DOJ releases legal opinion supporting Treasury refusal to turn over Trump tax returns

The Justice Department is expected to make public Friday its legal opinion supporting the Treasury secretary’s refusal to hand over President Donald Trump’s tax returns, according to a source familiar with the opinion.


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Opinion: Megan Thee Stallion challenges rap’s double standards and reminds us that we can be more than one thing

Opinion: Megan Thee Stallion challenges rap’s double standards and reminds us that we can be more than one thing


Opinion: Megan Thee Stallion challenges rap’s double standards and reminds us that we can be more than one thing

Author Michael Arceneaux discusses emerging Houston rapper, Megan Thee Stallion, her new major label mix tape, Fever,  and the power of her sexuality, confidence, joy, and skill.

Megan Thee Stallion knows—in spite of three decades of music history proving women in rap are just as capable as their male counterparts—that a gendered double standard remains.

In her new Fader cover story,Megan is asked about a style currently permeating mainstream hip hop—one that has many noteworthy rappers of the moment rapping in a style that is less focused on lyrics and more fixated on repetition and melody. Raised by a mother who rapped under the name “Holly Wood” and had her listening to southern legends UGK and Three Six Mafia along with Brooklyn icon The Notorious B.I.G., Megan did not sound especially fond of that trend. “To see that it changed from something that I love so much to what’s going on right now really blew my mind,” she explained. “Like, we not rapping no more?”

As for that double standard, she’s keenly aware that she could never get away with a similar musical output, first noting “And then being a girl too—they criticize you harder than they criticize men” . She astutely concludes, “If I was out there making little noises like Uzi and Carti be making, they would not rock with that.”

Still, she’s not a hater. “Not saying that they don’t be going hard, because we definitely finna turn up to both of them, but if it was a chick, like—no,” she added.

Yet, while some bad habits stubbornly remain, we are bearing witness to a new era in hip hop.

Gone are the days when only a few women in hip hop can make noise. Thanks to the internet—which has its variety of annoyances but nonetheless has democratized many things like music compilation—we exist in a moment when it’s not just Nicki Minaj or Cardi B succeeding. It’s also City Girls, Kash Doll, Mulatto, Kamaiyah, Maliibu Miitch, Saweetie, BbyMutha, Dreezy, CupcakKe, Young M.A., Rico Nasty, Lizzo, Asian Doll, Cuban Doll, and plenty others.

Many of the aforementioned are, to be blunt, rapping their asses off—in many cases, better than the men are. Nevertheless, none of them quite sound like Megan Thee Stallion, and that’s not a diss to any of them. It’s more a statement on the rising stature of the 24-year-old Houston native who for many, myself included, feels long overdue.

Megan’s first foray with notoriety started back in 2016 after her mom formally became her manager. She not only released her first single, “Like A Stallion,” but a number of verses on cyphers—notably “The Houston Cypher” over Drake’s “4PM in Calabasas.” She also released a mixtape, Rich Ratchet, on Soundcloud, but it was her follow up EP, Make It Hot, and subsequent freestyles that really showed off her potential. One song in particular from that effort, “Last Week In H Tx,” spread online thanks to its video, which has since amassed approximately six million views.

Then came the two minute “Stalli Freestyle,” which launches with an audacious declaration: “You know your bitch is not fuckin’ with Megan / Your ni**a not even fuckin’ you naked.”

Some months later came her glorious follow-up EP, Tina Snow, a nod to her alter ego, which spawned her first veritable hit, “Big Ole Freak.” And more freestyles were recorded during various radio interviews in promotion of Tina Snow, each of them securing more and more fanfare—deservedly so. Now, there is her latest effort and first major label offering, Fever, which presents another alter ego, Hot Girl Meg. Although some have labeled this an album, Megan pulls away from such labeling.

“I feel like ‘album’ is very husband, that’s very committed, you know what I’m saying?” she joked in February, during an interview on Houston’s 97.9 The Box. “I want it to be a mixtape, like, we’re dating, we’re getting to know each other.”

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Whatever you want to call it, it is Megan Thee Stallion at her most cohesive and most promising. It features production from Juicy J, who thanks to his Three Six Mafia fame and longtime production work, serves as an important co-sign. The same goes for Q-Tip, who has touted in her Fader interview as an executive producer and has spoken about the rising star glowingly.

For a rapper like Megan, who was raised to think of hip hop in a certain way —i.e. where lyrics and skill set took precedence over anything else—such co-signs are important. It validates the hard work she has put into her craft and acknowledges what many will soon learn: she is in a league all her own.

As a fan of southern rap, particularly southern female rappers, I just love that one of our own is enjoying this type of glow up without deviating from the sound and subject matter we’re accustomed to. Many, Megan included, have christened her as something like a female Pimp C. It’s an accurate comparison—she shares Pimp C’s gravitas and charisma—but others also come to mind. There’s a forcefulness in her voice that makes me think of Mia X, Gangsta Boo, The Ghetto Twiinz, and hell, if you want to really get regional, Candi Redd, but you know she goes a lil’ harder.

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Todoroki Tina aka Ms TEXAS

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Megan’s music is uncompromising in its frank discussion of sex, and unflinching in its position to be confident, to be fun, and to be perfectly fine with just twerking something.

On Fever, I can hear this energy most on tracks like, “Ratchet,” “Cash S**t” featuring DaBaby, “Realer,” and a personal standout, the popular “Running Up Freestyle.” Each of those tracks were produced by Lil Ju and I hope those two stick together for some time because the pairing is perfection.

Megan is a rapper who stands in her power with total awareness of it and confidence in it. She’s also a good time, and she feels familiar in that way. By now, enough of us know that people are multifaceted.

Megan show us that people can love to party, love to be sexual, stay ready to fight if necessary, and be educated (She is currently a college student).

It matters not if Megan remains a college student who also enjoys sex and fun, but it’s impressive that she has managed to become the first solo female southern rapper to make great waves in a significantly long time while also being a college student. And sadly, while being a woman in mourning; her mother recently passed due to a brain tumor.

I could go on about Megan Thee Stallion, but since Fever isn’t technically her formal debut album, it should not be judged as anything more than what it seemingly aims to be: a testament to her talent, a statement that she may be the future, a sign of her firm belief in rap fundamentalism, and of course, a reminder that, once again, the south has something to say.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of  I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion: Tucker Carlson isn’t sorry. On Fox News, he doesn’t have to be

Opinion: Tucker Carlson isn’t sorry. On Fox News, he doesn’t have to be


Opinion: Tucker Carlson isn’t sorry. On Fox News, he doesn’t have to be

Author Michael Arceneaux explains why Tucker Carlson’s defiant non-apology for his bigoted remarks—and the support he has received from Fox News and beyond—comes as no surprise. 

For days now, Tucker Carlson has been subjected to scrutiny after Media Matters, who touts itself as a watchdog of “conservative misinformation in the U.S. media,” published the audio from the Fox News host past appearances on The Bubba the Love Sponge Show. In those recordings from the Tampa-based radio program, Carlson is heard doing the following: insulting Black people, insulting queer people, using sexist language to discuss child rape, child marriage, and rape shield laws, and employing racist and homophobic language to describe Iraqis. In response, the hashtag #FireTuckerCarlson has taken off—calling on the actual faux news network to can one of its biggest stars.

However, if you expected an apology from Tucker Carlson in order to curb the controversy, you are very unfamiliar with Tucker Carlson.

As you see in the above tweet, Carlson did employ the standard iOS note statement now popular among celebrities and other public figures, but he did not offer any form of contrition. Instead, Carlson decided to trivialize the severity of his disturbing comments, merely branding his behavior as saying “naughty things.” He then went on to promote his show.

And on said show that aired on Monday night, Carlson portrayed himself not as a person remorseful for his prejudiced views, or even as a provocateur who once took things too far, but as someone who should be counted among the persecuted. His persecutors? Naturally, the liberal “mob”—a group probably better described as folks of basic decency. “We will never bow to the mob,” Carlson declared. (There is also an op-ed published on the Fox News website supporting Carlson, which I encourage no one else to read.)

Carlson has plenty of supporters. His fellow Fox News host, Sean Hannity, championed him for delaying his vacation to take on the “mob.” Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker writes that, while she doesn’t approve of Carlson’s comments, she does believe “that neither Carlson nor anyone should instinctively bow to the mob, as he said in a retort to demands that Fox News fire their most popular anchor.” On Tuesday, CNN contributor Mary Katherine Ham argued that Carlson is correct “when he says that if he apologizes, nothing ends.” She went on to add, that “nobody’s interested in his apology.”

But he referred to Iraqis as “semiliterate primitive monkeys.” He cavalierly discussed child marriage. He freely used the word “faggot.”

And now, even more despicable comments have been uncovered.

In 2007, Miss South Carolina Teen USA Caitlin Upton was ridiculed for how she answered a question about why a fifth of Americans couldn’t locate the country on a map. While discussing the incident, Bubba and Carlson spoke of her sexually, contributing to the pile-on of negative comments in the worst way possible. “I gotta be honest, I thought she was kind of appealing,” the future Fox News host said. As the two pondered the age of consent in South Carolina, Carlson said, “She’d probably be a pretty good wife.” Shortly thereafter, Carlson asked, “If you had a wife that dumb, would it be good or bad?”

Carlson has yet to respond to these latest recordings, but his response—if we even get one—is unlikely to be all that different from the previous dismissal.


Carlson should be apologetic, but why would he be? He is being paid millions of dollars to espouse these sorts of views.

Bigotry is the business model and it has long proved profitable for Fox News. Yes, advertisers have reportedly cooled on Carlson, but as he himself has stated, the network stands firmly behind him. So the likelihood of Fox News axing him is highly unlikely. Even if  Carlson were to be replaced, the network would likely install another bigot. After all, isn’t Tucker Carlson Bill O’Reilly’s replacement?

Funny enough, among those unearthed radio clips from The Bubba the Love Sponge Show, Carlson once declared that “everyone’s embarrassed to be a white man.” I’m not sure why that would be the case. When you consider Carlson’s defiance and his apologists in and out of the Fox News Channel, we’re being fed yet another needless reminder of just how great it is to be a white man.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of I Can’t Date Jesus  from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion: I need Wendy Williams on TV even if I sometimes pretend I didn’t hear her

Opinion: I need Wendy Williams on TV even if I sometimes pretend I didn’t hear her


Opinion: I need Wendy Williams on TV even if I sometimes pretend I didn’t hear her

After returning to her daytime talk show after a lengthy hiatus, author Michael Arceneaux discusses his never ending love for Wendy Williams—even when she says something that makes him turn off the TV.

I know exactly what I am getting with Wendy Williams—gossip (which, in some cases, I end up fact checking in real time), or unfiltered opinions about race, sex, and gender roles that I either sort of understand or completely want to drown out for the sake of my sanity. Yet I watch The Wendy Williams Show religiously all the same. And earlier this week, Williams knew what her “co-hosts,” the affectionate descriptor for her studio audience, and the millions of viewers watching her daytime talk show at home wanted to hear on her first day back since December.

In the two months since she has been away, Williams has been the subject of both heavy scrutiny and speculation. After noticeably slurring her words on that final episode of 2018, Williams later revealed it was a result of the painkillers she had been using to deal with a fractured shoulder. Then, her return date was pushed back three times, which caused many to wonder if the problem was bigger than it initially had seemed. In the midst of those setbacks came rumors that Williams was “scared” of losing her successful series. Worse, her husband, Kevin Hunter, had been accused of physically abusing Williams—allegedly causing the recent injury she had complained about on-air.

In the first few moments of her Monday episode, Williams teased the irony of the Hot Topics maestro becoming a hot topic herself—but she made us wait for that segment, opting instead to go into her usual routine.

As for her anecdotes, we learned that, even while away, Williams was working out seven times a week for two hours—presumably a nod to her gay fan base who work out at the same minimum and constantly make me regret any consumption of carbs. And she sort of dabbled into more serious matters—like the American healthcare system—acknowledging her privilege and the great medical care it provides. As for the rest of us, with whom she empathized, Wendy acknowledged that even if we have healthcare, we might be afraid to use it. So, if that applies to you, or if you have no insurance and a problem becomes impossible to ignore, Wendy suggested that we try Ambicare. “It’s not all just gunshots in there,” Williams explained. (That ought to be packaged into one of their commercials, TBH.)

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Oh, how I have missed this woman. She behaved exactly the way I anticipated her to. I love her consistency.

There were still moments when I, a writer who spends way too much time online, felt like I knew a few more details about a given story than she seems to have been fed by her sources. I felt this way when she discussed the Jussie Smollett controversy.

As her return episode continued, Williams herself mentioned how sometimes audiences might get pissed off by one thing she says and turn her off—only to return three days later. She’s right as I’ve done this every so often, but she’s like an auntie in my mind—I know we don’t always agree, but who else is on television encouraging Kate Beckinsale to keep enjoying Pete Davidson’s younger penis?

I was never keen on The Wendy Williams Show without Wendy Williams. There were some bright spots in the slew of hosts who filled in for her—Nick Cannon, Sherri Shepherd, and Bevy Smith to name a few—but there’s only one person who can pull off this show completely because it is tailored to her very specific personality and point of view.

There is an intimacy to daytime television—that’s why the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and Wendy Williams have fared better than, say, Bethenny Frankel and Harry Connick Jr. I have been listening to Wendy Williams on the radio since college and followed her to daytime TV, so a fill-in can only go so far.

“I’m sorry it took me almost 50 days,” Williams acknowledged. “I know it’s been a long time. I’m sorry, but I can say, it’s not going to happen anymore, and I feel good!”

I needed her messy ass like I needed air, and obviously, “messy ass” is a compliment in this instance.

Speaking of mess, when your career is largely built on touching on the messy lives of others, then people are going to expect you to address whatever gossip spurs from your own life. So Williams did just that near the end of Hot Topics.

Noticeably looking down before doing so, Williams began with a shout out to her husband. “I know what you’ve been seeing and I know what the streets have been talking about,” she said. She went on to show an old picture of the two before eventually adding, “I’m still very much in love with my husband.” She next advised that folks not “ask me about mine” until they notice “this”—pointing to her wedding ring—gone. Despite expressing that “marriages have ebbs and flows,” she emphasized that when it comes her wedding ring, “It ain’t going anywhere. Not in this lifetime.”

This explanation has received mixed reviews online, but I’m honestly surprised she said anything. Whenever she’d previously address talk of infidelity in their marriage, she would only flash her ring. Whatever the case, I wish Wendy Williams nothing but wellness and happiness. And I also hope she keeps her word that she never leaves me alone for this long again.

P.S. I was really into her bob. Yes, I had to note this somewhere. I’d be an awful person if I didn’t acknowledge such a top notch wig.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the newly released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion: Jordyn Woods was smart to handle her Kardashian drama with the help of another famous family

Opinion: Jordyn Woods was smart to handle her Kardashian drama with the help of another famous family


Opinion: Jordyn Woods was smart to handle her Kardashian drama with the help of another famous family

Author Michael Arceneaux discusses Jordyn Woods appearance on Red Table Talk  following the Tristan Thompson cheating allegations, and exactly how Woods beat the Kardashians at their own game.

Jordyn Woods was savvy as hell to enlist the help of Jada Pinkett Smith, essentially her play auntie, to deal with the controversy around her alleged some-sort-of-romantic-relationship with Tristan Thompson, the basketball player more known for cheating on Khloe Kardashian even after impregnating her. Whenever someone falls out of good graces with the Kardashians, select media outlets curiously start reporting all sorts of bad information about that person. Next, their lil’ friends who desperately cling to the celebrity-adjacent status they’ve netted from their Kardashian affiliation proceed to publicly pounce on that person. The end result is that ex-friend becoming something of a pariah.

See the fate of select former employees, Blac Chyna, and the artist formerly known as Kris Humphries, among others. The same thing was beginning to happen to Jordyn Woods. She not only had to move out of her BFF Kylie Jenner’s home, but she was officially on “Don’t bring her ass over to my house” status with the entire family. And naturally, the stories started pouring out of E! and Page Six, followed by keyboard thugging from the oh-so-happy-to-be-here friends of the Kardashians—roles now filled by Malika Haqq and Larsa Pippen. Why are those women in their 30s and 40s arguing with a barely twenty-something?

In any event, that sort of plan could work on Tokyo Toni’s daughter. But as they’re surely learning now, it won’t work on someone considered an extended family member of the Smith family.

Woods appeared on Jada’s Facebook series, Red Table Talk, on March 1st to share her side of the story. And if Woods wasn’t already very much aware of how the Kardashian family plays it, Will Smith certainly was. Will knows Woods through her late father who worked as a sound engineer on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and he has only made one previous appearance on Red Table Talk. Knowing that he isn’t a regular guest, I laughed like hell when he FaceTimed into the show and dispelled the following advice to Woods:

“Take your medicine and tell your truth,” Will said. “This is a part of what growing up is…this world is not gonna break you. We won’t allow it.”

That is a very slick, Hollywood professional way of saying, “I’m not about to let that family play you.”

Smith did say something curious, though. When he said, “I watched you become a woman and I saw that one day we’d be here,” I interpreted that as, “I warned you about them.” After Will finished, it got even better because Jada did not let her off the hook.

“There’s a family that feels betrayed by you,” Jada explained. She made Jordyn recount exactly what happened and acknowledge how it impacted peoples’ lives, and then pushed her to offer real contrition. I am so into Jada Pinkett Smith interview style, which is a mixture of concerned auntie and 1980s Barbara Walters or Oprah Winfrey.

And while some complained about it online, Jada was right to note that, as a Black woman, Jordyn Woods will experience far more harassment online no matter what. Not only is that unfair, it is hypocritical. Jordyn Woods was wrong, but it’s not like select Kardashian sisters haven’t been accused of similar behavior in their romantic lives.

Jordyn still might have been acting like the villain of many an R&B ballad, but her Red Table Talk chat was the best confessional performance I’ve seen since me right before a mass in 1998. Still, Khloé Kardashian remains unimpressed.

Khloé, I understand that you’re hurting and you have every right to be, but uh, have you met you? You’re celebrating Tristan for addressing the situation privately when your family has sold its privacy for a decades-long reality show? Keeping Up With The Kardashians is probably already rushing an episode tied around this drama, but you know, sure, okay.

With all due respect, Tristan Thompson has been a thot so no one can break up a home where a man already has his penis out the door the majority of the time. Khloé’s mission to malign Jordyn backfired, and I won’t link to any of the tweets mocking Khloé for her statement, but ouch. She is getting dragged up and down Cardi B’s internet, bless her heart. I hope Kris Jenner takes Khloé’s phone away, and I hope that family leaves Jordyn Woods alone.

I don’t condone what Woods did, but as she explains it, her behavior wasn’t actually as bad as first reported. She deserved to have her say and protect her image from being permanently tainted. Not only did she get to have her say with an A-list family who commands attention, she did so on a platform with s a much wider reach than the reality show that launched the Kardashians into fame. Jordyn Woods’ episode of Red Table Talk netted more than 6 million views in three hours.

In pursuit of overcoming her thot tale, she beat them at their own game with slicked back hair, subtle makeup, and some A-list friends. My hero.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the recently released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York TimesWashington PostRolling StoneEssenceThe GuardianMic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion: A Diva’s Christmas Carol, the ’00s TV movie starring Vanessa Williams, is the only Charles Dickens remake we need

Opinion: A Diva’s Christmas Carol, the ’00s TV movie starring Vanessa Williams, is the only Charles Dickens remake we need


Opinion:  <em>A Diva’s Christmas Carol</em>, the ’00s TV movie starring Vanessa Williams, is the only Charles Dickens remake we need

Author Michael Arceneaux attempted to create a definitive ranking of every A Christmas Carol remake—until he realized the VH1 movie starring Vanessa Williams is the only one that actually matters. Here’s why.

Recently, Toni Braxton starred in the Lifetime film Every Day Is Christmas. In it, Braxton played a money manager named Alexis Taylor, a workaholic who can’t stand love and is far more fixated on “the mu-mu-muny, yen and the pesos” (there’s always room for Nicki Minaj references, folks) than anything else. This is much to the detriment of her employees and everyone else around her, minus her driver who is secretly wishing to date her. Ultimately, her rude self gets visited by a few spirits from various time periods who basically scare her into being a better person. If this sounds familiar, yes, it is inspired by the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.

I love Christmas programming, and despite her blocking me on Twitter without cause, I adore Braxton (a diva and national treasure, whom I consider the Shug Avery of R&B—a compliment). I watched it, and, unfortunately, Every Day Is Christmas wasn’t it, y’all. It wasn’t even a fraction of it. Like, Toni Braxton sings like Anita Baker and wants to marry Birdman of Cash Money Records fame. In other words, there’s a lot of personality to work with here, and yet, this movie was sort of sedative in its presentation. It wasn’t horrible, but it lacked oomph.

Again, I’m a sucker for Xmas (I didn’t take the Christ out of Christmas, just Google it) and I’m into A Christmas Carol in general, so I’m always intrigued whenever anyone tries to recreate the tale. Actors will always look for an easy check, and couple that with Hollywood’s disinterest in new ideas, and this story will be redone again and again and again. Perhaps, one day, some creative will try to deliver the film equivalent of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (as in a modern Christmas classic), but until then, here we are.

In hindsight, as much as I love A Christmas Carol, I’m realizing that many have failed miserably in their attempts to create a new spin that’s worth a damn.

Much like Entertainment Weekly writer Mary Sollosi’s attempt last year, I went into this piece looking to do a ranking of the best versions—only to realize many of them were so-so or flat out sucked.

So-so spins of the classic tale would include Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which might have been all the rage when I was a kid who mostly consumed chicken nuggets, but now I’m a thirty-something man who still eats a lot of chicken nuggets, but also has a heightened palate in terms of entertainment consumption. In other words, Mickey Mouse could have tried harder.

To be fair to Mickey, at least he tried harder than that terrible animated version with Tim Curry from the 1990s, or that other 2000s animated version with Nicolas Cage—but neither stepped it up like Miss Piggy in The Muppet Christmas Carol. (If you’re a cartoon or puppet-like thing, look to Miss Piggy for guidance when recreating Dickens’s story.)

If you’re a human, there are really only two other options to model your film after. You could turn to Bill Murray, whose film Scrooged, was pretty good. Yes, I’m complimenting a cisgender heterosexual white man at the end of 2018 in this political climate, but it’s the holidays. I’m feeling festive and generous.

Bill Murray did much better than, say, Kelsey Grammer, who made a musical version of A Christmas Carol in 2004. I still haven’t forgiven Frasier for what he did to Camille Grammer on the inaugural season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but I revisited clips of that mess for this assignment. Let’s just say forgiveness will take even longer now.

When it comes right down to it, the only person who matters in the context of A Christmas Carol—outside of Charles Dickens himself, the dearly departed—is Vanessa Williams.

If you have never seen A Diva’s Christmas Carol, it’s time to atone.

In the 2000 film, Williams plays Ebony Scrooge, an international pop star that wouldn’t spit on her BFF if she was on fire.

It features Chilli from TLC, Kathy Griffin, and other people whose names I’ve forgotten, though it doesn’t matter because it’s all about Vanessa Williams. It originally aired on VH1, so it was full of pop culture references, music, and, more importantly, has Vanessa Williams. Let the record show that not only is A Diva’s Christmas Carol the best spin on A Christmas Carol—it’s one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time (I hope you didn’t hear that in Kanye West’s voice since he’s on the naughty list).

While I cannot share the bootleg of A Diva’s Christmas Carol posted on YouTube, I can strongly encourage you to search your channel guide and set your DVR if you’ve never seen it. Or use your friends’ passwords to stream it—whatever it takes. Just treat yourself to its splendor.

And for those of you who still seek to recreate A Christmas Carol, please try to be more like Vanessa Williams. You’re welcome.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the recently released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York TimesWashington PostRolling StoneEssenceThe GuardianMic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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‘Bumblebee’ Director Didn’t Want Michael Bay’s Opinion on the Character

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains mild spoilers for Bumblebee. Proceed at your own risk.

If fans – or, should we say, haters? — of the Transformers franchise aren’t discussing how unconvincing the robot fight scenes are, they’re debating the intricacies of Bumblebee’s voice. One minute, his dulcet tones are completely destroyed and he’s using a blend of soundbites and music from the radio to communicate, the next he’s using the voice he was born with. And then it’s busted again. Sometimes, the problem is implied to be fixable, and sometimes it’s suggested that he doesn’t want it fixed.

So, with the sparky little yellow VW-Beetle-Autobot now starring in his own spin-off movie, it seems timely to tackle the contentious issue of Bumblebee’s voice, and attempt to figure out once and for all why it’s so all over the place. Especially since, as you’ve probably heard, Bumblebee speaks (with Dylan O’Brien’s voice) in this movie. Though not for long…

The Origin Story

For this 1987-set prequel, franchise champion Michael Bay relinquishes the reins to make way for animation genius, and self-confessed Transformers fan, Travis Knight, at the helm. It’s a brave but calculated move that might just reinvigorate a franchise that saw its fifth film, The Last Knight, take a considerable drop in profits. Amid accusations that the series has become overblown, for Bumblebee it’s very much back to basics, with a small-scale, heartwarming, coming-of-age story taking precedence over high-stakes robot wars. It works beautifully, and while the slate in some ways is wiped clean, Knight still had to take care to incorporate Bay’s tweaks to the lore.

“In Michael’s films, they changed some of the mythology, and Bumblebee speaks through the radio. That’s one of his iconic characteristics,” says Knight. “So, it was really important for me, if we were going to tell an origin story about one of the Transformers, one set in the era where the Transformers originated – the mid-’80s – [to address Bumblebee’s voice].”

As a child of the 1980s, Knight first fell in love with Transformers when he saw the original animated series.

“Bumblebee always had a voice,” says Knight, remembering the cartoon. This meant that it was critical for Knight “to understand some of these aspects of Bumblebee’s character that never really got satisfying answers as to how these things happened”.

For Knight, it was important to show how Bumblebee’s voice became damaged: “And how, both literally and metaphorically, he regains it by the end of the movie.”

His Voice Is Unfixable


Bumblebee's voice
Bumblebee's voice is unfixable, says director Travis Knight.

That isn’t to say Bumblebee regains the power of speech as he once knew it. Instead, he finds this new, arguably more effective, way to communicate via the relationship he has with Hailee Steinfeld’s outsider teen, Charlie. It is she who teaches him about the power of music to communicate and express emotion and complex thought, and as he uses the technique more and more, we witness him become increasingly adept at it. A good thing too, since Knight declares that Bumblebee’s voice can’t ever be fixed because of what we see happen in the film. And if you don’t want that scene spoiled for you, scroll past the next paragraph now.

“He has his, whatever the equivalent of his vocal synthesizer/processor is, ripped out of his throat,” he explains. “It would be the same thing if we lost the ability to speak. We’d never be able to speak again, and the guy rips it out, and destroys it. So, no — he’s never going to be able to speak again but through this [radio] thing he’s able to communicate and express himself.”

Crawling Inside Michael Bay’s Brain

Important as it was for Knight to show how Bumblebee is irreversibly maimed, rendering him forever mute, it was less pressing for Knight to figure out exactly why Bumblebee’s voice drifts inexplicably in and out within Bay’s franchise. And he says he never questioned — or wanted to question — Bay about it.

“I didn’t want to know if Michael had a difference of opinion on that because I knew very clearly that this is why, and this is what it needs to be.”

“I had a number of conversations with Michael, but not specifically about that aspect,” says Knight. “It was important for me to just kind of sit director-to-director, filmmaker-to-filmmaker, and talk about his philosophy on the series. He’s the guy who’s been the shepherd for the Transformers franchise for the last decade. I really wanted to crawl inside his brain and just get his philosophy on things. How he approached it.

“But specifically with Bumblebee’s character, no, I didn’t ask him about that. Because in my mind I knew the story that I wanted to tell for this movie, and that was an aspect of that story. I didn’t want to know if Michael had a difference of opinion on that because I knew very clearly that this is why, and this is what it needs to be.”

Different Choices

Knight adds, “This movie is self-contained, so I imagine where it goes from here. And, of course, there’s the films that follow, which show you where he goes. But I might not have made that choice if I was making those films.”

Knight concedes that fans might never get satisfactory answers to the questions they have. “Look, it’s super inconsistent, I acknowledge that,” he says. “I think Michael would acknowledge that; that, oftentimes, it bounces around. I know that. He knows that. I don’t know why.”

With prequel Bumblebee garnering better reviews than perhaps any of the Transformers sequels, it’s clear there’s life in the franchise yet. Executives would do well to keep Travis Knight on for at least one more film — his vision has won over the critics and looks set to please audiences too. And if he does stay on, perhaps we’ll see some answers retconned after all — or the franchise entirely rebooted perhaps?

Bumblebee hits screens in Australia on December 20, the US on December 21 and the UK on December 24, with preview screenings in the UK on December 15, 16 and 20.

‘Bumblebee’: Hooray! Robot Fights Have Serious Consequences

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First They Came For Acosta. Why We Sued Trump Before He Acts Again (Opinion)

It didn’t start with Jim Acosta, but we might be able to end it here. Last week, President Trump and his White House followed through on longstanding threats by revoking reporter Jim Acosta’s press credentials in retaliation for his doing his job. After enduring similar threats and retaliation during Trump’s campaign and presidency, CNN sued […]

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Opinion: Stacey Abrams is being robbed in plain sight

Opinion: Stacey Abrams is being robbed in plain sight


Opinion: Stacey Abrams is being robbed in plain sight

Author Michael Arceneaux discusses voter suppression and racist tactics in Georgia that have resulted in Stacey Abrams’ powerful refusal to concede to Brain Kemp in the governor’s race.

During a November 9th press conference, Stacey Abrams’ campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, succinctly explained the chaos surrounding the Georgia gubernatorial election held on Tuesday, which still lacks a resolution. “These suppressive tactics [are] remnants of the old South,” she explained. Groh-Wargo is referring to Abrams’ opponent, Brian Kemp, who served as the state’s secretary of state up until this week. Thus, he was the referee in his own fight against Abrams for the governorship.

Groh-Wargo allowed numerous Abrams supporters to explain how the trickery employed against them deprived them of their constitutional right to vote. Their stories are frustrating, but Brian Kemp has long made his intentions clear. Kemp never threw a rock and hid his hand; he threw the rock at the heads of the Black folks registering to vote, and then used that hand to swat them—and their absentee and provisional ballots—away.

In 2014, Kemp had this to say about Democrats like Abrams who he claims take advantage of Georgia’s changing demographics by encouraging voter registration: “Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November.”

And ever since then, he’s done everything in his power to excel disenfranchisement and keep Black people in their place. In order to maintain control of Georgia politics, he has purged more than 1.5 million registered voters from the system between 2016 and 2018. This year, he attempted to use “exact match” law to keep some 53,000 pending voters from registration. Along with purging, Kemp has shut down more than 200 polling places, unsurprisingly in predominantly poor and minority areas. It remains to be seen if Kemp will be successful with his plot to literally steal the election in plain sight, but if he does, I agree with The Atlantic’s Carol Anderson who says that Kemp’s victory should come with an asterisk.

Because of his Jim Crow Jr. shtick, it has been difficult for me to write about what is happening to Stacey Abrams without festering in rage and cynicism.

Stacey Abrams supporters in Georgia
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

There are so many reasons to be angry about what is happening to Abrams, and by extension, to us—meaning the Black people whose voices are being stifled by an entitled coward and thief.

Kemp’s mediocrity is masked by a white supremacist patriarchal system that has allowed his pathetic ilk to simply snatch power as they see fit. That is to say, certain things are to be expected. Abrams has expected many things throughout this election, and has smartly complained accordingly.

I’m not surprised that CNN exit polling revealed an estimated 75 percent of white women—more than white men —supported Kemp over Abrams. Bernie Sanders is right that some white voters are uncomfortable voting for Black candidates like Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, but he is wrong for stating that doesn’t make those voters racist on some level. Having said that, I frankly hope that white folks who aren’t racist talk to their racist relatives at Thanksgiving—‘cause clearly my Black ass can’t convince y’all.

Abrams, like any Democrat, can only get elected by winning a combination of the electorate: enough of the white voters and the majority of everyone else—especially Black voters. Abrams’ problem is centered on Kemp’s contempt for the Black voter and the actions of the entire Republican Party in the state of Georgia. Black people should not have to wait in line for five hours to vote because someone “accidentally” forgot to send power cords to polling stations in Black neighborhoods. Brian Kemp may have ironically had trouble voting for himself on Election Day, but he intentionally makes it hell for Black people to vote for his opponent.

You know, as fascinating as the Russian conspiracy related to the 2016 presidential election is, I wish the national media covered voter suppression with greater urgency. To not do so is to fall in line with GOP orthodoxy that claims Black people don’t deserve the same privileges as white voters. In spite of my fury and doubt, I applaud Abrams for her determination.

On Tuesday night, she declared, “In our Georgia, no one would be unseen; no one is unheard; and, no one is uninspired. Democracy only works when we work for it. When we fight for it. When we demand it.”

She has not once buckled under the power trips of her bigoted opponent. Instead, she continues standing tall and poised as she pushes Georgia to live up to its purported standards (before a national audience). “There are voices that are waiting to be heard,”Abrams said. And so they should be.

It is my hope that Abrams gets her runoff, but no matter the final outcome, one can’t shake the sight of the robbery happening in real time.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the recently released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York TimesWashington PostRolling StoneEssenceThe GuardianMic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion: Trump says it’s a “scary time for young men.” That’s not true

Opinion: Trump says it’s a “scary time for young men.” That’s not true


Opinion: Trump says it’s a “scary time for young men.” That’s not true

Author Michael Arceneaux talks Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, and the absurdity of prioritizing the “fears” of young men before the experiences of sexual assault survivors.

As we’ve come to learn in his still relatively short but nonetheless exasperating, exhausting time as president, Donald Trump’s debasement of the office moves at a freakishly accelerated pace. Every single day of this ongoing nightmare, one has to wonder not if Trump will reveal himself to be an inhumane boob—but how many times that day and to what extent? On Tuesday night, the man who once defended Neo-Nazis by calling them “very fine people” and who endorsed a person credibly accused of pedophilia for the U.S. Senate decided it was time to up the despicable ante: He mocked the victim of an alleged sexual assault during a rally in Mississippi.

He mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford—the woman who came forward to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault during their high school years. Trump mocked Dr. Ford’s trauma to the cheers and laughs of adults. Children were present. I know that cable news pundits already bore the hell out of people with their trite, cliche-ridden newspaper columns about “both sides” showing selective morality, but there is only one major U.S. party that has its president mocking women who were sexually assaulted.

That cruel reality makes me think of the other remarkable thing President Trump said on Tuesday just hours prior: “It’s a very scary time for young men in America.”

It is perplexing (to say the least) that Trump would say this now given his history with those accused of sexual violence—notably, the time he infamously took out a newspaper ad calling for the death of the Central Park Five. Despite DNA evidence exonerating them, then-candidate Trump continued to profess their guilt decades after the matter had been settled. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this hypocrisy, but as she often does, she forgoed facts and straight answers in favor of spouting fables about the wannabe tyrant she habitually lies for.

It would be easy to dismiss Trump’s remarks as the ramblings of a sociopathic buffoon, but like his racism, like his sexism, like his xenophobia, like his transphobia, and like his homophobia, Trump is the id of the Republican Party, and to some extent, a major bloc of the electorate. It’s not just his son Donald Trump Jr. echoing these sentiments, it is people like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and well, Republican voters themselves. But still, it’s not just conservatives who seem to buy into this notion that we ought to care more about the concerns of the accused than the accuser. This misogyny pervades our entire patriarchal society: The idea that we must worry more about what can happen to a man’s career before we can focus on the life of a woman whom his abuse has impacted. That ultimately, and simply, men matter more.

Veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz explained to the Washington Post that among Republicans, “There is a feeling of being guilty until proven innocent. In this era of #MeToo, there are a lot of men—and some women—who believe that justice no longer exists in America, that the accusation is enough to destroy someone’s career and someone’s life.”

In a new Quinnipiac poll released on Monday, the survey found that 51% of white voters believe Kavanaugh should be confirmed. Meanwhile, 80% of Black voters believe Dr. Ford over Kavanaugh. For, Latinx voters, it is 66% who believe Dr. Ford. Only 40% of white voters believe her account, and when split by gender, 46% of white women believe Dr. Ford and 43% believe Kavanaugh. In sum, Luntz has a point—no matter how irrational, delusional, and disgusting the viewpoint is among those who hold it.

In fact, despite the faux condemnation of Trump’s remarks by select Senate Republicans like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Jeff Flake, it is still likely that Judge Brett Kavanaugh—the man Ford claims once tried to rape her 36 years ago—will be confirmed to the Supreme Court in light of continued support among Republican leadership and, per Gallup, most Republicans. And apparently, with the support of most white voters.

So, my question is, how exactly is it a “scary time for young men” in America? It is a far scarier time for women in this country given that we have an American president—one serially accused of sexual assault himself, no less—who will belittle a survivor of sexual assault.

It is a far scarier time for women given that a major political party has no qualms propping up a sexual abuser to a position of power—literally to the laughs of white voters.

As RAINN notes: “Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 8 minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.”

Men are scared? I wish men were more afraid of facing consequences for abusing women and girls, but given the climate we live in and the longstanding statistics about sexual assault, why would they be? Look at the man who stands behind the podium with the symbol of the U.S. presidency and look at the support he maintains. I long for a better day, but no serious person would kid themselves into thinking we need to worry about young men in America.

And all that concern about men being falsely accused? About survivors “[wanting] to destroy people,” as Trump also said on Tuesday? Studies reveal that it is more likely for a man to be sexually assaulted than falsely accused of rape. “Unfounded” or false rape accusations only make up 2 to 10 percent of rape allegations. In an interview with Vice.com, University of Kansas Law Professor Corey Rayburn Yung said, “The false reporting rate [for rape] is lower than lots of crimes.”

We need to care more about the women and girls of this country who are not only susceptible to abuse, but burdened by a patriarchal system in which their abuser is still likely to harm without consequence.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the recently released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York TimesWashington PostRolling StoneEssenceThe GuardianMic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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