Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill April 7, 2021
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New downtown Raleigh location opening this July! “West Street Dog” will have pet boarding, daycare, grooming PLUS a dog friendly bar and off leash dog park! 2
April 7, 2021
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Arts & Cultu Sarah Edward
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VOL. 38 NO. 12
CONTENTS NEWS 6
Hispanic/Latinx residents are disproportionately the victims of robbery this year. BY THOMASI MCDONALD
A bill in the General Assembly seeks (again) to ban the practice of conversion therapy. BY GIULIA HEYWARD
10 Homeowners in a Cary trailer park protest fines, fees, and missing ownership titles. BY JANE PORTER
A woman who experienced a hate crime in Chapel Hill is working to change the law. BY SARA PEQUEÑO
ARTS & CULTURE 15 Chapel Hill writer Martha Waters pens genre-bending historical romance novels. BY SARAH EDWARDS 17 A Women's Theatre Festival production reimagines Othello. BY BYRON WOODS
A Durham filmmaker's tribute to her dying mother becomes a powerful six-minute film. BY THOMASI MCDONALD 19 Elephant Micah revisits a DIY tour of Alaska. BY SARAH EDWARDS
THE REGULARS 4 15 Minutes
COVER Photo by Jade Wilson / Design by Jon Fuller / Words by Kalkidan Miller
WE M A DE THIS PUBLIS H ER Susan Harper
Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald
EDITOR I AL
Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño
Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West Senior Writer Leigh Tauss
Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods
Contributors Madeline Crone, Jameela F. Dallis, Michaela Dwyer, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Brian Howe, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Nick Williams Interns Emma Lee Kenfield
C RE ATI V E Creative Director
Annie Maynard Graphic Designer
Jon Fuller Staff Photographer
Jade Wilson A D V E RTI S I N G Director of Sales John Hurld Raleigh Sales Manager MaryAnn Kearns
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Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards
April 7, 2021
BACK TA L K
Last week, we wrote about the Triangle’s real estate market and how the COVID pandemic has exacerbated inequities between the area’s poorest and richest residents.
“Thank you for covering, esp. noting impact of Big Tech coming to town, lack of rent control & folks being priced out at end of lease,” wrote Twitter user LESLIE DREYER. “This is how most folks get (informally) evicted across US. Saw 4 homes rent double in Old North Durham next to $700K+ luxury homes coming in.” “What is going on with the real estate market?” asks Facebook user LORI LIEB. “People are buying homes for outrageous prices and the banks are loaning out the money. Haven’t we been down this road time and time again?” For the web, we wrote about a study in which Duke, which charges $58,000 per year for tuition, was ranked the No. 1 “best value” college in North Carolina. Some readers say there is more to it than meets the eye. “This is a little misleading since over half of students don’t pay full price at schools like Duke,” wrote Facebook user FRANCES BEROSET. “Students whose families make under about 60k can go to 100% need met colleges like Duke and Chapel Hill for free or close to free. So for low-income families, the cost of Duke vs UNC is typically comparable... for a wealthy family, it’s probably not a great value.” “NC State is the best value for the money if you want to have an employable degree upon graduation,” writes Facebook commenter DANIEL WILLIAMS. Also for the web, we wrote about the actor Colin Firth, who will portray Durham’s convicted “staircase killer,” Michael Peterson, in an upcoming film for HBO. Some readers were excited. “I hope they’ll be filming here. Omgosh I adore Mr. Darcy,” writes Facebook commenter MINNIE NELSON. But some are 100 percent over it. “How many movies about this do we need?” wrote Facebook commenter AMANDEA ORFITELLI. “Ugh. Nobody needs another movie about that skeevy murderer,” commenter RENEE DEININGER ADDISON agrees. But commenter CHUCKBOB FESLER is excited for another reason: “well, I do want to see who plays Brad, the hot call boy from Ft. Bragg!,” he writes.
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April 7, 2021
15 MINUTES Maria Angeles & Dan Tosse, 33 Creators of Doughnut Days BY LEIGH TAUSS email@example.com
Doughnut Days is a Triangle doughnut radar map. Find them at doughnut-days.com or @doughnut_days on Instagram.
So why doughnuts? Maria: Doughnuts have the same history that I do. They came from another part of the world and were molded into something new here. My family and Dan’s family are from Argentina. Every culture has a type of sweet that is part of shared experiences. In Argentina, we have medialuna, which translates into half moon. It’s like a little chubby croissant, if a croissant and a brioche doughnut had a very delicious baby. They’re a big part of gatherings. When my family used to go back to Argentina, once we arrived and were with family and friends, we would sit down and have coffee or tea and medialunas. It’s universal to share things that we love. Shared experiences are the whole point of doughnut days.
What does a doughnut day look like? A typical doughnut day involves a whole body of research. I created these maps and our adventures are chronicled on Instagram and YouTube. We have this collection of local doughnut maps and lists. It’s a doughnut database, or a radar, where I logged everything possible. It starts out with research. I take a look at what’s available, what’s near us, what’s happening. We make sure that our dogs at home have everything they need and then we go out into the world seeking doughnuts. We take some totally candid, completely unstaged photographs. Um, kidding. Some are staged but we take photos and try and have a good time.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SUBJECT
What is the best doughnut in the Triangle? That is a tough question. I don’t like to answer it because doughnut days is an informative outlet. It’s got some biases, obviously, but no official ranking system because the objective is to amplify where you can get a doughnut or doughnut-like thing. Decide for yourself what your favorite place is. But [here is who is] on my personal radar as rising stars of Triangle doughnuts. Blue Ox Bakery is amazing. It’s run by a young couple who were on an episode of the Netflix series Sugar Rush. They have doughnut popups over at Sir Walter coffee. The Epic Vegan Food Truck is run by this lovely local lady and her vegan doughnuts were in the Durham Vegan Bake Sale fundraising event that helps fight food insecurity. Another vegan doughnut maker is Crummy Hunter’s Doughnuts. In 2019, Lousy Hunters Doughnuts opened in downtown Raleigh as a little sweet shop. They ended up closing and Crummy Hunters is taking over doughnut production from them. They’ll sell those at Cloche Coffee and on the Tenco Coffee Truck. The last one, I call it the doughnuts of my heart because it’s what started it all, even though they’re not really doughnuts. It’s Medialuna Republic. I’ve waited 20 years for a good medialuna maker in this area. We prayed to the Argentinian demigods and they delivered. W
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Draw a Larger Circle As the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray preached, we can strive to meet discrimination against LGBTQ+ people with revolutionary love BY JESSE HUDDLESTON firstname.lastname@example.org
intend to do my part through the power of persuasion, by spiritual resistance, by the power of my pen, and by inviting the violence upon my own body. For what is life itself without the freedom to walk proudly before God and (hu)mans and to glorify creation through the genius of self-expression? I intend to destroy segregation by positive and embracing methods. When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all (hu)mankind.” –Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray Pauli Murray’s words have been significant throughout the 20th century and beyond. For quick context, her words shaped the historic influence of notable political figures including Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Thurgood Marshall. It feels appropriate to reference the words from a human rights pioneer who grew up in North Carolina when considering the harmful, exclusive legislation recently brought forth in our state’s General Assembly. In case you missed it, on March 23, the fifth anniversary of the infamous House Bill 2, our state’s public servants introduced legislation that targets trans youth in sports. I have to be honest, though. Especially after all of the suffering this last year, Pauli’s words, at face value, are hard to swallow. I am a young, Black, genderqueer (hu) man living in North Carolina, doing my best to survive a pandemic—I am not trying to invite violence upon my own body. Life was already violent enough before COVID-19, especially for LGBTQ+ folks. Data collected across the country showed that we were more likely than cisgender heterosexual people to experience sexual assault. Back in 2015, research verified that transgender people were disproportionately experiencing homelessness, unemployment, harassment, psychological distress, suicidality, and more. And even in 2020, during the pandemic, transgender and gender non-conforming people were still being murdered at alarming rates, with trans women of color comprising the majority of the victims.
COVID-19 has almost certainly exacerbated these problems, making life seem like an open buffet of collective suffering when our plates were already full. Each particular kind of violence directed at LGBTQ+ folks, whether physical or psychic, is real and persistent; it has not let up at all. With this in mind, it makes me wonder about the introduction of this possible new legislation: what do we really achieve by excluding children, preventing them from participating fully in our communities? Have we all not suffered enough? Do we not deserve better? And let’s be clear: we deserve better, especially LGBTQ+ people. LGBTQ+ people suffer disproportionately, not because we are inherently inferior but because others are treating us as if we are inferior when we are not. People, particularly those with institutional power, exclude and marginalize us, deny our rights and protections, and regard these dehumanizing behaviors as normal and justified, as if we deserve it when we deserve better. We all deserve better. This is why Pauli Murray’s words still manage to resonate, despite the counterintuitive invitation of violence. I think Pauli was somehow willing to invite violence upon herself because she knew she deserved better and recognized the inevitable pain she would encounter in order to birth her visions of community into existence and to bring her noble endeavors from imagination to fruition. Pauli’s endeavor to draw a larger circle, including the very ones who would exclude her, is a noteworthy challenge to create something we all deserve, to commit to honor our shared personhood, to construct policies and practices that are more creative, inclusive, and humanizing. When I imagine humanizing legislation that draws a larger circle, that makes space for both LGBTQ+ people and those who seek to exclude and marginalize us, it demands that we all consider what it would take to cultivate real trust and honesty and empathy and accountability and boundaries. In that larger circle, we must face our common reality that we are connected to one another, even when our actions suggest other-
wise. In that larger circle, we must accept that we cause suffering when we avoid it at all costs, that there is no promise of absolute safety for anyone, and that we will mess up and cause harm along the way, even with the best intentions. Drawing a larger circle doesn’t mean we minimize or glamorize the violence that persists, welcoming it with enthusiasm. Rather, it means we strive to greet it with revolutionary love, creative energy, and courageous fortitude. It means we wrestle against painful principalities, seeking to transform the legacies of violence we have inherited into something better that we all deserve. It means we stop dehumanizing each other and we stretch our capacities to imagine a better North Carolina. We can imagine a better North Carolina, one where HB 2 is fully repealed for good, one where conversion therapy for youth is banned. We can imagine a better North Carolina, one where LGBTQ+ people can find housing, work, healthcare, therapy, education, and recreational sports without fear of discrimination, one where LGBTQ+ parents and caregivers don’t have to jump through hoops to ensure their children are legally considered theirs. And, y’all, we can imagine a better North Carolina, one that we create together where LGBTQ+ people not only survive but flourish, one that we all deserve where wholeness is a human right for all of us instead of a privilege for a few of us. Instead of returning hate with hate, reacting to violent anti-LGBTQ+ statements with more dehumanizing violence, I join with Pauli and amplify her words. I invite our state’s legislators to use their political influence and institutional power to draw a larger circle, to commit to rejecting all anti-LGBTQ+ policies that bring needless suffering, and to introduce and pass creative, inclusive, and humanizing legislation that wholly affirms our shared personhood and cultivates protections and equity for LGBTQ+ people. That is the North Carolina we all deserve. W Jesse Huddleston is a board member at the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice in Durham. INDYweek.com
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A Targeted Community Durham’s Hispanic/Latinx residents are disproportionately victims in armed robberies this year BY THOMASI MCDONALD email@example.com
ispanic/Latinx residents make up about 14 percent of Durham’s population yet account for 41 percent of the Bull City’s robbery victims so far this year. The robberies reached a flash point last month when Durham police said that 18 Latinx residents were targeted in 10 armed robberies over nine days. Longtime community organizer Ivan Almonte came to the aid of one robbery victim who was working at an apartment complex near North Roxboro Road. “It was around noon,” Almonte says. “It was really bad. He was robbed at gunpoint while he was doing some work at the apartments on a ladder.” Almonte says the robberies have traumatized Latinx communities. “When I talk to people in the communities, they’re mad, they’re angry, and sad,” he says. “They wonder why you take away the little money we have? They say, ‘Why are you taking from us? We have so little?’” What may be worse than the robberies has been the police response, Almonte says. The community organizer says the victim he helped had been robbed of his cell phone, so he called the police on his behalf. “They never called me back,” Almonte says. “The police say they’re trying to help the community, but the victims feel like they don’t really care about them.” Almonte says there were more robberies last month than the 10 reported to the police, but people are afraid to call 911, and language barriers make it difficult to communicate. Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael, however, told the INDY that investigators are concerned with what appears to be an uptick in the targeting of Hispan6
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ic/Latinx residents, adding that the police department has reached out to the communities where the robberies have taken place. “Information has been sent to the media,” Michael says, “including the Spanish-speaking media.” Some Latinx activists contacted by the INDY declined to comment about the crimes because of past evidence indicating the perpetrators were Black. “It’s a tricky issue,” says a spokeswoman with a Triangle-based Latinx organization, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We have to be very mindful of the perception and being viewed as anti-Black.” Alexandra Valladares, who was the first Latina elected to the Durham school board, described an “emerging pattern” in the city, where economic conditions have tethered working-class Black and Latinx residents to the same low-income communities. Valladares points to small things that have bred crime like apartment buildings without surveillance cameras, security guards, and adequate lighting. “As long as communities are made vulnerable,” she says, “they’ll continue to be targeted.” Valladares remembers one particular robbery in a Durham apartment parking lot, where a Latinx man was robbed while on his way to a nearby grocery store. “A thin Black kid held a gun to his head and tried to shoot him twice,” she says. “When the gun didn’t work, he assaulted him with the back of the gun and broke his jaw, then he went inside and robbed his wife.” The trauma the woman endured, Valladares says, triggers a visceral reaction whenever she encounters someone in public who resembles the perpetrator. It also
PHOTO BY CODEY KACZYNSKI VIA PEXELS
prompted a dramatic change in the couple’s lifestyle. They live in fear of what the dark might bring. “As soon as the sun goes down, they are not going out,” she says. “That’s not a solution. It’s a coping mechanism to avoid the same predicament.” Some crimes against the Latinx community have come from within. In January 2019, police sped to a shooting on House Avenue near the Lakewood Shopping Center, where officers found the bodies of Murilio Zurito Domingo, 24, and Bertin Vasquez Mendoza, 26, dead in the street. Police charged Jose Manuel Vargas-Regino, 20, with two counts of murder and Jonathan Cabrera, 18, with two counts of accessory after the fact. “We have Brown boys with guns,” Valladares says. “It’s not just Black youth.” Valladares says the challenges faced by Black and Brown men correlate with
Durham public school suspension rates among students of color. “We are not seeing the complexity of this thing,” she says. “It’s not just about race. That’s too simplistic.” Edgar Vergara, pastor of Iglesia La Semilla, a Hispanic/Latinx faith community, says no one in the community has reached out to him about the robberies, but he has spoken with activists who have made it a point to get the word out in the community. “What I’m hearing are activists asking people to be vigilant, to be aware and to take precautions,” Vergara says. “If you are a victim, don’t remain quiet. Notify the authorities.” The targeting of Latinx residents is not a new story in the city. During the late 1990s, with neighborhoods reeling from the crack cocaine epidemic, Durham police reported a spike in armed robberies with young Black men targeting Latinx residents.
Police and Latinx advocates at the time explained that immigrants were “unbanked”—or carrying large amounts of cash rather than depositing money at financial institutions. The problem was compounded by the community being fearful of notifying the police after a crime, owing to their immigration status. The Hispanic/Latinx population in Durham also grew in the late 1990s, creating unease between working-class African Americans and their new neighbors who were competing for their living spaces and jobs. Today, things have improved somewhat thanks to a progressive, multicultural brand of leadership. But the unease is now exacerbated by an ongoing housing crisis further aggravated by gentrification and complicated by the pandemic, which has coincided with an overall rise in gun-related crime. In November, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel and Police Chief Cerelyn Davis hosted a press conference to address gun violence as the city closed in on more than 800 shootings for 2020. Schewel said the “very tough few months of gun violence” was part of a national trend exacerbated by the pandemic. The city was already challenged by a proliferation of illegal guns. But the pandemic, he said, was now fueling “out-of-control gun sales,” while further igniting the always-volatile illegal drug trade and gang activity. It also is natural to wonder if the March robberies were fueled by a similar ethnic hatred that has targeted Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders across the country. “I don’t want to believe that,” Vergara, the pastor, says. “I want to believe that we’re in a better place hopefully, with the new [Biden] administration. But we’ve seen what our Asian-American/Pacific Islander brothers and sisters are experiencing. I want to say no, but it wouldn’t be surprising.” Vergara thinks the armed robberies last month were more crimes of opportunity. “My general sense is that, especially with the economy, a lot of Hispanic/Latinx residents are essential workers and are being paid in cash and targeted on certain days,” he says. Meanwhile, Valladares would like to see a bundle of solutions hammered out by all of the factions of the city to address the problem. As far as she’s concerned, issues of equity and access to community resources for young people are key. “We have to make sure we reach Black and Brown youth and design and create opportunities for them,” she says. “We have to make sure every child has an opportunity to see themselves reflected in those opportunities.” W INDYweek.com
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Worst Practices In North Carolina, the subjection of minors to conversion therapy persists as a dirty little secret BY GIULIA HEYWARD firstname.lastname@example.org
or 14 months, Seven Atsila’s life was a nightmare. The then 15-year-old Waxhaw resident, who was assigned female at birth but now identifies as two-spirit, an indigenous term used to describe someone who has both masculine and feminine traits, had been struggling with his gender identity along with other behavioral issues. His parents thought it would be helpful to enroll Atsila at Solstice East, a treatment center outside of Asheville for adolescent girls struggling with everything from ADHD and academic issues to substance abuse and addiction, in 2015. This is where Atsila, now 22, says he was forced to undergo conversion therapy while he continued to struggle with his gender identity. “I was 10 times worse when I left Solstice East than when I went in,” Atsila says. Last week, several Democrats in North Carolina’s General Assembly introduced a bill, House Bill 452, to ban licensed professionals from practicing conversion therapy—a blanket term for the practice of attempting to alter an individual’s sexual, or gender, identity—on minors. North Carolina is one of 30 states in the country that hasn’t banned conversion therapy and it took an executive order from Governor Roy Cooper, in 2019, to prohibit state funding for entities such as treatment programs and churches that performed the practice on minors. “This legislation will move North Carolina forward and help us build a state where LGBTQ people are respected and protected, no matter where they live,” said Rep. Vernetta Alston (D-Durham), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in a press release. “Too many 8
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LGBTQ people—especially those who are BIPOC or transgender—experience discrimination and violence in North Carolina, and our laws right now leave them vulnerable.” Conversion therapy remains legal in every state in the South, with the exception of Virginia, which outlawed the practice last year. Democratic legislators and civil rights advocates say that the lack of legislative action to ban conversion therapy has allowed, and even encouraged, its use in North Carolina. But this isn’t the first time Democrats have tried to ban conversion therapy. A similar bill was introduced in the General Assembly last year. It didn’t just fail— Republican leaders wouldn’t even give it a committee hearing.
or the first eight months that Atsila spent at Solstice East, he says that the center refused to let him go by his preferred name and pronouns and would punish any peers who attempted to address him the same way. The staff discredited his transgender identity countless times, Atsila says. They forced him to destroy some of his gender-affirming garments, including binders, and tried to make him wear a bra. After confiding in a peer about his plans to medically transition in the future, Atsila says the staff forbade the two from continuing to speak to one another. “They said that it would be better for our therapy that way,” Atsila says. “That we would only be able to heal—and this is what my guide told me—if I took my gender, and set it aside, on a bench, and pretended like it didn’t exist so that I could get through all of my other problems.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SUBJECT
Atsila said that four months after leaving Solstice East, he attempted suicide. The estrangement from his family also left him homeless for a period of time. Atsila says he continues to struggle with PTSD since leaving the treatment center. Last month, Atsila and others took part in a protest in downtown Asheville, where they recounted years of mental and emotional abuse while in the program. Protesters called for the treatment center’s closure. And Atsila, and others, continue to campaign through social media and online resources for Solstice East to shut down. Three staff members at Solstice East, including its clinical director, refuted Atsila’s account of his time there. “It’s been really difficult for me to hear these allegations because this is just not that kind of place,” Talin Brown, a science teacher at Solstice East, who is also a transgender woman, told the INDY. The group’s executive director, Rick Pollard, also denied the allegations that were brought up at the protest. “Any practice of conversion therapy is dangerous quackery, which we do not
practice, engage in or condone in any way and we fully support legislative and policy efforts that prohibit the unscientific and dangerous practice of sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts,” Pollard wrote in a statement to the INDY.
ith HB 452, even treatment centers accused of performing conversion therapy would benefit from legislation that clearly defines what conversion therapy looks like, and provides a way for entities to either prove, or disprove, their practice of it. “When we get into ‘A patient says this …’ and ‘A therapist says this…’, that can’t be aired in public for confidentiality laws,” says Allison Scott, a director at the Campaign for Southern Equality, an Asheville-based advocacy group that works across the South. “But these [state] licensure boards, they can do those things. [...] But in order for them to do that, they need to have a clear statute, or something, to go by to say this is happening.” Scott, who is a trans woman, says that when she was a minor, her parents enlist-
“They said I would heal if I took my gender, set it aside on a bench, and pretended it didn’t exist.” ed their local church to perform a form of conversion therapy on her. “It was horrible for me at such a young age for people to berate me personally, harass me, threaten me,” Scott says. “Even though they never physically did any harm to me, the mental assault that I went through was brutal.” Part of the difficulty in drumming up support for a statewide ban is that it’s impossible to track how prolific the practice is. Nationally, research from the Williams Institute at the University of California School of Law, Los Angeles, estimates that 700,000 LGBTQ people have undergone conversion therapy, and that another expected 80,000 LGBTQ youth will undergo the practice before they reach adulthood. Research also shows that four out of five instances of conversion therapy occur at religious institutions but that very few churches in North Carolina openly advertise these services. The ramifications of conversion therapy can be deadly. A 2020 study from the Williams Institute found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who had undergone conversion therapy were twice as likely as those who had not to attempt suicide. Despite these grim statistics, supporters say the outlook for HB 452 isn’t much better than it was for last year’s anti-conversion therapy bill. “There just seems to be a lot of hesitancy from a certain amount of lawmakers for anything that has to deal with client-patient healthcare, or LGBTQ issues,” Scott says. “The [General Assembly’s] leadership has very tight grips on what bills move, and what bills don’t,” says Rep. John Autry, a Charlotte Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. Republican legislative leaders did not respond to interview requests from the INDY. “I’ve never discussed this with leadership in the House,” Autry continues. “I’ve discussed it with other members on the other side. They don’t see the need for it. They don’t see [conversion therapy] as a problem, or an issue.” W INDYweek.com
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Untitled Homeowners in Cary’s Las Americas trailer park protest missing titles, fines, and fees, and a new lease contract that looks to be invalid BY JANE PORTER email@example.com
n 2008, Maria Rodriguez finished paying for the mobile home she lives in at Las Americas, a trailer park near downtown Cary. Five years, thousands of dollars in property taxes, and $2,800 in lawyer’s fees later, she finally obtained the title to her trailer. Epifania Basilio López paid off her $20,000 trailer in March 2016 but has not received her title from Mobile Estates, the company that owns the trailer park. Same with José Carmen Rodriguez, whose final bill of sale shows that he finished paying for his trailer in August 2011. “At the beginning, [a Mobile Estates manager] told me I had to go to the DMV,” Basilio López told the INDY through a translator. “Then, they just started giving me pretexts because they didn’t show up when I wanted to go talk to them, and they just gave me excuses. Then they told me, because I didn’t have a driver’s license, I’d have to find someone who did to transfer the title to. My son has a license but they told me the condition was I would have to pay them another $1,500 in order for them to transfer the title to my son.” Dozens of the 300 families who live in Mobile Estates—known as Las Americas— located off Southeast Maynard Road near the upcoming Fenton development in east Cary, say they are awaiting titles to trailers they have paid for. According to state law, trailers must be registered with the DMV. Over a year ago, residents and activists approached the state attorney general’s office to request an investigation into the missing titles and accounting issues associated with the trailer park’s operations. Nazneen Ahmed, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said the office began investigating Mobile Estates in December 2019. 10
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“During the course of the investigation, we’ve been in touch with the park’s counsel on multiple occasions to make the park aware of our concerns and to encourage it to resolve title issues,” Ahmed wrote. “The park represents to us that it has resolved a few of the title issues.” An October 2020 letter from Daniel Mosteller, a deputy attorney general from the Consumer Protection Division, states that 20 titles are “in progress of being distributed out to Las Americas residents,” according to information he received. As of now, says Sandra Bueno, an organizer with One Wake—a “non-partisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue group of churches, associations and other nonprofits”—who is working with the residents, at least 57 families still are awaiting their titles. Bern Bullard, a realtor at Cary-based firm Fonville Morisey Lochmere, owns Mobile Estates, according to documents filed with the secretary of state’s office. He also owns MECO Utilities, which supplies water to the residents of the 42-acre park who have been paying $360 a month to rent lots from Mobile Estates. Bullard did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment, including a question about how many titles have been supplied to homeowners since the attorney general’s office got involved. Residents and organizers, including Bueno, say the missing titles are not the only problems at Las Americas. At a virtual protest last month, residents complained of issues at the park ranging from water shutoffs and unexplained hikes in water bills, to fines for parking, for having pets, and for gathering with neighbors, to targeted harassment from the park’s managers. When reached by phone Monday, Mobile Estates’ longtime general manager Osvaldo Bastida told the INDY he had no comment.
Epifania Basilio López (second from left) and her young daughter and Rosa Martínez (right) at the Wake County Courthouse in Ocotber of 2019 PHOTO COUTESY OF THE SANDRA BUENO
Paula Tito’s water bill normally averages around $150 per month, according to records she shared with the INDY. But, in October, she was shocked to receive a water bill of $344.31. The park’s manager, she says, told her she had a leak but refused to fix it. Tito said her husband changed the pipe himself but the next month, they received a bill of $457.98. “In the middle of this pandemic, [MECO Utilities] has exaggerated with the water bill,” Tito wrote in a testimonial sent to the INDY. “Personally, I have had very high bills when I am hardly at home.” Las Americas homeowners, including Lopez and another woman, Rosa Martínez, said they and eight other women were illegally threatened with eviction. The INDY viewed a September 2019 letter from Mobile Estates that gives notice that the land the residents rented at the park was not up for renewal and that they would need to vacate the premises within six days. The women took the letter to the Wake County Register of Deeds’ office and learned that the notice was not valid to legally evict them. Residents are wary of further fines and eviction threats. On March 1, Mobile Estates sent to the mostly Spanish-speaking residents a notice of termination of their previous leases and a new 19-page lease agreement, written in English, that raises rent for land at the park by $40, to $400 per month. If any residents refuse to sign the new contract, it states, they will have to
pay a month-to-month rate of $475. The contract came with three pages outlining violations and their associated fines, including a $50 fine for barking dogs, a minimum $25 fine for “parking incorrectly,” a $100 fine for noise violations, and a minimum $25 fine for gathering around the central mailboxes. In a March 26 letter to Bullard, Jonathan Patton, an attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center, wrote that North Carolina law mandates that termination of an existing lease requires 60 days’ notice; Mobile Estates gave only 30 days’ notice. Further, the letter states, Mobile Estates failed to provide tenants copies of the existing lease contracts when they requested them. The letter asks that Mobile Estates rescind the lease termination letter it sent to residents and not let the rent increase go into effect. It also asks the company to provide the original lease agreement to tenants. Patton told the INDY he has not received a response to the letter from Bullard or other Mobile Estates representatives. Some families, not wanting to pay an additional $75 in rent each month, went ahead and signed the new lease contract anyway. “I feel like I live in a depression right now,” says José Rodriguez, one of the owners awaiting his property title. “You can’t do anything. If you do something wrong, they charge you $25, $100. I already signed the contract because they told me if I don’t, I have to pay an extra $75 this month. There’s no other way. So, we signed a couple of days ago and I already paid my rent.” W
PHOTOVOICE Not Your Model Minority WORDS + PHOTOGRAPHY BY JADE WILSON
On Saturday, community members standing in solidarity with Asian Americans filled Moore Square in downtown Raleigh, rallying to continue the fight against racism and white supremacy in the United States. The Atlanta spa shooting victims were memorialized in printed photos mounted on foam boards; each displayed on easels that were staggered a few feet apart from one another. After several people from the Asian American-Pacific Islander (AAPI) community addressed the crowd, folks took their signs to the streets and chanted phrases, including “Not your fetish, not your fantasy,” as they marched to Nash Square Park. A multitude of people and organizations from different racial and ethnic backgrounds organized the march. 2
April 7, 2021
PHOTO BY JADE WILSON DESIGN BY JON FULLER WORDS BY KALKIDAN MILLER
A teenager was attacked at a Black Lives Matter vigil in Chapel Hill. Now, she’s working to fix North Carolina’s hate crime law BY SARA PEQUEÑO
April 7, 2021
he wanted him to look at her. Kalkidan Miller heard him yelling. At first, she thought he was preaching. Then she realized he was shouting at their group standing outside Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church near Fordham Boulevard as they held their weekly Black Lives Matter vigil. “It’s not about Black lives,” Miller recalls the man saying. Other bystanders recall hearing him say “all lives matter,” and using the n-word. His daughter was standing beside him, adding some “yeahs” and repeating after her father. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and holding a glass bottle. It was July 3, and he said the demonstrators were being un-American. He made eye contact with Miller. As he walked away, cursing, she approached him. “I don’t know what I was thinking, exactly,” Miller says. “But I know I wanted him to experience, to see what I was feeling when he was doing that.” He looked at her.
“What are you gonna do, bitch?” he said. He punched her. The then-19-year-old fell to the ground. She remembers him holding her head down, and punching her more. “All I know is, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I could die,’” Miller says. “Like, it’s possible this is how I die.” In November, Miller’s attacker pleaded guilty to two charges. Initially, the only charge was “assault on a female.” The second charge, “ethnic intimidation,” or North Carolina’s version of a hate crime statute, was harder to come by. Those charged with “ethnic intimidation,” a misdemeanor, could receive up to 120 days in prison. It’s considered one of the weakest hate crime laws in the country. Kalkidan and her mother, Carol, are working to change that. Lawmakers in both the state House and Senate filed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act this March. Kalkidan helped with the House bill, filed March 22 by Rep. Nasif Majeed, a Democrat from Charlotte. The bill aims to change the definition of a hate crime, consider it a felony, and require reporting of hate crimes at the state level. “There was a huge hesitation because the law is so poorly written,” Kalkidan says of having her assailant tried for ethnic intimidation, though he eventually was. “He literally had to say, ‘I am physically and verbally assaulting you because you’re Black, and because you’re a woman.’”
he Millers made a spur-of-the-moment decision to attend the vigil that Friday in July. They aren’t members at Binkley, but Carol has friends there. Kalkidan was feeling the weight of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, coupled with the pandemic cutting short her first year of college. “I was protesting several times, but that took a lot of mental effort, to even get myself to do that,” she says. “I just felt hopeless.” Kalkidan isn’t a North Carolina native. She spent her early childhood in Ethiopia. Carol Miller adopted her, and she moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, at 12 years old. For her junior and senior years of high school, Kalkidan lived in Chapel Hill, where she says she felt “invisible.” “I think race had a huge contribution to that,” she says. “I’d take these honor classes and I’d probably be one of the few Black or persons of color in that class, period. When we’d do group projects, no one would talk to me. I just existed.”
The assault wasn’t the first time she’d been racially profiled in Chapel Hill. One time, she was driving through her neighborhood and ran a stop sign. A police officer pulled her over, and asked if she had a weapon in her car. She put her hands on the wheel, like she’d been taught. She says the officer thought that meant she was trained with a firearm. By the time she made it to her house, she was shaking. When she was attacked on July 3, Carol called the police. Kalkidan thought she was crazy. “I was like, ‘They’re gonna take my ass to jail,’” she says now, noting the irony in that, despite her being a victim, she was worried about being criminalized. The officer who arrived on the scene was a woman and seemed sympathetic. Bart Moody, the man who assaulted her, walked away with his daughter before the officer arrived. A church member who was there recalls two women trying to keep up with him. One was using a walker. The police found Moody at a nearby apartment. He’d changed out of his Hawaiian shirt. Kalkidan, Carol, and the officer had to drive by to identify him. Carol remembers how friendly the officers who approached Moody seemed to be towards him. “It was kind of like they were having a little garden party talk,” Carol says. Moody had been convicted of assault and second degree kidnapping in 2004, and served prison time. The day he attacked Kalkidan, he wasn’t arrested. Emergency responders who arrived on the scene told Kalkidan she should go to the emergency room, just to get checked out. Still in shock, she kept laughing while talking to the doctor. “I was like, ‘Did this just happen?’” she says. “I knew it could happen, I just didn’t think it would happen to me. That is the thing about racism: that day-today fear of, ‘Is this the day something could happen?’”
orth Carolina’s current hate crime law is two sentences long. “If a person shall, because of race, color, religion, nationality, or country of origin, assault another person, or damage or deface the property of another person, or threaten to do any such act, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.” The “Ethnic Intimidation” law was ratified in 1991, one year after the federal government required the FBI to start keeping records on hate crimes across the country. The second sentence con-
demns teaching people how to perform a hate crime. The bill was last updated in 1995, when the maximum sentence was reduced from two years in prison to 120 days at most. The law doesn’t require the State Bureau of Investigation to collect data on hate crimes, unlike in 30 other states. It also leaves out gender, sexual orientation, and disability. The FBI releases a Hate Crime Statistics report every year, compiled of incidents voluntarily submitted by law enforcement offices. North Carolina has 504 law enforcement agencies, but only 332 participate in the federal collection of hate crime data. In 2019, only 80 of those agencies reported hate crimes. A total of 211 hate crimes were reported; hardly any of those led to criminal charges, and even fewer resulted in convictions. The number of hate crimes reported by law enforcement is wildly inaccurate, based on what is known from other studies. The FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Report listed 7,314 incidents across the country in 2019. The Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, which collects incidents reported and unreported by law enforcement, estimates that this annual number is closer to 250,000 incidents—meaning less than three percent of 2019 hate crimes made their way into official statistics. The federal government has legal definitions of hate crimes, as well as protections for the victims in these cases. But most of these crimes are tried in criminal court, and parsed out by state judges. A hate crime is always an addition to another charge, and is largely seen as symbolic. But that symbolism carries weight. “The naming and express prosecution of a hate crime acknowledges the underlying history of prejudice and discrimination and affirms that such crimes do more harm than the act alone,” wrote Shea Denning, a professor of public law at UNC-Chapel Hill, in 2015, following the murders of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill. Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were killed in their condo after Craig Hicks, a neighbor, came to their door accusing them of keeping him from his parking spot. They weren’t parked in his spot. Nor were they hostile. Still, Hicks called them “disrespectful punks” in a jailhouse interview. Hicks and his wife said the parking dispute was the motive for the killings. So did Chapel Hill police (although they
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April 7, 2021
retracted the characterization in 2019). But Hicks had made Facebook posts about how much he hated religion, and was known to be hostile toward nonwhite neighbors. He ultimately received three life sentences for the murders, but was not charged under the “ethnic intimidation” statute. The families of Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters still maintain the killings constituted a hate crime.
he Millers succeeded in adding ethnic intimidation to Moody’s charges. As he was walking away after the assault, he turned to two white women who were protesting. Pam Swanson, one of the women, recalled him saying, “I’d hit you too, but I don’t hit women.” Swanson told Carol Miller. Carol told the prosecutor and, she says, that’s what sealed the deal for the hate crime charge. Moody pleaded guilty to both charges. Kalkidan asked the judge not to consider a prison sentence for Moody due to her belief in restorative justice. She says this made a lot of people—especially older Black people—angry, though she is clear that she doesn’t forgive Moody. At his case hearing in November, she read a poem for Moody, and for all the lawyers who asked her to repeat her account of the traumatic event. “Society seems to forget we are human, too,” she wrote. “We are somebody’s daughter, sister, grandchild, mother, grandmother, lover, and more. We are human beings that give and give, but rarely get anything in return.” Moody received probation for 24 months. Again, the Millers’ legal victory is the exception, not the rule. North Carolina’s statute is weak, and the justice system is often hesitant to apply it. Three years after the murder of Barakat and the Abu-Salhas, Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Democrat from Raleigh, filed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act for the first time. It didn’t get a hearing. He filed it again in 2019. Once again, no hearing. “I don’t know the reason as to why a common sense bill of this kind, a bill that to me seems to really not have a partisan bias, should not at least have a hearing,” Chaudhuri told the INDY. Chaudhuri filed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act—again—on March 31, a week after Majeed filed the bill in the House and two weeks following the shootings of six Asian American spa workers in 14
April 7, 2021
Atlanta. Chaudhuri says that to get the bill the hearing it deserves, vulnerable communities will have to “let their voices be heard.”
n a recent Saturday in March, Kalkidan and Carol returned to Binkley Baptist Church. The congregation hasn’t stopped its weekly vigil, more than 10 months after Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd and nine months since the assault outside the Chapel Hill church. The Millers stood in the center of the group, spread out across a patch of grass along Fordham Boulevard. Some 25 people held signs, waved to cars. Some cars honk as they pass the church. Some drivers hold up their fists to show solidarity. Occasionally, the crowd gets flipped off. The church has a Black Lives Matter banner staked in the grass at the end of the property. Parts of it have been duct-taped. A bottom corner has been burned, and the black plastic is puckered and peeled. Kalkidan brought a speaker and played songs by various pop artists, including Beyoncé and Janelle Monáe. Since July, she’s been splitting time between college in Greensboro and working on the bill. She had papers due the week of the court hearing. She says she’s tired of white people telling her to “make something good out of it,” and suddenly listening to her after ignoring her for years. She’s worried that her life is going to be reduced—that she’ll always be “the girl that got punched,” instead of the poet, the musician, the photographer, the traveler, the activist. That’s what happens to a lot of Black people who are victimized, she says. “Breonna Taylor—this is not her narrative,” she says. “This is something brought on to her by people that control society. They took her life. Same thing with George Floyd. He’s not a guy that was murdered by police. He had hopes, dreams. He has people he loves. But that’s his narrative.” She worries about living in fear. The night of the attack, she slept in her little sister’s bed. She gets nervous about seeing Moody at the grocery store. The night before the court date, a man in a white truck threatened to kill her as she drove through her neighborhood. She’s taking this stand for her younger brother and sister, who are also Black, so they don’t have to be afraid. “Being young is difficult, but being young, Black and female is difficult,” she says. “That is my experience. I’m going to speak for myself.” W
MARTHA WATERS: TO LOVE AND TO LOATHE
[Atria Books; April 6]
Modern Love Chapel Hill author Martha Waters writes historical
romance novels. Just not the kind you might expect. BY SARAH EDWARDS email@example.com
irst comes love, then comes loathing. Or, wait—was it the other way around? In To Love and to Loathe, a new novel from the writer Martha Waters, years of simmering tension between two members of British high society—the witty, widowed Lady Templeton and the edgy, ungettable Marquess of Willingham— form the basis for a will-they-or-won’t they regency romp. If you’re looking for light, good-natured historical fiction— à la Emily Griffin, set 200 years ago—then Martha Waters may be your writer. The 342-page novel is the second in Waters’ Regency Vows series. A Chapel Hill children’s librarian, Waters first sat down to write a novel in November 2018, during a sprint-to-the-finish writing challenge called NaNoWriMo (Participating writers commit to writing 1,667 words per day.) The fruit of her labors, To Have and to Hoax, was picked up by Simon & Schuster imprint Atria Books with a publication date of early April 2020. “Those of us with early pandemic releases got hammered by it,” Waters laughs, ruefully, one year later over Zoom. Her cat, Puffin, pokes his head into the camera frame as she recounts the FlyLeaf book launch that never was (she ended up doing a release via Instagram Live). Still, the book managed to make a splash. Entertainment Weekly described it as a “dizzy situational comedy” with an “abundance of heart,” and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, writing that Waters “gently lampoons genre tropes without sacrificing genuine feeling.” A year later, Waters is celebrating her second pandemic-era release. A native of
Florida and graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, Waters says she’s always had a thing for history, writing, screwball romcoms, and England. But it wasn’t until she was studying library science at UNC that she picked up a historical romance novel by Julia Quinn—author of the buzzy Bridgerton novels—that things fell into place. “It was the first time I’d ever read a historical romance novel being published contemporarily,” she says. “Once I started reading the genre, I did this total 180 from wanting to write fantasy for children and teenagers, to wanting to write romance for adults—and, I like regency as a sub-genre.” Once you start looking, it’s a time-hopping sub-genre that’s less obscure than you might think. Jane Austen novels have proved inexhaustible for both screen and novel adaptations, from Clueless and Bride and Prejudice to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, proving that the “rivals-to-romance” plot has enduring appeal. And Waters isn’t the only one who fell in love with Julia Quinn’s period writing: when Bridgerton, a Shondaland production, hit Netflix in January, it broke records and was reportedly streamed by 82 million households around the world. It’s a modern-feeling watch, bingeable and breezy, with a multi-racial cast, pops of color (think a ballroom string arrangement of “Thank U, Next”), and a lot of sex. Readers seeking more sex will find plenty in To Love and to Loathe. The novel follows a conventional romantic arc with its main characters exchanging barbs right off the bat (a lot of “reproving” and “withering” looks are exchanged), but
PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
when a wager enters the equation, and the Marquess of Willingham propositions Lady Templeton with a no-strings-attached affair to educate him on how to be a better lover, things take a turn. Clothes come off—and frankly, some pretty hot feminist tutorials happen from there. This isn’t really much of a spoiler: It’s fairly implicit that these characters will find their way past the bantering and bedding and into love. More than plot twists or big reveals, Waters seems most interested in sparkly, immersive storytelling that turns the tables on what we normally get from historical romance fiction. “I like adopting a somewhat historical tone for them, but I’m fully aware that these are modern-feeling characters,” Waters says. “I want them to be characters that a modern reader can relate to.” Historical fiction, she adds, often says more about the time during which it was written than in the time during which it was set. Such is the case for Bridgerton, as it was with Sofia Coppola’s frothy
converses-and-countesses drama, Marie Antionette, in 2006, and, more recently, the Apple TV+ runaway hit, Dickinson, about the poet. Cast against the sexy gloss of prestige television, Emily Dickinson’s poems speaks across time. To Love and to Loathe plays into this new anachronistic feminist fantasy, with a heroine who doesn’t shirk from her sexuality, even as she learns to lean into her own longing for love and trust. That’s still a pretty subversive proposition: when it debuted in 1998, the freewheeling sexual mores of Sex & the City’s Samantha Jones were pretty radical, and that was just some 20 years ago. To Love and to Loathe may represent a fantasy, but it still feels exciting to read about a heroine telling a man how it’s done, two centuries ago, and to see a marriage plot stake out daring new ground. “I wrote characters that felt right to me,” Waters says. “And the thing is, I don’t want to write a romance hero who actually behaves the way a man in 1817 would. No thanks—he’d be a misogynistic jerk!” W INDYweek.com
April 7, 2021
April 7, 2021
WOMEN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL Livestream performances: Apr. 8-10 and 16-17, 8 p.m. Video on demand: Apr. 23-25 | Tickets: Pay what you can | womenstheatrefestival.com
Pictured L to R: Nubia Monks (Othello), Mieko Gavia (Barbantio Track), Zandi Carlson (Iago), Jazmyn D. Boone (Emilia) PHOTO COURTESY OF WTFOTHELLO
Reimagining Shakespeare A Women’s Theatre Festival production of Othello features an all-Black, all-femme creative team BY BYRON WOODS firstname.lastname@example.org
aMeeka D. Holloway is having to completely rethink her relationship with Shakespeare. Like most stage artists, Holloway’s had a long history with history’s most famous playwright. In 2020, she produced and directed an audacious staged reading of Love’s Labour’s Lost with an all-Black female cast, as the first installment of her online series Blk Girls Luv the Bard. The award-winning director also has mounted productions of Twelfth Night in Durham, Detroit, and New York, and served as assistant director for Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. But a deep dive into a new modern verse translation of i has forever changed her relationship with him. The Women’s Theatre Festival production of Shakespeare’s classic, which Holloway directs, opens online this week. As with Love’s Labour’s Lost, the production features an all-Black, female creative team.
“When I look at Othello, it’s very clear to me that its racism has some very misconstrued ideas around blackness,” Holloway says. “This project has really brought me to a reckoning with Shakespeare’s work that I have to meet head-on.” In recent years, controversy has intensified over the tragedy’s racial dimensions. In a 2015 debate, actor Hugh Quarshie, who was playing the title character in a Royal Shakespeare Company production, described the play “racist by omission rather than commission.” “Any suggestion that a character behaves as he does because of his ethnicity is by definition racist,” Quarshie said. “When Shakespeare has Iago say, ‘These Moors are changeable in their wills,’ and goes on to demonstrate precisely that, I think it’s fair to ask, ‘Was he being a bit of a bigot here?’” Nigerian-American playwright Mfoniso Udofia, who created the Apple TV series Little America, is even more adamant in her modern verse translation of the work.
“We’re not dismantling the system of oppression in Othello,” Udofia said in a 2020 video interview series from Round House Theatre in Washington. “We’re actually creating and codifying it.” Calling the story of a cultural outsider’s descent into madness and murder at the hands of a manipulative underling “a manual of dispossession,” Udofia said in the interview, “If you’re going to do it, we need to start having conversations in and around what we are asking our actors of color to do for our entertainment. If you’re going to do [Othello], we need to have real education in and around the tools of oppression.” Monèt Noelle Marshall, dramaturg of the Women’s Theatre Festival production, notes that much of the power in Udofia’s adaptation stems from its decrypting the anti-Black rhetoric in Shakespeare’s obscure 17th-century prose. “It’s no longer hidden under language,” Marshall says. “And because it’s so clear how much racialized violence is present in the script, you can’t ignore it.” Holloway sets the all-women production among students at a prestigious women’s college. “It felt like the perfect world to explore this story because so many Black women are going through academia,” Holloway says. “Othello assumes that, because she’s gotten in and has excelled academically and socially here, she feels she’s protected.” Holloway wants audiences to scrutinize the tactics used against Othello in the work. “History has given Iago a playbook on how to eradicate or undermine a basic sense of security and safety for Black folks in particular and people of color all around.” Marshall, the dramaturg, notes that Othello “is not a Black story.” “The only thing [Shakespeare] could do is write a story that mirrors whiteness, that shows whiteness to itself,” Marshall says. “When I’m reminded that this story, about a person being dispossessed of their mind, love, and spirit, is more about the violence of whiteness than the reality of Blackness, it takes the sting out, for me.” W INDYweek.com
April 7, 2021
SC R E E N
death. everything. nothing
Virtual Aspen ShortsFest | Tuesday, Apr. 6–Sunday, Apr. 11 | Tickets available online | aspenfilm.org.
Everything and Nothing Last year, a Durham filmmaker’s tribute to her dying mother became a New York Times essay. This year, that tribute is a powerful six-minute film. BY THOMASI MCDONALD email@example.com
t’s an oft-repeated, uncomfortable reminder about the frailty of the human condition, particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic: Dying is a part of living. “Death don’t have no mercy, in this land,” the great Piedmont blues and gospel guitarist Rev. Gary Davis once sang. “Come to your house, and he won’t stay long. Look in the bed and you’ll find your mother gone.” More than a half-century later, the director LeRhonda Manigault-Bryant evokes the sentiment of that sorrow with death. everything. nothing, a powerful six-minute film about the death of her mother, Gwendolyn Avis “Gwennie” Manigault, almost a year ago. Manigault-Bryant has been in Durham since June, 2019, while on sabbatical from Williams College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she is a professor of Africana Studies. death. everything. nothing is her third short film. The cause was end-stage liver disease and kidney failure, not COVID-19; still, the pandemic profoundly shaped Manigault-Bryant’s experience of loss and saying goodbye. Her role as a grieving daughter was further complicated by separation, distance, time, and a global pandemic. “Death is an inevitability we can’t ever really shake,” Manigault-Bryant told the INDY. “Now we’re wrestling with this inevitability in the height of a pandemic.” On March 8, officials with Aspen Film, a year-round film arts and education organization in Aspen, Colorado, announced that Manigault-Bryant’s poignant narrative has been selected to premiere at the 30th annual Aspen Shortsfest. This is heady stuff. Manigault-Bryant’s next stop might well be the Academy Awards. 18
April 7, 2021
The festival is one of only four Oscar-qualifying festivals in the U.S. dedicated to short films. Organizers tout the event as one of the premier short film festivals, showcasing the best in cinema from around the world. The film’s selection for Shortsfest screening, Manigault-Bryant says, was “a total surprise.” “I never had the intention of entering the film into anything,” she says. “I made it for myself alone, out of my own great loss.” Manigault-Bryant earned her undergraduate degree from Duke University. Her first two films, NOURISH and Somos Una— about her son’s dual language program at Lakewood Elementary School in west Durham—were both produced years later, while she was studying at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. The two films did not feel “as palpably powerful or timely,” she says about her decision to not enter them on the film festival circuit. The new film, finished in June of last year, was born out of an essay that she wrote for The New York Times called “My Mother Is Busy Getting Ready To Die.” The essay details the way that the passing of her mother, at a hospice facility in Summerville, South Carolina, mirrored the conditions of COVID-19. Six days before she died, on April 28, that essay appeared in the op-ed pages of the Times. Twenty minutes after it was posted, a doctor told Manigault-Bryant that Ms. Gwennie was not going to survive. “I got the sense that she was saddened by it, but really proud,” Manigault-Bryant says of her mother’s reaction to the essay. The black-and-white film that evolved out of that essay may be short, but it will
Still from death.everything.nothing PHOTO COURTESY OF THE FILMMAKER
resonate widely with audiences. It speaks to the global fear of a devastating and life-altering disease that has primarily targeted the elderly, but left no one entirely immune from the impact. This is especially true with the loss of loved ones who died soon after contracting the virus. Manigault-Bryant tried to come to terms with a realization felt by hundreds of thousands of family members across America who could not properly grieve the loss of their loved ones: her mother was going to die soon, most likely alone, and she was afraid. “It’s funny,” Manigault-Bryant says. “It’s coming up on a year since she passed, and anyone I talk to who has lost a parent— especially a mother—it could be a year ago, or 20 years ago. It still carries weight.” COVID-19 laid bare the grim reality of systemic inequities for people like Ms. Gwennie—too young for Medicare at 64, Black, uninsured, and alone. Ms. Gwennie may have passed from terminal illness, but her circumstances left her at the bottom of the pandemic’s murky barrel. In early April of last year, Manigault-Bryant began collecting photos of Ms. Gwennie and filming her at her mobile home. “I saw that she was deteriorating,” Manigault-Bryant says. “I could hear on the phone she didn’t sound like herself.”
Gwennie Manigault grew up in the tiny hamlet of Moncks Corner, a town of about 11,419 people who are steeped in Gullah/Geechee folkways. In the years before her death, Manigault-Bryant says, Ms. Gwennie was a stylish, sweet-eyed woman, with a high, full cheekbone, her hair often in a curly Afro paired with hoop earrings. By the time she was diagnosed with late stage liver disease and failing kidneys it was too late, and the doctors could not save her. In the days before she died, the disease had left her gaunt, her eyes sunken, and near-skeletal. She was too weak to even hold up her cell phone to FaceTime with her family. Manigault-Bryant says it’s a “bummer” to not be able to attend in person the virtual festival, but she’s also excited about the wider swath of audience-goers who are showing up online for virtual festivals here in Durham and across the country. “The Hayti Film Festival was amazing,” she says, referencing the Durham festival that went partly virtual last month. “It’s a way for more people to have access to the festivals.” “It’s a story I wish I didn’t have to tell, and yet the film is out in the world,” Manigault-Bryant says. “I just feel it’s a very painful homage to my mother.” W
M U SIC
ELEPHANT MICAH: VAGUE TIDINGS
[Western Vinyl; April 9]
Joseph O’Connell of Elephant Micah PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
Northern Lights Ahead of his new album, Vague Tidings, Joseph O’Connell of Elephant Micah talks folklore, climate change, and the dangerous allure of American myths BY SARAH EDWARDS firstname.lastname@example.org
urham’s Hillandale Golf Course is dotted with pine and dogwood trees. Though a little less buttoned-up than some courses, it’s still a place people go to play golf— manicured, with shocks of bright green grass—so I was surprised when Joseph O’Connell suggested we meet there to talk. O’Connell, who performs as underground folk act Elephant Micah, was on the cusp of a new release. Vague Tidings, out April 9 on Western Vinyl, is a starry panorama of unease and the Alaskan wilderness. As it turned out, O’Connell, had no agenda in mind—he’d just passed the place many times, he said, and always won-
dered what the course and snack stand were like. (At the campy snack stand, an empty coffeepot to one side and a fridge full of Miller Lites to the other, he politely surveyed his options and then ordered water.) O’Connell, 39, has played as Elephant Micah since the turn of the millennium, with a fluid sound that splits the difference between Arthur Russell and Will Oldham (a frequent collaborator). The band name doesn’t come out of the blue: When his brother Matthew was little, O’Connell says, he had a childhood friend who chose the name Elephant Micah for himself.
“He would talk about his friend Elephant Micah in terms that just made it clear that this kid was really imaginative,” O’Connell says. “He was willing to just go with this persona.” The latest Elephant Micah album dials it back to 2006, when O’Connell—then 24 and a fledgling musician—traveled to Alaska for a memorable, multi-week tour. Crammed into an RV with several other musicians, the DIY tour sprawled between health food stores, libraries, and campsites. It was a formative few weeks under the northern lights, but by the end of it, O’Connell began to experience a deep, nervy unease about the dangerous allure of Western mythos and conquest. As if sensing his misgivings, on one of the last nights of the tour a large bear ominously blundered into his campsite at Hatcher Pass and refused to leave. “It was touch-and-go for a while because the tactics that we tried to scare it away from our campsite didn’t really work,” O’Connell recalls. “We all crowded together and tried to look like one organism and held the tent above our heads. We were shaking it, trying to make ourselves look like something that’s scarier than a bear.” In broad strokes, that anecdote emulates much of what the Elephant Micah project is about. Over the past 21 years, the band’s sound has roved among traditional, plainspoken folk, gleaming, elegant folk-rock, and electronic frisson. It doesn’t chart a linear arc: each album is a “one-off experiment,” O’Connell says, which allows him to become musically absorbed in whatever he’s trying to embody—an idea, region, or single organism. “The way that I’ve produced records is, I tend to be thinking about distinct genres for each project,” he says. “I get a distinct set of reference points for the instrumentation and sound.” This absorption may not have been successful with the bear (it stalked the campers on their hike out), but over the years, it has proved an endearing trademark of O’Connell’s work. In previous songs, he has sung a daylight saving dirge from the perspective of vultures, tracked the transatlantic passage of a hometown rower, and told the story of Quakers, painters, and a trailer burnt down during a meth bust. One fixation, the late Reverend Wendell Hansen—a minister who traveled throughout Indiana with an evangelical birds act—became the subject of his 2010 lo-fi conceptual album, Elephant Micah Plays the Bible Birds, appearing again in 2015 on the album, Where in the Woods, as the song “Demise of the Bible Birds.” If these characters feel born from a sort of midwestern Flannery O’Connor-esque fever dream, you’d not be far off. O’Connell—who grew up on the Indiana-Kentucky border, also known as Kentuckiana—has a longstanding fascination with outsider art and “redneck mysticism,” as he told Aquarium Drunkard in a 2015 interview. INDYweek.com
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His albums, each a distinct organism, reflect that curious pull toward the fringe and forgotten.
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hen O’Connell got back from Alaska in the summer of 2006, he sifted through a roll of camera film and began writing. He’d come home wanting, as he explains in the liner notes of the new album, to write a song that, “instead of celebrating progress, was broadly anxious about where it was leading.” He wrote that song, and the others, on two out-of-tune pianos between Indianapolis and Louisville, though the songs would go on to sit untouched for a decade and a half. In the intervening years, O’Connell enrolled as a folklore graduate student at the University of Oregon and went on to do research for the Oregon Folklife Network—a career that acts in tandem with much of his music—before moving to Durham in 2015. Previous iterations of Elephant Micah have explored traditional folk with clean, spare guitar lines; others have leaned into cloudy, shifting sound waves, as with 2018’s Genericana, a gorgeous experiment in collapsing the boundaries of time and sound. On that album, aided by an analog synth he built called the Mutant, O’Connell’s songs swarmed with static, ruminative possibility. You could feel it like your own body: The first song on the album, “Surf A,” sputters out with something like an industrial heartbeat. That swarming sensation holds true on Vague Tidings’ eight tracks, with immersive whirlpools of sound. The Mutant does not feature on this new album, but O’Connell did experiment by restringing his guitar like a banjo in a nod to the traditional music he experienced in Alaska. To make the album, O’Connell recruited a cohort of Triangle musicians that he felt a kinship with: Libby Rodenbough (Mipso), Matt Douglas (The Mountain Goats), and his brother, Matthew O’Connell. In the summer of 2019, the four gathered in Douglas’s converted utility shed to record; the album was then mastered by Heba Kedry, a prominent mastering engineer who has worked with buzzy artists like Björk and Cate Le Bon. Now, Kedry can claim having worked with O’Connell, who, though not exactly buzzy, is a true DIY artist—one who has patiently sought new musical ground with his satiny voice and dark, plainspoken stories. His Wikipedia page is spare but describes Elephant Micah as a “cult favorite”; in the same vein, Pop Matters called him a “best-kept secret.” With this
new album, those descriptions feel truer than ever. “The more it sinks in that the planet is at risk, and that we belong to nature rather than vice versa, the more relevant these songs feel to me,” O’Connell wrote in the liner notes, reflecting on his decision to bring the songs into 2021. The past several years have seen a surge in musicians concerned with climate grief, including Blake Mills, Weyes Blood, and The Weather Station. Vague Tidings, with its concern for the planet and ominous titular glance toward the future, seems an obvious entry into that canon. Its songs chart a brooding course through manifest destiny, historical wrong turns, and the relentless consumption of the natural world. But when I ask him whether Vague Tidings is a climate change album, he pauses. “I feel like it’s kind of the lens through which I’m thinking about these songs, in retrospect,” he says. “But I think that when I wrote them it was a more abstract impulse and a more abstract discomfort with the whole variety of ways that humans intervene in the world.” This makes sense: Elephant Micah’s music has always seemed to skew more observational than didactic. On the clever first track, “Return to the Abandoned Observatory,” he mourns a disappearing natural world as if it’s the last call at the bar: “Take one more sip / From the little dipper / Before they close this place down.” “I think we tend to imagine the western states as a kind of testing ground for American ruggedness and independence,” he writes in the liner notes. “These are things I try to examine or question in songs. And oftentimes, in a folklife project, I’m interviewing people who are also putting their spin on those ideals.” When I ask about his work as a folklorist, O’Connell says that it’s a term that he holds onto “pretty loosely” because there’s a kind of “implicit romanticism” in it, adding, “examining my own romanticism is definitely part of this record, too.” In Vague Tidings, character sketches of cowboys, gold prospecting, and broad vistas fuse into collective unease about American iconography—what we have chosen to seize onto, and what we have chosen to omit. Existential worry about the future is threaded throughout Elephant Micah’s extensive body of work, but equal concern is found looking in the rearview mirror and recognizing the stories that we have tell about ourselves. In that woozy mirror, they fall quietly behind. W
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April 7, 2021
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