What Was the Date?

It’s all a blur. And time is basically irrelevant at this point. It doesn’t matter what day it is, it never feels like that day to me and I am always surprised when I find out. And if I tell you a story of something that happened in quarantine, please be aware that it could have taken place two days ago or mid-March. So I get it, dates can be hazy. But I really need someone to try. For the people in the back, i’m asking the people in the front: What was the date? When the complete viciousness of our history lost its teeth? When a country built on land that was stolen through cruelty (torture, genocide) and then built with cruelty (the torture and genocide of slavery) and then reluctantly (when forced through civil war) gave up its most blatant forms of cruelty, only to regroup to reshape and refashion them (Jim Crow, lynching, massacres, mass incarceration, poll taxes, redlining, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera) – when did that entire system built for and by white supremacy cease to have an effect? Because that is your premise when you want to “wait for all the facts” when you see us (Black people) being routinely over-policed, by both police and regular-degular citizens who for some strange and completely untraceable reason feel they have the right (almost like a birthright…) to determine when/where/how we can live and move and have our being. Inconveniencing us (at best) and slaughtering us (far far too easily) in ways and for “reasons” that you would never begin to consider reasonable if the shoe was on a foot in your family.

But we are in your family, white christians… allegedly. And yet, your power structures look no different (and often much worse) than “the world” with the seats at your tables held predominantly by white men. While your silence on issues of injustice is deafening, your platitudes as empty as they are plentiful and your support of cruel (hello old friend!) and corrupt characters disappointingly sickening. All of which is double baffling when you consider that a tenet of the faith for most of you is that we all are fallen and prone to sin; yet it is somehow unfathomable to you, that you (yes you), a product of a white supremacist root system might actually have a racist bone (or two or more) in your body… and I figure that it must be because you know the date. So please, just give me the date.

But in the meantime, forgive me if I have a hard time telling the difference between “saints” and sinners, and clearly prefer one over the other.


Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

F This (Meanwhile…)

“This popped up on my Spotify this morning and it made me think Janice could do that easy.”

A friend (and head cheerleader)

I got that text with a link to a song in the beginning of March. At the time, I was consumed with my show, Scandusical, and all the time I’m crazy, so I thought to myself, “She wants to me to think I have options after my writing career tanks (…finishes tanking) but I’m not a producer.”

Meanwhile… my friend Daniel and I had a due date approaching for our YouTube channel, Cat Tetris. We had an episode and a song due. The episode would be easy enough, but the song… that was going to take time we probably weren’t going to be able to find since we were in thick of a show (shoutout again to Scandusical). So we decided to pull from the archives, which led to me dusting off a song we had written and recorded in 2018. A song I had produced three versions of. Even though I wasn’t a producer.

Also meanwhile… a former friend was releasing some songs. Put a pin in that.

And then the world shut down. The last time I was social without distancing, I was recording the cast of my show (oh hey there AGAIN, Scandusical) and I spent the first few days in quarantine working on a few of those tracks. And I don’t know what exactly it was about that moment that flipped the switch, but I was tweaking the timing of a section in one of the songs when I stopped and said out loud, “Hang on, I am a producer.”

The person who has overall creative and technical control of the entire recording project, and the individual recording sessions that are part of that project. He or she is present in the recording studio or at the location recording and works directly with the artist and engineer. The producer makes creative and aesthetic decisions that realize both the artist’s and label’s goals in the creation of musical content. (GRAMMY qualification definition of a producer)

I have been producing tracks for years. With varying levels of success, depending on how we’re defining success. For me, success has meant being able to do what I do faster and better: what used to take a week, and then days, now takes a day, sometimes only hours. It’s a gift. And I don’t say that to imply that I’m gifted, I am not – it is a gift of disposable income past that I have the equipment and software that I do and a gift of time that I have been able to learn how to use them. And I have been using and learning them for years now.

A few months ago at a MAESTRA meeting, the guest speaker told the story of when she wanted to transition from acting to directing and was tossing up how to go about it, another actor-turned-director gave her some advice: “Do what I did,” he said “just start telling people you’re a director.” Which kicked off a sidenote convo about the statistics that say when applying for jobs, women tend to apply when they feel they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men will apply if they meet 60%. Whether it’s a lack of confidence or an overabundance of caution (#whynotboth), women tend to err on the side of counting themselves out before someone else can. And ain’t I a woman? It makes me think about that former friend of mine who has been releasing songs lately. Proudly and easily labeling himself a songwriter. And why not, if you look at the credits of his songs, they’ve all got him listed, almost exclusively as the lyricist and composer; but the gag is that I wrote most of his songs. Yes, technically (according to the contract we eventually settled on) they were “co-writes” but he wrote those songs the same way I have baked every cake I ever bought from Costco by saying “Make it about birthday.” And here’s the thing, I don’t even resent him his claim to be a songwriter. Honestly, God bless. I have always envied his confidence in claiming and proclaiming his talents. It has opened doors and made connections for him. Meanwhile…

I’ve had to have lengthy conversations with myself about every label I’ve eventually hesitantly given myself permission to use (writer/songwriter/singer), including now, finally music producer. I am a music producer. But this time is different, because this time worldwide is different and I ain’t got the time to ease into it, test it out and let it settle in. I’m not only calling myself a producer, I’m stepping out in it and claiming it. Loudly. Because remembering what life looked like six weeks ago seems unbelievable now and looking ahead six weeks is unimaginable. To say we all went on PAUSE is a little misleading, pause implies freezing something at a certain point then picking up again, when you’re ready, from that exact point. But this is not that. Not for me. If my life was a movie, before we paused it, it would have been a pretty average Black dramedy; but when it starts again… bruh, I don’t even know. Could be a heist movie, an apocalypse adventure, horror. An apocalypse horror. I don’t know. So I’m sending up my flares now.

F This cover image

As a veritable verified singer, songwriter and producer, I am crafting and releasing F This a trilogy of EPs. Each EP will have a title and theme that starts with F, will feature 5 original songs (and an introlude) and will be released on a Friday (Forgettery on 5/1, Fortuity 5/8 and Forgery on 5/15). All written and produced by me, to serve as receipts and a resume.

Because the things I have had no problem claiming to be (a receptionist, an admin assistant) have definitively well-actually’d me by definitely declaring me forever non-essential. And yes, when the time comes, I, along with 22 million+ other people will try to reclaim one of those titles for money’s sake (if money is still a thing after all this), but we’re going to have to rebuild the world anyway, so why not work towards the version where what we do to make a living and what we live to do are actually connected?

So this is me, putting myself out there, while locked away in here. In hope that someone out there will hear something that sparks joy for then and hopefully, sparks work and/or opportunities for me.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

Four Hundred o’Clock

I threw away 15 copies of my book last week. They got caught up in one of my pandemic purges. (Note: Time has lost all form and structure, when I say “last week” it could be referring to any span of time including yesterday, a month ago or this morning.) They were proof copies that got caught in the middle of my process: perfectly fine except for missing a few lines in one poem that I changed at the last minute. For months they had been stacked in a corner of my closet while I wrestled with what to do with them. Wrestling that had become increasingly more complicated as I’ve become increasingly more ambivalent about my book in general. I love it. And I’m proud of it. But I’ve also outgrown parts of it. Because my religious state, much like this quarantine situation, is nothing I could have ever seen coming. Most Christians won’t be in church this Easter Sunday, due to the ‘rona; I won’t be there due to deconstruction. Not this weekend. Not ever again. But this blog isn’t about that. This is about versions of books that I have thrown away. Including the Bible. Metaphorically. No physical copies of the Bible have been harmed in this transition, but the way I read it has been trashed (or become trash, depending on your view), but again, this is not exactly about that. This is about a piece of that book that made it into my book: a passage from Genesis 15.

13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.

That’s a passage that jumped out at me in November of 2016 and had me very intrigued about 2020. Because, as I noted on the very next page in my book – In other news, the slave trade in America began in approximately 1620. Approximately four hundred years ago. Hmm.

And however you read (or don’t read) the Bible, if nothing else, it is a book about life and people, that reinforces several universal truths, including this one: Nothing lasts forever. Every life eventually ends. And every empire falls. Every empire. And despite everything American Exceptionalism would like us to believe, The United States of America is no exception. This is an empire in decline. As it should be. Literally: America is collapsing on what America was built on – cruel capitalism.

At it roots, America is a nation that has always valued profit over people. From the colonizers who killed, raped and tortured to steal land from indigenous people, to the slaveholders who tortured, raped and killed to drive the workforce that built this economy – cruelty has always been the not-so-secret ingredient. And over time, as the recipes have changed to become a little more sophisticated, the cruelty remains. Deep-rooted in every one of our systems. Name an American system that doesn’t profit, not just at the cost of people, but at their expense. I’ll wait.

Actually, I won’t. I’ve got nothing but time and I ain’t got the time for that. Because it’s 2020, it’s four hundred o’clock and the empire is falling. Right on time.

Whether observing Passover or Easter this week, thoughts of before-and-after are all around us. Major events that split time to show us the seams of the systems we live in. And give us the opportunity to lean into the breaking point, let the unraveling finish and choose something different. Which is scary. Both Passover and Easter are marked with death and darkness, loss and confusion, empires going overboard to retain power, reinforce the structures and revert to status-quo; and bedeviled people who are comfortable with the devils that they know. We know our systems don’t work, but they’re all we’ve ever known, so we’ve clung to them. Trying to make the best of them, when we could be doing so much better. We can do better. And I hope we do. Because the other option is that things stay the same by getting worse.

“And afterward they will come out with great possessions.”

You know what I just realized? (As I was trying to end this post on a not-completely dystopian note…) When the Israelites left Egypt, as the story goes, they took a lot of stuff – silver and gold and treasure and such – but even if they had left completely empty-handed, they still would have left with great possessions. And when Jesus did what He did, whether you believe it was to free people spiritually from sin, psychologically from an empire and/or theologically from a religion, He also left with great possessions. Because it wasn’t things that they removed from the system to render it worthless; it was themselves. We are the greatest possessions. Our greatest possessions. And we deserve a nation that honors that. With liberty and with justice. For all. But for real, with real things like liberal and just access to healthcare, housing and safety.

So while we’re all staying inside, I hope we all decide to take ourselves out. To accept the inevitable discomfort of the end of an empire, but also look with hope to what the future could hold. The new world we could build. A better version of this book we’ve been writing. It’s time.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

ps… you can also read her book, The Divide (aka the book she spent this entire post trashing).

From A Distance

** What follows is actually an email I sent to my Scandusical cast and crew, but it got me thinking about getting back on my blogging hustle, so… it’s here now.**

hey y’all.

Just checking in. Wanted to see how everyone is doing and also wondering if anyone can answer a question for me: HOW IS IT STILL MARCH?! I know projections for when the social distance phase of this pandemic will end are hazy at best, but I feel like finally ending this month would be a step in the right direction. Fingers crossed April actually arrives tomorrow.

If a month could ever be sued for whiplash, March 2020 would be tied up in court forever (aka approximately three March 2020s). We went from Scandusical Grand Opening to Grand Closing; from “It’s just like the flu, right?” to “Don’t bring that evil to my doorstep!” and from “We’re number one!” to “We are now number one in Coronavirus infections.” God bless America. And that was all on a general social and societal levels that don’t even come close to touching on the ways all of this has affected each of us individually. Some of us have lost jobs, income, days of health and the peace of mind associated with all of the above. If any of us have somehow walked unscathed thus far, please – teach us your ways! (Or take us to your secret compound on Mars)

And in classic March 2020 fashion – there is no end in sight. But we do know that it will end. One day, one way or another, this part of life as we now know it will be over. And we’ll move on into the unknown of the next phase. And I won’t even try to pretend to imagine what that’s going to look like. Nothing is sound. And everything is unpredictable. The only thing we have any real control over is what we’re going to do in the minute after this one. And maybe you’ve been better about using all the quarantine minutes we’ve had so far, but I’ll admit I haven’t gotten much done. The entire world grinding to a PAUSE kinda threw me off my game. And that’s okay. Some people have already started doing amazing things in this time, with this time; and some of us have just been resting/gearing up. Being an artist simultaneously feels like the most important thing in world and the most frivolous, but I guess it always feels like that. And I know it’s all I’ve got to offer at this point. 

So wherever you are on the spectrum of napping to knocking it out of the park, binging Hulu to being all you can be – it’s alright and you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing right now. No one can pour from an empty cup. And the world’s not going anywhere… literally. So when you’re ready – you do whatever it is you need/want to do.

And please, keep your Scandusical fam posted. Let us know how you’re doing, what you’re working on and how we can help! Because we’re all in this social distance together.

Love you guys. Miss you guys. Forever obsessed with you.

xx jani

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

The Life and Times of FavouredWiles

(TL:DR – Janice needs help, go check out her Patreon page.) 

Have I ever told you about FavouredWiles? She was born on Twitter and was briefly semi-famous… famous? That’s seems like a reach. She was briefly semi-popular in a Shondaland corner of the internet in the early twenty-teens. Known for her musical three minute recaps of Scandal episodes. She was something special. And she was me. An alter-ego I created because I didn’t want my friends to help me. 

The year was 2013 and I had decided that if I couldn’t write for TV (yet), I would write about TV. So I started blogging about SCANDAL. But before I pressed “publish” on my first post, the faces of all my friends flashed before me and my pride said “They don’t want to read this. No one wants to read this. But your friends will because they feel bad for you.” And I felt bad about that. So I created a whole new internet persona, a writer that no one knew, who would rise or fall (most likely fall) completely on her own merit or lack thereof (most likely lack thereof). So FavouredWiles was born. And she started blogging. And she did okay. Actual people who didn’t actually know her actually read her blog and actually liked it. And then she/I had the idea of the three minute recaps… and actual people actually LOVED THEM.  

I remember it was a Tuesday when the third recap BLEW. UP. And I went from like fifty Twitter followers to nearly a thousand. And it was so surreal because I was going to hang out with some friends that night and my phone was just blowing up, my internet profile was on fire (in the best way possible) and almost no one in my real world had any idea. It was wild. Also wild, the fact that I STILL didn’t really want to tell friends about what I was doing, because then it felt like bragging. In the end, I was never fully able to integrate my two personas and eventually I deleted the FavouredWiles account, killed the alter-ego and gave up all those followers because I felt that they didn’t even really know me and we’re only following me because they felt bad for me… wait, what?! I don’t know. My self-sabotage is even more creative than I am. 

Long story short, in the end, I both created and killed a version of myself because I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to help me.  

But now it’s 2020. And I need help. 

One of the last things FavouredWiles started working on was a ten-minute recap that turned into a full-length musical that JaniTheCat (FKA: FavouredChild) finished. It’s called SCANDUSICAL and it’s pretty fantastic. It’ll be playing for 4 nights at The PIT in March and then after that… I’d like to get it up and running for longer. But I can’t do it alone. Everything costs – rehearsal space, rehearsal snacks & water, printing scripts and sheet music, costumes, props, ACTORS, MUSICIANS and ASSISTANTS!! It would honestly be great to make money from my writing someday, but far above that and way before that (if ever), I want to be able to pay the people who are giving their time and talent to bring this show to life. I’m used to my writing costing me, I don’t mind; but I would really like for it not to be a burden on the people who are literal gifts to me. So I’ve started a Patreon for this project and this is me asking you to help me, by becoming a Patron. For a little as $3 a month you can help me defray some of the upfront costs which will leave me more room to pay all the people who are not me on the back end. And maybe (god-willing) I’ll break even one of these days!  

Listen, as someone who was once born, lived successfully and died on Twitter, and is now older and wiser in the real world, I am finally humble enough to proudly ask for help. From anyone and everyone – my friends, enemies, frenemies, strangers (with candy or without), YOUR friends, enemies and frenemies. Whosoever will, for whatever reason. If it’s because you feel bad for me – so be it. I’ll take it. My pride would prefer that it’s because you think I’m good at what I do and totally worth supporting, but at this point, I think I’m good at what I do and totally worth supporting, so I’m fine believing that for the both of us if need be.  

So please, take some time and visit my Patreon page and when you’re ready, for whatever reason –  become a patron of SCANDUSICAL. Make all of FavouredWiles’ dying wishes come true and let’s get this show on the road together. 

Thanks for everything, from every version of me. 

xx janice 

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

WWJD? He Would Stop Trying To Be Like Jesus

My friend loves Friends. Loves it. That show was, is, and as far as I can see, always will be her jam. So in most any situation, at almost any time, she can relate a real life situation to some situation in that comedy, or one of her flesh and blood friends, to a character in the cast. “That is so Monica/Phoebe/Joey/Chandler/Ross/Rachel.” I could say that I’ve heard it all (and could I be any less enthused?) but I recently realized that I actually haven’t. There are two essential character I have NEVER heard her compare anyone to. Never has she ever said to me or anyone else, “You are being such a Marta Kauffman/David Crane right now.” Who and/or who? The creators of Friends. Who along with their production partner Kevin Bright were the joint force that spawned an entire pop culture. If Friends was a universe, (and let’s be honest: it is) it’s trinitarian god would be Bright-Kauffman-Crane. And S, knows that. She knows the bible of that show front to back, but she has never compared herself or anyone she knows to the gods of that gospel. 

And I really wish Christians would keep that same energy. 

There was a twitter flare up recently, re: slavery and the myth of the benevolent slaveholder. Because apparently present day United States is doing so well, some Christians on twitter (Christtwits?) are finding it hard to believe the horrific history of our nation was as horrific as some of us keep insisting. We’re at a 10 and they’d like us a negative two, but they’ll settle for a three. Protip: If the conversation is ever about slavery and you’re on the side saying it wasn’t that bad; kill yourself. (I’m sorry, is that mean? Okay, but it’s not that mean.) Anyway, white folks be whitefolkin’ and one of them said the reason some of us have a hard time believing in the myth of a benevolent slave owner is because we can’t conceive of a benevolent Father who calls us all slaves to his son… okay, Christtwit. 

Benevolent Father, I’m tired. All the women in me are tired. And all the slaves in me are tired… of Your shit, Dad! Let me go!

Whoops! That escalated quickly. But you know what, let’s go with it. Imagine with me, a slave saying that to their benevolent slave owner. Whether it was whispered through tears, shouted in anger or stated calmly through gritted teeth — what would the response have been? WWBD? What would Benevolence do? 

Obviously, Benevolence would turn in their bible to our very helpful text of the day: Romans 6:22. And having read such clear wisdom, Benevolence would immediately set their slave/child free. Immediately. They would have obviously have to, because they would read it and either: a) see themselves in the slave character and do unto others as they would want others to do to them or b) see themselves in the slave character, be honest about the fact that they don’t want to set their slave free, but accept that the mandate of a slave is to do things they don’t want to do. Either way, Christian benevolence begins and ends with the enslaved being freed. There’s no other option. Unless… No. No way. No one would do that. No one would read a bible verse involving God and slaves, and see themselves in the God position. That would be downright devilish. 

And yet here we are. With Christians likening slave owners to God, instead of humbly recognizing themselves as slaves to supremacy. 

Because a flaw in our theology has become a feature. We have made the goal of Christianity becoming Christlike. **record scratch** Wait… What’s so bad about that? Nothing when you say it like that because we’re used to hearing it like that, but let’s switch things up a little bit. Jesus Christ was God, right? So let’s go with that. Switch Christ with God — and now, when I say we have made the goal of Christianity becoming Godlike… yikes… it just hits different; right? Godlike. Like God. You will be like God… where have we heard that before? 

So what’s a Christian to do? Aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus? Wasn’t that the point? Isn’t that the point? I don’t know. Was it? Is it? Did He die to take our place? Maybe. Did He die to change places with us? Absolutely not. How do I know? Because He still alive. Remember? That’s the whole deal, right? He lived and died and rose from the dead and now *checks notes* He’s alive. So why would I ever ask myself What Would Jesus Do as if He’s missing in action and needs me to fill in for him? He’s present and accounted for. He’s got it covered. And yet we’re steadily out here trying to assume a role that is not open. Trying to become like a man who was God. And doing a terrible job of it. Because we just don’t have the range.  Jesus was man and is God. He can play both positions. We cannot. We never could. We were never meant to. We have only ever been meant to be man with God. We are best, when we are man with God. We are worst when are trying to be man and God. We need to stop trying to live like we’re Jesus, and start trying to live like we’re with him. 

What’s the difference? Let’s take a quick look at another two-character scene we’ve probably all heard a few sermons on — the Temptation of Christ. What are some of the common takeaways from that story: being led into the wilderness to be prepared, having your identity questioned, being hungry, being tempted, overcoming by knowing the word… cool cool cool. Message received. Narrator voice over: The message has not been received. Because again, we’re looking at this story and we’re just automatically seeing ourselves in the God position. Jesus hasn’t even died yet and we’re stepping into this scene like “Oh, this is my part!” But is it? Two characters were led into the desert, one following the other… be honest, which one are you more likely to be? The one not using their power to take shortcuts or the one trying anything and everything to talk Jesus into taking one? But how many of us have ever looked at the story and seen ourselves as anything other than Jesus. 

That’s a problem. 

We have literally lost sight of ourselves. And our view was never reliable to begin with. You realize that not one of us has ever actually truly seen ourselves, right? We’ve only ever seen reflections. So if my bad theology centers Jesus in me and tells me to see myself as Jesus in the world, the view can only grow more and more reflective. Not of Jesus, but of me. Because I am bad at recognizing myself. And that’s how we end up being able to imagine such a thing as a benevolent slave owning God. Because we want to be like Him, almighty, all powerful Him. At any cost. Including our own humanity. 

So we need to change the question, stop asking What Would Jesus Do and start asking Where Is Jesus Now and then be honest about where we are in relation to Him. Because while we can do bad all by ourselves and Jesus can do Jesus all by Jesus-self, we can only do Jesus badly. So let’s just stop. Please Christian, for God’s sake, stop trying to be like Jesus.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

Roadtrips to Legacy (Queen & Slim vs. Frozen 2 – Who Wore It Better?)

When it comes to moviegoing, I’m a feast or famine kind of girl. My AMC A-List membership is either struggling to keep up or gathering dust. This Thanksgiving week, I was on feast mode. On Tuesday night, I agreed to sit through Frozen 2 for the sake of two of my friends, and on Wednesday I happily caught a late-night showing of Queen and Slim, for the culture. Two very different movies entered with wildly different expectation levels and left with wildly different reactions. One of them moved me with a surprisingly deft handling of difficult cultural history while the other one, Queen and Slim, left me cold. 

When Frozen was released in 2013, I was not a fan. It’s possible I waited too long to see it and hearing so many rave reviews burdened me with insurmountably high expectations. I only saw it once. And that was enough. It didn’t live up to the hype for me. My next interaction with Frozen was in 2017 as the interloping, overly long short before Coco. Once again, not a fan. Frozen 2 was nothing I was looking forward to, but friends wanted to see it, so I made my reservation with no expectations and no idea (or real interest in) what the sisters of Arendelle would be getting into. 

I was excited about Queen and Slim. As a Black woman, I was excited to support the work of Black women. From the trailer and promotional campaign, I knew what the premise of the film was, but had no idea how it would play out or how it would end. The possibility that it could end tragically, didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. Heavy themes can be handled well when handled well. Not with perfection, but with perspective. Just ask Princess Anna. In one of the heavier moments of Frozen 2, she grapples with what it is to face loss alone. By that point, I was holding the hand of my friend who is just two years shy of losing her mother. Holding my breath and hoping they wouldn’t botch it, wouldn’t lead the audience into a cave it couldn’t be bothered to show them a way out of. Because they could have done whatever they wanted — they knew they had us. Long before any of us settled into in our assigned seats, they knew they had us. Frozen was a juggernaut, Frozen 2 was not going to be a flop. It didn’t matter what the story was and for the opening weekend, it wasn’t even going to matter if it was good — the audience was built in and it was going to show up. I didn’t even like Frozen and I was there, no questions asked. Just like they knew I would be. 

The team behind Queen and Slim knew I would be there too. The promotional campaign was strong and effective: this is an important movie (a new classic!), brought to you by important creators with something important to say, to people already familiar with caves. About caves? Question mark. I don’t know. The built-in audience for Queen and Slim was going to be significantly smaller than the one for Frozen 2, but significantly more prepared to be challenged. I was ready to be challenged. I was not ready for one of the challenges to be figuring out what this challenging movie was trying to say. And why. And to who. Queen and Slim knew exactly who would be showing up to see them but didn’t seem to have anything specific to say to them. So, it stylishly and sluggishly recapped things that have been said before, including, but not limited to: Tinder is a crapshoot. Being Black in America is a crapshoot. White people are cray. Black is beautiful. Love is complicated. Family is complicated. Life is complicated. Gas is expensive. You’re always hungry. You never listen. Cops are people. Black people are people. It be your own people. Your legacy matters. And we are oceans away from freedom? 

Strangely enough, both movies involved attempts to cross large bodies of water for purposes of securing the future. Both reckoned along the way with history’s effect on present day journeys. Both featured orphans trying to make sense of their legacies. But only one left me feeling hopeful about mine. And it was the one that didn’t have to. 

Barring some insane natural disaster or apocalyptic media misstep Frozen 2 knew everybody in the world was coming to see them. They could have continued the stories of Elsa and Anna in any direction, could have said settled on a story that said anything, including nothing at all. They chose to dive headfirst into issues of revisionist history and mistrust between people groups. Not with perfection — yes, there is some very convenient whatever-the-opposite-of-white-washing-is to the background of two extremely umm… blue-eyed princesses and significant smacks of white savior-ism; but with perspective — nimbly introducing the idea that history and truth are not automatically synonymous and that truth matters more. In a country being pulled apart by people desperately opposed to reckoning with the truth of our history, for Frozen to intentionally drop that seed was a revolutionary act that said we’re all lost, but not all is lost. The paradigm shift Queen and Slim was loudly promising, Frozen 2 quietly delivered better on. 

Both stories were fictional, one was animated and the other one was unreal. Maybe that’s why it left me so reluctant to try and state what its message is. Gun to my head, I would say the message is that Black people are both beautiful and endangered from all angles. And I believe that. I knew that before Queen and Slim. It’s evident. Unquestionable, I thought, until I saw it so clumsily transcribed through improbable scenarios, questionable decisions and inconsistent urgency. It couldn’t convince me of something I already believed, but maybe it wasn’t for me. A few hours ago, my friend texted “I still can’t believe how Frozen came for me.” Days later, I’m still unsure who Queen and Slim came for. Maybe it’s you. But just in case it leaves you cold, Frozen 2 is standing by to warm you up in ways it really didn’t have to.

Tell your friends. 

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

Miss Misrepresentation

I was already on my way out, but the brown little Black girl was the final straw. Well, the first final straw. It has been over two years now and I have gone on to go much farther in leaving church than I would have ever thought possible. But that’s a story for a different day. Anyway, we were standing outside the venue where church was being held that week. It was before service and after service, so I was coming or going or staying, I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. Anyway, two kids were playing. A brother and sister. Running around and jostling each other, the way kids do before and/or after church, but you know the saying: It’s all fun and games until somebody messes up somebody’s hair. So when the younger brother reached out to mess up his older sister’s hair, the game came to a sudden stop. And as Big Sister turned her attention to fixing what Little Brother had done, I turned to Little Brother with a laughing, but real reminder: “Come on man, you know better — you never touch a black woman’s hair.” 

“NOT BLACK!” The words were fast and panicked. And Big Sister was upset. With me. Her brother completely forgotten as she turned her full focus on correcting me. “My hair is brown. Brown. Not black.” And after years of instigating and being part of “diversity” conversations that culminated with leadership favoring “organic” change over making intentional choices, when I looked at her, this brown little Black girl, so upset over a cultural joke she misheard, distraught at the thought that something brown would be called Black, and already heavy with a burden I recognized from working so hard to be rid of, I knew I had to go. 

To be completely fair and clear: the church I was part of did not cause that little Black girl’s discomfort with being associated with Black. That need to draw a distinction between brown and black, that automatic aversion to Black as a descriptor — that’s the signature work of America. That church did not do that. But there was nothing about that church that was undoing it. Based on what types of people were (and were not) consistently deemed worthy of being seen, heard and followed, the messages I had to sort through about myself, my worth, my purpose as a Black Christian in church weren’t any different than the ones I faced as a Black American in the secular world. And with a healthy dose of Trump voters on staff, that church definitely wasn’t helping me feel any safer or more hopeful about America in general. In the fight for equality, there was no rest for the weary, no sanctuary in that particular sanctuary. And as someone I used to know, used to be fond of saying “If you ain’t helping, you ain’t helping.” And for all it’s posturing, that church wasn’t helping. 

Representation matters. Where we see people and what we see them doing matters. And when we get used to seeing certain types of people in certain types of positions, it matters. We subconsciously begin to not only associate, but disassociate certain traits, strengths and status with certain demographics. I remember bringing a white male friend to that church for the first time and the speaker that day was not just a white male (no surprise there, there was a 9/10 chance), but happened to be one that happened to look very much like him. It was his first day and he could already (literally) see himself in leadership. Imagine that. No seriously, women and people of color (and especially women of color!) — you better imagine that. Because your actual glimpses of it are going to be few and far between (specifically sometime during Black History Month, Mother’s Day and immediately before/after the women’s conference). 

And why is that? The first stab I ever took at addressing the diversity-slash-representation topic was two or three years in, after a mid-week service when a brand new white boy was unveiled as a new associate pastor. He was the MC for the evening. And he was bad. So bad. So so bad. Like seriously, and I cannot stress this enough: bad. So I texted the lead pastor… “Hey, next time the roster opens up, howsabout we slide a woman and/or a person of color in there??” and his response was… agreeable? “I’d love that! So let’s pray for God to send one!” Send one? I remember looking around, at a crowd heavy with women and people of color, and wondering how not one of us was sent… 

And that’s where this all this “representation” talk gets super dicey, super messy and super important, super fast. Because when Christian leaders couch their leadership choices as God’s will, God’s revelation, God’s choice — they make harmful assertions about God. Riddle me this: When it comes time for this all-knowing, far-reaching, wild, redemptive and unpredictably creative God, who created such a wild, varied and colorful array of humanity, to choose someone to represent Him; why would He continuously makes the same standard, uninteresting and predictable choice? It’s a real puzzler. And very troublesome. Which is why we need to start calling it exactly what it is… 

Conversations about diversity are awkward and often difficult; and as marginalized people trying to coax often reluctant leaders to engage in awkward and difficult exchanges, we have had to learn how to cushion all the blows: being overly appreciative of any little effort, allowing for certain false equivalencies, overlooking boundary oversteps and softening language. So when we address issues of diversity in leadership, we tend the name the problem as gently as possible, and always as something that is a struggle for us that we need the powers-that-be to assist with — Let’s talk about how you (well-intentioned leader) can help us (disappointed minority) with the lack of diversityThank you (champion among men) for being willing to hear us (needy women) re: our issue of under-representationBless you (white savior) for being willing to explore solutions to our (complaining Blacks) lack of representation… but what if we started calling it what it actually is: 

the action or offense of giving a false or misleading account of the nature of something. 

Leadership teams, church staffs, pastoral rotations and church boards that consist primarily of white men are misrepresentations. They give a false and misleading account of the importance, ability and significance of white men. Of women. Of people of color. Of women of color. Of everyone. And worse: they give a false and misleading account of the nature of God. Of God’s will and of God’s all-knowing, far-reaching, wild, redemptive and unpredictable heart. And misrepresentation is always harmful. For everyone involved. Even you, White Male. With your restricted view of who God can use, coupled with your colossal (colonial) mandate to lead people in God’s will, which almost always seems to be the call of someone who looks/thinks/lives like you… how can you not be a bit of a self-important monster? Favor ain’t fair, amiright? So why should you be? And why shouldn’t you congratulate yourself (and be congratulated!) for just being willing to humor conversations about how you can help the under-represented? 

But what if… Here’s an interesting humble thought experiment: What if we (the long-suffering marginalized) have actually been sent to help you (over-represented demographic) give up some of your power? It’s hard work, but somebody’s gotta do it… and you, white male, literally can not. No offense, but you just don’t have the range. 

But honestly, and unfortunately, neither do a large number of your followers. Years and years of misrepresentation have done their job. And we (everyone/anyone who is not you) has gotten so used to seeing you lifted as the standard, our own imaginations and expectations have been stunted. We’ve settled into accepting the way things are as the way they’re supposed to be. And we credit every minor concession as a revolution, because we’re not completely convinced the God we believe in, believes in us. 

But God does. So much so, that They has left it up to us to see “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” So we each have to do the hard work of taking stock of the spaces we occupy and asking ourselves: Is this as it is in Heaven? And when it’s not, we have to speak up. Speak truth to power. Speak truth in love. Speak. And when the time comes, step out. Of our comfort zones. Of line. Of places that foster misrepresentation. For others. For ourselves. For God’s sake. And for all the brown little Black girls who need spaces that see them and show them differently; churches that actually reflect Heaven instead of mirroring America. Because it’s not going to happen without intentional and sustained effort; and if you ain’t helping, you ain’t helping.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

Lamborghini Lives

It all gets jumbled for me. And honestly, I’m not always sure what I believe. And whether it even matters what I think. People are… people. And everyone is (I assume) just doing their best. But… it’s all jumbled. 

It’s probably going to seem like this post was inspired by a Lamborghini. Specifically the one Pastor John Gray bought for his wife a few weeks ago, but it would be more accurate too say that Lamborghini parked itself in the middle of a post that I’ve been writing for the past year or so. 

I don’t think it’s any secret that Christianity and I have a complicated relationship. We love each other dearly and are in this thing together, forever (literally), but it gets tricky when a relationship looks one way at home and completely different in the streets. When so many people are claiming Christianity is so concerned with some things and so unmoved by others. What’s the truth? 

Well… let’s start with something we can all agree on: Martin Luther King Jr. He was pretty great, right? Something he said, that has been rising to the top more and more over the past few years was a shot fired directly at “moderate” Christianity: 

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” 

Letter From A Birmingham Jail

And then there’s this Hillsong song that has been echoing in my head and heart since I first heard it. And, ironically, was part of what ultimately led me away from Hillsong. The song is “As It Is (in Heaven)” and one of lines/thoughts is: 

And while I’m waiting,  
I’m not waiting 
I know Heaven lives in me. 

As It Is (In Heaven)

With the entire song coming from The Lord’s Prayer which is Jesus’ prayer template for Christians, asking for God’s will to be done and His Kingdom to come on earth, as it is in Heaven. Which is why, while we’re waiting, we’re not waiting, because we’re supposed to be bringing God’s will and His Kingdom here. On earth. 

So then the question becomes… Well, what is God’s will? And what does His Kingdom look like? 

Each of the twelve gates was a solid pearl. The streets of the city were made of pure gold, clear as crystal. 

Revelation 21:21

Pearly gates. Streets of gold. Dope. Got that. But there’s something my pastor has said a few time over the past few weeks (or maybe he only said it once and it’s just been echoing non-stop in my head, unclear.) Either way, his revelation was this: 

The streets are made gold. Pure gold of the highest quality. And Heaven is worth so much that pure gold of the highest quality, is like asphalt there. It’s nothing. So common and of such little value, it’s something to be walked on. 

And yet, classic us, we are mesmerized. By the ground. By the basest, most basic thing. 

But while we’re waiting, we’re not waiting. And so we buy Lamborghinis here. Because… 

“I got one wife, I got one life, I got two kids, and while they’re alive, I’m going to do whatever I can to bless them. And I hope you do the same to your family.”

Pastor John Gray, via Facebook Live

There has been no lack of words and opinions and hot takes on the whole Lamborghini situation, but that one line in that quote from John Gray has been the one that has made the most sense of everything to me: I got one life. 

And I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was just in preacher mode and going with the flow and it rhymed with “I got one wife” and it fit the motif, so he just went with it, but it’s problematic. Because it’s not exactly true: there is after all, in the Christian tradition, life after death. And this life is just the beginning. A mist that’s here and then gone. It’s smoke. A blip on the radar of eternity. 

And the vast majority of us will have to wait until Heaven for our Lamborghinis. 

And I’m fine with that. But not every Christian is. They want to live their best life now. And I’d actually be fine with that too, if they wanted it for everyone. But they don’t. And I know they don’t because they’re still telling some of us to wait. Not for gold or for cars or for fame, but for justice. For refuge. For reparation. For good news for the poor. Freedom for the prisoners. Sight for the blind. Freedom for the oppressed. 

You can have all that there, but here… can’t have it all, I guess.

So what am I saying? Nothing definitive yet. Because it’s all still jumbled. Mostly, I’m just wondering… 

What parts of Heaven are we really the most interested in bringing to earth? What parts are we happy to wait for, for ourselves. And, maybe more importantly, what parts are we very happy for others to wait for. 

Because for some us, while we’re waiting, we’re not waiting, we know Heaven… Lamborghini.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

A Quiet Place: An Extremely White Parable of Black Life

Left to my own devices, I NEVER would have seen A Quiet Place. But as the designated plus-one of a friend in the industry, it was my duty to attend the screening premiere, so I did. With great fear and trembling. Horror movies are not my cup of tea. When I went to see Get Out last year, (with great fear and trembling, dragging equally reluctant friends along) I was only doing it for the culture. And I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. The fear stoking was expected, the thought-provoking was not. But there must be something in the water because the kids these days are Making Horror Movies Great Again. (Says I, with my completely inadequate knowledge of the history of horror movies, but I digress…) 

A Quiet Place is a white movie. It is so white that it just touched my hair. The closest we get to a person of color is when John Krasinski’s character tries futilely to reach out to Japan in Morse code. But it’s fine. It makes sense – the whole film is centered on one family and this one family happens to be white.  And what is this white family doing? They are trying to survive after earth has been overrun by mysterious and (seemingly) invincible monsters who hunt by sound.  In order to stay safe, they need to stay quiet. 

Does that remind you of anything? Anyone? Any certain people? No? 

It took me a while, too. Mostly because I was annoyed with choices made by the family in the opening scenes. As a family of five (mom, dad, 3 kids) they are out on a post-apocalyptic shopping trip – all barefoot, tiptoeing through emptied streets and deserted stores, communicating with looks and sign language. We quickly figure out that quiet is key, but we don’t know why yet. And it’s not exactly clear how quiet they need to be or how high the stakes, because the youngest of the children is given, what is in my opinion, a nonsensical amount of freedom to run around – grabbing and very nearly knocking a loud toy off a shelf.  Then later, when walking home, in a formation that is SO STUPID it can only be ascribed to plot contrivance; the little troublemaker makes a noise that sets off a sequence of events that reveals how very high the stakes actually are. And how imperative their silence is to their survival. 

But, I’ll be honest, I initially felt more apathy than empathy for that oblivious little kid, because if he would have just followed what he was told and kept quiet instead of acting like… any normal child would under normal circumstances… wait… do you hear it yet? 

If he had just been quiet, if he had just complied… 

Alright, this isn’t a quiet place, so I’m going to stop tiptoeing – in their relationship with the thing endangering them, the white people in this movie aren’t seen (the monsters are blind) and are safer the less they’re heard. The white people in this movie live in a reality where reasonable sounds and reactions can result in unreasonable danger and death. The white people in this movie might as well be Black people in America. 

It’s the fear of not being able to protect your children from a rather brutal environment.

Emily Blunt (on the underlying theme of A Quiet Place)

A Quiet Place is a white movie. It is so white, that for a moment, I felt White. For a moment, I understood the ambivalence toward victims of America’s monsters. I didn’t blame them for the presence of the monsters, but I did, fault them for not being better at playing by the rules of the monsters. But only for a moment. When there a came a point where we as the audience realized the monster had a weakness, but the white people didn’t know yet I turned to my friend and whispered “They need to hurry up and figure this out.” Because I was invested. I wanted the people to triumph. No one should have to live in constant quiet dread of monsters. 

But I’m not convinced White America is truly invested in finding and revealing the weaknesses of our monsters. Their children aren’t the ones in perpetual danger. 

Anyway, A Quiet Place is beautifully shot (shout out to upstate New York); with hardly any dialogue the acting is fantastic (everybody does a phenomenal job but Emily Blunt is a BEAST) and a few plot holes/contrivances aside, it’s scarily enjoyable and thoroughly thought-provoking. It invites the viewer to imagine how they’d fare in a world where being heard comes with a high risk of being harmed. And perhaps, taking it a step further, to ponder, who they more actively sympathize with in the real world – the silenced or the monsters? 

A Quiet Place is an extremely White movie that is an accidentally accurate parable of Black life. So even if you’re not horror fan, it’s definitely worth seeing.  Do it for the culture.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.