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LGBTQ directors setting the new standard for creativity

Audiences have been long deprived of narrative diversity in mainstream cinema. And, during the last decade, it’s been evident that LGBTQ directors and Black filmmakers are over it too.

But, no longer sequestered to their distinct corners of “queer movies” or “Black TV shows,” Black directors have carved out an authentic space for themselves and their queer characters, center stage.

Dee Rees

Dee Rees for NYU Tisch

She is a modern-day phenomenon. Dee Ree’s first feature film, “Pariah,” garnered critical acclaim and adoration from audiences that have stayed with her.

The movie follows Alike, a Black girl navigating her sexuality in a household not interested in who she really is. Still, never wavers on the assuredness of her own identity. And becomes a beacon of bravery and pride in an oppressive world where the genre is often fraught with doubt. 

Rare and beautiful, Pariah draws inspiration from Rees’ own experiences coming into a queer identity to her family. Shortly after finishing NYU’s film program, she came out as a lesbian to her parents. And, in the decade that followed, neither parent spoke to her.

Meanwhile, she hustles to make a name for herself in the industry until they saw “Pariah” for the first time. 

Still from Pariah (image courtesy of the New York Times)

“Pariah,” won over a dozen awards. And Rees has been sprinting towards the next masterpiece ever since. Her biopic Bessie scored her an Emmy nomination. Likewise, “Mudbound,”  her second feature and an Oscar nominee.

Still, her success hasn’t slowed the director down at all. Anything could be next for Rees.

Justin Simien

Justin Simien for Deadline

Dear White People made waves on Netflix during the pandemic. Perhaps that is because the show picked up the right creator and director, Justin Simien.

Coming from Houston, Texas, Simien grew up in a diverse, bustling city. He cites his subsequent move to Chapman University as the culture shock that inspired Dear White People.

However, finding himself in a majority white environment did not end there. He likens times to what it’s like to work in Hollywood today, where he still frequently finds himself the only queer Black voice in the room. 

Still from Dear White People on Netflix (image courtesy of Indie Wire)

We’ve been kind of screaming at a wall and hearing all sorts of commentary… ‘Are we past all of this? Why are you making this about race?’ All of the sort of typical racial gaslighting that a Black person experiences in their life, this show has experienced. 

Justin Simien for Deadline, 2020

And, perhaps Dear White People reflects Simiens attitude the best. The show is about a group of students of color at Winchester University. Together, the navigatage the serious stakes of injustice, politics, and activism, but it’s funny.

The show, like Simiens, doesn’t let racism and naivety exhaust the group’s energy (though they’d have every right). Instead, the show is a celebration of passion and camaraderie from which the audience can draw strength. 

Still, Simiens recalls that before the Black Lives Matter movement, the show experienced all sorts of criticism. In fact, a few months prior he was told that networks didn’t need another show like his right now. The movement spiked the show’s viewership, still its success this past summer is complex.

Elegance Bratton

Elegance for Columbia Magazine, 2019

As his name might suggest, Elegance Bratton, imbues his work with the utmost grace.

And, although Bratton has made himself comfortable in the success of his award-winning short films, and feature-length PIER KID, he experienced no such affirmation growing up.

PIER KIDS is inspired by Bratton’s own experiences growing up homeless after thrown out of his mother’s house in New Jersey for being gay.

The movie depicts three homeless queer characters who live through trials of prostitution, welfare, and familial ties. Similar to Bratton’s own experience for 10 years before he joined the Marines.

This to me is the spirit of Black gay life. Knock me down? Sure, I’ll play dead, but when I get back up, game’s over.

Elegance Bratton for the New York Times, 2018

During his time in the Marine Corps, Bratton learned to handle a camera by shooting weapon demonstration videos and photographing the troops. Later, he attended Columbia University double majoring in African American Studies and Anthropology.

lgbtq directors
Still from Pier Kids (image courtesy of The FADER)

This time deeply affected Bratton’s creative work. Thus, he took it upon himself to bring a sense of Black, queer community to the screen as an LGBTQ director.

And, set out on a mission to reframe the narrative that Black queer people. Shifting the narrative away from victims of systematic oppression, to resilience heroes. 

Since his graduation, he has published photography books and shot short films. But, he is mostly known for the documentary series about house ballroom culture in New York a la Paris is Burning.

Just as in PIER KIDS, Elegance Bratton’s work is undeniably saturated with awareness and sensitivity.

Wanuri Kahiu

lgbtq directors
Wanuri Kahiu for TIME Magazine 100 (by Caitlin Cronenberg)

The first Kenyan film to screen at Cannes Film Festival, Rafiki is a film of innocent love directed by Wanuri Kahiu.

Kahiu, who is Kenyan herself, describes the film as a work of “Afrobubblegum,” which aims to depoliticize Black joy. 

But outside of the dreamlike teenage love story of Rafiki, politics run rampant about Kahiu. The film was banned from Kenya on the grounds of its “homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism.”

The film is a love story, the filmmaker’s effort to remove the narrative of war and poverty from which Africa is normally depicted. Thus, fighting for her own rights and that of her peers, Kahiu sued her home country.

lgbtq directors
Still from Rafiki, (image courtesy of Out)

I was exploring the idea of the choices you have to make if you are in a same-sex relationship between love and courage — between love and safety. If you choose one, you’re definitely not choosing the other.

Wanuri Kahiu for CNN, 2019

Kahiu has said that it was simply the most beautiful, tender story she had ever heard. And, the fact that it occurred between two teenage girls was secondary.

Though she never intended to make it as a political statement, the movie’s commentary highlighted Africa’s politics more than any other. Kahiu is taking it all in.

“I feel like I’m just getting started,” she says. Without completely being able to identify how Kahiu identifies, we wanted to still highlight the director’s amazing work with representation of the LGBTQ community.

Why we need more LGBTQ directors:

As our culture continues to move towards a more equitable future across identities, elevating the voices of LGBTQ directors and the creative community is an integral part of the process.

Not only has systemic injustice prevented Black filmmakers and LGBTQ directors from making works that honestly reflect and speak to the experiences of Black people in America, but queerness as part of the narrative has also remained entirely out of the question.

Black queer filmmakers have worked tirelessly on our behalf, not only recognizing those who often feel they aren’t allowed community, but opening up the potential for unique experiences to inform the ever-diversifying archive of creative work. 


A look into the history of jewelry and how Black people pioneered the drip

“Drip” is a vast but powerful concept. Just as hip-hop has permeated almost every dimension of popular culture, it has also had an enduring impact on jewelry drip all over the world.

The resurgence of “The Drip” (use of the phrase in hip-hop shot up 195 percent in 2017), places the contemporary scene in a particular moment in drip history.

Megan Thee Stallion in her iced out custom ring set, proving that jewelry drip exists, image courtesy of Urban Islandz.

Hip-hop in the 80s and 90s

Rappers and athletes of the 80’s/90’s famously pioneered the concept of bling. The first man to popularize hip-hop in the 70’s, DJ Kool Herc also introduced the culture to the power of a few gold chains on an album cover.

In other words, he pioneered what we now call jewelry drip.

Hip-hop originated from the experience of being Black in America. A concept that it has never ceased to reflect.

LL Cool J brought us four-finger rings, Lil Wayne bought the most expensive set of Grillz in hip-hop ($150,000!). Then, T-Pain came down the red carpet in his Big Ass Chain.

However, the jewelry drip goes deeper than that. Jewelry is, as Meek Mill puts it, a “trap trophy.” 

T-Pain in his “Big Ass Chain,” showing of his jewelry drip. Image courtesy of Zumic

Nonetheless, critics are quick to write off these displays of wealth as unsophisticated.

But, when Notorious B.I.G. wore the massive Jesus piece for the last time ever. And, never forget when Lil Yachty designs a Bart Simpson necklace modeled after himself, it framed the success of Black artists in a culture that seeks to put them down. 

Cuban chains, heavy gold hoops, rainbow diamond-encrusted everything defines the jewelry drip in the world today.

These pieces sit in the display case of every major jewelry brand worldwide without ever prompting a nod of acknowledgment towards Black culture jewelry drip from its designers. 

Jewelry drip throughout history

Even before hip-hop, Black culture has had deep cultural ties to jewelry that signifies glamour and luxury.

Mansa Musa was the King of Mali in West Africa, considered the wealthiest human being of all time. (Image courtesy of Money Inc.)

The song “Putting on the Ritz” by Irving Berlin from 1929, makes racist remarks about the glamour of Harlem.

Flo-Milli dazzles in flapper style bling for “Roaring 20’s”

Lines like “Come with me and we’ll attend their jubilee, And see them spend their last two bits, Puttin’ on the Ritz, ” is steeped in racial prejudice. The lyrics reflect the timely sentiment that Black communities were impoverished due to their inability to spend money responsibly.

The insinuation that jewelry drip reflects the fiscal incompetency of Black people continues to pop up in discourse today. Such criticism ignores the historical significance of jewelry co-opted as a symbol of financial success against insurmountable odds. 

Diamond mines in South Africa

Jewelry drip also has the political undertone of reclaiming an industry built on Black labor and resources.

15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs discovered a transparent rock on his father’s farm in December of 1866, and within three years mines along the south bank of the Orange River were producing 95 percent of the world’s diamonds.

The Cullinan Diamond is the worlds biggest diamond, discovered in South Africa. It is part of the Royal Sceptre, belonging to the British Crown. Image courtesy of GIA.

All of the mines were controlled by European men. This list includes Johannes De Beers, whose company invented the marketing phrase “diamonds are forever,” and controls virtually all diamonds on Earth today.

A De Beers Company advertisement from 1977.

The workforce behind this production consisted mainly of Black migrant workers, as did the gold industry in Johannesburg. The gold mining operation in South Africa employed more than 100,000 people, most of whom were Black.

Black designers at the cutting edge of jewelry drip

Black jewelry designers today are working in an industry that has been inaccessible to Black craftsmen for centuries.

One of the first people to crack the industry was Arthur George “Art” Smith, a designer and one of few black students in the 1920s to graduate from Cooper Union.

jewelry drip
Winifred Mason and her Haitian inspired work, 1946. (Image courtesy of pics+brushes).

Art formed a network of mentors that included the legendary Winifred Mason. Mason is considered the first commercial African-American jeweler in the United States. 

In an industry that typically requires immense wealth to access training as well as material, the relationship between academic opportunity and Black jewelry designers is immensely important.

Thus, jeweler Melanie Eddy pointed out that not one Black student has graduated from Central Saint Martins with a jewelry design MA in the six years she has taught there. 

Today a scholarship exists in Art’s name at the Fashion Institute of Technology for Black students in the school’s Jewelry Design program.

jewelry drip
Rick Ross’s jewelry drip designed by Rick Ross (chain), estimated at $1,500,000. (Image courtesy of Getty Images).

And, despite the appropriation of culture and resources in a predominantly white industry, Black designers persevere and they will keep on contributing to the jewelry drip.

The revolution

Jameel Mohammed, the founder of the world-famous Khiry, continues to revolutionize what high fashion jewelry means and looks like.

Adorning celebrities and politicians alike are Mohammed’s highly curated pieces celebrating symbols of diaspora – from hoop earrings to silhouettes of Black historical figures.

It’s about creating cultural change through the creation of tangible, desirable objects.

Mohammed for i-D magazine, 2020
jewelry drip
Indya Moore in custom Areeayl Goodwin jewelry drip on the Fashion Media Awards carpet, 2019. (Image courtesy of Paper Magazine.)

Areeayl Goodwin made a name for her brand Beads Byaree, when Indya Moore wore waist-skimming earrings framing 17 Black trans women murdered in the US in 2019 alone.

Goodwin’s work is a testament to art that has the agency to take on radical storytelling. Hip-hop drip mainstays like Jacob the Jeweler and Ben Baller continue to shape jewelry on the East and West coast. 

The history of drip tells the story of perseverance and vision. With talented Black designers taking center stage in the jewelry game, the future looks bright and shiny for drip in jewelry.

Who Decides War? Ev Bravado is the hottest designer out

Who Decides War draws itself out along the cutting edge of the contemporary design scene. Everard Best, or Ev Bravado, has created a brand that has an intrinsic understanding of people, and the world at large.

In recent collections, lace adorned high-tops have come down the runway alongside raw Italian silks dyed in neutral tones.

Industry dignitaries, like Virgil Abloh, Heron Preston, and J-Balvin, have flanked the front row.

who decides war
D’Amore (left) and Best (right) at the walkthrough for his PFW show (image courtesy of Complex Magazine)

Redemption, conflict, and sustainability are brought together in a narrative that the garments tell, of age-old paradigms of human struggle.

who decides war
Snobette PFW 2020

The man behind Who decides War

Working with finance and design partner Tela D’Amore, the creative mastermind of Who Decides War has stepped behind the scenes, but the artistry of his pieces is a tell-tale sign of his involvement.

everard best
Image courtesy of Coveteur

The man is Everard Best, also known as Ev Bravado, after the previous brand’s header, or Murder Bravado online.

Who Decides War marks the newest chapter of the culture-shifting designer’s career – a sophisticated elevation of his mainstays.

everard best
Everard Best by Bryan Luna for High Snobiety, 2019

Everard Best carved out space for himself. Thus, with his meticulously hand distressed and embellished denim, he started and has since been credited for spearheading DIY denim as a new kind of couture. 

The journey starts in 7th grade: One day some random girl came at me and was like… ‘Boy! You’re mad fresh, like killing it OD. Where’d you get that from?’ I was about to tell her and then I realized she was mocking me because I wasn’t fresh at all. From that day I swore I would never ever have a weak fit again.

Everard Best for Grailed, 2016

Everard Best

Growing up in Elmont, New York (about seven miles out of JFK), Best was a fashion pioneer in his small suburban community.

He spent his childhood sitting between the machines and tape measures of his father’s tailor shop, where he was first introduced to the luxury craft.

everard best
Best by Phoenix Johnson for Flaunt Magazine, 2018.

Best’s style continued to evolve throughout high school, copping Stussy from Yellow Rat Bastard and pining after Bape wear that orbited at a higher budget.

By senior year, peers that once taunted him had come around, lacing the same Jordans they used to call ‘dusty’ on Best.

When a friend raised the idea of starting their own brand together, Best’s first brand, Lease On Life Society was born.

who decides war
Lease On Life Society drop via @murderbravado

Early denim inspo for Ev Bravado

Working out of his childhood home, Best began making samples of the vibrant denim that would later become the backbone of his namesake brand. Customized, fresh takes on denim wear quickly gained the attention of fashion influencers growing tired of hoodies and graphic T’s. 

Best relaunched the brand as Ev Bravado upon graduating college and started his move up the design world. But the notoriety had its own complications.

I was living this fake rock star lifestyle… The amount of substances that we were abusing and so on, I was going down a path that I could’ve really died.

Best for High Snobiety, 2019

When the lifestyle he had adopted started to take a toll on the quality of his work as well as his life, Best decided to turn himself around.

The rebranding of Lease On Life Society, a trial and error free-for-all, into the world-famous Ev Bravado, marked a fresh start for the young designer

Ev Bravado via @murderbravado

Shocking audiences worldwide

Ev Bravado took the most successful elements from Lease On Life Society, and began turning out garments that shocked audiences with their artistry.

The brand continued work on the signature distressed denim that became immediately recognizable as Best’s meticulously hand-crafted work.

The label “straddles the line between punk and hip-hop,” and features messages of positivity that reflect Best’s personal journey through young adulthood.

When asked who he would like to dress if he could dress anyone, Best responded “Jesus. Jesus, let me swag you out. We need him in a ‘Satan Sucks’ shirt.”

The denim is a very intimate thing because I do each sample by hand. The process is a pain but the outcome is always beautiful.

Best for High Snobiety, 2019

His attention to detail and approach to fashion as a vehicle for change attracted the attention of major designers, most notably Heron Preston and Virgil Abloh. 

Heron Preston, Ev Bravado, Virgil Abloh and friend at Who Decides War PFW (image courtesy of Beyond 8)

Heron Preston connected Best with Virgil Abloh, who invited him to design the denim for his SS19 collection.

Then Abloh introduced Best into the limelight as the next generation of design, even calling him “the young version of me.”

Who really decides war?

Ev Bravado was dressing celebrities like Playboi Carti and Joey Badass in colorful denim and embroidered parkas.

In a quick succession of events, he became an international luxury sensation supported by celebrity and industry figures alike. 

Of his role models, Who Decides War founder Everard Best says that their willingness to uplift the youth and dedication to a craft bigger than themselves reflects his own values as a designer. 

That’s what it’s all about, rather than just me as an individual, it’s about the community, whether that be streetwear, African American and black, or the odd kids, whatever. We have to put on for what we believe in, and what we believe in is pushing the boundaries.

Best for Flaunt Magazine, 2018

A family man, the next major shift in Best’s career came with the birth of his son, Judah, and the close collaboration he began with designer turned partner in crime, Tela D’Amore.

Tasked with the responsibilities of fatherhood, Best began seriously considering his impact as a designer. 

Best and Judah modeling new hats for Who Decides War (via @murderbravado)

Who Decides War is emblematic of the political awareness that Best has brought to his work throughout his career.

It is a sort of culmination of these efforts that pushed Best to shift focus from himself as a designer to how his work can tell the story of what’s going on in the world at large.

We are always at war, whether it is between two countries, two people, or you against yourself. No matter the conflict, it is nothing that one single entity can control.

Best for Coveteur, 2019

Ava DuVernay eyes inclusivity in film with ARRAY Crew launch

ARRAY Alliance recently launched ARRAY Crew, a new database for film and TV industry workers.

The initiative focuses on supporting women and people of color who are not a part of the shortlist of technicians that circulate throughout Hollywood.

It is about providing equal opportunity, which consequently promotes new and exciting perspectives and stories.

Ava DuVernay for ARRAY

The ARRAY Crew launch

ARRAY Crew launched on Thursday with over 3000 members already registered. Also, every major media company is backing the project.

As part of WarnerMedia’s commitment to inclusive hiring, the project is inaugurally founded by the chairman of Warner Brothers, Peter Roth. 

The ARRAY Crew via ARRAY

The platform is already supported by every major media company and in use by more than 70 productions from these partners.

The ARRAY Crew launch allows hiring and production managers to search candidates across over 45 departments and 500 job titles.

To become a member, candidates need only verify that they are over 18 years old. And that they have at least one production credit.

Also, there is no fee to members at any time.

The overwhelming support of the studios and streamers has bolstered our belief that our industry can become a more balanced place to work for more kinds and cultures of people, resulting in stronger and more dynamic content for viewers and moviegoers.

DuVernay for ARRAY

ARRAY Alliance

ARRAY Alliance is an all-women-led organization founded by filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

Her work on Selma made her the first Black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Best Director’s award. The film also won an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Image courtesy of Premium Beat

With the urgent need to launch a database like ARRAY Crew, DuVernay cites her exhaustion with diversity panels and discourse that fail to result in truly inclusive hiring practices.

According to research conducted by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, in the top 265 films between 2016-2018, only 9 percent of first assistant director positions were filled by women.

Also, only 5.9 percent of production designers were people of color, and there were no female gaffers. 

It is clear the ARRAY Crew launch is coming at a most important time.

Promoting diversity in film

The ARRAY Crew launch finds itself alongside ARRAY film distribution, ARRAY film works, and also programming/production hub ARRAY Creative Campus.

With an app version set to release later this year, DuVernay hopes ARRAY Crew will enable greater inclusivity on set. 

Black-owned photography studios that make Atlanta a culture mecca

With Atlanta’s communal nature, the city has welcomed itself as an amazing place for musicians and all creatives. Black-owned photography studios also have an immense impact in Atlanta, along with the talent the city has to offer.

Atlanta is the focal point of our contemporary hip-hop and photography culture. And in large respects, it is due to the fact that the city builds up its kinfolk.

This way, the city itself puts its weight behind initiatives to aid Black creatives. Black-owned photography studios in Atlanta have stepped up to the plate like no other.

atlanta photography studio
Cam Kirk for Migos via HypeBeast, 2017

So, below are some of the Peach State’s finest Black-owned photography studios:

Cam Kirk Studios

At the heart of Atlanta’s creative network, Cam Kirk’s name has become synonymous with culture shifting vision.

cam kirk studios
Cam Kirk for Variety Magazine, “Atlantic Records strikes partnership with Cam Kirk’s Gallery” 2020.

Kirk rose to fame as Hip-Hop’s Most Trusted Photographer. Cam Kirk Studios is located across the street from the world-renowned Magic City. It is a fully equipped studio with the highest grade equipment and support in the area. 

The Black-owned photography studio flourishes in The A, where many business owners are Black. In this hub, Kirk was able to provide striving photographers with an opportunity to learn, grow and flourish.

Plus, Cam Kirk studios also hosted courses for a few lucky students that teach the in’s-and-out’s of the game. And, in the meantime, he maintained a “creative paradise” at Cam Kirk Studios.

Not to mention, the studios invite new talent likes Flo-Milli and Mulatto. While Kirk himself maintains close collaborative relationships like T.I., and Gucci Mane.

“I feel like it’s my duty, to with every little bit of success I make off of Atlanta and its culture. We opened this studio, and we offer free studio time for creatives on a consistent basis.”

Cam Kirk for Fuse Magazine, 2018

Kirk Studios continues to thrive despite COVID-19. It has hosted crowd-controlled conversations with notable photographers and opening up an online market for pieces crafted by local artists.

Weldon Bond Studios

But, no one is doing better in the Atlanta photography studio scene than Weldon Bond Studios. (commercially speaking).

weldon bond studios
Jenna Chanel for Weldon Bond Studios, 2019

Bond reflects his passion for fashion and beauty photography in his studios. Plus, it is one of the most popular and affordable spaces for photographers in Atlanta.

Uniquely, this Black-owned photography studio is a celebration of professional photography and Black beauty.

weldon bond studios
Black Beauty Expo, 2020.

Plus, Weldon Bond Studios hosts Black Beauty Expo annually which Bond himself designed to encourage Black photographers to share their craft and educate each other.

Thus, this immensely successful photographer, publisher, and producer, was first introduced to photography by exposure to fashion and beauty publications. As a child, Bond spent time in his mother’s beauty salon, which heavily informed his talent for capturing Black beauty.

This way, Weldon Bond Studios is popular for their massive creative space and professional staff. They are bringing that same spirit to Atlanta’s photography scene. The studio maintains a focus on carving out a space for Black creatives.

Monday & Co.

On another hand, Monday & Co. is a special Black-owned photography studio. It is founded by the same woman who brought us Brown Girl Bloggers, Candice VanWye.

But, she has outdone herself once more with Monday & Co., the co-working space created intentionally for a creative biopic.

black-owned photography studios
Monday & Co. for the Atlanta Voice, 2019

Nestled in Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn district, the space is a creative haven equipped with wifi, a kitchen, and a conference room, as well as a fully functioning photography studio.

In addition, it is a community-oriented focus of the space where there is always a professional photographer or editor who is willing to helo creatives with anything they might need.

atlanta photography studio
Monday & Co. for 21Ninety, 2019
atlanta photography studio
Monday & Co. for 21Ninety, 2019

I want ‘us’ to succeed. If I’m going to get to a top level of something, I want to get to a top level and have all my friends there. I want to have people who look like me there. I want to start building generational wealth. Starting now is the way to do it.

VanWye for the Atlanta Voice, 2019.
black-owned photography studios
Candice VanWye for Hype Hair, 2019

VanWye moved from the Bay Area to Atlanta in 2018, and opened Monday & Co. within a few months.

Because she spent most of her career in co-working facilities, VanWye was able to recognize the need for a creative sanctuary specific to bipoc early on.

And, she is mindful about providing classes and events that teach creatives the more technical dimension of business within content production.

The mission of the Black-owned photography studio is not merely to provide workspace, but to create networks and job opportunities for Black artists. 

Chil Studios

Chil Studios is a beautiful space in West End, Atlanta. Although it’s not like other Black-owned photography studios, Chil Studios dedicated itself to diversifying the photography market of Atlanta.

It is led by duo Bhargava Chiluveru and Anu Chiluveru, and managed by a team of writers videographers, and designers.

Bhargava Chiluveru (left) and Anu Chiluveru (right) for Chil Studios

All of whom are driven by a passion for storytelling and whom bring a unique set of skills to the agency.

Chil Studios offers studio and equipment rentals alongside a host of other services. The studio is a sleek, minimalistic space designed with the creative agency of its clients in mind.

Five minutes from Downtown, the Bipoc-owned Atlanta photography studio describes itself as a “creative oasis” that delivers professional results.

Backed by countless 5-star reviews by happy clients, and a beautifully curated instagram page, Chil Studios allows diverse clients to bring incredible work to life in their studios.

Hosting photographers for commercial shoots like Converse, or freelance portrait and editorial photographers, the studio continues to honor its commitment to celebrating diversity in the field. 

Black-owned photography studios are changing the game

As Black-owned photography studios in Atlanta continue to grow in Atlanta, so does the culture around the country and world.

The support and attention they are bringing creatives is not only inspiring others to do so, but highlighting the unique experiences that they contribute with.

Look out for Cam Kirk Studios, Weldon Bond Studios, Monday & Co., and Chil Studios when you’re in Atlanta. And support creatives year-round, because it feeds the world. Not just when your favorite rapper raps about it.

Follow more photographer’s stories below:

Who are the creative directors behind Megan Thee Stallion?

Ever since she stepped on the scene in 2016, Megan Thee Stallion has been at the height of her game. But no star is ever a star solely because of their own work, and Megan Thee Stallion’s creative director team deserves their flowers too.

Check the throwback pics I been that bitch!

Megan Thee Stallion on “Girls in the Hood”
Meg on set for her “Southside Freestyle” video, still from Music Feeds

Whether it be with a new single, video, or bikini flick, Megan has been providing her hotties with the finest for years now. But 2020 still felt like her biggest rise yet.

Hot Girl Meg has been building her empire with the help of a few key creatives. Below we take a look back at the Houston rappers’ most iconic appearances and the visionaries that brought them to life. 

DJ Chose

It’s hard to imagine the savage rapper as a college student, but Megan first garnered attention as the baddie dominating cyphers around campus at Texas Southern University.

She first dropped “Stalli Freestyle” when her Instagram freestyle videos began to circulate.

The video was shot and produced by PCrisco and DJ Chose in 2017. It features Meg delivering her bars on what appears to be an empty suburban street.

DJ Chose was a major part of Megan Thee Stallion’s early days, having known her as a child when she would come into the studio with her mom, rapper Holly Wood.

In an interview for All Hip-Hop, Chose reminisces: “Megan was family… I knew she was a star, that’s why I hopped on it so early.” 

DJ Chose for Billboard Magazine, 2020

DJ Chose was Megan Thee Stallion’s first director

Meg’s “Stalli Freestyle” quickly went viral, and the video marked her first professional video debut.

DJ Chose was Megan Thee Stallion’s first official director. He directed most of her early content and helped get her on the industry’s radar.

But in the years before, she had signed to 1501 Certified Entertainment, and made the Tina Snow album that would change her life.

Young Megan has not only always known what she was about, but who to be around. Appearing in yellow camo pants and a black mesh top, Megan was as captivating then as she is now.

Munachi Osegbu

Munachi Osegbu is another creative genius, and once Megan’s favorite director, responsible for the way our hot girl coach blew up after that.

Osegbu dropped his debut video for “Big Ole Freak” as Megan entered Billboard Top 100 for the first time, marking a career-defining moment for both of them.

Munachi Osegbu for This Generation, Feb 2021

“Big Ole Freak” was the first of many collaborations to come between Megan and the creative director.

The video presents Megan and her hotties bouncing around a bubble bath in red latex or swinging from a hula-hoop in a graphic tee and strappy heels.

Thus, Osegbu was the first to capture what would become the rapper’s range of latex lingerie looks and bold aesthetic signature

The Nigerian-born director followed up with Megan’s “Realer” video, inspired by afrofuturism and blaxploitation films.

Osegbu’s work reclaims the aesthetics of movies centered around Black criminals in Harlem, and transcends the politically fraught moment of the present. 

Afrofuturism is… a reconceptualization of the past, present, and future for the African diaspora.

Munachi Osegbu for Surface Magazine, 2019
Nicki Minaj (left) and Megan Thee Stallion (right) on the set of their video for “Hot Girl Summer”, Dazed Magazine

The 24 year-old videographers’ video for “Hot Girl Summer” won the Viewer’s Choice Award at the 2020 BET Awards.

He has since gone on to shoot for the likes of Nike, Rolling Stone, and Paper Magazine, and has shot for other artists like Saweetie and Diplo.

Osegbu’s love for fashion and bold color sets him apart from videographers that have tried similar styles. The hyper-saturated visuals give his videos a vitality that puts viewers in a trance, offering us a chance to become fully immersed in Meg’s Hot Girl reality.

Colin Tilley

Megan’s most recent hits have cemented her as a legend in the rap game, but also a music video phenomenon. Behind all of Megan Thee Stallion’s latest tantalizing, highly choreographed videos is director Colin Tilley.

Colin Tilley (left) with J-Balvin for Billboard, 2020

Tilley’s collaborations with Megan has taken what has always been her bold, colourful image to the next level. In “Wap,” or “Cry Baby,” or “Body,” every part of the screen scales in and out in technicolor as the rapper dances center stage.

The videographer amplified Megan’s visions by incorporating surreal distortions, CGI work, and on some occasions even a live snake. All of the costumes, nails, and hair is exaggerated ten fold to suit the wonderland-esque quality of Tilley’s work, complete with six back up dancers.

Colin Tilley’s emphasis on the extensive choreography has also made Megan a TikTok trendsetter which has taken her online presence and career to another level. 

At this point, I’ve worked with every artist out there and now it’s just about how a song will make me feel and challenge me. When you’re in the creative field like we are, what drives us more than anything? And that’s a new challenge.

Colin Tilley for Billboard, 2020

As the CEO and owner of Boy in the Castle Productions, Colin has worked with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Fergie to Missy Elliott.

And thus, he has managed to create videos that are larger than life every time. They are thematically center around distortions of reality, both of which have earned him widespread recognition in the industry.

With several accolades under his belt, including a Grammy nomination for Best Direction and countless other nominations, Tilley shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.

DJ Chose, Osegbu, and Tilley are creative directors changing the content game

Megan Thee Stallion’s skyrocketing fame can be chalked up to her immense talent. But of course, creative direction takes more than that.

DJ Chose, Munachi Osegbu, and Colin Tilley are at the top of their games too. And they have directly helped Meg’s star rise.

They are helpful and dedicated creatives, who deserve our attention too.

FKA twigs and Getty Images collaborate to empower Black creatives

In her latest contribution to the visual art world, FKA twigs is partnering with Getty Images to release visual content from the world’s largest private archive.

The images and videos will be free to use for all non-commercial use, in an effort to enrich Black history in its visual context. FKA twigs describes how artist Kandis Williams drew her attention to the wealth of information in the hands of Getty Images, saying: 

“We were discussing how powerful it would be to make this content available to Black creators and educators – enabling us to put these pieces together and make our history accessible for generations to come.”

FKA twigs for Getty Images, Feb 2021.

The monumental collaboration to celebrate Black history

Echoing FKA twigs’ sentiments, Getty Images stated that it is hoping that by making this content more accessible, Black creatives will also be able to take their storytelling to the next level.

In a mission statement, the company wrote that its intention is to “preserve and celebrate Black history.”

It also added its goal to “support storytelling as a weapon in the struggle for uplift.”

The Hulton Archive and editorial collections are set to be released to the public for non-commercial use. This is part of Getty Images’ initiative providing support for research, education, and mentoring around Black history

FKA twig’s role in the empowerment of Black creatives

FKA twigs has been a major industry presence and a champion of the visual arts for our generation.

The alt-pop icon has starred in and directed multiple ad campaigns, including Nike, Google Glass, and Calvin Klein. Most recently, she released a single titled “Don’t Judge Me.”

The video features poet and Black Lives Matter activist Solomon O.B, mental health advocate Nicole Crentsil, and countless other figures that are revolutionizing the world we live in today.

The song is a statement on what it’s like to be Black in the face of systemic and also cultural biases that stand in the way.

This collaboration with Getty Images is still yet another step in FKA twig’s career. Not only as a creative director, but as a leader in the struggle against racial injustice everywhere. 

I May Destroy You is the newest Black art snubbed at the Golden Globes

The British drama television series I May Destroy You is the most recent piece of Black art blatantly snubbed at the Golden Globes, and fans (and even rival show writers) are not happy about it.

Award shows have suffered a significant loss of credibility in recent years, with #OscarsSoWhite, and well-documented snubbing trends running rampant through the season.

This year’s Golden Globe nominations are thus no different, with their nomination of Emily in Paris for Best Comedy and omission of Michaela Cole’s I May Destroy You from the roster.

Michaela Cole (left) plays lead character Arabella in her show “I May Destroy You” (Photograph: Natalie Seery/BBC/Various Artists Ltd and FALKNA)

Even “rival” show writers see the disparity

In response to the nominations, Emily in Paris writer Deborah Copaken wrote an article. It tells you everything you need to know about where she stands on the matter:
“I’m a writer on Emily in Paris. I May Destroy You deserved a Golden Globe nomination.”

Copaken goes on to defend the show’s brilliance. And express her shock that the committee snubbed such a culturally impactful work like I May Destroy You.

She is also not naive to what it tells us about the award show, and award shows in general.

“That I May Destroy You did not get one Golden Globe nod is not only wrong, it’s what is wrong with everything.”

Deborah Copaken for The Guardian, 2021.

The article describes how this incident of racially-charged negligence reflects greater trends of disparity in everything from writing rooms to police brutality.

Lily Collins, who plays Emily herself in Copaken’s show, demonstrated less cultural awareness. She just posted a selfie with her new puppy in celebration. 

I May Destroy You genuinely opens up extremely important conversations, and deserved a Gloden Globe nod

Michaela Cole wrote, directed, and starred in her critically acclaimed show I May Destroy You. The show touched a cultural nerve for its open address of sexual assault and daring comedic approach to heavy subject matter.

TV writers internationally have come out in praise of I May Destroy You as a show. Akilah Green said, it “sent almost every writer I’ve talked to about it back to the lab.”

Cole began writing the show while filming her breakthrough Chewing Gum, after being assaulted herself on a night out with friends.

The process took two and a half years that the writer described as “hard, but cathartic.” It resulted in a show that is equal parts real and sensitive. 

Cole poses for Vulture, 2020.

Black artwork being snubbed by award shows is not rare, but it is a problem

Countless voices in the industry also share Copaken’s outcry and disbelief.

Most notably, Entertainment Weekly published an article listing other outstanding performances in addition to I May Destroy You that were omitted from the Golden Globes’ nominations, noting that – unsurprisingly – they were all delivered by black actors.

The Golden Globes’ committee is perpetually stuck in the past. But shows like I May Destroy You offer us a glimpse into the exciting future of television. 

10 Black stylists who have pioneered the way people dress today

Black stylists and designers not only just influence what we wear today, but they have influenced fashion for generations.

In a culture that takes form around an endlessly shape-shifting industry, the enduring legacies of Black stylists emerge in the fashion world as era-defining pillars of style.

Often omitted from the archive, the visionaries behind some of fashion’s boldest moments have nevertheless been holding down the culture for decades. And these Black stylists continue to frame trends in the contemporary scene.

From taffeta gowns of the ’50s to jeans on the red carpet in the early aughts, below are some of fashion’s most significant Black influencers.

Patti Wilson

Patti Wilson photographed by Emma Summerton for a profile in Models., 2016

Crowned Vogue Italia’s Editor-At-Large, and boasting decades of editorial direction for every major magazine, Patti Wilson is undoubtedly a heavyweight champion of styling and fashion direction.

Reigning through the 80’s in New York, Wilson rose to legendary status styling icons like Prince and Naomi Campbell. And this was only a few years after a chance encounter with a photographer at a jazz club where Wilson worked as a hostess.

Her public anonymity is the trademark of her excellence as a coordinator. She makes countless hours of work seem impossibly natural.

Wilson famously captured Lil’ Kim, Aaliyah, Missy Elliot, and Da Brat in a shoot for Elle magazine in 1999.

Wilson continues to work alongside world-renowned photographers, supermodels, and runway designers to bring her eclectic style to life. 

“If I follow anything I follow talent! I have been so fortunate to be working with so many people who I admire. And that’s what I love about them, their unique abilities & talents. To me, variety is what makes fashion interesting.”

Wilson in conversation with One Management’s Christopher Michael

June Ambrose

June Ambrose for Coveteur Magazine, 2013

As far as the contemporary fashion world is concerned, the woman most responsible for bringing the street to the runway is June Ambrose.

Ambrose started off at Uptown Records alongside fellow stylist Misa Hylton and A&R legend Sean Combs. She has been revolutionizing the industry since she stepped on the scene twenty-five years ago.

We have her to thank for sneaker culture in the mainstream, countless music videos of the ’90s. And for spearheading the path for future Black creatives by inventing the job title of “stylist” that didn’t exist before her.

Small Black-owned record companies that popped up in the ’90s, like Death Row Records, or Roc-A-Fella, were the first to have hired professionals to style their clients. And Ambrose’s impact was living proof that the investment was worth it.

Misa Hylton

Misa Hylton (left) seen styling Lil’ Kim (center) for a shoot in 1999 in this polaroid featured in the New York Times as part of a photo series in 2016

Arriving on the styling scene at only 17 years old, Misa Hylton began designing and curating looks for hip hop’s hottest clients almost by chance.

Working alongside then-boyfriend Sean Combs, as he founded the groundbreaking Bad Boy Records, Hylton went on to style celebrities like Missy Elliot, Thomas Wesley, and Jodeci.

This was at a time when luxury designers were less than enthralled to be associated with hip hop culture.

On The Premium Pete Show, Hylton recalls: 

“I’d be in Chanel with Mary J. Blige. And they said that her card declined, but it wouldn’t be declining. It was crazy. And then fast forward a couple years later, and we were both getting invited to sit front row.”

Misa Hylton

Seeing as we have yet to forget Lil’ Kim stepping out at the 1999 MTV VMA’s in the lilac jumpsuit more than 20 years later, Hylton’s legacy as a pioneering Black stylist is undeniable.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson at the Stonewall Riots

Crowns complete with artificial fruit, lipstick and dress in matching shades of striking red, and a smile that never goes unrecognized, Marsha P. Johnson was Greenwich Village’s stylish darling for almost three decades.

Marsha was known predominantly for an inspiring life of service to the LGBTQIA+ community. But she had an undeniable style that elevated the drag communit. And pushed creative bounds with her resourcefulness.

Johnson’s flamboyant silhouettes, bright wigs, and stacked accessories made her impossible to miss. She even caught the eye of pop artist Andy Warhol, for whom she once posed in a polaroid.

In interviews since, she’s described a lifetime of fashioning flower crowns out of the leftover petals that would fall where she slept under the tables in Manhattan’s flower district. As well as rifling through the trash for tossed-out gems.

The exaggerated, camp-style that has resurfaced in the culture today owes its whimsical and uplifting spirit to Marsha P. Johnson, who fought tirelessly for everyone’s right to exist and create.

Ann Lowe

black fashion
Ann Lowe featured in the 1964 Saturday Evening Post. Photograph courtesy of the author

Among wealthy American elites in the 1950’s, Anne Lowe was a highly sought-after dressmaker. She dazzled clients with what would later be recognized as couture quality seamstress work.

Lowe was famously commissioned by Jackie Kennedy to create dresses for her historic wedding to John F. Kennedy, including pieces for her whole bridal party and the wedding dress itself.

She accomplished this despite her studio flooding only 10 days before the wedding. This ruined two months’ worth of work that had already gone into the project.

The dress received national coverage as a centerpiece for a momentous occasion. But Lowe herself was only ever referred to as a “colored dressmaker.

Lowe was never acknowledged publicly by any of her high society clients. But she gathered tulle and lace masterpieces, fixtures in the closets of all the most glamorous women of the ’50s. And she defined the timeless feminine quality that the era offers fashion today. 

Tina Knowles-Lawson

black fashion
Tina Knowles-Lawson sits for a regal portrait by Ryan Pfluger for the New York Times, 2017

In the white-washed world of early 2000’s pop stars, Destiny’s Child was a game-changing trio in many senses.

Ms. Tina Knowles-Lawson (Beyonce’s mother) was behind most of the group’s earliest looks. And she designed every garment for the girls from red carpets to concerts to TV and radio appearances.

Knowles-Lawson worked alongside Beyonce’s longtime stylist Ty Hunter. Hunter was himself discovered by Knowles-Lawson in a boutique where he worked.

And Knowles-Lawson drew inspiration from girl groups of the ’70s (like Diana Ross the Motown Queen!) to pioneer a new look in Black culture.

She was discouraged from her vision for the girls, especially with the likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera regularly dominating the scene:

“At the time they were big pop stars. And in order for the girls to cross over, they said they needed to wear jeans and t-shirts. I took offense to it because I felt like the girls, in their splendor, were different. They were unique, they were unapologetically Black.”

Tina Knowles-Lawson

Ultimately, Ms. Tina’s commitment laid the groundwork for their legendary ensembles to be recognized as pop stars and style icons alike.

Young Thug

black fashion
Young Thug in Alessandro Trincone. Image by 300 Entertainment

From the moment his cover for the EP “No My Name Is Jeffery” was released in August of 2016, Young Thug’s career in rap has been inseparable from his trailblazing sense of style.

Thug’s gender-defiant style marked a cultural shift in the otherwise rampant culture of hyper-masculinity in the rap game.

But even before that, the rapper was already coming out on covers of magazines like DAZED in tulle dresses. And regularly posting selfies in chains closely wrapped like pearls around his neck.

In an interview with Billboard he recalls:

“When I was 12, my feet were so small I wore my sisters’ glitter shoes. My dad would whoop me: ‘You’re not going to school now, you’ll embarrass us!’ But I never gave a f— what people think.”

Young Thug

Working alongside his longtime stylist Zoe Dupree, who ensures he has a massive collection of garments to choose from at any given time, Thug continues to pave the way for rappers like Lil Uzi Vert or Playboi Carti and their fans to dress however they want to. Picking up then, right where icons like Prince and Andre 3000 left off. 

Dapper Dan

black stylists
Daniel Day (left) poses with L.L. Cool J (right) in his custom bomber jacket, 1986. Photographer unknown.

Anyone who has ever pledged allegiance to a 90’s hip-hop/R&B icon knows the signature work of Daniel Day, popularly known as Dapper Dan.

Growing up in Harlem, Day loved shoes, but given that his family was rarely able to afford them, he instead joined groups of up to 40 or 50 kids that would break through windows and shoplift.

After enrolling in Columbia University and traveling to Africa, the iconic Black stylist returned to Harlem with a renewed passion for design.

And he then began reimagining clothes in the iconic logos of major fashion houses like Gucci, Fendi, and Prada in his 24 hour, 7 days a week, custom order boutique.

His fresh takes have been likened to the practice of musical sampling, for the way that his pieces inject new life into the logos he dressed celebrity athletes and hip-hop artists in.

But his store was ultimately run out of business by a conglomerate of lawyers representing the major fashion houses he was appropriating.

Rumor has it he has taken his operations underground, and after a cultural appropriation scandal in which Gucci boasted designs of his from the late 80’s as their own in 2018, he now designs in an invitation-only atelier known as The Dapper Dan Atelier Studio financed by Gucci. 

Derek Lee

black fashion
Lee (right) poses with Aaliyah (right) on the set of the popular video for her song “Try Again,” circa 2000.

Despite her untimely death and the aftershocks of her absence from popular culture, Aaliyah’s effortless vibe and simple, balanced silhouettes are still the blueprint for Y2K fashion that has returned to the mainstream today.

Derek Lee is the man behind the enigmatic style that amplified her look without obscuring her genuine spirit, inspired by the pretty girls he grew up with on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. And he was also the creative force that dance hall brought to their looks.

Aaliyah frequently flew back and forth between L.A. and N.Y., and thus early looks were bought in sex shops downtown, simply because they were the only stores open at midnight before Lee had to get back on a flight to be on set with her the next morning.

As Aaliyah rose to fame, Lee got the opportunity to style her in knock-off Chanel belts from Canal Street, countless monochromatic music video moments, and even a Dapper Dan original.

Lee would have been on the flight that killed Aaliyah if he hadn’t opted to spend another day in the Bahamas. This was where her single “Rock the Boat,” was filmed.

On their last ever project together, Lee styled Aaliyah in a loose tie-dye fabric he picked up in the garment district and fashioned into a skirt on set.

Josephine Baker

black stylists
Josephine Baker captured in costume by George Hoyningen-Huene, 1931.

The great Josephine Baker was an elusive figure of the Roaring Twenties, whose influence on style today cannot be overstated.

With her signature pencil-thin eyebrows and sleek pixie cut, she defined the look of the decade. But her risque costumes have lived on through the ages as a timeless mainstay of glamour.

Baker was the first Black woman and stylist to become a world-renowned performer and cultural trendsetter of her age.

She was also a spy that relayed information to the French on what her audience members in Nazi Germany were discussing during her burlesque performances.

For this, Baker used invisible ink on her music sheets to take notes.

Baker was a major part of the civil rights movement upon her return to the U.S. And she also refused to play to segregated audiences. We will always remember Baker’s on-stage costumes.

They famously include a skirt made only of bananas that she donned in her performances in Paris. As well as bedazzled lingerie that Rihanna famously made an homage to at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards. 

These Black stylists defined their generations… and their impact is still felt today

From Josephine Baker to Young Thug, these Black stylists show that Black culture never dies. Rather, it lives on and is adopted and then expanded upon by new Black creators.

Furthermore, these Black influencers carry the torch forward for creativity in fashion.

And we don’t just remember them on Black History Month, but all year-round.