Black History Month 2019 celebrations planned throughout Miami-Dade

MIAMI –  The Miami-Dade Black Affairs Advisory Board (BAAB), along with various community based organizations, have scheduled a number of events that pay homage to the African American diaspora, as well as this year’s national theme established by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH):  “Black Migrations,” which focuses on the movement of people of African descent to new destinations and subsequently new social realities.    

Following is a list of events and activities throughout the county commemorating Black History Month. Events with an asterisk (*) are sponsored or co-sponsored by the Black Affairs Advisory Board’s Heritage Planning Committee. For a detailed calendar of events, visit

For more information on the month’s events, please contact Black Affairs Advisory Board Director Retha Boone-Fyeat 305-375-4606.

Calendar of Events

*Friday, February 1, 2019

Black History Month Kickoff-Presented by the Miami-Dade County Black Affairs Advisory Board

11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Featuring entertainment, unveiling of “Vessels 2019: Women of Substance” and “Triumphant Spirits

2019: African American Men” exhibit-curated by MUCE; Kinad African American Museum exhibit, and

excerpts from the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service’ entertainment & “Soul

Food Truck” invasion.

Stephen P. Clark Government Center, 111 NW 1st Street, Miami, Florida  33128

Details: 305-375-4606 or


Friday, February 1, 2019

“Season 5 Lyric Live All Stars”

Black History Month Kickoff Weekend with Chairwoman Audrey M. Edmonson

Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater

819 NW 2nd Ave, Miami Florida 33136

Reception: 6 p.m. and Show 8 p.m. – Tickets at


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Black Cultural Expo

Black History Month Kickoff Weekend with Miami-Dade Chairwoman Audrey M. Edmonson

Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater, 819 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida 33136 – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Expo of Black Cultural Institutions of South Florida with Kids Zone and Vendors; 5 p.m.

Double Feature Film Screening on the BAHLT Plaza (5 p.m. The Wiz; 8 p.m. Black Panther)

Free Community Event


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Super Bowl LIII Watch Party 4 p.m. – Midnight

Black History Month Kickoff Weekend with Chairwoman Audrey M. Edmonson

Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater, 819 NW 2nd Avenue Miami, Florida 33136

Large screen viewing on the BAHLT Plaza, featuring a cigar bar, pool tables, and table games.

Free Community Event


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Second Annual Egbe Festival

 “A Celebration of African Culture and Heritage” – 12 noon-12 a.m.

Historic Virginia Key Beach Park – Details:


Sunday, February 3, 2019

South Florida People of Color presents “Soul Food” a Gospel Service & Southern Brunch 10:30 a.m.

Miami Shores Community Church, 9823 NE 4th Avenue, Miami Shores, Florida  33138

Ticketed event: – 


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Black History Month Heritage & Neighborhood Tour

Presented by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau’s- Multicultural Tourism & Development



Saturday, February 9, 2019

Macy’s Aventura Store Black History Month Celebration

Discussion & Performances 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

19535 Biscayne Boulevard, Aventura, Florida – Details: 305-682-3312


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Perez Art Museum Annual Reception & Fundraiser – 7 p.m.

PAMM Fund for African American effort to promote membership funding to continue the acquisition of artworks by African American artists and related programming.

1103 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, Florida  33132

Ticketed event: *Prices vary – Details: 305-375-1707  


*Sunday, February 10, 2019

“Seventh Annual South Dade Gospelfest”- 5 p.m.

Co-sponsored by Miami-Dade Commissioners Dennis Moss (District 9) & Daniella Levine (District 8) in conjunction with the Black Affairs Advisory Board & the South Dade Gospelfest Committee

South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center,

10950 SW 211th Street,

Cutler Bay, Florida  33189

Ticketed Event: 786-573-5300


*Thursday February 14, 2019

Valentine’s Pop-Up Shop” #Black Love”

Featuring, Valentine themed gifts, Silent Auction and Pop Up Photo Booth – 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Stephen P. Clark Government Center Lobby, 111 NW 1st Street, Miami, Florida  33128 – 305-375-4606


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Urban Tour Host’s “Little Haiti Tour & Lunch 11 a.m. -2 p.m.

$49.00 per person – Reservations (minimum of 10) – David Brown: 305-416-6868


*February 17, 2019

Sacred Ground:  Lincoln Memorial Cemetery Remembered & Exhibit

Presented by the Black Affairs Advisory Board in conjunction with the Coral Gables Museum

1 p.m. – RSVP required

285 Aragon Ave, Coral Gables, FL 33134 – Details: 305-375-4606


*Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Black Affairs Advisory Board’s Annual Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Career Fair

In conjunction with Miami Dade College’s School of Justice, Public Safety & Law Studies

10 a.m. -1 p.m.

Miami-Dade College, North Campus, 11380 NW 27th Avenue, Room 3249, Miami, Florida 33167

Details: 305-375-4606  –


Friday, February 22, 2019

“Black Migration” Luncheon

Miami International Airport – 12 noon – Concourse D Auditorium – 4th Floor- Details: 305-876-7907


*Saturday, February 23, 2019

Miami-Dade Commissioner Jordan’s Annual “Black Heritage Festival 2019” 12 Noon – 4 p.m.

Co-hosted by City of Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert (featuring African Fashions, dancers, food trucks, entertainment and vendors)

Carol City Park, 3201 NW 185th Street, Miami Gardens, Florida  33056 –

Details: 305-474-3011


Saturday, February 23, 2019

Afri-Fest!  A Celebration of the African Diaspora”- Presented by the Nigerian American Foundation

11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall Social and Economic Center, 5120 NW 24th Ave, Miami, Florida  33136



Thursday, February 28, 2019

Commissioner Jean Monestime’s Black History Month Observance & Senior’s Recognition

12 noon – 2 p.m. – Details: 305-694-2779


*Thursday, February 28, 2019

Black History Month Closeout Celebration 11 a.m.-4 p.m.– Featuring Food Trucks & Entertainment

Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 NW 1st Street, Miami, 305-375-4606



February 1-28, 2019

Black Police Precinct & Courthouse Museum “Red Letter Exhibit” (Open Tuesday-Saturday-10 a.m. – 4 p.m.)

480 NW 11th Street, Miami, Florida  33136 – 305- 329-2513    


February 1-28, 2019

Virginia Key Beach Park Trust Black History Tours – Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. & 2 p.m.

Explore the cultural impact that people of color had on Miami’s early 20th Century history. Check out the first colored beach in Miami Dade County and how it became the paradise it is today.

For more information or to schedule a FREE tour call 305-960-4600 or email



February 1-28, 2018

CHAT Miami Tours

Miami Black Heritage Tour and Tasting – $69.00 per person

Monday and Friday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Month of February) Stephanie Jones 786-507-8500


February 1-28, 2018

The City of North Miami presents a tribute to Black History”

Various events honoring Black History Month – Contact: 305-895-9840



February 5-9, 2019

‘Black Tech Week” – (Various Locations throughout Miami)

Details:  www.bit.lly/blacktechweek2019  Contact:


Saturday, February 9-10, 2019

Annual Trayvon Martin Peace Walk & Gala

March @Carol City Park, 3201 NW 185th Street, Miami Gardens

Dinner @ Double Tree Hotel Miami, 711 NW 72nd Avenue, Miami

Details: 786-504-4235


February 7-24, 2019

The M Ensemble Company’s “Meet Me At The Oak” Theatrical production

Sandrell Rivers Theater @Audrey M. Edmonson Transit Village

6103 NW 7th Avenue, Miami, Florida – Group rates available

Details:  786- 320-5043 or 305-200-5043


February 8-23, 2019

Black Professionals Network Black History Month Events

Various venues & times – Details: 


February 10-16, 2019

Florida Memorial University’s Homecoming & Black History Month Observance

Various events presented by South Florida’s only HBCU (Historically Black College/University)

15800 Northwest 42nd Avenue, Miami Gardens, Florida  33054 – Details:   


February 14-17, 2019

Performances featuring the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’ Black History Month Programming (Ticketed events) 

Box Office 305-949-6722 Toll-Free: 877-949-6722


Thursday, February 21-thru Sun. February 25, 2019

22nd Annual Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival

Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater, 819 NW 2nd Avenue

Details: 786-897-8854

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Aaron Fowler Awarded The 2019 Gwendolyn Knight And Jacob Lawrence Prize By Seattle Art Museum

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) recently announced the selection of mixed-media artist Aaron Fowler as the recipient of the 2019 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize. Major funding for the prize is provided by the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation. Fowler will receive a $10,000 award to further his artistic practice, and his work will be featured in a solo exhibition in SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight & Jacob Lawrence Gallery in fall 2019. 

Awarded bi-annually since 2009 to an early career Black artist, defined loosely as an artist in the first decade of their career, the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize has become a platform for catapulting artists into the influential vanguard of contemporary artistic practice. Previous recipients of the prize are Titus Kaphar (2009), Theaster Gates (2011), LaToya Ruby Frazier (2013), Brenna Youngblood (2015), and Sondra Perry (2017). 

Based in Harlem, Los Angeles, and St. Louis, Aaron Fowler makes large-scale sculptural assemblages composed of a wide range of found materials. With references to American history, Black culture, and real and imagined narratives, each work is densely layered with meaning and materiality. From ironing boards and car parts to hair weaves and videos, Fowler’s work is imbued with multivalent narratives that compel the viewer to take their time looking. Employing compositional approaches akin to 19th- and 20th-century American and European paintings, Fowler references family, friends, and himself in works that are at once universal and deeply personal. 

Fowler’s fall 2019 solo exhibition at SAM will be curated by Sandra Jackson-Dumont, Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chairman of Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and SAM’s former Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs/Adjunct Curator in Modern and Contemporary Art.

“I am thrilled to see what Aaron dreams up for his installation at SAM,” says Jackson-Dumont. “Aaron Fowler’s sculptural assemblages are infused with personal meaning while calling attention to a range of complex concerns, issues, and ideas—not the least of which include American history, identity issues, Black experiences, and hip hop. His monumental mixed-media work will consume the galleries, but moreover it will take over viewers’ hearts and minds.” 

Fowler received his MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2014 and his BFA from the Pennsylvania Academy Fine Arts in 2011. He was an artist-in-residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2014 and was the recipient of the Rema Host Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant in 2015. 

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Higher Plans

When Charley Pride’s voice first hit the radio waves in the mid-1960s, no one in the listening audience knew he was black. How could they know? There were few country music visuals back in the day — no music videos, no channels dedicated to the genre, no television shows.
Country music wasn’t exactly mainstream then and TV shows based in New York or Los Angeles paid little attention to what was happening in places like Memphis and Nashville — except when Elvis Presley exploded onto the scene and the world was introduced to Tupelo, Mississippi.
However, another meteoric Mississippi phenomenon was about to take shape in the form of an unassuming young man whose first love was baseball, Charley Pride.
As one of 11 children born to poor sharecroppers in Sledge, Mississippi, Pride’s career as a ballplayer took shape in the late 1950s with the Negro American League, minor league and semi-pro ballclubs. He sang and played guitar on the team bus between ballparks. He would join various bands onstage as he and the team roved around the country, but a musical career wasn’t part of his plan — then fate stepped up to bat.
In 1960, Pride moved to Montana to play for the Missoula Timberjacks in the Pioneer League, but ended up working at a smelter operated by the Anaconda Mining Company and playing for its semi-pro baseball team.
He also began making a name for himself as a music performer by singing the national anthem at baseball games and performing at honky-tonks and nightclubs in the Helena, Anaconda and Great Falls areas. A local disc jockey introduced Pride to country singers Red Sovine and Red Foley in 1962. They invited him to join them to perform “Heartaches By The Number” and “Lovesick Blues” during one of their shows. This brief encounter changed everything.
After a disastrous 1963 tryout with the New York Mets in Clearwater, Florida, it became clear that a major league baseball career was not in the cards. Pride returned to Montana via a stop in Tennessee to Cedarwood Publishing, the company that booked Sovine’s shows.
From the bus station in Nashville, Pride walked straight over to the Cedarwood office and by sheer luck met Jack Johnson, who had been actively searching for a promising black country singer.
Johnson made a simply produced recording of Pride performing a couple of songs and then drove him straight back to the bus station with the promise of a management contract.
A black artist in Nashville at the time was a novelty and a tough sell.
In 1965, Pride returned to Nashville and Johnson introduced him to producer Jack Clement. Clement gave Pride several songs to learn and within a week they cut two of them — “The Snakes Crawl At Night” and “Atlantic Coastal Line” during an afternoon studio session with top-notch session players. Even with professionally produced demos, shopping Pride around town was still difficult, until the suits heard him sing. His smooth baritone vocals convinced them to take a chance.
Legendary guitarist Chet Atkins was the first to trust his ears in 1966, and signed Pride to RCA Records. Atkins took Pride under his wing, nurtured his talent and oversaw a shrewd promotional campaign that successfully navigated the racial challenges of mid-1960s America. “Just Between You and Me” caught fire in 1967, breaking into the Top 10 country chart and garnering Pride his first Grammy nomination — and people loved what they were hearing, possibly creating one of the first examples of acceptance.
What happened next is country music history. Pride quickly became the genre’s first African-American superstar. Between 1967 and 1987, he amassed no fewer than 52 Top-10 country hits and went on to sell tens of millions of records worldwide.
In 1971, Pride won two Grammy Awards related to his Gospel album Did You Think to Pray. Later that year, his No. 1 crossover hit “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’ ” sold over a million singles and helped him to win the Country Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year” award and the “Top Male Vocalist” awards of 1971 and 1972. It also brought him a “Best Male Country Vocal Performance” Grammy Award in 1972.
Some of Pride’s unforgettable hits include “All I Have To Offer You Is Me,” “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone,” “Mississippi Cotton Pickin’ Delta Town,” “Burgers And Fries,” “Roll On Mississippi” and “Mountain Of Love.”
Pride sees all of that success through the eyes of humility and gratitude, crediting all of it to those who guided his path. He’s known his share of hardship and hard work, but he’s not one for seeing life in any kind of a negative light. He takes it all in stride, including his introduction into the Nashville music scene of the 1960s.
“It was going pretty good, but there was some doubtful people,” Pride said. “Once they heard my voice, they said, ‘we don’t care if he’s pink, I like his voice’ — people in Nashville, and actually my fans afterwards said that. I was 18 or 19 years old when I was playing baseball, that’s how I was going to make my mark, so for people to take a chance on me, I’ve been blessed.”
Pride has a special place in his heart for Atkins, mostly because he was a man of his word.
“I was always in awe of him,” he said. “I think he sometimes wondered why he was so big in this business, but when a man sits down and tells you he’s going to get you on RCA and took the demo out to all the big wigs and got me on the label, I know why he was so respected. He’s one of most iconic and finest guitar pickers in the entire world. That’s just the way it was and I was still in awe of him until he passed away.”
Pride didn’t worry about being offended when statements like “he doesn’t sound black” were on a lot of people’s lips at the time.
“I grew up in Mississippi, so I didn’t have much to think about other than the way the culture was at that time,” he said. “I just maneuvered around and was the staunch American I’ve always been and it’s worked out fine.”
Pride broke musical barriers and racial barriers, just doing what he loved to do, sing. Everything else was in the hands of a higher power, as far as he is concerned.
“I didn’t plan it,” Pride said. “Baseball was where I was gonna make it, I’m just glad He blessed me with a voice to be able to be where I am today.”
As a fresh face on the country music scene, Pride received a lot of advice, and he listened to all of it with an open mind and a strong sensibility of which people had his best interests at heart.
“I got a lot from different people,” he said. “There was a guy named Connie B. Gay who was in the business — he knew a lot about country music, and he might of handled some acts, but he walked up to me when I signed with my manager, Jack Johnson, and he said, ‘Charley, there’s gonna be people comin’ up to you and they’re gonna be telling you they can do better than what you got right now, and you’ve got a fat contract signed. Just tell them you don’t know how to write, and you don’t know nothing, so go to him,’ meaning Jack.
“Mostly Jack was the one that guided me,” he added. “We were probably the best one-two artist-manager punch in Nashville during the 11 years we were together.”
Johnson’s advice came in handy when Pride first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry back in the ’60s.
“When I first went on the Grand Ole Opry, it was Jan. 7, 1967,” he said. “Ernest Tubb brought me on, but I didn’t join until 1993. People said, ‘they finally let you in,’ but, no, no, no, I had a standing invitation to be a member from that point on when Ernest brought me on.
“Jack Johnson said, ‘Charley, you can join the Opry, but they got a criteria,’” Pride said. “I didn’t even know what that meant, when I was picking cotton, but you learn as you go. At that time it was a good thing to advertise when you were going out and doing shows to be a Grand Ole Opry member because it was prestige.
“He said, ‘you don’t want to join now, and I’ll tell you why. You have to give up 26 Saturdays to sign with them. That’s half of your year where you get the best money you can get.’ When he explained that to me, I thought, ‘I’m going to listen to that.’
“In 1993, my wife Rozene said, ‘this ain’t no criteria thing, you’re going to join the Grand Ole Opry.’ Boom, that’s when I went.”
His most humbling moment was also a moment in music history — when Pride was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, a secret at the time that everyone was in on but him.
“I was aware that we were moving from the small Hall of Fame to the big one, so Faron Young and I were to go up on stage as part of a program to announce that change. I have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I have three Grammys and now I belong to the Grand Ole Opry, but now the most humbling thing — I got my two grand boys in Nashville and I’m standing backstage with Brenda Lee and Bud Wendell who’s getting ready to talk about Faron Young. He’s telling how Faron is getting ready to go into the Hall of Fame. I have moved some things from the little hall to the big one, and I saw that Brenda had her little piece of paper and Bud has his. I asked where mine was so I wouldn’t forget anything.
“She said all they’re going to ask you is what the difference is between going from the little hall of fame to the big one. I didn’t know too much other than it’s bigger,” he added. “But then she goes out and says, ‘ladies and gentlemen, he was born in Sledge, Mississippi, bought his first guitar from Sears Roebuck’… see I’m getting chill bumps on my arm now when I talk about it. My feet barely moved and I couldn’t talk…
“Then it dawns on me, for a whole month, my wife, my guy that did my bookings, my road manager — all of them knew. ”
Pride’s biggest achievements in life don’t sit on a mantle in his home.
“Just being able to stay myself and not lose everything, or get the big head and think I’m something that I’m not means a lot to me,” he said. “Some people say, ‘Charley, you’re a legend.’ Well, legend to me is when you done did it and gone up there with him, with the Master. Then they say, ‘you’re a living legend,’ well, I don’t mind hearing it then.”


E Center at the Edgewater

Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” page 5 for ticket info

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Indomitable: African American artists in ‘On Their Own Terms’ at UA Little Rock

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click to enlarge Amy Sherald's "Wellfare Queen." 2012, 54 by 43 inches, oil on canvas. Collection of Dr. Imani Perry, courtesy Monique Meloche Gallery.

  • Amy Sherald’s “Wellfare Queen.” 2012, 54 by 43 inches, oil on canvas. Collection of Dr. Imani Perry, courtesy Monique Meloche Gallery.

The New York Herald writer who said in an article in 1867 that African Americans could not produce art was ignorant of the work of such talents as Edward Bannister, Robert Scott Duncanson, Charles Ethan Porter or Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Even today, African-American artists are underrepresented in the collections of major American museums: An analysis by artnet news published in September found that museum acquisitions of African-American art is less than 3 percent of total purchases. Decades after Bannister, who, fired up over the Herald article, won a spot in an important Philadelphia exhibition, there were museums that still turned blacks away at the door. (Philadelphia exhibitors almost removed the Bannister work when they discovered he was black.)

UA Little Rock is, once again, proving the folly of ignoring African-American art, with the exhibition “On Their Own Terms,” which opened Jan. 17 at UA Little Rock’s Windgate Center of Art and Design.

UA Little Rock gallery director Brad Cushman pulled together 50 works by some of America’s finest black artists — including Bannister, Duncanson, Porter and Tanner — for a show that celebrates the work of fine artists who share an affinity born of life experience.
“On Their Own Terms” is not an investigation into whether there is such a thing as “black art.” That’s a question for philosophers. Black culture and racism is, understandably, central to these modern and contemporary works, as issues of social justice have always found expression in art.

Cushman created “On Their Own Terms” with work from 13 collections, both public and private. The Arkansas Arts Center contributed 16 works, including a graphite work of a drawn and beleaguered woman by the great Elizabeth Catlett, a charcoal portrait of a 19th century figure drawn on a circle of wood by contemporary artist Whitfield Lovell and a tall quilted portrait in pieced indigo denim by Bisa Butler. Darrell and Linda Walker contributed six works; six others are from UA Little Rock’s permanent collection.

The show includes paintings, prints, mixed media works and sculpture. Besides the historical paintings are modern works, including a jazzy expressionist collage by Benny Andrews and serigraph of musicians by Romare Bearden; and contemporary works, such as two large, forceful portraits of steely-gazed men by Alfred Conteh; an amusing crayon and charcoal portrait by African-American identity commentator Kerry James Marshall; a book of silhouettes by narrative artist Kara Walker; a large oil stick drawing of a woman, absent her head, in 19th century garb by Whitfield Lovell; an ironic painting of crowned woman by Michelle Obama portraitist Amy Sherald; and quilt artist Bisa Butler, as well as other stars in the firmament of black American artists.

The Arkansans in the show — retired UA Little Rock instructors Aj Smith, Marjorie Williams-Smith and David Clemons; Justin Bryant of Little Rock and former UA Little Rock instructor Delita Martin (who lives in Texas but is claimed by Arkansas) — hold their own with nationally lauded artists.

In 2009, the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School, Cushman put on the exhibition “Taking Possession,” a show that highlighted black contemporary art by satirical painter Robert Colescott, sound-suit maker Nick Cave, mixed media sculptor Faith Ringgold, photographer Carrie Mae Weems and others. When the show went up, Cushman got a call from Darrell Walker, the former Razorback and pro basketball player and art collector (and now UA Little Rock basketball coach). “He said, ‘You’re putting all my friends in an exhibit and we should be friends,’ ” Cushman said, and the men began an 11-year conversation about art by African Americans.

In 2017, Dr. Lynne Larson, assistant professor of art history at UA Little Rock, told Cushman she was going to teach a survey course on African-American art, and asked if he could curate an exhibition to support it. As it happened, Garbo Hearne, co-owner of Hearne Fine Art with her husband, Dr. Archie Hearne, had asked Cushman if he’d be interested in exhibiting works by Duncanson, Tanner and other early black pioneers at UA Little Rock. “I said, ‘Yes, I would,” Cushman told the Times, “but I’d like to activate that work with modern and contemporary work,’ and Garbo said, ‘Tell me more.’ ” Cushman began investigating the works held by the Arkansas Arts Center, UA Little Rock and Walker.

Along the way, Cushman went to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville to hear a talk by Amy Sherald. He introduced himself afterward and asked if the university could borrow one of her works for the show. Dropping Darrell Walker’s name didn’t hurt; now the show includes Amy Sherald’s “Wellfare Queen,” provided by a private collector from Princeton University.

Mixed media artist Delita Martin was quoted in a recent article in “Pressing Matters” as saying, “I’m very much interested in reconstructing the identity of African-American women, particularly, offering a different narrative to the stereotypes you see in media.” She contributes to the show “The Dinner Table,” an installation of portraits of Martin’s female family and friends done with china marker on plates and hung around a table. The work is undeniably a nod to white artist Judy Chicago, but it is Catlett to whom Martin feels a kinship, she told Cushman.
“On Their Own Terms” is hung to illustrate the tendrils that connect the artists. The first works on entering the main gallery are Catlett’s drawing “Newspaper Vendor”; Sherald’s “Wellfare Queen,” a large-scale painting of a woman in a tiara and purple sash; and the many portraits of women in Martin’s “Dinner Table.”

Cushman has also paired Aj Smith’s larger-than-life and amazing graphite drawing “Faces of the Delta Series: Mr. Q.T., WWII Vet,” with “Portrait of a Model,” a collage of an insouciant fellow by Benny Andrews. Both are images of men, but the greater connection is that it was Andrews who encouraged Smith to move from New York to Arkansas for a job. A third stunning mixed-media work by Alfred Conteh, “Will,” joins the male portrait lineup.

In the small gallery on the first floor, Kehinde Wiley’s “Peter Chardon Study,” a watercolor of a man against a floral field, is paired with David Clemons’ steel caged teapot sculpture “The Trees We Construct to Conceal Our Strange Fruit.” Also in the small gallery, Cushman has grouped Henry Tanner’s quiet drawing “Christ at the Home of Mary” (1905); Robert Pruitt’s in-your-face charcoal and conte crayon “Black Jesus” (2016); and folk artist Bessie Harvey’s “Whore of Babylon” (n.d.), an amalgamation of red-painted wood, glitter and beads from Cushman and husband Bobby’s own collection.

Others who contributed work from their collections are Karen and C.J. Duvall, Pamela and Anthony Vance, Karen and Kevin Cole, Aj Smith, Delita Martin, Dr. Imani Perry, Monique Meloche Gallery and Pierrette Van Cleve.

The opening reception for the exhibition is 5-7 p.m. Feb. 1. Juan Rodriguez of New York, who with Garbo Hearne loaned the many historic paintings to “On Their Own Terms,” will give a talk at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 5 in the Windgate Center.

Galleries are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday and 2-5 p.m. Sunday. The exhibition will run through March 10.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

What to know about the Ariana Grande 7 Rings controversy

It started off so well. Ariana Grande released her hit ode to her various exes, Thank U, Next, three months ago. The song was an instant hit, dominating the end of the year charts. Grande released Imagine on Dec. 14, 2018, which did well. The song was no instant hit, but it was in the United States Billboard Top 100. Her newest song 7 Rings dropped only 4 days ago, and is already massively popular, however it’s also been highly controversial. Where did Ari go wrong? Here is the hot tea on the Ariana Grande 7 Rings scandal.

Ariana Grande 7 Rings controversy explained

As soon as the song dropped, some fans argued on whether the hit song was cultural appropriation. Unfortunately, this tradition usually involved white people adopting elements of black culture, but it can be about any culture that is exploited. In the case of the Ariana Grande 7 Rings scandal, the music video promo featured Asian lettering with no obvious ties to Grande nor the song.

Many fans speculate it was done for the “aesthetic.” Buzzfeed reported that one fan tweeted it was “exploiting Japanese/East Asian culture.” Grande’s song also includes the lyric,“You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it,” which struck fans as appropriating weaves, a cultural tie specifically done by African Americans.

Black artists such as Princess Nokia, Soulja Boy and 2Chainz accused Grande that her song sounded similar to their own songs. Mine, Pretty Boy Swag and Spend it, respectively. The accusation that Grande is appropriating music from black artists is a particularly sensitive topic, given that stealing music from black artists is where the tradition of cultural appropriation started.

ariana grande 7 rings

Ariana Grande responds to 7 Rings controversy

After the backlash, Grande re-posted a screenshot on Instagram of Aminatou Sow. “You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it, white women talking about their weaves is how we’re gonna solve racism,” writes Sow. Grande interpreted this compliment as genuine, when it was perhaps meant to be sarcastic.

She later deleted her repost, which another Instagram account known as The Shade Room caught anyway. This only exacerbated the problem as many of her fans thought that Grande was inferring that a white woman would solve racism.

Ariana Grande’s apology for 7 Rings

After The Shade Room reposted her photo, Grande wrote an apology. “Hi hi,” the singer writes. “I think her intention was to be like… yay a white person disassociating the negative stariotype [sic] that is paired with the word ‘weave’… however I’m so sorry my response was out of pocket or if it came across the wrong way. Thanks for opening the conversation and like… to everyone for talking to me about it. It’s never my intention to offend anybody.” Her apology garnered different reactions from fans. Some fans thought there didn’t need to be an apology, others found the apology lackluster.

What do you think of the Ariana Grande 7 Rings controversy? Is Grande appropriating or are people overreacting? That is up to you to decide.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Interview with Seattle Artist Juan Alonso-Rodríguez Curator of Re:defnition that he has installed at the Paramount Theater Lobby Bar opening this Sunday at 6PM!

If you have paid any attention to the art world in Seattle, or if you have been to the Tashiro-Kaplan artist lofts you must know the work of amazing artist Juan Alonso-Rodríguez, one of the most amazing, prolific and motivating artists in the area.  I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Alonso-Rodríguez on the eve of the important exhibition Re:defnition that he has installed at the Paramount Theater Lobby Bar and which is opening this Sunday!

So let’s begin, please take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers and please also describe your artwork for us.

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez:  My name is Juan Alonso-Rodríguez. I am a cuban-born, self-taught visual artist living in Seattle since 1982, via Miami, San Francisco & Key West.

My art is my meditation. Whether I am working on an on-going series, a public project or experimenting with something new, making art in my studio is where I find comfort, peace and distraction from the world’s many problems. It is my way of balancing some of humanity’s ugliness with something created with the intent of providing beauty.

Aquamarine (diptych), 2018, acrylic on 2 wood panels, 48″ x 36″ each panel.

I work primarily with acrylics and my work is mostly abstract. Color, textures and finishes play important parts in my work. It is influenced by way too many things that change daily, according to what is happening in the world, to mention but there are a few constants: architecture, nature, balance, human emotion and perceived symmetry. Above all, the work is meditative.

Xavier:  That is awesome.  I have read that you are self-taught.  How did your art career begin?  When did you first start to make artwork and has it always been abstract?  What is it that has drawn you to abstraction–is it purely for the meditation?

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez: I am self-taught. Creativity has always been part of my life. From drawing to using clay to create figurines as a kid, the act of making is something I have always enjoyed. When I moved to Seattle, I was very excited about the adventure of starting a new life here. Because I wanted to be surrounded with art but could not afford to buy any, I decided that I’d create some myself. I preferred having anything original to buying meaningless poster art. My first job here was at Park Lane Framing in Belltown, so I brought in the work I had created to be framed since I had a discount to do so. The owner of the frame shop, Dan Michelson, liked what he saw and asked if I would hang some of it on the shop walls to see what his customers would think of it. People began to take notice and because he framed for a lot of designers and for some galleries, I started getting their attention as well. One gallery close by (I can’t remember its name) asked if I would show some paintings there. That was the first time I showed in a gallery which closed soon after but not before  I had gotten the taste of showing my work. they were also very encouraging and gave me some tips on how to create a resume. I was then, as I am now, making some abstract work as well as some botanical and figurative paintings.

Crepúsculo, 2018, acrylic on wood panel, 48″ x 48″.

For me, abstraction is a way to filter a lot of thoughts and stimulation into something clearer. It’s a distilling process that happens in my head and it is ultimately my best meditative practice. Some times I have to step out of it in order to recharge and let new raw materials enter the grinder.

Xavier:  that is wonderful. So, actually, strangely, I don’t get to interview abstract artists as much as I’d like to. How does the abstract artwork communicate with the viewer, at what level and how would you like the viewer to engage the work.

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez:  I think there are way more possibilities for abstract work to communicate with an audience, even if at the same time, the communication might be more contentious. Abstraction lends itself more to interpretation and/or projecting certain feelings, as opposed to the directness coming from representational work. I actually like the fact that some works have such varied interpretations, even if they don’t coincide with my original intentions. I may try to funnel and project an idea or feeling through the work but everyone brings their own experience when viewing it. I think the energy is there but it varies some with every individual. It is less direct: more of a suggestion than a demand.

Xavier:  I agree!  It seems like the conversation between the artwork. Artist and viewer is less directed–less one-sided with abstraction, that it allows for a more natural give-and-take.

Can you tell me about some of the things that you are currently working on?  What does the present and future look like for Juan Alonso-Rodriguez?

Llano, 2018, acrylic on wood panel, 48″ x 48″.

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez:  Right at the moment, I am in the middle of installing Part 1 of Re:defnition at the Paramount Theater Lobby Bar. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to curate two shows during the year. I’m focusing on local, unrepresented Latinx artists. The first half, which lasts until July, opens free to the public on Sunday, January 20th from 6-10pm. It includes visual art by Monica Arche and Fulgencio Lazo and a new commissioned poem by Felicia Gonzalez.  (Here is more information:

STG Presents – Re:definition

Official website and ticket source for The Paramount, Moore and Neptune Theatres, owned and operated by Seattle Theatre Group.

Once that is done, I will get back into the studio and continue to work on a series of “horizon” paintings. They are acrylic on unprimed canvas and take the meditative part of my work to a new level.

I am also trying to organize another retreat in the California desert for the month of May. Last year I had the opportunity to create a bunch of new drawings based on some of the shapes I found on my desert hikes. I want to go back and continue what I started. I think some metal sculptures will come out of that series of drawings.

Orilla, 2018, acrylic on wood panel, 54″ x 84″.

Xavier:  So tell me a bit about Re:Definition.  What is it and how did you choose the artists you included?  What can people expect to see at the exhibition and what else should folks know about it?

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez:   I have worked in metal before. When I was in my late teens to early twenties I worked for my uncle who owned a wrought iron shop. Eventually I managed his aluminum railing portion of the business. More recently, I have designed outdoor, public art sculptures (link here: but due to a lack of proper space and tools, they have been fabricated by others, not me.

After Re:definition 2016 focusing on African-American artists and 2017 on Native artists, I was asked to join the curatorial team consisting of Tariqa waters and Tracy Rector to curate the Theater’s 90th Anniversary exhibit in 2018. At the end of 2018, I was asked to curate two shows for this year and I really wanted to bring attention to some very fine work done by Latinx immigrant artists living in the Pacific Northwest. I also wanted to lean towards abstraction for the first half of the year. Besides personally relating to it, I wanted to start out by planting the idea that there is no one Latinx type of art. I think many groups get stereotyped to satisfy what mainstream is comfortable with.

I have personally been excluded from showing because according to the organizer, my work didn’t seem Latino enough. I want to break through that concept. We come from many different countries and diverse cultures. There is no one style we need to subscribe to. I also wanted to include the written word in the exhibit because…why not?

Hoody, 2017, stainless steel, 138″ x 63″ x 79″,
Commissioned by Washington State Arts Commission for Renton Technical College,

Xavier:  Yes, I feel like it is very tempting for Latino artists to give in to expectation at the expense of making work that explores their own individuality or even their experience of life on this earth outside of doing stereoptypical Latino work,  I very much feel you.  I have had much of the same problem with my work since the very beginning–continuing through to today–my work has been deemed to be not Latino enough, but I personally believe that that is changing little by little and that it is paramount for Latino artists to make the work that is important to them as individuals–I firmly believe to borrow a term from our brothers and sisters that “individual lives of color matter.”  Having said that, what do you believe it means to be a Latina/x/o artist in this day and age?  What are our responsibilities and what goals do you believe we should have collectively and individually as artists in this era?

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez:  I think the best things we can do are to make good work, show up, be present, be counted, be heard, educate every chance we get, support each other, keep forging ahead even when it requires super-human strength to do so. There are so many misconceptions and stereotypes that people have been and continue to be fed that just when you think you’ve debunked some, a few more pop up. We have to unify because there is strength in numbers and numbers we do have. We need to be proud of our cultural richness without fear. We need to walk proudly knowing that when we create and show our best, is when we are contributing most to ALL of society because by sharing our talent, our art, our culture; we literally make it better. We can no longer be gas-lighted into seeing ourselves as victims or “less-than”.

Xavier:  Do you have a website and where can people find your work?  Also, if you have anything you’d like to add, anything you feel that others should know about your work or that you would like us to think about, the floor is yours!

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez:  My studio is always open by appointment. I am also represented by Jorge Mendez Gallery ( in Palm Springs, CA and by Wendy Frieze ( in Minneapolis, MN. My website is

Sentinels, 2011, stainless steel, 8′ x 3′ x 6″ each.
Commissioned by Washington State Arts Commission
for Chief Sealth International High School in partnership with Seattle Public Schools

I often wonder if people think just how much they are affected in their daily lives by art and artists, even if you never visit a museum or go to the opera or read a novel. A city and its culture is only as good as the contributions made by its creative people. As I recently asked on social media, “What would Paris, Rome, New York & London be like without ART?”

Xavier:  And I understood that to be saying that if we ever want to see Seattle become legendary that we need to better invest in the arts–is that too far off the mark?

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez:   Not off the mark at all!

Xavier:  Are there any things that you would like to see happen in Seattle in the arena of the arts?

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez:     I’d love to see private developers and large corporations that are making the most money on the backs of Seattleites to be more accountable when it comes to the arts and culture of Seattle. I would like the 1% for art mandated on buildings paid with public money to be extended to private developments of  over a specific size or dollar amount. I would like to see local media (TV, newspapers, radio) cover the arts. It used to happen at one point. It wasn’t enough then but now we barely have any coverage at all.

Indigo Flow 9, 2018, acrylic on unprimed canvas, 42” x 42”.

Xavier:  From your mouth to God’s ear as they say!  Thank you so much for taking the time out of your incredibly busy schedule to talk with me and good luck at the opening–when is that again?  This Sunday?  And where again?

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez:    Sunday the 20th at 6pm at the Paramount Theater downtown Seattle. Please come!

And you are quite welcome. Thanks for letting me be a part of your series!

Xavier:  Of course!  It is I who am thankful that you are part of it!

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Ariana Grande Mum On Allegedly Ripping Off Nokia for ‘7 Rings’

Ariana Grande Mum On Allegedly Ripping Off Nokia for ‘7 Rings’

1/19/2019 11:51 AM PST


11:40 AM PT — Ariana’s single, “7 Rings,” has apparently broken a streaming numbers record — the most streamed song on Spotify within the first 24 hours, according to her manager Scooter Braun

She still hasn’t directly responded to the accusations of ripping off Princess Nokia and other black artists for her new track, but it seems like people are digging the song regardless. 

Ariana Grande smiled but had nothing to say about claims she ripped off another artist in the creation of her latest song, “7 Rings.”

We got Ariana Friday night in L.A. leaving Rockwell Table and Stage, and had nothing to say about Princess Nokia‘s claim the lyrics to “7 Rings” are way too similar to her song, “Mine,” from her mixtape “1992.”

Ariana’s lyrics — “My wrists, stop watchin’, my neck is flossin’ / Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin’ / You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it / I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.”

Nokia’s lyrics — “Rock my many styles then go natural for the summer / Hair blowing in the Hummer / Flip the weave, I am stunner / It’s mine, I bought it / It’s mine, I bought it.”

Ariana perks up a little when we congratulate her on Coachella, waving as she drives away in the night.

Originally Published — 7:36 AM PST 

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

How Tarell Alvin McCraney Moved from ‘Moonlight’ to Broadway — and Beyond

I was impressed by how long Tarell Alvin McCraney was willing to sit in silence until I asked him something. When I first met him, on the campus of Yale University, where he is chairman of the playwriting program — one of the most exclusive in the country, admitting only three students each year — it struck me that he was, if not distant, then at the very least aloof. Small talk was made and pleasantries exchanged, but I couldn’t help noticing that there was not much eye contact. At first I attributed this to normal self-consciousness, but as the day progressed it occurred to me that it might be a kind of honesty: He wouldn’t do me or himself the disrespect of offering a charm performance. He simply said it was nice to meet me and suggested we get a bite at a nearby Cuban restaurant. Once there, he looked over the menu for not long at all before ordering the eggplant steak and then, as if on impulse, an empanada de guayaba and a cafe con leche. He would drink the coffee but would have the empanada boxed up to share, he said, with his students.

Then came the silence. It seemed that he might have sat there all day had I let him, quietly content, thinking about various plays, or current events, or music, or film. Instead, I started to explain how much the film “Moonlight” — based on a script McCraney wrote in his early 20s, for which he would ultimately win an Oscar — meant to me. I told him that I grew up in circumstances that allowed me to relate to its central character. And it was here that McCraney began asking the questions, leaning slightly forward over the table, regarding me with patient but curious eyes: Where were my people from, what was their world like, how did my father fit in if at all, which plays did I perform in during high school, what did my mother think of my performances? He was a near balance of observer and observed, 60 percent admirer, 40 percent work of art.

There were details he would recall and bring up long after this meeting. Three weeks later, he would make a joke that showed he remembered my birthday. This is normally the stuff of politicians — a parlor trick of remembering details, of making others feel as if they have your care and attention. But with McCraney it does not feel performative. He has a way of understanding and respecting the stories of anyone he chooses: my story, the stories of the characters in his scripts and plays, the stories of the graduate students he spends his days teaching. He asks questions that draw you into relief against your background and show you not only your own beauty but also his. This, it seems, is one of the ways he has learned to navigate a treacherous world and stay intact, or as intact as a queer black man can be in America.

The McCraney Literary Universe is a large one: He is 38 and has seen eight plays produced, written two screenplays, won a MacArthur genius grant and adapted Shakespeare for the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. (When I asked what made him like theater when he first encountered it, he replied: “I don’t necessarily know if I like it now” — but “the drive to do it is innate.”) If you want to write about this universe, you must be comfortable using the word “beautiful.” In McCraney’s work, the beauty of blackness is a praxis unto itself, the method by which larger theories about life are made manifest. The full, original title of the screenplay that became “Moonlight” was “In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” The film, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2017, wasn’t just about the beauty of its characters but about the way they fight a losing battle against that beauty — how they try to beat it out of themselves and one another. The central conflict is that of a character trying to find harmony between who he is and who he is expected to be, a struggle that is, for many black men, not a theoretical matter but a violent, corporeal one.

The same ideas recur in “Choir Boy,” the queer coming-of-age tale that marked McCraney’s Broadway debut when it opened at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in early January. This story, too, sits amid one of the primary contradictions of black American maleness: To be black and fully realized is to be beautiful. But to be beautiful is to be wanted, which, in America, is to be unsafe.

McCraney was raised in a working-class family in Liberty City, a five-square-mile section of northwest Miami that is home to one of the largest black populations in Florida. His mother struggled with drug addiction for the entirety of his upbringing, ultimately succumbing to AIDS-related conditions when McCraney was 22. His future collaborator Barry Jenkins, who directed “Moonlight,” was just a year older, raised just a few miles away, also by a mother struggling with addiction.

[Read Angela Flournoy’s profile of Barry Jenkins, the director of “Moonlight.”]

From the beginning, McCraney says, he was obsessed with telling stories. He credits his grandfather, who was a Baptist minister, for deepening his understanding of the spiritual power of narrative. Growing up alongside immigrants from Haiti and Cuba also meant McCraney was exposed to the Orishas, the pantheon of gods in the Yoruba religion, a West African theology that has found expression in the Caribbean and across the African diaspora. The stories of the Orishas, like those of the Greek gods, comprise a veritable soap opera of betrayals, heartbreaks, love affairs and tragic flaws. Their influence on McCraney was meaningful enough that he would one day write a trilogy of dramas, “The Brother/Sister Plays,” based on Orisha stories.

McCraney’s academic potential was recognized early. In middle school, he found himself tracked into a magnet program that let him focus on literature and performing arts. Thus began a long stretch of working in spaces where McCraney was either the only black person present or one of very few — an experience that strikes him as something of a doubtful advantage. “You’re told, ‘You’ve got this special gift, this thing that will cure you of your blackness,’ ” he says. “But then they use that same information to castigate and diminish your people. So now you’re alone and can’t relate to nobody. So what do you actually win?”

As a teenager, he became politically active through street theater, working on community plays designed to raise awareness of H.I.V. testing and education. He carried this political view of theater to DePaul University in Chicago. It was in Chicago, in the early 2000s, that he auditioned for a show by the director and playwright Tina Landau, of Steppenwolf Theater, who would become his most frequent collaborator: By her count, they’ve done 12 productions together since they first met. “He was just this beautiful, startling young man with lots of depth and mystery,” she says. Years later, when he approached her to direct one of his plays, she was struck by the power of his writing. His stories, she says, “on the one hand, have not been told — because the details, the specifics, are so of his real life and the lives of his characters — and at the same time they operate on this very fundamental — what’s the word I’m looking for — on an ur level.”

Jeremy Pope, left, and John Clay III in ‘‘Choir Boy,’’ which opened on Broadway on Jan. 8.CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

After DePaul, McCraney took a year off, during which he traveled to Georgia to bury his mother and worked briefly in Miami theater. Then he took his talents to Yale, as a student in the same graduate playwriting program he now oversees. Part of his application was an early version of the script for “Moonlight,” a largely autobiographical story written around the time of his mother’s death. It was the overwhelming intensity of his emotions at the time, he thinks, that created the heightened poetry of the film. He was unlikely, he told me, to write anything quite like that in the future. “I was 23 when I wrote that. I don’t want to be 23 again. I don’t want to be in that much pain ever again.”

If beauty is the pillar at one end of his work, pain is at the other. McCraney digs unflinchingly into the suffering that pulses at the center of his character’s lives. I asked him about the concern some black artists and storytellers have — that our work may simply boil down to trading in black pain for rent money. “If the question, for you, about peddling black pain is appropriate,” he replied, “you also have to think to yourself, well, why am I in so much pain?” It doesn’t make sense, he suggested, to demand that an artist produce joy when his or her inner life is still processing grief. He then talked about the rapper Lil Wayne, who famously suffered a gunshot wound at age 12. For years, he said the gun had gone off by accident; only last year did he reveal that the childhood wound was from a suicide attempt. “He talks about the time that he shot himself because it still haunts him,” McCraney said. “He woke up in a pool of blood. He’s, like, engaged in that, and going through it. Why is it important for us to be like, ‘Hey, get over that. Where are the dandelions?’ ”

It was not long after McCraney’s graduation from Yale that he mounted his first production at Steppenwolf, became the group’s 43rd member and wrote and directed work for the Public Theater, Center Theater Group and the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he directed interpretations of “Hamlet” and “Antony and Cleopatra.” “The only thing that kept me going,” he told me of that time, thinking of the second play, “was: I’ve got to bring this play back to the little Haitian girls who live across the street from me, who have never seen themselves as royalty.” Around this time, Barry Jenkins came across “Moonlight” and asked McCraney for permission to rework it into a shooting script, prompting McCraney’s first foray into feature film. Steven Soderbergh’s film of McCraney’s second feature, a basketball drama titled “High Flying Bird,” is scheduled for Netflix release in February — and in addition to the Broadway run of “Choir Boy,” the Oprah-led OWN network has ordered a season of McCraney’s first television project, the semi-autobiographical “David Makes Man,” currently filming in Orlando.

Allison Davis, a writer on “David Makes Man,” remembers walking into the writers’ room with some nervousness. “He could have thrown his ego around that room, and it would have been justified,” she told me by phone from Los Angeles. Instead, she was disarmed when McCraney suggested the staff begin by taking an online quiz to determine which Harry Potter house each person would belong to. “Then we started talking about what all the houses represented, and then we started talking about what in our backgrounds made us answer the way we did, and it became this very deep discussion about language and trauma and influences, and we were talking about this for like three hours.”

This ability to merge the mundane with the profound, to draw complex emotions out of many different people and sources, is a hallmark of McCraney’s work. “ ‘David Makes Man’ pulls from so many references,” Davis said. “The Bible is up in there, Yoruba is up in there, Miami street culture is up in there, ball culture is up in there. He weaves it into this wonderful tapestry, and he treats them all with equal reverence.”

“I have never — and I mean this — never encountered a script for television with this depth of value,” says Phylicia Rashad, one of the show’s stars. “Because he is bringing cultural influence that, to my knowledge, has not been seen, but exists.”

There are not many people from Liberty City, Miami, directing for the Royal Shakespeare Company, winning Oscars and administering programs at Yale. McCraney is consistently in rarefied air. This goes beyond W.E.B. Du Bois’s notion of “double consciousness.” To be a black queer man from poverty and enjoy accolades in some of the most exclusory spaces in Western theater doesn’t just call for the maintenance of multiple consciousnesses; it requires a strategy for keeping them working smoothly together. “When people say, ‘I’m tired,’ ” McCraney told me, “it’s not necessarily like, ‘I’ve been working in a cotton field all day.’ There’s tired, like — you just don’t know how much pre-thinking, post-thinking, anxiousness, anxiety, that one has to toggle in order to deal with the United States. Not just white people, but the way that the United States is set up.”

His characters frequently find themselves wrestling with their identities, trying desperately to keep their bearings in a world that offers them little reliable support. “Moonlight” tracked a young boy in Liberty City who’s abused for being gay before he even knows what gay means; he finds temporary solace in a local drug dealer, the first person who cares more about taking care of him than about responding to his still-developing orientation. In a second chapter, the boy, now a teenager, experiences his first love with another boy, after which he meets with even more bullying and violence. He is forced to defend himself, which means closing parts of himself forever. In the third chapter, he is a man — isolated, reticent, guarding his vulnerability with a tool kit composed largely of push-ups, gold teeth and firearms — when a reunion with his teenage love forces him to make a decision about whether he will live and love as a queer man. Part of what makes the film work so exquisitely is the consistent sense of a character’s trying to find alignment with his deepest self while surrounded by limitless opportunities to lie.

In McCraney’s 2016 family drama, “Head of Passes,” Phylicia Rashad starred as the matriarch of a New Orleans family who faces a crisis of faith when a terrible secret is revealed. As rains pour down, causing destruction in the family home, she must make peace with a God who would accept such suffering, while her three children rant and rage toward their own horrifying ends. Comparisons with Shakespeare’s “King Lear” are easy to make, but for McCraney the plot similarities are not the point; the characters are. “That’s an underutilized population of actors,” he says of black women entering late middle age. “There are women her age who don’t get to Lear.” To “Lear,” as a verb, means to take over a stage in your later years and expound upon life’s quandaries. It is assumed of esteemed white male actors that they will age gracefully into such roles, roaring and speechifying and showing their gravity. But where is that space for actors like Phylicia Rashad? “It’s annoying,” McCraney says, “because who better to Lear than these women?”

Perhaps by way of reparations, McCraney gives the play over to Rashad’s character in the second act, granting her 20 full minutes alone onstage to rail against an unforgiving God while the heavens swirl. It is thrilling to see, in part because Rashad is a master of her craft, matching the force of the nature she confronts with the force of the nature within — and in part because, as in “Moonlight,” we are watching a character do everything she can to hold onto a sliver of self amid a sea of violent forces.

These plays are, quite possibly, McCraney’s own sliver of self. While “Moonlight,” “Choir Boy” and “David Makes Man” are more strictly autobiographical, nearly every work he creates contains elements of his experience. His home and neighborhood were destroyed by Hurricane Andrew when he was in middle school, and a frequent aspect of his scripts is use of the pathetic fallacy: The mood of the heavens insists itself into the plot, manifesting the inner lives of his characters. His narratives often feel like stories of mortals adrift against a pantheon of gods who are, if not capricious, deeply flawed and untrustworthy.

In Yoruba lore, one supreme god is Obatala, who typically dresses in white, can appear as either male or female and is the default owner of all souls until those souls are claimed by another Orisha. Obatala is all-powerful, the creator of humankind. But in one instance the god was drunk on wine and made some mistakes in creation. As a result, the experiences of people on earth are sometimes difficult, painful and unfair. For this reason, Obatala looks upon our suffering with extra care and favor. Unlike the Christian God, whose absolution serves as evidence of his faultlessness, Obatala does not grant us charity because we are imperfect. Obatala grants us charity because Obatala is imperfect.

If the playwright is a creator of worlds, he is every bit as forgiving and loving of his subjects as Obatala is. There is a kindness in his treatment of character, a clear love. A major factor in the creation of “Head of Passes,” McCraney told me, his voice raising a couple of pitches, a smile opening up across his face, was that he just loves “seeing black women looking at and talking to black women onstage. There is nothing better.”

On a Saturday morning in December, I arrived at a Manhattan Theater Club studio in a building on West 43rd Street to watch rehearsals for “Choir Boy.” The play tells the story of an openly gay teenage boy, Pharus, who is the head of the prestigious choir at a stalwart all-black boarding academy called the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. His sexuality, as well as his general boldness and impulsivity, puts his relationships — and sometimes his body — at risk, and forces his peers to confront their own loves and insecurities. The music consists entirely of interpolations of Negro spirituals and folk songs like “Rockin’ Jerusalem” and “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” delivered in multipart harmony by the nine actors playing students. In the scene I watched the cast work on, the character of David, played by Caleb Eberhardt, decides to open his heart to another character, which he does by starting off a song, “Motherless Child.” The lyrics — “sometimes I feel like a motherless child/a long way from home” — date back to slavery, and like the words of most spirituals, they have a clear and heavy range of meanings. You can interpret them as personal, spiritual and political, all at once.

All those meanings are at play in the scene. The boys of Drew are, literally, a long way from home. They share showers, sleep in dorm rooms and can call home only once a week. They are left to build themselves out of whatever is in the air: tough but fair headmasters, a dignified but burdensome “black excellence” tradition, a sky full of forceful and conflicting expectations of black masculinity. It is too much and boils over.

Tensions are high among the boys in the locker room, who are still buzzing over a recent near-fight. David, on the way to the shower, stops to sing the first stanza of the song alone, then to a classmate. Then the entire group joins in, sending their voices echoing off unforgiving tile. It is meant to be heart-rending.

The problem, this morning, was that it wasn’t working. The director, Trip Cullman — he most recently directed Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero,” last year — was gamely trying different ways of transitioning into this fraught moment. What if Eberhardt did it from upstage? What if he went halfway off and came back? What if he started quietly and then built?

The playwright was present, wearing a cream-colored cardigan, crisp jeans and gleaming, off-white, all-leather Chuck Taylors, seated at a folding table crowded with script binders and room-temperature coffees. So far, I had heard him say little. But now he asked for the floor. The actors took seats. I noticed I was nervous for him. When the actors are struggling and the director can’t seem to find a solution, you’re forced to ask: Could the problem be the script?

McCraney, right, with his brother Jason in Miami in 1986.CreditFrom Tarell Alvin McCraney

But when McCraney talked, he didn’t talk about the play or the dialogue. Instead, he talked about grief. Casually, as though it were something that just came to his mind. He explained what it felt like to lose his mother at 22. He did not talk about how she died, and he hinted only a little at the complexity of their relationship; this address was not autobiographical. It was to do with emotions. McCraney described how grief lives in a person’s body, how it settles there. He explained its half-life, the unreliable nature of its decay. He talked about the phenomenon, when grieving a loved one, in which you begin to have memories of times after their death that you think they must have been present for. Remember when I won an Academy Award for my movie, and you were so proud? And then he talked about how things like that make you grieve their absence all over again, and how that grief catches you unawares, taking over your body when you least expect it. It sits in a small reservoir beneath your heart. It whispers to you at odd hours and yells at you in quiet ones.

I teared up just a little bit hearing it. My own mother died in my arms almost exactly 10 years earlier. My relationship with her was also complicated. My grief also weaves in and out of being with little explanation or predictability. McCraney was calling something into the room, I might even say invoking it. All that was happening was that he was explaining something about grief — something that he, at age 38, knew, and that the cast, talented black Broadway-level actors/dancers/singers ranging in age from maybe 20 to 25, may not yet have known but were capable of understanding.

When he was done explaining, Eberhadt spoke up. “I have an idea,” he said. “Is it O.K. if I try something?” To which McCraney replied: “It’s your show, man. Absolutely.”

Back to places. The boys were at their fake lockers wearing fake towels; Eberhadt stood upstage, fake shower caddy in hand. Action. He turned downstage, thought about singing to one boy, decided against it. Caught his breath. Blinked. Called out the first word of the song with a force that seemed centuries old. Sometimes. It echoed and landed. There was silence. We felt it in our chests. He continued. Sometimes I don’t know where to go. My mother, my father won’t own me. So I try to make heaven my home.

Now the chorus joined in. It was a youthful mourning, a boyish mourning. A male and adolescent mourning. A black one. A harmonious one. The song grew, the room was filled with it, it cascaded outward, upward from their bodies in clouds of spirit that, if you closed your eyes, you could almost see. When they finished, there was a moment of quiet in the room before the director said, simply: “Yeah. That’s it.”

The moment McCraney lit up the most, smiled the widest, was when we began to talk about Spike Lee. “This man can shoot a film,” he said. “Nobody captures us in a cinematic, moving experience like Spike Lee.” One of his favorites, he told me, was Lee’s sophomore feature, “School Daze,” released in 1988. It’s fair to say I was, as a youth, obsessed with this film: I had entire scenes memorized. I bought a copy of the script and read it late at night by flashlight.

McCraney’s excitement caused me to revisit it. It is just as I remembered it: wild, unclean, slapdash, hyperstylized. It’s a comedy about an uber-woke student at a historically black college — played by a very young Laurence Fishburne — and his battles with a black-and-bougie frat-boy nemesis (Giancarlo Esposito) and his girlfriend (Tisha Campbell). “It’s just extraordinary,” McCraney told me. “If you ever wanted to talk about Spike Lee having a black queer aspect, it’s in ‘School Daze.’ Because even in his endeavor to talk about the binary of colorism, he ends up just exploring everything that’s in the middle.”

The scene McCraney told me he most loved was the jazz and R&B legend Phyllis Hyman’s performance at the school’s homecoming dance. Hyman is an undiluted marvel in all black, crowned by a regal headpiece with a shimmering gemstone in the center. Lee stops time in the film to admire her, matching the camera’s movements to her lithe alto and the warm, velvet delivery of her lyrics. It is a meditation, a reminder of all that we as black people possess, our history, our musicality, the art of it and the refinement of it. Hyman, who was 38 when “School Daze” was released, was an extraordinary talent who never experienced the fame reached by contemporaries like Anita Baker or Whitney Houston, despite being, perhaps, the better singer. When she committed suicide with a cocktail of sleeping pills in her Midtown apartment seven years later, she left a note. “I’m tired,” it said. “I’m tired.” Not working-in-a-cotton-field tired, but pre-thinking, post-thinking, anxiety and suffering and grief tired. Rewatching “School Daze” made me want to hug and protect every single black person on the screen; it made me want to keep Phyllis Hyman alive. It made me want to sing along with the choir in the rehearsal studio. It reminded me that I am not alone in feeling, sometimes, like a motherless child, a long, long way from home.

The emotional stakes for black artists are often so very high. It can be overwhelming to be deeply sensitive, to love your people so much and still watch daily what is done to them. The centuries of pain, the unanswered calls for humanity, the depth of grief sometimes threaten to become too much, too heavy. It is no wonder that there are those among us who take into their mouths entire bottles of sleeping pills or put pistols to their 12-year-old chests until there is no more left to feel.

To love black people immensely, to celebrate our very being as poetry, to lose yourself in our stories, to search them desperately and perpetually for our beauty — at the rehearsal for “Choir Boy,” what I witnessed was a man who has made himself a connoisseur of grief sharing that expertise with a roomful of younger black artists. His power, sure, is that he’s a playwright and that he has, through decades of study and training, built, from the ground up, a container for his mastery of feeling. Understanding and creating stories has been one survival method. But another has been the development of a keen, patient and nearly pansophical emotional intelligence. He has, in a sense, cracked the code on how to remain safe as a beautiful black man, at least for himself. It is, of course, to focus almost entirely on understanding and showing the beauty of others like you.

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Different Ways To See And Be: The Lives Of Joseph Jarman And Alvin Fielder

Two deaths in early January, of percussionist Alvin Fielder and multi-instrumentalist/poet/dramaturge Joseph Jarman, help remind us that artists’ lives shouldn’t be summarized by their documented works alone. Both men made signature contributions to the freedoms and complications that have enriched what we know as jazz, starting more than 50 years ago as founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

That organization, born in Chicago in 1965, aggregated a generation of individuals who challenged assumed aesthetic or entrepreneurial limits on their activities. Its members, such as the late Muhal Richard Abrams and still prolific Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton and Wadada Leo Smith, have earned major awards and academic positions, institutionalizing their innovations. That neither Fielder nor Jarman gained (or pursued) such goals doesn’t mean what they did musically was of less importance – merely that they had other interests at which they also excelled. Their legacies deserve recognition and celebration, the same as if they’d been named MacArthur Fellows or NEA Jazz Masters, awarded Pulitzer Prizes or appointed as tenured faculty.

The AACM first came together as a musicians’ support group, growing out of a Monday night Experimental Band that let musicians hear original compositions for which no commercial bookings were likely. Besides convening like-minded players who collaboratively and competitively nurtured each other, the AACM produced concerts — at which members were expected to serve as staff when not performing — and ran a community-based school that exposed students to new ideas as well as conventional grounding.

At the time of the AACM’s formation, jazz was being advanced by a coterie, based mostly in New York City, enthralled with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler. This new generation had thrown off blues and bebop formulas — involving cyclical chord changes and (usually) steady rhythms — in favor of long, ferociously energetic, unfettered improvisations that channeled resistance, if not outrage, related to the struggles of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. The Chicagoans of the AACM revered those innovators, but took a different tack. They re-emphasized the potential of composition beyond jazz, rock and pop’s generic song forms to frame and balance hard-blowing solo freestyling, introducing unique structures and their own personal vocabularies along the way.

Fielder, 83 when he succumbed to congestive heart failure, pneumonia and a stroke on Jan. 5, was among the earliest “free jazz” drummers, having performed with Sun Ra in Chicago in the late 1950s and recording on Roscoe Mitchell’s seminal Delmark album Sound – the first record that featured AACM musicians – in 1966. Fielder invented his approach to that work without any obvious precedent, and although some of the music was written, he did not have a drum score. Mitchell’s debut comprised twisted, collage-like compositions employing a profoundly wide dynamic range that relied on no discernible meter but held a tense through-line with implicit momentum. Fielder operated mostly as a colorist, juxtaposing a crescendo on a gong, for instance, with a single scrape of a güiro. Recorded so that his subtlest stick strokes had the presence of an all-out barrage, Fielder made a radical departure from the polyrhythmic waves of the era’s drum masters such as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Art Blakey, or splashy iconoclasts like Rashied Ali and Sunny Murray.

Akin to many of his AACM peers, Fielder took an intellectual or investigatory, but nonetheless playful, stance towards the raw materials of music. He was a fine timekeeper when need be, grounded in R&B and bebop. And he could swing. As he told George Lewis in the book A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music: “I wanted to play my bebop as loose as possible and I wanted to play my free music as tight as possible,” meaning that he opened consistent beats to myriad possibilities, but when presented with an undefined field, brought focused powers of selection to bear. I recall seeing him perform in the late ’60s at a sparsely attended Sunday brunch concert at the AFAM Gallery on Chicago’s South Side, prodding his trio-mates, the trombonist Lester Lashley and tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, with emphatic swipes at his drums punctuating suspenseful silences.

But the drummer’s most enduring legacy may turn out to be the communitarian principles derived from his AACM experience. Fielder departed Chicago in the fall of 1968 for his hometown of Meridian, Miss. in order to manage his family’s string of pharmacies and to engage in political activism. There, Fielder joined with bassist and promoter John Reese in 1971 to launch the Black Arts Music Society (BAMS) with the mission of bringing new music to the region. Singer Cassandra Wilson was one area talent encouraged by Fielder, Reese and BAMS’ productions — to the extent that she and childhood friend Rhonda Richmond, a violinist, opened The Yellow Scarf listening room in 2012 in Jackson, Miss. to feature similar artists. By the 1980s, Fielder was in contact with trumpeter Dennis Gonsález, whose Dallas Association for Avant-Garde and Neo-Impressionist Music (daagnim) was modeled on the AACM. And so his message – the AACM message – spread.

Joseph Jarman is probably best known as the face-painted shaman of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, who introduced its performances by flicking a feathered whisk and intoning the band’s motto, “Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future.” (He remains under-sung as a composer, having contributed stellar tunes such as “Dreaming of the Masters,” “Ohnedaruth” and “Old Time Southside Street Dance” to their book.) Jarman brought ritual, theatricality and poetry to the Ensemble, so much so that his virtuosity as an instrumentalist has been overlooked. After studying drums in high school with the renowned Captain Walter Dyett, Jarman honed his skills on saxes and clarinet in the U.S. Army’s 11th Airborne Division Band, and eventually took up flutes, vibes, whistles, percussion instruments.

The bold, dark themes supported by staunch fellow horn players and thunderous drumming on Jarman’s debut album Song For, released by Delmark shortly after his friend and colleague Mitchell’s Sound, was catnip to my teenage ears. At his own late-’60s performance around the University of Chicago, he proved to be a frenetic sopranino and soprano saxist, a penetrating alto player and powerful tenorist, also excelling on lower register horns – but even more, a captivating performer with a sure sense of pace and drama.

Soon integrated into the Art Ensemble that Roscoe Mitchell had established, Jarman set the stage for the band — the most cohesive and ambitious to emerge from the larger AACM, the first to leave town for Europe, and the most successful at appealing to general audiences — to present itself as an act. The musicians turned to the east (Mecca) before playing a first note. They wore costumes: Lester Bowie a white lab coat, bassist Malachi Favors, drummer Don Moyé and Jarman in mask-like makeup, Mitchell in deceptively plain garb. Their sets were not construed as sequences of songs but rather narrative arcs that included stretches of detailed “little instrument” tinkering, entirely new to the art form. That diffused use of chimes, vibes, squeeze toys, megaphones, conch shells and synthesizers encouraged listeners to lean in and magnified the players’ intensity when they eventually broke loose.

Few if any other of the Creative Musicians conceived of their performances as benefitting from or requiring theatrical trappings, but Jarman’s concepts gave audiences who might have spurned jagged melodies, dissonance or distant harmonies and implied-rather-than-explicit rhythms something like a tangible plot to follow. His intellectualism, artistic inclusivity and melding of a historical perspective with musical spontaneity infused the AACM philosophy of individualistic originality aligned with collective or community concerns. His sensibility guided his immediate circle, informed subsequent generation of performing composer-improvisers and gratified those of us in their audiences, too.

Over five decades, the AACM has become model to other grassroots musical collectives, as well as attracting and promoting new artists who sustain and augment its directions and remit. Flutist Nicole Mitchell, drummer Mike Reed and cellist Tomeka Reid, in their Artifacts Trio, cover AACM members’ enduring compositions. Muhal’s widow Peggy Abrams and their daughter Richarda, along with keyboardist Amina Claudine Myers (another founding member) continue the AACM concert series in New York City. In Chicago, Dee Alexander, Mwata Bowden, Ari Brown, Ernest Dawkins and Kahil El Zabar are now the older guard drawing such up-and-comers as singer Saalik Ziyad, spoken-word artist Khari B and trumpeter Corey Wilkes into the fold.

On Jan. 20 Chamber Music America will present the AACM with its Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award. ECM Records has celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Art Ensemble of Chicago by releasing a 21-disc boxed set of their recordings, mostly from the 1980s, and “associated ensembles” including those of Jack DeJohnette and Evan Parker. This spring, Pi Records will release Roscoe Mitchell’s own celebration of that anniversary, with AEC drummer Moyé amongst a cast of dozens. Nicole Mitchell has just been appointed to the newly established William S. Dietrich II Endowed Chair in Jazz Studies at University of Pittsburgh, directing a program previously led by the late pianist Geri Allen. Drummer Thurman Barker teaches composition at Bard College. Anthony Braxton is happily retired from his longtime academic post at Wesleyan University. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Threadgill is being feted with a two-day retrospective of his 40-year career, involving 24 local musicians, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis on Feb. 15 and 16.

Alvin Fielder’s experiments beyond strict rhythms and Joseph Jarman’s poetics including the Art Ensemble watchwords “Ancient to the Future” are concepts with consequences beyond the groups they played in, or the AACM. Their ideas, manifest, have continued to be generative. Each individual will pass on, and while we’re saddened by the demise of Alvin Fielder and Joseph Jarman, we’ve been enriched by their accomplishments in the course of their long, productive lives. Their personal, particular sounds may be subsumed in the greater aggregate to which they belonged, but if we know what to listen for, their distinctive music echoes on.

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Hogwarts for killers: “Deadly Class” takes teen drama to deadly extremes

Understanding “Deadly Class” as a story born in the twin shadows of the Harry Potter universe and Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman (in part by way of Frank Miller, one should add) may better square a person with its elevator pitch: Think Hogwarts, except for trained assassins, focusing on one, Marcus Arguello (Benjamin Wadsworth) who sides with the downtrodden against the bullies of the world.

So you have a strain of power-fantasy vigilantism mixed with a curriculum not even those cool weirdoes who owned copies of “The Anarchist’s Cookbook” might have imagined: AP Black Arts, criminal psychology taught by an actual psycho, and Poison 101, whose teacher is played by none other than Henry Rollins.


“Deadly Class,” making its Syfy debut Wednesday at 10 p.m. following a streaming preview online, is a curious creation that speaks to modern sentiments, and misery, through a lens trained on the past. Initial episodes are almost entirely posture and mood, capitalizing upon a stylized version of the Reagan Era, its underground scene specifically.

Marcus is the most misunderstood youth in a school full of them, a homeless orphan recruited by Kings Dominion after he’s thought to have burned down the abusive children’s home where he had been placed, killing other kids in the process. Instead of punishing Marcus, Headmaster Lin (Benedict Wong) offers Marcus the chance to harness his murderous impulses.

He accepts because he has nowhere else to go, and because the school might be the one place that can give him the training he needs to take vengeance on the person Marcus blames for ruining his life. (Hint: the pilot, like the 2014 graphic novel kicking off the series, is titled “Reagan Youth.”)

Kings Dominion’s class of 1987, the main subjects of Rick Remender’s graphic novels and the Syfy series based on them, is full of presumed sociopaths like Marcus, none of whom is a unique literary character. And that’s precisely the point. The kids here are just a shade or two off of the “Riverdale” students or the “90210” crowd, except that they exemplify the grimmest version of real-world adolescents.

For example, valedictorian Saya (Lana Condor) keeps her nose clean and watches over everyone, displaying favoritism toward none, at least not outwardly. That, and she’s an expert with a katana.

There’s the class power couple Maria (María Gabriela de Faría) and Chico (Michael Duval), children of Mexican cartel kingpins. Mean girl Brandy (Siobhan Williams) is a Dixie Mafia white supremacist; school jock Viktor (Sean Depner) is the son of a KGB-connected family; popular kid Willie (Luke Tennie) is the scion of a notorious L.A. gang leader.

Here, legacy is everything, placing street kid Marcus among those on the lowest rung of the social ladder, aka the Rats.

When the bullies tell their targets that they’re going to kill them, they mean it.


Marcus and his band of misfits are the kinds of protagonists that would result from the brand of go-go consumerist capitalist that ran over the American middle class. Adults living through the ramifications of that today would have been their contemporaries, age-wise, back in ‘87.

Gen X, once written off as slackers and berated for living an extended version of adolescence, is now appreciated by the likes of Netflix. Who else is responsible making the ’80s-nostalgia fueled “Stranger Things” a monster hit, if only by way of paying the monthly subscription bill?

Syfy was bound to get in on that action somehow, if only to find a suitable partner for “The Magicians,” which leads into it on Wednesday nights starting on Jan. 23. “Deadly Class” plays as much as a contrast as it does a complement to Brakebills — a place which, like J.K. Rowling’s school for wizards, is defined by teamwork and loyalty.

Kings Dominion is defined by its divisions, with the privileged existing uneasily on the same social strata, taking out any pent-up disdain on the kids of the lowest caste. The worlds of magic prized so highly in popular culture adhere to fantasies of unity and a message of working together to overcome darkness. The world of killers, in contrast, would cease to function without the threat of pain, and honing the skill with which one group inflicts it on others. Tribalism in extremis.


Without a doubt the show’s interpretation of the teenage mind’s shadowy corners is going to be a turnoff to those see no appeal in a fantasy about kids learning how to kill, in an era when real life teenagers are proving themselves to be awfully adept at it.

Devoted genre book fans, along a certain subset of children of the ‘80s, may find “Deadly Class” to be a wickedly fun excursion set to a soundtrack designed to awaken your inner disaffected youth. You know, the one set on drowning out the world with an endless soundtrack of Depeche Mode, The Cure and Sisters of Mercy while flipping through the pages of a Love and Rockets comic.

Anthony and Joe Russo, co-directors of “Avengers: Infinity War” among other titles, serve as the executive producers of the series, but Remender’s hand steers the story. In sharing the showrunner seat with Miles Orion Feldscott and Mick Betancourt, Remender maintains a fealty to the original work without exsanguinating the story, a tougher feat than one might presume.

In this way the showrunners make “Deadly Class” a black celebration (see what I did there?) of a specific era of graphic novel noir whose influence is felt even today. But this also limits the buy-in range for “Deadly Class,” at least initially, to the kind of crowd that may embrace the unrepentant, heavily-lined nihilism permeating the narrative.

Occasionally the dialogue lays into this a bit too thickly, via character soliloquies resembling anti-corporate rants from the “Repo Man” school of screenwriting. Viewers turned off by that won’t be impressed by the cynicism winding through the opening episodes, either.


But the central cast, led by Wadsworth and Condor, wins you over eventually — or, I should say, the most fleshed out characters featured within the first four episodes do this, a tonal trait the series shares with its literary originator. Like Marcus’ fate, it’s hard to predict whether the first season of “Deadly Class” will end well. But those who don’t drop out immediately receive ample reason to follow along with its lesson plan soon enough.

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