Nzingha Stewart has never been one to back down from a challenge. At the start of her career, the challenge was getting behind the camera back when female directors were an anomaly, where she shot over a hundred music videos such as Common's "The Light," Sunshine Anderson's "Heard It All Before," and Nivea's "Don't Mess With My Man". She then transitioned into the television world, adding shows like Grey's Anatomy and Scandal to her carefully crafted resume. And when Hollywood hesitated to open up their doors, she burst through them by writing and directing her own TV films With This Ring (Regina Hall, Jill Scott and Eve) and Love By the 10th Date (Meagan Good, Andra Fuller, and Keri Hilson).
For Nzingha, being a black woman isn't a limitation; it's an opportunity.
While the entertainment industry may try to put directors of color in a box, women like Nzingha think outside of them—leaving a noteworthy trail of creative clips for future filmmakers to follow. Though the ethnic name that she adopted while on a trip to Senegal may sometimes cause the industry to turn a blind eye to her talents, Nzingha refuses to play Stevie Wonder along with them. Instead, she continues to prove that black women can tell narratives beyond that of their own. Her latest feature film, Tall Girl (Netflix), tells the story of a teenage girl who overcomes her insecurities and stands tall in who she is, a theme that all people can relate to.
In this xoChat, the director shares how she overcame feeling uncomfortable in her own skin, why she'd rather do good work than try to change people's minds, and the importance of standing firm in your vision, even in the midst of opposition.
xoNecole: What drew you to the script for Netflix’s ‘Tall Girl’?
Nzingha Stewart: There's a kind of sweetness and pain of adolescence. When I was the age of watching John Hughes movies, I felt like they spoke to me because they were so honest and allowed kids to have this real feel of vulnerability. I wanted to make that movie for this generation. I wanted to be able to talk to them like your feelings at this age and your insecurities, all of that is valid and it's beautiful.
Courtesy of Netflix
Was there ever a moment where you felt uncomfortable in your own skin?
Oh my God, every single day (laughs). I'm a pretty shy person; even small talk is so uncomfortable. I get painfully shy sometimes and have to stay in my head and continually have a running dialogue like, "It's okay; it's just a person. Just say, 'How are you?' back." I completely relate to that. Jodi doesn't necessarily have painful shyness, but she does have insecurities, and there's a beautiful scene in the movie where she says, "Sometimes you just don't want to be seen." For me, it might be a part of why I'm so shy, because I'm afraid that I'll say something crazy or embarrass myself, and I think that character has a similar thing. She just doesn't want to be seen.
Where did you grow up, and how did it influence your style of writing and directing?
I'm from Brooklyn, New York originally, and then moved to Atlanta for all of my high school years. When I was in New York I went to the United Nations International School (UNIS). At UNIS, every kind of person on earth was represented there. It was like you're a minority if you're American. So, I do feel like I grew up at an early age just learning all people have an interesting story, and they don't have to look like you; they don't have to have the same story as yours, but there are things that we can all relate to. Like with Tall Girl, maybe I'm not 6'2'', but I do relate to the insecurity, and it really is just lovely when you can connect over just having a shared experience.
You started your career creating music videos for artists such as Common, Eve, Jay-Z, and 50 Cent, and then transitioned into commercials and television and film. What made you focus on music videos at the beginning of your career?
I loved music videos (laughs). I was one of those kids who came home super early after school, and writing felt like something where if you didn't have any money and you were a black girl, you could do that without anything else. I wasn't from one of those families where we had a film camera and a projector. If you get this McDonald's meal on Sunday, feel blessed. It felt like writing was something I could at least control; I didn't have an excuse that I didn't have this or that.
So I could write, but I always felt like my heart was in the visual image. When I got to New York, it would be somebody who wanted to rap who had some money—probably not from legal sources—but wanted to rap, so I got to build a reel of just local rappers. Building that kind of reel got me other work and got me the video with Common, which became a hit, and then led to everything else.
At that time in your career, what was it like for black women music video directors?
Here's what's interesting. Most people weren't used to seeing black women on set as a director. However, because I was in music videos, it was a different experience than being in Hollywood and feature films because I was working with rappers, so I was working with black men. They had grown up a lot of the time with single moms—where their mom may have only had $5, but you were going to eat, clothes were going to be clean, and stuff was going to be in order. So, there was a difference when I would work with them because they believed that I could do it. There wasn't a doubt. The fights weren't patronizing; they were just fights. There was a respect there. But when I started taking meetings in Hollywood, there wasn't that belief that I could do it in the way that there was in a Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Kanye who saw their mom put things together.
Courtesy of Netflix
"When I started taking meetings in Hollywood, there wasn't that belief that I could do it in the way that there was in a Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Kanye who saw their mom put things together."
How did you overcome those doubts from people?
I don't think you can change their mind; I think you have to change your mind. There's something very real [about] just staring down the universe and being like I'm going to stand here and get my way. I don't care what it looks like right now; I'm going to do this. I don't care how many times I get knocked down, I'm just going to stay here until the universe is finally just like, 'Fine,' and you start to see things happen.
But it's very hard to change people's mind. There's no incentive for them to change their minds because what if you do mess up? What if they're right? What proof do you have that you're any different than anybody else? So, you have to change your mind and say, "I know I'm this good and I'm not moving until everything else falls in line."
"You have to change your mind and say, 'I know I'm this good and I'm not moving until everything else falls in line.'"
In an interview you said you haven’t always protected your vision, especially very early in your episodic career. Can you speak to how you learned to stay true to your vision without coming across as the “difficult black woman”? Is that even something that comes up in the TV/Film world?
It definitely does. I mean, it came up in Tall Girl. You have to know the material so well from the inside-out that you know when it's right to fight for something. You almost have to remind yourself, 'If I fight for this I might be seen as difficult, if I don't I might be seen as not good, because I know later on in the edit, I'm going to need that.' So I would rather fight and be seen as difficult, than to not fight and to be seen as a hack.
Was there something in particular that you had to fight for in ‘Tall Girl’?
In Tall Girl, there was a scene at the end where I just went home feeling like we didn't get it, and I know no one is going to want to spend the money to do this again, but I know in my gut that we didn't get it. So, I went to the producers and I went to Netflix. Luckily, they were like if you really feel that way we trust you and we can reshoot the scene, and they gave me everything I needed to make it happen again. Which, you never want to reshoot something, but I'm so happy seeing the finished result that I listened to that inner voice.
Television is different because then you really cannot be difficult, black or otherwise. You have to realize that in TV, the writer is the boss, and they're not hiring you so much for your vision as for your eye. They want you to protect their vision, so you have to go into it differently.
Courtesy of Netflix
"I would rather fight and be seen as difficult, than to not fight and to be seen as a hack."
Where do you get your creative inspiration?
Keep the tank full in terms of making time when you're busy to watch as much as you can watch, go to exhibits—just be around creativity. Even a trip to the gallery can spark something. Understand that part of your work is creatively refilling. Going to a concert, going to a museum, checking out a photography show, all of those things are part of the work.
For more of Nzingha, follow her on Instagram.Tall Girl is now streaming on Netflix.
Featured image by Getty Images
- Nzingha Stewart - IMDb ›
- Tall Girl's familiar teen love story fails to reach new heights ›
- Nzingha Stewart To Direct Teen Drama 'Tall Girl' For Netflix ... ›
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- Now Casting: Play the Lead Role in Nzingha Stewart's Netflix ... ›
- Nzingha Stewart on 'Tall Girl' and Knee-Jerk Reactions to its Trailer ›
- Nzingha Stewart - Wikipedia ›
- 'Tall Girl' Review: Struggling to Rise Above - The New York Times ›
- Nzingha Stewart Tall Girl Director Talks Movie Backlash ›
- Netflix, McG & Director Nzingha Stewart Team On 'Tall Girl' Teen ... ›
Kiah McBride writes technical content by day and uses storytelling to pen real and raw personal development pieces on her blog Write On Kiah. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @writeonkiah.
This New Scalp Care Line Is Exactly What Your Wash Days Need
This post is in partnership with SheaMoisture.
When it comes to healthy hair care, there are a few things that will help you achieve healthy strands: a healthy hair care regime, hydration, consistent treatments, and scalp care. While scalp care is one of the most neglected practices, it is also one of the most important. Why? Because it helps promote healthy hair growth, clear hair follicles, and remove build-up.
When it comes to creating a healthy scalp routine, it helps to know exactly what you’re up against so you know how to specifically treat it. Two of the most common concerns are dandruff and dry scalp. It can be tough to decipher which is which, but here’s a quick breakdown: dry scalp is caused by a lack of moisture in the skin, while dandruff is caused by an excess of oil and yeast buildup on the scalp. Knowing that both of these are big concerns, SheaMoisture released two separate product lines to address both issues: the Scalp Moisture collection and the Anti-Dandruff collection.
Needless to say, if you tend to experience dandruff then I’d recommend you try the Anti-Dandruff collection. However, my biggest concern has always been dry scalp. A lack of moisture on the scalp can be caused by several factors like weather, age, and hair products to name a few. I’ve noticed that when I use certain gels or skip out on a deep scalp cleanse, my roots feel itchy and dry nonstop, which is uncomfortable.
The only way to relieve the discomfort is to properly wash and moisturize my roots, so I tried the Scalp Moisture collection and this is what I thought.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
First, What’s In The Collection?
The Scalp Moisture collection is a four-product line that includes a pre-wash masque, a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, and a moisturizing scalp cream. Each product uses moisturizing and strengthening ingredients like aloe butter and vitamin B3 as active ingredients to provide eight times the moisture. Together, aloe butter and vitamin B3 work to restore dry and brittle hair, as well as add relief to the scalp.
Now, let’s break down each product…
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Pre-Wash Masque
The SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Pre-Wash Masque may actually be the all-star of the collection. Using this deep conditioning masque is one of the best ways to target your dry scalp, restore hydration, and nourish your strands before shampooing.
I started by completely saturating my hair and scalp with water, then making small sections to apply the masque directly to the root. For my girls who have experience with relaxers and perms, it helps to apply the masque to your roots just like you would do with a relaxer. This way you can make sure you’ve covered as much of your scalp as possible while minimizing any breakage.
Pro tip: you can also use a color application brush to make this step easier.
After I completely covered my scalp, I massaged the product into my roots, used any excess on my strands, then left the masque in for 30 minutes. I was shocked by how moisturizing and clarifying my scalp and hair felt. One of the things that I love about the masque is the slip and how much softer it made my hair. While this is marketed as a scalp care product, it can completely transform your hair from dry and parched to completely hydrated.
In my opinion, the downside of this masque is that the quantity is too small for my liking. Truth be told, naturals go through deep conditioners faster than any other product (especially when it’s this good.) So SheaMoisture, if you’re reading this, we’d love a bigger jar.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Shampoo
The SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Shampoo is a gentle cleanser packed with the same moisture as the masque. The pearl-colored shampoo is lightweight with a serum-like consistency and a light and clean scent. The smell is pleasant, subtle, and not overbearing. When I applied the shampoo, I noticed immediately that it foams and lathers up very quickly, so less is more.
After applying the shampoo, I parted my hair and started at the roots to target as much of my scalp as possible. I recommend really taking the time to work the product and massage your scalp as much as possible.
Pro tip: using a scalp massager makes it easier and it feels amazing.
Once you start to massage your hair you’ll feel the product start to work. There’s a tingling sensation that might catch you off guard if you’re not used to it, but it’s not nearly as strong as other scalp products I’ve tried. I know some may not appreciate the sensation, but I loved it! My scalp felt clean, light, and breathable.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Conditioner
Like the shampoo, the SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Conditioner shares that pearly color and serum-like feel. It applies very easily while softening and moisturizing your hair. When I applied it to my hand, it gave my hands a lotion-like feel, which speaks volumes about its hydration capabilities. I also loved that the conditioner comes with a pump, instead of having to squeeze the product out – to me, it makes application easier.
I typically apply my conditioner to the ends first but because this is a scalp care product I started at the root and worked my way down to my ends. I did leave the conditioner in for ten minutes, although the bottle recommends leaving it in for three. The conditioner also provides that same breathable feel to your scalp. I honestly loved the relief.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Cream
The SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Cream is more of a daily relief product for your roots rather than your overall hair. It’s great for providing moisture and immediate relief to a dry and itchy scalp. Just like most of the collection, it gives a light and breathable feel – without the tingle. The applicator bottle targets specific parts of your scalp and makes applying easier.
Pro tip: I typically just squeeze the bottle to wherever I need the relief and use the tip to massage it into my scalp so it doesn’t mess up the hairstyle.
Overall, SheaMoisture’s scalp care line lives up to its claims – it moisturizes, strengthens, and provides immediate scalp relief. I definitely recommend trying the Scalp Moisture collection for an affordable way to treat itchy and dry scalp.
Featured image by Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
7 Underrated Signs That He's Truly 'Marriage Material'
While in an interview a few months back, someone asked me what I personally thought it meant for someone to be “marriage material.” Off top, the first thing that came out of my mouth is that it had to be an individual who actually desires marriage (more on that in a bit) because that kind of person will be proactive about doing what needs to be done in order to prepare for that kind of life journey.
Another indication that someone is marriage material is they don’t see marriage as just “a long-term relationship.” Yeah, don’t get me started on the fact that a part of the reason why divorce is so high now is people think that a boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic is the same thing as a husband/wife one. It absolutely is not. Marriage-minded folks hold marriage in high regard, which means that they seek out someone who isn’t a “we’ll see how it goes” when it comes to relationships; nah, they are looking for the complement who will be far more permanent. Marriage-minded people are vow-keepers (‘til death do us part), not just sentiment-sayers (I love you, boo).
Marriage material — and please get this one all the way down in your spirit — is also about not just sitting around rah-rahing about what you deserve. What I mean by that is people are not truly ready for marriage if they’ve got a what-I-want-in-a-spouse list that is 10 miles long, yet they aren’t even 30 percent of what’s on the list themselves. Listen, I will forever say until every single cow comes home that if you are out here declaring what you DESERVE in someone else, that means, by definition, that you are QUALIFIED to have all of those things. And qualified means “having the qualities, accomplishments, etc. that fit a person for some function, office, or the like” (which is why you can’t be out here dictating what you deserve without hearing what others feel that they deserve in return).
Geeze. With all of this out in the open, I probably should write an article about signs that a woman is ready for marriage (noted). For now, let’s dive into some unsung signs that a man is truly marriage material — so that you can discern, quicker, who is the better “husband fit” for you.
1. He Knows His Purpose
We’re gonna have to take this article to church a bit because, when it comes to the topic of marriage, it’s my personal opinion that a lot of them don’t last because people fail to factor in the spiritual component that can help them to truly see the distance. And when it comes to men, if you look at the Bible, two things that Adam (the first husband who’s in the Good Book) had before his wife was BROUGHT (he didn’t pursue her; she was brought, by God, to him — Genesis 2:24-25) his way is he had a relationship with God and a life purpose (Genesis 1-2).
And since the way that a woman is first defined in Scripture is being a helpmate (the Hebrew term for this is ezer kenegdo which translates into lifesaver — Genesis 2:18) to a man — does it make sense to marry someone when you don’t know what you’re helping out because he doesn’t know what he’s here to do in life? How can you complement what is so vague and unsure?
That’s why I’m not a fan of folks expecting marriage during college. College should be about figuring out who you are outside of your parents and also discovering what you want your life path to look like. If you come into school knowing and you’re consistent about it, cool. Yet if you have no idea, that’s okay too; take your time and get some clarity.
Anyway, bottom line here is, some definitions of purpose are “the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.” and “an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal,” and when a man is purpose-minded, there is a level of clarity, maturity, and moving-with-intention about him that is totally unmatched. That’s part of the reason why the late and super great Dr. Myles Munroe was so big on men knowing what their purpose is in life — it says a lot about him.
So, if you’re currently seeing someone and it seems like he’s dragging along as far as moving forward in your relationship, I recommend asking him, “Do you know your purpose?” It will reveal a lot about him. It can also bring some insights on if you’re a good fit for each other — whether right now or later. Trust me. Try it.
2. His Dating Life Is Intentional Instead of Random
Men who are ready for marriage don’t tend to be vague about it; they realize that time is of the essence, so they tend to make that pretty clear upfront. Another thing? Their actions will line up with their words.
Now, this doesn’t mean that they will be racing to the altar in a year or less; however, what I can assure you is that marriage-minded men are not going to be out here casually dating. Casual literally means things like “without definite or serious intention” and “seeming or tending to be indifferent to what is happening; relaxed; nonchalant,” and no man who is gearing up for a wife rolls in this kind of head or even heart space.
I will give a heads-up that, initially, this doesn’t automatically mean that he will be exclusive with you — and honestly, he shouldn’t have to be. If he wants to figure out who his right life partner is, he should “interview” a few women (same goes for you if you desire a husband). However, the process will not drag out for years on end, and once he has figured out who the one is for him, he tends to have no problem not just cutting other ties but getting engaged sooner than later.
In other words, I don’t know too many marriage-minded men who take more than a couple of years to not just date someone but get engaged in that timeframe, too (check out “Experts Say You Should Date This Long Before Getting Married”). That’s why, if you find yourself dating someone for several Christmases, you definitely should ask them if marriage is even on their radar. Chances are (especially if they are over 35 as a guy)…it isn’t.
3. He’s Seen a Therapist. Or a Life Coach. Or Both.
Uh-huh. If the first thing that came to your mind is, “Yes, please see a therapist,” honestly, it is my opinion that ANYONE WHO WANTS TO GET MARRIED should do so. I don’t mean go to premarital counseling once you are already in a serious relationship or engaged (although yes, you should definitely do that, too); I mean that…getting prepared for marriage includes making sure that your mental and emotional health and well-being are in a really good space and a therapist and/or life coach can help to make that happen.
Should you see both? Maybe. Check out my article, “Thinking About Hiring A Life Coach? Read This Before You Do,” so that you can get some clarity on that. What I will say, for now, is that a therapist tends to deal with things of your past as they offer up some tips and insights on how to handle your present and future, while life coaches (ICF-certified ones, that is) focus on asking you the kinds of questions that can help you to get a handle on how to handle your present and future.
I have a male friend who is the COO of a life coaching company, and one of the things that he and I have discussed is a lot of men who are serious about planning for their future will see a life coach, especially when it comes to their professional life; the main reason is that it can help them to get things organized so that they are prepared for a wife and family.
My takeaway from that? Asking a man, eh, maybe 4-5 dates in, if they have ever seen a therapist or life coach could be pretty revealing. Because even if the topic of marriage has not even been broached yet, what it can reveal is how proactive he is about getting his life in order — and that’s always a good thing.
4. He Can Clearly Articulate Plans for His Future Wife
Thanks — yet no thanks — to rom-coms, far too many people think that it’s fine to get married just on feelings alone. Yeah, please don’t do that. It’s also another article for another time that people who are serious about wanting to get married will be in a consistent state of preparation whether they are in a relationship or not.
When it comes to what that looks like for a man, one thing to keep in mind is he will be able to clearly articulate what he desires in a wife (by the way, please don’t try and challenge a man about what he wants; he has to live with her and, besides, you wouldn’t want him to do that to you. Either y’all are a good fit or not, yet don’t attempt to control his own narrative). Not only that, but he’ll be able to explain why he thinks a wife would be a good fit for him in this season, what he wants to bring into his future wife’s world, and some of the short- and long-term plans that he has for her and their marriage.
In other words, he won’t be like a guy I know (who is now divorced after 15 years of marriage) who, when I asked him why he was getting married (when he pretty much sucked even as a boyfriend), all he said was, “If I don’t do it now, I never will.” His marriage proposal was piss-poor, the marriage flailed the entire time, and even on the back end, he comes off as pretty nonchalant.
So many people’s marriages are less-than-impressive, even to them, and a huge part of the reason is that they failed to plan for their spouse and their marriage. They put a lot of thought into the wedding…and that’s about it. Red flag, red flag…RED FLAG.
5. He’s Emotionally Intelligent
Okay, so before we dive into this particular point, you might be tempted to assume that being emotionally available is the same thing as being emotionally intelligent. Yeah…not really (check out “5 Signs A Man Is Emotionally Available. 3 Signs He's Not.”).
While emotional availability is about being open to sharing your feelings and meeting the emotional needs of others, emotional intelligence is all about things like understanding emotions, articulating emotions, and maturely handling one’s emotions.
Listen, out of all of the things that we’ve already touched on here, a lot of people end up in divorce court because not only did they choose someone who was pretty emotionally unintelligent, but they also were lacking in that particular area themselves.
That said, emotionally intelligent people are:
- Proactive in praising other people
- Gracious and grateful
- Able to use more than “mad”, “sad” or “happy” to describe how they’re feeling
- Also able to receive feedback
- Great listeners
- Express themselves well
That’s 10 traits, and honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what emotional intelligence requires. Yet, I’m sure you can see that if more people looked for someone who was emotionally intelligent, it would definitely make their relationship — and their life, in general — go so much more smoothly.
6. He’s Sexually Healthy
This one, boy. Okay, so when I say that he should be “sexually healthy,” I’m not just speaking of him having a cleared STD test. No, what I mean is — and this is somewhat of a Shellie-ism more than anything — I don’t really trust ANYONE who claims that they are ready for marriage while they are still out here all willy-nilly in these streets, male or female. Because if you don’t have some sort of sexual self-control leading up to your wedding day, jumping a broom isn’t really going to change much of anything. Why? Because a wedding is an outward expression of some inward adjustments and decisions that have already transpired.
So yeah, a man who is truly marriage material? It shouldn’t be odd to you if he’s been abstinent for a season (several months or more). It shouldn’t seem strange to you if he speaks of sex from less of a recreational space and more of a spiritual and intimate one. If he admits that he used to be, umm, “super-friendly” and now he wants to take things slow, don’t assume that he’s got someone on the side — it could be a form of sexual discipline that he’s displaying (and good for him).
Now that I think about it, it’s kind of wild to say, yet I’ve got several male friends (over the age of 37) who used to be beyond promiscuous, who’ve all told me that it’s been months now since they’ve had any form of sex. None of them are in a serious relationship or necessarily even looking for one; they’ve just said that sex, just to be having it, has gotten old. Plus, oftentimes, the drama that potentially comes with it isn’t worth it, so they’d prefer to focus on self-work and wait until sex with someone is more meaningful (hey, they have no reason to lie to me; we’re just friends).
Guys like this? They are pretty close to being marriage-minded. Straight up.
7. He Actually WANTS to Get Married
Final point. Although it might evoke a collective "duh" from some of y'all, you'd be amazed how many women end up wasting very precious time that they will never get back, and it's all because they got involved with a man who liked or perhaps even loved them yet he didn't desire to get married. And either because they simply assumed that he did or they thought they could "love him into" wanting to be a husband, they ended up getting their feelings hurt. Extremely so.
Another thing to keep in mind? A man who wants to get married has no problem vocalizing it very early on. Meaning, on the third date, it won't be foreign for him to say, "I would love to start a family in the next couple of years," without you even having to coax it out of him. Guys who aren't interested in marriage — they tend to deflect from the topic altogether as much as they possibly can.
As we close this all up, I will say that it's important to keep in mind that just because a man doesn't want to be a husband, that doesn't mean he's not a good guy — GREAT even. So please don't manipulate matters by thinking that a man who doesn't want to be married somehow has some sort of "issues" (check out "Single-Minded: So, What If You Like Dating But DON'T Desire Marriage?" and "12 Couples Reveal Why They're Happy With A Long-Term Commitment Instead Of Marriage"). Thinking like that speaks to your projecting more than anything else.
All I'm saying is a guy who is marriage material is a guy who will say, out of his own mouth, that marriage is on his menu, and so he will engage you in that manner — meaning, he will take time with you seriously, and if you are a good fit, he will state it; if he thinks you are not "his one," he will share that too…so that you both can get out of each other's way.
The thing about being “marriage material” is you’ve got to be cut from the kind of cloth that has marriage on your mind — not constantly yet enough to where you move with clear, thoughtful, and mature intention.Hopefully, this article sheds some (additional) light on what this looks like for a man. Hopefully, it also served as a heads up — or reminder — on what, in many ways, he’s looking for in a woman too. Proceed with discernment, y’all. And keep me posted. #winkLet’s make things inbox official!
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