Daily Dose: 8/16/17 Another day, another statue downed

On The Dan Le Batard Show on Wednesday, we tried to have some fun after a very sobering day in America. Pablo Torre joined the show, and we talked about fried chicken, MLS and Filipino baseball players. Take a listen.

The United States is different today. There’s no way to describe the hardened disappointment that nearly everyone in the country feels after President Donald Trump took to a podium to defend neo-Nazis and white supremacists after a speech that was supposed to be about infrastructure. You don’t need to take a political side to be appalled by that. As a result, people all over the place are bailing out of various links to the administration. There are not two sides, unless you’re legitimately going to call yourself a Nazi sympathizer.

Speaking of presidents, Barack Obama remains as popular as ever. While all this other nonsense and violence overtakes parts of our nation, 44 tweeted a picture of him talking to babies in a window. For one, the photograph is adorable on every level. Secondly, the caption is even better. It’s currently got more than 1 million retweets and 3.5 million likes. You gotta know that this drives Trump crazy, even though he should probably be concerned with more important things. Behold the most famous tweet ever.

Baltimore is about that action. Instead of waiting for a situation like the one in Durham, North Carolina, in which protesters toppled a Confederate monument on their own, Baltimore handled it discreetly. Under the cloak of night, the city removed four more. Of course, people started in with jokes about how the situation mirrored that of the Baltimore Colts, famous for leaving town overnight in 1984. Those jokes aren’t funny. Statues that salute white supremacy and football teams ain’t even close to the same thing.

I don’t normally turn to the NFL for progressive thinking. But the way the league has handled the Ezekiel Elliott situation has been rather forward-thinking, if only because of the fact that the basic concept of believing women when it comes to accusations against athletes is not something we normally see. And now that the National Football League Players Association is appealing the Dallas Cowboys running back’s suspension, the league has responded rather forcefully, issuing a statement pointing out that victim-blaming and shaming is not the move, at all. Good for them. Here’s the rebuttal.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Kicks magazine is doing the Lord’s work. The publication about sneakers recently put out an edition featuring the Top 20 basketball shoes of all time, and I have no idea how they managed to whittle this thing down. But they’ve also got 20 different covers, which is tremendous.

Snack Time: You know what happens when you antagonize people at a rally inspired by hate groups? Well, people don’t like you, because that’s not OK. And that antagonism can come back to haunt you, big time.

Dessert: This is guaranteed to make your day.

‘Whose Streets?’ pushes back on what we think we know about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri New documentary is a potent combination of social and media criticism

Deep into Whose Streets?, the new documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, there’s footage of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, giving an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you,” Wilson tells him. At the screening I attended, there was an audible mix of gasps and laughter from the audience.

Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis spent much of the film’s run time up to that point establishing just how much racism lurked within the Ferguson Police Department and the city government. A 2015 report from the Justice Department established that Ferguson provided about as clear an illustration of institutionalized racism as could possibly exist: The city not only targeted black residents for tickets and arrests they couldn’t afford, it was also using the revenue from such stops to fund the nearly all-white police force. The court clerk, police captain and police sergeant were all implicated in sending and receiving racist emails, including one that compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.

Protester Brittany Ferrell hoists a bullhorn as her daughter hugs her in a scene from ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

And yet here was Wilson telling a national television audience that racism was anathema to policing.

Whose Streets? arrives in theaters Aug. 11, marking the third anniversary of Brown’s death (Aug. 9, 2014) and the uprisings that followed it. It’s a deeply moving work, and the passion of both the filmmakers and their subjects is palpable. “FYI I was literally homeless throughout the first year of production. Worked as a canvasser and put money back into the film,” Folayan, an activist, theater geek and former advocate for prisoners at Rikers Island, tweeted recently. Davis is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is currently featured in the permanent collection at the Blacksonian (aka, the National Museum of African American History and Culture).

The focus of Whose Streets? is the residents of Ferguson and St. Louis who keep marching and screaming for justice till they’re hoarse, who keep agitating long after the national media has turned its attention elsewhere. It establishes the movement for black lives in Ferguson as one driven by young people such as rapper Tef Poe, who are fed up with being targeted by police, and others like organizer Brittany Ferrell and her partner, Alexis Templeton, as well as Copwatch recruiter David Whitt, who want better for their children.

Whose Streets? is likely to serve as a counterweight to Detroit, the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the 1967 Detroit riots and the police murder of three unarmed black people at the Algiers Hotel. It’s not necessarily fair to compare narrative films like Detroit to documentaries, but there’s a similarity in the dynamic between the two that existed with Nina and What Happened, Miss Simone? Both Whose Streets? and What Happened, Miss Simone? end up correcting, or at least augmenting, the record of ahistorical narrative films that struggle with details in which race is central.

Nina made the mistake of casting Zoe Saldana as Simone, then putting her in makeup to darken her skin and prosthetics to make her facial features more closely resemble Simone’s. Detroit fails to imbue its characters with any depth or humanity and devolves into a slog of racist white police officers terrorizing a group of people in the Algiers.

Bigelow’s herky-jerky camerawork and editing in Detroit deliberately create a sense of chaos. Whose Streets?, by contrast, presents real footage of Ferguson buildings in flames after Brown’s death, but the overall effect is far more nuanced. It’s much easier to get a sense of what happened in Ferguson as pockets of violence and property damage pockmarked peaceful, if emotional, protests. Whose Streets? refuses to equate property damage with the loss of human life.

Folayan and Davis offer a potent work of media criticism too. Folayan and Davis communicate just how much cable news, by repeatedly and selectively broadcasting the most violent, hectic footage, was responsible for making Ferguson seem like a war zone whose residents were animalistic and out of control. That narrative was furthered by a distant, largely white media corps accepting police reports as gospel. Whose Streets? challenges that by juxtaposing footage of Ferrell and her cohorts protesting to shut down a highway in Missouri with the official police account of what happened, in which the arresting officer accused Ferrell of yelling out “tribal chants.”

For a moment, we also see what it means to send black journalists into a situation like Ferguson, where police in tanks and armored vehicles are shooting rubber bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas (a chemical agent that the Geneva Convention prohibits in warfare) at the city’s black residents. There’s a clip of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs walking through Ferguson at night with his hands above his head as police bark orders at black protesters. The police draw no distinction. He’s black, so he might as well be one of them.

Brittany Ferrell leads a line of protesters as they face off with police in ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film gives voice to a community that’s reeling, mournful and frustrated. It has little faith in a government that’s failed it repeatedly. Spliced with footage of white public officials delivering statements that are often canned and worded to avoid legal liability, Whose Streets? brings the idea of two Americas, and two wholly different realities, to life. “Question normal,” it demands of its audience.

Despite the gravity of its subject matter, Whose Streets? has moments of dark levity. One interview follows a clip of President Obama giving a statement about Brown in his trademark style of measured reason.

“I’m waiting on me to have a black president. I still ain’t had me one,” a Ferguson resident named Tory says. “Wasn’t he a constitutional professor? Ain’t no constitution in Ferguson. Tell that n—- he need to teach a new class or bring his a– to Ferguson … and figure out why we ain’t got no constitution.”

Whose Streets? is understandably close in spirit to The Hate U Give, the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas published earlier this year. The Hate U Give is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who is the sole witness as her unarmed best friend is shot and killed by a white police officer. The book, which is heavily influenced by Ferguson, is slated for a film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby and Lamar Johnson. It’s early days yet, but I suspect that the film version of The Hate U Give and Whose Streets? will serve as cinematic bookends to understanding what black people went through in Ferguson before and after Brown’s death.

The documentary ends on a hopeful note, but no one in Whose Streets? is a Pollyanna, least of all Ferrell. She’s open about the fact that she’s taking prescription medication to treat anxiety and says she’s not sure the justice she and her partner are seeking will come in their lifetimes. They’re counting on another generation of troublemakers and revolutionaries to carry on. They’re raising one in their elementary-school-aged daughter McKenzie, seen in the film with her mothers leading a crowd and screaming as loud as she can, “WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!”

Allen Iverson suspended one game for missing a game and other news of the week The Week That Was July 31-Aug. 4

Monday 07.31.17

New York Jets safety Jamal Adams, drafted to a team that went 5-11 last season, told an audience “if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field.” Teammate Morris Claiborne, not to be outdone, said he too would “die out there on that football field.” Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, on the other hand, “ain’t dying for this s—.” The Baltimore Ravens signed another quarterback who is not Colin Kaepernick. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, trying so hard to encourage star forward LeBron James stay with the team, was approved to build a jail complex in Detroit. President Donald Trump tweeted “No WH chaos.” Six hours later, recently hired White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who is not dead, lost his job. Multiple White House officials, or “the best people,” were tricked into responding to emails from a British prankster. Twelve inmates broke out of an Alabama prison using peanut butter. University of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for making YouTube videos.

Tuesday 08.01.17

Guests at a New York City hotel won’t stop having sex up against their room windows; “Guys are together, girls and girls are together. They don’t even pull the shades down,” one resident said. A congressional staffer instructed a group of interns to not leak a meeting with White House adviser Jared Kushner; it was immediately leaked. Hall of Fame basketball player Michael Jordan said eccentric helicopter dad LaVar Ball couldn’t “beat me if I was one-legged.” Ball, keeping his name in the news, said Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski “can’t hang with me back in my heyday.” “Marijuana moms” is a cute new name for mothers who like to smoke weed; meanwhile, the government still wants to arrest certain people for marijuana use. NASA is hiring a person to protect Earth from aliens. Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said Kaepernick, who hasn’t publicly spoken in months, should not talk openly about his social activism if he wants another job. Recently retired NBA player Kobe Bryant is getting thick. Two planes designated to be the new Air Force 1 were originally scheduled to be sold to a Russian airline. Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, known for hits like “I want to f—ing kill all the leakers,” invested almost half a million into an anti-bullying musical. Trump called the White House “a real dump.”

Wednesday 08.02.17

NBA Hall of Famer and BIG3 player-coach Allen Iverson, who has played in just half of his team’s games, averaging 9.1 minutes and two points per game, has been suspended one game by the league for missing a recent game. The Ravens are interested in another quarterback not named Kaepernick. Former second overall NBA draft pick Darko Milicic punched a horse in the face. The NFL released a video defining acceptable (simulating sleep) and unacceptable (twerking, pelvic thrusts) celebrations for the upcoming season. California Highway Patrol officers responded to reports of a kangaroo on an interstate highway; it was a raccoon. A 10-year-old boy named Frank, who admires Trump’s “business background,” offered to mow the lawn of the White House … for free.

Thursday 08.03.17

Trump told Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den”; Trump lost New Hampshire. Dukes of Hazzard actor Tom Wopat was arrested for allegedly peeling the sunburned skin off the arm of a woman and putting his finger between the butt cheeks of another woman; in response to the allegations, Wopat responded “F— them all.” A third person was arrested in Kentucky for allegedly digging up the grave of one of the suspect’s grandmother in search of valuables; “He should have known better because he was there in the funeral and he knew she didn’t have much to start with,” a relative said.

In “boy, he about to do it” news, special counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury for his investigation into Russian interference in the last year’s presidential election. A New Jersey man, possibly an eggplant emoji kind of guy, was kicked out of a showing of The Emoji Movie for pleasuring himself in the back row of the theater. A London pub, aptly named the Cock Tavern, banned the use of profanity; a patron responded to the restriction: “That’s bulls—.” The Secret Service, charged with protecting Trump and his family, was evicted from Trump Tower in Manhattan. Gov. Jim Justice (D-West Virginia) will switch to the Republican Party; the state party’s Twitter account said Justice “would be the worst thing to happen to WV” before last year’s election and called him “low-energy” and “Sad!” an hour before news broke of the party change.

Friday 08.04.17

Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who unearthed the Monica Lewinsky affair while investigating former President Bill Clinton for something else, in response to the Russia investigation, said, “we don’t want investigators or prosecutors to go on a fishing expedition.” Former President Barack Obama was blamed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the “culture of leaking” currently ravaging the Trump administration. Los Angeles Clippers coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers, the architect of the Austin Rivers trade, was fired from and kept his job at the same time. Former welterweight champion Amir Khan, playing himself, accused his wife in a series of early morning tweets of cheating on him with heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua; Khan’s wife, Faryal Makhdoom Khan, responded by calling her husband a cheater, a 30-year-old baby, and accused him of sleeping with a prostitute in Dubai. Joshua responded to both set of tweets with a video snippet of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” music video and a message that “I like my women BBW [Big Beautiful Women].”

Daily Dose: 8/4/17 Barack Obama celebrates his 56th birthday

What up, gang? I’m in Los Angeles right now, and Thursday night I went to see the premiere of a show called Comrade Detective from Channing Tatum and it’s funny. Anyway, I’ll be on SportsNation Friday. Tune in, kiddos.

Friday is Barack Obama’s birthday. He’s moving closer to 60, and he’s living his best life. I wonder what he does on his born day. Can you imagine what his notifications and texts are like? You were America’s favorite and one of the most hated president for eight years, now you’re out of office AND you have a summer birthday? His phone is going to be buzzing heavy for a legit 24 hours. It’s also his first birthday since he left the White House, so you KNOW it’s gonna be lit. And because she’s the absolute best, Michelle shared a throwback picture for the ages. I love this family.

One of the difficult things about police work is consequences. Our judicial system is not set up to punish people in positions of authority unless it is a widespread, consistent and documented abuse of power. And even then, it’s not easy. It’s legitimately hard, due to the way things are structured, to fire an officer and keep him out of law enforcement going forward. In fact, after termination, quite a few appeal their cases and make their way back onto the force. Check out this investigation into the numbers and reasons as to why that occurs.

I love Aziz Ansari. There’s just no other way to put it. Between his TV work, his comedy, his book and basically everything else, my man is just dope. Remember when he showed up in the Otis video and people freaked all the way out? That was just another Tuesday for your boy. And this latest interview he did with GQ reveals that he owns a rare painted portrait of Soulja Boy, which is basically the most amazing thing of all time. I love the fact that it’s all really come together for him.

The long fight between Charles Oakley and the New York Knicks is over. A while back, the franchise legend decided he wanted to put hands on the team’s owner, or at least try to, and he ended up getting thrown out of Madison Square Garden by six dudes. Then, owner James Dolan banned him from the arena. So, they ended up in court. Now, Oakley has accepted a deal to not go to the facility for a year, but left open the possibility of civil charges. Fighting a retired man with nothing to lose in court for his dignity is not a winning battle, but good luck, Dolan.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I just want to give a shout-out to my man Joel Anderson, who joins us at ESPN to cover college football and basketball. Joel is a personal friend and a great dude. He also played football at Texas Christian University and is a great Twitter follower. I’m so happy he’s part of the team and I say that with no shame whatsoever.

Snack Time: Nardwuar and D.R.A.M. seem like those two dudes who ended up getting stuck with each other as college roommates and it ended in a beautiful relationship that no one expected. This interview is total gold.

Dessert: Only musicians can make amusement parks seem this fun. Lil Yachty is having a great summer.

 

Esperanza Spalding heads to Harvard a professor and drops new project, ‘Exposure’ The singer will livestream from the studio beginning Sept. 12

The simple words “award-winning” in front of her name don’t do Esperanza Spalding enough justice. The singer, songwriter and bassist is a four-time Grammy Award winner, and she just may be having the coolest, most undefeated week in the world of announcements.

On Monday, Harvard University announced that Spalding joined the faculty of the Department of Music as professor of the practice. According to the press release from Harvard, in her new role she will teach a range of courses in songwriting, arranging, improvisation and performance, bringing her commitment to music and as a voice for social justice. The university defines professors of the practice as individuals “who have a national or international reputation as leaders” and who are “the best in the field.”

The Portland, Oregon, native took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce her new project. For her next album, Exposure, she will spend 77 hours in the studio, beginning on Sept. 12, and will stream the experience live. During the three days, Spalding and her team will fully produce the album in front of web viewers everywhere. None of the songs will be prewritten, and, according to The New York Times, her goal is to finish 10 songs.

Spalding, 32, has five solo albums. She is recognized internationally for her musicality, dazzling live performances and range as a singer and composer. The artist blends jazz, fusion, rock, funk, soul, rhythm and blues, and Brazilian musical traditions and she incorporates her style into theatrical lyrical storytelling.

Spalding gained attention in 2011 when she won Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards. She was the first jazz artist to win the title in the show’s history. But many became familiar with the 2008 Berklee College of Music alumna when she was the laureate-invited singer and bassist at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2009 when President Barack Obama was a recipient.

Her awards include the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist, Boston Music Award for Jazz Artist of the Year, Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts, Soul Train Music Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Artist/Group, Frida Kahlo Award for Innovative Creativity, and ASCAP Foundation Jazz Vanguard Award.

Twitter reacts to O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing His released was expected, but many were still surprised

When it comes to long prison stints, the passage of time and thus acceleration of technology are a fascinating way to measure just how isolating incarceration can be. Now that O.J. Simpson will be freed later this year after he was granted parole by the Nevada Board of Parole, I wonder if he even will understand what Twitter is.

Because between his attitude in court, the jovial tone with which he took the proceedings and insistence that he’s still done nothing wrong, he’s clearly still living in a world that revolves around O.J. Nonetheless, the Twitterbox had these jokes.

Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” is arguably the most impactful song, with certainly the most poignant video we’ve seen in a while. But the opening line — “I’m not black, I’m O.J. … OK?” — was probably not something that Shawn Carter thought he might end up explaining to the man himself someday.

Shudder.

Seriously, this was really bizarre. If I’m O.J., I know this guy is voting for me to be free. Why would you be wearing a Chiefs tie, when you live in Nevada, in July, if you weren’t trying to show some solidarity through football?

To be fair, these were very cool trucks that got ruined by the most famous police pursuit in American history. I’d drive one, no doubt about it.

The thing is, a lot of people like O.J. He was good on TV and judging from what we tuned into Thursday, he still is. And in today’s media market, someone’s going to pay him big money just to see what his life is like on a day-to-day basis. There’s really no reason besides decent taste to believe that he won’t be on television again soon. He’s got to make money somehow, he owes people for his role in the double-murder.

Golf clap.

Quite a few people touched on this joke, but LaVar Ball can’t be that stupid. Say what you want about his attitude and strategy, dude is still from Los Angeles and knows that his life’s work will go up in smoke if he gets affiliated with Simpson.

Don’t even get me started on that guy. He was all over the place, didn’t seem to have any solid preparation or plan, but somehow it worked.

And this is ultimately the main point: He is still a draw, even if it’s for macabre reasons. It’ll be fascinating to see where the third chapter of his life takes him. This is the monster his first trial created. Now we apparently have to let it roam the hillside, also known as Florida.

The show, the after-party, the hotel — live from The 2017 ESPYS Peyton Manning, LL Cool J, Ice Cube made all the memories

It’s one thing to watch an awards show on TV. It’s different to be there in person. And it’s totally different to actually have to work it. You see everything. You hear everything. And, most importantly, you feel everything. For example, it was impossible not to shed tears when Jarrius Robertson was handed the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. Goose bumps arrived when former first lady Michelle Obama graced the stage to honor Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. But for those who require a more intimate view of what The ESPYS were like, I’m glad you’re here. Follow along.

The Red Carpet Hustle

This was my first red carpet experience. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but as the great songwriting philosopher Jay-Z once said, Fresh out the frying pan/ Into the fryer. Once it’s on, it’s on. Publicists coming up to you asking if you want to speak to their clients. Jumping on the carpet and chasing people down to speak to them. It looks glamorous on TV, but it’s a haze in real life. From Malcolm Jenkins, Draya Michele, Josh Norman, Dak Prescott, Derrick Johnson and more. Sweating in a suit and standing for three hours isn’t glamorous. But if you get a chance to do it, I recommend it.

Peyton Manning’s opening monologue

Manning didn’t say, “Omaha!” which remains a severe disappointment, but his opening monologue? Yeah, he did that. There wasn’t much doubt as to whether the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller would do well at hosting. He’s one of the more personable athletes in sports, with a list of comedic moments to his name already — his Saturday Night Live appearances are some of the funniest spots in the show’s history. But believe me when I tell you this: His Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook joke had everyone in the building laughing while also saying, “Yikes.” K.D.’s and Westbrook’s reaction was all that needed to be said. Then he followed it up with a quip about the Atlanta Falcons blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. For what it’s worth, Jamie Foxx is still the greatest of all time ESPYS host. Justin Timberlake and Drake were pretty good as well. But The Sheriff was on one last night.

LL Cool J’s catalog is certified

I’ll be the first to admit I was hesitant about attending a party that featured LL Cool J as headliner. He’s a hip-hop icon and should be the next rapper inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But it’s 2017, LL’s a TV star, and music doesn’t necessarily feel like his main objective anymore (which is totally understandable), combined with the fact that Naughty By Nature had performed at ESPN The Magazine’s Body Party the night before with extremely limited success (for the record, Naughty was cool, but the trio really only has a handful of songs that cross over).

Needless to say, any concerns I had about LL walking into the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles were quickly alleviated. His catalog is deep. He came out to “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Then there was “I’m Bad.” “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” too. By far, though, the highlight of LL’s set was the Total-assisted “Who Do You Love.” The entire venue instantly went back to 1996. Everyone danced with each other and sang the hook in unison, Who do you love?/ Are you for sure?

The ESPYS Post Party Presented by Coors Light.

Kohjiro Kinno / ESPN Images

The energy kicked up when LL brought out Ice Cube and WC to perform “Bow Down” and “Gangsta Nation.” Also, if you ever needed proof that Cube is a living legend, check and see how a room full of people react to his (and N.W.A.’s) “Straight Outta Compton.” There’s something about yelling, Straight Outta Compton, crazy m—-f—– named Ice Cube/ From a gang called N—-s With Attitude. All in all, LL won last night. The only complaint I had was he didn’t do “Paradise” with Amerie. Or “I Need Love.”

There’s always an after-party to the after-party

About 2 1/2 hours into the official after-party is when people begin planning their next move. It’s Los Angeles. There’s always another move. There was a Vanity Fair move. And an Uninterrupted one that was apparently full before it even began because everyone was texting everyone else to see who they knew who could get them in. The trick is, if you’re going out, you can’t overdo it at the open bar. Which, let me be perfectly clear, is much easier said than done. You’re always convincing yourself one more drink can’t hurt when it doesn’t hurt your bank account. And nights like that normally end with 3:30 a.m. trips to Subway. I should know.

The hotel

Just don’t be that guy, slightly inebriated at near 4 in the morning, standing on the elevator wondering why the JW Marriott has a dysfunctional elevator because it won’t take you to your floor. You’re pressing “7” to take you to your floor, but it’s not going anywhere. You’re standing with a delicious Subway sandwich in your hand, and all you want to do is eat and fall asleep, but you can’t because the elevator is broken. You seriously waste a good five minutes mad because the establishment won’t let you be great — or maybe it was doing you a favor, because did you really need Subway at near 4 in the morning? Of course you didn’t, you savage. Then you realize you have to scan your card, and you feel like an idiot. I should know.

‘True Blood’s’ Nelsan Ellis, dead at 39, was a unique and undeniable talent He made Lafayette Reynolds an important character rarely seen on screen

Hooker, you left way too soon.

I imagine that’s what True Blood’s Lafayette Reynolds would say about the untimely death of Nelsan Ellis, the actor who created him. Ellis, a 2004 Juilliard graduate, died of heart failure at age 39, his manager said Saturday.

On True Blood, which aired on HBO from 2008 to 2014, Ellis brought to life one of the most important depictions of queerness on television, in a series that bubbled with crazy camp improbabilities. His short-order cook who moonlighted as a drug and vampire blood dealer was enticing and bawdy, femme and butch, learned and country AF. He was open and unapologetic about his love of sex and the male form while living in the tiny fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana — the type of place where it’s not necessarily safe to be gay, or black, and certainly not both at the same time.

Nelsan Ellis portraying character, Lafayette Reynolds in the show HBO show “True Blood.”

HBO

As Lafayette, Ellis expanded the country’s collective imagination of what a queer black man could look, sound and act like, starting just months before California passed Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, and years before President Barack Obama announced an “evolution” in his thinking about gay rights. And for queer black people, he was a reflection of a truth rarely seen on screens big or small, especially after the Logo series Noah’s Arc went off the air in 2006.

“Important” often implies that something is the cultural equivalent of kale: fiber-packed, nutritious, but not exactly fun. For example, Red Tails is arguably an “important” film because it’s about the Tuskegee Airmen. It’s also … not very good.

But in Ellis’ hands, Lafayette would deliver acerbic quips with the expert raise of an eyebrow, succinctly summarizing the pitfalls of patriarchy without making your eyes glaze over. He could just as easily spread his glossed lips into a smile and flutter his fake eyelashes as he could hem up a delinquent customer in a full nelson, a quality that made him eminently GIF-able.

Lafayette existed before Dan Savage launched his It Gets Better project in 2010, a nonprofit aimed at stopping queer kids from committing suicide when their adolescent years seem interminably, hopelessly miserable. And that’s significant. Certainly, it’s important for a suicidal teen to know that life improves as you get older and get away from people and attitudes that fill your life with hate. But Lafayette provided a different, necessary sort of queer hero, shaped in part by the gender-bending provocations of New Orleans sissy bounce queens Big Freedia and Katey Red, a boi that you couldn’t just push around.

My favorite scene of Ellis’ is also one of his most famous. It’s from episode five of the first season of True Blood, when a customer at Merlotte’s, the restaurant where Lafayette works, sends his burger back to the kitchen because, he tells his waitress, he doesn’t want a burger with “AIDS.”

Lafayette, fully and perfectly made up despite sweating over a hot stove, pulls his earrings off and comes swaggering out of the kitchen, head wrapped in his glittery take on Louisiana’s famous tignons. His body is a mass of gender-nonconforming contradictions: From the neck up, he’s practically coquettish, but he’s wearing a tank top that shows off his toned biceps, black Timbs and camo shorts that hang off his butt, held just so by a belt perhaps best described as ghetto fabulous.

Lafayette delivers a read in his signature Louisiana drawl, informed by Ellis’ childhood spent growing up in Bessemer, Alabama: “’Scuse me,” he says. “Who ordered the hamburger wit’ AIDS?”

“I ordered a hamburger deluxe,” the customer responds.

“In this restaurant, a hamburger deluxe come wit’ french fries, lettuce, tomato, mayo — AND AIDS,” Lafayette says, raising his voice. “DO ANYBODY GOT A PROBLEM WIT’ DAT?”

“Yeah,” says the customer. “I’m an American. I got a say in who makes my food.”

“Well, baby, it’s too late for that,” Lafayette retorts. “F—-ts been breeding your cows, raising your chickens, even brewing your beer long before I walked my sexy a– up in this m—–f—–. Everything on yo’ gotdamn table got AIDS.”

Lafayette’s altercation with the customer gets physical. “B—-, you come in my house, YOU GON’ EAT MY FOOD THE WAY I F—ING MAKE IT!” he bellows. “DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”

And just as swiftly, his temper recedes. “Tip your waitress,” he says before sauntering back to the kitchen, every set of eyes in the restaurant on him.

It wasn’t just that Lafayette was a self-affirming queen who didn’t take no mess. He was country and proud of it, providing the sort of regional stamp on queerness that would later set Moonlight apart because it was so steeped in the specifics of Miami and, furthermore, the Pork and Beans of the Liberty Square housing projects. It’s part of what makes Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) such a memorable part of The Wire — his gayness isn’t the defining feature of his character. He’s gay in a way that feels unique to the projects of Baltimore. Similarly, Williams added a regional flair to his depiction of Leonard Pine, one half of the Texas duo Hap and Leonard. Those characters — Moonlight’s Black, Lafayette, Omar and Leonard — offer a counterweight to prevailing tropes of queerness that’s white, polite, well-off, neatly domesticated, sexless and almost always cosmopolitan. When it first aired in 2005, Noah’s Arc in many ways felt like a black response to the overwhelming whiteness of Showtime’s American adaptation of Queer as Folk, another landmark show that challenged what it meant to see gay men on television. Noah’s Arc centered on a group of middle-class gay black men living in Los Angeles. It was a way to say, “Hey, black people live in gentrified gayborhoods and drink cosmopolitans and battle HIV stigma too.”

But characters like Leonard and Lafayette offer depictions of men who are able to make space for themselves in the places they call home, without having to move out of one’s oppressively small hometown.

Nelsan Ellis portraying character, Lafayette Reynolds in the show HBO show “True Blood.”

HBO

And although he’ll long be remembered for Lafayette, Ellis was more than just one character. In his too-brief career, Ellis exhibited a rare elasticity and was famously circumspect about his sexuality. Ellis’ interpretation of Lafayette was so memorable that of course he’d seem right at home as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he was. Still, Ellis managed to erase all traces of his breakout character in Get On Up, in which he played singer-songwriter and James Brown collaborator Bobby Byrd, and in The Butler, where he played Martin Luther King Jr. By the time he inhabited Mack Burns, a writer obsessed with free jazz in a straight interracial relationship in the 2017 film Little Boxes, Lafayette was nowhere to be found.

Indeed, Ellis found it insulting when entertainment professionals seemed to overlook his Juilliard bona fides by assuming that he wasn’t a character actor.

“I can’t just get upset with regular folk because all they see is the character. But when the industry can’t tell the difference, I’m like, ‘Damn, that’s a little closed-minded,’ ” Ellis told Vibe in a 2010 interview. “… When white people play a character, people expect it to be a character. But black people — we can’t just be character actors, we have to [really] be the things we’re hired for, which is what offends me. I don’t answer that question — ‘Are you gay or not?’ — when it comes down to industry people. But if it’s a regular person asking me, that just says that maybe I’m doing a good job. But when a casting director or an agent asks me that question, it takes on a deeper thing that says, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this unless you are that.’ ”

Ellis wasn’t alone in that regard. Nine years after the last episode of The Wire aired, Williams is still insisting in interviews that he’s more than just Omar Little, despite a litany of roles, gay and straight, since Omar debuted.

During his short life and career, Ellis opened our eyes to new possibilities: You can be queer and country and happy. You can be black and a character actor. You can, in short, contain multitudes. What a shame that Ellis won’t be around to show us more.

Wale officiates a WWE rap battle and other news of the week The Week That Was July 3-7

Monday 07.3.17

President Donald Trump tweeted: “At some point the Fake News will be forced to discuss our great jobs numbers, strong economy, success with ISIS, the border & so much else!” An hour later, CNBC posted that General Motors’ June U.S. sales were “down 4.7% vs. estimate 1.8% decline.” Not even a person with zero front office experience wanted to work for Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. NBC News referred to Sally Hemings, President Thomas Jefferson’s slave and victim, as the former president’s “mistress.” A family carrying $93,000 in undeclared cash on their person through the Philadelphia International Airport were returned just $3,000 of the cash after being stopped by federal agents. The city of St. Louis has decided to push its minimum wage back from $10 per hour to $7.70; Gov. Eric Greitens (R-Missouri) said the previous wage, a 23 percent difference, would “take money out of people’s pockets.” Five alcohol companies have pledged over $67 million to study whether or not there are any scientific benefits to having a glass of alcohol a day. Oregon police killed an armed man trying to steal a helicopter from a local airport. Golden State Warriors forward and NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant took about $9 million less in salary for some reason. Hip-hop artist Azealia Banks, who once called fellow rapper Iggy Azalea “Igloo Australia” and threatened to “throw a jar of my piss at her,” will join Azalea on a future song. A spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine) called assertions of the governor leaving the state for a 10-day vacation amid budget negotiations “fake news” despite two lawmakers from the same party claiming that the governor called and told them himself. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking at his son’s graduation, told students, “I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice”; four days before, the Supreme Court partially allowed the banning of Muslims from six countries. A 73-year-old Colorado woman drove an SUV into the swimming pool of a local resort. Kato Kaelin, friend of O.J. Simpson and a witness in the former football player’s murder trial, won a $12,000 raffle at a Milwaukee Brewers game. The White House refused to comment on the origin of the WWE-inspired video that Trump tweeted out on Sunday, denying that the video came from an anti-Semitic Reddit user.

Tuesday 07.4.17

CNN identified the Reddit user who created the GIF of Trump pummeling a WWE performer with a CNN logo superimposed over the wrestler’s face, which the president subsequently posted to his personal Twitter account; the user also apologized for his other offensive posts, claiming, “One of my best friends is a homosexual and one of my best friends is Jewish and one of my best friends is Muslim.” In “who made the potato salad?” news, a Washington Post food editor added cauliflower and feta cheese to his recipe. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Ric Flair, 68, and rapper Waka Flocka Flame, 31, celebrated Independence Day together. The Youngstown State University Police Department warned travelers about not wearing their seat belts to the tune of rap trio Migos’ “Bad and Boujee”: “Rain drops. Drop tops. This Independence Day weekend don’t get caught with your seatbelt OFF OFF OFF. U know what we’re saying @Migos.” In unrelated news, last month a YSU police officer was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Hip-hop artist Wale officiated a rap battle between professional wrestlers New Day and the Usos during WWE’s Smackdown Live, with the latter mentioning the alleged sex tape of one of the members of the former. ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward agreed to sign with the Boston Celtics, other reporters confirmed the report, and then minutes later Hayward’s agent refuted the alleged deal; five hours later, Hayward announced that he had indeed signed with the Celtics. Boston guard Marcus Smart tweeted, “What a celebration on this 4th of July! @gordonhayward Congrats and welcome!” and minutes later, it was reported that the Celtics were trying to trade Smart. Jazz center Rudy Gobert, Hayward’s former teammate, posted a video on his social media account singing along to Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” which includes the lyrics: “These hoes ain’t loyal.” The heirs of a Florida man who hid his dead wife’s body in a freezer for eight years to continue collecting her Social Security checks have repaid the government over $15,000. The Minnesota judge who presided over the Philando Castile manslaughter case wrote a letter of support to the jury that was responsible for acquitting Saint Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez. A tennis website said No. 82-ranked Mandy Minella pulled “a Serena” by playing a Grand Slam match while pregnant, though, unlike Serena Williams at January’s Australian Open, Minella lost in the first round of Wimbledon. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid yelled, “F— LaVar Ball!” during an Instagram livestream.

Wednesday 07.5.17

Rapper Tupac Shakur once told singer Madonna, whom he dated in the early 1990s, that he could no longer date her because she was white, and “I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was.” Corona beer signed a marketing deal with the University of Texas; the school’s athletic director called the partnership an opportunity to “promote the excitement and pageantry of collegiate sports.” Flying ants took over courts at Wimbledon. Reality television star Rob Kardashian posted nude photos of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna on his Instagram account, accusing her of cheating with multiple men and having a drug and alcohol problem. Loquacious rapper T.I. butted in, for some reason, telling Kardashian to “take this L” and not look like a “Ronald McDonald the Duck”; Kardashian, still not getting out of his own way, then responded by accusing T.I. of paying Blac Chyna to have a threesome with him and his estranged wife, Tameka “Tiny” Harris. A conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of a former Democratic National Committee staffer is now being used to sell anti-aging face cream. Hip-hop artist Lil Yachty does not eat fruit. Vatican police busted a drug-fueled gay orgy at the apartment of an aide to one of Pope Francis’s closest advisers. In the most anticipated matchup since Mitt Romney-Evander Holyfield, late-night TV host Chelsea Handler will debate recently fired TV host Tomi Lahren. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers plans to replace recently departed players Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford with 35-year-old guard Tony Allen. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson, entering his 17th season and owed $2.5 million next year, is surprisingly not expected to retire this offseason. Filming and producing virtual reality porn is apparently hard. The Amazing Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield, with the help of RuPaul’s Drag Race, came out as gay “just without the physical act.”

Thursday 07.6.17

Basketball prodigies Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball nabbed the cover of SLAM Magazine without father LaVar, who, not to be forgotten, wrote the cover story. Much like O.J. Simpson’s search for the real killer, President Donald Trump, seven months later, still hasn’t found the real hackers of the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, while speaking in Europe, the president pivoted between doubting Russia was involved in the 2016 election and blaming former President Barack Obama for not doing enough to stop Russia from meddling. Sports Illustrated found at least 40 people named after NBA Hall of Famer Shaquillle O’Neal — and two of them have younger brothers named Kobe. A female Capitol Hill reporter was barred from the House chamber because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine), best known for accusing “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” of selling drugs and impregnating white women in his state, told a local radio station that he makes up stories so the news media will “write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it’s awful”; LePage added that “the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.” USA Today celebrated National Fried Chicken Day by tweeting out a GIF of actress Octavia Spencer in a scene from The Help; the tweet was later deleted. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who apparently fell asleep during the first day of Econ 101, lectured reporters at a coal plant: “Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow.” The Cleveland Cavaliers, almost a week into NBA free agency and still without a general manager, lowballed general manager candidate Chauncey Billups by almost $2 million a year before the former NBA guard removed himself from consideration for the job on Monday. Nineteen-year Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, still not about his paper, will sign a two-year, $10 million deal to remain in the Lone Star State. Four Brazilian soccer players were kicked off their team after video of one of the players masturbating two others was released online; club president Gilmar Rosso said, “If they want to get drunk, [be] gay or not, that’s their business.” The famous “Boomshakalaka” play-by-play call from 1990s video game NBA Jam was a misquote of Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher.”

Friday 07.7.17

Blue Ivy Carter, the daughter of JAY-Z, freestyled on her father’s new album, at one point rapping, “Boom shakalaka, boom shakalaka,” even though NBA Jam debuted 19 years before she was born. The Washington Nationals-Atlanta Braves rain-delayed-despite-little-rain game ended at 1:20 a.m. EST; fans at National Park were rewarded with free soda, ice cream, water, a transit system that shut down an hour into the game — and a 5-2 Nationals loss. A U.S. Mint employee was placed on administrative leave after leaving a noose made out of the rope used to seal coin bags on the chair of an African-American colleague. Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., son of five-time All-Star Tim Hardaway Sr., received a $71 million offer sheet from the New York Knicks; the elder Hardaway made just $47.1 million in his entire 14-year career. At the book party for conservative author Milo Yiannopoulos, chants of “F— CNN” broke out while little people in yarmulkes dressed as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who is Jewish, danced among the partygoers. All but settling the matter, the Russian foreign minister said Trump accepted Vladimir Putin’s “assurances that Russia didn’t meddle in the U.S. election.” A phallic-shaped rock formation in Norway that was intentionally damaged last month has been properly restored. Rob Kardashian, who posted nude photographs of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna earlier in the week, was served with notice of a restraining order. Twenty-four-year-old rapper 21 Savage, who is dating 33-year-old model Amber Rose, said one of the benefits of dating older women is she makes him do things he doesn’t normally do, like “take vitamins and drink water.” Former college basketball coach Bobby Knight, who somehow wandered into the offices of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency back in 2015, was accused of groping four employees of the spy agency. Gonorrhea is becoming harder to treat with antibiotics. LaVar Ball shot back at Joel Embiid, saying that people who use cuss words like the 76ers center “don’t have no intellect”; Ball added that he had “three words for him: Can’t. Play. At. All,” which is actually four words.

What do independence and freedom mean to black college students? It’s about music, fireworks and discussion of America and our so-called independence

The Fourth of July has come and gone, but conversations about freedom and independence don’t get old … especially among black college students.

Webster’s Dictionary says freedom is the power to act without restraint, while it defines independence as not requiring or relying on others. How do students feel about the two?

America’s birthday seems to be inextricably tied with fireworks, barbecues and feuds over its significance. Some students simply describe the federal holiday as a day off work. Others joined Chance the Rapper in calling it Malia Obama Day.

When asked about music that inspired or made them think of independence, students spoke highly of songs that encourage economic independence, social justice and hope for black folks:

  • “The Story of O.J.” by Jay-Z
  • “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke
  • “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway
  • “Revolution” by Arrested Development
  • “The Conquering Lion” by Lauryn Hill
  • “Change” by J. Cole
  • “Glory” by John Legend and Common
  • “16 Shots” by Vic Mensa
  • “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
  • “F.U.B.U.” by Solange Knowles
  • “Where Do We Go” by Solange Knowles
  • “Candles in the Sun” by Miguel
  • “They Don’t Really Care About Us” by Michael Jackson
  • “Wake Up Everybody” by Teddy Pendergrass

These songs come out of different generations and genres, but the common chord they share is one of unity, equality and perseverance. The beats are so good and the messages are so timeless, this playlist could stay on repeat any day of the week.

Besides music, some college students can point to individuals who are advancing the black community and America at large.

“I think everyone in opposition to the president is actually making America great; Auntie Maxine and Auntie Kamala, I see you!” said Arielle Wallace, 21, a senior at Hampton University.

“Ethnic and social diversity makes America great,” said Demetrius Smith, 36, an alumnus of Morehouse College. “Those outside of the dominant culture hold America accountable to its ideals, which results in slow yet continuous advancement of American society.”

“The charitable donations that Russell Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation have made to the OKC and L.A. communities has taken another approach other than usual athletes by focusing on education and family service programs while encouraging youth to believe in themselves and ultimately ask, ‘Why not?’ of any situation,” said Jordan Frank, 21, a senior at Clark Atlanta University.

Jenise Williams, 20, a senior at the University of Michigan, sees Independence Day as a time to be with family.

“The Fourth of July is just about me coming together with my friends and family despite all of the craziness of America and the world in general.”

Michigan State sophomore Andrei Nichols questions whether the celebration is premature for people of color.

“For some Americans, it is a time to celebrate freedom that was said to have been granted,” said Nichols, 19. “However, as a black man in America, [I don’t think] freedom was ever granted to people of color. But, hey, what do I know?”

Celebrating America’s independence from British rule may happen once a year, but the fight for individual and collective freedom never stops.