Ashlee Haze On Breaking Stereotypes And Building Up Women Of Color

Photo by Adam Rubinstein for stoppeddown Photography

The poet speaks up

In celebration of Black History Month, NYLON is running a spotlight series called UNAPOLOGETIC. Every day, we’ll celebrate different aspects of black culture through profiles, interviews, roundtables, reviews, videos, and op-eds. #Blacklivesmatter and we hold that truth to be self-evident.

Ashlee Haze went viral back in 2015, but the world still doesn't get enough of her. The Atlanta-based poet and spoken word artist's claim to digital fame was her piece "For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliott Poem)." Growing up in a Christian family as the oldest of three, Haze recalls how her mother believed that she would either become a lawyer or a poet. The first poem that the 27-year-old remembers writing was for a mother-daughter banquet at the age of 10.

Haze graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. in philosophy with a concentration in pre-law. "I grew so much during that period of my life," she says. "For me, college made me challenge a lot of my belief systems. I began questioning what I believed and what I was told and holding myself accountable to that." With that in mind, she's currently on a college tour, sharing stories about her experiences and mistakes with students.

Last year, Haze published her first book Land Of The Living. A few months after the release, she was featured in the opening track on Blood Orange's thought-provoking album Freetown SoundBouncing off of that buzz, she was then invited to participate in THINX's powerful anti-NYFW event and completely stole the show. More recently, Haze was cast in Lane Bryant's #ThisBody campaign.

We caught up with Haze a few weeks ago to find out how she became the poet she is today. Learn more about her journey in the interview, below.

Tell me about your childhood and growing up. How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?
I come from a family of women who, before my mother, really didn't get more than a high school education and worked blue-collar jobs. My dad was a railman for the Chicago Transit Authority. All of those experiences inspire me and my work. 

I have a part in my poetry set where in the beginning I do "The Help" poem and tell of the very intricate history of African Americans as domestic workers, and in the poem, I explain how my mother made us clean every Saturday. Later on, I tell the story of Missy Elliott coming to my house and the joke is my mom asked me was my house clean. It was Saturday, so it was! All of my experiences, including the grief associated with the death of my father, have made me who I am and I chronicle those experiences in poems. I grew up a fat, black girl from Chicago. That means I grew up having to work hard at self-esteem. I grew up very aware of what it means to be black and middle class. That frames my story, and that vantage point is the one I tell my story from. 

What motivated you to participate in poetry slams? What is your approach as a coach for the Java Monkey Slam Team?
My high school literature teacher, Mrs. Vivky Guy, entered me in my first poetry competition and I won. After that, anytime I would hear about a competition or slam, I would enter. Watching Def Poetry Jam and hearing poets like Tamika "Georgia Me" Harper and Abyss made me want to do what they did. As it turns out, I love competition, and it has made me a better poet and a better person. My approach as a coach is very Socratic, in a sense. I ask a lot of questions—What did you mean when you wrote that? Why do you make that hand gesture when you perform? What do you want the audience to get from this part of your piece? What if you try this? In that way, the poet I'm coaching is always in control of their work and how they perform it. I just like to give them the tools to do things differently, should they choose to. 

How did you find your way into what you do now for a living?
I took so many writing workshops. PSI [Poetry Slam, Inc] hosts three major poetry competitions every year, and workshops are a big part of the competition week. They are free to participating poets so I learned from people who were successful in poetry. I also attended the Pink Door Writing Retreat which is now exclusively for woman identifying and gender non-conforming people of color. There, I had some of the most cathartic workshops and conversations I've ever had. I also just asked a lot of poets who are full-time artists what they did to get there. So I took their advice, kept my nine-to-five and worked on my dreams from five to nine. After investing so much time and money into my art, I began to notice a return. In 2016, I got a call from The College Agency with an offer to represent me; I accepted, and the rest is history. Youtube and social media have played a major role, getting my work to audiences all over the world. I still feel like there's a phantom factor to how this all happened. I'll just call it divine timing. 

Can you tell me more about the process of putting Land Of The Living together and the content that is featured in this collection?
The book is divided into two parts, "Grief" and "Life goes on." The first half of the book deals with different forms of grief, specifically the loss of my father and the grief that's a result of the violence inflicted on people of color. Poetry has always been cathartic for me, so I write what I feel. I'm also a firm believer in balance, so the second half of the book deals with joy and the good that has happened to me. It deals with my experience of black girl magic and self-love. The book contains poems that span about 5 years, so I just took some of my best writing and put it into this book. 

"For Colored Girls" went viral to the point where you were actually able to meet Missy Elliott. How does it feel knowing that your work resonated (and still resonates) with so many women of color?
It's still a bit surreal for me. Although I know it was a slow process, it still kind of feels like I just woke up one morning and "role model" was a hat I put on. It's a hat that I wear proudly. There's no better feeling than having all sorts of brown girls come up to me after a show and just confirm our shared experiences. I feel like I'm in an exclusive society and I have sisters all over the world. 

What was the experience of working with Dev Hynes on the Blood Orange record like?
Amazing. Dev is such a visionary, and it was an honor to help him execute his vision. And what a privilege it is to be featured on an album that spotlights so many women of color, including Ava Raiin who shares the first track with me. 

During this difficult period of social injustice, activists are also calling on artists to create. What keeps you inspired to practice your craft?
One of the gems I picked up from Pink Door Writing Retreat matriarch Rachel McKibbens was this saying: "You are an important person and your work is necessary." What keeps me going is the idea that somebody needs my work. If nothing else, I need my work just to keep my sanity! Being able to chronicle my feelings and to have them resonate with someone else who may not have the words for their grief is such a privilege. 

Your performance for THINX's NYFW event was so powerful. How do you feel about this new push for body positivity in the fashion industry?
It's way past due, but, also, so on time. I have never been more proud to be a plus size woman of color. I feel more visible than I ever have, and I am starting to see more WOC where there has previously been a lack. I applaud THINX and the work they do for women across cultures, identities, and classes. 

What are some of your personal goals?
One of my goals is to help shape the acceptance of art as a business. Sometimes I find myself having to work so hard to justify what I do—"Yes, I'm an artist. Yes, my art is my business. No, I don't eat ramen noodles every day"—and break the stereotypes. Another goal is to empower young women of color. I love to teach poetry and teach body positive workshops. Kola Boof said, "The black woman is the only flower that grows unwatered." I want to water our babies and give them a chance to really and truly walk in their purposes. 

We also see Margot Robbie take on Sharon Tate

The new trailer for Quentin Tarantino's upcoming movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gives a look at the Manson Family. In the previous clip, we saw Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio at their funniest. Now, we get to see Margot Robbie take on actress Sharon Tate, Lena Dunham become a cult member, and how the fictional and real-life story lines will intersect in the film.

Per a press release, the film—that follows a fictional story set around the time of the real-life Manson murders—"visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore."

In this clip, after being introduced to Dalton and Booth, viewers get to see how the latter ends up mingling with the Manson Family. As Booth picks up a girl (Margaret Qualley) on the side of the road, he unknowingly welcomes a Manson family member into his life and begins to visit their ranch. The fiction and real-life stories intersect when we find out that Dalton lives next store to Tate, who was murdered by the members of Charles Manson's cult in 1969.

Watch the new trailer for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood ahead of its July 26 theatrical release, below.


Photos by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

This photo proves that they are the chillest onscreen family

Sophie Turner just posted a photo of herself, Maisie Williams, and Isaac Hempstead Wright—aka the Stark siblings—to her Instagram, showing just what the three used to get up to when the Game of Thrones cameras weren't rolling.

The photo shows Wright looking quite pleased with himself while sitting on a makeshift throne, wearing no pants. As he should be, seeing as (spoiler) his character, Bran, won the Iron Throne this weekend. Williams, meanwhile, is looking way too cool to be involved in the shenanigans, wearing a pair of black sunglasses and staring absently off-camera. As for Turner, she's looking away from her onscreen brother, too, nervously smoking a Juul.

"The pack survived," Turner captioned the photo.

This photo just goes to prove that the Stark siblings are the chillest onscreen family. (It also proves, yet again, that Turner's social media is an absolute delight.)

We're actually a little sad that this footage didn't make it into the final season, considering how many modern-day objects have been spotted in the show's last few episodes.

Photo via @mileycyrus on Twitter

Meet Ashley

Miley Cyrus shared the trailer for her forthcoming Black Mirror episode, and it's basically Hannah Montana set in a dystopian future. Cyrus is a pink wig-wearing pop star named Ashley who is rolling out an in-home virtual assistant, named Ashley Too, that looks like her and shares her voice. But, as is the case with every Black Mirror episode, this technology is not as cute and fun as it's advertised to be.

In the trailer, we get the idea that Ashley is all about wanting fans to "believe" in themselves—but underneath that pink wig, maybe she doesn't feel that same self-love. After Ashley Too introduces herself to fan and new owner Rachel, promising to be her friend, we get a look at Ashley's darker side. She's depressed and tired of the pop star life. A record label executive says to several people in the room, "She doesn't understand how fragile all this is." As they consider upping her dose of medication, Ashley's life is on a downward slope. "It's getting so hard to keep doing this," she voices over glimpses of a police car chase, performances, and breakdowns backstage.

But back to the technology: Does Ashley's breakdown also mean the breakdown of Ashley Too? Looks like it. We see Rachel's virtual assistant screaming, "Get that cable out of my ass! Holy shit! Pull it out," breathing a sigh of relief as soon as they pull it out. A title card then reveals the episode name, "Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too."

Watch the full trailer and get a full view of Cyrus' cyborg-esque pop star look, below. Black Mirror returns to Netflix on June 5.

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Photo by Paras Griffin / Stringer / Getty Images.

Several actresses allegedly had "issues" with him

Lena Waithe's Showtime series, The Chi, just lost one of its main characters. Jason Mitchell, who was also set to appear in the Netflix film Desperados, has been dropped from both projects following multiple allegations of misconduct. He has also been dropped by his agent and manager.

Hollywood Reporter heard from a source "with knowledge" of The Chi, who says that Tiffany Boone, the actress who plays Mitchell's girlfriend on the show, is just one of several actresses who had "issues" with him. She eventually told producers at Fox21 that she could no longer work with him after filing several sexual harassment complaints. Apparently, her fiancé, Dear White People co-star Marque Richardson, would join her on set when she would shoot with Mitchell.

While news of Mitchell's alleged misconduct is just now beginning to surface, it looks like the ball started rolling on the fallout weeks ago. He was dropped from Desperados and replaced by Lamorne Morris before filming began. A source from the production team said that the producers received "specific information" that they reviewed and acted on quickly. Similarly, a source familiar with Mitchell's former agent, UTA, said the decision to drop him a few weeks ago was very quick following the allegations.

Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images

Prior to the college admissions scandal, she said she doesn't "care about school"

Apparently, Olivia Jade wants to go back to school despite all those YouTube videos that suggested otherwise. Back in March, it was revealed that her mom, Fuller House actress Lori Loughlin, and dad, Mossimo Giannulli, had scammed Jade's way into the University of Southern California. Now, Loughlin faces jail time, and Jade lost out on plenty of lucrative ad partnerships.

According to Us Weekly, "Olivia Jade wants to go back to USC," per a source. "She didn't get officially kicked out and she is begging the school to let her back in." Another source though ousted Jade's real motivation to the publication. "She knows they won't let her in, so she's hoping this info gets out," they shared. "She wants to come out looking like she's changed, learned life lessons and is growing as a person, so she for sure wants people to think she is interested in her education."

Jade previously shared in a YouTube video she's in college for the "experience of like game days, partying" rather than the education. She also said, "I don't know how much of school I'm going to attend... I don't really care about school, as you guys all know." Though these statements were made prior to the scandal coming to light, her brand partnerships didn't come into question until her parents were indicted.

Right now, despite previous reports that Jade and her sister would both be dropping out of USC, Jade's enrollment has been placed on hold—meaning she cannot register for classes, or even withdraw from the school—until her parents' court case comes to a close. Then, the school will make its own decision as to how Jade will be affected. I think, either way, she should have to pay off a few of her classmates' loans for all the BS she pulled.