Amazon’s 'A League Of Their Own' Brings Queer Black People To The Forefront
I wasn’t prepared for just how beautifully queer the new Prime Video series A League of Their Own would be. Based off of the 1992 film of the same name, the show is a true reboot with completely new characters and storylines being brought to life.
One of those new additions includes Maxine Chapman, a Black queer pitcher who aspires to play professional baseball, played by actress Chanté Adams of Journal for Jordan fame. Throughout the first season, viewers watch Maxine’s journey to playing professionally all while exploring her sexuality through a secret affair with her pastor’s wife and a passionless flirtation with a man who could help her get on the baseball team.
It’s difficult to figure out your sexuality as a Black woman at any point in time. Add living in 1940s America, when homosexuality and all other forms of queerness were still criminalized, and an overbearing mother who wants to control your life, Maxine coming into her sexual identity becomes just as difficult of a process as being a Black woman trying to launch her professional baseball career.
Max's overbearing mother
Dealing with professional disappointment and trying to break free from her mother’s expectations, only makes grappling with her sexuality even more difficult. Maxine briefly entertains a gentleman suitor that she’s had a slight flirtation with in the beginning of the series, but is immediately disillusioned after a lackluster sexual encounter between the two.
Things reach a climax for Max in regards to coming to terms with her sexuality when she meets her Uncle Bertie (Lea Robinson) — her mother’s estranged transgender brother. Meeting him and his wife opens up a possible future Max didn’t know existed. But she’s too afraid to share these new revelations about herself even with her closest friend Clance.
Despite the serious subject matters the show touches on – from racism and sexism to queerphobia – A League of Their Own is a delightful, lighthearted watch in no small part because of the talent that Adams possesses to deftly handle the material with charm, wit, and grace.
Lea Robinson as Uncle Bertie
Adams shows the full range of the character when Max begins to embrace her sexuality. She cuts her hair and wears a tailored suit that her Uncle Bertie had made for her. That’s when Max begins to experience the splendors that life has to offer her. There’s a particularly tender moment in episode six titled “Stealing Home,” when Max is at a party at Uncle Bertie’s house surrounded by other queer Black folks. She is joyful and relaxed in a way she hasn’t been throughout the entire series, even in her fun and loving friendship with Clance.
In her newfound liberation and joy, Max becomes confident in who she is, as a star baseball player and a queer person. She then meets a woman who would change the trajectory of her life both personally and professionally, setting up an enticing cliffhanger for season two.
The new A League of Their Own provides audiences with a brief glimpse into the joy and fears that came with being a queer Black person living in WWII America, so much of which was hidden or erased from history. While the professional aspect of Maxine’s character is based on Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, and Connie Morgan — three history-making Black female baseball players — the personal aspect of her life is a tribute to all the queer Black women that existed during that time who were determined to carve a life out for themselves in a world that gave them so little room to do so.
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Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
Yvonne Orji Is All For Black Women Living In Their Soft Life Era: 'We've Been Strong Forever. We're Good'
The concept of the soft life has recently become popular among many due to its general message of prioritizing self-care, balance in one's professional and personal life, and mindful living.
The trend began in 2020 but gained recognition years after Black women started participating in the challenge by highlighting how they planned to obtain that lifestyle. One person that strongly resonates with the overall soft life message is actress and comedian Yvonne Orji.
Orji's main reason for supporting the trend and those involved in it is because of the constant narrative surrounding Black women. The list includes being strong, resilient, and going above and beyond to achieve success regardless of the circumstances.
Last month, in an interview with 21 Ninety, the Insecure star expressed those concerns and why she feels it is okay for Black women to go against those narratives to live a life they consider satisfactory.
Yvonne On The Soft Life
When the topic of soft life was mentioned and why Black women deserve to be a part of it, Orji claimed that she was not only for the trend but was "the president of weak Black women society" because she is exhausted from trying to maintain an image that can be detrimental to one's well being.
"I'm the president of weak Black women society. I'm not anybody's strong Black woman anymore. I'm tired. I'm exhausted, okay, I need help. It's not a badge of honor to be a strong Black woman. Y'all can have it. We've been strong forever. We're good," she said.
Further in the interview, the 39-year-old disclosed that being strong was already ingrained in her because she came from a Nigerian household. Orji added that with the values she was taught growing up, she doesn't plan to avoid being strong but is leaning toward her "resting" era and having "someone else carry the burden."
"I'm good on that whether it's called the soft life or just the tired life, I'm tapping out. I'm very open and vocal. Listen, I am a child of immigrants," she stated. "Nigerian women are known for their strength and listen, I will never not be strong, but I'm resting more in my ability to not need to show up as overly strong for no reason. Please, someone else can carry the burden for me."
Yvonne On Why It Is Okay For Black Woman Not To Take On The Extra Burden
Later Orji revealed that Black women had to be strong in their life and work harder than their peers due to how others view them.
The Vacation Friends star stated that because of her life experience, she has learned to be content with asking for help on things she is unsure about rather than trying to complete them herself and accepting the fact that things that are ordained to occur in her life will still happen even if she decides to lessen her load.
"I think we felt like we had to be the strong Black woman just because it was like, 'well, we don't want them to think we can't.' I don't care what you think. If you think I can't, you're right, so can you help me? Thank you, can we both stay late? Great. I don't care," she explained while bringing up a work scenario. "Listen, I'm still going to get everything that's supposed to come to me, the raise, the promotion, all of it because, baby, you can't do what I do, trust. That's one. You have to be confident in your abilities to be amazing and work in excellence. At the same time, we are going to share this burden."
Since then, Orji has continued to inspire others to claim their life back and embrace their soft life era with various social media posts.
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Feature image by Jemal Countess/Getty Images