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Losing John Singleton

Less than two weeks after he suffered a massive stroke, John Singleton died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 51.

“John Singleton is a prolific, ground-breaking director,” his family said in a statement, “who changed the game and opened doors in Hollywood, a world that was just a few miles away, yet worlds away, from the neighborhood in which he grew up.”

Singleton made history as the youngest person and first African American ever nominated for a Best Director Oscar for his 1991 hit, Boyz n the Hood, a searing exploration of growing up black, bold, ambitious, and expendable in South Central LA.

Boyz inspired a lot of imitators in the years following its release, but Singleton was unmatched in his ability to craft a story that told a very specific truth.

“If you see the films I make and if they are in an urban setting, I basically have an agenda to not only entertain, but for you to feel something and to say something. Because this is where I’m from, you know what I mean?” he told talk show host Tavis Smiley in 2002. “I’m making you feel something for this environment. I’m not exploiting it.”

Singleton went on to a long career in film and television. While many people know and love him for introducing them to a 22-year-old Tupac Shakur, who starred alongside Janet Jackson in the 1993 film Poetic Justice, it was one of his lesser-known films that first came to mind when I heard he’d passed.

Rosewood was a 1997 historical drama, set about as far away from the ‘hood as you could get. It’s a lightly fictionalized account of the Rosewood massacre, a 1923 race riot that destroyed a semi-affluent black community in a rural Florida county. The precipitating event was the alleged rape of a white woman by a black “drifter” – the community attempted to defend themselves after several black neighbors were lynched by a mob. As many as 150 black people may have been killed. No one was held accountable at the time, but in 1993, the state of Florida became the first state to offer monetary reparations to the survivors and their descendants.

As you can imagine, the film is difficult to watch in parts, though Singleton does a masterful job bringing all the characters to life, including the ones who commit vile acts. (You will see parts of Jon Voight you ain’t ever seen before, I promise.)

But as a slice of history, the film offers an intimate look at how people learned to thrive despite caste tensions and Jim Crow barriers, and how quickly those tensions could ignite to destroy everything in its path.

It is only one of the many true American stories that made Singleton’s South Central possible.

Though the film didn’t deliver at the box office, it was a critical success.

Writing for the New York Times, critic Stanley Crouch called the sweeping ensemble piece “Mr. Singleton’s finest work.”

“On an epic scale, it moved the Afro-American experience into the kinds of mythic arenas in which John Ford cast his work, where the real and the mythological stood together, where authenticity and poetic exaggeration reinforced each other, where real characters and archetypes spoke to one another and worked together.”

It’s a good addition to any Singleton-themed viewing party you may be planning.

In his last interview before he died, the director reflected on his own reputation in the industry. He seemed to enjoy the question.

“Part of my reputation that I don’t like is that I’m some, like, black militant guy, really serious and I don’t like white people,” he said, laughing. “And it’s just like, I think I’m a pretty charismatic dude … I just don’t like people trying to subvert my vision of what I’m thinking. I’m kind of a goofball, I’m funny, I’m self-effacing and everything, but I’m very serious about telling the narrative that hasn’t been told before.”

On Point

Halima Aden is the first Muslim model to wear a hijab and burkini in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition The Somali-American model was born in Kenya at the Kakuma Refugee Camp where she lived until age 7. In a poignant move, her photo shoot took place at Kenya’s Watamu Beach. That said, it’s worth wondering what the swimsuit issue is really all about. For that, Kristen Bellstrom’s take in todays’ Broadsheet newsletter is a must read. “There are some sights you just never forget. For me, those lasting images include the splendor of Patagonia’s Perito Moreno Glacier, the first time I laid eyes on my wedding dress, and the day I walked into my old midtown office, only to be confronted by a sea of women’s butts,” she begins. When you worked for Time Inc, the annual swimsuit issue was the only magazine delivered to our desks. And that year’s cover was a doozy.Sports Illustrated

Help wanted. Please be white if possible
IT staffing and recruiting company Cynet Systems was forced to issue a public apology after a racist job listing was shared widely online. The posting appeared on various sites, including LinkedIn and began: “Preferably Caucasian who has good technical background.” It was immediately flagged by some eagle-eyed Twitter users, who took the company to task. It took several days for the company to fire the people responsible for the post. On Sunday, the company also apologized “for the anger & frustration caused by the offensive job post” and said the ad “does not reflect our core values of inclusivity & equality.”
Huffington Post

Minecraft founder will be excluded from anniversary activities because he is awful
Minecraft creator Marcus “Notch” Persson won’t be part of the 10-year anniversary plans for the game because of his “comments and opinions,” Microsoft tells Variety. Persson has become a controversial figure online and has been known to make transphobic comments and participate in a lot of racist trolling. “There is clearly an agenda against white men,” he tweeted last December. It goes downhill from there. So, he’s not coming to the party anymore. “His comments and opinions do not reflect those of Microsoft or Mojang and are not representative of ‘Minecraft,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Variety. Persson sold the game to Microsoft for $2.5 billion in 2014.
Variety

LeBron James launches a new podcast series about money
James and his business partner Maverick Carter are looking to deepen the conversation about the meaning of success for professional athletes and beyond. Branching Out is a new miniseries podcast that interviews former athletes about their career highs and lows, particularly after they leave sports; it’s part of the company’s Kneading Dough podcast and video series. While it’s good for the athletes, it’s even better for the fans, who get an object lesson in finances, career strategy, and resilience. “Think Wealthsimple’s Money Diaries, but for the ESPN set,” says Fast Company’s Jeff Beer.
Fast Company

 

On Background

East v. West in graphic form
Graphic artist Yang Liu moved from Beijing to Berlin, Germany when she was just thirteen. As an adult, she began to use her art to help describe the not-so-subtle differences between how people thought and behaved in her two cultures. Her work is deceptively simple, red and blue posters illustrating everything from attitudes about the boss, anger management, queuing up in a line, and telling the truth. When placed side-by-side, they become a bridge to understanding. “Many situations are better understood if they can be seen in relation.” Her posters were published in an art book called East Meets West, and they are awesome.
Quartz

The autobiography of Omar Ibn Said
Omar Ibn Said was 37 years old when he was kidnapped from his West African home and taken to Charleston, South Carolina to be enslaved. Said shared details of his kidnapping and life as a slave in a newly discovered manuscript, written in his native Arabic. The manuscript is believed to be the only one of its kind and has been in a private collection until now. (What’s that all about?) Among other things, it busts the myth that enslaved people were uncultured, uneducated, and lacked faith. Said, a Muslim, was a powerful writer. “They sold me into the hands of the Christians who bound me and sent me on board a great ship,” he wrote. Said had wealth and had spent years studying before he was kidnapped. He called his first enslaver “a small, weak and wicked man called Johnson.” Because nobody around him could read Arabic or influence the text, experts believe his manuscript is one of the most unfiltered testimonies of slavery that exist.
PBS News Hour

Maybe it’s time to re-think who gets venture capital funding?
The New Yorker’s Anna Wiener reviews Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s appearance on the TED stage last week, a sit-down interview that was enhanced by a stream of questions on a screen behind him that offered more insights than he did. “Why haven’t you banned white supremacists on this platform, despite legally having to hide them in Germany?” one audience member asked. There were no real answers forthcoming. But in this sensitive and often darkly funny assessment of Twitter’s optimistic past, she notes that Dorsey seems in over his head. It’s not all his fault. “Since the 2016 election, it has grown increasingly clear that allowing young, mostly male technologists to build largely unregulated, proprietary, international networks might have been a large-scale, high-stakes error in judgment,” she writes.
New Yorker

 

Quote

No, my mantra at the time was I was happy, but I don’t think I allowed myself to enjoy it as much. You do these things for the passion of it. You don’t do it for the notoriety of it. There was a political thing about it. Barbra Streisand wasn’t nominated for best director. That was a huge controversy. Some people said I took her slot. The irony was Barbra had gotten me into the D.G.A. — she signed my application. I was walking around the studio, and I had to get three signatures. Barbra was cutting “Prince of Tides,” and I’m a huge Barbra Streisand fan. People wouldn’t realize that. My daughter is, too. So I went to her editing room and talked to her, and she signed my application. Sidney Poitier signed it, too.
—John Singleton on his Oscar nominations