael Jordan. He takes selfies with Beyoncé and rubs shoulders with an even more famous Beckham — David. And Beckham’s cleats are always in. He shifts the culture by driving it, which is why his injury affects NFL culture far beyond the Giants’ red zone offense.

The Giants’ season had effectively been in rice for weeks. But the loss of Beckham means the loss of one of football’s most popular ambassadors at a time when America’s most popular sport is in the crosshairs of societal debates that the president weighs in on almost daily. While Beckham’s attitude has long been perceived by some as a character’s most notorious flaw, his impact on the sport is felt leaguewide. “I would be remiss not to acknowledge how engaging and professional Odell [Beckham Jr.] was during the entire week of the Pro Bowl,” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said in February. “By far and away, he represented the New York Football Giants and the NFL with great poise, congeniality and professionalism.”


Max blasts Giants for OBJ injury

Beckham’s fractured ankle, the same one he injured in a preseason game versus the Cleveland Browns, is likely the bookend to his turbulent 2017. The year, of course, began with Beckham, Victor Cruz and several other Giants partying on a yacht in Miami with Trey Songz.

The January boat party followed a playoff-clinching win over the Washington Redskins, and Beckham was largely blamed for the team’s lackluster postseason exit a week later against the Green Bay Packers — for what it’s worth, and as far as the mood on Twitter, the Giants haven’t won a game since. Then, in July, Beckham, who reached 3,500 yards faster than any receiver in league history, declared he wanted to be not only the league’s highest-paid receiver but the highest paid player, “period.” And just last month during a game versus the Philadelphia Eagles, Beckham critics feverishly salivated at the opportunity to throw him under the bus after a touchdown celebration in which he mimicked a dog urinating in the end zone. Beckham revealed later that the celebration was a response to President Donald Trump’s “son of a b—-” statement. After his second touchdown in that game, to far less fanfare and debate, Beckham raised his fist. Except for Kaepernick and maybe Lynch, there is no more polarizing NFL personality than Beckham. The conversation around him never stops. The goalposts just shift in a league that served up the following just on Sunday:

In a long-planned move, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game as several members of the Niners kneeled during the national anthem. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lashed out after his team’s 35-31 loss to the Packers by saying that any member of the team to “disrespect” the flag would not play. Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster was seen snorting a white substance in a video posted on Facebook by a woman Foerster was confessing his love to. The Tennessee Titans denied Kaepernick a tryout after a hamstring injury to its starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, opting instead for unsigned journeyman Brandon Weeden. Houston Texans superstar defensive lineman Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. Meanwhile, after a week of self-inflicted controversy, Carolina Panthers star quarterback Newton pieced together a second consecutive MVP-like performance with 355 yards and three touchdowns versus the Detroit Lions.

In quarterback-driven league and where fan loyalty is to teams, Beckham is the rare individual non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him).

And then: “I knew it was bad,” Giants tight end Evan Engram said about Beckham’s injury after the game. “Bad” is an understatement. Beckham’s ankle headlines a decimated Giants receiving corps that had the makings of quite possibly the best in football. Both Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard were ruled out of the second half of Sunday’s game with ankle injuries. Per Adam Schefter, Dwayne Harris’ fractured foot will end his season. Sunday’s setback also destroys Beckham’s quest for a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and 1,000-yard season and the pipe dream of exorcising the demons of playoffs past. It complicates an already foggy contract situation too. Down their best offensive player, the Giants lose their most marketable face, with two prime-time games still left on the schedule, in a season on pace to go down as one of the worst comedy of errors in team history.

For the NFL, it’s a season in which the biggest headlines come from the sidelines, and the Oval Office. The season isn’t even halfway over and its traffic jam of moral dilemmas, including the saga of Kaepernick’s quest to return, dominate discussion. Which is why the NFL without Beckham is a blow it could ill afford. There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market. There’s no way to re-create that cocktail of production, swag and divisiveness that comes from the former LSU standout. The NFL is in a position it’s become all too familiar with in recent years — although Beckham’s injury is, of course, beyond its control — behind the eight ball.

As Beckham was carted off the field Sunday, towel over his head to mask the pain, he again didn’t have to say a word. One of his famous friends already had, fittingly on a song called “Do Not Disturb”: They tell me I need recovery/ Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me/ I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary.

LaMelo Ball gets his own basketball shoe and other news of the week The Week That Was Aug. 28 – Sept. 1

Monday 08.28.17

In “life comes at you fast” news, former Baylor football coach Art Briles, who once won back-to-back Big 12 titles, was hired as an assistant coach with the winless Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Grand opening, grand closing: Briles was not hired by the Tiger-Cats. A Colorado man who said he was attacked with a knife because his haircut resembled that of a neo-Nazi actually stabbed himself. The Indianapolis Colts played themselves. President Donald Trump and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad relationship with Russia continues to get worse. As one final middle finger to former Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher, 56-year-old Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson will sign a one-day contract with the team. Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler, really shedding that “lazy” reputation, didn’t prepare for his job as a TV analyst. The New York Jets, a little too on the nose, signed a man named “Armagedon.” Trump is upset about crowd sizes (again) and TV ratings (again). Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a leader of the birther movement, wants the “media to stop saying he is racist.”

Tuesday 08.29.17

ABC News anchor Tom Llamas was out here snitching to the feds. Texas Republicans who once voted against Hurricane Sandy relief aid in 2012 will now be forced to ask for hurricane relief aid. “Heritage, not hate” has caused a boon in Confederate flag sales in Pennsylvania after a white supremacist rally in Virginia earlier this month. Trump is excited about crowd sizes (again). The head of the Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy once called former President Barack Obama’s mother a “fourth-rate p&*n actress and w@!re.” The Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook cupcake war is still not over. The Houston Rockets, Astros and Texans donated $9 million to hurricane relief efforts; the city of Houston gave over half a billion dollars to build each of the franchises’ respective stadiums. Supposed man of faith Joel Osteen finally allowed hurricane victims into his church. A white Georgia state representative told a black female former colleague that she would “go missing” and be met with “something a lot more definitive” than torches if Confederate monuments were removed from the state. Sixteen U.S. Postal Service workers in Atlanta were charged with distributing cocaine through the postal system.

Wednesday 08.30.17

A day after Trump promised to “take care” of Houston after Hurricane Harvey, Republicans are set to cut nearly $1 billion from the disaster relief budget. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics finally completed their trade a week later. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), who signed one of the strongest anti-immigration bills into law earlier this year, said he will accept hurricane relief assistance from Mexico. The Jets made former quarterback Tony Romo want to remain retired. The Tiger-Cats, in the news again somehow, worked out former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball still can’t figure out a way to get rid of Cleveland’s racist mascot. The American Red Cross, a charity, still doesn’t know how much of the money it raises goes directly to relief efforts. Florida, because of course, was named the state with the worst drivers in America. A New Hampshire inmate, who has a face full of tattoos and will definitely not be spotted walking around town, escaped from a halfway house. Fox Sports 1 host Shannon Sharpe said model Nicole Murphy’s derriere is “FATTER than a swamp-raised opossum.”

Thursday 08.31.17

Late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel cost the Los Angeles Lakers $500,000. High school basketball phenom LaMelo Ball is already set to incur an NCAA infraction two years before he attends college. Someone gave LaVar Ball a reality series. The Trump administration, creating an issue where there wasn’t one, is considering not putting Harriett Tubman on the $20 bill. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke resigned from his position; Wisconsin state Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) wants “to thank Sheriff Clarke for his decision to step down. After years of abuse at his hands, the people of Milwaukee can sleep soundly tonight.” Trump makes secret phone calls to recently fired chief strategist Steve Bannon when chief of staff John Kelly is not around. In “boy, that escalated quickly” news, Missouri state Rep. Warren Love (R-Osceola) responded to vandalism of a Confederate monument by calling for the culprit to be “found & hung from a tall tree with a long rope.” UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs had to practice taking a knee. Further proof that bottom has met rock, former New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher will appear on the next season of Dancing with the Stars. The Cleveland Browns won one fewer game during the preseason (four) than they are expected to win during the entire regular season (five). A CBS executive blamed the NFL’s sagging TV ratings on Colin Kaepernick, who played two games on CBS last season. Trump, who once offered $50 million for proof of Obama’s citizenship, pledged $1 million to hurricane relief efforts.

Friday 09.01.17

New Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, almost guaranteeing a sassy passive-aggressive response from former teammate LeBron James, said he hasn’t spoken to James and that “me leaving [Cleveland] wasn’t about basketball.” A nonpartisan watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and Department of Justice because musical artist Kid Rock keeps lying about running for U.S. Senate. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is still trying to send a 61-year-old woman to jail for laughing at him. Trump “liked” a tweet that he’s “not Presidential material” for misspelling “heeling” (again). In other Trump Twitter news, the president is definitely about to fire Kelly. Professional boxer Manny Pacquiao, who is absolutely not still shook, pulled out of his rematch with Australian teacher Jeff Horn for government duties; in 2014, Pacquiao was present for Congress of the Philippines for just four days.

‘Queen Sugar’s’ second season explores a fraught mix of family and historical legacy Halfway through season two, we’re wondering what happens when the Bordelons fight back

Family legacy and the legacy of race in the South are the compelling — and intermingling — themes midway through the second season of Queen Sugar.

That’s an ambitious load, especially considering a series of adjustments for the widely lauded OWN drama: There’s a new showrunner in Monica Macer to free up day-to-day obligations for executive producer Ava DuVernay. And the show is now wandering farther away from the Natalie Baszile novel that inspired it.

Last week’s episode gave us one big startling revelation, but there’s plenty of unresolved conflict still simmering. So far, we’ve witnessed Charley Bordelon (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) powering through some serious upheaval. She’s divorcing her husband, she’s opened the first black-owned mill in the fictional St. Josephine’s Parish, and she’s struggling to help her teenage son, Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe), after a harrowing encounter with a police officer. Meanwhile, her sister Nova (Rutina Wesley) is second-guessing how much their late father accepted her decision to eschew a husband and children to throw herself into journalism. Their brother, Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), has been desperately trying to grasp some independence for himself now that he and the rest of the family know their father, Earnest, intended to leave the Bordelon farm solely to him, thanks to a letter Earnest left that contradicts his will.

Alfonso Bresciani/ ©2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment

On its face, it’s easy to identify how Queen Sugar is wrestling with ideas of legacy. In the wake of Earnest’s death, Charley poured her energy into opening the Queen Sugar mill as a way to honor him. But that’s a bit of a ruse. After Ralph Angel confronts the family with Earnest’s letter, which leaves the family farm entirely to him rather than split between the three siblings, Charley is reeling. She tells a magazine reporter profiling her that she honestly doesn’t know what Earnest would think of her efforts. Opening the mill has provided Charley with an escape from having to deal with her divorce, her son’s post-traumatic stress disorder and her burgeoning relationship with Remy Newell (Dondre Whitfield).

There’s another legacy Queen Sugar is examining, one that’s less obvious than the land and independence Earnest left his family and far more compelling. Remember, the Bordelon farmland used to belong to a white family, the Landrys, who are eager to buy it back. The Bordelon ancestors used to belong to the Landrys too. DuVernay uses the antebellum connection between the two families to explore legacies of slavery, racial terrorism and emotional violence wrought against black people in Louisiana. Since it debuted, Queen Sugar has repeatedly revisited the concept of invasion into black spaces, whether it’s the repo man who comes to take Earnest’s tractor, police coming to search Bordelon property at night, or showing up again to question the ownership of a rifle, which Ralph Angel can’t have because he’s been convicted of a crime, or Landry deploying a drone to the Bordelon farm.

The Landrys and law enforcement are the two most obvious remnants of the Jim Crow-era South. That’s why the scenes of hostile white people showing up to Bordelon land to take something that’s not theirs — either people, property or both — engender the same feelings of panic and tension you get from watching night riders or the Klan accosting black people on TV and film.

Skip Bolen / @2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

The feud with the Landrys is fertile ground, and not just because of the echoes of racial implications that still ring true in Louisiana today. The parts of the show that set me most on edge are the ones with Samuel Landry (David Jensen), even as the two-dimensional villain he is. Because of the enormous wealth the Landrys possess, they effectively control the St. Jo’s sugar market. With the only mill in the parish, they have a monopoly on grinding cane, and they use that monopoly to financially subjugate the area’s black farmers.

Charley and the Queen Sugar mill hold out the promise of a better deal for the farmers. Landry doesn’t take it well and deploys a drone to spy on the Bordelon farm. Ralph Angel discovered it when it crashed into his young son, Blue (Ethan Hutchison). The scene was deeply unnerving, both because of Blue’s already-established vulnerability and because the drone’s presence was such a contumelious intrusion of privacy. It was such an effective disruption of the calm, quiet and relative safety that rural living can provide that I wondered if it was fair to designate its use a form of high-tech terrorism. Who needs white hoods and burning crosses when you’ve got unmanned cameras and a private prison system eager to make money off the missteps of black people?

Ralph Angel’s status as a parolee continues to hang over his head — one wrong move and he’s back in prison, a weakness Landry is happy to exploit. For now he’s safe, but I have a feeling the second half of the season will get even more difficult for Ralph Angel.

But perhaps nothing is as awful as the revelation of what happened to Micah after a police officer pulled him over as he was driving his new Porsche.

In a gut-wrenching eighth-episode scene with his father, Davis (Timon Kyle Durrett), Micah reveals that the officer who stopped him didn’t take him directly to the parish lockup. Instead, he drove past it, pulled into a darkened alley, forced the barrel of his gun into Micah’s mouth and pulled the trigger.

Micah left jail without so much as a scratch on his body, but he was so shaken by the experience that he’s barely been recognizable to his parents since he was arrested. That’s how Queen Sugar examines a legacy of emotional violence and terrorism. The white people of St. Josephine’s Parish like their power, and they don’t want to let it go. But they’re smart, too, and their relationship to the black people of the parish can resemble that of an abuser toying with a victim. Sometimes it’s enough to simply flex the power that you have to send someone’s life off course, without ever firing a bullet. That’s something that the Landrys and the officer who arrested Micah know and are happy to exploit.

The midpoint of season two leaves us wondering: What happens when the Bordelons fight back?

The air up there: Five black men jump out of a plane in Baltimore A skydiving tale of conquering fear and forging a brotherhood at 13,000 feet

I gather my senses, and a weird sense of calm overtakes me. My eyes water up. Everything whips past at speeds that feel closer to breaking the sound barrier than anything I’ve ever experienced. Wind crashes against my face at 130 mph. It’s impossible to hear. Feeling completely defenseless makes me alive in a way I have never experienced. Makes me alive in a way I never knew existed.


The opening triplet of Young Jeezy’s 2005 zenith Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101: “Thug Motivation 101,” “Standing Ovation” and “Gangsta Music.” When it fails to elicit a reaction, there’s cause for concern. But when Meek Mill’s 2012 “Dreams & Nightmares” doesn’t do the trick, we all quietly panic.

Hold on, wait a minute / Y’all thought I was finished?/ When I bought that Aston Martin / Y’all thought it was rented …

“Turn that down for a second,” George says from the back seat.

There are five of us. Me, Trevon (Tre), Chris (whom we all call Mayo) and Derek (who met us at the spot). We were all there for George, who is getting married in Atlanta in November and wants to cross an item off his “living list.” He hates the term “bucket list.”

“That sounds too much like death,” he told me an hour before, outside Tre’s parents’ house in Bowie, Maryland. He was scarfing down a bowl from Chipotle. “Let’s do everything we wanna do while we’re here. It makes for a better life story.”

But now, as Tre’s 2011 Nissan Maxima — “The Swain Train,” as we dubbed it — turns into the gravel driveway of Skydive Baltimore in Mitchellville, Maryland, it hits us. The driveway leads to an open field with parked cars, a mini-warehouse and planes. “I done did the DOAs / I done did the KODs,” Meek raps, with the volume nearly on mute. “Every time I’m in that b—- / I get to throwin’ 30 G’s …

We are on the cusp of embarking on the most extreme sport on the planet. The five of us are about to jump out of a plane.

July 16, 2017. For months, it seemed nothing more than a fictional date. It would never get here. And even if it did, the weather wouldn’t cooperate. A pipe dream would be left as just that.

But what was a group chat idea in April spawned into May reality as we all watched blowout after blowout during the NBA playoffs. When Derek got the ball rolling by copping his Groupon ticket first, the stage was set. Talking about it was cool, but being about it was a totally different monster. Weeks went by. Eventually a quintet took shape.

“Damn, we’re pretty high up. This it?”

Derek, Tre, George and I all went to Hampton together. Mayo is Tre’s oldest friend, from high school. We asked other friends, men and women, if they were down. Some initially committed but backed out for scheduling reasons. One friend asked, “Why the f— would I wanna jump out of a perfectly good plane?” Silently, it’s what we’d all asked ourselves.

In the weeks leading up to July 16, a brotherhood — we call it #FlightTeam — formed. What else would you call five people crazy enough to jump out of a plane? We’re all either in our early 30s or, in Tre’s case, months away from the landmark birthdate. We’re blessed with jobs in which we’re excelling. Some of us are in committed relationships. Life just feels good. And we wanted to try something new — something we’d remember for the rest of our lives. It was about seeking a thrill, but it was more about breaking the status quo. It’s hard to find statistics about black people who skydive. We knew of friends and acquaintances who’ve done it, but for the most part, what statistics wouldn’t tell us, the reactions we got when we told folks surely did.

“ ‘Brother, black people don’t do that,’ ” is what the author Touré playfully recalled a group of black men telling him before his 2007 jump. “I was breaking the rules of blackness as they saw it.”

ESPN Video Player

“Skydiving?” Brian, a bartender at my local bar quizzed me. “Man, y’all n—–s wilding, for real. If you come back, at least I know you didn’t die.” He then proceeded to show me a video another customer at the bar pulled up on her phone of a woman slipping out of her harness.

“Well, you only live once, I guess,” Ryan, a childhood friend, said to me via text. He’s currently serving overseas in the military, and even he thought the idea was asinine.

“Y’all like the only black people I know personally … crazy enough to do this,” Mayo said with a laugh when he agreed to go. “Or the dumbest. But I’m with y’all, so what’s that make me?”

The peculiar truth about skydiving is there are two types of first-timers: those who research everything they can on the internet and those who go in blind. For myself — a reporter, writer and naturally inquisitive person — it was the former. There are the horror stories. There’s video of President George H.W. Bush jumping for his 90th birthday. The most impactful to me, however, is Will Smith describing his first skydive, in 2013 in Dubai. It spoke to a lesson far larger than that of jumping from a plane.

The tutorial? Literally the instructor telling you what and what not to do.

Fear, in a lot of ways, is death in breathing form. A byproduct of living in the world, fear is the reason so many wake up years later saying, “I wish I would have,” instead of “I’m glad I did.” Combating fear is why The Fresh Prince went skydiving. Anticipation is usually worse than the event itself. “You realize at the point of maximum danger,” Smith said, “is the point of minimum fear.”

Skydiving is actually quite safe. Just last year, the United States Parachute Association recorded 21 skydiving deaths out of approximately 3.2 million jumps — one death per 153,557 jumps. The number shrinks with tandem skydiving (with the instructor strapped on your back), with one student death per 500,000 jumps over the past decade. Since 2000, 413 skydiving deaths have been reported out of 48.6 million jumps. The fatality rate was 0.00085 percent. A person is far more likely to die from being struck by lightning or stung by a bee.

If we were going to die doing this, we had the worst luck known to man. Or it was just our time to go. We were cool with those odds. More importantly, though, none of us wanted to back out on our word.


Telling your mom you’re about to jump out of a plane is almost as much of a rush as jumping out of the plane itself. “Ma,” I said the night of July 15. “I wasn’t gonna tell you, but LaToya said I probably should.”

“Justin, what? Is she OK? Is she getting married? I can’t lose out on a potential daughter-in-law. Are you in trouble? Boy, I told you don’t go messing up this good job!”

“Huh? What? No! I’m skydiving tomorrow. I’ll be fine. Trust me.”

“Going by yourself?”

“It’s like four of my boys going with me. Tre’s going.”

“I mean, are you jumping out by yourself?”

“Hell, nah! I might pass out. I need someone to pull the cord.”

“OK, fine. Call me when you get on the ground. We ain’t telling your grandma until you get back on the ground, though.”

In the car, we swap stories about telling our loved ones. In George’s words, he had to get his “affairs in order.” We’re an hour away from doing something we never really believed would happen, and we’re laughing. It’s these small moments that define a brotherhood. The order of jumping is finalized. I demand to go first (if you’re considering doing this, jump first, because watching your friends get vacuumed out of an airplane is a haze of monumental proportions). We crack jokes on each other. We predict what we’ll say as we jump.

“I’m definitely yelling ‘Free Ghost!’ ” I say, alluding to this season of the Starz series Power.

“Maybe I’ll yell out, ‘It took four All-stars to beat LeBron in the Finals,’ ” Tre says moments later.

The mileage on the GPS slowly trickles away. The weather is sarcastically perfect — as if Mother Nature is telling us, “Y’all ain’t blaming me. You’re jumping out that damn plane.” The wardrobe: Fatigue shorts, Nike Air Max and a black tee with, in hindsight, a fitting lyric from Future and Drake’s 2016 loosie “Used To This”: Beat the odds/ Do numbers/ And remain humble.

The moment was at our fingertips. The five of us knew we’d leave this field as different people. First, the paperwork. “Basically, you’re signing your life away,” Derek said. “You either sign it and jump, or don’t sign it and don’t jump. Either way, they’ve already gotten your money.”

Speaking of dead presidents, we all paid $125 for the “media” package that came with 200-plus pictures and video of the experience. Then came the wait. This was the worst. Groups in front of us went up in planes, jumped and parachuted to the ground. They resembled giant, colorful snowflakes. We all stood and watched, occasionally placing videos on Snapchat, as well as Instagram stories. The jumpers were all supportive and energetic, the consensus being, “You’ll thank yourself for doing it while you’re in the air.” As we expected, we were the only group of black people jumping together, although two people came after us — but one stayed on the ground and worked on his laptop as his daughter got set to skydive. Then came the moment three months in the making.

Trevon, George, Chris, Justin and Derek, come to the front.

Immediately, we all realize there isn’t a “class” we’ll take beforehand. The tutorial? It’s the instructor telling you what and what not to do. Within 10 minutes, we are strapped in harnesses and later to our instructors on the seatless plane — which holds 10 people at the most. My queasiness, which had been faint 30 minutes before, increases in severity the higher the plane climbs. There’s no backing out. We are at the point of no return.

Talking about it was cool, but being about it was a totally different monster.

“Damn, we’re pretty high up. This it?” I ask, looking out the window.

“Nah, bro,” says Mike the instructor nonchalantly. He’s on his 11th and final jump of the day. “We’re about halfway there.”

The Maryland terrain now resembles a Google map. I look around the plane, attempting to gauge the collective mindstate. Mayo is quiet. Derek doesn’t seem too much bothered. George is at peace in the back of the plane. But Tre? Tre, he has What the entire f— did I get myself into? written all over his face.

The door opens. It’s a passage to the rest of our lives. That’s another aspect you’re not truly prepared for: seeing a door open on a plane and clouds breezing by underneath. Mike inches us closer to the edge. He asks me if I prefer a straight plunge or to backflip out. Not that it matters, as I was kind of seated in the doorway and my legs were already dangling out.

It’s at this point where a person simultaneously feels heaven, hell, life and death. It’s a high, the greatest sex, the greatest weed … the greatest anything, really, could never replicate (OK, well, never is pushing it). But, true to form, “Free Ghost!” were my last coherent words.

As quickly as the free fall begins, though, it’s over. The parachute deploys. Whipping wind gives way to an eerie silence as I float toward the launchpad. You see how big the world is. And how small you are. You realize how peaceful the moment is. How the freedom of that exact moment surpasses the trepidation of the months, weeks, days and hours before. Skydiving made no sense at all until it made all the sense. I was temporarily suspended in air and left to my own thoughts. The air up there isn’t the enemy. It’s the ground where the problems lie.

The entire experience is over in five minutes. I was back on the ground quicker than it took to get in the air. Tre, Derek, Mayo and George are soon behind. The ride-back recap session was legendary. Viewing our videos, we saw the same experience from each other’s point of view. Over a week later, the five of us still laugh about the moment that brought us together and put us face to face with our own mortality. It’s a feat we’ll take with us to homecomings, weddings, baby showers and certainly George’s wedding later this year.

“A week later and it’s still a trip,” Tre says with a laugh. “[I just keep thinking], did we really do that?”

A thought populated my mind that night after the jump, as I boarded a flight to Boston. It was a piece from Jay-Z’s 2009 “Forever Young.” It spoke to not only what we five had just done, but succinctly about conquering fear.

Fear not when, fear not why / Fear not much while we’re alive/ Life is for living, not living uptight / Till you’re somewhere up in the sky …

Jay-Z inadvertently reminded me of something George had said. His words applied to life, personally and professionally. It applied to taking the great risks to produce the great rewards we all seek in life. “When I realized I could die,” said the groom-to-be, “that’s when I started living.”

Daily Dose: 7/14/17 Beyonce releases photograph of Sir and Rumi

All right, kiddos. It’s been quite the week here in Minneapolis. The X Games got underway Thursday night, but Friday is the first full day and I’ll be taking over The Undefeated Instagram page for the afternoon. This should be ridiculous.

Someone in our newsroom is actively hating on Beyoncé. “Does her photographer always have to be someone out of Alice in Wonderland? Sorry. Not supposed to troll the Queen. Forget I said that,” were the words of one writer who will go unnamed. Some of these jokes and memes are just plain hilarious though. Look at that photo. These children are going to grow up to be the most widely watched children on earth since Princess Diana’s boys were small. We can’t wait. Sir and Rumi are their names, in case you forgot. Also, watch this.

We officially have a start date for Bachelor In Paradise. Let’s be clear: This season is already wrought with controversy, and I do not feel good about this component at all. That being said, it’s important to note that this show is the best in the franchise, and it’s not even particularly close. But for us die-hard BIP fans, we’re going to have our ethics tested because after the consent dispute scenario, a major premise of the show as basically promoting rape culture is being questioned. That said, set your calendars and clocks for Aug. 14, kiddos.

If you were on your way to a job interview, would you stop to save someone’s life? What if you were living in a halfway house and had less than $5 to your name? That’s what Aaron Tucker, an ex-prisoner in Connecticut, did the other day when he was up first thing in the morning to interview as a busboy at a local barbecue spot. You know what, most of you out there would have just kept it moving and maybe called the cops. He missed the interview, but the community has reached out to help and job offers are coming in. GOOD.

Speaking of jobs, the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders might be hiring. I say “might be” because with this new stadium they have to build in the desert, it’s obviously going to take bodies to do it. But in what I can only call a stroke of cynic genius, someone posted a hoax “pre-recruitment meetings” sign-up publicly that drew hundreds of people to an otherwise routine Las Vegas Stadium Authority meeting. In short, bringing the very people who need these gigs to the feet of those who will eventually decide who gives them. Mean, but brilliant.

Free Food

Coffee Break: This Conor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather promo tour has finally gotten good, now that they’ve decided to step up their disses toward each other. But now McGregor has brought 50 Cent into the situation, which is probably not a very smart move whatsoever. Curtis Jackson replied to him — on late night TV, no less.

Snack Time: We’ve all been waiting around for Vic Mensa’s new album, and we finally got something to rock with. His new song called “Wings” features Pharrell and Saul Williams. I love this song.

Dessert: I can’t think of anything better to send us into a weekend than two fighting pancake shops.

Maryland politician heads giant county government while caring for his wife who has Alzheimer’s Rushern Baker, of Prince George’s County, Maryland, is part of a growing trend of male caregivers

Rushern Baker is county executive in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a Washington, D.C., suburb that is the wealthiest majority-black county in the nation.

Originally elected in 2010, Baker is halfway through his second four-year term and just announced that he is a Democratic candidate for governor. He oversees a budget of $3.1 billion in a county with a population of 900,000, which makes it the second-largest county in the state.

During his time in office, crime is down 55 percent and he has attracted $12 billion in economic development and 55,000 jobs, according to his spokesman. But today, during an interview in the community room of a busy Wegman’s supermarket near the county seat, Baker is not here to talk about his economic and political achievements. He’s here to talk about his wife, his family and how he does what he does every day.

Baker is the primary caregiver for his wife of 30 years, Christa Beverly, 57, a former attorney who has suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease since 2010. That disease affects 5 million people in the United States.

“I had to pick up from one of the most devastating things in life and move on,” said Baker, 58. “But you continue to live your life. You don’t stop.”

Historically, women have been primary caregivers in families affected by long-term health issues. As a result, their careers, salaries and lifestyles suffered.

But a new report from AARP says that men are increasingly stepping into the role, now representing 40 percent of the nation’s caregivers. Baker sees that trend in his own neighborhood in Cheverly, Maryland, where three neighbors are primary caregivers for their wives, all with Alzheimer’s.

“I realized that there are a number of men who are caring for their wives and parents,” he said. “So, there’s quite a number of us out there.”

Jean Accius, caregiving expert at the AARP Public Policy Institute and author of the report Breaking Stereotypes: Spotlight on Male Family Caregivers, said there are 40 million caregivers in the U.S. “The majority are women,” he said. “Over time we noticed that 4 out of 10, or 16 million, were male: husbands taking care of wives or partners, sons taking care of mothers. They are doing work and not recognized for work.”

The trend is fueled by a population that is aging as people live longer, he said. “Ten thousand people each day are turning 65. Family sizes are changing. There are more women in the labor force. All those things coming together facilitating the number of men doing this work.”

In another high-profile case of early-onset Alzheimer’s, restaurateur, television host lifestyle guru B. Smith said two years ago that she was suffering from the disease at 64 and was shutting down the last of her restaurants. Dan Gasby, her husband of 24 years, is caring for her. Their memoir, Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s, was published last year.

Accius said that despite the stress, male caregivers are generally reluctant to talk openly about it. The report was an attempt to change that. “The amount of work they are doing in addition to a full-time job and juggling working and caregiving is amazing,” he said. “It is a balancing act. It’s something to see the number of men giving injections and helping with tube feeding.”

Baker begins each day at 5:30 to 6 a.m., “so I can get her dressed. She can’t do anything. She can’t dress herself, go to the bathroom or feed herself.

“Then I set out her medication for the day,” he said. “If it’s going to be a long day, I get her medicine ready for the evening.” He gets to work by 9:30 or 10 a.m. “That’s the normal day, six days a week.”

On Fridays and Sundays, he tries to arrange his schedule so he can take her out, maybe to the park or the National Harbor. And on Sundays, there is church. Which leads us to his biggest regret.

“For a long time, I wouldn’t take my wife to church,” he said. “She would fall asleep, she would drool. I didn’t want people to see her in that condition.”

He changed that philosophy after a few years. “When I went [back] to church, it was one of the best experiences. I felt bad that for two years I did not take her.”

Rushern and Crista Baker at the Red and Gold Senior Gala on December 16, 2014

Courtesy of Mike Yourishin

He still talks to her and looks for reactions in her eyes. On good days, she recognizes people.

“Everything that she did, we will do,” he said. “When her sorority sisters met in Atlanta for a line reunion, we drove to Atlanta. When they come [to the Washington, D.C., area] she will host a brunch.” They come to the house and greet her and talk to her as they did before she was stricken with Alzheimer’s, he said.


The family first noticed something was wrong in 2008. Christa, or Cis as he calls her, a Howard University graduate with a law degree from the College of William & Mary, had just left her job at the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund and was about to begin a search for a new job. Baker was on a business trip when their oldest daughter, Aja, called. On a trip to her parents’ home in Richmond, Virginia, where she grew up, Christa was lost. She was around the corner from her parents’ home but couldn’t figure out how to get there. There had been other “little things” before, such as forgetting things and losing her keys and glasses.

He tried to talk his wife into seeing a doctor, but she refused. There were several other episodes of her forgetting things or getting lost. She got lost while picking up her youngest daughter, Quinci, from high school, a school all their children attended and where they had driven for eight years. Still, she refused to see a doctor.

Finally, Baker talked to a doctor friend and figured out a way to get her in, under the guise of a medical appointment for him. In the exam room, the doctor also suggested that she test Christa while she was there. She agreed. She passed the brain scan, but the doctor said something was “not quite right” and she should have regular tests.

In February 2010, when she was about to turn 50, Baker took Christa in for a routine exam with a neurologist. The doctor asked her questions. She remembered her children’s names but couldn’t answer a number of simple questions, like the age of the children. Frustrated, she began to cry and looked at him for help with the answers. The diagnosis was early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“When he told us, she was mad and said, ‘I’ll never see this guy again,’ ” Baker said. “But by the time we got in the car, she had forgotten all about the incident. And that started our journey.”

The reason his memory is so vivid, he said, is that after two unsuccessful attempts, he was in the middle of his third campaign for county executive. He considered quitting.

“After the neurology exam, I went to my wife’s primary care physician and said I don’t know if I should run,” Baker said. “He said, ‘I don’t know if you can not run. If you don’t run, she will know something was wrong.’ ” His wife, by then, was an integral part of his campaigns and was well-known in the county.


Today, she can only walk a few steps, so she uses a wheelchair. She doesn’t have the ability to speak or eat through her mouth. “But as far as recognizing people, she has moments when she knows who folks are. She looks great. But a few months ago they had to put a [tracheotomy tube] in to help her breathe.”

“Every day has its challenges,” Baker said. After being in the hospital for three months, she was able to go to their son Rushern IV’s wedding and understand that their youngest daughter, Quinci, graduated from college.

Quinci was 15 when her mother was diagnosed and was a major help in those first two years, Baker said. She is now 22, and she and Aja, 25, recently moved out of the family home, reluctantly, to their own apartment. They are not far away, but he wanted them to establish their own lives.

Rushern Baker gets a tattoo done in his wife’s honor his daughter looks on.

Rushern Baker’s tattoo in honor of his wife, Crista and her battle with early onset Alzheimers.

“They are still there for me if I have a meeting [in the evening],” he said. “I was training for a marathon, and they were there for me.”

His role as caregiver has certainly made him more aware of the challenges facing other caregivers, especially those who work for the county. He has become active in Alzheimer’s groups: Us Against Alzheimer’s, an advocacy group, and the Alzheimer’s Association, which promotes research into the disease. There is now a chapter of the association in Prince George’s County. He and all three children went on a local radio show to raise money for Alzheimer’s research and agreed to get tattoos if they raised $6,000. They did. (Baker’s tattoo of his wife’s initials along with the Alzheimer’s Association symbol is on his right forearm.)

Home care is always an issue, he said. It has to be someone you can trust, because “my wife can’t speak.” One of the nurses who cares for his wife left for another job. “I had to take off a week to find someone.”

It was overwhelming, especially in the beginning, Baker said. “When I took over the county, all of the issues … I was basically building a government from scratch, and it was not easy.” He sometimes had to work until 3 a.m. He was gaining weight.

Finally, his predecessor, Wayne Curry, gave him some advice. “He said you’ve got to do something else. He pushed him to do the things he loved — reading, running and tennis — to relieve the stress. He started running in the mornings three days a week with county police cadets. He started carrying a book to read.

It still can be overwhelming at times, especially in a job as demanding as his. “You need something to relieve the stress and you need others to help, or you will get sick yourself, and then you can’t care for your loved one,” he said.

His biggest lesson: “Seek and accept help. Don’t try to do it yourself. You need support. Don’t be embarrassed to accept help.”

Another lesson: “Be open and honest with your family, especially your children. I tried to shelter my daughter. Looking back, it was wrong.”

The last thing: “Accept the fact that every day is the new normal.” That means when his son, Rushern IV, was getting married, he needed to get his wife there in her wheelchair and then figure out how long they would need to be outside during the ceremony and proceedings.

“You start to put things into perspective,” he said. “I had to pick up from one of the most devastating things in my life and move on.”

‘Get Out’ star Marcus Henderson is making big strides in his two new films He now has added the Urban Movie Channel’s ‘Halfway’ to his list of credits that includes ‘Django’

Marcus Henderson has an acting portfolio that goes back as far as 2007. His most memorable roles are as Big Sid in the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained (starring with Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington) and Walter in Jordan Peele’s new race-provoking horror/comedy Get Out.

He just recently was a co-star in the Urban Movie Channel’s feature film Halfway, alongside Quinton Aaron of The Blind Side, which premiered on April 12. Now Henderson has joined the cast of Juanita, starring Alfre Woodard, a film involving The Wire director Clark Johnson.

No one can forget Henderson’s role as Walter, the groundskeeper, in Get Out. When the main character, photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), tries to maintain a sense of familiarity in Walter, he finds that his strange behavior is more than what it appears. In the end, Walter plays an integral role in Washington’s escape.

Henderson, a husband and father of two girls, ages 4 years and 7 months old, recently spoke with The Undefeated about Get Out, Django, Halfway, working with legends, brotherly love and his busy year.


Who inspired you growing up?

My mom. She said that she wasn’t proud of movies I’ve been in or what successes commercially in that sense. She was just proud to see that I was independent and I had my own family and I was taking care of things, being the man of the house and things like that. Whatever that’s supposed to mean, but I get what she means. It’s just that’s her definition of what being proud of me was. She’s been proud, so it’s like, ‘All right. Cool. Cool. I did something in this life. I made my mom proud.’

How was it like playing Paulie in Halfway and working alongside Quinton Aaron?

It definitely gave me an opportunity to showcase embodying a character fully. I’m not saying that none of my other characters aren’t embodied fully, but in Django, I got a little bit, just a little bit of, ‘Oh, I got your gun.’

He’s one of the characters who allow me to really grasp the concept of what it is to be in front of the camera and for the camera to capture everything, to make choices fully. Then it’s actually to represent a lot of people that I feel like I know. I know a lot of people in that situation who want to do better, but they’re just caught in the system that won’t allow it, that won’t allow them to play by their rules. It’s a humbling experience. It allows me to remember that there are people who are like Paulie.

Are you shocked by the success of Get Out?

Yes and no. No because from the very first day of shooting, Jordan said the word iconic. Iconic was just the word he used. No other word, and I believed him. So when Get Out came out, I felt like it was surreal because I’m thinking, all my other movies, ‘Come on. I was in a Quentin Tarantino movie,’ and I don’t even feel like it got that much attention. It was more controversy around it than it was actual, ‘Oh, man. This film is so good.’ It was more like, ‘Oh, why does Quentin Tarantino get to direct a movie about a black slave? Why does he get to do that? Why does he get to say the N-word so many times?’

How is it to work with Woodard and Foxx?

From going from watching people when you’re growing up to actually working side by side with them, it’s kind of surreal because you … I don’t like to set myself up with an expectation of who they should be or anything like that, but I always look to connect a little bit with that nostalgia of who this person was to me and what they meant to me. It’s such a great experience to learn from these veterans. You get to learn your own path through watching them.

There were certain things I didn’t even know, I got to do, until all of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ Jamie Foxx asked for X, Y and Z from the sound department and the camera crew, and then they’re all able to work together to make this scene happen. It’s not just about me standing here and saying my lines, it’s about really interacting with the crew, really understanding that everyone has their specific job and role to make this thing jump and highlight. Yeah, it was something that I find very useful to work with veteran actors that are still exploring and learning the art for themselves. It’s really nice, yeah. It’s really nice.

Alfre, she’s a person, she explores roles and she constantly evolves. She’s queen mother. She’s queen mother.

How was it working with Tarantino?

I’ve got to tell you, one of the things that surprised me, and especially after working with so many directors, is how caring Quentin is about his actors. He’s so full of character. In particular, I can give you an example. There was a scene at the beginning where we’re walking through the terrain, the woods or whatever, and he really wants to get a shot of our feet, but to protect us, they had these little prosthetic booties, they call them booties, feet made for us. We would walk on those as we did wide shots or shots of our faces, but he really wanted a shot of our feet. It was so cold outside, and it was freezing, absolutely freezing.

Then he ended up going and coming into the tent and talking to us. He’s talking to me and the other guys who were in the beginning, and he’s like, ‘Excuse me. Guys, I hate to do this to you, but I want to ask you. Do you mind if we do this shot without your booties on? Because we’re seeing that it’s prosthetic and this and that, and it would be a really great shot if we could get one without the booties.’ Me and my friends, we were kind of looking at each other, me and my castmates were looking at each other and, all of a sudden we’re thinking, ‘Why is he asking us?’ He could have just said, ‘Take these booties off. We’re going to do this shot.’

None of us were going to be like, ‘Oh, no. We ain’t doing that.’ It was many of our first movies, or our first go, or my first go-around, really, so I wasn’t going to be like, ‘No, man. I ain’t going to do that. It’s cold outside. My feet, it’d hurt.’ In the big scheme of things, this is Quentin Tarantino. I felt like I wasn’t going to mess up because whatever. We ended up taking them off and doing the job or whatever, and it was great. It was awesome. Like I said, I was working with directors who could care less, and they would be like, ‘Booties off.’

They wouldn’t care to ask us if we minded, but he did that, and that shows so much respect and care that it impressed me for the rest of my life, just because he was at that stature that we all buy into and he would come and say, ‘Hey. Do you mind?’ That, to me, is everything. Yeah, I would go to battle for Quentin. I would go to battle for him. That’s what it feels like.

What’s up next for you?

July 5, FX is dropping John Singleton’s new Snowfall, where I’ll be playing the neighbor of the main character played by Damson Idris. It’s a show about the rise of cocaine in the early ’80s in Los Angeles. I think it’s a great script, a really good story. These Belgian directors directed the first episodes that I was in, and then I did a few other ones with other directors. Yeah, they’re really good, top-notch guys that did a movie called Black. It was a Belgian movie called Black that’s really great.

Yeah, and then I’ll be doing Insidious 4. That’ll be out in August sometime, I believe. Yeah, 4. I’m a big fan of the first few movies that they’ve done, and then that’ll be my third Blumhouse movie. Getting into the Blumhouse family is really cool. Yeah, yeah. That’s what’s up next.

Me and my brother, we’re working on this pilot right now that I think really has some traction. I think it’s going to be going really well. I think some really great things. Maybe there’ll be a Get Out 2. Hopefully. The origins of Georgina and Walter.

What’s been the hardest part of your entire journey?

The hardest part of my entire journey is being a parent. As you know, there are books about it, but there is no specific book for one person to figure it out. We all have to figure out this journey on our own and in our own way. Having to do business on one side and really being in show business at least, it’s a lot of bringing yourself to the thing. Especially being an actor, you bring yourself to it all the time. That’s where you start.

It’s very different when you have a family and you are not necessarily jumping back and forth, but it’s a very interesting weaving of life. When I have to go away for weeks at a time or something I don’t get to see my family, and that’s hard. I think that’s one of the hardest things. I have such a humble beginning that everything is just an extra cherry on top of the ice cream for me. When it comes to life, I’m not set out to believe that this life was meant for struggle. I believe we’re all meant to live our best life and do what we can while we can. That allows me to just look at the bright side of things.

Are there any roles that you would love to do that you haven’t so far?

I love doing content that creates discussion, that creates conversation. As you look a lot of the movies that I’ve done and TV, you will see that there is conversation to be had about, in pretty much a lot of the things that I’ve been in, there’s always something to talk about, someone to reach out to, a different audience that it goes to. I like doing things that matter to me, pretty much. It’s funny because I don’t get sent out for a lot of comedy. It’s not like I’m going out and I’m on like TBS shows or ABC shows doing comedy or anything, but everything that you see me in, there’s something that is a little funny.

When I go to the movies and we go see a movie now and then or something, there’s laughter every time my scene comes up. I think that I would probably like to do a little comedy. I’m a really big fan of the Naked Gun and Airplane, those movies that the Zucker brothers did, and Police Squad and such. I’m a big fan. Me and my brother are big fans of those types of shows that, what’s the word? Absurdist. Absurdist kind of a comedy. I love that. Maybe I’ll be able to dip my hands in an absurdist show or two. I just got done doing a play, which is a pretty deep play, but I love doing theater. Theater’s my first love.

How close are you and your brother?

His name is Leon Henderson Jr. He’s a stand-up comedian. We’re both from St. Louis. Let me tell you something. My brother is four years older than me, and growing up, he was my hero. He still is in a lot of ways. My brother has always stood tall to me, even though I’m bigger than my brother. What had ended up happening was when I was 14 or so, he left to go to Thailand on a foreign exchange kind of thing. Whenever you leave home, I think, after high school, that’s when people really discover who they are and really get into tune with this life, how they operate within this life.

He learned life in Thailand, I feel like. He learned who he was in Thailand. When he came back, he had a really hard time adjusting to the things that Americans felt were important. He was just always dead set on traveling after that. He always wanted to travel, so he went to China. He went to all these places. I didn’t have my brother anymore, so then we spent a lot of years apart. We were close, but we weren’t close like that. We just didn’t really talk a lot, but one day, when I was at Yale and he had moved back to St. Louis after a trip to China, and he was working at FedEx, I think, and things weren’t going so well for that, he just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, should I say. I said, ‘Man, come to Connecticut and live with me. Live with me. I’ve got another year of school. We’ll figure this thing out together.’

He came. He took me up on my invitation and we stayed together in Connecticut. That bond started to grow stronger again. He’s my inspiration in a lot of the times. That’s hard to come by, especially for siblings. When they move away from each other, they’re not that close to each other. Me and my brother are very close. We live right down the street from each other.

He’s very close to my children. They call him Tio. Not Tio Leon. It’s just Tio. That’s another thing that makes my mother very proud. Both of her sons, her only two children, they’re in their 30s and they’re still tight. Anything my brother needs, I’m there for him.

What advice do you give to aspiring actors?

Don’t ever give up on something that you truly believe in. Just bring positivity, because there are people, there is a spectrum, and it’s a never-ending line on each side of the spectrum. You can go down far one end of it, and you can go far down the other end of it, but at the end of the day, you’re always going to be on the spectrum. You’ve got to understand where you are on that spectrum, but you can never give up on the dream in which the spectrum is based on.

‘The Blind Side’s‘ Quinton Aaron provides hope and encouragement to students who are being bullied His foundation addresses recidivism and issues within the criminal justice system

When the 2009 megahit movie The Blind Side hit the scene, two things happened. We found out about the life of offensive tackle Michael Oher, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers. And the world got acquainted with Quinton Aaron, who was cast in the role as Oher.

Aaron has since acted in several television dramas, including Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and One Tree Hill. Now he’s starring in his second film, Halfway.

But his life off the screen includes helping kids overcome the horrors of bullying. The Quinton Aaron Foundation supports anti-bullying efforts to reduce serious and life-threatening effects of bullying on kids and teens at school and in their communities.

Aaron, once a victim of bullying, has a special place in his heart for children dealing with obesity and the effects of bullying. Aaron first experienced being bullied in 1990. It was then that he began thinking of ways to end the amount of terror he endured. He believed that if he could present ways to bring awareness to the issue, he could make a difference. He now shares his story and solutions with teachers, administrators, parents and children.

“Some obese children have to deal with more than just losing their excess weight,” the organization’s website reads. “They are also teased at school, often unmercifully, because of their obesity. Over time, this taunting can take an emotional toll on any youngster, particularly as they lose friends and self-esteem. Some of these children eventually dread going to school at all. In fact, research shows that children who are bullied are more likely to skip going to class; some even drop out of school altogether. In many cases, this taunting escalates with time. As it intensifies, these children may become terrified, even fearing for their physical safety.”

For more than four years, Aaron and members of the organization have traveled the globe in search of opportunities to save the lives of at-risk children affected by bullying, which can become life-threatening.

Aaron says his character’s experiences in Halfway are relatable to some instances in his life. The movie, which premiered on the Urban Movie Channel (UMC) on April 21, tells the story of Byron (played by Aaron), a recently released convict who finds himself trapped between his criminal past and his new life on probation as the only black man in a conservative white Wisconsin farming town. Physically imposing yet socially reserved, Byron struggles to adjust to a family riven with problems and a world far beyond his comfort zone.

The drama puts a human face to a national crisis: America’s broken justice system and the overall conflict of race relations within the nation. Meanwhile, Aaron, through his efforts in the community, brings awareness to bullying and obesity and provides young children the tools to stand up and speak out.

Aaron spoke with The Undefeated about The Quinton Aaron Foundation, his new role in Halfway, his recent rededication to Christ and more.


How did you land your role in the new film Halfway?

Through mutual acquaintances. A friend of mine who I did a movie for, his name’s Tommy Oliver, he worked with the producer of Halfway on one of his projects that he did a couple years back that I was a part of, then the producer reached out to Tommy to get a hold of me. We met, and then they pitched me the project and the rest was history. I was, like, down from the jump.

How does this role differ from any other roles that you’ve done?

The Blind Side was a big thing for me. The issues in that film, and the story they were trying to portray, also was something that I was interested in. I just like to be a part of stories that have messages or raise awareness on things that people may not be privy to.

What is the most compelling storyline of Halfway?

It’s about racism and recidivism. In my opinion, I think it’s also a story about chances, about choices and second chances. Because my character, he’s someone who did some bad in his past and he went to prison for it, but through a favor of his stepbrother, he was released on probation. And as a favor to his stepbrother, he had to do his probation on the family farm in Wisconsin.

So the movie speaks about that. Sometimes our lives are dictated by the choices that we decide to make, so that alone was a concept that I wanted to push, as far as this film, because not a lot of people take advantage of their second-chance opportunities and they do something that lands them back in trouble. I know for the most part, young African-American men and minority men in general don’t really get many opportunities. Once they’re a felon, or once they get out of prison, there’s not a lot that they can do because no one really gives them a chance to turn their lives around and get a job. So then they kind of almost fall back into that same slump of trying to make money the way they know how, and then getting arrested and going back to jail, which brings in the recidivism.

Is there anything about your character, Byron, that reminds you of yourself in any way?

I definitely can relate to the fact that he lost his mother. My mom passed before I did The Blind Side, so there was a relation there, and then the ‘fish out of water’ is nothing new to me. I’ve been in situations before where it’s completely new to me, but I’m not as closed off as he is. I’m open-minded. I’ll jump into the deep end and see what’s there and go explore, and his character, he kind of didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to do it, but he was forced to.

How has acting changed your life?

Acting has definitely been a blessing to me for some time. I’ve always wanted to be an actor, and I thank God every day for my opportunity to do so, because I’m living my dream. You know, from a very young age I wanted to be an actor. I used to always tell my mom I was going to be the first black James Bond.

I wanted to do something in movies growing up. I wanted to play a cop, or a spy, or an action hero, you know, stuff like that. It’s cool because it’s a job where you have your imagination, and for me acting was a chance for me to make my dreams, or my imaginations, come to life.

How old were you?

Oh, man, this goes back to when maybe I was 5 or 6 and I was trying to be Batman. I had my Batman phase, my Ninja Turtle phase. Then my favorite movies, I would imitate them all day.

You just got baptized last Sunday. What made you make that transition?

It was a rededication of my faith. I grew up in the church, and I was baptized first at the age of 9. But as a child, it’s not really something you choose to do, it’s your grandparents or whoever tells you you’re going to get baptized. That’s just what it is.

But this is my step as an adult, fully knowing what it is and what it entails and deciding to make that choice for myself.

Who is the inspirational person in your life?

Definitely my mom. My mom was my biggest inspiration. She was my best friend, my hero, and she’s the reason why I am where I am today.

How did you get into anti-bullying?

It was something that I was familiar with from my days growing up in school. I was bullied a lot all through elementary school. I got picked on in P.E. because, instead of playing sports, I was the kid that was more into drama and chorus. I wore glasses, crooked teeth. I was the glutton for punishment, I guess. I wasn’t popular, and then you grow up in a rough neighborhood in the Bronx. I’ve been through a lot of it. Just realizing the platform that I was given from The Blind Side, I found myself being in front of a bunch of kids, and often I would get asked about bullying and how I dealt with it.

It was funny, because when I first started speaking to kids, it was about following your dreams and not being afraid to go after what you want in life, and trying to inspire them and encourage them to go after their goals. And when kids would ask me about bullying, I thought somebody had looked me up or whatever. I was like, ‘How do you know that? How did you know that I was bullied?’ Then I figured, why not speak about my experiences and how I got over them? Because it could motivate or hopefully inspire kids to do the same.

What do you tell kids now?

Definitely the same thing: Always go for your dreams. You’ve got one life to live. You definitely want to give it your all and make the most out of it. You’re going to face a lot of negative people in your life. You’re going to face a lot of people who don’t have the same mindset or goals or aspirations as you, but you can’t let it throw you off your game. You have to go after what you want.

The main important thing I tell kids is that school is only temporary. It’s a fraction of your life, and there’s no reason to get all bent out of shape because of kids that don’t like you in school, because once you graduate and you’re no longer in school, you never have to see them ever again. A lot of kids don’t know that, especially with cyberbullying going on today in social media. There are too many kids ending their lives because of what’s going on with them in school, and it’s not the rest of your life. You’re making a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion. I do what I do because I hopefully want to put an end to that.

Are there other roles you’d like to do?

I’m working with my team to develop my own projects. I definitely see myself having my own production company and putting together my own tunes and stuff.

I guess my five-year plan would probably be to have a few of my own projects out there for the world to see. I don’t know. The thing is to be blessed to do what I love and serve God.

But there are roles that I won’t do, like any type of domestic abuse roles. I’m not a fan of putting my hands on women. I grew up witnessing that happen to my mom, and I’m not a fan of guys that believe in doing that, so that’s a role that I will never play.

I don’t mind doing comedy. I want to do some action, some more drama, not opposed to doing romantic comedies.