Stories of Struggle and Survival from ‘GAYCATION’ Viewers


This week, the finale of GAYCATION's second season, "Deep South," aired on VICELAND. Throughout the season, viewers have reached out to co-host Ian Daniel to share their own stories of the struggles and personal triumphs. We've collected some of those powerful stories so highlight the variety of experience in the LGBTQ community worldwide.

Hello Ian, I'm Angel Santiago's mother. You and Ellen interviewed him for your special program about the Orlando shooting, and I was moved to tears as I watched. Listening to my son tell his story was so hard, because I didn't understand him when he was growing up. I guess I felt so much guilt for causing him emotional pain while he was dealing with his identity when he was younger. I'm grateful he's alive, to be with him, and to give him my love and support. I love my son so much. I want him to be happy. God bless. — Gloria Santiago

I know the chances of you seeing this are slim, but I felt an overwhelming need to send you a message to THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. The fact that you and Ms. Page are bringing to light how hard it is for anyone who is gay, lesbian, transgender, etc. is amazing. I'm the mom to an amazing, beautiful, talented, giving, generous and kind transgender son. He came out to my husband and I a year ago as initially being a lesbian. I grew up with a gay uncle, so was fine with that—but my husband grew up in a Christian household in St. Thomas, USVI, and didn't understand. When our son told us about being transgender, again it didn't bother me—but my husband still has difficulty understanding his choice.

Our son changed his name to Xavier and started living as a male; I can say I honestly knew when he was in 7th or 8th grade that he was transgender. He struggles daily with body dysphoria, body dysmorphia, severe depression, and bipolar disorder, and he struggles everyday with people misgendering him. When making doctor's appointments we have to use his legal name, and even when I ask doctor's offices to refer to him as Xavier, the majority of them don't. We live in Alaska, and while there is a large LGBTQ community, no one really "sees" what all this does to him. I hurt for him, and I worry for his future and the way people will treat him. We're trying to build him and make him stronger, but I just wanted to thank you for bringing to light the lives of the LGBTQ community and the struggles they face daily. — Kelly

I just wanted to thank you so much for the amazing work you've done with GAYCATION. I'm a 27-year-old woman who's finally accepted myself as gay after 8 years of identifying as bisexual. Dating men was admittedly "easier," but what I never admitted to myself was that it was neither fulfilling nor truly made me happy. I'm currently married to a man, had a stint in the public eye from being on reality TV (which leaves me feeling terrified and overwhelmed about coming out), and have had some of those I've trusted most reply, "Maybe it's just a phase."

When I'm awake late at night like I am right now—sitting alone in my living room with only the company of my own thoughts, trying to figure out how to escape the eye of this storm—it's moments like these, sitting and watching your show, that help me know that's it's going to be ok. They allow me to smile, cry, and keep having the strength to follow my heart, be true to myself, and to fathom the idea that I, too, can find that happiness. I thank you for this, truly from the bottom of my heart. — "Arielle" (name has been changed to protect identity)

I am so touched by your kindness and your great professionalism. I came out when I was 50 after being married for many years; I'm now almost 58 and married to the real love of my life, a man, and your stories resonated very strongly. When the Supreme Court finally gave us the right to marry, I cried all day—like a child who could not believe that we were experiencing the beginning of our freedom to be. There's a lot of progress yet to be made, but people like you and Ellen are making a huge difference. Thank you. — Jean-Pierre Delabre

Ian, I truly appreciate the work you and Ellen are doing to bring light to LGBT issues. I am 67, retired, and pretty much still in the closet. I live in a intolerant suburb of Little Rock, AR and think often about what I could do the help my identity, but run into the reality of feeling too insecure and insignificant to step up. Keep up the good work. — Richard Tankersley

I just wanted to say thank you for being a part of GAYCATION. I'm a 20-year-old queer girl living in Southern Illinois—my dad is a pastor of a southern baptist church here and I am not out. It's painful each day to wake up and be so alone. We moved here when I was 12, and I have only since then come out to my younger sister who has been supportive but can't really talk to me about things. I stopped going to church months ago because I was getting panic attacks and hiding in the bathroom till the service was over. My "friends" stopped talking to me because I quit coming to church, but I can't sit through my dad preaching on the damnation of queers. I feel like he is speaking to me when he preaches and I feel shame and hurt.

After the first episode of GAYCATION, I Googled you and read that you grew up in Indiana—it comforted me to know someone from a smaller area has grown to be a light in the LGBTQ community, as well as a successful writer/artist. I just want to say thank you for giving me hope through this show. I I hope to date a girl one day and to be proud and not ashamed. Sending love to you both, a tiny queer girl in southern Illinois. — Scout

Want to know if you get VICELAND? Go here to find out how to tune in.

The Odds of a Major Earthquake Near LA Just Skyrocketed

Photo via Flickr user Kelly Flanagan

Southern California geologists warn the LA area from time to time that there's real science to back up the local legend known as The Big One: a giant, overpass-snapping earthquake that's supposedly always on the horizon. But the warnings aren't usually as specific as the one they're giving this week: The Big One, they say, is unusually likely to become reality by next Tuesday.

According to a new press release from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the odds of a huge and potentially damaging earthquake in Southern California could be as high as one in 100 from now until October 4, following a series of small earthquakes on Tuesday along the San Andreas Fault line about 150 miles from Downtown Los Angeles. The odds could also be as low as one in 3,000.

This comes after a claim in May by Thomas Jordan, director of the the Southern California Earthquake Center, that an earthquake on the San Andreas Fault is just, kinda, way past due and likely to happen pretty soon. Or as Jordan put it: the fault is "locked, loaded, and ready to go."

The USGS cites an "earthquake swarm" near the lakeside town of Bombay Beach, California that started on September 26. That spot is "part of a fault network that connect the southernmost end of the San Andreas fault with the Imperial fault," meaning stress along multiple faults might be compounding the earthquake-causing effects.

As of September 26, that swarm had included 142 mini-quakes with richter-scale magnitudes of 1.4 to 4.3—hardly a tremble to the average California earthquake snob.

But, as the seismologist Egill Hauksson told the LA Times on Friday, "maybe one of those small earthquakes that's happening in the neighborhood of the fault is going to trigger it, and set off the big event." USGS says that could mean a magnitude 7.0 or greater earthquake—more powerful than the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, which killed 72 people, injured 9,000, and caused $25 billion in damage.

But that one percent chance doesn't necessarily mean Californians should pile into their earthquake bunkers for the next few days. "Swarm-like activity in this region has occurred in the past, so this week's activity, in and of itself, is not necessarily cause for alarm," the USGS release says.

One more bit of good news: The San Andreas fault is hundreds of miles from the ocean, which substantially reduces the risk of a tsunami, Dr. Lucy Jones, a USGS seismologist, told me last year.

But she also told me that a worst-case-scenario earthquake in Southern California could cause 1,500 buildings to collapse, and might seriously threaten LA's water supply. "If we lose a lot of water pipes, it could make it that much worse to control fires," she added.

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

It Was Another Brutal Week for Mass Gun Violence in America

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Over the past seven days, America witnessed eight mass shootings that left seven dead and 32 wounded. These attacks bring the US mass shooting body count so far in 2016 to 318 dead and 1,147 injured.

Meanwhile, Europe suffered one mass shooting over the same period. On Sunday, gunmen opened fire on a car after chasing it through the southern neighborhoods of Malmo, Sweden, injuring four people before fleeing. This attack brings the continent's body toll in such attacks so far this year up to 43 dead and 140 injured.

This past week actually witnessed fewer American mass shootings and saw fewer people hurt in such attacks than the previous one. But the past few days still felt more brutal than any span of time in the last few weeks, thanks in large part to a rapid succession of eye-catching attacks that drew sustained national and international media coverage.

Last Friday at about 7 PM, a gunman, currently believed to have been a man named Arcan Cetin, entered the Cascade Mall outside Seattle, Washington and opened fire on a group of people near a Macy's makeup counter, killing five. The shooter then fled the scene, prompting a massive manhunt that lasted almost a full day before authorities located Cetin on foot a few dozen miles away and apprehended him in a reportedly listless state. Then on Sunday at about 12:40 AM, a fight near the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, Illinois, led to a shooting that left one bystander dead, three suffering from gunshot wounds, and another wounded by a car while trying to flee the attack. Finally, on Monday at about 6:30 AM, a possibly mentally unstable lawyer wearing a military getup with a Nazi insignia named Nathan Desai opened fire on cars passing near his condominium building in Houston, Texas. He used a handgun and submachine gun, along with a massive cache of ammunition stashed in his Porsche. Desai wounded nine—six with gunshots and three with glass shrapnel—before being shot dead by responders.

These attacks involved totemic elements for an American audience: The apparent randomness of the shooting victims in each case made them seem as if they could have happened to anyone, imparting the sense of imminent and universal threat posed by mass shootings. Their highly public locations increased their visibility, as did the level of detail and personal intrigue surrounding the shooters in the Cascade Mall and Houston shootings, especially. None of these shootings were quite so archetypal and bloody as an attack like the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre of 2012, but they all involved enough hot-button variables to grab headlines.

The week's remaining mass shootings lacked such visibility-boosting features: On Friday at about 5 PM, a robbery in Houston, Texas, evolved into a shooting when the thief opened fire from his car as he was fleeing, injuring four. On Saturday at about 8:30 PM, three men carried out a coordinated ambush on a street in Baltimore, Maryland, likely in retaliation for a previous shooting, injuring eight individuals before fleeing. On Monday at about 3:30 PM, a drive-by at a house with a history of violent incidents in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, left four people inside injured. About three-and-a-half hours later, a street shooting among a group of teens in Humble, Texas, left four people injured. Finally, on Thursday at about 1 AM, another street shooting in San Francisco, California, left one dead and three injured.

Attacks involving murky assailants and seemingly tied to routine forms of violence—and sometimes in areas the public associates with violence—these mass shootings largely fell by the wayside of America's collective radar. Unfortunately, their perceived banality masked the fact that these attacks were in many ways as terrible as those that drew widespread notice: The Baltimore attack had the greatest number of victims this week, including a three-year-old girl and her father who were mere bystanders to the violence. Meanwhile, the shooting in Humble, Texas, which is not far from Houston, involved mostly juveniles and left two very young boys, who happened to be playing soccer on the street, injured as well.

It's understandable that apparently random rampages stoke more personal concern than other attacks, and that novel settings and lurid details catch audiences' eyes. But focusing the bulk of our attention on such attacks blinds us to the real epicenters and some of the worst incidences of America's mass shooting epidemic. And it magnifies fear of rare—if terrible—incidents, while jading us to the common large-scale gun violence ripping through the country almost daily.

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.

The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election: Why Bill Clinton’s Sex Scandals Still Matter

Bill Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in September.(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

In January 1999, with the Monica Lewinsky saga nearing its climax (sorry), Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin did the unthinkable. Every single one of his Democratic colleagues had voted to dismiss the pending charges against Bill Clinton, but Feingold dissented, joining with Republicans to allow the impeachment process to move forward. Clinton loyalists were enraged; Feingold's treachery was seen as giving bipartisan credence to a GOP-led witch hunt that had taken the nation into the gutter. But he didn't relent, even going so far as to bemoan in the official Congressional record that "the President's public conduct, not his private conduct, has brought us to this day."

Though he would ultimately vote to acquit Clinton, Feingold—who's running for the Senate in Wisconsin again this year, after having been ousted in 2010—stated that Bill's many deceptions came "perilously close" to warranting conviction and removal from office. Though the impeachment affair is today sometimes remembered as being the product of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" (to quote Hillary Clinton) or a bunch of hypocritical Republican hucksters getting fake-outraged over a blowjob, Clinton wasn't impeached for sexual transgressions as such, and no one forced him to repeatedly lie in public. Perjury and obstruction of justice, the crimes Bill was accused of committing, are both serious felonies that have landed plenty of less-powerful people in prison. Nor was the ensuing furor limited to prurient Republicans: Tim Kaine, Hillary's current running mate, declared in 2002 (when he was lieutenant governor of Virginia) that he believed Bill should have resigned over the matter.

The issue then, as now, was never the sexual indiscretions themselves. Adults are free to indulge in whatever consensual activities they wish. Bill's apparently boundless lust only became a subject of legitimate political concern because he was accused—time and time again, often credibly—of harassing, abusive, and sometimes outright criminal behavior against multiple women. The political dimension became unambiguous when federal government resources were deployed to cover up the misdeeds, an endeavor spearheaded by none other than Hillary, at whose behest Bill's many accusers were regularly tarnished in the media. This sordid process led to an ever-expanding tangle of state-funded scandal, drama, and duplicity, culminating in Bill's December 1998 impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Just is the case with Bill, Hillary's culpability lies in her public actions, not any private romantic matters. As the journalist Gail Sheehy wrote in the 1999 biography Hillary's Choice: "It was Hillary who made the first call, on the morning the [ Washington] Post story [reporting that Bill and others allegedly encouraged Lewinsky to lie to lawyers] broke, to establish the line the White House would use."

The "line" was disseminated by way of Sidney Blumenthal—the White House aide and longtime Clinton fixer who was in charge of disseminating talking points to the media. "The First Lady said that she was distressed that the President was being attacked, in her view, for political motives for his ministry of a troubled person," Blumenthal later relayed in sworn testimony. (According to the Starr Report, Bill told Lewinsky he'd had "hundreds" of extramarital sexual encounters—which is a whole lot of ministering.)

So that was the story: Bill was the real victim here, not the intern repeatedly slimed by executive branch employees as a "stalker" who wore her dresses a little too tight. In a letter written several years later to the late writer Christopher Hitchens, Lewinsky personally thanked him for "being the only journalist to stand up against the Clinton spin machine (mainly Blumenthal) and reveal the genesis of the stalker story." Hitchens had stated in a sworn affidavit that he was present when Blumenthal propagated the "stalker" slur at lunch one day in March 1998.

The Lewinsky imbroglio might be the most infamous of Bill's questionable trysts, but it's nowhere near the most morally objectionable. There was Paula Jones, who in another sworn affidavit said that Bill exposed himself and instructed her to "kiss" his penis, actions for which she never offered consent. Clinton ended up paying Jones $850,000 in a lawsuit settlement, a federal judge found him in contempt of court for making " intentionally false" statements, and his law license was suspended. Perhaps most egregious are the allegations of Juanita Broaddrick, who maintains that Bill raped her when he was attorney general of Arkansas and whose story was recounted last month in excruciating detail by Buzzfeed's Katie Baker.

Bill Clinton has never been charged or convicted of sexual assault. Still, there's a vast body of evidence demonstrating that he frequently pursued women in subordinate or vulnerable positions and made use of massive power disparities to obtain sex, including more than once with individuals who subsequently stated that they did not consent to his advances.

The post hoc rationalizations offered always made things worse. The way the Clintons layered half-truth upon half-truth to cover for Bill's conduct—until things spiraled out of control—eerily mirrors the way Hillary has handled her recent email woes. The initial blameworthy act (using a private email server in violation of State Department protocol) has gradually seeped into additional areas of wrongdoing— covering up questionable conduct, repeatedly misleading the public—and though no criminal charges have resulted, what could have been an easily-fixable mishap morphed into a full-fledged debacle.

For their entire political careers, Hillary and Bill have packaged themselves as a single unit: " Two for the price of one" is how a TV reporter characterized it in 1992. Just as Hillary was delegated many important governing responsibilities in the 1990s, so too would Bill under any forthcoming Clinton administration. Hillary herself said in May that she would put him "in charge" of fixing the economy. Whatever else it would mean, Hillary's election would guarantee the return of a known sleazeball to the White House.

Follow Michael Tracey on Twitter.

The New Film by the Director of ‘Oldboy’ Is a Brutal Lesbian Love Story

The Handmaiden, the latest film from Park Chan-wook, the South Korean auteur who brought Oldboy into the world, is as wild as you might expect. Based very loosely on Sarah Waters's 2002 novel Fingersmith, the film has been relocated from Victorian England to Korea in the 1930s, and it manages to be Park's most lavishly staged production yet. The Handmaiden begins as the story of a young Korean pickpocket (Kim Tae-Ri) who tries to grift a Japanese heiress out of her money. But that barely scratches the surface of a whiplash-inducing series of plot twists, touching on torture, old-school porn, sadism, a mental hospital, and a ton of graphic sex.

Most of that graphic sex is between two women. Kim's pickpocket character, Sook-hee, develops unexpected feelings for the heiress, Lady Hideko, played by Kim Min-hee. The lesbian storyline is tender, and propped up by heartfelt, if sometimes operatic performances by the leads. But there's a troubling needle for Park to thread here: The director unabashedly traffics in lurid material, and in service of a lurid lesbian story, he's putting female flesh on lurid display. Despite the film garnering great reviews, not everyone loves Park's presentation of homosexuality.

But Park has always thrived on subject matter that riles people up. His 2000 film JSA, is about an inadvisable friendship between North and South Korean soldiers working at the border between the two warring countries. The DVD of JSA turned into a black-market favorite inside the Hermit Kingdom.

To get a handle on how Park really feels about churning touchy subject matter into rollicking entertainment, I sat down and talked to him in a hotel suite in Los Angeles earlier this week. Park paced around the room giving expansive answers, which were delivered to me through a translator.

Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee in 'The Handmaiden.' Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios/Magnolia Pictures

VICE: Watching your films—Oldboy in particular—was the first thing that made me want to learn about Korea, and then I later moved there. Do people often tell you that?
Park Chan-wook: I come across people who decided they wanted to learn about filmmaking in Korea and even make their way over to Korea. It's something that I really appreciate. It says something about my films—that they're so loved by an international audience. But if Koreans found out that someone learned about Korea through Oldboy, some Koreans might find that uncomfortable.

Why's that?
Because of the content of the film! There's incest! When I went to the Berlin Film Festival with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, during the Q&A, all the Korean people in Berlin who were there for the Q&A raised their hands and said, "Why do you portray Korea like this? Can't you make a film where Korea is portrayed beautifully?"

"If you want to be real friends, it is necessary to know what the bad aspects are about the other person, or what pain and suffering the other person is going through."

And what do you tell people when they ask that?
That part of becoming true friends with somebody is in knowing the pains the other person is suffering. If you want to be real friends with Europeans, or Germans—we were in Germany—it is necessary to know what the bad aspects are about the other person, or what pain and suffering the other person is going through.

The Handmaiden had all your trademarks: sadism, masochism, revenge, love in defiance of a taboo, murder, and suicide. But even though these themes are recurring, how do you choose which particular story to tell?
I don't have a list where I pick from those elements, but by and large, I look at the big picture, and see what draws me in—what I feel drawn to. Almost every time, the ethical dilemma is what draws me in the most. Everything else is in service of that subject. This film is a bit different—quite distinctive—because this film, rather than dealing with an ethical dilemma, is about love and greed.

Chan-wook on set. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios/Magnolia Pictures

Would you agree that of all your films, this one that is the most pro-love, and pro-sex?
There certainly are many sexual elements in this film, but not all of it is in praise of sex. For instance, when you come to the elements of the violent male gaze, it's something disgusting, and only when it comes to the lovemaking between the two women is it pro-sex, or pro-love.

I noticed that. The Handmaiden does seem pretty critical of male sexuality. Was that intentional?
It's a kind of rape in my mind—gang rape. book being read, but when they sit there and look at Lady Hideko, listening to her reading pornographic material, it might as well be as violent as gang rape.

But the sex scenes between the women in the film seemed heartfelt. What was it like shooting them?
When it comes to shooting sex scenes, there's nothing more difficult and stressful. What's quite ironic is that when I'm shooting a fistfight and the camera is rolling, the actors have faces full of hatred as the characters fight. But whenever I call, "Cut," the actors can break into laughter and the set can be lively. But when it comes to scenes of lovemaking, even though the scene is supposed to be about being happy, and being in love, you can't apply the same attitude. It's not the same atmosphere. So I try to be as considerate as I can to the actors doing the love scene, and try to get through it as quickly as possible, so they don't have to be uncomfortable for a long time.

Four of your last five movies have had female protagonists. Are you primarily interested in telling women's stories now? And are you a feminist?
Well, it's something that just kind of ended up happening. There was no intention behind it. I didn't say, "Now my focus will be primarily on female protagonists," or, "Now I make feminist movies." It wasn't something that was born out of intent. I suppose getting old, becoming mature as a human being, also means you become more of a feminist.

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

Amazon Studios and Magnolia Pictures will release The Handmaiden in theaters October 21.

‘Luke Cage’ Is the ‘Hip-Hop Comic-Book Show’ You’ve Been Waiting For

The idea of an indestructible man in central Harlem arrives at an auspicious time. As the Black Lives Matter movement marches on, the amount of black men becoming hashtags increases every day. The new Netflix series Luke Cage , about a black superhero with indestructible skin, provides a necessary story about black empowerment. Told in hour-long segments, it blends the comic-book world with both the noir and blaxploitation genres, successfully creating a stylish and compelling season of television. Notorious writer Cheo Hodari Coker has created a the show that centers on the black experience: our humanity, our complex identities, our motivations—and means—for survival.

The original Marvel comic Luke Cage, Hero for Hire made its debut in June 1972 when blaxploitation films were at its peak. The main protagonist—who first went by the name Carl Lucas—was born and raised in Harlem, where he commits petty crimes in a youth gang called the Rivals. As Carl grows up and seeks out a legitimate job, his childhood friend and gangmate Willis Stryker (a.k.a. Diamondback) becomes more invested in violence. Later, while wrongfully imprisoned at Seagate Prison, Carl becomes a part of a cell regeneration experiment that causes him to have superhuman strength and durability, most notably the power to be bulletproof.

More than four decades later, Coker has modernized this noir story and created a striking and "inclusively black" program that dovetails with Marvel's efforts to become more inclusive. The comic publisher has enlisted Roxane Gay as the first black woman to write a Marvel comic book, Ta-Nehisi Coates has taken over the Black Panther comic, and Ryan Coogler is directing the Black Panther movie.

When I met with Coker at Red Rooster, one of the most famous comfort-food restaurants in Harlem, he was dressed in a crisp suit not unlike Mahershala Ali's character Cottonmouth. As we ate cornbread, collard greens, mac and cheese, and fried chicken, he regaled me with his history of being a black nerd, affinity for Luke Cage and hip-hop culture, and his hopes for what the audience will take away from the story.

Cheo Hodari Coker on set. Photo courtesy of Netflix

VICE: So I read in one of your past interviews that you wanted Luke Cage to be more tied to black empowerment than blaxploitation. Can you explain a bit more about that for those who are familiar with those nuances?
Cheo Hodari Coker: It's not that we're not proud of our blaxploitation roots. We embrace it really more musically than anything else because of the way that Adrien Young, Ali, and Shaheed Muhammed kind of like a mix of Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man with little dashes of Bernard Herman or Ennio Morricone. By getting a 30-piece orchestra, we were really able to make very distinct musical choices. The further you get into the series, it becomes much more apparent and deeper.

we became more confident in the show's ability to express itself musically without using other songs and so with the exception of the song that we have coming with Method Man...

Whoa, that's exciting.
Well, the moment with Method Man is interesting. I was kind of apprehensive about using it in the trailer because I wanted to save it. But I'm realizing that you have to reveal little bits to keep things going. When people see Method Man and get deeper into it in terms of the context of the episode, there's a moment that really is just incredible. Without spoiling it, it's one of my favorite moments in the entire series.

"This show is kind of about subverting expectations. This is a show where heroes come in hoodies."

I want to talk about the significance of the hoodie because immediately I thought of Trayvon Martin and its link to black criminality. Yet Luke Cage is the hero—or trying to be—so I'm trying to figure out that middle ground. Was that a distinct choice that you decided to do that with the hoodie?
Luke Cage's whole appeal is that he doesn't wear a mask, he doesn't wear a cape, you can find him at the barber shop. He's not hiding, he's not going anywhere. I wanted to show that black men in hoodies can be anything. I mean, I've been wearing hoodies since Stanford so but I also know that if someone rolls up on me and sees me in a hoodie they're not gonna see Stanford, they're not gonna see Hotchkiss. They're gonna make their own assumptions about who it is I am and what it is I'm about. This show is kind of about subverting expectations. This is a show where heroes come in hoodies. This is a show where the villain is a frustrated musician, where politicians can be completely sincere and also at the same time completely ruthless.

Right. I remember the one part where Cottonmouth and Mariah are sitting in the park and they make mentions of invaders, which sort of reminds me of gentrification. How do you decide who the enemy is?
Mariah actually believes in what she's doing and Cottonmouth is like, "Come on, it's all a front. We are criminals, this is the shit that we do." They are both about power. They are not about the people. It's all about controlling what they have and they can't control the people who's buying what and how it's changing. So it was a way to kind of look at gentrification.

If you look at the history of Harlem, Harlem comes from Haarlem. It was Dutch. It was a different ethnic ghetto before the great migration of black people who came from the south, and all over the place, looking for the promised land. When that influx happened in the Great Migration and this demographic change, it became like black and white flight. But at the same there was always these different sinners. Gangsters have always been there. Gangsters were there during the Jazz Age and the hip-hop age. It's always been a continuation but it all happens in one place. So if you add a bulletproof black man with superpowers into that, no matter where you point the camera, you have an interesting story that both is black but at the same time, simultaneously, deeply Marvel. That's the whole thing was that I wanted to prove: that you could sell a story that was Marvel but then by adding culture as a different kind of special effect, you can enhance the story that is being told so it's automatically different than anything that you've seen.

"My favorite Paul Mooney joke of all time is when he said that he was only black on nights and weekends because otherwise it's too stressful."

I keep thinking about the doubling of identities and how seamlessly they change depending on where they are. It made me think about the psychologies of the heroes and villains especially in a place like Harlem where you know gentrification is happening.
I can't remember if it was W.E.B. Dubois who the notion of black double consciousness, of having to be two people at once is what we call code-switching. My favorite Paul Mooney joke of all time is when he said that he was only black on nights and weekends because otherwise it's too stressful. That's a really subtle joke, but it's something that we've all gone through because of having to subvert elements of your culture to just get through a workplace where you are not the norm. That's what I think white people take for granted; they can fully be themselves in any environment whereas black people that assimilate and move up constantly have to be able to switch. In a way, hip-hop was the first art form that said, "Nah, we're gonna kick down the door to the mainstream and we are not dressing up." It became a cultural evolution and its own paradox. So that's kind of what a show like this represents in being a hip-hop comic-book show, because we are using the attitude of hip-hop to change the way that you tell this kind of story.

Another thing that stuck out to me when I was watching a couple episodes was the intergenerational conflict, which is young black and Latino guys versus the older characters.
One of the most profound rap lyrics ever for me was Notorious B.I.G.'s " Things Done Changed" where he said, "Back in the days our parents used to take care of us / Look at them now they even fuckin' scared of us / Callin' the city for help because they can't maintain / Damn, shit done changed." The disconnect that Shameek and Chico have from their parents is that they try and make their own way and they are not really trying to fit into the system. It's them seeing an opportunity to rob Cottonmouth and that kind of sets the whole engine. Pop, as an ex-hood, is not afraid of these kids. He's somebody that's basically trying to provide them with a different life in a better way. That's what the barbershop represents: safety. These kids are not strong enough to say, "I'm scared, I don't wanna be out here in the streets, I need an alternative." So the barbershop becomes the one place.

Photo by Myles Aronowitz/courtesy of Netflix

The role of black women also stuck out. I really loved Misty's characterization because she understands the life and culture, but she is trying to do her own thing, too. She still has so much autonomy and she has so much strength in ways that diverge from her male counterparts.
You know, I've always grown up around educated, independent black women. My mother was a single mom and dropped out of college to have me. I watched her basically work her way through night school to finish her degree. And then when I was nine years old, she got her law degree. Then I saw her turn that into a master's in social work. Eventually she became the commissioner of the Department of Social Services of Connecticut. As a little kid, she used to take me to the library because she always had to study and that's how I became a reader. That's kind of how I fell in love with books, that and her reading to me.

I wanted women that reflected the realities of the kind of women that I would be around, like my mother or my aunt Valerie that was the executive editor of Essence magazine. I remember my Essence internship. I mean, that was heaven on earth because I was around all of these beautiful, dynamic sisters. All you were around were Mistys and Mariahs: women with power and focus and poise. But you very rarely see that . You can show fully fleshed-out women that have careers and do things but they aren't always pining for men.

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Luke Cage is now streaming on Netflix.

The Internet Gave Me $240 to Listen to Meghan Trainor’s Entire Discography

Monday night, while blogging about a group of record labels suing Youtube-to-mp3.org who listed “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor as an example of a frequently pirated song, I pondered whether a song worse than Trainor’s hit single exists. Jokingly, I then suggested the internet give me $200 to listen to her entire discography.

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