This is an email from Keepin' It 💯, a newsletter by ZORA.
Hey, Fam —
After watching Judas and the Black Messiah and The United States vs. Billie Holiday, I gotta say this recent string of historical dramas with a heavy informant POV is not for me. So when Marked Man, an upcoming project inspired by the book Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey, was announced last week, I peeped the synopsis — “Set in the 1920s, Marked Man follows a young Black man who joins J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation and then infiltrates Garvey’s UNIA organization, testing his loyalty to both race and country as he grows weary of both men’s actions” — and thought, damn, not another one.
I’m no movie critic. I’m just an observer whose gut feels uneasy using informant culture as a narrative device to illuminate the lives of Black icons. To be clear, Billie and Judas are not straight-up biopics about Billie Holiday and Fred Hampton, though some viewers may feel both are billed as such. Instead, what we get is a front row seat to the pain inflicted by tools of the state doing the dirty work of the Feds. Proxies of a system created to thwart Black minds and Black voices from thriving.
In Billie, the singer is wooed and beaten by many men, while her struggles with addiction is used to take her down by the charmingly deceitful undercover agent Jimmy Fletcher. Little time is spent reveling in Lady Day’s resolve and verve. In Judas, the anticipation of Hampton’s assassination is thick, as William O’Neal, the op, siphons the attention away from the indelibly galvanizing energy of Hampton. We’re left to experience O’Neal’s shiftiness more than Hampton’s spirit. It’s hard to settle into these films, to truly feel Holiday’s and Hampton’s gifts before they were stripped away. The prolificness of each is deprioritized and diluted by having them share their stories with the men who duped them.
While Andra Day and Daniel Kaluuya’s stunning lead performances, which earned them each a Golden Globe award, are redeeming qualities of each film, Billie and Judas show us that centering Fed-sponsored snitches catalyzes narrative gaps, rendering these movies incoherent works. Both films lack the full dignity it takes to show both the best of Black icons and the betrayals that besieged them.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is important that we use art to examine the systems and scoundrels that cut down our people. We should tell — and learn from — these stories. But a capitalist-fueled Hollywood does not have the range for that. Billie and Judas barely excavate why Fletcher and O’Neal did what they did. We’re fed surface-level reasoning without deep interrogation. As a result, there’s limited understanding of the conflicted and complex souls of these men, the choices they had, and the ones they ultimately made.
I am, however, happy there is a renewed interest in Black groundbreakers like Holiday and Hampton. But it’s best we dig into the archives and do our own study to shape and expand our understanding of Black geniuses throughout history, taken from us by a federal army of cowards.
Christina M. Tapper, deputy editor
⭐️ HAPPY WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH! ⭐️
ZORA wants to hear from YOU! What does it mean to be a “strong Black woman” today? Publish a story on Medium about how you’re changing the definition of a “strong Black woman,” tag “ZORAWHM,” and email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. We may feature your story on ZORA.
Zero to 💯
Who kept it 100 this week? Let’s take a look.
Ruth Carter gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: 💯/💯
Give Ruth all her flowers! After a decades long career styling some of the most iconic films in Black cinematic history (including School Daze and Black Panther), the costume designer has made history yet again as the first Black costume designer to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A star for a star. So well-deserved!
Regina King surprises Andra Day after her Golden Globe win: 💯/💯
After winning her first Golden Globe for her portrayal of Billie Holiday, Day got another big treat when fellow Golden Globe award-winning actress Regina King crashed her interview with Access Hollywood to celebrate. The look on Day’s face, the screaming and the embrace the two actresses share are sweetness overload. Love to see the love!
WNBA star Renee Montgomery kicks Kelly Loeffler to the curb: 💯/💯
Loeffler lost more than her Georgia Senate seat this year. She’s also lost her ownership of the Atlanta Dream WNBA team, thanks in large part to former WNBA star Renee Montgomery. When the Republican senator had something to say about Black Lives Matter last year, players across the league, including Montgomery, called for her removal and helped campaign for her opponent. Now, Montgomery is a part of a new ownership group for the team. So long, Kelly!
Evanston, Illinois will offer reparations: 80/💯
Located just outside of Chicago, Evanston has become the first U.S. city to offer reparations to Black Americans. The city will distribute over $10 million in tax dollars over the next decade in an effort to compensate Black Americans over the loss of generational wealth due to slavery and racism. Time for the rest of the country to follow suit and cut the check!
Delaware Kindergarteners were reportedly taught “slave yoga” and it is as stupid as it sounds: 🚮 /💯
In a “Black History Month lesson” at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center in Delaware, a White instructor thought it was a good idea to use yoga poses to teach about how slaves were brought to the Americas. She used boat pose to show students boats slaves took during the Middle Passage. The school district is investigating the incident that they’re calling unacceptable but our question is whyyy do White people keep messing up when it comes to teaching Black babies? Lessons about slavery don’t have to be fancy or fitness-based. They just have to be factual.
✨ The Best of Us ✨
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🗣️ The Last Word 🗣️
“You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation.” ― Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues
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