Alessandra Stanley’s NYT Piece: Pressure to Respond In the Social Media Age

September 22, 2014

I was supposed to be upset last Friday when The New York Times published Alessandra Stanley’s “Wrought in Their Creator’s Image: Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes’ Latest Tough Heroine“. The article chronicles television screenwriter, director and producer Shonda Rhimes’ creation of strong, black, female characters, her latest being Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) in the upcoming series, “How to Get Away with Murder.” But, more notably, the article set off a shit storm across the Internet after Stanley began the piece with this race-baiting sentence: “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.'”

In the article, Stanley argues that Shonda Rhimes has taken the stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” and redefined it with characters such as Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) on Grey’s Anatomy, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) on Scandal and, of course, Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder.

Ms. Rhimes has embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast it in her own image and made it enviable. She has almost single-handedly trampled a taboo even Michelle Obama couldn’t break.

shonda rhimes

Don’t fuck with Shonda.

Without doubt or question, Stanley’s piece is problematic for many reasons. (I will not even get into the “less classically beautiful” phrase used in the commentary, because that is a different blog post for another day.) Unfortunately, its publication also doesn’t surprise me considering how much Tier 1 media uses race, or blatant ignorance of it, to leads its ledes (insert Patricia Garcia Vogue article.) But, when I read the New York Times’ television critics’ latest, I did not have the abrupt, visceral response that I thought I should have according to the Twitter powers that be. According to the Twitter tribe, I probably should have been incensed by the time I reached the last paragraph. I was not. Instead, my hairdresser called me from the waiting area to the booth as I was finishing the last few sentences. I shot off a tweet that I had “Just finished Alessandra Stanley’s piece…” and received a few replies soliciting my thoughts. I felt pressured to drop some intellectual and derisive quip, but I came up empty-handed.

There are more than a few times when I agree with the majority on matters such as Stanley’s article. And, I probably don’t even disagree this time around–I’m just not as enraged by it as it seems I should be. Yes, Alessandra Stanley’s piece is mortifying in its racial recklessness. Yes, I wondered what editors vetted that thing and decided it was ready to go to print. And, no, I did not understand or receive her argument in the way she allegedly intended. All of those things stand. Now, was I incredibly upset? No, not really.

Sometimes I miss the good ol’ days when you could read something and formulate an opinion sans an audience watching. Of course, I’m not denouncing Twitter–after all, most of us, self included, would not have known about the article if it weren’t for Twitter. If it weren’t for Twitter, news outlets would not have been able to get screen grabs of Shonda Rhimes’ reaction to the piece via her own Twitter account. However, I felt these tinges of guilt for not reacting in a way that mirrored the masses’ response. In her article, “Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.”, Roxane Gay writes, “The tools of the modern age afford us many privileges, but they also cost us the privilege of time and space to distance ourselves to properly think through tragedy, to take a deep breath, to feel, to care.” I want my time and space back. I want the room to think on my own and for myself.

I’ve been changing my relationship with social media this year and in that shift, I’ve realized that social media rarely gives us time to react in a way that honestly represents our emotions. It’s such an immediate, knee-jerk kind of a medium. That sort of dynamic energy makes it difficult to form an original response to anything without being under the social influence. So, we become responsible for creating our own space. We become responsible for temporarily severing our ties to social media at times in favor of reacting to things in a way indicative of how we truly feel, no matter how mild or outraged those feelings may be.

Yes, I take issue with a white New York Times critic reducing one of television’s most powerful screenwriters and producers to an Angry Black Woman. But, I also take issue with the fact that nearly ten years ago a black man by the name of Tyler Perry used that same stereotype and it sky rocketed him to fame. As an impassioned and opinionated black woman, I’m not selective in my disdain for the use of this stereotype. If there’s anyone trying to “take the image of the Angry Black Woman and recast it in [his or her] own image,” it is Tyler Perry. Shonda Rhimes does not have time for that stupidity and Alessandra Stanley is a flaming imbecile to think any differently. For me, it’s just that simple. No hashtag required.


Writing, Inspiration And A Little In Between: Chat With Amber Janae

September 19, 2014

“Writers write.” Perhaps someone who embodies that most is Amber Janae, an author and blogger who has now successfully self-published four books. Amber Janae writes in many different forms–poetry, non-fiction and fiction–and through her stories, encourages women to remain inspired and encouraged. I had a chance to talk with Amber Janae a few weeks ago to talk about her creative process, how she worked through self-publishing and what she hopes to provide women with her message. 

How did you get started writing?
My mother was an aspiring author when I was growing up. Till this day in the home office there are plenty of books on how to be a successful author. I guess the writing gene came naturally for me. I have been writing since the age of 12 or 13. It wasn’t until reading Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose That Grew from The Concrete” that I was inspired to write poetry. I still have every piece I have ever written from then up until now.

You have successfully self-published four books. Can you tell us a little more about the self-publishing process? (i.e. how long it takes to publish the book from start to finish, what your writing process is like, etc.) 
My first book took me a little more than five to six years to complete it. I had a vision for many years and I worked around my schedule whenever I could to create a book that was captivating and worth reading. When the writing is complete, it’s pretty much a huge weight that is lifted off of my shoulders. And then the fun part begins! Editing, cover designs, and formatting typically only take about two to three months for me. I’ve always done editing myself; however, I will send the final draft off to get professionally edited just to have a second set of eyes on the job.

I also design all of my book covers on my own. It takes a lot of time to format the interior of the book to make it look presentable to my readers. After everything is 100% in order and complete, I send it off to a partner company to be printed up and the book is born. As time goes on, the writing process has been smoother and has gone faster with each book that I write. It is all dependent on ones writing process, being inspired to write and the true commitment to the project(s).

What is the biggest misconception people have about self-published authors? 
The biggest misconception is people assume that it’s easy putting yourself out there and the success and notoriety are instantaneous. Self-publishing is a huge risk, and it’s basically an author with a goal trying to build a name for themselves all on their own. It’s not easy; instant success isn’t promised at all. It takes so much time and effort to successfully market your brand while striving to be a respected author. The journey is never ending and it is the furthest thing from easy.

amber janae

Amber Janae

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
The best writing advice I’ve ever received was: “If you’re in it for the money you’ll always be broke. Keep producing quality bodies of work and stop worrying about the numbers. The numbers will eventually pile up, but the focus should be your work and creativity. When the work is there, it will eventually be noticed and over time the consistency and commitment will pay off.”  To me worrying about the numbers, how much it’s selling and who is buying is a distraction. It can be a bit of a discouragement as well. My first piece wasn’t a NYT Bestseller, neither was the second or third, but I aspire to get there one day soon. The only way I will achieve that is by continuing to create the work my readers love and not worry about the numbers or the profits.

On your blog, you recently wrote a post entitled, “A Look Inside The Brand: WhoIsAmberJane” where you talked about seeing one of your books in Barnes and Noble. Can you describe what that moment was like for you?
I almost didn’t know how to feel when I first saw my book on shelves in Barnes and Noble. I had so many mixed emotions. I was proud, nervous and anxious. I was just a wreck. But, I allowed myself to celebrate in that moment and let it all sink in. I knew that it was only the beginning of what is to come on my journey. Seeing my book on shelves solidified that more moments like that are promised in the near future.

You’ve written different genres including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Is there a genre you prefer? Is there one that comes more naturally to you than the others? 
Poetry definitely comes more naturally for me than anything else. If I had to choose among the three I would choose fiction. Fiction is the only genre that I can write using real life issues and send inspiring messages through fictional characters, while still making it entertaining. The goal is for my readers to be entertained, but it’s also important that they catch the underlying messages I give through these fictional characters lives. Its deep, I hope they feel it!

Give us a “cliff notes” version of each of your books.  
Sacrifices Love and Deception is a fiction anthology that takes place in modern-day times. It’s compiled of five short stories that are all full of drama and suspense. Because it features so many stories, I’ll share; Hellacious Love which is the first story in the book. It is a love story about a couple, Marcus (Butta) and Arianna. You get an inside look on how their different lifestyles collide. Marcus knew Arianna was the one from the first day he laid eyes on her. Over time the two fall in love. Marcus (Butta) learns later on in the relationship that his better half has secrets that connect their lifestyles more than he ever imagined. He begins to wonder if he can trust her. Marcus is unaware that loving a woman of Arianna’s caliber is dangerous. There was a story behind Arianna that she hid very well from Marcus. Women like Ariana are very easy to love and even harder to get rid of. She had a manipulative charm about her that Marcus couldn’t say no to. Someone in this equation would eventually end up hurt by the other. It would take them falling in love, dealing with Infidelity, dishonesty, mistrust and a drastic turn of events to figure out which of the two would end up scarred forever. The entire book is an emotional roller coaster. These stories are full of twists, and turns that are sure to keep you on the edge of your seats until the very end.

A Woman’s Quest to Self-Love is a self-help book that I wrote to share my journey to loving myself completely. I talk in-depth about my struggles with depression, suicide, body image, being bullied, terrible friendships and relationships and so much more. I knew when I started writing I wanted to be a voice for women and young girls to speak life and words of encouragement into them. I feel like with this book I’ve successfully accomplished that and more. My intentions were to spread the message that no matter what obstacles you face you can bounce back and overcome them all. All of my years of pain inspired me to start on my quest to self-love. Years ago I was in a space where I was tired of the pain and self-pity and I knew I had to do something about it. When you’re tired of being mistreated or mistreating yourself, you step your game up and start wanting more from not just the people around you but from you too. The quest to self-love is a never ending journey. I find new things about myself that I love every day. I wrote this book to inspire women across the world to do the same.

The Root: A Compilation of Poetry is my third book. I wanted to release a project that was close to where writing all began for me. Poetry is the root of where it all started and I wanted to put this book together to showcase my development as a poet throughout the years. “The Root” has 41 poems. Throughout the book, you’ll read poems about losing love, and finding love, self-love and self-respect. I wanted to incorporate a variety of poems in the books so that those who read will always have a piece to reference back to fit their mood. The Root is one of those books that tugs at the soul and captures the heart.

What advice would you offer to aspiring authors? 
My only advice is to be inspired, be encouraged and be blessed. Being an author means finding all different sources of inspiration constantly. Be inspired and stay inspired. It takes a lot to write a book and deal with all of the other logistics that comes with it. You’ll need a tremendous amount of encouragement to stay on course, but it can be done. Whatever it is that you do, however many books you write, always remember to be blessed. Celebrate your blessings and celebrate the fact that you’re able to be a blessing through your words.

What keeps you inspired? 
A person giving up on me is what keeps inspires me. Somewhere in that crazy equation I find the strength to keep going. It’s the doubt of others and their disbelief in what I am capable of that fuels me and inspires me to keep moving forward always.

Amber Janae is an author and blogger who currently resides in San Francisco, CA. Her overall goal and message is to inspire others to know that there is hope and recovery after any pain you’ve experienced throughout life. You are not your circumstances, there’s always room to overcome them and be great. Follow Amber Janae on Twitter at @WhoIsAmberJanae

This Has to Work.

September 18, 2014

Those are the only four words that seem to reverberate through my brain, an echo of desperation if I’ve ever heard it. I’m knee-deep in an article called “Lena Dunham Is Not Done Confessing” and have fallen into the trap of comparing myself to someone—Dunham—whose success seems ten stratospheres away from my own. I just wrote something where I begged people to stop surrendering their twenties to comparison and here I am surrendering my twenties to comparison. I’m reading about how HBO picked her show up when she was only 24 years old—an age that I get to inhabit for a little less than a month now. I’m reading about her $3 million dollar book deal and thinking about how I’m still struggling to monetize my blog. I’m reading about Lena Dunham and feeling down about myself and thinking, “My God, this has to work.”

The rational part of my brain would tell me, “Of course you are not Lena Dunham. Your parents aren’t rich. You aren’t white. You don’t get the same opportunities she got partially by virtue of being born into a certain world at a certain time. And, you don’t want those opportunities–you want your own.”

The emotional part of my brain still think it might be pretty sweet to be Lena Dunham right about now.

This has to work. And, by this, I mean my dream of making it as a writer. And, by work, I mean writing books. I mean expanding my platform. I mean making some fucking money. Writers aren’t supposed to say that. “Monetize” is supposed to be a dirty word. “Business” should be even dirtier. We aren’t supposed to do this for the money, but the funny thing is we clearly don’t because we’re floundering. If I were solely in it for the checks, I would’ve retired this blog six months in. Probably sooner. I do this because it is like breathing. I do it because I love it. I do it because I don’t really know how not to do it. But, sometimes I scoff when people compliment me on my work or say I’m talented because I think, “Am I really? Because if I am, then why does this feel so fucking difficult?”

This has been one of my tougher years. It’s only September, but I feel 100% confident saying that. It’s been a blood, sweat and tears kind of year. It’s been a year of growing pains. It’s been the kind of year where I am angry with myself for not celebrating more, but am also wondering when exactly I would’ve had time to really celebrate. It’s been a treadmill year. I have been tired for a long time now. I have wondered if it’s all worth it. I have decided that indeed, it is. I have not been there for people the way that I should. I am missing chunks of my friend’s lives. I have lost friends and gained enemies. I stopped trusting people with my work. I stopped letting people in. Megan Duam, who penned the aforementioned essay about Lena Dunham, received an advance copy of “Not That Kind of Girl.” When asked about some of the book’s highlights, she referred to “…A line where [Dunham] talks about having clarity about your purpose here on earth and how threatening or alienating that can sometimes be for other people.” My purpose has never felt so clear and I have never felt so alienated because of that lucidity.

I made a choice recently to bow out of nominations for the Black Weblog Awards this year because there is a limited amount of fight left in me. I have to be so much cautious about my mindshare and how I choose to burn my calories. I have fought. And fought. And fought. I am at a point where I can’t spend energy competing or campaigning. Not right now. Winning last year was beautiful, I will always have that memory and I do not want to spoil a good thing with greed. I have spent this year laying the foundation for what’s to come. But, no one ever sees the foundation. No one applauds the foundation. They applaud the finished product. This product is not finished.

“This has to work” is all you can think when you do not even want to consider how much money you’ve invested in your brand. This has to work when an ad agency rejects your application for membership because they don’t think your numbers are up to par. This has to work when you realize you don’t want to be 35 years old with nothing to show for your devotion except a bunch of your old blog posts collecting dust in their Blog2Print bindings. This has to work when your hair is falling out and it might be stress or your migraines are killing you…and it might be stress. This has to work so that someday when you’re sitting in an interview about your book and they ask about your beginning, you will reference this particular moment as you sat on the couch reading about Lena Dunham, drinking a $6.99 bottle of wine, broke as shit and desperate as all hell.

This has to work when publications ask you to write for them and then conveniently stop responding to your emails. This has to work when you’ve deposited money on a venue for an event whose sales are crawling. This has to work when you are at your wit’s end, when you are desperate as a motherfucker, when your options are limited, your friends are few and your foes are watching. This has to work when you’re living the dark side of the dream, when you’re experiencing the part people don’t tell you about. This has to work because it has to work. Because it has no choice but to work. Because you don’t know what it means for you if it doesn’t work. Because you don’t want to face the reality of it not working.

This has to work. The only other option is that there is not any other option.


Feature: Thais Francis

September 17, 2014

I first learned about Thais Francis through Chaédria LaBouvier, another amazing filmmaker I had the opportunity to highlight during Twenties Unscripted Takeover. When Thais reached out, we had the chance to have a phone conversation where her light, intelligence and beauty all resonated with me in a really lasting way. She is certainly a woman who knows her purpose and is chasing that purpose with everything she has. Thais, who has previously been featured by The Root as one of its Top 25 under 25 Innovators, is currently working on her short film “Late Expectations”, a piece that tackles the intersection of adulthood, identity, social media and sexuality in a relevant and meaningful way for twenty-somethings. The “Late Expectations” team is raising money through Indiegogo for the post production of the film until Wednesday, Sept. 24. You can donate here

Meet Thais.

Thais Francis

Thais Francis

Tell us a little more about yourself, your life and how you got started in theater and film.
I live for the moments on stage, when the spot light burns, and all eyes are on me. I feel incredible, that is where I belong. My first encounter with the performing arts came at the age of 10. I had just moved to Maryland from Trinidad and Tobago and discovered dance. It began at church, and as I progressed, I studied ballet and modern. I then moved to New York to pursue acting at New York University. After graduating I did theater, but discovered film would give my work more visibility. Film didn’t come as easily and I knew nothing about it. I went to the Brooklyn Public Library for months and spent hours reading, teaching myself how to write a screen play. A year later, we have shot my first short film.

You talked about your work being born out of “a place of necessity” and having to teach yourself about film in order to seize certain opportunities. How has that approach to your work empowered you as an artist?
Maybe on the outside looking in, creating a product is empowering. However, when you’re in the process of creating said project, it can be overwhelming and intense. I’m in a vulnerable space right now. Maybe after it is finished, and I sit back and watch it on screen, then I’d feel empowered. To that end, I do know that seeing it on screen will be one of the most humbling and beautiful experiences. To know that I put so much work into the film, withstood people’s judgments, disinterest and rejection, and persevered… now that is empowering.

One of the main messages in “Late Expectations” is that of not believing the illusion people portray on social media and not being afraid to be who you truly are. How do you think social media inhibits twenty-somethings from exploring and expressing their true selves?
We are so caught up. Caught up in the witty tweet, the filter that flatters the most, the status that reveals our accomplishments. I do it. We all do it. This story is about a girl who likes girls, but dates boys. She’s pretending. I think a lot of us in our 20’s pretend, and social media allows us to do that.

“Late Expectations” has been created by a team of women. Tell us more about that team and how these women have contributed to the success of the project thus far.
It’s important to me to work with women, we exist, let’s show the world what we do. My director executive producer, music supervisor, casting director to name a few, are all talented women.

What role does music play in the film?
I love music! I have many musician friends, and as an artist it’s really important for me to build with other emerging artists. You’ll be hearing songs from artists who are definitely on the rise, some are current NYU students, recent Alums of NYU, people that I knew growing up in Maryland and so forth.

What advice would you give to aspiring creators?
I once had an acting teacher who always said “Do the work.” It really is that simple.

What inspires you?
I am inspired by Bob Marley and unicorns. Bob, because he wasn’t chasing fame (that was simply a by product of his hard work) rather he was chasing art.  He loved what he did and it was not a walk in the park for him. Yet he did it. He made music, he broke barriers, his music was heard from Trenchtown, to… Croatia. I know what it’s like to fight for what I want, and get rejected time after time, but I also hope to be impactful like he is. I’m inspired by unicorns because they represent an ethereal entity that I can’t quite comprehend; they are mysterious and intriguing, elusive, similar to my career. I’ll always be chasing my art, just like I’ll always chase understanding the unicorn.

Remind us where we can we go to contribute to the “Late Expectations” Indiegogo campaign.


Thais is an artist, living in Brooklyn. You can follow her on twitter @shebethais. Her next venture is a feature film, and an EP.

Do Not Surrender Your Twenties Pt. 3

September 16, 2014

Do Not Surrender Your Twenties

Do Not Surrender Your Twenties Pt. 2

Here we are in between everything that was once good and everything that is supposed to be amazing. In between shots and baby blankets. In between hookups and holy matrimony. In between “Oh, shit, I’m pregnant” and “Oh, shit, I’m pregnant!” Here we are all Stealers-Wheel-stuck-in-the-middle (with you). Here we are in our twenties, not quite wayward enough to be Hannah Horvath and certainly not rich enough to be Carrie Bradshaw. Here we are, all starry-eyed and jaded at the same damn time. Here we are underemployed and overly entitled, at least if you Google us and yet another think piece pops up. Here we are, floundering, floating and fucking it up. Here we are, world. Twenty-somethings. Breathe in that rancid air of uncertainty.

But, while we’re here, we are trying. Or, at least I hope we’re trying. Or, at least I think we’re trying. We are desperately trying to make these years count. So, here’s what I’ve learned about trying. About giving it all you’ve got. About not surrendering your twenties.

Do not surrender your twenties to hating everything and everybody. Hating everything doesn’t make you a non-conformist; it makes you a jackass.

Do not surrender your twenties to Instagram. Do not surrender them to trying to make your life seem better through a filter instead of actually trying to make your life better. Do not surrender your twenties to documenting every bit of your life on social media. Put the phone down every once in awhile and hold your head up. Create memories that you don’t need anyone else to validate with their passive click of a button.

Do not surrender your twenties to awaiting texts from people who don’t give a fuck and never did.

Do not surrender your twenties to pretending to like a man just because he’s there or just because he’s nice or just because you think you should like him. You don’t like him. It’s OK not to like him; it’s not OK to lie to yourself about it.

Do not surrender your twenties to pretending you don’t like someone when you really do. Stop being so blasé. Stop being so over it. Stop being so removed. Let your heart expand. Let people in. Let it feel good.

Do not surrender your twenties to worrying why someone doesn’t like you. I probably wasted the better half of 2014 worrying why someone stopped following me. Or why someone stopped retweeting my blog posts. Or why someone just fell off the face of the Earth. Those are sacred minutes I’m never getting back. It’s better to be an acquired taste than everyone’s cup of tea.

Do not surrender your twenties to worrying why you don’t like someone else. Respect them and their place in the world. Then continue on. You don’t have time to stitch together a friendship bracelet for every damn body.

Do not surrender your twenties to feeding the trolls. A dick of a stranger with an egg for an avatar is not your problem.

Do not surrender your twenties to overanalyzing every thing, every gesture, every word. There is not always a Journey soundtrack blasting in the background as you gaze into the distance. It would be cool if your life rivaled Laguna Beach, but it’s not always that serious.

Do not surrender your twenties to fretting over rings, marriage, babies or anything else that you can’t really control. The wardrobe of your ring finger and the status of your uterus do not make you any better or worse. They do not make you smarter or morally superior. They do not denote that you have uncovered all there is to know about life. Marriage and babies are just marriage and babies. Beautiful, wonderful and completely out of your control.

Do not surrender your twenties to comparing your stomach, dreams and bank account to anyone else’s.

Do not surrender your twenties to sitting on your dreams. Do the real work. Do it while everyone else is at happy hour. Do it when you’d rather sleep in on the weekends. Do it at 6 a.m. and do it during prime time television. Make the connections and do the work. Dreams do not materialize from fairy dust.

Do not surrender your twenties to a relentless grip on your past. Let it go. Let them go. Reconcile. See a therapist. Kneel at an altar. Heal. Forgive. Stop tallying the wrongs against you. Move on. Your scars are gorgeous and you would be nothing without them.

Do not surrender your twenties to running away from yourself. Quiet your mind. Clear the clutter. Let it be OK because you said so.

Do not surrender your twenties to hating your body. It is perfectly fine to like your ass, your breasts, your thighs, your legs or anything else women are conditioned to hate. I have wasted too many precious hours analyzing my ass and lifting it to imagine what it would look like if gravity were on my side. I have spent too many minutes perusing ASOS for dresses that would accentuate it most favorably. Now, I have accepted, yes, I am a black woman and no, my ass is not quintessentially “fat.” This is just what it is going to be. It’s perfectly fine to look at yourself naked without wincing or pinching or running away.

Do not surrender your twenties to anything or anyone you know is a waste of your time. Because you and your tiny beating heart know when something is not right. You know. I know that you know. And, you’ll only waste more time trying to rationalize something that goes against the intuition in that tiny beating heart. This is your decade. This is your life. These are your hours. These are your minutes. They are not promised. They are not guaranteed. Do not surrender them; they are all you have.