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What part did black artists play in Americas civil rights struggle? They reinvented Superman and took a seven-mile artwork through Harlem. As the Tate tackles this tumultuous era with Soul of a Nation, we meet the shows star attractions

Can the soul of a nation be defined by artists of its most oppressed group? Thats the ambitious goal of Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, about to open at Londons Tate Modern. Through 150 artworks and more than 60 artists, the show aims to represent the United States ethical, conscious and moral spirit its soul through exhibits made by (and about) people who historically had less life, less liberty, and less wealth than their fellow white citizens.

Framing the show from 1963 to 1983, the curators were led by how artists of the time were responding to Martin Luther Kings mission and the rising, more militant black power movement. So the exhibition encompasses a wide variety of works of black subjects and/or created by black artists, from the depictions of protest and music in Roy DeCaravas stunning black-and-white photographs (Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, DC, and Coltrane on Soprano, New York, both 1963) to an afro-wearing, bespectacled brother crossing his arms against a grey background, as well as a red, white and blue frame in Barkley L Hendricks 1969 work Icon for My Man Superman (Superman Never Saved Any Black People Bobby Seale).

In those two decades, people who were artists, activists, and both, did a great deal to mark blackness as an identity: the Black Panthers organised to stop police brutality, while also creating free breakfast and community medical programmes; Nina Simone released To Be Young, Gifted and Black; and Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black power fists at the 1968 Olympics. And during these years, artists such as Lorraine OGrady were asking: what is art, who is it for? Taking their work to the streets to insist, as William T Williams put it, that art need not be in a temple. Art could be everywhere.

Sense of dread Some Bright Morning, 1963, from Melvin Edwards Lynch Fragments series. Photograph: 2017 Melvin Edwards/ARS, New York

In a white walled room of the Alexander Gray Gallery in New York, Melvin Edwards, now in his 80s, is remembering what it was like to be among the first African American sculptors to display large-scale works in such venues as Manhattans Whitney Museum of American Art. On the wall are three of his Lynch Fragments, a series of sculptures, decades in the making, that will feature in the Tate show.

Eeach Lynch Fragment is unique yet in conversation with the others. The smallsculptures contain various recognisable items: a hammer, a link of chains, a knife blade. On their own, they convey a sense of dread but, when put together, the sense of violence is hugely amplified. Tate will show Some Bright Morning, a 1963 fragment named after an African American community that was threatened with the phrase: If you people dont behave, some bright morning were going to come and take care of you.

While the protrusionsconjure up images of enslavement, Edwards wants people to think beyond literal chains, since they only really existed symbolically. Most slaves never were chained, he says. Youve got 500 slaves and youve got to make a set of chains for each one? The owner wouldnt have wanted to spend that much money. And theyre going to be able to do about a tenth of the work dragging these chains. They were restrained in other ways.

Most slaves were never chained Melvin Edwards today. Photograph: Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York

Much of his work like Curtain (for William and Pete) is more abstract. When he was starting out, Edwardsrejected how the art world said art for arts sake. I said no, art could be for any sake and that doesnt limit the experimental aspect of the way I work. He dismisses the idea that abstraction was new with Picasso in the 20th century, because humans have been using geometry, abstraction and direct representation as long as weve walked the earth. Similarly, he says, the black arts movement started whenever black people started a couple of hundred thousand years ago.

From the mahogany of Elizabeth Cattletts Black Unity fist to the screaming purples and pinks of Wadsworth Jarrels Revolutionary and the crisp, horrifying representations of mutilated black and white men, women and children in Faith Ringgolds American People Series #20: Die, Soul of a Nation showcases the range of styles black artists of this era employed.

As Bull Connor sent in the dogs, little girls were blown up in a church, and Malcolm and Martin were assassinated, did black art need to directly and urgently respond? Could abstract work be relevant to a black America in crisis? Edwards never bought the idea that figurative paintings might be dealing with the realities of the world in a way that abstract work was not. He recalls creating the Smokehouse murals, a series of geometric murals made in neglected parts of Harlem, with William T Williams, Guy Ciarcia and Billy Rose. We painted our work to change the place, not to put messages on the walls to tell people whats wrong and what to change.

In the picture the seven-mile framing march through Harlem that formed Lorraine OGradys Art Is Photograph: 2017 Lorraine O’Grady/ARS, New York

Williams, his fellow muralist, was involved in many of the eras great black moments. He marched on Washington with the 1199 healthcare workers union, because he was from a generation of young optimists who believed that things could change, that organising was important, that collective voices were more important than a single voice. He recalls this great mass of humanity and the atmosphere of celebration even though it was a protest march.

Emory Douglas, minister of culture for the Black Panthers, once said: The ghetto itself is the gallery. Williams put this idea into practice when he established the pioneering artist-in-residence programme at the Studio Museum in Harlem, with the idea of an artist living in a community, using his or her skills or insights, inspiring young artists, being inspired by the community and showing and creating in the community.

All of which was perfectly captured in Lorraine OGradys landmark 1983 work Art Is , which stretched for seven miles through Harlem during the African American Day parade. She took more than 400 photos of marchers holding frames, which they used to frame themselves and the world around them.

Black Lives Matter represents the fruition of 50 years of ethnic scholarship Lorraine OGrady. Photograph: Elia Alba/Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York

The concept was that, as people were being framed, they were being acknowledged as art in themselves, OGrady says, in her studio in New Yorks Westbeth artist community. She chose not to do Art Is… at the more flamboyant West Indian Day parade, as she wanted to show that black people in everyday dress not just flamboyant costumes were art.

OGrady doesnt have a strong relationship with the phrase black power. All of these slogans, she says, are utopian phrases. Theres nothing wrong with them. They enable the kind of activity that has to take place for things to change. But the phrase didnt indicate that there was real black power except self-empowerment.

Soul of a Nation will occupy 12 rooms, from Art in the Streets (which includes We Shall Survive Without a Doubt by Emory Douglas) to Black Heroes (which pairs Hendricks Superman with a red and green Andy Warhol silkscreen of Muhammad Ali). There will be an entire room dedicated to the Chicago-based collective AfriCOBRA, which stood for African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists. Keen for their work to be accessible, they made poster art designed for mass production.[5].

The first room, though, is dedicated to Spiral, an arts alliance that flourished in the early 1960s and consisted of one woman, Emma Amos, and 14 older men, all committed to using their talents in the cause of civil rights. I think Spiral were announcing talent, says OGrady, whose work closes the show. Black artists right to be heard. And my piece, Art Is, was much more about who art can be made by, who should be addressed by art, who should be participating both as audience and markers and evaluators of art.

The Smokehouse muralists in Harlem from left, Edwards, Billy Rose, Guy Ciarcia and Williams. Photograph: Robert Colton/Courtesy of the William T Williams Archive and Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York

If Soul of a Nation begins at the moment the identity of negro gave way to black, it ends as black gives way to African American during the Reagan 80s around the time Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale began selling BBQs. But, as the show opens, black is back because of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and because of a rising sense of transnational blackness that cannot be contained by the nationalist identity of African American.

One of the most incredible things about Black Lives Matter is how it represents the fruition of 50 years of ethnic scholarship, says OGrady. The artist herself wrote an influential work in the early 1990s, Olympias Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity, which deals as an artist with similar issues Kimberle Crenshaw grappled with as a legal scholar in her now famous essay on intersectionality.

Soul of a Nation is clearly about race, but Williams hopes that visitors will take something more than that away with them. I hope the viewer will see 65 different artists working in a time period, with different ideas and interests and technique skilled at what theyre doing. I hope it gives them some sense of the history of the medium and the history of art in general.

He goes on: If it gives them some sense of what the soul of a nation is, that would be interesting. But that implies a bigger burden than just being members of a nation.

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The great American radical showed how ordinary people mattered more than stars a lesson todays celebrities could do with learning

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From Bowie to Brexit, and street protests to sporting glory, it has been a year of unforgettable events. Those closest to the action recall these memorable moments

10 January: David Bowie dies, by Honor Ash, organiser of a Brixton Bowie street party

Bowie was the first music I really connected with. Im 19, so wasnt around when he arrived, but he always felt modern to me the way he challenged definitions, his confidence, the way he was a figure of self-acceptance for people who dont feel represented, as well as playing a character.

After my mum texted to tell me that he had died, I got into the shower and cried. I suppose I was crying because it meant I would never get a chance to tell Bowie how important hed been to us.

Later I saw the reaction unfolding on Twitter, and it became clear that everyone was desperate to talk, to be together, to share his music. So I made a Facebook event, a street party in Brixton, near the mural of his portrait.

In the first hour there were more than 500 responses eventually that grew to 9,000. I didnt organise anything really. I just located a space.

At 6pm there were only a couple of us with a guitar and loads of TV cameras. Then the crowds formed. Someone projected the Life on Mars video from their flat on to the wall. There were a lot of tears, but it was much happier than I thought it would be. At one point there were a thousand of us singing Starman at the top of our voices.

28 February: Oscars outfit outcry, by Jenny Beavan, costume designer

Wear it with pride: Jenny Beavan ignores the looks of disdain from fellow guests as she collects her Oscar. Photograph: Sky Movies

Gender politics had always been a part of my life, but it was this that made me get involved with the Womens Equality party and meet people like the Labour MP Stella Creasy, who invited me for a drink at the House of Commons.

I suppose what she saw in me was someone who was staying true to their self, which seems to be the main thrust of what sparked peoples imaginations. I went into a bit of a bunker after it all blew up. I didnt read any of the press about my awards, or follow it on social media, and to be honest, Ive forgotten quite a lot about the whole thing, mainly because Ive been working nonstop, first on a space film called Life, then on The Nutcracker, which of course have been totally different from Mad Max.

If Nutcracker is nominated next year, I wont wear a fancy gown. Id look like Widow Twanky. Just like with Mad Max, Id be paying homage to the film, so possibly thered be some glitter involved.

Im still shocked at what an impact it had. I wore trousers it ended up meaning so much more. Im interested to see what everybody else wears this year. If it proved one thing, its the power of clothes.

19 March: Artificial Intelligence beats Go grandmaster, by Demis Hassabis, Deepmind co-founder

Smart moves: TV screens show the live broadcast of the Google DeepMind Challenge Match between AlphaGo and South Korean professional Go player Lee Sedol. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP

Go is seen as an artform in Asia and people have played it for thousands of years: they consider that it embodies the mysteries of the universe in some way. So we knew the DeepMind Go match was going to be quite a big event in South Korea, but we didnt realise the whole country would come to a standstill watching it.

Wed spent two years developing the AlphaGo artificial intelligence programme with the help of 400 researchers. Go is so complex with more possible positions than atoms in the universe that you need something akin to human intuition to win. The challenge was to mimic aspects of human intuition, like subconscious pattern matching.

We knew AlphaGo had advantages and disadvantages. It cant read Go books or learn from other people it has to build its own knowledge.

So before the match with grandmaster Lee Sedol, we didnt know how well it was going to do. AlphaGo had played against itself a million times, but we werent sure if it would be weak against a human player who could be more creative.

The evening before the match they were predicting a 5-0 loss: the consensus until then was that it would take another 10-20 years to develop a programme to beat a world champion. But it was how AlphaGo won that was amazing, with astounding moves that were so creative. Since that game, the top players all want to play against it. Sedol told me afterwards it was the most amazing experience of his life.

29 March: EgyptAir hijack, by passenger Andrea Banchetti

Wanted man: Cyprus hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa with passenger Ben Innes on the EgyptAir plane. Photograph: Twitter

When I saw that big English boy coming towards us with his mobile, happily shouting: Ive got a picture with the hijacker! I couldnt resist saying: You are an idiot, man. I wish Id slapped him. What if he really had a bomb? I fly often, but Im not relaxed any more. Now I constantly look around. For the first two months I didnt manage to get back to work.

The hijacker was the man sitting in the aircraft tail, on the hostess seat, appearing and disappearing behind the curtains. In Cyprus, he released everyone apart from the staff and us, the five westerners. It scared me so badly. Here we go, I thought. We were gathered in the tail. I thought: I hope the commander managed to empty the fuel tanks, the hijacker might have explosives on him.

Then I thought, if I lower myself in the seat, it will help take the worst of the explosion. Meanwhile the English boy, Benjamin, goes to the bathroom and returns with that picture. I was so angry. As well as thinking it was absurd. I heard him saying on television that he got the picture to ascertain whether the belt was really explosive. Which is plainly not true. He smiled like a kid.

I was not laughing. I was on the phone with my wife, telling her, If anything happens to me, give my bike to a friend and ask him to scatter my ashes at full speed.

2 May: Leicester City win the Premier League, by fan Leigh Herbert, who won 20,000 on a 5 bet

Chance in a million: fans celebrate at the Leicester v Everton match. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

Leicester got rid of manager Nigel Pearson and put Claudio Ranieri in charge and that made me think they could do really well. They had a manager with so much experience, anything could happen.

The odds against winning the premier league were 5,000/1, which was very appealing. And stranger things have happened. I was camping in the middle of a field in Cornwall with my fiance and I downloaded the William Hill app and put 1 on. It helped that Id had a few drinks. Then I thought, if this actually happens Ill be fuming at the end of the season so I put 5 on them to win before theyd even kicked a ball.

It was just banter all the way up to Christmas and then it started to sink in. Im really not a nervous person, but towards the end of the season it was quite unbearable. It took over my life. What had been a laugh and a joke got more tense with each game.

Just before the end of the season, they played Manchester United. I was on a stag weekend in Tallinn. I was actually sick that day through nerves thats how bad it got. I came back and Chelsea beat Spurs and that was it, Leicester had won.

It was the weirdest feeling. It started off as a nice experience, but it got to a stage where it was just too much for me. You just cant handle the number of phone calls you get. Stuff like that doesnt happen to me. There were thousands of reports online, and pictures off my Facebook. I sort of embraced it. I thought, nothing like this is ever going to happen again. I didnt do myself any favours.

About a month before, it had all got too much, and I cashed out 2 of the 5 pound bet so in total I got about 20,000 instead of 25,000.

I didnt meet any of the players or anything like that. I was a bit annoyed that the club didnt contact me. I was hoping that they might do. But I suppose you cant have it all. At the celebrations, I did keep thinking, when people who didnt even know me congratulated me, this isnt my day, this is Leicesters day.

5 May: Sadiq Khan becomes London Mayor, by Matthew Ryder QC, Deputy Mayor

Capital fellow: Sadiq Khan is congratulated by his wife Saadiya after winning the contest to become Labours London mayor. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

In a depressing year of politics defined by fear and division, the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London was a rare moment of joy. I first met Sadiq when we were both starting out as young lawyers. Everyone could see he was a precocious legal talent. But what really made him stand out was his unshakeable confidence, not just about his own skills, but about what he could do for his clients.

At a time when people like us a British Asian and a mixed-race guy, from comprehensive schools were uncommon in the legal profession, he refused to see himself as an outsider: if we showed we had the ability, then we belonged. It was inspiring.

That same inspiring confidence and sense of belonging was on display this year. Siren voices asked throughout the campaign whether Londoners were ready to elect a British-born, Pakistani-origin mayor of Islamic faith. Londoners answered with a resounding yes in May.

I am honoured to be working with Sadiq again, now as his deputy mayor for social integration and social mobility. I have the chance to help him give others the same opportunities he had, and to ensure Londoners live truly interconnected lives. It has also allowed me to see up close the excitement and energy surrounding his new mayoralty. From surprised commuters sneaking a selfie when they see him on the Northern Line, to business and civic leaders in Paris and Chicago keen to forge new links with London, everyone is enthusiastic about a mayor who so aptly represents the confidence and aspirations of a modern, diverse city. Bill Clinton summed it up when he turned to Sadiq during a discussion in New York and said, I cheered when I saw you had been elected. We all did.

London is proud that it voted for Sadiq Khan. And the world is proud of London for doing so.

11 May: The Boris Battle Bus sets off, by Gisela Stuart, MP

Ticket to ride: Boris Johnson and Gisela Stuart lauch the Vote Leave campaigns bus tour. Photograph: Getty Images

The Vote Leave bus provided the focus for visits. As to the 350m, it was accurate thats what weve lost control over. I hadnt known Boris before I worked with him on the bus. Wed have this daily meeting and hed ask, Are we still on the right track? I liked that. The greatest criticism I got from Labour party members was not the side Id taken (they knew my views), it was the fact that I was working with Boris.

The outside world assumes we are all hard-skinned creatures. I think Boris found it difficult. At times it got to him, like it got to all of us. You go out and people shout at you things like traitor. It is difficult.

What surprises me most now is that the Remain side have not taken ownership of the fact that they have lost. They are still talking about it as if something has gone wrong with the electorate. We are back on an almost daily basis to refighting the referendum.

My family is from Bavaria so they understand more the view of people in the UK who are critical of the EU. There were emails during the campaign in which German people made out that I was a traitor to the German post-world war project. But it has settled since the result. I was at a meeting recently where I explained to people in Germany why the British people voted as they did and they listened and understood. There was a real sadness though.

22 May: Winning the Palme DOr, by Ken Loach, film director

Golden touch: director Ken Loach poses with the Palme dOr award for his film I, Daniel Blake. Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Winning the Palme dOr for I, Daniel Blake was extraordinary. It was an endorsement and meant distributors were given confidence to show the film, so a lot of people saw it and it couldnt be ignored. Its rattled a few cages, which is what we hoped for.

Across Europe there are people in comparable situations. When we were researching the script we found people who were feeding their kids biscuits because they had no money. Theres a level of poverty thats just not talked about. I think thats something fiction can do that a straight news report cant. It takes you into peoples inner lives.

If the film is to be anything other than a news story that fades, its got to translate into political action. The demand for food banks has gone through the roof. A lot of people become homeless. At every screening people put up their hands and say: It happened to me. We heard story after story: when Iain Duncan Smith and others say the film isnt accurate, theyre lying. We know it is accurate.

28 May: Amber Heard splits from Johnny Depp, by Polly Neate, activist

Happier days: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard arrive for the British premiere of the film Black Mass in London. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

As the CEO of Womens Aid, Ive met women from all walks of life who have been through domestic abuse. Amber Heards allegations about Johnny Depp were all too appallingly familiar. What was disappointing was how immediate the backlash was. People were quick to wade in and blame her and accuse her of lying. [Depp denied all the allegations and the case was settled out of court.] When a women makes an allegation of domestic abuse, people tend to pick around for ulterior motives.

We saw an increase in women coming forward after The Archers abuse storyline, and when Amber went public the numbers of calls to police skyrocketed.

Domestic abuse charities are underfunded and we dont tend to be the sort of charity that celebrities like to attach themselves to so, in a sense, Ambers public statement was extremely powerful.

24 June: David Cameron resigns, by Craig Oliver, communications director

End of the road: David Cameron speaks outside 10 Downing Street, London, with wife Samantha as he announces his resignation. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA

Being in Downing Street on the night of 23 June felt like walking across a path to safety, only to suddenly drop into quicksand. No one was going to pull us out.

As I arrived in No 10 that evening, still wearing a Stronger In T-shirt, everyone was nervous, despite people queuing up to say wed won. The markets were buoyant, pollsters were confident and even Nigel Farage was conceding defeat.

The early results put the lie to that. Come 4am it was clearly over. Slumped in his office chair, the prime minister dismissed arguments he should stay on. It would be miserable. Id be being prepared for the slaughterhouse. Just waiting for the tap on the shoulder. I watched him disappear along the corridor to spend time with his family.

When he came downstairs a few hours later, David Cameron said: Well, that didnt go to plan! Of course he cared deeply he was simply trying to lead people through his and their pain in a very English way.

After a concession call to Michael Gove, we prepared a speech. He walked out with Sam by his side, the first signal to the world he was going. I turned up the TV in the Private Office and watched with George Osborne. I put my arm around Kate Fall, the deputy chief of staff, who was in tears. As David got to the final sentences about loving his country, we could see he was choking up.

What felt like the whole of No 10 was now gathered, and David and Sam returned to a round of applause. He waved his hand to silence everyone, but we refused to stop. After a short speech about loving his team, he disappeared into his office.

I could give endless reasons why Remain lost, many of them our fault. But in essence, we thought we were able to take more hits than we actually could. As David told me: We were asking too many people to vote for an EU they didnt like and immigration they didnt want.

Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit by Craig Oliver is available from Hodder & Stoughton 20. To order a copy for 15.80, go to

9 July: Black Lives Matter demonstration in Louisiana, by Ieshia Evans, protester

Standing tall: Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement officers as she protests the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Louisiana. Photograph: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

When Baltimore, Ferguson and other protests broke out, I couldnt travel. I had to work in my job as a nurse. I had bills to pay. I made excuses. I remember the guilt of feeling that I should be there.

So when the opportunity to travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from where I live in Pennsylvania came, I jumped in. My grandmother, who Im very close to, really didnt want me to go. She was scared for me. I am 28 years old and I have a young son, but it was time I stood up.

I arrived to a peaceful protest. There was no violence coming from the protesters, but the police had no issue about having their sticks out and one officer had his gun out and pointed he obviously didnt see the irony. They were ready to attack us.

I wasnt aware that the space around me had cleared in the moment that this picture was taken, and I wasnt scared. I consciously made eye contact with the officers. I wanted them to see me, to see my anger. I wanted them to feel what I was feeling, but there was nothing.

I was arrested and bundled into a van afterwards and taken to a holding facility, where I was strip searched, put in jail clothes and then taken to a prison. I was there for 24 hours.

Nearly six months on, I dont dwell on what happened that day and I dont want any praise. It was a moment in time and one I would repeat in a heartbeat.

People around the world dont realise how bad things are for black people in the US. Racism here is so ingrained even under the Obama administration. White people care more about their animals than they care about us. There is a disconnect in the way we are living. The way we are being human. That needs to change.

28 July: Democratic Party National Convention, by Khizr Khan, whose son died fighting for America

Many view rock as a dated genre, but some bands are hoping to channel their punk predecessors and embody the USs collective sense of post-election unrest

Since the election, the Kominas have been getting the same curious request. The east coast punk band keeps being asked, by film-makers and documentarians, for a Donald Trump protest song. People just assume we have an anti-Trump song already recorded, says Basim Usmani, the groups bassist.

In the weeks preceding and following the election, musicians, fans and critics have discussed and debated the idea that Trumps impending presidency could inspire a new movement of politically charged protest music. So its no surprise that the Kominas, a South Asian American band whose discography includes provocative statements like Sharia Law in the USA, would be called upon for a musical reaction to the president-elect.

Its been hard to deal with, says Usmani, whose band recently recorded a new batch of material focusing instead on highlighting angst and mental health issues from the perspectives of people of color. Its radical for us to center ourselves in our own music, as opposed to Trump. Wed like to turn him into background noise.

The Kominas are just one band thats begun thinking about how to use rock music, viewed by many as a dated genre long past its cultural relevancy, to react to and channel the collective sense of unrest, fear and anger felt by tens of millions of Americans in the wake of last months election.

Less than two weeks after election night, Green Day began their performance at the 2016 American Music Awards by covering a snippet of Born to Die by 80s punk outfit Millions of Dead Cops. Green Days performance recalled the underground hardcore punk movement led by the likes of Black Flag, MDC and Minor Threat that flourished during the height of Reagans presidency in the 80s.

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The movement has plenty of high-profile supporters and detractors from the world of hip-hop, but should we expect rappers to be natural allies of activism?

Last week Lil Wayne came under fire for publicly denouncing Black Lives Matter (BLM). His comments came only a few months after saying that theres no such thing as racism, and he distanced himself from the movement before later walking back the comments and firing his publicist. I am a young black rich motherfucker, he said. If that dont let you know that America understand black motherfuckers matter these days, I dont know what it is.

Wayne seemed to imply that because he was rich and black, he disproved the notion of racial inequity. Worse still, he seemed to hint that he couldnt identify with BLMs objective. I dont feel connected to a damn thing that aint got nothin to do with me. If you do, you crazy as shit, he added. Wayne later apologized to those who were offended and suggested he was agitated after being asked questions about his daughter.

Both Vic Mensa and TI, who have been vocally supportive of the movement in recent music, publicly aired out Wayne in separate, recent comments calling him selfish and ignorant and his comments absolutely unacceptable, respectively. Waynes high profile, and black protester past, made him an easy target, but hes far from the first rap star to speak out against BLM.

Many rappers have dismissed the movement. A$AP Rocky called the movement a bandwagon in a Breakfast Club interview. Kevin Gates said it was bullshit before putting the blame on black-on-black crime, saying, we kill each other. Hopsin shared similar sentiments on Twitter: Our black lives argument is so contradicting right now. This week more niggaz killed niggas than cops killed niggas. RZA joined the All Lives Matter crowd back in January, and Gucci Mane was scheduled to headline an All Lives Matter concert that was later cancelled. MIA was replaced as the headliner of the Afropunk festival after asking: Is Beyonc or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters?

Despite the resonant voices of the movements doubters, it does have significant support within the rap community. Common and Talib Kweli, who have always been at the forefront of conscious rap, stand with the movement. J Cole performed Be Free on The Late Show with David Letterman just days after the killing of Michael Brown. Chance the Rapper called the movement important and integral to our advancement as a people on Hot97. Lil Durk got a Black Lives Matter tattoo, telling HipHopDX: Killing happens everywhere; it happens, [but] its not supposed to happen by the people whos supposed to protect us. Killer Mike has been a vocal supporter too.

James Brown in 1969, the year he released his black capitalism anthem I Dont Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing. Photograph: AP

Support is split, though, and the disparity were seeing among rap artists is reflective of a much larger issue plaguing both the black elite and society as a whole. A 2014 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that seeing more successful black people has caused many non-blacks to deny the existence of racism. But these ideas arent limited to those outside of the black community; over time, they have started to permeate black celebrity, too. The same year as the study, Pharrell introduced the concept of new blackness, which doesnt blame other races for our [black] issues. Kanye West is on record saying racism is a dated concept.

There has always been pushback from prominent black people about aligning with social movements and taking hard political stances. You can see shades of OJ Simpson, who once famously uttered the words, Im not black, Im OJ, in Lil Waynes comments, in this idea that being rich and famous transcends race, creating a disconnect where some black people think theyve priced themselves out of racism. There are clear ties to the black capitalism of James Brown and Pharrells new blackness, which put the onus solely on black shoulders.

Across generations, many black musicians and entertainers have chosen to sit on the sidelines during times of civil unrest, opting out of their blackness and any sense of civic responsibility. In an interview with Time Out New York, A$AP Rocky belittled his role as a potential activist: Every time something happens because Im black I gotta stand up? What the fuck am I, Al Sharpton now? Im A$AP Rocky. I did not sign up to be no political activist. If you have a voice, are you required to use it? I dont wanna talk about no fucking Ferguson and shit because I dont live over there! He added. I live in fucking Soho and Beverly Hills. I cant relate.

Wayne and Rockys comments echo those of fictional rapper Paper Boi in BAN, the seventh episode of Donald Glovers FX dramedy Atlanta. In the episode, where the rapper is an unwilling guest on a talkshow discussing social issues, he shrugs off his role as a community voice with level-headedness, tact and wit. It raises interesting questions about what should be asked of entertainers in times like these. Should we expect every rapper to be an incisive talking head with well-thought-out platforms on social issues? Should we even be looking to our rappers to be civic leaders? Some arent built to be explicitly political; others are. Acts like Public Enemy, NWA and Boogie Down Productions were booming voices of both anger and reason, and now artists like Beyonc, Kendrick Lamar, and Vince Staples have taken up that mantle. Perhaps its best for everyone if we just let the rest decide their own role for themselves.

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Rapper appears on US television to insist explicitly that his success proves America understands young, black men

Lil Wayne has distanced himself from the Black Lives Matter movement, saying: I dont feel connected to a damn thing that aint got nothin to do with me. If you do, you crazy as shit Feeling connected to something that aint got nothin to do with you? If it aint got nothin to do with me, I aint connected to it.

The Grammy-winning rapper was interviewed on ABCs Nightline on US television on Tuesday night, and said he felt instances of police violence against black people should not be treated as a collective phenomemon. That just sounds weird, I dont know, that you put a name on it. Its not a name, its not whatever, whatever. Its somebody got shot by a policeman for a fucked-up reason.

In September, Wayne had said there is no such thing as racism on Fox Sports. Last month, he clarified that comment, saying that his life had been saved by a white police officer when he was 12, and so: I dont know what racism is I have never witnessed racism.

In the new interview, he further distanced himself from the notion that black people in America suffer systemic racism. I am a young, black motherfucker, he said. If that dont tell you that America understand black motherfuckers matter these days, I dont know what it.

He added: My life matter. Especially to my bitches.

The interview ended with Wayne removing his microphone and walking off set, saying: I aint no fuckin politician.

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The writer has reimagined The Cherry Orchard as The Hotel Cerise, replacing Russian aristocrats with African Americans. She talks about fleeing gentrification, how millennials are going to save us and why she never watches herself on TV

Bonnie Greer tells me, with pride, that she doesnt really engage much with contemporary culture. Or, more accurately, she doesnt remember much once its been and gone, doesnt watch TV, and doesnt go out in the evenings. I spend most of my day alone, she says, and I never go anywhere. Nope. She doesnt recognise the actors who occasionally approach her in the street and she hates dinner parties, because she cant stand the chat.

Im a curious person, the critic and writer says, several times. I spent half my life apologising for wanting to go to the Royal Opera House not a blues or jazz club. She began reading Ibsen and Chekhov a couple of years ago, after taking what sounds like a Myers-Briggs personality test, which told her: I didnt really know who I was.

She took to the Russian writers with brio and were meeting today in a busy London restaurant to discuss her new adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, which she has reimagined and relocated to a bougie, black, middle-class retreat in Michigan called The Hotel Cerise. Although a contemporary African American family takes the place of Russian aristocrats at the dawn of the 20th century, Greer insists The Hotel Cerise is not a black version of Chekhov.

Actors in rehearsal for The Hotel Cerise from left. Abhin Galeya, Madeline Appiah and Lacharne Jolly. Photograph: Stephen Cummiskey

Defining it that way, she explains, feels reductive: the point is to show how the mechanics of Chekhovs writing can be easily bent to accommodate an inclusive perspective on love, loss and the rest. When I wake up in the morning, she explains, Im just myself. Its only when I leave the front door that I become a black woman to the world.

Greer, now aged 68, was born in Chicago, the eldest of seven siblings to a mother run ragged looking after them all, and a father who worked in a factory and was stationed in Britain during the second world war. She moved to the UK in 1986 to work in the arts and has defined herself as a playwright ever since, with works including Munda Negra (1993) and Jitterbug (2001). She writes all day, often till 3am, and is still finishing The Hotel Cerise when we meet.

She married her husband, a solicitor, in 1993 and they lived near Notting Hill for over a decade. We had to move because I couldnt stand what the area had become couldnt stand it. She repeats this four times. I couldnt stand the bankers, the gentrification. The couple moved to Soho, a prohibitively expensive area that has itself been undergoing a (much-protested) gentrification for some years now. But what I get to see is passing traffic! says Greer. Theres still different kinds of people coming through, its more cosmopolitan.

Bonnie Greer, far left, attends rehearsals. Photograph: Stephen Cummiskey

Greer is barely five feet, but projects a grand and glamorous life: she has often been the go-to voice called upon to represent minority women on TV and radio, she has sat on the boards of the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, Theatre Royal Stratford East, was appointed an OBE in 2010 and is now the chancellor of Kingston University. For a couple of years, she wrote a weekly culture column for the Mail on Sunday, dotted with dispatches from parties and premieres.

Thats not really me, she explains. I spent most of my life sleeping on couches. I move in that world, but Im not of it. When I first came here 30 years ago, it was shocking to me that people would talk about black British people in front of me, they were dismissive and would trivialise things because I was from America.

She became a British citizen almost 20 years ago but, I guess, probably quite enjoys often being the only black person in the room. Yeah, she says. I tell you why: because it alters the space. It changes things up and I tell black women all the time, Dont apologise for yourself and keep your hair nappy whatever that means to you. Never apologise, make sure you are heard.

And Greer is certainly heard: she has a beautiful voice, perfectly paced mellifluous honey that goes a long way to distract from the fact that she often speaks in tangents and non-sequiturs. Conversation zips along, taking in her obsession with the Obamas and the art of waitressing, to the trouble with Theresa May and the faith she has in the young.

Millennials will save us Bonnie Greer in London. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Millennials, I think, are gonna save us if they can get jobs and keep their body and souls together. I see a lot of repetition of my own life experience, seeing things come back again. Like what? Black Lives Matter is a rerun. Its a replay of what we did as student activists in the 60s, the Black Panthers. I understand it because Ive been through it and seen it.

Does the fact that #BLM even exists not represent a failure on the part of her generation? Oh yes, a big fail. Big fail. People of my generation did what everyone does. People get tired, say, I want to have some kids, a roof over my head and a paycheque. I never did that, but I dont blame my friends who did.

Strangely, for someone who made her name on television review shows, Greer claims to have never watched herself on TV I became a critic because I have a big mouth and opinions not even the notorious Question Time from 2009, when she appeared with Nick Griffin, then leader of the BNP. Ive never watched it, she says. Yet she wrote Yes for the Royal Opera House based on the experience? I remembered my emotions sitting there, though. I remembered my feelings, the nerves up to it, the pressure.

She also considers herself to have low self-esteem, but is such good, garrulous company, I can only assume shes joking. Im extremely shy, she insists. Oh, come on, Bonnie! I tell her I dont believe her: we are running at more than double the allotted interview time at this point and she hasnt had a chance to eat more than three bites of her lunch mushroom burger, fries and Im not even a quarter of the way through my questions.

Why would I lie to you? she says. When are you shy? Im always shy. In what situation? In every situation.

At this precise moment, she spots the plays publicist and waves her over with a huge, emphatically warm: Hi! They chat briefly, as Greers lunch is sent back to the kitchen to be reheated. I tell her its a shame she dislikes socialising: she seems born to it. Oh, never. People think its personal. With you Im having a ball because youre real, most people She pauses while rummaging around for a level of diplomacy. Most people operate from personas. Im fascinated by personas.

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The Public Enemy frontman shares his views on Donald Trump, policing, Obama and why the new protest movement is a case of history repeated

Public Enemys Chuck D has never pulled his punches. Since the groups debut album Yo! Bum Rush The Show was released 30 years ago,the group has addressed social injustice and written songs that have provided the soundtrack to protest and resistance around the world.

Hes stayed active for the better part of three decades and built a career on telling truths, often loudly. Not just in his music, but his writings, speeches and university lecture series. Ahead of a tour with his new group Prophets of Rage which includes members of Cypress Hill and Rage Against The Machine the Guardian spoke with Chuck on current matters of the state, his frustrations, Barack Obama and the current political landscape.

Why do you think songs like Fight the Power or 911s A Joke still resonate?

When I said fight the power my influences are about the we, not the me. So people say that stuff Ive said is still relevant today and Im glad. But I say its still around and will always be around because I didnt make it up. I was able to write a song that gave narrative to things, but I didnt invent the sentiment or own the slogan.

How do you explain the rise of Donald Trump?

Its not so much him or even the audacity of Trump hes just a businessman. And as a businessman, he will fight democracy and government, not fight for it. I think after he wins, hell sit and enjoy feeling his power for a while and being the businessman that he is, hell just go for bigger deals internationally thatll serve him. I believe his intent is to take over the military. Hell also work for the prison industrial complex and all its materialistic power structures will thrive with little opposition.

As The Counted showed police encounters with communities of colour are much more likely to end in violence. Why do you think that is?

I think and this is the first time Ive really talked about this is that policing in the US has been so bad because of state laws. These states have the nerve to make it all about them and no one can tell them what to do. So theres a huge detachment with these states acting and functioning as a state within other states. The other thing that makes policing so lopsided is that counties have their own policing and jurisdiction and theyre not compliant or united. Theyre ran on ego and their own sort of fiefdom. And states are made of many, many counties. Say youre driving across county lines, each and every county has different systems in place as to how theyre gonna deal with you. Policing is evidently not working in the 21st century United States.

What are your thoughts on Black Lives Matter?

Its a defensive movement. Its just saying, Hey, you need to treat us like people and that were not going to tolerate being slaughtered like pigs or sheep. The whole thing that thinking that BLM is an offensive movement is wrong. All lives matter, true, but if we dont treat all lives equally then no lives matter.

What do you think President Obamas legacy will be?

When you say how hell be remembered, the media will be making that judgment call. So the question really is, what is media? Will it be a small group of guys controlling Obamas narrative? I think Obama is the best we ever had, best that ever did it, but worse is on the horizon. Im hoping its just worse on the horizon, not the worst. Worst being Trump.

How will you personally remember President Obama?

Besides my inner most beliefs on what government does, I truly believe he battled with the government. As a black man in the United States with its history, I expect nothing from the government [laughs]. But Obamas also had to endure such and onslaught of direct hatred from the system. Hes also been so ostracized. I remember eight years of George Bush when everyone was scrambling. I just think Obama really tried to do the right thing.

Prophets Of Rage perform live. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

How did he strike you eight years ago when he was first elected?

I always thought Obama wouldve been the perfect running mate for Hillary back in 2008 because I thought she was going to win. I didnt think America was ready for a black president then. And Im right its eight years later and people still arent ready for a black president [laughs]. But that was the first time my daughter was of voting age. So myself, my daughter and my father all voted together. All three generations went to the polls together and voted for a black president. It was a pretty significant moment for us.

Whatd you think of Bernie Sanders and his campaign?

Bernie said things that people wanted to hear. I thought what Bernie did with one of my peers, Killer Mike, was also amazing. All the awareness and everything Bernie did was great. But my main disappointment is that this Coke and Pepsi ran country has made elections this eenie-meenie-miney-mo sort of thing. Its a game of mathematics and having to choose the lesser of two.

Ive always wondered why the vice0-president doesnt have more power, like some real actual power. Why did Hillary choose [Tim] Kaine and not make Bernie her running mate? Well the answer is because Hilary is backed by wealthy investors. So, even as we speak now and even with Bernies efforts, were right back at square one.

What do you think the single biggest obstacle for the next president will be?

Getting attention. Attention is currency and you have to pay attention to details. And I think millennials have all been fragmented due to their devices. These kids are more connected to each other than ever before thats actually a good thing, I think. But the negative is that they dont get the humanity and real feelings when you touch another human being or sit face-to-face with someone. The gadget is just the intermediary but it will become your guide if youre not careful. And then, if youre really not careful, your guide ends up becoming your god.

Even though this is certainly a youth-oriented culture, it hasnt just impacted kids. Seems like its a lot of people.

Absolutely. Ive never seen so many 40-year-old teenagers in my life [laughs]. You can be youthful and full of youth, but dont be a fool for youth; this society tries to make you hang onto your youth by any means necessary. But in doing so you forgo responsibilities and accountabilities of what makes you an elder. Theres no narrative for US citizens to understand the quality of ageing gracefully.

Look at all these politicians theyre all trying to get their young on and it all feels like high school shit. This Republican convention was a straight-up high school prep rally. And the Democratic convention was just showtime. What does that show a 16-year-old? How do they take it? All you have is this glamour and glitz fake show from the left, and on the right its a hate rally.

Chuck D tour with Prophets of Rage starts 19 August at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia

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Entrepreneur Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records, and Stanford professor Clayborne Carson join Sabrina Siddiqui to discuss the latest in the Black Lives Matter movement

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Sterling was selling CDs outside a Louisiana store when he was killed by two white officers responding to a call of a man threatening someone with a gun

A steady stream of mourners filed past the casket of Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old black man who was shot to death by two white police officers as he was pinned to the pavement outside a convenience store.

The grieving paused Friday in front of Sterlings open casket, which was adorned with music notes and a smiling photo of the man. Sterling was selling CDs outside the store, as he had done for years, when he was killed by police responding to a call of a man threatening someone with a gun.

One mourner wore a T-shirt that said No Justice, No Peace on the back of it. Another carried a poster board sign saying: Black America Im Sorry!!

Sterlings death was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely on the internet. His death, along with another fatal police shooting in Minnesota last week, sparked protests over the treatment of black people by police.

Sterlings death heightened tensions in Baton Rouge, where about 200 protesters were arrested over the weekend, and police said they had foiled a credible threat to attack officers. Authorities said they discovered the plot after a pawn shop burglary, and one of the suspects was to appear in court Friday.

Among the mourners was Darrell Jupiter, a landscaper and close friend of Sterlings who came to the visitation inside the basketball arena at Southern University, a historically black college in north Baton Rouge.

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