IGNITE ~ Black
GRRRLS ~ Aunjanue Ellis
~ Bridge & Tunnel
(Sarah Jones, writer & performer)
ESOTERIC ~ Melanin
CHICA TO CHICA ~ Holiday
Blues & New Year Highs
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
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
for Black female exposure and we embrace her! Big up.
One Love ~ ~
creative and groundbreaking
by Nicole Moore
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
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
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
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.
she has returned to Broadway in Regina Taylor's "Drowning Crow" an
version of Chekhov’s "Seagull" that also stars Alfre Woodard.
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
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
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
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)?
AE: 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.
tH: 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.
tH: 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!
tH: Yeah I understand. I used to live in Fort Greene when it was small,
Black and bohemian. Everyone knew everyone and their business.
AE: 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
tH: And being a working actress must be that much harder living in New York and
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
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
AE: 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
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
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
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!
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books, film, tv and websites
& 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
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
makes her own heat to
fend off the cold fronts.
A Vietnamese slam poet proclaims:
This is not a model
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
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
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
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bits and news bytes
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
~ 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.
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Blues & New Tear Highs
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
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
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
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
~ AI contributed last month's Ism. She lives in
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