Author

Lisa Chin Quee

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Adjoa Andoh,  one of the stars of Netflix’s Bridgerton, recently joined, Frances-Anne Solomon’s,  In the Director’s Chair. In this  intimate and fun masterclass she speaks  frankly about her career, including the world’s first all-women of colour Shakespeare production. Well known on the other side of the pond, you may also recognize the accomplished director, actor and writer from the movie, Invictus with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon or the 2019, Netflix thriller, Fractured. 

Frances-Anne SolomonClick to watch the replay In The Director’s Chair, Sunday, February 7,  4 p.m. EST.

In The Director’s Chair is a masterclass with Frances-Anne’s industry friends and takes place on the first Sunday of every other month on CaribbeanTales -TV’s.  

Side note: Bridgerton has been by far, so far, my 2021’s binge watch favourite. The love story, the chemistry between the Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton sucked me in. Or maybe it was just the swagger, the smoldering looks of THE DUKE, just maybe.  Honestly, anything that Shonda Rhimes has her hands in, usually resonates with me, keeps me coming back.

 

How many times have you responded to an email in a salty mood,  and thought you were successful  in hiding your frustration? Your mood can easily come through in your written communication as it does in person. A missing word,  can come across as curt, and too many as patronizing.  The one great advantage you have with email vs. face to face, is time – time to let the mood pass and see things more objectively; time to be more mindful in choosing your words and your tone.   This is a plus, so use it to your advantage.   Here are a few tips that will help to keep the peace with your colleagues. 

If you’re angry, feeling snarky, in a bitchy mood , finish the draft and let it sit for 24 hours if possible, then review and edit.  It will be a much different tone. You don’ want to send something you will regret and unable  to take  back,  worse off to save face you might try to tell the recipient that they are taking the email in the wrong context – that only makes you look bad twice. 

Once you’ve gotten past your frustration you should also consider the words you use. Keeping your audience in mind is important – personal, colleague, potential client or acquaintance. Slang, and short form text keeps things light and fun, it’s all right for personal communication but keep it out of your business emails. Sometimes you develop an ease with a colleague where you have a fun and light way of communicating, and that works sometimes, but you should try to write in standard English.  After all, it’s your workplace and it will forever be on the company server readily accessible by the powers that be. 

I’m sentimental. I save things – not in a pack rat kind of way – but things that have had significant meaning in my life. I have my report card on my performance as a seven year old, from St. Jago Cathedral Preparatory in Spanish Town, Jamaica that travelled with me to Scarborough, a suburb of  Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1976; and have since, kept sequentially ordered,  the report cards from elementary  to high school and university. The marks, from the plethora of teachers and their perspectives of me, isn’t my point, in fact I was not an exceptional student, mediocre it would seem on review. But when I think of my sense of self, back then, I thought I was a pretty good student – better than mediocre. Anyhow, I digress, my point is – I save stuff that I hold dear to my heart. These reports, filed in a big, black plastic  storage box sits alongside another box, a small wooden one, that once contained sealed pacific smoked salmon that I must have confiscated from my parents, likely some time in my teens. No, it doesn’t smell of fish, in case you were wondering.  It’s filled with love letters and cards from my first boyfriend (cherry popper), my former fiancée (not the cherry popper), and another I likely should have married, if hindsight was 2020. There were also, the passionate, spirit filled connections with other men who were significant but not long lasting, more in “the meantime” but life long lessons learned category. Men I loved, and I know loved me. You will find their images, in albums, intertwined at different ages and stages of my life. 

I keep stuff. I don’t have these capsules of memories because I pine for their love or regret them not being my forever men. In fact, these letters have made it through other, more mature romantic relationships. And so every few years or so, I come across the treasure chest and read the words and smile to myself, as I feel the warmth and the joy I felt at those very different times in my life. 

I keep stuff. This includes humans.

I have these amazing friendships, girlfriends that I’ve had since I was eight years old. One from elementary school and most formed while in university; and others, bonds formed through friends and common interests.  Friends I’ve had for over 30 yrs., and of course family from birth that I love with all my heart. They too,  have pasts and exes, which brings me to my point and conundrum. In this digital age pictures glide across my monitor as screen savers  while I pause at my desk and old school photo albums display pictures of weddings, get-togethers and parties filled with friends and their past, “I can’t see life without him” loves! Some are ex boyfriends and husbands twice or more removed; one is wrapped up in her boyfriend’s arms  – face aglow, another is walking down the aisle after saying “I do”; and another I have two sets of her wedding ceremonies to two different men.  Of course these moments  in time were happy, joyful but clearly the euphoria waned and in some cases turned to hostility.  A  feeling of hostility so strong that if it wasn’t for the rational fear of doing time in prison their hate would be criminal. The glow of love faded by infidelity, or growth from learning more about oneself and recognizing what doesn’t align for them. 

 What do I do with these hundreds of pictures? Most certainly some of my girlfriends aren’t as sentimental as I am and have burned their own treasure chests of images, notes and loves gone by.

Do I rip them out of albums, cut their faces out, photoshop them out, or delete photos, in line with what some of my friends have done? After all, those experiences weren’t mine, I was just a bystander, a supporting character, not the protagonist. Or do I keep them and  continue to see  them as I do : a moment, captured, frozen in time of  happiness and some evidence of adventure and growth.  Perhaps a treasure chest that we can all rummage through as we sit on our rocking chairs  (glasses of wine in hand) reminiscing about life and lessons – laughing, crying, cussing, appreciating  lives … lived. 

I was in Shoppers Drug Mart a couple days ago. I glanced over the magazine display as I typically do. And then: I stopped dead in my tracks. I saw something I have never seen in my lifetime. There were seven  Black women gracing the covers of  seven very prominent mainstream magazines. This is a big deal. 

There was a time when you would never have seen this ( ahem, a few months ago). To have one Black woman on these covers would have happened once in a decade, and until maybe 10 years ago, then once in a few years. Why? The response was that when Black models or celebrities were on the cover, less magazines were sold. I’m not sure how accurate that response was, I didn’t really believe it. It was just one of those excuses I filed away under Racism 101. And it’s not lost on me that they are appearing in the current climate, to support the awareness of anti-Black racism. And Vanity Fair has gone one step further to feature Breonna Taylor. The true test will be a year from now when it’s not at the forefront of the minds of mainstream society. But nonetheless, to see it brought a smile to my face. 

We live in a society that traditionally uses physical characteristics as the basis to value women. And the standard of beauty – historically, considered the epitome of beauty by which all women are compared – is the Caucasian, blond, blue eyed, fair, straight hair woman. And if placed on a continuum of beauty,  the opposite least valued are Black women’s features. 

And in communities of colour,  beauty is  judged by how close one’s features are to Caucasian  women, hence the issue of shadism. This is like comparing apples to oranges, makes no sense – how could one race’s standard of beauty be used as the universal standard? There is beauty in all races, all women. 

Mindsets are changing as society becomes more open and exposed. 

But let me be clear, within the Black and African diaspora, even with the influence of colonialism; there has always been a rich appreciation for the beauty of Black women. Magazines such as Ebony, Essence and various others have shown and highlighted the wide range of our unique beauty. 

 

 

My one regret: I didn’t interview Maya Angelou when I had the chance. 

When I look at this picture of myself, my eyes, what I see emanating from them is my curious spirit encouraged by Maya Angelou’s autobiographies and poems. 

My life hasn’t quite turned out as I had thought it would have. But even so, I don’t have regrets with the exception of one. In my twenties I had wanderlust. I wanted to travel and see the world, not merely as  a tourist but to live in and experience different cultures; I wasn’t as focused on getting married or owning a home as many of my friends at the time. I quite frankly wasn’t sure where I would end up but I needed the freedom to pursue my dreams. I  was not the norm. 

But when I read Maya Angelou’s Heart of a Woman, and her adventures from the USA to Africa, I found a kindred spirit. Her life choices made me feel ok to have this spirit of mine. I devoured her books and poems – fed my soul and travelled and lived in different  countries.  And I knew I just had to meet her. I felt it was only a matter of time, especially when I was living in Atlanta in the 90’s when it became the Black mecca for professionals and the start of the entertainment hub it has become. It wasn’t unusual to see a celebrity sitting across from me in a restaurant; and being an editor and writer, I met several through work, who became long time friends. So it seemed very possible. I had even called to set up an interview, but I don’t remember what happened at the first time.  I didn’t sweat it because I thought there was time. 

Fast forward, I was back in Toronto, launched lisaliving.com as a lifestyle magazine. I called to set up an interview that I wanted to do in person. I would have to get to North Carolina, but it wasn’t in my budget. But I had time. Time. Believing I had time and “life stuff”…put it in on the back burner.  Until time ran out. She passed away. 

It’s the one thing that I get mad at myself about when I think about it. And it has become my one regret – because I wanted her to know just how much she affected my life, how much I admired her courage, her strength and her vulnerability. 

My regret, is now my lesson … I cannot change the way it played out, but I know that if a similar situation comes about, I will use that “time” to make it happen.

I must admit the slow down of COVID-19 lock-down was a welcome break, albeit I was still working (grateful). However I didn’t have to tackle the morning commute – traffic or subway breakdowns.  There was stillness in the air, a calm energy that was different. I could hear the birds chirping in the mornings – they were the main performance not relegated to the background of the normal hustle bustle of human life.  It was lovely. It was solace, amid a devastating pandemic gripping the world. Families were forced to stay home, companies and organizations shut down, most things came to a halt. If there was ever a time for the demand of content, this was it. As I scanned the cable channels and streaming platforms, it became glaringly obvious – after watching a few shows and movies and clicking them off within 10 minutes of the start – that there wasn’t much that resonated with me. Where were the shows for the 50 plus year old woman, or the 50 plus woman of colour? There’s an absence of women who look like me.

That’s both age and race , and the subject matter that speaks to 20, 30, 40 plus years of experiences –  15 plus years of marriage, or divorce, empty nesting, spinster living, adventurous lives, climbing the corporate ladder or not,  spiritual growth and so much more. Social scientists 100 years from now are going to think we had these non-existing existences.  We’re being forcibly placed into a sexless, useless and boring stereotypical box confined to the dark, mysterious  basement that elicits interest that’s overruled by fear. 

We simply … don’t exist, seemingly not as a demographic to entertain. You may get a background glimpse or some stereotype of a cranky mother in law or the like; but rarely the main character or subject matter that speaks directly to us.  Seeing our own experiences in films, sitcoms and dramas, would be entertaining  while affirming our existence and our contributions to society.  Certainly, our experiences can provide wisdom and richness that broader (younger and older women, men) audiences can glean from, while entertaining everyone. 

Hot flashes, dating with hot flashes, sex with hot flashes? Surely, you can see the comedic spin on that one. We were born in a time when we could comfortably say, there would never be a Black American president in our life time to sitting nervously in front of the television on November 4, 2008;  jumping up with happy tears, and emotions filled with hope against a history of oppression and violence. We’ve gone from having to straighten our kinky hair to be seen as professionals, to laws protecting us and our natural hair and living with the internalized hatred that goes with it. We’ve lived rich and diverse lives: happily married, miserably married, single, spinsters, divorced, lesbian, wealthy, barely surviving, date inter racially, have mixed kids,well travelled, never left the block, explorers, executives, business owners, single mothers,  university educated, mothers, daughters, healthy, fit, unhealthy, unfit, open minded, closed minded, religious, not religious, spiritual, sexy, cancer survivors, me too survivors. We’ve gone from caring about what society thinks to not giving a @#%. Can you imagine all the dramatic films, sitcoms, romantic comedies that can be written from all those lived experiences?  

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Issa Rae, Queen Soro and a few other shows – but they are all about 20 somethings – dating, looking for husbands and their sexual adventures. Some of us are doing the same in our 50’s (even dating younger men) but the experiences of 20, 30 yrs, just makes for a different set of relatable jokes, freedoms and strengths that only come with living … a little bit longer.  

We were once in our 20’s and 30’s, the demographic that networks catered to. We enjoyed shows that pushed the boundaries of our time, that gave us a voice that confirmed our experiences. A Different World, had us heading off to college away from home. There was Ally McBeal, Yvette Lee Bowsers, Living Single, Girlfriends, and the ever popular Sex in the City. I watch Sex in the City reruns, and I  recently saw on social media that they are going to show repeats of Girlfriends and a few other shows. 

But I have a better idea, if I may say so myself, I enjoyed those shows and they are sure to bring back great memories of those times in my life. But instead, it would be even more awesome to create shows that speak to what Ally McBeal is doing now in her 40’s and 50’s.  What happened to the characters of Joan, Lyn,Toni and Maya of Girlfriends in their late 40’s /50’s. How about, Yvette Lee Bowsers, Living Single, what’s Queen Latifah’s character Khadijah doing now with Flavour, did it turn into an online magazine, did Max continue practicing law? 

Having said that, I’m not saying to specifically recreate these shows with the same characters later in life, I’m saying those characters and those who loved and resonated with those shows are older, and still around. We exist. And like the characters in these shows represent a diverse set of women from various socio-economic backgrounds – not stereotypical race and gender roles, all real and represent society.  

Surely Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, Lions Gate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Amazon, Netflix, Tyler Perry and BET can produce films, sitcoms, dramas for us. A couple ideas of where to start,  hire the writers and producers who worked on those shows (listed above) and aged alongside the rest of  us. The likes of Yvette Lee Bowser, Mara Brock Akil, Ava DuVernay and of course Shonda Rhimes and I’m sure a myriad of others who have managed to remain behind the scenes. And of course  the actors, casting women who are actually in their 40’s 50’s and 60’s. They include the ones who seem to have constant gigs like Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston, Angela Bassett, Jessica Chastain, Julianne Moore, Taraji P Henson, Tracey Ellis Ross, and Viola Davis, along with others who we don’t see that often and those we don’t  know yet because the roles haven’t been written to expose their talents on a broader scale.   Some of the women from those shows listed above, may also be available.  

If media houses are hemming and hawing because there’s a concern about profitability, 40 and 50 yr. olds have disposable incomes! Yes – we are the so-called sandwich generation, with less of us than the baby boomers and Generation Y, but there is enough of us for someone to make some money off. It might be worth it to take a risk – look what happened with Black Panther – it made billions at the box office. 

We’re parents, happily single, university educated, high school grads, and more. We take care of ourselves – we’re physically active, we eat (it’s true), we still enjoy fashion and are probably more adventurous than we were ever before.  Oh yes, and please make sure the angle of these shows are about women who embrace their experiences, their mature bodies, wrinkles – not trying desperately to reverse the clock but taking care of themselves mentally, physically and spiritually. There’s  beauty in that, and if its true that sex sells, there is a sexiness evoked from the confidence of a woman who’s found her voice, has woken to the double standards and doesn’t give a #$%^ about what society thinks of her. It’s a special kind of sexy, the kind that only comes with age. 

It’s that time of year again, film festival season in Toronto. This will mark the 15th year for the Caribbean Tales International Film Festival. That’s 15 years of films that represent the culture of  the Caribbean islands and Caribbean people – the cultural nuances in comedy, drama, documentaries, short films  or animation. Of course things are somewhat different this year due to COVID-19; but the show must go on – online. In light of all that’s taken place this year with the heightened sense and awareness of anti-Black racism, watching films that acknowledge and confirm one’s existence makes for a nice getaway from reality. It’s also a place for other communities to join in, learn and enjoy the cultures of the Caribbean. 

The festival runs from Sept.9 -Oct. 2. Click to review show times and purchase tickets. 

 

The last four months have been crazy; crazy doesn’t even adequately describe all that has been happening. COVID-19 has forced us to be home, sit still, or binge watch movies, TV shows, YouTube, listen to podcasts, teach/entertain our children – at the moment content is king. I admit, COVID-19  has caused some personal anxiety, and is devastating for those who have lost their lives and loved ones from this illness. I thankfully have family members who have made it through contracting it, but a close friend lost her brother to it. 

To keep from delving into a hole of fear and despair, I’ve chosen to see this pandemic as a reset. It has reminded those of us old enough to know a slower time how it was when stores were closed on Sundays. Whether in the middle of the night or on a Sunday afternoon, it was likely to spot only a couple of cars on the highways – literally.  The morning air is fresh, people are walking on sidewalks – couples, families and individuals. There is an eerie quiet, a silence that I’ve grown to love. It’s become a comfortable place where I find solace amid daily pandemic updates on spread, deaths,  job loss,  George Floyd, racism, anti-Black racism, white privilege and supremacy. 

I’m fortunate that I’ve still been able to work … from home, no rush to commute to an office. A welcome slow down as I have a couple of gigs and have been rushing from one to the next. So much so that life was easier preparing my meals on Sundays for the week, which I’ve come to truly appreciate – keeps me eating healthy.  I also have Sunday music, that’s a staple while I’m cooking, reading or writing. Always in my rotation, with her soulful sound: Miss Etta James. I may add, remove, other artists, but Ms. Etta, well she is always my Sunday kinda love… except for the last couple of months.

There is only one CD, yes CD that has gotten any play in my CD player…at this moment in time.  It’s the only one that resonates with my soul. It’s Bob Marley and the Wailers, Exodus produced by Tuff Gong, Island Records. Why this CD? Maybe it brings me back to a time when I was filled with the innocence of a child, too young to be aware of the ugliness of hate or maybe it’s happier carefree memories of Saturday mornings when my father played his records while we did our weekly household chores. Maybe. And maybe it’s the lyrics of the songs that were relevant then and could easily be written now for these times of continued injustice. Maybe. Maybe all of the above. Bob Marley is still one of the most well known artists worldwide, for his music, for his meaningful lyrics, an authenticity that cannot be denied. 

He’s been gone 39 years, died on May 11, 1981, my 13th birthday. I was too young to truly have appreciated his talent, his message. But his gift, his gift to the world: soothes my soul, in the summer of 2020.

One love.

 

 

Fall 1992. Detroit.

I was in my 3rd. year at the University of Windsor (after taking a year off) located in Windsor, Ontario, Canada; the border city to Detroit, Michigan.

I lived in a red brick duplex, a two bedroom converted into a three bedroom by making the supposed living room an additional bedroom – by adding a futon and a dresser – this was my room. It worked. I had two roommates – girl friends. We all made do, and lived our most fun, adventurous lives. It was by nature adventurous, because we were away from home discovering ourselves, our boundaries our limitations, our beliefs and our politics.

I had a boyfriend whom I loved with all my heart; he lived in Toronto 3.5 hours away. Albeit, we had broken up a few times.

Detroit was just a hop skip and jump across the bridge or the tunnel. I studied and I played and took the odd job to pay for the much anticipated spring break getaway.

I was having the best time of my life. I only wish I knew it back then, so I would have “mindfully” basked in the elation and not allowed the small insignificant worries to take away from the absolute joy. Of course at the time they didn’t seem small but with age and experience comes awareness.

On this particular night I was dressed to go hang out with my friend *Rob . I was excited and happy. Rob and I were platonic friends. Rob had confided in me a few days before that he was gay. Prior to him telling me, he would go out and not include me, I began to feel excluded; our friendship had been going on a couple years – we had met at the University. So I was feeling pleased and honored that he trusted me with his secret, and that he finally felt that I would have accepted and embraced him regardless of his sexuality.

With the knowledge of his lifestyle now shared – he felt comfortable to invite me out. We were heading to a gay underground bar in Detroit.

As we walked in, the music was booming, in a nondescript black bar, no fancy décor, no windows, in fact it was more like a warehouse and a bar set up for drinking. It was buzzing with people, mostly men. Masculine, Black men; there were a couple of effeminate types and transvestites but for the most part, they were strong, tall, masculine, clean cut, some corporate – looking and some thuggy-looking.

I was a sociology major, I observed. Men were on the dance floor with their partners – slow dancing, close, intimate and tender – the same way I would have danced with my boyfriend countless times.  I was shocked, speechless, but I played it cool – I was taking it in, learning. The shock wasn’t necessarily seeing the men together, it was more that they didn’t fit that stereotype of a gay man – you know effeminate, high pitch voice, slim, flamboyant. They were dudes – big, strapping, masculine, with swagger and testosterone-loaded. Men that my girlfriends and I would probably take a second look at walking down Michigan Ave.

I felt like I was in another world. I was. I was in their world – a safe space to be free without judgement, violence, disapproving glances or general homophobia.

Rob was enjoying himself … leaving me to go check out a potential love match.

It was the end of the night, and as we left that non descript nothing special bar, it dawned on me. I was entering into a different world – both figuratively and in reality. My world changed in those moments in the bar, it expanded and pushed the boundaries of a mindset I had all my life.

It gave me a deeper understanding of Rob’s reality. I realized the simple things I took for granted. For instance, I was able to freely walk the streets hand in hand with my boyfriend and even steal a little kiss on the lips if my heart should move me to do so. Anything short of explicit sex, and we were ok; there was no threat to our lives. For days after, different things came to light, literally jumped out at me; I was “woke”. I noticed all the ads on the billboards and the television commercials about love and family showed White heterosexual couples. All the laws on marriage were for men and women joined in “holy” matrimony. The society was built on and infused with the acceptance and elevation of love and loyalty shared between a male and female; both systemically and culturally.

It was in those moments, those days following, I realized my heterosexual privilege. One that I had without knowingly, taken for granted … not even a thought.

But while I was going through my awakening, in 1992-Canada, Rob (and most gay people at the time) was dealing with the fear of coming out and to whom. He was attuned and acutely aware of the behaviors and violence that began with the words fag, faggot, fairy, flamer, sick, abomination, chi chi man, batty man, batty boy, not to mention religion and the religious; as well as, the possibility of discrimination at work or on campus.

As for those other men in the bar and their possible stories; some were likely in the closet dealing with the daily stress of living a double life – married with kids; or in full-blown relationships with women. Some were probably living lonely and alone. They didn’t want to be disloyal or betray these women nor did they want to be alone but they didn’t see another choice – to be ostracized and abandoned by family and society; wasn’t an option.

On top of the three realities above: mine, Rob’s and a bar of strangers is the fact that we were also all Black living in a society that already deemed us second and third class citizens.

I’m a Black woman. By the nature of my being, in this Eurocentric patriarchal society – what privilege did I have? But now, I realized my own. I fit into the larger expectations of society, one intrinsic to the foundation  and its beliefs because I’m biologically attracted to men. Strictly dickly as they say! I never thought anything of it before that night. I wasn’t that naïve I had known that homosexuality existed, a boss I had when I worked in Town Shoes while in high school was gay. At that time I didn’t think about it – frankly, I didn’t really care about what he did in his bedroom and honestly he was just my boss not family or a friend.

Fast-forward 28 years, Rob is still a dear friend. We’ve both been through ups and downs; still living adventurous lives pushing society’s boundaries. Unfortunately, although there are now laws that acknowledge and legally allow marriage, adoption, Gay Pride parades as well as the existence of a political and powerful LGBTQ community, there are remnants of the past – Rob just a few years ago was attacked on the streets for his sexuality. The difference today is that any violence against someone that is a result of homophobia is now classified as a hate crime – homosexuals are now a protected class. And anyone who spews words such as faggot or fairy –are the ones ostracized (publicly anyway.) Oh and yes racism that is clearly part of any aggression is also classified as a hate crime. And in the last 5 – 10 years, commercials show Black, interracial and gay couples as families that eat cereal, do the laundry and take road trips! A sign of the changing times.

*Name changed to protect his privacy.

 

 

 

 

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