Jan 24, 2016

Dr. B on #OscarsSoWhite

Full-color movies: Not nearly here yet

BY Dr. Todd Boyd
January 24, 2016
D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 manifesto “Birth of a Nation” is the seed that would eventually develop into an industry that we now know as Hollywood. Considering that racism was at the root, it makes sense that the fruit produced by this tree is reflective of what was originally planted.

In other words, the apple don’t fall far from the tree.

The ongoing controversy surrounding this year’s second annual Academy Awards “white out” represents this tainted fruit. In this age of hashtag activism, the criticism of Hollywood’s exclusionary practices has now gone viral. Beware of public consensus though; it’s often misguided and uninformed.

The current discussion about the lack of diversity among this year’s acting and directing nominees ignores the fact that, even when there has been broader representation, once you get beyond these categories, the Oscars have always been as white as the cliffs of Dover. And always will be, unless something big changes.

The Oscars telecast unfolds over several hours giving awards to a range of people who work in all aspects of production; most people outside the industry only pay attention to the acting categories and Best Picture. What about set design, sound editing and art direction, for instance? These areas are more emblematic of the industry as a whole.

Turns out, the industry, with precious few exceptions, is white, from top to bottom and side to side. The studio heads and the people who have the power to greenlight movies are overwhelmingly white and male. The same is true of the casting directors, the heads of the various guilds and the people who run the talent agencies.

Hollywood is basically a private club. And this particular private club has a liberal reputation in the larger culture. In many ways this makes things worse — because liberals can be very defensive when challenged about their own acts of bias. Meaning: If there is ever going to be true change, Hollywood will first need to get over itself.

Begging to be invited to join a private club, just like pleading with an indifferent public that “black lives matter,” represents a certain thirst for validation. Asking people who once excluded you to now grace you with honors demonstrates the illusion of inclusion. These awards are mere tokens, not unlike the dreaded participation trophies that they hand out to children who engage in competitive activities these days.

The Academy Awards used to be one of the biggest cultural events of the year. But rising generations don’t have the connection to the Oscars that previous generations did. If the Academy’s brand continues to be tainted with charges of discrimination, then future audiences will be even less likely to pay attention.

Being charged with racism is not a good red-carpet look; no doubt an image-obsessed industry will react defensively to contain the public relations damage it is now suffering.

But the type of change that is needed now is not a desperate, defensive announcement like that made on Friday — that the Academy will attempt to double the number of minorities and women in its ranks by 2020. What we need instead is the type of slow but lasting structural change that transforms the entire industry.

Unless this happens, the announced changes are cosmetic, akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

One of the best lines from the film “Steve Jobs” involves the Jobs character telling his daughter that his flaws as a father are due to the fact that he’s “poorly made.” Hollywood as we know it is poorly made to accommodate diversity and inclusion.

Boyd is the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He appeared in “20 Feet From Stardom,” winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Jan 23, 2016

Dr. B on Marketplace (NPR)

The Oscar Nominations Roil Hollywood Racial Tensions

This year's Academy Awards nominations received a wave of backlash for being too white. Dr. Todd Boyd of the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts discusses the deep-rooted problems within the film industry.

On whether the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is losing credibility:
It is an issue of whether or not the film industry is operating in a way that is consistent with the environment that we live in. This is not the 1940s, it's 2016. It's the era of the nation's first African-American president, so I think there's a light being pointed in Hollywood's direction right now. It's a critical light, and it's necessary for the industry to take heed and to do something about this if they want to be able to continue to exist and have a positive representation in the culture at large. 
On the influence of marketing in the Oscar nomination process:
The industry itself is not diverse and is not inclusive. What we need to focus on is what takes place on the front end: who runs the studio, who has the power to say "yes," who has the ability to hire people to cast certain films. These are the sorts of things that I think are more important than, ultimately, who gets nominated or who wins the award because at the end of the day there's always going to be arguments about somebody being excluded from the Oscars for a variety of different reasons. The bigger picture, however, is the lack of diversity and inclusiveness and the way in which this has denied people opportunities. 

Dr. B on the Oscars

CBS News

CBS Evening News with Scott Pelly

Dr. Boyd and Ken Burns (Jackie Robinson)

Dr. B w/ documentary filmmaker Ken Burns
Preview of Burns' new PBS Jackie Robinson documentary conversation (post game)
Huntington Library, Pasadena (January, 17, 2016)

Oct 17, 2015

Mountain Dew Black Label Presents: Hip-Hop University With Dr. Todd Boyd

Mtn Dew Black Label, a carbonated soft drink made with real sugar, crafted dark berry flavor and herbal bitters, would like to suggest an "alternative" lifestyle for college students: one with a touch of class. That's right, there's no reason you can't make your four years of college an exercise in refinement, giving you an advanced degree in "Swagonomics."

This week we have Dr. Todd Boyd, who holds the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for Study of Race and Popular Culture at the University of Southern California. Known as "the Notorious Ph.D." he is the author of Am I Black Enough for You: Pop Culture From the Hood and Beyond and The New H.N.I.C: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop. He was one of the first people in academia to begin incorporating hip-hop culture into his courses, and has been a leading voice in scholarly applications of hip-hop to American culture for more than two decades.

Can you tell us some of the specific courses on hip-hop you teach?
Way back in the '90s, I started teaching a course called Hip-Hop Culture, which is sort of self-explanatory in title. There are other courses I teach where hip-hop can serve as an example of something larger. Hip-hop extends far beyond music into other areas. Film, television, sports, fashion, politics, design, dance… there are numerous places where hip-hop serves as a useful example in terms of spelling something out or illustrating a point.

Are there any more specialized courses that you teach?
I’m one of the very small number of people who really began teaching hip-hop courses in major universities. So perhaps some people who have come along more recently are doing things that have grown out of the foundation that I feel I laid. When you talk about a course on hip-hop, the Hip-Hop Culture course was a course on history but it was also politics and a frame for studying American culture, for studying race. It’s grown and morphed into new and different directions to the point I don’t even think about it as separate anymore. I just think of it as part of American culture.

What besides the music in hip-hop culture do you think has had the biggest impact in American history?
When hip-hop started it was about four elements: MCing, DJing, graffiti and breakdancing. As hip hop started to move out of New York become this popular form of music the MC was the easiest part of that to sell. So the music became significant and the MC became the face of hip hop. Hip hop was always a culture, an ideology, a point of view. So you saw it impact movies, sports and fashion. It was all-encompassing. There’s an argument to be made that hip-hop helped pave the ground for the election of the nation’s first African-American president. Because of the role culture plays in our society, hip-hop broke down a lot of barriers that existed previously. So I wouldn’t specify one thing. It’s the impact on everything hip-hop has had, and the fact that you can point to that impact in a number of different areas kind of speaks for itself. There was a time when hip-hop movies were getting a lot of attention, and of course just this summer one of the biggest movies ever of that genre, Straight Outta Compton, made over $100 million. You can talk about film, in sports, but it’s not just one of those things.

What were some challenges when you first got started? Was it hard to sell people the idea of teaching hip-hop in an academic setting?
I’ve been at USC since 1992. I started immediately after the L.A. Riots. It was a time when hip-hop was really instrumental and commenting on what was going on in society. On one hand you had hip-hop predicting what came about in the L.A. Riots, and on the other you had a sort of commentary on it. For instance you listen to Ice Cube before the riots and you listen to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic after the riots. The music and what was going on was very closely intertwined so I started using hip-hop to exemplify certain things.
As far as administration there was never any problem with me teaching the course. There were other faculty members who didn’t know anything about hip-hop who just assumed that because it was contemporary and outside their frame of reference that it was insignificant, but history over time has proven them quite wrong. There are always haters, be it administration, other faculty or even students. But there was never really any attempt to shut it down because it was immediately popular. At the time I was one of the few people who had grown up in the culture who had an opportunity to talk about it authoritatively.

Was there any aspect that students found consistently surprising?
People have often said to me after taking my course was that it was about so much more than the topic, or more than was stated on the syllabus. To me that’s a compliment because when you’re talking about hip-hop or really anything you’re asking, “What’s the relevance of this issue to society? What impact does it have on the world we live in both historically and on the present?” I think a lot of people think of hip-hop as music they listen to, and maybe to some people it’s just music and something they enjoy, but when you take something that people engage at a leisurely level and say there’s a substance to it if you look at it a certain way it’s often surprising that something people think of as not that important has so many important facets attached to it.

Do you have a particular favorite figure that’s influenced hip-hop culture?
I’ve been there from day one pretty much, so there are so many different figures. Biggie Smalls is a personal favorite, but there are many, many others. Ice Cube, NWA, Public Enemy… I could keep naming names.

Is there anywhere you’d like to see academic hip-hop go?
As someone that helped bring hip-hop into the academy I must say I’m disappointed in what I’ve seen come about since. A lot of people tried to jump upon the bandwagon. They didn’t have a real connection to hip-hop but they sort of attached themselves to it because they thought it would sort of help their career. Now you have subsequent generations of people who come along and it’s a situation here they’re trying to bend hip-hop to whatever agenda they have. I don’t really think in terms of where it’s going. I guess it’s just a different historical perspective to sort of see where the culture went and to see what people in academia are doing with it. I don’t run into a lot of people who know what they’re doing, honestly. Or at least they don’t interest me in the way the approach it.

Hip Hop University w/ Dr. Todd Boyd

An Evening With Denzel Washington : In Conversation with Dr. Boyd (Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, September 2015)


Dr. Boyd/Denzel Washington Live Stream

Jun 21, 2015

An Interview with The Good Dr. (The Native Society)


"I want to be one with the ideas that I articulate. Like Rakim, the poet laureate of hip hop, once said, "I start to think and then I sink into the paper like I was ink.


“Dr. B” is the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture and Professor of Critical Studies in the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Dr. Boyd’s influential work as a public intellectual has consistently bridged the gap between the ivory tower and popular culture since the 1990s. He was producer/co-writer on the Paramount Pictures celebrated cult classic film The Wood (1999). He has been a regular contributor to ESPN, ESPN.com, The Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, Jim Rome on Showtime, Chicago Tribune, and ESPN Classic. A prominent media commentator, Dr. Boyd is well known for appearing in numerous documentaries including, Twenty Feet From Stardom (2013), winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  Dr. Boyd has also appeared in Fresh Dressed (CNN, 2015), Richard Pryor: Icon (PBS, 2014), The Doctor (NBA TV, 2013), Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp (Showtime, 2012), The Godfather Legacy (History Channel, 2012), Uprising: Hip Hop and the LA Riots (VH1, 2012), Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation (VH1, 2011), The Running Rebels of UNLV (HBO, 2011), Straight Outta LA (ESPN, “30 For 30”, 2010), Blood and Crips: Made in America (Independent Lenses/PBS, 2008), The O.J. Verdict (Frontline/PBS, 2005) O.J.: A Study in Black and White (HBO, 2002), among others.  He also provided voiceover narration on the Beats Audio Super Bowl commercial “Richard Sherman: The Pundits,” which aired on Fox immediately prior to kickoff, February 5, 2014. Dr. Boyd is the author/editor of seven books and over one hundred articles, essays, reviews, and other forms of written commentary.

What’s Your NativeAdVantage:
What do you do best?
Think and talk. Conceptualize and articulate.
Though the fear of public speaking is common throughout society, I’ve never had this fear. Be it lecturing, doing a media interview, leading a meeting, telling a story, or just having a conversation, I am at my best when running my mouth.  When I was in elementary school I always got in trouble for talking too much; so I guess this explains it right? For someone who talks so much though I need to make sure that I have something to say that is worth listening to, so this is where the thinking comes in. Acquiring, evaluating, and articulating knowledge is what I do. But so that it’s not just empty rhetoric, I have to constantly remind myself, don’t just talk about it, be about it.

What makes you the best?
Preparation and Presentation.
I am at my best when I am fully prepared. Someone once asked Bruce Lee to explain his style. His response was “my style is no style.” He explained this by saying that in a street fight style is irrelevant because there are no rules to a street fight; anything goes. So in order to be prepared for a street fight one needs to be flexible in order to properly respond to whatever you might encounter. The only way to be flexible is to be fully prepared to deal with whatever comes your way. In other words, if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.
I often think about life as a performance art space. It's important to understand then that ideas need to be presented properly within this space. This involves both the ideas in their own rite, as well as the person presenting these ideas. I want to be one with the ideas that I articulate. Like Rakim, the poet laureate of hip hop, once said, "I start to think and then I sink into the paper like I was ink."  So for me in terms of presentation, it’s all about making a sartorial statement. This is the package that I offer the public. It also serves to underline my ideas. My clothes are my uniform, my armor. I used to read GQ magazine in high school, while most of my peers were reading comic books. When you see me, I’m going to give you some fashion to go along with the intellect. This way even if you do not like what I am talking about, you can at least say that I was clean when you saw me.

How will you become the best?
Dedication. Staying true to the game. Continuing to hone my skills. Avoiding the haters.
For me the pursuit of excellence is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. The pursuit is ongoing, but learning to fully experience the journey holds its own rewards.

What are your aspirations?
Personal: My personal aspirations involve drinking copious amounts of espresso, champagne, and Chateau Latour in hopes of becoming a truly conscious, evolved, authentic, and enlightened individual in the process.

Business: My business aspirations involve being able to continually generate the income necessary to afford the espresso, champagne, and Chateau Latour.

What fascinates you?
As someone born in the 1960s I am continually fascinated by all of the ways, both subtle and profound, that technology has changed how we live our lives.  For the first half of my life a phone, a camera, and a typewriter were three separate objects that performed three separate tasks. Now one device can do all three things, along with performing countless other tasks.  People of a certain generation may take these changes for granted, but to have been born into a world where none of this existed and then to reach a point where such things are commonplace is particularly fascinating when you think about it.

“Hipness is not a state of mind.  It is a fact of life.”

Malcolm X, Jack Johnson, Miles Davis, Richard Pryor, Billie Holiday, Norman Mailer.


Tag Heuer Monaco watch a.k.a. "The Steve McQueen"
Goliath Ultra eyeglass frames a.k.a. "The Lew Wasserman's"
Gucci loafers
"Stingy" brim fedora
Acqua di Parma Colonia
All Apple everything!

A long time ago I figured out how to make a living off of my passions.  Whenever I watch a movie, listen to music, engage with a sporting event, visit a museum or art gallery, I am “working.”  This represents my attempts at living a seamless life.  When you can get paid to do things that you would do for free, I call this winning.

Dr. Todd Boyd:The Native Society Interview