Immersive Van Gogh Exhibition New York: Revel In Cathartic Art Realism

By: Mercedes Vizcaino

Prepare to lose yourself to the magically colorful world of famed Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh with the debut of the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit in New York City this week, featuring 40 of the acclaimed artist’s masterpieces shown via 74 state-of-the-art projectors. Located at Pier 36 in lower Manhattan, the 70,000+ square foot venue is conducive to large crowds and adheres to COVID health protocols. Art enthusiasts apprehensive about re-joining society in this post-pandemic world can let their guard down in this space!

The exhibit is comprised of 3 concepts: art exhibition, filmmaking through animation, and experiential – where the public walks through the space and art happens within 360 degrees around them and projected on every surface in the building. Set designer, David Korins (Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen) was tasked with creating interactive New York-centric installations, unlike no other.  According to Korins, “this exhibit will take you deep within a personal and profound journey, look at Van Gogh’s work through Massimiliano Siccardi’s (creative director, film producer) interpretation and leave you with a deeper understanding of the man and his brand” 

Photo: Nina Westervelt

What to look out for?

The Ceiling, inspired by one of Van Gogh’s most revered work: The Starry Night, was created using 7,800 individually hung paintbrushes dipped in multiple colors – breathtakingly serene and enchanting.  Next: an oversized reproduction self-portrait of Van Gogh, allowing viewers to peek into the artist’s eyes and facial expression – to appreciate the intricacies of his dynamic brushstrokes. A must see: The Synesthesia Experience, which invites audiences to walk through 10 booths, engulfed by light and sound, based on documented research watching people with chromesthesia react to certain colors. Vincent van Gogh had a special form of synesthesia called chromesthesia that enabled him to hear color and see sound. The most interactive: Letters from Vincent is an activation based on an artificial intelligence program developed from 1,000 digital scans Van Gogh sent his brother, Theo. Inside the booth, visitors can ask Vincent a question and a response with customized letter addressed to the individual materializes. My favorite exhibit of all, The Sunflower Wall, not just because this mesmerizing painting has been etched in my subconscious since my visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, a while back, but simply because of the emotions it evokes. The images of the sunflowers wash over you gradually and the light and music instill a warming effect you must experience in person; it’s as if you are one with the painting. Composer, Luca Longobardi’s mix of electronica and ethereal piano sounds aids with this transformative state of mind.

Photo: Nina Westervelt

Don’t miss this imaginative and surreal exhibition dedicated to one of the most renowned post-impressionist artists in history. In his short 37 years of life, had he not succumbed to the pitfalls of mental illness, and had the adequate resources to seek help, it makes you wonder how far his creative reach would’ve been.  Tickets for The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit New York are on sale now at vangoghnyc.com and by phone at 844-307-4644. Tickets range in price from $29.99 for kids to $99.99 for VIP Flex tickets. Oh, and there’s also a fun over-priced gift shop (but, really what tourist attraction isn’t?) and a cute café with Van Gogh self-portrait cookies and refreshing sorbets to beat the New York summer heat.

CREDITS:

DAVID KORINS, Creative Director New York David Korins is the award-winning Creative Director, Designer and Founder of his eponymous New York City based creative studio. In his two decades of creating omnidirectional experiences, he has, along with his expert team, reached hundreds of millions of people all over the world while helping the most influential brands, companies and individuals bring their stories to life. From stage to screen, museums to hospitality, experiential design to singular live events, Korins has traversed the landscape of world building and storytelling through almost every medium available. Korins created the worlds for the Tony Award-winning musicals HamiltonDear Evan Hansen and Beetlejuice: The Musical.

MASSIMILIANO SICCARDI, Creator
Massimiliano Siccardi studied at the London School of Contemporary Dance of London. But in 1990, he left the world of dance to begin a new journey in the world of video art. Siccardi quickly became the artistic force behind several visual mise-en-scène for choreographers around the world. He also created video scenographies for numerous prestigious festivals and galas around the world. He also re-constructed the video mapping of the Basilica di Giotto for the Teatro Petruzzelli of Bari, where one of his permanent installation’s virtually reconstructs the frescoes of the Cupola. Siccardi is also a celebrated photographer and has had photo exhibitions in Spoleto and Rome, to name a few.

LUCA LONGOBARDI, Composer
Italian composer and pianist Luca Longobardi is a classically trained musician who incorporates the contemporary electronic music into his pieces. Born in 1976, Longobardi studied classical music in Italy and New York and went on to earn his doctorate in digital audio restoration in Rome in 2011. His works reveal a strong interaction between classical and contemporary music. The experience he has gained as a theatre musician has increased his interest in the relationship between sounds and spectacle; he has composed music for ballets and films and accompanied installations and experimental art productions (Atelier de Lumières – Paris, Carrière does Lumières – Baux-de-Provence, Kunstkraftwerk – Leipzig).

About the Producing Team
The producers of Immersive Van Gogh
New York are Corey Ross and Svetlana Dvoretsky, working with Co-Producers Maria Shclover and Irina Shabshis. The presenting organization of Immersive Van Gogh is Lighthouse Immersive.
Corey Ross is the founder of Starvox Entertainment which has ranked in Profit Magazine’s Fastest growing Canadian companies for 5 years in a row. The company produces and manages cross-over performing arts shows and exhibition including the Art of Banksy in London, Canada, the USA, Taiwan, and Japan. He is also a co-founder at Lighthouse Immersive – a company producing the Immersive Van Gogh in 19 North American cities and Illusionarium in Toronto.

Svetlana Dvoretsky is the founder of Toronto’s Show One Productions and a proud recipient of the Order of York by the Government of Canada for her “significant role in arts and culture.” Show One Productions is leading presenter of high-profile international artists in classical music, theater and dance. She is a co-founder of Lighthouse Immersive and co-producer of Immersive Van Gogh.

Maria Shclover and Irina Shabshis are the co-founders of Maestro Immersive Art. Shclover founded Maestro Artist Management in 2004, Shabshis in 2005 and together they have presented more than 1,000 theatrical and classical music performances across the United States, including projects with Michel Legrand, Mikhail Baryshnikov, John Malkovich and more. In 2012, Shclover and Shabshis formed a non-profit organization, Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation, presenting an annual international theatrical festival to audiences in New York City and beyond.

Pure Culture Beauty Solves Your Hand Sanitizer Woes

This past year has exposed us all to an array of hand sanitizing products that we’ve, to remain healthy and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, indiscriminately sampled without a second thought. And most brands remained unmemorable, especially in their effort to tackle excessive leakage, dry skin, and the pungent smell of alcohol or other abrasive ingredients in their products. There’s one hand sanitizer that has risen above the rest.

Photo: Courtesy of Pure Culture Beauty

Hand Sanitizing Never Felt So Good!


With just one pump, the soothing Visolis hand sanitizer leaves you feeling protected against germs while lathering your skin with the aroma of eucalyptus.

WHAT’S IN IT?

Key Ingredients:

  1. Mevalonolactone – Plant-based ingredient clinically proven to hydrate skin and improve moisture barrier.

2. Sunflower Oil – Helps hydrate skin and enhance smoothness.

3. 70% Ethyl Alcohol – kills 99% of germs.

Photo: Courtesy of Pure Culture Beauty

My verdict: Give this luxe hand sanitizer gel, that feels like a lotion, a try. It comes in a 3.4 Fl oz recyclable glass bottle. Add it to your health defense arsenal in your home or while out-and-about. No need to wipe after applying. It retails for $20. For more product information, click here.

Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar – Lovable and Kitschy Good Fun!

Kristen Wiig (L) and Annie Mumolo (R), Photo: Cate Cameron

On the fence of what to watch to keep you entertained, while we collectively, stay home to weather the uncertainty of our existence? Look no further than Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo – the dynamic female duo responsible for the hilarious Oscar-nominated comedy, Bridesmaids, deliver a ridiculous and funny film – yet again. With Writer/Actor/Producer credits under their belt, Mumolo and Wiig, bring a whole new meaning to kitsch – they actually make it cool. According to Mumolo, the completed story for the film took many drafts and years to make, and both her and Wiig were thrilled to see these characters come to life.  

Jamie Dornan, Photo: Cate Cameron

So who are these memorable characters? The premise: Barb and Star have known each for most of their lives and come from the fictitious Midwestern city of Soft Rock, Nebraska. After recently being laid off from their dream job at Jennifer Convertibles, the delightfully chatty middle-aged best friends embark on journey of self-discovery and freedom from inhibitions at the Vista Del Mar resort in Florida. What ensues is a trippy and colorful story of a friendship tested by an amorous encounter with Edgar, played by the charismatic, Jamie Dornan, from the famed 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. Who knew Mr. Grey had comedic timing? Well, the dramatic actor who’s played him in the last 3 titillating films – that’s who. Dornan is fantastic as he sings, leaps, and rolls around in the sand, professing his love for his boss and villain in the movie, Sharon Gordon Fisherman, also played by Kristen Wiig. Wiig’s Fisherman villain is reminiscent of her kooky character, Alexanya Atoz from Zoolander 2. Fisherman’s zany plot to destroy the made-up Floridian city, where Barb and Star are vacationing, is as nutty as her costume and make up, also nothing short of spectacular.

Kristen Wiig (L) and Annie Mumolo (R), Photo: Cate Cameron

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar serves up the type of escapism and joy a movie should provide. Mumolo and Wiig do a superb job of giving these quirky and enchanting characters, in their late forties, a refreshing narrative injected with marvelous musical numbers. Directed by Josh Greenbaum, and also produced by Will Ferrell and Adam Mckay, the Lionsgate film has a running time of 106 minutes, is currently out on all major streaming platforms, arrives on digital March 26th, and will be out on Blu-ray April 6th. For more information on the Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, click here.

Pure Culture Beauty Partners With Ash Wagner To Jumpstart Your Self-Care Goals

Courtesy of Pure Culture Beauty

If you were inclined to enter any of the flurry of social media contests advocating for your well-being, the Pure Culture Beauty collab with Ash Wagner is the top contender. Wagner, a two-time Olympic-medal winning American figure skater , Peloton devotee, and Instagram-influencer exudes health and fitness. She does it in a casual, fun lifestyle kind of way versus a “Hey, don’t you wish you were me?” vibe. And after integrating Pure Culture Beauty into my daily routine, I’m sold. Hardly an easy admission for me.

Courtesy of Ash Wagner’s Instagram

As someone who has suffered from eczema, late in life, my days of sampling any ole product that smells nice and has the the right flashy and cute packaging are long gone. I began using the customized skincare set and as a skeptical consumer, especially having worked in women’s editorial for some time, I was surprised at how my skin responded after 2 months. The chronic red patches around my face and neck began appearing less and less. My sensitivity to the customized serum and moisturizing cream diminished drastically. So how does it work?

First: you participate in an at-home skincare test (FREE) measuring your skin condition (microbiome markers), lifestyle, and environment privy to you on Pure Culture Beauty’s site. Second: based on your transparency (you have to be honest!) they customize a skincare routine, consisting of a cleanser, serum, and moisturizer unique to your needs. Try it out! Science-based skincare is the future. And, totally worthy it.

Now, back to the contest! Here are the ways to enter:
1) Follow both: @pureculturebeauty and @ashwagner2010 on Instagram.
2) Sign up for Pure Culture Beauty’s newsletter.
3) Tag 3 friends on Instagram!

Good Luck Everyone! Contest runs through January 22, 2021 11:59 PT.

CEO And Entrepreneur, Sandra Campos, Gets Candid About Life After DVF, Her New Startup, And Embracing Her Latin Heritage

Photo: Sandra Campos’ Instagram

Women in the C-suite are having quite a moment. As of this year, 37 women are leading Fortune 500 firms – up 12% from last year. Progress, certainly. But what about women of color, primarily Black and Latina women holding these leadership roles? That stat has dropped to 0%? Dismal, sure, even after the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer, with corporations “committing and pledging” to diversifying their workforce and hiring minorities to executive positions. Seems like the enthusiasm and solidarity has died down, hasn’t it? But, the good news is that women-owned businesses, specifically those of color are starting businesses faster than anyone else, according to Fast Company. Women of color account for 89% (1,625) of the new businesses opened daily for the last year. And they are just getting warmed up!

Women-owned businesses generate 1.8 trillion a year. This year, Latina-owned businesses grew more than 87%, as evidenced by statistical data. Women in business are the driving force in our nation’s economy. A testament to this fact is former and the first Latina CEO of Diane Von Furstenberg, Sandra Campos. Under her leadership, the veteran fashion executive has restructured 6 contemporary women’s brands for the Global Brands Group – popular labels such Juicy Couture and the BCBG.  We recently chatted with Sandra Campos to discuss the current state of fashion and her next career venture in the continuously evolving industry.

You’ve recently parted ways with Diane von Furstenberg (DVF). Can you go into detail about the split?

Yes, I left in mid-June, or rather resigned. It was completely amicable. COVID has impacted retail significantly. There has been a plethora of bankruptcies. With DVF, we had a complicated turnaround – which is why I was brought into the company.  COVID presented an opportunity, as a private company, to change their business strategy – and it needed to for a while. Diane was looking at the future – to maintain and leave a legacy; the business model was changing; it didn’t make sense to have a CEO, especially with DVF becoming an IP business and transitioning into a small company by early 2021. We’re still on good terms. I’m a big believer of DVF’s “Women In Charge” mission – if you are around it, you become it. Whatever we can do as women to help other women become more confident is the biggest priority for me.  Since then, I founded a fashion startup called Fashion Launchpad – a digital online continuing education platform for fashion and retail. It’s a Master class-type of micro courses that really touch upon every aspect of the industry and it is all continuing education. Fashion Launchpad will be up and running early 2021.

Photo: Sandra Campos’ Instagram

That’s fantastic for individuals looking to get into the fashion business. Can you walk us through your career trajectory, some of the milestones you’ve had?

I’m first-generation. Both my parents are from Mexico, my mother from Mexico City D.F. and my father from Zacatecas. I was raised 1 of 6 kids in Texas. When I was growing up, for whatever reason, I had a very strong interest in color, prints, sewing and fashion. I was changing my mother’s drapes, making slipcovers. I went to college in Western Texas – Texas Tech University. Not at all a fashion mecca. I was making clothes for friends and sisters and forcing everyone to wear my stuff. I thought I wanted to be a designer, but instead, I went into a pattern-making internship and decided design was not for me.  So I pursued a job in New York City. I had never traveled New York City and I was so naïve. I knew I had to go to the fashion capital of the world. I was making 17,000 year as a salary, so I had to have 3 jobs to live in the city. I was working at a retail store, the buying office, and in sales. It was all fashion-oriented, more business than design. With that, I was always motivated to become a CEO.  I knew I wanted to be a VP young, and hit these different title milestones sooner rather than later. At that time, presidents and CEOs in fashion and retail had come out of sales. My career trajectory was one in product merchandising, being in stores, really understanding the consumer, then in sales, understanding the clients from a retailer’s standpoint: planning, financial analysis. And, eventually I worked my way up to becoming CEO of Diane von Furstenberg, prior to accepting this role, I held executive roles within Donna Karen, Ralph Lauren, and a license of Oscar de la Renta. I also had my own company a couple of times as well. I had corporate and entrepreneurial experience. The entrepreneurial experience more than anything else gave me exposure to all things. When you’re running your own business, you are all things to everyone. I was going out and pitching, doing the press releases. I was customer service, production, and manufacturing. It helped my understanding of business, my corporate roles, and how to build a brand and generate awareness and engagement from the customers.

It can be very gratifying, if you’ve worked in every facet of production and are privy to the ins-and-outs of any given department and what makes it tick.

That’s exactly why I’m launching Fashion Launchpad. It is all about knowledge and understanding your industry, inside-and-out. There used to be some training programs that allowed you the flexibility to be in the warehouse and understand how that operates, on the sales floor of a retail store, then go back into the financial office and be in sales showroom – and get to experience all the different aspects of the business. Not anymore. And if you’re in a silo you don’t know what goes on in other areas and unless there’s a lot of cross-functional partnerships, it’s very hard for somebody to understand the business as a whole and become a well-rounded individual. These courses will be taught by top industry executives – executives who are operating businesses on a day-to-day basis, therefore individuals will be able to really understand – in-depth – what a merchandising life plan is, what an PNO means? All kinds of things people need to comprehend; whether they are starting out in the industry or still in the C-suite level; crucial elements people should possess to be a team player, a better collaborator and the ability to run a profitable business.

As you ascended into your executive roles with various fashion brands, did you ever encounter obstacles because of your Latin background as opposed to your white counterparts in Texas or New York City?

I’ve thought about this topic a lot recently. There’s 2 parts right now that create barriers: 1) One is being woman 2) The other is being a minority.  For me, I saw the impact and bias against women more than I saw the bias against Latinos. That said, I was very unaware, until 5 years ago, I was told that when I joined my sorority, they actually had a conversation on whether or not they wanted a Mexican in their sorority. Now, I didn’t know that at the time.  I became a member of that sorority and became one of their leadership VPs. I love that sorority and I’m so involved with it. You don’t really know what people are thinking and what those racial biases might be – the undertones of that. Really some of it is subconscious as well. As a female, you see a lot more of that because there are a lot of men in my industry – especially in the C-suite and board-level executives. Thankfully, that’s changing. There is focus on building and supporting women to get to the C-suite – which is incredible; there are quite a few organizations and memberships helping women by providing so many resources and tools to succeed. That didn’t exist when I was starting out in the industry. I’ve put aside my own inhibitions of being Latina and decided to move out of Texas, because at the time, it wasn’t diverse enough. I wanted to be part of the diverse melting pot that makes up New York City.

Photo: Sandra Campos’ Instagram

Latino consumer buying power will be reaching 1.7 trillion within the next year. Shouldn’t luxury brands and other mega brands make a concerted effort to reach this huge demographic with this kind of disposable income?

There are so many conversations happening right now about race and racial bias, and not just with Latinos; Latinos start 80% of startup businesses, exactly to your point of representing a huge percentage of consumer spending power. Change needs to start from the top in a couple of different ways. First and foremost: we have to push to have more diverse boards in companies, more diverse leadership. When I say diverse – it’s not just about Latinos, but diversity in general, male and female. Unless you have diverse C-suites and a diverse group of leaders that understand and empathize with consumers’ needs, things won’t change. They have to be able to really walk the walk, instead of saying: Hey! Here’s a segment – a group on a piece of paper we’re targeting. That’s futile. Instead, let’s try: truly understanding this segment by making them part of the corporate community, the board, and executive suite reflecting the group(s) targeted.

As far as Latinos demanding representation in advertising and entertainment with real diversity to reflect their increasing spending power, do you think Latinos from different nationalities lack a united front?

That has definitely something to do with it. We are all so separated in a way. We should be able to figure out a way to come together, because together we are more powerful and a stronger force. That has an impact, sure!

Have you confronted colorism biases within your personal and professional life as a Latina as you’ve paved your way into the C-suite?

Absolutely. It’s not a conversation I’ve had a lot of discussion about. Honestly speaking it’s there. Skin tone has been a topic since I can remember. I’ve never really embraced my Latina heritage until 5, 8 years ago. Only then because of my own kids – seeing my oldest daughter embrace her Latina heritage, feeling more Latina than I did. And I thought: Why is that? I realized it was because I grew up in a situation where I had lighter skin than the Mayans, Mexicans growing up in my area. My last name wasn’t specifically Latino. Campos could be from Spain, European and I felt that it put me in a situation where I could walk away from certain responsibilities of being a Latina. I lightened my hair. People would say I looked Greek, Italian or from Spain. No one ever said you look like a Mexican. I felt I needed to cover that up throughout my career and life to move upwards. I didn’t embrace my Latin heritage. That was an issue I didn’t address. Now, the conversations are so much more prevalent. I see first and second-generations, like my kids, part of Generation Z that are activists and being prideful of their heritage, I look at that and I realize that girls can’t be what they don’t see. So I have a responsibility to share my story and help the next generation not have that level of prejudice I dealt with. 

Sandra Campos is among the many Latina pioneers consistently breaking barriers in their respective industries after achieving many firsts in business, government and heads of households. It the responsibility of the next generation to receive and pass the torch of opportunity, forge ahead and fight for seats at the decision-making tables in every aspect of our lives. We must harness our voices for the collective advancement of Latinas in the United States to impact change and see true representation of multidimensional cultures claiming our over due space in this country.

Amara La Negra’s Star Power Continues to Illuminate: Undeterred by the Pandemic Lockdown, ‘The Love and Hip Hop: Miami’ Personality Pursues Bigger Aspirations

Amara La Negra, Photo: Tag Media Group

Diana Danelys De los Santos, otherwise known as Amara La Negra, ascent into fame didn’t happen overnight. The singer/songwriter/author and TV host has been in the limelight since age 4 as part of “Sábado Gigante’s” el Clan Infantil (children clan), hosted by Don Francisco. “Sábado Gigante” was the holy grail of entertainment for Latino households across the U.S. – a variety show filled wild performances, comedy skits, games, and lots of models. On for 53 years and acknowledged by the Guinness World Record as the longest-running variety show, it shaped Latino television as we know it.  As a teen, if I dared to change the channel – I’d be punished by my parents or encounter a flying chancleta. I remember watching Amara dancing with other little girls – the only Afro-Latina in the group with energy to spare.

I’ve hummed her songs (Ayy and Se Que Soy) and seen her on “Love and Hip Hop: Miami”, but recently watched her on HBO’s “Habla Now” documentary discussing colorism in the Latin community. Out of the 14 celebrities that spoke on Latinidad and their experiences in the U.S., Amara’s words resonated with me: “Colorism and racial issues happen among Latinos as well. We can be very racist amongst Latinos with one aonther. And that’s the truth!” Amara went on to say, “We consistently are trying to see what nationality is better than the other. What race is better? We create this division amongst ourselves. If we don’t see each other as equals we’re never going to be able to grow and feel empowered.”  Quite the statement, calling out the hypocrisy in our own cultures, I was drawn to her candor. And reached out for an interview. We chatted about everything from her experience on reality TV, to reinventing herself during the pandemic, to building generational wealth among Latinos.

You’ve accomplished so much before the age of 30. Singer/Author/Actress/TV Host. That’s Quadruple Threat Status. What are you most passionate about and can’t live without doing?

Yes, I guess I am a quadruple-threat (laughs). Being on stage, that’s it. I love performing. I love getting dressed up. I love my dancers and rehearsing with them. I’m a showgirl. I grew up admiring Tina Turner, Janet Jackson. People that put on a show. I love being in contact, in touch with the audience. Feeling that we have a connection. That’s why I appreciate my fans so much.

“Love and Hip Hop: Miami” is in its 3rd season and you are one of the breakout stars that has gained popularity. Has production resumed and do the producers coerce or suggest that you engage in certain situations that are scripted?

Love and Hip Hop: Miami” isn’t scripted. I would never bad mouth my producers, no matter what my thoughts are, out of respect and gratitude. But I will say some scenarios are not the ones that exist in my day-to-day life. When you’re on a reality TV show, you have to confront certain situations. Me, away from the camera, I don’t have time for these exchanges and I leave. I’m not a fan of the drama. People place artists, celebrities on a pedestal. Thinking it’s impossible for them to get upset. In real life, people have real personalities – no matter how much you admire them, they have good and bad days. Sometimes you might get them on bad day.

Do you find at this point in your career you still have to explain your Afro-Latina heritage to new members on the show or anyone else you encounter?

When it comes to the show, I’ve made my stance known and everybody knows I’m Afro-Latina. I don’t think I’m the most famous Afro-Latina and everyone should know who I am. I don’t see myself that way. Will I continue to answer questions about my ethnicity and background, if people have questions and don’t know? Definitely. As long as it comes from an educational place, not a disrespectful place and they want to learn.

Amara La Negra in Tu Cara Me Suena, Photo: Amara La Negra’s Instagram

You’ve recently been co-hosting “Tú Cara Me Suena” on Univision. What has that experience been like?

I’ve been with Univision with a long time. I basically grew up in Univision. I never thought as an adult I’d see myself hosting with the network. I’m lying. I’m lying. When I was younger that was my dream. When I used to See Lili Estefan on “El Gordo y La Flaca” I said: One day I want to be a host and do what she’s doing. It’s surreal that I’ve been doing it for the last 2 years. I hosted” Premios Juventud,” “Mira Quién Baila” backstage, and “Sal y Pimienta.”I’m doing another awards show in November, legally, I can’t mention it. But it’s big for Latinos. It’s a blessing. Feels good. I’m able to break barriers for others to come. I’m giving young girls and young men that come from the Afro-Latino community, like me, visibility. It wasn’t easy. I’ve been very vocal about it, but I was able to get a spot. And thanks to this spot, I’m able to open doors for others.

Do you feel Afro-Latina celebrities are scrutinized more as opposed to non Afro-Latina celebrities?

It’s really hard. I’m just speaking for myself. I have only but the best intentions. I’ve never wanted to make anyone feel uncomfortable or offend anyone’s culture or religion, etc. A lot of times, people have these really high standards for me because I’ve become one of the most recognizable faces for the Afro-Latino community, not just as an artist, as an activist too. It’s A LOT of pressure because you have to be so careful with what you say, because you may come across as offensive, even if what you say is true to you. I have to think about my career – something I’ve worked so on hard my whole life. A lot of things can be ruined in a second based on my opinions. It’s hard to be real and be yourself, express how you feel, how people view me without jeopardizing my job.

What do you think about cancel culture? Especially if in the past, you’ve made a controversial statement.

People have become very judgmental. It’s very easy to point fingers at everybody else’s mistakes, without pointing fingers at themselves first. I feel we have to give people opportunities, because we’re human. There’s no guidebook to how to live in this world. We learn as we go. In that process, we make mistakes, and we grow. A lot of people make mistakes – that doesn’t mean we should disregard all the hard work they’ve done, their accomplishments, or impact they’ve made for their culture and communities, up until that moment they said something deemed wrong. I don’t think it’s fair.

Photo: Amara La Negra’s Instagram

What are your thoughts on the anti-Black sentiment expressed by certain Dominican communities in Washington Heights, New York?

I’m not 100% informed on the subject, but I heard something. I don’t want to call out Dominicans specifically. Colorism and racism exist all over the world in every single Latin community. The lack of education, the lack of knowledge brings a lot of ignorance to the forefront. The way people react is based off of ignorance. Everyone is trying to find his or her niche. Everyone is trying to find a spot where they belong. It’s also a system that has brainwashed us for hundreds of years – a brainwashed mentality that has been passed down from one generation to the next and so forth, dividing us instead of uniting us. If we united forces, we’d be unstoppable. It’d be crazy. They wouldn’t know how to handle us as a community. Through education, we can press the reset button in our minds and break that cycle for the next generation to come.

Amara La Negra has kept busy during the pandemic, apart from TV hosting, leading on-air radio shows, and partaking in our interview, she’s been buying real estate. The multi-faceted star bought her first home for her mother, Ana Maria Oleaga, last year. Amara said, “She worked so hard for me to become successful. I wanted to give her something in return.” Amara wants to make smart investments as the pandemic has shut down entertainment production across the globe, she, and all of us, have come to realize: you can’t rely solely on just one source of income – a true test in reinvention. She preaches to her fans about generational wealth and leaving future generations with tools and the foundation to becoming successful. She plans on owning 5 properties by the end of 2020; an empowering Latina female artist realizing her potential and leading by example.

Review: ‘Undocumented Lawyer’ – Against All Odds, Protagonist Risks Everything For Immigration Rights – Relentlessly Moving

Lizbeth Mateo, Photo: Emily Topper

We are on the brink of fascism. To sugarcoat and soften the blow of the current state of affairs in this country is a disservice to the truth. We are facing the most important elections of our lives to save our democracy. It’s not alarmist; it’s reality. There is so much at stake: the repealing The Affordable Care Act. Intrusive policies on women’s reproductive rights, and the war on immigrants by the far-right. And at the center of the immigration topic and championing undocumented immigrants like her, is Lizbeth Mateo; the subject of the award-winning documentary, Undocumented Lawyer, by directors Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci and producer Jenna Kelly.

Lizbeth Mateo crossed the border with her family at age 14. They fled cartel violence and poverty from Oaxaca, Mexico to seek a better life: a common thread for many immigrants leaving their homeland behind. But what makes Lizbeth’s story so remarkable is even after 20 years of being in this country, Lizbeth remains undocumented. Undeterred by her circumstances, and living in California, which is a sanctuary state, provided her the opportunity to attend college and law school, and pass the bar exam. Nothing short of exceptional, really. In 2018, she was appointed to a state post as an advisory committee member by senate president, Kevin de leon. The California Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee, (CAL-SOAP) – the committee’s mission is to assist students in underserved communities attend college. This drew criticism in the form of vitriol: death threats to de leon and nasty statements directed to Mateo, calling for her deportation; scrutinizing Mateo and catapulting her into the spotlight. Unfazed by all the attention, Mateo tweeted: “undocumented and unafraid.”

Edith Espinal, Photo: Zach Ingrasci

Dissuaded by efforts to have her deported, as the documentary illustrates, Mateo did more than accomplish the impossible without citizenship or even legal status. She set up a legal practice and hired 4 employees in L.A. to fight for immigration rights. Determined to take on immigration cases that are challenging such as: Edith Espinal’s, a woman avoiding deportation by taking sanctuary in a church in Ohio since 2017. The case has received national attention, including support from former presidential nominee and Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren urging Congress to help to support a bill to protect asylum seekers. With the critical elections looming, there is hope voters are incentivized to vote Democrat across the ballots, and the attack on asylum seekers cease with a new administration at the helm come January 2021.

Top: Lizbeth Mateo, Bottom: Kate del Castillo

Mateo’s fight for equitable immigration law through activism and advocacy is inspirational and she persists in her quest, in spite of a recent deportation case that has been brought against her. Recently, actress Kate del Castillo and Latinx House, hosted an Instagram Live Q&A with Lizbeth Mateo to bring national awareness and fundraising initiatives to Mateo’s own immigration case and that of her clients. An impassioned Kate del Castillo is an ardent supporter of Mateo and said “she will do everything in her power to keep her in the U.S.” – a great moment of solidarity for viewers to witness and get involved in. To stream Undocumented Lawyer now and donate to Lizbeth’s cause, click here. HBO Latino acquired the documentary and will begin airing it early 2021. Undocumented Lawyer has a 20 minute run time.

Amy Poehler’s Grassroots Biden Funded Event Gave Viewers Much Needed Comedic Relief

From Top Left: Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee, Kamala Harrris, Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Bottom Left, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph

If you’re like me, you may be experiencing Zoom fatigue.  Whether it’s for your job, activism, or getting together with friends and business associates via virtual chat – the novelty of this communication method seems to be waning for many. And with the pandemic, thriving in many states across the U.S. – Zoom or other virtual conferencing platforms seem likely to stay. Yet, the virtual Grassroots Event hosted by Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph with guest speakers Democratic Vice President nominee, Kamala Harris and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, this week, made me less sour about the medium and restored some of my faith on its benefits.

There were some hiccups, as there always is on Zoom meetings. Someone’s muted; they keep talking, don’t know they are muted, go off to the side, come back and start speaking again and everyone can hear them. In this case, it happened to Amy Poehler: the host. She carried on with her funny animated gestures while Maya Rudolph stepped in. Rudolph attributed to the glitch to a conspiracy plot, while Hillary Clinton blamed the Russians. It was all done in good fun and the mood was light. These two comediennes, who are known to impersonate their guests, knew how to ask pressing questions without the rigidity of typical political discourse and also make us laugh. We found out some interesting facts about the panelists. Hillary likes to nap during quarantine, Kamala has been cooking the same three meals on rotation, Amy has been teaching her kids sign language and Maya has been immersed in playing new games with her children.  The hosts did pose serious questions to Harris and Clinton.

Kamala Harris

They discussed the lack of leadership in the White House, the admission made by Trump on tape, recorded by journalist, Bob Woodward, about how deadly the Coronavirus is, it’s impact, and the near 200,000 Americans left to die because of Trump’s inaction. How Trump projects hostility and can’t take a joke, or make a joke for that matter; a sign, all the speakers agreed is telling of a flawed character.  Kamala Harris spoke about Biden’s plans to address climate change with the devastating fires pummeling the West Coast. Joe Biden’s commitment to unite the country. Both Harris and Clinton couldn’t praise the other enough and Clinton assured conference attendees to watch Kamala Harris emerge as the victor during Kamala Harris and Mike Pence’s debate, scheduled in a few weeks. To learn more about future grassroots events and to get Joe Biden and Kamala elected, click here. Also to learn whether you are registered to vote, click here.

Review: ‘Mr. Soul!’- A Black Cultural Experience To Be Treasured – Hypnotic and Poignant

Photo: Ivan Cury, Courtesy of Shoes in the Bed Productions

Not long ago, when life had some semblance of normalcy, I had covered the Urbanworld Film Festival in person and was tasked with writing about the festival’s anticipated blockbusters. While waiting for one of these films to begin, I snuck into an adjacent theater to watch the documentary, Mr. Soul! by director and producer, Melissa Haizlip.  I was intrigued by the film’s poster; it read: Before Oprah, Before Arsenio…There was: Mr. Soul! As a longtime fan of late-night talk shows, I was irritated and frustrated at myself for not knowing whom this revolutionary pioneer of Black entertainment and culture was. His name: Ellis Haizlip. The producer and host of the PBS variety show: Soul! changed the national scope and existing perceptions of Blacks in a volatile 1960s backdrop – forever! No surprise it won Urbanworld Film Festival’s Best Documentary category and received a standing ovation the Sundance Film Festival.  So what was so extraordinary about Ellis Haizlip and this entertainment show he launched in 1968?

Ellis Haizlip Surrounded by Members of the J.C. White Choir, Photo: Alex Harsley, Courtesy of Shoes in the Bed Productions

Ellis Haizlip was a visionary and determined to shatter contrived media perception of Blacks at the time, as victims subjected to abject poverty or lawless citizens in the United States. Raised in Washington in a middle-class family and setting his sights on New York to form his production company, his aim was to push Black Arts forward, as it was evident to Haizlip that there was a huge void to fill. Blair Underwood, executive produced and narrates Ellis Haizlip’s thoughts in the film so eloquently and powerfully states: “Before we can educate and entertain, we need to share the Black experience.” And that Ellis did. In its inception, Soul! aired only in New York and managed to go national in 1969. The once local program set forth the careers of the most prominent artists in Black history: Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and his Wonderlove band, Al Green, Cicely Tyson, Sidney Poitier, and Toni Morrison to name a few. Haizlip was fearless in giving a visual platform to outspoken Black poets like The Last Poets – including 6 female poets, such as Sonia Sanchez, and pushed boundaries by interviewing Minister Louis Farrakhan and Kathleen Cleaver (wife of exiled Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver).

Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin in 1971, Film Still Courtesy of: Shoes in the Bed Productions.

In his quest to unleash artists’ natural talents via the television medium, he often prompted poets and singers to take the stage unfiltered and unencumbered. He employed females on his set and advocated for an interview conducted by renowned poet and activist, Nikki Giovanni and literary legend, James Baldwin in England. The footage of the animated and captivating Baldwin and inquisitive Giovanni is unprecedented – a Black female interviewer engaging in a fiery conservation with one of America’s beloved writers is quite impressionable to see in 1971, shortly after, Soul! aired until 1973, defunded and shut down by nefarious forces, as detailed in the documentary.

(L to R) – AMANDA SEALES; TOP – MELISSA HAIZLIP/BLAIR UNDERWOOD; MIDDLE – STAN LATHAN/NIKKI GIOVANNI; BOTTOM – SONIA SANCHEZ/ROBERT GLASPER/THE LAST POETS/BLACK IVORY – Courtesy of Shoes in the Bed Productions

So where are we now? It’s 2020 and social justice continues to be a pressing urgent issue in the United States as police brutality continues to plague Black Americans, exacerbated by the tragic loss of our Black icons this year. Mr. Soul’s recent Kickback premiere reminded us of the past, present, and future Black Excellence represents and the need to cultivate and preserve its existence. Host and comedienne, Amanda Seales led the conversation with guests, Melissa Haizlip (Ellis Haizlip’s niece & creative engine behind Mr. Soul!) Actor Blair Underwood, acclaimed director, Stan Lathan (former director of Soul!) Activist and poet Felipe Luciano who guest-hosted the popular “Shades of Soul” episode, featuring Tito Puente and his orchestra, Haizlip exposed television audiences to Latin music and multi-cultural Afro-Latino bands. To say the Soul! television show was groundbreaking doesn’t suffice; it was one of a kind until this day. The legacy Ellis Haizlip left behind cemented the foundation for Black culture never before seen on a national scale – fusing poetry, activism, theatre, dance, and music for the world to experience and solidify the richness of Black arts. Mr. Soul! is available in more than 70 virtual cinemas worldwide through September 10th. To buy tickets and learn more about Mr. Soul! click here.

Review: ‘American Street Kid’ – Narrative Meets Documentary Style Portrayal of America’s Homeless Youth – Bitingly Gritty and Honest

Homeless kids in Los Angeles, Photo: Jeff Farkash

By definition, documentaries are meant to educate, shed light, and “document reality” to inspire and move audiences on any given subject they may know nothing about. American Street Kid, by writer/director Michael Leoni, met these criteria – and then some. He pushed the genre further by injecting himself into the story; weary at first, I thought his inclusion would taint the outcome of the film – turns out I was wrong. Leoni begins the film by asking random people – young and old – their perception of homeless youth. Typical responses: lazy, unmotivated, and labeled as undesirable.  Disheartening to hear as the absence of empathy reflects society’s lack of interest and understanding of how these youths become entrenched in these unfortunate circumstances.

Ish playing guitar, Photo: Jeff Farkash

Director Michael Leoni gives us a glimpse into the lives of these troubled young people by hanging out in the Los Angeles neighborhoods they frequent. Unsettled by and distrusting of Leoni, it took time for the filmmaker to gain the kids’ trust. Once he did, the audience meets incredibly charismatic and endearing characters like Ish, a talented African-American musician who struggles with childhood abandonment and abuse by a pimp father and prostitute mother, Greenz and Nick, likeable guy-next door types with winning personalities, yet drugged-addicted with abusive parents that led them to run away and seek a better life in the streets of Los Angeles. Bublez and Kiki, two of the younger kids, the filmmaker encounters, with so much promise, likely destined for tragedy. Although post-film release, Marquesha “Kiki” Babers has launched a successful career as a poet, touring nationwide and speaking about her experiences in conferences.

Bublez on the streets of Los Angeles, Photo: Jeff Farkash

For many of these kids, their fates are sealed in death or imprisonment. It’s inevitable. Failed bureaucratic agencies doing the minimum to assist these kids and overworked staff unable to meet the influx of homeless teens in overcrowded facilities, as Leoni experiences when reaching out to them. But, the filmmaker doesn’t solely rely on the mishaps and the negative circumstances these young people endure to tell the story, he incorporates narrative elements to build storylines with these real-life characters – to not just keep you engaged and sympathize with their abysmal situations, but root for them as you’d be inclined for protagonists in any narrative drama or comedy. It’s a refreshing spin. And it works.

Homeless kids on the streets of Los Angeles, Photo: Jeff Farkash

What started as an assignment to produce a 2-minute PSA on America’s homeless youth turned into an 8-year journey for director, Michael Leoni. Compelled to document the struggles and hardship of America’s 1.8 million forgotten homeless youth, after struggling with financial hardship in New York City at the age of 19, became more than a passion project for him. Leoni launched the Spare Some Change nonprofit to engage and empower homeless youth to change their lives and create a stable future. The film earned the Social Impact Award at the Hollywood Film Festival and Excellence Award at the Impact Doc Awards!  The film has a run time of 104 minutes. American Street Kid begins streaming worldwide today on Apple, Amazon Prime, Spectrum, and another popular services. To learn more about more the American Street Kid documentary, click here.