Movies Pop Culture

This is how the Academy REALLY chooses how to award Oscars

Getting to the Oscars is the dream of everyone who’s ever wished to work in entertainment,

It’s been almost three years since the Harvey Weinstein exposé (did you hear? He got a 23-year prison sentence!). When I was young, I always wanted to work in entertainment, and Miramax was the Holy Grail. Learning that this man who I revered so much abused his power in a myriad of ways was terrifying. So I did what I always did, I tried to make sense of it all. How exactly was this man able to hold an entire industry hostage for three decades? My search for answers led me to all ends of the internet.

Then in a stroke of luck (but really, intelligent algorithms), I found the Be Kind and Rewind Youtube channel. The very first video I came across was the titled ‘Harvey Weinstein and the Oscars.’ In this video essay, the Youtuber discussed how Harvey Weinstein refined the art of Oscars Campaigning. From finding out where Oscars voters vacation and setting up screens there to utilizing press relationships. All of these things induced a particular kind of anticipation for Miramax films. Miramax studios created ads specifically for high profile magazines like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Harvey Weinstein’s effect on the Academy Award process is apparent. What we often declare as ‘Oscars bait’ films, such as period dramas and inspirational movies, were perfected to garner wins by the Miramax Company.

This Youtube channel also discusses how an award isn’t necessarily a pronouncement of someone’s talent or quality of the film. An excellent example is Elizabeth Taylor’s Academy Award win for Butterfield 8. A film about a Manhattan call girl that is in a doomed affair with a married man. The narrative surrounding Elizabeth Taylor was closer to her winning the award rather than the film itself. Butterfield 8 isn’t a good movie. I could argue that’s a bad film. Elizabeth Taylor disparaged the film for the rest of her life. However, the image Elizabeth Taylor took on after filming the movie is what is of great importance.

During the filming of Cleopatra, she contracted pneumonia, which could have killed her. As Be Kind and Rewind is quick to point out, this coincided with the Academy Award voting period. One of the most bankable stars in the world had been on the brink of death. After years of snubs, Elizabeth Taylor got what she wanted: an Oscar.

Be Kind and Rewind focuses on the stars of old, not because of nostalgia. But because in our contemporary times we have somehow convinced ourselves that the machinations of film studios and actresses are a new phenomenon. There have always been ‘just due’ awards. Before Leonardo Dicaprio had to suffer for The Revenant, Geraldine Page suffered an entire career’s worth of Oscar losses. She finally won in 1986 for the film Life is Beautiful in the Best Actress category even though Whoopi Goldberg had a fantastic run that year. Life Is Beautiful was a good movie, but Geraldine was not being awarded for that film in particular; she was being awarded for a lifetime of excellent work.

Insights like these are essential because, as we look back at the best films of 2019, we often think about which films should be awarded in simplistic terms. But awards are never just about the film, the director or the cast and crew. They are a way to leverage the power and gain influence in the industry. They are a pronouncement on what a governing body thinks is valuable. That being said, it’s the audience that can ascribe life to art. After all, The Color Purple is still a beloved film.  

The Youtube channel Be Kind and Rewind also hits the apparent failings of these awards – consistently excluding women. Particularly women of color. The refusal to reward films that are challenging rather than safe ones and how these awards encourage a winner take all mindset.  The lack of attention and respect that foreign films get is another failure. Foreign language films are less likely to win awards in major categories, creating a bias against them. Truthfully, most winners we see kiss their statues are American and British actors and actresses. This is why Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite Oscar sweep was so satisfying to watch amongst so many people.

On some level, we all know that people in expensive gowns handing out awards is an exercise of vanity and navel-gazing. Yet we still enjoy it because we believe it’s a meritocracy when the truth is murkier than that. The relationship between the Oscars voters and Oscars winners is uncomfortably close. Through discovering this channel, I was able to understand the real importance of taking award seasons with a grain of salt.

Awards are a very narrow arbiter of excellence. And the real power of a film lies with those who watch it with no reservations or motives.

Sometimes, a statue is just that.

Editor's Picks Health Care Love Wellness

Slick Woods’ cancer diagnosis is a wake up call

How often have we heard “Black don’t crack?” Its prevalence permeated the cultural landscape long before social media came along.

Hand-in-hand with that all-too-famous saying is the belief that Black people don’t need sunscreen or protection from the sun.

On one of the best songs from the 2010s, ‘Clique’ by Big Sean, Kanye West boasts that his skin is way too Black to burn from sun rays. I believed this too. I never wore sunscreen as a child. The idea was laughable to me.

I truly believed, like most Black people I knew, that sunscreen was a ‘white’ thing. It had nothing to do with me. Why would it?

But when you know better, you do better. I got older, wiser, and started to pay serious attention to my skincare routine. In the quest for knowledge about the different ways to take care of one’s skin, there was one thing that stood out: sunscreen. I learned that sunscreen is key in protecting the skin from aging. 

More importantly? Sunscreen is the first step in protecting oneself from skin cancer. And yes, Black people can get skin cancer, just like anyone else. This is something that many people are finally starting to realize in a logical sense.

Emotionally, however, there is still an attachment to the idea that the darker you are, the less your need for sunscreen exists.

I remember seeing my Black friends passing me odd looks at my constant slathering of sunscreen. Their sentiments always went something like this: “If my grandparents didn’t need it, then why do I need it?”

Sunscreen just wasn’t seen as a necessity.

The news of Slick Woods’ skin cancer diagnosis may be the final nail in the coffin for this misguided belief.

Slick Woods is one of the most well-known models today, thanks to her unique aesthetic that translated into her iconic features in Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty campaigns. She famously went into labor while walking in the first Savage x Fenty runway show.

Her hiatus wasn’t something that immediately set off any warning bells, because we all live in the age where celebrities go dark for several months, eventually reappearing with a revamped image.

That was, however, until she came out with the devastating news of her diagnosis, packaged with her particular dose of wit, on Instagram. Her announcement just read “How I feel about chemotherapy, shout out to everyone that gotta go through it #atleastimalreadybald.”

According to The Shade Room, the 23-year-old confirmed exclusively to them that she has stage-three melanoma cancer. “She says she’s currently fighting for her life,” the Shade Room wrote.

Even though Slick has specifically stated via Instagram about not wanting to be treated as a victim to the diagnosis, the truth is still straightforward.

But the fact that Slick Woods, a proud Black woman, is suffering from skin cancer offers us as a community the chance to realize that this type of cancer can affect anyone, regardless of race. 

It’s also an opportunity to discuss the many ways dermatology and medicine, in general, continue to overlook and mistreat Black people. The Skin Cancer Foundation found that the survival rates for skin cancer among Black people are at 65%, while it’s at 91% for white people. Some signs of melanoma are missed in Black patients by dermatologists because there are fewer studies on darker skin tones.

Between the still-prevalent idea that skin protection should be optional for people with darker skin and the racial gap in caring for Black skin, there is a lot of work to be done regarding educating all of us about this type of cancer.

The medical community needs to do a better job in treating Black people because a dismal 12% of incoming medical professionals gaining specific knowledge in treating skin of color isn’t going to cut it. 

However, we need to do a better job as well. A better job of educating our loved ones and our community at large that this can affect them. A better job communicating that the sun is not man-made, that it does not bear the effects of institutional racism. That it’s time to pick up the sunhat and sunscreen.

Our health depends on it.

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Culture Family Life Stories Life

A friendship doesn’t have to last forever for it to retain its impact

My god-sister and I were close once; thick as thieves as the saying goes. We got our hair braided together, we went to school together and did everything else together. We were linked by friendship, first our parents and then our own. We’d play with our rice and stew while complaining about our two siblings. Our friendship had that ease of language that didn’t require words. A tilt of my head would explain my shock at someone’s behavior and a narrowing of her eyes would convey her dislike of a person.

Somewhere along the line, that changed. I can’t put a precise date on it. When there’s a significant change in someone’s life there is often a portrayal of a decisive event, but I can’t say that’s been the case for me. It happened over time; an impercepitble change that’s hard to quantify even now.  All I can really say for sure is that our bond is no longer there.

I first came across the term “seasonal friendship” on one of the many viral tweets that land across my timeline on Twitter. Some people are part of your life for a specific period of time or a defining chapter in the long-form story of your life. Slowly but surely, paths diverge. At least, that’s what happened in my own situation. She was ascending, becoming friends with people very different than I. That’s neither bad nor good. It just is. I was figuring out who I was, I still am, but even more so then. I was trying to develop my own identity outside of being someone’s sister, someone’s cousin or someone’s daughter. Along the way, I’ve discovered parts of myself that I love and others that I don’t.

In all of this, there was the feeling of not belonging. The things that were expected of girls and the pervading elitism that ran through the veins of those expectations were not something that I could deal with and I didn’t want to. Additionally, there was growing acceptance in myself that I may never fit in with particular groups of people. I am too loud, too opinionated and quite often just too much. But for the right people, I am simply enough and they wouldn’t have me any other way.

At the beginning of our friendship fraying, I was angry.

I felt left behind and like a discarded part of her old life that was regulated to the past without a second thought. With a couple years on my side, I can now see that isn’t the case. The quiet death of our close friendship taught me that people are allowed to outgrow things and that includes relationships. As we change and transform, take on a different life as we grow older, some things simply can’t come with us.

Our distance has taught me to not only accept the arrival and end of seasons but to embrace it. I can honor what I had with someone and carry the lessons along the way while also saying goodbye to that period of my life. In friendships and romantic relationships ending, there doesn’t need to be a villain or a hero. We are all complex and flawed individuals that are in a period of change almost all the time. Who someone is today may not be the person they are tomorrow, which means that some things can’t be forever. The inability of something lasting forever doesn’t dim its light or dull its beauty. My friendship with my god-sister taught me that there is beauty in letting go.

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USA LGBTQIA+ 2020 Elections Policy Inequality

Dear Ellen Degeneres, the time to be nice in politics has long passed

On the first weekend of October 2019,  there was a football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Packers. The cameras captured the game, the roars of the crowd and the celebrities that were in a stadium suite. This in itself is nothing unusual.  Yet spotted in these photos were none other than Ellen Degeneres and Portia De Rossi, seated alongside George W Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, laughing and smiling. There were immediate comments, mostly ones expressing disappointment. As Ellen, herself said on her TV show as a response to the uproar,  “why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?” 

She continued in her usual sunny manner to remind the audience in front of her and those of us watching at home that she’s friends with lots of people who don’t share the same beliefs that she does. She ended the segment by stating that it’s important to be nice and kind to everyone. Not just those that share our beliefs.  

Everything that Ellen said in that short segment in response to the bewilderment and disappointment online is what has made Ellen…well Ellen. She was the woman who taught middle belt America that lesbians are not monsters or “strange girls from the city.” But instead that they are every woman and everywhere. In doing so, she weathered many a difficult storm including the cancellation of her TV sitcom.

George Bush, on the other hand, built a considerable part of his political base on being anti-LGBTQ.  By refusing to classify crimes against gay people as hate crimes and standing firm on agreement on a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. In the context of the performative “uh shucks, we’re all one and the same,” that has made her so successful, being friendly with George Bush makes sense. Ellen’s kindness as she’s shown over and over again extends to everyone, even when it makes her look stupid. 

Thankfully, the world has changed profoundly since Ellen became a household name in 1997. In our society today, unfettered and more importantly uncritical niceness is not seen as a virtue.

As Laura Bradley said in Vanity Fair, “when one person has historically believed other people should not have the same basic rights as another, it’s hard to treat these differences as benign—especially when that person once exercised their power to help make their beliefs a reality.

3 layers Face Mask Virus protection

We simply cannot afford to continue to rehabilitate the image of a person that invaded Iraq. Or trampled on our civil liberties (ahem, Patriot Act),  or his terrible response to Hurricane Katrina and a plethora of other issues.

The presidency of Donald Trump has been one of the best things to happen to George Bush’s image.  Charming interviews with Jimmy Kimmel and appearances on Ellen’s day time show haven’t hurt either.

Neither has the much-discussed friendship between him and Michelle Obama. Respectability politics have shown us that George Bush is a nice man; charming, even, but it doesn’t absolve him of his crime.

But being nice and being polite is not the same thing as being good and just. Plenty of racist and homophones have the best manners, but it doesn’t mean anything. This is what Ellen and many moderate boomers can’t seem to grasp in the waves of criticism of their actions.

Not one person expected Ellen to remove herself from that box in a dramatic fashion. Instead, her dissenters were asking her the value in elevating a run of the mill exchange with a famously anti-gay and very pro-torture Republican leader.  What do we gain painting this encounter like some sort of Kumbaya or come to Jesus’ moment?

This encounter can be a learning moment if we let it. Not just for Ellen but for ourselves.  Too many of us focus on surface-level politeness and cordiality. It’s the first thing we are taught as children. And to a degree, it’s necessary for civil society (in fact it can make your career). But what we really need in order to create a just society is goodness. It is honesty and the ability to hold people and ourselves accountable.

Ellen had the opportunity to approach the criticism of her and Bush being (seemingly) bosom buddies differently.  If Ellen is so committed to being kind, maybe she should be a bit kinder to the most vulnerable in our society. Not the person who aided in making them so in the first place. 

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Health Care Culture Beauty Wellness Life

I decided to step off the treadmill and let my body be

There are a couple of sounds that instantly take me back to a simpler time in my life; the music of onions frying in a kitchen, U-Roy playing on a loop and sneakers being tied. I grew up in a family that took exercise seriously. In every single office that my father has occupied, he has a photo of him completing the Boston Marathon, a smile gracing his damp face, one arm raised in celebration of his achievement. My sister would stretch this way and that before she would go on a run. My other sister used to be a dedicated swimmer.

Suffice to say, part of our identities were tied up in exercise. It’s something that I didn’t embrace until I was much older, which elicited annoyance from my family.  But that time did come. For me, it was almost like a siren call. The gym beckoned to me, promising to be a place that I could solve my problems and cultivate the discipline that I desperately needed and, in the beginning, it was. I learned that I was much stronger than I looked and that I could push through discomfort to lift a heavier dumbbell. It turns out those were valuable lessons for me to learn. As I’ve aged, I’ve been put in situations where I have to push back against my discomfort and stand my ground. I honestly do not think I would have been able to do that without stepping foot into the gym.

But then Instagram happened. Ah, Instagram; the bane and yet the light of our modern society. I was never an avid user of Instagram until about two years ago. I was so opposed to the app that a friend used to run my account. I didn’t see the less savory side of it until I started looking for workout videos on the app. While those videos were helpful, I couldn’t help but notice a pretty obvious pattern. All the women’s bodies looked the same. An extremely flat and toned stomach with a round, curvy butt that seemed to defy gravity paired with strong muscular thighs.

These Instagram fitness coaches preached about taking time for yourself and investing in your well being in between adds of slimming teas (which are laxatives, don’t let anyone tell you any different). In between all the weightlifting, yoga classes, high-intensity exercises, and skincare tips that I came to follow, something changed. My body never looked better, but my mind was messy. No matter how much muscle I had gained or every achievement, it wasn’t enough for me.

I was miserable. I began looking at myself in the mirror just after showering, handling my body unkindly and asking myself how come my butt didn’t look like theirs? Why weren’t my arms growing at a faster rate? How come I hadn’t hit a certain number of calories burned on the treadmill?  I didn’t realize that part of the wellness culture online is cultivating the feeling that you could be better and that your best self is just around the corner. If you can hold out for just long enough and spend a little more money, use more derma rollers to firm up your cellulite or wear these leggings while doing weighted rows, your life will change.

Months later and I was burnt out. Not just physically but emotionally. Deep down, I knew something had to give. So I did the one thing I needed to do; I took a break. I ate whatever I wanted, and that includes ice cream for dinner because why not? I only exercised when I felt like it and not a minute more. I let my body be, with no expectations attached. Through this process, I discovered A Swole Woman‘s Instagram account. Her only goal is to teach people about the strength of their bodies even if they don’t see it or feel it. Through her, I have learned to focus not on the aesthetics of my body, but the strength that it holds.

I am currently still on my break from exercise. I am dedicated to refocusing my joy on what my body can do and not what it looks like. I am also relearning that my body does not need to be on a constant track to something better. Through this, I’ve learned to love my body more, even if I don’t necessarily like it all the time. Soon enough, I will walk into a gym again in the cold and put my hands on a squatted rack the same way I did a year ago. But the reasons for it will be very different and so much better.

Culture Family Gender & Identity Life

Motherhood does not have to define womanhood

All my life I’ve expected to be a mother and wife. They just went hand-in-hand. Growing up, whenever I did something wrong, the first thing I would be asked by Aunties is, “Is that what you will do in your husband’s house?” Through comments like these, I was taught that my misbehavior wasn’t detrimental to what I could accomplish on my own, it was detrimental to my success as a wife. Being a wife but not experiencing motherhood was unthinkable. One without the other suggested that you were a failure or defective in some way. 

Let me be clear, I was allowed to aspire to greatness, to put my best foot forward and be ambitious. However, that ambition and tenacity were always intertwined with what was expected of me because of my gender. I would mention, offhandedly, my dreams of a corner office and almost immediately be bombarded with advice about maintaining a work/life balance, including how to take care of kids while maintaining excellence in a career. In my mind, I would always ask myself “but what if I don’t actually want kids?” I knew if I asked that out loud I would either be ignored or smugly told that I’d change my mind. I wouldn’t be taken seriously. 

I jokingly pitched the idea of avoiding motherhood altogether amongst older women once. I was met with a combination of radio silence and shocked stares. This is because Nigeria is an extremely conservative society. No matter what you achieve, none of it can be complete without children. As a woman living in Nigeria, this type of thinking was impossible for me to escape. I saw it in media, experienced it in church, and rolled my eyes through it in conversations with my family. 

That question is one I only asked myself seriously when I turned 21.  I always assumed that I wanted kids. But I would look at young children and feel no maternal instinct. I never once experienced “baby fever” even looking at the cutest of children.  I definitely felt tenderness whenever a toddler would stretch a pudgy arm up, asking me to hold them, but that was about it.

Knowing all this about myself, I still felt the need to have them. The idea of “leaving something behind in the world” was too strong. You’re expected to leave a legacy and proof that you were here. My grandfather may have died but the eyes he had are the same ones his children, grandchildren and maybe great-grandchildren may have. Didn’t I want that as well? This argument is one I wrestled with on and off for four years.

Then, in a fortunate stroke of serendipity, I came across a Naomi Campbell interview. She was asked about motherhood and she responded with all the models who she helped, the up-and-comers and those already established. Those women are her stamp on the world. The lives you touch throughout your life can be your legacy and your shot at living forever even when you’re gone. Love can be found in all sorts of places and not only in the traditional nuclear family structure.

I don’t know if I want to be a mother not. I still have a lot of living to do and maybe I will change my mind in the years to come. What I do know is that I refuse to let outdated ideas surrounding womanhood control or define me. My worth isn’t determined by my ability to procreate and neither is my womanhood.

Movies Pop Culture

As a Marvel fan, here’s why I agree with Martin Scorsese about Marvel films not being cinema

Late last year, Martin Scorsese landed himself in the ire of moviegoers all over the world. The question that must be asked is, what could this beloved filmmaker possibly have said? There is a certain amount of goodwill that is granted to people who make good art. In labeling superhero films as ‘not cinema,’ he opened up an entire can of worms. Like many people, when I first heard the snippet of his comment, I was pretty upset myself.

I love Marvel films and superhero films in general. I enjoy going to the movies and knowing what I’m getting. To me, and countless people, it sounded like Martin Scorsese was giving the fans of these juggernauts the kiss-off. However, I decided to avoid the clickbait temptations of the internet and read Mr. Scorsese’s New York Times’ op-ed in its entirety. In doing so, I gained a deeper understanding of his comments. I also realized that I think he’s right.

In his thought-out and lengthy response to the mounting criticism, he laid out a few things. The first being the undeniable talent of every single arm of these films, from the cast to the set designers and creative directors. It takes skill and precision to make films of that caliber. The second, and I think, the most critical point he expanded on is the quality of the movie. He never said they were terrible or poorly written and acted. He said they weren’t cinema.

So what does that mean? In my opinion, for a film to be part of cinema, there is be something in the story that mirrors reality. Reality is messy, unfair, beautiful, and tragically funny. Nothing is promised. You won’t be getting that in a Marvel film. Sure, our heroes will go through some growing pains, but in the end, you know they’ll be fine. In other words, there is no emotional risk involved. There is no acknowledgment that sometimes the bad guys win, and no, you don’t get a do-over.

That in itself isn’t a problem. Sometimes it’s comforting to know exactly how a film is going to end. The growing diversity and racial reflection of our society is beautiful to see as well. The real issue is that these well done, fun, massively entertaining, and formulaic movies are pushing out riskier, less straight-edged ones. Superhero franchises are a sure thing, unlike the work of independent filmmakers. Directors like Greta Gerwig, Ava Duvarnay, and Mounia Meddour continue to make waves. Still, the space for them in the broader film landscape is smaller than ever because of franchise superhero films. Smaller, more intimate pictures by independent directors are gaining a new life on streaming platforms; however, there is still a novelty and magic in physically leaving your space to experience something new with strangers.

Our artistic education can become a lot more limited and narrow-minded when we only see particular stories. We need to accept that the trend of seeing everything through as superhero lens isn’t necessarily a good thing. The return of the more corporatized model of filmmaking is, in the long run, detrimental because it reduces every artistic choice to money alone. When we watch Marvel films, a writer didn’t decide that he or she had something interesting to say and then penned a story. A director didn’t take a said script and roam free with artistic license.

The truth is way less romantic than that. A board room full of people sorted through what licensed properties they already owned the rights to and decided what would be the most profitable to make. Every single aspect of production is tightly pre-designed down to the color grading, which is how we end up with Ant-Man (who needed this film??). In between the endless reboots that occasionally get wrapped up in racist rhetoric, we are completely ignoring the dearth of original, exciting content that isn’t getting made. Even if some of these films are getting the green light, it is not on the same scale franchises and reheated intellectual property are.

Martin Scorsese’s comments came from a place of concern for the future of film that encourages a little faith that what you are about to see is worth your time and effort.

In an age where ‘sameness’ seems to prevail more than ever, thanks to the rise of social media, we need independent filmmakers more than ever. Variety and risk are what makes just about anything worthwhile, and in the film business, we stand a higher chance of losing it.

The next time you decide to see a new film, consider seeing something that challenges you. After all, that’s the whole point of cinema.

Policy Inequality

Why the International Criminal Court being under attack matters

The International Criminal Court is not an institution that crops up in casual conversation, even in conversations about politics. When it does come up, it is never pleasant. And why would it be? The task given to this institution is not an envious one.

The ICC investigates and charges individuals who have committed crimes against humanity.  The ICC was created by the Rome Statute a treaty brought forth by the United Nations but operates independently. The ICC is often seen as “the court of last resort.” Due to this, the court system usually sees the worst of what humanity has to offer, legally speaking.

So it’s safe to say this isn’t dinner party talk.

However, the International Criminal Court is one of the few institutions that can hold powerful people accountable. Without it, Charles Taylor the infamous president of Liberia and feared war criminal might still be living in exile. For many victims of human rights abuses, entities like the International Criminal Court remain the only place where they have a chance of getting justice.

The countries that are still recovering from civil wars, coups and foreign intervention in their political processes are in the nascent stages of rebuilding their homes. This means that the branches of government such as the legislative and judiciary may not be fully equipped in making sure the perpetrators of such violence are held accountable.

Additionally, it may be dangerous to hold such trials in the country of the accused in question. Lack of government infrastructure, fear for people’s safety and tenous peacebuilding all combine to drive home how important the ICC is. This is why the court being threatened by one of the most powerful countries in the world, is of grave consequence. Before John Bolton’s unceremonious departure from Trump’s cabinet, he gave a strongly worded speech threatening sanctions and labeled the ICC “illegitimate.”

Subsequently, the US imposed visa bans on all ICC personnel and staff involved in the investigation of US citizens.

This isn’t the first time the ICC has suffered from attempts to delegitimize it. Last year, President Duterte of the Philippines said that the country had given the notice to withdraw from the ICC. Burundi also withdrew in 2017, becoming the first country that has done so.

Naturally, the United States condemnation of the ICC has garnered the most attention. An important question is, what caused it? It may be due to current investigations into the conduct of American personnel in Afghanistan. Moreover, an investigation may be in the works regarding Palestine which would include the conduct of Israeli officials. The US and Israel have a long and mutually beneficial allyship that may be threatened by this.

It is important to note that the countries that have sought to attack or unnecessarily criticize the ICC in recent years have all been accused of grave crimes themselves.

President Duterte’s inhumane war on drugs has left thousands dead and made headlines around the world. Burundi’s security forces have carried out widespread human rights abuses such as abductions and beatings. The United States unnecessary and damaging war in Afghanistan and generally dangerous foreign policy continues to be felt.

All of these countries and their leaders have something to protect.

Namely, the political establishment and access to power. They have no interest in ensuring the ones that have been hurt the most by their policies and actions receive the protection they deserve. The ICC stands as an impartial organization that is not beholden to any government. For many, it is the last or only chance they have at having their voices heard.

There is something so moving about victims of war and human rights abuses coming face to face with their perpetrators in court to hold them accountable. They have the chance to explain what happened to them, their children and their country. The ICC gives these victims a platform for their voices to be heard and for justice to be served.

We cannot let those who would attempt to bully or intimidate the members of the court from doing their job in protecting human rights laws. Without the ICC countless more crimes will continue to go unchecked, and then what kind of world will we live in? There so much hate and pain in the world, we cannot stand down.

The Internet Aww Nostalgia Love + Sex Books Pop Culture

What I learned on changed my entire childhood

I was always afraid to ask questions about sex.

As a teenager, it seemed that girls that dared to explore their sexuality, no matter how tame, were always punished. I didn’t want that for myself so I never asked questions. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have them. In the recesses of my mind, they would push up against ‘cleaner’ and more acceptable thoughts. They were always there.

To satisfy my curiosity, I started reading my mother’s romance novels.

Those books by Harlequin lined every bookshelf of my childhood. Three solid blocks of older red books and newer, slimmer blue books. I never had any interest in those books as a kid. The painted pictures of a muscled, stoic man embracing a slim-hipped heroine seemed silly to me.

I never had any interest in those books as a kid. The painted pictures of a muscled, stoic man embracing a slim-hipped heroine seemed silly to me.

Occasionally, glancing at the (always) white couple staring at each other did absolutely nothing to garner my attention. However, a changing body led to a changing mind.

Before  I knew it, I had devoured entire shelves of different Harlequin series. While I look back on that time with fondness, it still didn’t answer the questions that I had. The more I read romance novels, the more I realized it wasn’t romance I wanted to learn about. I wanted to learn about sex.

So my search began.

I scoured the web for my education. Porn didn’t do it for me, although I learned a lot about how flexible the body can be.

I also read a lot of bad erotica. I’d lie belly down on my bed and marvel at how some of these stories get published. Once, while scrolling through another bad story I came across an ad for a website. ‘Literotica? That’s quite catchy’ I thought to myself. I clicked that link and in doing so my relationship with my sexuality was forever altered.

The more I read romance novels, the more I realized it wasn’t romance I wanted to learn about. I wanted to learn about sex.

The front page of the site doesn’t look like anything special.

Even ten years ago, when I first discovered it for myself, it looked retro, to say the least. Looking at the discovery page, viewers are welcomed in by a woman glancing over at us coyly, I assume. It’s impossible to tell because the photo is extremely blurry. I had never seen so many options for erotica. From horror to non-human and everything in between.

My head spun at the possibilities and also the creativity.

My favorite author was a writer under the pseudonym sush_taco. Her stories which reimagined the marriage of the Hades and Persephone was a revelation. It married the tender and sometimes introspective nature of traditional romance novels while being sexually explicit.

I also came across another author, silkstockinglover, whose stories were shockingly explicit and ran the gamut of just about every single fetish known to mankind. Although these stories and fetishes could be problematic, they also taught me my desires weren’t ‘deviant’ or wrong.

It married the tender and sometimes introspective nature of traditional romance novels while being sexually explicit.

My favorite section was the Illustrated stories. I loved not only reading about sex but the drawings.

In the Humor and Satire section, I learned about how funny sex and stories about sexual pleasure can be. About how to relax and enjoy yourself and not worry so much about weird sounds or awkward positions.

Many stories on taught me about myself and how intricate and interesting sex can be. This website taught me about how to be vocal but what I want and to embrace being adventurous before I had ever entered into a sexual relationship. I still have so much to learn about sex and I suspect I will never stop learning about it.

But Literotica was the first time I immersed myself in my sexuality. Where I didn’t push it to the back of my mind or read things that were of no interest to me. I still read stories from the website, partly from nostalgia but mainly because so many of the stories are engaging.

Through this website, I learned to destigmatize the ‘bad’ words used to describe women who enjoy sex. Literotica celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year. I can’t help but think of all the people who not only write the stories and create a community around those stories but the people who read them.

The people who fantasize over them, who learn from them, share them with their friends.

The people like me.

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Fashion Lookbook

As a self-proclaimed overdresser, I’m over fashion’s minimalism trend

Capsule wardrobes? Don’t even talk to me about them. I don’t like anything ‘streamlined’ nor do I want to have an ‘edited’ closet. The more I can wear, the better.  But lately, this gleeful practice of burying your body under layers of fabric seems to have fallen out of favor. Athleisure is the name of the game. The seemingly effortless outfits, look perfectly curated for Instagram and Pinterest. In all honesty, I can see how they are appealing. Simplifying your look cuts down on the time spent pulling an outfit together. Additionally, there’s a timelessness about athleisure minimalism. Lululemon has basically taken over the world.  

So if spandex pants and mesh tanks are everywhere, why do I hate it so much? It was something I could never quite put my finger on. Any time I passed a perky woman wearing Lululemon yoga pants at Whole Foods it took every single ounce of my energy to prevent my eyes from rolling to the back of my head.

However, I’ve had some time to think about it. To pinpoint what it is about the trend that grinds my gears. It’s the so-called effortlessness of the outfits. The trend’s attractiveness comes from the idea that putting effort into your appearance is a bad thing.

This goes against everything I stand for and is in direct conflict with the concept of overdressing. I’ve always been the type of girl who completely ignores her friend’s directive and comes to a casual lunch dressed to the nines. Personally, I loved the outfits on the original Dynasty show. I am in awe of Carrie Bradshaw’s closet in Sex and the City. I fully support how dedicated Kim Kardashian is to never be caught off guard. Because I am the same way. It’s a bit of a headscratcher given my precarious financial situation. However, I am a serial overdresser because of my financial situation not despite it. Breezing through thrift stores and hunting down vintage leather jackets on Depop is one of the few luxuries I can afford.

My ability to wait for the perfect moment to strike when betting on a retro Vivienne Westwood corset top brings me more pride than being at the top of the waiting list for new Yeezy’s. There is something about being stopped in the street and bonding with another person over where they got their giant pearl necklace. I love being asked ‘where are you going?!’ in an incredulous tone by family and friends alike. It’s something you simply cannot get while wearing joggers and a sports bra.

I like the clear hard work and clear thought it takes to pull off an obviously overdone outfit.  I also appreciate that for the practice of overdressing, it’s nearly impossible for too many similarities to be present. Athleisure and minimalism have a ‘sameness’ a uniform quality that threads through its ethos that I am not a fan of.  The gleeful and campy nature of dressing is missed in these trends. My fashion inspirations are people like Andre Leon Talley, Prince, and Missy Elliot. To put it lightly, these are people known for making a statement with their clothes. A bold one at that. One of the most important aspects of overdressing is not being afraid to stand out a little bit. To be bold.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but the world I’m witnessing and living in isn’t fun at the moment. Sometimes the only way I can access my joy and optimism about the future is through the small action of what I wear. So while it may be seen as completely inappropriate to wear a large patterned boubou with fringes at the bottom to Walgreens, it is one thing that keeps me sane. I have been able to create a community for myself through the ability to look like I’m attending A Very Important Thing all the time.

My spirits have been lifted through this simple and admittedly silly act. A dressed-down gym outfit may be more practical but it’s not nearly as fun. And if there’s one thing that fashion and style should be, it’s fun. Overdressing is the embodiment of that. So throw on a ton of jewelry today.  It may just change your outlook.

Fashion Lookbook

How having a personal tailor can reduce our need for fast fashion

Picture a fifteen-year-old girl swathed in itchy fabric held together by pins. She turns this way and that before she’s firmly admonished by a young woman telling her to stay still. That girl was me once upon a time. Everyone has a tailor or multiple tailors growing up in Nigeria. It’s simply a way of life. Even with the proliferation of fast fashion and social media, our tailors from the fancy to the functional remain a consistent presence in our lives.  The question is: why?

The simplest and easiest answer is because of tradition. For weddings, funerals and all events in between, a good tailor for traditional outfits is a must. I still remember the green fitted skirt with a matching gold bustier top I wore to a wedding. It’s still one of my favorite looks ever. It is also something I wouldn’t have been able to pick up at H&M.  For large events, you usually buy fabric from the event planner and then sew an outfit according to your relationship to the person hosting. For instance, men might wear one fabric, and woman another. To make it even more complicated there may be different tiers. The close family could wear green, for example, the extended family yellow, and close friends blue.

The first tailor I developed a consistent relationship with, met me when I was 12. A transition period in most people’s lives; becoming an adolescent.

I am 24 now, and she still makes clothes for me. She’s one of the most stable relationships I have ever had. Through fashion, she got to know me incredibly well. Where I’m from, your tailor is a part of pretty much every important milestone in your life. Sitting across from them, like a therapist you begin to collaborate on an outfit. It could be for your baby shower, your graduation party, or a funeral. Slowly but surely, they begin to carve out an outfit that will suit you. Most of the time they even source the fabric. Through this exercise, I learned to be bolder with my stylistic choices.

In order to meet your perfect tailor suited to your needs, you kiss a lot of frogs in the process. You will meet lots of tailors that will ruin yards of expensive fabric or who will adamantly go against your wishes and sew complete atrocities. I know I’ve been on the receiving end of unfortunate encounters with those types of tailors. But that’s what makes meeting your perfect tailor so rewarding. Meeting someone who’s on the same stylistic wavelength and knows your body intimately? Priceless.

With fast fashion under intense scrutiny from the public due to unfair labor practices and environmental destruction, I can’t help but think about the series of tailors I’ve encountered. They taught me patience and the appreciation that comes from watching an outfit slowly come together. I was shown how different fabrics sit on the body. Jersey, for smoothing and highlighting curves and linen for dressing up or down looks. I got to feel the fabrics with my own hands. Unlike many people who live in the West, I had an intimate relationship with the person who makes my clothes. Due to this, it was absolutely out of the question making them work harder than they possibly could. Or refusing to pay them the worth of their craft. The fact is, the further the relationship with the maker and creator of things; whether it’s fashion or farming the more likely for abuse.

I am fortunate that I have had the experience of learning the craft of making clothes from people who have been doing it all their lives. Recently, there has been a crop of sustainable fashion labels, with the designers and manufacturers based in the country of origin. People are more interested than ever in not letting their fashion add to their carbon footprint. This is a good step in fostering the relationship between maker, seller, and buyer. It’s not quite the same as having a woman with a thimble on both of her thumbs attempt to straighten out an Ankara skirt.  But it’s a start.

Editor's Picks Hair Beauty Lookbook

Every time I visit the salon, the West African braiders weave my culture into my hair

I used to hate getting my hair braided.

Sitting for hours in an uncomfortable chair was not my idea of a good time, although I can’t imagine spending long periods of time in one place is considered ‘fun’ for any active child. Regardless, though, those hours could have been a lot worse.

The reason it wasn’t because of the firm-handed Senegalese hair braiders who worked steadily on my hair, and for whom I have so much respect. Through them, I learned about experimenting with and caring for my hair, something that’s become extremely popular with the natural hair movement.

Pretty much every single hair braiding salon looks the same. The walls are bare, save for posters featuring women with increasingly elaborate hairstyles. These aren’t necessarily options per se, but examples of the skill that the braiders in the shop possess.

I used to hate getting my hair braided.

The set-up is pretty much the same, from the hair braiding mecca that is Harlem, New York City, all the way to the Carolinas. Across America, women primarily from Senegal, Togo, and the Gambia have used hair braiding to create a better life for themselves.

In recent years, however, things have changed.

The demographic shifts in neighborhoods, rising rent, and licensing practices all threaten to cripple the once-thriving community of hair braiders. In Washington, the Department of Licensing has begun to put hair braiders under scrutiny.  For many years, hair braiders were under the impression that a business license was the only thing they needed. About four years ago, that started to change. Now, they need cosmetology licenses in addition to a business license.

These hair braiding regulations tend to specifically target minority women. The Institute of Justice has sued on behalf of hair braiders in ten different states between 1991 and 2018.

Demographic changes, rising rent, and licensing practices all threaten to cripple the once-thriving community.

In order to get a cosmetology license, a person must complete 1,600 hours of education. In general, cosmetology courses cover everything from manicures to waxing. They do not, however, always cover hair braiding.

Additionally, many hair braiders are women with children. Going to college to study a course that they feel doesn’t benefit them eats away at the free time they do not have.

Some hair braiders are also undocumented.

With gentrification and rising scrutiny from government officials, the likelihood of some of these women going underground increases, which also affects their ability to earn an income safely. With their financial independence in jeopardy, they can become cut off from their network of socialization.

I find the increasing marginalization of hair braiders an important topic to speak out about for more sentimental reasons as well. For a period of my childhood, Senegalese, Ivorian and Gambian American hair braiders were my bridge between cultures. These hairstylists were able to combine West African hairstyles with trends happening within African American culture at the time.

My hair became a physical manifestation of both the worlds I inhabited. With a major shift in the way black women present their hair in the past decade, the role hair braiders play cannot be overstated.

My hair became a physical manifestation of both the worlds I inhabited.

Braiding hair is a source of income for Black women of all nationalities and creeds. It is also a connection to the past, a way to get to know one another.

Before I started going to braiding salons as a child, I didn’t know anything about other West Africans.

But while a Senegalese American woman burned the tips of my braids to close them, I learned about her family, where she came from, a little bit of her personality – all because I spent a few hours in her chair. I would leave the salon with my sisters, hair swinging slightly, with renewed confidence.

This is an experience every little Black girl should have.

Black hair, like Black fashion, can be a political statement. Hair braiding salons are a testament to that fact. These salons are mini-communities in and of themselves, with a long history of social, economic and cultural importance.

The proverbial house that these women have built should be preserved and respected, always.

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