What I Read This Week: Get Out, women in the arts and that picture of Trevante Rhodes that had us all losing our minds

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Photo by Willy Vanderperre

I read a lot throughout the week and share on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve decided to start a roundup each Sunday of the many things that I come across. This week, enlightening pieces on Get Out that really caught my attention are on the list, as well as several critiques about Moonlight sharing its win with La La Land. In addition, VOGUE published its dedication to women for its 125th anniversary. Most pieces are image-driven and I’ve pulled a few that were particularly special; however, I suggest going through all of the stories which include highlights of women at NASA, L.A.’s Chicano history and more. Melina Matsoukas’ interview with The New Yorker is also listed here, as I learned so much about the woman behind “Formation” and Insecure and am excited that we have another black woman who is creating images that we can see ourselves in and celebrate. I’ve also included an interesting piece on a writer reckoning with his experience at an HBCU versus his father’s. There is also a well-researched and thought-provoking piece on the newest Calvin Klein advertisement featuring the men of Moonlight, which historicizes how we can look to underwear ads to think through the intersections of gender and race.

Enjoy!

Why ‘Get Out’, a Movie About Anti-Black Racism, Had an Asian Character

Though not as common as white slave masters, some Asian-Americans purchased Black slaves. Born in Thailand and forced to join the circus, conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker (known as the “Original Siamese twins”) eventually made enough money to gain naturalization and purchase a plantation with Black slaves. The wealth and socialite status of Chang and Eng propelled them to a position where they could purchase Black slaves and even marry white women. Asian participation in slavery goes back even further than the Bunker twins with some sources citing that Kublai Khan and leaders of the Yuan Dynasty also purchased Black slaves.

In Get Out, the Eyes Have It

It seems like an act of aggression, but Chris senses it’s something else—it isn’t until later that he understands Logan was trying to save him. It was hard not to watch that scene without thinking of how important camera phones and video recordings have been for many African Americans experiencing police violence—especially in light of an earlier scene in which Chris is the apparent target of racial profiling by an officer. Cameras, Get Out suggests somewhat plainly, have the power to reveal. It’s no coincidence that photographic evidence later provides Chris with his biggest clues as he tries to uncover the Armitage family’s secrets.

Get Out Understands the Black Body

Peele uses Get Out to take control of black bodies and give black men in the audience an allegory that they’ve craved in horror for decades. In the final moments of the film, once Chris has come out the other side of the carnage, a police car arrives. A director unfamiliar with living in a black body might have gone a darker route and given Chris a new adversary, a white police officer who misinterprets the events of the film. But Peele has lived in his body long enough to want a fantasy, a morality tale of sorts with a hopeful outcome. The police car is Chris’s cavalry, because a black man is in it and not a white man. In the real world, our bodies might not be our own, but in Get Out, they’re our greatest tools for survival. 

The Provocatuer Behind Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Issa Rae

There are very few women of color working as directors in Hollywood, and Matsoukas has sometimes felt that she was not taken seriously. “People will challenge you and try not to listen,” she said. “The director of photography will try to get over you and say, ‘Oh, that’s not possible—we can’t light this way,’ and I know what the possibilities are.”

Why The New Calvin Klein Underwear Ads Are Bulging With Meaning

From the buzz cut to the closely cropped beard, the image is a celebration of blackness in quite conventionally masculine terms. But Rhodes’ role as Chiron in Moonlight, as a man quietly yearning for connection, adds a vulnerability that viewers can project onto him, one absent from any of the previous celebrities who appeared in the campaigns. Perhaps the images’ popularity tells us that there is a hunger to celebrate this coupling of the beauty of black masculinity with that accompanying sensitivity, so different than Weber’s stony men or Wahlberg’s faux aggression. If Nelly’s images tell us that refusing cultural imperatives can be a form of black politics, perhaps Rhodes’ photographs suggest that risking exposure might be one too. 

 

Inside Alpha Kappa Alpha: The First African American Sorority

In a time of great political uncertainty, when the nation is more divided than it has ever been, that legacy of unity and commitment to service seems particularly vital.

Female Artists That Have Shaped the Cultural Landscape

There isn’t really a great excerpt from this piece; instead the images by photographer Lorna Simpson is what really drive it home. I suggest bookmarking this and making a plan to research these women to get and stay inspired.

My Father And I Both Chose HBCUs, But Not For The Same Reason

I think my dad tried to teach me to distrust the need I felt to distinguish myself with false laurels, and certainly not to pursue those laurels without thinking about how they might serve the wider black community. America had made him wary of words like “Ivy League,” and wary of traditions he thought devalued people who looked like me, pinned a ribbon to some and shushed others.

How We Talked About Moonlight’s Oscar Win Affirmative Action Proves We Still Don’t Know How to Recognize Black Excellence

The Moonlight post-mortem shows just how far we have to go, however, in not only recognizing black excellence but honoring that recognition. When Spotlight took home Best Picture last year, the narrative was about its worthiness—the hard work that director Tom McCarthy put into telling a meticulously fact-based account of the Catholic sex abuse scandals. Spotlightis a superb movie. For a voting body that too often recognizes crowd-pleasing pap over artistry (see: A Beautiful Mind), its win was rightly celebrated as a victory of substance over style. It’s just too bad that films about black people don’t yet have the privilege of sharing that narrative.

How The Oscar Flub Demonstrates The Limits of Black Graciousness

Many of us are unfailingly gracious, all the time, and to be fair, this is sometimes unsolicited (but somehow still expected). In thinking about all of this, I feel a little tired. It’s nice to be nice. But it is also a burden, this grace and graciousness. And some days it weighs heavier than others.

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