November 22, 2012
By Kam Williams
Soledad O’Brien is the anchor for CNN morning show, “Starting Point” and a special correspondent for CNN/U.S. Since joining the network in 2003, O’Brien has reported breaking news from around the globe and has produced award-winning, record-breaking and critically acclaimed documentaries on the most important stories facing the world today. In 2010, she wrote a critically acclaimed memoir, “The Next Big Story: My Journey through the Land of Possibilities,” which chronicles her biggest reporting moments and how her upbringing and background have influenced these experiences.
O’Brien’s documentaries include the “Black in America” and “Latino in America” series; “Don’t Fail Me: Education in America,” a look at the crisis in public education where American kids are not learning the skills necessary to compete; “The Women Who Would be Queen,” a portrayal of the future king and queen’s friendship-turned-romance and very modern royal marriage; “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door,” a report on religious freedom protections; “Pictures Don’t Lie,” the story of the secret life of Civil Rights photographer Ernest Withers as a paid FBI informant; “Rescued,” a look at Haiti’s remarkable children before, during and after the devastating earthquake; and “Gary and Tony Have a Baby,” chronicling the struggle of two gay men to have a child.
A graduate of Harvard University, Soledad lives with her husband and four children in Manhattan. Here, she talks about her upcoming “Black in America” special “Who Is Black in America?” which is set to premiere on CNN Sunday, December 9 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. (Check local listings)
LAWT: Congratulations on your excellent election year coverage on CNN. But did you ever worry about being pigeonholed as partisan during the presidential campaign? How do you maintain your image as impartial when you have Republicans taking potshots at you? For instance, Romney advisor John Sununu suggested that you put an Obama bumper sticker on your forehead, and Fox News President Roger Ailes condescendingly referred to you as “That girl that’s named after a prison.”
SO: It’s going to get crazy at times during any election year. That’s just what happens. The goal for me is to be focused and really well read so I’m prepared to ask the tough questions of both sides. You’re always going to have those people who love you and those who hate you, but after four kids and a quarter-century in this business, I have a very thick skin. [Chuckles] The only thing that bothers me is if I feel I haven’t done a tough interview. The people who come on regularly know they’re going to be challenged, and that they can challenge me. They also understand that I’m not a pushover and that I don’t crumble because I come armed with the facts.
LAWT: Let’s talk about your upcoming special. Where did you come up with the idea for “Who Is Black in America?”
SO: We were thinking about universal themes for “Black in America” that really touch people, that really matter to people, and one of the themes that we kept coming up with was ‘colorism,’ discrimination based on skin tone. It was fascinating to hear the conversations that were happening between people who were light-skinned, people who were dark-skinned, and people somewhere in between. Just the hurt, the pain and anger on all sides was very interesting. So, we thought we would explore that because it seemed like a very interesting story to tell, especially since we were seeing a big change, generationally. The conversations I was having with men and women of my age group were very different from the conversations younger men and women were having with people of their age group. It’s fascinating to hear the take of those that we feature in the doc around 17, 18 and 19, as they kind of grapple with their identity and with where America is today.
LAWT: I think I heard CNN’s Roland Martin mention in promo for your show that he had someone in his family pass for white.
SO: Yep, and that’s not an unusual story. That’s another question people would like to explore. What makes you black? How can you consider yourself black while someone with the identical genetic makeup considers themselves white or tries to pass for white? Those are the sorts of big questions we wanted to grapple with.
LAWT: I suspect that the influx of immigrants from South America, India, Africa, Mexico and so many other countries, along with mixed marriage, is changing the definition of what is black?
SO: I think that’s true. I also think that there’s a real interesting conversation going on generationally. One of the young women we profile, who is biracial, very much has a hard time identifying as black. And yet, she has a sister who would say the exact opposite. [Chuckles] So, this isn’t a documentary where we come up with the right answer at the end. It really is much more a conversation about colorism because, ultimately, what is at the heart of all this is this sense that there’s some better skin color to be, and that people are discriminated against. So, it’s not just that people are grappling with identity but that there’s a lot of pain and shame and embarrassment and hurt and anger on account of colorism. And we wanted to understand what that was.
LAWT: Tell me a little about Nayo Jones, one of the young women you profile on the special.
SO: She’s biracial. Her father is white and mother’s black. She lives with her dad and very much identifies with her white side. She’s a super-talented, smart young singer and poet. She goes through life with people trying to figure out what she is, and asking, “What are you?” which really makes her mad.
LAWT: What about Perry DiVirgilio?
SO: In a way, he’s the center of all the stories. He’s a biracial guy. His dad is white, his mom is black, and he runs the poetry workshop in Philadelphia on understanding who you are where all of these people’s lives intersect. They’re sort of the right age for it because they’re the coming-of-age age. When you’re a slam poet, part of the agenda is to connect to your material. And your success is a measure of your honesty and your authenticity. I think a lot of those slam poets don’t want to tackle the hard stuff, and Perry really pushes them and challenges about what their identity means to them by asking, “What is making you angry?” “What are you afraid of?” and “What are you ashamed of?” So, he’s sort of the centerpiece of our documentary not just for his own story but because he connects to all the young people as the poet/mentor who tries to get them to be honest. What you realize is that most people aren’t that honest, and this is one of the rare times when you capture people on camera speaking about how they feel about race and identity.
LAWT: How do you see this coming-of-age generation as different?
SO: I think those in our documentary share a sense of optimism, and I’m curious to see where it goes. Overall, it was very interesting to see all these different people trying to tackle the problem of colorism, because in some ways it’s such a deep psychological problem. Perry, our poet, thinks so. He believes that young people being able to articulate their poetry so unbelievably is really about understanding who they are. The exercises that he does in his poetry workshop are just fascinating.
LAWT: Do you think you might have different generational reactions to the special?
SO: I’m sure. Some of the younger people exhibit a certain flexibility. They’re like, “Why can’t I be biracial? Why can’t I be both?” I never felt that was an option for us. Maybe it was, but I never felt like I had an option for both. My identity was very strong. I never believed people who said things like, “You’re not really black,” or suggested my identity might be anything but black. Today, I think there is this sense of flexibility among younger people. Whether or that remains as they get older remains to be seen. The ultimate question we examine is, “Who decides?” Is it you? Is it society? I think it’s a really interesting documentary. Again, we didn’t set out to solve the problem. I just don’t think people talk about the roots of colorism, and this fifth “Black in America” special was a great opportunity to do so.
Photo by Bryan D. Kane
November 15, 2012
Sentinel Wire Services
Terrence J (Jenkins) was once a homeless college graduate going-for-broke when he auditioned and was hired to host BET’s “106 & Park,” but recently he completed another item on his ‘wish list’ with his move to “E! News.”
Jenkins’ will be co-hosting with “E! News” veteran Giuliana Rancic.
“I actually wrote down how and what I wanted to accomplish,” said Terrence J about his career. “I was homeless at 23 when I auditioned for ‘106 & Park.’ I never got what I wanted but… it’s full of accomplishments. Every day is a step towards (what I want)…”
Terrence J is also an actor whose credits are already impressive with co-starring roles in the Steve Harvey film ‘Think Like a Man’, in ‘Burlesque’ and the T.D. Jakes movie ‘Sparkle’.
The North Carolina native says that the “E! News” assignment is the pinnacle of his successes thus far. He credits his academic achievements in preparing him for the worldwide exposure he received via his co-hosting gig at BET on “106 & Park.”
“That family connection, that means so much to me, it fuels me,” he said. “I try to stay humble and not get into trouble. You build…every time you get experiences, you get better.”
The actor/television co-host said he intends to be the best co-host on “E! News” he can be while also having fun.
Episodes will include interviews with comedian/actor Kevin Hart and Chris Brown on his new foundation Symphonic Love.
By Chelsea Battle
SENTINEL: Why did you choose to direct Intimate Apparel?
Sheldon Epps (SE): It’s a play that I saw many years ago, and really liked what I saw. I always thought about it as a possible play to do. The idea of people literally and figuratively reaching out and touching each other — the idea of people having simple physical affection — is really important. I guess, I was also thinking about the idea of how we’re so into electronic communication. We’re constantly texting each other or tweeting each other, emailing — and we’ve sort of lost the idea of being in literal connection with each other, which I think is kind of a shame. You used to sit down and write letters to your friends and your family, and people just don’t do that anymore. I can’t remember the last time I got a hand written letter! So it’s just a reminder of that time, the way we made contact with someone in a non-digital way. That’s the way our society used to be; that’s what we used to all want.
SENTINEL: What specifically about this time period really fascinates you? Why 1905?
(SE): The fact that New York City specifically became very segregated: the Blacks uptown, the Jews downtown, and the Whites were sort of midtown. But the working class people of 1905 all lived together, and I think that’s really interesting that somehow, after literally being right next door to each other, something changed in America and we started separating — and frankly probably became a lesser country — because we lost that inter weaving that kept all the races together because everybody was poor together. I was also very interested because people who often times were not educated certainly didn’t have a lot of money, but they certainly had a sense of value about what they did, and pride in their work. And this is a woman [main character Esther] who does not want to be taken care of; she wants to make it on her own. That woman is an early womens’ libber because she says, “I don’t want a man to take care of me; I want to make my own way.” The opportunity to make your own destiny was started by women in this play.
SENTINEL: Is there a reason that the main character is a seamstress? Is this notion of a seamstress a metaphor for something else?
(SE): Yes, there is definitely a reason. The character even says, “I would rather make my money sewing, doing this art form, than to be a maid or a washer woman.” One of the things Lynn addresses in the play is that there is an art form to making something. One of the characters says to Esther, “You have gifted fingers. Not everybody can thread a needle.”
SENTIEL: Does the fabric itself symbolize something?
(SE): The play is all over the place. There are some Black characters, some White, there is a Jewish character, and a character from Panama. One of the main characters in the play brings a specific piece of fabric from Asia. That’s a whole different civilization, and it really becomes an important aspect of the play. The idea of different cultures coming together through the art of sewing and creating is really important to the play. The very touch and feel of the fabric is what draws two people together who really can’t be together because of the restrictions of culture, race, religion, and the period they live in. Yet they are in love with each other because they have such a mutual appreciation for this fabric.
SENTINEL: What are some of the recurring themes in the play? How does it relate to today?
(SE): I think that everyone has had a time in their life when they didn’t feel all that attractive. Or maybe they had something going on inside of them that made them feel not valuable. That was true in the era of this play, 1905, and it was true 5 minutes ago. We’ve all had times where we don’t feel worthy of love or of being interesting to a partner. What’s interesting in the play is that you kind of expect this from a character who is Black and not wealthy. She’s a workingwoman who is illiterate, so she feels badly about herself. But it’s also true of this 5th avenue wealthy woman that she makes corsets for, who feels exactly the same way. So that feeling of not feeling worthy is something that’s still with us. In the end, the main character gets beyond that and she says, “I’m going to give up a lot (I won’t tell you what; you have to see for yourself!) because I respect myself. I won’t allow you to abuse that good woman.” You see the growth of this character, and she goes back to work and doing what she does best.
SENTINEL: What did you look for when casting the characters?
(SE): I like actors who are brave, who have a lot of what I like to call theatrical muscle. I wanted to cast people who were really good looking because I wanted it to be about people who are really good looking. All of the characters are good looking, but don’t feel that they are. Also, everyone likes to look at good-looking people!
By MESFIN FEKADU
Ne-Yo knows that dance and electronic music dominate the charts and radio, and he believes some of the lyrics are weak.
“There’s dance songs out there with four words in the whole song, and it don’t ever matter,” he said. “Because it’s not about what the words are, it’s about the music, the ups and downs in the music ... and then it explodes — that’s what that genre of music is about.”
But when he approached that sound on his fifth album, “R.E.D.,” the 33-year-old Grammy winner said he took the time to craft lyrics that have meaning. He said the best example is “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself),” his current single and Top 10 Billboard pop hit.
“I told myself if I’m going to do this dance music or electronic or techno or whatever it is, I need to do it from a standpoint of making mine stand out from everybody else’s, meaning a Ne-Yo dance record is going to have some kind of depth in the lyrics because the lyrics is who I am,” he said.
“R.E.D.” — out this week — features more dance-sounding tracks as well as R&B ones. The singer-songwriter, who has multiple hits of his own and has also written smashes for others like Rihanna and Beyonce, talks about the new album, songwriting, collaborating with country star Tim McGraw and being a father in an interview with The Associated Press.
AP: “Let Me Love You” was co-written by Sia and you usually don’t write with other people. How did that song come about?
Ne-Yo: I know for a fact that there are incredible songwriters out there, but I just always feel like everything I do comes from a really personal place, and for another songwriter to come in and write a song for me that’s going to be as personal as me writing a song for me — I didn’t feel like that was possible. But even with that being said, I’m never going to turn down a hit. If somebody’s coming at me with a hit, I'm not that dude.
AP: Sia also co-write Rihanna's hit “Diamonds” and she’s blowing up.
Ne-Yo: She’s getting all this recognition and attention now and she doesn’t want to be an artist anymore. ... I don't blame her. Being an artist definitely has its pros and its cons. ... You can walk down the street and have the No. 1 song in the world and nobody bothers you.
AP: You have two children, and I wonder how parenthood has changed making music for you.
Ne-Yo: It’s changed the way that I write to a degree. I used to pride myself on how fast I can write a song, how many songs I can write in a small amount of time. Now it’s definitely quality over quantity. ... It’s that now because the better the song the more likely somebody’s going to buy it; someone buys it that means I get money and I can take care of my kids.
AP: What was the energy like when you made the new album?
Ne-Yo: There was almost an essence of me needing to prove something. ... My last album didn’t perform as well as my previous three, and I felt with this one, I definitely needed to remind me this is what I do.
AP: Since “Libra Scale” didn’t do as well, did you approach this album differently?
Ne-Yo: The approach going into “R.E.D.” did have a little bit to do with “Libra Scale.” In the realm of what “Libra Scale” was, there was a lot of things that I was trying to do that I had never done before and that I didn’t take the time to gain the proper knowledge of before I attempted.
AP: That was pretty honest.
Ne-Yo: I am 100 percent the guy that if I know that it was my fault, I’m going to say it’s my fault. ... No excuses over here. ... I take full blame, full responsibility.
AP: You’re also very honest on “Cracks in Mr. Perfect,” where you sing about infidelity. Was that one easy or hard to write?
Ne-Yo: That was the one record I was a little afraid of. People are going to hear this and change the way they view me. ... It was easy because it’s things that’s always floating in the back of my head anyway. The difficulty came in with the honesty. Like, do I want to be this honest? Do I want to say to somebody, “I’m a man of my word, but only when I’m not lying”?
AP: How did you and Tim McGraw get together?
Ne-Yo: I actually ran into Tim McGraw's manager in London and ... when we played “She Is,” I was like, “This is my take on a country song. Hopefully if all goes well, you’ll see me performing this at the Country Music Awards with Tim McGraw or somebody.” And Tim McGraw’s manager happened to be in the audience and he was like, “We can make that happen.”
AP: What are your favorite albums of the year?
Ne-Yo: 2 Chainz ... Elle Varner ... I’ve been singing Lana Del Rey’s praises recently. ... Got to throw Frank (Ocean) in there. ... Superbrave cat to do what he did. (Earlier this year, Ocean revealed that his first love was a man.) When I heard about it, I honestly didn’t think it was as big of a deal as everybody made (it). ... If you listen to his music, Frank is the kind of cat that’s going to do what he wants to do. ... The dude references “Dragon Ball Z” in a R&B song ... so for him to come out and say what he said ... I’m like, “OK, that just makes perfect sense with who he is.”
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