From the runway to Wakanda, black style reigns during New York Fashion Week

Photographer Melissa Bunni Elian went backstage at New York Fashion Week to capture several runway shows and pop-up events that showed off the creativity and ingenuity of black designers, models and attendees — including Marvel Comics’ Welcome to Wakanda event, just in time for the opening week of Black Panther, the Black Accessory Designers Alliance soiree, and the Matthew Adams Dolan, LaQuan Smith and Pyer Moss shows.

A model showcases a design inspired by the Marvel comic and upcoming film Black Panther during a Welcome to Wakanda event held during New York Fashion Week on Feb. 12.

Fashion blogger Joy Adaeze (center) with Black Panther’s wardrobe designer Walé Oyéjidé (right) and a model sporting his design during the Welcome to Wakanda event hosted by Marvel Comics during New York Fashion Week.


LaQuan Smith show.

Backstage at the Michael Adams Dolan show.

Backstage at the Michael Adams Dolan show.

The LaQuan Smith show.

Pyer Moss show.

Pyer Moss show.


Accessories designer N’tasha presents a pair of custom earrings from her collection, House.of.Kaluaah. The Black Accessory Designers Alliance hosts the event for both established and new designers such as N’tasha to expose them to the wide range of New York Fashion Week attendees.

A group of women network while wearing head wraps by Urban Turban for the Black Accessory Designers Alliance pop-up soiree held during New York Fashion Week.

LMCrush designer Lisa McFadden styles a hat on a potential customer for the Black Accessory Designers Alliance pop-up soiree held during New York Fashion Week. The organization presents diverse accessories created by designers of color from across the country and the world.

A model showcases a couture hat for the Black Accessory Designers Alliance pop-up soiree held during New York Fashion Week.

It’s 25 years old: Tupac’s ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ is hip-hop’s definitive ode to black women ‘Tupac cares, if don’t nobody else care …’

Tupac Shakur’s 1993 sophomore album, Strictly 4 My N.-.-.-.A.Z., was his last “pure” album. The project predates the cultural controversies, his sexual assault case, his incarceration, the 1994 Quad Studio shooting and the Death Row era that became his life’s final chapter. Released Feb. 16, 1993, S4MN is a fluid, aggressive, emotional and erratic project immortalized mainly for three singles: the rebellious “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” the joy-in-promiscuity classic “I Get Around” and the evergreen “Keep Ya Head Up.” Grounded by a sample from The Five Stairsteps’ 1970 “O-o-h Child,” ‘Shakur’s sentimental remake — things are gonna get easier — remains rap’s hallmark ode to black women.

Raised by women, Shakur’s soul found solace in his mother, Afeni Shakur, and close friend Jada Pinkett. “Keep Ya Head Up,” written when he was 21, not only spoke to black women, it defended them from within a genre that was and still very much is a man’s game. As his legal troubles mounted, and his demeanor toward women came under fire, Shakur’s devotion to the song never wavered. “I think the s— that I say, no one else says,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “Who was writing about black women before ‘Keep Ya Head Up?’ Now everybody got a song about black women.”

Shakur was a classic Gemini — it’s no surprise “I Get Around” and “Keep Ya Head Up” are on the same album. But the latter resonates on a far deeper level. It’s a record made for black men to inherit, hence the dedication of the song to his “godson, Elijah.” Black women are so often stereotyped, and scapegoated in hip-hop and in pop culture in general, but Shakur embraced the strength and importance of black women. Strong women fueled him. He also dedicated “Keep Ya Head Up” to a “little girl name Corin” — the daughter of Salt-N-Pepa’s Cheryl “Salt” James.

“He had this long conversation with her and, I don’t know, I guess she just struck him somehow,” James said last year. “He called me this one time and said, ‘By the way, I dedicated a song to Corin’. I never really understood why.”

“Pac had a liking and admiration for us as women, as artists,” said James’ group mate, Sandra “Pepa” Denton.

Shakur’s life ended three years after the release of “Keep Ya Head Up.” And one of those years was spent in prison for a crime he was convicted of having committed against a black woman. He denied the charges until the day he died. “I have no patience for anybody that doubts me. None at all. It’s too hard out here,” he said in a 1994 interview. “If my people don’t stand up for me, who is? I understand these white folks looking at me like that because they don’t know me. They didn’t hear ‘Keep Ya Head Up.’ That ain’t no fluke. ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ ain’t no god damn come-up. I didn’t do that for m—–f—–s to be smiling in my face to say, ‘Oh, he’s cool.’ I did that from my heart, so if they do try to put a rape charge on me my sisters can say, ‘He ain’t ’bout that.’ Now if my sisters can’t say that, you won’t hear another m—–f—ing ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ out my mouth.” Chaos in the midst of unyielding love. There are many ways to describe Tupac Amaru Shakur. But those are definitely two of them.

Why ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ is a must-see The documentary tells the story of how black colleges brought our people out of slavery

I have watched Stanley Nelson’s documentary, Tell Them We Are Rising, three times now.

The first viewing was in 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival, where Nelson and his team received a standing ovation after the audience watched the film. The second was last summer at a private screening in New York, where Nelson discussed the film and filmmaking with five students from historically black colleges. The third time I joined an audience in the Oprah Winfrey Theater at the National Museum of African American History and Culture to view the film on Monday with Nelson in attendance.

Each viewing uncovers new nuggets of insight that underlined the tenacity and resilience of enslaved men and women so desperate for education that they risked death to learn to read.

Nelson said he was inspired to tackle Tell Them We Are Rising for multiple reasons.

His parents attended historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). His mother, Alleluia Ransom, attended Talladega College in Alabama. His father, Dr. Stanley Nelson, attended Howard University. “That changed their lives, and it changed my life,” he said.

Nelson’s larger vision was to pay homage to a significant African-American institution. The subject was not particularly sexy, but it illuminated the quest for black freedom through the prism of higher education. “There have been just a few institutions that we’ve had as African-Americans that have sustained us,” Nelson said during a recent interview. “One of them is black colleges and universities. I thought that it was a story that nobody was lining up to tell.”

With several Emmys, a Peabody and MacArthur Fellowship, Nelson has become one of the country’s most accomplished documentarians. This film, Tell Them We Are Rising, may have been one of the most difficult he has attempted.

There were challenges and hurdles. The first was how to take a collection of great but individual HBCU stories and weave them into a narrative that described a powerful, overarching experience.

“So many times, people think of it as the Morgan State story or the Howard story or the Fisk story or the Spelman story,” Nelson said. “Nobody was looking at it as a united story.”

Unlike his powerful civil rights documentary Freedom Summer, based on Raymond Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, there was no one classic text to draw from. In Tell Them We Are Rising, Nelson and his team had to piece together footage, articles, photographs, “everything we could” to tell a captivating story.

The other challenge was telling the story of an institution whose history continues to unfold.

His 2015 documentary, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, accounted for a period between 1966 to 1972 and chronicled certain watershed moments. By contrast, Tell Them We Are Rising covers the 150-year journey of black colleges in 90 minutes.

Some scenes were especially hard to watch, as the film explores historical events particularly personal to African-American viewers, such as the killings by law enforcement of Southern University students Denver Smith and Leonard Brown during 1972 protests, which remain unsolved.

Every black college graduate 65 or older lived through one of these moments, whether at a predominantly white institution petitioning for more black awareness or at an HBCU petitioning a conservative administration to take back its blackness.

But as president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund Michael Lomax said, the story of HBCUs is not simply a story of deprivation, need and want.

“The story of HBCUs as Stanley tells it is the story of powerful action,” Lomax said. “There are so many stories to choose from we had to figure out what stories would work and leave the audience with a sense of what black colleges have been and maybe where they are going.”

One of the most poignant moments of Tell Them We Are Rising takes place at Spelman College when Alversia Wade, an incoming freshman, explains why she chose the institution.

Wade spent her young academic career, from kindergarten through high school, as the single black student in her school. She describes the feeling of walking on campus and seeing a sea of fellow black students. “They all look like you,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “They all looked like you.”

Tell Them We are Rising, which airs Monday night on PBS, comes at a time when there is a hunger for positive, powerful images and good news within the far-flung black community.

On Friday, Marvel’s much-anticipated superhero film, Black Panther, will open in theaters across the country. Nelson was working on his Black Panther documentary when Marvel announced it was planning to release its superhero movie in 2018.

“When I first heard about it, I thought about Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and the bunch,” Nelson said.

There was some confusion. “People would call up and say, ‘I hear you’re working on this Black Panther film, is it Marvel or is it DC?’ ” Nelson recalled. “I said it’s neither one of them. It’s real life.”

He looks forward to seeing the film. “It’s that it’s creating so much excitement. Like, it’s something African-Americans needed and didn’t know they needed.”

The HBCU student, in many ways, is like the hero of Black Panther — a mythical African superhero existing outside the suffocating institutionalized racism that defines virtually every minute, every hour, of life for black Americans. While their institutions are often under-resourced, black students who choose the HBCU experience enjoy the psychic respite and reinforcement of being in the majority.

At a time when 9 percent of black college students were enrolled at an HBCU in 2015, the often-asked question is do we still need HBCUs? The question overlooks the reality that 90 percent of black students are spread over thousands of predominantly white institutions, leaving those who attend a significant but often overwhelmed minority. The largest concentration of young black college students resides at the nation’s historically black colleges and universities. For many young students, that alone is worth the price of the ticket.

HBCUs are not for everyone, no more than single-gender schools are not for everyone. Still, black colleges and universities are needed more than ever.

During a post-film panel discussion Monday, former Spelman president Johnetta Cole said, “If historically black colleges and universities did not exist, we would have to invent them. … Since they do exist, we have an extraordinary responsibility to support them.”

“Until racism and racialism end in this country, there will be a need for HBCUs,” Nelson told me. “Until the education system is an even playing field — from elementary school to junior high school until college, until those things are equal — we still need HBCUs. Until we have an equal society, young African-American people need a safe intellectual space that HBCUs provide.”

Lomax, the United Negro College Fund president and CEO, said Tell Them We Are Rising was “an inspirational story. It is a call to action to our community, first and foremost to invest in them, to own them, to support them and to ensure that they remain durable in the future.”

That resonates.

Tell Them We Are Rising challenges those of us who attended HBCUs. A challenge to look in the mirror, to step up, to donate what Cole referred to as the three Ts: our time, our talent and our treasure.

This is the only way HBCUs will continue to rise.

“These institutions will not survive without our support,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”


To share in the conversation about Tell them We Are Rising, join us on social media Monday, using the hashtags #HBCURising and #BHMxHBCU.

Wake up! It’s the 30th anniversary of Spike Lee’s ‘School Daze’ In this #BlackLivesMatter era, the ’80s film is still very relevant

It was late summer of 1986. Jasmine Guy was standing on the streets of New York City, fresh out of a dance class at the Alvin Ailey School, when she heard a word unfamiliar to her: Wannabe.

She’d just run into director and eventual cultural purveyor Spike Lee. She first met him back in 1979, when she was a high school senior and he was a senior at Morehouse College who was directing the coronation at the school where she danced. Back then, he was telling folks that he planned to go to film school and had aspirations of being a director — although, at the time, Guy wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.

Spike had some news for her. “I just finished my first movie, you’ve got to see it,” she remembers Lee telling her. He was talking about 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It, which is now of course a lauded Netflix series of the same name. She saw the movie and was mesmerized by the very contemporary piece that was in black and white and dealt with sex, relationships and intimacy. She’s never seen anything like it before. With black people. And she was impressed.

She ran into him again on those New York streets, and this was the time that he added a new word to her lexicon. “I’m doing another movie, and you’re going to be in it, so send me your headshot. You’re going to be a wannabe.” She was confused. “You know how you all are,” she remembers Lee saying. She had no idea what he was talking about. Wannabe.

But she soon learned. As did everyone else who would consume Lee’s epic portrayal of a fictional historically black college in School Daze, a movie that altered how we publicly talked about blackness and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). For the uninitiated, the idea of a “wannabe” was a caricature of (for the most part) a high-yellow, lighter-skinned woman with long hair whose physical attributes look more European than African. “Wannabe” was also an attitude: Wannabe better than me.

School Daze. It’s been three decades to the day since theaters were lit up with a historically black campus waking up — this was when Nelson Mandela was still locked up, and students called for divestment from South Africa. Three decades since Spike Lee brought us a story of conflict, of when students pledging fictional Greek fraternities were pitted against those who desired global and local social change. The Gamma dogs. The Gamma Rays. The Fellas. The Wannabes. The Jiggaboos — oh yes, the Jiggaboos. School Daze was about the tensions between light-skinned black folks and dark-skinned black folks.

Everything was right there on a 50-foot screen. No escaping it. We had to consume it. And address it. “It was like, Wow, this guy’s really going to go there,” says renowned director Kasi Lemmons, whose first film role was in School Daze. “He’s really going to explore these issues. It occurred to me, when I saw it, how important it was because it explored so many things that you just hadn’t seen.”


In so many ways, School Daze was an extension of what was happening on campuses. It tapped into activations that were happening in the mid-1980s, and after it was released, it inspired and engaged other students, amplifying the work that was already taking place.

Darryl Bell — who was one of the “big brothers” in School Daze, his first role — was quite active as a real-life student at Syracuse University. He attended rallies where black and Latino students were mobilizing, much in the same way that Laurence Fishburne’s Dap did on Lee’s fictional campus of Mission College. In real life, Bell pledged Alpha Phi Alpha.

“I wanted to know more about these Alpha fellas,” says Bell. He remembers seeing them at rallies. “The idea that Alpha men were involved in, and on the forefront of talking about, issues that mattered — the divesting of South Africa — it encouraged me to be part of student government. All of these things … my experience at Syracuse, you saw in the film. … We were engaged in voter registration. We put on a fashion show to raise money to give scholarships to high school students. … That was the life I was living. That’s why I was so desperate to be in the movie. … This is all about me and what I’m living everyday. It was an extraordinary example of art imitating life.”

The film was more than entertainment; even before A Different World, it really illuminated HBCU campus life. It shed a light on colorism, one of the most uncomfortable and unspoken issues among black folks — something we’d been battling for generations and, in a lot of ways, still are.

“There was … division between the men and women,” says Joie Lee, who portrayed Lizzie Life in the film, “in terms of what constitutes beauty. I wasn’t ‘fine.’ I wasn’t considered that. I did not fit that standard of beauty, perhaps because I was brown-skinned. Perhaps because my hair was nappy, and natural. The women that are considered fine … were light-skinned or had ‘good hair’ — I’m using that term loosely. Those were some of the issues that [we were] grappling with.”

Thirty years later, the film still holds up. Replace School Daze’s international concerns with the Black Lives Matter movement and the activism, especially in this current political climate, most certainly feels familiar. “It does have a relevance to what’s going on today,” says Kirk Taylor, who portrayed one of the Gammas. “In terms of the look, in terms of the content, in terms of the final message about waking up … we need to wake up as much now as we did then — and stay awake. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, or false peace, and not be aware that things still need to be addressed. Things still need to be changed.”

Stay woke, indeed.

Don’t wait for Valentine’s Day to romance your bae All ages, all generations can celebrate black romantic love

Invitation to Love
BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR

Come when the nights are bright with stars
Or come when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
Drops on the hay-field yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come in the day,
Come, O love, whene’er you may,
And you are welcome, welcome.

You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,
You are soft as the nesting dove.
Come to my heart and bring it to rest
As the bird flies home to its welcome nest.

Come when my heart is full of grief
Or when my heart is merry;
Come with the falling of the leaf
Or with the redd’ning cherry.
Come when the year’s first blossom blows,
Come when the summer gleams and glows,
Come with the winter’s drifting snows,
And you are welcome, welcome.


Her name was Charmaine. With her round brown face, she looked like a candy teddy bear made from Sugar Babies.

I never knew where she lived. She always came to get me to go out and play. I always went. We always had fun. We ran the streets in North Philadelphia. Sometimes, I chased her. Sometimes, she chased me. We ran as if propelled by laughter. We laughed all the time.

And one day, we stopped running and laughing. I don’t remember why. We stood under the stairwell of an old row house that had been converted into an apartment building. Charmaine spoke in a soft and insistent voice. She told me to close my eyes. I did. She was just a little older. She told me she was about to give me a kiss. I braced myself. Then she gave me one last instruction: “Close your mouth, silly.”

I did. Then Charmaine gave me my first kiss. I was 5.

And if I saw her again, I don’t remember it. But I’ll always remember our magic moment, my closed eyes and the world of romance our sweet and fleeting kiss opened for me.

Nearly 60 years have passed, but telling that story always puts a smile on my face, just as seeing young couples running in the rain or older couples sitting and rocking always does.

Indeed, I love hearing romantic stories, especially those featuring black people, real-life stories that African-Americans star in more than they do in Hollywood movies, books or music — even those produced by black people.

And that’s too bad: When the popular culture omits black people from depictions and celebrations of romance, it dehumanizes us; it lies about who we are and how we live. Like faith, romance bolsters and redeems, heals and protects. During the 1960s, when our elders stood up to the high-powered water hoses and burning torches of hate, songs declaring black love and romantic devotion filled the jukeboxes and airwaves, a balm of Gilead rooted in hope.

Times change, but the need for black romantic love to take center stage endures.

Consequently, black America has two choices. It can bemoan our absence on the romantic stage. Or black America can take action to improve things. Among the things to do: promote writing contests where middle schoolers earn prizes for writing about the first time someone showed a romantic attraction to them and how that made them feel. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) can hold arts symposia in which black romance in pop culture is explored and celebrated. And our rich, black rappers, some involved in very public romances, can fund contests where aspiring rappers can win money and recording contracts by producing great love songs.

Rap’s contribution to pop culture has been vast and deep. But for too long, black rappers have done far too little to celebrate black romantic love or black women, who often give black romance its beauty and poetry.

That must change.

Furthermore, when African-Americans and others produce more art that’s centered on black romance, let’s patronize and promote it. It will be just as important to take our children to see movies where black couples embrace love as it will be to take them to see movies where black superheroes repel bad guys.

At holiday gatherings, let’s tell our children and grandchildren the romantic stories that are at the foundation of our families, how grandaddy met nana, how their everlasting love began.

As we close in on another Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of something my wife told me a week ago. When it comes to romantic gestures, I have something in common with Stevie Wonder’s music career: My greatest and most enduring hits took place in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Still, this week, I plan to tell my wife of 36 years a story, one she might not have heard for a while, one she might have forgotten, but one I never will. We were young and in love. We stood at a bus stop in Philly. It was time for me to go home. We were the only two people in the world, or so it seemed. Snow fell.

I looked at her. She looked at me. One last kiss, and I began to float among the snowflakes.

I still haven’t come down.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay teams up with Joe Biden to end domestic violence ‘I’ve been through that struggle, still going through that struggle, and I know what it takes to try to rise’

William Gay lives and breathes football. Like most cornerbacks in the NFL, his energy goes into pouring everything onto the field — especially since he’s a part of a playoff-caliber team like the Pittsburgh Steelers. But when game day is over, Gay’s energy goes toward advocating against domestic violence, a subject matter that hits close to home.

The 33-year-old turned the pain he’s been carrying since 1992 into motivation, all in the name of his late mother, Carolyn Hall, who was killed by her boyfriend when he was just 8 years old.

He’s been vocal about his personal journey in the past few years. Now he is partnering with former vice president Joe Biden in an initiative that will address these issues.

Thursday, the Biden Foundation named Gay to its Advisory Council, which focuses on ending sexual assault and violence against women, among other causes.

As an Advisory Council member, Gay joins a prominent group of leaders, experts and advocates who have been selected to serve as ambassadors for the Biden Foundation, guiding strategic partnerships to create societal change.

“I received a letter, and when I saw ‘Joe Biden’ on it, I’m like, ‘OK, this might be a false letter,’ ” Gay told The Undefeated. “But then my agent told me about it and then the NFL also told me about, so then I was like, ‘OK, it’s real.’ His ideas are similar to what I have going on, what my beliefs are, and trying to end domestic violence. I was glad he thought of me. I jumped at the opportunity — not as quick as I wanted to, because I got the invite during the season and I’m 100 percent about football. So I tried to focus in on the playoffs, but I was all excited for the opportunity to be invited on the advisory committee.”

A longtime champion for victims of domestic violence, Gay believes in the Biden Foundation’s commitment to bringing together diverse voices who can uniquely speak to groups that will change the culture.

On Friday, Gay and Biden will link up to discuss their commitment to empowering men and women alike to stop sexual assault on college campuses. The duo will speak at the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values Central 2018 in Indianapolis.

“We have to start engaging in conversations where we hold each other, and ourselves, accountable,” Gay said. “We hope to spur some of those discussions today and keep them going as we work toward a safer tomorrow.”

The Biden Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation established to carry on the former vice president and his wife’s lifelong commitment to public service. Through educational programming and public policy analysis, the foundation works to build a world where all people are equal in dignity and opportunity.

“It’s on all of us to change the culture on our college campuses, in our locker rooms and in our frat houses so that sexual assault is never accepted. We all must stand up and stop inappropriate behavior,” Biden said. “Men must be part of this solution and conversation. William understands what is at stake when we remain silent on abuse. He gets it and is using his platform to work to end domestic and sexual violence. That’s why I am so proud to have him join my foundation’s Advisory Council and partner with us as we work to create a culture where all live free from violence.”

Gay says he is eager to join this platform with Biden.

“This is all I’ve been preaching, for everybody to just come together and realize that this is dangerous,” Gay said. “You can talk about it, you can do something about it. It’s not embarrassing to let someone know or to try to help someone. The more you talk about it, the more you get people comfortable, that’s the first ring of trying to eliminate these problems.”

Gay’s crusade for ending domestic violence has all been in the name of his late mother.

“What drives me is my mother’s story, and this is a way, one, to keep her voice alive; two, just to help someone who is either in their situation or as a child in the same situation, give that encouragement that there are better things out there in the world. As a kid, there’s no like, ‘Oh, my God, my life is over because I don’t have parents.’ And for anyone who is in that violent situation or the sexual assault situation, there are people out there who would help. I don’t think my mom knew people that would help, because this was back in 1992. This is my way of allowing her story to stay alive, her to be alive, and also her story helps someone else.”

After Hall was killed, her boyfriend shot himself. Gay and his three siblings were raised by his grandmother Corine Hall.

“From 8 to about 12-13, I just felt like I was alone, didn’t care,” Gay said. “Even though my grandmother took me and my two brothers in, I just felt like a loner, because when you go to school, you see kids’ parents picking them up, and I didn’t have that opportunity. So I was just against everything.”

Gay says the hardest part of his journey is not having his mother around for major accomplishments.

“I had a loving family. My grandma did what she could to make sure that we felt loved, but it’s just those milestones. The high school graduation, the picking my college, the graduating from college, to getting drafted, going to the Super Bowl and, you know, just all these accolades that I attained and, you know, she wasn’t present. And I know if she was here, she would be front row or even on the stage with me.”

Gay’s uncle was his role model growing up.

“He was just blunt,” Gay said. “He said, ‘If you keep on this path, or being mad at the world, or wanting to being a bad child or thug, or what have you, you’re going to end up dead or in jail. You’re also not going to be able to play football.’ I was 12 years old, but it stuck with me through every journey in my life.”

He said he had a “whole team” of people, including family, teachers and coaches, who took him in.

“[They] saw the potential in me and knew that I needed just a little help to get where I’m going,” Gay said.

Football helped Gay manage his feelings, and he found a safe haven in the sport. It’s been so much a part of his life he doesn’t remember the first time he picked up a football.

“Probably 2, 3 …,” he said. “Football was always in our family. My older brother played, my uncles played. Just sports in general because where we were living, you weren’t staying in the house, you had to go outside. As long as it was hot in Florida, we played football. I officially started loving the game when I was 9 or 10. That was a safe place for me. That was my safe haven for me, even at a young age. I just knew when I went out there, I got away from problems. I didn’t have to think about I don’t have a mom. I’m out here having fun, and I’m competing.”

From this experience with Biden, Gay wants the public to focus on the outcomes and beating the odds of domestic violence than dismal statistics surrounding the subject.

“I always tell people I ain’t big on numbers. I love math, but when it comes down to statistics, I beat those odds, so I don’t even talk about statistics. What I talk about is real-life numbers, examples of people who’d been through it. That’s what I want people to get out. This is not coming from a book. This is coming from a written life, and I just want the realness of it, and that’s what people who are going through it want to see. They don’t want to see, ‘Oh, well, this doctor, he has five different degrees, or this person has eight different degrees and they’re telling me this and that, but they don’t really know what I’m going through.’

“I’ve been through that struggle, still going through that struggle, and I know what it takes to try to rise or take the right path.”

Angela Bassett is a queen in ‘Black Panther’ — and Hollywood ‘I’m grounded in where I came from — where we all come from — and what we all possess within us’

At the Hollywood premiere of Black Panther, when Angela Bassett came out, applause erupted and nearly everyone inside of the Dolby Theatre jumped to their feet as she shimmied across the stage in a sunshine-yellow fringed Naeem Khan jumpsuit.

The queen — our queen — had arrived. Bassett was crowned the grand dame of black Hollywood 25 years ago after turning in a magnificent performance as the legendary Tina Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got To Do With It, a role for which she rightly earned an Oscar nomination. And quite frankly, she’s nailed every other role we’ve seen her in — The Jacksons: An American Dream, Malcolm X, Panther, Waiting to Exhale, Akeelah and the Bee, Notorious, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, The Rosa Parks Story, Mr. 3000, Close to the Enemy, Chi-Raq — and so many more.

Bassett, at 59, is one of the film community’s most regal actors, and now she portrays Queen Ramonda, the mother of Marvel’s Black Panther. Bassett is also holding it down weekly on Fox’s recently renewed 9-1-1 as Athena Grant, a Los Angeles Police Department patrol sergeant. And she’s got more projects — such as the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War and Mission Impossible: Fallout — on the way. We talk with one of the best working actors in all of Hollywood.


What’s up with you trying to dominate the small screen and the big screen at the same damn time?!

Just a fortunate accident! And I will take that any year, any day. I knew everyone would talk about Black Panther, so it’s built in. Those fans, they’re loyal and they’ve been waiting forever for this day, for T’Challa, for Black Panther to dominate, to come on the scene. 9-1-1, it’s just a faith wall. I didn’t know what it would be, or how it would connect, but it’s thrilling that those things have dovetailed. It’s nothing that I’ve planned. It’s really just me going about the work, because you don’t know how it’s going to ultimately connect with an audience, so you just have to enjoy the process, be drawn to the script, to the character, to the folks that you’ll be working with. It’s long days and nights. It takes time away from family if you have one. Having kids and a family, you can feel a bit guilty being away. So you just got to love what you do, so that translates to them, that hopefully they see the passion I have for what I do. And hopefully they’ll discover their own passion. That’s how I get through it.

What’s Love Got to Do With It was a big moment, but the role-calls weren’t so immediate after the Oscar nomination. It feels like you have choices now. At this point in your career, what keeps you hungry?

I still enjoy what I do. I still love it. I still appreciate finding, working with, discovering new voices and younger talents. All of that keeps it fresh and vital for me.

What made you want to do another television series?

The storyline is fascinating, titillating, tantalizing. Just a little different from what we think we know, from what we think we’ve seen before.

“The last time I felt that proud was the making of Malcolm X.”

Did you have to transform yourself physically for 9-1-1?

You have to because they give me a police uniform, but they taper it to make it look good! I wasn’t asked to, but personally I felt like the role had the potential to be physically demanding. I don’t want to be that stereotypical cop with the doughnuts!

Both roles are so important in their own right. To see a black woman who is a police officer, who is going through an upheaval in her life while saving the day. And then to have a woman who is the mother of the man who is saving the world — two very important moments happening, and you’re at the center of both of them.

It’s a very powerful image to have a black woman highlighted in a real way, on both large screen and small screen. I recognize that, and always do. It’s a moment where everything comes to bear. My passion, my career, my interests, my history, and the image. I’m always very conscious of … how it comes across. But I don’t know if I [should say] that, because that’s just too righteous. I just want to do good work. I just want to continue working and just continue putting out a good product.

What is the key to your consistency?

I think maybe it’s training? It’s … a gift, and training. And gratitude. Never taking it for granted. Never just showing up thinking: That’s enough. Being willing and wanting to put in whatever work is required, whatever’s necessary.

How do you hope that these roles — individually, and maybe together — fit into the legacy you’ve already established?

I hope that it will just continue to build on it — it’s not the end. That I’m still somewhere in the middle of it! But I hope that we’ll continue that whenever you hear that I’m going to be in something — be part of a project — that it will be one of quality and substance. And maybe if you look, there’s a message of some sort, some positivity in there somewhere. That’s not saying that every character must be sterling and beyond reproach, but there is a message of hope and resilience … there at its core.

How do you process what everyone else sees? When we talk about this regalness that you embody and bring to not only a role, but just in your being?

Your going through all that just put a knot in my stomach! I appreciate it. That’s how I process: I appreciate it, because it is positive. And I understand the way women of color have been viewed, or thought of — our position. So I appreciate it greatly. But I am that girl that grew up in the projects of St. Petersburg, Florida. I’m grounded in where I came from — where we all come from — and what we all possess within us. I just remain humble about it. And appreciative of it. And just keep going, and keep loving. Because I love where I’m from, I love my community, and I think that comes across. I hope that comes across. I’m a real colored girl.

I spent some time on the Black Panther set. It was one of the most authentically black and coolest set visits I’ve ever been on. What was it like for you actually shooting?

It was so fulfilling and uplifting. It was a point of deep, deep pride in what we were doing. The story. How we’re doing it. The professionalism of the creative individuals. From directing the set, to acting, the crew. It was black. And the last time I felt that proud was during the making of Malcolm X. We all had this immense pride as we came to work every day, just waiting to throw down the way we know we can do. And doing it with such style. In Black Panther, we had a big scene on a mountaintop, over the falls, and hundreds of black extras just dressed in the African regalia and garb, and drums just playing while we’re waiting for the big setup. And we can’t help but move and sway and shout. It was so connected to where our ancestors are from. It was amazing. Once those drums started, not knowing each other’s names, it was just such a familiarity. It was powerful.

“I am that girl that grew up in the projects of St. Petersburg, Florida. I’m grounded in where I came from — where we all come from — and what we all possess within us.”

You’ve been part of our collective consciousness since 1991 with Boyz n the Hood. How have you stayed atop the Hollywood wave?

Stay up. Stay up about yourself, about your gift, about what you have to offer, about what you have to bring to the table. Stay positive about that, because the careers, they end and they chill. They’re hot and they’re warm. They cool off a bit, they stay warm. And they can always break and be hot again. But stay ready, stay engaged and stay enthused. Hold on to that, because a lot about life can test you.

This is a milestone year for you. What would make this a successful 2018?

The Black Panther busting expectations, surpassing expectations. Mission: Impossible coming out, doing well. And 9-1-1 being successful. I’m hoping that wave continues to swell. Some directing in there, so I’m not too busy acting. A little bit of that, and just always back to the family, you know? Watching these kids grow up and thrive.

You took your children to their first premiere — and it was Black Panther. Why did you pick that project for them to see?

Well, you know, it’s — the black kids and the black mama. It’s a beautiful world. It’s … so powerful. It’s … such an event. There’s such enthusiasm about this story. Our story and our image. And not as supporting players. The hero. Heroic. I wanted them to see that. I’m always trying to put them in situations where they can be proud of everyone, but especially proud of themselves.

Actress Candice Patton opens up on her role as Iris West in ‘The Flash’ The 29-year-old believes it’s important to break from historical roles and seek more diversity

Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming was played by Zendaya. Samuel L. Jackson commanded the role of Nick Fury in The Avengers. In the movie Thor: Ragnarok, Idris Elba is the Asgardian gatekeeper Heimdall. Quvenzhané Wallis starred as the always singing and hopeful foster kid Annie. Brandy Norwood found her happily ever after as Cinderella with Whitney Houston dressed in gold as her fairy godmother. Will Smith protected Earth from aliens as Agent J in Men in Black.

What’s the significant common feature of these actors and their characters? They are all African-Americans playing characters who were originally white in their respective comic or children’s book.

Adding to the list is Candice Patton, who is in her fourth season of The Flash as Iris West. West is white in the DC comic, and her character is the no-fear-no-matter-the-danger, tough-as-nails journalist and longtime best friend of Barry Allen, aka The Flash. They’re married now and she leads S.T.A.R. Labs, the team behind The Flash in stopping crazy meta-human activity in Central City. The series airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.

The Plano, Texas, native began her career in Hollywood with a stint on The Young and the Restless after being chosen in a national college casting search for a guest role. Once Patton graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, she moved to Los Angeles to continue her acting career. Her television credits include appearances on Entourage, Castle, Grey’s Anatomy, The Game, CSI: Miami and Heroes, to name a few.

“It’s a huge honor because young people and future generations will remember Iris West as black,” said Patton, 29. “If my casting wasn’t working [for TV], they would have changed it for the film, but they didn’t [and cast Kiersey Clemons, another African-American woman], and that’s a great thing.”

There’s still a long way to go with diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, but celebrating every inch, foot and mile fought to push the glass ceiling higher is just as important as the fight.

While in Washington, D.C., for the “DC in D.C.” pop culture event, Patton spoke with The Undefeated about being a woman of color in Hollywood, how the leading lady on and offscreen has evolved and just how tearing her ACL as a cheerleader jump-started her passion for acting.


What have you learned from playing Iris West?

She is strong, fearless, passionate and emotional. There is strength in vulnerability, and Iris isn’t afraid to show her emotions. She won’t let that defeat her.

How is it both an honor and responsibility playing Iris, who is traditionally white in the comic book?

It’s a huge honor because young people and future generations will remember Iris West as black. They can see themselves as the ingénue. Iris is the love interest of the hero, he’s the one he desires. She’s the leader of the team; she’s the one who rallies everyone together. And that’s a really important role model for young girls and even boys.

#KeepIrisBlack has trended on Twitter. What significance does that have to you?

I got into acting to A) pay my rent and B) live out my dreams … but another part of it became being a voice for so many young women of color. They get to see themselves on-screen [when they watch The Flash]. I craved to see that as a child growing up. It was just never there. All of my heroes were white and blond. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what made it difficult for me as a black girl was that it felt outside of myself, like something over there … something that was so cool but could never happen to me. Even when I was starting out in Hollywood, all of the roles I was going for was the best friend of the pretty white girl. So now for the first time, I’m [metaphorically] the pretty white girl.

What actresses do you look up to?

I remember watching Halle Berry win that Oscar and thinking how an acting career path was possible for me. Her grace, dignity and class are all things I’ve aspired toward. Zoe Saldana has done an amazing job in the diverse roles she has acted in, and that further paves a huge path for women of color too.

Hollywood is recognizing interracial relationships, like that of Iris and Barry on The Flash, and finally normalizing it. Why is that important?

It’s very important because it becomes normal and less fearful for people who haven’t seen interracial couples in their own neighborhoods and communities. People see Iris and Barry and say, “Oh they’re just like us … a normal relationship.” Having diverse storylines in general across film and TV impacts communities and [deep-rooted] mindsets.

Leading women in TV and film have evolved. How would you define what a leading lady is today?

The leading lady is extremely important to the other heroes in the show. We used to see women as the sidekicks, but we’re moving away from that and women are becoming the heroes of their own stories. Iris is stepping into that, especially this season.

[Outside of the screen], we as a culture have a specific way of what we’re used to seeing women as or how we want to see women. But the change is happening because women are now deciding for themselves and we are saying, “No more.” We’re making choices that are going to make people uncomfortable because before it wasn’t the feminine way and it wasn’t acceptable for women [to do that]. But now we are seeing women step up and say, “No more. Thanks for your input, but I decide on what I wear, what profession I’m going to pursue and what I deserve to get paid.”

How did cheerleading play a part in you becoming an actress?

I grew up in Texas, so you either played football, went to the games or was a cheerleader. I enjoyed it a lot, but then tore my ACL. I couldn’t cheer for a while, so I ended up hanging out in the theater club, and the rest is pretty much history.

What insecurities have you overcome?

Fear of being wrong, making mistakes and being the perfect celebrity for people to look up to. I learned that I have to be true to who I am because people will see my sincerity through a mistake that way.

Where does your courage come from?

My mom and dad. My mom always tells me to be as proud as a peacock, and my dad as a now-retired FBI agent would say, “Just because you’re shot doesn’t mean you’re going to die.” I go through trials and tribulations, but it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. You just have to keep pushing through.

How has being a new dog mom changed your life?

My dog, Zoe, has changed my life and has been a great anxiety relief. She’s given me that sense of responsibility to love something outside of myself. Sometimes, this career can feel so self-absorbed because it’s a lot about you and your character. I just felt like it was about me, me, me, me for way too long. Having Zoe takes me outside of myself, which is great.

What’s your favorite throwback shows?

I grew up idolizing Lucille Ball. I’d watch I Love Lucy every single night. There was something about how she made me feel good and entertained. I just knew that I wanted to do that and be part of being in people’s home every night. Acting was a hobby that turned into my passion.

What emoji do you use the most?

The side-eye one. 👀

What’s your favorite movie-time snack?

Keiynan Lonsdale [who plays my brother Wally/Kid Flash on The Flash] introduced me to adding Maltesers chocolate to a warm bag of popcorn. I don’t even like chocolate, but this snack is on point.

More to Super Bowl: NFL wants to leave lasting legacies in communities through outreach Check out a few highlights that positively impacted the Minneapolis-St. Paul area

Beyond the chilly Minneapolis temperatures, the highly anticipated gridiron showdown, the electrifying halftime performance and the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy, there were a plethora of community service events surrounding Super Bowl LII, as is the case each year.

Sunday’s season-ending celebration closed with a 41-33 win for the Philadelphia Eagles over the New England Patriots. Meanwhile, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area saw 32 activities and community outreach events throughout the city, which was part of the NFL’s plan to leave a lasting legacy.

For example, Special Olympics Minnesota partnered with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to host a Polar Plunge, a signature winter event centered on participants jumping into a body of icy water and raising funds to support more than 8,200 people with intellectual disabilities across the state.

But there’s more.

Out of the 32 announced events that took place in Minneapolis during Super Bowl LII weekend and the weeks leading up to the big day, here are a few community outreach events of note.


AN INTERFAITH GATHERING

Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee partnered with the Downtown Congregations to kick off Super Bowl week with an interfaith gathering to celebrate unity and shared purpose. The gathering was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church. The celebration showcased Minnesota’s national leadership in multifaith dialogue and cooperation and will raise money to prevent homelessness. The event is the work of the Twin Cities faith community — rabbis, priests, pastors, imams and other leaders — coming together to send a message about unity in the Twin Cities.

CREATING A CULTURE OF CARE: AN INSIDEOUT INITIATIVE EVENT

The NFL Foundation and Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund hosted a special character development event for local Minnesota High School athletic directors and their respective head football coach and female coach of influence at the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine.

SPECIAL OLYMPICS UNIFIED FLAG FOOTBALL GAME and POLAR PLUNGE

The NFL and Special Olympics Minnesota hosted a Special Olympics Unified Flag Football game.

PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME ARTIFACTS

The Pro Football Hall of Fame showcased more than 130 artifacts during the week. The one-of-a-kind treasures allowed the Hall to convey the NFL’s 98-year history since the league’s birth in Canton, Ohio, in 1920.

SUPER BOWL LIVE CONCERT SERIES

Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis was the site of Super Bowl LIVE, a 10-day fan festival leading up to Super Bowl LII curated by Grammy-winning producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The event, free and open to the public, encompassed six blocks on Nicollet Mall and featured food and fun. Highlights included an evening of music honoring Prince.

‘TESTIFY: AMERICANA FROM SLAVERY TO TODAY’ EXHIBIT

Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, along with Diane Sims Page, executive director of the Page Education Foundation, presented TESTIFY, a preview of their collection of Americana from slavery to today. The wide-ranging exhibit features art and artifacts from pivotal eras in American history while providing a platform for visitors to share their thoughts, feelings and personal experiences.

NFL PLAY 60 CHARACTER CAMP

The NFL hosted NFL PLAY 60 Character Camp, a free event on the field at Super Bowl Experience Driven by Genesis at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The event included 300 predominantly Hispanic youths from the Minnesota area. The noncontact football camp was led by Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz.

SALUTE TO SERVICE MILITARY APPRECIATION DAY

As part of Salute to Service, the NFL invited veterans, active-duty servicemen and women and their families to Military Appreciation Day. The NFL is working with its military nonprofit partners, including Wounded Warrior Project, to invite attendees. The event included football-themed activities, meet-and-greets and a special “Thank You” moment for all service members.

NFL PLAY 60 KIDS’ DAY AT SUPER BOWL EXPERIENCE

Children from the Minneapolis area participated and learned more about the importance of healthy living at the NFL PLAY 60 Kids’ Day, which gives more than 1,000 local children the opportunity to spend time with NFL players.

SUPER BOWL LII BUSINESS CONNECT CELEBRATION

The NFL and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee hosted the Super Bowl LII Business Connect: Celebrating Opportunities, Teamwork & Success, spotlighting the accomplishments of Super Bowl LII Business Connect suppliers and local businesses that have grown and thrived under the tutelage of the program’s professional development initiatives and, acknowledging NFL event contractors who’ve aggressively used the program, awarding contract opportunities to the vendors in the program. More than 350 Minnesota businesses in 40 vendor categories participated in the 18-month Business Connect program, which identifies Super Bowl LII contracting opportunities and matches those contracts with experienced, local diverse business owners in the program. To qualify for participation in Business Connect, businesses must be 51 percent owned by a minority, woman, veteran, lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender individual. The Business Connect Celebration is a ticketed event for participating business owners.

NFL PLAYER CARE FOUNDATION SCREENINGS

The NFL Player Care Foundation (PCF) and the NFL Alumni Association (NFLA) partnered to conduct their annual Super Bowl Healthy Body and Mind Screening program. This complimentary national program is open to all former NFL players and includes cardiovascular and prostate screenings and mental health resources and education. Comprehensive blood testing will be offered to the wives and significant others who accompany former player screening participants and are being provided by NFLA free of charge.

SUPER BOWL LEGACY GRANT EVENT

The NFL seeks to improve the surrounding communities of the Super Bowl host city with the Super Bowl Legacy Grant Program, made possible each year by a $1 million contribution from the NFL Foundation and matched by the Super Bowl Host Committee. This year, the NFL and Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee’s grants are focused on improving access and creating healthy behaviors for a lifetime, whether it’s access to physical activity or nutritious food. To build a healthier, more active, life-changing future for all of Minnesota’s children, the Super Bowl Legacy Fund’s strategic areas of giving are fun, fuel and fundamentals.

As a culmination of their 52 Weeks of Giving Campaign, the yearlong effort to award 52 Minnesota communities with grants leading up to the big game, NFL and Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee executives awarded the 52nd and final Super Bowl Legacy Grant to Anwatin Middle School.

MINNESOTA SUPER BOWL HOST COMMITTEE LEGACY FUND 52 WEEKS OF GIVING CAMPAIGN

Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund 52 Weeks of Giving Campaign 52 Weeks of Giving is a yearlong community giving campaign to ensure that hosting the big game will leave a lasting legacy for Minnesota’s children.

Each week, for 52 weeks, the Legacy Fund provides a capital grant to a community organization in Minnesota that is committed to improving the health and wellness of children. The grants help improve access to nutritious food and physical activity and create healthy behaviors in Minnesota’s youths.

23rd ANNUAL REBUILDING TOGETHER KICKOFF TO REBUILD

For the past 23 years, Rebuilding Together has partnered with the NFL to host community revitalization projects in Super Bowl cities across the country. These NFL-sanctioned events provide critical home repairs for people in need and their communities.

Rebuilding Together Twin Cities hosted a community revitalization project to rehabilitate six homes and develop a community garden in the Bryant neighborhood of South Minneapolis. The community garden will give neighbors access to fresh produce, which is extremely limited in the area, and offer residents opportunities to connect with their neighborhood.

Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson bring ‘2 Dope Queens’ to HBO The popular podcast is now a four-part comedy special

The first thing you realize while watching the 2 Dope Queens HBO special is that Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, the aforementioned dope queens, would be perfect at hosting the Golden Globes.

In a television adaptation of their popular 4-year-old WNYC podcast, Williams and Robinson display a familiar, wisecracking comedy that made Tina Fey and Amy Poehler so enjoyable for the three years they hosted Hollywood’s annual alcohol-soaked tribute to arbitrary awards. It’s the magnetism that comes from watching two girlfriends hold court and have a good time while wishing you were cool enough to join the party.

Now, under the direction of comic Tig Notaro (a recent guest on the podcast), 2 Dope Queens has been turned into a series of four one-hour comedy specials. The first one airs at 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 2. Each episode is a variety show built around a theme: blerds, New York, hair (because: black) and “hot peen” (because: alive). In each one, Williams and Robinson kick it for a bit, introduce a comic who does a stand-up set, then interview their celebrity guests before closing with another comic.

Robinson’s been performing stand-up comedy for 10 years and also solo-hosts another WNYC interview podcast called Sooo Many White Dudes, in which her guests are mostly anything but. Williams is best known as a former Daily Show correspondent (her old boss, Jon Stewart, makes an appearance on 2 Dope Queens), and lately she’s been throwing herself into acting. She recently released her second film with writer/director Jim Strouse, and the pair are working on a comedy series for Showtime.

Should they get the call (Dear Golden Globes producers, have some sense and enlist these two already), Robinson’s already thought of the celebrities she’d like to participate in their comedy bits. Oprah (“Because she’s amazing and delightful and she’s truly funny and she has a great personality”), former President Barack Obama (“He would be like, ‘Are you asking me to do a bit for the Golden Globes? I’m like, busy.’ ”) and Jack Nicholson (“I know you’re like semi-retired, but would you do something completely nuts with me? I think he would be like, ‘Sure.’ ”).

Robinson, 33, and Williams, 28, weren’t close friends when they originally began hosting the 2 Dope Queens podcast. Listeners witnessed their chemistry develop in real time as they’ve attended Billy Joel concerts and AfroPunk together. The result is a duo who shimmy and yaaaaaaaaasssssss their affirmations to each other and everyone they interview. In the case of the specials, that includes Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black), Sarah Jessica Parker (Divorce) and Stewart.

“Minorities and people of color, we’re usually supporting characters in other people’s narratives, and so we try to give people a platform to be the star of their own narrative.”

“We were becoming friends as we were working together,” Robinson said by phone recently. “Like any sort of intimate relationship, we’ve learned what works for us, what doesn’t. It’s a really cool process to balance the friendship with working together.”

Both had some advice for new residents of New York, with Williams sounding like Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw giving a clinic to singletons.

“You’re not finding the peen-age? Just walk outside and do exactly what it is that you want to do and go explore your interests,” she said by phone. “Like, go to a SZA concert or a pottery class. … Just go do that and I think you’ll run into some hot sausage.”

Robinson, on the other hand, admitted to being more in the camp of the blind leading the blind.

“If I knew [where to find it], I wouldn’t talk about it as much as I do,” Robinson said. “I’m lucky that I have a boyfriend and I’m off the streets, because I was truly a nightmare. I’m not good at flirting. I think it’s good to travel in packs with your lady friends. You need that line of defense.”

Robinson and Williams curated an eclectic collection of guest comedians for their HBO specials, some of whom, like Michelle Buteau and Aparna Nancherla, may be familiar if you watched Wyatt Cenac’s Night Train series for the now-defunct streaming service Seeso. And like Night Train, 2 Dope Queens relies heavily, and deliberately, on minority comics. Other guests include Baron Vaughn, Sheng Wang and Naomi Ekperigin. Amy Aniobi, a writer and producer on Insecure, served as executive producer.

“We always try to make sure we have stand-up, storytellers or celebrity guests that are … a woman or a person of color or a member of the LGBT community,” Williams said. “Oftentimes, minorities and people of color, we’re usually supporting characters in other people’s narratives, and so we try to give people a platform to be the star of their own narrative. It’s inherently built into the show.”

The specials, which were shot in Brooklyn, New York’s, Kings Theatre, are set against the backdrop of a typical New York rooftop, complete with string lights, a grill and crates that double as seating. Both women said that working with Notaro, who recently wrote and starred in the Amazon series One Mississippi, was pivotal to the show’s success.

“Even when women are the stars of their comedy specials, they still have men directing them,” Robinson said. “I really wanted to have a woman directing ours. … I learned so much from her. She’s a great leader. There’s no drama. She comes in, she does the work and she makes it really fun. Every time we had a meeting, my stomach would be hurting because she’d be making me laugh.”