Posts filed under current events

50 Shades of Black - Book In Production

Book Cover-web.jpg

Ladies & Gentleman, It's official. A Book Is About to be Made.

ORDER TODAY Book Release June 22. Details to Come.
(More Tears)

The Inaugural 50 Shades of Black Open Photo Shoot Hosted by Ross Oscar Knight - 4.21.2013


Be part of the Inaugural 50 Shades of Black Open Photo Shoot hosted by Ross Oscar Knight. Knight, artist and special contributor to the project, will conduct a half day photo experience which includes a free photo session. 


50 Shades of Black is an affirmation of the beauty in diversity. It explores the role of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of your identity.

WHAT: FREE Open Photo Shoot for all Ages. Music. Refreshments.

WHEN: Sunday April 21st 1 - 4 PM

WHERE: KNIGHT Studio 659 Auburn Ave, Atlanta, GA 

Steps away from the Beltline in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward at Studioplex



If the Tree of Black Liberty Grows on Haitian Soil, Why Do Its Fruits Fall on Hollywood Ground?

Let’s take a moment to thank Haiti for Toussaint Louverture, without whom America wouldn’t have been able to watch Django Unchained. Two days ago, I attended a screening at the New York African Film Festival and watched the (ironically) French-produced biopic of Toussaint Louverture, a cinematographic masterpiece that you probably never heard of, by director Philippe Niang, starring Jimmy Jean-Louis as the relentless, determined Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian revolution, who in real life shook the institution of slavery to the core by successfully putting an end to slavery in a land owned by the French and paved the way for it to become the first black, free state in 1804.

What do Toussaint and Django have in common? Both of their stories take place in the nineteenth century. Both rebel against a white supremacist system that oppresses their community and succeed in overthrowing it for a while. Finally and sadly, both their fates remain at the hands of the white supremacist after their rebellion. What in fact, if you’ve ever wondered, happens to Django after he and Broomhilda settle in the house of the master in the South? Do they get to live happily ever after? Or do they flee, knowing that the friends of Master will come around and have them end up like Nat Turner, hanged, flayed and dismembered?

Toussaint Louverture encounters that kind of fate; though physically less overbearing, it is symbolically just as humiliating. The beacon of Black freedom ends up tricked into exile and dies alone in a French fort, unable to witness the fruits of his labor on Haitian soil; which brings me back to the reason why I’m thanking Haiti for Toussaint who brought us Django, a movie that was nominated 5 times at the Oscars and was released on the same year as the biopic of a true legend, a defender of civil rights whose life deserves more recognition in the pages (or lens) of history today, but is not.

Django Unchained itself is a beautiful movie, one I think David Foster Wallace would call “entertaining.” It’s a colorful, cathartic, certainly revisionist story of a black man who with the help of a white man realizes a fantasy: slaying hundreds of white men who are experts in the business of killing and torturing black people. At the end, the black man wins against this system without a scratch. It makes for explosive entertainment but let’s not forget the words of a famous Martiniquan poet:

“beware of crossing your arms in the sterile attitude of the spectator, because life is not a spectacle, because a sea of sorrows is not a proscenium, because a man who screams is not a dancing bear.”

Doesn’t Django Unchained remind you of Aaron Mcgruder’s “The Story of Catcher Freeman”, a cartoon released in July of 2008, depicting the exact same adventures of Django, except in anime? Look at the first minute of this video and you’ll understand:

It’s uncanny, isn’t it? And isn’t it odd that Toussaint Louverture’s last name means “The opening, something opened”, suggesting freedom, while Django (the d is silent) is “Unchained”? It’s not just a coincidence. Screenwriters remain writers after all, and all writers have to find their inspiration somewhere. I argue that Quentin Tarantino found his in some aspects of Toussaint Louverture’s story, has probably worked out an agreement with Aaron McGruder’s company, and of course knew every detail of Nat Turner’s rebellion movement before giving America an “original” chef-d’oeuvre that is conscience-freeing and that Hollywood could only extol.

In the meantime, Toussaint Louverture the movie, while receiving a lot of viewers when it first aired on a French channel (3 million), almost exclusively received support and recognition from the Afro-Caribbean cinema communities. It won awards at the Pan African Film and Arts Festivals, at the Africa Movie Academic Awards, and most recently was screened at the New York African Film Festival. Unfortunately, almost no one knows of this movie in the United States. In America where black people are constantly bullied through the moving image – where successful movies, TV shows or music about black people are the ones that rely on stereotypes – a change needs to occur to support more positive and accurate portrayals of Black civilizations and cultures. This support should not only emerge from the diaspora but other festivals and award ceremonies, ones where awards are determined by merit, not just politics or commercial success.

Jimmy Jeans-Louis at the New York African Film Festival projection of "Toussaint Louverture"; April 7th, 2013.

Jimmy Jeans-Louis at the New York African Film Festival projection of "Toussaint Louverture"; April 7th, 2013.

Just yesterday, I wrote an article denouncing the dangers of “corporate-sponsored culture” as Bob Dylan calls it, and though I feel bad for putting Django Unchained in such a negative limelight (I sincerely respect the actors in that movie and I adore Kerry Washington), I am honestly tired of the re-appropriation and re-visitation of Black history in the world of cinema in a way that trivializes the hardships and horrors of slavery. I’m even more revolted that movies like Toussaint Louverture, which depicts a brave and true story of Black success in the nineteenth century, aren’t deserving of more prizes and recognition. This cripples the drive of Black artists and writers.

However, having watched both movies and as a young African author, I write this piece with the hope that my generation – regardless of our race or social and financial background – has a mentality that differs from the ones past and that we will work for change and equality through the arts, so that Toussaint’s words as he left for France were not said in vain:

“In overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk of the tree of […] black liberty […]. It will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep.”

Aminata Diop

Special Contributor at 50 Shades of Black; Editor and Founder at Tamaji Magazine


Crowning of a Dark Skinned Ethiopian Queen in Israel

Crowning of a Dark Skinned Ethiopian Queen in Israel

The news of the new Miss Israel being a brown skinned Ethiopian immigrant (the country's first) caught my attention not only because of its obvious relevance to 50 SHADES OF BLACK, but also because of my recent travels to Jordan, Israel, Palestine.

You all may recall my REFLECTIONS FROM THE JOURNEY TO THE MIDDLE EAST post.  This trip was certainly a journey of transformation for me.  Several articles from that trip appeared in the Huffington Post as well as on CNN.

When I heard about Yityish Aynaw's crowning and the direct references she made to race, history, skin tone, and media, I knew I had to post.

During the competition, Aynaw cited the slain American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. as one of her heroes. "He fought for justice and equality, and that's one of the reasons I'm here: I want to show that my community has many beautiful qualities that aren't always represented in the media," she said.

"It's important that a member of the Ethiopian community wins the competition for the first time," she was quoted by Israeli media as telling the judges in response to a question. "There are many different communities of many different colors in Israel, and it's important to show that to the world."

She said during the competition that she hoped to go into modeling “to change attitudes to dark-skinned models. I’d love to become the first Israeli (TV) host, the Tyra Banks of Israel.”

She also said she hoped “to represent all Israelis” as Miss Israel, rather than specifically championing the cause of Ethiopian Israelis. She said it would be an honor to represent Israel on the international stage, and that she thought it would reflect well on Israel to have an Ethiopian-born beauty queen.

Yityish before the throne.

Yityish before the throne.

Crowning of a Dark Skinned Ethiopian Queen in Israel

Crowning of a Dark Skinned Ethiopian Queen in Israel

What are your thoughts?

50 SHADES OF BLACK is an international conversation that explores sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.  Book featuring artists and stories from around the world coming Summer 2013.  Created by Carlton Mackey.


Carlton Mackey and Emory President James Wagner.

Carlton Mackey and Emory President James Wagner.

How do I express in words the multiple layers that this photo represents?

I’ve been staring at this photo all morning long trying to make sense of its multiple levels of meaning.  I remember so clearly the afternoon it was taken.  You couldn’t have asked for a better day.  I was buzzing along with excitement at the opportunity to not only be photographed by the renowned photographer Dawoud Bey, but to be chosen to sit with the president of the university for what would mark the end of a five year university wide project called Transforming Community Project (TCP).  TCP, as the website suggests, was born out of racial conflict among faculty but led to an effort to have the entire institution rethink and confront its own race history.  The project began in 2005 as a five-year project and was actually funded by the President’s Office as a Strategic Initiative.

I can recall with vivid detail sharing a small bench with President Wagner just outside of his office.  I can remember being as enthralled in our conversation as I was fixated on every move that Dawoud made.  As a photographer myself, I was admiring Dawoud’s deliberate movements…his conscious tactics to make President Wagner and I forget about his presence and focus on the moment that we were having with each other.  President Wagner and I did share a great moment that day.  It was one of many encounters that I’ve had with him over the course of a decade at this university –both as a graduate student at Candler School of Theology and now at the Center for Ethics.

Dawoud Bey shows film drafts of photo from Emory Project.  Photo by Travis Levius.

Dawoud Bey shows film drafts of photo from Emory Project. Photo by Travis Levius.

When I stare at this photo today, I am dizzied by the complexity it presents to me.  All at once I am struck by the irony of the occasion that brought us together –the “culmination” of a campus wide conversation about race.  I am struck by the intensity in both of our eyes.  I am struck by the text that accompanies both of our images.  I am struck by the power of hearing both of our voices read the text aloud.

In re-reading that text today I can’t help but to hear even more loudly my own voice as well as the resonating voices of those who in some ways are at the heart of today’s debate.  I hear the voices of “those who came before me” whose spirits escaped their bludgeoned bodies before they were swallowed by the sea.  I hear the voices of the “mighty cloudy of witnesses” they form as they watch over and create a “hedge of protection” around me.  I hear the voices of those who survived the passage who ultimately became my grandmother, father, mother, me.

I hear the voice of President Wagner as he repeatedly references me by name in his statements.  I hear his final sentence in ways that I never did out of all the times I’ve previously read it:

It is owing more fundamentally to who I am, and the deliberate effort not to lose who I am in what I do, that I find motivation and satisfaction in service to Emory, to people like Carlton.

As much as I try, I can’t escape my own final words either.  My ultimate statement to the President, to you, to anyone reading and looking at my face in this photograph was/is:

I am you

…and I am coming to understand the infinite possibilities of what it means to accept the fact that you too are a part of me.

With these words, President Wagner and I marked the end of TCP.  I think about the fact that nearly three years after TCP closed shop, we may have all witnessed the moment that leads to its grand reopening.

----- (From

I am Carlton Mackey. I am Pearl Taylor’s grandbaby. I am Carl and Burnell Mackey’s son.I am Kari Mackey’s husband. I am the ancestor’s breath. I am the living expression of all those who came before me; and, one day, I’ll join them on the shore by the sea. I am being watched over by a mighty cloud of witnesses. I am on a journey. I am on a quest to discover parts of me that I never knew existed.I am an artist. I believe in the power of art to transform the world.I am broken but am being made whole. I am intricately linked to the earth. I am part of God’s creation. I am you. I am coming to understand the infinite possibilities of what it means to accept the fact that you too are a part of me.  -Carlton Mackey, 2010

Who am I? We are seldom asked that question but are frequently in situations where we are expected to answer it. In social introductions, we are asked, “What do you do?” In my case, I am expected to answer, “I am (AM!) the president of Emory University.” (Indeed, it is because of the expected answer to that question that I was even offered the privilege to share this frame with Carlton.) Perhaps the difference in answering “I am president” instead of answering “I do president” may seem to be a semantic issue to many. But to me it matters. In my career position, serving Emory by doing the president’s job, the challenges and opportunities are numerous and at times even dangerously seductive. It is possible to fill nearly every waking moment with thoughts and activities guided only by the demands and desires of the institution—a situation that is potentially intoxicating sometimes in the most toxic sense of the word. Who I am is much more personal—husband, father, brother, son, citizen, struggling child of God. . . . It is owing more fundamentally to who I am, and the deliberate effort not to lose who I am in what I do, that I find motivation and satisfaction in service to Emory, to people like Carlton. -James Wagner, 2010

See more photos and hear President Wagner and me in our own voices HERE

--- 50 SHADES OF BLACK is about celebrating beauty and exploring sexuality & the complexity of skin tone in the formation of identity.  It is a collection of personal stories from around the world that will culminate in an accompanying book, art exhibit, and educational materials.  Created by Carlton Mackey.


I am delighted by the engagement and dialogue that was initiated by yesterday’s facebook post by 50 SHADES OF BLACK special contributor Kristen Alyce centered on Beyonce’s recent GQ Magazine cover.  This post ushered in what will soon be a more central focus of the 50 SHADES OF BLACK project on the role and function of sexuality in the formation of identity.

50 SHADES OF BLACK has always been a multi-fold project.  Its title is a play on words that on the one hand references color –a palate or spectrum, if you will, of color.  It was created to bring to the forefront issues surrounding color and shades of human pigmentation AND consequently the global impact of this differentiation or diversity on communities and individuals.  There is so much more that can be said about this singular aspect of the project.  Nevertheless, this aspect of the project has been the project’s central focus up to this point in terms of the posts, the photos, and the discussion via our various social media outlets.

50 SHADES OF BLACK, however, as a title also makes one mentally connect to a wildly popular fiction novel series that has, for better or for worse, repackaged an international dialogue about sex, sexuality, and sexual preferences.  It is here that we establish our second central focus and also seek to engage in a community dialogue.

50 SHADES OF BLACK, in the most ideal sense, resides at the intersection of these two central foci.

What is healthy sexual expression?  Who gets to decide?  How does race or skin tone play a part in the decision?  Are certain sexual preferences, practices, or expressions more taboo in one ethnic community over another?  Does skin tone play a role in one’s sexual preference or desire?  What are some of the sexual myths that are associated with various groups?  In what ways are groups exploited, heralded, discriminated against, marginalized, normalized based on gender, sexual orientation, skin tone?  What does love have to do with it…any of it…and can it challenge us to rethink all else?

In this season of football playoffs, an upcoming Super Bowl, and a “don’t forget to insert the corporate brand name Pepsi here” half time show performance by the one and only Beyonce’, we mark the introduction (and in many ways continuation) of a conversation about sex.

Critical to this conversation will be the voices of 50 SHADES OF BLACK special contributors Scottie Lowe of Afroerotik and along with contributions from Charles StephensKristen Alyce, and many others.  We are also fortunate to have visual images by Andrew Thomas Clifton that will visually enrich the conversation.  Contributions from all of these individuals will be featured in our upcoming book and I could not be more proud to have them on board.

So…let’s talk now about sex (and other stuff).

50 SHADES OF BLACK –a project about sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.

-Carlton Mackey Creator, 50 SHADES OF BLACK

Teaser Book Cover - 50 SHADES OF BLACK

Teaser Book Cover - 50 SHADES OF BLACK