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With a simple tweet, April Reign launched a diversity movement

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — Reign, a writer, editor and a former attorney who frequently tweets about race, politics and pop culture, said she was compelled to tweet in 2015 watching the Academy Awards nominations being announced on national television and being disappointed about the lack of diversity in the nominations. Her tweet #OscarsSoWhite went viral and a movement was underway.

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By Wave Staff

EXPOSITION PARK — April Reign didn’t mean to spark a movement.

Reign, a writer, editor and a former attorney who frequently tweets about race, politics and pop culture, said she was compelled to tweet in 2015 watching the Academy Awards nominations being announced on national television and being disappointed about the lack of diversity in the nominations.

Her tweet #OscarsSoWhite went viral and a movement was underway.

“It was supposed to be a runoff hashtag,” she told a capacity crowd May 15 at the California African American Museum. “I was in my living room watching TV and Chris Hemsworth, who played Thor, announced the nominees for the Oscars. I immediately noticed that African Americans were not represented in any of the categories. I tweeted the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and left for work.”

Reign said that hours later, she checked the tweet, curious about the reaction it may have generated and was stunned to find that it had gone viral.

“I thought that the lack of minority candidates for Oscar nominations in 2015 was a fluke,” she recalls, adding that she thought the hashtag would eventually fizzle out. But to Reign’s surprise, #OscarsSoWhite continued to go viral.

Reign said that the following year when people of color again failed to garner nominations, she realized that the exclusion was no fluke. Pausing, she added, “How white was the Oscars? It was snow.”

Reign once again tweeted the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.

“People, especially black people, really caught on as to what was happening,” she said, adding that the tweet once again went viral.

Due to the overwhelming response on social media, Reign made a decision.

“I had to determine if this moment was going to be a movement. I decided to focus a spotlight on the need for equity and diversity,” she said, realizing that systemic change was needed within the entertainment industry.

Since the hashtag went viral in 2015, Reign has lectured at conferences and academic institutions nationally and internationally about the need for inclusion of marginalized groups historically excluded by Hollywood.

“The lack of inclusion isn’t just a race and ethnicity problem, it is also a problem with gender identity, sexual identity and age discrimination,” she said.

“Why don’t we have more black trans women, people with disabilities, gay men and Latinos represented?” she asked, adding, “We have never had a disabled person playing a superhero. Asian and LGBTQ people should raise their voices and speak out about [the lack of] inclusion, as well,” she said.

In 2016, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced that the Academy would diversify the group’s membership by doubling the number of women and people of color within the Academy ranks. That same year, the Academy invited 683 new members to join. Nearly half were women and people of color, the most diverse group the Academy had ever had in its 88-year history.

Although the academy still remains overwhelmingly white and male, Reign, a former editor at BroadwayBlack.com, hopes that it will continue its mission to double the number of women and minorities by 2020.

“The key is to make studio heads understand that the more diverse a project is, the more it will positively affect their bottom line,” she said. “It can’t be like a Band-Aid on a cancer. There is no putting Tussin on it and praying it away. That will not work. They have to make anti-racism part of the agenda every single day.”

The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag ignited globally as well. Producers, moviegoers, actors and activists in Germany, London, South Africa, New Zealand and South America began calling for inclusion and diversity in their own countries.

Reign was invited to attend the 91st Academy Awards earlier this year and despite the fact that movies like “Black Panther” and “Roma” received awards, she still believes that the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag needs to continue.

“Until we are no longer having these conversations about firsts in 2019, and until we see everyone having the opportunity, whether it’s race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or indigenous people in this country, until we all have an opportunity to see ourselves represented on screen, not just during awards season but all year long, I’ll still continue to talk about #OscarsSoWhite,” she told Variety magazine recently.

During the diversity controversy, Reign praised actress Frances McDormand, who publicly announced that she would work to include people of color in front of and behind the camera.

And Reign noted that actors and actresses of color were no longer waiting for Hollywood to offer roles but are taking their careers into their own hands.

“Actors and actresses of color are no longer waiting for a seat at the table. They’re spearheading their own projects and creating content themselves,” Reign said. “Ava DuVernay, Will and Jada Smith, Michael B. Jordan and Issa Rae have all started their own production companies.

“I have made people mad,” Reign said of her inclusion efforts. “There are groups that feel that I am not doing enough or doing it the wrong way. I know that speaking out about marginalization will continue to be an uphill battle.”

Despite her critics, Reign said that the hashtag has generated invitations to speak about diversity and inclusion at conferences and universities around the world, and she added that most of the feedback from the Hollywood community has been positive.

“Arsenio Hall reached out to me. He said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’ And Spike Lee said he believed he would not have received an Oscar if it had not been for the #OscarsSoWhite movement,” Reign said.

“The purpose of this movement is to move the next generation,” Reign said. “Racial diversity and equity may not be solved in a lifetime, but we must take pride in the progress that we have made.”

#OscarsSoWhite was not Reign’s first foray in igniting debate on twitter. She frequently uses her voice and social activism to speak up for causes she strongly believes in.

In 2017, she helped to create the #NoConfederate hashtag as well as the Keep Birth Control Copay Free campaign, a clap back at some of the recent votes to restrict abortion.

In 2014, Reign launched a twitter campaign to protest a celebrity boxing match between rapper DMX and Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.

The charity event’s proceeds would have gone directly to Trayvon Martin’s family, who adamantly stated that they did not want the money and announced that they would not support the fight.

Reign also thought the fight was a bad idea. She created the #StopTheFight hashtag, which attracted protests and prompted one woman to start an online petition that generated thousands of signatures.

With online outrage continuing to brew over the upcoming fight, Reign received a call from the boxing promoter, who took note of the disapproval on Twitter and officially canceled the much-anticipated match up.

The activist urged audience members not to hesitate to get involved if they are passionate about a certain project or a cause.

“We must find ways to advocate for justice by any means necessary,” she said. “Just be sure to learn your issue backward and forward and you can help to make the world a better place.”

This article originally appeared in Wave Newspapers

Chicago

(In)Justice for All Film Festival International Scheduled August 12-21

Free Virtual Event to Feature Films, Poets, and Panel Discussions

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7th (In)Justice for All Film Festival (IFAFF) Flyer

Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, its Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, and The Next Movement (TNF) announce the 7th (In)Justice for All Film Festival (IFAFF), scheduled August 12-21. 

Because of the pandemic, this much-anticipated fest remains FREE of charge and will be virtual. This year, the IFAFF has partnered with Eventive, a well-established and respected virtual film distribution platform. 

The IFAFF brings audiences films that explore America’s criminal justice system – police, courts, and corrections – and the industries that profit from this cauldron of human misery. Stories told include those of millions of people who are relegated to second-class citizenship under an unforgiving system. Stories also highlight how other countries are successfully addressing this issue, as well as showcasing best practices right here in America.  

The virtual 7th IFAFF International will screen feature-length documentaries, feature films, and topical shorts, all with themes centered on the epidemic of mass incarceration, the criminal (in)justice system, racism and white supremacy, gun violence, police brutality, unfair housing, immigration, social unrest, and other human rights violations.  

The film festival brings additional context to the films and their messages through a variety of panel conversations as well as the inclusion of spoken word segments. It also includes a film competition for new movies and “Justice Awards” for exceptional films that best demonstrate the challenges and tragedies of our broken justice systems.

While the focus is on new films that are submitted into the competition, a variety of older films highlighting the historical perspectives of today’s challenges also are screened.  

The Next Movement (TNM) was born as a response to a 2010 visit and lecture by Professor Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, held at Trinity United Church of Christ. TNM, organized as a committee of the Trinity United Church of Christ Prison Ministry, is comprised of people of all races, ages, and religions who view mass incarceration as the key human rights issue of our time, and who are committed to building the mass movement necessary to alleviate it. 

Through education, awareness and organizing individuals and organizations, TNM is dedicated to mobilizing the “people power” necessary to make the systemic changes required. 

The 7th IFAFF International will run over a 10-day period from August 12-21. Free tickets are available by visiting www.injusticeforallff.com or https://watch.eventive.org/injusticeforallff. 

In addition to screening films, this year’s festival will include grand opening events: Spoken Word interludes featuring exciting Chicago poets, special guest speakers, panelists/panel discussions providing context to the many films to be featured over the 10 days (dealing with organizing, restorative justice, domestic violence, immigration, bail reform, racism, eviction, and, of course, mass incarceration); and closing ceremony/awards events. 

The magic of the festival derives from a committed, extensive group of partners who contribute their enthusiasm, relationships, and more to spread the news of the IFAFF International throughout Chicago and the nation. Independent film houses, universities, justice organizations, faith communities, and select media outlets comprise the bulk of IFAFF partners. 

Major 2021 IFAFF sponsors include Trinity United Church of Christ – Unashamed Media Group, Coalition to End Money Bond, and Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church. 

IFAFF website address – www.injusticeforallff.com

Eventive IFAFF website address – https://watch.eventive.org/injusticeforallff

Twitter & IG – @IFAFF

FB – @IFAFFInternational

Hashtag – #IFAFF2021

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Art

Griot Theater Company Presents ‘The Queen of Cubs’ in Mill Valley

This play grapples with social justice issues and current events. Featured singers and performers will include the appearance of Rafiki the baboon as yoga instructor and tour guide.

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Top: Oakwood Trail overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. (Photo by Natalie O’Connor). Bottom left: Illustration of Nala (Griot Theater Company). Bottom right: LeShawn Darnell Holcomb speaking at the June 27 Griothon (Photo by Godfrey Lee).

The Griot Theater Company will be presenting their play “The Queen of Cubs,” a theater adaption of Disney’s “Lion King,” on Saturday, July 18, at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m.    The play is an ‘exertainment,’ a combination of exercise and entertainment and will be presented on the Oakwood Valley – Alta Trail in Tennessee Valley in Mill Valley.

The “Queen of Cubs” play, co-written by Griot Theater Company Artistic Director LeShawn Darnell Holcomb, follows Nala’s story from cubhood to lioness-hood. Will she and the other lionesses survive her uncle’s tyranny or will they die from his antagonistic ways?

This play grapples with social justice issues and current events. Featured singers and performers will include the appearance of Rafiki the baboon as yoga instructor and tour guide.

Go to www.griottheatercompany.org for more information about Griot Theater Company and to get tickets for the play.

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In Colorizing the Characters in ‘Hamilton,’ Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda Whitewashes History

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

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Photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton courtesy of cinemablend

Is there any doubt that Ishmael Reed is Oakland’s writer of conscience and consequence?

He was my teacher in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. From him I learned a number of truisms about writing. Like, for me, when in doubt, put in the Filipinos. Don’t take them out!  Another one was career advice. The more money you make, the less you get to say. Conversely, the less you make, the more you get to say. And that brings me to the topic of this column.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “In the Heights,” opened the movie version of the musical last week. It’s a gushing hydrant of diversity. It should make a lot of money. But when I talked to him a few weeks back I wanted to talk about his other monster hit, “Hamilton,” where Miranda applied what I call a little affirmative action. He put the Black and the Brown actors in the white parts.

The Founding Fathers got “Hamiltoned.” Revolutionary?

“Well, it’s interesting,” he said. “The idea when I picked up the book was it’s an R&B hip-hop musical so, of course, Black and Brown actors would play those roles. As I’m reading the book the first time, I’m picturing which of my favorite hip-hop artists should play Hercules Mulligan or George Washington. They were always people of color, and the music reflects that…I was sort of more surprised that everyone was surprised when we finally came out.”

“I think it kicks open the door,” he added. “Why are we so literal when it comes to this stuff? And you know, I see Shakespeare with people of every ethnicity playing the roles. Why can’t that be the case with our founders? We know what they look like – they’re on our f***ing money. So, like, let’s move forward here. But I think once you see a show that has had the diversity that we have on stage, it’s very hard to go back to sort of these all-white productions because you’ve got to ask why, what stories aren’t we getting when you see that?”

You still have to ask what you’re getting. Miranda got comfortable enough to cuss and didn’t like the term “affirmative action.” But was he rehabbing Hamilton, making him and the others better than they were by applying the hip-hop beat?

It was the perfect opening to ask a question about Reed, the MacArthur ‘genius’ award-winning novelist, satirist, and playwright who last year wrote  “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” a play that takes Miranda to task for the failure to highlight the real history of Hamilton.

Hamilton and his in-laws, the Schuyler family, were slave owners.

Miranda may have given the actors some tone, but the historical soul remains the same. Just obscured. Reed sees Miranda as duped by the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow, which Miranda used as the main source for his skin-deep musical that glosses over our racist founders.

“I think seducing thousands of children and even the inaugural poet Amanda Gorman into believing that Hamilton and the Schuyler girls were ‘ardent abolitionists,’ must rank as a cultural crime,” Reed said to me.

As I asked Miranda my question about Reed, the PR rep cuts in: “We are actually out of time.”

Then Miranda says, “I got a long schedule, sorry. Thank you.”

It would have been interesting to hear his answer, with “Hamilton” beginning a new tour in August.

But this is megabuck showbiz, and the PR juggernaut must go on.

So, Miranda wiggled his way out. He could have answered. I gave him a shot.

Then again, Miranda’s got this new property to sell that’s a lot more cleansing and joyful. “In the Heights” is the feel-good movie of the post-pandemic, you know. All the fire hydrants are gushing.

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

In fact, the 2021 tour for “Hamilton” is coming to San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose for multiple-week runs in August through October.

Will he come clean by then? Or come up with a new song? In the meantime, you should read Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.”  There’s no music to wash away the truth.

Emil Guillermo is a veteran Bay Area journalist and commentator. He vlogs at www.amok.com Twitter @emilamok

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