Issue No.14 February 27, 2004

IGNITE ~ Black Exposure
HOT. GRRRLS ~ Aunjanue Ellis
ISM ~ Bridge & Tunnel (Sarah Jones, writer & performer)
ESOTERIC ~ Melanin Matters
CHICA TO CHICA ~ Holiday Blues & New Year Highs


intro and overview

Over exposure is never considered a good thing, regardless of what form it comes in. Overexposure to the sun will cause sunburn, cold weather will result in frostbite and to the media-- as in the Bennifer romp, well I think that says it all. For me, the idea of overexposure really gets interesting when you throw culture and Black bodies in the mix. Insert Janet Damita Jo Jackson. Let me first say that I believe her move with Justin "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song" Timberlake was a well choreographed, however tacky, publicity stunt to promote her upcoming album. Do I think it was inappropriate? Yes. Do I think she should have apologized a second time to appear on the Grammy's? No. Do I think that by bringing up this incident again that I may be playing myself out on some already, over hyped media-play? Maybe. But just hear me out on this one.

We live in a society well known for its erasure, marginalization and fetishistic exoticizing of the Black female (nude) body. So when I consider Ms. Jackson's major reveal at the hands of a Black culture adoring wannabe white male-- who in the end took no responsibility for the wardrobe malfunction, I not only think about the corruption of standards, over which CBS and the FCC is justifiably going ballistic, I think about power and pleasure-- who has it and who wants it.

I only wish that Janet could think as well as she can tease because if she did, she would have conceived of a way to promote herself and flip the tables over on feminism, pop music and sexuality. She would have rocked the entire half time show (who needed Puffy and Nelly anyway), the way sisters rock the dance floor when we hear Beyonce's Baby Boy. Cause when Beyonce starts ooohing an aaahing, you know it's a wrap! All of a sudden everyone gets Caribbean and our dancing becomes sultry, sexy, and celebratory, Part Josephine Baker, part Lil' Kim (circa 1999) we know how to get our swerve on and still not totally give it up. That's the thing with exposure, the art of it is to not only control what is shown, but to somehow manipulate the way in which it is also seen (consumed) so that the experience remains self-defined and transformative-- for the guy in the club, for 100 million television viewers and definitely for oneself.

So as we conclude our celebration of Black History Month, I'd like to thank the sisters who knew way back when that sometimes less is more and still knew how to work their magic and use their beautiful Black bodies to empower, impassion and inspire. Shout-outs to Salt-n-Pepa for Pushing It, Josephine for her banana skirt, photographer Mfon Essien for her self-portraits, Sade for her Love Deluxe album cover, singer Joi for her live performances, Aaliyah for damn near everything, Ma Rainey for her trademark gold coin necklace and knowing how to swing that Black bottom, and a special shout to Sara Baartman aka "The Hottentot Venus" who was taken from her home in South Africa in 1810 and exhibited throughout Britain as a " freak" for having a large booty and bosom. She is the original icon for Black female exposure and we embrace her! Big up.

One Love ~ ~
Nicole Moore, Editor

inspired, creative and groundbreaking


Aunjanue Ellis
by Nicole Moore

It's a chilly Monday night and Settepani, Harlem's newest cafe, is bustling with people fiending for a cup of java and a slice of strawberry shortcake. Aunjanue, however, is a picture of serenity and total hotness. She's sitting in the back sipping bottled water and reading a paper. And even though it's January and everyone is wearing a sweater or turtleneck, Ms. Ellis is rocking a tank top. Talk about confidence and non-conformity. (A few years ago a friend of mine was at the Shark Bar waiting to be seated and his boy looks up and sees this woman wearing a silk halter mini dress. He turns around and asks, "who the hell does she think she is walking around in the middle of December like that?" My friend turns to him and bluntly says," That's Tyra Banks. She can wear anything she damn well pleases!" Nuff said.) Anyways I digress. I first met Aunjanue ten years ago on the set of an independent film in which she was starring. Even back then you could see that she was the kind of actor who knew how to mesmerize the camera with a glance.

She was interesting in a curious, natural kind of way-- like a piece of turquoise or a strand of hair. It was clear to everyone on the set that this Mississippi native was going places and in true Pisces form, she has made her mark-- subtle, individual and indelible. You may remember her sporting a mohawk in last year's Hollywood issue of Vibe or in Kasi Lemmon's sleeper hit, "The Caveman's Valentine." She's also turned-up, and subsequently turned-out some major flicks too like, "Men of Honor," and most recently, "Undercover Brother" where she played Sistah Girl. This year she has returned to Broadway in Regina Taylor's "Drowning Crow" an updated version of Chekhov’s "Seagull" that also stars Alfre Woodard. Having made her Broadway debut many moons ago in George C. Wolfe's "The Tempest," Aunjanue knows very well the pressures of 'doing Broadway.' She has, however, found a way to negotiate those pressures in a way that is unique, if not a bit startling. She prefers to read Ralph Ellison than watch the Academy Awards. She'd much rather listen to her Radiohead, Zeppelin, Clark Sisters and Ludacris CD's than get into a discussion about acting and auditions. And she's a thirty-something trained actress who has chosen Harlem over Hollywood. She is the anti-star who oozes nothing but star power. Damn, who does she think she is?

theHotness: So is Aunjanue your real, mama-given name?

Aunjanue: It is. My mom was in San Francisco in the sixties with her friend and she said it was the name of this French magazine. But they were all high, so who knows?

tH: With you being an actress, I thought that you had changed your name to play on the word "ingenue."

AE: (laughs) Oh, God no!

tH: Where in Mississippi did you grow up?

AE: I grew up in Macomb, Mississippi, which is 120 miles north of New Orleans and 80 miles south of Jackson.

tH: What was life like there?

AE: Idyllic. Pastoral. Bucolic. Just farms. Eating what you raised. Going to church. Really communal, you know.

tH: Yeah, Southern. Like pigs feet, ham hocks and collard greens. And from there you ended up enrolling at Brown (University)?

AE: Oh no. From there I went to a local college in Tougaloo, Mississippi and I stayed there for a minute and from there I went to Brown.

tH: So wait, when you were at Brown were you there at the same time as Rhonda and Tracee Ellis Ross (Diana's daughters)?

Yeah! Rhonda was my suite-mate. And oh, this is funny. I remember we did this tour celebrating some anniversary of women at Brown and Tracee let me borrow her black Azzedine Alaia outfit.

Azzedine? In college?

AE: Yeah I was rocking Azzedine. I was up in that!

tH: That's crazy! In '91 when the only other Black woman wearing Azzedine, besides you and Tracee, was Naomi Campbell, his muse.

AE: You know what I'm saying. I'll never forget that! I went from acid-wash jeans in Tougaloo to Alaia in Providence just like that. It was a good moment.

After that you moved to NYC and then from here you went to LA?

AE: I went to grad school here (NYU) and then I got a couple of television
jobs so I had to go out there. (laughs) I just call it There ...with a capital "T."

tH: So what's life like in LA as a Black actress?

AE: I just don't think Los Angeles, California is a constant place for anybody.

tH: Regardless of race or gender?

AE: Yeah. I just don't think it is. For what I need in my life and what I think people need. I'm just amazed because I do find people out there who are happy. But there's another kind of demand you have of life.

tH: What kind of things do you think people need, that's not out There? What do you need?

AE: Community. I need community. I came from community. You know what I mean? I was lonely even here in New York for awhile. But I found my community. Harlem. Brooklyn. These are places that inspire, even necessitate community. I think Los Angeles just doesn't do that. It encourages individualism.

tH: Like with their car culture.

AE: Exactly and I'm just not interested in that.

tH: So I'm gathering you're liking it here?

AE: I love it here!

tH: What about Harlem made you decide to live here?

AE: Well I broke up with my boyfriend and I had to find somewhere to stay (we both laugh). So…

tH: YOU got kicked-out?!?

AE: Oh no I kicked HIM out!

tH: For the record of course ,we must make this clear! (more laughter)

AE: Yes! So then the lease was up and a girl had to find somewhere else to
stay. And I had to get out of Brooklyn. Too many ghosts!

Yeah I understand. I used to live in Fort Greene when it was small,
Black and bohemian. Everyone knew everyone and their business.

And folks start asking, what happened to so and so. Aaaghhh! I had to
escape. (gets serious) And it's all hard. I'm not trying to romanticize New
York or romanticize Harlem. 127th between Fifth and Lenox is a hard place. Know that.

tH: And being a working actress must be that much harder living in New York and not There.

AE: No doubt. Just about every situation is about the director being in LA
for a day and me being here. And you know I had to be at peace with that.
Sometimes I'm like "Damn!" But other times it's like yo, I have to hustle
another way and be proactive about it. But I can't sacrifice my piece of

tH: Well it seems to be working out for you because now you are doing
Broadway . What about your character in Drowning Crow do you find so

My attraction was very specific. Around that time I knew that this person who I had been seeing for eleven years at that point, I knew that the next couple of times I would see him would be the last times I would deal with him for the rest of my life. So Hannah, my character, is a woman who loves the wrong man. And this person that I was in love with was the right man for the first five years, but then I was still in love with him for another five years and he was not the right man. You know? People evolve and he evolved into not being the right man for me. And Hannah experiences that. She loves the wrong man. And we've all done that! And so to read these words written by Chekhov and then Regina Taylor that was saying what I felt...what I needed to say to the person in my life, but knew I could never be that articulate or have that kind of lucidity or kind of resolve ever in my life because I have a fragile heart when it comes to him. That was the attraction!

tH: As Hannah, do you portray her with pity or do you see her as being strong?

AE: Oh strong! The great thing is in the beginning she is this sprite-- a nymph in the country. She is loving life and is embarrassingly enthusiastic and quixotic. And to see this woman who has so much love for life and its possibilities and then to see her get crushed by this indifferent motherf*cker, but yet she's still here. (pauses) She's STILL here! She's like Celie (from The Color Purple-- she starts reenacting). 'I'm still heeeeerrrrreeeeee!'

tH: And that becomes her testimony, and our testimony too for that matter. Talking about testimonies and validation, what did you think about Halle Berry winning the Oscar? Did you watch the Golden Globes this year?

AE: No I don't watch that… It does nothing for me. I don't want to be
cynical, but we have to stop judging ourselves according to their values.
That's what we have to stop doing. We all are here in this same place, in
this culture, in this society, in this politic. We are in it, but are not OF
it. And everyday we have to tell ourselves that. Everyday! Cause we live
somewhere that they don’t even...I mean, we're not even supposed to be here and in every broad manifestation we are excluded whether it be the media or politics, in everything we are excluded. And the only way we are included is when we demand to be there. And there is a reason for that. There's a fortress there that we constantly have to battle-ax down. And if we're constantly hitting ourselves up against the wall, all it does is tear us down...

tH: So that when you do get an award that becomes everything. Because
you're so torn down it becomes your legitimacy, like, 'now I'm an actress
for real.'

AE: That's what I'm saying! When Halle Berry won that award in 2002, it
wasn't a testament to how far we've come, it's a testament to how slow they

tH: Like Denzel winning for Training Day and not for Hurricane or Malcolm X.

AE: Right! And that's how we have to look at it. It's not made for us. It's like pity on them for being that far behind. It's no reflection on how amazing we are. None! And that's what we have to realize…

tH: That we ARE amazing...with or without the accolades!



music, books, film, tv and websites


Bridge & Tunnel (Sarah Jones, writer & performer)

" Whether we are women or men; older or younger; straight-laced or queer-eyed; whether we pray Saturday, Sunday, everyday or only at football games; whether we're born here or not; barely scraping by or more comfortable than most, we are all much more connected than any of us realize. By neighborhood, by circumstance, by chance and most importantly by our basic human dignity, we are all cosmically, and of course, often comically linked." - Sarah Jones

Humor, compassion and daring have more often (than not) found a place in solo performance. This form frees gifted artists to change sex, race, age,
body type and personality in an instant. It takes great craft and generosity. Sarah Jones has both. You see this in every moment of her new show, "Bridge & Tunnel," which opened on February 19th at 45 Bleecker Street (in New York City) for an open-ended run.

The set is a wall of street art: all big arrows and swatches of bright color. We hear fragments of hip-hop and techno music. (DJ Rekha co-produced the sound design.) Welcome to the Bridge & Tunnel Cafe in South Queens for the annual "I Am a Poet Too" reading. The host is Mohammed Ali, a genial Pakistani accountant who proudly explains that "I Am a Poet Too" stands for " Immigrant and Multiculturalist American Poets or Enthusiasts Traveling Toward Optimistic Openness." Some will read poems; others will just talk.

When Ms. Jones is Mohammed, she dons a sports jacket. Underneath she wears black pants and a black shirt. The tops change; so do accessories. Rashid, a Brooklyn rapper, swaggers on in a fur-trimmed orange parka with matching baseball cap to offer a few words of solidarity: " 'Cause nowhattamsayin, like, aiight, black people, we got imported, y'all get deported, you feel me?"

Lorraine Levine, as Mohammed says, "is first poet coming in from Long Island." She is old; she hobbles, and her right hand shakes. She calls her protest poem "No Really, Please Don't Get Up." Lorraine started writing in the senior center. Now, even the grandson who cared only for "Puffy Daddy" (or was it "Piddy Diddy"?) respects her.

Lorraine's voice is pure Long Island. Habiba, in her 50's, has a heavy Jordanian accent and wears a hijab, or head covering. One hand holds it decorously in place, the other holds the microphone firmly as she starts to enjoy describing the boy she loved as a teenager and the poem she scribbled passionately on the sleeves of her jilbab. Ms. Jones's ear is flawless. So is her voice. It isn't just accents; it's details of tone, pitch and phrasing. It is knowing speech patterns like "Ah" and "O.K., O.K." or the way a nervous teenage girl speeds into high-pitched overdrive.

Ms. Jones is a fine writer, too. She gets the style of each speaker and each poem.

Yahaira, a 15-year-old Dominican, chants:

of a daffodil at midnight
she knows she ain't got no business in the street
but she
makes her own heat to
fend off the cold fronts.

A Vietnamese slam poet proclaims:

This is not a model
Minority poem
It won't fold your shirts
But it may air your dirty laundry.

Gladys is a young "poet-performer-playwright-spoken-word artist-actress." Every move is a modern-dance undulation, and every pronouncement has grande dame aspirations. We chuckle at her artistic résumé, but two sentences later, Gladys proves her mettle. The career possibilities for people of Jamaican ancestry are few, she explains: "One is to become secretary of state. Another is to take care of children. Either way, it's the same." And the explanation that follows is hilarious and scathing.

When critics get excited, they get greedy, too. What would Ms. Jones do with fewer characters and longer stories that moved us in stranger, deeper ways? She's 29, and we'll all find out. For now, I want nothing more than the uncanny accuracy with which she portrays the host of immigrants and
outsiders who make up this hybrid nation.

~ This is an excerpt from the NY Times written by Margo Jefferson.
For the complete story go to: NY Times

For tickets to Bridge & Tunnel go to: TicketMaster




media bits and news bytes


Melanin Matters

Youthful risk taking like cigarette smoking and sunbathing usually takes the blame when skin starts to betray its calendar age, but your gene pool also determines how you'll look as you get older. Skin with more pigment, such as in people of Mediterranean and African descent, tends to be thicker than skin with less melanin (like that of northern Europeans). And, according to Lisa Cassileth, MD, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, it's that thicker skin that's more likely to show the effects of gravity by drooping over time. Thinner-skinned women, on the other hand, have a greater tendency toward fine lines and crinkling (primarily as a result of sun exposure). Not everyone agrees with Cassileth, however. "Darker skin might be less likely to wrinkle, but it is not any more susceptible to drooping than lighter skin is," says dermatologist Victoria Holloway, MD, the director of the L'Oreal Institute for Ethnic Hair and Skin Research in Chicago. "Sagging comes from a loss of elasticity and support in the deeper layers of skin and is based more on chronological aging, which you can't control, than on sun damage." The doctors concur on one thing, though: Skin aging, like death and taxes, is unavoidable.

~ This info originally appeared in the Dec. 2003 issue of Elle magazine. Regardless of what the MD's at the L'Oreal Ethnic Institute say, we here at theHotness are of the mindset that "Black don't crack." Just look at Lena Horne, Tina Turner, Rita Moreno and the late Celia Cruz and it becomes apparent that these plastic surgeons know little about darker skin folk! Send a note to the editors@thehotness and tell us what you think and we will print your thoughts in the next issue and/ or on our website.




expressing ourselves


Holiday Blues & New Tear Highs
by AI

Since the passing of my mother two years ago, the holidays are a painful reminder of what used to be. The table, which seats six, now only has two place settings. I remember our last Christmas dinner together. The gifts were small and it was cold outside, but at least she was there-- her hugs, her kisses, her candied yams, and her fussing about what I am wearing to the dinner table.

Now, I eat out for Christmas dinner at my grandmother's favorite restaurant. Their spoon bread comes very close to hers. A notion I would have turned my nose up at ten years ago. How impersonal! How could anyone do that for Christmas? But this year, I wish I could've just slept through the holidays. I couldn't bear to go into that kitchen. The stove, refrigerator and sink just glared at me. The silence muted the audio memory of my mother tickling my grandmother while they rolled out biscuit dough and the smell of orange Mr. Clean over-powered my deep breaths straining to smell the memory of collards and turkey.

However, I am still here. I know by heart all the adages people tell me (in a well meaning way), when I mention my sadness: "You shall over come; what doesn't kill you will only make you stronger," etcetera, etcetera. Still, when the TV is off and I can hear myself think on the way to work, I get sad and miss my Mommy. Mind you as time passes, these sad moments no longer define my days. Although they are very real, I am learning to respect them and redefine myself.

First thing, I don't give advice anymore. Instead, I set out every morning not to judge others or myself. In this effort, I finally allowed myself not to be perfectly the same as last year or the year before. I did not send Christmas cards for the first time in almost 30 years, nor did I send well wishing emails or make friendly New Year's Day telephone calls. Instead of risking being disingenuous, I took this time to pray, meditate and do whatever I wanted to do. I was looking for my revised Christmas/ New Year's meaning.

I learned that the Holidays are no longer a static notion. Somewhere along the way traditions turned into mandatory exercises. Hanging the same wreath in the exact same place year-after-year does not define peace or joy. I yearn to break free of media influences to buy more. Although I happily give and receive gifts around that time, I am resolving to cherish the lessons my mother taught me to celebrate every day. I honor the joys of giving and loving everyday because I can. Now I give gifts to loved ones whenever the mood strikes...just because.

Afterwards, I am thankful for the blessings that appear everyday, not about pleasing others with a better gift or visiting relatives and friends I don't enjoy. Now, for me, Christmas is about birth, remembering that as a caterpillar dies, a butterfly is born.

And so 2004 is more beautiful than I imagined. My Christmas hibernation gave me permission to awake to a fresh outlook. Now I strive to remember that internal yearnings must motivate me. I have pushed aside any hesitations to please everyone else and become more committed to myself. This inevitably makes me a better citizen, daughter and friend. I can only hope that I spread my wings further this year than before.

~ AI contributed last month's Ism. She lives in Washington, DC





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