Adidas doesn’t need Colin Kaepernick in the NFL to sign him to an endorsement deal Three reasons that the quarterback-turned-social activist would be a perfect fit for the culture’s favorite brand

At this point, the rumor of Adidas luring Drake away from Jordan Brand to sign him to an endorsement deal is old news. Now, the multibillion-dollar brand is apparently targeting another big name — one that belongs to perhaps the most polarizing figure in pro sports.

However, according to one of the company’s highest-ranking executives, a partnership with Colin Kaepernick — the accomplished quarterback-turned-social activist (who’s been blackballed from the NFL in the process) — would come under one condition.

“If he signs on a team, we would definitely want to sign him,” said Mark King, president of Adidas North America, on April 13 at Arizona State’s Global Sport Summit. Kaepernick spent the entire 2016 NFL season, then a signal-caller for the San Francisco 49ers, kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest racial injustice against minorities, particularly African-Americans, in the United States. In March 2017, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with San Francisco, making him a free agent. And for more than a year and counting, he’s gone unsigned by all 32 NFL teams.

Since he began kneeling, Kaepernick has sparked a movement of player protests across multiple sports and leagues, donated $1 million to “organizations working in oppressed communities” and been named GQ’s Citizen of the Year. So that brings us to one question: Why does Adidas need Colin Kaepernick in the NFL to sign him?

The answer is the brand, which is endorsed not just by athletes but also by rappers, singers and fashion designers, doesn’t — and here are three reasons why.


Adidas is a lifestyle brand

At its foundation, Adidas is a global sports brand. Yet at its essence, Adidas is a cultural lifestyle brand. You probably can’t tell us what Adidas cleat Lionel Messi is rocking on the pitch, but you certainly know the name of Kanye West’s culture-shaking lifestyle sneakers: the Yeezy Boosts. In December 2017, the brand released an ad titled Calling All Creators, which featured the likes of the brand’s top endorsees, including nonathletes such as Pharrell Williams, Pusha T and Alexander Wang. You can’t tell us Kap wouldn’t have fit into the brand’s one-minute short film (with his Afro perfectly picked out), and the campaign’s overarching message as the creator of one of the most impactful social movements of his generation.

adidas has embraced the pasts of other endorsees

We’re not here to judge people’s pasts; however, let’s check the receipts of two musical artists whom Adidas has signed to endorsement deals. Murder Was the Case is the name of Snoop Dogg’s 1993 track and 1995 movie that both tell the story of the first- and second-degree murder charges of which he was acquitted at the beginning of his career. Nowadays, Snoop is the inspiration behind multiple Adidas shoes and football cleats. On The Clipse’s 2002 record “Grindin’,” Pusha T spits, From ghetto to ghetto, to backyard to yard, I sell it whipped, unwhipped, it’s soft or hard. The Virginia MC isn’t shy about rapping about his history of slanging drugs, and that artistic creativity has contributed to a reputation that warranted a signature Adidas sneaker. But Kaepernick has to be in the NFL to get signed to a deal? C’mon …

Colin Kaepernick is a man of the people

In his first month of protesting back in 2016, Kaepernick led the NFL in jersey sales despite starting the season as a backup quarterback. And by the summer of 2017, his jersey was still selling at a high rate despite him not being on a NFL roster. He boasts a combined 4 million-plus followers between his Twitter and Instagram accounts and was one of the runners-up on the shortlist for Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2017. And not only did he walk the walk, he talked the talk by living up to his pledge to give back to underserved communities, with donations of $100,000 a month, for 10 months, to different organizations. (He even donated his entire sneaker collection to the homeless.) For a company like Adidas that’s the brand of the culture, it almost seems like a no-brainer to sign a man of the people like Kaepernick. And why not give him his own signature sneaker too?

All hail King Bey, queen of the desert and mistress of the internet #Beychella served up a panoply of blackness, from HBCUs to Wakanda and Fela Kuti to Nina Simone

The internet has been taking a hammering lately, especially from people who don’t quite understand it.

Earlier this week, a good portion of the chattering classes tuned their televisions to cable news to watch congressmen grill a tech billionaire using a booster seat about his creation, and how it and Vladimir Putin together might be responsible for the downfall of Western democracy. Or something. Earlier this month, the federal government seized the online classified site Backpage.com, shutting it down and putting sex workers at risk by moving their work further into the shadows, many argued. And the Cannes film festival banned Netflix from entering films in its competition, in part because French film purists argue that Netflix is destroying the communal aspect of consuming film.

If you pay attention to the news, the overwhelming conclusion is that the internet is a dangerous place full of lies, conspiracy theories, hate speech, free porn, and Russian trolls and it’s making us worse as human beings. And there’s some truth to that.

But it’s not the whole story of the internet. Leave it to Beyoncé to remind us.

The first lady of Tidal, Houston, fish fries, and — let’s just say the modern African diaspora — made history (again) late Saturday night as the first black woman to headline Coachella, the oovy-groovy, hippie-dippie, psychedelic-infused annual music festival in the California desert. Naturally, she used it to serve up a panoply of blackness, from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to Zamunda to Wakanda to Egypt to Fela Kuti to Nefertiti to Malcolm X to James Weldon Johnson to Nina Simone. But her decision to livestream her entire two-hour performance is what makes Beyoncé as astute as any tech billionaire about the power and possibility of the internet.

It’s not the first time she’s used the internet to vault herself into international conversation. She did it with the surprise release of BEYONCÉ, with the HBO debut of Lemonade, with the launch of her expertly curated website and Instagram account. Beyoncé knows how to create a moment.

But choosing to livestream her Coachella performance signals something more. Rather than limiting her audience to the tens of thousands of ticket-buying festival attendees in Indio, California, Beyoncé created an internet community around #Beychella, harnessing a Southern-fried When and Where I Enter moment to be exported, dissected, and re-created.

This was something everyone with an internet connection got to witness, too. For free.

It’s exactly the sort of democratizing act that used to give us hope in the internet. Because what is the simultaneous clattering of keyboards about #Beychella if not a moment of community, a mechanism for sharing our amens together as we all visit the sanctuary of Beysus?

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots. Instead, she brought an HBCU-style halftime show and a probate exhibition, complete with a marching band and dancing dolls. She aggregates elements of black culture, high and low, American, African, Creole, and everything in between, and spits them back out into something new, craveable, and instantly consumable.

Honestly, how many people knew who the orisha Oshun was before Lemonade dropped? Don’t lie, either.

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots.

Ever since she released “Formation,” Beyoncé has been exploring ways to carry black people on her back via a series of high-profile, unapologetic salvos in the culture wars. There was the Super Bowl. There was the Grammys. And now there’s Beychella. Forget about Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress. We got Beyoncé in go-go boots.

Thanks to the internet, we bear witness to the way police are weaponized against innocent black people waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia Starbucks. And thanks to the internet, we can rightfully raise hell about it, too. And then, because the nonstop reminders of how black people aren’t fully recognized as people is exhausting and depressing, we can have a much-deserved moment to celebrate ourselves, even if that moment happens to be at 2 o’clock in the morning on the East Coast.

Some will skip over the art and jump straight to arguing that Beyoncé has commodified black liberation.

But I’d say Beyoncé has assessed her power in the world, the possibilities of the internet, and combined the two to march on as an evangelist of black feminism.

Deon Taylor, professional basketball player turned filmmaker, talks new flick ‘Traffik,’ sports and family ‘I have become who I am today simply because I was told no everywhere I went. I’m the product of no.’

When filmmaker and director Deon Taylor stopped playing professional basketball to pursue film, a lot of doors were slammed in his face.

“I have become who I am today simply because I was told no everywhere I went. I’m the product of no.”

Now he boasts a 15-year independent film career and is releasing his newest film, Traffik, an intense thriller about sex trafficking starring Paula Patton and Omar Epps due to hit theaters on April 20.

Taylor grew up in Indiana and moved to Sacramento, California, where he played high school basketball. He caught the attention of San Diego State in the ’90s, receiving a full scholarship and being named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year. The former Division I basketball player balled professionally in Germany from 1998 to 2003.

“Basketball is life,” Taylor said. “A lot of people say that, but for me, basketball has been a vehicle my entire life. It has taken me all over the world on a professional level.”

He left the game to pursue his film career. Taylor moved to Los Angeles in 2003, pitching a screenplay he’d written on a tablet. The rejection hit hard.

“I was expecting people to love the screenplay …,” Taylor said. “Six years later, after being kicked out of 300 rooms, I eventually said, ‘I guess the only way you can make movies is if you make them yourself.’ And that started my journey for the last 15 years [as an independent filmmaker].”

Inspired to get his films out, the 42-year-old launched Hidden Empire Film Group in Sacramento. His longtime business partner and lead investor in all of his films is Robert F. Smith, the founder of Vista Equity Partners, whom Forbes recently described as “richer than Oprah and the nation’s wealthiest African-American conquering tech and Wall Street.”

“Still, to this day, I’ve never been hired by a studio to make a film, but I’ve had some major success independently and we’re in a place where the films that I’m making are being released in theaters,” Taylor said.

Taylor wrote, directed and produced the thriller Motivated Seller, starring Dennis Quaid, Michael Ealy and Meagan Good. Along with actor and singer Jamie Foxx, he produced the comedy feature All-Star Weekend, starring Foxx, Robert Downey Jr. and Eva Longoria. Taylor is also behind the 2014 drama Supremacy, starring Danny Glover, based on the true story of a white supremacist who kills a black police officer and takes an African-American family hostage, as well as the horror spoof Meet the Blacks, with Mike Epps and George Lopez. The sequel The House Next Door, starring Epps and Katt Williams, comes out later this year.

The Undefeated spoke with Taylor about Traffik, how basketball led him away from the streets and helped him face adversity in filmmaking, why Jesse Owens and Michael Jordan are greatest of all time and why he believes the NCAA should pay college athletes.

How is Traffik different from other thrillers?

I wanted to make a commercial thriller that would have people on the edge of their seats, but also have them learn about something horrific going on in our country: human trafficking. Many people think it’s just an international problem, but it’s happening right here in America too. As a matter of fact, 85 percent of people who are trafficked are inner-city kids, so that’s the Hispanic girl in Oakland or the African-American boy in Chicago; I can keep going. These kids are being taken, and then someone is pimping them out and later another person is taking them, and this tragic cycle continues endlessly. It’s so sad. I think what this movie does extremely well is give you the goose bumps and chills without it being a documentary.

What personal experiences motivated you to create a thriller around human trafficking?

I started getting a bunch of letters about trafficking in our area [Sacramento] and I didn’t really think too much [about] it. But then my daughter, Milan, who is 12, was up late one night playing on her video games. I asked her who she was talking to at 1 a.m. on this game. I pulled up the screen and printed out the conversation [spanning for a couple of days] and saw how this person who she thought was 11 years old had been asking her questions like ‘Where do you live?’ and ‘Do you ever go out late at night?’ To the naked eye, it seemed innocent [like to my daughter], but you could tell this was definitely a predator. It’s crazy because predators are coming from the computer and TV screens now.

How was it working with Paula Patton and Omar Epps on the film?

It was insane for a lot of great reasons. I approached it like basketball. Everyone has a part in order for us to win and be successful. Paula and Omar are our star players, and they gave 100 percent, which further drove the cast and crew. Paula also performed every single one of her stunts. When you see her being yanked from the car, it’s pretty violent. She did that herself. She wasn’t screaming, ‘Cut!’ or yelling, ‘I can’t do this.’ That kind of commitment from an actor is such a blessing.

How did you learn about filmmaking and further want to pursue it?

I never set out to be the next Tyler Perry or Ron Howard in owning my own stuff. I simply was that guy who played basketball. Growing up poor, I loved watching movies because that was my getaway. While I was playing basketball professionally in Germany, I didn’t speak the language, so I would ask my friends back in the U.S. to send me as many movies as possible. This was before Netflix and Hulu. On a lot of those DVDs, there were ‘the making of xyz’ or ‘behind the scenes’ of those films where directors, writers and filmmakers like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg would show and explain what and how they did their jobs. Watching those scenes taught me filmmaking, and I soon realized that I wanted to become a filmmaker.

Deon Taylor, number 15, during his days on the Oilers basketball team.

Courtesy of Deon Taylor

How did your basketball background help you face that adversity in the film industry?

I’ve built my filmmaking career by learning, losing and bumping my head a couple of times. There were a lot of sleepless and hurtful nights, but I feel like basketball really helped me get through those times. I tell people all of the time to have their kids play sports. The adversity you go through in sports is the closest thing to real life. It’s the only place where you can be the best player on the team and the coach won’t play you. It’s all these different things that you go through in sports that prepares you for what you’ll experience and see in life. I’ve had those moments, and I apply it to life journeys and filmmaking. It’s easy to ask yourself, ‘Why does this director get hired for a big-budget movie and not me when my stats are far greater?’ But that’s where you have to be grounded in who you are and not stay looking over the fence. You have to trust God.

Did basketball keep you from falling into stereotypes?

Playing in college, it took me out of the projects and into tournaments in different cities and seeing my name in the paper and on the news as a basketball player … not for shooting or robbing someone. That could have been my fate if I fell into streets, but I didn’t because I had that love for the [basketball] game where I would spend countless hours after school practicing on the playground, shooting, dunking and even trying the latest Michael Jordan move. And even now, the game is still teaching me.

As a former Division I, full-scholarship basketball player, do you feel the NCAA should pay college athletes?

When I was playing basketball at San Diego State, I didn’t really have an opinion because I was just thankful to have my school fully paid for and be able to eat while doing something I love. But as I got older and I now look at the business of college basketball and see how much money is generating from March Madness, these players should be getting paid. I’m not saying an 18-year-old kid should be getting $100K a year. Hell, no. But they are doing a service for the university. And think about the parents who are traveling for all of the games and taking off from work to be able to support their kids at the games. It would be nice for the athletes to get paid so they can also help their families with those expenses too.

Who is the greatest athlete of all time?

Jesse Owens and Michael Jordan. Jesse was running in a time when there were no diet supplements, dietitians, sneakers or advanced sports science to enhance your athleticism. He was just a guy who was naturally an athlete. There was nothing to enhance what he was doing at that time, but he was still running that fast and at that level based on just his natural body and the makeup of his DNA. With Michael, it was his will to win. It wasn’t just his ability; it was his stamina in the fourth quarter of games. He wasn’t a freak of nature as far as body physique like LeBron [James] or Shaq [O’Neal], but his brilliance and psychology on the court was something I admired and looked up to growing up. Kobe [Bryant] possessed a lot of that, but he’s no MJ.

What conversations do you have with your daughter to best prepare her in navigating the real world as an African-American woman?

It’s an everyday conversation that’s not just about teaching but creating a lifestyle. I try to educate my daughter, Milan, on each and every thing I see without holding my tongue. I’m teaching her three core things: trust your intuition, everyone will not be happy for you and danger is around you at all times. I didn’t understand a lot of what my mother told me when I was younger, but now as a parent, danger has tripled and it’s not just about getting home before the streetlights come on now. There are predators coming from everywhere, even in the police at times. Take, for instance, the unarmed young black man, Stephon Clark, who was shot 20 times by the cops right here in Sacramento. It’s a lot to take in and continues to evolve the conversations I have with my daughter.

Above the rim: Best fictional starting 5s in the history of film + TV A completely impossible yet intriguing list of matchups only feasible in a basketball fantasyland

Who would win in a one-on-one between Michael Jordan and LeBron James? Could these Golden State Warriors beat the 72-10 Chicago Bulls? How many more titles could Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant have won if they actually liked each other? What if injuries never robbed the careers of Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Brandon Roy and Derrick Rose? There’s nothing quite like nostalgia. And when it comes to nostalgia in basketball, friendships are tested, battle lines are drawn and some of the hottest takes known to man fly off without a moment’s notice.

With the NBA playoffs set to take flight this weekend, we’ve decided to bring another completely impossible yet intriguing matchup only feasible in a basketball fantasy land.

The best to ever do it on television, vs. on film. We kept this to purely fictional players. NBA players in TV or film roles were not eligible, because what fun would that be? For example, no Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) from He Got Game, no Grandmama (Larry Johnson) from Family Matters or Neon Boudeaux and Butch McRae (O’Neal and Hardaway) from Blue Chips. Don’t trip, though, because there’s a melody of skill, charisma and enough comedy to give you flashbacks to the days of MTV Rock N’ Jock. This is a mini-draft equipped with a starting five, a sixth player and head coach. We’ll then let you decide who’d win this fictional Finals. Our own Justin Tinsley has television and Aaron Dodson has movies.

Those are the rules. We good? Good. Now let’s get to it …

TELEVISION

“Will Smith” (Will Smith)

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Scouting Report: We’re always left to wonder what would’ve become of the Will character had he landed the Georgetown scholarship, completing the most feared college backcourt ensemble in history with Allen Iverson, Victor Page and Kyle Lee Watson. Smith’s a big combo guard who can score at will (pun intended). There are very few holes in The Fresh Prince’s game — except for one. Several general managers have expressed concern for his decision-making in crunch time, evident in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Courting Disaster” (season one, episode 11) and My Brother’s Keeper (season two, episode 15). Is he the cold-blooded killer you need in the game’s tightest moments? Even with that, The Prince is a franchise-caliber talent.

Steve Urkel (Jaleel White)

Family Matters

Scouting Report: In the “Grandmama” episode — season five, episode seven — Eddie Winslow dumped Urkel to play with The Spider, which allowed Urkel to call in reinforcements with Larry Johnson as “Grandmama.” To Eddie’s credit, Spider was nice. But we’re not making the same mistake, as The Nerd’s game is both technically sound and visually appealing.

Brandi (Kyla Pratt)

Smart Guy

Scouting Report: The year 1998 was a rather definitive one for Kyla Pratt, basketballwise. Not only did she play a young Monica Wright in Love & Basketball, giving young Quincy McCall the business on the court, but months later in “She Got Game” — season three, episode one of Smart Guy — she did the same thing, minus TJ (Tahj Mowry) pushing her into the bushes. “Brandi,” after some persuading, joins TJ’s squad, instantly transforming the team and supplanting TJ as the squad’s best player. Instant offense. Instant culture change. Instant winner with a chip on her shoulder.

Mark Cooper (Mark Curry)

Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper

Scouting Report: The Mr. Cooper character has two things working for him that no one else on this squad does. One, he’s a former NBA player (for his hometown Golden State Warriors). And two, he brings a certain maturity level this team is going to need if we’re hoping to make any sort of noise.

Kevin Hart

Real Husbands of Hollywood

Scouting Report: Technically, Kevin wasn’t a hooper on Real Husbands of Hollywood. But as a four-time NBA Celebrity All-Star Game MVP (and co-star of a hilarious basketball game with Chris Brown), he’s my ringer. We’re going to be running a small-ball lineup much of the time, so we’re going to need as many ball handlers, shooters and comedians as possible. Basically, call it The Annexation of Puerto Rico 2.0.

Sixth man: Martin Payne (Martin Lawrence)

Martin

Scouting Report: He’s an undersized 2-guard whose confidence is nothing short of irrational. But that’s fine. Payne is a defibrillator jolt of energy off the bench. He’s never met a shot he didn’t like. He doesn’t mind mixing it and jawing with the competition. And since he’s the classic definition of a streaky shooter, you take the good with the bad. He’s basically J.R. Smith with Gary Payton’s mentality. The only question mark to his game is where his head’s at before tipoff. If he and Gina — or worse, he and Pam — got into an argument beforehand (which is like saying “if water is wet”) he can easily shoot you out of a game as quickly as he can hit three miracle buckets in a row.

Coach: Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris)

The Wire

Scouting Report: This squad is going to need a no-nonsense general on the sidelines who can occasionally verbally decapitate a referee who misses a call — as seen in the brilliant “Game Day” episode from season one. The reports are true, though. I nearly went with Prop Joe, whose commitment to being the dope-game Pat Riley wearing a suit in Baltimore heat was only superseded by the iconic line “Look the part, be the part, m—-f—–!” But then that’d mean Joe’s nephew, “Cheese” (Method Man), would be somewhere near the team. And I can’t have Cheese near my squad. Nope. No how. No way.

FILM

Calvin Cambridge (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss)

Like Mike

Scouting Report: There’s one rule for my squad: no team sneakers. Every player has the free rein to break out whatever heat they so choose, especially the young god Calvin Cambridge. He’ll be wearing a pair of white and Carolina blue Nike Blazers, which used to belong to Michael Jordan when he was a kid, giving him the ability to ball out like the greatest of all time. The kicks even allow Calvin — at a modest 4 feet 8 inches — to dunk the ball (in Like Mike, he won the 2002 NBA Slam Dunk Contest). Who needs a point guard with fundamentals when you’ve got one with shoes that have magical powers zapped into them by lightning?

Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan)

Love & Basketball

Scouting Report: Sorry, Quincy McCall, but you didn’t make the team. That’s because his childhood sweetheart, Monica Wright, was without a doubt a better hooper in 2000’s Love & Basketball, one of the most iconic black films of all time. Remember the movie’s timeless line? “All’s fair in love and basketball.” Well, what isn’t there to love about Monica’s game? She’s an athletic point guard who plays with a whole lotta swag. Just look at her No. 32 jersey, which she wears in honor of her favorite player, Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson. Her character also earned a starting job at USC as a freshman, won a championship overseas and became one of the WNBA’s first players. We need that pedigree in our backcourt.

Kyle Lee Watson (Duane Martin)

Above the Rim

Scouting Report: Yup, we’re employing a three-guard offense — and we’re running it through the sharpshooting Kyle Lee Watson. The at-times hotheaded baller made it out of the ’hood of Harlem, New York, and all the way to the Hilltop in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown University, where he played in the 1990s for what was once known as black America’s basketball team, under John Thompson Jr., the first African-American head coach to win an NCAA title. We just gotta hope that when he gets the rock, he spreads his fingers and puts some rotation on his jumper.

Clarence Withers, aka Coffee Black (Andre 3000)

Semi-Pro

Scouting Report: Back in 1976, during an ABA game between the San Antonio Spurs and Flint Tropics, the first alley-oop in basketball history was recorded. “A very unusual series of moves just made the ball go in,” play-by-play announcer Dick Pepperfield uttered in awe that day. On the receiving end of the pass from the top of the key by Jackie Moon? None other than Clarence Withers (aka Coffee Black, aka Downtown “Funky Stuff” Malone, aka Sugar Dunkerton, aka “Jumping” Johnny Johnson), who’s listed at only 5 feet, 10 inches but has supreme bounce to go along with his picked-out Afro. Between Coffee Black and Calvin Cambridge, we might as well refer to the movie team from here on out as the new Lob City.

Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs)

Cooley High

Scouting Report: *Cues up G.C. Cameron’s original rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”* Long before the real-life deaths of star hoopers Benji Wilson and Len Bias, the basketball world lost a great one in Richard “Cochise” Morris, from the 1975 film Cooley High. Cochise received a scholarship to play at the historically black Grambling State University but was killed before he could graduate from high school. Let’s just say that his tragic death never happened, making him a valuable addition to our roster.

Sixth Man: Antoine Tyler (Kadeem Hardison)

The Sixth Man

Scouting Report: We’ve got skill, athleticism and, most importantly, a higher being on our side. There’s no better sixth man for our squad than Antoine Tyler, who in the 1997 film The Sixth Man helped lead his younger brother Kenny Tyler (Marlon Wayans) and the Washington Huskies basketball team to an NCAA championship as a guardian angel after suffering a heart attack on the court and dying. At the end of the movie, Antoine ascended to heaven to ball for God’s team, but hopefully he’ll return to help us out.

Coach: Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson)

Coach Carter

Scouting Report: If there’s one man who wouldn’t back down to the street savant-turned-basketball coach known as Avon Barksdale, it’s Ken Carter. Inspired by a real person, and depicted by Samuel L. Jackson in the 2005 film of the same name, Coach Carter barred his entire team (which was undefeated, mind you) from playing in games because his players were failing classes. The community turned against Carter, who nearly lost his job, when what he wanted was for every player to go to college, even if basketball was a casualty. Win or lose, Coach Carter would probably have Avon doing suicides and pushups, out of principle alone.

Kobe Bryant is gearing up for the 2018 NBA playoffs ‘I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to give back to the next generation’

When future NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant walked away from the 2018 Academy Awards, he left with an Oscar for his animated feature Dear Basketball. As well as the satisfaction that following his passion had been the right move. There was no such certainty in 2016 when Bryant launched Granity Studios, a multimedia content creation company focused on helping athletes maximize their full potential through creative storytelling.

“Building a studio is no small task,” Bryant said Wednesday afternoon during a media conference call. “My passion is writing, creating, putting beautiful stories together, weaving them in the form of a narrative.”

Now you’ll be able to hear more of the Black Mamba through his new show, Detail, just in time for the 2018 NBA playoffs. The show, written, produced and hosted by Bryant, will feature his insights as he breaks down games throughout the postseason. He gives in-depth observations for games on ESPN and ABC. The first episode will debut Thursday on ESPN+. Through Granity Studios, he created a new 15-episode basketball analysis show “for the next generation.”

“I felt like it’s important for the next generation to learn how to watch film, how to study the game,” Bryant said. “I felt like if this show was around when I was 10 years old, 11 years old, I would have gained so much insight, so much value from it, that by the time I’m 22, 25, my knowledge of the game would be at a much, much higher level than my predecessors. I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to give back to the next generation, try to share and teach some of the things I have learned from some of the great players, great mentors, great coaches that I’ve had.”

Bryant’s career spanned two decades with the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he won five NBA championships and became an 18-time All-Star, among many other equally stellar stats.

On this call, Bryant weighed in on his new endeavor, the NBA playoffs, Ben Simmons, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets, Dirk Nowitzki, playing through injuries and more.


What are your thoughts on Dirk Nowitzki and bigs in the league?

When he first came in the league, he took a lot of 3s. The year they won championships he might have taken half the 3s than when he first came in the league. The idea of having a guy that was 7 feet, 7 feet 1 that could stretch the floor, that was revolutionary. I’m sure it inspired a lot of bigs to be able to say, ‘You know what, I want to be like Dirk Nowitzki.’ Dirk, he was looking at guys like Arvydas Sabonis, Vlade Divac, guys like that.

Dirk obviously took it to a different level because of his mobility, the ability to put the ball on the floor and spin. But, by and large, when Dirk won that championship that year, the biggest problem we had with him, that Miami and all the other teams had with him, wasn’t his picking and popping, it was his ability to play at the free throw line and below the free throw line. For him, that was his biggest growth as a player.

How do you see the playoffs shaking out? Who do you think is going to win the championship this year?

I try to stay out of the business of clairvoyancy. I kind of look at the raw picture of what I see in front of me from the execution standpoint. Obviously, a lot of it depends on the health of Golden State. Houston have put themselves in prime position with their length, versatility, their speed, their aggressiveness. They’re a very aggressive team. It’s a more aggressive team than [Mike] D’Antoni has had. Phoenix, they play with a lot of speed, but none of those guys are naturally physical. Houston has some real physical players, man. I like where they’re at.

Cleveland, obviously with LeBron, the shooting they have around him, some of the youth they infused that team with is obviously going to be dangerous. Curious to see what Toronto does. Kyrie going down makes a big difference in the Eastern Conference.

I like Houston and Golden State, pending their health, as being my top two favorites. Like I said, I kind of stay out of the business of predictions.

What is the one thing from an analysis standpoint that you are going to be most interested to see during these playoffs?

I’m just looking at it from the perspective if I was a player, right? If I was Harden in the series, I just played this game, I’m watching the film, what would I be looking at? It’s basically me going back to my old ways of watching film, how I was breaking down series when I was playing. That’s that.

What stories do you think you’re most interested in telling specifically about the Rockets, Chris Paul, James Harden, others on that team?

There aren’t really stories that I’m fascinated with telling in terms of like Chris’ performance in a playoff with Houston, how they’re meshing together, Golden State’s health. I don’t care anything about that.

The only thing I care about, I’m James Harden, we just played Game 1, what do I need to focus on and learn from Game 1 that will help us in Game 2? What could we do better in Game 1? What do we need to look for that our opposition could counter with in Game 2, right? It’s that level of detail that this show is about.

The name ‘Detail’ was pulled for a very specific reason. This is content that might not be for everyone, right? It’s really at the smallest, smallest level of basketball breakdown to try to advance in a series.

Where is your Oscar?

I have it in my house. It’s sitting right next to the Emmy Award we’ve won, as well. I look at them every morning before I go to work.

What inspires you to continue to reinvent yourself and stay on top of everything you decide to do?

I follow my passion, things that I love to do, like writing and storytelling, I enjoy that. I don’t find myself having to remind myself to work hard and push myself to stay on top of things, because I just love doing it. I don’t really look at it so much as reinvention, as my career as a basketball player was over. I loved storytelling, so here I am.

How did you manage your pain level throughout your injuries?

Sometimes you have injuries where you just have to deal with the pain. It’s not going to get any worse, but you have to deal with the pain. When I fractured my finger, there was nothing else that could be done … suck it up and play or sit out and get it fixed right then and there. That’s typically how I handled it.

During this time of year, is it hard for you to watch basketball?

No, not at all. I don’t have a hard time watching it at all. This is where me and Michael [Jordan] differ a lot. Where I was going through the process of retirement, I think people were kind of assuming Michael and I behave the same way from a competitive standpoint.

You hear a lot about a team like the Cavaliers, LeBron James flipping a switch when the playoffs come. In your experience, how do you prepare for that? How difficult is it to go to a new level in the playoffs?

Here is a thing about flipping the switch. Flipping the switch is just another word for you have one team that you’re focusing on, so you can really zero in on that team. That’s all that is. You’re still playing just as hard, you’re doing all the things, but playoffs means, if you have one team to focus on, that means you can study all your regular-season matchups against them, you can learn all the information you need to learn to prepare yourself for this playoff series. That’s flipping the switch.

Then, from the Cleveland standpoint, Cleveland seems to be executing a more democratic style of offense. I did a piece last year or a couple years ago, maybe last year, about the two-kings system that the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing with, LeBron and Kyrie, and contrast that with Golden State’s democracy. If you watch Cleveland play now, they’re starting to play with a more democratic system. See LeBron at the elbow at the top of the key being the Draymond Green of the Cavs, while the other players, whether it’s Jordan Clarkson or Kevin Love, are running corner split games, playing a rip action, doing stuff on the weak side where they’re moving off the ball. That makes them infinitely more dangerous.

What are your impressions of rookie Ben Simmons?

I think Ben played with a really great tempo. The time he’s had to watch the game has helped slow down the game for him. He’s had a chance to really observe the NBA game and be around it, pick it apart. Now that he’s playing, I think the game’s in slow motion for him, which is different than most rookies. He’s had a chance to view it a lot.

From a game perspective, his size gives him a clear advantage, his speed. He also knows how to use it. He knows his spots on the floor, he knows his strengths and weaknesses. He does a great job getting there. He’s been able to dominate and take that city of Philadelphia to a place where it hasn’t been in a very long time.

Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral, a photographer and a photo that still makes us cry The story behind Moneta Sleet’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo

The proverb says that April showers bring May flowers. T.S. Eliot preferred the darker side, proclaiming April the “cruelest month.” For journalists, April showers can also mean Pulitzer Prizes.

This April also marks 50 years since the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, and thus 50 years since the publication of a famous photograph showing the grieving widow of the fallen martyr. Coretta Scott King mourns at the funeral of her husband, her little daughter Bernice resting her head upon her mother’s lap.

Moneta Sleet, Jr.

Getty Images

That iconic black-and-white image of the veiled widow was taken by a man named Moneta Sleet Jr. (For the record, he used a Nikon camera with a 35 mm lens, with Kodak Tri-x film.) The following year, 1969, Sleet received news that he had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. At that moment, Sleet became the first black man to win a Pulitzer and the first African-American journalist to win one as an individual rather than as part of a journalism team.

(The poet Gwendolyn Brooks won the prize for literature in 1950.)

It was in 1947, remember, that Jackie Robinson (whom Sleet also photographed) broke the color line in baseball. It took another 22 years before a black man crossed that line in the Pulitzer competition.

From 1955 until his death in 1996, Sleet worked for the Johnson Publishing Co. His images, especially in Jet and Ebony magazines, documented every step of the civil rights movement. Beyond that, he captured the work and achievements of black celebrities, performers and politicians in every corner of the country — but also in Africa and around the globe.

Sleet’s eyes were not on a Pulitzer Prize but on a higher calling: to document the life and times of a marginalized and persecuted people in all aspects of their lives, through triumphs, troubles and tragedies.

The historical collection Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs describes Sleet’s most famous image and how it came to be captured on April 9, 1968:

“It has been just five days since a sniper’s bullet killed the civil rights leader. Coretta Scott King has discovered that the pool of journalists covering her husband’s funeral does not include a black photographer. She sends word: If Moneta Sleet is not allowed into the church, there will be no photographers.”

Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr., comforts her youngest daughter Bernice, 5, during services in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, 4/9.

In a Johnson Publishing collection of Sleet’s work titled Special Moments in African-American History, 1955-1996: The Photographs of Moneta Sleet, Jr., Ebony Magazine’s Pulitzer Prize Winner, Sleet offers his own, more modest version of events:

“There was complete pandemonium. Nothing was yet organized because the people from SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] were still in a state of shock. We had the world press descending upon Atlanta, plus the FBI, who were investigating the assassination.

“We were trying to get an arrangement to shoot in the church. They were going to pool it. Normally, the pool meant news services: Life, Time and Newsweek. When the pool was selected, there were no black photographers from the black media on it. Lerone Bennett and I got in touch with Mrs. King through Andy Young. She said if somebody from Johnson Publishing is not on the pool, there will be no pool.

“We … made arrangements with AP that they would process the black and white film immediately after the service and put it on the wire. Later, I found out which shot they sent out. … The day of the funeral, Bob Johnson, the executive editor of Jet, had gotten to the church and he beckoned for me and said, ‘There’s a spot right here.’ It was a wonderful spot.

“What I noticed … this was prior to the funeral — was the little girl fidgeting there on her mother’s lap. I could relate to that, being a father and having a child close to the same age. Mrs. King was sitting there, stoic and stately, but it was specifically the child who I was thinking about at the time.”

In a profession whose practitioners are expected to bring a certain detachment to their work, Sleet saw no reason to apologize for his commitment to the cause of racial equality or for his emotional involvement with those he photographed.

“I wasn’t there as an objective reporter,” he once said. “I had something to say and was trying to show one side of it. We didn’t have any problems finding the other side.” The side of racism and intolerance.

At the same time, his professional standards gave him the foundation to create his best work. He said of covering the King funeral: “Professionally, I was doing what I had been trained to do, and I was glad of that because I was very involved emotionally. If I hadn’t been there working, I would have been off crying like everybody else.”

In the Johnson collection of his work, there is a beautiful photo of Sleet and his family. They are beaming. His daughter sits on the floor holding telegrams of congratulations. Sleet is holding his Pulitzer Prize. This is from the May 22, 1969, edition of Jet magazine:

“You must be joking” were the words Moneta Sleet uttered when informed that he had won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize in news feature photography. “I knew that it was a good photograph, but I knew there were lots of good photographs in the running. So, there’s no need of my lying, I was quite happy to win the award. And my wife, Juanita, and the kids, Michael, Gregory and Lisa, were thrilled.”

At the time, magazine features were not eligible for Pulitzer Prizes. Sleet’s image became eligible because of its distribution by The Associated Press.

The Rev. Kenny Irby, a veteran photojournalism leader and a former faculty member at the Poynter Institute, knew Sleet and looked up to him as a role model and mentor. Via email, he responded to questions about Sleet and his legacy:

As an African-American, a photojournalist, a pastor, and a father, what do you see when you look at the famous photo taken by Moneta Sleet?

I see great pain and promise in this photograph. Moneta gave me a copy in 1996 after the Olympic Games, which was his last major assignment. For me, it’s the obvious pain for the murdered martyr for justice and peace. I see the promise in his daughter Bernice, who would pick up the baton of her father’s work. And I see the promise affirmed by Moneta’s Pulitzer Prize, an honor which paved a path for me and generations of other photojournalists.

This is a black-and-white photograph. What do you see technically that interests you?

The elegance of the black-and-white composition has long transfixed me. I love the stark white dress of Bernice, juxtaposed against the black dress and glove. Then there are shimmering shades of gray that flow from the veil throughout the photograph. Yet, the sadness of the eyes in the photograph says all that needs to be said.

Access is so important to any successful photojournalist. What did it take for a black photographer in the 1960s to get access to important social and political events?

That’s a really great question. It took courage and connections. It was actually Coretta who took the bold stand and insisted that Moneta would be the pool photographer while there was one other photographer inside. Flip Schulke, who was white, also had a relationship with Dr. King.

For Jet and Ebony magazines, Sleet covered the civil rights movement, issues related to Africa, the black social and celebrity scene. How would you summarize his contribution to journalism?

Simply put, he was one of the trailblazers — a tremendously kind human being, a great journalist and nurturing mentor to many.

Brooklyn Museum responds to controversy over its new white curator of African art Museum’s director expresses confidence in Kristen Windmuller-Luna’s ‘anticolonial’ approach

The Brooklyn Museum issued a lengthy official response on Friday to the furor over the announcement of its newest curator of African art.

The controversy began March 26 when the museum tweeted that it had hired two new curators: Drew Sawyer, who will oversee photography, and Kristen Windmuller-Luna, who will direct an overhaul of the museum’s extensive collection of African art. Both Sawyer and Windmuller-Luna are white.

In response to the hirings, a coalition of Brooklyn anti-gentrification groups called on the museum to create a “decolonization commission.”

In a lengthy letter released to the press, museum director Anne Pasternak defended Windmuller-Luna against attacks that had been levied against the new curator, mostly on social media.

“The Brooklyn Museum stands by our appointment of Dr. Kristen Windmuller-Luna as the Sills Family Consulting Curator of African Arts,” Pasternak wrote. “The Museum’s collection of African arts is among the most important and extensive in the nation. Giving the collection the prominence it deserves, in terms of both its aesthetics and cultural value, has been one of this institution’s most pressing priorities. In order to ensure the highest level of scholarly excellence in how we preserve and present our collections of historical African arts, we knew the job required a specialist with a Ph.D. in this area.”

Some critics made a connection between the museum appointment and a scene from the wildly popular Black Panther movie. In the film, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) explains to a white curator at the British Museum that the only reason the institution holds African artifacts is because British colonizers raided the continent of its cultural and natural resources.

Pasternak pushed back on those making the comparison to Windmuller-Luna and the Brooklyn museum.

“With her anticolonial approach to curating, she has devoted her professional life to celebrating the individual identities of historical African cultures, and to communicating how those vibrant societies play powerful roles in the world at large,” Pasternak said in a statement. “Her priority at the Museum is to create dynamic, multi-vocal installations that speak to all our communities, including those of African descent, both locally and nationally. All of us at the Museum are confident that with her expertise and care, we will revitalize and transform the presentation and interpretation of our collection, and amplify our capacity to illuminate connections and shared narratives with our broad and diverse audience.”

The controversy over Windmuller-Luna’s race highlighted a few points that usually don’t draw widespread attention. Curation is a disproportionately white profession, as Kimberly Drew, an art curator, creator of the Black Contemporary Art tumblr and social media manager for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, recently pointed out. And the profession requires degrees that can cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars without any guarantee of lucrative work.

“African art scholars in the US are overwhelmingly white and female, tweeted UCLA professor Steven Nelson, a professor of African and African-American art history who serves as director of the UCLA African Studies Center. “Given this situation and given that the very few POC in the field all have jobs better than this one, I find myself unable to manufacture any outrage over this.”

Windmuller-Luna has undeniable expertise. She received her doctorate and master’s degree in art and archaeology from Princeton and her bachelor’s degree in the history of art from Yale. Her work focuses on the early modern period of African art, architecture and Christian Ethiopia.

“Given that the very few POC in the field all have jobs better than this one, I find myself unable to manufacture any outrage over this.”

It’s understandable that black museumgoers want to see themselves among the ranks of those curating black art, especially at the nation’s most visible and highly regarded institutions. But not every black person who studies art history necessarily wants to specialize in art created by black artists.

Pasternak was sensitive to this too.

“The Brooklyn Museum recognizes that the longstanding and pervasive issues of structural racism profoundly affect the lives of people of color,” she wrote. “It is right to press museums and other institutions to diversify their leadership. Museums help shape the cultural imagination and contribute to society, so we have a responsibility to bring the broadest possible range of voices into our work. Cultural institutions also need to do much more to support young people of diverse backgrounds in pursuing advanced degrees in art history and succeeding in leadership positions. Please know that every day the Brooklyn Museum is working to advance these efforts and its longstanding and widely recognized commitment to equity in all its forms, including race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.”

Our gaming expert unpacks ‘Ready Player One’ The female characters are tougher than the white guy in the lead, but it’s still candy for gamers

Ready Player One, the new Steven Spielberg movie based on Ernest Cline’s novel, is a love letter to gamers, geeks and game designers.

The movie, which is filled with pop culture references that will make any Gen Xer feel seen, tells the story of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who plays under the handle Parzival. It’s 2045 and Wade lives in a dystopian vision of America beset by extreme income inequality, where poor people live in communities called “The Stacks,” which are trailers piled on top of each other.

Wade’s hero is the creator of the virtual reality OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). OASIS isn’t just a game. It’s an entire virtual world. When Halliday dies, he leaves behind a stake in the company he built that is worth half a trillion dollars and a virtual scavenger hunt to determine who will get it.

Practically every gamer is after the loot, and they’re competing with a company called Innovative Online Industries (IOI), whose CEO, Nolan Sorrento, wants to take over Halliday’s company and make over OASIS as his own branded paradise. Sorrento and IOI hire an army of gaming mercenaries, called sixers, to try to crack the hunt. He also hires experts who’ve dedicated their lives to understanding Halliday to chase clues that could lead to the ultimate Easter egg, Halliday’s fortune.

Sorrento’s pretty awful. He conscripts individuals into playing on his behalf and holds them as indentured servants to make them play off debt they’ve amassed in the game. That’s how another gamer, Samantha (Olivia Cooke), who plays under the gamer tag Art3mis, decides that anyone but IOI should get the egg. Her father died in IOI custody playing off his debt. When Parzival wins Halliday’s first challenge, the prospect of winning the egg becomes real, and he’s helped by his friends, including Art3mis, Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao).

I discussed the movie with Latoya Peterson, The Undefeated’s deputy editor for digital innovation. She’s been gaming since she was 6, wrote about games for years, and has given talks on games and game theory at South by Southwest and the Game Developers Conference. She’s also a judge for the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Oh, and she paneled at MAGFest.

(Meanwhile, the only game I’ve ever successfully completed is Monument Valley.)

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity, and contains spoilers.

Latoya: I loved the movie! Waaaayyyyy better than the world of the book, and I attribute all of that to Spielberg. There are some issues, mind, but the movie is candy for gamers. And playing the OASIS before I watched made it so much more fun.

Soraya: Does it feel like the game that’s presented in the movie?

Oh, yes. When they enter the OASIS, I got so hype because they built that exact feeling into the VR [virtual reality] experience. The experience doesn’t put you in The Stacks like Wade, though. You start in a penthouse accessing the OASIS, which I guess places it toward the end of the movie? Or perhaps they felt like putting it in The Stacks was a little too real?

The geekier side of the world — gaming, fantasy, sci-fi — assumes that you will be the white boy who is going to save the world. And if you are a geek, this is what you are weaned on.

I was really stunned by the visuals. It really is this amazing feat of world creation. Especially Halliday’s journals, jeez.

Yes. I read some review that was negatively comparing the experience to “watching a video game over someone’s shoulder” and I wanted to ask if that reviewer had seen Twitch. Because this is the world now.

The journals should be the model for all future reference libraries.

We should explain! So, basically, rather than making people go and read Halliday’s journals, you go in and it’s almost like going to the Natural History Museum. Except you’re watching scenes from Halliday’s life.

That level of categorization and recall is amazing and so Silicon Valley. Halliday’s character is really interesting as well. It really valorizes that wistful boy genius trope.

One thing I kept wondering while I was watching is if it was odd that he’s making people spend all this time inside his head and analyzing his life to win his fortune? Part of me was like, isn’t this a bit narcissistic?

Yes, but also realistic. There are real-life Silicon Valley moguls who have that mentality, would set up a competition just like this.

I honestly prefer this narcissism to John Galt, so I’m good with it. There are some Silicon Valley types that worship Ayn Rand. They want to create a techno-utopia with no regulation for the rich, by the rich. I’d take Halliday any day.

I wonder if they would have been as introspective and sensitive about it as Halliday, though.

Game developers code their lives and experiences into games, so that part felt real. And people make games for all kinds of reasons: grief, regret, memorials. Last year’s Game Developers Conference was cloaked in grief because a major member of the community died, and it was interesting to watch people grapple with that through games.

Like That Dragon, Cancer.

Exactly. So an extensive cataloging of one’s life in a game isn’t odd. I mean, after all, isn’t Sinatra’s entire playlist doing the same thing?

Ha, ha! I suppose so.

And that tale of money and friendships broken and loves lost is also a very easy one. And the desire to go back before the thing you made was a business. In some ways, the movie is a love letter to artists. However, there were some things that were just ridiculous that I am still trying to wrap my head around. Like Wade’s characterization. I’ve been thinking hard about this since you asked to do this chat. This question of race and geekness and white boy narratives.

Drop that knowledge, Latoya!

You first, because it’s a lot.

So I didn’t find anything about this movie offensive. I think it’s … generous. It kind of papers over the more unsavory elements that we know exist within gaming communities.

Yes. It focuses on the community, not the exclusion. That dynamic is always at play in gaming. There is “we” and there is “you,” and those sides tend to shift.

But I think Wade/Parzival is the kind of person everyone wants to see themselves as. He’s an underdog, he wants to play the game alone. (There’s a whole thing about how he doesn’t “clan.”) He’s sort of sweet and morally/ethically pure, but also scared of girls.

I did not read him as pure so much as naive. And I feel like the way Art3mis is constructed in the film gives him a great foil, until she falls into the love interest trap. But, yes, you are supposed to identify with Wade.

You have to be naive to think you’re going to battle a tech company with an army of gaming mercenaries and think you’re going to beat them.

I believe that faster than I believe some psycho corporate thug would have his little Grinch heart moved because of Wade’s love for the game.

It was kind of refreshing to see a boy who’s so comfortable with being in his feelings. And I wonder how he got that way, because it damn sure wasn’t from his aunt or her cavalcade of roughneck gentlemen callers.

Of all the eye-roll moments in that movie, that was a big one. He’s sensitive. Maybe it’s from the dead parents.

That’s what I wonder about Wade. How did he manage to avoid being full of anger?

I don’t think he did, necessarily. It’s just channeled. He also swings hard into NiceGuy territory a few times. But since he generally gets everything he wants in the narrative, there’s no need to let that side out.

Wade is supposed to be the character you identify with the most onscreen. That is generally the construction around these kinds of offerings. The geekier side of the world — gaming, fantasy, sci-fi — assumes that you will be the white boy who is going to save the world. And if you are a geek, this is what you are weaned on. I realized in prepping for our discussion that this is what I was raised on. It’s how we know how to define the world. I still love Marty McFly and Tom Swift and Paul Muad’Dib Atreides.

The white boy who is “the one” is canon, so I was expecting that in many ways. Now, Wade Watts is no Marty McFly, even with a tricked-out DeLorean. But I see what they wanted to do.

The thing is, though, the world has expanded a lot since the ’80s. Our construction of hero is broader, so it was fascinating to me to see some of the devices employed to keep Wade the hero. I thought I was going to have the most to say about Aech/Helen, but it’s really Art3mis/Samantha that captures my attention.

She’s clearly very smart.

Throughout the game, she proves herself to be a more strategic player. Wade outthinks her on the first challenge, she outthinks him on the second. She’s also markedly a better shooter. In all of her scenes with Wade, she’s lead and nice with the guns. So how does she end up sacrificing herself so Wade could play? And why does he make the [NICEGUY] move of taking her out the game for her own good?

She and Helen get sacrificed. That was infuriating.

Also, if she’s the leader of the rebellion, how did she kneel to a lesser shooter? I will accept zombies in The Shining before I accept a player of that level of skill would roll over for her less experienced love interest.

Also, can we sidebar on their romance?

You are telling me the same kid that almost creamed his pants being touched in through a virtual suit suddenly has game with a real girl in real life on a roof? And this grizzled young leader of the rebellion who watched her father die in debtors prison, who is giving off hella riot girl vibes in her ripped stockings and shorts, is going to roll over for a dude who she has awkward conversation with because he solved a really hard puzzle?

That’s how you can tell who wrote this. But I guess this is what happens when you are the anointed — it’s your narrative, whether you earned it or not. The sacrifice of the friends is a thing — I mean they did it in Sailor Moon! But it’s interesting that the women, who were both independent and rebellious, gave up their own journeys to boost Wade’s.

I will accept zombies in The Shining before I accept a player of that level of skill would roll over for her less experienced love interest.

Wade is very much like Charlie (of the Chocolate Factory), or the Narnia kids, or Harry Potter, even the book version of A Wrinkle in Time. But it still has to make sense!

Well, to be fair, you don’t want a perfect hero.

Right. He has to be relatable.

But there’s a big gap between “perfect” and “you’ve got to be kidding me.” I mean a lot of the fun in the hero’s journey is that process of discovery, of them becoming less of a brat. (You know I’m criticizing Wade hard, but people said the same stuff about Tidus in FFX.)

Wade is more like wish fulfillment.

Yeah, you’re right. Like Wade winning the first challenge got him money and gear, but did he really level up any skills in this narrative?

Which, again, makes him candy for gamers who look like him and will identify with him and who, in their heads, think it makes perfect sense that after getting felt up through a virtual suit he’s going to get his head together and have game.

The OASIS was way better developed as a space and character than many of the villains and side characters.

Exactly. Which brings us to this: The real world in this movie is a horrible dystopian crapfest. I can totally understand how someone could just live in OASIS and abandon their real life. Which is why it seems odd that [spoiler] Wade takes the game offline on Tuesdays and Thursdays in this noble quest to make people appreciate the real world around them.

You know what would make me not want to spend all my time in OASIS? Not living in a dystopian crapfest!

Hmm. Made sense to me. The whole point of the journey was to discover that Halliday’s life was full of games because he couldn’t grok the real world. Wade keeps pledging he won’t make the same mistakes.

Thoughts on Helen?

I wish we knew why she was playing as a dude. She’s kind of a classic black best friend in a lot of ways. I mean, she’s a very clever, amusing one.

Yes. She is leaps and bounds more than I expected but is still doing an amazing job with the traditional spot. Well cast, well executed, but Aech is a shadow character. Just like Daito and Sho.

It’s funny to me that Wade/Parzival has these supersmart friends who clearly have strengths that he does not, but he doesn’t want to clan up?

The OASIS is open world. You normally clan for battle games, but not necessarily others. RPGs [role-playing games], sure. But this is more of a quest game. And even though the OASIS was never meant to be single-player, most of the designed challenges were.

Link was generally solo in Zelda — it’s like that.

Ahh, OK. But let’s close on Helen.

Do I wish Helen had more to do, more characterization? Yes. Am I happy she was there at all? Yes! Do I wish I knew more about her? Yes. It’s the eternal black friend conundrum. Hopefully the box office is high enough that there’s a Ready Player Two (Shout-out to Shira Chess!) that can build out Samantha and Helen as more than plot devices. That said, I’m impressed. It is damn hard to get a good gamer movie, and we got one! I just always want more.

I did not expect to love it as much as I did. It’s a gamer’s movie, 5 out of 5, with all the flaws. Now I just want them to drop the full VR experience.

Lena Waithe: ‘Your art is stunted when you’re trying to pretend to be something you aren’t’ The actor/producer and Emmy-winning writer is in love, in ‘Ready Player One’ and in the business of kicking down doors

Before my conversation with Lena Waithe begins, I issue a warning. She is, after all, the creator of Showtime’s excellent The Chi, a fictional series about Chicago’s South Side.

“Nothing better ever happen to Papa! I mean it, Lena!”

Waithe laughs mightily at my plea to keep the innocent and charismatic Papa free of harm. Charmingly portrayed by Shamon Brown Jr., he’s one of the three preteen black boys through which we see the neighborhood.

“Look, man,” the Emmy winner says with a giggle, “no one stays safe in The Chi. Even the children.”

What Waithe has done is create characters so tangible they feel like family. She gives an episodic answer to the “What about Chicago?” crowd. In The Chi, Waithe gives us family that you want to protect, support, and keep safe and sound. Her series takes much of what we loved about HBO’s groundbreaking The Wire and shifts focus to spotlight the very real people behind the very real headlines that we see — or don’t see enough. The Chi just ended its inaugural season’s run, but it’ll be back for a second season soon. But Waithe? She’s just beginning. Like for real, for real.

Lena Waithe turns 34 soon. She’s been working steadily in Hollywood since graduating from Chicago’s Columbia College in 2006, and she’s worked for some of the most prominent black female directors in the business — Ava DuVernay and Gina Prince-Bythewood have both been bosses — and in 2011, the S— Black Girls Say video series went viral. The much-debated sensation was written by Waithe.

And by 2018? On the eve of the Oscars, Waithe was feted by Essence at its Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, where she was honored by Angela Bassett, Justin Simien and Steven Spielberg. “Here’s the thing,” she said. “I tend to be really rounded … and I think that’s because I’ve paid a lot of dues. I genuinely love this business, this industry. I love what I do. And also, my lady, my fiancée, keeps me really grounded.”

So much of Waithe’s story stems from her own personal life — on her willingness to live out loud and stand in her own truth as a black lesbian. Last year, she became the first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding writing for a comedy series for her work on Master of None; the “Thanksgiving” episode of that series mirrored her own experience coming out to her mom.

And despite her rocketing fame — she was featured, solo, on the cover of Vanity Fair last week — she’s unbothered. “It’s commerce, it’s exchange,” she said. “It’s like you’re hot right now, someone else will be hot next year. What happens to some people — we’ve seen it, when they get all caught up — they start to think, ‘Oh, ain’t I grand?’ There are a lot of us who are talented and gifted and great … and I see this with Donald [Glover] too, where at the end of the day we’re like, ‘Look, man. We’re pretty good at what we do, but there’s always folks coming up after us.’ There’s always [people] nipping after you. People should never get comfortable … you just have to always be a student, you have to always be humble, and you’ve got to always know that the business loves a new, shiny toy.”

But Waithe is not just talent. She’s a creator, someone who is passionate about representation and progression. And she has heavy hitters in her corner, like Spielberg, the legendary director who hired her for her most recent role, as Aech/Helen in Ready Player One.

“I’m probably going to stumble, I’ll fall, I’ll mess up, and I think that’s when you get a real sense of where you stand.”

“I don’t know if he’s ever stood back to think about, ‘Oh, how are people receiving me?’ Or, ‘Where’s my legacy?’ He’s like, I just want to make things that I’m passionate about, and I think that’s my mission,” she said of Spielberg. And of herself she says, “I figure that as long as I do that, I’ll be on the right track. I’m probably going to stumble, I’ll fall, I’ll mess up, and I think that’s when you get a real sense of where you stand. But my hope is that folks will just rock with me and go on this journey with me.”

Much of her journey is about inclusion. In this season of The Chi, the series introduces us to one of the families on the South Side that is made up of two mothers, a teen daughter and a preteen son. It was subtle, and it quietly helped normalize a nuclear family that’s headed up by two lesbians in love; it wasn’t that episode’s central focus. It just was. And that’s important to Waithe.

“It’s the thing that’s on my heart,” she said. “Everybody has a cause, a thing that is … a thorn in their side, and that’s one for me.” Then she gets into the complex subject of being black and gay and out and verbal about it all — in Hollywood. “I’m so confused by it,” she said. “Maybe I shouldn’t be, because I can somewhat understand why some people want to keep their sexual orientation private — typically African-American people who are in the public eye. I guess to some extent, but I think that our children are literally killing themselves. Our queer children are thinking that they’re less than. Are thinking that they’ll never be loved. Are thinking that they’ll never have a normal, happy life. … No. Their lives are priceless.”

Waithe said something very similar and poignant to that room at the Essence luncheon earlier this month. It pierced the crowd and resounded loudly to a group of mostly black women, who were already emotionally laid out by the electrifying speech on beauty and acceptance that Black Panther’s Danai Gurira, who also was honored, had delivered earlier that day.

“The reason why people are closeted,” she continued, “is because they’re afraid, particularly in Hollywood. They’re afraid of losing a fan base. They’re afraid of losing people — lost endorsement deals and roles, things like that. [But] if they walk away from you once they figure out who you really are, like, why are we even dealing with that?”

“We keep hearing the story of the white girl and her mom. We keep seeing the story about this old white man on the mountain. There’s so many other narratives that we should be exploring.”

Waithe wants everyone to experience the authenticity she’s living right now. You can’t create a moment like the Thanksgiving coming-out episode inside of a black family unit, she says, without a willingness to be vulnerable.

“I think your art is stunted when you’re trying to pretend to be something you aren’t. You can’t be as happy,” she said. “If I was in the closet, I would not be a happy camper. I just wouldn’t be. I’m a real b—-. I’m a truth-teller. I can’t sit here and act like I don’t have a phenomenal woman at home, with an engagement ring on her finger that I bought as a token of my love.”

There’s of course a long history of gay people in Hollywood performing heterosexuality. Waithe takes a moment to remind. “[People] literally have partners and wives and husbands, and like — because of what? They want to protect the facade. It’s like you’re preventing your art from being as great as it can be, and that’s because you’re not being completely honest with the public. And I think it’s bulls—. If James Baldwin can be out and proud and effeminate … in Harlem and in Paris and walking around and all that kind of stuff, so can we.”

Waithe can’t say enough about this idea of unveiling and revealing. Because she doesn’t want to be out here alone. She doesn’t want to be the only revolutionary out here with a megaphone. It’s lonely.

“I see these cats all the time, out and about, they hug me and say, ‘I’m so proud of you. You’re out! You’re doing it!’ And I want to look at them and go, ‘Why aren’t you?’ Why do I have to be out here on the diving board by myself?’ ”

Lena Waithe as Helen in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Ready Player One.

Jaap Buitendijk

And now we have Lena Waithe the actor.

It’s not a space that she had designs on. But she’s being asked to come in and read for parts, as with Ready Player One, and being cast in shows like NBC’s emotionally gripping This Is Us. Casting directors are calling her people and asking for her as front-facing talent. She has, in fact, a seat at the table. All of the tables.

“That’s what I’ve always wanted to be, a television writer. When you have a presence in front of the camera, the business treats you differently. You get a little bit more of a red carpet rollout. If you send somebody an email, they respond right away. It’s just that weird caste that we have in this town.”

But she’s using her newfound power for good. And her mission is clear: help writers of color. She’s making sure a diverse group of writers has access to writing classes, and she’s all about making connections.

“People look at me and Donald and Issa [Rae] and Justin and Barry [Jenkins] and … I’m like, there’s so many phenomenal writers of color that are just dope. And not just black, but Native American, Latino and members of the queer community. People who live with disabilities. From the trans community. People who are nonbinary,” she said. “We keep hearing the story of the white girl and her mom. We keep seeing the story about this old white man on the mountain. There’s so many other narratives that we should be exploring that are interesting. We haven’t even scratched the surface.”

Waithe is already thinking ahead to the next season of The Chi. Common executive produces, and Ayanna Floyd Davis has signed on for season two as executive producer and showrunner. The show will go back into production later this year.

“We’re going to really step it up. It’s going to be blacker. The women are going to have a lot more to do. And I just have a lot more power this go-around,” Waithe said. “It’s only going to get better. For Atlanta season two, I feel like it’s a little more lived in, and Donald’s a little more confident in what he’s doing, and he’s taking a few more risks, which is really cool. And I want our season two to kind of feel like what season two of Atlanta feels like. Just a little more seasoned.”

And she has more on the way: a pilot order for TBS with Simien, with whom she last teamed up for Dear White People. “I get to be back in the saddle again,” Waithe said, “and to tell a story about a queer black girl and her two straight best friends. And them navigating life in Los Angeles, and what that looks like.”

Because telling stories, stories that don’t often get told, is what Waithe does best.

So long as Papa survives. Please?