This Week in Black Art March 8- March 12, 2021: Reply All Ends Abruptly, Lena Waith and Daveed Diggs Voice Black Imagination, Amy Sherald makes Social Impact with Breonna Taylor, Classical Theatre of Harlem Teams Up with Playbill

This Week in Black Art and Culture, we mainly focus on the medium of audio. Two of the stories we share cover Black voices in media spaces typically run by non-Black people, and how they navigate through them to advocate for themselves. The Reply All podcast has been suspended over accusations of hypocrisy by former and current employees. Black Imagination officially has been adapted to audiobook. Speaking of audio, Playbill has commissioned an audio play about Angelina Weld Grimké. And in another medium, Amy Sherald has sold her piece depicting Breonna Taylor.

Reply All Podcast Ends in Response to Discriminatory Practices

It seems that the producers of Reply All have flown too close to the sun. What started off as a podcast responding to discriminatory acts that have occurred in major companies such as Bon Appetit has only brought attention to Reply All’s own racial missteps and incidences. Gimlet Media’s popular internet-culture podcast, Reply All began airing a four-episode miniseries called The Test Kitchen’ in early February. The series was supposed to focus on one particularly compelling story that accompanied last summer’s national reckoning with racism: allegations of racial discrimination at the food magazine Bon Appetit, which led to the resignation of the magazine’s longtime editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport.

After a photo of Rapoport dressed in a stereotypical depiction of a Puerto Rican man resurfaced on social media, he stepped down, along with former Bon Appetit employee Sohla El-Waylly, who claimed that the magazine had a history of discriminating against employees of color and paid them less than their non-minority counterparts.

The response to the discriminatory acts that have occurred at major companies such as Bon Appetit only brought attention to racial-bias missteps that also took place at Reply All, which never released the last two episodes of its mini-series. Learning about this, listeners then expressed some dissatisfaction with Reply All on Reddit via a sub-Reddit thought-sharing platform dedicated to the show. Complaints that the show had strayed from its original purpose and hadn’t regularly been putting out content traveled to different platforms, with more people chiming in and aligning their views with the original sub-Reddit users.

This dialogue eventually got back to the last two people you would expect, who ironically had similar experiences working for Reply All to the staff working for Bon Appetit. The company already had been infamous for not having many Black employees, but among the few who still remained there were two who were well known, and one of them spoke out.

The Nod, a Gimlet podcast that ended last year, was hosted and created by Eric Eddings and Brittany Luse, who had worked at Gimlet since 2015. Eddings also was involved in a labor organizing drive that took place primarily between late 2018 and early 2019, just before Gimlet was acquired by Spotify. He took to Twitter shortly after the second episode was released. He accused the Reply All team, particularly Sruthi Pinnamaneni and PJ Vogt, of contributing to an extreme-toil environment at their office, the same experiences one would find described in the Bon Appétit miniseries.

Eddings’ thread went viral after it was shared by a number of former Gimlet employees and industry peers in support of the plight of both himself and Luse during their time at Gimlet. Some responded with their own experiences. CC Paschal and James T. Green took to their own websites and illustrated what they personally went through at Gimlet and the trauma that occurred. Paschal, for example, would have to go back and forth about receiving security when asked to cover a Klan rally. Vogt and Pinnamaneni both left the show permanently at the end of February.

(Neither has completely left Gimlet; they are both on leave and have declined to comment for this story, though they have apologized on Twitter.) Reply All, arguably Gimlet’s most critically acclaimed show, was put on hold as a result of the cancellation of the miniseries. ( Source: New York Times)

Above: Portrait photoshoot at Worldcon 75, Helsinki, before the Hugo Awards: From left: William Hutson, Daveed Diggs and Jonathan Snipes

Daveed Diggs and Lena Waith Record Black
Imagination as an Audiobook

Daveed Diggs, a Tony and Grammy Award-winning singer, musician, and artist, and Lena Waithe, an Emmy Award-winning writer, creator, producer and actor have confirmed a collaboration with Scribd. They’ve recorded an audiobook version of Natasha Marin’s Black Imagination, which only is available on Scribd. Scribd Audio, a new program that brings independently written books to life through the spoken word, is launching with this audiobook.

Black Imagination is a pioneering series of testimonies, stories and poems from individuals across the Black world in response to two questions and a call to action, “What is your origin story? How do you heal yourself? Imagine a world where you are loved, safe, and valued.” It was first published by McSweeney’s in February 2020. Marin and Scribd hand-picked Diggs and Waithe for their contributions to the Scribd Audio adaptation.

Diggs and Waithe use their clear command of voice and storytelling abilities to represent a wide variety of characters in the novel, including Black teenagers, the Black LGBTQ+ culture, unsheltered Black people, imprisoned Black people and others. Counterpoint Press, Unnamed Press, Akashic, Europa Editions, Other Press, Coffee House Press, Mango Publishing, Rare Bird Books, North Star Editions, and Falstaff Books are among Scribd Audio’s collaborators. ( Source New York Times)

Above: Breonna Taylor by Amy Sherald

Breonna Taylor Portrait Artist Uses Proceeds for Social Justice

When selling her 2020 portrait of Breonna Taylor—the 26-year-old medical worker who was shot and killed by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky—Amy Sherald wanted to make sure her artwork would go into the right hands personally, with no middleman.

“I felt like it should live out in the world,” Sherald said. “I started to think about her hometown and how maybe this painting could be a Balm in Gilead for Louisville.”

Sherald claimed that the artwork should be held and seen by the people in the community where Taylor died, as well as a larger public. And she wanted to use the proceeds from the painting’s sale to promote the cause of social justice. It originally was commissioned for the cover of Vanity Fair last September by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who was a guest editor for a special edition on activism.

When her artwork gets through two museums’ purchase procedures, the 54-inch-tall by 43-inch-wide painting will be held equally by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Pace Museum in Louisville. The artwork was acquired with a $1 million grant from the Ford Foundation and the Heartland Fund, a modern philanthropy created by actress Kate Capshaw and her partner, director Steven Spielberg, to fund social justice initiatives.

Sherald hopes to use the proceeds from the painting’s sale to fund an initiative she’s creating with the assistance of both foundations to assist students seeking higher education with a social justice emphasis. The artwork is set to be included in the Speed Museum’s Taylor-inspired display, Promise, Witness, Remembrance, which opens April 7 and is curated in collaboration with Taylor’s family by Allison Glenn, an assistant curator at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. (Source: New York Times)

ICONS: Harlem Renaissance in Motion Features Plays by Harlem-based Playwrights

The Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) and Playbill have teamed up to release ICONS: Harlem Renaissance in Motion, a series of audio plays produced by Classical Theatre Harlem and Venus Radio Theater, in honor of Women’s History Month. Starting on March 8, International Women’s Day, an audio play is being released every day until March 12, highlighting five Black women who shaped the Harlem Renaissance. CTH commissioned Harlem-based playwrights to write monologues that were performed by Harlem-based actors for the collection of plays, honoring the largely unsung voices of women who were integral to the movement.

ICONS is curated by CTH’s Director of Literary Programs & Dramaturg Shawn René Graham and Mellon Foundation Playwright-in-Residence Betty Shamieh. The third monologue, written by Andrea Ambam and performed by Tanya Everett, is from the perspective of Angelina Weld Grimké. Grimké began writing essays, short stories and poems about the experiences of Black Americans while working as a teacher in Washington, D.C., and her work was frequently published in Black magazines and journals, such as the NAACP’s The Crisis. She also collaborated with the NAACP on her play, Rachel, a three-act drama that explored and addressed the horrors of lynchings—a direct response to the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation.

Rachel, the first dramatic play written by a Black woman and performed by an all-Black cast, was first produced in 1916. Archibald Grimké, her father, was the NAACP’s vice president and was the second Black graduate of Harvard Law School. Angelina Grimké Weld and Sarah Moore Grimké, Grimké’s paternal great-aunts, were abolitionists and women’s rights activists. (Source: Playbill)

compiled by Sumaiyah E. Wade

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