#BackChannel

Popular culture experts Natalie Bullock Brown and Mark Anthony Neal.
Credit Ben McKeown / For WUNC

#BackChannel is a series of conversations connecting popular culture and context. It features contributors Natalie Bullock Brown and Mark Anthony Neal.

Natalie is a filmmaker and teaching assistant professor at North Carolina State University, and Mark is the chair of the department of African and African American Studies at Duke University and the host of the weekly webcast “Left of Black.”

An image of Dave Chappelle with members of A Tribe Called Quest Joribe White and Q-Tip
Rosalind O'Connor / AP

After years of mostly staying out of the spotlight, comedian Dave Chappelle hosted NBC's  "Saturday Night Live" last week. Chappelle's opening monologue mirrored the stand-up comedy that helped make him famous more than a decade ago. Chappelle's jokes grappled with a Trump presidency.  

Vianney Le Caer / AP

The highly-anticipated film "The Birth of a Nation" tells the story of a slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831.

An image of San Francisco 49ers players protesting the national anthem
Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Since the beginning of the NFL season, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has knelt during the national anthem in protest against racial inequality. Dozens of athletes have followed in Kaepernick's footsteps.

Meanwhile, protests erupted in Charlotte last week after police fatally shot a black man. Against this backdrop, new television shows like "Queen Sugar" and "Greenleaf" unpack narratives about contemporary black life.

Photo of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James speaking at the ESPY Awards.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

In the past two weeks, violence by and against police has dominated headlines and rattled the country. Protests from movements like #BlackLivesMatter continue while celebrities use speeches and social media as a platform to make their voices heard.

Meanwhile, the ESPN documentary series "O.J.: Made In America" looks at race relations since the 1960s through the life of former athlete O.J. Simpson.

photo of Muhammad Ali
AP / AP

In 2009, President Obama declared June "African-American Music Appreciation Month." The tribute started as "Black Music Month" in the 1970s. While the name has changed, it continues to be a time to celebrate the ways black artists have shaped music. These artists include three people who have recently died; Prince, Billy Paul and Phife Dawg. They each left a dynamic legacy in different genres.

An image of singer Beyonce
AP Images

Pop culture icon Beyoncé delivered a powerful message when she released her visual album "Lemonade" last month.

The work is a pop culture phenomenon and alludes to infidelity while portraying strong messages of black feminism. Meanwhile, as Beyoncé reclaims her personal narrative as a celebrity icon, the forthcoming film "The Birth of a Nation" reclaims the story of the Nat Turner slave rebellion.

An image of Donald Trump
AP Images

For decades, politicians have used coded language to talk about race without addressing it explicitly. Terms like "welfare queen," "illegal aliens" and "thug" are used to elicit responses from target audiences without directly addressing race. 

An image of Zoe Saldana
Wikipedia Creative Commons / Public Domain

Last month, comedian Chris Rock hosted the Oscars amid controversy around the awards' lack of diversity. Rock's jokes jabbed at the Academy Awards lack of recognition for any actors of color.

But controversy around race in Hollywood continued after Rock's performance. The new biopic "Nina" depicts the struggles of iconic musician Nina Simone, a singer and civil rights activist. But critics say the movie disgraces Simone's legacy because lead actress Zoe Saldana used dark makeup to change her light-skinned complexion. 

Rapper Kendrick Lamar recently won five Grammys, but it's his performance at the awards show that's grabbing attention.
Jon Elbaz / Wikimedia Commons

In the last two weeks, musicians Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar have used two of pop culture's biggest stages to showcase their political message.

Beyonce's Super Bowl halftime show included her controversial new song "Formation." Meanwhile, Lamar took home five Grammy awards and offered a visually and lyrically stunning performance of his own songs at the awards show.

There were no actors of color nominated for an Oscar this year. Chris Rock, however, will host the show.
David Shankbone / Flickr Creative Commons

Bill Cosby has entertained audiences for more than half a century as a stand-up comedian and Emmy-winning actor. But as his fame has grown over the years, so have the number of women who have come forward accusing Cosby of sexual misconduct. He faces felony charges of sexual assault.

And the Oscar nominations were announced last week, but none of the acting categories featured people of color. Some Hollywood stars are calling for a boycott of the awards show.

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