Drake really wants Vince Carter to come home Day 4 at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — At this point, the most magical words Drake could hear come out of Vince Carter’s mouth might be, “Hold on, we’re going home.”

In July, Carter, 40, signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Sacramento Kings. But at a Q-and-A after the premiere of The Carter Effect at the Toronto International Film Festival, Drake made his feelings plain: He wants the man who launched Vinsanity to come back to this city.

“It would be amazing, hopefully, for Vince to give us one last chance to not just give him a standing ovation for one night or two nights out of the year,” Drake said.

Saturday’s Carter lovefest (with the star basketball player nowhere in sight) was something to behold. The premiere was studded with sports and music notables: LeBron James, Cory Joseph, Akon, Director X (the guy who caused a sensation with the James Turrell-inspired visuals of “Hotline Bling”), sprinter Andre De Grasse, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, and former Raptors Chris Bosh and Patrick Patterson were among those in attendance. And since it was a bright, sunny afternoon, Drake fans were lined up everywhere for a glimpse of their hometown rapper.

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Drake was an executive producer of The Carter Effect, along with James and his longtime business partner Maverick Carter.

“Me being from Ohio, when Vince signed with Nike, he actually made me believe that putting on those damn shoes would make me jump to the rim,” James joked after the screening.

Director X appears in the film and likened himself to John the Baptist and Drake to Jesus when it comes to Toronto and hip-hop. I asked him where Carter fits into that metaphor.

“He’s Moses,” X answered.

I also had a chance to talk to Mona Halem, a party host who had a front-row seat to the transformation Carter brought with him to Toronto, a city so unacquainted with basketball that its fans didn’t know they were supposed to be quiet when Raptors players were shooting free throws.

Halem, who also appears in the film, is a cross between an NBA doyenne, unofficial Toronto ambassador and social scene producer. She puts interesting people together with liquor and good music and has made it her personal art form here.

“Because basketball and entertainment around basketball was more popular in the U.S., [Carter] shone a light on Toronto,” Halem said. “It was like, ‘Oh, what’s this place Toronto?’ Everyone thinks we live in igloos and it’s so cold.”

Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart

Courtesy of TIFF

Director Tracy Heather Strain’s documentary on playwright Lorraine Hansberry, in a way, has been her life’s work.

Strain, who is a professor at Northeastern University (she canceled last week’s class to attend TIFF), has been working on Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart for 14 years. Most of that time has been spent raising more than $1.5 million to make the film. The rights for film clips, music and other properties cost about $300,000.

I spoke to Strain on Sunday morning before she departed for Boston so her students wouldn’t miss a second week of class. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart will air in the future on PBS, and it’s a deep dive into the jam-packed 34 years of Hansberry’s life and the world that created the fictional Younger family of A Raisin in the Sun. Strain said she became taken with Hansberry when she was a 17-year-old in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her grandmother took her to see a community theater production of the autobiographical To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.

“You know how you know something in your gut?” Strain asked. “[That’s] how I felt when I was exposed to Lorraine Hansberry’s words.”

In Sighted Eyes, Strain makes it clear that Hansberry is so much more than the one-paragraph biography schoolchildren get during Black History Month before they watch the film adaptation of her celebrated play. In fact, early in the movie, one of Hansberry’s contemporaries insists on making it clear that Hansberry was not a liberal but a “radical leftist.”

I was astonished to learn Hansberry began her career as a journalist before venturing into playwriting, and even more astonished to learn that she’d basically mapped out her life, and told her would-be husband what it was going to be like, when she was just 23 years old. This woman did not waste time. Strain fell in love with Hansberry’s sense of humor: It’s hard not to crack up upon learning Hansberry bought a house on 2 acres in New York and named the place “Chitterling Heights.” She sounds like someone I’d desperately want to be friends with if she were still alive.

Sighted Eyes also works as a bit of mythbusting. My eyes grew large when Strain informed me that I, like so many others, had been fooled by this photo, supposedly of Hansberry dancing with writer James Baldwin. It’s not her but rather a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) worker from Louisiana. There are no photos, at least none that Strain could find, of Baldwin and Hansberry together despite their close friendship.

The Netherlands might be tolerant, but racism exists for people of color This group of archivists was in the U.S. to explain why

Santa Claus or Sinterklaas had an assistant, servant, sidekick or all of the such — “Black Pete.” Known to the Dutch as Zwarte Piet, the character and its origin have surfaced more and more in news segments around the world within the past decade, with claims of racism and insensitivity. It was 1850 when the character first appeared in a book by Amsterdam schoolteacher Jan Schenkman.

The problem with Black Pete, and the reason for the claims of racism, is that he is portrayed in blackface. Even in this day and age, the character, although frowned upon by many, is still celebrated in the Netherlands. And because it’s traditional, many Dutch citizens are part of a movement calling for the ban on Black Pete celebrations.

This is just one example of the hidden or closeted racism that, according to a delegate of archivists from the Netherlands, makes up part of the region’s black facts. These archivists have dedicated their time to form an organization that reveals and preserves the hidden history of Dutch slavery, black history, black literature and black culture in the Netherlands. The Amsterdam Black Archives is in the works, and along with the team members spreading the word about their culture and experiences, the website aims to shed light on the black radical movements in Amsterdam, Suriname and the Netherlands and uncover their history.

In August, Amsterdam Black Archives co-founders Jessica de Abreu and Mitchell Esajas and their colleagues Imara Limon and Samora Bergtop traveled from the Netherlands to Washington, D.C., where they presented their project and historical data in front of a room of more than 30 individuals at Sankofa bookstore in Northwest D.C.

The archive contains a unique collection of books and artifacts, which are the legacy of black writers and scientists from the Surinamese, Caribbean and African diaspora in the Netherlands. These cultures were connected to black liberation movements in the United States. While black radicals in Amsterdam were fighting for civil rights, they were in touch with U.S. thought-provokers such as W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin.

“The reason why I’m extremely passionate about this project is because so my mom is from Suriname, which is a colony of the Netherlands, and in the Netherlands we don’t speak about colonialism and the history of slavery and what the law was,” de Abreu said. “So for me to start the black archives is also educate our own communities and the larger society about the Dutch past and colonial past and why our realities look like this. For example, progression and discrimination. … It’s also about addressing the issues and community building and understand life in the Black Netherlands and what it looks like.”

According to the company’s website, “we aim to investigate, reveal and tell new stories so that we can contribute to a better understanding of the historical contributions of people of African origin to human civilization and to Dutch society in particular. These stories also provide insight and tools to combat contemporary social issues such as structural inequality, discrimination and racism of people of African origin and other populations.”

In the 1970s and ’80s there were already Surinamese emancipation movements in the Netherlands that committed themselves to the fight against racism and inequality. The Amsterdam Black Archives will detail the stories and histories.

The four archivists shared their goals with the crowd. They are in the process of digitizing the more than 4,000 special history books, documents, photographs, films and artifacts around black history in the Netherlands that have been collected and donated over the past few years. The nearly 100-year-old collection is housed in the premises of the Association of Suriname in eastside Amsterdam. In conjunction with the Amsterdam Museum, the Black Archives plans to create an exhibition to open on Nov. 25.

They also took time to explain that while the Netherlands is tolerant on issues such as prostitution, marijuana use in coffee shops and gay marriage, the country still has racial practices — some of which are the same as in the United States, including police brutality, wage gaps and educational inequality.

The team also offers workshops, lectures, consultancy and advice for these themes and more. The workshops also provide information on black and multicultural issues such as slavery, colonialism, black feminism, the civil rights movement, colonial imagery, social issues about equal opportunities in education, the labor market and diversity at the workplace.

The organization was founded after de Abreu and Esajas met in an anthropology class. Now a couple, the two co-founded the archives.

“The two of us coordinate it, and we work with a team of six to eight volunteers. We did digitize a few of the important projects. Not that many. About 100. So after we stop the crowdfunding campaign, we aim to structurally digitize all of the archives.”

Limon works at the Amsterdam Museum and met de Abreu and Esajas through her independent work and research.

They all said they enjoy addressing new crowds regarding their experiences of being black and Dutch.

When asked how blacks identify in the Netherlands, they all answered with opposing views; de Abreu said she identifies as a black Dutch woman.

“Not necessarily because I want to be Dutch, but to remember a history that you should not forget anymore,” de Abreu explained. “That’s particular localizing the races. Dealing with the question the same as to you, we were just speaking about it, and do we want to do a DNA heritage test? Because basically colonialism happened, so they took away our cultures, our religions, our whole identity. Our whole language. So I don’t even know where I’m from, so these are good questions. It’s a global conversation. How am I going to refer to myself? How are we going to refer to ourselves?”

“For me Caribbean Dutch, I’m Dutch and people better get used to what it looks like,” Limon replied. “What it can look like. How Dutchness is so connected to whiteness. There’s always this negotiation about what you are, but it’s a nationality in that sense. We should not be talking about why I am also Dutch, but why Dutchness is so connected to whiteness. It helps a lot for me to learn about it.”

For Bergtop, her identifying standards have changed over the years because she said she is “getting more consciousness.”

“If I’m doing an interview or something, I never call myself Dutch,” Bergtop said. “Even that I have a white Dutch mother and a Surinamese black father, he’s half maroon. Because people perceive me as how I look, and that’s not being seen as Dutch. The first question from Dutch white people would be, ‘Where are you coming from?’ or ‘Where are your parents coming from?’ They don’t consider me as Dutch, so I stopped calling myself in that way, Dutch, because it’s always a difficult conversation or an awkward conversation about it. That’s also part of denying that we have a migrant or colonial and slavery history. Even still, I’m a second generation. They don’t see me as Dutch, so I stopped that.”

On July 1, the team of archivists started a crowdfunding campaign to aid in archiving and expanding the collection, which is planned as a three-phase process.

“The hardest part is to get funded for something sustainable and contemporary social activities, but the most beautiful thing out of it is that we see that our own community can also raise money,” de Abreu said. “The worst thing about it is we don’t have financial support, but the beautiful thing is that the community can do it by itself.”

Documentary explores how a group of black intellectuals found solace in Paris ‘Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light’ screens at the March on Washington Film Festival

For nearly a century, many black Americans have traveled to Paris to find their identity away from the American racism that sought to erase it. Indeed, many decided to make it official and make the City of Light home.

Director Joanne Burke and executive producer Julia Browne explore this expatriation, while also detailing the day-to-day of being black in Paris, in their 2016 documentary Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light, which was screened July 18 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts as part of the March on Washington Film Festival.

In his 1951 essay I Choose Exile, author and poet Richard Wright asks, “Why have I decided to live beyond the shores of my native land?” The powerful writer declares defiantly, “It is because I love freedom and I tell you frankly that there is more freedom in one square block of Paris than there is in the entire United States!”

Living in Paris allowed Wright and others to distance themselves from the omnipresent racism they’d experienced in America with its anti-black rhetoric, institutional systems of oppression and physical violence. While living in Paris was not the post-racial Valhalla many dreamed it would be, French society did provide better social and financial opportunities for black artists to practice their art and, from there, change the world.

Besides Wright, cultural icons such as Angela Davis, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Frederick Douglass, Countee Cullen, Louis Armstrong, James Emanuel and Ta-Nehisi Coates have all called Paris home at some time in their lives. And they had different perspectives in the aftermath. Some loved their experience, while others were not overly impressed.

To Burke, it is important to understand the legacy and tradition of black Americans going to Paris because “it has a worldwide influence … jazz changed the way the world looked at black culture. [The success black writers, artists and musicians found in Paris] differentiated black culture from American culture. … It is a question of taking pride of black achievement abroad … Black culture, in Europe and around the world, has a role in giving people a voice and a new way of expressing themselves,” she explained.

Traveling to Paris has been a more or less refreshing experience for icons of black expression and culture. Baker, a singer, dancer and actress active from 1920-75, sang in “J’ai Deux Amours” (“I Have Two Loves”): I have two loves/ My country and Paris/ With them always/ My heart is overjoyed … What is the point of denying/What enchants me?/It’s Paris, Paris entirely.

Coates wrote in “Paris Disappointed Me — and I Am Glad For It,” a correspondence he published for The Atlantic, “I’m realizing Paris has always sort of been an impressionist painting for me — a big, colorful, beautiful blur without much detail. … I found that the dirty detail of the city isn’t as pretty as my faraway impressions. … I’m struck by how many sought an escape from American racism here yet ugly and other forms of racism were stewing here, too.”

In her 2013 autobiography, Davis wrote about the power of exploring different identities even at home: “We would pretend to be foreigners and [speak] French. … At the sight of two young black women speaking a foreign language, the clerks in the store raced to help us. Their delight with the exotic was enough to completely, if temporarily, dispel their normal disdain for black people. … All black people have to do is pretend they come from another country, and [white people] treat us like dignitaries.”

The common denominator for them all was Paris, good or bad. Paris specifically allowed black Americans to be perceived as Davis’ “exotic delight” while still maintaining their identity as individuals. However, there is a discrepancy among scholars over who went first and when it became a rite of passage. Ricki Stevenson, director of Black Paris Tours, said in a 2013 interview with NPR that the tradition began as early as the 19th century.

“Many people mistakenly believe that the first great mass migration of African-Americans to France came with the Harlem Renaissance,” Stevenson said. “It didn’t. The first great mass migration came following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.”

William Wells Brown, who escaped enslavement, taught himself to read and write and became an American diplomat in the mid-1800s, is often seen as one of the great explorers for black people abroad. He published letters documenting his experience in Europe and tried to build support for the American abolitionist movement in Britain and France.

On the other hand, others, such as Burke and Browne, believe the movement truly began in 1917 with America’s involvement in World War I. At the time, black men were recruited not to fight for the cause but mostly to do manual labor. Burke and Browne’s documentary credits Lt. James Reese Europe as the pioneer of the black legacy in Paris. Europe fought in both World War I and World War II, led the Harlem Hellfighters in battle and later played in a notable jazz band in Paris.

After World War I, a cultural movement that author Petrine Archer-Straw refers to as “Negrophilia” became popular among rich white liberals in Paris. In her book Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s, she defines the term as a love of black culture, but a love as distancing as the hatred black folks experience in America. For Archer-Straw, rich white liberals saw black Americans as “dynamic, non-conformist, and subversive … blackness played a significant role in avant-garde definitions of [Parisian] modernity … it was the ‘idea’ of black culture and not black culture itself that informed this modernity (180-183).”

When rich white club owners began to see how their patrons preferred black performers, they would often book black jazz groups over white French musicians. It was also important that the music was played for the enjoyment of the rich white audience. As the Paris Noir documentary reveals, “You had to be African-American to play jazz. This meant that [certain] black people, who didn’t happen to be musicians at all — [who] basically had no talent — got jobs in jazz. It was the racial image of the music.”

So while rich white Parisians consumed and financed black culture, it was exclusively to serve their own ideological expectations. Archer-Straw also mentions in her book that black art and culture “was absorbed into a grander aesthetic that represented colonial triumph and French imperialism, while for the avant-garde it was a cruel tool used to ‘épater les bourgeois,’ or to shock middle class sensibilities.”

The Negrophilia fascination did allow black Americans to better fulfill their potential than if they had stayed in America. In Paris, black citizens were free from racial segregation. They were able to better express themselves, pursue more career opportunities and romantically intermingle with white people.

While Paris Noir depicts the romantic mingling as liberating, Archer-Straw finds the power dynamic problematic. White French people controlled economic and social power to the detriment of black Americans. She echoes the philosophy of Frantz Fanon, who in his 1952 book Black Skin, White Masks said he felt “an unfamiliar weight [that] burdened me” when he had to “meet the white man’s eyes.” To Archer-Straw and Fanon, since black individuals in a white space have to conform to the standards of acceptable behavior determined by white people, they assimilate and, in so doing, lose their identity set on their own terms. In these kinds of relationships, with unequal power dynamics, black people can never fully express themselves because it is the economic and social power in the majority-white French society that determines what kind of behavior is acceptable.

Archer-Straw describes the line that black folk had to be aware of as “a walking contradiction, combining the exoticism of Africa with the awareness of what it took to be accepted by whites.”

Regardless of the discrepancy in interpretation, scholars do mostly agree that World War I played a vital part in the black experience abroad. Instead of returning to the Jim Crow era, they preferred the narrow but freeing fascination of Parisian society.

A power ranking of Odell Beckham Jr.’s custom cleats from the 2016 NFL season The New York Giants wideout was determined to break out the heat on any given Sunday

Every NFL Sunday is a footwear fashion show for Odell Beckham Jr. Over the past few seasons, the New York Giants wide receiver has shown up and showed out on the field with the freshest cleats in all of football. His secret? Well, it’s not really a secret at all, because OBJ takes much pride in his custom-made creations, for which he entrusts the skill and creativity of Los Angeles-based sneaker artist Troy “Kickasso” Cole, who cranks out masterpieces inspired by every concept fathomable. From album covers to video games and movies to personal tributes, whatever Beckham Jr. dreams up in his imaginative mind, Kickasso can translate onto cleats.

Yet, as a result of the NFL’s enforcement of its strict in-game uniform and equipment policy, most of the kicks in OBJ’s one-of-a-kind collection are worn exclusively during pregame warm-ups before he changes to a more traditional pair for games. But every now and then, Beckham Jr. will risk a fine to ensure that his flashiest shoes find their way onto the field when the game clock starts rolling.

During the 2016 NFL season, the anthology of custom cleats that OBJ unveiled was second to no other player in the league. Throughout the regular season, playoffs and Pro Bowl, he truly became a titan in the sneaker world, which certainly contributed to Nike recently inking the 24-year-old to the biggest shoe deal in NFL history, estimated to be worth more than $29 million over five years.

Hopefully the huge new contract with Nike doesn’t prohibit Beckham Jr. from continuing his tradition come next season. As we anticipate what else OBJ and Kickasso have in store, let’s take a look at their creativity through this definitive, descending-order power ranking of 20 custom cleats they made pop last season.


20. WEEK 10 VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS — LSU

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s cleats before the NFL game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 14, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every NFL player deserves to rep his alma mater however he sees fit, but, man, these cleats in the signature purple and gold of Louisiana State University — the school the Giants drafted Beckham Jr. out of in 2014 with the 12th overall pick — are quite hideous. A more appropriate salute to LSU would’ve been cleats featuring detailed illustrations of tigers, the mascot of OBJ’s former school. As for these plaid concoctions — in the words of the illustrious 21st century musical talent scout Randy Darius Jackson, “yeah … that’s gonna be a no for me, dog.”

19. Week 5 vs. green bay packers — Breast cancer awareness

Since 2009, the NFL has been committed to spreading breast cancer awareness. Every season in October, players take pride in wearing the color pink as a display of their dedication to finding a cure. Beckham Jr. didn’t disappoint last October. His breast cancer cleats were a simple but very classy tribute to every woman and family affected by the disease.

18 and 17. week 7 vs. Los angeles rams — Burberry and Rolling Stone

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When the Giants traveled to London to face the Los Angeles Rams in October 2016, OBJ channeled his inner European designer by breaking out pregame cleats embossed with the beautiful pattern of British fashion house Burberry (the iconic brand of clothing that Jay Z rapped about swimming in on his 2002 track with his then-future wife Beyoncé, ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde”). These cleats are uber-swaggy, but don’t hold a candle to when Beckham Jr. went full-on designer and commissioned a pair of Supreme x Louis Vuitton customs to be made after the season.

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OBJ changed his kicks before kickoff, but remained authentic to the game being played across the pond by switching to red, white and blue cleats, and matching gloves, featuring the legendary logo of the English rock band the Rolling Stones.

16. week 12 vs. cleveland browns — Paint splatter

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. stands on the field during practice before a game against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

These are just really fun. Camouflage is always a good look, and the extra splash of color with the rainbow flecks and green and yellow shoestrings set them over the top. Stay tuned for more camo cleats from OBJ.

15. week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys — sept. 11 tribute

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants wears cleats as a tribute to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 11, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Giants’ 2016 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys happened to fall on the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 — one of the most infamous days in the history of the United States. Beckham Jr. illustrated his patriotism in the form of U.S. flag-themed cleats with bald eagles on the outer soles of each shoe. OBJ was certainly proud to be an American on the first night of football last season.

14. Week 6 vs. baltimore ravens — “Kirby”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike cleats during warm-ups before the game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HUGE shout-out to OBJ for throwing it back to our childhoods by paying homage to the one and only Nintendo character Kirby. He unveiled these in the middle of October 2016, taking the NFL’s tradition of wearing pink to advocate for breast cancer awareness and running with it. Beckham Jr. chose a pink character and crafted an entire cleat design around it with the utmost detail, from the warp stars to the Whispy Woods (Kirby’s recurring foe in the video game series). On this NFL Sunday, OBJ represented the video game nerd that resides in every one of us.

13 and 12. week 13 vs. pittsburgh steelers — Make-a-wisH (Dora The EXplorer and The Simpsons)

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation during warm-ups before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

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For one week during the season, the NFL, aka the “No Fun League,” allowed players to wear their in-game cleats however they wanted, outrageous customization and all, without receiving fines in violation of the league’s uniform policy. The #MyCauseMyCleats initiative, which required players to commit to supporting a charitable cause, saw approximately a third of the league (around 500 players) participate. Beckham Jr. chose to represent the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, according to its website, has a “vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.” And true to his cause, OBJ depicted the child within himself on two pairs of cleats he had designed. One pair was inspired by Homer and Bart Simpson, two of the main characters of the popular animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The other pair, which he wore during the Week 13 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, featured characters from the educational children’s series Dora the Explorer. Not the league, nor Swiper, could steal these cleats from Beckham Jr.’s feet on #MyCauseMyCleats Sunday. OBJ did it for the kids.

11. WEEK 2 VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — “NOLA BOY”

New Orleans Native New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears Nike cleats with Nola Boy on them before the game between the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Beckham Jr. has surely come across this legendary James Baldwin quote at least once in his life — or heard a variation of it from his grandma, aunties and uncles, or parents — while on his journey from growing up in Louisiana to becoming an NFL wide receiver in New York. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is OBJ’s hometown, but he also claims New Orleans. So when the Giants faced the Saints early in the 2016 season, Beckham Jr. made his allegiance to the city known with “NOLA BOY” custom cleats in Mardi Gras colors. These are pretty special.

10. week 9 vs. philadelphia eagles — “Salute to service”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats with a camouflage pattern while warming up before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 6, 2016, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day, Beckham Jr. honored the nation’s armed forces with camouflage cleats reminiscent of the Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape’s fresh camo print. These are pretty sweet.

9. Week 14 vs. dallas cowboys — 300

Division matchups in the NFL are always battles. And no one went to war like the Spartans, whose combat skills were epically portrayed in the 2006 film 300. So when the Giants went up against their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 14, OBJ imagined he was taking the battlefield for Leonidas I, unleashing these SUPER dope 300-inspired red, black and gold cleats.

8. wild-card playoff vs. green bay packers — “grab the cheese”

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In January, the Giants journeyed to the land of cheese for a wild-card matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Before the playoff game, Beckham Jr. countered Green Bay’s cheesehead fans with cheese feet. He donned a pair of yellow cleats that resembled blocks of cheese, with carefully drawn holes and images of Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Itchy the Mouse from The Simpsons. Like these two mice, OBJ was after the cheese. Too bad the Giants took that smooth L.

7. week 15 vs. detroit lions — craig sager tribute

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Craig Sager tribute cleats during the third quarter of the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions on Dec. 18, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beckham Jr. was fined only once last season for violating the NFL’s uniform and equipment policy with his flashy cleats. The penalty was issued following Week 15, when OBJ played against the Detroit Lions in a pair of multicolored, and multipatterned, cleats honoring longtime NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, who died at age 65 three days before the game. Known for his bright and brazen sideline outfits, Sager would’ve loved OBJ’s cleats, which he auctioned off following the game to benefit the Sager Strong Foundation for cancer research. Yet despite Beckham Jr.’s heartfelt gesture, the NFL still slapped him with an $18,000 fine, which didn’t sit too well with the superstar wide receiver.

Yet if you asked Beckham Jr., he’d probably tell you that, for Sager, the fine was worth every single penny.

6. WEEK 17 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — KANYE WEST “GRADUATION”

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Kanye West dropped out of college and became a 21-time Grammy Award-winning musician. Beckham Jr. never graduated from college, either, deciding to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the NFL, where he is now an All-Pro wide receiver. So the only commencement the two have in common is OBJ’s cleats he had designed after the cover of West’s 2007 album Graduation. On these kicks, the colors morph from an orangish-pink to a drank purple, and illustrations of Kanye’s signature bears are beautifully done. Hot take: Graduation is one of the best, if not the best album of West’s career. Obviously, it’s up there in the ranks for OBJ, too.

5. week 4 vs. Minnesota vikings — OVO

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s OVO custom-made cleats are seen on the field during the first half of a game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 3, 2016, in Minneapolis.

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

If you didn’t know that Beckham Jr. and Drake are BFFs, you must have been living under a rock like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants for the past year. Last NFL offseason, Beckham Jr. house-sat the hit-making musical artist’s Calabasas, California, mansion, known as the “YOLO (You Only Live Once) estate,” while he was on tour. Drake later shouted out his bro OBJ on his October 2016 track “Fake Love” with the seminal line, Just when s— look out of reach / I reach back like one, three / Like one, three, yeah — a reference to the most revered play of the NFL wide receiver’s young career, which also happens to be arguably the best catch in league history. And even this year, Drake stopped one of his shows to get Beckham Jr., who was in the audience, to sign a fan’s jersey. Yet, before all of these epic chapters of their friendship, OBJ paid tribute to his big homie during the 2016 NFL season with these simply gorgeous October’s Very Own (OVO)-themed cleats. The sky blue base of the shoes, with softly drawn white clouds, is a subtle nod to the cover of Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, and the perfect complement to the metallic gold illustrations of Drake’s trademark owl on the outer soles of each shoe. Man, these cleats are a truly a work of art.

4. 2017 Pro Bowl — Toy Story

OBJ definitely “gotta friend” in Troy Cole, because the artist appropriately known as Kickasso absolutely did his thing with these Toy Story-themed cleats that the wide receiver sported in January’s Pro Bowl. What a beautiful touch to dedicate one shoe solely to Sheriff Woody Pride, and the other to space ranger Buzz Lightyear. Beckham Jr. is surely ready for 2019’s Toy Story 4, and so are we.

3. WEEK 16 VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — GRINCH

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants warms up wearing Christmas cleats featuring the Grinch before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

There’s only one way to celebrate Christmas on your feet, and that’s with the Grinch. Basketball great Kobe Bryant did it with his signature Nikes in 2010, and Beckham Jr. continued the tradition in custom fashion last holiday season. The vibrant colors and details on these cleats are amazing. We wouldn’t be mad if Beckham Jr. rocked them all season long — they’re that nice to look at. Yo, OBJ, if you’re reading this, next Christmas you gotta go full Home Alone with your kicks. It’d be the perfect way to tell every D-back in the league, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal! … and a Happy New Year.”

2. WEEK 11 VS. CHICAGO BEARS — “BACK TO THE FUTURE”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike Cleats with “Mattel Hover Board” and “Back to the Future” on them before a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears on Nov. 20, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All three films of the Back to the Future trilogy were released before Beckham Jr. was born in 1992. But as we saw last season, OBJ is a young Marty McFly at heart. He and Kickasso put their creative minds together to give the people not one, but two pairs of Back to the Future-inspired cleats, incorporating multiple elements and moments from Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015. Beckham Jr. wore the first pair during warm-ups before a Week 11 matchup with the Chicago Bears, which included illustrations of the Mattel hoverboard, Marty’s metallic hat and the DeLorean time machine, all featured in the film. These cleats are glorious, but Kickasso saved his best work for what OBJ wore during the game. The wide receiver took the field in a pair of remarkable silver-and-electric blue creations, designed after the self-lacing Nike Mags that debuted in the 1989 film. Nike released the shoes for the first time nearly three decades later, and again in 2016, making OBJ’s Back to the Future cleat idea timely and relevant in the world of sneakers.

1. WEEK 3 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — THE Joker

OBJ has a unique obsession with The Joker, which we’ve seen translated through his on-field apparel in the past few seasons. The wide receiver first made his infatuation known during a December 2015 Monday Night Football game, when he wore cleats and gloves illustrating the comic book supervillain’s chilling face. Last season, however, he took the obsession a huge step further. Everyone knows OBJ and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman aren’t too fond of each other. And, coincidentally, Norman’s favorite superhero is Batman, The Joker’s archnemesis. So, in all his pettiness, Beckham Jr. had two more pairs of Joker cleats made for a 2016 Week 3 matchup with Norman and the Redskins. The pregame pair featured graphic details in bold colors, from The Joker’s eyes on the tongue of each shoe and his stained teeth on each toe, to his tattoos and catchphrases such as Why So Serious?, on the inner and outer soles. The pair he wore during the game were more subtle — mostly white with speckles of lime green around the laces, and red ink circling each shoe to represent The Joker’s blood-stained smile. With 11 catches for 121 yards against Norman and the Redskins, Beckham Jr. became the fastest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 200 career receptions and 3,000 receiving yards. So, now, his in-game Joker cleats are displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. You know what that means, right? OBJ has a Hall of Fame cleat game.

This success strategist offers lifelong advice for new graduates Carlota Zimmerman has a four-pronged strategy that will help grads make success the focal point

“Youth must be the worst time in anybody’s life. Everything’s happening for the first time, which means that sorrow, then, lasts forever. Later, you can see that there was something very beautiful in it. That’s because you ain’t got to go through it no more.” – James Baldwin

’Tis that time of year again: Across our fruited, Photoshopped plains, the young people are graduating. Clutching, in both hands, their diplomas and ravenous ambition, the next generation is ready to seize the day, because in these United States of America, the true measure of a person is their success … or lack thereof.

For the millions of young people trying to make sense of the whirlwind of emotions within them, not to mention their rapidly maturing debt load, ’tis the season when an avalanche of advice descends upon them.

We want to believe that success brings clarity to our world … or, at least, to the worlds within us. We want to believe that success is what rewrites the melodramatic scripts of our confusing psychodramas, giving us the standard happy ending of American exceptionalism. Success puts a strut in our step, clears the complexion, makes us popular, gets us laid. Success, baby — it’s the American way!

But read the biographies, blogs and Instagram feeds of famous men and women, and for all those moments in the sun, there are still plenty of dark days. There’s still a surfeit of day-to-day pain and regret, even as actions influence generations. There’s still reality. Our bruised, lonely world puts such a premium on success while refusing to admit that true success is knowing yourself, knowing what makes you happy and knowing your values so as to construct a life that makes sense to you.

Therefore, young people, as you march through your commencement ceremonies and people ask you what you’re going to do next and what you want to do with your life, realize that their questions are more redolent of their fears and concerns than anything to do with you.

I so clearly remember being 21, about to graduate from Wellesley College, with no plan whatsoever. I had been a child actor (#redundant) on Sesame Street, a produced playwright at age 18, and was graduating with academic honors. But how any of those “advantages” — as if spending your childhood chatting up Oscar the Grouch about favorite letters and numbers was technically an achievement, per se — added up to gainful employment …? I couldn’t quite figure out how any of my eclectic experience was supposed to come together and earn me a regular paycheck. And yes, I had internships. Yes, I worked on campus. As a child actor, I had been earning a paycheck since I was about 4, so I knew all about hard work. But wasn’t college supposed to explain everything in my so-called life?

Perhaps I was naive; I was, after all, majoring in history, with a concentration in Russian area studies. But I studied history because I loved history. (Still do.) Even at 21, when people “helpfully” suggested I make a living out of history, I thought that was hilarious. I studied history because I found it fascinating. What could my obsession with Russia’s experience in World War II have to do with paying rent, and making a career?

And yet, it was exactly my love of history — and the fact that I studied something I cared about, without expecting it to bring me any immediate financial gains — that allowed me, over time and effort, to build a successful life on my own terms. I attribute a large part of that attitude to being a voracious reader as well as child actor and learning, at a very young age, to not put much faith in the man behind the curtain. You’re 4 years old, and you see Snuffleupagus hanging from the ceiling — it’s all downhill from there, Sunshine. You gotta make your own way.

Is it the young people who need advice … or the rest of us? We who are watching the next generation graduate and hoping, worrying, that they’ll do all the things we weren’t able to do? Are we worried for them … or for ourselves? Do we want to give advice … or receive it? Are we perhaps hoping this time around we’ll know the secret: the secret to finding a job, to making a career, to successful networking, the secret to success? The secret to bouncy hair, to true friendship, to getting a boy to ask for a second date, to democracy, to parallel parking, to good pie crusts, to better credit scores. The secret to making our parents proud. The secret to life.

We older people know how good life is at devouring our joys and slurping, hungrily, at our courage, leaving us frightened and alone. We’re all wounded now. We know that the rules of life are, in large part, a formulaic construct meant to soothe the babies and cue the politicians as to when they should be shocked and outraged. We know that the majority of our lives seem to be shoddily constructed Potemkin villages: taxes, parking tickets, bad sex and worse wine. We love to mock millennials, but perhaps we should admit that we’re somewhat jealous. They are, after all, only on the cusp of this destructive knowledge. They still believe in their power, if not their responsibility, to have a meaningful impact upon life. They are very lucky.

And when the young people come to me seeking advice, of course, for many of them, their greatest fear is failure. Many of them, understandably, have no idea what it is they want to do … but they know they can’t afford to not be successful. Because success is the point … right?

In America, we use the talisman of constant, unrelenting success to wash ourselves clean of the confusing years of childhood, middle-school proms, our subconscious, dead pets, news you can use, eating disorders, failed friendships, divorced parents, loveless families, sexual abuse, weight gain, recorder lessons, touch football, date rape, the loneliness of life. All of that will be, must be solved by SUCCESS. SUCCESS must make us whole again.

Add to this toxic witches’ brew the real-time psychopathology that is social media, and think about what it is to graduate from college nowadays. Consider the impact of being constantly barraged by friends’ and enemies’ (#samedifference) Photoshopped amazing, unicorn-filtered lives. And now perhaps you may begin to grasp that our young people are under constant emotional attack. On the cusp of making their own lives — a journey that necessarily entails small successes and huge mistakes, taking risks, breaking your heart, challenging yourself — our young people are indoctrinated to the cult of success: i.e., the cult of fear, the cult of your permanent record.

When I graduated from Wellesley, I decided to return to Russia; I had spent my junior year of college there, and I was curious as to whether or not I could make a life. I told my parents and a few dear friends … and I hit the road. I had no audience watching, waiting, to see if I’d fail. I had no audience to make me feel that I owed them an entertaining journey, sprinkled with inspirational quotes. I had some savings, my boyfriend and a vague notion that somehow life would find me.

Life — as it is wont to do, as it’s been doing for millennia — did its thing. I was fired from my first job, got drunk, indulged in masturbatory self-pity and eventually found a much better job that launched me on a much more exciting career. Don’t worry, it wasn’t all days of wine and roses.

Here’s what I know:

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

The pressure on new graduates to achieve and be worthy of their debt load is suffocating. Take a deep breath and relax. You owe nothing to anyone but yourself. Be respectful to your elders … and then go ahead and do whatever makes sense to you. (It’s what the rest of us did.) Have empathy for yourself and resolve, here and now, to fight for your dreams. Fight for them … even as you’re still not 100 percent sure what they are. By “fight,” of course, I mean allow your dreams to happen.

I experienced so much success by simply going to Russia because I was interested in the experience. To this day, when things get difficult, I think, “Well, I survived Russia … I’m sure I’ll figure things out.”

If I hadn’t gone, I would have learned the lessons of fear and self-doubt, and those are very damaging lessons. Those are very potent lessons. They don’t just destroy your professional dreams, they attack all aspects of your life, from the love you want to the very life you allow yourself to lead. You have to believe in yourself, and your worth, to fight for what you want, and that’s very difficult to do if you keep letting fear be your guide. Fear has only one lesson to teach you: more fear. Fear is greedy. Fear wants everything you have. Fear is insatiable.

Fake it till you make it.

When I began this business in 2008, I was coaching myself as much as clients. Coaching myself that I still had something important to contribute. I had to talk big and present myself to outsiders as the success story that, trust me, I did not feel like inside. Inside I felt like a fraud, a hack, a disgusting failure. And yet, I still had to pay the rent, keep the lights on and feed the damn cats. I had to pick up my dry cleaning. I smiled for the world, cried in the shower and coached everyone, anyone I could. And s-l-o-w-l-y, things started turning around. Like the client who called me screaming to brag that she had been offered the job we had fought for, saying, “Carlota, I never doubted you!” Well, thank God, since I had doubted myself plenty.

I doubted myself, but I also knew that giving in to that doubt was a luxury that I simply couldn’t afford. I knew that doubt, if allowed to mature and fester, would lead to more doubt. In the midst of despair, I gave myself ruthless permission to hope. And I was ruthless: I surrounded myself with people who supported me and cut off friends who even implicitly encouraged me to give up. I was fighting for my life. So are you.

You can’t give up.

In the early years, people would say to me, seeing my poverty, exhaustion and other fun stuff, “When are you going to give up?” And I would glare at them. Give up? People say “give up” like it’s a one-size-fits-all remedy. Unhappy in life? Oh, hell, just give up! But giving up is a process: When you give up on one part of your life, you end up giving up on everything. And then what? You still have to live within the remains of whatever you’ve allowed yourself.

On the other hand, when you refuse to give up, you’ll have your own heartaches and regrets, lost loves, bad days and all the rest. I didn’t take a vacation for seven years. *shrugs* On the other hand, over those seven years I created a life that doesn’t require time off; I get to wake up in the morning and love what I do. (Do you believe that you deserve a job you love? You damn well better if you want any hope of creating that job.)

Be extremely wary of those people who encourage you to give up. Somewhere along the line, they gave up on their own dreams; therefore they absolutely hate to see other people doing what they didn’t have the strength to do themselves. Your dreams are as unique as you are, so don’t ask others for permission or approval! Do your dreams make you feel alive? Great. That sound you heard was you giving yourself permission to create a life you love. Ding!

Use what you have to create what you need.

How hungry are you? The men and women who shaped, for better or worse, our world, the people who inspire you … trust that they endured countless, brutal rejection. They lived and died alone. They affected humanity within the prison of their own suffocating loneliness. They created joy within a vale of private tears. But they had the courage, or desperation, to believe in something bigger than themselves. It’s hard, yes … but the alternative is far worse. The alternative is giving up on yourself. But spoiler alert: You still have to live with yourself.

Carlota Zimmerman

Do what you believe in.

Do what makes you feel alive.

Do what makes your heart beat faster.

Do you.

James Baldwin’s essential ‘The Fire Next Time’ gets an arty and brilliant makeover With over 100 photos of the early civil rights movement and an introduction from Congressman John Lewis, this book is a collectors’ item

Fifty-four years after James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time revolutionized the way we talk about race, it still feels eerily present. Taken out of historical context, Baldwin’s words read like they were written yesterday, not published in The New Yorker more than five decades ago. At the time, Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind was so impactful that after the essay was published, photojournalist Steve Schapiro, who often shot for Life magazine, persuaded his employer to run a full profile of Baldwin. The assignment led to Schapiro shooting some of the most iconic images of his long and legendary career, including one of a young, then relatively unknown Martin Luther King Jr. These images, many of them never before published, are featured alongside Baldwin’s words in a new limited edition letterpress edition of The Fire Next Time, released by art book publisher Taschen.

There are 1,963 first-edition volumes — a nod to the original publication year — and this rerelease of The Fire Next Time is the third in a literary letterpress series that combines iconic works of nonfiction with the work of acclaimed image-makers. Nina Wiener, Taschen managing editor and lead on the Baldwin project, noted that the series is ongoing.

“It features work of great nonfiction writers in the second half of the 20th century in English,” she said, “with a focus, at this point, on New Journalism.”

The two other books in the series reimagine Gay Talese’s 1966 Esquire story Frank Sinatra Has A Cold coupled with photographs by Phil Stern, and Tom Wolfe’s 1968 The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test alongside photo-essays by Lawrence Schiller (who conceived the idea to include Baldwin in this series) and Ted Streshinsky. The Baldwin volume is a silk screen hardcover with an embossed case and is letterpress printed on two different stocks of natural uncoated paper. It’s 272 pages and retails for $200.

The previous two books in the series, said Wiener, are “very large, very heavy and very expensive,” but Wiener’s team — composed of Lawrence Schiller, art director Josh Baker, designer Jessica Sappenfield and captioner Marcia Davis — decided to create The Fire Next Time on a more intimate scale. It’s smaller and designed in such a way to encourage the reader to actually, well, read.

“We thought it was extremely important,” said Wiener, “that we had the captions written by someone with a strong knowledge of the history of the civil rights movement — but who could also connect it to the events of today. Marcia Davis, a longtime editor with The Washington Post, worked with us on the captions. She’s the main reporter there who’s been covering Ferguson and had been covering social justice issues … for the last 20-plus years. She’s just fantastic … and she managed some pretty relevant stories in very short word count that the captions allowed for — an art unto itself. She was a critical part of making this book work.” This is not your average coffee-table book.

According to Wiener, Baldwin was Schapiro’s entrée into covering the civil rights movement. “It was through him that he met activist Jerome Smith, and one thing led to another. … He was meeting a lot of the Freedom Riders and SNCC members, and eventually [he] photographed Martin Luther King,” she said. “[In] the first picture that he took of King, Ralph Abernathy is in the foreground talking to a couple of children, and [King] was in the background, totally out of focus. Steve didn’t even know who King was at that time.”

Because of Schapiro’s desire to cover Baldwin in his element, he traveled to the South with him and ended up documenting, although Schapiro didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of it at the time, the beginnings of the civil rights movement. John Lewis, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the Freedom Riders and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, key players in the battle for civil rights, were captured in Schapiro’s resolute search for authenticity.

Besides Baldwin’s words and Schapiro’s photographs, this new edition features an introduction by activist U.S. Rep. John Lewis and a note from Baldwin’s sister (and executor of his estate) Gloria Karefa-Smart.

“We spent a lot of time working on how to organize the book,” said Wiener. “Initially we anticipated organizing pictures chronologically, but we felt that the visual story was not as interesting that way, and we ended up going with more of a thematic organization.”

Because of its intimacy, this is a book that we can open to learn from, and to find glimmers of hope in, for a long time to come.

Daily Dose: 4/14/17 James Baldwin’s papers find new home in Harlem

Quick announcement: On Saturday from noon-2 p.m. EDT, Aaron Dodson and I will be hosting an ESPN Radio special for the 70th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day. Should be a fun one, kiddos!

The United States dropped on a bomb on Afghanistan. It’s still not really clear why. According to officials, 36 ISIS fighters were killed, but judging from the size of the bomb, who knows how many other people died in the attack. The bomb has a nickname — “Mother of All Bombs” — which in itself is a bit scary as a concept, both the title and the shorthand for explosives. It’s the largest non-nuclear device of its kind used in combat. Here are the details on exactly how it was deployed.

How much of James Baldwin’s work are you familiar with? In the new movie I Am Not Your Negro, the legendary author’s last work is explored through the eyes of today’s news and societal progress in America. But that’s just one movie that reflects one unfinished book. He had plenty of other published works and private papers, which will soon be on display at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, thanks to his estate. In general, the concept of being important enough to have “private papers” is pretty dope.

If you’re into weed, Canada might be the place for you. Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made good on a campaign promise to legalize recreational marijuana use in the country with something called the Cannabis Act. It’ll be up to each province to figure out how it wants to regulate things, which will lead to some interesting political discussions across that country. But it’s not all bongs and vape clouds. The penalties for breaking the rules will be pretty stringent, considering that growing and smoking it will no longer be illegal.

It always interests me what non-playoff NBA teams do once the tournament starts. Plenty of teams miss a chance to get a title and the panic that ensues is intriguing. For example, the Orlando Magic fired its general manager. Granted, it hasn’t been to the postseason in five years. And the Los Angeles Lakers sort of screwed themselves by ending their season on a winning streak, but they say they have a plan in case they don’t get a top 3 pick. But come on, it’s the NBA. There’s no way they don’t find a way for Lonzo Ball to end up at the Staples Center.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The greatest American comedy of all time, for my money, is Coming to America. Now that a sequel is officially in development, some people are nervous about how it could affect the legacy of the previous film. Good news, though, the original writers are actually back on board.

Snack Time: You know your cable news network has a branding problem when a local station, in Boston no less, doesn’t even want your name in its broadcasts.

Dessert: The new trailer for the Dear White People Netflix show is incredible. Can’t wait for this show.

 

Dave Chappelle’s intimate new Netflix specials are brilliant The comedian goes in on O.J. Simpson, Bill Cosby, Key and Peele, police brutality, fatherhood and more

New York City. Rick Ross’ new Rather You Than Me helped me pass the time as I walked by Junior’s Cheesecake and Radio City Music Hall. Dave Chappelle was the only thing on my mind. He was my reason for making the trip from the nation’s capital. The second time in a month I was set to experience the genius in an intimate setting.

Chappelle is comedy’s own Jim Brown — or Barry Sanders. He walked away from the game at the peak of his powers. I was thinking about the premature deaths of Robin Harris, Patrice O’Neal and Chris Farley. Wondered what would happen if Katt Williams got out of his own way. I wondered: Does Dave still have it? Did Dave Chappelle even still care?

“I turned down $50 million and floundered for 10 years,” Chappelle said last month at his New Orleans Juke Joint party during NBA All-Star Weekend. “And I made $60 million last month.”

The “turned down” he was referring to is, of course, his abrupt 2006 departure from Comedy Central and his unparalleled sketch program, Chappelle’s Show (2003-06). Chappelle reportedly walked off the set months after signing the mammoth deal for the show’s third and fourth seasons, citing “manipulation by people around him.” To the public, back then, it seemed like Chappelle just disappeared. In the years since, urban legend had him showing up, impromptu, at Bay Area venues. These stories were repeated like tales of spotting B.B. King or Miles Davis in smoke-filled, dimly lit jazz joints. Or seeing James Baldwin in a Paris cafe, penning the stories of his life.

Dave Chappelle performs onstage at the Hollywood Palladium on March 25, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

Lester Cohen/Netflix

The “$60 million” was a not-so-subtle homage to the deal he inked with Netflix last November. The announcement followed Chris Rock’s $40 million deal (also with Netflix), and was on the heels of his record-breaking Saturday Night Live hosting debut (A Tribe Called Quest was the musical guest) just days after the election of Donald Trump as president (the monologue is here). Chappelle’s Netflix contract guarantees three comedy specials in 2017. Two — The Age of Spin, filmed at the Hollywood Palladium and Deep in the Heart of Texas, set at Austin City Limits — are set to arrive Tuesday.

I was on my way to an early look.


Let’s keep it a buck. Chappelle is still funny. These two new Netflix specials are Chappelle’s first formally filmed stand-up performances in over a decade, since 2004’s For What It’s Worth. And he doesn’t disappoint. Movies — 1993’s Robin Hood: Men In Tights, 1996’s The Nutty Professor and the 1998 stoner classic Half Baked — introduced us to Chappelle. The aforementioned Chappelle’s Show solidified his place in comedic history with names such as Pryor, Murphy, Carlin, Gregory, Williams, Foxx, Rock and, yes, Cosby.

But stand-up has and still showcases Chappelle at his most poetically unfiltered, beautifully artistic, and sociopolitically introspective. And those closest to him believe the evolution of Chappelle, The Man, has tremendously influenced Chappelle, The Comedian. “There was a time where I’m like Dave’s a great comic, but he was never my favorite. He was just a close friend who was a great comic,” said Joco, a project specialist in the creative department of the Golden State Warriors and a close friend of Chappelle’s for 20 years. The two met in 1997 when Joco was the booking manager at Sacramento, California’s, Punch Line comedy club. “He’s just turned into this … genius. He talks about society in a way no one does.”

Race is a constant in both The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas — the sun in Chappelle’s comedic solar system. For three decades now, the gravitational pull of his views on racism, sexism and bigotry have morphed crowds of fans into cult-like congregations, and comedic bits into mandatory gospels.

The Age of Spin is Chappelle’s interpretation of how the world processes information — or doesn’t. It’s Chappelle’s view of the world, how he fits in, and why he chooses to stand out. Deep in the Heart of Texas, conversely, is extremely intimate. It’s about Chappelle’s life on the road, and more hilariously, his life at home. Chappelle the comedian is hilarious. But Chappelle the husband, father and friend, is endearing. Pieces of ourselves radiate off the screen as the comedian revels in his own shortcomings.

In both specials, Chappelle’s comedic honesty is funny, even as he addresses topics such as police brutality, Ray Rice, his four separate encounters meeting O.J. Simpson, his relationship with his black fans, Flint, Michigan’s, water crisis, diarrhea, masturbation etiquette (by far one of the funniest moments in either film), the struggles various ethnic groups face compared with African-Americans and, perhaps most fascinating, LGBT rights. The latter is noteworthy because Chappelle is firmly for equal rights for all groups. He says as much. But even at north of 40 years old, Chappelle is attempting to understand and completely embrace the complexities of LGBT communities. Vulnerable moments like these shine bright.

Especially as Chappelle’s comedy moonlights as truth-telling in an era punch-drunk on division and racial strife. His ability to illuminate and interrogate agonizing and poignant topics hasn’t left him in the 11 years since he walked away from Chappelle’s Show. He’s a true descendent of Richard Pryor, willing and brilliantly able to explore “black” topics in mixed company.

You laugh even when you believe he crosses the line, especially when he crosses the line. In a world where alternative facts dictate America’s climate and blind accusations dominate news cycles, life needs Chappelle’s honesty. Comedy, much like music, is a survival tool in 2017.


The trek back to Penn Station seemed like the quickest two-mile walk of my life. I didn’t care about sheets of snow falling from New York City skyscrapers or that I basically sacrificed my LeBron 10s to street slush. I couldn’t stop laughing. Because Chappelle had done it again.

His shot at Key and Peele. Deciding the fate of four white kids who “assaulted” him with a snowball. His dissertation around the word “p—y.” Bruce and Caitlyn Jenner. Bill Cosby and the more than 50 allegations of sexual assault levied against him. His homage to Kevin Hart. Why the LGBT community should use the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education as its protest barometer.

Calling this Chappelle’s “comeback” is unfair. Technically, he never left. “He said in a GQ article,” Joco said, “if D’Angelo’s making hot songs, just because he doesn’t release [them], doesn’t mean he’s not D’Angelo.” Unlike the famed reclusive singer — who also took an extended break from his own craft — Chappelle’s not dubbing himself a “black messiah.” This is the guy who can’t stop eating his kids’ lunches after he gets high. This is Dave Chappelle with a mic in his hand. What could possibly go wrong? What more could you possibly want?

How whiteness distorts the power of romance and nostalgia in ‘La La Land’ The film is proof of Hollywood’s historical struggle with black intimacy on the big screen

Stormy Weather, the 1943 movie musical starring Lena Horne and Bill Robinson, is supposed to be a romance.

I say “supposed to” because no one would fault you if you watched Stormy Weather and came away a little confused about the fact that Selina Rogers (Horne) and Bill Williamson (Robinson) were mad about each other but tragically torn apart because they wanted different things out of life. Selina wanted to continue her career as a performer and Bill wanted to marry her and give her a house to fill with children.

Alas, Stormy Weather is so chaste, it’s not only short on sex — there is none to speak of — it’s short on pretty much any indication of epic romance whatsoever. In the limited time they share the screen together and they’re not preoccupied by singing, dancing, or both, Selina and Bill don’t share a kiss, or even a look that would suggest a sense of longing or intimacy.

Contrast that with Oscar favorite La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s primary-colored, sweetly escapist paean to idealism and dream-chasing that’s nominated for a record-tying 14 Academy Awards. Like Stormy Weather, it’s about two performing artists, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) madly in love with each other, who break up because they want different things.

Not only is La La Land a sweeping fantasy about two artists in love, it’s a modern-day tribute to the golden age of Hollywood, one that recalls all the wistfulness of Casablanca and the on-screen charm of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. In short, one of the chief factors that makes La La Land so appealing is also what makes it seductively dangerous when it comes to awards season.

There have been plenty of pieces detailing and celebrating Chazelle’s many cinematic references, and as the Oscars approach, it’s worth thinking about the factors that give La La Land its oomph — the things that help make it not just a noteworthy and well-executed piece of fantasy, but an awards juggernaut. La La Land is helped by the cocoon of nostalgia in which it wraps its viewers, and also by the fact that it’s a film that lovingly celebrates the very industry responsible for showering it with plaudits. That doesn’t mean it’s undeserving. It just means it’s worth examining the context in which it exists.

Even when black romance found its way to the silver screen, it was scandalous and steamy, but it wasn’t exactly romantic, per se.

In considering the ways La La Land calls back to the epic film romances of An Affair to Remember or the onscreen charm and chemistry of Rogers and Astaire, it’s worth remembering that such complexities, at the time, were limited to white actors, which is how we wound up with emotionally kneecapped films like Stormy Weather.

Even when black romance found its way to the silver screen, it was scandalous and steamy, but it wasn’t exactly romantic, per se. Yes, Dorothy Dandridge finally kissed Harry Belafonte in the 1954 release of Carmen Jones, the all-black adaptation of the Georges Bizet opera, and the performance netted Dandridge the first best actress nomination for a black actress in film history. But Carmen Jones, like its source material, is ultimately about a willful, independent woman being punished for doing with her body what she wishes, and with whom she wishes. It’s about punishing female sexual agency. After all, Belafonte’s character, overtaken by jealousy and a need to control the titular Carmen, murders her at the end of the film.

Even though you’d be hard-pressed to find two more explosively attractive black people in film in 1957, when Dandridge and Belafonte did another movie together, it was Island in the Sun, in which they’re both playing romantic interests to other white people.

How well Stone and Gosling nail the execution in La La Land is really beside the point. The point is that Fred and Ginger exist as icons. The point is that you can say their first names and most people will know exactly which Fred and Ginger to whom you are referring. A picture will spring up in their minds, or a quote about Ginger doing everything Fred did but backward and in high heels. There is a frame of reference. There is memory. And because it was considered important to understanding who we are, care was taken to preserve it.

Would that black art have enjoyed the same attentiveness when it came to preserving it. We were here too, dammit, distorted and disfigured and incomplete as our presence might have been rendered.

There is a rich history of black film to be mined for new stories, or there would be, if it wasn’t literally crumbling away. Made outside of the Hollywood system with its many dictates for how black people could show up onscreen, the “race films” of the early 20th century existed to counter the racist stereotypes and incomplete renderings of black people in film. These films were produced by black people and employed all-black casts, and they comprised an entire genre. They weren’t always great — the production values may have been lacking, and the acting could be laughably bad, but they played an important role in film history. Unfortunately, the vast majority of race films have been lost to history — the prints have been so degraded that they’re beyond restoration. In 2015, film distributor Kino Lober released a new collection of restored race films entitled Pioneers of African-American Cinema.

The genre of surviving black film that actually boasts a large enough repertoire to establish widely recognizable tropes to be referenced, remixed and satirized is blaxploitation, which Quentin Tarantino has not only employed to great effect, but used as the basis on which to build a highly successful career. Keenan Ivory Wayans and Robert Townsend both put their own spins on the genre, as well. To a lesser degree, gangster films like Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society helped establish a similar basis for Friday director F. Gary Gray and Dope’s Rick Famuyiwa.

However well-intentioned, La La Land hearkens back to a time when black humanity onscreen was deliberately hamstrung.

Whiteness doesn’t have a monopoly on nostalgia — hip-hop employs it, too, albeit in a slightly different way. Whereas whiteness affords the opportunity to deploy nostalgia for its own sake, art such as hip-hop looks backward in its references and its source material while remaining focused on the future. The emphasis remains centered squarely on newness, innovation and experimentation, whether it’s references to Cab Calloway in Idlewild or Kanye West’s decision to deploy Nina Simone in “Blood on the Leaves.”

When you’re drawing on historic black art, you’re almost always drawing on some form of black pain. The resulting projects are much more attuned to incorporating the past without overly romanticizing it, which is why modern revivals of shows such as Shuffle Along, Porgy and Bess and Cabin in the Sky inevitably require surgical excisions of their most egregious racial stereotypes and tropes. In the case of George C. Wolfe’s revival of Shuffle Along, that included adding a great deal of humanizing historical context. Horne’s Tony Award-winning 1981 Broadway revue Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, wasn’t just Horne presenting her greatest hits — it included interludes of the actress wryly recalling the absurdities of working in a racist film industry.

Perhaps, for black people, art that begins to evoke the romantic nostalgia of La La Land begins with the musical adaptation of the 1997 film Love Jones. It sounds insane until you realize just how much the modern era of filmmaking ushered in fully-formed depictions of black people that made romance explicit rather than merely a suggestion.


This year, in the Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro, director Raoul Peck set his sights on James Baldwin, and in the process redirected our attention to Baldwin’s ideas about the many ways the product of Hollywood is not only corrupted by white supremacy, but sells it to us. Reading his work, Samuel L. Jackson imbues Baldwin’s words with the bitterness the writer expressed in consuming and becoming enchanted by what he saw as the grotesque innocence of Doris Day, compared to the gritty candor of Ray Charles.

It’s debatable whether we’d even be discussing this were it not for the rise of Trumpism, in particular its distinguishing features of curdled self-referentialism and poison-tipped nostalgia that guarantees restoring a cultural hegemony centered around white supremacy. Trumpism has brought to the fore that which was always lurking, unleashed on a wave of populism that threatens to obscure its true mission to “Make America White Again.”

The fact that it’s so foregrounded forces you to rethink what your eyes are showing you a little bit. It sets you on edge. It makes it more difficult to just let something like La La Land just passively wash over you when, however well-intentioned, the film hearkens back to a time when black humanity onscreen was deliberately hamstrung. It forces us to remember that what you don’t see is just as important as what you do. The golden age of Hollywood has come and gone. A golden age of black film has yet to dawn.

More than anything, Trumpism has sapped us of whatever collective innocence we might have been clinging to. It’s like kudzu — it’s stretched its vines and wrapped itself around everything, including the culture war we’d deluded ourselves into thinking we’d won, or were at least on the way to winning.

When you’re drawing on historic black art, you’re almost always drawing on some form of black pain.

We’re already primed for the coming wave of forceful rhetorical rejections of our 45th president and all that he stands for in the form of Oscar acceptance speeches, and rightly so. All art is political on some level, and on the biggest annual broadcast celebrating artistic accomplishment in film, artists should be free to speak their minds.

But the next piece is more difficult, because self-examination always is. So is weighting impact more heavily than intent. The next piece requires interrogating how and where Trumpism lurks, even within one of the most self-identified liberal communities in the country, in a community that almost uniformly reviles the president, and then asking what can be done about it and how to eradicate it.

The mission is clear: identifying and stamping out white supremacy, even in its most innocent, most seductive forms, is everyone’s responsibility. How will Hollywood respond?

Raoul Peck is not here for your propaganda ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ serves as a braking mechanism for a Tilt-A-Whirl of self-delusion

Even before the rise of the mendacious authoritarian currently occupying the position of U.S. commander in chief, the American populace was susceptible to falling for propaganda.

For evidence, you needn’t look further than Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s latest documentary, the Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro, currently in theaters. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson — the words of James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House serve as the dress form for the film filled in with other speeches and addresses from the author. And the words married to Peck’s meticulously curated selection of images connecting the past with the present complete the film’s shape. Peck, of course, offers up the unflinching social critique that defines Baldwin, but along with it, adds a work of Baldwinesque film criticism. And that criticism is this: The film industry has long engaged in a propaganda campaign in service to white supremacy, beginning with D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which was screened at the White House at the invitation of President Woodrow Wilson.

“My first image education were Hollywood films,” said Peck. “The image of the world that I was getting there was a very particular world where I couldn’t see my face on the screen. It’s not something that you realize consciously, but it’s there. As soon as you start playing cowboys and Indians as a young kid, when you start, ‘Who’s the cowboy? Who’s the Indian?’ Everybody wants to be the cowboy.”

In the film, Baldwin shares his moment of realization that he was not cowboy Gary Cooper, but very much an Indian.

“That’s why I make this film. As a response to my own frustration.” — Raoul Peck

“It teaches you something,” Peck continued. “You’re already impregnated [with] this ideology, which is what it is. Seeing Tarzan, you know, those black savages in the forest. There’s no way I could identify with them. I identified with Tarzan, or even with Cheetah, the chimpanzee, who was much more human than those black guys you would see in the forest trying to kill Tarzan. Baldwin came later, but he put words in all those things that I was seeing. He taught me how to watch images. He taught me how to deconstruct images, stories, narrative. I don’t know if there are many people who could do that in such an elegant way, political way, poetic way, and also humanistic way.”

Peck is part of a history-making class of black filmmakers this year. He’s one of four nominated for an Academy Award in the feature documentary category, a first in Motion Picture Academy history. Three of the four films are explicitly about race in America: Peck’s film, Ava DuVernay’s 13th, and Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America. Roger Ross Williams, who already boasts an Oscar for best documentary short, tells the story of living with and overcoming disability in Life, Animated.

Taken together, the arguments in the three films from DuVernay, Edelman, and Peck form something of a bulwark against the White House’s attempt to besiege the country with an obvious form of psychosomatic rope-a-dope. “White people are astounded by Birmingham. Black people aren’t,” Jackson-as-Baldwin intones, referring to now-infamous images of civil rights protesters being attacked by vicious dogs, police wielding batons, and water cannons that made the nation’s nightly news. “White people are endlessly demanding to be reassured that Birmingham is really on Mars. They don’t want to believe, still. Less to act on the belief that what is happening in Birmingham is happening all over the country. They don’t want to realize that there is not one step morally or actually, between Birmingham and Los Angeles.”

He could just as easily be referring to the context of police violence that set off the Watts riots in Los Angeles, yes, but also decades of police violence that took place before that, which Edelman illustrates in OJ: Made in America. Or he could be referring to the horrors of mass incarceration that eventually led to Kalief Browder eventually taking his own life, as DuVernay presented in 13th.

Birmingham most certainly is not on Mars. It is everywhere, and it is right this moment, as evidenced by the recent treatment of visa and green card holders caught in the dragnet of President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

“Trump did not start with Trump,” Peck said. “Trump started with Reagan. The deregulation, the assault against institutions, unions. All this. The intimidation about political correctness. You know, you can’t say anything against the system. You have to be balanced. You have to be — this thing now on TV that you have to have so-called people from the left, or so-called people from the right, and at the end of the day you have nothing, because you can’t follow that discussion because it’s not a discussion, it’s a shooting match. This confusion is part of it. It’s part of this big cloud so that we don’t even know where we come from.”

For Peck, propaganda doesn’t just exist in the form of Hollywood films that offer a circus-mirror reflection of whiteness and white innocence, which he capitalizes on with a particularly cutting quote from Baldwin, who says, “These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. This means they have become moral monsters.”

Television shows such as MTV’s Cribs and Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta rankle the director, too. I press: Isn’t it possible to enjoy those things and still be aware of the broader context in which they exist? Do they have to be mutually exclusive, paying attention to what’s happening in the world around you and what it means and enjoying what is, admittedly, the television equivalent of a Costco bag of dyed, flavored, individually wrapped pieces of high fructose corn syrup?

“These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. This means they have become moral monsters.” — James Baldwin

“How do you do that?” Peck asked. “Explain to me. How do you do that? I understand what it’s doing. If you are totally imprisoned in your hard reality, a show like [Real Housewives], yes, allows you to evade, for a moment, but it doesn’t solve anything in your life. It just takes time, or uses the time for you to read a book, or have a good conversation with your wife, or your husband, or your children. That’s the time it takes. It makes you lazy, intellectually lazy, and it focuses you on money, wealth, comfort, success. A lot of values that are not values. They are just elements of that make-believe.”

If society is caught in a Tilt-A-Whirl of news bubbles, escapist entertainment, and self-reinforcing delusions, then Peck sees Baldwin, and by extension himself, as a vital braking mechanism, swooping in with sharp-eyed clarity.

“That’s why I made this film,” Peck said. “As a response to my own frustration. When I see the destruction of those last 30 years, and as an artist, as a filmmaker, yes, I need to give a response to that. I need to act on that, and the film, for me, does that too. It makes you … It confronts you to that reality, and asks of you, ‘Where do you stand on that? Where is your place? What is your role in that picture? Do you want to go on, and indulge in that, and be the puppet of this whole thing happening around you, or do you want to find your own way? Do you want to change that? Do you want to react to that?’

“Those are, for me, the fundamental questions. Everything else is not important.”