Animated short ‘Hair Love’ to show the bond between fathers and daughters Filmmaker Matthew Cherry wants to help ‘normalize’ black fathers

Matthew Cherry’s evolution has taken him from the football field to a stint as a production assistant to music videos. Now, his résumé includes a heartwarming short film in production called Hair Love.

Cherry said the idea for the film came from watching viral videos of fathers interacting with their daughters. In particular, he focused on ones that showed fathers combing their daughters’ hair, which can be both a chore and a bonding experience.

His five-minute animated film is about the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri, and her hair. Although Stephen has long locks, he is used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair. When she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen has to figure it out and concludes that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.

Cherry said the “story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.” He took to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to fund the film. His initial goal was $75,000. To date he has raised almost $252,000, making Hair Love the best-funded short film in the history of Kickstarter.

Cherry, 35, is a former college wide receiver. In his four-year career at the University of Akron, he finished with nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. After college, he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2007, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment, landing work as a production assistant.

“I was just Matt the PA, and I was here to work,” Cherry said. “I was here to learn and work the game from the ground up, and that’s how I kind of got my foot in the door.”

He has worked on more than 40 commercials and was a director for more than 20 music videos for singers and entertainers such as Michelle Williams, Tweet, Jazmine Sullivan, Lalah Hathaway, Kindred The Family Soul, Snoop Dogg, The Foreign Exchange, Bilal, N’Dambi, Maysa Leak, Dwele, Najee, K’Jon and Take 6.

Cherry’s film The Last Fall received awards at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) for Best Screenplay and Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) for the HBO Best Feature Film Award. After a limited theatrical release, it made its television premiere on BET in December 2012 and is currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu. He recently released a short film, Forward, which premiered on Ebony.com. He also writes and directs the award-winning web series Almost 30 and Almost Home.

Cherry has one sister (visual artist Caitlin Cherry) and grew up on the northwest side of Chicago.

“Sports was a big part of both of our lives growing up,” he said. “I played baseball ever since I was 5. Football ever since I was 6. Played three sports in high school. Had a full scholarship for football in college. … My existence was very much kind of tied into sports growing up.”

Cherry spoke with The Undefeated about his transition out of football, positive representation of black fathers in the media and normalizing black families.


What was your inspiration for Hair Love?

The biggest, and I think the most important, is just we’re seeing a big lack of representation in that computer-generated, animated world.

We really haven’t seen a lot black characters in that space. Bebe’s Kids was the first animated feature film directed by a black director. That came out in 1992; 25th anniversary was a couple of days ago. Peter Ramsey was the first African-American director to direct a CGI [computer-generated imagery] animated film. That was like two or three years ago, Rise of the Guardians. I think in between that time, there’s really only been those two black directors that have done like a full-length feature film in the animated space.

So we only really have had in recent years maybe four or five examples of full-length feature films that really tell our story. But a lot of times you don’t really see the whole, full family dynamic, particularly in these computer-generated feature films. The biggest thing for me is just like really seeing that lack of a presentation. … I don’t have kids myself right now, but got a serious girlfriend, and one day we’re going to get married and be having kids, and I really wanted to make sure that when I did have kids that they had a character that they could relate to.

When you look at mainstream media, and you see all the images, black hair isn’t made out to be the norm. It’s not meant to be the standard of beauty. We have a very Eurocentric standard of beauty in America, and if you watch TV, if you pick up a magazine, if you look at different things, you’re not going to see yourself represented. … You don’t see your curly, kinky hair on these different models, on these different actors and actresses, on these different music videos, etc. It can really do damage to your self-confidence and how you perceive yourself.

That’s why my biggest thing with this project, first and foremost, was just to really hopefully have some characters that were human, that showed black families in a complex but also simple manner, and just have characters that people can relate to but then try to help increase that diversity in the animation world, because representation is everything. I think my biggest thing is if a little girl can see Zuri or see Stephen, and see themselves represented, if it makes them feel better about themselves, to me, mission accomplished.

Who did you consult with about dads, daughters and hair?

I’ve actually had this idea for a couple years. I always thought it would be cute to do a story about a dad trying to do his daughter’s hair. I’ve seen a lot of kind of online videos, and my main dad friends who have kids, they’re always posting pictures and videos online of their failed attempts of trying to do their son’s and daughter’s hair, and just always thought that that would be a really cool angle to hit, particularly because the whole black father angle. I think, again, in mainstream media, we’re really nonexistent.

We look at a lot of these movies and TV shows, they always depict black dads as deadbeats, nonexistent, abusive. These fathers, they’re getting girls pregnant, running off, that whole thing, and while obviously in every race, every group, you have that negativity, but it’s always made out in the black community like that’s just all black men are. We just are deadbeat dads. We’re not in our kids’ lives.

So for me it was just really important to normalize black fathers, normalize black families. And really I think in starring a young black father and his daughter, I think that would just do wonders to kind of help normalize those images, because it’s important.

What’s been the most difficult part of moving from football to filmmaking?

The most difficult part of my journey is feeling like you have to constantly create your own opportunities. Like, to this day, nobody’s ever hired me for anything. All my opportunities have been self-generated in some fashion. Outside the music video world, from feature films to short films, it’s all been stuff that I either created with some friends or I created on my own, and sometimes it gets frustrating because you feel like, ‘I made this. This premiered at a major festival. Help me.’

Help me get to the next level. I did the work. I followed the blueprint. I did everything that they say you’re supposed to do in order to have somebody help you get to the next level. …

You make all these sacrifices like putting your mom’s life insurance money into the making of your first movie. It comes out, hey, you get a little bit of press, but nobody hires you. Damn. OK. You go away for a couple years. You do random things to kind of stay alive. Then my second feature film, 9 Rides. We shoot it on iPhones and that’s the thing that gets you noticed and gets you an agent and then you realize that all the work you and your team put in mattered after all.

They’ve seen us doing the short films for no budget. They’ve seen us doing the music videos. They’ve seen us doing these feature films and all this other stuff, so. I think the biggest, most difficult part of the journey has just been having to continuously create your own opportunities to kind of continue to put yourself in the game, and I think that there’s a lesson in that, in that you can’t predict what’s going to be the thing that hits, or is going to be the thing that helps put you on. You’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding, and eventually something’s going to hit, or eventually someone’s going to help.

Do you miss football?

Not at all. Not in the least. No, I don’t, especially with all this news about what’s been going on with players’ heads and CTE. I’m actually glad that I didn’t play too long. People have been playing since they were 5 years old, too. You know what I mean? Between Pop Warner, high school, college, you might have your five or 10 years in the league, but if you’re 25 you might have played for 20 years.

How did you prepare for your career after sports?

I studied radio, TV, broadcast and media production in college. I interned at a lot of radio stations, and I was the music director at my college radio station at the University of Akron. I interned up at the Cleveland radio stations, KISS and then on WENZ. And so I would always be kind of dabbling in production, but more of an audio-radio side, and it was something I was really interested in. I loved cutting promos, loved working with all these other kind of post-production programs, and I kind of knew even in college that whenever I got done playing ball I’d either be working in radio or some level of entertainment on the production side of things.

I signed as an undrafted free agent. My rookie year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I knew after training camp, I was like, “Yeah. I’ve got to get my plan B together,” because it was just so political. When you come in as an undrafted free agent it’s like being a walk-on, so all these things have to happen that are outside of your control in order for you to make it. Guys will generally have to get hurt or traded and all these other things. It’s not really about how you perform, necessarily. It’s about, ‘OK, can you justify putting this guy in over the guy we’re paying millions of dollars?’

And I knew literally in training camp like, ‘Yeah. This is kind of unfair. I’m doing my thing, but I’m still not getting rewarded for it on the field.’ I actually got cut during training camp, and then they re-signed me to the practice squad. That’s how they do it, and I learned when I first got cut by just feeling there was nothing more I could have done. I felt like I balled out. I did everything that I should have done to be able to make the regular team, and it didn’t happen for me.

What’s up next after Hair Love?

This has all been a roller-coaster ride. The biggest thing for me is just really trying to just continue to do projects that are personal to me. Things that I really love. We hope to be able to use the characters from Hair Love and turn it into a feature film

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

‘Queen Sugar’s’ second season explores a fraught mix of family and historical legacy Halfway through season two, we’re wondering what happens when the Bordelons fight back

Family legacy and the legacy of race in the South are the compelling — and intermingling — themes midway through the second season of Queen Sugar.

That’s an ambitious load, especially considering a series of adjustments for the widely lauded OWN drama: There’s a new showrunner in Monica Macer to free up day-to-day obligations for executive producer Ava DuVernay. And the show is now wandering farther away from the Natalie Baszile novel that inspired it.

Last week’s episode gave us one big startling revelation, but there’s plenty of unresolved conflict still simmering. So far, we’ve witnessed Charley Bordelon (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) powering through some serious upheaval. She’s divorcing her husband, she’s opened the first black-owned mill in the fictional St. Josephine’s Parish, and she’s struggling to help her teenage son, Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe), after a harrowing encounter with a police officer. Meanwhile, her sister Nova (Rutina Wesley) is second-guessing how much their late father accepted her decision to eschew a husband and children to throw herself into journalism. Their brother, Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), has been desperately trying to grasp some independence for himself now that he and the rest of the family know their father, Earnest, intended to leave the Bordelon farm solely to him, thanks to a letter Earnest left that contradicts his will.

Alfonso Bresciani/ ©2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment

On its face, it’s easy to identify how Queen Sugar is wrestling with ideas of legacy. In the wake of Earnest’s death, Charley poured her energy into opening the Queen Sugar mill as a way to honor him. But that’s a bit of a ruse. After Ralph Angel confronts the family with Earnest’s letter, which leaves the family farm entirely to him rather than split between the three siblings, Charley is reeling. She tells a magazine reporter profiling her that she honestly doesn’t know what Earnest would think of her efforts. Opening the mill has provided Charley with an escape from having to deal with her divorce, her son’s post-traumatic stress disorder and her burgeoning relationship with Remy Newell (Dondre Whitfield).

There’s another legacy Queen Sugar is examining, one that’s less obvious than the land and independence Earnest left his family and far more compelling. Remember, the Bordelon farmland used to belong to a white family, the Landrys, who are eager to buy it back. The Bordelon ancestors used to belong to the Landrys too. DuVernay uses the antebellum connection between the two families to explore legacies of slavery, racial terrorism and emotional violence wrought against black people in Louisiana. Since it debuted, Queen Sugar has repeatedly revisited the concept of invasion into black spaces, whether it’s the repo man who comes to take Earnest’s tractor, police coming to search Bordelon property at night, or showing up again to question the ownership of a rifle, which Ralph Angel can’t have because he’s been convicted of a crime, or Landry deploying a drone to the Bordelon farm.

The Landrys and law enforcement are the two most obvious remnants of the Jim Crow-era South. That’s why the scenes of hostile white people showing up to Bordelon land to take something that’s not theirs — either people, property or both — engender the same feelings of panic and tension you get from watching night riders or the Klan accosting black people on TV and film.

Skip Bolen / @2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

The feud with the Landrys is fertile ground, and not just because of the echoes of racial implications that still ring true in Louisiana today. The parts of the show that set me most on edge are the ones with Samuel Landry (David Jensen), even as the two-dimensional villain he is. Because of the enormous wealth the Landrys possess, they effectively control the St. Jo’s sugar market. With the only mill in the parish, they have a monopoly on grinding cane, and they use that monopoly to financially subjugate the area’s black farmers.

Charley and the Queen Sugar mill hold out the promise of a better deal for the farmers. Landry doesn’t take it well and deploys a drone to spy on the Bordelon farm. Ralph Angel discovered it when it crashed into his young son, Blue (Ethan Hutchison). The scene was deeply unnerving, both because of Blue’s already-established vulnerability and because the drone’s presence was such a contumelious intrusion of privacy. It was such an effective disruption of the calm, quiet and relative safety that rural living can provide that I wondered if it was fair to designate its use a form of high-tech terrorism. Who needs white hoods and burning crosses when you’ve got unmanned cameras and a private prison system eager to make money off the missteps of black people?

Ralph Angel’s status as a parolee continues to hang over his head — one wrong move and he’s back in prison, a weakness Landry is happy to exploit. For now he’s safe, but I have a feeling the second half of the season will get even more difficult for Ralph Angel.

But perhaps nothing is as awful as the revelation of what happened to Micah after a police officer pulled him over as he was driving his new Porsche.

In a gut-wrenching eighth-episode scene with his father, Davis (Timon Kyle Durrett), Micah reveals that the officer who stopped him didn’t take him directly to the parish lockup. Instead, he drove past it, pulled into a darkened alley, forced the barrel of his gun into Micah’s mouth and pulled the trigger.

Micah left jail without so much as a scratch on his body, but he was so shaken by the experience that he’s barely been recognizable to his parents since he was arrested. That’s how Queen Sugar examines a legacy of emotional violence and terrorism. The white people of St. Josephine’s Parish like their power, and they don’t want to let it go. But they’re smart, too, and their relationship to the black people of the parish can resemble that of an abuser toying with a victim. Sometimes it’s enough to simply flex the power that you have to send someone’s life off course, without ever firing a bullet. That’s something that the Landrys and the officer who arrested Micah know and are happy to exploit.

The midpoint of season two leaves us wondering: What happens when the Bordelons fight back?

‘Insecure’ recap: Issa gets her groove back, Molly’s dating life is back and Lawrence loses track We all knew once Lawrence left that cookout he was never returning

Season 2, Episode 3 | Episode: “Hella Open” | Aug. 6

When a basketball player is going through a slump, to regain confidence, he or she needs to see the ball go through the hoop — a jumper, dunk, 3-pointer, layup or free throw. Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a bucket. That’s how I feel about Issa’s sex life.

Rekindling the romance with Lawrence is a pipe dream (for now), so Issa needed to go full Stella and get her groove back. Even if it was in typical Issa fashion — awkward. It nearly went down with Luke James, but that went to hell with a gasoline thong on. But sexing the neighbor was to be expected. Close living vicinity. Happenstance meeting. Creep pool glimpse from the kitchen window. But even I have to applaud Issa’s savage game — using the “did you forget your charger?” move. The only question now is how does Issa keep the momentum going moving forward since she’s so interested riding the wave of this “hoe phase.”

Last week we pondered Molly’s personal life — and here we are. All credit to Issa as ultimate wingwoman in the club scene setting the pick-and-roll long enough for Molly to meet her new love interest (played by Emmy Award winner Sterling K. Brown of The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and This Is Us). Things are moving along swimmingly until he mentions settling down to marriage on the first brunch date.

To be fair, Molly finding a way to not be interested in buddy might be classic overthinking Molly. But, playing devil’s advocate here, we all remember how hesitant she’s been to meet a new dude, considering how the situation with Jared went last season. And who brings up starting a family on the first brunch? Our guy Sterling K. went from blowing it with Marcia Clark in The People to doing so with Molly in back-to-back years. That’s an accomplishment in its own regard.

But as the great black philosopher Marshawn Terrell Lynch said in 2015, “You know why I’m here.” This episode was all about the bounce-back that divided social media to its core and inspired me to order a Lawrence Best Buy shirt: Tasha and Lawrence. The duo was on thin ice after Lawrence’s admission that he slept with Issa. They made up at the end of episode two. But things get tricky when Tasha invites Lawrence to a family cookout, which Lawrence accepts. Wrong move.

Lawrence obviously didn’t listen to Biggie Smalls when told us 20 years ago on “Sky’s The Limit” to Only make moves when your heart’s in it. Lawrence is not invested in Tasha. Anyone with a half a brain could see Lawrence wasn’t staying at that cookout. His mind was already distracted by his co-workers hyping up the company kickback. And to be honest, Lawrence looked more out of place at Tasha’s family cookout than Carlton Banks at a black college homecoming. There wasn’t a soul who was convinced he’d make it back to the cookout when he told Tasha he had to run – to handle some tasks at work.

Just like there wasn’t a soul who was surprised when Tasha called him a “f— n—–.” The writing was on the wall. That’s the thing with not being in a relationship, but in a gray area where you’re “talking” to someone, and it’s not official. Lawrence was trying to be the good guy and live a single life. Trying to straddle that fence is like the Sex Panther cologne in 2004’s Anchorman — 60 percent of the time it works every time.

Tasha is done with the games. And Lawrence, he’s got a new place, so the blow-up mattress life he was living in Chad’s house earlier this season appears to be in the rearview. So R.I.P. Lawrence-Tasha, the 3.25 episode fling we hardly knew. For now, at least.

Are films like ‘Step’ inspiring or are they inner-city uplift porn? Maybe they’re both

After seeing Step, the new documentary about a step team at a girls charter school in Baltimore, two things happened:

  1. When I walked out of the darkened theater and into the light of day with the other people at the screening, everyone’s eyes were wet, including my own.
  2. I immediately wondered if what I’d seen was well-crafted inner-city uplift porn.

Step, the first feature-length documentary from director Amanda Lipitz, a Broadway producer whose credits include Legally Blonde the Musical, follows the journey of the step team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW, pronounced “bliss”). Most of the girls in the film are seniors, and this is their last chance to win a competition in the midst of typical senior-year concerns, in particular, getting into college.

Their lives are set against a backdrop of hardship: poverty, hunger, the threat of police violence, and parents who aren’t or can’t be as involved as would be ideal. But thanks to their determination and hard work, and constant prodding from coach Gari McIntyre (known in the film as Coach G) and college counselor Paula Dofat, the girls not only persist, they all are accepted into college.

It reminded me of a scene from Primary Colors, the 1998 film based on Joe Klein’s roman à clef about the first Clinton presidential campaign.

In the scene, Gov. Jack Stanton (John Travolta) tells his wife, Susan (Emma Thompson), about an adult literacy program that he encountered on the campaign trail. The program’s home is in the library of a rundown, graffiti-covered, underfunded school in New York.

“Honey, this was so great today, this reading program,” the governor says. “You shoulda seen the people. And the teacher — well. She was just inspirational.”

“Give me a break,” Susan responds. “Tell me how good the curriculum was, not the teacher. We can replicate a good curriculum.”

The scene gets at the crux of the issue with films, both narrative and documentary, such as Step, Dope, Dangerous Minds, All the Difference, and Check It. Such stories rely on individuals, in this case, McIntyre, Dofat and the step team members, to get an audience to pay attention to issues that are far bigger in scope. In the scene from Primary Colors, failing public schools and social promotion created the need for such a literacy program in the first place. In Step, there are larger issues that created the problems the BLSYW girls face, among them housing discrimination, the racial wealth gap, the resegregation of public schools, and unjust allocation of public resources.

So what purpose does a film like Step serve? Lipitz, a graduate of the Park School of Baltimore, where yearly tuition can run as high as $29,620, was inspired by the success of a similar girls leadership school in Queens, New York, with a 100 percent graduation rate. Her mother founded BLSYW on Lipitz’s suggestion and chairs its board.

I asked Lipitz if she worried that the success McIntyre and Dofat were able to achieve would lull audiences into a false sense of security. It’s easy to believe that these women have found a way to solve these larger problems so that the rest of us don’t need to focus on them quite so much.

“I didn’t worry about that,” Lipitz said. “ ‘Cause I think they’re so inspiring that you’re like, ‘I want to go do what Coach G does.’ I feel like they inspire you to get up and move and do something about it. Mentor someone, take interest in someone. I think they inspire people to do that.”

She’s not wrong. There’s tremendous value in films that aim to uplift. That’s what made the Stantons such an effective team: Theirs was a marriage of both pragmatism and inspiration. But it’s a challenge to find films that accomplish both, and frankly, films that skew more toward policy usually end up on public television, not the big screen. Because it’s so hard to make compelling films about policy — Ava DuVernay’s 13th is a notable exception — we end up with a glut of films that are high on uplift and short on the nitty-gritty.

Step doesn’t ignore these larger social issues — McIntyre mentions that she lives on the same street where Freddie Gray was killed. But there’s an underlying message that personal responsibility, hard work, and school personnel so dedicated they qualify for beatification are enough to circumvent the consequences of being born poor, black, and female in a country that’s systematically hostile to people who are poor, black, and female.

In Jack Stanton’s story, it’s the inspiring teacher who’s the savior. Susan Stanton gets at something more practical and less sexy: You can’t scale an inspirational teacher. You need a curriculum. Step illustrates just how important women such as Dofat and McIntyre are, but they’re not enough. We have to fix the problems that make them so invaluable.

Working as an educator in public schools is not easy. Dofat, 50, has been working as a college counselor for 17 years. There’s an emotional scene in Step where she tearfully pleads with two college administrators to take one of her students. She’s afraid that if they don’t, the girl’s life will essentially be ruined. I asked Dofat what kept her from burning out.

“Faith,” she answered. But she also told me about the need to separate guidance counseling from college counseling to achieve more effective results. Public schools that serve poor, majority-minority populations need enough resources to hire some counselors who focus solely on social and emotional issues, and others who focus on getting kids into college, Dofat said. Most schools employ counselors who are responsible for all of it, and therefore are often overwhelmed.

Changes like those Dofat recommends could have huge implications in steering students away from the for-profit certificate and diploma mills that disproportionately target students who are poor, female, and ethnic minorities, saddling them with worthless degrees and debt they often cannot repay.

But wonkier points like that get obscured by Step’s feel-good inspiration. The film recently won the audience award at AFI Docs Film Festival and got a loving reception at Sundance earlier this year. Ultimately, public education should be the responsibility of everyone in a community. It is a public good that only works well when affluent white parents are not scared to send their children to school with poor black children and when they recognize that everyone deserves the same chances and the same resources.

McIntyre began working as a step coach and logistics coordinator at BLSYW in 2015. She went to Milford Mill Academy, part of Baltimore County Public Schools, and eventually graduated from Coppin State after initially dropping out. She’s no stranger to the hardships many of the BLSYW girls face.

“I did have a very rough time with completing high school, because I was more focused on social and creative outlets,” McIntyre said. “I graduated with a 1.8 GPA. I barely went to school, because I felt like the teachers were not challenging me, and I didn’t need to go to school. I would go to school and get A’s on tests and quizzes, but I would never prepare for anything. So, I had the ability, I had to think and had to focus, and I really felt that the teachers were not challenging me or catering to me in the way that I felt that I needed to learn.”

But even more teachers who cared wouldn’t have been enough, she said.

“There are problems that are on a way bigger scale, based off of the way our country votes,” McIntyre said. “Decisions that are based in racial and gender bias, housing discrimination, and there being actual laws that are legally segregating communities, and determining who gets resources and who doesn’t, and that’s not by mistake.

“I think that it’s clear what type of people they want to be successful. It shows grit when a little black girl like Cori [Grainger, a BLSYW senior], who never even thought that she would be Johns Hopkins material, not only makes it in Johns Hopkins, but then graduates and does well. … I think that specifically [when others look at] African-American communities, people truly believe that we want to be impoverished and in violence. Poverty is not what you see in Third World countries in the United States. The poverty is sometimes not knowing where your next meal is going to come from, or being on government assistance, or being a victim to the failed mental health system, or health care system in the United States. … So, I do think that these are way bigger issues, that people are seeing on a smaller level.”

Step is the story of young girls who are beating the odds. After seeing it, I hope audiences remember these girls never should have had to face such odds in the first place.

‘Insecure’ recap: Tinder lovers, lobster rolls and Instagram creepin’ Molly’s losing at work, Issa’s losing everywhere, Lawrence is playing it real loose

Season 2, Episode 2 | Episode: ‘Hella Questions’ | July 30

What this episode lacks in “Say what?” reactions, it makes up for with developing plotlines that will explode as the season progresses. Take Molly, for example. We still haven’t seen a peep of what’s going on in her personal life. We know she’s fed up with the glass ceiling she keeps running into at work. She’s already vented as much to her therapist — a dope, subtle and needed wrinkle in the show’s fold. And we know Molly’s at wit’s end after attending a Los Angeles Kings game in hopes of getting to know her boss better. They bonded over some lobster rolls in a Staples Center suite. Those things are delicious! And Molly’s boss only faintly acknowledged her in the office the next day. Just when you think you know somebody.

She’s going to be splitting time between L.A. and Chicago soon for work, which leaves open the possibility of a long-distance courtship, fling or something. We haven’t seen much of Molly’s personal life yet. But when we do, methinks it’s going to be worth making sure there’s a cool drink nearby. Better yet, an ice-cold bottle.

Issa finally discovers Tasha and e-stalks her for basically the entire episode.

Because Molly’s still busy being the ride-or-die chick Issa needs in her life — which, speaking of — what is Issa going to do when she finds out about Chicago? Issa finally discovers Tasha and stalks her across a variety of social media platforms, including Instagram for basically the entire episode. Don’t act brand-new and say you haven’t done it once or 73 times in life before. Getting back to her roots, Issa convincingly raps to herself in a bathroom mirror about getting her man back from Tasha. Molly checks in on her, only to have Issa respond, “Pull that b—- up!” Molly devilishly smirks, making for one of the funnier moments in the episode. Also, Issa’s sex life is basically nonexistent, which forces her to turn to the last option of any self-respecting human — Tinder. Let’s see if she has better luck than me using the app. More on this in next week’s episode.

(Caption: Exclusive, never-before-seen footage of Issa trying to get ahead in life)

Even when Issa wins at work, she takes a loss. She and Frieda (Lisa Joyce) finally received the participation they craved in their “We Got Y’all” after-school program, thanks to vice principal Charles Gaines. This sounds great, and it is … even though vice principal Gaines, who is black, is a geyser of racial stereotypes and slurs — he makes a “build a wall” joke about Hispanic students that shakes Frieda’s wanna-be-woke soul to her core. This can’t bode well for the long-term success of this program — and eventually Issa’s gig.

Perhaps the least surprising plot twist of the entire episode is Lawrence telling Tasha he slept with Issa — although I’m using “slept” loosely here because Lawrence’s two-minute offense was quicker than Peyton Manning down five in the fourth with no timeouts. We’ve all been there. Don’t laugh. The first one always has a mind of its own anyway.

Anyhoo, Tasha eventually takes him back, which, again, doesn’t shock anyone even vaguely familiar with the ebb and flow of a situation like this. He claims sleeping with Issa was a “mistake.” OK, Lawrence, easy with the verbiage. This can come back and haunt you if you’re not careful. Tasha understands, “It’s whatever. … We never said we was exclusive anyway.” Translation: “It’s not ‘whatever.’ I liked you, but I can’t get as mad as I want because I knew the deal. But if we keep this going and you blindside me again, I might cut you. No, I will cut you.”

Here’s the thing. Lawrence can’t keep playing both sides of the fence. I say that as someone who’s tried it and watched my intentions dissolve in front of my face. I’m sticking to my guns, too: This Lawrence and Tasha situation will not — I repeat, will not — end amicably. But it makes for riveting Sunday television, right?

Bonus: One more thing. Am I tripping, or does vice principal Gaines look like an older, chunkier Kanye West?

Double bonus: Be honest. Part of you really thought Issa punched Tasha in the bank, didn’t you? Everything was in play once we found out Issa and Lawrence sleeping together wasn’t just one of Issa’s elaborate daydreams.

Triple bonus: The two funniest minor characters are Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) and Chad (Neil Brown Jr.). They’re comedy every time they speak. This isn’t up for friendly banter, either. Debate it with your co-worker who believes Colin Kaepernick ruined football and asks, “Well, rappers say it, so why can’t I?” Thankfully, Chad’s Obamacare joke didn’t age well, though.

‘Ballers’ recap: Vernon can’t ‘stay off the damn weed!’ — but for good reason Jason gets robbed, but lands a new client; Spencer reconnects with an old flame

SEASON 3, EPISODE 2 | ‘BULL RUSH’ | JULY 29

“Hey ladies, y’all want to come in for some milk and cookies after this?”

This is the funniest pickup line in television history, as delivered on Ballers by the one and only Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter) when he shoots his shot like an elementary school student — we really ain’t mad at him, though — with two models at a photo shoot. “Only if they’re chocolate chip. I don’t f— with oatmeal,” responds one of the models, who’s wearing marijuana leaf pasties.

What appeared last week to be an investment into a weed-themed clothing line is actually an endorsement deal that Reggie (London Brown) landed for Vernon with a cannabis company called High Powered. Marijuana use in the NFL might be as frowned upon as kneeling during the national anthem, although real-life players (as well as Vernon, as we learn) employ the drug as a method of recovering from injuries. Regardless, a call from the furious owner of the Dallas Cowboys (unfortunately not Jerry Jones, who would probably give Vernon a pass) sends Vernon’s adviser Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry) over to his house to convince Reggie that this deal is a bad idea.

The photo shoot, however, still goes on — and man, wait until the pictures of Vernon in a High Powered hoodie are released. They’ll definitely send ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith into a “STAY OFF THE DAMN WEE-DUH!” rant.

Though he can’t persuade Vernon to make a more strategic endorsement decision, Joe is able to set up a meeting between NFL running back Kisan Teague (Kris D. Lofton), who’s in desperate search of a new agent, and Jason (Troy Garity), who represents Vernon and Ricky Jerrett (John David Washington). The possibility of a new client sends Jason to a neighborhood park, where he’s robbed at gunpoint while waiting for Kisan to show up. Jason then interrupts Kisan at dinner, claiming he set him up, although the running back gives him his word that he wasn’t behind the stickup and knows where to find the men Jason describes. Kisan and his homies leave their Brussels sprouts at the table before pulling up on the dudes like …

Together, they get Jason’s cash back. And while he temporarily lost $540, and likely saw his life flash before his eyes, Jason gets a new client out of the situation.

Meanwhile, Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) is in Las Vegas trying to bring an NFL team to Sin City. While checking in to his hotel, he runs into an ex, Chloe (Graceland’s Serinda Swan), who as a well-connected Las Vegas executive will be a valuable asset on his quest. Who knows, maybe she’ll even become bae again.

While playing golf with the mayor of Las Vegas and meeting with a city councilman, Spencer leaves Ricky behind at the craps table. Looking to get his mind off the fact that he and his girl have a baby on the way, Ricky goes into a hot streak, only to let it all, and more, slip through his fingers while egged on by Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter and rapper Travis $cott to go big or go home. Ricky loses $1 million at the table, meaning the $5 million that Spencer owes him can’t be reimbursed soon enough.

Caption: Ricky at the craps table

Spencer’s dinner with Councilman Sawyer to discuss funding a new NFL stadium in Vegas with public money turns into a trip to a monster truck show. And for some odd reason, Spencer elects to drive one of the monster trucks, which he flips. Upon safely removing himself from the wreck, he announces to the screaming crowd, “I’m going to bring a professional football team here to the great fans of Las Vegas!”

With all the news surrounding the latest chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) study on NFL players, wouldn’t it be super ironic if Spencer next week found out he had a concussion? That headache-inducing crash is part of the price Spencer is willing to pay to get the NFL in Vegas.

Comedy Central’s Rikki Hughes is the woman behind the big names The showrunner for Comedy Central’s ‘Hood Adjacent’ talks her favorite athletes and the influence of her late father

In the early 1990s, Rikki Hughes was headed to medical school. Her game plan was set. Life: all figured out.

Then she got an opportunity to spend a summer on the road with all of your favorite ’90s rappers. So she spoke to her mom and dad about going off on this adventure, with the promise to return to UCLA and go to medical school.

“Look,” she said to her parents back then, “I have the opportunity to go to take these artists on the road, and they’ve never been outside of Long Beach — it’s Snoop and Warren G and those guys. This is a tour we’re going on. I can come back, I can defer my enrollment, and I can still go back to UCLA for medical school.”

To her surprise, her mom agreed. “You know, this might be the only opportunity you have in your life to have someone else pay you to travel the world. Just know you can always come home.” That conversation was one of the most empowering things that has ever happened to her. It was life-changing.

“When I got back … my peers … and even my mentor at medical school, they’d graduated and had like $300,000 worth of loans, making like $80,000 a year. I, on the other hand, was at about $150,000 a year, no loans, no kids, so I was like, ‘Kind of made a good decision there!’ ” She ended up running the international department for Priority Records and left in 2001 to go produce TV. Another good decision.

And after a career in music, Hughes is now the “woman behind the laugh.” She is one of the few black female television producers, and certainly one of the very few in comedy — and she’s one of the most successful. Hughes is the showrunner for Comedy Central’s new Hood Adjacent with James Davis. Most recently, she was the executive producer for Dave Chappelle’s acclaimed Netflix specials. And this fall she has the All Def Comedy series premiering on HBO.


What’s your primary social media tribe?

I’m really an Instagrammer. I get lost in Snapchat at times, and so, like, sometimes I send the wrong thing to the wrong person. Twitter is so much information — I get overloaded.

What is your favorite throwback TV show?

Hart to Hart. I just love the glamour of this romance, and they’re out there doing stuff. There’s a murder every episode, and somehow they solve it within 44 minutes, which is brilliant. They stay glamorous the whole time, and he’s [Robert Wagner’s character] just totally in love with her [Stefanie Powers’ character]. It’s truly just fun-filled, fantasy stuff.

“I credit my dad for never allowing fear to be a part of our life, or conversation.”

What’s the last show you binge-watched?

Totally a binge-watcher. I go from, like, from House of Cards to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I love the cleverness of the writing. House of Cards, it reminds me of the old West Wing days of really clever characters that are complex and layered and all those good things. You can root for the bad guy and not feel guilty. Unbreakable is just a guilty pleasure. I love it because I don’t have to think.

What do you think about the binge-watching TV culture that we have right now?

It’s a good thing because it creates a scenario where we have to continuously create content … we have to keep feeding the beast. So as a content creator, I’m excited for it — and nervous. I get excited because … I’m constantly in demand to create content. And then the nervous energy is that I’ve got to continue to create at a certain level.

What will you always be a champion of?

I’m always a champion of creativity and of protecting the creative voice. Voices are so important, and they’re distinctive. I’ve battled throughout my career for the voice to be there. And it’s not like, ‘Oh, I want to give a voice to the voiceless.’ It’s not that. It’s more of … I don’t have to agree with your politics or whatever, but I feel like voice is necessary. I would hate for us to be monolithic, a one-tone culture where everyone just kind of buys in to the same thing.

“I went to a Richard Pryor concert when I was really young. Because my uncle has worked at The Comedy Store.”

Who was your childhood hero?

My dad. He passed in 2007. My dad was one that always instilled in me that you have a choice: ‘You can always choose, Rikki.’ And no one can ever put you in a box, because all you have to do is stop, and you can stop at any point in time. It helped me navigate, in a fearless way. … I can look at a situation, but I don’t have to be in that situation. I credit my dad for never allowing fear to be a part of our life, or conversation.

Is that where your courage comes from?

It really does go back to my dad. There’s never been a ‘no’ for me. ‘No’ is just not a thing we say. It’s just another opportunity for a ‘yes’ somewhere else.

What was the first comedy concert you attended?

I went to a Richard Pryor concert when I was really young. Because my uncle has worked at The Comedy Store. I wasn’t supposed to be in there. I remember sitting on the side, and I had to sit in the hallway. I remember hearing — it was just electric, the way he could move people.

Is that what did it for you?

That definitely made me fall in love with the tale of telling stories on stage … engaging an audience in that way.

Is your life like a constant game of “make me laugh” once people know who you are?

Comics … more than anything, they always say, ‘If you can get Rikki to actually laugh, you’ve really won on stage!’

“I’m an L.A. girl, born and raised in L.A., so I just grew up around him. Fast breaks and Magic Johnson!”

Favorite athlete of all time?

Magic Johnson. He was so excited just to be in the game. It wasn’t about fame and money. I’m sure those things were great for him, but I always felt the genuine excitement, that he was just happy to be in the game, happy for people to be there, loved the fans. I felt like I always smiled when I watched him play. I’m an L.A. girl, born and raised in L.A., so I just grew up around him. Fast breaks and Magic Johnson!

Do you have a favorite athlete who’s playing right now?

I kind of like LeBron … I really appreciate the way he moves. I love integrity. It’s one of my biggest things. It’s the most attractive thing to me. So I feel like he has integrity and is able to speak boldly and clearly, and just own it, and I love that about him.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Why the hot black bodies on ‘Insecure’ are more revolutionary than you think The sex looks like what humans actually do

We have to talk about the sex on Insecure.

The hit HBO comedy from creator and star Issa Rae has a lot to say about it — specifically, the sex between black people.

The bug-eyed reaction to Lawrence’s (Jay Ellis) sex scene at the end of season one wasn’t just because viewers identified with Lawrence’s emotional pain after Issa admitted to cheating on him. It’s because it looked familiar in a way that black sex on TV or in film rarely does. Lawrence’s revenge sex closely resembled the way people actually have sex.

For one, Lawrence is completely nude, and so is Tasha (Dominique Perry), the woman whose back he’s blowing out. Tasha’s the flirty teller from Lawrence’s credit union who’s had her eye on him since before he was single. They’re in an apartment that’s appropriate for her salary. It’s outfitted with dingy mini blinds and a metal bed frame that could easily be a thrift store find or a hand-me-down. Tasha’s at the edge of the bed, bent over, and Lawrence is pulling her hair. The sex is … vigorous.

“Watching those sex scenes makes me feel aroused and uncomfortable at the same time,” said Numa Perrier, who, as co-founder of the subscription-based network Black and Sexy TV, collaborated with Rae on some early web-based content ventures. Perrier is also the writer-director of Jezebel, a film based on her experiences experimenting with internet porn. She expects it to hit the 2018 festival circuit. “It’s uncomfortable because I feel like I’m peeking into a very private moment that I shouldn’t be watching, and I think that is what great art does.”

After seeing Chi-raq two years ago, I had a giggle-filled conversation about how the early sex scenes in the film felt real in a way they rarely do on screen. Chi-raq was devoid of actors covered in sheet forts, dragging their top sheets with them to the bathroom, or women sleeping in their bras and full makeup.

There’s not a lot of art that reflects how people actually have sex, period, and that’s even less true for black people. So Insecure joins a short list that’s otherwise occupied by film: Baby Boy, Chi-raq, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, A Good Day to be Black and Sexy, How to Tell You’re a Douchebag, Love and Basketball, Jason’s Lyric, Set It Off and Belly. (This is by no means a comprehensive list, so feel free to email me with others.)

“We’re telling the story of these women’s real lives and sex is a real aspect of being a 30-something-year-old woman … Instead of leaving that part out, we’d like to explore it and capture it in a unique way,” said Melina Matsoukas, an executive producer who frequently directs on the show. “What you find so unique about it is that it feels real.”

In Hollywood, who gets naked on screen often indicates something about the power dynamics of gender. So does who we see having sex, and the type of sex they’re having. It also says something about the power dynamics of race. And in Insecure, we get implicit commentary on all of it.

For starters, we see a lot of Ellis and that’s not by accident.

Courtesy of HBO

His, er, visual presence reminded me of an interview actor Tony Goldwyn, who plays President Fitzgerald Grant in Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal, did with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

In Hollywood, who gets naked on screen often indicates something about the power dynamics of gender.

“The rule, exactly as quoted to me, is, in Shondaland, the women can do whatever they want and the boys have to take off their clothes when Shonda [Rhimes] tells them to,” Goldwyn explained after Colbert held a still of a shirtless Goldwyn embracing a fully clothed Kerry Washington. It was noteworthy precisely because Rhimes’ rule is such an anomaly.

So it’s significant that the first bare butt to appear on Insecure was Ellis’. In 2012, Rae was tapped to develop a show for ABC with Rhimes called I Hate L.A. Dudes. The network ultimately passed on the show, but Rae’s time in the Shondaland incubator clearly had some influence on her. So did her tenure as an actor, collaborator and fan of Black & Sexy TV. Mix all that with the aesthetic of Matsoukas, and the show’s approach to sex starts to make sense.

“We just wanted to flip the script a little bit and there’s always an expectation that we just have to be like, t—–s and a– out,” Rae said at a Television Critics Association panel discussion about season one. “I think with this we had an opportunity with two female leads to be like, ‘There’s going to be a lot of sex in this show. Our guys are game, so let’s just have them bare all.’ And they did. They were great about it.”


There’s nothing inherently wrong or shameful about nudity. The actors and actresses who make the decision to disrobe are doing what their stories and characters require of them, and that’s also true on Insecure, where the women show just as much skin as the men do. But in television and film, the expectation to disrobe falls disproportionately to women.

Premium cable is notorious for encouraging nudity. That’s part of what you’re paying for: freedom from Federal Communications Commission censure to deploy F-bombs, bare chests and lots of sex. There’s an unspoken ethos of “If we can do it, then we should.” But there’s a difference in the way nudity is used for male and female actors. Seth MacFarlane’s number at the 2013 Oscars titled “We Saw Your Boobs” provoked intense reaction, but it was basically a song and dance celebrating how little power women have in Hollywood. Everyone loves to talk about Game of Thrones, but think about The Sopranos and its use of the barely clad women of the Bada Bing as wallpaper for whatever happened to be taking place in Tony’s life. Ballers uses women’s bodies in a similarly dismissive way, and New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum tore HBO a new one for perpetuating this practice in the first season of True Detective. In season three of the Starz comedy Survivor’s Remorse, a trip to a strip club featuring older women is played for laughs and disgust: How dare these women show us bodies that aren’t taut, hairless and wrinkle-free? For men, full frontal is generally reserved for comedy, and that’s true across television and film, from Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall to the hobo who exposes his junk in Girls Trip.

For men, full frontal is generally reserved for comedy.

“The way we usually capture sexual experiences on our show — we depend more on the male figure for nudity,” Matsoukas said. “It’s not something you normally see. It’s usually about the female body and capturing the male gaze, and we somewhat reverse that, I think, and like to focus on our very handsome male leads. We show the stuff that we find sexy, which is Jay’s [Ellis] butt half the time.”

Having female directors, Matsoukas said, engenders a special level of trust on the set when sex scenes are shot. Rae told her she feels “protected,” in part because the women on set are working to make sure Rae, or Perry, or Yvonne Orji, who plays Molly, feel comfortable. That’s also contributed to another anomaly in television: “We have a very diverse crew,” Matsoukas said. “We have a primarily female camera crew this season … I’ve literally never seen it.”

Layer on top of that the history of how black nudity, black sex and black romance have been depicted on screen. Images of black intimacy and sexuality faced censorship from the early days of the film industry, while films starring white actors were heavily marketed using romance.

Courtesy of HBO

The prevailing attitude in Hollywood was that black romance would be disgusting to white audiences, UCLA professor Ellen C. Scott told me. Scott, who specializes in media history, African-American cultural history, and the history of censorship and cultural studies, is the author of Cinema Civil Rights, which examines Hollywood’s foot-dragging on civil rights issues and the way it was manifest both within the industry and in the films it produced.

Scott said white Southerners worked with Hollywood self-regulation offices to ensure such images didn’t appear.

“Censorship of Black romance onscreen begins most clearly [in 1929] with Hallelujah — King Vidor’s film — where the Hollywood self-regulator Jason Joy feared that white audiences would be disgusted by two Black characters kissing,” Scott said in an email. “In early cinema — Black romance is treated as the subject of humor and stereotype rather than as a center.”

But this censorship wasn’t just about the absence of black intimacy on screen. It was also about the narratives that sprung up to fill those gaps.

“Often Black romantic relationships onscreen existed primarily by implication rather than any case in point — and were not, unlike white romances, tied to a marriage trajectory,” Scott said. “Often this marriage trajectory was abandoned or impossible because of the stereotypical assumption that Black men were always ‘good-for-nothings’ when it came to many things — hard work, keeping a job, and staying with a woman.”

While representation of black intimacy is arguably better now than it’s ever been, that’s not necessarily saying much.

“It looks better but not good enough,” Scott wrote. “In my opinion many of the so-called ‘black films’ that treat Black romance are still mired in the world of defined by Blaxploitation style sexuality.”


Recognizing that the physiques of its male stars are part of Insecure’s appeal, the show’s second season features liberal doses of Ellis’ toned back, shoulders, pectorals, triceps, biceps … I’m losing focus here.

On some level, that’s to be expected. Insecure is a show about sex and relationships, chiefly filmed by Matsoukas, who made her name directing music videos for Rihanna (“We Found Love,” “You Da One,” “Hard,” “S&M”), Lady Gaga (“Beautiful, Dirty, Rich,” “Just Dance”) and Beyoncé (“Diva,” “Formation,” “Pretty Hurts”).

Matsoukas is a pro at helping women sharpen and articulate their attitudes about on-screen sex. “Melina, as a director, comes from a very sensual place,” Perrier said. “With all of the work that she’s done in the music videos landscape, she was always kind of etching out what intimacy and sexiness looked like for black women.”

Courtesy of HBO

Her penchant for the sensual is especially evident in her work with Beyoncé. She’s the director behind “Suga Mama,” “Kitty Kat” and “Green Light,” all songs from B’Day. In the album, released in 2006 just before Beyoncé’s 25th birthday, the singer writhed in fetish heels and latex minidresses in “Green Light,” offered herself up as a gender-flipped benefactress in “Suga Mama” and spurned the attentions of a sometimey lover in the not-so-obliquely-named “Kitty Kat.” Similarly, Matsoukas helped Rihanna develop an answer to the media coverage of her assault at the hands of her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown in the 2010 video for “S&M.” The video depicted members of the press as identically dressed, ball-gagged automatons.

“I enjoy capturing sexual freedom visually … without being limited by what society feels and what that should mean,” Matsoukas said. “I don’t think it’s a demeaning act. I think it’s a very loving act and it’s very freeing and having control of your sexuality is something that I think is important for me as an artist and as a woman.”


Insecure occupies the Sunday night time slot formerly held by Sex and the City, another show praised for its depictions of the many ways women discuss sex and have it. It’s one of the few to entertain the possibility of a M-M-F (male-male-female) three-way, when the word almost automatically implies F-F-M.

We’re experiencing something similarly revelatory with Insecure. It’s just that these women are black, and there’s nowhere else on television that shows their lives in this way. Girlfriends and Living Single might have come the closest, but they were both network comedies, with their bundle of standards-and-practices-imposed restrictions.

Furthermore, Rae is just the third black woman to create and star in her own television comedy, after Wanda Sykes (Wanda at Large) and Whoopi Goldberg (Whoopi). When it comes to exploring this ground through the eyes of women of color, television is still in its infancy.

As for the sex in Insecure? “Things are going to jiggle and things should jiggle,” Perrier said. “I think we’re at a point now where we want to see a real representation of everything across the board.

“When it gets hot, it’s like an electric jolt. And we need that.”

Daily Dose: 7/27/17 John Urschel decides that NFL football is not worth the risk

There are people running around in football uniforms on my television, which leads me to believe that the NFL is apparently going to return soon. My favorite part about this coverage is hearing all the on-field music they have.

Football is dangerous. This isn’t news to most of us, but a recent report had some pretty damning numbers about the NFL and brain injuries that basically solidified the fact that chronic traumatic encephalopathy is just going to be a part of life in that league. Personally, I have no idea why this is so surprising to people. When you have a bunch of grown men bashing each other’s heads in at full speed, guess what? Dudes are going to be wildly concussed on a regular basis. You know who else knows that? Ravens O-lineman John Urschel. He retired Thursday at the age of 26.

Hillary Clinton is dropping a new book. It’s called What Happened, which might simultaneously be the best book title and tease I’ve ever seen in my life. This book could be about anything. Her college years! Her time as first lady of Arkansas! Her illustrious career as a senator and secretary of state! Her time in the White House! Her experience with parallel parking! Who knows! In all seriousness, if this book is about what everyone thinks it is, she’s going to make tons of cash off of it.

There was a time in my life when I liked Gilbert Arenas. But I don’t care how many buzzer-beaters he hit for my Washington Wizards, this dude is a super jerk. First, his foolish antics harassing Nick Young and his kids were just too foul for my taste, and now he’s still out here on Instagram, trying to somehow shame dark-skinned women. Who knows what Arenas’ problem is, but being a pretty dark-skinned brother himself, the self-hate is clearly very real.

Adrian Beltre is a surefire Hall of Famer. Mainly because of his on-the-field play, but he’s also No. 1 in my heart because of his attitude toward the game. In case you don’t know, he’s the guy who is not here for anyone touching his head, which is problematic when you hit so many homers. On Wednesday, however, he managed to get tossed from a game while in the on-deck circle, which is just plain awesome. MLB umpires are some of the biggest “look at me” officials in sports, and this was no different.

Free Food

Coffee Break: There are some headlines that are terrifying in concept and some that are scary in practice. Then, there are others that make you go check to see if your doors are locked because the situation presented is so terrifying. “Police: One-armed, machete-wielding clown arrested” is definitely in the latter category.

Snack Time: It may not mean much to you, but 12ozProphet is back, which is tremendous news for anyone interested in the street art or graffiti scene.

Dessert: I’ve stated my love for Cardi B a million times. And her latest is another banger.