Why TV Writer Angela Nissel, Black Females in Hollywood Need to be Heard

By Yesha Callahan, The Root

If you took a look at the writers’ room of some of your favorite television shows, you’d be hard-pressed to find a black person, and even harder pressed to find a black woman. But for the last decade, Angela Nissel has been leaving her mark behind the scenes on shows like Scrubs, The Boondocks and, now, The Jellies—Tyler, the Creator’s Adult Swim show, which premieres Oct. 22.

Before Nissel’s foray into scripted television, she was best-known as one of the creators of Okayplayer and for her two sidesplitting memoirs that captured the essence of her formative years, and of being broke and biracial. Both The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke and Mixed: My Life in Black and Whitewere heralded by critics, as well as the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry, and Nissel became the “it” woman of literature in the early 2000s.

Angela Nissel, Scenes from ‘The Jellies’ (Adult Swim)

It was those books that set the University of Pennsylvania grad (she graduated with a degree in medical anthropology) on her way to a career in TV. But, of course, Nissel’s ascent into television writing wasn’t easy, especially as a black woman. After being in the game for 15 years, she is still fighting her way into writers’ rooms, and she made it into The Jellies’room even though she thought she hadn’t landed the gig.

“Me being old enough to be Tyler’s aunt, I said, ‘I’ve heard of him,’ but I don’t really know him. And then I researched him. I was nervous in the meeting, but when Tyler came in, he just wanted to get to know about me. Ten minutes later, the meeting was over. I called my agent and was like, ‘I’m pretty sure I didn’t get that job; they thought I was a total nerd,’” Nissel says.

As luck talent would have it, Nissel landed the consulting-producer-and-writing gig on the series, and so her work began. And, yes, she was once again the only black woman in the writers’ room. As Nissel segues back into animation (after lending her talents to The Boondocks), she notes that writing live action and books is totally different from writing for animation, especially when it comes to the fans.

“How many f—— black cartoon characters is it on TV right now?” Tyler responded. “Name five. I’ll give you time.”

Nissel shares similar sentiments about Cornell’s newfound blackness.

“If you don’t like Cornell being black, color him another color in your head. What is wrong with people wanting to see the representation of themselves on-screen?” Nissel asks. “That’s why I think their generation will do better, and hopefully build on what my old-ass generation wasn’t able to do. Tyler is an outsider coming into this industry and wants Cornell to look like him. I don’t understand how anyone can be upset with that.”

With the success of this summer’s blockbuster hit Girls Trip, the spotlight is now shining on funny black women in front of and behind the camera. And Nissel has some savory advice for the bigwigs in Hollywood.

“I wish more people realize that having one voice in the room sometimes isn’t enough because you’re only going to get one point of view. At the end of the day, I just wish people would go outside of the neighborhoods and make friends with people who aren’t exactly like them, so they can bring that to the room if they don’t have the budget to hire 25 women,” Nissel says.

“I really want to create shows that show that women over the age of 40 still have lives, and they can be messy,” she adds. “To talk about the imbalance of women and men, like my own personal story of paying alimony. I want to tell the richness of women of color over 40 because sometimes I look on TV and we’re all dead, except for Oprah.”

The Jellies premieres on Adult Swim at 12:15 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 22.

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Amazon Is Developing An Alt-History Show Called ‘Black America’

By Zeba Blay, HuffPost Black Voices

Paras Griffin via Getty Images

Will Packer, the man behind the hit comedy “Girls Trip,” is bringing a new show to Amazon that might give HBO a run for its money.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Packer is teaming up “Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder on “Black America,” a drama set in an alternate history in which freed African American slaves have been given control of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama as reparations following the Civil War.

Set in the present-day, the show will imagine a sovereign African-American nation called “New Colonia,” rapidly emerging as one of the leading industrialized nations in the world.

The announcement of “Black America” comes just days after HBO sparked controversy with the announcement of its own alternate history drama, “Confederate,” from the creators of “Game of Thrones,” which is set in an alternate reality in which the South had won the Civil War and slavery remains in present day.

Read the full article and reactions to the show’s announcement here.

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My Black History: The Case for Black Art in an Anti-Presidential Era

From: The Root

Authored by: Maiysha Kai

Anastasia_Aleksieieva for iStock

InMy Black History: The Case for Black Art in an Anti-Presidential Era”, Maiysha Kai explains the power black art holds in the current political state of the United States.

She explains how, “The Black Arts Movement that followed was a direct response to the loss of our most prominent leaders of the 1960s, as well as our subsequent rejection of the desire to assimilate into any American culture invested in our marginalization. Even hip-hop has origins in the response of black and brown youths to a society that simultaneously disenfranchised and criminalized them en masse, the tenor of which would come to a head in the turbulent rise of “gangsta rap” in the 1990s.” 

Kai explains how African American’s are empowered through their art; letting their art speak social change by being an “expression of resistance but also a visible and visceral expression of the human experience.”

With the loss of an African American President, there is widespread “post-black”  and “post-racial” which in turn is leading to the “rise of black art in America.”

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Art Student Hangs ‘Black Only’ And ‘White Only’ Signs Around University Campus

By Priscilla Frank, Arts Writer, The Huffington Post

 

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On Wednesday, Sept. 16, students of the University of Buffalo were shocked to find “White Only” and “Black Only” signs hung near campus bathrooms. Students were sickened and traumatized by the apparent act of racism; by 1 p.m., the police had received 11 phone calls regarding the signage.

It was later revealed, however, that the signs reminiscent of the Jim Crow era were put on display by graduate fine arts student Ashley Powell, who is black, as part of an art project.

Before Powell admitted to hanging the signs at a Black Student Union (BSU) meeting on Wednesday night, students and faculty were left wondering about the source of the racist designations. “We didn’t know it was an art project, it could’ve been an act of terrorism,” a student explained to The Spectrum, the independent campus newspaper.

When Powell revealed that she was behind the act, a project for her “Installation: Urban Spaces” class, which requires students to install art in a public space, many students stormed out of the BSU assembly, some in tears. “It brought up feelings of a past that our generation has never seen, which I think is why it was so shocking for us to see,” Micah Oliver, president of the BSU, told ABC.

whitesonlyAs an artist, I respect you as an artist,” said student Jefry Taveras in the BSU meeting. “But you should know racism isn’t art, it’s a reality and traumatizing.”

In a statement to The Spectrum, Powell explained the reasoning behind her installation, which addresses issues of non-white suffering and white privilege. “I apologize for the extreme trauma, fear, and actual hurt and pain these signs brought about,” she wrote. “I apologize if you were hurt, but I do not apologize for what I did.”

She went on to expand upon the motivations behind the project, which was intended to spark outrage and discomfort in viewers.

“My art practice is not an act of self-policing meant to hide my rage. Instead, it uses pain, narrative, and trauma as a medium of expression and as grounds for arguing a need for change in the first place. I understand that I forced people to feel pain that they otherwise would not have had to deal with in this magnitude. But I ask, should non-white people not express or confront their trauma? Should we be content with not having to confront that pain? We know it exists, and it often causes many of us immediate discomfort. Should we not be in a state of crushing discomfort?

These signs made you feel discomfort. They are tangible objects that forced you to revisit your past, to confront your present, and to recognize here and now the underlying social structures that are directly responsible for your pain and suffering. This project makes forceful what has been easy for you to ignore.”

Read Powell’s statement in full here

 

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This Day in Black History: Artist Betye Saar is Born

From the African American Registry

"The Liberation of Aunt Jemima" by Betye Saar

“The Liberation of Aunt Jemima” by Betye Saar

Betye Irene Saar was born on this date in 1926. She is an African-American artist and educator, famous for collages that lampoon racist attitudes about blacks and for installations featuring mystical themes.

Born Betye Irene nue Brown in Pasadena, CA, Saar studied design at the University of California at Los Angeles (B. A. 1949) and education and printmaking at California State University at Long Beach. In the early 1960s, she created etchings and intaglio, but after seeing a Joseph Cornell show in 1968, she began to expand her work from two to three dimensions, working in assemblage. She also augmented her mystical and occult themes with challenges to racist myths and stereotypes.

She also reiterated occult themes with explorations of mysticism in the digital age. Saar’s exhibitions included shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1975) and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1984). She collaborated in shows with two of her daughters and taught at the University of California at Los Angeles and at the Parsons-Otis Institute in Los Angeles.

Read more about Saar here.

Rashaad Newsome: An artist who fearlessly collages hip-hop, vogue culture and opera

Rashaad Newsome Artwork

Rashaad Newsome Artwork

When speaking of Newsome as a performer and the role of performance in his work Levai added “[Newsome] is cataloging gestures in a way that we have not seen before. This is evidenced in Shade Compositions, 2009, even further in FIVE, 2010 as well as in The Conductor. This method of documentation is less a statement about the artist’s personal intentions, and instead focuses more on archiving gestures in a community.”

Newsome is masterfully expanding the boundaries of language and gesture and asking his viewers to join him in this exploration. His work requires a deeper analysis of things thought to be understood all too well such as hip-hop, vogue (or voguing), gesture and body language. Newsome confronts and shifts the assumptions associated with each of these cultures and boldly calls for reconsideration, and maybe even slightly, reproach.

Read more about Newsome’s art here.

Sculptor Elizabeth Catlett Sculptor Dies At 96

Mexico Obit Elizabeth Catlett

Sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett

Sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, a U.S. expatriate renowned for her dignified portrayals of African-American and Mexican women and who was barred from her home country for political activism during the McCarthy era, has died. She was 96.

She was known for her commitment to winning greater rights for blacks, women and workers in the United States and her adopted country. Catlett witnessed almost every important artistic and social movement of the 20th century and traveled in some of the same illustrious circles as the great American artist Jacob Lawrence and poet Langston Hughes.

Read more about Catlett here.