Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding is a good thing, right? A black feminist argues with herself about the impending royal nuptials

Rachel Meghan Markle and Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor (better known as Meghan Markle and Prince Harry) are getting married next spring. Upon official confirmation of this news, I immediately began vacillating between feelings of OMG … SO EXCITING … ROYAL WEDDING … BLACK PRINCESS … HARRY PUT A RING ON IT and Dear Lord, I hope someone has taught Prince Philip to stop saying racist stuff in public.

Markle is the biracial American actress who played Rachel Zane on Suits and helmed a popular lifestyle site called The Tig. Now, she’s vaulted to an entirely new stratosphere of fame, thanks to months of speculation about her relationship with Prince Harry.

I’m conflicted. I abhor our culture’s fixation with all things pink and fluffy and princessy because of the way they reinforce narrowly defined gender roles and limit the possibilities that girls imagine for themselves. It’s why, when my niece was born, one of my first gifts to her was a copy of The Paper Bag Princess. There are more important things in life than bagging a man, and doing so is no guarantee that one will live happily ever after. Just ask Charlene of Monaco. Besides, “happily ever after” is just a concept invented by men like Don Draper to sell nylons.

But I’m not immune to princess fever. The Windsors are the weak inheritors of my obsession with the Tudors, which was fed by a steady childhood diet of Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench movies. But the thing that turns my princess fever practically rheumatic is The Princess Bride. I loved that movie so much I named my cat after the title character. Then I rewatched it this year and found myself cringing at Princess Buttercup’s (Robin Wright) general inability to save herself or even recognize the voice of the supposed love of her life.

Still, my ambivalence about the gender politics of one of my favorite movies didn’t stop me from having a conversation with myself as Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) about Markle and her betrothed, Prince Harry:

On the one hand
Aren’t we supposed to be trying to upend the colonialist, imperialist, racist patriarchal system, not marry into it?

On the other hand
This will definitely piss off actual Nazis, especially the ghosts of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII.

On the one hand
Harry dressed up like a Nazi that one time.

On the other hand
We get to watch neurons short-circuit in real time on Fox News the first time Meghan says, “Happy Christmas” in public.

On the one hand
Our obsession with princess crap is bad and we should be trying to KILL IT WITH FIRE.

On the other hand
You definitely rewatched Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Freeform over the holiday and couldn’t tear yourself away, hypocrite.

On the one hand
You grew up obsessed with Elizabeth I and you turned out fine.

On the other hand
Yes, but I was obsessed with her speech-giving and political acumen and the way she navigated power as a woman (and also her relationship with the Earl of Leicester).

On the one hand
Poor Meghan’s going to have some seriously racist in-laws.

On the other hand
Stars, they’re just like us!

On the one hand
Didn’t we fight a whole war so we wouldn’t have to bow to white people who think they’re ordained by God to rule the world? I mean, Longfellow wrote a whole poem commemorating its start.

On the other hand
I hope the wedding dress is Alexander McQueen. (Sarah Burton for McQueen, yes, but McQueen all the same.) Everyone loves an impossibly expensive, pretty dress. Even me.

On the one hand
But Harry dressed up LIKE A NAZI.

On the other hand
We can fantasize about them reading the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning to each other. (You know Elizabeth was black, right? Robert used to call her “My Little Portuguese.” Don’t @ me about how Creole ain’t black. It’s just fancy black. Hush.)

On the one hand
I hope she’s not miserable like Diana and Fergie. I mean, I’m named after a woman who wrote a book called Palace of Solitude after marrying the Shah of Iran.

On the other hand
As far as we know, Harry is Wesley, not Prince Humperdinck. After all, Harry is probably the Obamas’ favorite royal.

On the one hand
Meghan had a website and a career, and now she’s already had to swear off all of that.

On the other hand
Amandla Stenberg can play her in The Crown.

On the one hand
Their kids won’t have a remotely normal life, and everything they do will be scrutinized.

On the other hand
BLACK ASHY BABIES ALL UP IN THE PALACE OF WHITEHALL (*briefly assumes Wendy Raquel Robinson’s role in Something New, whispering, “Nedra! Don’t be so crass!”*)

An unofficial ‘Queen Sugar’ reading list derived from each episode title The epic drama has a treasure trove of writing by black authors

From its all-female roster of directors to its richly saturated cinematography to its truthful, raw dialogue that will have you grabbing Kleenex after Kleenex, Queen Sugar has been one of the most wholly original television shows on the air since its debut in 2016.

So it makes perfect sense that embedded within all but one episode title of season two is an unofficial reading list. As the title flashes in before the episode’s start, it has been eye-catching to notice that each one is named after poems, novels and anthologies by black writers from the Harlem Renaissance era — in particular the poet Countee Cullen.

With director Ava DuVernay at the helm, Queen Sugar’s show execs have done a phenomenal job of paying homage to the past while lifting up contemporary artists of the present. On the cusp of the season two finale, here is a breakdown of how these poems, anthologies and novels relate to the themes of this roller coaster of a season.


Queen Sugar season two, episode one — After the Winter

After the Winter by Claude McKay

Some day, when trees have shed their leaves

And against the morning’s white

The shivering birds beneath the eaves

Have sheltered for the night,

We’ll turn our faces southward, love,

Toward the summer isle

Where bamboos spire the shafted grove

And wide-mouthed orchids smile.

In the season two opener, the Bordelons are facing their own unique and formidable challenges. Nova (Rutina Wesley) is reeling from the aftermath of her breakup with married cop Calvin by taking multiple lovers. Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) is processing the news that their father left the land to him alone while reconciling his relationship with Darla (Bianca Lawson), the mother of his child. Charley (Dawn Lyen-Gardner) is still hurt divorcing her cheating baller husband, Davis (Timon Kyle Durrett). Their son, Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe), has a terrifying encounter with a police officer on his 16th birthday. McKay’s poem about finding solace after suffering through a proverbial winter is especially fitting for this episode. Where will the Bordelons find solace after their personal winters?

Queen Sugar season two, episode two — To Usward

To Usward by Gwendolyn B. Bennett

And let us be contained

By entities of Self. . . .

Not still with lethargy and sloth,

But quiet with the pushing of our growth.

Not self-contained with smug identity

But conscious of the strength in entity.

But let us break the seal of years

With pungent thrusts of song,

For there is joy in long-dried tears

For whetted passions of a throng!

To Usward definitely speaks to themes of the episode, as Micah processes his traumatic encounter with the police and Nova organizes a bail fund rally to raise money for people who can’t afford to bail themselves out. This episode represents the struggle that people of color often endure to retain humanity in the face of an unforgiving, institutionalized criminal justice system.

Queen Sugar season two, episode three — What Do I Care for Morning

What Do I Care for Morning by Helene Johnson

What do I care for morning,

For the glare of the rising sun,

For a sparrow’s noisy prating,

For another day begun?

Give me the beauty of evening,

The cool consummation of night,

And the moon like a love-sick lady,

Listless and wan and white.

Johnson declaring her love of night over day is an extended metaphor representing her love of people of color in a mostly white society that explains, in covert and overt ways, that loving blackness is a sin. In this episode the themes are seen in Nova’s sparring and later bonding with love interest Dr. DuBois (Alimi Ballard) over how best to uplift African-Americans in the face of institutional racism, and again with Ralph Angel and Micah as they share their traumatic experiences with each other, and Ralph Angel comforts his nephew Micah. The scenes show how the black family chooses to love each other over and over again, even when they don’t always agree.

Queen Sugar season two, episode four — My Soul’s High Song

My Soul’s High Song, anthology of poems by Countee Cullen

An anthology of poetry and prose from one of the most prominent voices of the Harlem Renaissance.

As usual, Charley and Ralph Angel argue over their methods of tending to the farm, revealing the ever-present distance between the siblings, including privilege, wealth, access and skin tone. One of the recurring themes in Cullen’s work is the emotional fallout of America’s continuous unfair treatment of black citizens. It is fitting that this anthology serves as the title of this episode.

Queen Sugar season two, episode five — Caroling Dusk

Caroling Dusk, a 1927 anthology of poems edited by Countee Cullen

Cullen’s purpose in creating this anthology was to highlight “lights and shades of difference” in poetry by black writers, as he wrote in the book’s introduction. The focal point of this episode presents Charley and Darla as a set of contrasts as they both try to rebuild their lives. Charley is strong-willed, determined, confident and outspoken, while Darla is more tentative and introspective. However, they have more in common than what seems to be on the surface, as Charley struggles with her grief for the dissolution of her marriage. Darla is much stronger than she seems, as she applies for jobs after getting fired and eventually becomes Charley’s personal assistant.

Queen Sugar season two, episode six — Line of Our Elders

Lines to Our Elders by Countee Cullen

Here’s the difference in our dying:

You go dawdling, we go flying.

Here’s a thought flung out to plague you:

Ours the pleasure if we’d liever

Burn completely with the fever

Than go ambling with the ague.

While the episode is titled Line of Our Elders, it is so similar to Cullen’s poem Lines to Our Elders that it must be another homage to this writer. Ralph Angel finally comes clean about who their farm truly belongs to. Charley nearly has a panic attack after a malfunction during the opening of her sugar processing mill. The grief she never expressed over her father’s death comes pouring out in front of the family and members of the press. Both Nova and Charley are hurt that Ralph Angel didn’t tell them about the land being left only to him and express their feelings about the fact that their father excluded them. That last couplet in Lines to Our Elders in particular relates because the episode shows the problems that occur when problems fester and individuals hold feelings within (go ambling with the ague) rather than face the truth head-on (burn completely with the fever).

Queen Sugar season two, episode seven — I Know My Soul

I Know My Soul by Claude McKay

And if the sign may not be fully read,

If I can comprehend but not control,

I need not gloom my days with futile dread,

Because I see a part and not the whole.

Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted

By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

This episode shows how the characters view themselves by their late father after hearing the amended will that leaves the land solely to Ralph Angel, after they believed the land was left to all three of them. Viewers experience a rift form between the Bordelon siblings as Charley begins to question what she’s doing and where she is going after learning about what she believes are Ernest’s (Glynn Turman) true feelings about her. None of these characters are in control.

Queen Sugar season two, episode eight — Freedom’s Plow

Freedom’s Plow by Langston Hughes

If the house is not yet finished,

Don’t be discouraged, builder!

If the fight is not yet won,

Don’t be weary, soldier!

BETTER DIE FREE,

THAN TO LIVE SLAVES.

This poem certainly echoes themes of episode eight. Nova and Dr. DuBois constantly debate throughout their relationship. Viewers finally discover what happened to Micah the night he was arrested in a heartbreaking scene played beautifully by Ashe. In the scene, Micah describes how the arresting officer put his gun in his mouth and threatened to kill him. The episode shows how these questions manifest themselves in everyday encounters and how they affect the most vulnerable among us.

Queen Sugar season two, episode nine — Yet Do I Marvel

Yet Do I Marvel by Countee Cullen

Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:

To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

In this episode, Charley finally learns what happened to Micah when he was arrested, and she blames herself for not preparing him enough for how harsh the world is for young black men and women. The episode introduces Charley’s mother, Lorna, who is white. Suddenly we gain a better understanding of Charley — why she grew up apart from Nova and Ralph Angel, the distance between the three siblings, and why Charley has struggled to determine where she truly belongs.

Queen Sugar season two, episode 10 — Drums at Dusk

Drums At Dusk, a 1939 novel about the Haitian Revolution in 1791, by Arna Bontemps

It is fitting that Drums at Dusk — a novel that explores the connection between wealthy plantation owners, poor whites, free people of color and the slaves who staged the largest and most successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere — is the title of this episode. We see these themes of land, money, blood and power in Charley’s ongoing conflict with the Landrys, who used to be the only family with power and land in the parish. And they are determined to take away what little of both the Bordelons have managed to attain. Charley is undermined by the Landrys in ways great and small, and it is a conflict that her mother, as much as she loves her, simply cannot understand because she has never experienced the racism and sexism Charley has come up against her entire life.

Queen Sugar season two, episode 11 — Fruit of the Flower

Fruit of the Flower by Countee Cullen

And yet my father’s eyes can boast

How full his life has been;

There haunts them yet the languid ghost

Of some still sacred sin.

Cullen’s poem about his ambivalence about the two sides of his heritage fits the theme of this episode, as this is when we learn about the true nature of the relationship between Charley’s mom, Lorna (played by Sharon Lawrence), and Nova and Ralph Angel’s mom and their father, Ernest.

Queen Sugar season two, episode 13 — Heritage

Heritage by Countee Cullen

What is Africa to me:

Copper sun or scarlet sea,

Jungle star or jungle track,

Strong bronzed men, or regal black

Women from whose loins I sprang

When the birds of Eden sang?

Cullen’s poem asks important questions: “Who am I?” “How do I hold on to my humanity in the face of chaos?” And in this episode of Queen Sugar, each character asks these questions in some form or another. Darla’s parents return after a years-long estrangement; Remy and Charley ponder what next steps they should take in their budding romantic relationship; and by the end, Darla’s father encourages her to reveal a painful secret that has devastating consequences: Ralph Angel might not be Blue’s father.

Queen Sugar season two, episode 14 — On These I Stand

On These I Stand, an anthology of poems self-selected by Countee Cullen, which was published a year after his death in 1946

Charley and Nova face professional challenges, while Ralph Angel slowly unravels in the wake of the news about Blue possibly not being his son.

Queen Sugar season two, episode 15 — Copper Sun

Copper Sun, a 1927 collection of poetry by Countee Cullen

Cullen’s third book of poetry, where he discusses love and race relations in more oblique terms, serves as the title of the penultimate episode of season two. Ralph Angel tells Charley, Nova, Aunt Vi and Hollywood about Blue, and the whole family feels the reverberations of Darla’s secret. And Darla, who has worked so hard to regain the Bordelons’ trust, appears to have lost it forever. Meanwhile, Micah faces suspension after he channels his Aunt Nova and protests the display of Confederate memorabilia at his posh private school. Each member of the Bordelon family faces the consequences of his actions — or inactions.

Without Charles Burnett and the L.A. Rebellion, there is no ‘Moonlight’ Why the motion picture academy is honoring the director of a film about slaughtering sheep

There’s no Moonlight without Charles Burnett.

Burnett, 73, is the director best known for his feature debut, Killer of Sheep. But beyond that, he’s the auteur behind To Sleep With Anger, arguably the best performance of Danny Glover’s career. His 1994 film The Glass Shield, which starred Ice Cube, was an exploration of corruption and racism within the Los Angeles Police Department. With 23 directorial credits to his name, Burnett has had a massive impact on independent filmmaking.

On Saturday, he will be honored at the Governors Awards ceremony, where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes contributions to the film industry. Its honorees usually include individuals who might not have been acknowledged with Oscars awarded during the academy’s ritzy annual televised fete, and they often include artists who have used their platforms to advocate for social change. Harry Belafonte, for example, received the board’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2014.

Nearly 40 years ago, Burnett was an upstart director at the forefront of a movement of students of color enrolled in UCLA’s film school. His thesis film, Killer of Sheep, made on a tiny budget, was beautifully poetic. It was about black people who didn’t have much money, and it starred first-time, untrained actors.

The film follows its main character, Stan (Henry G. Sanders), who works in a slaughterhouse killing — you guessed it — sheep. He hates it, but he needs the income to support his family.

Killer of Sheep is a meditation on blackness, broke-ness and social mobility. It’s a look at how doing something you hate for eight hours a day deadens your soul. And when that job involves taking life from another being, it becomes difficult to separate yourself from that killing and it can make you feel personally targeted by Murphy’s law. There’s a point in Killer of Sheep where Stan is planning to sell an engine to make a little extra cash. Alas, when he and his friend hoist it onto the back of a truck, it falls off almost as soon as they start driving. The engine block gets cracked, rendering it useless, and so they just leave it in the middle of the street, because really, what’s the point?

While he was able to work more than many of his UCLA classmates, Burnett didn’t engage in filmmaking as a way to get rich. Throughout his career, Burnett sought to highlight the humanity of black people and to stay true to his politics. When he wasn’t making his own films, he often served as a cinematographer on others.

The fact that the academy’s board of governors is bestowing an award upon Burnett the same year Moonlight won best picture makes for a lovely tribute and a fitting piece of symmetry. You see, the film that won best picture this year had the tiniest budget of any best picture. It was about black people who didn’t have much money. It starred first-time, untrained actors. It was the first film with an all-black cast to win best picture. It was lauded as a work of cinematic poetry. And Moonlight was helmed by a black director, Barry Jenkins, who, with both Medicine for Melancholy and Moonlight, seems to have carried forth Burnett’s legacy in black independent film.

Killer of Sheep is a meditation on blackness, broke-ness and social mobility.

“There were many movies that should have been recognized before — at least up for an Academy Award or nominated,” Burnett said. “But I hope that what Moonlight does, the effect it would have or should have is that maybe Hollywood would look around and start releasing films that previously they thought would never make it, you know that … no white audience would be interested in. This sort of proves them all wrong, again and again. You know, so I hope it has a big change that they can start recognizing the potential of people who are really interested in seeing human stories, not just the typical car chases and violence continually being represented over and over and over again.”

The L.A. Rebellion

Burnett was part of a movement of filmmakers now known as the L.A. Rebellion. It comprised about 50 filmmakers, including Burnett, Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) and Haile Gerima (Sankofa, Ashes and Embers), who attended UCLA film school between 1970 and 1992. Besides black students, it included Chicano and Asian students as well, all working to create a movement that rejected the confines that Hollywood had created for anyone who wasn’t white. The movement began when filmmaker and professor Elyseo J. Taylor began a program in the film department called Film and Social Change. Moonlight’s best picture win, in some ways, was a culmination of mainstream recognition of the principles for which the L.A. Rebellion had long been advocating.

The perspective of the L.A. Rebellion was originally informed by living through the Watts uprising of 1965, chafing at police violence and racism, housing segregation and discrimination. It’s filled with curiosity about black people’s African origins and their connections to their ancestors, and a love and commitment to seeing the beauty in themselves. Often, the works were more experimental than traditional Hollywood fare, rejecting three- or five-act structures with easily identifiable protagonists and antagonists. The work of the L.A. Rebellion was like a black American New Wave, influenced by Third World Film and Italian Neo-Realism because Hollywood was so centered on whiteness and white conceptions of blackness. L.A Rebellion filmmakers didn’t see a place for black authenticity, so they created one.

It was distinct from ’70s blaxploitation and more in the vein of the 1961 adaptation of playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, although — and this is hugely significant — unlike A Raisin in the Sun director Daniel Petrie, these directors were actually black. They had far more control over the images they were presenting than Hansberry did when she agreed to work on the film version of Raisin, one of the notable depictions of a regular black family in Chicago.

Blaxploitation, which became so popular and so profitable in the 1970s, “didn’t show us who we really are,” Burnett said. “It was basically things that were entertaining at the expense of who we are as people and how it would affect generations to come. It didn’t show us who we are; it didn’t have any empathy.”

Burnett recounted a time, after one of his films had been shown at a festival, when an audience member told him he didn’t realize black people had washing machines.

Washing. Machines.

“I remember … seeing Japanese represent themselves on-screen and I was so surprised and taken, and I started looking at people differently and you see the effect of this constant barrage of distorted images, what it can do to you,” he continued. “So you can sort of understand how people looking at your films, the films of color, you know how it sort of opens their eyes and it makes you aware of people as human beings. I think that’s what art does, it makes you aware of these subtle things that we all share.”

Of all of the L.A. Rebellion filmmakers, Burnett had the most prolific career. Killer of Sheep, now nearly 40 years old, is a breathtaking work, even more so when considering Burnett made it while still a student.

“I was in New York, just starting my music video career, when Charles Burnett’s film — ‘The Sheep Movie,’ as we call it — sort of rattled everybody. … Like, wow, this is a real director,” said Paris Barclay, who in 2013 became the first black and first openly gay person to be elected president of the Directors Guild of America. “He’s one of the reasons why I thought, ‘Hey, a black man can do a feature film like this and rip my heart out? Why can’t I do this?’ It’s one of the things that led me out of music videos into doing feature film and then later television.”

Even though Saturday’s award is going to Burnett, it feels like a win for other directors from the L.A. Rebellion, such as Dash and Gerima. After they spent years outside the Hollywood system, the academy finally invited Dash and Gerima to join its ranks in 2016.

‘Hey, a black man can do a feature film like this and rip my heart out? Why can’t I do this?’

University of California, San Diego professor Zeinabu irene Davis, one of the last filmmakers of the L.A. Rebellion, is largely responsible for curating and preserving its history, which she compiled in the documentary Spirits of Rebellion: Black Independent Cinema From Los Angeles. (She expects Spirits of Rebellion to be released on home video in the next year or so.)

“The legacy of Charles in American cinema is something that should be celebrated in a big way,” Davis said. “You know, too many times in the cinema history books, when you read about black cinema, most of the times it’s just a caption on the side. A still image from Killer of Sheep, and then just a caption underneath it. If you get really lucky, then it might be a paragraph. But I think that there should be more recognition of the contributions that the L.A. Rebellion film movement gave to American cinema, and especially American independent cinema in general. It should be honored, and it should be celebrated with more than just a brief mention.

“I wish there was more places where people could actually get to see his work, or more venues that would honor his work.”

This is what influence looks like

Burnett’s thematic, aesthetic and emotional markers are all over Moonlight, if you know what you’re looking for.

To the filmmakers of the L.A. Rebellion, it wasn’t just important to create works that captured black people as they were, it was also important to include their communities in the storytelling, training them to be crew members or casting them in their films. That was also partly out of financial necessity — it took a village to make a film.

That’s a tradition Jenkins continued with Moonlight, and in interviews he’s talked about the fact that residents of Miami’s Liberty City housing projects appreciated having the Moonlight film crew’s lights around at night. Their presence helped make the neighborhood safer because drug dealers would shoot out the streetlights.

Killer of Sheep does not follow a conventional plot structure because it’s about existing with its main character, going about a day the way Stan does, and understanding why Stan feels the way he does. It’s meant to be contemplative. Moonlight functions similarly with its main character, Chiron. The difference is that it’s divided into three acts, and Chiron is played by three different actors at distinct points in his life.

There’s something striking about Killer of Sheep’s depiction of the dangers of ordinary life, from a scene of children playing on train tracks that has you holding your breath until they’re all safe to Stan’s work in a slaughterhouse. It’s shot in black and white, and the emphasis of the film is on understanding how Stan’s work and financial struggles color his interactions with his family and the way he lives his life. The film boasts an extraordinary soundtrack, which features music such as Paul Robeson singing “The House I Live In.” A tender scene between Stan and his wife (played by Kaycee Moore) is punctuated with Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth.” It’s completely wordless yet utterly effective, not unlike the beach scene between Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome).

The bathtub scene in Moonlight, which shows Little (Alex Hibbert) heating water on the stove of his apartment, then carrying it to the tub, feels directly tied to Burnett and his insistence on capturing the unglamorous, everyday life of poor black people and finding the beauty and profundity in it. So do the scenes in which Jenkins captures black children playing, similarly elevated by Nicholas Britell’s score.

“[Burnett’s] someone that’s been long overlooked but is a seminal figure for many of us, along with Spike [Lee] in the late ’80s,” Barclay said. “We were just thinking, who are our voices out there? Who are we emulating? He was one of those people.”

So why is Burnett still a cult figure while Lee is probably the best-known black independent filmmaker of our time?

1) Lee is enormously prolific. He’s like a shark that never stops moving. He’s constantly creating, producing and influencing, and as a result he’s made about three times as many films as Burnett — some of which, admittedly, have been clunkers.

2) Lee is unapologetically outspoken. His Driving Miss Daisy rant is the filmmaker version of Allen Iverson and “practice.”

3) He helped establish his identity by putting himself in his movies. He has, essentially, branded himself. We don’t just know Lee as a director, but as Mars Blackmon, as a man who goes hard for Brooklyn, shows up at AfroPunk and never stops supporting the Knicks. He’s a New York institution.

Burnett, on the other hand, like so many black American jazz artists and social critics, found that he was far more celebrated overseas than he was at home.

“I think that was a saving grace in many ways, going over there and being written about in all the major magazines and newspapers,” Burnett said. “If you know your history, you sort of understand that — not that you accept it — but it makes you aware that things repeat themselves. And also gives you a sense of connectedness in the sense that you can look back at people like [James] Baldwin, Chester Himes and all those folks … like W.E.B. Du Bois. How we’re doing the same thing, and you feel a much closer connection with those folks you know because you experience what they experience. Like Josephine Baker. It’s both a plus and a minus.”

Because we’re still starved for equitable representations of blackness in pop culture despite the explosion of it in the past few years, it can be easy to overlook the parents of such images, especially if you didn’t learn about them in film school. That’s not just because we have short collective memories but because their work is often hard to find. To Sleep With Anger, which won multiple Independent Spirit Awards, can be streamed on Amazon video, but Killer of Sheep is only available on DVD, as is the director’s cut of My Brother’s Wedding. Similarly, when Gerima made Sankofa, the 1993 film that shares its name with his Washington, D.C., bookstore, he couldn’t acquire distribution, so he toured the film himself. It’s still not available on DVD or through a streaming service.

I asked Burnett what needs to happen for the traditions of the L.A. Rebellion to continue, to be remembered, to travel farther than the confines of the art house.

“There needs to be more of an education of the audience that you have to realize that if you see a film that you can respond to, you have to go out and support it immediately,” Burnett said. “You can’t wait for it to come on DVD. You have to show the studios and the producers the fact that these films are appreciated and they can make money, because if you wait till they come on television or on DVD or whatever it is, it loses its importance and effectiveness and influence, and towards influencing studios and people with money to finance these films.”

Author Jesmyn Ward talks about enduring hurricane season, the South, and what it means to be a MacArthur ‘genius’ She has a deep love for the South, but isn’t sure she wants to finish raising her children there

Winning a MacArthur “genius” grant can be a little bit like winning the nerd lottery.

Not only are you recognized for your intellectual prowess and contributions to society, but it’s publicly announced to every major media outlet in the country that your bank statements will be a bit bigger. MacArthur fellows get $625,000, with zero strings attached, spread over five years.

“It didn’t feel real until everyone knew, and then, of course, you speak to people that you haven’t spoken to in years, and everyone congratulates you,” said author Jesmyn Ward, one of 24 people honored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation this month. “It’s a huge, huge honor, but it is overwhelming. It is overwhelming. Everyone immediately wants to borrow money.

“Everyone is already like, ‘Oh, so we’re rich now. We’re rich.’ ”

Ward, 40, was already a superstar. Her novel Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award, and this year her latest novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, is short-listed for it. Inspired by James Baldwin, Ward also edited a 2016 essay collection, The Fire This Time, which assembled thoughts from luminaries such as Isabel Wilkerson, Kiese Laymon, Clint Smith, Edwidge Danticat and Emily Raboteau.

Ward, who teaches at Tulane University, grew up in Mississippi with modest means. After stints in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New York, she elected to return, buying a home in DeLisle, Mississippi, a 57-mile drive to New Orleans and her university job. Salvage the Bones, which followed a poor black Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, was inspired by her own experiences living through the storm. Despite her deep love for her home state and its most vulnerable citizens, Ward is not sure how much longer she’ll remain there.

We talked about writing, the strangeness of becoming a public figure, making it through this year’s harrowing hurricane season, and the hyper-abbreviated nature of black childhood, which Ward explores in Sing, Unburied, Sing. Her latest novel follows a 13-year-old boy named Jojo, and his young mother, Leonie, who serve as alternating narrators. They’re poor and live in rural Mississippi with Leonie’s mother, who is dying of cancer, and Leonie’s father. Leonie decides to take a road trip with Jojo and her toddler daughter, Kayla, to pick up their white father, Michael, from prison. Every generation of the family is grappling with death and unresolved loss in some way, but Leonie is particularly striking because of her inability to reckon with the death of her brother, Given, who was murdered by a white schoolmate.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

What is the moment like when you find out that you’ve been awarded a MacArthur grant?

It’s totally surreal. When it’s happening, when they’re telling you that you’ve won a MacArthur grant, it just doesn’t feel real. It’s such a huge award and such a huge honor that it’s never the call that you expect to get. I don’t think it feels real until the announcement. When everyone else finds out, that’s when it feels real. [The MacArthur Foundation] prepares beforehand, because they send a video crew out to your house and you spend an entire day with them.

Most writers are not extroverts. Once you started accumulating this snowball of acclaim, what did that do to you?

It’s difficult, especially because I am naturally a shy person, or at least I was, in high school and afterwards for years. One of my friends … while I lived in New York, would introduce me, and he would jokingly say, ‘This is my mute friend,’ because I would never speak. It’s really odd for me to now have to develop and assume a public persona and to share. I have to figure out how much of my private self am I willing to reveal. How comfortable am I, will I attempt to be, when I’m sharing my life with other people? It’s something that I have to work at.

When did you first realize there’s Public Jesmyn and Private Jesmyn?

I didn’t really realize that I would have to develop a public persona until Salvage the Bones was nominated for the National Book Award. That’s when everything changed for me, because I wrote Where the Line Bleeds as my first novel, my baby novel. A fair amount of people read it, but it didn’t get a ton of serious reviews and I didn’t do a lot of interviews. And then Salvage the Bones came out, and the reception was better, but it was before it was nominated for a National Book Award. Then everything changed, and then of course once I won, everything really changed.

I devoted years of my life to becoming a better writer. I’ve learned how to read like a writer. I worked on my craft and just tried to improve with everything that I produced, with everything that I created, but I never really thought about what it would mean to actually get better and get good enough to the point where other people start recognizing it, and then you’re reaching more people, wider range of people, reaching lots of readers. Suddenly you have an audience.

“One of my friends … while I lived in New York, would introduce me, and he would jokingly say, ‘This is my mute friend,’ because I would never speak.”

Writing is such a solitary thing, so it was a total surprise for me when I realized that my life as a writer would not just consist of me sitting in a room typing or reading.

But you know what helps? Teaching, because I’m a professor, and that helps me a lot. I was put in plenty of situations where I had to think quickly, speak quickly, plenty of situations where I had to attempt to be eloquent and to learn how to talk about something that I was very passionate about, because that’s what teaching demanded.

Is it more difficult talking to a roomful of college students or talking to reporters?

It’s definitely talking to a roomful of college students! This has not happened to me at Tulane, but I’ve definitely taught at other schools where the college students I’m teaching do not think that I am the smartest person in the room, and in fact they think they are the smartest person in the room. That’s always a little difficult to navigate.

What did you mean by “learning to read like a writer”?

For me, that meant reading poetry to attempt to figure out how figurative language can create beauty, how figurative language can make a reader feel. I read poetry to also figure how sentences can create rhythm, how paragraphs can create rhythm.

I read literary fiction to attempt to figure out what was pleasing to me as far as a prose style. I also read literary fiction to figure out how to develop a character, how to make a character come alive on the page. I read literary fiction to figure out pacing and how to balance narration and scene, and what was pleasing to me as a writer, what kind of balance was pleasing to me, whether I liked lots of dialogue and a little narration or more narration and less dialogue.

And then I read other genres, like fantasy, like sci-fi, like children’s books, middle-grade books, YA books, even romance, because I feel like those genres taught me different things about — I feel like I wasn’t necessarily reading them to learn lessons about prose and about what I felt worked well and what didn’t. I think that those books taught me things about how to create suspense, about plot.

What are you excited to be reading right now?

I have a poetry anthology next to my bed. Czeslaw Milosz. A Book of Luminous Things. That’s nice, to have books that I can open up and read a short piece and get some satisfaction from knowing that I’ve read something.

I recently read a children’s book called The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which was amazing. In the last two chapters, I was tearing up the entire time. It was insane, but it was such a pleasure to read that because I could just enjoy it. I feel like it’s easiest to turn off my writerly brain when I’m reading children’s lit. It’s just a lovely, beautiful book.

You have spent a lot of time thinking about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. What was it like for you living through this hurricane season?

It’s been difficult, especially seeing the devastation in Houston, seeing the devastation in Puerto Rico, seeing the devastation in Florida, being witness to the current administration’s ambivalence towards that suffering, and sometimes outright hostility that echoes some of the ambivalence and hostility that at least New Orleans, and somewhat the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that we experienced during Katrina. It’s hard, and I didn’t realize how difficult until I saw Houston was flooding, and I thought, ‘I should write something about this,’ and I couldn’t write a thing. I couldn’t write anything, and then I realized how deeply affected I was and how haunted I was by Katrina and by what happened after Katrina.

And then I realized that again, when we were preparing for Hurricane Nate. Nate was a Category 2 storm, and we were losing our minds. I was trying to get a solar-powered generator. I was stocking up and preparing in a way that you would prepare for a Category 5, and yet so was everyone else. It wasn’t just me. It was everyone else here, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in New Orleans. That’s the long shadow of Katrina. I think that every time it happens, that we’ll react like that, because of Katrina, because we’re still struggling with it. I think there’s a lot of unresolved anxiety and terror that people carry from our experiences in Katrina.

In Sing, Unburied, Sing, you bounce back and forth between Jojo and Leonie, who are both young, as narrators. Jojo is forced to grow up faster than his years, and Leonie, his mother, doesn’t quite feel like a real grown-up yet.

I think that black childhood is not something that’s granted to black children in America, and so I think that my characters reflected that. Jojo, his experience reflects that in the present moment, as he’s going through it, but I feel that Leonie is the kind of character who comes to life when a black person has — when their childhood has been denied. When that childhood has been stolen, she’s the result, where she’s sort of stuck in this extended adolescence, especially with her selfishness and her inability to process hardship, to face hardship and to live with hardship and to thrive, really. That’s what happens.

“I feel like it’s easiest to turn off my writerly brain when I’m reading children’s lit.”

It’s funny, because then I think about Richie’s character, who is a ghost. He’s a ghost, and he should be nearly as old as Pop is, but yet he, too, is stuck in some sort of adolescence because his childhood was taken away from him, because he was robbed of his childhood.

I think about Mam and I think about Pop, and I wonder why they did not break, why they don’t seem broken in the way that Leonie’s broken, or that Richie is broken.

When I think about Kayla and Jojo, I don’t think that they will be broken people like Leonie or like Richie. I think that they’ll be like Mam and like Pop, and maybe the reason why I don’t think that they will be broken people, and maybe the reason why Pop and Mam aren’t broken, is because there was something there that sustained them. I think for Mam, it was the love of her family, and also these things like black spiritual traditions, voodoo and hoodoo and herbal medicine. I think that that sustained her. With Pop, I think it’s family. I think that that definitely sustained him, and maybe a sense of community that he has or a sense of responsibility that he had to that family and to that community.

You go so hard for the South. So often it’s discussed as a place where the best thing about it for black folks is that they can leave. What makes you want to stay there?

I am writing about the kind of people who I grew up with. I’m writing about people who are like my family members. I’m writing about people who are like people who live in my community. I think, because I’m writing from that place, that I can love them, but I can also be critical of them. And I think, too, that I’m very aware of how history bears on the present in the South, and of how it complicates people’s lives, and how it is this really underacknowledged force in the region. I want to acknowledge that, and I think that that’s also what is fueling some of that critical eye.

I wanted to come back for so long, and I am here now, but I have gotten to this point in my life where I can’t say that I will stay here forever.

Why not?

It’s just motivated by my kids, because I have a 5-year-old daughter and I have my son, who [is now] 1. I love my kids, and I want the best for them, and I don’t know. I feel like, in some respects, that I would be failing them if we stayed here through the years when they were teenagers, because this is not a kind place, in many ways, and I worry for them. I want them to live, and I want them to thrive, and I don’t know if this is the best place for that to happen.

Is there any place in America that’s safe for them, where they can be children?

I know that there’s nowhere in this country where they could be completely safe, but I do feel like there are places in this country that would be safer, and made safer, because of where I have worked, because of where I’ve gotten in my life. Classwise, I could afford them different opportunities that if I were poor, or if I lived in poverty, and if I were moving to the Northeast or Chicago or the West, they’d face more dangers. But there’s some opportunities that I can give them because of where I am right now.

I don’t know a single educated black person who has risen to a certain place in society who doesn’t have family members who aren’t as lucky.

It’s difficult. I do what I can, but I think that — how do I say this? I do what I can for my extended family, but I think that their ideas of what I have and the demand on what I have are different from my knowledge of what I have and what I have to give. It induces a lot of guilt, because you want to help. When you’re personally in that situation, you want to help your extended family. I feel guilty because I’m in this position, and they’re not, and then I also feel guilty that I can’t do more. But I can’t. I’m not a millionaire. I’m not a billionaire. I’m a thousandaire.

How much did the death of your brother figure into Leonie and the way she’s working through Given’s death?

I was worried about that when I discovered Given’s character, when it worked out that Leonie had a brother and that he died when they were teenagers. I was worried about writing him, because I know that readers know about my brother, and I didn’t want them to confuse me with Leonie. I didn’t want them to confuse my brother with Given, but I felt like Given was the key. Given was the key to understanding Leonie. His death was the key to understanding her — who she was, her trauma, and understanding why she does what she does. And so I felt like I had no choice, in some respects. I had to write him.

But then, those fears eased a little bit once I got further into the manuscript because their relationship took on a life of its own. It became real, and it was very different from my relationship with my brother. And so, once I got to the point where I felt like their relationship took on life, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re nothing like each other.’ But knowing that Leonie lost a sibling helped me to really understand her, understand that pain that she basically shies away from dealing with and living with.

You talk about the resilience of Mam and Pop, but I wonder if her cancer is basically her internal grief welling up inside her?

I read an article … that was about health and racism. The article was making the argument that racism is a stressor, and that that stressor affects black people’s health in many different ways, and that when you control for class, that still you see a big difference in the health outcomes for black people at a certain class and health outcomes for white people in a certain class.

That was really striking to me. They’re looking at things like heart disease, like diabetes, like maternal health. They’re looking at things like premature births, and then the health outcomes for the children. The article was really making the argument that racism has lasting effects, health effects on black people. I was thinking about that a lot while I was writing Sing, Unburied, Sing.

Artist Carrie Mae Weems talks ‘Grace Notes,’ patriarchy and punching Nazis Spoiler alert: She’s cool with it

It’s possible to carry an enormous amount of grace and still endorse punching Nazis. So says artist and photographer Carrie Mae Weems, who is performing her newest production, Grace Notes: Reflections for Now, tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Weems began working on Grace Notes after a white supremacist opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, killing nine people. The “grace” refers to President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the attack.

I spoke with Weems on Thursday before she headed to the Kennedy Center for a rehearsal of the performance, which uses music, text, spoken word and video to explore the implications of race and violence in America. When I arrived at her narrow rented row house, Weems was on the phone with her assistant trying to solve a last-minute production dilemma. She offered up orange juice, and then we sat at a small bar-height table. Perhaps fittingly, a single blue pendant lamp hung over it, just in case the 2013 MacArthur Award winner was in the mood to revisit her acclaimed Kitchen Table series. Weems offered her thoughts on the 44th and 45th presidents, as well as the pervasiveness of sexual harassment.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you want to build a show inspired by President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” and the idea of holding on to grace in the face of racist violence?

I’ve been thinking a lot about him, thinking a great deal about his presidency, the meaning of his presidency, the way that he’s been treated as the first black president. Of the ways in which I thought he was a lot of ways maligned and misrepresented and attacked and targeted in the most vicious way.

The terror that accompanied his presidency was really enormous. … I thought that it would be really wonderful to thank him for his service to the nation, to thank him for his extraordinary accomplishment and his courage and his conviction. And his humility in the face of it all. And then, of course, he sang ‘Amazing Grace,’ which was like a shot heard around the world. For a week, two weeks, no matter where you went, no matter what radio station you turned on, whether it was in Berlin or Russia or South America, the United States, everybody had focused on this idea that he had sang this song, and beautifully, and what it called up in them was not unlike what it called up in me.

So in a dream — because I think most of my ideas come when I’m very, very relaxed or in that sort of in-between moment between being awake and asleep, in sort of a twilight zone. … So I was explaining in my dream to a group of students how they might approach making a work about our times and about Obama. It was just sort of laid out in my dream, and I woke up and I rolled over to my computer and I wrote about 30 artists, and I asked them if they would be willing to contribute to a gift box that I wanted to make for the president. They would be musical compositions by great composers and pieces of art and photographs and poetry and essays, and all of it. And I would package it all in a sort of beautiful way and offer it to the presidential library as a gift, as a reflection of what artists were doing during his time and our thanks to him as the first African-American president of the United States.

A number of black artists have blossomed since 2008 because the Obama family’s presence in White House was so inspiring. How has our current climate informed the way you think about things?

It’s sort of like the ‘changing same,’ as Amiri Baraka would say. We’ve always been pressed. The Obamas had to deal with it while they were in the White House running the country. They had to deal with the backlash of white America, conservative America, against their presence. And we’ve had to deal and negotiate that backlash and those feelings of anxiety since. Many of the texts, all of the texts that I wrote remain just as relevant as they were before Trump walked into the White House. It’s really the same sort of historical circumstances. It’s simply more revealed in the most heinous way, and that we would have the president of the United States as the focal point at that animus and anger, I think, is a thing that is really significant about the moment.

Who are you hoping Grace Notes strikes a nerve with?

I don’t imagine any number of conservatives rushing to see this show. I think I always make work for myself, first and foremost, because I’m trying to understand something. Negotiate something. Clarify something. Or just ask myself certain kinds of questions that I need to simply have hanging in the air around me. I may not have the answer. I don’t have the answer to many things. The older I get, the less knowledgeable I become.

As a MacArthur Foundation fellow, you’re a certified genius, though. It’s official.

But I do think that the thing that I care about most is asking the right kinds of questions for our time, and that is what I’m hoping to share with our audience. Just asking the right kinds of questions. So, for instance, what is grace?

So I started working on this piece, I don’t know, maybe two years ago, three years ago. I can’t remember anymore. Spoleto commissioned it after the Charleston shootings. So I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to call this piece Grace Notes: Reflections for Now.’ So what is grace? And I didn’t have an answer. I was still up at 7 this morning struggling with this answer. Struggling with the question. And trying to answer it for myself so that I might be able to provide something for the audience. But then I realized that I really needed to ask the audience the question.

That’s been the process. And so I’m hoping that it engages people that are interested in asking themselves reflective questions about where we are, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it. … What kinds of questions do we need to ask about the sort of ongoing systemic violence against black people? How are we culpable? Is there any moment in which we are culpable?

So my coming to terms, then, with this sort of idea about grace is, maybe it’s the way, even though we’re maligned and mistreated, that we offer the best of ourselves and the best of our humanity to others, even to those who wish we were dead. I am still offering my gift of humanity to you because I know how important it is. I know you need it. I know I can share it. I know that I can reveal it, help you see it so that charity and compassion become critical in the acts of living through grace.

I ask myself at a certain point, well, is it a quality? Is it a state of being? Is it an adjective, a noun, a pronoun, an adverb? And then I call my mother. And in the show there’s a recording of my mother talking about grace.

I’m hoping that, yes, that we ask questions of ourselves and of our audience, and that they walk away curious. If they walk away with just some other questions they consider, then I’ve done my job.

There’s so much frustration and so much anger. I mean, we’re having conversations about whether or not it’s ethical to punch Nazis.

It is. (laughs) Let’s just cut to the chase. Yes.

How do you find grace when you’re fed up? I was wondering, geez, what would you have done if instead of me at the door it was Richard Spencer? I don’t know that I have much grace to extend to him.

It’s bigger than you or I. I think it’s the condition that we have endured, and that in the process of that endurance that we’re still whole. Bent but not broken. Holding on to the core of ourselves. And still being willing to offer the breath of humanity to others, because we’re not actually walking around the streets and marching up and down and shooting white m—–f——.

I know that there is something sick about the way in which you have come to understand yourself in relationship to me. That’s a gift, that I say I don’t hate you. I don’t have the energy or the time to do that. I have to hold on to my humanity. I have to hold on to my dignity. Allowing this detritus to rob you of your essence, to rob you of your beauty, that would be the crime.

So I think that grace is much bigger than — it’s not turning the other cheek. It’s really understanding that someone has lost their humanity and you’re trying to offer it back.

After the Harvey Weinstein revelations came out, wave after wave of women — not just celebrities, but all sorts of women — have come forward to say, “I’ve been sexually assaulted or have been sexually harassed.”

I don’t think I know any women that haven’t been. Somebody has touched your a–, tried to f— you or did f— you. Almost every woman that I know. And we took it.

How do we overthrow hundreds of years of patriarchy?

Start with your husband. (laughs) Start with him. I think that this is really kind of a, what do you call it? A salient moment.

But we really have to talk about the sort of sense of silence that women have endured, have placed on themselves, the way in which we’ve muzzled ourselves because we wanted our job, we wanted a man, we wanted the position, we wanted to be with the boys. Whatever it is, we have to talk about that, too, as we talk about the larger issues of the ways in which women have been historically treated.

What’s your source of hope?

You. Us. Even in my dismay, even as I watch the moral fiber of the country collapse under the weight of this very dangerous man that’s in the White House, he’ll only be around for a minute. The arc of history is long, and we have much to do. As people in New Orleans said and other places, honey, we lived through Jim Crow and came through. Right? Couldn’t get on a bus. Couldn’t move around. Couldn’t drink from a water fountain.

In the broad scheme of things, it doesn’t mean a thing. It just represents the worst of what America has to offer. But we’ve always known that that was there anyway, so he’s in one way no surprise. We thought that we had gotten a little further down the road. But I do think of that silly saying, ‘Hope does spring eternal.’ And that I can’t allow this moment to rob me of my humanity. It’s a time to really invest and anchor and be clear about my intentions and what I believe is best for me and the people that I care about and think about and honor. And to figure out ways to do that in the best possible way that allows as many people as possible to participate in that and to look at that and to see that. And I think that, in some way, Grace Notes is that.

Daniel Gibson talks LeBron and Kyrie, rapping and Love & Hip Hop Hollywood Former Cavalier is a rapper on reality TV show with ex-wife Keyshia Cole

Daniel Gibson played alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving during his seven-year NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The sharpshooter appeared in the 2007 NBA Finals as a rookie and nailed nearly 50 percent of his 3-pointers during the 2009-10 season.

While Gibson’s shooting ability gave him realistic hope for a lengthy career, he disappeared from the NBA scene in 2013. The 31-year-old Gibson recently resurfaced in the reality show Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood with his ex-wife, rhythm and blues singer Keyshia Cole. The budding rapper known as “Boobie” in the NBA now goes by “Booby.”

What happened to Gibson, and why isn’t he playing now? He explained it all and talked about his basketball aspirations in a different realm, the support he receives from Cole, why the Cavaliers brought him to tears, James, Irving and more in a Q&A with The Undefeated.


Do you think NBA fans or your fans in general have some misconceptions about why you’re not playing in the NBA anymore? ‘Did he fall off the earth? Or did it have something to do with Keyshia Cole?’ What is perception and reality?

Man, there are so many misconceptions when it comes to me not playing basketball. The headline I hated to see, and I even contacted them about it, is ‘Daniel Gibson quits the NBA to rap.’ It’s foolish. You can do both. [Portland Trail Blazers guard] Damian Lillard does it. It’s not something you have to completely stop doing to do the other. That bothers me because that time in my life, it was so difficult. Basketball was what I did. I still was writing music and writing short stories at the same time. But basketball was taken away from me.

Daniel Gibson #1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots against Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks on April 1, 2013.

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

I wanted to play, but I couldn’t. I didn’t stop because I wanted to switch lanes. That bothered me. But it was just a physical thing, and I am the type of guy that if I am going to do something, I have to be completely invested in it and getting out of it what I want. I’m a realist. I am going to tell myself that you might have to start thinking about other things. I have to be fulfilled as a person.

What is the latest with your rap career?

The music has been amazing. It’s starting to take a life of its own since I got on the show. We started filming and people are starting to see me in a different light. They get to actually see my music, writing and just the whole aspect of what I call ‘my entertainment,’ and how it comes from a real place. It’s not just something that I’m doing. It’s not just a hobby. I released a song called ‘Nobody Knows,’ and it kind of describes my transition and the stuff I dealt with weighing basketball and a career in entertainment.

On last Sunday night’s episode, Keyshia Cole said that you should start playing basketball again. Are you interesting in playing basketball anymore?

Yes. But in terms of the NBA, it’s tough because of the injuries that I have had with my ankle, my knee, my back. It started to be challenging to play 82 games and compete at a high level. The struggles started when I would fly after having my ankle surgery. When we would land in a city, and we might have back-to-back games — and I know [the NBA] has changed that rule this season — my foot would be swollen. It would be a whole day process to get it to where I could perform. It got to the point where it became grueling.

Keyshia said that jokingly, ‘That is what I know you to be good at.’ She always picks at me about doing the music. But she is in support of it and knows how talented I am with it and just how tough basketball began to be for me at the end of my career. But to answer your question, I’m open to it all. It’s just a matter of me and my health, and which direction God wants me to go with the way my body is going for me.

In 2013, when you last played in the NBA, how did your body feel?

Whew. I think that was the year I came back from breaking my ankle. That was probably the toughest time, getting back, playing and not having the full extension of your foot and trying to figure out how to compete and be productive and enjoy the game.

There was some interest from other NBA teams for you to come back, but would it be fair to say you declined those opportunities due to your injuries?

Absolutely. When I stopped playing, I had options to go a few different places to either work out or possibly talk about joining other teams. So, for me it was solely about that point in my career. Would I be happy playing and feeling like I can’t contribute the way that I want to? Or, while I was still young, start to make sure I was lining everything up in my life. Just be real with myself. It was a pretty tough time for me because I was dealing with a lot of other things in my life as well.

Keyshia Cole and Daniel Gibson

Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Are you at peace with not playing in the NBA anymore?

I can’t say that I am completely at peace. I got in with Keyon Dooling and Corey Maggette and we created ‘The Champions League,’ which is a league for guys who still have names and can still play at a high level but might not be able to play five games in seven nights. Guys like myself, Mike Bibby, Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, Al Harrington, Jason Williams. We would go play in smaller markets.

I wouldn’t say that I completely have come to peace with it. I just found ways to continue to do what I love to do, but in a capacity that I am OK with. Even the BIG3, it’s probably something I will do as well. It will still allow me to play basketball at a high level.

You didn’t try to play in the BIG3 in their inaugural season this summer?

That body … after I hurt my ankle trying to get back from it, I ended up hurting up my other knee, too, probably compensating. After they reached out to me for that, I had just got it scoped. I couldn’t participate. People have no idea. They think I’m just on Love & Hip Hop or making music is just sitting on my a–. It’s been a lot. But it’s also been necessary. It’s also been working for me.

How have you held up mentally through all this change?

Initially, I probably hit rock bottom in terms of how I felt about myself and where I was in life. Now, I’m at peace with that. Since, I’ve been very vocal about that experience just because anyone else dealing with something mentally due to drama and things happening in their life, I try to be a walking inspiration. Yeah, things happen and come in flurries. You don’t know when they will come, but you bounce back and become stronger from it.

Did you have problems watching NBA games?

I didn’t watch the games. It was basketball, but I was also going through my divorce too. I lost someone in my family that I was real close to. It was a combination of a lot of things. Places that I had for refuge and always went for sanity were gone. At that point, I had to do a lot of self-reflection about a lot of things. That was during the 2013-14 season when I was thinking about coming back and I couldn’t.

How has writing and rapping helped you?

I’d like to say the writing. The writing is the expression of my poetry and a lot of the stories I tell when I write them. It pretty much saved me. That’s what I tell everybody. When I couldn’t hoop, I just started writing stories. I would write stories with fairy-tale endings that would make me happy, and it started to give me motivation to go out and do it. I just started writing, and I developed a passion for it.

That’s why when someone asks me about music or anything like that, I get emotional with it. It’s just something that gave me an outlet when I didn’t have any. In that process, I perfected the craft and studied the craft. It gave me the same drive like when you first start playing basketball and you first hear the nets when you make your first 3-pointer, you get addicted to the sound of the nets. It started being that way when I started affecting people the same way with my telling stories, writing and being creative. It kind of gave me more zest for life and put me back in the position I was in before, but only stronger, more motivated and able to move more people.

When did you start rapping?

During this whole process, it was always poetry and short stories that I would write. But when I was going through everything, things got dark. I didn’t want to write so much. Then I met this producer and he saw what I was writing and asked if I ever thought about putting it to music. I was like, ‘Nah.’ Once I started doing that, I pretty much slept in a studio for like, three months. I was just writing stories, telling stories. That is where the song ‘Nobody Knows’ comes from. I wrote that about everything that I was going through. Wanting to play basketball and not being able to, what was happening in my life. It just started to just be my escape.

The microphone just became my therapy. I could talk about whatever and come out of there feeling brand-new. Just the artistry and the freedom of that creativity is what I love most. But if I never made a dollar making music, I’d still be the happiest man in the world with what it does for me.

Former NBA player Daniel “Boobie” Gibson participates in the Sprite celebrity basketball game during the 2015 BET Experience.

Chelsea Lauren/BET/Getty Images for BET

Have you been able to still be productive with the money you made during your NBA career? (Gibson made $22 million during his NBA career, according to Basketball Reference.)

Being a country boy and not ever feeling like I had to keep up with the Joneses, I’ve always been one to do my own thing. That really put me in position to do whatever I wanted to do when I stopped playing. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I’m able to pursue this and not worry about anything. I’m able to be passionate, invest in myself and take risks in myself without having to feel like I have to depend on anyone else. And that has been the most beneficial part of all this because the song I put out, the numbers that it did and the turnaround on it, it didn’t have to filter through anybody but me, because I write my own stuff. Basketball pretty much set me up for everything.

Do you have an album dropping soon?

I have a mixtape and an EP [extended play]. Ever since the show came out, all these people have been trying to get to me. I’m still trying to decide whether or not to partner with somebody or continue to go back the way I have been, independent. But I will probably drop something at the end of this Love & Hip Hop season called Flowing B. It’s just a mixtape that I’m going to do. And just to continue the momentum that I have going now, I’m still deciding on whether or not to sign with a label. … There has been a lot of interest in that regard.

So, the show has been positive for you?

Nobody really knew. They only judge what I was doing because me being a basketball player. But they never took the time to actually hear a song. They just automatically assume just because every other [basketball] rapper before, I would say, wasn’t that good or didn’t really have time, they kind of jump to conclusions. But with the show, it is like, ‘He is actually doing it.’ It’s a different set of fans. I think it opened up people’s eyes to the idea of me doing it. It’s been good for me.

I don’t have complaints. I try to stay away from the drama. I am not the drama type. You get caught up with it a little bit. But I really want people to see me in a different light and know that I am just doing what I love to do.

How did you feel when Cleveland won the 2016 NBA championship?

I cried, man. I get invested, man. I only played for the Cavaliers. They love me to death every time I go there now. They roll out the red carpet. I don’t have to pay for nothing. The first year they went to the Finals and LeBron went to the Finals, that was my rookie year. To go through what we went through, losing 25 games in a row and they were still packing it out. … Man, when they won, I was sitting on the couch. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I got me [a title] too. If we don’t lose, they don’t get Kyrie, if we didn’t stink it up like we did. I was a part of that.

Have you talked to Kyrie, LeBron or any of your old teammates lately?

I haven’t talked to LeBron this year or of late, but we’ve kept in contact. Kyrie was my ‘rook.’ Me and [Cavaliers center] Tristan [Thompson] went to Texas. KD [Warriors forward Kevin Durant], I keep in frequent contact with. I still talk to a lot of those guys, especially when they come to L.A.

What do you think of LeBron’s and Kyrie’s careers and going their separate ways?

The NBA knows what it is doing. They keep you interested. They have the best players in the world. From the moment Kyrie came in, I saw him as special. From the moment I came in, LeBron told me he was going to make sure that we did big things together. They were both legendary. It didn’t surprise me that Kyrie wanted to do it on his own in the sense of, I personally feel like he doesn’t get enough credit as a point guard. I see a lot of guys get ranked ahead of him. Maybe he felt that since he had such a great player on his team, people couldn’t see all of him.

I don’t know the specifics. That is just my opinion. But I do know that both of those guys are incredible people and incredible talents. Kyrie has it how he wants it now. We’ll see. It should be a fun [season]. But I know when those two play they are going to go at it in a major way.

How would you reflect on your NBA career?

I just thank God for the opportunity to play the game that I love at the highest level against the greatest players in the world. I was truly blessed for the opportunity. I got to go to the Finals. I got to compete. That is all I ever wanted. That was a dream of mine.

What is the difference you feel on an NBA floor and on a stage rapping?

The only difference for me with the stage and with me being able to write and actually say how I feel, it has different impacts. I impact my community because I come from a very humble beginning. I impact my community by making it out. And now, as I continue to grow and get better with my ability to write and create music, I still will be able to impact the world more so with my words and some of the ideas that I have.

And then on stage, it’s just like making a 3 in the fourth quarter. You have the crowd with you, and you’re able to deliver your message, inspire, uplift and make people happy. And I feel like that’s my purpose. That is what God put me on earth to do, giving me another way to impact people.

Chicago Sky center Imani Boyette is helping break taboo on mental illness African-Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population

Once there was a 10-year-old girl who found herself in an unexplained and vulnerable position. Filled with hurt and pain, in her mind she thought her presence on this earth was doing more harm than good. In her mind, she was the black sheep of the family. In her mind, she was crying out for help with a voice that no one could hear. But one day, her mind told her it was time to stop crying out. She decided it was time to end the pain she felt, or at least to try.

Before she was the center of the Chicago Sky, she was a child named Imani Stafford-McGee who tried to overdose on headache medication. It was her first attempt at suicide, but it was not her last. She was in a battle for her life. It’s a battle that many in the African-American community face but believe they are not free to discuss.

They are like Amanda Chambers, the founder and CEO of Divine Legacy Publishing, who once didn’t leave her house for three months because of anxiety attacks.

Today, the 22-year old WNBA standout and the publisher are sharing their truth in an effort to dispel the myth that mental health should remain a taboo subject.

Stafford-McGee married her college sweetheart, University of Texas football player Paul Boyette Jr., in 2015. The 6-foot-7 Los Angeles native was drafted 10th overall out of Texas by the Sky in the 2016 WNBA. Last season, she ranked seventh in the league in blocks per game and was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team.

The troubles for Boyette, the daughter of former WNBA star Pamela McGee, began when she was caught in a custody battle between her mother and father, Kevin Stafford, at the age of 3. The court granted custody of Boyette to Stafford, implying that McGee’s playing career was interfering with her parenting ability. Her older brother, Golden State Warriors center Javale McGee, remained in the care of their mother.

She developed a rocky relationship with her mother and was sexually molested by a family member while in the care of her father. After revealing as a WNBA prospect that she had been sexually abused from the ages of 8 to 12, Boyette began to speak more openly about her battles with depression. It is one of the leading mental illnesses in the black community, followed by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (commonly known as PTSD).

Using poetry and her WNBA platform, Boyette has become an advocate for mental health, most recently serving as a spokeswoman and summer camp counselor for Sparks of Hope, a nonprofit in Portland, Oregon, that helps children who are survivors of abuse. Through her time speaking out for mental health awareness, she’s observed firsthand the difficulty African-Americans face when approaching this subject. “It is one of the biggest reasons that our community is so heavily afflicted,” said Boyette.

“Poetry helped me find my voice and the confidence to tell my story,” she said. “The more I dove into poetry and shared it with others, I realized my problems weren’t unique. I would go to open mic and poetry slams and watch poetry videos on YouTube and hear all these people speaking openly and authentically about issues that were similar, if not the same, as mine.”

Among the many obstacles that burden the black community, for some the list begins with systemic racism and runs through poverty, police brutality, poor access to quality education, unequal employment opportunities and incarceration. What often won’t be found on that list is acknowledging mental illness.

There is often a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude when it comes to this matter, so mental health remains a secretive subject that many African-Americans who struggle with it refuse to discuss or report. While sometimes keeping things under wraps may not have an adverse effect, in other cases it can mean the difference between life and death. For Boyette, it could have been the latter.

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. They are also more likely to experience factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as homelessness and exposure to violence. The National Alliance on Mental Health states that African-American children are more likely to be exposed to violence than any other race.

There are several components that make publicly discussing mental illness a challenge. One of them is the notion that it’s not real.

Chambers often found herself separating from the outside world for fear of having to explain her anxiety attacks. People often lack empathy when talking about certain disorders, she said.

“It used to be very hard because people’s stock response regarding anxiety is typically, ‘You just need to relax.’ Well, if it was that easy, don’t you think I would do it? I mean, who wants to feel anxious?

“For a long time, I just kept it to myself. I didn’t even try to explain it to my husband, let alone other people. I stayed to myself, didn’t leave the house much, which was easy because I work from home, and I stopped attending events. At the time, it was just easier for me to retreat than to have to explain myself to people who refused to acknowledge that anxiety is a real thing. At one point I didn’t leave the house for about three months.”

Another obstacle is the idea of keeping in-house business in-house. “I was always taught what happens in the Stafford household stays in the Stafford household,” Boyette recalled. And while this tactic helps keep family business private, it can make it difficult to decipher when professional help is needed.

Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist who has appeared on several television networks, told Essence magazine that there is a general distrust of medical professionals because of their cultural bias.

“There are some health care providers who assume that … strife in black people or having a difficult time are what’s to be expected. In some cases they may normalize what may be a traumatic reaction,” Taylor told the magazine. Compound this with the fact that fewer than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members are African-American and it becomes clearer why black people might not seek help: They don’t believe providers are culturally competent enough to understand their issues.

Chambers found the strength to deal with her anxiety in her company. “It’s one of the reasons I started my publishing company,” she said. “When it comes to my business, I map everything out and set realistic deadlines that my clients and I agree on. Being able to see the deadlines puts me in control, and I don’t feel anxious at all. My clients love it because I’m extremely organized and detailed with everything, which is important in my line of work.”

Boyette found her strength to handle depression in poetry: “I always credit poetry with saving my life, and the many beautiful and supporting people I met through the art.”

Both Boyette and Chambers understand the lack of mental health resources in the black community, and that is why they speak out. Boyette uses her life as a warning to others to seek help. “My biggest word of advice is to keep fighting,” she said. “It sounds so cliché, but I couldn’t fathom my life today at 15-16 because I didn’t want to live. But I’m so overjoyed that someone bigger than me calls the shots.

“I encourage people dealing with these issues to, one, give yourself a break; some days you may only be able to brush your teeth — and that’s OK. But you have to try again tomorrow. And, two, you have to stay hopeful. Hope is the strongest weapon you have against darkness, against sorrow. I encourage people to seek help, be it professional or a loved one.”

Chambers is trying to provide a voice for the voiceless. Through programs with her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, Chambers talks about mental health with college students and is more open about it now than ever before. “In the beginning, it was [difficult to talk about having a mental illness]. Now I’m very outspoken about it. I have to be, because somewhere there’s a person who’s been sitting in his or her house for three months because they are scared of what people will say. I have to give that person a voice. I know how it feels to have no voice.”

Pots & pans: It’s time to slide into summer, it’s Memorial Day Whether it’s Kool-Aid or champagne, let’s toast ’cause summer is here

On Memorial Day, many of us return to the water. The ocean washes up on West Coast beaches. The spray from open fire hydrants splashes onto smiling faces in East Coast cities. On Memorial Day, many of us return to the land, rural campsites to big-city parks.

We crank up the volume on our stereos looking for the good-times soundtrack, today and yesterday, Motown to Nashville, Chic to Alan Jackson.

We eat strawberries and cream and chase them down with champagne. We eat roast pig and chase it down with cervezas. We eat fried chicken and chase it down with Kool-Aid, grape or cherry.

We dance, dance, dance, often in a line, but sometimes in delirious circles, our mouths open, as if we want to let the sunshine in. We watch the elders defy the march of time with their stunning and surprising dance moves. We march to the malls, our charge cards at the ready, to take no prisoners at the holiday sales.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with mourning the servicemembers who have died in the nation’s wars.

But Memorial Day can be what you make of it, what you want and need it to be.

And many of us need Memorial Day to be a time for barbecue, beaches and beer, the moment that the door into summer gets kicked open by feet shod in high-heeled sneakers, or cowboy boots or sandals.

After all, school is already out for many colleges and universities. And nothing announces summer more deliciously than the end of school.

In the coming days and weeks, the children freed from school will beguile us at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby, The Little League Baseball World Series, celebrations of Americana through childhood competitions.

More importantly, in summer, the children beguile one another, lost in the poetry of unscripted play, a celebration of the childhood imagination.

And then there is love.

There is nothing like love, especially a new love, especially in summer, a kiss that lasts forever.

Throughout the year, TV brings us together to tell us horror stories, death and destruction, tumult and terror, with seemingly no one ready, willing or able to save us.

But the Memorial Day weekend begins the summer movie blockbuster season in earnest. Hollywood brings us together under the cover of darkness at our multiplex movie theaters: The American summer blockbusters give us bombs bursting in air, men with square jaws and women with hourglass figures. The good bad guys, the bad good guys, the superheroes, the ultimate outsiders, to save the day before all the popcorn has been eaten.

As always, Memorial Day finds the sports world in transition. The NBA and the NHL are set to choose champions. Then the focus of most big-time pro sports will move from indoors to outdoors, and Major League Baseball will enjoy its season in the sun.

No matter what games we play, no matter how well or how badly, we can all be boys and girls of summer.

And, for many of us, summer begins today.

Cheers!

Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Are You Experienced’ turns 50 With hits like ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Third Stone From The Sun,’ the rock superstar’s first album is as revolutionary as ever

It commences with a buzz. A high-pitched drone, insistent and frenzied, like a wasp tunneling for your brain. The sound builds, intensifying until it erupts in a blast of lurching rhythm and stabbing electric guitar. A male voice, sly and insinuating, arises from the din:

You know you’re a cute little heartbreaker (foxy!)
You know you’re a sweet little lovemaker (foxy!)
I’m gonna take you home, I won’t do you no harm
You’ve got to be all mine! All mine!
Ooh! Foxy Lady …

Today, the buzzing sound that opens “Foxy Lady” seems like a metaphor for the buzz Jimi Hendrix created 50 years ago upon his arrival on the international music scene. Released May 12, 1967, “Foxy Lady” is the opening track on the U.K. edition of Are You Experienced, the debut album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (the LP wouldn’t be issued in the U.S. until August that year). The absolute Molotov cocktail of 1960s rock recordings, Are You Experienced was so powerful, so volcanically innovative, so out there, it changed the course of music history. After its release, rock and R&B music would be harder, funkier, more street, and with an emphasis on virtuosity that rivaled the postwar bebop jazz era.

Along with mid-1960s recordings by the Beatles and Cream, Are You Experienced ushered in the age of psychedelia and high-concept albums. Widely regarded as a benchmark in the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal music, Are You Experienced was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, an honor extended to records of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.”

After all, Hendrix’s high-wire solos on Are You Experienced transformed guitar playing into a competitive sport, inspiring generations of guitarists, including Carlos Santana, Prince, Ernie Isley, Lenny Kravitz, Vernon Reid, Slash, Tom Morello, Gary Clark Jr. and countless others. Are You Experienced also signaled the arrival of the power trio, a rock threesome capable of creating a symphony-scale commotion, with the help of amplification technology. Following the Experience’s lead, influential bands such as The Police, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Nirvana, Green Day and John Mayer Trio took the power trio concept to the bank.

Jimi Hendrix live in Gulfstream Park, Florida, (near Miami) in 1968

But most of all, Are You Experienced showcased Hendrix’s extraordinary musical range, from the acid-dropping euphoria of “Purple Haze” to the folklike storytelling of “Hey Joe” and the sensitive R&B balladry of original Hendrix compositions such as “May This Be Love” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” Rolling Stone ranks Experienced No. 15 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, praising Hendrix for establishing “the transcendent promise of psychedelia.” Smithsonian musicologist Reuben Jackson has said Are You Experienced changed music just like James Joyce’s Ulysses changed literature. “You read a page or two of Ulysses,” Jackson told NPR in 2006, “and then you listen to just ‘Purple Haze’ and you think, My goodness, what is this?’ ”

“Purple Haze”


For Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced was the culmination of a lifelong musical obsession.

Born James Marshall Hendrix on Nov. 27, 1942, he took up the guitar because “every house you went into seemed to have one lying around.” Enthralled by blues and rock legends such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Buddy Holly, Hendrix became proficient via sheer will. Self-taught, he practiced incessantly, taking his guitar almost everywhere.

After a stint with the 101st Airborne Division, Hendrix hit the road, performing with chitlin’ circuit legends such as Little Richard, the Isley Brothers and Wilson Pickett. In 1966, Hendrix was discovered performing at New York’s famed Café Wha? by Chas Chandler, a budding British manager. Sensing he’d struck pay dirt, Chandler whisked Hendrix to England, teaming the guitarist with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was born.

Though the trio had yet to play its first gig, the Experience had already done something revolutionary. Here was Hendrix, a foppish black man from segregation-torn America, calling the shots in a rock trio featuring two white British musicians. The Experience’s inverted chain of command was almost as jarring as its music, a symbol of racial unity and growing black empowerment amid the backdrop of the civil rights movement.

Are You Experienced was so powerful, so volcanically innovative, so out there, it changed the course of music history.

To promote his controversial new band, manager Chandler arranged a grinding European tour that found the Experience performing in England, Luxembourg, Germany, France and Holland. Initially, the band padded its set with classics such as Otis Redding’s “Respect” and Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour,” but Hendrix’s songwriting muse shifted into overdrive as the tour wore on, resulting in the original tunes that would form the Experience’s debut album. “A lot of material suddenly came out in a very short space of time,” said drummer Mitchell.

The Experience was an instant sensation, garnering the enthusiastic support of Europe’s rock elite and netting the band a recording contract with newly established Track Records. “We got a tremendous amount of help from people like Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and John Lennon,” Chandler recalled. “They would rave about Hendrix and turn the entire course of an interview around just to talk about him.”

The 11 tracks that would constitute Are You Experienced were recorded over five months in three London studios. The album’s U.K. release was preceded by the singles “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Purple Haze,” all of which rocketed to the British Top 10. To stoke demand for Are You Experienced, it was decided that none of the aforementioned hits would be included on the album’s U.K. edition.

Are You Experienced went on to spend 33 weeks on the British music charts, peaking at No. 2, a tremendous feat for a debut artist. Pundits speculate that the only thing that prevented Hendrix’s debut from reaching No. 1 was the June 1 release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But while Hendrix had taken Europe by storm, reaction to Are You Experienced wasn’t totally enthusiastic. (“The kindest thing I can say about … Are You Experienced is that I survived one full session,” huffed Liverpool Post critic George Gregson.) Still, such scathing reviews were rare. Having conquered Britannia and its Atlantic neighbors, the Experience set its sights on the U.S.

Fifty years hence, Are You Experienced still inspires both blinding awe and head-scratching bewilderment. “Manic Depression” employs a ¾-time waltz rhythm to communicate a message of mental torment. “Love or Confusion” starts out like a cosmic Indian raga before mutating into a lithe, sexy samba. On “Third Stone from The Sun,” the Experience pits amp feedback and Wes Montgomery-style guitar chords against whirling jazz drums, creating a sound that could only be described as “space swing.” With its stun guitar and lumbering beat, “Purple Haze” sounds like Godzilla leveling Tokyo, while the album’s title track resembles a Scottish bagpipe reel transposed for the rock trio.

Song after song, the album lobs sonic grenades at the listener, leaving mind-bending psychic explosions in their wake. The album betrays Hendrix’s disdain for pop music conventions: None of the LP’s 11 tracks possesses anything close to a traditional, sing-along chorus — unless you think Hendrix frantically repeating “Stone Free!” constitutes a chorus.

Yet, for all their idiosyncrasies, Hendrix’s songs feature some of the most memorable lines in rock: “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky”… “is this love, or confusion?”… “move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over!” His seeming contempt for songwriting norms is all the more impressive considering Are You Experienced was released before underground FM radio reached critical mass, offering artists like Hendrix a platform.

Curiously, music was only part of the debut album’s charms. Though Hendrix reportedly hated his singing voice, his vocals, which deftly staked out the space between whispery tenor and midrange-y baritone, possessed so much gravitas he could make even the most inane lyric sound like divine writ. His lyrics were street poetry that often veered into science fiction territory. OK, so tracks like “Foxy Lady,” “Red House” and “Hey Joe” find him portraying the tongue-flicking Lothario, or the vengeful jilted lover. But on ballads such as “May This Be Love,” he exhibits the vulnerable sensitivity that made him such an expressive musician.

Some people say daydreaming’s for all the lazy-minded fools
With nothing else to do

So let them laugh, laugh at me,
So just as long as I have you, to see me through,
I have nothing to lose …

But “May This Be Love” is a rarity. The tracks that bookend that gorgeous ballad seethe with frustration, befuddlement and fear of persecution, including “Purple Haze” (“don’t know if I’m coming up or down”) and “Love or Confusion” (“my mind is so mixed up, goin’ round and round”). On the self-explanatory “Manic Depression,” Hendrix’s frustration seemingly knows no bounds.

Manic depression is searching my soul
I know what I want, but I just don’t know … how to go about getting it
Music, sweet music, I wish I could caress
Manic depression is a frustrating mess!

These tense, high-strung sentiments beg a question: Did Hendrix suffer from mental illness, perhaps bipolar disorder or worse? Though we’ll never know the answer, it’s interesting to speculate how an undiagnosed emotional disorder might have fueled the guitarist’s matchless creativity, influenced his music and fed his insatiable appetite for adventure.

The other thing “Manic Depression” underscores is Hendrix’s love of music, an affection so deep he wished he could caress it, make love to it. Are You Experienced would reveal just how close Hendrix could come to accomplishing that rhetorical goal, but first he had to endure the real-life experiences that would help sculpt him into rock’s greatest expressionist.


On June 18, 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience played the Monterey International Pop Festival, a first-of-its-kind showcase intended to promote artistic rock acts emanating from around the world. Performing on a roster that included Redding, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jefferson Airplane and sitar player Ravi Shankar, Hendrix and the Experience stole the show. Splendid in a ruffled orange shirt and feather boa, Hendrix pulled out all the stops, playing guitar behind his back, with his teeth, between his legs, the works. In a rock ’n’ roll sacrificial rite, the guitarist set his beloved Fender Stratocaster on fire, then smashed it during a finale performance of the rock anthem “Wild Thing.”

The shock of that set is captured in D.A. Pennebaker’s 1986 documentary Jimi Plays Monterey. As Hendrix tosses his shattered guitar into the Monterey crowd, Pennebaker’s cameras pan on some young women in the audience, their faces pallid with horror, confusion and desire.

Roughly two months after that debut U.S. performance, Are You Experienced was finally issued in the U.S. on Aug. 23, 1967. The album remained on Billboard’s Top LPs chart for 106 weeks. Unlike the U.K. edition, the album’s U.S. version included the singles “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Purple Haze.” To date, Are You Experienced has sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S.

Here was Hendrix, a foppish black man from segregation-torn America, calling the shots in a rock trio featuring two white British musicians.

Many English rock fans today embrace Hendrix as an honorary Briton. Though he was born and raised stateside in Seattle, Hendrix was born again in the England. The country is rightfully proud to have served as the launching pad for the greatest rock musician ever. Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding are all dead now, the first classic rock band whose members are all dead. Ironically, a song from Are You Experienced suggests Hendrix may have harbored doubts about his future. Entitled “I Don’t Live Today,” the guitarist claimed the track was a paean to the world’s indigenous peoples, but the lyrics could easily be viewed as Hendrix pondering his legacy.

Will I live tomorrow?
Well, I just can’t say …

On its 50th anniversary, The Jimi Hendrix Experience is universally acclaimed. A half-century later, the Hendrix buzz still resounds.