An open letter to Jay-Z Etan Thomas: Jay-Z shouldn’t be canceled, but he does need to answer to his critics

Dear Jay-Z,

Since the announcement of your NFL deal, I have heard many of your fans attempting explanations for your partnership. Be patient. Chess versus checkers. Crabs in a bucket. He’s a billionaire and has to move differently. Wait and see.

For a long time, the “greatest rapper alive” has been an example of “actionable items” in the community. You’ve raised money for the families of Sean Bell and Trayvon Martin, you’ve donated tens of thousands of dollars to help bail out protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, and served as an executive producer on several documentaries about the criminal justice system.

This doesn’t look like chess versus checkers, this looks like Connect 4, you stacking your chips on top of the movement and connecting with the NFL for a straight line across capitalism.

Your body of work speaks for itself. I don’t believe you should be canceled, but we shouldn’t allow our adoration for someone to stifle our critique.

In 2017, you told an audience at a Miami concert, “I want y’all to understand when people are kneeling and putting their fists up in the air and doing what they’re doing, it’s not about the flag, it’s about justice. It’s about injustice. And that’s not a black or white thing, it’s a human issue.”

A year later, you rapped in “APES—“: “I said no to the Super Bowl: you need me, I don’t need you.”

Surprisingly, during a news conference while sitting next to Roger Goodell, you told a room of reporters “that we are past kneeling [and] it’s not about getting [Colin] Kaepernick a job.” Then you asked people in the room, “Do you know the issue? How about you, do you know the issue?”

As you asked the question, I noticed Goodell’s smile as he leaned back in his chair. I thought to myself, was this a prerequisite for Jay-Z to sit at the table with the NFL?

At that same meeting, the NFL announced that Roc Nation will help promote the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative, which will focus on education, economic development, police, community relations and criminal justice reform. In addition, Roc Nation will have a music series and clothing line, both collaborations with the NFL. Capitalism mixed with activism.

It appears as though you changed your entire message once the NFL deal happened. This looks bad, Jay-Z.

Former NBA player Etan Thomas says Jay-Z changed his entire message regarding social justice when he struck a deal with the NFL.

Etan Thomas

Here is the part that’s hard to swallow. It seems as though you are profiting from the very movement that Kaepernick started by partnering with the NFL, which to this day has whiteballed Kaepernick from the league.

Let’s be honest, if Kaepernick never took a knee and verbalized that he was protesting systemic racism and police brutality, this deal would never have been extended to you. That’s why NFL players Eric Reid and Kenny Stills are questioning you, because it’s not adding up.

Is this the chess versus checkers we keep hearing about? Maybe you are working within the system to further the movement that Kaepernick and Reid started. Or, is it simply you using Kaepernick as a ladder to step into a position that will financially benefit you, cloaked in activism but with the stench of capitalism?

I’m not advocating for anyone to be a broke activist. After all, I get paid an honorarium when I speak at universities, where I also sell my books. In fact, I interviewed family members of victims of police brutality for my book We Matter: Athletes and Activism, and I have been working closely with them ever since.

I asked Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, twin sister of Terence Crutcher, who was murdered by officer Betty Shelby in Tulsa, Oklahoma, if she wanted to weigh in on your NFL partnership. She shared the below quote:

Rapper and entertainer Jay-Z grips a football before the NFL season opener between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Sept. 11, 2011.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

“At the end of the day, I choose not to get distracted by things that won’t change the laws that give police officers permission to kill unarmed black and brown people in this country. We are in a state of emergency as it relates to being black in America and until the NFL publicly acknowledges that the reason why Kaepernick took a knee is valid, then hiring Jay-Z for their social justice campaign is a farce and I will continue to boycott the NFL.”

In early September, a new report was released saying $400,000 from the Songs of Seasons concerts, a partnership sponsored by Roc Nation and the NFL, are going to Chicago charities. That’s great, but this is not a charity issue, it’s a police brutality issue. If proceeds are going to specific organizations that fight for social justice, be transparent about the organizations.

So that cops like New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo, who choked Eric Garner, an unarmed man, to death, isn’t fired but given prison time. Or Shelby, the cop who killed Crutcher, another unarmed man, doesn’t avoid prison time while conducting speaking tours profiting off Crutcher’s murder. Or Timothy Loehmann, the officer who murdered Tamir Rice, isn’t rehired by another police precinct.

That’s the issue, that’s why Kaepernick was taking a knee, and I am having difficulty seeing how your NFL merger is helping the issue.

Let’s be honest, if Kaepernick never took a knee and verbalized that he was protesting systemic racism and police brutality, this deal would have never been extended to you.

And in January, I cringed when you made the comments that a single-parent household is to blame for people “losing their lives.”

I wondered, did Jay-Z just Bill Cosby pound cake speech us? I wanted to ask someone who was directly impacted by the issue of police brutality what his response was to your comments. I asked Eric Garner Jr. — son of Eric Garner. He said:

“I grew up loving Jay-Z . I have nothing but respect for him. What he said was hurtful. It sounded like he was making excuses for the police. My father wasn’t rude. Didn’t say, ‘F you.’ He said, ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times. He didn’t just lose his life, they jumped him and murdered him for selling loosies, and five years later only one cop got fired. No jail time, but just fired. That’s not justice. This isn’t a problem you can just throw money at. Actual laws have to be changed so this doesn’t keep happening, and that’s why Kaepernick was taking a knee.”

I had the same reaction as Eric Garner Jr. Maybe you are trying to speak the language to people in a way that will get them on board? Perhaps helping them see that it’s not a “their problem” but an “our problem.” Chess versus checkers? Even if it is the latter, peddling a false narrative to gain support is a dangerous tactic. It feeds into the negative and inaccurate stereotypes of black fathers.

Jay-Z, you are in the upper echelon of revered entertainers who have the ear of the masses. You can’t use that power recklessly. You said it yourself: “Add that to the fact I went plat a bunch of times. Times that by my influence on pop culture. I’m supposed to be No. 1 on everybody’s list.

I wanted to ask someone in law enforcement who I trusted, have worked with and support to weigh in on their perceived effectiveness of your NFL merger, so I asked Capt. Sonia Pruitt of the National Black Police Association, and she said:

“In the realm of social justice, it is important that our actions as activists have depth. While I respect the endeavors of selling clothing and entertainment from a capitalistic view, the reality is that what we need are the added voices of influential members of the community, such as entertainers and those in the athletic arena, to push for actual change. And funding should be funneled to those organizations whose messages, actions and results are strong and meaningful.”

Bottom line, this doesn’t look like chess versus checkers, this looks like Connect 4, you stacking your chips on top of the movement and connecting with the NFL for a straight line across capitalism. You won the game, but it definitely doesn’t equal social justice, not yet at least.

With Respect,
Etan Thomas

The ESPYS Collection Portraits of past and present stars set the stage for this year’s awards show, July 10 at 9 p.m. ET


Antoine Fuqua lets Muhammad Ali tell his own story in HBO’s ‘What’s My Name’ Documentary from LeBron’s production company examines the life of The Greatest entirely through boxing

A year before his death in 2016, Muhammad Ali published an autobiography titled The Greatest: My Own Story.

Although the former heavyweight champion boxer never got to tell his story on film, a new documentary from HBO Sports comes pretty close. Directed by Antoine Fuqua and executive produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter, What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali is culled from at least 1,000 hours of video and audio footage and focuses on Ali’s boxing career, narrated with his own words. It will air May 14 on HBO.

What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali debuted Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Ali’s widow, Lonnie, attended the screening, which took place on the 52nd anniversary of Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army to serve in Vietnam. The decision resulted in Ali being stripped of his world heavyweight title, which he later reclaimed two more times.

Fuqua touches upon Ali’s friendships with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and the boxer’s refusal to submit himself for the draft. But everything is presented through the lens of boxing, from one of Ali’s earliest punches — when, as a toddler, he knocked out one of his mother’s teeth — to his last in the ring, when he lost to Trevor Berbick in 1981. Fuqua doesn’t address Ali’s personal relationships, nor the accusations of domestic violence or infidelity that come up in Jonathan Eig’s biography. The film takes its name from an exchange Ali had with opponent Ernie Terrell, who insisted on calling him by his birth name, Cassius Clay. Ali was so angry he called Terrell an Uncle Tom and repeatedly shouted, “What’s my name?!” at him during their subsequent fight, which Ali won by unanimous decision.

Fuqua is best known for his collaborations with Denzel Washington, including Training Day, The Equalizer and a 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven. The Pittsburgh native attended West Virginia University on a basketball scholarship and now uses boxing to stay in shape. We talked about his new documentary, Ali’s patriotism and the class divide in sports that are characterized by risk of traumatic brain injury.

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


Photo by Ken Regan © 2019 Muhammad Ali Enterprises

What do you think of dictums like “stick to sports” or “shut up and dribble”?

That’s just silly, and that’s an ignorant thing to say. Just because someone plays sports or does anything doesn’t mean that they don’t have an opinion. I think it’s shortsighted and a very immature way of thinking about an athlete. Athletes have an amazing platform, and a lot of them are highly intelligent people and they can be influential. Most of them have lived on both sides of the tracks, especially African American athletes, so there’s a pretty unique perspective on the world. When you come from not much and you make a lot, that’s a long journey and that’s two different worlds. So a lot of times there’s a very interesting, complex perspective that should be heard.

What were your conversations like with James and Carter about how to make an Ali documentary that would manage to stand out?

They were pretty clear. We all love him. We all love what he stood for, and the man he was. We all agreed to be honest about the journey, his journey. We all eventually came to the conclusion: It has to be from his voice. Ali has to tell his own story; avoid as much talking heads as possible unless it’s him talking. There’s been a lot of documentaries, some well-done documentaries, but there’s never been one where Ali’s telling his entire story. There were things that we discussed that we thought were important, which was ultimately let’s show his greatness, but let’s also show some of his weaknesses.

One of his weaknesses was he was chasing greatness, always. That’s not a weakness, but he was at a place where they just wanted him to stop fighting. But how do you say that to someone like Ali? He has that gene in him, and I think that’s what makes him so amazing. Like the scene when he has the torch in his hand and Parkinson’s is at its worst, he lifts the torch twice. He didn’t have to, he did, the crowd went crazy, he came down, he did it again. Every time I see the movie it makes me smile. I think that ultimately, collectively, we walked away going, ‘What a wonderful life. What an amazing, well-lived life.’

He never loses his charisma.

Never, never. He never blinked. And he stood by his principles. He lost a lot; he paid a heavy price for it. But he seemed cool as ice, always. Even when he was in the ring, leaning against the ropes, taking some beatings at times.

Those are so hard to watch.

Even though you knew the outcome, as we made the doc, there were days where I was sitting there sweating, like, ‘Come on, Ali.’ It was rough, but it was a beautiful journey because I was not disappointed in anything that I saw. We found footage that no one’s seen before. Nothing about his life was disappointing for me. It was all very inspiring, even the low points.

“When I have an opportunity to allow a man, especially a black man, to tell his own story, I’m going to do it.”

This documentary gives little snippets of his life, but always in relation to boxing. Why did you decide to frame this story this way?

Boxing is the thing that put him on world stage. The boxing is the thing that — when he’s beating the guys and, saying, ‘What’s my name?’ — to me it’s the metaphor of his life. Fighting is the metaphor of Muhammad Ali’s life. It doesn’t matter to dig into how many kids he has and who he’s married to or not married to, because that’s a given. I’d rather his children did a documentary about him. I think that belongs to them, it doesn’t belong to us.

What we need right now more than anything, I think, is leadership in athletes. What is your platform, and what are you going to do with it? He had a platform and he did greatness with it. He showed us how to stand by your principles: When things were wrong, to speak up about it. He showed us what it means to be physically beat down and get back up. I think that sometime that’s more important than getting into the headline gossip, which a lot of people want to get into, which you could do about anybody’s life that lives a full life, but why?

What do you consider to be gossip?

Gossip, some people get interested in who he was with and who he wasn’t with, who he married and who he didn’t marry, what woman he was with. I mean, come on. There’s enough of that. He was a handsome, beautiful, charming man — use your imagination. Women loved him, he loved women. Men wanted to hang around him.

I don’t think Muhammad Ali’s story’s done. Somebody can go and do whatever they want to do. In my dream, I hope Laila and his children will tell a version of him one day, for them. But it should be done by them. My goal was to show the man that I admire, love, and I’m inspired by every day.

One of the things that becomes apparent is how much power white members of the news media, especially Howard Cosell, had to shape the public’s perception of Ali. Whether it’s calling the Nation of Islam a “racist cult” or framing his two wins against Henry Cooper as tragedies. Was this a way to hand that agency back to him from the beginning, and not just once he’s famous?

We all deserve that. We all deserve to have an opportunity to tell our own stories. He’s not with us anymore, so the closest I can get to that is what I’ve done. I was just telling the story through his eyes as we shaped it and gathered the material. When I have an opportunity to allow a man, especially a black man, to tell his own story, I’m going to do it.

The way this film is structured makes Ali’s decline from Parkinson’s feel like it’s evident much earlier in his life. We associate Parkinson’s with the tremors, but his speech pattern started to slow down in his 30s.

That was intentional to show that journey, because that was another fight. In the end of the documentary, the goal was to show you all the Muhammad Ali fights in the ring, out of the ring, with the military, the government, the loss of Malcolm, his friends, things like that. Being a black man, just because you change your name, the world turns on you because you changed your name, like you don’t have a right to change your name. But also, the internal battles that come from the wars you’re in in the ring: the pounding, the beating, the fighting, the stress.

I’m not a doctor, so who’s to say it was just the punching that led to Parkinson’s? But it certainly, I would imagine, it had a lot to do with it. Then, imagine the stress he was under during that time period. Black people were getting shot down and hung by trees still. He had all the close friends around him getting murdered, like Malcolm, like Martin, Kennedy. His name was as big as theirs, so imagine walking around every day with a target on your back, and as loud as he was. And going against the military.

So the goal was to also find footage where you start to see that, and I’m happy you noticed that. He was in a lot of battles; it wasn’t just the ones in the ring. But he still came out as great, he still affects us, we’re still talking about him. Even when his voice was taken away, one of his biggest attributes, his charm, his voice, his physical abilities were taken away, right? It’s biblical in a way. That’s why at the end, when he lifts the torch twice [at the Atlanta Olympics], I love him even more, because he was still showing us, he was still speaking to us as loud as he always has. That’s ‘I’m still here, man. I’m still the greatest.’

When I went to Jordan and Israel and places like that, I saw T-shirts and stuff with Muhammad Ali around the world every day. His name was known around the world. It’s amazing. How can someone say, ‘Shut up and dribble?’ Is that person’s name known around the world? I don’t think so. Is that person inspiring anybody? I don’t think so. But LeBron James is. Muhammad Ali is.

Photo by Ken Regan © 2019 Muhammad Ali Enterprises

Do you think we can call Muhammad Ali a patriot?

Absolutely. A man goes to the Olympics, wins the gold medal for this country, comes home, goes to a diner just to get a burger, and they tell him, ‘We don’t serve n—–s here.’

And he says, “Well, I don’t eat them!”

The charm, right? And then they’re going to send him over to a country to go kill some people that never did that to him? A war that we didn’t even really know why we were there, to this day. … I’m very patriotic, I love this country, but that’s some bulls—. Let’s call it for what it is, that’s exactly what that was.

What did you think of the concussion crisis within the NFL before you started working on this documentary? Did your thoughts change in any way? Ali says over and over, he doesn’t want anybody to pity him. He was always reiterating how much boxing had given him. But it also eventually took away his voice.

I grew up playing football. My family and friends would go play for the Steelers. [Fuqua’s uncle John “Frenchy” Fuqua was a running back for the Steelers from 1970-76]. I box now every day; I been boxing for 20-something years. What I’m happy about is I think the NFL is taking serious steps, they have been, to try to help prevent damage. It’s a violent sport, there’s only so much you can do, but I think they’ve been handling it really well. The guys get hit, they’re taken out the game and they don’t get to go back in. They get tested right away. I think they seem to be showing great concern in trying to do something about it. But that’s all you can do is do the best you can do, make better helmets, have better protocols. But it’s a very violent sport, and if you ever played or been around, especially guys at that size, on that level, that’s like being hit by a Volkswagen. There’s only so much you can do.

I go to the fights. I’m friends with a lot of fighters. It’s the nature of the sport, to be punched in the head. Punched in the body. I watched the refs, and they do try to stop it as fast as they can if they see someone in trouble — most of the times, not always. But most of the times, everyone seems to be trying to get in there as fast as they can. Those sports are complicated and difficult because they’re violent sports. The nature of the sport is to hit each other.

Why are you so committed to boxing in your own life?

Boxing has a lot of metaphors. Boxing’s a great sport; it’s definitely chess, not checkers. People think it’s just swinging and punching, but that’s not boxing. The whole objective of boxing is get the other opponent to help you kick his a–. You trying to outsmart somebody. It’s not as primitive as people think it is. It’s a great sport to just learn some life skills, to know when to bomb and leave, when to catch your breath, when to stick and move, when to go for broke, how to get back up. And it challenges you on those things, so that’s what I love about it. It’s just you and the other guy. You don’t have help. It’s all about what you’re made of, what you have in you. So it challenges that, when your lungs are burning, your ribs are hurting, guy’s trying to punch you in the eye or jab a bit. It’s like, ‘Do I really need to do this?’

Economic stratification has a huge impact on defining who goes into football and boxing. If you can afford to put your kid into something that doesn’t carry the same risk for potential brain damage, you’re going to do it.

There’s certainly classism. … It’s just opportunity. If you’re poor living in a ghetto — I know when I was — you bounced the ball, you hit a ball with stick. You punched each other or you play football. There was no golf courses that were nearby, there was no lacrosse. There’s no polo.

But some of those sports, you don’t get camaraderie, you don’t learn how to play as a team player, you don’t physically always get challenged the same. There’s plus and minuses to it all. Classism will always be here, and the gladiators will always be the gladiators and some people will always be in the stands. It’s just the fact of life. It’s not going to ever change, ever. If they took away boxing and football … there’ll be another sport.

For some people, like myself, like LeBron, like Ali, Michael Jordan, sports was a way out. I got a scholarship to West Virginia. That was a way out, that was a way of getting out the streets, getting out the ghetto. But also, you love it. It was a place to go that felt safe. It was a place to go to create a family outside of your family, with your teammates. To get that feeling of success, to win, that’s something that you can’t put a price on.

By accident, ‘Space Jam’ is a nearly perfect stoner movie #MuteRKelly and ‘Space Jam’ becomes an ideal movie for 4/20

I found it.

I found a perfect movie for 4/20. Well, almost.

It’s Space Jam (minus the treacly R. Kelly theme that doesn’t even match the tone of the movie).

But Space Jam is an accidental stoner classic. It’s a kids movie that just happens to be the perfect mix of hilarious, fantastical, riveting and disturbing when watched while one is stoned out of one’s gourd. The stakes revolve around slavery. Slavery! Imagine if its forthcoming sequel took that energy and made it intentional.

If Space Jam 2 possesses the hallmark phantasmagoria of its director, Terence Nance, it ought to leave sober viewers wondering if they’ve accidentally ingested shrooms. It will be smart. It will be subversive. It will be sublimely weird.

Which gives me great hope that besides being a multiple NBA-championship-winning philanthropist who builds schools and produces documentaries that shine a light on those least illuminated, LeBron James could end up producing and starring in the best stoner flick since The Big Lebowski. One without the asterisk that comes with incorporating a warbling paean to flight sung by the man who showed us just what a superhero Gayle King actually is.

LeBron has the range. And we deserve.

This week, I busied myself with a bit of public service journalism. I went on the hunt for the perfect black stoner flick and kept coming up disappointed. Friday’s casual violence doesn’t age so well. How High is similarly distasteful. Half Baked is innocuous silliness. Newlyweeds is a bit uneven. Where is The Dude who dropped out after three semesters at Howard? Where are the black analogues to Abbi and Ilana? Or Harold and Kumar? What’s the hip-hop album/film mashup that accomplishes the trippy satisfaction of Dark Side of Oz?

Maybe they don’t exist yet. They should.

But until that day comes, let’s revisit what makes Space Jam an excellent stoner film.


In Space Jam — which somehow required not one, not two, not three, but FOUR screenwriters — like an epic adaptation of Doctor Faustus, Michael Jordan has retired from basketball and has moved on to baseball. He has a bulldog named Charles. (As in Charles BARK-ley, get it?) At the same time Michael is making this career transition, a group of aliens from a place called Moron Mountain descends upon Cartoon World, which is the home of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, the Tasmanian Devil, the Road Runner, Lola Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Marvin the Martian, the weird rooster with the Southern accent and one elderly white granny. (Among elements that go unexplained: why the male-to-female ratio in Cartoon Land is so screwy.)

The Alien Moron Imperialists look like what might result if a person used CRISPR to splice together the DNA of a cockroach, a toucan and a guinea pig. They’re not that bright, but they have guns. They say things like, “You. All of you are now our prisoners.”

“We’re taking you to our theme park in outer space.”

“No food.”

“Where you will be our slaves and placed on display for the amusement of our paying customers.”

The aliens basically declare that they’re establishing a triangular trade between Moron Mountain, Earth and Cartoon Land, which seems to be located somewhere between the Earth’s crust and mantle, given that Jordan ends up there after he’s shrunken and swallowed into a putting green hole.

The Looney Tunes, faced with an existential crisis and no means to defend themselves (except maybe Elmer’s shotgun, which no one bothers to try shooting), hatch a deal with the aliens.

“Give us a chance to defend ourselves,” they request. With a basketball game.

OK, there is actually some defensible logic here. The aliens are about the size of guinea pigs and the Looney Tunes are … taller. The odds should be in their favor. Still, the only thing lying between Porky, Tasmanian Devil, Lola, Tweety, etc., and ending up like Sarah Baartman is … basketball? That’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls poses with a cutout of Bugs Bunny at a news conference in New York on June 20, 1995.

AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler

The aliens take the deal, then set about sucking the talent out of a bunch of NBA players for their own use, like hideous, squeaky-voiced precursors to the Armitages of Get Out. (Has Nance thought about casting Allison Williams in Space Jam 2? Because that could be a really nice way to complete this circle.)

So Muggsy Bogues, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing discover that they’ve become instantly terrible at basketball, and they have no idea why. And because “alien body snatchers leeching off black people’s talent so they can win the rights to enslave some other people” doesn’t exactly present itself as an obvious explanation, the rest of the NBA is shook. The other players start wearing gas masks to avoid the mysterious bacterial contagion that’s going around rendering NBA players useless.

The Looney Tunes find themselves facing newly beefed-up Morons who look suspiciously like the sort of big, black, ’roided-up threats that are more a figment of the racist imagination than a real thing. None of the imaginary characters in this film seems to care much about bodily agency — not even their own. Again, we’ve arrived at this point because the only thing standing between the Looney Tunes and slavery is a basketball game. So the Looney Tunes shrink Jordan and suck him down the hole of a putting green when he’s out playing golf with Larry Bird, the publicist of his new baseball team, and Bill Murray.

Can we just take a minute to recognize that Jordan has terrible friends in this movie? Not a one of them tries to save him.

With Jordan firmly ensconced in Looney Tunes Land, Bugs Bunny explains why he and his friends have sucked the greatest basketball player of all time into middle-earth: “You see, these aliens come from outer space and they want to make us slaves in their theme park. Eh, what do we care. They’re little. So then we challenge them to a basketball game. But then they show up and they ain’t so little. They’re HUGE! We need to beat these guys! ’Cause they’re talkin’ slavery! They’re gonna make us do stand-up comedy. The same jokes, every night, for all eternity. We’re gonna be locked up like wild animals and trotted out to perform for a bunch of low-brow, bug-eyed, fat-headed, humor-challenged aliens. What I’m trying to say is, WE NEED YOUR HEEEEEEEEEEELP.”

This bit of exposition is accompanied by an image of Bugs Bunny attached to a ball and chain, shucking and jiving against his will across a stage. How did we miss all the racial subtext packed into this movie?

The ’roided-up body snatcher aliens, now known as the Monstars, are not so impressed by Jordan.

“You heard of the Dream Team?” one asks. “Well, we’re the Mean Team.”

And then they proceed to ball up Jordan like he doesn’t have bones, or ligaments, or a spinal cord, and dribble him around a two-dimensional basketball court.

Meanwhile, on the surface of Earth, a doctor is asking Ewing if he’s been experiencing impotence since he lost his talent. This movie is wild.

The 2-D stars of Space Jam.

Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

Anyway, once Jordan’s regained his natural, nonspherical shape, he sends Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to search his house for his lucky Carolina shorts and his shoes, because you can’t play basketball against a team of body-snatching aliens in golf spikes. That would be preposterous.

It turns out there’s a comically evil, cigar-smoking alien fat cat (voiced by Danny DeVito) who is forcing the Morons to steal the essences of black people, play this game against the Looney Tunes and win. (Way to let the Alien Imperialist Morons off the hook, writers. Turns out they were only following orders!)

Even with Jordan on their side, the Tune Squad is awful. But at halftime, down 66-20, all of the Tune Squad gets a hit of a mysterious bottle labeled “Michael’s Secret Stuff.” They start scoring and playing incredible defense to close the gap to 68-66. Jordan informs his teammates his “secret stuff” is actually just water, leading them to believe in themselves.

The game ends with the Tune Squad winning, 78-77. Jordan not only saves the Looney Tunes from slavery, he manages to repossess the talent of Bogues, Ewing and Barkley and return it. The fat cat goes ricocheting into outer space, Jordan goes back to basketball, and then in pipes the comically incongruous “I Believe I Can Fly.”

That’s it. That’s the (nearly) perfect 4/20 movie.

Time to roll another spliff.

‘Selena’ producer Moctesuma Esparza opens fifth movie theater for underserved Latino communities ‘That Magic Johnson had done this was an inspiration to me,’ says Esparza, who also produced ‘Introducing Dorothy Dandridge’

Growing up in the Laurel Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, award-winning Mexican-American filmmaker, producer, entrepreneur and activist Moctesuma Esparza could walk to three movie theaters.

“Every neighborhood in the country had a great theater. … All died in the ’90s and closed,” he said. “It left many communities without any nearby entertainment venues at all, because the multiplexes went to the suburbs and then the megaplexes went to power centers and huge power malls, and the inner cities and the working-class communities and rural communities were left pretty much without any first-class entertainment.”

So it’s no surprise that was the motivation behind Esparza opening his fifth theater in Delano, California, as part of his Maya Cinemas chain. Now having produced some of the most prolific Latino and black films of society’s culture, he’s preserving a home for those moments. Maya Cinemas was chartered in 2000 to develop, build, own and operate modern, first-run megaplex movie theaters in underserved, family-oriented, Latino-dominant communities.

“Seeing that Magic Johnson had done this was an inspiration to me. The fact that he did it also encouraged me that I could do it,” Esparza said. “I’m honored that I’m able to bring a quality, beautiful, state-of-the-art cinema to a working-class family community like Delano, California. We’ve got theaters in Bakersfield, Fresno, Salinas, Pittsburg, now Delano. We have another theater under construction in north Las Vegas, Nevada, and we’ll soon be in Texas and Arizona. Our goal is to be everywhere that’s underserved.”

The grand opening event included more than 500 attendees, activists Dolores Huerta and Paul Chavez, United Farm Worker leaders and community leaders. It’s been 10 years since Delano residents have seen a theater in the area. The new development provides a $20 million real estate investment, as well as jobs for the community and, of course, first-run, quality movies for the whole family, a mission that’s dear to Esparza.

Esparza is revered for his contributions to the movie industry and his commitment to uplifting and preserving Latino communities. He has been nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Emmy Award and has received more than 200 honors and awards, including a Clio, the John F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Ohio State Award and a Cine Golden Eagle.

He was one of the 13 indicted students who organized the successful 1968 student walkout in East Los Angeles aimed at improving substandard public education for Latinos that focused on training them to be manual workers, not professionals — the premise for the 2006 HBO movie Walkout.

Before producing iconic films such as Selena starring Jennifer Lopez, HBO’s Introducing Dorothy Dandridge starring Halle Berry, The Milagro Beanfield War, Gettysburg and The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, he was a community organizer and a student at UCLA in the 1960s. Deeply engaged in civil rights, he helped found a campus organization called M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán) while focusing on establishing diversity in the university’s education, history, Spanish and social work departments.

“Somebody in the group [M.E.Ch.A.] said, ‘Why don’t you go look at the film school [in the] theater arts department?’ There was an African-American professor there who recruited me onto a campuswide research study on the images of minorities in media back then, and of course, the report came back that there were very few images and the few that existed were all negative.”

Unimpressed by the numbers, he wrote a proposal to create a program called Ethno-communications and submitted it to the film department. He recruited a diverse array of students (four African-Americans, four Asian-Americans, four Native Americans and four Latinos) and staged a sit-in in the dean’s office until it was approved.

“Happily, we didn’t have to sit in too long,” Esparaza said. “The dean was very progressive, and we created this program Ethno-communications.”

Esparza spoke to The Undefeated about his iconic career, his role in civil rights, his Maya Cinemas and the lack of minority, especially Latino, representation in the film industry.


What inspired you to open your very first cinema?

About back in 1987, I was doing a premiere for my movie, The Milagro Beanfield War, that Bob Redford directed, and we did premieres in 20 cities across the United States, and I had convinced Universal that we should do benefit premieres that would be for education for scholarships in the Latino community. I went all over the country and I discovered that there were no quality, first-run venues in any Latino community of the United States, which was really amazing. Ten years later when I did the same thing with Selena, we did 50 premieres, and this is now in 1997. I saw that even the second-run theaters had closed. I saw that there was an opportunity to bring back entertainment to these communities that love movies.

What was behind your decision to bring the story of Selena to the world?

When she, tragically, was killed, I was thinking about, should this be a movie? For a while, I didn’t see it. I didn’t see how to tell the story in a constructive way, and I was afraid that Hollywood would want to get into the tragic gore, the crime. I shied away from it, but it was my daughter, who was a big fan of Selena, who insisted that I needed to go after this story and produce the movie. She kept giving me the music and gave me a documentary about her and gave me a couple books that were written about her, and I finally had an inspiration. But I must credit my daughter, which is that I saw that a movie could be made about the struggle for the American dream of a family. The Selena story was a family story, and when I saw that, then I saw, ‘Oh, this is how we can tell the story. This is how we can make it inspirational and turn this tragedy into something that can inspire people.’ My UCLA classmate, Gregory Nava, saw it as well, and so his script and directing completed the mission.

How did you ignite the idea for Introducing Dorothy Dandridge?

I had focused on doing important documentaries, historical pieces, on people of color, and there was a period there where it was, frankly, easier for me to get a movie about African-Americans made than about Latinos.

I had already done a movie called Selma, Lord, Selma and I did another movie called The Sweetest Gift with Diahann Carroll, and I’d done another movie called Butter, and so when the opportunity came up to do a movie about Dorothy Dandridge — who I had loved as a teenager, she had just such an incredible presence, and her film career had been so inspiring for everybody who was a person of color — I jumped on it. My partner and I went after putting the project together and happily, we were able to get HBO to step up and finance it with Halle Berry, and Halle was very, very important. Her saying yes made the project go.

How was it to executive produce a movie that you were actually a part of history for?

I had worked on it [Walkout] for 20 years, and it was one of my early goals with the document the Chicano civil rights movement, which is very little known yet profoundly impactful to all of the 60 million Latinos in the United States because that one moment back in March of ’68, when 20,000 high school kids went out on strike, really did transform the possibility for education for Latinos. We had tremendous support from all the folks that were engaged in a struggle for civil rights. I got arrested, I faced my jail, indicted by the grand jury, and I remember being in the jail at downtown Los Angeles, Parker Center, and hearing all the people marching around Parker Center at City Hall, chanting.

It was inspiring to us because we knew that we were sacrificing and fighting for something that was worthwhile. Later, I saw news footage and photographs and I saw all the folks that we had historically been working with had come out and were supporting us. Black Panthers were there in force, and people from all the various civil rights organizations were there supporting us, the ACLU, and so it was inspiring. There was a moment where we all came together to support each other.

What message would you like to send to young Latino Americans?

We all have a common struggle for human dignity and human rights and we’ll succeed together, not separately, so we all need to work together and recognize that it’s a human struggle, and that’s what I’m committed to.

What inspires you now, and how has that changed from what inspired you 20 years ago?

It’s the same thing. I made a commitment when I chose this as a career that my goal was to transform the image of Latinos and to explore what it is to be human, and so I’m still doing that. In doing that, I’m also looking to inspire and support the next generation of filmmakers. We’re launching a program at our movie theaters that independent filmmakers who haven’t been able to get a theatrical distribution, as long as they have a film that’s watchable, we’re going to play it.

We’re going to support them, and we’re starting that program because it’s very difficult for people of color, Latinos in particular, to make a movie. And if they do make one, because I see about a dozen independent movies a year, it’s very difficult for them to get distribution.

When will you launch this program?

We already have. We have a little comedy called Taco Shop that we just played in our theaters, and it’s available at home video, so if you’re audience out there, it’s an urban comedy. If you love Cheech & Chong, you’ll love this. It’s got a multicultural cast, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s the story of a taco truck and a taco restaurant who are having their little war.

Jean-Michel Basquiat documentary ‘Boom for Real’ reveals the origins of an artist who influenced so much of contemporary hip-hop From SAMO to ‘Famous Negro Athletes,’ Basquiat was the product of a grungy and dangerous New York

Jean-Michel Basquiat, the New York graffiti artist who became an international sensation before dying at 27, would have had some interesting things to say about today’s athlete-led protests for racial justice. For evidence, you need only look at his work, especially a series of paintings called Famous Negro Athletes.

They’re sketches of baseball players, usually oil stick on paper, and the athletes, famous though they may be, are indistinguishable, with their eyes poking out and their teeth twisted into crude grimaces. It’s a wry visual play on the idea that all black people look alike.

A portrait of Jackie Robinson features the head of the man who broke the color barrier playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers and one of Basquiat’s trademark crowns.

“He was very interested in black history, and in sports, and in baseball,” said Sara Driver, the artist and filmmaker who directed Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which enters theaters Friday. “He’s so relevant now with what he said about police brutality in his paintings. And I love his love of jazz, of history, and the past and present. It’s just pointing out how they’re separated too. Famous Negro athletes, separated from other athletes as a category. That in itself is political. He was a very political artist.”

Driver’s documentary provides an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with Basquiat’s short life — he died in 1988 of a heroin overdose — and extraordinary repertoire. Her film is an intense look at the grimy New York of the 1970s and early ’80s and establishes Basquiat as a locus for all the changes taking place in the city at the time, from the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx to the punk movement to the underground art scene. Keith Haring’s work was gaining notice, and so was that of Lee Quiñones, the graffiti artist known for his elaborate subway car murals.

The lawlessness of pre-Mayor Rudy Giuliani New York made it dangerous, but it also imbued the city with a special kind of freedom, Driver said, one that allowed a person like Basquiat, with little to no money, to explore everything. He was a musician. He was a street artist. He was an installation artist and a photographer. Experimental, unconstrained by traditional boundaries and inspired by refuse he’d simply take from the street.

“We were living in this bombed-out city where we had no law or rules, so we could create wherever we went,” said Driver, who was part of New York’s independent film scene at the time. “We could shoot movies without permits or insurance or any of the baloney you have to go through now.”

No wonder Jay-Z identifies with Basquiat: They’re both black artists who came from impoverished backgrounds and amassed fame and respect by celebrating and educating themselves.

In Boom for Real, Driver illustrates how all that helped to create SAMO, the pseudonym and alternative identity Basquiat developed with street artist Al Diaz. The two would tag the buildings of SoHo and the Lower East Side with cryptic lines of SAMO philosophy. Diaz recounts that Basquiat eventually hijacked SAMO for himself, and he was extremely resentful of Basquiat for it.

“We all knew each other from the clubs and from the street, and it was very dangerous and you had to be alert on the street, which also gave you gifts,” Driver said. “You would see things that — now you’re looking at your phone, so you’re not seeing these gifts that the world gives us. And that fed us.”

Her film shows a pre-fame Basquiat, before his iconic hairstyle, who was charming and nervy. There’s an amusing anecdote from Driver’s longtime partner, director Jim Jarmusch, who recounts Basquiat stealing a flower to give to Driver, not caring that she was already with Jarmusch.

Basquiat had the swagger of hip-hop, the politics of a revolutionary and the curiosity of a philosopher. He’d pretend to be a student at the School of Visual Arts and audit classes, and then read whatever he could find.

“He was going to his own university of the street, basically,” Driver said.

His influence continues to reverberate throughout the art world and pop culture. Basquiat’s Bottle is a popular gathering spot for Brooklyn’s black creatives. In 2017, the graffiti artist Banksy debuted a Basquiat-inspired work on the walls of London’s Barbican Centre ahead of the opening of a major exhibition of Basquiat’s work. One references Basquiat’s 1982 painting Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump but shows the artist being accosted by two police officers.

Instagram Photo

But it wasn’t until I saw Driver’s film that I finally began to understand why Basquiat shows up in contemporary hip-hop, and specifically the work of Jay-Z. When Jay-Z released Magna Carta … Holy Grail in 2013, it was easy to deride as a work of naked commercialism. The rapper took quite a bit of flak for debuting it with a Samsung app that sucked up a bunch of user data. And he kept dropping lines such as I’m the new Jean-Michel and rapping about his Warhols, Art Basel and Jeff Koons. He sounded like a hedgie who’d recorded a rap record. This was also the year the rapper collaborated with Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović to create the music video for “Picasso Baby.”

But if you pull back the hubris of “Picasso Baby,” what’s left is a man celebrating his great fortune in a way Basquiat didn’t live long enough to do. No wonder Jay-Z identifies with Basquiat: They’re both black artists who came from impoverished backgrounds and amassed fame and respect by celebrating and educating themselves. They’re far afield from The Establishment but eventually were recognized and celebrated by it.

Oh, sure, there’s a chance Basquiat would have become insufferable had he lived longer and gotten high off his own hype. But there’s also a chance the Basquiat who painted Famous Negro Athletes would remain too. And just like the man who’s the self-proclaimed “new Jean-Michel,” I bet he’d have quite a lot to say about Colin Kaepernick.

Celebrity docuseries are usually fluff. Not HBO’s ‘Being Serena.’ A life-threatening post-delivery scare gives series on Williams a far more serious tone

Whenever a celebrity agrees to a documentary, there’s always a question about how much we’re actually going to learn about the person. Answer: only what they want you to know.

These shows tend to fall along a spectrum. There are the VH1 or Lifetime series that are full of folks hoping to launch themselves off the B- or C-lists into actual celebrity. There are the series that pretend to be serious, even though they know good and well they’re not, such as Mariah Carey’s 2016-17 E! concert series, Mariah’s World. And then there’s Being Serena, HBO’s new docuseries following Serena Williams through the beginning of her pregnancy, childbirth and her postnatal return to professional tennis, which begins airing Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST. It is a celebrity docuseries, yes, but one with the imprimatur of HBO Sports.

The higher the profile of the subject, and the more involved the person is in the project, the more these films tend to be pretty exercises in hagiography. That doesn’t mean they’re without value, just that you shouldn’t expect to see truly unflattering bits. It’s why the most insightful documentaries about famous people usually don’t come until after they’re dead.

That said, Being Serena ends up offering more insight than most, given the athlete’s harrowing hospital experience after the birth of her daughter with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Williams became a high-profile example of a problem affecting black mothers all over the country. Last year, ProPublica and NPR published a series examining high rates of maternal mortality in American women (it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist). One chapter was especially disturbing. “Nothing protects black women from dying in pregnancy and childbirth. Not education. Not income. Not even being an expert on racial disparities in health care,” the organizations reported.

Williams had blood clots in her lungs (known as pulmonary embolisms) and had to advocate for herself, asking for a CT scan with contrast to find them after first asking for an oxygen mask because she could not breathe. She knew what to ask for because Williams has a history with blood clots and she knew what an embolism felt like. And so what began as a TV project on a world-class athlete returning to the top of her game turned into a docuseries in which the best women’s tennis player ever confronted her own mortality.

“I almost died,” Williams says in the series. She wrote about the experience in an op-ed for CNN, connecting it with other, less famous, less wealthy black women.

Being Serena, executive produced by Michael Antinoro (Battle of the Network Stars, The Ashley Graham Project, Jim Rome on Showtime), can sometimes be overwrought. There’s a lot of B-roll of the camera panning through treetops. It’s got some tonal inconsistencies, which I think can be attributed to the fact that no one expected Williams’ labor and delivery experience to be so fraught. Williams had planned for a vaginal delivery but had an emergency cesarean section because her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., was in distress.

What began as a TV project on a world-class athlete returning to the top of her game turned into a series in which the best women’s tennis player ever confronted her own mortality.

HBO provided the first two episodes for review, and they offer a glimpse into Williams and Ohanian’s relationship — they’re complete opposites, Williams says. There are tender moments of Richard Williams, Serena’s father, meeting his granddaughter for the first time. And we see Williams trying on wedding dresses and she and Ohanian installing her Australian Open trophy (the one she won while pregnant) in Olympia’s nursery. (The nursery is tricked out with a gorgeous rose gold crib, and I admit I found myself yelling at the TV, “No! Crib bumpers are dangerous! Get rid of those!”)

By the end of the second episode, Williams is out of bed and hitting balls on the tennis court. It’s an abrupt shift from watching her struggle to carry Olympia in her car seat across the driveway to her house. But Williams, by and large, is open about the fact that even for someone as healthy and fit as she is, childbirth can be dangerous and scary. It’s certainly a contradiction to the studied peacefulness of her Instagram feed from that time. Williams is mostly bedridden and in pain for six weeks after delivery, waiting for her C-section scar to heal and for the removal of a filter that doctors put in her body to prevent blood clots from reaching her heart.

When she finally does begin hitting again, she’s honest about the pain she’s feeling because her joints have expanded as part of pregnancy. She argues against current WTA rules that treat pregnant women like players returning from injury when it comes to determining tournament seeding. The current rules, she says, discourage women from having children during their playing years. That’s likely to become an issue if more women attain the career longevity that Williams, 36, has managed.

Being Serena has some unforced errors, sure, but its value lies in what it reveals to be a woman and a professional athlete right now. Williams is tender and nurturing, but she’s more than retained her competitive spirit. She’s unapologetic in her ambition, and for a country that still struggles to accept that in women, it’s a welcome contribution to the television landscape.

Superproducer Zaytoven’s gospel truth about trap music: It needs to be ‘spontaneous and unorthodox’ He’s a man of faith, plays the organ and the keytar — and creates huge hits with stars like Gucci Mane, Nicki Minaj and the Migos

It’s an unlikely one, but the combination of church music and trap music has been a flourishing formula for Xavier Dotson, known in music circles as Atlanta superproducer Zaytoven. Since the mid-2000s, he’s been the visionary behind tracks for artists such as Gucci Mane, Future and the Migos, and he is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of trap music.

Yet it’s hard not to hear the influence of his Christian upbringing on his sound. Zaytoven, the son of a pastor and choir director, moved to the South after being born in Germany and growing up in California’s Bay Area. And when he’s not working a studio soundboard, he’s been, for 11 years and counting, on a sanctuary organ as lead musician for two different churches. “Every time that man touch the piano, I hear church. I hear God. Worship,” says fellow producer Cassius Jay in the latest installment of Red Bull Music’s The Note documentary series. It follows Zaytoven’s journey from a home studio to the realm of musical genius, just as the man of faith is set to release his debut album, Trap Holizay, on May 25.

Before the release of the 17-minute short film, which he scored himself, The Undefeated spoke to Zaytoven about his relationship with Gucci Mane, the first time he met the Migos, LeBron James’ future and more.


Growing up, what did church mean to you?

Everything. Growing up in church, as far as my sound, that’s where all my music comes from. The riffs, how to stay on rhythm, how to improvise. It’s also where I learned how to decipher right from wrong, how to do things and how to treat people.

Do you have a favorite gospel song?

That’s all I listened to growing up. I can more so name some of my artists, like Commissioned, The Winans, Deitrick Haddon, Travis Greene, Tasha Cobbs.

Of the many instruments you play, which was the hardest to master?

I really only play the drums, keyboard and organ. I’ve played a little bit of guitar, but I’ve never mastered it. I started on the drums as youngster, but the keyboard really just kind of kept my attention.

“Spontaneous and unorthodox, that’s what trap music should be. When we’re talking about hustlin’ music, it shouldn’t be all the way well thought out.”

Early in 2017, you played a keytar at the Migos’ first show after the drop of Culture. How did you pick that up?

That was one of the first times I played the keytar. It’s the same thing as a keyboard, but me holding it around my shoulder. So I’m like, ‘I’m finna do this!’ We never practiced with it — none of that. I bought the keytar and had used it once before with Gucci Mane on Jimmy Kimmel. I felt this is something I could do with artists. It was a way I could perform and not just be in the background.

The new documentary touches on the studio where you got your start, “Mama’s Basement.” How did you come up with the name?

Because that’s exactly what it was [laughs]. It was my mom’s basement. That’s where we were recording all the music, where all the artists were coming. When you see the footage in the documentary, you’re gonna see how valuable that basement was. The music that’s popping right now — all that stems from that basement and what we were creating down there that long ago.

Who’s the biggest artist that came through that basement?

Nicki Minaj was there on a daily basis … just like Gucci. I don’t have the studio there anymore, but it’s definitely legendary.

What’s the one piece of studio equipment you couldn’t live without?

MPC [music production controller].

Who’s the voice on your “Zaytoven” drop — and how’d you come up with it?

That’s my daughter, Olivia. She’s 8 years old now, but she might have been 4 when I had her do that. I had a drop before that said ‘Zaytoven,’ and it was kind of electronic. I’d used it on my early records. The Gucci stuff, like the Hard to Kill album. But once new producers started coming in and using new tags, I was like, ‘Hold on … I wanna make a new one.’ That’s when I had my daughter go in, and it worked so perfectly.

“I invited the Migos over to the house. A couple weeks later, you got ‘Versace,’ one of the biggest songs out that year.”

There are often debates surrounding the origin of trap music. What are your thoughts on how it began?

I heard of trap music before I started doing it, with T.I.’s Trap Muzik and Young Jeezy’s Trap or Die. I think the debate is about different styles of trap. If you listen to trap music today, it’s the sound I created with Gucci Mane. Not saying that we started it, but what we were doing was different than what T.I. and Jeezy were doing. Jeezy was doing trap music, and it sounded real theatrical. It was serious; it sounded like a movie almost. T.I.’s trap was just great-quality rap music, talking about trappin’. When me and Gucci were doing it, it was unpolished and edgy. A lot of that is because I really didn’t know what I was doing. The beats would have 808s that were too loud and overlapping, the keyboard might be too low, he might be off the beat or say something you can’t understand. That was the form of trap music that became popular and lasted so long because it was spontaneous and unorthodox. To me, that’s what trap music should be. When we’re talking about hustlin’ music, it shouldn’t be all the way well thought out. Everything we did was on the fly. The beats were made in 10 minutes, the song was made in 10 minutes.

Speaking of Gucci, at what point did you realize he was special?

Almost from the first time I met him, when he came down to my studio trying to write a song for his nephew. Some people got an ‘it’ factor. You feel like, ‘Man, that dude right there is a star.’ And he wasn’t even rapping at the time. It ended up working out — going from him writing a song for his lil’ nephew to him recording, to me and him recording every day, to we got a song on the radio, to we got mixtapes out. And now, it’s years down the road and the sound we created is still dominant.

How did you cross paths with the Migos?

I first saw Quavo rapping on the internet. It was just him in a room with the ceiling fan going. I don’t know why it caught my attention, but I was like, ‘Man, this guy right here is a star.’ Then a rapper by the name of Yung L.A., who used to come to my house all the time, said, ‘Zay, there’s these lil’ young dudes rapping on your beat, saying, ‘Bando’ … they going so crazy.’ I respected Yung L.A.’s opinion so much I immediately went to look up the song. They did a little video for “Bando,” and once I saw them I knew for a fact that they were finna blow up. I started calling around and asking different people who they were. It just so happened that I went to a show with OJ Da Juiceman, and Quavo steps on my foot — as he’s walking out of VIP, and I’m walking in. I’m looking for him, and [the Migos] were looking for me. I invited them over to the house. A couple weeks later, you got “Versace,” one of the biggest songs out that year.

What’s the best destination in the world your music has taken you?

I did a show in Paris last year, and it was the craziest. They were so geeked up I was there, I couldn’t even believe it. It was freezing cold outside and they were taking their shirts off, surfing through the crowd. I never thought somewhere that far out really knew about me and my music.

“I’d definitely have to say LeBron is the best player in the game.”

Any stamp you’d like to add to your passport?

I’m doing my first tour now, so wherever a show takes me, I’m willing to go and ready to go. But I do wanna go back to Germany. I was born there.

Do you have any memories of living in Germany, and how did you end up in Atlanta?

I was a baby. I don’t remember nothing. The reason I moved from there to California to Atlanta is my dad was in the military.

Which athlete do you think is your biggest fan?

Man, I wish I knew! So I could get his phone number and call him (laughs).

Who’s your favorite athlete right now?

I’d definitely have to say LeBron [James] is the best player in the game.

Where do you think LeBron will play next season?

I’ve been so busy, I haven’t been keeping up. I haven’t watched one game of football or basketball the whole year. I gotta get back locked in. I’m still a Golden State fan because I represent the Bay Area. But it’s hard to say. I’m not sure where LeBron will be next year.

Super Bowl LIII next year is in Atlanta. How lit will that weekend be?

The city is going to be on fire. I think that’s the best place to have it. Atlanta finna be so turnt up. It’s gonna be bananas.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

After ‘Get Out’ and #MeToo, Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Unsane’ is all too unnerving Horror movies don’t need a monster in a hockey mask when real life is already so scary

This article contains spoilers.

Add Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Unsane, to the ranks of psychological horror-thrillers that double as documentaries. Those of us who’ve seen Get Out or read too many shiver-inducing tales of #MeToo can never consume horror the same way again.

Partly this is because what constitutes horror is being expanded by our broadening understanding of history. The Netflix series Mindhunter draws on the real-life story of FBI agents developing a framework to understand the motives of serial killers. (Hint: It’s misogyny. It’s always misogyny.) The Handmaid’s Tale draws on the fear of state control over women’s bodies. Get Out, a tale about white body snatchers, reminds you that George Washington used to wear his own slaves’ teeth. All of it is more frightening than dudes in hockey masks or sporting razor blades for fingernails.

The Boogie Monster isn’t It. It’s us.

Is it even possible now to see a woman on screen being gaslit by a man without thinking about other women who have been silenced and discredited by being labeled as hysterical? #MeToo has unveiled a matrix of oppression obscured by a status quo in which women have been encouraged to second-guess ourselves, our abilities and our own perceptions of reality.

Now there’s a new movie about a woman going through the same thing.

Unsane follows Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) as she tries to escape her stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard). She’s moved hundreds of miles away from him, deleted her Facebook account, changed her phone number and found a new job. And yet, she cannot stop wondering if he’s still surreptitiously monitoring her every move, so she goes to see a therapist at a mental health facility. Once there, Sawyer falls into a trap, signing documents without fully reading them. Those documents allow the facility to hold her until its doctors decide she’s no longer a threat to herself or others. Against her will, Sawyer is thrown into a ward with people dealing with illnesses far more pronounced than her own post-traumatic stress disorder. She makes friends with another person in the ward, Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah), who’s checked himself in, supposedly to get treatment for an opioid addiction. Nate turns out to be an undercover journalist who rightly suspects that the hospital is trumping up violent symptoms of mental illness so that it can hold patients until their insurance runs out.

It’s like the for-profit prison industry, but for “crazy” people! Ain’t capitalism grand?

When Sawyer calls 911, the police show up but breezily dismiss her accusations without even talking to her. Sawyer’s reaction changes from impertinent “I was told by AppleCare” to full-on maniacal when she realizes that her stalker is working in the facility under an assumed name.

Everything gets worse from there.

The central question of Unsane is supposed to be whether Sawyer is actually being stalked or whether she’s a victim of her own paranoid delusions. But an America in which Harvey Weinstein gaslights Rose McGowan with ex-Mossad agents has rendered that question moot. I didn’t sit through Unsane wondering whether Sawyer was really experiencing what she said she was. I went straight to wondering how she was going to manage to escape it, or if she, and all of us, would be stuck in a padded cell until we learn to submit to white patriarchal hegemony.

It’s like the for-profit prison industry, but for “crazy” people! Ain’t capitalism grand?

There’s a lynching in Unsane. It’s no more literal than Get Out is literally a movie about American slavery. But a deconstructed lynching is a lynching all the same. David is a fragile white man who feels threatened by the rapport between Sawyer and Nate. She belongs to him, not anyone else. And certainly not a black man.

Pharoah didn’t audition for that part, he told me recently. Soderbergh reached out to his agent and said it was expressly for him. Which means Nate didn’t become black because Pharoah was cast to play him. His blackness is as essential to his character as Foy’s and Leonard’s whiteness is to theirs. Even without that nugget of information, it’s impossible to watch Unsane after seeing Get Out and not think about how its themes are complicated by race and gender.

But just to be sure, I watched Gaslight, the 1944 George Cukor thriller about a woman named Paula (Ingrid Bergman) whose husband systematically tries to convince her that she’s mentally unwell so that he can search for and steal some valuable jewels left to her by her aunt. It’s the film that’s responsible for why we now identify the act of trying to convince someone they’re crazy by continually denying what they know to be true as “gaslighting.”

Gaslight remains unnerving, but there’s a quaintness to it. The villain, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), is ultimately in pursuit of some high-priced baubles. Gaslighting is a means to an end. For Unsane’s David, gaslighting is the point. David is insecure, delusional and violent in a world that never assumes he might be any of those things because he has the good fortune of being straight, white, male and cunning. He is the ultimate benefactor of the suspension of doubt. David is fearsome because he walks freely among us — as a Proud Boy, a 4Chan-er, a disgruntled member of the manosphere.

Shot on an iPhone, often with a fisheye lens, Unsane turns its audience into voyeurs peeking in on the private hell of Sawyer’s life. We’re so busy trying to figure out whether this woman is actually crazy that we miss the ways we’re all silent bystanders, complicit and distracted, as one disturbed and empowered man slowly and methodically takes over his own little corner of the universe.

Oh, sure, he’s eventually discovered. But the damage he’s wrought before it happens is lasting and real.

‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ doesn’t tell the whole story of HBCUs, but it’s a start Documentary on PBS is the equivalent of an introductory survey course

A new PBS documentary about the nation’s historically black colleges and universities might just provide the best argument for a multihour, Ken Burns-type epic exploration of the subject.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities will air as part of PBS’s Independent Lens series on Feb. 19. Directed by Stanley Nelson (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution), Tell Them We Are Rising goes broad but not particularly deep as it attempts to recount the history of black higher education from slavery to the present day in an hour and 25 minutes.

It’s a useful primer for those who might not be familiar with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or their purpose, but Tell Them leaves much on the table when it comes to specifics. The documentary arrives at a time when the future of many HBCUs is uncertain as schools face the compounding weight of decades of financial strain, growing competition for students and pressure to keep tuition costs down.

Tell Them is at its best when delving into the birth of the institutions, many of which were established with the help of government land grants after the Civil War. Nelson outlines the philosophical differences between W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and briefly touches on the fact that in their infancies, many HBCUs were run by white presidents. While Nelson outlines the story of Fayette McKenzie, the Fisk University president who tried to ban any sort of social interaction between the sexes in 1924, he neglects to follow the legacy of McKenzie’s thinking, which shows up in the visitation policies on many a modern HBCU campus.

There are so many valuable, urgent story lines worth mining, and Tell Them simply doesn’t have the time to do them justice. The tradition of activism on HBCU campuses, which resulted in the creation of African-American studies programs and the de-Anglicization of many HCBU liberal arts programs also resulted in a deadly crackdown at Southern University. There’s the role fraternities and sororities such as Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha and Omega Psi Phi played in creating influential networks of black professionals. The legacy of protest hasn’t evaporated from modern HBCU campuses, but Tell Them falters in connecting past narratives to the present, whether it’s Howard University students protesting the George W. Bush administration or students nationwide criticizing their administrators for meeting with President Donald Trump. So much is curiously absent from the film, such as an exploration of the role Morehouse College played in shaping Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries in the civil rights movement. Mary McCleod Bethune, the founder of what’s now Bethune-Cookman University and one of the chief architects of black higher education, is an afterthought.

It’s a useful primer for those who might not be familiar with HBCUs or their purpose, but Tell Them leaves much on the table when it comes to specifics.

Tell Them functions as an outline for what ought to be a deep-dive serialized documentary. Such a format would offer more opportunity to address questions such as what to make of the controversial legacy of the nation’s first black president when it comes to federal treatment of HBCUs. What challenges do they face from a current presidential administration that so far only seemed interested in convening the presidents of those institutions at the White House to use them as props? What are the modern issues students are facing at HBCUs, whether it’s the fight for queer visibility or addressing a national dilemma of campus sexual assault that presents unique challenges for HBCUs and their students?

Still, it’s understandable why we haven’t seen a splurge on such a subject. It’s expensive and time-consuming, and there are only a couple of networks (TV One and BET come to mind) that might be interested in the sort of exhaustive research I’m suggesting, and even then it’s a stretch. Maybe Netflix, with its seemingly endless pool of programming funds, would be willing. Maaaaaaybe.

Tell Them We Are Rising introduces the idea that HBCUs are under threat, and it certainly seems to support the idea of their continued existence. But aside from a broad history lesson, it stops short of offering much else.