Fashion

[vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][ultimate_spacer height="90" height_on_tabs="50" height_on_tabs_portrait="50" height_on_mob_landscape="50" height_on_mob="50"][vc_column_text] ESSAYS | VOL 3 [/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height="40px"][vc_column_text] SUNSHINE OR NAH? [/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height="40px"][vc_column_text] STORY by KHARY SEPTH PHOTOGRAPHY by TY CHENN   [/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height="12px"][vc_column_text] Los Angeles. Summer '16 [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="grid" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern" z_index=""][vc_column width="1/6"][/vc_column][vc_column width="2/3"][vc_empty_space height="80px"][vc_column_text]Digging through gold-filled canyons of iconic writing about Los Angeles, it seemed to me, its cultural significance to the Black gay man scarce, if not simply impossible to unearth. Millions of them have gone West to chase dreams that weren’t destined for them, Hollywood being the bluntest possible articulation of the ambitions of our culture—its siren song the breathy whisper of Marilyn, or Janet—calling out to the impractical desires of all dreamers who should dare to turn on the TV. The natives, whose folk were lured from places like rural Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi by the California Dream of yesteryear, statistically more likely to be kissing the dirt on Central Ave. than ass cheeks of pale white actresses on the red carpet at the Oscars, still, somehow dedicated to the bitchy, lacquered preoccupations of their beloved L.A.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height="80px"][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/6"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][vc_single_image image="728" img_size="full" alignment="center" qode_css_animation=""][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="grid" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern" z_index=""][vc_column width="1/6"][/vc_column][vc_column width="2/3"][vc_empty_space height="80px"][vc_column_text]I wanted to see it for myself—this empty vessel known as Hollywood—to see what truth, if any, lies beneath it. Maybe I’d dig up the truth about how many dicks Will downed to get ahead in the game; maybe I’d find out from Lee how big the devil’s itself was. It should be noted, there is no morality in the case of dicks, so as I touched down at LAX and the golden sun kicked up dust and warmed my face, I said a little prayer, and indeed, was rex for my closeup. The Southern California sun promised me that life in L.A. would be wonderful. In an Airbnb in the Hollywood foothills the next morning, as I woke in that twilight state between awareness and dreams, I had an electrical charge contained in things like getting flowers or fighter jets or new followers. After years in Brooklyn living under grey skies, it was the unexpected pleasure of feeling the SoCal sun pull down my undies, and with a shot of testosterone, my eyes focused in the most gorgeous of light, to provoke in me for the first time again, pleasure, which I'd mainly come to associate with a barely remembered past. Los Angeles, a city of supreme fiction where mental geographies go beyond race and class prejudices. Los Angeles, a city where curious, unnatural landscapes dissolve into the distance amidst passive and apathetic contact among its residents. It’s understandable how 20th century reporter Morrow Mayo—the father of an entire school of caustic writing about L.A.—after arriving there in 1925 wrote of it: “Los Angeles is not a mere city… on the contrary, it is, and has been since 1888, a commodity; something to be advertised and sold to the people of the United States like automobiles, cigarettes and mouthwash.” By the time I’d finished mixing my morning smoothie, I got it, and wondered to myself: Is there any word held so high in the American esteem as “Hollywood?” Like any New Yorker I had my doubts, but it was nothing Google couldn't help me sort out—I was sure of it. I discovered in two clicks that after a trip to California in 1913, W. E. B. Du Bois praised Los Angeles in his paper The Crisis: "Los Angeles is wonderful. Nowhere in the United States is the Negro so well and beautifully housed, nor the average efficiency and intelligence in the colored population so high. Out here in this matchless Southern California there would seem to be no limit to your opportunities, your possibilities." But click, click, click, and one flash—it was becoming clear. A vision of happiness and wonder Los Angeles was not. The L.A. of the oil-and-film crazy ’20s didn’t create boom times at all for the negro; Du Bois’ fantasy was more a Hollywood horror story. He’d squirm at the bottom of a barrel of crabs in a backyard in Compton, waiting to be boiled for his cultural nutrition—and to their delight—for decades to come.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height="80px"][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/6"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][vc_single_image image="733" img_size="full" alignment="center" qode_css_animation=""][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="grid" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern" z_index=""][vc_column width="1/6"][/vc_column][vc_column width="2/3"][vc_empty_space height="80px"][vc_column_text]By World War One, what were known as “deed restrictions” in The City of Angels pushed Blacks who’d migrated there since 1915 into the dark shadows of South Central, while the bright lights of Beverly Hills and San Marino flashed “keep out,” making 95 percent of the city's housing stock in the 1920s effectively off limits to Blacks and Asians. Acting as Jim Crow legislation, deed restrictions were also building a “white wall” around the Black community on Central Avenue—the one that dissected L.A.’s most notorious ghettos, the very ones Hollywood would glorify decades later through celluloid scraps of thug idolatry and exaggerated parodies of ghetto life via films like Straight Outta Compton and Friday. In her 1929 study of the “University Addition” neighborhood near the University of Southern California, sociologist Bessie McClenahan described how the arrival of one single Black family east of Budlong Avenue in the summer of 1922 sowed panic that home values would collapse in the wake of an imminent “Negro Invasion.” Whites quickly formed the “Anti-African Housing Association” to campaign for a restrictive agreement to exclude non-whites from the neighborhood. Until the US Supreme Court finally ruled against restrictive covenants in 1948, white homeowner groups in Los Angeles had ample sanction in the law and filed more than 100 suits against non-white potential home buyers (including Hollywood celebrities like Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers), while a compliant Superior Court regularly found Blacks in contempt for occupying homes within restricted subdivisions or blocks. Lest one cling to any illusion about the benevolence of the New Deal, Roosevelt's Federal Housing Authority not only sanctioned restrictions, but developed a recommended formula for inclusion in subdivision contracts. While L.A.’s cultural bohemia of the late ’40s and ’50s was morphing into the “L.A. Look” of the ’60s—think Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, Richard Neutra, and Rudolph Rchindler building Hollywood Hills pleasure domes and making modernist art to fill them—Blacks were told to keep their nigger Jello molds; no one wants them, or Poitier, at such a swell party… Hhhhmmmm… Before I went hunting for that prototypically modern house in the Hollywood Hills my first day, I wondered, would I too be forced to drive 22 miles over to Baldwin Hills in bumper-to-bumper traffic to find it? Or nah? When visiting Los Angeles in the Olympic year of 1932, at first sight to a young Langston Hughes whose poems had already been purchased by Vanity Fair in New York by then, “Los Angeles seemed more a miracle than a city, a place where oranges sold for one cent a dozen, ordinary Black folks lived in huge houses with ‘miles of yards,’ and prosperity seemed to reign in spite of the Depression.” Later, in 1939, when Hughes attempted to write within the Hollywood studio system, he discovered that the only role available to the Black writer was furnishing demeaning dialogue for cotton-field parodies of Black life. After a humiliating experience with the film Way Down South, he declared that “so far as Negroes are concerned, [Hollywood] might just as well be controlled by Hitler.”[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height="40px"][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/6"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][vc_single_image image="732" img_size="full" alignment="center" qode_css_animation=""][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="grid" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern" z_index=""][vc_column width="1/6"][/vc_column][vc_column width="2/3"][vc_empty_space height="80px"][vc_column_text]In the 80 years since, Hughes’ disillusionment with Hollywood has been recapitulated over and over again, each iteration messier than the last, via the careers of Black filmmakers like Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles, and of course, Spike Lee. For it to devour outsiders like New York’s Lee or Chicago’s Peebles is one thing (geographic tribalism really is a thing), but to dine on a native son—namely a promising young Black filmmaker named John Singleton—seems a particularly heinous crime, even by Hollywood’s gruesome standards. With his epic 1991 tale of the tough, inner city Black experience in Southcentral, Boyz N The Hood, Singleton, at 20, was the youngest director to ever be nominated for an Academy Award (one for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Director) and showed promise of becoming a cinematic channel for a socially conscious form of commercial filmmaking. He was a ray of light for Black filmmakers and audiences alike, and what was impossible he made possible—from getting Hollywood’s whispery pop princess Janet Jackson and preeminent street thug Tupac to fuck onscreen in 1993’s Poetic Justice, to killing Hollywood’s first and last Black supermodel, a then baby-faced Tyra Banks in cold blood at the end of 1995’s Higher Learning. Maybe that scene was foretelling his own demise. Did John know deep down that there’d be no half-a-century of Scorsese’s garish gangster movies for him to make? No Tarantino cult-like following to keep him in demand at the box office long past his expiration date? In fact, by “industry standards” Singleton’s work post-Boyz was all fail, and it seemed as if John had been expelled from the industry and left to spend his later years grazing on a meager diet of lame big-budget action flicks like 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious. Only as of last year, did he have a television cameo directing Lee Daniels’ Empire. Singleton shared in an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter in 2014: “They ain't letting the Black people tell the stories… [Studio executives say] ‘We're going to take your stories but, you know what? You're going to starve over here and we're not going to let you get a job’...

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