Fox Searchlight parties with the stars of ‘Battle of the Sexes’ and ‘The Shape of Water’ Day 5 at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — Fox Searchlight feted its latest offerings, including the Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs tale Battle of the Sexes, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, starring Tyrion Lannister (er, Peter Dinklage) with a swanky party Sunday night.

The studio held the party, a fixture here at the Toronto International Film Festival for more than 30 years, in the lobby of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which was specially built for opera and ballet performances. In attendance: Octavia Spencer, Billie Jean King, Andy Serkis, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Sarah Silverman, Zachary Quinto, Natalie Morales, Michael Shannon, James McAvoy, Frances McDormand and Bill Pullman.

So nobody, basically.

I went with another writer who warned me not to eat dinner because the food would be great. And there’d be plenty of it, because if there’s nothing else reliable about Hollywood types, they don’t really eat. Journalists, on the other hand, are shameless that way. Studio parties are a curious mix of industry professionals, actors and writers, and mostly you’re trying to find a good way to butt into famous people’s conversations before you wander off to the bar or grab an hors d’œuvre from a caterer’s tray. Oh, and it’s also a good way to see how tall people are in real life. McAvoy, for instance, is quite short. The women, of course, are all skinnier than seems humanly possible, but you knew that.

Anyhow, both Battle of the Sexes and The Shape of Water are hot tickets here, and I managed to catch both on Monday.

Battle of the Sexes

Courtesy of TIFF

The script for Battle of the Sexes, written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, The Full Monty) can feel a bit obvious, a common occurrence in biopics where people’s lives get boiled down to their Wikipedia essentials. For example, we see Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), King’s WTA rival, in conversation with her husband about their suspicion that King is a closeted lesbian:

Barry Court (James McKay): Isn’t she ashamed?

Margaret Court: That’s exactly what she is. And her game’s gonna fall to pieces.

And then five minutes later, that’s exactly what happens, and King loses her title to Court.

The best part of Battle of the Sexes, which is directed by the Little Miss Sunshine team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, is the titular faceoff between King (Emma Stone) and Riggs (Steve Carell). Dayton and Faris have faithfully recreated the 1973 exhibition match, which took place in the Houston Astrodome, right down to the Vegas-style plumage and cabana boys, and Riggs’ ridiculous jacket plugging Sugar Daddy candy. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but Battle of the Sexes tends to exaggerate the size difference between Riggs and King. Carell’s Riggs is a bit hulking and over-the-hill, while Stone appears daintier than King in her prime.

But the big issue with Battle of the Sexes may just be how much territory it cedes to Riggs, or rather, Carell-as-Riggs, who frankly kinda steals the movie. Some of that is the nature of Riggs’ personality: He’s a clown with a gambling problem who, instead of fixing himself, charms everyone into abetting him.

He’s a troll, yes. But he’s a charismatic troll.

The other factor that doesn’t necessarily serve Stone, or King’s story for that matter, is that Battle of the Sexes offers little in the way of revelations about King. That’s certainly a challenge, considering that she’s been a public figure for 45 years, but it’s not impossible. One exception: When King finally beats Riggs, we see her alone in the locker room after the match, crying in relief. Pressure is a privilege, as King likes to say, but one way or another, it will extract its pound of flesh.

The Shape of Water

Courtesy of TIFF

What a great time to be anybody associated with The Shape of Water, the delightful, fantastical film from director Guillermo del Toro, which just recently won the Golden Lion award for best film at the Venice Film Festival.

The Shape of Water is, on its face, about a mute maid for the fictional Occom Aerospace Research Center named Eliza (Sally Hawkins) who, in 1962, falls in love with a sea creature that has the ability to heal people. The U.S. is in the midst of the space race and is searching for something, anything, to give it a leg up on the Russians. And in del Toro’s movie, the leg just happens to be attached to a sorta-human-sorta-reptilian-sorta-amphibian sea creature who’s worshipped as a god in the Amazon. An American Occom operative named Strickland (Shannon) has captured the creature and brought it to America, where he’s now holding it captive and torturing it with a cattle prod. Eliza works with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and eventually brings her and her best friend and neighbor, Giles (Richard Spencer), into a plan to save the creature, known simply as The Asset (Doug Jones).

But of course, The Shape of Water is about so much more than rescuing a sea creature. It’s about highlighting the cruelty that results from a need to conquer, and the damage that can be done when good men do nothing. And it’s about the dangers of being so consumed with the past that the present passes you by. Still, The Shape of Water offers hope that hearts and minds can truly be changed for the better, even in the most stubborn of individuals.

As Strickland, Shannon basically embodies the worst qualities of a certain kind of man writ large: a priggish, entitled, mansplaining alpha male who seems to have swept in straight out of a Joseph Conrad novel.

Giles, on the other hand, is a committed advertising artist who refuses to acknowledge that modern times — and, in his case, photography — are passing him by. He’s consumed with watching Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Shirley Temple and Mr. Ed, and he insists on turning a blind eye to the violence being inflicted on civil rights activists in Alabama and Mississippi.

It’s easy to make much of the fact that Spencer is revisiting the role of maid in this film, and what’s more, playing one in an aeronautics facility, especially so soon after playing the enterprising Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures. But to reduce Spencer’s role in The Shape of Water simply to “the help” does a disservice both to Spencer’s artistry and the film’s message.

Eliza is literally voiceless, and at work, Zelda is often the one translating for her. In a touching moment after the film’s premiere Monday night, Spencer revealed that she has a brother who is deaf and mute. When they were growing up, he insisted that Spencer and the rest of their family speak rather than learn sign language, a decision Spencer says she regrets to this day.

Set off by an uplifting score by Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water will be one of fall’s most anticipated and highly treasured treats.

Entertainment mogul Damon Dash’s new Dash Diabetes Network is all about healthy living From music mogul to streaming service, Dash keeps reinventing himself — this time, he’s doing it to save lives

Entertainment and media veteran Damon Dash is now in the business of advocating for others to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle and a better quality of life.

The star was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 15 years old. Shortly afterward, he lost his mother to asthma. That’s his motivation for his new venture: the Dash Diabetes Network.

Diabetes appears in two forms, each of which affects the body’s ability to maintain insulin levels. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to create insulin at all, while Type 2 happens when the body struggles to control glucose levels.

According to the American Diabetes Association (the focus of a sharp Netflix documentary What the Health, named for the group’s failure to provide proper dietary information by diabetes risk factors rather than the general population). African-Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes. With 13.2 percent of all African-Americans age 20 or older diagnosed with diabetes, black people are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. The website also notes that African-Americans are significantly more likely to suffer complications common to diabetes, such as blindness, kidney disease and amputations.

That being said, millions of diabetic Americans live healthy and uninhibited lives maintaining their diabetes, and the 40-year-old credits What the Health for prompting him to make some serious dietary changes.

If the multilayered Dash had a traditional resume, it would list a wide variety of accomplishments. Music and entertainment executive — check. Talent discovery agent — check. Record company co-founder — check. Fashion and lifestyle expert — check. Art gallery owner and director — check. Reality TV star — check. Movie director and producer — check. Beverage brand manager — check.

“I might not be a doctor, but I’m in a doctor’s state of mind,” Dash says in the intro of episode one, which aired Aug. 7 on his streaming service at www.damedashstudios.com and on the Dash Diabetes app.

With the Dash Diabetes Network, he uses his influences, his career and his struggle with diabetes as an opportunity to fuse health care and entertainment. The ten 20-minute episodes feature other filmmakers, holistic doctors, musicians and artists to showcase new advances in medicine, recipes, and fitness and wellness tips. Shorter segments are available on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest.

The more Dash evolves, the more he makes history. He was co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records in 1995 with Jay-Z and Kare “Biggs” Burke during an era when East Coast rap — some say — may have saved hip-hop. During his time with the then-flourishing label, new artists emerged and hits were made. He discovered Kanye West and had his hand in cultivating the careers of Cam’ron, Beanie Sigel, DJ Clue, Memphis Bleek and others.

Dash later went into the fashion industry developing the ’90s urban clothing line Rocawear. He was part of the team that outright purchased Armadale Vodka. He later formed the Dame Dash Collection, an upscale clothing line. He also created the clothing line State Property for Beanie Sigel. He produced the critically acclaimed independent film The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon and David Alan Grier, and worked with Lee Daniels on Shadowboxer, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren. In 2009, Dash added theater producer to his resume. He produced the Hip-Hop Monologues for rapper and VH1’s Love & Hip Hop’s standout Jim Jones. Dash also opened an art gallery and a digital media company (Creative Control) and has had three stints in reality television (Ultimate Hustler, Family Therapy with Dr. Jenn and Growing Up Hip Hop).

Dash says he doesn’t consider any day for him to be normal.

“On average, I’ve worked really hard in architecting my life where I can take care of my children, and make my dreams come true at the same time, without compromise,” he explained. “When I wake up, I go test my blood just so I can recalibrate my Dexcom, which is my glucose monitor, and then I usually take the insulin that I need. Then I go work out. I gotta do a lot of 30- to 45-minute workouts.”

Every morning, Dash takes one shot of a drug that provides a long-lasting dose of insulin called Toujeo, which helps with blood sugar control. He also takes Afrezza, a fast-acting insulin that helps control postmeal blood sugar spikes.

“That’s the one I inhale. And they also sponsor the Dash Diabetes Network.”

Then he hits his pool and hot tub.

“I’m not putting on a shirt before 5 [p.m.]; probably it’s gonna be swim trunks, or until I’ve gotta pick my kids up. And it usually entails me looking at content, talking to the staff.”

The world has recently lost entertainers, including rapper Phife Dog and nationally syndicated radio host Doug Banks, to diabetes. According to ranker.com, the history of stars with diabetes dates back to affluent entertainers such as jazz artist Ella Fitzgerald, Gimme A Break! star Nell Carter, Good Times mom and actress Esther Rolle, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and singers Curtis Mayfield, Mahalia Jackson and B.B. King.

Meanwhile, Dash and other stars are doing the work to maintain healthy lifestyles. Actors Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams and Anthony Anderson, Randy Jackson (American Idol), Sherri Shepherd, Patti LaBelle, actress and singer Della Reese and comedian Jay Anthony Brown have all opened up to the public about their diabetes diagnoses.

Dash spoke with The Undefeated about his journey, his health and how he desires to continue to inspire others.


How have you stayed so relevant in the entertainment business, and how do you continue to keep reinventing Damon Dash?

I think probably because I’m not so concerned about it. You know what I mean? And I just continue to make history, ’cause I’m only doing what makes me feel good. I just try to continuously do cool things. And I like to do innovative things. And I like to do things that are honest and authentic. And I think I tell the truth a lot.

So, if you talk to different people about who they know, and what they know about Dame Dash, you might get one age demographic that will talk about Roc-A-Fella, one age demographic that will talk about Rachel Roy [Dash’s ex-wife and mother of his two daughters, Ava and Tallulah] and the fashion, one demographic that might talk about the movie with Kevin Harder, Lee Daniels, one demographic that’s gonna talk about the information I distribute every time I’m in a public platform, like The Breakfast Club, and how I’ve been very upfront about who to look out for and what to look out for within our culture. And now, people will probably talk about my directing, and also the Dash Diabetes Network.

It’s just, as I evolve, the projects that I do evolve with me. And my mentality changes a lot. I tend not to try to stay … I get bored after I’ve accomplished something, or I get to a certain place … I want to do something different.

How do you balance it all?

I think laughter, and love. Because at the end of the day, that’s all that counts. Laughter, and love, and health. And I think that’s where the balance comes in, because everything I do, I enjoy. It’s like life. It’s not even like work. It’s just all me having fun. I don’t recall ever really getting up and feeling like I’ve ever had to go to work. I always look forward to my day.

How has life been since you first opened up to the public about living with diabetes?

I never really looked at it as an open up. Everyone knows I wear everything on my sleeve, like a tattoo. But I’ve always tried to be public about it. But I was never really famous enough for anyone to care. You know, my platform, me directly, it never held that much weight for me to be talking about what was wrong with me. But I think now, in this chapter of my career, of my life, I do hold enough weight where people will listen. And because of the fact that I’ve learned how to control it, where that was a struggle for me before, a bit. I thought that it was time to talk about it for long. But it was always on my bucket list. I would always include it, but people wouldn’t talk about it for some reason, almost like they don’t talk about the fact that I’m a single dad since my son was 8. And he’s 25 now.

By this being such a medically influenced project and you’re encouraging a healthy lifestyle, what do you want viewers to get out of it?

I want them to get healthy. I want people to understand that, No. 1, as relates to diabetes, don’t be ashamed of it. You should embrace that, and that being imperfect is perfection. Because no one’s perfect, and everyone’s dealt some kind of card, and everyone has to play them. And that if a guy like me can make his story diabetic, so can anybody else. And just to be fearless. That’s all, really. And to deal with whatever issue you have. Don’t push them to the side. You gotta deal with them.

And diabetes is a silent killer. It’s something that doesn’t kill you overnight. It takes a minute. So you always have to be constantly thinking about your future when it comes to taking care of diabetes. And I think people should always think about their future, as opposed to just worrying about their present and their past.

Has it been hard for you to incorporate a new diet? And what’s been some of the obstacles?

Well, I never really made a new diet. I’m indulgent. I was just happy to be living, so I was like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna eat whatever I want to eat. I’ll just take more insulin.’ But again, the innovation came, where I started to control it, was because the Afrezza is inhalable, and it works quicker. But, being that I’m educating about diabetes, I was looking for education about health, and I came to my diet recently, just ’cause I learned how bad mass-made and corporate food is, with the GMO [genetically modified organisms], and the tolerance for things that I find unsanitary in the food.

When you say recently, what was that time frame?

About three weeks ago, I watched What the Health and doing more research because Rocky [longtime girlfriend Raquel Horn] thinks diabetes is a lifestyle, so she was showcasing how she was cooking things that weren’t so carb-heavy. My agent actually told me about [the film] ’cause he saw it, and he knew that it was showcasing and it contributed to diabetes. And I watched it, and Rocky watched it, and everyone else that I know that’s watched it since then has become a vegetarian.

What were your indications when you were first diagnosed?

Well, I’ve been diabetic since I was 15, and I was urinating a lot and I was losing weight and I had no appetite, so I was thinking something way worse was wrong with me.

Were you quick to go to the doctor, or did you take a while?

No, no, no. I wasn’t trying to go at all, because I thought they were gonna give me a death sentence. So I was like, ‘Man, I’m gonna just sit this out and see what happens.’ But I got so sick, I was feeling so bad after a month, that my mom made me go. And I was actually pretty happy to find out that I had diabetes. I thought I had something much worse.

Was it difficult in filming the episodes for Dash Diabetes Network, and are you portraying what you want in the episodes?

It was exactly what I wanted. I was in control. I think the last couple of years, I’ve learned how to make content in the way that’s just as good as any other professional. And again, the subject matter is exactly what I wanted to talk about. Because it’s independent, we probably had to do a little more, a lot more in a lot less time, than most. But that’s the way I like to do things. I’m always taking pride in the fact that I am independent. But it really wasn’t difficult at all. The hardest part has been the editing.

When you say the editing, how so?

It’s the kind of thing where if the editor’s not on set, sometimes they don’t know exactly what your vision is, and your point of view. And it’s subject matter that’s important, but some people don’t have the talent or the attention span to sit through it, so you want to make sure that you’re adding things that keep your mind stimulated so people don’t get bored. Or if someone’s not a diabetic, and just cares about one and wants the information, that they stay engaged.

So editing on any level is always the toughest part. And I’ve learned that in being a filmmaker. I just directed and funded two or three movies, one coming out in November called Honor Up. And again, it took me three years to edit it. I had to learn it. Shooting is easy, but postediting is the hardest part.

What’s the best piece you’ve ever given?

My girl, Raquel, usually says things to me that make me think. I think one of her biggest and strongest things is she made me aware of, regardless to what, never become unconsciously inconsiderate, where you’re not caring about other people but you just don’t know it because you’re so full of what you’re doing. So I think I’ve been able to be conscious, based on that.

And then my OG Daniel [Daniel Dnieko, an actor from Kanye West and Damon Dash films] told me if someone never snitches, don’t mess with them at all. And don’t mess with people that mess with snitches. And I’ve always practiced that as well, because if you agree to a contract and you don’t abide by it, whether it’s business or in the street, then I don’t consider that honorable on any level. So always respect what you agree to, whether it’s considered right or wrong to other people. Whatever someone else and you all have signed to, you have to abide to that, to the letter.

Who do you surround yourself with and who helps inspire you day to day?

Raquel basically spearheads mostly because I don’t like to talk to so many people, because people don’t understand me. And sometimes my message, because it’s so direct, becomes offensive. And my methods to get to the chip — I get to the chip, but I usually ruin the relationship to get there. And in dealing with men, because of so much testosterone and ego s—, they can’t take constructive criticism or guidance.

So I tend to surround myself with women, because, No. 1, I don’t want my girl around a bunch of men, and I work with my girl. I don’t want my kids around a bunch of men, my daughters. And women somewhat tend to know how to take care of other people before themselves … I guess it’s a mothering instinct … where men always want a mommy qand feel entitled to get taken care of. And I have no time for a man with a vagina. So I’d only deal with a real woman if I’m gonna deal with that.

I would say the team that I have now, Rocky cultivated it, put it together. It’s about four or five really smart, forward-thinking and very millennial-thinking.

What are you watching?

Right now I’m watching Game of Thrones. I kind of like Insecure, too. I’m really big on Insecure.

I’m also watching Growing Up Hip Hop, ’cause I’m on it.

‘Bachelorette’ finale recap: I’m reclaiming my time Bryan wins in the longest, wackest season finale

We have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok and flat-out deceived. Last night’s three (three!)-hour finale sold Bachelor Nation a fugacious dream. Led to believe that what we thought we knew was going to happen wasn’t going to happen, Bachelor Nation sat through three hours of season 13’s asinine new finale format only to have Bryan, the smarmy, oleaginous Miami sweet-talker, win Rachel’s heart anyway. Yeah, how’s that for SAT words?

So sure were we, we foolhardy loyalists, that a plot twist was around the corner, that speculation quickly turned to fantasy.

Was Eric, the king of emotional glow-ups and breakup beards, our beloved dark horse, going to win it all? NOPE. In a shocking twist, Rachel sends Eric home even though Peter told her he wasn’t ready to get down on one knee and that wasn’t likely to change anytime soon. Let me be clear: I wanted Peter to win. I mean, I knew Bryan was going to win from day one and I wanted Peter to prove me wrong. But when Rachel called out Peter’s name over Eric’s, I let out a noise so primeval I shocked myself and had to apologize to the neighbors.

Eric’s departure was followed by Peter’s. Poor, sweet Peter. Peter, who takes marriage the most seriously of all three men. Peter, whose breakup kiss with Rachel lasted five minutes and who cried when she left and who walked by her eyelashes for two days afterward because he didn’t have the heart to throw them away. How could Rachel just walk away from all that? And then to see Rachel light up on the couch next to him during the live commentary and then try to hide it by being rude because her man is watching — it was too much.

There is one hour left in this finale, and Bryan has won by default. But wait, Bachelorette producer Chris Harrison says, you might want to stick around — do you really think you know who wins? So Bachelor Nation sits tight for naught, although we don’t know it yet.

Let me rant for a second. Rachel, a single, successful black woman in her early 30s, fell into a trap that I see a lot of single, successful black women in their 30s fall into. Here is a good man, Peter. Matter of fact, here are two good men, Eric and Peter. Men with whom you connect on a deep emotional level, who are also attractive and charming but maybe aren’t quite ready to get down on one knee yet (in Peter’s case) or are so new to the love game you write him off (Eric). I know you want to do things the “right” way: engagement, marriage, house, babies, in that order. But come on, Rachel, it’s 2017. There is no right order anymore. Was a ring so important to you that you gave up on love? Because I don’t believe for a second Rachel and Bryan have the kind of strong emotional connection that lasting marriages are built on. But what do I know? I’m not single, I’m not in my 30s, and my “success” is questionable.

The final hour was a blur. A mindless blur. What happened? Doesn’t matter, because the winner was revealed long before the end of the show. That means you have official permission to zone out. Did I mention the asinine new format? Anyway, congrats, Rachel. You might not have gotten the man you wanted, but you got the ring. The gaudy, pear-cut halo pavé ring.

Whatever, fam. Maybe Cardi B will be the next Bachelorette.

Clinton Yates contributed to this report.

Daily Dose: 8/8/17 Is Andrew Wiggins committed to Minnesota?

My God. That Bachelorette finale was too long. Your boy fell asleep on it, took a nap, woke up, AND IT WAS STILL ON. Congratulations, Bryan. I hope Rachel and your cheek implants live happily ever after in paradise.

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Bullying is an awful problem. In terms of schools, administrators and teachers can do their best to curb it, but there are always going to be incidents. One such scenario unfolded in a Cincinnati school bathroom, and an 8-year-old ended up killing himself at home in January afterward. Now, those parents are suing the school district. Child suicide is genuinely one of the most disastrous situations that any community can face, and the pain basically never goes away. The kid’s parents are suing because they weren’t initially told about the nature of the situation.

It’s remarkable how quickly perception can change reality. As soon as this nation decided that we were OK with people smoking or consuming marijuana in one way or another, suddenly it became not only cool but also a luxury item. Of course, we conveniently get to ignore all those people who we threw in jail for years, namely black and brown faces, for doing the same thing. A Harvard MBA is trying to build the “Hermes of cannabis,” and our attorney general is still talking about crackdowns.

When I covered softball in college, I was struck by the camaraderie. The girls on the teams always had chants for each player, no matter who was at the plate. With all that time spent with reps and practice, on the road, etc., you get pretty tight. That in many ways is the fun part. Gooning with your teammates is basically why you sign up. So when a girls’ softball team flipped the bird on Snapchat during a tournament, it was funny and harmless. Nope! God forbid some young girls get to have some fun! They got kicked out of the tournament, which is wrong.

Andrew Wiggins is about to get PAID. You know how I know? Because the Minnesota Timberwolves’ owner said so. Not the coach, not the general manager, not his agent — the owner of the team. That’s about as good an endorsement as you can get. You might remember that his name was in discussions when trade talk with Kyrie Irving was swirling, which would have been interesting considering he was once the Cleveland Cavaliers’ No. 1 overall pick. That said, the owner wants to know that Wiggins is committed to Minnesota. Yeah, that’s not quite how this works.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The 808 drum machine is one of the most iconic instruments in history. Don’t believe me? Well, they made a whole documentary about how its sound basically revolutionized music. Now, Roland is releasing a cheaper version based on the original, which is good news for producers all over the globe.

Snack Time: Monday was the 10th anniversary of Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record. But people forget how good of a hitter he was. Seriously, let’s remember the 2004 season.

Dessert: Doom and Adult Swim are ouchea dropping bangers, kiddos.

Rachel is the Bachelorette black women have been waiting to see In the hands of Rachel, the rose has become a rare sign of black female value

Past hurts can make you do strange things — including watching a TV show you know is absurd.

For 15 years, I turned up my nose at The Bachelor and its spin-off, The Bachelorette. When The Bachelor premiered on ABC in 2002, I was too busy raising school-age kids to be distracted by a show in which a bunch of single women cloistered themselves in a secluded mansion to compete for the hand — or other proffered body parts — of a man they’d just met. The show’s setup seemed unlikely to foster true love. I could see why the titular bachelor would enjoy a bevy of attractive females battling for his affection — offering roses to those he wanted to know better and showing the door to those he didn’t. But what sane woman would court such humiliation unless she was A) an aspiring entertainer for whom the exposure could be lucrative, or B) the type who’d do anything to have millions of eyes on her? And in a world in which romantic attraction routinely crosses color lines, the show’s overwhelmingly white cast seemed out of touch. Why bother?

The following year, ABC flipped the script, getting a gaggle of guys to vie for a Bachelorette. Though slightly more amused by the thought of a bunch of men undercutting each other to woo a woman they barely knew, I never considered watching it.

Until Rachel.

ABC’s announcement in February that it had selected its first black Bachelorette intrigued me in spite of myself. The pool of potential mates for Rachel Lindsay, 31 — a Dallas lawyer who’d been a popular contestant on the last Bachelor — would doubtless be diverse. How would Rachel, the sophisticated daughter of a district judge, negotiate the complex racial dynamics that permeate all of American life when they inevitably surfaced on the show? Would her awareness of the program’s black fans — who’d waited 33 seasons for the franchise to anoint an African-American lead and might understandably have expectations — complicate her choice? A member of the African-American Culture Committee while attending the University of Texas, Rachel — who resembles the Boomerang-era Robin Givens — was open-minded enough to have told white Bachelor Nick Viall she was falling in love with him before he sent her packing. This season, Rachel made it clear she wanted a fiance (“not … a boyfriend”) at the conclusion of her Bachelorette “journey,” and now reports that she is happily engaged to the man she chose from among three finalists in next Monday’s finale.

Although I’m a diehard Dancing with the Stars fan who loves watching klutzy celebs sweat their way to ballroom proficiency, I find most reality TV shows too anti-reality. Anyone who has recorded a smartphone video knows that pointing a camera at people compels them to change everything from their posture to their professed points of view. A dear friend who loves reality shows swears that “people’s veneers inevitably come off.” But how “real” can an engagement that results from such a show be? We’re talking about a relationship forged in a few brief dates with a man fending off dozens of competitors while everyone concerned is stumbling over camera crews and cut off from loved ones and social media.

It’s crazy, right? So why has Rachel’s Bachelorette stint so thoroughly pulled me in? Is it the fun of watching presumably smart people make fools of themselves? Memories of my own distant, wanna-meet-somebody days as a single black woman? Sure. But mostly, it’s been the irresistible weekly prospect of watching black, white, Latino and Asian men employ lying, manipulation, innuendo, self-pity — every trick in the reality TV playbook — to woo a black woman.

Why not? Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lupita and Serena may be desired by millions, but in the real dating world, being a black woman has its challenges. Sisters, who historically are more desirous than other females to date men of their own ethnicity, outnumber black men in most cities. Those willing to look beyond the black-man cohort aren’t always made to feel welcome. Despite the widespread debunking of an infamous Psychology Today blog in which an evolutionary biologist falsely suggested he had scientific evidence that black women are less attractive than other women, it’s easy for a black woman to question her worth in a culture that still glorifies European beauty.

Old wounds can go deep. As a little girl, I swooned over the romantic entreaties offered by men who pursued Disney princesses and rom-com heroines in my favorite movies. So what if none of these damsels with whom they found happily ever after resembled me? Yet, the fact that I was invisible in the love stories I adored may explain why the rapturous declarations offered by Rachel’s suitors feel oddly validating. Where else can you see dozens of attractive men rhapsodizing over a brown-skinned sister’s brilliance and beauty? Whenever Rachel has invited a competitor to join her on a coveted one-on-one date, the guys left behind gather to sigh about her sexiness and smarts all while subtly savaging the guy she’s with. It’s totally bogus. Yet part of me loves it.

I should be embarrassed to admit that. Grown women are supposed to at least pretend they’ve completely outgrown their vulnerable inner child — like mine, who felt barred from the culture’s narrow interpretation of who and what was worthy of love. Everyone wants to be seen. And even women who know they have far more to offer than their ever-changing outer packaging may find it hard to shake the old whispers that once diminished them. Like every child, the girl-I-was deserved to be valued for her all her innate beauty, including her hair’s complex texture, her nose’s roundness, her skin’s warm darkness. Part of me agrees with the male friend who calls The Bachelorette “the fakest thing I’ve ever seen.” But if Rachel being swooned over by men of every shade offers even a tiny corrective to black girls’ general feelings of invisibility, I can’t dismiss it. Pop culture is a festival of falseness. But it teaches kids — and more than a few adults — what to love (and hate) about themselves. The Bachelorette is silly and manipulative. But this season, it suggests to black fans of all ages a little-acknowledged truth: Sisters, too, deserve to be desired and cherished by every type of guy.

So I’ve played along. I rolled my eyes when roguish white suitor Lee — who relentlessly bedeviled Kenny, a black rival far too willing to take the bait — was “discovered” to have posted sexist and racist tweets. I was moved when Rachel told Dean — a sweet white Californian who whispered he was falling in love with her after their excruciating visit with his estranged father — she was falling for him, too. Shortly afterward, she gave him the boot. Not knowing what’s real or fabricated on The Bachelorette doesn’t change my last reason for watching: the possibility of witnessing a miracle. What if one of the 31 men who emerged from limousines to greet Rachel on the show’s premiere is actually her match? One who isn’t a self-promoting fraud, but a decent guy who signed on to this nutty show for fun, adventure or the what-the-hell possibility of finding true love?

The trio of remaining bachelors — one black, one Latino and one white (like THAT’S a coincidence!) — actually seem like such guys. Whichever takes a knee on Monday’s finale, I wish him, Rachel, and every sister who’ll sigh when he pops the question the happiest of ever afters …

Black love: Sensitive thugs need hugs After home visits, Eric opens up on ‘The Bachelorette’

They say you never forget your first love.

For fans of the Bachelor franchise, we’ll never forget when Eric decided to declare his feelings to Rachel in the Spanish countryside. We certainly won’t misremember when Peter said to her that to him engagement is the same as marriage. And the look on Bryan’s face when Rachel’s sister Constance asked her how it’s possible that they fell in love so quickly is burned into our brains.

But Monday night, after meeting The Bachelorette’s mother, pregnant sister, sister’s husband and a couple of other members of her Dallas-based family, we all learned something about ourselves. To be clear, I am not listing these in the order of appearance, so deal with it.

It should be noted the format was switched up a tad bit for this, so all three guys were in town while the others visited the house as well. This created a bit of a rapid-fire effect, which certainly took its toll on the family. Normally, there would have just been two. For the purposes of brevity, I’m going to combine both the parent experiences and vacation experiences of each.

I’ll also say at this point that if this were me, I would have bailed after meeting these people. Nothing personal, necessarily, but a) not being able to meet her father because he’s a federal judge, b) they are clearly mega-rich and c) they have a chessboard and a telescope in the same room. Three strikes.

Let’s get to the action.

Peter

If nothing else, this man is honest. He told Rachel last week that he wasn’t necessarily going to propose even if he won, a shocking dose of reality from a guy who had the nerve to trot out two black friends in Wisconsin to tout his bona fides on “tolerance,” as if this were the 1960s.

The picture above is of him talking to Rachel’s mother, exposing the look he had on his face almost the entire episode. It was somewhere between “I didn’t actually think this whole ‘marrying a famous black woman’ thing through” and “my God, her family is richer than mine, this is awkward.” If for no other reason than it clearly made him more comfortable, the fact that Rachel’s sister Constance’s husband is white was certainly a calming influence on the family dynamic.

His run of incredibly lucky date opportunities continued, with the two of them this time going shopping for baby clothes for Constance, obviously a win-win situation all around. He gets to talk about how much he loves kids without any actually being present and, on the back end, show up with something for the family that someone actually needs, instead of just a smile and some weak lines about being ready for the next step.

The strangest juncture came when he and Rachel finally sat down to discuss their partnership and Peter basically was unwilling to compromise his previously established values for the sake of a television program. Which leads to the obvious question of: WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING HERE, ANYWAY? … but we’ll get to that later. He contends that he doesn’t want to waste an engagement on a marriage, which is apparently a thing that dudes do.

We’re also guessing he doesn’t like the fact that she’s seen Rachel buy Bryan a Breitling and, in general, still just isn’t really all that comfortable with the fact that he hasn’t won this already. It’s one thing to be against a whole group of guys. It’s quite another when you’ve all got relationships with each other and one of you might not end up getting the proverbial prize, here.

Yayaya Peter’s so sexy and fun. He’s been treating this whole thing like it’s a forced arranged marriage, and his hair is my favorite part about him on this show.

Bryan

This was a disaster right out of the gate. His pre-family meet date was a weak sauce brunch with two of Rachel’s friends, who looked and acted exactly like the type of people you’d meet at your new girlfriend’s brunch who have one too many questions about who you are for polite company. They were talking about the guy like he wasn’t even there, and the whole thing appeared rather unproductive, even for Bachelorette standards.

Things really got moving when they got to the house. Bryan’s No. 1 mistake was looking sloppy. His shirt was a little too big to be untucked and a little too casual to also be unbuttoned, giving him a look simply not befitting of a 37-year-old man whose mom is a little too attached to him. Oh, wait.

Anyway, no one in the family liked him from the beginning, and it showed. Just at lunch, he was fielding questions from all sides and at one point had to leave the table because he was under so much pressure. At which point, Rachel jumped in to point out exactly how much she didn’t appreciate this from them.

It’s worth noting that some of us have thought Bryan was a fraud from the jump. Not that he was necessarily trying to play Rachel, but this was all effectively a game for him, to up his popularity back in Miami, where he’s just another old dude in the club. Of course, that vibe plays well on TV with a bunch of other guys from the Midwest, but in the 305, he’s nothing special. He needs this to keep his playboy vibe relevant, because that “good with my hands” line is getting old.

That said, Rachel’s family made it incredibly awkward. It might be their job to protect their girl, but she’s also a grown-up who knows her way around the world. The whole thing felt gratuitous. In chronological order, Bryan was the last to visit, which made it feel like they were just ready to have these people out of their house.

No one particularly impressed, but we did get a plethora of Constance memes and GIFs, so be ready to deploy those from here till kingdom come.

This is the point where I point out that I think the word “love” should be banned from this show altogether. It would solve so many problems and force people to genuinely appreciate each other without these over-the-top declarations that add unnecessary pressure to something that is ultimately fake. I have thought this for years, and will staunchly defend that stance. Except …

Eric

Look, no one thought this dude would make it this far. He was the first person to nearly fall into Lee’s racist trap, but he made it out of that and outlasted quite a few other guys who might have had him beat on personality and emotion. And, to be even more frank, I’ve really only been talking about these other dudes for the sake of posterity, because this episode was all about Eric. Let me explain.

When this whole thing got serious, nobody counted him in. He barely made the cut to hometowns when he was part of the group date — but next thing we know, here he is, after having a legit parent reconciliation on national television. That’s important, because let’s not forget what happened to Dean, who ambushed his dad with an emotional roller coaster to the point that he ended up getting booted off the show. It was too much.

But Eric was thoughtful and patient about explaining his circumstance. His parents were separated. Love wasn’t really part of the picture. Never mind his personal circumstance of being a product of Baltimore, where the street life was a very real draw and threat at the same time. In short, he was very honest about his emotional availability. It was next to none. He’d never told a girl he loved her. The last time he’d met a woman’s family was in college at Thanksgiving, and the time before that was prom. He was at a clear disadvantage walking into that house.

Let me explain this in no uncertain terms as someone who’s been there. Eric is about as in touch as anyone I’ve ever seen in terms of being self-aware about his own insecurities regarding his family life and what he wants to get to. I’m genuinely superimpressed by his communication. It’s SO easy to psych yourself out when you see a healthy unit and sabotage yourself for the purposes of not wanting to upset someone else’s seemingly perfect situation.

“I’m nervous because going into this, I’m always confident, especially with you,” Eric says while they sip champagne atop some tower restaurant overlooking Dallas. “But it’s your family, and it’s one of those things, it’s like, I’ve never been in this process at this point. Like, about to get engaged with someone. Like, meeting someone’s family for the first time.”

At this point, Rachel seems a bit bored, if not annoyed. It feels like he’s trying to find a way to screw this up, and she ain’t got time for that. But at this point, we start to notice something in Eric we haven’t seen before. His voice is a little softer and more playful. He smiles more. He’s actually not afraid to express a little joy here and there without qualifying it. Dude is very anxious but doesn’t just have to resort to primal screams to make up for it.

When they get there, he doles out a couple of church handshakes and gets right down to business. They were openly hating since they loved Peter so much, which didn’t help his cause. Eric opened up about his lack of structured family life and says, “I’d never seen my mom and dad together.” From there, he sort of runs through it as the soft piano plays, but that sentence is important, and I say that from personal experience.

If you’ve got a parent who’s dead, or lives overseas, or is in jail, that’s one experience. But if you’ve got two able-bodied people who simply do not want to be in each other’s company and happen to be your parents, it’s a situation that affects you a little differently. For example, I have exactly one picture of me, my mother and my father in the same place at the same time. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand exactly what Eric was going through in this moment, sitting in this house with a squad of people who’ve all done well to establish themselves together.

“I’m listening to Eric talk as we meet him,” Constance says. “I’m watching Eric’s reaction, I’m watching Rachel, comparing it to what she had with Peter, and I’m thinking, I don’t know if they’re on the same playing field as far as, you know, relationshipwise.”

Of course they aren’t. But that’s the whole point. Eric is really and truly trying to better his situation from an emotional health and life prospects standpoint. He doesn’t have random reservations about getting down on a knee more than once in his life. Nor is his mom going to crash-land his relationship and ruin anything.

Constance gave him the third degree, and he was honest with her about never having been in love. He notes that he’s grown to this point, which is about as honest a thing as you’ll hear on a show like this, ever. Rachel’s cousin likes Eric better than Peter. “He’s not a fairy-tale person. He’s very real,” she said.

“I love her in a way, unconditionally. I’m not in love with her, but for me, when I say those words and I give that, it means a lot to me. The way I look at it, I’m here for you no matter what,” Eric says. “I just want her to know that I can be the man I know I am.”

This is the point where I stood up on my couch in my Whaboom tank top and started applauding. Personal connection aside, I’m completely in the tank for this dude in life, never mind the show. He’s the only black man left. He’s showed his actual self on camera, and perhaps most importantly, as a result he genuinely has become a cooler dude as the show has gone on. You can’t make this stuff up. Sure, edits help. But take it from me: It’s not easy to fake it when you don’t know what it looks like to begin with.

Honestly, the rest of this episode was a bit of a blur. There’s only so long I can listen to a man try to explain his way through the cobwebs of his heart on TV before I just start crying and thinking about all the mistakes and missteps I’ve made in life as a result of fear, hubris or some dumb combination of both.

No roses were given out at the end of the episode, which featured a “to be continued …,” but the story of the day for me was Eric. When he smiled after telling Rachel he loved her, you could just feel all that weight come off his chest — not because he’d been holding it in, but because he’d been wanting to feel it.

No matter what happens in the rest of this season, we got to witness a real breakthrough for a person on television this week. Good for him, and good for anyone who respects how hard it is sometimes to show the world who you really are, because you barely know how to show yourself that person either.

Tierra R. Wilkins contributed to this report.