Artist Profile: Felton Kizer

Photo by  Annie Zidek

Photo by Annie Zidek

Understanding Felton Kizer demands an examination of his social media presence. On Instagram, he promotes himself as a photographer, artist, and entrepreneur—a focus on the visual, as he calls it—but don’t expect to find any self-portraits. Instead, the fashion photographer showcases his personality through the models he shoots with.

On Twitter, he is unabashedly candid, commenting on American Idol or ranting about other facets of pop culture. There is no pretense or professionalism, but he wants it this way. As he puts it, “if you can’t accept me in my Kat Williams, you don’t deserve me in my Beyoncé.”

Kizer’s “Beyoncé” took years to manifest. Due in part to a self-understanding developed after continuously transferring to various schools and living in multiple cities. He finally settled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. By then, Kizer felt that he had arrived.

Although Kizer has moved around, he’s surely rooted in Chicago. Hooligan sat down with Kizer at the Hyde Park Arts Center, where he first got his start in art, to talk about his passion projects. The artist and activist is a photographer and founder of the online magazine and website Off-Kilter. His mother once told him he could do anything. Kizer listened and his work ethic reflects his mother’s advice.

How did you get involved with the Hyde Park Arts center?

I started taking a class here back in 2008. I was in 8th grade, so around 14 at the time. It was an afterschool program and they offered pottery. I was like, ‘I’ve never done this before. I don’t know what this is. Let’s try it out.’ It was a pottery class with like 15 other kids from my school. My teacher said, ‘You’re very helpful. Would you want to work here during the summer?’ I needed a job. I needed money.

How did you transition from ceramics to focus on photography?

Here, I stayed with ceramics. I did ceramics and printmaking. I never did any photography here until my senior year when they started an art program called ArtShop. I started photography through high school—which is a block away. I started freshman year doing yearbook with them.

You spent time traveling while coming of age. How did you compare the various communities artistically?

Chicago is segregated and it’s terrible. The art scene is terrible in that way, but that’s just how Chicago is in general. That’s why you have all these different damn trains to cater to different people to cut people off from the world. When I say the Hyde Park Arts Center, people are like “What’s that? Where’s that? Oh, we don’t go down there.” But, people who live in Hyde Park stay in Hyde Park unless they need to go up to the Loop. It’s made up in that way where you don’t need to leave your neighborhood. You miss out on a lot of different people, opportunities, and that sort of thing. It’s difficult to finagle my way through the art scene of Chicago. I try to go as many places as I can—different areas, talk to different people. So, I just have to make an effort leave my bubble.

This segregation and the non-unity—is that something you like to address within your work?

I guess underlying [themes], yes that is what I do. Because all of the different people I work with, you can’t say, “Oh, Felton has one type of model he shoots [with].” You would just be lying. I guess I may have one look that I put on all of them, but it’s always something different— something exciting.

Why the specific focus on fashion and portrait photography?

I just love how people look. I’m really interested in that. It sounds kind of creepy. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. I started with that. [In] yearbook, that was my thing—shooting people. That’s all yearbook is. It’s what I’m used to, and then it’s exciting. Everything else I would just get bored.

How would you characterize Off-Kilter? It’s more than just a magazine or a website.

If anything, I would categorize it as an intimate movement of artists. A true safe space for conversations, for engaging, for partying, or whatever. So, whether [it’s] an event, an issue, a podcast—even our monthly music playlist—whatever we can do to mix it up and talk about some shit.

Why is it important for to take an activist approach?

It’s important to me because there’s so much information out there, but not enough people have access to it. I feel like I’ve been privileged in having information and [access] to great amenities [from] the school I went to alone or just being here at the Arts Center. I’m privileged to have had [these] great opportunities and have that information out there, and I know a lot of people don’t. Why not? People are putting it out there. It just seems the right thing to do.

You’ve done photography, you’ve done other art work, and you’ve taken on a lot with Off-Kilter. Why do so much?

This is so cliché, but my mother told me I could do whatever I wanted, and I believed her. Well my mom said I could, so I’m about to do it. I get [that] all the time. People say, “oh, you’re doing too much. You need to focus on one thing, ” even people I work with now. If I just did that, we would not be here right now.

When you shoot, do you typically have an overall theme or message you’re trying to get across?

I work with the visual first and worries later. That’s very much how my brain operates. I see things before I think about anything.

Is it a concern to stand out among the many photographers and online publications?

I’m not worried at all, because what [I] do is unique in its own way. I’ve never been worried in that, because I believe in myself; I believe in what I do. People are going to get it or they’re not, and that’s going to be that. There’s so much that people can choose from. You can have more than one favorite; it’s okay. It’s alright to like this publication and that one as well. There’s no need for the whole competition thing. It’s foolish. People are going to do things differently, and you need that. We need difference.

Don't binge-read the Netflix "Bing Scale."

By: Joseph Longo

Photo via netflix

Photo via netflix

 

Netflix is tease. Earlier this week, the major streaming network released their Binge Scale. It’s both the answer to the absent ratings of Netflix originals and a pointless marketing tool.

After examining the global viewing of more than 100 TV series, Netflix showcased their top shows by category. From Savor to Devour, certain shows are supposedly best viewed spread out while others can be taken in all at once:

“As The Binge Scale indicates, the viewing experience of a series can range from the emotional to the thought-provoking,” said Cindy Holland, Vice President of Original Content at Netflix. “Netflix helps you to find a series to binge no matter your mood or occasion, and the freedom to watch that series at your own pace - whether that’s to appreciate the drama of Bloodline or power through Orange is the New Black.”

Sounds great.  But, what’s the point? The data is presented in a visually appealing chart keeps the information interesting and engaging, with categorial distinctions along the scale. However, it’s just a facade. What at first appears compelling, is just masterful advertising.

A House of Cards approach to the show’s success.

Take the “Political Dramas” category. Homeland, The Good Wife, and The West Wing rank among the top five shows. House of Cards and Occupied accompany these longstanding mainstays. One show is a Norwegian television series rightfully receiving some world recognition. The other, unsurprisingly, is a Netflix original.

In presenting the top five, Netflix lists them in alphabetical order. There is no indication of rankings within the top five. Meaning, using Robin Wright in House of Cards as the face of “Political Drama” on the graph is misleading. None of the information presented credits House of Cards as the top show. It feels too self-serving.

Of course, Netflix wants to highlight their original programming like any major network. However, their marketing campaign lacks much needed transparency. The raw data is circumstantial and limited but presented as engrossing and surprising. More questions persist than answered.

Arrow: the action-packed non-superhero program.

Subjectivity dominates the graph as Netflix themselves chose categories includingIrreverent Comediesand “Crime Drama.” But, no descriptions are supplied to distinguish the groupings. Shouldn’t “Superhero Drama” be a subcategory of “Action & Adventure” instead of a stand-alone entity? Superhero shows by nature are action television.  

The subjectivity does not stop there. Arrow ranks in “Action & Adventure,”  but is notably absent from “Superhero Drama.” Perhaps Arrow was not a top superhero show. Seems fair. But why does “Superhero Drama” list five shows when “Action & Adventure” lists a whopping nine? Consistency is lacking.

It’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt without the “fascinating transition.”

Netflix is known for its binge-watching capability, but the information presented does not exude the all-encompassing and engrossing trademark. Of course Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and BoJack Horseman rank in “Irreverent Comedies”; Netflix is the only network where these admittedly stellar shows are available to stream. But, how do they compare to second-run shows? That’s the information worth presenting.

The Netflix Binge Scale is full of cliffhangers. It’s Narcos without a follow-up episode. Tailor-made for Netflix’s innate ability to spur conversations surrounding binge-watching on social media, the Binge Scale dominated Twitter after its release. Yet, it doesn’t have the same gravitas like their original programming to spur conversation on social media. Or,  withdrawal for those who aren’t caught up.

But, that’s the ironic success of the marketing campaign. Presenting limited information pique the interest for a follow-up. Just as many are waiting for the next season of Marvel's Jessica Jones, they’ll be waiting for more data.
    

The Fresh Traditionality of Stephen Colbert

By Joe Longo

Courtesy of  Charitybuzz

Courtesy of Charitybuzz

This week, January 25-29, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will feature former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Senator Rand Paul, and host of CBS News's Face the Nation John Dickerson. For The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Kate Hudson, Sia, and Dan Patrick all will be stopping by. Tune in to CBS for politics and NBC for Hollywood? Is that how it goes? While Colbert will also host thespians Sarah Paulson and Chris Pine this week, Fallon lacks the political guests his counterpart has in doses.

In switching from the character “Stephen Colbert” of The Colbert Report to the human Stephen Colbert host of Late Show, many remained skeptical about this transition. Ultimately, the hype fizzled quickly as Colbert embraced the traditional format of late night television where a (historically white) man sits behind a desk and interviews an ever-rotating guest.

Yet unlike his Comedy Central character’s tendency for the dramatic, the new Stephen Colbert revolutionizes through subtly and intracity.

Take January 14, 2016; DeRay McKesson made his talk show debut on the Late Show. On the surface this sounds uneventful. Countless guests have sat in adjacent chairs to a late night host. But it is important to know who this man is; Mckesson is a leader of the ubiquitous Black Lives Matter movement. Now that’s an accomplish itself for late night. How often do we get political leaders, let alone black political leaders outside of Spike Lee and Reverend Al Sharpton on talk shows? During his eight minute segment, Colbert held an honest discussion with McKesson about police brutality and white privilege. Notably, Colbert challenged McKesson.Through a series of tough questions, McKesson spoke about the problematic nature of saying “All Lives Matter” and what truly “white privilege” is. By having McKesson explain white privilege on his show, Colbert used his said “privilege” (his talk show)  as a platform for others to succeed. This type of frank, serious political conversation on late night network television is an anomaly--yet a highly welcomed one.

Notably, Colbert’s “fresh” traditionality debuted during an an election season. With political discussion is at its most culturally relevant for the next four years, 2016 presidential candidates eagerly appear on late night shows hoping to showcase their “relatable” personalities. While the effectiveness of these public relations polys remains highly debatable, these appearances present a prime example of the varying approaches to political discussion on late night. Donald Trump spoofed himself as host of Saturday Night Live, and Jeb Bush played one of Jimmy Fallon’s notorious games on The Tonight Show.

But then, again, there is Colbert. Having already hosted all major 2016 political candidates within the five months following his September 2015 debut, there is a notable tonal shift. While Hillary Clinton chastised the republican candidates on Jimmy Kimmel Show, thus supplying the wanted doses of celebrity conflict, she remained serious for Colbert. Questioning the influence her relationships with Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will have on her potential presidency, Clinton distinctly noted that her campaign is her own and not anyone’s third term. Departing from the expected publicity stunt akin to a celebrity promoting their latest movie, Colbert presented a serious yet comfortable discussion of politics.

Yes, Colbert has always been political.  A former correspondent on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, his roots are in satirizing politics. But Colbert is no longer a face for the edgy Comedy Central. Rather, as anchor for CBS’s flagship late night, a new, wider viewership manifests. According to a 2015 Pew Research study, millennials (defined as ages 18 to 34 in 2015) surpassed baby boomers (ages 51 to 69) as the largest living generation in the United States. This on its own does not mean much. Yet millennials too make up the primary demographic for late night cable television. When combined together, Colbert must cater to a young and aging demographics.

In supplying a new zest to the age-old late night talk show format, Colbert seamlessly enhances and informs his widened audience. Often, the general public hesitates to support new political ideologies. Yet in allowing political leaders like McKesson and Clinton on his show, Colbert is using his platform to highlight imperative topics. He is driving a cultural, political zeitgeist through his beloved flare of comedic honesty and transparency. And most importantly, he expects the same from his guests.


The North Shore is Not Chiraq

By Joseph Longo

                   (Bill Rankin/www.radicalcartography.net)

                   (Bill Rankin/www.radicalcartography.net)

“Hi, nice to meet you. Where are you from?” For many students from the Chicagoland area attending a university away from their greater hometown community the go-to response is “Oh, I’m from Chicago,” regardless if they are referring to the actual city or one of the endless suburbs. A one of many, I notice this suburban lingo daily on campus.  But there is a difference. North Lawndale and Naperville are not of the same vein.

A recent The Odyssey article, an online, college-based newspaper, exemplified this issue through a recent listicle of the “25 Signs You’re From Chicago & The Suburbs.” Writer Lauren Rzeszutko mentions dining at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, calling the Willis Tower the “Sears Tower,” and attending the Lollapalooza music festival as all fairly quintessential tasks of the average Chicagoan. Yet buried within the list is number eighteen. “When people ask you if you are from Chicago, you immediately exclaim with glee, ‘hell yes,’ because what better city is there? You may even refer to it as ‘Chiraq,’” Rzeszutko wrote.

The North Shore is not Chiraq. Suburban Chicagoland populations seemingly embrace the term Chiraq when referring to Chicago. Yet this new term describes a lifestyle and environment alien to suburban millennials. The nickname acts as a moniker for the ever-present violence and crime within Chicago, namely the inner-city populations. It does not encompass upscale neighboring towns like Barrington and Lake Forest.

The term, so synonymous with gang violence throughout all major United States cities, led director Spike Lee to title his upcoming film Chi-Raq. In a recent interview with Deadline Hollywood, Lee discussed the importance of highlighting this epidemic. “We started shooting this film this past June 1 and our last day of filming was July 9 so think about that,” Lee said.During that time of production while we were in Chicago, 331 people got wounded and shot and 65 got murdered.” Conversely, according to City-Data.com, affluent northern suburb Highland Park had zero murders throughout all of 2013. That is quite the stark contrast for a millennial to heavily associate the two distinctly different areas.

This idea is not confined to just Chicago, but rather evidenced throughout all major cities where suburbanites and neighboring communities quickly latch on to the ubiquitous mainstay. Yet by embracing the term without living in the marginalized community, one is negating the poignancy of Chiraq. Highlighting the injustice occurring within marginalized communities, this nickname depicts a very specific community. One heavily dominated by impoverished African-American and other minority residents.  According to The Chicago Tribune, 21% of resident of the notoriously crime-ridden Englewood neighborhood are unemployed and 42% live below poverty level. Conversely, the United States Census Bureau reported that Lake County, often ranking as one of the richest counties in the nation, had a 9% poverty rate from 2009-2013. These are not homogenous areas, lifestyles, and--most importantly--people.

Those who truly live in Chiraq—often the marginalized and oppressed—have become outsiders in their own city. Instead suburban elitists appropriate a term of a vast community in which they do not live. They take ownership of a lifestyle and culture foreign to them. So fellow Chicagoland Suburbanites, please do not use and appropriate Chiraq when referring to Chicago, but do become an ally to combat inner-city violence and poverty.

The University of Uncertainty

Taken by Annie Zidek

Taken by Annie Zidek

By Joseph Longo

I picked the wrong college and it is only the first week of classes.

But here is the thing: I knew this all along, and I have accepted it. Back in January when most of my friends eagerly anticipated receiving their acceptance letters, I no longer admired my pick of  colleges and universities.

While thoroughly enjoying my time as a teenager filled with endless friends and memories, when it came time to pick schools I knew wanted change. Instead of a school dominated by suburban, Christian students, diversity was my goal. Out came small schools of only a few thousand and in came grandiose universities. No more days going to the same eight classes with the same rotating thirty faces, but instead big lecture halls full of unrecognizable persons. I had it all figured out.

Yet the funny thing about change is it can squeeze into the most solidified and secure of plans. From September to December of 2014 was self-proclaimed “coming of age” period where I realized exactly who “Joe Longo” wanted to be. I altered my clothing choices, frequented Chicago’s various neighborhoods, and embraced my truer self. But I could not alter my choice in universities. Much to my dismay, that decision was permanent.

While my peers made Instagram posts excitingly announcing their college of choice and proudly wore their universities on College Tee Shirt Day, I sheepishly announced on social media and wore a muted long sleeve. Wallowing in my negativity, I refused to embrace my choice in disbelief the path I was to embark on in just a few months.

Yet as senior year and my time in my hometown community came to an end, the dread of heading off to college failed to cease. Much to my parents dismay, little excitement preceded this new venture. We endlessly reviewed my options. I could stay home and attend the local community college for a year, but there would be no change in environment. Or I could go off to the prestigious university which had accepted me and make the best of the situation--the most logical answer. But I didn’t like that idea either. Stubbornness and perfection have always encompassed me.

It was not until my dorm room was decorated and inhabited with my personal belongings, that I accepted this campus would be my new home. It was not until spending much of the first week walking alone trying to find not only my classes but also a sense of self in this community, did I realize who I was. I had spent the majority of my summer refusing to acknowledge the many blessings this new chapter in my life would consist of. In my negative mindset, I forgot how fortunate I was to go away to college, to attend such a renown university, and to pursue a degree in a field I loved.

While still unsure I will find enjoyment and success at my current university, I can not know without embracing my new surrounding. After all, my choices will affect my journey. Going in negatively will surely have an unfavorable outcome. That’s the beauty of accepting uncertainty: I will not know what will come until I go alone.

Taken by Annie Zidek

Taken by Annie Zidek

The Plight of LGBT Success On and Off Screen

By Joseph Longo

2015 has been a landmark year for the LGBT movement: the nationwide legalization of gay marriage in June, the public’s recognition of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, and the rise of transgender actress Laverne Cox. Naturally, Hollywood has quickly capitalized on the spotlight these civil rights issues have garnered. While the new presence of LGBT films is not directly tied to the events of this past year,  acceptance and recognition of this community has subsequently greatly increased in the past several years. From the HBO series Looking, to the small indie Blue Is The Warmest Color, to the docu-series I am Cait, characters identifying as LGBT are quickly becoming mainstays. Yet has the industry, specifically movie studios, once again acted too soon and not given justice to this community? Possibly.

Stonewall, 2015.  Centropolis Entertainment

Stonewall, 2015. Centropolis Entertainment

Two major movies premiere in the second-half of the year that not only tell the stories of gay, lesbian, and transgender people, but also are subject to controversy and criticism. The first, Stonewall, is a fictional telling of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, historically considered the birthplace of the lgbt rights movement, through the eyes of a midwestern, white man. The film is inherently flawed as it is indeed fictitious, however that is unapparent as the trailer opens with a voiceover of President Obama’s inauguration speech citing Stonewall amongst other great events sparking civil rights movements. Though one of two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Riveria, are often historically credited with igniting the riots, the cisgender, white protagonist throws the first stone in the film. Pat Cordova-Goff, the trans* youth justice organizer for the Gay-Straight Alliance, started an online petition to boycott the film. “ It is time that black and brown transwoman and drag queens are recognized for their efforts in the riots throughout the nation,” Cordova-Goff said. “Do not support a film that erases our history. Do not watch Stonewall.” The online petition is just 1,600 signatures shy of its 25,000 goal. Considered a passion project by openly gay director Roland Emmerich, it is puzzling that such a momentous, important event is subjected to false storytelling and old-school Hollywood perceptions of idyllic character types. The other major film sparking much debate is The Danish Girl which recounts the true story of the first ever recipient of a male to female sex reassignment surgery. Directed by Tom Hopper, notable for The King’s Speech and Les Miserables, on the surface this film highlights the beginnings of a much underappreciated and abused minority. But the details were flubbed. Amid his award season campaign for last year’s The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne was announced as taking on the lead role. This choice was met with concern by the transgender community that a cisgender actor is portraying such an important, influential figure. In an interview with Out Magazine, Redmayne reflected on his responsibility to the transgender community to educate the public on gender and sexulaity. “My greatest ignorance when I started was that gender and sexuality were related,” Redmayne said. “And that’s one of the key things I want to hammer home to the world: You can be gay or straight, trans* man or woman, and those two things are not necessarily aligned.” It is certainly beneficial to discuss important ideas and concepts often misunderstand to mainstream audiences, nonetheless another cisgender white man should not be the messenger. Rather transgender men and women should be the leaders to educate and represent their community and their struggles. Yes, one could argue that Redmayne may just be the best actor for the job, however this speaks to the greater issue of the scarcity of roles available for transgender actors in Hollywood. Similar criticism springs up every few years when high-profile actors and actresses portray transgender men and women: Jared Leto in  Dallas Buyer’s Club, Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent, and Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry. Yet it can be reasoned that are not enough job opportunites for transgender actors and actresses that result in them becoming unqualified and ignored for high-profile, leading roles. A double-standard exists in which cisgender actors portray the bulk of transgender characters, yet transgender actors are virtually exempt in vying for cisgender roles. As society continues to embrace and assimilate the LGBT community, hopefully these men and women will be able to portray characters similar to themselves.

After all who better to depict these stories, than those who have experienced similar circumstances first-hand. Hopefully the portrayal of the LGBT civil rights movement can be a fresh take in which the oppressed minority is given their respect not only on screen but off.