In the Changing World of Entertainment, Minorities are Finally on Their Way to the Top

The past few years have been phenomenal for storytelling by and for people of color.

By Saira Khan

The past few years have been promising for storytelling by and for people of color. On Sunday, at the Golden Globes, Sterling K. Brown became first black actor to win for leading performance in a TV drama, Aziz Ansari became the first Asian male actor to win best leading performance in a TV comedy, and Oprah Winfrey became the first black woman to receive Cecil B. DeMille Award. This recognition comes on the heels of last year’s awards season when at the Emmys, Lena Waithe made history by becoming the first black woman to win for Comedy Writing, Donald Glover became first black person to win the best-directing comedy award, and Riz Ahmed became the first male South Asian actor to win the outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie Emmy.

It’s hard to imagine that it was only three short years ago that an alleged e-mail exchange between Sony Pictures’s co-chair Amy Pascal and film producer Scott Rudin was leaked to the public:  

“What should I ask the president at this stupid Jeffrey breakfast,” Pascal wrote to Rudin.

“Would he like to finance some movies,” Rudin replied.

“I doubt it,” responded Pascal. “Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?” she added,

“Or the butler. Or think like a man,” Pascal continued.

“Ride-along. I bet he likes Kevin Hart,” Rudin answered.

Lest you have forgotten, our president at the time was Barack Obama and all of the films Pascal and Rudin mentioned were films with black characters. The e-mail hack (which may or may not have been orchestrated by North Korea) also told us that Sony executives thought Denzel Washington wasn’t famous enough to sell tickets in a lead role and that Angelina Jolie was “difficult.”

What’s striking about this exchange (aside from the blatant racism) is that these are the people who decide which films get made and which ones don’t; which stories get told and which ones are left out. These are the people who, in the past, decided that the only stories about black people worth telling were those of black pain and suffering, and that all Asian characters should have accents (something that Aziz Ansari brilliantly addressed in the “Indians on TV” episode of “Master of None.”) These are the people who hired white writers to create these roles. These are the people who thought no one would be interested in paying to watch a film about the real lives of people of color. But, maybe, times have changed.

Viola Davis at the 2015 Emmys

“You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” Viola Davis said in 2015, after winning an Emmy for her performance in the show “How to Get Away With Murder.” For decades, white executives and writers denied people of color the chance to win such awards simply because they didn’t allow roles like the ones Davis won for to exist. The Internet has helped usher us into a time when we don’t need those white executives to give us those opportunities, because we can create them for ourselves. Gone are the days when studio heads and producers like Pascal and Rudin decided, based solely on their perceptions of people of color, whether our stories would be told.

In 2011, a black woman wrote a role for herself, based on her life, and created a web series, called “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” on YouTube. By 2012, the episode had 1.2 million views. She went on to raise $44,000 for the show through Kickstarter and kept at it. That woman now has a hit TV show on HBO and is currently working on another one with the network. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe this year. Yes, that woman is Issa Rae.

If it wasn’t for platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., that have allowed people of color to create their own opportunities, would “Insecure” exist?

I’m a South Asian woman from Pakistan. It’s hard to explain what it feels like to be forced to reckon with that fact that you’ve spent your entire life watching, and tacitly accepting, the white-washed stories that Hollywood thought we wanted to hear. Watching actors like Riz Ahmed, Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Hasan Minhaj, and now, Fatimah Asghar (who is currently developing a TV show with Sam Bailey for HBO, based on their web series “Brown Girls.”) tell stories that I understand and can relate to, on a deeper, cultural level, was, at first, jarring and emotional–after a lifetime of being ignored on television, suddenly my people are out here winning awards for playing roles that are actually familiar to me. Suddenly, people who look like me are changing the entertainment landscape. With this new-found representation comes much-needed understanding. For far too long South Asians have been delegated to playing the shopkeeper with an accent or the untrustworthy, is he-or-isn’t-he a terrorist on TV.

We no longer need white executives in the entertainment industry to give us opportunities, instead they need us. Because while those same executives hold the keys to the kingdom, we have the numbers. They can no longer deny the power of storytelling by people of color. We, on the other hand, can go ahead and build our own shit now, without their support and money. It’s clear that the entertainment industry has taken note of this, which is why we have films like “Girls Trip,” “Coco,” “Get Out,” and “Black Panther” and televisions shows like “Atlanta,” “This Is Us,” and “Black-ish.”

By approximately 2020, the Census Bureau says that more than half of the United States’ population will be made up of minority children–which would, of course, no longer make us minorities. With this in mind, it’s preposterous that it took 96 years for a black man to win a Golden Globe for a  leading performance in a TV drama. We’ve made much progress in that past few years in terms of equal representation on television and film, but we still have a long way to go. I, for one, will not be satisfied until every single movie and television show has a substantial character of color. It’s not good enough anymore to have films with all-white casts or to throw minorities into supporting roles just for show. If Hollywood is unable to accept that minorities are woven into every fiber of this nation, then I’m more than willing to change the channel.

My 2017 Quote Board

I started 2017 off unemployed. Here are words of creative inspiration that got me through it.

           By Monica Torres

I started last year unemployed and in need of creative inspiration to help me keep going on in—what felt at the time—the deluded belief that I could still be an employable writer. I am forever a literary nerd who is turned on by words, so it makes sense that it’s in the words of people I admire that I would find solace.

Here are the words I wrote down in my journal that helped me grit through six months of funemployment:

1. “I wrote my own deliverance.”

I’ve been told by musically-smart friends that “Hurricane” is arguably one of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s weakest songs in his musical “Hamilton,” but I’m still moved by his bold declaration. Miranda as America’s first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton is recalling when Hamilton was lower than low: a soon-to-be orphan who has just survived a hurricane that has crushed his island home.

“When my prayers to God were met with indifference /
I picked up a pen /
I wrote my own deliverance”

Even as all the family he knows is dying or killing himself around him, even as everyone around him sees little value in him, Alexander Hamilton maintains the arrogance it takes to keep on living, to see yourself as something worth saving.

It works. Young Hamilton writes a poem about his suffering that is so good it inspired benefactors to pay for his education. (Ironically, Hamilton is remembering this moment of confidence right before it sours into hubris, and he self-destructs his personal life, but we all are large, we contain multitudes!)

When I felt outmatched for a project I wanted to do, this is the kind of confidence I would remind myself to channel.

2. “I’m having lunch with my son.”

“I went to go see [the late journalist David Carr] in late January 2015 for lunch at the Times, during a workday. People were coming up to him in the lunchroom, and he just shooed them away, telling them, ‘I’m having lunch with my son.’ I was having a rough time with something at the time and he just kept saying, ‘I’m not worried about you. I’m not worried about you. You’ll be fine.’ We went downstairs afterwards, and I remember it was raining. He lit a cigarette, and we talked for a few more minutes. Then he hugged me, told me he loved me and went back inside. That was the last time I ever saw him. He just worked so hard, and yet, helping and mentoring me always seemed just as important as anything else he had to do.”

—Sridhar Pappu, journalist, former intern at Washington City Paper on being mentored by David Carr

This is the mentorship story I think about now that I’m employed and am in a position where I can give back the way people did for me. My “I’m having lunch with my son” moment happened shortly after I was laid off. I reached out to a successful mentor figure who I had only met a few times. It had been over a year since I last talked to him. I expected him to write me a short It Gets Better Kid email, because that’s what many others did when I told them what had happened. Instead, he did much more. He reserved us a table at a restaurant where we talked for hours. In between bites of delicious food, he listened to all my worries and earnestness and, most importantly, he took me seriously, more seriously than many of my previous bosses had. The next day, he CC:d me on emails to editors he knew, calling me a “talented editor” who they should meet. At that point, weeks of job rejections were eroding my self-esteem, seeing him vouch for me and call me a talented journalist helped me believe that I was.

I still think about that kindness. Someday, I promise I will return the favor. When others come to our table, I’ll shoo them away —“I’m having lunch with my son.”

3. “There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life.”

“There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life. Your job is to feel that, to hear that, to know that. And sometimes when you’re not listening, you get taken off track. You get in the wrong marriage, the wrong relationship, you take the wrong job, but it’s all leading to the same path. There are no wrong paths.” —Oprah Winfrey to Stanford Graduate School of Business students

I watched this video many times in 2017. I get emotional from pull quotes and proverbs on Pinterest, so any life advice from a master orator like Oprah is going to floor me. She’s so excellent at seeing the divine in the mundane. When I got my nth job rejection letter, I needed to hear Oprah tell me how to make a career story out of failure, and she did. “I have a supreme moment of destiny calling on my life!” was my mantra as I wrote demoralizing follow-up emails to interviewers who were ignoring my calls. It reminded me to play the long game and take the risk of betting on myself.

4. “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive.”

The fact that I have a tumblr tag dedicated to earnest quotes would probably have embarrassed me prior to 2017, but after a year of professional setbacks and a year in which a racist, coward, liar was sworn into presidential power, I feel no shame in saying that I needed visible written reminders on how I could keep going.

The one I keep returning to comes from James Baldwin. If you want to hear it spoken in with the weight of Baldwin’s voice, you can watch it here.

Baldwin taught me that survival in America cannot be an academic matter. You cannot just rely on academic theories of social justice, you have to live through it. When asked to explain the future of America and the future black Americans within it, he said that this knowledge forces him to remain hopeful. “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”

It’s a lesson that guides why I am a skeptic who is purposefully choosing not to become a cynic. I still don’t believe in benevolent authorities but I do believe in my chosen people and the power of collective action.

So I will keep betraying myself to hope, because survival cannot be done alone. I must keep my unguarded side open to the risk and possibility of connection.

5. “I still believe in the changing the world through words”

During my first months of funemployment, I made the mistake of thinking that curating cheer was optimism. I was curating relentless cheeriness to potential employers (I…love…freelancing!), to worried family members (I love this free time!), and to friends I didn’t want to scare off (I’m a freelancer!). 2017 became the year in learning to overcome that impulse, let my face relax and be vulnerable. Being unemployed got much better when I realized it was okay to openly talk about how terrible it was.

Everytime I reached out honestly as myself —without shame of my self-doubt, without fear of vulnerability— it turned out to be the better move in writing and in life. I’ve learned from the best.

My college thesis advisor Dorothy Wang, a teacher who had the conviction to believe in my worth as a writer long before anyone else did, is the person who taught me to stand up for my ideas, especially if that meant you were going up against your own peers and superiors. When my career was adrift, she reached out and wrote me a note of encouragement that I still keep under the Baldwin and “Hamilton” quotes I tack on my bedroom wall. It helps to keep all of their wisdom written down within eyesight.

“I still believe in changing the world through words,” she told me. I still do too.


High-Pitch: New Year, Same Us

Stories and song intertwine to give us glimpses of the future and pieces of the past, all while maintaining their place in the present. We abuse the New Year as a ritual to cleanse our bodies and souls, but what of the pain and heartache, the love and light that remain? We must remember to serenade the past as we chant to the futureand anywaystime is a flat circle, who cares?


Your Forgotten New Year’s Resolutions Are Basically Mean Teenage Girls

“Hey girl hey! It’s me, the manifestation of your New Year’s resolution from 2017. What happened to your hair? It looks weird.”

By Gabrielle Sierra

You are relaxing on your couch enjoying the last of the eggnog and your eighth episode of “The Crown.” Suddenly the door swings open. In walks a perfectly coiffed teenage girl. She looks around your apartment with a faint air of disgust and disappointment. You freeze and are transported right back to high school, suddenly self conscious and far too aware of your paint-splattered sweatpants. The teen floats over to you in a cloud of Victoria’s Secret perfume and air kisses the space around your face before beginning to speak.

“Hey girl hey! It’s me, the manifestation of your New Year’s resolution from 2017. What happened to your hair? It looks weird.”

She flops into a chair.

“Anyway, I’m here to inform you that you have already abandoned and completely failed to achieve this year’s resolution, just as you failed to achieve me last year. It is a real drag.”

She pauses.

“Do you have any seltzer?”

You remain frozen and speechless as she continues to talk.

“Why are you looking at me like that? Ohmygod, do you even remember me? Here let me pinch your thigh. (She does.) That’s right, “Go To The Gym”. That’s me! Oh stop it, I didn’t pinch you that hard.

Anyway, you gave up on me about a week into March and never looked back. And no, going to Soul Cycle once every few weeks does not count.

Now, I am sure you are wondering, ‘how could I have already failed at this year’s resolution when we are only a week or two into 2018?’

Well, let me call in “Drink Less Alcohol”, your 2018 goal.”

You cringe. In walks an equally beautiful teen girl. This one looks slightly more menacing. They greet one another with a perfectly executed windmill high-five.

“Hey bitch.”

“You look so skinny, I hate you.”

The teen girl manifestation of your forgotten 2017 resolution returns to leading the conversation as the new teen hands over her notes and sits, eyeing your sweatpants.  

“So let’s see, according to her notes you drank on New Year’s Eve. Well, we’ll let that one slide because it was the holiday and we aren’t monsters.”

She pauses and leans in towards you with meaning.

“We are on your side, so stop trying to make this out to be an attack on you.

You also drank during New Year’s Day brunch. Five mimosas as part of a bottomless booze special. You sure tried hard to find that bottom, maybe that should have been your resolution.”

The two teens giggle and your failed 2017 resolution turns back to you.

“I’m not being mean I am just being honest.

Continuing on, the day after that you went to a dinner party and had a glass of red wine. And, okay, you skipped this day but you drank that weekend and last Tuesday you had a few beers after work and right now you are about to finish a container of eggnog that may or may not expire tomorrow.”

The teens stare at your hand, frozen around the glass of eggnog that may or may not expire tomorrow.

“Look, I care about you. We care about you. What you do has an effect on all of the Resolutions. 2016’s ‘Finish Your Novel’ and 2013’s ‘Stop Taking Your Mother’s Comments So Personally’ were too embarrassed to even come here today.”

She pauses and rises from her seat, crouching down by the couch and taking your free hand.

“What I want you to do is start making achievable resolutions. Resolutions that are realistic for your level of commitment.

So maybe instead of ‘Go To The Gym,’ you can resolve to go for a short walk around the apartment. And instead of ‘Drink Less Alcohol’, you can resolve to just ‘Drink Less’ – that could include water, juice, anything really. Instead of 2014’s ‘Meet Someone Special’, just resolve to ‘Meet Someone’. Go vague with goals like, ‘Travel More,’ because that could just mean taking the train a few stops further every morning and then backtracking so you get to work on time.”

Both teens rise and stand over the couch. “Drink Less Alcohol” reapplies her lip gloss.

“Don’t think of these as loopholes or half-assed resolutions, think of them as sensible goals. Reachable finish lines. Things someone like you could be proud of.”

The girls zip up their coats and begin heading to the door.

“We are just trying to be helpful – we just want to see you succeed. Anyway, we have somewhere to be. We’d invite you but you look so comfy there on the couch in those pants. Bye beeb!”

The door slams behind them. You unfreeze and sit up. You think for a few minutes. Eventually you decide to never make another New Year’s resolution again. From now on it is birthday goals all the way. Resolved, you polish off your eggnog and go to bed.


High-Strung Matrix, Baby

Now that we’ve entered a brave new world – 2018 that is – we want to take a moment and look back on the first year of our bouncing badass baby.

by Frida Oskarsdottir

Now that we’ve entered a brave new world – 2018 that is –  we want to take a moment and look back on the first year of our bouncing badass baby, High-Strung.  We contain multitudes, and our stories, art, essays and interviews do too. We covered everything from serious personal essays to meditative musings on our funniest obsessions. Behold: High-Strung 2017, don’t you want to dive in?

[infogram id=”hs-matrix-1h7z2lw901je6ow” prefix=”ylr”]

Living Alone in a Mice-Infested Apartment According to Emo Songs

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” (reprise)

By Monica Torres

Sufjan Stevens: 

Do You Hear What I Hear (reprise)

To Be Alone With You

Movement II—Heart-Shaped Chocolates Eaten Through

O Come O Come Exterminator

Ahhhh (acapella)

Movement III—Noisy Radiator or Malicious Intruder?

I Saw Thee Under the Couch

Movement IV—Anxious Breathing (with reed organ)

Fall Out Boy:

It’s Not a Side Effect of the Cocaine. I Am Thinking It Must Be a Mouse.

I’m Like a Dust Wipe With the Way I am Trying to Get You Off of My Counter (Me and You)

I’m Screaming, Your Heart’s Beating

Uma Thurman

Fiona Apple:

I’m an Extraordinary Machine but Someone Else Has To Kill This Thing

“When the Four-Legged Pawn…”
When the Four-Legged Pawn Hits the Floor He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Show When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Pantry Ring There’s No Human to Batter When Its Scared Mind Is Your Might so When You Live Solo, You Kill Your Own Mouse and Remember That Mice Climb to the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where It Lands and If You Fail It Won’t Matter, Cuz Your Lease Ends in January.

Guys to Avoid on Social Media

Not to generalize, but every bad man on the Internet falls into these categories.

By Monica Torres

Not to generalize, but every bad man on the Internet falls into these categories.

The Perfomawoke Ally

He’s a feminist because his Twitter bio tells you so. He’s a feminist because his second profile picture shows him at the Women’s March. Cites Ta-Nehisi Coates. Tells you he’s not like other guys. So feminist that he likes to challenge your lived experience as a woman in debates because “well, actually.” Sooooooo feminist he’ll never stop telling you about it.

The Guy So Boring You Swipe Left on the Third Word of His Bio

Loves travel, friends and family! Booze and finding cool restaurants! Stuff and things. Is holding a puppy in his profile picture. In every photo, he is wearing the same shirt.

The Man Who Is a Boy

Describes his independence as having a Netflix subscription. Relates too much to Drake. You can’t decide if it’s going to be worse when you find out he voted for Jill Stein or if he didn’t vote at all. Invites you to sleep on his hard mattress on the floor. Plans always fall through.

The Guy Who’s Too Hot

He’s a human stock image who does fake jobs like “consulting” and “architecture.” You don’t trust his abs to be real and you suspect he’s a bot planted by graduate psychologists conducting an experiment on narcissism. Or a narc.

The Modern Romancer

Messages “Hey sexy” once. Never follows up.

The Bro

Keeps it 100, you feel? Patriots all the way, babyy. Football emoji. When you mention that you follow sports too, he’ll challenge you to name coaches, count championships, remember stats, you name it—because there’s nothing that gets girls going than having their knowledge questioned.

The Guy Married to His Kettlebells

Always hungry and will never stop talking about his latest diet. Wants to take you bouldering. Can’t understand why people can’t eat healthy like him. It’s all about willpower, you know? Sends you links to Paleo recipes. 

The Capitalist Who Sees People as Dollar Signs

His bio has his credit score and Uber rating. His first DM will ask you what you do. Flirts on LinkedIn.

The Guy Too Good at Giving You Space

He’s so respectful of your time and space, maybe a little too respectful? Hello?? Is this man a citizen of Earth? Your messages go seen as read.

The Nice Guy

Says he’s funny and kind and thoughtful and caring in his profile. Will not be funny and thoughtful and caring when you reject him. He bought you a drink —why aren’t you more grateful?

The Guys Who Probably Likely Voted for Trump

Looks normal enough but so do most Nazis. Yikes, is the frog emoji in his bio a Pepe reference? Cannot name a woman author he reads. Has a favorite “Leftist.” Thinks you need to hear both sides. Is sorry you’re sorry.

21 Everyday Email Subjects That Provoke Existential Dread

Mark as Read.

by the Editors


To: Me
CC: All Staff
Subject: I believe you hit reply-all to that last email…


To: Me
Subject line: Um, is this about u?


To: Me
Subject line: Mom called, she’s pissed.


To: Me
Subject line: I had no idea that guy was a reporter


From: Alumni Society
To: Me
Subject line: Save the date! Reunion 2018!


To: Me
Subject line:  Please help me complete my Kickstarter!


Bcc: Me
Subject line: Hope you didn’t eat that chicken I made…


From: OkCupid
To: Me
Subject line: KerouacIsMyTruth69 messaged you on OkCupid


To: Me
Subject line: We have reviewed your application.


To: Me
Subject line: Hey dude, do you value your health? Bc I have a great essential oil investment opportunity for YOU!


To: Me
Subject line: Security Alert: Unusual Debit Card Activity Detected


To: Me
Subject line: You appeared in 85 searches this week


To: Me
Subject line: did you block me?


From: Google Alerts
To: Monica
Subject line: Google Alert – monica torres breitbart


To: Me
Subject line: I’m having an improv show


To: Me
Subject line: Just following up again!


To: Me
Subject line: So before you hear it from someone else…


To: Me
Subject: Thank you for your submission!


To: Me
Subject: Thanks for forgetting my birthday.


To: Me
Subject: Hey babe, so I was looking through your phone…


To: Me
Subject: It can get worse – dear God send us money


Your Handy Guide to Appropriate Holiday Dinner Reactions

The holiday season is upon us, and that means turkey and ham, trees and menorahs, gifts and gift returns, and most of all, the overwhelming frustration of family.

by Gabrielle Sierra

The holiday season is upon us, and that means turkey and ham, trees and menorahs, gifts and gift returns, and most of all, the overwhelming frustration of family. You can’t choose your relatives, so chances are you’re sharing a table with all types of characters during this particularly divisive time in American history.

It can be hard to know how to handle certain hot-button conversations and sensitive issues, so we created a shortcut guide of five appropriate responses you can use for topics that may (and probably will) arise. Great tidings of comfort and joy to all!

1. Topic: Your aunt’s new boyfriend, Dan, says gun control won’t stop mass shootings and launches into a speech on the second amendment.

Appropriate Response: Offer Dan a domestic beer and add a little bit of salt before you give it to him. Keep adding more salt each time you hand him a new beer.

Why: Because he is being salty. So are you. Also it’s funny to watch him try to figure out if it is him or the beer that is slightly off. (Spoiler, it is both.)

2. Topic: Your brother’s childhood friend who never left your hometown says he doesn’t believe climate change is real because, look, it is snowing right now.

Appropriate Response: Turn the air conditioner on high but also turn the heat on high so everyone gets the chills while also getting really sweaty. When they ask what is wrong with your home say it is a theme and the theme is a tropical luau but in Alaska. And then when your grandmother has to be sent home with a terrible chest cold turn to your brother’s childhood friend and yell “This is all your fault, Ted!”

Why: Luaus are really fun. And yeah, this may punish the elderly or weak but sometimes sacrifices must be made in defense of science.

3. Topic: Your step-brother says that football players kneeling during the flag is disrespectful to the troops.

Appropriate Response: Quiz him on various American history facts while standing in front of the television as he is trying to watch the football game. Drape yourself in an American flag and use your best Grey Gardens accent.

Why: Because you are a real American, that’s why.

4. Topic: Your 19-year-old second cousin says she doesn’t understand why everyone reacted so strongly after her all-blonde sorority hosted a costumed Mexican-themed rave.

Appropriate Response: Walk by her chair and accidentally dump some guacamole in her hair.

Why: Because in this home we counter social stereotypes with food-related stereotypes. Also everyone will be all, “Claire how did you get guacamole in your hair, we aren’t even serving guacamole?” adding a little mystery to the evening.

5. Topic: Your uncle says he doesn’t get why everyone’s so mad at Louis C.K. since it isn’t like he attacked or raped anyone and also he asked those women if he could masturbate in front of them.

Appropriate Response: Set your hair on fire.

Why: Because after spending at least two decades of your life explaining this calmly and kindly to many, many men, you are in the market for a way to transfer the pain from inside your head to the outside.

And to all a good night!