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Idris Gray’s Top Ten of 2019

2019 is finally at an end. We’ve had our ups and we’ve had our downs, but we survived. Before we jump into the next year We wanted to share our top “things of the year. Here’s mine in no particular order.

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“When They See Us”

If you somehow haven’t seen the series, it was written and directed by Ava Duvernay about the sequence of events that led to the wrongful conviction of five young black boys in 1990. I was two years old at the time they were convicted and sent to jail, but I was 14 years old when they were finally exonerated, so I remember reading about what took place 12 years prior. But reading it at 14 didn’t do what happened to those boys any justice. Watching it all these years later gave me, and I’m sure many others like me confirmation of what we knew the justice system was capable of. I say confirmation because growing up as a black man in New York you are introduced to this kind of profiling early. I’m glad my parents were there to protect me from it, but as we saw, not every black child is so lucky. I won’t get into what happened, you can read that in several places online, instead, I just want to highlight that stories, shows and movies like “When They See Us” have a lot offer all communities because they challenge our perception of government, law enforcement and “criminals”. Shout out to all the actors and especially Jharrel Jerome with a Emmy winning performance.

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All Major Pageant Winners are Black

Did you know that all the major pageant winners in 2019 are women of color? Yes miss Universe, Miss World, Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss Black Awareness are all black. And let me just say… That we don’t objectify women here at objectively black no matter where you’re from… But if we did! Look at this melanated goodness. GOODNESS! Of course, these ladies are more than just pretty faces with great skin, and amazing bodies, which are perfectly toned…erhm. Yes, they are also aspiring doctor men rights activists and talented artists. And I hate to add that as an afterthought because what they do is probably more important than what they look like right? This is the type of thing that young black girls never see. I know some will say that pageants like this are outdated. They pit women against each other, and they can send the wrong message to young women about beauty standards but we also have to take a look at where pageants like this started. Black women weren’t even allowed to participate. And look how far we’ve come. I say it’s okay to celebrate their successes. Let us have this one.

The Impeachment of Donald Trump perhaps

I know it’s too soon to celebrate, but this impeachment thing has got to be on the list. Yeah, I’m the last person to acknowledge anything positive that happens in politics nowadays. I’m still holding out hope that they’ll be some law that makes buying a gun harder than opening a store credit card, but I won’t hold my breath. Thanks to shows and news outlets like “Last Week Tonight” and “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”, we all get a glimpse into how fucked up the world is. Every political leader, CEO and billionaire is under some type of scrutiny. Whether it be for how much they pay in taxes or whether or not they own a media platform that has the ability to upend governments, (we’re looking at you Mark Zuckerberg). But Donald Trump just owns every mistake and deflects like his girlfriend is asking him for his cell phone password. Seriously this guy is like the second coming of Teflon motherfuking don.

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“Israel Adesanya”

Naija stand up. Izzy Adesanya is your UFC middleweight champion of the world! And in my opinion the fighter of the year. Some of you will want to mention Jorge Masvidal and the type of year that he’s had. Beating both Darren Till & Ben Askren with vicious KO’s before winning a made up belt after beating washed up Nate Diaz(forgive me Nate my love for Africa is Strong). But to you guys, I say check the record again. Adesanya is undefeated. He beat Kelvin Gastelum in an all-out war just to get the belt and then defended it against a healthy Robert Whittaker, giving his chin up to the Gods. All while doing getting style my friends. Israel adesanya is who we all wish to be. A killer Nigerian dancing Machine. It really doesn’t get any better than the last two years that Izzy had but even if you’re just looking at 2019 you have to give it up for the style Bender.

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“Baby Yoda”

Just look at this face…

The NBA is Back

2019 is the year that the Toronto Raptors wonder first NBA title. It’s also the year that the finals MVP of that Raptors left Canada and signed with the LA Clippers. It’s the same year that KD and Kyrie Irving signed to the Brooklyn Nets. And the same year Anthony Davis signed up to join LeBron James on the LA Lakers. And that’s just some of the moves that happened which effectively rebalanced the talent in the NBA. The Warriors dynasty is finally over, and basketball became interesting again. I know that this is a broad event to add to the list. But after suffering through those years of very little parity between the best and the worst NBA teams, this next decade of the NBA feels like a massive turning point. And next year’s playoffs is looking like one of the most competitive in a very long time. The race is between about four/five teams in the east and pretty much one through eight that make it in the West. It also feels like a turning point for the league. LeBron James time as the most dominant force in basketball is coming to an end and names like Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and yes even Luka Doncic will eventually replace him at the top. I know I’ll be watching.

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“Game Of Thrones” Season 8

Game of Thrones is over. The show that brought us to all together back in 2011 with a little kid witnessing incest and then immediately being thrown from a window. And carried our interest for 8 years with witches, battles, dragons, and tits is no more. We all had our favorite characters, and we all hated Cersei. There was some backlash was season 8 because of how everything ended, but after taking some time to think about the ending… I’m still annoyed. I mean after all that Jon Snow goes back to the Night Watch? Seriously what the fuck? There were several instances of “Why is this happening?” so yes I am annoyed but not annoyed enough to ignore how great the show was overall. And to be fair season 8 had its moments. Mainly when Arya surprised us all with that knife thingy. I’ll say no more…

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“Chernobyl”

The Chernobyl miniseries was definitely one of the most compelling shows of the year. In my opinion, HBO always does a good job on their shows. Outside of the aforementioned game of Thrones season finale, we saw the ending of silicon Valley, the beginning of Watchmen, His Dark Materials, and euphoria. And I know we’re all still waiting for Insecure to come back. Much like Netflix’s one they see us, HBO’s Chernobyl gave us a behind-the-scenes look into the events that took place during a disastrous moment in a country’s history. I will concede that most of what’s in this the show has been dramatized to make for good television. And that the events that occurred in real life probably weren’t as closely represented in the show, but it was still a compelling series. I also really like the miniseries approach to shows… HBO knows I can’t be wrapped up for 8 years waiting to see what happened to little Vladimir. My attention span is way too short for that.

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“Us”

I know you thought I’d forget “Us”, and I almost did thanks to my recency bias. This came out back in March of this year, so i’ll admit I forgot about it. This is a horror film yes HORROR by Jordan Peele. His follow-up after the very successful “Get out” another HORROR film. This one stared Lupita Nyong’o as the lead. Needless to say, Lupita did a great job in the role. And by the end, I was as shocked as anyone to find out that… No spoilers! But of course Jordan Peele doesn’t put on a movie without some underlying heavy ass meaning. The meaning for this film wasn’t extremely easy to understand at first glance but that’s part of why I really loved this movie. I went to see this movie with the kid F. Dougie, and of course right after the film ended. We started to discuss what everything meant over some beers. Even though the movie was intricate I think the meaning was pretty straightforward. “Us” represents first and second class america and even the world. And you don’t have to be part of the 1% to be in the first class, all you need is the opportunity to live comfortably which not everyone has. So while many of us may enjoy the perks of being American, for everyone who is thriving there’s another who is suffering. 

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“Avengers End Game”

And of course, you know this movie would make the list, it made all of our lists. Avengers: Endgame! Now available disneyplus.com (Which also could have made the list please see “baby Yoda”). Avengers Endgame is a culmination of all the Marvel movies of the past decade-plus. There were a lot of expectations that this movie has to live up to because of all the success the Marvel franchise has had in the past. Just think about all the movies. The Iron Mans, the Captain Americas, Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther, and of course Ghost Rider. I know for a fact that on April 26th 2019 we all went to that movie theater at 10 p.m. On a work night I might add, and we had high expectations. And when we left that theater at 3 a.m. The next morning we were not disappointed. Marvel films do a great job of providing elements of thriller drama in adventure into all their action films. This film was no different and the effective visuals matched the story. I know you guys have already seen this. It was the most popular film of the year. And that’s why it makes the list.

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Further Discussion, Let's get into It

Film Review — Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us”

Director: Ava Duveray

Format: Mini Series – 4 Episodes (60 Minutes)

Streaming: Netflix

Ava Duvernay’s “When They See Us” tells the story of the Central Park Five. In 1989, a heinous crime shook New York City to its core. A white banker who would become known in the media as the “Central Park Jogger”, was raped and beaten almost to death during an evening jog in central park. Falsely accused,  Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, and Antron McCray, kids ages 14, 15, and 16, who were wrongfully convicted Despite no DNA evidence, fingerprints, blood, or semen linking any of the boys to the crime, would grow up grew up in prison, each one spending between six and 13 years behind bars before the real perpetrator was found. Their lives are the basis for Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries.

If you’ve never seen the documentary by Ken and Sarah Burns, or if by some chance you don’t know this American horror story, this may be the opportunity for you to see it through a new lens.

The film is flagged by an outstanding ensemble cast, but the young actors especially did an incredible job (Most notably, young actor Jharrel Jerome as gentle, scared, confused, but yet strong Korey Wise).

Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise

The miniseries does an amazing job of showing the kids as typical teenagers with normal lives. This is exactly what they were before they were wrongly accused. New York in the 80’s was crazy. Especially at night in Central Park. The aftermath tho, and it’s painful comparisons, parallels how black children are treated to this very day. Its UNCANNY. It seems like not much has changed.

The whole series is well done, but the second episode in particular was especially captivating. It very clearly showed how public opinion, and the justice system turned against the five youths. It makes it clear that the arrests and the events following never should have happened at all. (If you are at all uncertain, please watch the documentary “The Central Park Five“) The main facts? These kids barely knew one another. Their “confessions” (coerced by cops using brutal tactics on underaged teens) were inconsistent with one another. DNA found near the scene did not match ANY of the boys. Didn’t matter. The brutal fact: A white woman had been brutalized, and America wanted blood. We see the media really sink their hooks into the circus surrounding the accusation of this crime.

“Animals”

“Thugs”

“Fits the description”

The lyrics and beats the media took almost exactly mirror the rhetoric that we see today when black children are shown as criminals. 15 year old boys get their faces slammed into the ground for standing around and Dylan Roof walks into a church, massacres 9 elderly adults after pretending to be their friend, and he’s offered burger king and a helicopter ride.

It’s also mind-boggling to go back again and see Trump taking ads out in the paper advocating for the death penalty for these kids. His winking and nudging of white supremacists of recent news seem familiar to you? It should be. As the case was headed to trial, then-real estate developer  Donald Trump spent about $85,000 placing a full-page ad in four newspapers, calling for the young boys accused of the crime to be executed.

“BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them … I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid.”

Donald Trump

Sound familiar? Make America Great Again?

In addition, his insane tv interview proclaiming that he understood the mind of “a black” in America:

“A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market. And, I think, sometimes a black may think that they don’t really have the advantage or this or that but in actuality today, currently, it’s, uh, it’s a, it’s a great. I’ve said on occasion, even about myself, if I were starting off today I would love to be a well-educated black because I really believe they do have an actual advantage today.”

Donald Trump

When They See Us is primarily focused on the racist logic of NYC policing, court, and prison systems that cost the five defendants their childhood and humanity. As masterful storyteller Ava DuVernay has done this before. She wants to make sure that we really see the Central Park Five this time. And we do, Ava. We really do.

The film masterfully sheds light on the inherent problems in American criminal justice system, the perspective of the families involved, as well as from others working in the law. Viewers get an intimate glimpse of mothers, fathers, and siblings fighting for the freedom of their loved ones; law-enforcement authorities classifying these same boys as “animals”. Again, to us it’s all too familiar.

You typically watch films like this to gain a better understanding of the past so that we can avoid a bleak future. But given the current direction of our country and leadership, its evident that the same mistakes and injustices are being repeated ad nauseam with no real solutions or progress.

The question is and always has been, “What do they see when they see us?”

Judging how things have played out since the late 80s…not much.

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