‘Marshall’ turns Thurgood into the contemporary hero Americans want, but ignores the one he was Not enough of the real NAACP lawyer shows up in Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal

Marshall, the new film from director Reginald Hudlin about the late Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, comes from a production company called Super Hero Films.

It’s an appropriate moniker, given that the star of Marshall is Chadwick Boseman — or, as he’s sure to be known after February, Black Panther. But it’s also appropriate given the way Marshall presents the man once known as “Mr. Civil Rights” as a swashbuckling, arrogant, almost devil-may-care superhero attorney barnstorming the country in pursuit of justice and equality.

Written by Connecticut attorney Michael Koskoff and his son, Joseph, Marshall is not the story of the first black Supreme Court justice’s entire life. The movie takes place decades before Marshall was ever nominated to the court. Instead, Marshall provides a snapshot of young Thurgood through the course of the Connecticut trial of Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur who was arrested in 1940 for the rape, kidnapping and attempted murder of his white boss, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).

Marshall, at the time an attorney in the NAACP’s civil rights division and seven years out of Howard University School of Law, travels to Connecticut to defend Spell. When the white judge presiding over the case refuses to let Marshall be the lead lawyer on the case, Marshall enlists a local Jewish attorney, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), as the puppet for his legal ventriloquism. Marshall feeds Friedman his strategy, arguments and ideas and sits on his hands as he watches Friedman clumsily make his way through them.

Hudlin ends the film with an image of Marshall after he’s pulled into a train station in the Deep South. A mischievous smile creeping across his face, he grabs a paper cup to get a drink of water from a whites-only water fountain. Marshall tips his hat to an older black gentleman who’s watching, clearly astonished, and continues on his way.

The scene exposes how Marshall is more of an exercise in reflecting contemporary black attitudes about race and rebellion than it is connected to the way Marshall enacted that rebellion in his life as an NAACP lawyer, solicitor general under Lyndon Johnson, and then as a member of the Supremes. It’s certainly ahistorical. The real Marshall was a skilled politician, which made him an effective courtroom lawyer. He was charmingly persuasive, according to those who knew him, able to persuade white Southerners to do his bidding even against the wishes of fire-breathing racist sheriffs.

“He wasn’t an activist or a protester. He was a lawyer,” Marshall’s NAACP colleague, attorney Jack Greenberg, said in a 1999 documentary that asserts Marshall always followed the rules of the segregated South during his many trips there.

In any fictive portrait based on true life, a certain amount of interpretation is expected. But Marshall fundamentally changes our understanding of Marshall as a person and a real-life superhero. Thanks to accounts from family, colleagues and biographers such as Juan Williams, we know Marshall was smart, strategic and conscious of preserving his life and safety so that he could live to fight another day.

Hudlin superimposes modern conceptions of black heroism onto a period courtroom drama. He’s not the first to do so, of course. Both the 2016 adaptation of Roots and the now-canceled WGN series Underground told historical stories calibrated for a modern audience that wants and deserves to see black characters exhibit agency over their fates. Combined with the decision to cast the dark-skinned Boseman and Keesha Sharp as Marshall and his wife, Buster, Hudlin’s choices feel reactive to the colorism and racism in modern Hollywood. That choice ends up flattening an aspect of Marshall that certainly had an effect on his life: his privilege as a light-skinned, wavy-haired lawyer who grew up as the middle-class son of a Baltimore woman with a graduate degree from Columbia and a father who worked as a railway porter.

If ever there was a couple who fit the profile of the black bourgeoisie, it was Thurgood and Buster Marshall. Casting Boseman and Sharp may be a way to thumb one’s nose at the screwed-up obsession with skin tone that pervaded the black elite in the early 20th century and continues to block opportunities in modern-day Hollywood, but it also erases part of our understanding of how Marshall moved through the world.

Marshall possessed a terrific legal mind and used it to hold the country accountable to its founding ideals. He was a pioneer for daring to think that equality could be achieved by challenging the country’s institutions, but he also expressed a deep reverence for and faith in them. He would have been seen by whites in the South as a Northern agitator, and he knew it — the real Thurgood slept with his clothes on in case a lynch mob decided to confront him in the middle of the night. Altering Marshall so much in a movie meant to celebrate him ends up cheapening the gesture. It’s like making a biopic about Barack Obama and turning him into Jesse Jackson. He just wasn’t that type of dude.

It wouldn’t matter so much that Boseman’s Marshall strays so far from the real man if it wasn’t for the fact that Marshall tends to exist now mostly as a Black History Month factoid (even though multiple biographies have been written about his life and work).

Thurgood, a 2011 HBO movie starring Laurence Fishburne, goes too far in the opposite direction. Clips of Fishburne show a stiff and overly reverential character better suited for a museum video re-enactment or a Saturday Night Live sketch.

I sound like the story of Thurgood Marshall is a Goldilocks conundrum. Fishburne-as-Marshall was too stiff. Boseman-as-Marshall was too loose. Maybe a third attempt will get it just right.

Every time I see a film by a black director or that stars black people and I love it unreservedly, I experience a mélange of awe, reverence and respect that comes from witnessing an amazing work of art. And then comes the wave of relief.

Because the stakes are so high — every so-called “black film” must succeed to secure another! — you feel some kind of way about having to type all the reasons a film doesn’t work, knowing that those words have consequences but still need to be expressed. In short, it’s the feeling of “I don’t know if I like this, but I need it to win.”

I hate this feeling. If ever there was a selfish reason for wishing the film industry would hurry up and achieve racial and gender parity, this is it.


Hudlin’s directorial oeuvre is squarely commercial. His gaze is unfussy, with few stylistic flourishes, likely influenced by his past 15 years directing episodic television. His last movie was Wifey, a TV movie starring Tami Roman. His last feature was the 2002 romantic comedy Serving Sara, starring Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley, but he’s probably best known for Boomerang, House Party and The Ladies Man. Thus it’s no surprise that Hudlin directs Marshall as a crowd-pleaser, but the nuances of Marshall’s life get lost.

What’s disappointing about the way Marshall is translated for the big screen is that real-life heroes come in a variety of forms. They’re complicated. They’re not saintly, nor are they all hot-headed crusaders. And that’s OK.

One of the most admirable aspects of Loving was that it was a historical drama with the patience to tell the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, portrayed by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, as the quiet, country people they were. They seem as unlikely a pair to make civil rights history in the film as they were when they lived. But Loving came from the Focus Features division of NBCUniversal, a production house known for unconventional work. Marshall is not an art house film, and I don’t think it needed to be to tell Marshall’s story. Hidden Figures was another historical drama meant for wide consumption. It’s not perfect, but Hidden Figures was so full of charm that it overcame the white saviorism added to Kevin Costner’s character, which didn’t exist in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book.

The shortcomings that separate Marshall from Hidden Figures and Loving are the same ones that give it the feeling of a TV movie. Aside from focusing on one specific area of Marshall’s life rather than the whole of it, Marshall does little to escape or subvert some of the most irritating biopic tropes.

For instance, the screenwriters jam Boseman’s mouth full of exposition about his accomplishments rather than demonstrating them. He rattles them off to Friedman in the form of a verbal resume.

The movie includes a nightclub scene that functions as little more than a non sequitur to shout, “HEY, THURGOOD MARSHALL WAS FRIENDS WITH ZORA NEALE HURSTON AND LANGSTON HUGHES. DID YOU KNOW ZORA AND LANGSTON HAD AN ICY RELATIONSHIP? BECAUSE WE DID!”

The three aren’t around long enough to discuss anything substantive. Their interaction doesn’t serve as foreshadowing for some other part of the movie. They’re just there because they all lived in Harlem. It’s little more than fat to be trimmed in a nearly two-hour movie.

But the most obvious weak point may lie in the flashbacks to the interactions between Strubing and Spell, which are filled with so much melodrama that they’d be perfectly at home on Lifetime. It’s not that those tropes don’t have their place. It’s just not on a screen that’s 30 feet high.

Boseman, as watchable as ever, makes Marshall a winking, confident wisecracker with a disarming smile. He’s full of smarts and bravado, communicating the real off-hours aspects of Marshall’s ribald sense of humor.

In the future, though, I hope screenwriters and filmmakers have more faith in the capacity of audiences to appreciate all kinds of heroes. As tempting as it is to superimpose modern politics onto historical figures, it can be more edifying to simply let them breathe so that we can appreciate their efforts within the context of their own times. Such context allows us to more fully understand the cost of their struggles and celebrate them all the more for winning.

Cam Newton said something stupid and other news of the week The Week That Was Oct. 2 – Oct. 6

Monday 10.02.17

A former South Florida plastic surgeon, who in 1998 was placed on probation by Florida’s health department for a botched penis enlargement procedure, didn’t let his reputation get in the way of being sentenced to 44 months in prison for a failed butt lift. Big Baller Brand owner LaVar Ball, an expert in basic economics as evidenced by offering a $495 basketball shoe, is pulling his 16-year-old son LaMelo Ball out of high school and will homeschool him. Former 10-day White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci launched a social media-only news company that “doesn’t have reporters or staff” and will “100% be getting things wrong” sometimes. The white New York police officer who mistakenly tackled black former tennis player James Blake but was not fired is suing Blake for defamation for being “cast as a racist and a goon.” The lawyer for O.J. Simpson called the Florida attorney general “a complete stupid b—-” and said “F— her” after the woman petitioned to deny Simpson a transfer to serve parole in Florida following his release from a Nevada prison. Rock musician Tom Petty died, then didn’t die, and then died again. One member of country act the Josh Abbott Band finally supports gun control legislation after being affected by a gunman killing 59 people and injuring another 500 at the Las Vegas music festival where he and his bandmates had performed. Hours after the Nevada shooting, former boxer George Foreman challenged actor Steven Seagal to “one on one, I use boxing you can use whatever. 10 rounds in Vegas.”

Tuesday 10.03.17

President Donald Trump threw paper towels at hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. The Tennessee Titans, in need of a mobile quarterback following the injury of starter Marcus Mariota, signed a quarterback not named Colin Kaepernick. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has obviously never seen an episode of Game of Thrones, a show about terrible war strategies, said, “If I’d have watched [Game of Thrones] two years ago, I would’ve been president. … It’s got a lot of good strategies.” The NBA found a way for former teammates LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to not have to play together for the Eastern Conference during February’s All-Star game. Proving that the office of the president of the United States is now a joke, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he is “considering” running for president. The CEO of HBO, a network that will spend a reported $15 million per episode of the final season of Game of Thrones and greenlit Confederate without seeing a script, said “more is not better” in response to streaming competitor Netflix’s plan to spend $7 billion on content next year. Three billion Yahoo accounts were breached in 2013, exposing names, email addresses and passwords; roughly 100 people were actually affected. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Penn.), who allegedly asked his mistress to abort their love child, voted for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

Wednesday 10.04.17

Murphy plans to retire at the end of his term. Based on, you guessed it, emails. Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were almost criminally indicted in 2012 until Donald Trump’s lawyer donated $25,000 to the re-election campaign of the Manhattan district attorney. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to NBC News, called Trump a “moron” during a meeting at the Pentagon in July; Trump denied the report and tweeted that NBC News “should issue an apology to AMERICA!”; an MSNBC reporter then clarified that Tillerson called Trump a “f—ing moron.” Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice crashes weddings in his free time, sometimes “cutting a rug,” including to rapper Too Short’s “Blow the Whistle.” Former Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom said he “woulda put my hands on” D’Angelo Russell after the former Lakers guard surreptitiously recorded teammate Nick Young admitting to cheating on his ex-fiancee Iggy Azalea. Former NHL forward Jiri Hudler, while on a flight to the Czech Republic, allegedly solicited cocaine from a flight attendant, threatened to kill her when she refused, eventually ingested cocaine in the plane’s bathroom, and then attempted to urinate on a food court; Hudler denies the allegations.

Thursday 10.05.17

Murphy resigned. NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart, responding to an incident involving the Washington Redskins and a racial slur, said “we have no tolerance for racial remarks directed at anyone in an NFL stadium.” Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton lost a yogurt sponsorship because he just had to get some jokes off. Former Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, conveniently retired, said if he were playing today he would “kneel” for the national anthem. Following an “offensive” performance at a Roman Catholic college, comedian Nick Cannon said he “ain’t apologizing for s–t”; the university’s president, winning this war of words, said the school had hoped to get the “NBC or MTV version of Mr. Cannon.” Former New Jersey Nets forward Kenyon Martin said there would have been no way current Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin, who is Chinese, “would’ve made it on one of our teams with that bulls— on his head” in reference to Lin’s dreadlocks hairstyle; in unrelated news, Martin, who is black, has Chinese symbol tattoos. The St. Louis County Police Department, following a lab test, concluded that bottles labeled “apple cider” were in fact apple cider and not “unknown chemicals used against police.” A Baltimore high school was evacuated due to a possible “hazardous substance” found in the building; the substance was a pumpkin spice air freshener.

Friday 10.06.17

Not to be outdone by Yahoo, AOL announced that its 20-year-old instant messaging program, AIM, which was apparently still in operation, will be discontinued in December. Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bogut, who last year pushed the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a child trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza joint, said “there are bigger issues … rather than focus on this stupid political s—.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has followed through on roughly zero of his big promises, says he can bring power to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In a development that surely has D.A.R.E. shook, marijuana sales led to $34 million in funds for Oregon public schools. Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who said last month that he doesn’t believe he ever lied to the public, accused The Washington Post of intentionally not publishing a story about famous Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein on its front page for a story The New York Times broke. Despite (alleged) white supremacists (allegedly) infiltrating the White House, white supremacists killing a woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a reported increase in hate groups since November 2016, the FBI says the group that poses the greatest threat to law enforcement are “black identity extremists,” who don’t actually exist.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Felipe Esparza laughs at his life in first HBO special ‘Translate This’ is the result of studying the comedy greats

Actor and comedian Felipe Esparza describes himself as raw with a real comic sensibility. His new HBO special, Felipe Esparza: Translate This, airing Saturday during Hispanic Heritage Month, captures today’s climate for Latinos in America, and it’s delivered in a manner that would make the most unassuming person laugh.

There are no real pauses in a conversation with the comedian, because he takes any available second to insert an anecdote that rings so true that you have to say, “I almost thought you were serious.”

Esparza finds humor in his life experiences, discussing topics such as immigration, his difficulty translating for his parents, being a once-not-so-great single dad while dating single moms, his current challenges in raising his blond-haired, blue-eyed stepson, and more. He knows his past was part of his journey that would lead him to this point, where he is able to share his story in a way that fills hearts with laughter.

The winner of Last Comic Standing in 2010, Esparza has appeared on numerous TV shows, including Superstore, The Tonight Show, Lopez Tonight, Premium Blend, The Eric Andre Show, Comic View and Galavisión’s Que Locos, where he made more appearances than any other comedian. His film credits include The Deported and I’m Not Like That No More, a feature based on his stand-up comedy, as well as his first stand-up special, They’re Not Gonna Laugh at You. Esparza is also the host of the What’s Up Fool? podcast that he launched in 2014.

Just ahead of his HBO special, he spoke to The Undefeated.


How did your project with HBO come to fruition?

I’ve always wanted to be a comedian and I’ve always wanted an HBO special because I saw Paul Rodriguez, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Howie Mandel — you know, all the greats — and I thought, like, I need to be one of those guys on HBO so I could be considered one day a great, or somebody to say, ‘Oh, man, he’s a great comedian.’ The verification of being on HBO, because HBO is part of my generation. The comedians before me wanted to be on Johnny Carson, you know? They wanted to be on The Tonight Show, and the people would be on The Tonight Show, then they’d be a little famous and that’s it. My dream was to be on HBO. I did my special with my wife. We produced it ourselves, and once HBO found out about me doing my own special, they got 100 percent behind it, and they wanted to show it on HBO, so we’re very happy about that.

Why did you decide to infuse your upbringing into your comedy?

I grew up in a gated community. The windows were gated, the back door was gated. No, I’m only kidding. That’s part of my jokes. A lot of my jokes come from my upbringing, because I grew up in the housing projects, so it was a very tough neighborhood. A lot of my jokes come from there. Once when a burglar broke into our house and they couldn’t find nothing to steal, they woke us up to make fun of us.

When did you know you wanted to be a comedian?

When I was a little boy, my friends played an album of Bill Cosby, and I fell in love with Bill Cosby stand-up comedy, and I wanted to be a comedian right there and then.

How did you overcome your addiction?

Along the way, I got into a lot of trouble. I was in a gang. I was into drugs, and I got into a lot of trouble and Father Greg Boyle from Humble Industries, he came to my house and he offered to help me, and he put me in a rehab for drug addicts for drug rehabilitation. I was there with a bunch of men. It was more like it was open for all religions, they were, like, nondenominational.

It was funny because on Sundays we would all go to different churches. Then at dinnertime, we would all be together again, a lot of drug addicts. It’s like, heroin addicts, I mean, people who just came out of prison, people who were out of prison from doing 20 years, and these are young men. Me, I was in my 20s, hanging around with these old guys. I’ve never been in prison. I’ve never been in jail. The only crime I committed was bringing videos back late.

He said, ‘Hey, guys, write down five things you want to do in your life and accomplish.’ I didn’t know what to write, so I wrote I want to be a comedian No. 1, of course, because that was my dream. No. 2, I like Olive Garden, so I want to go to Italy. No. 3 was to be happy. Four and five, I couldn’t think of anything else. I really thought that he was going to read these in front of everybody and judge us, but he didn’t. I just put it in my pocket and he said to bring it out whenever you’re feeling sad, or feeling down, or you have a lot to do, pick up your five goals and try to see if you can do at least one. I chose the easier one, to be a comedian, because I wanted to be a comedian.

How did you get started?

Back then there was no social media, so I had to do everything like a caveman. I had to go to the library. Remember the library? That place with books. I went to the L.A. County library on Fifth and Grant in downtown L.A. It’s huge! I went there when it opened, and I asked the librarian to help me find books on comedy writing. She introduced me to a lot of comedy writers, people I never heard of, like Steve Allen. I started learning from those guys, and then I started like checking out books of comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and checking out those videos and taking them home and watching them and bringing them back and picking up another one. One day I picked up a magazine called the L.A. Weekly, and it said open mic for young comedians, and I went over there and I did my comedy show. One of the first comedians I met was Jamie Kennedy, and then from knowing him, I started to know other spots to perform. I met other comedians.

What were your reservations about getting into comedy?

At that time I was worried, like … are only Latino people gonna laugh at my jokes? I was only performing in coffeehouses. Then I went to like other places, but mostly like, Latino people were gravitating to me. They were really laughing.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I asked Paul Rodriguez, ‘How did you cross over to mainstream America?’ Then we started talking about mainstream America and crossing over and being funny. He said, ‘If you’re funny enough, you don’t have to worry about that stuff. They’re going to cross over to you.’ So I took that with a grain of salt and I stuck to it, and here we are, Sept. 30, HBO special. That kind of advice helped me out a lot.

How do you feel about where you are in your life?

I think I started at the right time, you know? I was born at the right time where social media got big, and I was there when hip-hop started. I was there when the podcast world began. I have a podcast. Now I’m doing a sports show with a woman interviewing me. You know what I mean? I’m in the beginning of the best times. I’m at the cusp, man.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

The hardest part of my journey, in my opinion, is staying focused, because as comedians, we have a lot of time to kill. Like right now, if I wasn’t doing this interview with you, I don’t know what I would do. I would probably play Madden for the next four hours. A lot of comedians, they fall off the track. They start worrying about, ‘I’m not famous yet. I don’t have enough followers on Twitter; 12 people showed up to my show. My girlfriend showed up, my ex-girlfriend showed up with her new boyfriend and sat in the first row when I was performing.’ So much stuff goes through my head to be a better comedian.

What advice would you give to other comedians?

My advice to anybody who wants to be a comedian is if you really want to make it in this business, start your family at 39 years old, because this is a very selfish business. This business is all about me, you know? Staying focused and writing every day is one of the main things that I’ve done. I try to force myself to write at least one sentence every day, whether it’s funny or not.

‘Ballers’ recap: Oakland? Miami? Las Vegas? Spencer is home again In the season finale, everybody’s looking for a new start

SEASON THREE, EPISODE 10 | “YAY AREA” | SEPT. 24

There’s no question that Marshawn Lynch would pour up some Hennessy with Spencer Strasmore. Because, in the end, Spencer did everything he could to prevent the NFL from turning its back on The Town.

In the first nine episodes of season three of Ballers, Spencer (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) dedicates himself to leading the charge on relocating the Oakland Raiders from the Bay Area to Las Vegas (which was approved in the real-life NFL earlier this year). In Sunday’s season finale, however, Spencer experiences a huge change of heart after his business partner, Las Vegas hotel tycoon Wayne Hastings Jr. (Steve Guttenberg), pulls a last-minute okeydoke by pledging his checkbook and resources to a competing group also seeking to deliver the NFL to Sin City.

Yet in a presentation in front of NFL owners and executives, including the beautifully cutthroat Candace Brewer (Emayatzy Corinealdi) — the only woman and person of color on the committee of league representatives, mind you — Spencer, Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry), their boss Brett Anderson (Richard Schiff) and his deep-pockets little brother Julian Anderson (Steven Weber), who’s called in at the 11th hour for reinforcement, explain why “the reality is, the Oakland Raiders, they need to stay in Oakland.” His group argues against relocating a third NFL team in two years (after the Rams left St. Louis and the Chargers left San Diego) by proposing a new, state-of-the-art stadium to be built in Oakland, which would be privately funded.

After deliberation, the league approves the privately funded stadium — but in Las Vegas, not Oakland, leaving Spencer with a huge choice to make: Will he continue to support the Vegas push after the NFL screwed him out of his new Oakland plan? Or will he return to Miami to continue his work as the beloved financial and social adviser to NFL players?

Before the episode gets to what the future holds for Spencer, two of his clients, Ricky Jerret (John David Washington) and Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller), reach the brink of huge decisions themselves. Charles takes a meeting with the Los Angeles Rams for the team’s open general manager position, while Ricky takes to his Instagram Stories, with his pregnant girlfriend, Amber, to announce his retirement from the NFL, telling the world that he’s picking a new life as a father over a “roller coaster of a career” full of concussions.

Although Brett and Julian Anderson don’t want to pass up on the opportunity to spearhead the construction of a new Raiders stadium in Las Vegas, Spencer chooses loyalty over money and power by backing out of the deal. He and Joe return to the Anderson Sports Management offices in Miami, where his team is packing up boxes under the impression that the company will be sold to fund the Las Vegas stadium. Yet Spencer announces that not only will the company be retained, but expansion across the country and to encompass more athletes from different sports is also in store.

But maybe as Charles moves up in the front-office ranks of the NFL, and Ricky moves on to a life after football, they won’t need an adviser anymore. We all know, however, that Spencer will still need them.

Whitley’s World: A brief history of Bad and Boujee Black Girl Style Jasmine Guy’s Gilbert is the blueprint for ‘Insecure’s’ Molly, ‘Dear White People’s’ Coco, and ‘Living Single’s’ Regine

No other show explored the life of coeds from a historically black college as thoroughly as NBC’s A Different World. The show’s colorful characters gave us everything we didn’t know we needed, from a young black man who made solving for x extremely sexy to a free-spirited redhead who would certainly be on the frontlines of any and every Black Lives Matter protest today.

But if “bad and boujee” was trademarked last year by Migos, it originated on the fictional Hillman College campus and was created by the grande dame of the dorm known as Gilbert Hall: Whitley Marion Gilbert. The Louis Vuitton luggage-toting, siditty Southern belle, as portrayed by Jasmine Guy, had a legacy at the prestigious university that went back generations. At 5-foot-2, her frame was petite, but her style was colossal. The Whitley character not only reflected the most fashionable trends of the ’80s and ’90s, but she also influences contemporary style and serves as an inspiration for many young black women and black creatives today.

As one of the first examples of young, black affluence on television, Whitley paved the way for a long list of pivotal TV personalities. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Hilary Banks, Saved by the Bell’s Lisa Turtle, Living Single’s Regine Hunter, CluelessDionne Davenport, GirlfriendsToni Childs, Dear White People’s Colandrea “Coco” Conners and even Insecure’s Molly Carter all seem to draw inspiration from the Richmond, Virginia-born beauty queen who, now via streaming apps, continues to personify the style and essence of bad and boujee black girls everywhere.

“She’s not about trying to be white, or anything else — she’s being very black, and this is a very black situation.”

Her impact also went beyond the small screen. In 2015, when the show became available to stream on Netflix — its license agreement expired in 2017, and it is now available on Amazon Prime — Pinterest boards, Instagram handles and Halloween costumes (including one from yours truly) dedicated to mimicking Whitley’s style became a dime a dozen. But imitation certainly is the highest form of flattery, and nobody knows that better than Whitley Gilbert.


The Devil is in the Details

Thirty years ago this week, we got a first-class ticket to a historically black college in Virginia. A group of students evolved from inexperienced adolescents to dynamic adults. From 1987 to 1992 we came to know and love Dwayne Wayne’s nerdy swag, Whitley Gilbert’s siditty style, Freddie Brooks’ free-spirited eccentricity, Kimberly Reese’s steadfast levelheadedness and Ron Johnson’s zany antics. And although the show initially aimed to follow the coed life of Cosby kid Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet), it shifted its focus in the second season to the whole crew’s college experience and to Whitley and Dwayne’s love story.

A Different World touched on relevant social themes such as workplace sexual harassment and racial injustice, and it celebrated black heritage. It also featured iconic dayplayers such as Patti LaBelle, Diahann Carroll, Whoopi Goldberg, Jada Pinkett and even Tupac Shakur, ushering in a wave of classic black television shows. “It deepened,” said Jasmine Guy, “the tone of black sitcoms.” Guy is currently filming Mario Van Peebles’ new SyFy series Superstition, as well as season two of BET’s The Quad, which is set at a historically black college not named Hillman.

The cast of A Different World

NBCU Photo Bank

To authentically portray her, Guy says, she created a backstory for Whitley that helped bring her to life. She decided Whitley had attended a primarily white, private school — so for her, Hillman’s campus truly was a different world. “She thought she was black, and she is. But there are all different kinds of ways to be black,” Guy said. “And … the Hillman College experience gave her a new sense of who she was and the community she belonged to. I noticed in the writing how she grew. Over the arc of a season you could see that that character had a lot to learn.”

The show was mostly written by Susan Fales-Hill and Yvette Lee Bowser. Creating a character with as much style development as Whitley, and the whole A Different World crew, started with the script, says Ceci, who worked as costume designer on the show for five seasons (1989-92).

“You can’t unsee A Different World. You’ve seen it, it’s kind of engraved in your psyche.”

“The inspiration comes first from the writing,” she said. “[It] shaped who these characters are, absolutely and situationally. … Whitley is waking up in the morning, but what is she waking up to do? You should be able to turn your TV on mute … and kinda know what’s going on when you see the character. I’m supporting the dialogue and the intentions that the writer and director are trying to convey. I’m doing that visually, through the wardrobe.”

Ceci’s resume includes work on iconic shows such as Living Single and Sister, Sister (both of which are apparently being rebooted) and now she is drawing on that experience: She’s costume designer on Netflix’s Dear White People. Each of these shows features personalities communicated via style, a characteristic she says was used deeply on A Different World. “You’d never see Freddie Brooks wearing anything the Whitley character would wear,” she said. “Jaleesa wouldn’t wear anything Whitley would wear. Each of those characters are … being true to who they are.”

Whitley Gilbert is certainly in a world of her own. There aren’t many episodes in which the girl with the sass and twang isn’t draped in Chanel suits and/or silk scarves. Unlike so many college students who roll out of bed in sweats, Whitley spends her days in heels, fur coats and pearls. “She’s a society girl,” says Mel Grayson, a designer who worked on the show’s early seasons before Ceci took over as costume designer. “She was highfalutin.’ ”

Grayson, a Dallas native, drew his inspiration for Whitley from his own upbringing — and shows that featured affluent characters like the women of CBS’ Dallas (1978-91). “I kept it sexy and hip, taking elements of French couture … elements of Southern church ladies who sat in the front row,” he said. “I’d take a bit of that kind of styling and move it down a few levels. Cut off the shoulder pads, kill the big heels and the big ruffles but still make her regal, and still make her stand out as somebody that had class.”

Whitley’s wardrobe wasn’t cheap. Both Ceci and Grayson say they shopped at high-end stores such as the Dallas-based Neiman Marcus but also had to get creative to stretch what was a meager budget. They augmented new purchases with consignment shop pieces. Tailoring was important: It was hard to come by clothes that fit Guy’s petite frame. “There were clothes that you’d know [were] quality just by the way they fit the body,” Grayson said.

NBCU Photo Bank

“Everything had to be altered to fit her perfectly,” said Ceci. “Thought was given to each decision — is this fitting too close, or too tight? No, she’d wear silk, she wouldn’t wear cotton. She’d wear probably pink, not black. Black is too harsh. Every time you look at Whitley, she’s not out-of-place. Everything about her is supporting this one style aesthetic.”

Ceci would often swap basic original buttons for gold ones, or choose a classic pump over a slouched boot. The key was to capture an authentically upscale young black woman who consistently remained true to herself. Would Whitley wear an unbuttoned blazer? Would she ever have a pimple? If so, how many? That pimple question alone sparked a production meeting debate that lasted at least 30 minutes.

“Those are the details,” said Ceci, “that help subconsciously round out a character.”


Boujee — and black

The first season of A Different World received scathing reviews and is often ranked last on lists of fans’ favorite seasons. Season four — it begins with Whitley’s epic shade toward Dwayne’s new girlfriend, Kinu, and ends with Dwayne asking Whitley to marry him — is the best season, by far. And while season two was a goodbye to Bonet’s Denise Huxtable storyline and a largely white production staff, it was a hello for legendary director and producer Debbie Allen, who ensured the show was both authentic and unapologetic.

During Allen’s tenure, the show created endless opportunities for black Hollywood professionals and designers. The Howard alum even took the writing staff on “annual field trips” to the Clark Atlanta, Spelman and Morehouse campuses for inspiration. What emerged was a show that was very black. “When Debbie Allen came on the show in the second season, she made it more specific, and more clear who all these people were — including Whitley,” Guy said. “Because she did know people like that. She brought little things like, ‘How can y’all have a cafeteria with no hot sauce on the table?’ ”

Despite Whitley’s often insufferable entitlement and occasional disregard for peers outside of her tax bracket — in one episode she defends Kimberly’s scholarship from a company that hasn’t divested from South Africa and separates herself from the anti-apartheid struggle with a flippant “I don’t know those people” — Whitley maintains a shatterproof pride in her blackness.

“When Debbie Allen came on the show in the second season, she made it more specific, and more clear who all these people were — including Whitley.”

“Yes, she’s a socialite, she’s got her nose in the air, she’s got great hair — and it’s straight,” said Grayson. “She’s got a light complexion; she could pass the paper bag test. But she’s a girl that wants to be a black girl. She’s not about trying to be white, or anything else. She’s being very black, and this is a very black situation.”

“There’s a distinction,” Guy said. “And I guess that’s why they call it ‘bad and boujee,’ because there are bougie black people that are not trying to be white. I think that is a misnomer that Whitley was WHITEly. I was determined not to go into that direction because this kind of character does exist in the black community and has the same issues as her friends.”

For Ceci, communicating that black self-confidence through Whitley’s clothing meant altering the styles that luxury brands were creating, particularly as those styles weren’t often intended for black girls.

“A lot of times when you go to high-end stores, that classic look is a color palette that is better for blond hair and blue eyes,” said Ceci. “We can wear those colors, [and] we can be more bold. I tried to let Whitley … not try to emulate what an affluent white person would look like but what an affluent African-American young woman in college would look like. But that really didn’t exist [on television]. It was up to me to imagine what that looked like. The trick with her was trying to make her look affluent but still approachable.”

Throughout the show, Whitley comes to life draped in jeweled tones rather than monochromatic. She’ll wear cream pants with an emerald blouse, or pair a black pencil skirt with a golden peplum blazer. A delicately placed broach here. A chain-linked belt there. Classic, polished styles mixed with elements of youth. “The trick with her was color,” said Ceci. “If I couldn’t find something colorful, I would often dye things. If she wore all taupes and beiges it would be like, ‘OK, who are you?’ ”

Maintaining that authenticity was particularly important when it came to portraying Whitley’s wedding day. This was long before wildly popular black wedding sites and Instagram handles like Munaluchi Bride existed. Seeing a black woman in a bridal gown was rare. “Bride’s magazine would never, ever have anybody of color in their magazine,” said Bethann Hardison, a pioneering African-American runway model and advocate for runway diversity whose son, Kadeem, portrayed Dwayne Wayne. “If they thought to do it, it was maybe a bridesmaid — but that came a lot later. We never saw anyone in a bridal gown that was of color.”

NBCU Photo Bank

A Different World’s pivotal 1992 wedding episode gave viewers something they couldn’t get anywhere else. It not only featured iconic guests — including Joe Morton, Diahann Carroll and Orlando Jones, among others — but it also served up the proverbial peak of Dwayne and Whitley’s relationship. Whitley had been dating future senator Byron Douglas III (portrayed by Morton) and was at the altar when Dwayne interrupted, asking her to reconsider.

According to Guy, the whole scene was done in one take, and Dwayne’s epic “Baby, please!” followed by Carroll’s “Die, just die!” weren’t actually written into the script. The episode — in which Guy wore a delicately embroidered fit-and-flare gown with puffed, capped sleeves reminiscent of Princess Diana’s and a dramatic train with bow detail — put black and bridal in the same sentence long before anyone else would. And if anyone knows how to dress for a momentous occasion, it’s Whitley Gilbert. So the pressure was on.

“We were trying to go with something that was sophisticated but still Southern,” said Ceci. “Something that had some sweetness … not over the top but still a little sexy. It had to have a little bit of everything … this one dress, striking the balance of demure but still sophisticated — and not too mature or revealing.” Unlike other episodes where she had the chance to communicate who Whitley was in multiple outfits, Ceci had to sum up all the character’s elements in one ensemble. “Wedding dresses are a challenge,” she said. “I’ve got one shot.”

The pressure was also on for Guy, who knew seeing a black bride on television was particularly significant for young black women. “Little girls dream of those things, and they don’t necessarily know it’s possible for them,” she said. “All the little girls are looking at Whitley being bougie, getting knocked down, getting up and then realizing, ‘Look at what she had to learn before she got married.’ That’s what I’m hoping young people will see: Look what it took to get to this point, and look how it’s worth it.”

The gown, which was made in-house rather than purchased, not only matched Whitley’s boujee bridal needs but also echoed Bethann Hardison’s words to magazine editors: “Black people get married too.”


Whitley’s World

The impact of A Different World goes far beyond the small screen. Its storylines tackled topics such as HIV/AIDS, interracial dating and apartheid — and enrollment at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) drastically increased while the show was on in prime time. “The show was so contemporary at that moment,” said Bethann Hardison. “A Different World was the first show that ever tackled all the issues, from date rape to race relations. It’s a show that stands the test of time.”

Networks also started making room for more black TV shows. “We were a part of a wave,” said Guy. “I didn’t realize that we were the end of the wave. I thought the business had changed. And then it went back to very few black people. It wasn’t until cable, and the birth of all these other outlets, that the networks couldn’t afford to be so cocky about what they put on and don’t put on.”

As for Whitley, her style and boldness showed up in other shows. In the 1990s, the presence of affluent young black women became less rare with the creation of characters such as Lark Voorhies’ Lisa Turtle, Karyn Parsons’ Hilary Banks, or even Stacy Dash’s Dionne Davenport. There was also another strain of young female TV personalities who weren’t born with money but via hard work became accustomed to the finer things in life, such as Kim Fields’ Regine Hunter, Jill Marie Jones’ Toni Childs and Antoinette Robertson’s Coco Conners. That sensibility is also evident in Insecure’s Molly on HBO, as portrayed by Yvonne Orji, whose power suits and fashion sense are a contemporary remix on Whitley’s wardrobe. There’s also, of course, Olivia Pope of Scandal, who stakes a claim to bad and boujee herself.

“I think that is a misnomer that Whitley was WHITEly. I was determined not to go into that direction.”

The HBO show’s costume designer, Ayanna James, recently talked to Fashionista about the inspirations for Molly’s character. “As far as examples we’ve had on television, we have Kerry Washington on Scandal … who is a very popular character for her fashion, but that’s somebody that is a bit more confident than Molly. The inspiration behind Molly was, ‘What would a lawyer look like if she was really, really into fashion? If she was the person who might take a weekend off to go to New York Fashion Week?’ She lives in L.A., she makes money, she works in an office … run by the old boys’ club, so how do we balance that to make it fashionable and make it relevant?”

“I saw a lot of Whitley-esque influence in a lot of characters,” said Grayson. “In Living Single and Girlfriends. They were a bit more risqué, but they had that same sensibility.”

Ceci said she wasn’t as aware of the influence in real time. But looking back, she sees correlations. However, she said the clothes she chose for characters such as Regine and Coco signify more aspirational efforts than did Hillman’s own pride and joy. “The Regine character, she is like a Whitley character. She wasn’t born with money. She has … humble beginnings and is a little more sassy and expressive,” said Ceci. “Coco didn’t have the affluence that the Whitley character has. So while there might be some parallels in terms of trying to be pulled together … those two characters are never gonna be able to hit the mark in terms of the polish and the etiquette of the Whitley character.”

Guy said she was more aware of women who paved the way for her as Carroll did in Dynasty (1981-89). While she agrees that both Hilary Banks and Regine Hunter fall into the same category as Whitley, she said they each had unique characteristics. “We were all a part of that theme, we were just different in our bougieness,” she said.

Both Grayson and Ceci acknowledge that although Whitley can be antagonistic, even when you hate her, you still want to dress like her. “Now when kids look at Whitley,” said Ceci, “they feel like she’s like a baby baller. They’re like, ‘I wanna look like her when I grow up.’ ”

“It just made young girls realize that you don’t have to be that … dowdy girl and just wear … jeans and your old flannel shirt,” said Grayson. “You can pull yourself together and go to school … and look a little more elegant, and not care what other people have to say about that — because you wanna be dressed.”

And Ceci is proud and humble at the same time. “You can’t unsee A Different World,” she said. “You’ve seen it. It’s kind of engraved in your psyche. And perhaps subliminally that’s a reference point, or even consciously. … I don’t know if I defined what African-American female affluence was at that time, but … I’m just coming to embrace the impact the show had, and my part in it … I feel proud and privileged and honored to have … been a part of that.”

As a fan of fashionable jewels and a curator of fine art, Whitley knows that reprints are acceptable. But there’s nothing like the original. Although her character set a part of #blackgirlmagic in motion, no one has matched her level of polished sophistication, and perhaps no one ever will. Ms. Gilbert would have it no other way.

2017 Emmys: Historic wins for Lena Waithe and Donald Glover Plus Sterling K. Brown wins for outstanding actor in a drama series

There are still some things we can count on: Stephen Colbert will find new and stinging ways to insult the president, Sterling K. Brown will give a helluva super-black acceptance speech, and no matter who’s president, Oprah Winfrey is still queen of America.

So how were the Emmys, you ask? Fairly enjoyable, very political and historic.

Both Donald Glover and Lena Waithe made history with their wins for outstanding comedy directing and outstanding comedy writing, respectively. Waithe, who co-wrote Master of None’s poignant Thanksgiving episode, became the first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding comedy writing. Glover took home two trophies Sunday night for his work on Atlanta: He became the first black person to win for directing a comedy series and also won for outstanding lead actor in a comedy.

Waithe began by invoking U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters by beginning her speech with “Reclaiming my time.” She went on to shout-out her queer brothers and sisters, which was especially meaningful given that Thanksgiving was about her character Denise’s personal journey as a lesbian.

“I love you all and, last but certainly not least, my LGBTQIA family,” Waithe said. “I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers — every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.

“And for everybody out there that showed so much love for this episode, thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago. We appreciate it more than you could ever know.”

Waithe has had an amazing ride, from working as a writer on the Black & Sexy TV show Hello Cupid and writing on Bones to finding her way to a hit show in Master of None. She also produced Dear White People (the movie, not the Netflix show).

It was quite a night for Glover, who unseated two-time winner and Transparent actor Jeffrey Tambor for the acting trophy. “I want to thank Trump for making black people No. 1 on the most oppressed list. He’s the reason I’m probably up here,” Glover said while accepting the acting award.

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

During his acceptance speech for his directing Emmy, Glover made sure to thank Hiro Murai, the primary director for Atlanta, who is largely responsible for its distinctive style. Murai and Glover have a partnership that predates the show. They’ve worked together on music videos, and Atlanta is Murai’s first television series directing job. He’s since directed episodes of Snowfall and Legion, both FX shows like Atlanta. Although Murai wasn’t a winner Sunday night, I have few doubts that we’ll see him on the Emmy stage soon enough.

And as long as I’m gazing into a crystal ball, I’ll suggest that we’ll likely see Insecure director Melina Matsoukas there too. Insecure was understandably excluded from nominations for its first season. But next year, when the exponentially better second season is eligible, will be different. (There were any number of comedies — The Good Place, You’re The Worst or Better Things, for example — that could have replaced Modern Family as a nominee in the outstanding comedy category. Not that it matters much. They still would have gotten trounced by Veep.) The first season of Insecure was strong, but showrunner Prentice Penny and Issa Rae now clearly have embraced the possibilities that HBO, and HBO money, offers. The writing has grown sharper, and I’m sure the Emmys will follow.

While Winfrey’s HBO effort, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, did not win for best television movie (the romantic and lovely Black Mirror: San Junipero did instead), no one was about to forget about Miss O.

Upon accepting an award for Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, asked, “Where’s Oprah? I’d like to thank Oprah’s seat-filler. I met Oprah once. It was like meeting the queen, but much, much better.”

This is Us actor Brown, who won for outstanding actor lead actor in a drama series, was the single person who not only was played off the stage but also had his microphone cut because he didn’t take the hint when the music in the Microsoft Theater rose to drown him out. The part of me that wanted to go to bed on time was annoyed. The other part of me was totally understanding, because who wouldn’t be completely jazzed about beating Anthony Hopkins in an acting contest after a 19-year Emmy drought for black lead actors, which is precisely what Brown did? No one with sense, that’s who.

Anyway, kudos to Brown for his ebullient speech-giving skills. He worked in references to Mad Men, Martin, black love (the idea, not the OWN series), Breaking Bad and Homicide: Life on the Street. And he thanked his co-stars, Chrissy Metz and Mandy Moore, telling them, “You are the best white TV family that a brotha has ever had.”

So, yeah, it took a while.

Other highlights of the night: British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed won for outstanding lead actor in a limited series for his role as Nasir Khan in The Night Of, making him the first Muslim and South Asian man to win in the category.

Ahmed, who is almost unfailingly effervescent, turned serious in his acceptance speech, but not without thanking Winfrey first since he sat next to her during the broadcast. “It’s always strange reaping the rewards of a story that’s based on real-world suffering, but if this show has shone a light on some of the prejudice in our society, Islamophobia, some of the injustice in our justice system, then maybe that’s something,” he said.

Of the many cracks at our president, the most biting included ribbing over the fact that he never won an Emmy for The Apprentice, which he was so bothered by that during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton he was still insisting he should have won.

A consolation prize: Alec Baldwin won the Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for portraying him on Saturday Night Live.

The starring ladies of 9 to 5, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, took to the stage to reveal the outstanding supporting actor in a limited series (which went to Big Little Lies actor Alexander Skarsgård) and gave perhaps the most obvious subtweet of the evening:

“Well, back in 1980 … we refused to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” Fonda said.

“And in 2017 we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” Tomlin chimed in.

As for Colbert, his barbs directed at Trump were so biting that I momentarily worried how our commander in chief would respond.

Among the many ribs: “There were over 450 original scripted shows made this year. Of course, there’s no way anyone could possibly watch that much TV, other than the president, who seems to have a lot of time for that sort of thing. Hello, sir! Thank you for joining us,” Colbert said while waving at the camera.

However, Colbert’s best line of the evening was directed not at the president but at fellow white late-night host Bill Maher. Colbert included Maher in a list of actors of color present at the ceremony, including Uzo Aduba, Samira Wiley and Anthony Anderson.

Capitalizing on Maher’s troubles after he had used the phrase “house n—-” on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, Colbert remarked, “I assume he’s black because he’s so comfortable using the N-word.”

‘Ballers’ recap: When things fall apart Will Spencer deliver? Will Charles stay in the Dolphins’ front office? Will Ricky retire?

SEASON THREE, EPISODE NINE | “CRACKBACK” | SEPT. 17

Crackback noun / crack·back / ˈkrak-ˌbak / a blindside block on a defensive back in football by a pass receiver who starts downfield and then cuts back to the middle of the line. This is the definition, according to Merriam-Webster, of the word given to this week’s episode of Ballers. It’s a fitting title, because as season three draws to a close, every major character gets a blindside slap in the face.

Let’s start with the polarizing protagonist of the show, Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who’s been trying his hardest all season to be the man behind the move of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas. Last week, we saw Spencer and his partner, Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry), tell their team at Anderson Sports Management that they’ll be selling the company to go all in on relocating an NFL team to Sin City.

But maybe Spencer and Joe pulled the trigger too soon, because at owners meetings in San Francisco, he gets wind of the fact that there is a competing group also looking to move the Raiders to Vegas. The catch? This group is endorsed by the league, while Spencer’s is not. Fast-forward to a fiery exchange over drinks with Candace Brewer (Emayatzy Corinealdi), the sexy and tough NFL executive who advises Spencer that the best play is for both groups to join forces, with Spencer’s team taking a back seat in the deal.

This certainly isn’t what Spencer wants to hear — and, unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. Spencer receives a call from his business partner, Las Vegas hotel tycoon Wayne Hastings Jr. (Steve Guttenberg), who informs him that he’ll be giving his investment and huge plot of land to the NFL-endorsed group.

Back on South Beach, Larry Siefert (Dulé Hill) is officially fired as general manager of the Miami Dolphins, after his assistant general manager Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller) went over his head and persuaded the team to hire Larry Csonka as head coach. Siefert anticipates that Charles is next in line to be Miami’s new general manager, although the team’s owner has different plans. Charles is told that he’ll remain in the No. 2 assistant general manager spot, forcing him to consider resigning.

Ricky Jerret (John David Washington) is on the brink of signing a new deal with the New England Patriots despite being recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The Patriots offer a huge two-year, $20 million contract, with $16 million guaranteed, but before putting ink to paper, Ricky confesses that he’s had a months-long concussion and wants to receive medical help before deciding whether to even play again. The Patriots immediately pull out of negotiations.

Will Spencer be responsible for delivering an NFL team to Las Vegas? Will Charles remain in the front office of the Miami Dolphins? Will Ricky retire? These are all questions to ponder after a blindsiding episode nine. Hope the finale has all the answers.

Five things to watch for at this year’s Emmy Awards Can ‘Atlanta’ break through? And how will the Glover brothers handle the competition?

It seems like we’re all going to end up sucked into a mushroom cloud or stranded on an ice floe eventually. But right now, we have TV. So let’s rearrange some deck chairs and discuss the Emmys!

The strongest categories are the comedy ones, which are overflowing with good, smart, timely options, so at least we’ll be going to meet our makers with smiles on our faces. Saturday Night Live, with 23 nominations, is favored to bring in a big haul in the variety and comedy categories.

Here are five things to expect from the Sunday night broadcast from CBS, hosted by Stephen Colbert:

  • Stiff competition for outstanding comedy series. I’m wondering how this will shake out, given the nominee list: Atlanta (FX), black-ish (ABC), Master of None (Netflix), Modern Family (ABC), Silicon Valley (HBO), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) and Veep (HBO). Modern Family has been the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ favorite for longer than is justifiable, but Atlanta’s first season was so distinctive and so unlike anything else on television, maybe, just maybe, it will have a shot.
  • The possibility of a really special moment for Lena Waithe. She is the first black woman nominated for best writing in a comedy series for the touching Thanksgiving episode of Master of None. Donald Glover and his brother Stephen Glover are both nominated in this category as well for Atlanta, and frankly, if Stephen wins, it’ll be the best thing for healthy sibling rivalries since the Williams sisters. Donald is nominated in multiple categories though, so maybe they’ll come out even.
  • Some wackiness from Tracee Ellis Ross. Even if she doesn’t win the comedy actress category, Ellis Ross is consistently one of the best people to watch during awards shows. One, her face is elastic, and two, she’s down for just about anything. (Dear Saturday Night Live bookers: Take heed.)
  • A battle between Thandie Newton (Westworld) and Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) for supporting actress in a drama series. I’m giving Dowd the edge with this one, just because Aunt Lydia is the scary dystopian nun who will haunt your dreams forever and ever. But Newton’s work in Westworld was the most impressive I’ve seen in her career.
  • Cutting up from Anthony Anderson if he wins for actor in a comedy series. Remember his interpretive dancing to Ellis Ross’ singing at the 2015 BET Awards? Again, the competition is ridiculous: Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Zach Galifianakis (Baskets), Donald Glover (Atlanta), William H. Macy (Shameless), and Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent).

As far as I know, no one’s figured out a way to clone Michael K. Williams, who co-starred alongside John Turturro and Riz Ahmed in HBO’s The Night Of. So I do have a request for the future, which is that networks start hiring more minority actors (and telling stories about people of color) for the buzzy limited series they’re doing. Aside from comedy, the limited series categories are among the most interesting and have consistently been offering rich, meaty television work.

Big Little Lies was a triumph for Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman. But it didn’t serve Zoë Kravitz nearly as well, and it showed when this year’s Emmy nominations were announced. Bokeem Woodbine shone as Mike Milligan in the second season of Fargo and was nominated for an Emmy, which he lost to Sterling K. Brown for his work in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Fair enough, but after Noah Hawley and company proved they could successfully incorporate a black man into the lily-white world of Fargo, I wish they’d bothered to repeat that decision in its third and most recent season.

This year’s nominees in the Limited Series category: Big Little Lies (HBO), Fargo (FX), Feud: Bette and Joan (FX), The Night Of (HBO) and Genius (National Geographic) are pretty much centered on whiteness, with The Night Of being the sole exception. After last year’s recognition for artists of color, I’d hate to see the Emmys go back to a tokenized status quo.

27 songs that should have made the season two playlist of ‘Insecure’ Migos, Lil Uzi Vert, Erykah Badu and more: The ‘Insecure’ Lost Tapes

Every show has a budget. So realistically, there are only so many songs one show can feature, no matter how lit its musical direction. The following songs — from Three 6 Mafia, 6lack, H.E.R., Beyoncé, Daniel Caesar, SZA, Lil Uzi Vert and more — represent our own unofficial Insecure season two soundtrack. You know, since Issa Rae already released the official one. And don’t let the byline fool you: This was a family affair. The Undefeated’s own Breana Jones and our first cousin Jasmine Alexander, producer extraordinaire on SC6, helped bring this to life. Hit us up and let us know what makes your cut.

TLC — “Creep” (1994)

“When best friends become lovers” is such a beautiful Hollywood rom-com premise. But what about when best friends have an affair? Which is exactly what we have with Molly and Dro — hooking up in bathrooms during dinner parties, and whatnot.

Destiny’s Child feat. Missy Elliott — “Confessions” (1999)

From Bre: “ ‘Confessions’ is the most underrated cheating song in existence.” She might be right.

Three 6 Mafia — “Slob On My Knob” (1999)

The most predictable song for season two’s most explosive episode. Pun absolutely intended. Not to mention, Juicy J’s still cashing checks for a song he wrote when he was a junior in high school:

T.I. — “Hello” (2006)

Tasha gave him every piece of her mind. Then came the grocery store double dip that, as it turned out, wasn’t all the flicks make it out to be. Then we see Lawrence parked outside Issa’s crib questioning the meaning of everything. I think about the good ol’ days and wanna visit you/ This song I like to listen to whenever reminiscin’ you/ You, stay on my mind, never mind how I picture/ Think about the past and all the time that I spent with you. I’m pretty sure he played this on the ride home.

Beyoncé — “Resentment” (2006)

The song is about Bey dealing with the emotional impact of her man’s infidelity. And, despite what Lawrence was or wasn’t doing, it’s Issa who cheated on him. Yet, it’s not difficult to imagine Issa having a moment listening to this after trashing her apartment following the argument with Lawrence outside the restaurant (and learning her rent was increasing). I know she was attractive … but I was here first. Been riding with you for six years. Why did I deserve to be treated this way by you? And then following it up with, I gotta look at her in her eyes and see she’s had half of me. Close your eyes and you can almost see Issa drowning her sorrows drinking Rossi straight out the jug.

Q-Tip feat. Raphael Saadiq — “We Fight, We Love” (2008)

Basically, Insecure in a nutshell.

Erykah Badu feat. ItsRoutine — “U Use To Call Me” (2015)

I’ve always said ItsRoutine sounds like Drake if Drake caught one of those colds you catch when you’re on airplanes a lot. You know, that cold. Regardless, this just feels like one of those records that would play during the end credits.

Mura Masa feat. A$AP Rocky — “Lovesick (Four Tet Remix)” (2016)

How this record didn’t get more burn is beyond me. Just a cold song that’s dope to ride out to, or run to. Plus, everyone on the show is lovesick in some way.

6lack — “Ex Calling” (2016)

Unless I missed it, which is possible, I’m shocked 6lack’s melancholy hit wasn’t featured in this season. The vibe and message fit almost too perfectly. I’m assuming 6lack hopping on Future’s “Perkys Calling” beat has something to do with it.

Abra — “Pull Up” (2016)

A mood for whenever Issa, Molly, Kelli and Tiffany pull up on the spot.

SZA — “The Weekend” (2017)

Molly, whether she intended to or not, became “the weekend” to Dro’s wife, Candice, who, I’m assuming by this equation, is the “9-to-5.”

YFN Lucci feat. PNB Rock — “Everyday We Lit” (2017)

Or, in Insecure’s case, every Sunday and Monday morning. Just check Twitter.

Daniel Caesar — “We Find Love” (2017)

A song about the fallout of a bad breakup. I’d say it applies.

Drake — “Blem” (2017)

Don’t switch on me, I got big plans/ We need to forward to the islands/ And get you gold, no spray tans/ I need you to stop runnin’ back to your ex/ He’s a wasteman / I wanna know, how come we can never slash and stay friends. Daniel, is that you?

Yo Gotti feat. Nicki Minaj — “Rake It Up” (2017)

I’ve long since convinced myself this is Kelli’s (Natasha Rothwell) theme song.

Kendrick Lamar — “Lust” (2017)

Between scenes, as the camera takes a panoramic view of Los Angeles, a standout from Kung Fu Kenny’s future Grammy-nominated narrative. At least, that’s how I see it in my head.

Jorja Smith — “On My Mind” (2017)

I finally found the wrong in you + Don’t want to feel you/ Don’t want you on my mind + Now I’m growing wise to your sugar-coated lies/ Nothing’s sweet about my misery, yeah. There are quite a few characters on this show these lines apply to, if we’re keeping it a buck.

21 Savage — “Bank Account” (2017)

Draco make you do the chicken head like Chingy. Issa Rae loves trap music. I don’t know her personally, but I feel confident in putting my name on that statement.

PartyNextDoor — “Rendezvous” (2017)

There’s been a lot of that going on this season.

Jay-Z feat. Beyoncé — “Family Feud” (2017)

I’ll f— up a good thing if you let me … **Issa, Lawrence and Molly all point at each other upon said lyric**

French Montana feat. Swae Lee — “Unforgettable” (2017)

This song makes it because every now and then on social media one of those magical, unforgettable, you-had-to-be-there moments happens that everyone talks about it. Insecure’s had a few of those this season.

Lil Uzi Vert feat. Pharrell — “Neon Guts” (2017)

Just an icy song that you’d expect to hear Sunday nights on HBO between 10:30 and 11 p.m. EST.

Migos — “Too Hotty” (2017)

Refer to the 21 Savage entry for reasoning. One of my favorite Migos records deserved some sort of placement because, if for no other reason, Offset flexed on this track something serious.

H.E.R. — “I Won’t” (2017)

Poor Lionel (Sterling K. Brown). It had to have been a long drive home with this song after Dro straight scooped and scored with Molly right in front of his face. You never mention having kids on the first brunch date before even finishing the first mimosa, bro. One of the most underrated party fouls of the entire season.

Bryson Tiller — “No Longer Friends” (2017)

Listen to the lyrics. How crazy would it be if Daniel produced this song with the intention of Lawrence hearing it?

Jamila Woods feat. Lorine Chia — “Lonely” (2017)

This, too, is definitely a record that plays at the end of an episode.

Drake — “Do Not Disturb” (2017)

I am a reflection of all of your insecurities …

‘Insecure’ recap: Love in a time of gentrification, glass ceilings and Carl Thomas sweaters Issa and Lawrence might be soulmates. They might be meant for each other. But that doesn’t mean they’re meant to be together.

Season 2, Episode 8 | “Hella Perspective” | Sept. 10

There are a lot of ways we can go about breaking down Sunday night’s Insecure season finale. So let’s just go through some.

Gentrification. We’ve all seen it firsthand. Areas that were once majority people of color are suddenly lined with juice bars and Harris Teeters. Not that it’s a bad thing in the most technical sense. But the technical sense fails to account for the history of an area, the people who inhabit said area and what that history means to those people. It’s baldly noticeable as Issa walks down the street at the beginning of the episode. It’s subtly noticeable as a white woman jogs in front of Issa’s complex.

Tiffany and Derek. Anyone else put one and one together? So check, when Lawrence, Chad and Derek are all in Lawrence’s semblance of a living room, the latter two tell Lawrence why Aparna having sex with a co-worker multiple times is bad for business. Chad agrees, but Derek absolutely agrees and tells the story of how he had to get rid of one of Tiffany’s old co-workers for the same reason. One, you can’t give Lawrence advice like that because he’ll not only take it, he’ll implement it at the absolutely wrong time. Case in point: bringing it up in the car to her, thus leading to an argument, Aparna getting out and leaving Lawrence 0-2 in post-Issa situationships. But what’s really intriguing here is Derek says Tiffany (who is pregnant now) went to Issa’s apartment to watch Due North. Yet, when the scene shifts to Issa’s, we find out Tiffany can’t make it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Derek-Tiffany dynamic play out more during next season. They’ve alluded to issues in the past. Maybe season three is when we find out that baby isn’t Derek’s. It’s Work Bae’s. Just something to ponder.

The Untouchables. Which brings me to my next point. Insecure is a show where everyone catches a proverbial bullet, except these three: Kelli, Chad and Thug Yoda, aka The Neighborhood Blood, were the only ones not to take an L all season. They provided a sense of relief and lightheartedness for a show that can stress you out. Hoping they have more screen time next season.

Maybe season three is when we find out that baby isn’t Derek’s. It’s Work Bae’s. Just something to ponder.

Molly’s therapy and Issa’s job. Issa is essentially being demoted — and Freida promoted — to new director of student outreach. At the same time, she’s moving out of her apartment in one of those hellish collisions of professional and personal life that hit all of us at least once (or 38 times) in our lives. Life has a way of humbling you when it wants. We knew the way Issa was handling her gig would come back to haunt her. She was essentially running a segregated after-school program. As for Molly’s therapy, it was nice to see it return. Given everything that’s going on in her life right now, talking to a professional will be more important than ever.

Molly’s glass ceiling. The conversation that Molly, Issa and Kelli had regarding Molly’s future — working for black people vs. working for white people — is a common one. It’s been frustrating to watch the glass ceiling Molly runs into at work. That “Rising Star” certificate? A piece of paper doesn’t pay the bills. They gave Molly a participation trophy and patted her on the head.


Some feel the finale was a bit of a letdown. And that’s because it didn’t pack the one signature moment — like Tasha calling Lawrence a “f— n—–,” Lawrence’s threesome, Daniel and Issa’s couch scene or last weekend’s dinner party from hell — and it left doors unopened and questions unanswered. All of which may be true.

In a season full of over-the-top antics, it came down to decisions for Molly, Issa and Lawrence. For Molly, it’s simple. People return to where they feel most comfortable, even if they know the situation isn’t in their best interest. Ask yourself how many times you’ve seen this in person. Ask yourself how many times it’s been you.

This is the type of decision Molly makes when it comes to dudes. Actually giving Quentin (LilRel Howrey) a chance, a guy who vibes with her on an authentic level, outside of work or professional motives, would’ve been foreign territory for her. She’s just not willing, at this time, to give herself that opportunity to find peace. Until she does, we’re going to see her walk through the revolving door that is love with all the wrong people.

Dro, on the other hand, is going to play this as long as the rules allow. How much does his wife, Candice, know? Molly’s brilliant and is deserving of a lot more than what her current gig is offering her. But because of that chaos, she’s doubling down on the chaos in her personal life.

If any moment resonated, Issa, Lawrence and Lawrence’s vintage Carl Thomas sweater reunion was the show’s axis.

But if any moment resonated, Issa, Lawrence and Lawrence’s vintage Carl Thomas sweater reunion was the show’s axis. Sans last week’s episode and the argument that followed outside the restaurant, the two hadn’t spoken to each other, or been in the same room since the season opener. Issa and Lawrence both hurt each other. Issa’s transgression was just more blatant. Lawrence’s complacency was more below the surface and a gripe that built up over time until the consequences became inevitable. But Lawrence’s admission that the shortcoming in his own ambitions had more far-reaching ramifications than he realized was and is a very real ego check. It was the most honest moment he had all season. The conversation is one to which the entire series has been building. Both are struggling to establish themselves professionally while barely keeping their heads above water outside the office. Both needed the secure blanket that the other provided.

It’s part of the reason Tyler, The Creator’s “Boredom” song played such an integral role in the finale. Find some time to do something/ Find some time to do something, the hook suggests. As it turns out, that “something” is exactly what Lawrence and Issa needed, the one thing they’ve avoided all season: an honest conversation. And one that absolutely needed to be on TV in the manner it was.

Speaking of the musical direction, the one dope part of Issa’s elaborate daydream that included her and Lawrence not only getting back together but also getting married and having a kid was the song selection of Daniel Caesar’s “Blessed.” The standout from the Toronto’s Freudian project was tailor-made for the moment. But I’m glad Issa was daydreaming. It rarely, if ever, happens like that.

Issa and Lawrence might be soulmates. They might be meant for each other. But that doesn’t mean they’re meant to be together. One of the hardest lessons love teaches is knowing when to let go. Letting go of someone or something that was such a large part of yourself, your vulnerability and your strength is a lot to accept. It’s hard to remember life before their impact, and it’s even scarier to imagine a future without it. The thing they don’t tell you about love is that not everybody gets to keep it.

What this means for next season, I couldn’t tell you. With Aparna out of the picture and Lawrence seemingly taking some time to himself, might we see less of him? How in the world does an Issa/Daniel living arrangement even begin to work? And we’ve already addressed the 6 million WTFs that keep Molly running back to Dro. For now, we all need a break. Perhaps the most accurate part of last night’s episode was its title: “Hella Perspective.” That much is for sure.