Hey Drake, Depression Isn’t Just a Phase

Telling a Black parent about struggling with depression or anxiety will typically warrant a response of this nature: “It’s just a phase,” “Just pray about it,” or my personal favorite, “Just think about all the good things you have.” This is largely due to the stigma that surrounds mental health in the Black community: A stigma that either denies mental health as a real illness or categorizes it as a weakness that the victim can simply “get over.”

Popular Hip Hop artist Drake reinforced this belief in his new song Two Birds, One Stone. Drake made the song as a diss track in response to comments made by Kid Cudi, another Hip Hop artist. Soon after Cudi’s original diss, the artist took to twitter and apologized for the unnecessary comments about Drake and other artists. Cudi then revealed that he is fighting depression and suicidal thoughts and will be checking into a rehabilitation center to seek professional help.

Over the weekend, Drake decided to release a response to Cudi’s criticism towards him, but instead of criticizing Cudi’s music, Drake attacked Kid Cudi’s struggle with depression. In his lyrics Drake writes You were the man on the moon//Now you just go through your phases//Life of the angry and famous”.

It was hurtful to listen to someone I look up to reinforce everything that is wrong with the way the Black community views mental health issues. Drake supported the destructive idea that depression is not a serious illness, but rather a weakness and a fault. Drake’s behavior is harmful because as an influential black male, his opinion on this subject matters more than most. Black males are the most marginalized in expressing their struggles with mental health issues because they must deal with the stigma of “weakness” that surrounds the subject and how this intersects with the expected gender roles for black males.

So, to Drake and any other person who does not understand mental illness: depression is NOT like that emo “phase” you went through when you were 13. Depression is not someone just choosing to be angry and sad all the time. Thinking about all the good things one has won’t cure the chemical imbalance that causes depression. Depression is not Child’s Play and it’s definitely not something you can use to prove you’re a better rapper than another person. Get it together, Aubrey.

Celebrities Are Taking a Stand Against DAPL

Since April 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Various Native American tribes and people have also been showing their support of the protest by sending supplies or traveling to protest themselves.  UNC’s own Carolina Indian Circle created a public service announcement about the pipeline in September.

The protest has also received support and attention from influential allies: celebrities.

Members of the cast of Justice League created a video endorsing Rezpect Our Water, an initiative founded by young members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Pharell Williams have posted on social media about it. Mark Ruffalo tweeted calling out President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to get involved.

Actors Riley Keough and Susan Sarandon went to Washington, DC to protest with tribe members.  Shailene Woodley has made multiple posts on social media protesting the pipeline, posted videos of her at protests in North Dakota, and recently being arrested for protesting.

What does it mean that these celebrities are getting involved? Attention.

Celebrities have thousands, even millions, of followers on multiple social media networks. They can reach an incredibly large amount of people in minutes.  This type of access to publicity is just what the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe need.

It is important that celebrities are not only using their platform, but encouraging other leaders and politicians to use theirs as well.  They are encouraging their fans to learn more about the pipeline and get involved with protests.

In 2014, Native Americans made up two percent of the population.  They are a group that is forced to be treated as second class citizens on land that belongs to them and their ancestors.

Plans for the pipeline were made without consulting the Native Americans who lived there. When concerns were made about sacred spaces of land being destroyed, they fell on deaf ears and were ignored.

Centuries ago, land was taken from Native Americans and the justification given was that it would benefit others. Traditions and culture were not seen as valuable as the profit that could be made by exploiting it. Now, in 2016, we are dangerously close to making the same mistake.

Hopefully the Beginning of the End of #OscarsSoWhite: Queen of Katwe

My friends and I were both excited and a little apprehensive to see the movie Queen of Katwe. We wanted desperately for it to be good, to portray African life fairly, to be the perfect response to the trending #OscarsSoWhite hashtag from earlier this year. The movie exceeded all our hopes. The book of the same name by Tim Crothers, served as the inspiration for this Disney/ ESPN film. The true story follows a girl named Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) from Katwe, a slum of Kampala, who becomes an international chess prodigy under the mentorship of the missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). The ‘success against-all-odds’ nature of the plot generates a sense of universality and makes the audience forget that a Disney movie aimed at American families about urban Africa is actually a radical concept.

It was especially refreshing to notice that there was not one white character with more than a word or two of dialogue. This should not be surprising considering the setting of the film, and yet it is when one also notes the many other films associated with Africa that consist of a white cast, no matter the setting. I appreciated the casting of Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona’s complicated and incredibly strong mother Nakku Harriet, and David Oyelowo as Robert Katende because they provided the necessary element of stardom, but both actually have immediate connections to Africa. Nyong’o and Oyelowo’s magical performances also enhanced the less experienced, but by no means unimpressive, acting of Nalwanga. The film exemplifies the vast talent Africa has to offer the movie industry, if only given the chance.

The majority of the film was actually shot in Katwe, with a few scenes in Johannesburg, South Africa and all of the featured extras were Ugandans from the area. As a result, one of my friends, who has spent a significant amount of time in Uganda, said that the depiction of Ugandan life was “satisfyingly accurate.” As the New York Times put it, the film “refuse[s] to turn African life into a pageant of grimness and deprivation.” Queen of Katwe does not idealize an unrealistic representation of Ugandan life, nor does it pessimistically condemn their conditions. The film is radical because it so unassumingly pretends not to be – it is an earnest attempt to normalize films about Africa and films without any white actors. I commend that attempt and hope that Hollywood continues this trend, making films like Queen of Katwe common enough to feel normal and no longer seem like a drastic statement. I should hope that there will be less of a need to spread the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite next year.