For the past few weeks, we have been working hard to bring you quality content on faith and work and plan to continue shedding light on people who are actually successful in making their work and faith collide in their respective industries. Each entrepreneur and professional that will be featured in our “15 Questions for Success” series will give us their road map to success and answer questions on how their faith plays out in their careers.
The second installment of the “15 Questions for Success” series features Avril Speaks, producer and director for BET. Check out what Avril has to say about faith and work below:
When people ask you what you do, how do you answer?
I usually say I am an independent filmmaker, or an independent film producer.
When you think of the word ‘successful’ who is the first person that comes to mind and why?
Ava Duvernay. She is someone who has defined success on her own terms. The movie “Selma” is not what made her successful. She owns and defines her own truth in which she was already successful. She had a unique voice within the film industry before that film and she continues to have one today.
What role does faith play when it comes to your career?
Faith plays a huge role because my relationship with God and my interest in film developed around the same time in life, so for me those two always go hand-in-hand. My faith inevitably shows up in my work somehow, even though it is often not in the way that many people would expect.
What does the first 60-90 minutes of your day look like?
It depends on the day. Some days I go to the gym early in the morning. Some days (when I think about it) I’ll read a passage of Scripture. Some days I jump right up and get in the shower. Sadly, other days I lay in bed and scroll through Facebook for an hour (I’m trying to break this habit).
How has knowing your personality type affected your life and how has it played a role in any life decision?
I’m an introvert so I’m not much of a schmoozer. But what that trait has taught me is how to seek out authentic relationships with people. So I’m not really one to “work a room,” but I’m pretty good at finding the one or two people in a crowd that I connect to and those people often end up being valuable parts of my life in some way. I’ve come to realize that my quietness allows me to be an observer, one who thinks thing through before acting out. When making decisions, I weight all the options, rather than jumping into anything too quickly.
What do you most love about what you do?
Getting to collaborate with other creative people and seeing good stories come to life. I think that human stories and testimonies are powerful and any way I can be part of getting those stories told, it makes me happy.
What should someone ask themselves to determine their passion?
What is that something that makes you lose track of time? What is something that you love doing, even if you didn’t get paid for it?
How do you define success?
Success is having the freedom to do what you love. For some people, freedom comes financially (being able to make a living from doing something you love), for others it comes with time (making time in the schedule to do something you love).
What habits or skills are most important to living a successful life?
Persistence in making space for those things that bring joy/success.
How do you maintain productivity throughout the day?
What advice would you give your 20 year old self?
Trust yourself and the knowledge that you have. I spent so many years doubting that I know anything and that I have something valuable to say (I still struggle with this, actually).
What books would you recommend on career and business to someone just starting out?
Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV and Digital Entertainment by Carole M. Kirschner and
Imagination and the Journey of Faith by Sandra M. Levy
What advice would you give someone interested in making a career change?
Capitalize your strengths. Just because you are changing careers doesn’t mean you have to throw away all of the skills you have acquired in your previous occupation. My hairstylist was an accountant before opening her own salon. She may have switched careers, but that business sense went a long way for her when starting her own business, which is how she has been able to sustain herself for so many years. Think of none of your years as wasted time. Every job you have done in the past was to prepare you for where you are right now or where you’re trying to go.
Ebony magazinejust released its March “The Real Life Scandal” Issue, which highlights real life scandals from the black community and features actress Kerry Washington on the cover, sharing her perspective as an A-list actress, political advocate, and health-conscious feminist. Truth be told: We know little of Washington’s personal life and that’s exactly how she plans to keep it. She would much rather prefer that we talk about the nature and accomplishments of her body of artistic work, and since its origin last April, everyone is talking about her hit television show Scandal.
Concerning that show, I got caught up. I love seeing intelligent, articulate, attractive, powerful, relevant, and well-dressed Black women on movie and television screens as much as the next sista. Trust me. The scenes are all the more interesting and impactful when played by such a well-versed and talented actress as Washington. But when all of that window dressing simply becomes trapping for yet another powerful woman who succumbs to the desires of her lustful heart (especially with a married man), all of the respect stored up for the character burns up in smoke. It’s hard to keep cheering for Washington’s character, Olivia Pope, when you know her affair will ultimately result in a loss for all parties involved. Olivia, her lover, and his pregnant wife all lose and that’s the real sad story for many in today’s society.
Actress Kerry Washington accepts the Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series award for “Scandal” during the 44th NAACP Image Awards. (Photo Credit: Jim Ruymen/Newscom)
I want more for Olivia and I want more for us. Behind the camera lens of Scandal is the show’s creator and writer, Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes’ writing is outstanding and the story lines are compelling. She constantly keeps us on the edge of our seats. That’s what makes the show great and so easy to watch. All of her characters are power players, fast talking, and quick on their feet as they engage in a game of chess with each other’s lives. The actors are all phenomenal, but at the end of the day, it’s Rhimes who is in the ultimate position of power.
Through this political drama, Rhimes uses her power to celebrate the stories of those thirsty for greed and power, those with murderous hearts, those who are unapologetic about living lives of lies and deceit, and those involved in unhealthy, adulterous and unnatural relationships. Although Olivia’s entourage refers to themselves as “gladiators in suits,” there are little redemptive qualities in any of the show’s primary characters. It doesn’t take long to figure out that there are no good guys or gals, and that’s the gist of Rhimes’ creation.
Yet my primary issue is neither with Washington nor Rhimes; my concern is with the Christian women and men like me who watch this show weekly with no discernment. I have seen professing Christians defend the show to the nth degree. “Why criticize a work of fiction?” they ask. My first conviction concerning this question came on the day of the Newtown school shootings. The night prior to that horrific event, I watched an episode of Scandal where an assassin killed an innocent family including two small children and their dog. The next day, a Facebook acquaintance and fellow Christian found it hard to reconcile approving of the murder of innocent children on a television, while at the same time being appalled when a similar, yet worst, event happens in real life.
The sad truth of our culture—and Ebony’s publishers play on this reality—is: The lines between fact and fiction, what’s real and what’s fantasy, have become quite blurry. This is the result of a booming market for “reality” shows, over exposure to strangers through virtual lives and social media, the sensationalism of our news reporting (How often do you witness a positive news story?), and the senseless pandering of our politicians. I won’t forget how angry I was when Sarah Palin used careless “lock and load” language all over a news broadcast, and the young man who locked and loaded just days after Palin’s rant. Was this a coincidence? His response resulted in the deaths and injuries of several human beings, including U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. Because this is the culture we live in, we must all be more responsible concerning the use of our power and how we choose to engage our mediums of communication.
We should not use our power to only serve our own self-interests. Many thoughtful African-Americans thought this was the case with BET’s founder, Bob Johnson, and hence they tuned him and the station out. We should not neglect the opportunities to use our power for good in this world, and I believe the messages and images of Scandal present a missed opportunity. Ebony reports that Washington “is the first Black woman to star in a major network American TV drama since 1974.” Therefore, Washington’s accomplishment is worthy of celebration. In addition to Scandal, Rhimes is also the creator, head writer, and executive producer of the dramas, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, both of which at the core tell the stories of flawed humans who are helping and healing other people. Am I looking for all perfect characters on every show? No. Am I advocating for an all Christian line-up with shows full of Christianese language? Not at all.
However, I do believe in a culture where the line between fiction and nonfiction, truth and lies, and fantasy and reality is becoming more unclear, we have to question what is means to have power, and consider the consequences of how we use our power to engage the world. I agree with Kerry Washington that, “Power is always about choices.” Washington chooses which roles she plays. Rhimes decides how she uses her power to tell stories and send messages into the world. As a consumer, I no longer choose to watch Scandal. As a writer, I challenge you to consider: What kind of empowerment do we, as a community of Black people, really want? What will you do, and what should we all do with power once it is obtained?
A week ago, I was reminded of something that I didn’t realize I needed to be reminded of. I’m a Christian, so I know that I am loved, that I was created with and for a purpose, that I have power available to me that doesn’t come from this world. But as a Christian black woman, I was reminded that I also rock.
I haven’t had cable television for years, so this was my first time watching the BET broadcast of the Black Girls Rock! awards event. And when I saw previews for the show, old questions like those that have been asked since the initiation of Black History week-later expanded to Black History month-crossed my mind. Questions like, Is this type of show really necessary?If white women televised an event called “White Girls Rock,” blacks would go crazy and call it racist. Isn’t this kind of show racist, too? And finally, any recognition of girls and women automatically includes black girls, so why should the whole society have to especially recognize black girls?
On a more personal level, I wanted to form a faith-based opinion of both the movement and the show that would be airing. So I asked myself, Is it okay for me, as a Christian woman, to accept a recognition and celebration of something created specifically to honor just women of color, particularly black women? Is this an exclusionary event, and what’s the right way to think about it?
Furthermore, I must admit to a little stereotypical thinking. Was everyone going to look like an audition prospect for a Lil Wayne video? If so, I was definitely not interested. So I felt some hesitation. But I am so glad I did watch.
The power of the show comes from the purpose of the movement. Black Girls Rock! was started by former model and DJ Beverly Bond as a way to “build the self-esteem and self-worth of young women of color by changing their outlook on life, broadening their horizons, and helping them to empower themselves.” Her organization does this by exposing girls age 12-17 to diverse arts-based experiences including writing, Broadway performances, and a workshop that teaches DJ’ing skills and techniques. Back in 2006 when she started BGR, Ms. Bond was concerned about young black girls’ likely inability to process and resist the onslaught of negative media images of themselves, and the consequences they were vulnerable to because of that inability. Five years later, Black Girls Rock! has evolved into a meaningful brand which includes the awards telecast.
Check out the video below for background on the movement’s history:
Everything about the show reflected not only BGR’s purposes to uplift and inspire, but also Ms. Bond’s personal commitment to integrity, a visual ethic, and dignity. The overarching themes of strength and resilience were strikingly displayed in Mara Brock Akil’s characterization of black women as those who never give up, and her entreaty to us to make our voices heard in all kinds of conversations at every level in society. This was echoed in Angela Davis’ Icon award acceptance speech in which she challenged black girls to imagine themselves part of a community of resistance. Jill Scott’s bold performance of “Womanifesto,” Estelle’s haunting “Thank You” to a former lover, and Mary Mary’s vibrant remake of “Keep Your Head to the Sky” were part of a memorable soundtrack of the evening.
What pulled the whole experience together for me was the segment highlighting the role of faith in helping black girls experience the strength and resilience they are being encouraged to develop. Seeing Shirley Caesar accept the Living Legend Award resonated with me as a Christian and helped answer my questions about possible conflicts between the movement and the Christian faith.
My hesitations are eased because I see that while this effort to specifically empower black girls and women could possibly be portrayed as a misguided and exclusionary attempt to engender feelings of superiority, it is actually just the opposite. It challenges the exclusionary rhetoric of superiority by strengthening the self concept of those being excluded as inferior, and elevating equality as the basis of inclusion. In fact, this movement could be especially game-changing for Christian women of color by helping us re-frame our identity so that we include ourselves among those creations of God which He called “good,” rather than how others image us. It actually puts ethnicity in perspective. Ethnicity and color are means to an end, not ends unto themselves. They are ways to show the glory, beauty, and wisdom of God; to demonstrate the truth of His claim that He uses the things considered weak in the world’s eyes to shame those who consider themselves mighty (1 Cor. 1:27); and to prove to us that because He has overcome the racism, prejudice, misperception, and oppression of the world, we can too (John 16:33).
So to all the black girls and women out there who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, we rock too!
If you’d like to encourage a girl or woman of color you know who rocks, give her a shoutout by listing her name in the comments section below.
The Federal Election Commission approved Stephen Colbert’s request to form a Super PAC. In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled decided that corporations, unions and individuals coulddonate unlimited funds to groups not associated with a candidate for campaigning purposes. This group is called a Super PAC. The decision is known as “Citizens United.” More interesting than Colbert’s approval to form a Super PAC, is the role Viacom can play. Viacom will not be required to disclose the financial information related to using Colbert’s airtime or staff to create TV ads. However, if the Super PAC’s TV ads appear during another show or on another network, Viacom will be forced to disclose the expenses involved. We live in a world where the media is influential in determining how a candidate is received and what information is made popular. The FEC’s decision to approve of Colbert’s Super PAC will open the floodgates for other media personalities to sway public opinion in the direction of their liking. Soon every talk major talk show host will have their own Super PAC.
Planking has gone viral since it started in Australia, but still people are asking; what is it? Planking is the act of lying down face down with your arms to your side as shown below. But, the craze is based on the creative ways people are doing it. Even celebrities have joined the party; Orlando Magic ballers, Dwight Howard and Gilbert Arenas recently released photos of themselves planking. However, not everyone thinks planking is just a silly fad. Some have linked planking to the way that slaves were packed into the slave ships on “planks.” I doubt this is what anyone had in mind when they snapped their photo, but what do you think?
When Jerome Corsi released his book, Where’s The Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President, Esquire Magazine figured it was fair game to target the less than factual title with a satire of their own. Esquire’s Mark Warren then published an article titled “Breaking: Jerome Corsi’s Birther Book Pulled from Shelves!” Joseph Farah, the CEO of WorldNetDaily.com and Corsi have filed suit against Esquire Magazine and writer Mark Warren for over $200 million dollars for defamation and causing loss of book sales. I do not think this suit will hold up, but perhaps, comedians should steer clear of those with egos this large.
Cloud storage is new enough that I’m going to assume a lot of readers don’t even know what it is yet, but at 69-years-old, Paul McCartney is already on board. Instead of keeping a library of video-tapes, cassettes, and CD’s of all his music and videos, he stored them on a cloud with the help of Hewlett-Packard. The mysterious cloud, is a virtual library of files. It is not stored on your computer, but rather on the internet, and can be accessed anywhere in the world. The cloud is the future. Soon…we won’t even have computers as we know them. We’ll simply have screens that access clouds.
While congress is being pressured to meet the August 2nd deadline for raising the debt ceiling, there is talk that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will be leaving his position. Geithner’s family is moving from DC to New York and he has stated that he will be a commuter. Geithner led the response to the 2009 finical crisis, but high unemployment rates and slow economic growth will plague him and the White House in the 2012 presidential election. If Congress meets the August 1 deadline and Geithner resigns, theWhite House will have to begin looking for a new Treasury Secretary while Washington is consumed with the 2012 election. This could help President Obama send the message that he is able to put together a team that will turn the economy around. If Congress does not meet the deadline, Geithner will have the difficult responsibility of paying the country’s bills without using borrowed money. This means the government would be forced to either default on obligations or raise taxes by several hundred billion dollars. Either way, the economy will be the number one issue in the 2012 election.
Android and iPhone are the primary gatekeepers in the app world, but all of that may soon change. Recently, Financial TImes and ESPN released application for smartphones and tablets that run in your browser window. The apps were created in HTML5 which allows “video, offline reading, touch and gestural interaction.” Developers look for HTML5 to eliminate their need to build native apps for different devices which each have their own programming language. This also means that developers will no longer have to share their profits with Apple or Google, who “take up to a 30% cut of the revenue.”
I gave our readers a heads up about BET’s Reed Between The Lines in The Pendulum a few months ago, but I’m back with more to share! BET recently released an ad campaign about the series and I have to admit that it is looking good! My interpretation is that the show is a 2011 version of The Cosby’s with a 30-something edge. It features a loving married couple, played by Tracee Ellis Ross and Malcolm-Jamal Warner. Unfortunately, they have yet to put the trailer online, but stay tuned!
Chris Rock will star in an upcoming Lionsgate film, What To Expect, When You’re Expecting. The film is an adaptation of a pregnancy manual and will provide “a modern look at love through the eyes of four interconnected couples experiencing the thrills and surprises of having a baby, and ultimately coming to understand the universal truth that no matter what you plan for, life doesn’t always deliver what’s expected.” Rock will advise a group of expectant fathers on the importance of fatherhood. Ironically, the film will star Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Brooklyn Decker, and Anna Kendrick, none of whom are black women. Since Rock is a father in the film as well, I’m slightly bothered that they couldn’t show a functional black family in the midst of this comical piece.
Nia Long has a tender spot in my heart but she has to be the beautiful glowing pregnant woman in Hollywood right now! The father is San Antonis Spurs foward Ime Udoka. Although this is her second child, she has expressed that she was shocked when she became pregnant. She called the unexpected news, “the sweetest surprise ever.”
Two weeks ago, I was counted among the 7.7 million viewers who tuned in to BET to watch The Game. I will admit that I must have been living under a rock because I thought The Game was an actual football game. I didn’t realize it was a real show until I started seeing a slew of social network statuses and tweets, counting down to 1/11/11, and tons of advertisements posted on buses and billboards. I was curious to see what was this great show that everyone was raving about?
For the clueless, like myself, The Game is a dramedy that follows the lives of three African American pro football players and the complex relationships they have with the women in their lives. This season opened with the characters experiencing an array of issues, from “baby mama” drama to sleeping with the boss’ wife … I was not impressed, and the show did not gain a new fan. Passionate fans suggested that my “not getting it” was a result of me not seeing any of the previous seasons, which was necessary to fully appreciate the show and each character’s story. They advised I watch the reruns.
The creators of The Game attribute its popularity to the fact that it’s relatable and represents a down-to-earth, Black woman’s perspective. And the viewers seem to agree. With a major public outcry, the show’s fans were able to resurrect it from the TV graveyard two years after it was canceled by the CW. Now the show’s ratings are higher than ever, and BET’s gamble has apparently paid off. There is something to be said about this show’s ability to harness such viewing power. Meanwhile, it’s also opening doors in Hollywood by putting talented Black actors to work who might not otherwise be as competitive in the majority market.
Though the show serves up a platter of stereotypes, at times it’s clear that the writers intend for us to laugh at the characters rather than with them. The opening dialogue in the second episode of this new season began with the character Tasha (played by Wendy Raquel Robinson) apologizing to her white friend, Kelly (Brittany Daniel), for hooking up her ex-husband with his new girlfriend. “I don’t know what I was thinking interfering with a strong intelligent, beautiful, white woman, and the love that she found with her light-skinned Black man,” Tasha says. “I guess it was just another case of a Black woman hating on a white woman.” “Well, your people are very emotional,” Kelly responds, as the camera pulls back to reveal that this “real” moment was actually part of the taping for a reality show starring Kelly. It’s clear that Kelly is still fame hungry after racking up a fortune from divorcing her NFL husband, and we’re meant to take her show as a commentary on — or perhaps even a mockery of — programs like Basketball Wives.
I recognize that any sitcom featuring a majority Black cast that has ratings that can contend with the “big boys” like The Office (which draws about 8 million viewers) is an important feat worth celebrating. Yet the celebration of this milestone is somewhat bittersweet, as it comes for a show that’s a carbon copy of every Black stereotype and one-dimensional character we’ve seen before — better executed, perhaps, but still more of the same.
Although I may be late to The Game, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in my disenchantment with it. Despite the show’s hardcore following, it has drawn criticism from some who believe it reinforces negative images of African Americans. Ironically, the show’s lead actress, Tia Mowry, is best known for her 1990s TV series, Sister, Sister, and roles in Disney films that project a more positive and wholesome image, which is probably another reason why viewers like me find it hard to embrace The Game.
In an interview with BET.com, Mowry complimented The Game‘s creator, Mara Brock Akil, stating that she felt blessed to be able to play real down-to-earth characters. “That’s one of the main reasons why people love Mara and her writing. She writes these characters that are grounded, who are real, who are not perfect….”
Controversy is nothing new to Akil, who prior to The Game created Girlfriends, which also received some heat for its negative portrayals of Black people.
But don’t get me wrong. I understand that these shows represent a slice of Black life that many people find appealing, and it would be unfair to hold them up to the standard of a family series like The Cosby Show. The Game is more comparable to Desperate Housewives. Both shows feature wealthy women, with loose moral values, who have more secrets than truths.
Ultimately, The Game is a soap opera, and if you try to see it for anything more than that, you’re likely to be disappointed like me. For all its success, the show feels shallow, with predictable plots centered on catfights, sex, and paternity scandals. And while it may be giving “the people” what they want, I think it’s another example of how television thrives on the crudest aspects of Black American life.