Carpool Karaoke was the first thing I thought of when we got this assignment. Every time I go on Youtube, a new James Corden video is recommended for me in my feed. Every time it’s with a new star, and now a series of solely Carpool Karaoke has been released.

There is something about Carpool Karaoke that is great to watch. You see a funny British man and a celebrity you love having fun and driving around. It seems like simple and carefree entertainment. On a closer look, however, there is something troubling about it. What does it say about American culture that just watching celebrities engage in mundane activities is considered great entertainment?

The Tonight Show features similar segments with the same underlying question. On his show, Jimmy Fallon plays games with his guests, which again acts as simple entertainment, but something is still off. As a society, we enjoy just seeing celebrities exist. It has stopped mattering whether or not they are actually using the talent that makes them noteworthy, but more so just us watching them talk to someone.

Considering this brings a lot of our culture into question. What is a podcast other than one or more famous people existing? What is the merit of a blooper reel? Is any interview, no matter how profound considered “high culture?” Where does it end?

I don’t have the answers, but there is something about all of this that is troubling.

Though this video is very recent, I believe the Migos Carpool Karaoke with Late Late Show host James Corden represents a large part of American culture. To begin, the Late Late Show is filmed in Los Angeles, setting the show in a city that is largely representative of American culture. For many, the city of Lost Angeles represents the American Dream of rags to riches, expressed through Hollywood ideals of making your own way in the creative world, whether on screen or in real life. Los Angeles also represents a long American tradition of colonialism, segregation, and gentrification, as much of the city’s history includes Spanish, Mexican, and ultimately American occupation, corruption, and police brutality. Although Migos formed in Georgia, much of hip hop (including West-coast hip hop especially) includes themes of police brutality, gang violence, and other hardships faced by many of those left out of the idealist vision of Los Angeles. The music of N.W.A. and Dr. Dre in particular harken back to a tradition of expressing these struggles through hip hop.

Migos’ success story largely follows the American Dream archetype, as Quavo was quoted in a 2015 Rolling Stone article explaining how they “made a million dollars out of $4000” through their single “Versace”. The success of Migos and Childish Gambino fall into the same era of heightened insecurity, blatant institutional racism, and the fight for survival in the music industry and life in general as black men. Though their renditions of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and “Sweet Caroline” don’t necessarily relate to the same violent struggles depicted in the video for “This Is America”, Migos does manage to bring their hip hop style into some American classics. One could argue that songs like “Sweet Caroline” have come to represent white American culture, finding its place on wedding playlists through the past few decades. Considering the American trope of the “melting pot”, combining Migos’ modern hip hop style with a Neil Diamond classic represents the melding of American musical cultures from the 1970s into today. With hip hop as the most popular music genre today, Migos’ performance in this episode of Carpool Karaoke provides a great representation of current American music and culture, particularly that of younger generations and minority communities.

Obviously, successful hip hop artists and white talk show hosts do not perfectly represent the American public in general. However, the combination of hip hop culture and white culture, especially in the context of the American idealism of Los Angeles, does represent the melting pot of American culture. Though this represents a sillier side of American culture, compared to Childish Gambino’s video, the inclusion of hip hop culture and white culture in this episode of The Late Late Show still stands to represent American culture.

Migos on Carpool Karaoke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irVIUvDTTB0

In my opinion, very few television shows encapsulate American culture quite as well as Saturday Night Live (SNL). Thus, when I became aware of the assignment to find a youtube video that encapsulates American culture my mind jumped directly to SNL. Some critics of SNL claim that it can be problematic at times as it often makes light of serious issues and is partisan. However, I counter that there is a lot to be said about a show that gets a wide range of people to reflect on many of the issues that exist within American society through comedy- which has a universal appeal. I feel as though one thing SNL does exceptionally well is that it gets people- and, more specifically, white people-  to reflect on race relations within the United States, and on the injustices, inequalities and inequities that Black Americans face.

The skit that I chose for next class is representative of the latter, and is entitled “Black Jeopardy with Chadwick Boseman.” In the skit “Black Jeopardy with Chadwick Boseman” three characters Shanice (Leslie Jones), Rashad (Chris Redd) and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) compete on a game show entitled Black Jeopardy, which is hosted by Darnell Hayes (Kenan Thompson). Shanice and Rashad are presumably Black Americans, while T’Challa is from the African nation of Wakanda. I chose this skit because I feel as though it is a good example of how SNL skits often shine a light on pertinent issues regarding race relations, such as the systematic oppression and unjust treatment people of color face within American society (especially at the hands of the police force and criminal justice system).

Another reason why I chose this skit is because it features Chadwick Brosnan, who appears as his Black Panther character T’Challa in the skit. Brosnan portraying his Black Panther character brings an interesting component to the skit- as- at the beginning of the skit- T’Challa is clearly not on the same page regarding race relations in America as his fellow contestants, who are Black Americans. For example, at the beginning of the skit, one of the Jeopardy questions is: “the policeman says there’s been some robberies in your neighborhood and asks if you have any information” to which T’Challa replies “not only do I tell this man what I know, but assist him in tracking down the offender.” T’Challa’s response is comedic as it accentuates just how naive his character- who is not American- is when it comes to his knowledge of race relations in the United States, and to the tensions that exist between Black Americans and the police force as a result of the many injustices that have been committed against the former by the latter.

Thus, I argue that SNL does not only encapsulate American culture, but that it gets audience members to acknowledge the multitude of racial injustices, inequalities, and inequities that exist within our culture- and- in doing so- to question what their role is in a system that is rooted in a racist history, and that continues to impede people of color in a vicious, cyclic nature to this day. I also assert that- in doing so- SNL brings us one step closer to a society where white people refuse to turn a blind eye to race and to the ways in which our racist history as Americans carries over to the modern day systems we partake in.

Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzMzFGgmQOc

At one point in Carvell Wallace’s article, he touches on superhero movies featuring a black protagonist that came out prior to Black Panther. The consensus he comes to is that these movies were either far more comedic than most MCU movies, or the lead character’s race played very little role in the plot.

Immediately upon reading this I thought back to the dozen times my parents had put on “Hancock” for me when I was ten years old in an effort to kill two hours on a Saturday afternoon. It’s true, in “Hancock” Will Smith’s race is a non-factor, and he is virtually the only black character in the film.

Films such as this merely perpetuate the use of the color blindness approach to race. A film such as “Hancock” looks more like Hollywood throwing a bone to its black audience, as opposed to actually providing an identifiable character or making a cultural statement. As Wallace says, it is also noteworthy that Black Panther was originally a character thought up by two white Jewish men. This emphasizes the importance of Ryan Coogler’s direction of the film. Having a black director provides perspective that a white director would not have been able to grasp.

Black Panther covers issues in the black community, has a largely black cast, depicts black people as intelligent and powerful, as well provides a backstory for its characters that is tied to their race as opposed to being separate from it. In terms of providing the public with the black superhero they have wanted, this depiction has been crucial not only for Marvel’s public relations, but for making a cultural statement that so many had waited for.

One of the more interesting parts of the film for me was the inclusion of romantic and familial love. After reading Carvell Wallace’s article on the film’s effect on black empowerment, the inclusion of strong familial and romantic love seemed less like a requirement of blockbuster superhero films, and more like the celebration Wallace describes. With the tribal setup of Wakanda, there seems to be an incredible amount of internal support amongst the four participating tribes and within the royal family. Despite their sibling banter, T’Challa and Shuri form an immensely supportive duo, with T’Challa defending his sister’s technical talent to those who believe she is too young to lead. Toward the end of the film, it is the women who take leadership, appeal to M’Baku, and bring T’Challa back to health. The same sense of “loud and public” love that Wallace mentions seems to keep the royal family together even after they were ousted by Killmonger.

Ultimately, it is romantic love that drives many of the pivotal decisions throughout the film. Initially, we are introduced to T’Challa’s past love, Nakia, and her penchant to help others and share Wakanda’s resources with others. It is also Nakia’s deep love for T’Challa that drives her to steal the heart-shaped herb, flee the area, and appeal to M’Baku. This love is also what drives Nakia to defy Okoye’s advice to serve her country; to Nakia, her love for T’Challa and Wakanda requires her to overthrow Killmonger. As a member of Wakanda’s royal guard, Okoye is loyal to the throne, regardless of who sits upon the throne. Despite her official loyalties, Okoye eventually follows Nakia’s lead and betrays Killmonger, as Okoye loves Wakanda too much to see it destroyed by Killmonger, even though he has legitimate authority. In one of the final battle scenes, Okoye faces her own lover, W’Kabi, in defense of T’Challa. W’Kabi asks, “would you kill me, my love?” placing the Wakandan conflict into the context of their own romantic relationship. Okoye’s response, “for Wakanda, without question,” draws W’Kabi to surrender, as his love for Okoye clarifies the purpose of the battle: the stability of Wakanda.

Here, romantic love (or the denial of love) is what drives the characters’ motivations, though not in the traditional sense. The love Wallace discusses is more than the requisite romantic plot line intended to draw in a larger audience. The love present in Wakanda is a deep support and caring for the betterment of others, whether that be within the family, romantic relationships, or others outside of Wakanda, as we see toward the end of the film.

Both the film and the “Calculated Responses” reading address an issue that has been brought up before in this class (and in other leadership classes). It is the question of how one should resist oppression: by operating within oppressive systems, dismantling them from the inside, or by tearing down those institutions and attempting to rebuild them from scratch. Hidden Figures seems to favor the former option, as its heroes all make strides towards equality from within NASA and American society at large.

Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy must face several institutions that are discriminatory against their race and gender. The most obvious of these institutions is NASA. Although the task to advance their careers is a daunting one, all three women eventually succeed at their positions at the organization. Other institutions and systems in the film, however, are more difficult to dismantle for these characters. As the reading discusses, all three women must also deal with established notions of the “proper” family. Katherine in particular does not fit the mold, as she is a single mother. However, she “fixes” this in the film by marrying. In this way, the film seems to take a conservative stance on family and gender politics. Not only does Katherine succeed in her career, but she also “succeeds” at obtaining a more “complete” family.The film seems to equate these two “successes,” signaling that Katherine’s marriage is just as important as her success at NASA.

This brings me back to the question of how best to resist oppression. The film seems to take a firm stance: that, at least in this case, the right course of action was to operate within the confines of the system that was already in place in an attempt to undermine that very system and create a more equitable world. The women are considered heroes in the film for their willingness to endure racism and sexism at work in order to achieve a higher goal.

One last thing to consider is the fact that before this film was released, hardly anyone knew the story of Katherine Johnson. The film argues that she made considerable progress for Black women at NASA, but what does it say that no one actually knows this story? It reminds me of the issue of how history is written that Miranda brings up in Hamilton. Does remembrance of history’s heroes matter? Or are the institutional and cultural changes they inspire more important? (Obviously they are, but how much more important are they than the stories we tell?)

The events that occur in the film Hidden Figures serve as yet another example of how people are often left out and forgotten throughout history. For example, as Jenna P. Carpenter writes in her article “Hidden Figures Light Up Screen: Black Women Who Helped America Win the Space Race” and as the film Hidden Figures emphasizes, during the space race computers were human people, and “were largely women, some of whom were African American” (18). As Carpenter notes in her article, after recognizing the latter, Margot Lee Shetterly (the author of the book Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematics Who Helped Win the Space Race, which later turned into the 2016 film Hidden Figures) knew that it was up to her to give these women a voice.

When considering the latter, it is important to note how- had it not been for Shetterly- these women (Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson) and their stories may have forever remained hidden within history. Thus, both Shetterly book and the film that followed single-handedly shifted the way the general public perceives the extent to which women of color contributed to the space race, proving how a single person has to power to change the way the general public understands and perceives historical events. Noting the latter is important, as it goes to show how- on an individual level- we each have the power to catalyze change within society, as Shetterly did by writing her book.

Additionally, by writing her book, Shetterly not only impacted the way people now perceive the space race but has also shed light on how history tends to be whitewashed, and how the contributions of females- especially females of color- tend to be overlooked and overshadowed by their male counterparts. By revealing the truth behind the space race and the amount women contributed to the race, Shetterly will likely inspire others to think more critically about the extent to which we should trust historical “common knowledge,” and to consider who else has been left out of the history books.

One of the things that struck me immediately when reading this piece was that both authors stated their ethnic backgrounds, economic states, and current marital statuses.

So often in arguments, people do not begin with the ‘why’ of their viewpoints, and I believe that personal backgrounds have a large influence on them. In a way, each woman was effectively relaying why she had a standing on the argument and justified herself in doing so.

It was a simple action, but I found it extremely effective.

If we only did such actions when choosing leaders, we would not have women’s rights/reproductive rights policies decided by male lawmakers whose knowledge on reproductive rights starts and ends with their own wives.

Political advertisements that swarm the weeks before voting day always rave about why candidates have the fundamental qualities to justify themselves as a good leader, and yet somehow, we have been saddled with a president who had never held any prior government office.

The idea of intersectionality– not just as a feminist concept– intrigues me in the modern battle of race relations and police brutality. Often, the teens and young men who are killed seem to blend into the background as they are viewed by society as ‘another murdered black man’. Their race almost defines them, much like the black women of the 1960s who inspired the idea of intersectionality. I despise when videos and pictures of the victim are played after their passing because it infuriates me. Why didn’t society see them as a loving father, husband, or even simply a worthwhile human being until it was too late?

 

I really appreciated the introduction of the authors of the article in regards to their social identities, as it helped frame their perspectives in viewing the film and writing this article. When considering intersectionality, it’s just as important to consider one’s own subject position and how that can influence our understanding of another’s position. For example, while I though I understood Mildred Loving’s position as a working class black woman and her motivations in contacting Bobby Kennedy, agreeing to interviews and photographs, and ultimately taking more risks than her husband was willing to take, I did not understand her Native American heritage as a part of her motivations. While watching the film, especially the scene in which Richard’s friend Ray makes a comment about him divorcing Mildred and choosing to be white, I also hadn’t considered Mildred’s situation independent of Richard. In the gender-stratified 1960s, Mildred would have little to no means to support herself and her children without Richard’s financial support and protection.

The couple’s status as working class also makes their interactions with the law interesting. While Richard’s white privilege affords him less time in jail than his black, pregnant wife, he still appears to feel powerless in the face of institutionalized authority. His character’s facial expressions in situations with the law, including both his interactions with racist county officers and the ACLU lawyers, give the audience the sense that Richard is still placed below these authority figures in the class hierarchy, even though he is also white. Mildred, however, is placed even further below her husband as a black woman, worsening the institutional discrimination working against her. It is this institutional imbalance of power between the couple that pushes Mildred to meet with lawyers, participate in interviews, and ultimately make their private lives very public. Mildred’s deeper mistrust of institutional authority as a black woman allows her to move past Richard’s fearful respect of the law and fight back by taking risks Richard wouldn’t even consider. Ultimately, it is her lowered position on the intersectional hierarchy of race, class, and gender that motivates her to change the law for herself and others in her position.

In “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: This is Why J.K. Rowling Loves Black Hermione” Anna Menta writes how Harry Potter fans have had mixed reactions to the casting of a black actress as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In her article, Menta makes a strong point as to how in the original Harry Potter series Hermione is described as having “brown eyes” and “frizzy hair,” and how her race is never specified. Menta’s article includes an interview with Noma Dumezweni, who has been cast as Hermione in the Broadway production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In Menta’s interview with Dumezweni, Menta asks Dumezweni if she was “surprised by the passion of [the] backlash” she received, to which Dumezweni replied that “[people] have a reaction without knowing anything about what [the play] is.” Dumezweni also added that quick, emotional reactions such as these are not uncommon in today’s world, and that critics of black Hermione lack creativity and imagination.

I agree with Dumezweni, but would even go a step further and say that critics of black Hermione are culturally numb to the immense impact casting a strong, intelligent, female character as a woman of color will have on future generations of girls. As of now, black girls do not see themselves very heavily portrayed in the media, and, when they do, it is often not in a positive light. Thus, casting a character such as Hermione Granger, who is (as Menta notes) “passionate,” “irritatingly smart,” and “commanding” (not to mention one of the most adored literary characters of all time) provides black girls with an opportunity to identify with a character who embodies female empowerment, and to recognize that they have the ability to not only catalyze change within society, but to shape the world into a better place. As Dumezweni states in her interview with Menta, after years and years of systematic racism and marginalization that has disproportionately hindered minority groups, representation matters.

On another note, those who are outraged at the casting of Hermione as a black woman in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child clearly recognize the importance of a strong female literary character, and I feel as though there is a high probability that many of the individuals complaining about this casting decision would consider themselves feminists. While this paradox is unfortunate, it is not surprising, as, over time, women of color have been left out of the feminist movement en masse. Thus, I think it is crucial that critics of black Hermione reflect on how racial biases may be affecting their judgement, and consider whether any issues they have with this casting call actually outweigh the bigger picture.

This brings me to my final point. Growing up, I was often called bossy when I attempted to take on leadership roles within groups, the latter of which lead me to believe that my leadership tendencies were a negative trait. However, reading the Harry Potter series growing up and having the opportunity to identify with a character such as Hermione Granger allowed me to recognize that my so-called “bossiness” was actually my greatest strength. I think it is imperative that girls of color who undoubtedly face more adversity than I did growing up due to their blackness are allowed this same opportunity, and I would strongly urge critics of the casting of black Hermione to check their privilege.