Arts + Culture

2017 Was the Year of Black Women Living Dynamic Sex Lives on TV

This year's television illustrated black women's sexual narratives through a handful of groundbreaking, yet problematic personalities—and we're here for it.

This fall, a humorous sexual moment swept over the internet. It was an ongoing freestyle, where the lyricist articulated the extreme lengths they'd go for good dick. Introduced by Gameova Reedy, the "For the Dick Challenge" inspired celebrities like Erykah Badu, Issa Rae, Regina Hall, Cardi B and Gabrielle Union to share their own versions, equipped with dickmatized, ridiculous bars. A "For the Pussy Challenge" started as well, but that's another essay.


The "For the Dick Challenge" was met with general praise and affirmation, because who hasn't found themselves doing something out of character for great sex? But naturally, there were some who found this social media performance thirsty and degrading to black women. As Tamara Winfrey Harris points out in her essay for Bitch Media, society claps back when black women assert and express our sexuality, but rarely defend or support us in issues of sexual assault or abuse. This double standard is rooted in decades long stereotypes about us being inherently hypersexual beings with no say or ownership over our bodies.

Black women having sex—on our own terms—is still seen as a revolutionary act. Our culture tries to diminish us to "hoes" and "sluts" when we own our sexuality: a slur for being promiscuous or curious that we have recently turned into a label of pride.

Yet, 2017 has seen a surge in representation of women of color in media as healthy, sexual beings with agency over our pussies. Sex and body positive rapper and comedian Cardi B, hit movie Girls Trip and Kelela's sci-fi musical joyride "Take Me Apart," are some of the contributions to the conversation on how Black women manage our bodies and bedrooms.

However, I'm most interested in how this year's television illustrated black women's sexual narratives through a handful of groundbreaking, entertaining and sometimes problematic personalities. There's Chewing Gum's Tracey, a religiously sheltered 20 something year old living in the projects who anxiously loses her virginity; Issa and Molly of Insecure, two single women navigating the complexity, and confusion, of online dating, casual sex and devastating breakups, and Nola Darling of She's Gotta Have It, a young artist looking for validation for her "abnormal" sexual appetite from her three male lovers, amongst other fabulous and flawed fictional personalities.

Now is typically the time when women are encouraged to think about marriage and children, but most of us would rather focus on our career, personal growth and maintaining dynamic sex and love lives. These characters exhibit the various ways black women engage in and navigate sex and emotions, without feeling bogged down by gender roles and society's expectations. Although some representations were more effective than others, they serve as rousing topics for a wider conversation on where we are sexually and cinematically and how much farther we need to go to include stories about all sexualities and relationship structures.

In Netflix's reboot of She's Gotta Have It, we are introduced to a millennial version of Nola Darling, a liberated, petulant and self-absorbed woman with a trail of captivated lovers. Jamie Overstreet, Mars Blackmon and Greer Childs are the most prominent partners in her bedroom. With them, she has fulfilling sex under her terms and at her convenience, but they all try to sway her into monogamy.

Nola defines herself as a pansexual polyamorous person who wants to commit, but her emotional reliance on her lovers proves otherwise. Here polyamory is inaccurately dressed up as an excuse to be a dishonest, inconsiderate and selfish lover: Nola takes phone calls from other lovers while in bed with one, is unjustifiably jealous over Jamie's wife and forces her lovers to meet against their will—over Thanksgiving dinner, where she unveils a nude painting featuring them as a 3 headed monster.

Her truest relationship, with a woman named Opal, is as heartwarming as it is poorly executed. Nola only seeks Opal when she goes on a dick strike—as if queer women choose to date other women as an affront against men. Although their chemistry is undeniable, and Nola recalls feeling her purest, safest self with Opal, she is still unable to commit in the simplest ways, completely disregarding that relationships are a two-way street. Nola is supposed to represent a black woman on a sexual journey, but instead she's perceived as a woman who won't grow up and uses her rules and standards as an excuse to disregard others feelings.

I've written about the importance of Chewing Gum's Tracey and Insecure's Issa and Molly as leading ladies sharing a variety of black women's stories. This year we saw Tracey lose her virginity, Issa embrace hoedom and Molly enter an open relationship, a decision that may prove perilous to her heart next season, but for now seems sexually enticing. These characters prove that our partners, and the reasons we choose them, don't always depend on commitment, a future or romantic expectations—some are just funny, our friends, or live downstairs.

Yet, I especially appreciate how these tales illustrate fucking. Most of Insecure and Chewing Gum's sex scenes are candid, hilarious, unsatisfying and awkward—a direct deviation from 90s movies that usually depict Black lovemaking as hyperromantic, orgasmic and ultimately perfect. Love Jones' Nia would probably cringe at Issa's clumsy first time with neighbor bae, while the women of Living Single would cheer her on and give a few pointers. That's what makes their stories, although exaggerated and amusing, land close to home: it breaks past the sheer, sensual curtains of how media usually displays romance, and busts into our messy, tornado-driven bedrooms.

But for these characters to truly feel authentic, inclusive and progressive, writers have to dig deeper into the intersections of black women's experiences and identities to project characters that truly push past stereotypes or misconstrued ideas about black sexuality. Nola Darling would have been a grand opportunity to explore polyamory and queer identity, but instead her multiple relationships are fueled by narcissism, insecurity and uncertainty; the best part about this show is the fine-ass cast. Where Insecure succeeds at showing the intensity and discomfort of sex and dating, addressing stigmas around sex, and forgiving character's mistakes, it can feel as though the writers are persistently striving to prove a point about sex and black women without tightening the loose ends they want us to pick at (i.e. the unresolved oral sex episode and Molly's homophobia).

Thankfully Empire's Becky is representation of a full figured sista having sex and enjoying it, and How to Get Away With Murder's Annalise, a middle aged black woman, is never shy of inviting men and women into her bedroom. Queen Sugar's Nova is another shining example of a sexually fluid black woman living her truth, however I'm not caught up on this series to say more. And Netflix's Easy—an anthology series that delicately pinpoints the intricacies of relationships—features few, although wonderfully written, black women. Jo and Chase, an interracial lesbian couple, raise thoughtful questions about feminism, art and veganism—and engage in sex scenes that feel fluid and fulfilling. But in 2018, I'd like to see even more diverse representations of intersectional and marginalized identities rustling their sheets.

I am on a sexual and romantic journey of my own. After exiting a 4-year monogamous and long distance relationship a year ago, I've been actively, but not always successfully, relearning my desires, sexual expectations and boundaries. Watching these women navigate complicated, sensational and awkward sexcapades is like witnessing an exciting and emotional parallel universe in action—except these characters have had way more action than I this year.

Yet, as many inspiring, relatable or conflicting characters there are embarking on sexual awakenings, nothing can ever prepare you for the real thing. There is personal, intellectual, emotional and physical work us black women do to untangle the internalized ideas on sexuality and gender that society has conditioned us into: a process that far exceeds eight episodes.

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This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

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Film
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!

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Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

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