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raceAhead: Stay Open to New Ideas in 2019

Looking back at 2018, one of the great and unexpected joys came from just showing up.

Take going to the movies, for example.

While Netflix deserves all the words of admiration for their eye-popping streaming numbers, in 2018, movie-makers of color summoned people around the world and compelled them to get off the couch, put on proper attire, and travel to a real place just to keep an entertainment appointment.

The “business case” for diversity in film was the break-out story last year, pushing aside the tired idea that talented people of color or their authentic stories won’t appeal to a wide (white) audience.

Crazy Rich Asians became the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade, taking in a worldwide total of $238 million by the end of the year. Ava DuVernay became the first black woman director to generate $100 million in domestic box office with A Wrinkle In Time. And of course, there is Black Panther.

In terms of box office earners, a metric that identifies the stars who were part of the biggest domestic draws of the year, the prize for 2018 belongs to 25-year-old Letitia Wright, the Guyanese-born actor who played Shuri, the break-out star of Black Panther.

She helped generate some $1.55 billion in box office last year. In addition to Panther ($700,059,566), she also appeared in Avengers: Infinity War ($678,815,482), Ready Player One ($137,690,172), and The Commuter ($36,343,858).

Wright, who was largely unknown just twelve short months ago, is officially both black girl magic and highly bankable.

What a nice surprise.

(For those keeping track, the other earners in the top five were the stars of Black Panther, Samuel L. Jackson, one of the Chris’s* and Josh Brolin.)

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there is clearly more work to do in the film business. And while there was much to celebrate during awards season with Pixar’s Coco, Chile’s A Fantastic Woman and Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy-horror The Shape of Water, the lack of support for Latinx talent on both sides of the camera remains a significant issue.

But as the business case continues to assert itself, I am thinking more about the human case. I think about the act of faith it takes to sit with friends and strangers and take a new adventure together, and what it takes to make something extraordinary and have people show up for it.

I think about the only other black woman in the otherwise-white neighborhood theater who gave me the nod as she dashed out during the credits of The BlacKkKlansman, trying to stay in her feelings while not making eye contact with anyone else.

I think about taking three white teens, whom I adore, to Chicago for the opening weekend of Black Panther, and the joy of watching the film surrounded by a diverse group of happy families, many black, many in full-contact cosplay.

I think about how just fine folks thought it was for Viola Davis to be married to Liam Neeson in Widows, and how nice it was to all go outside again with that new normal imprinted on us.

I think about being in San Francisco and giving away some extra tickets I’d accidentally bought for A Wrinkle In Time to some young guys on the street, and getting into a funny conversation about what it takes to be successful. “Ava is so good because Compton makes the best artists,” they declared.

And we all want a little Compton up in our business these days.

But to get that, or any other breakthrough you seek, showing up seems to be at the heart of the matter, whether we’re Ryan Coogler or a mid-level manager trying to bring out the best in people they don’t really know or understand. It’s not an escape, it’s an opening.

So, in 2019, I’m going to keep the metaphor going.

I plan to show up as often as I can – for art, for unusual things, uncomfortable ideas and unfamiliar people. It’s the only way I’ve learned to make sure I’m open enough to be part of something that can make some good in the world. And it’s a mess out there. Have you noticed?

*Relax, it’s Pratt. Don’t @ me.

On Point

A child is shot and killed while riding in her mother’s car, a Houston-area community demands answersA white man in a red truck is alleged to have pulled up to LaPorsha Washington’s car and opened fire on her and her four children inside. Washington was shot in the arm, but Jazmine Barnes, seven years old, died at the scene. All the victims are black. Investigators are working to determine the motive, but it feels like a hate crime. “It’s our belief that it was totally unprovoked, whatever it was, and we’re leaving no stone unturned,” said one investigator. The man, described as bearded and wearing a red hoodie, is still at large.CNN

Netflix removes an episode of a comedy show critical of Saudi Arabia from viewing in the country
The show in question is Patriot Act, a satirical news commentary show starring Hasan Minhaj, an American comedian. In one of his segments, Minhaj critiqued the Saudis and their crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for their alleged role in the brutal murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. He went on to comment on the Saudi’s military action in Yemen and the resulting death and destruction. The decision was met with an immediate outcry. “Every artist whose work appears on Netflix should be outraged that the company has agreed to censor a comedy show because the thin-skinned royals in Saudi complained about it,” says a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch.
The Guardian

Jenova Chen will change the world through games
Jenova Chen is one of my tech heroes; his PlayStation games, Flow, Flower and Journey, are among my most treasured gaming experiences. (Yes, you read that right.) He grew up poor in Shanghai, but found his way into the storytelling program at the University of Southern California’s graduate school for film and new media, where he decided to turn his deep respect for the power of narrative into digital games. But instead of violence and flash, he focused on emotional transformation. “I wanted to show games can be used to communicate, games can be about peace, nature, life flourishing, and they can create emotional climax,” he tells Quartz.

Building an inclusive healthcare and IT workforce
In 2017, the team at Race Forward, a research-based racial justice organization, put together a four-part report that identifies key strategies for transforming your healthcare and IT workforce. Race-Explicit Strategies for Workforce Equity in Healthcare and IT offers real examples and is designed to help workforce practitioners – employers, philanthropists and regulators with influence – to better identify, train, support, and place workers of color. They start by critiquing the kinds of programs that aim to help people succeed. “Often, rhetoric about employability and opportunity drives social inequity, creating impenetrable roadblocks for workers of color along pathways that are already limited,” they write. “What is glaringly absent in this rhetoric are the realities of systemic racism and implicit bias that pervade both the labor market and the workforce development programs.”
Race Forward


The Woke Leader

The truth about the male-female binary is in our bones
These days, society seems to be in a better position to understand that gender, our expression of self, can be fluid. This is a good thing. But, says doctoral anthropology student Alexandra Kralick, we continue to struggle with the idea that our underlying sex comes in just two basic forms. Turns out, our bones have always had a much different story to tell about “the binary,” we just haven’t been listening.  “Skeletal studies, the field that I work in as a doctoral student in anthropology, and the history of this field show how our society’s assumptions about sex can lead to profound mistakes,” she writes. “[A]cknowledging that things are not really as binary as they may seem can help to resolve those errors.”

Meet the woman who developed the first effective treatment for leprosy
Alice Augusta Ball was the first woman and first African American to earn a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Hawaii. She also became the first woman instructor at the school’s chemistry department, where her work led to the first treatment for Hansen’s disease, more commonly known as leprosy. Born and raised in Seattle in 1892, she came from a family of achievers – her grandfather, J.P. Ball, Sr., was one of the first black photographers in the U.S.  But her contribution to medical history was nearly lost – while she successfully worked to create a safe and injectable version of the treatment, she soon after became ill and died at age 24 – poisoned in her own lab from accidental exposure to chlorine gas. You work Chadwick Boseman in there as a love interest, this is a good movie, yo.
National Geographic

What happens to a black girl who is too anxious to ever feel like magic?
If you have two minutes and twenty seconds to spare, then spend some time with this spoken word piece that is the best, most inspiring, most on point explanation of anxiety I’ve ever heard. It’s by a poet named Jae Nichelle and she will make your heart soar. “So my anxiety and I have what you might call a ‘friends-with-benefits’ relationship…” she begins. Bring tissues. Follow her here


If you’re poor, if you’re working class, no one’s going to make an effort. I was bright, I was intelligent, so that was the thing. But at the same time, if you’re poor, no one’s going to bother figuring stuff out. Just throw it on a pile.
Steve McQueen