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Black History Month Spotlight: Ryan Coogler

Director and writer Ryan Coogler’s introduction to the public left a profound impact that is still found in his work today. Coogler grew up as one of three brothers to a community organizer and probation counselor. Originally born and raised in Oakland, CA, he spent much of his adolescence in Richmond, where ran track and played football. His sports prowess won him a football scholarship to St. Mary’s College.

While at St. Mary’s, the seeds for his film careers were sowed as he took a creative writing course. He eventually transferred to Sacramento State, where he took multiple film courses. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Coogler enrolled in the master’s program of USC School of Cinematic Arts. During his tenure at the school, the filmmaker creates a series of short films that prestigious student film awards such as TIFF’s Dana and Albert Broccoli Award for Filmmaking Excellence, the HBO Short Film Competition, the DGA Student Film Award, and the Jack Nicholson Award for Achievement in Directing.

As a USC student, the shooting of Oakland native Oscar Grant greatly affected Coogler. He put together a script by interviewing Grant’s family and attorney. Eventually, a chance meeting with Oscar winner Forest Whittaker led to the film Fruitvale Station. The film went on to be a critically-acclaimed sleeper hit, scoring multiple nominations for Coogler and frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan. After the film’s success, he and Jordan teamed up with Sylvester Stallone to bring Creed to the big screen. The seventh installment in the Rocky franchise proved to a success – critically and commercially.

After helming two successful films in a row, Coogler was tapped to direct an all-star cast in Marvel Studio’s first MCU film with a Black lead – Black Panther. Released in February 2018, the film went on to become the highest-grossing film by a Black director. It garnered multiple award nominations, including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The hit film will be followed up with a sequel in 2022. Along with the Black Panther sequel, he will write and direct Wrong Answer, another film with Michael B. Jordan as well as Space Jam: A New Legacy with Lebron James. The director recently signed a deal with Disney+, which includes a drama based on Wakanda.

As a screenwriter, there are very few creators in the entertainment industry so inspire me more than the man I just profiled. I have admired his efforts to push stories of the Black diaspora. He spotlights many aspects of Black culture over different continents along socioeconomic, class, and racial lines. He (as well as a few other Black creators) have front Black cinema back into the mainstream conversation, and for that, I want to say thank to Ryan Coogler for pushing creative like myself to highlight all facets of my culture.

To recognize yourself in a character onscreen, and to connect with them, you gotta recognize their flaws; they gotta feel like a real person.

– Ryan Coogler

Black History Month Spotlight: Issa Rae

Multihyphenated content creator Issa Rae grew from a YouTube content creator to one of Hollywood’s most powerful Black voices. Rae grew up as one of four siblings to a Senegalese doctor and Black American educator whose careers took the family across different continents. Originally born in Los Angeles, CA, she lived in Senegal and Maryland before settling in California. It wasn’t until Rae entered high school that found her passion and voice – acting and writing.

After graduating from high school in Los Angeles, Rae went to Stanford University, where she received a BA in African and African American Studies. The seeds for her first series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl were planted as she met her producer Tracy Oliver. The two eventually took classes at the New York Film Academy after Rae completed a theatre fellowship in New York City. Her confidence in having an entertainment career wavered as she contemplated between law and medical school before Awkward Black Girl took off.

After contemplating quitting her career, she had her breakthrough moment as Season 1 of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl took off on YouTube. The series gained recognition through word of mouth and coverage online before the mainstream media picked up the series. This attention led to renowned music producer Pharrell to helping produce the second season. Rae even went on develop other successful YouTube series such as Black Actress, The Choir and First. She ended up scoring a development deal through Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland with host and comedian Larry Wilmore helping to develop a comedy series.

Despite the deal not working out, the series she developed with Wilmore led to a pilot for HBO. This deal eventually led to the acclaimed hit Insecure. Her work on Insecure has led to multiple award nominations as both an actor and writer. The series’ success helped to secure Rae an HBO development deal, leading to projects such as Rap Sh*t and A Black Lady Sketch Show. The creator continues to produce film and television projects through her production outlets Issa Rae Productions and ColorCreative. The success has translated to a big screen career as both a performer and producer with hit films such as The Hate U Give, Little, Hair Love, and The Lovebirds.

As a screenwriter, there are very few creators in the entertainment industry so inspire me more than the woman I just profiled. While I did catch a few episodes of Awkward Black Girl on YouTube, it was her efforts to push other underrepresented and marginalized creators that made her a source of inspiration. She managed to turn an acclaimed, poignant web series into a multimedia brand spanning television, streaming and the web. She (as well as a few other Black creators) helped to bring the Black experience back into primetime after a drought of Black television content, and for that, I want to say thank to Issa Rae for pushing creative like myself to highlight all facets of my culture.

My confidence comes from doing what I love to be honest, like to be able to create something from the ground up and to be able to… kind of walk in your purpose is a great feeling.

– Issa Rae

Black History Month Spotlight: Walter Dean Myers

Children’s book and young adult author Walter Dean Myers managed to merge Black youth culture with literature. Myers experienced a rough childhood growing up in New York. At age two, he was given to his foster parent Herbert and Florence Dean after his mother’s death. Adopting the middle name “Dean” to honor the love and affection the Deans showed him. His life revolved around his neighborhood and church.

Their love was needed as Myers’ speech impediment lead to some trouble at school. But a turning point came when his teacher suggested using writing to channel his frustration. He continued writing short stories and poetry into high school before quitting at age 17 to join the military. Upon being discharged, he went from job to job trying to find his voice until reading “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin.

Soon, he began writing for various publications before winning a contest, which leads to his first children’s book. Much of his work channeled his troubled teenage years and growing up in Harlem, New York. His exploration of Black young culture was unprecedented in children’s and young adult literature. He went to published best-selling titles such as Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and StuffFallen AngelsMonsterHoops, and Scorpions. During his lifetime, Myers was a five-time Coretta Scott King Award winner along with being a Newbery Medal, Hans Christian Anderson, and National Book Award finalist. From 2012 to 2013, he served as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, becoming the first Black person to be granted this honor.

In his later years, Myers continued to write children’s books and young adult literature with his son Christopher doing the illustrations. He passed away on July 1, 2014, after a brief illness. Even after his death, his work continued to be published with his last book, Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History, and the short story, “Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push,” coming out in 2017.

As a Black teenage male, I had very few authors who appealed to me outside of the few Black authors that were required reading. Discovering Walter Dean Myers’ works in junior high made me feel seen and heard in a way I had never felt before. He captured the experience of Black youth without pandering or being outdated. He made me strive to be better than some of the circumstances he wrote in his novels, and for that, I want to say thank to Walter Dean Myers for shaping my adolescence and wanting to highlight my culture.

Books transmit values. They explore Our common humanity. What is the message when some people are not represented in those books?

– Walter Dean Myers

Black History Month Spotlight: Toni Morrison

Author and educator Toni Morrison set the tone for many Black writers of today. Morrison grew up as the second of four children in a working-class African American family in Lorain, Ohio. Her love for reading and her heritage was stimulated by her parents telling of African-American folktales and ghost stories.

She turned her love for reading into her passion as she received her BA in English from Howard University followed an MA from Cornell University. She taught at Texas Southern University and Howard before getting Random House subsidiary L.W. Singer. While at Random House, Morrison became the first Black female senior editor, giving chances to many upcoming Black writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, Huey Newton and Gayl Jones.

Soon, she began writing herself leading to some African American literature’s most celebrated works like The Bluest Eyes, Song of Solomon and Beloved. Her storytelling and celebration of Black culture sent a precedent for African American literature. With Beloved, Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. In 1997, she became the second female and first Black fiction writer to grace the cover of Time Magazine.

In her later years, Morrison continued to thrive as a professor at both Cornell and Princeton University. She released her final work of fiction, God Help the Child, in 2015. She passed away on August 5, 2019, after a battle with pneumonia.

Some may not acknowledge this fact, but Toni Morrison is basically the turning point for African American literature. Her foresight and sense of awareness was able to push Black writers and stories to the mainstream in a way no one before her had even tried. Her contributions as a writer and editor aren’t celebrated enough, but for that, I say thank Ms. Morrison for all you did to create a space for Black voices.

If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.

– Toni Morrison

Black Media You Should Be Grateful for This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is usually a time of togetherness. Dad, Grandpas, and Uncles screaming at the TV as his team misses another touchdown. Mama, Grandmas, and Aunties chastising the kids for nibbling on the sides. All the kids – oldest to youngest – teaching each other the latest TikTok dances and posting filtered selfies on the Gram. But this year’s circumstances eliminated any possible cheek-pinching and sloppy kisses from the fam.

This doesn’t mean people are tossing aside turkey (or chicken) and all those wonderful side dishes. Having a small circle of (COVID-free) friends or immediate family over is still a slim possibility with social distancing and Zoom.

This year, you can tap into the Black experience by being appreciative of outstanding Black media of all shapes and sizes. With that said, I decided to highlight some outlets keeping us informed and entertained on Turkey Day.

Black News Organizations and Publications

These publications and websites provide news and views without all the shade (maybe only in small doses).

Blavity – grabs you all things Black media-related from news to beauty to tech

Mogul Millennial – supplies Black entrepreneurs with news, views, and resources

The Grio – gives you news of the day through the lens of Black America

Atlanta Black Star – gives daily news for Black America across different platforms

Rolling Out – speaks on Black news and culture with a Hip Hop slant

CRWNMAG – taps into the Black lifestyle and hair culture

Watch the Yard – speaks to the HBCU culture and experience

Essence – gives a voice to Black women across all lifestyles and perspectives

For more Black voices still in traditional print, here is a directory of different Black publications nationwide. For anyone looking to break into publication, here is news of a new fund supporting Black writers and journalists.

Black Podcasts

These podcasts are just as diverse as the diaspora itself.

Still Processing

Black Men Can’t Jump [in Hollywood]

Code Switch

The Read

Back Issue

Okay Now, Listen

Melanin Animated

The Black Film Space Podcast

Jemele Hill is Unbothered

Strong Black Lead

Black N’ Animated

Toon Lore Done Right

For more Black voices in the podcasting space, here is a list of podcasts covering all the different facets of Black culture.

Black Film and TV Platforms

These platforms provide much-needed outlets for Black creatives.

aspireTV

kweliTV

UMC (Urban Movie Channel)

Blacktag

While eating your dinner this Thanksgiving, why not watch, read, and listen to some of these Black media outlets.

Mixed Feelings Over a Creative Future

As 2020 barrels toward an unpredictable ending, being a Black writer has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Angry. Sad. Anxious. Joyous. Depressing. Exciting. Frustrating. But recent developments have been made me hesitantly optimistic.

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My creativity as a writer has been tested so many times this year. For me, 2020 was supposed to be my year, but God has other plans (not only for me but the world in general). I’ve witnessed Black body after Black body become viral sensations as the American mainstream finally recognized (not accepted) how racist the US truly is. So many times, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs in frustration and angry. I tried to write about it, but my mind and spirit wouldn’t let me. It was too tiring to use my words to educate or express my thoughts on the Black American experience.

Along with America finally (if only superficially) addressing racism, COVID-19 decided no one was going to have any fun in the first year of this new decade. Again, my thoughts and feelings couldn’t come together to speak on the fun destroyer. I experienced an overwhelming depression that led me to channel my feelings into overeating. Despite being an introvert, I found lockdown to be isolating and anxiety-filled as this pandemic brought this never-ending cycle of openings and shut downs. I’ve been isolated from my family for months with social media and phone calls being the only form of contact. Despite writing for months, I’ve felt no motivation to tend to my personal writing. I hope to change that in the near future.

But the past few weeks have taken the cake. Between the clusterfuck known as the presidential election and an unexpected car accident, I have been having a hard time. Watching this country be divided between red and blue, Black and White, and men and women has been surprising yet typical after the election. Seeing the Orange Man defeated after four years of nonsense was bittersweet. Part of me was joyous to return to a bit of normalcy while the other part of me knew udder chaos was bond to break out. The social media meltdowns were better than primetime television.

On the other end, my car accident left me with mental, emotional, and physical pain I will have to deal with you a while. Despite having an attorney and an orthopedist, the process hasn’t been easy. I still have to deal with things that out of my control. My frustration and annoyance has been on an all-time high.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Despite all this turmoil, my creativity has never stopped. My mind is constantly filled with ideas of pieces I want to write. Hopefully, my plans for the rest of the year will pan out. Screenwriting is definitely in my sight as I plan on revising quite a bit over Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Working on Valarie, Brothas, and the untitled action adventure will be my main focus before 2020 ends. I feel inspired to work on a piece or two (one fiction and one nonfiction). I will see more coming from me in 2021.

Since taking my break, my freelance work has increased as more and more contract work continues to come in. While it can be overwhelming at times, I won’t want it any other way. I love being busy. I might even have even more work around the corner if some connections work out.

On the school front, the Fall semester is coming to an uncertain close. Dealing with COVID-19’s impact on education has made everyone involved feeling overwhelmed, despondent, and anxious. If recent news and emails are anything to go by, these circumstances won’t be going away any time soon. Hopefully, by Fall 2021, school will have dealt with the “new normal.”

Watch this space for more on my writing journey.

Working Hard for Me

As a writer, sometimes, juggling all the facets can be tiresome. The more I forge my path, the more life ebbs and flows. Being a freelancer and business owner can be daunting and rewarding. I feel my world is opening up while slightly swallowing me at the same time.

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Working as a copywriter and journalist has been satisfying and trying at various points. I love the work and using my craft to help someone else – it’s so rewarding. But in the same breath, I’ve found balancing multiple opportunities to be somewhat exhausting especially when it comes to my other responsibilities. I hope my other potential gig relieves the situation rather than adding to it.

Like I mentioned before, my other two clients have been a little MIA so we’ll see where those opportunities go given the COVID-19 situation.

I see screenwriting in my near future. I hope to block out the next month or so to dedicate myself to writing more. I hope to start shopping for an agent or manager within the next year or so. While I wait on feedback from my first two projects, I hope to start revising and rewriting my action-adventure screenplay by late October/early November. I hope to finally tackle my personal piece by year’s end.

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Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

When it comes to my professor job, I’ve finally made peace with teaching online and the highs and lows that come with it. I’ve learned how to not only communicate better with my students but with other faculty as well. I still miss interacting and communicating with students, faculty and staff one-on-one. I hope in the future to walk around campus – outside and COVID-free.

But I don’t see the pandemic subsiding any time soon. I was hoping to teach on campus next semester but my assignment says otherwise. Let’s hope 2021 is a better year for everyone all around!


Watch this space for more on my writing journey.

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Writing and Changing… and Changing and Writing

As a writer, sometimes, your goals can evolve based on your needs. While my core goals are still the focus, some of the immediate ones are being met in new and unexpected ways.

Lately, I’ve turned my attention from script writing to journalism and copywriting. Within the past few weeks, I began doing marketing and advertising copy for the blogging service Content Cucumber. So far, the experience has gone pretty well. I actually enjoy the work I’m doing as it allows me to do my favorite thing as a writer – tell a story. Through the agency, I have a steady stream of clients coming weekly. It’s nice to use my writing talents to improve someone’s company outreach rather than create content for click-bait. I might have another gig in the wings (fingers crossed for that one).

I’m still working with CBR for now. I hope to continue my journalistic journey as I pursue more positions. I want to tackle more pressing contemporary issues across various arenas at some point. I’m still waiting to hear about my status with one or two clients, but I know it’ll be awhile given the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Within the next few weeks, I plan to pick up my screenwriting again. I’m still waiting on some feedback from one or two beta readers. Hopefully, by the time November arrives, I’ll be in the process of rewriting for the umpteenth time. While I want to focus on my first two projects, I hope to start revising and rewriting my action-adventure screenplay by the end of the year. Along with screenwriting, I plan on finally writing a personal piece I’ve been thinking for a while.

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

On the school front, my classes are barreling towards our first test. I’m still working out the kinks when it comes to teaching online. The effects of COVID-19 has impacted my students as well as fellow faculty in this early stage. Things may return to normal next semester, but given the trouble many college campuses are having, it might be stretch, to say the least.

Watch this space for more on my writing journey.

Writing to Survive in 2020

2020 has been a trying year, to say the least. As a freelancer, growth, and change have become my mantra when it comes to expression. But survival has become my motto as the year has brought continual blows.

As a writer, survival has become a way of life as I chose to take my career into my hand. Unbeknownst to me, 2020 would rain on my parade quite a bit with the catastrophic situation after situation. It put me in an awkward position as I tried forging a freelance career. Surviving came before my craft as I began experiencing difficulties when it came to finding and maintaining freelance work. I began doubting myself and my abilities.

This affected all aspects of my writing. Coming back to do this blog was a challenge in itself as I had gotten stuck in a certain style of writing. This blog was my way of surviving while my contract work started falling (and in some cases, draining me). This place became my haven and purpose when it came to expressing myself. I felt stifled in other areas of my life. But my voice came back as soon as I started writing this blog again.

Another thing that brought me joy is my screenwriting. Despite taking a break at this time, writing my projects has given me a sense of peace (as well as some anxiety). Writing dialogue. Planning out scenes. Developing characters. That’s my thing. It’s my calling, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As I wait for some feedback, I’ll get back into scriptwriting before NaNoWriMo happens.

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I’m still working on getting more freelance work as some of my clients begin to get back on their feet. Recent social media campaigns are starting to pique people’s interest. I recently started a new writing job with another possible one on the horizon.

On the school front, the Fall semester has been quite a ride so far. Getting used to teaching online and new students have been an undertaking, to say the least. The effects of COVID-19 has impacted my students as well as fellow faculty in this early stage. If recent news and emails are anything to go by, these circumstances may be in place for a while.

As a Black male trying to enter the entertainment industry, many inspirational figures are working in front of and behind-the-scenes of Hollywood. Ava DuVernay. Ryan Coogler. Justin Simien. Geoffrey Fletcher. John Ridley. Spike Lee. John Singleton. Denzel Washington. Angela Bassett. Laurence Fishburne. Halle Berry. Will Smith. Martin Lawrence. Eddie Murphy. Chris Tucker. And these are just a few of many.

For me, Chadwick Boseman fell into that category. Hearing about his secret cancer diagnosis and untimely death helped me to come up with this week’s blog. Boseman was the true definition of a hero and survivor. Besides being an outstanding actor, Chad was an activist and humanitarian who gave his all to everyone and everything. He did everything in his power to provide entertainment for the masses in his final years. He got the chance to play some of history’s most iconic figures — Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall.

But his most impact role has to be T’Challa aka Black Panther. From the moment he appeared in Captain America: Civil War, he made a huge impression leaving audiences (including myself) wanting more. Then, Black Panther premiered in 2018. To say the movie was a moment is an understatement. Chad and that movie were a cultural shift that Hollywood big wigs are still trying to understand and replicate. He was an inspiration to millions especially for young Black boys who had only a few chances to see a Black superhero in full action (shout out to Blade and Spawn). Now, looking back, this amazing human being was creating escapism for the masses while facing the battle of his life.

The legacy he has left behind will last for decades to come. For me, there is only one T’Challa. So I say to my fellow South Carolinian Chadwick Boseman — may God bless you in your afterlife journey and that you are gone but never forgotten.

Read my 2018 Paste Magazine piece on Chadwick Boseman and the history-making Black Panther.

Watch this space for more on my writing journey.

Growing and Moving

As an artist, the act of art is all about shifting and growing as one continues to evolve. This year has proven to me that growth and change are necessary when it comes to purpose and dedication.

As a writer, I’ve noticed more and more that my writing needs a purposeful end goal. As evident by some of my recent posts, something has awakened in me when it comes to raising awareness. I feel my job as an artist is to spotlight both the good and bad of the world through storytelling. Writing those pieces on microaggression fulfilled me in a way that I only feel when writing my screenplays. I have to admit only a few news pieces have made me feel that way in recent months. This realization has created somewhat of a crossroads for me.

I highlighted in a past post about the current situation I’m dealing with a current contract job. That job has tested me not only as a writer but as a loyal employee. I took a break to reassess some things, but I feel I may be coming to the end of the road for me. But I’ll reveal my decision at a later date.

I know as an artist my evolution is an ongoing process that will never end. I once heard at a conference that creatives face a career shift every ten years. I’m actually in the midst of mine right now.

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In regards to purpose, I’ve taken a mini-break from my screenwriting as I contemplate the direction of going forward with some of my work. Writing Losing Valarie has been a roller coaster as I constantly go back and forth about the direction of the story. Lately, I’ve been mulling over some ways to make it more current and update given its target audience. With technology playing a big role in the plot, I’ve tossed around some ideas about my teenage characters and its usage.

The hangup for my other series Brothas has been incorporating the parents more into the story while drawing from my real life. As my parents (more specifically my mother) were an integral part of my childhood, I feel incorporating a good moral base and relatable stories are essential.

As I continue to rewrite and restructure both shows, I’m still reaching out for more feedback on my scripts.

Soon, I’ll be hopping back into my unknown pilot. I want to do one or two more pass-throughs before I feel it is ready for feedback. With that said, it really is all about grinding it out to I get it right.

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

I’m still working on getting more freelance work as some of my clients begin to get back on their feet.

The final countdown to the start of school has begun. The set-up for my Fall courses is pretty much set as next Monday inches closer and closer. Despite looking forward to teaching on campus, I’m preparing to teach my students online. From my perspective, I feel the school year will be vastly different from last year. COVID-19 has thrown the educational system for a loop just like every other industry.

Watch this space for more on my writing journey.

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