This Week in Black Art and Culture: Drake Class, RuPaul Sets record, Fugees on Tour

Above: Drake performing. Photo by The Come Up Show. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

This week in Black art and culture, in its 12 major categories, the Emmy Awards have failed to recognize any actors of color. The Fugees will return for the 25th anniversary tour of The Score. Melvin Van Peebles, an independent director and a legend in Black cinema, has passed away at the age of 89. Dapper Dan wins the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award, making him the first Black designer to do so. A course on Drake and The Weeknd will be available soon at a Toronto university. 

The Emmy Awards 

With Cedric the Entertainer hosting, DJ Reggie Watts spinning records by Notorious B.I.G. and Run DMC, and LL Cool J, Lil Dicky, Billy Porter and Rita Wilson performing a musical homage to Biz Markie, the night looked to be shaping up to be an interesting one. Although there was a variety of racially diverse presenters, it appeared that people of color were limited to handing out prizes rather than winning them. 

In its 12 major categories, the Emmy Awards have failed to recognize any actors of color, despite performers of color comprising nearly half of all acting nominations. Four of the 12 main categories were won by Black actors last year. This comes after, for the first time in Emmy history, actors of color accounted for 44% of the acting nominations, a record 49 non-white nominees recognized in the acting and reality hosting categories. 

For her work in the last season of Pose, category frontrunner Mj Rodriguez was anticipated to make history as the first-ever transgender actress to win an award for leading female actor, but she lost out to Olivia Colman of The Crown. It took two hours for a person of color to be honored at the three-hour-plus event. RuPaul Charles and his RuPaul’s Drag Race crew for Outstanding Competition Program. RuPaul set a new record for the most Emmys won by a person of color with this achievement, bringing his total to 11 Primetime Emmys. 

Michaela Coel, who was nominated for four statuettes, was awarded for HBO’s I May Destroy You for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, becoming the first Black woman to win. Debbie Allen received the 2021 Governors Award, while Hamilton won outstanding pre-recorded special. 

Mj Rodriguez’ outstanding lead actress loss, and the late Michael K. Williams’ Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series snub for Lovecraft Country were two of the many disappointments for viewers. 



Fugees 25th Reunion Tour of The Score 

Ms. Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel, the renowned hip-hop trio, have planned a world tour to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their critically acclaimed album, The Score, their first shows together in 15 years. A tiny pop-up concert at Pier 17’s rooftop venue in New York City will kick off their 12-city worldwide tour on Wednesday. The performance will be televised this weekend as part of the Global Citizen Live event, and the remainder of the tour will go up on Nov. 2 at the United Center in Chicago, with stops scheduled in Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Jersey, Paris, London and other cities. 

The Score, the Fugees’ second album, was a smash hit in 1996, with hits like Ready or Not and Killing Me Softly making them household names. The band has partnered up with nonprofit partner Global Citizen for as-yet-unspecified philanthropic projects around the tour, with general admission tickets set to go on sale on Friday. 

The first public performance by Global Citizen will be in support of Global Citizen Live, the organization said on Monday. The tour will come to a close in Africa, with performances in Nigeria and Ghana. 

In a press release, Hill said, “The Fugees have a complex but impactful history… I decided to honor this significant project, its anniversary, and the fans who appreciated the music by creating a peaceful platform where we could unite, perform the music we loved, and set an example of reconciliation for the world.” 

Wyclef, in a statement, added, “As I celebrate 25 years with the Fugees, my first memory was that we vowed, from the gate, we would not just do music, we would be a movement. We would be a voice for the unheard, and in these challenging times, I am grateful once again, that God has brought us together.” 



Above: Melvin Van Peebles at a photoshoot in his home/office. Photo by Alex Lozuphone. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Melvin Van Peebles Passes Away at 89 

Melvin Van Peebles, the pioneering African American director of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, passed away this week, according to his son, Mario Van Peebles. He was 89 years old. According to a statement posted on social media by Mario Van Peebles, his father died at his home on Tuesday night. 

He was best known for the Blaxploitation films Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Watermelon Man, which are two of the most well-known Blaxploitation films of all time. He wrote, produced, directed, starred in and scored the low-budget art-house film, Sweetback. Sweetback grossed $10 million at the box office on a $500,000 budget; a few months later, the studio-produced, Gordon Parks-directed Shaft, starring Richard Roundtree, was released and became a huge success. 

Van Peebles directed the commercially successful 1970 social comedy, Watermelon Man, about a white bigot who changes into a Black man, but he turned down a three-picture deal with Columbia Pictures to pursue his own path. Following that, in 1971, he released Sweetback, which was filmed in 19 days for $500,000 and is largely regarded as the first in the Blaxploitation genre. In just 20 days, he shot the 97-minute film in Los Angeles’ Watts area, and it premiered in just two cinemas in Black neighborhoods, one in Detroit and the other in Atlanta. The film, which follows a poor Black man escaping the cops, was an instant success, grossing more than $15 million at the box office. 

Van Peebles obtained his own funding for the 97-minute drama, which was, at the time, the highest-grossing independent film in history, thanks to a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby. Melvin Van Peebles also appeared in other people’s films, including the 1991 feature comedy True Identity, Reginald Hudlin’s Eddie Murphy vehicle, Boomerang (1992), the big-budget Arnold Schwarzenegger action film, Last Action Hero (1993), and the Charlie Sheen action film, Terminal Velocity (1994). 

Melvin reprised his role of Sweetback in the 2003 comedy The Hebrew Hammer. The 50th anniversary screening of  Sweetback will take place this week at the New York Film Festival. 


Above: Dapper Dan during an interview in December 2019.  Photo from Ashley Graham. This video, screenshot or audio excerpt was originally uploaded on YouTube under a CC license. Their website states: “YouTube allows users to mark their videos with a Creative Commons CC BY license.”

Dapper Dan 

Dapper Dan, the legendary streetwear icon, will become the first Black designer to win the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s (CFDA) lifetime achievement award. A fashion designer who rose to prominence in New York City during the 1980s, he customized streetwear for locals, hip-hop musicians and celebrities with imprinted logos from big fashion houses. 

Dan created everything himself, including car interiors, puffer coats, and joggers. Despite evading them for as long as he could, authorities finally shut him down, and fashion houses flat out refused to work with him, despite his part in putting many on the map. Dan has styled the likes of LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Jay-Z, Mike Tyson and a slew of other celebrities. 

According to Vogue, the Harlem native is also the first to win the prize without staging a formal fashion show. Gucci hired Dapper Dan to design his own capsule collection in 2018 and opened an appointment-only atelier facility for him in Harlem as a nod to his old store, which had closed. The 2021 CFDA Awards will be held on Nov. 10 at The Pool Room in New York City. Patagonia (Environmental Sustainability Award), Nina Garcia (Media Award in Memory of Eugenia Sheppard) and Yeohlee Teng (Board of Directors’ Tribute) are among the other awardees. 

Drake and The Weeknd Course 

Drake and The Weeknd will soon be taught at X University in Toronto, but not in the way you think. They will be the subjects, not the students. X University, which previously was known as Ryerson University before a recent name change, is the institution in question. The seminar, dubbed “Deconstructing Drake and The Weeknd,” will be taught by Dalton Higgins, a well-known author, podcaster and publicist. He’s also a professor-in-residence at The Creative School, where this course is offered. 

The course will commence in early 2022. According to Higgins, who wrote the book Far from Over about Drake in 2012, his class would also look at the wider Toronto music scene. On his Instagram, he shared the reason he started the class: 

“Nevertheless, it’s time to get our Canadian rap & R&B icons recognized & canonized academically or otherwise. And it is CRITICAL for scholars, historians, to examine the Toronto music scene that birthed Drake/ Weeknd and helped create the conditions for them to become mega successful.”

-Compiled by Sumaiyah E. Wade

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