Kate McKinnon Performs Emotional ‘Hallelujah’ on SNL

Last night’s SNL opened not with the usual political skit – but with just Kate McKinnon (and her piano) as Hillary Clinton, delivering a haunting, and timely rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Cohen, of course, passed away this week, so the performance acted as tribute, as well.

There were many levels of meaning at work. First, McKinnon had so perfectly captured Hillary’s ups and downs over the past year of campaigning, making us laugh while the shadow of Trump loomed so frighteningly in the background (and sometimes foreground). Second, Dave Chappelle had come out of semi-retirement to host the episode – and his incisive comic insights on race were at their sharpest: “I haven’t seen white people this mad since the O.J. verdict.”

And, most significantly, there was Cohen – whose immortal songs and hallowed words have guided so many of us through so many of our darkest, most hopeless moments. Indeed, as McKinnon’s Clinton stirringly intoned the lyrics, “Love is not a victory march / It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah,” we all mourned a little together.

As the song concluded, Kate/Hillary turned to the camera and vowed/implored, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”

To the barricades…

Louis C.K. Summed Up The Election Choices Perfectly – If Only More Had Heeded His Words

Image courtesy of TBS

In the wake of Tuesday’s shocking election of Donald Trump, perhaps it pays to revisit Louis C.K. – who has emerged as something of a socio-political philosopher for the 21st Century – who had summed it all up so incisively in a pre-election appearance on Conan. If only more people had taken him seriously.

 

Poignant Play WILDERNESS Confronts Emotional and Behavioral Issues of Troubled Youth

A teenage boy plays tug-of-war with a mom; a red sweatshirt symbolizes the struggle. The sweatshirt is pulled, twisted, slammed to the ground amidst a cacophony of foot stomps, crying, yelling, a face slap. The mother calls for help as her son locks himself away in his room. At a loss, the mother is defeated and slinks back to her chair. A typical exchange in the home of a troubled teen. The scene is charged, disturbing, and worse – familiar.

Anne Hamburger created WILDERNESS, a documentary style theater piece currently showing at the Abrons Art Center. It is an intense depiction of a once-controversial treatment program for children with emotional and behavioral issues.

In the middle of the night, 5 teens are taken from their homes by strangers, 1 goes voluntarily. All dysregulated in some way, the show does an amazing job creating palpable tension. The unknown, for all parties, is laden with fear.

No clocks. No mirrors. No technology. No physical contact. No future information. The crunch of leaves underfoot as the kids hike miles per day, 75-pound packs add to their burden. The silence of the remote woods is as deafening as the challenge is epic. Forced to face their role in the family system’s dysfunction: responsibility, accountability and self-awareness are the pillars of the Wilderness Therapy experience.

Hamburger’s portrayal of her and her son’s experience was made most powerful by her use of multimedia. Behind the small cast, videos of actual parents weave a tapestry of the pain, suffering, guilt, shame and paralysis caused by mental health issues. Self-harm, promiscuity, school refusal, substance abuse – all manifestations of emotional dissonance, and every parent’s worst fear. The show touches on the weighty divide between knowing your child needs intervention, and the counterintuitive nature of sending your child away.

As I looked around the theater of tear stained faces, a realization hit: amongst these people were parents who knew the same struggle, the same terrible decision, the same last straw of hope. Our daughter, Luna, was the one to tell us she couldn’t handle her issues anymore, and she was only 10 years old.

Luna left for the woods soon after her 11th birthday, defining the most crucial milestone of my life. Not seeing or speaking to our 11-year-old child for 84 days was nearly impossible. This action at such a young age was a dire and unique choice, hopefully preventing more destructive behaviors from developing later.

Mental health is the hot topic right now, and WILDERNESS is yet another opportunity to break through the silence, rev up awareness, and decrease the stigma. As social and emotional intelligence creeps its way into mainstream classrooms through efforts such as Yale’s RULER approach, the climate of mental health is changing. Yale’s studies show that conflict resolution, self-regulation, and self-esteem are just as essential to success in life as regular academics, if not more so.

My passion for this conversation has grown as the transformation of our family dynamic has continued to unfold. Wilderness therapy is not the panacea for mental ailments. It is merely the beginning of a journey. Undoubtedly, it has been the impetus for our daughter to enact great internal change. Stripped from her were the negative cycle of self-loathing and the instant snowball of anxiety-to-rage. It begat a new playing field for all of us, a chance to reset. As in the show, most thrive, some don’t.

Hamburger found a way to ignite a new conversation, one that is digestible by all, not just those in need. She created a space where the tags of the “bad kids” are questioned; the “neglectful parent” labels re-examined. It allows room for judgment to blossom into empathy, which leads to the most important remaining question.

Why IS there shame around emotional struggle? Isn’t this a pivotal piece of the human condition? Growth? Humanity? Let us all be brave enough to challenge our innermost workings and humble enough to be revisionists.

WILDERNESS comes to a close with the 6 teens staring at their red sweatshirts, in a pile on the stage replete with their struggle, pain, and challenge. As each child dons the sweatshirt, the imagery suggests a badge of warrior’s pride, victorious.

Wilderness Therapy has an effective approach, yet a high priced ticket. Saving Teens is a not-for-profit who helps fund families who need financial assistance. www.savingteens.org

Images by Maria Baranova

Joss Whedon Urges on ‘Youths’ in New Voting PSA

In his newest short for Save the Day, a campaign to encourage people to vote, Joss Whedon takes on millennials. Or as the short puts it, the youth. But trying to appeal to an entire generation is not such an easy task, especially when none of your writers belong to that generation.

The meta PSA within a PSA stars Bill Hader as a director trying to get through to Nicole Byer, a young actress meant to appeal to millennials. Tom Lenk also makes a cameo as the young white guy. Watch The Youth below:

Was ‘Formation’ Really the Best Choice for a Goldie Hawn & Amy Schumer Video?

Children of the ‘80s and ‘90s were ecstatic at the news of Goldie Hawn coming out of retirement to join Amy Schumer in an upcoming mother/daughter comedy. Although little has been revealed on the plot, the film also stars Chris Meloni and Wanda Sykes.

Schumer recently posted a video that appears to be from the set of the film. It features Schumer, Hawn, Sykes, and Joan Cusack lip-syncing and dancing to Beyoncé’s “Formation”.

Although the idea of these women starring in a movie together should be reason enough for elation, Twitter has not taken kindly to the video for obvious reasons. The decision to have a group of predominantly white women twerking and singing the year’s black anthem might not have been the smartest. The hashtag #AmySchumerGottaGoParty sparked shortly after the video went live.

Joss Whedon Directs Apocalyptic Trump Short (Watch)

Although some voters are still on the fence about the upcoming election, Joss Whedon has a message that he hopes will sway them. In a new short created by the Buffy and Avengers director, Keegan Michael-Key plays a weatherman predicting the imminent apocalypse after Trump is elected president.

It’s not quite the Sunnydale hell mouth he describes but it’s an equally terrifying outcome. Why risk it?

Watch the short below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQpiJkKxGpo%20

BLACKBOOK EXCLUSIVE: Here’s the First Chapter of National Book Award-Winner ‘The Underground Railroad’

On November 16, Colson Whitehead took home the National Book Award for Fiction for his novel The Underground Railroad, about the horrors of slavery in the South. Larry Wilmore hosted the event, which also gave out awards to Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America for Nonfiction, Daniel Borzutzky’s The Performance of Becoming Human for Poetry, and John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell’s March: Book Three for Young People’s Literature.

In his acceptance speech, Whitehead said, “We’re happy in here; outside is the blasted hellhole wasteland of Trumpland. Be kind to everybody, make art and fight the power.”

Today, BlackBook provides an exciting, exclusive treat for its readers: the first chaper of Whitehead’s prolific novel. The story is available in bookstores everywhere and online at

Read it below:

Excerpted from THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead

Reprinted by arrangement with Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC

Copyright © 2016 by Colson Whitehead

THE first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

This was her grandmother talking. Cora’s grandmother had never seen the ocean before that bright afternoon in the port of Ouidah and the water dazzled after her time in the fort’s dungeon. The dungeon stored them until the ships arrived. Dahomeyan raiders kidnapped the men first, then returned to her village the next moon for the women and children, marching them in chains to the sea two by two. As she stared into the black doorway, Ajarry thought she’d be reunited with her father, down there in the dark. The survivors from her village told her that when her father couldn’t keep the pace of the long march, the slavers stove in his head and left his body by the trail. Her mother had died years before.

Cora’s grandmother was sold a few times on the trek to the fort, passed between slavers for cowrie shells and glass beads. It was hard to say how much they paid for her in Ouidah as she was part of a bulk purchase, eighty-eight human souls for sixty crates of rum and gunpowder, the price arrived upon after the standard haggling in Coast English. Able-bodied men and child-bearing women fetched more than juveniles, making an individual accounting difficult.

The Nanny was out of Liverpool and had made two previous stops along the Gold Coast. The captain staggered his purchases, rather than find himself with cargo of singular culture and disposition. Who knew what brand of mutiny his captives might cook up if they shared a common tongue. This was the ship’s final port of call before they crossed the Atlantic. Two yellow-haired sailors rowed Ajarry out to the ship, humming. White skin like bone.

The noxious air of the hold, the gloom of confinement, and the screams of those shackled to her contrived to drive Ajarry to madness. Because of her tender age, her captors did not immedi-

ately force their urges upon her, but eventually some of the more seasoned mates dragged her from the hold six weeks into the passage. She twice tried to kill herself on the voyage to America, once by denying herself food and then again by drowning. The sailors stymied her both times, versed in the schemes and inclinations of chattel. Ajarry didn’t even make it to the gunwale when she tried to jump overboard. Her simpering posture and piteous aspect, recognizable from thousands of slaves before her, betrayed her intentions. Chained head to toe, head to toe, in exponential misery.

Although they had tried not to get separated at the auction in Ouidah, the rest of her family was purchased by Portuguese traders from the frigate Vivilia, next seen four months later drifting ten miles off Bermuda. Plague had claimed all on board. Authorities lit the ship on fire and watched her crackle and sink. Cora’s grandmother knew nothing about the ship’s fate. For the rest of her life she imagined her cousins worked for kind and generous masters up north, engaged in more forgiving trades than her own, weaving or spinning, nothing in the fields. In her stories, Isay and Sidoo and the rest somehow bought their way out of bondage and lived as free men and women in the City of Pennsylvania, a place she had overheard two white men discuss once. These fantasies gave Ajarry comfort when her burdens were such to splinter her into a thousand pieces.

The next time Cora’s grandmother was sold was after a month in the pest house on Sullivan’s Island, once the physicians certified her and the rest of the Nanny’s cargo clear of illness. Another busy day on the Exchange. A big auction always drew a colorful crowd. Traders and procurers from up and down the coast converged on Charleston, checking the merchandise’s eyes and joints and spines, wary of venereal distemper and other afflictions. Onlookers chewed fresh oysters and hot corn as the auctioneers shouted into the air. The slaves stood naked on the platform. There was a bidding war over a group of Ashanti studs, those Africans of renowned industry and musculature, and the foreman of a limestone quarry bought a bunch of pickaninnies in an astounding bargain. Cora’s grandmother saw a little boy among the gawkers eating rock candy and wondered what he was putting in his mouth.

Just before sunset an agent bought her for two hundred and twenty-six dollars. She would have fetched more but for that season’s glut of young girls. His suit was made of the whitest cloth she had ever seen. Rings set with colored stone flashed on his fingers. When he pinched her breasts to see if she was in flower, the metal was cool on her skin. She was branded, not for the first or last time, and fettered to the rest of the day’s acquisitions. The coffle began their long march south that night, staggering behind the trader’s buggy. The Nanny by that time was en route back to Liverpool, full of sugar and tobacco. There were fewer screams belowdecks.

You would have thought Cora’s grandmother cursed, so many times was she sold and swapped and resold over the next few years. Her owners came to ruin with startling frequency. Her first master got swindled by a man who sold a device that cleaned cotton twice as fast as Whitney’s gin. The diagrams were convincing, but in the end Ajarry was another asset liquidated by order of the magistrate. She went for two hundred and eighteen dollars in a hasty exchange, a drop in price occasioned by the realities of the local market. Another owner expired from dropsy, whereupon his widow held an estate sale to fund a return to her native Europe, where it was clean. Ajarry spent three months as the property of a Welshman who eventually lost her, three other slaves, and two hogs in a game of whist. And so on.

Her price fluctuated. When you are sold that many times, the world is teaching you to pay attention. She learned to quickly adjust to the new plantations, sorting the nigger breakers from the merely cruel, the layabouts from the hardworking, the informers from the secret-keepers. Masters and mistresses in degrees of wickedness, estates of disparate means and ambition. Sometimes the planters wanted nothing more than to make a humble living, and then there were men and women who wanted to own the world, as if it were a matter of the proper acreage. Two hundred and forty-eight, two hundred and sixty, two hundred and seventy dollars. Wherever she went it was sugar and indigo, except for a stint folding tobacco leaves for one week before she was sold again. The trader called upon the tobacco plantation looking for slaves of breeding age, preferably with all their teeth and of pliable disposition. She was a woman now. Off she went.

She knew that the white man’s scientists peered beneath things to understand how they worked. The movement of the stars across the night, the cooperation of humors in the blood. The temperature requirements for a healthy cotton harvest. Ajarry made a science of her own black body and accumulated observations. Each thing had a value and as the value changed, everything else changed also. A broken calabash was worth less than one that held its water, a hook that kept its catfish more prized than one that relinquished its bait. In America the quirk was that people were things. Best to cut your losses on an old man who won’t survive a trip across the ocean. A young buck from strong tribal stock got customers into a froth. A slave girl squeezing out pups was like a mint, money that bred money. If you were a thing—a cart or a horse or a slave—your value determined your possibilities. She minded her place.

Finally, Georgia. A representative of the Randall plantation bought her for two hundred and ninety-two dollars, in spite of the new blankness behind her eyes, which made her look simple-

minded. She never drew a breath off Randall land for the rest of her life. She was home, on this island in sight of nothing.

Cora’s grandmother took a husband three times. She had a predilection for broad shoulders and big hands, as did Old Randall although the master and his slave had different sorts of labor in mind. The two plantations were well-stocked, ninety head of nigger on the northern half and eighty-five head on the southern half. Ajarry generally had her pick. When she didn’t, she was patient.

Her first husband developed a hankering for corn whiskey and started using his big hands to make big fists. Ajarry wasn’t sad to see him disappear down the road when they sold him to a sugarcane estate in Florida. She next took up with one of the sweet boys from the southern half. Before he passed from cholera he liked to share stories from the Bible, his former master being more liberal-minded when it came to slaves and religion. She enjoyed the stories and parables and supposed that white men had a point: Talk of salvation could give an African ideas. Poor sons of Ham. Her last husband had his ears bored for stealing honey. The wounds gave up pus until he wasted away.

Ajarry bore five children by those men, each delivered in the same spot on the planks of the cabin, which she pointed to when they misstepped. That’s where you came from and where I’ll put you back if you don’t listen. Teach them to obey her and maybe they’ll obey all the masters to come and they will survive. Two died miserably of fever. One boy cut his foot while playing on a rusted plow, which poisoned his blood. Her youngest never woke up after a boss hit him in the head with a wooden block. One after another. At least they were never sold off, an older woman told Ajarry. Which was true—back then Randall rarely sold the little ones. You knew where and how your children would die. The child that lived past the age of ten was Cora’s mother, Mabel.

Ajarry died in the cotton, the bolls bobbing around her like whitecaps on the brute ocean. The last of her village, keeled over in the rows from a knot in her brain, blood pouring from her nose and white froth covering her lips. As if it could have been anywhere else. Liberty was reserved for other people, for the citizens of the City of Pennsylvania bustling a thousand miles to the north. Since the night she was kidnapped she had been appraised and reappraised, each day waking upon the pan of a new scale. Know your value and you know your place in the order. To escape the boundary of the plantation was to escape the fundamental principles of your existence: impossible.

It was her grandmother talking that Sunday evening when Caesar approached Cora about the underground railroad, and she said no.

Three weeks later she said yes.

This time it was her mother talking.

Hillary – Trump 1st Debate: How Did it Compare to 2008 + 2012?

Image – Occupy Democrats

For all the expected and accepted animosity of the Presidential debates, Monday night’s initial face-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was surely be the first in which one candidate had already seemingly incited violence against the other. In the lead up, Hillary had been accused of being aloof and unavailable; and many felt the media has softballed Trump (Megyn Kelly’s one-on-one with him was an embarrassment of sucking up). After all, how come no one had flat-out asked him to elaborate on the situation in Syria? “We’re going to bomb the hell out of ISIS,” surely should not be taken as an acceptable strategy.

Following Trump’s awkward showing, a Gallup poll showed Clinton having definitely won, 61% to 27%.

But how did the candidates fare in 2008? Gallup had reported that Barack Obama roundly beat John McCain, 46% to 34%, regarding who did a better overall job in the first debate. 30% of those polled came out with a more favorable opinion of Obama, just 21% for McCain.

And in 2012? Incumbent, and sometimes over-confident Obama, was walloped by Mitt Romney – with Gallup reporting 72% for the latter, 20% for the former. Even Democrats, at 49% to 39%, thought the Republican candidate did a better job in the initial debate.

The lesson, of course, is that one should certainly not put too much stock a single debate. Still and all, most are of the opinion that when genuinely put on the spot, Trump’s rhetoric just doesn’t hold up on the major economic and foreign policy matters. Clinton, a former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, certainly has gravitas on her side.

Still and all, she leads Trump by just three percentage points in the overall polls. All bets are still on.

Woody Allen’s Films Ranked…Yes, All 47 of Them

When it comes to culture, the endless rankings, awards, even glowing reviews, are all just so much marketing – completely meaningless to the creative impulse. (Let’s be honest – most Best Picture Oscar winners are spectacularly mediocre films.) But for a bit of holiday weekend fun, we do love a good list. And, with Woody Allen riding high on the accolades for his latest, Café Society, the Telegraph has gone to the trouble to rank all 47 of the prolific director’s movies.

As happens with lists, this one will once again inspire prodigious disagreements. For our part, we would switch out To Rome With Love (with Ellen Page utterly nailing the classic over-medicated, narcissistic Allen character, and Woody getting off some of his best lines ever: “The kid’s a Communist, the father is a mortician; does the mother run a leper colony?”) with the rather grating Vicky Cristina Barcelona and its stiff Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall performances.

But the top ten are pretty spot on, especially the inclusion of the sometimes loathed Stardust Memories, whose stark, acute perceptivity was mistaken for bitter, ungrateful cynicism.

See the full Telegraph story here. But we’ll first leave you with one of the truly great quotes from #1 Hannah and Her Sisters, as Woody’s Mickey character recounts a date with Dianne Wiest’s coked-up, punked-out Holly:  “I had a great evening; it was like the Nuremberg Trials.”

Hannah-and-her-sisters