Sitting in the theater getting ready to watch Nopefor the third time, I was excited, like a good film nerd, to see my friend's first-time reactions to the fun UFO horror-comedy. My heart sank immediately when a trailer for the film Till, which follows the life and legacy of Emmett Till's mother, Mamie, started playing first.
My knee-jerk reaction, of course, comes from years of watching film and TV that have exploited Black trauma onscreen and were created with little (if any) consideration for what could emotionally trigger the Black audience. The 1955 murder of Emmett Till is so heartbreaking and inherently violent; would this film make us live through that violence on screen?
This week, before watching Gina Prince-Bythewood's incredible The Woman King, a featurette for Till played in place of a trailer and it soothed my fears.
"There will be no physical violence against Black people on screen," the film's award-winning director and co-writer Chinonye Chukwu says in the featurette. "I'm not interested in relishing in that kind of physical trauma. We're going to begin and end in a place of joy," she says.
Starring Danielle Deadwyler (whose heartfelt performance on HBO's Station Eleven stole the show) as Mamie, Till is a celebration of Mamie's tireless activism which sparked the civil rights movement that continues today and ultimately culminated in President Biden signing the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act into law just a few months ago in March 2022. "Mamie Till Mobley is a hero," says Alana Mayo, president of Orion Pictures, the production company behind the film. "I'm really, really committed to making movies not just by us, but for us," Mayo says in the featurette.
After a private screening of Till, this week, Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, tweeted that the film was "#Powerful" and "a must see."
A must see✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾
I attended the private screening of the Emmett Till Movie TILL Movie
Hosted by @WhoopiGoldberg
Directed by @ChinonyeChukwa
CoWritten by @KeithABeauchamp
🎥 🍿 Coming to a theater near you this October #Powerful#TillMovie#MamieTillpic.twitter.com/QP4BTkavuk
— Sybrina Fulton (@SybrinaFulton) September 21, 2022
Mamie's story of courage in the face of unspeakable tragedy deserves to be told--especially as we continue the fight for civil rights today. Knowing that the Black filmmakers behind the film are centering Black joy and aiming for our empowerment through the film makes a world of difference.
TILLis in theaters October 14.
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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
Coco Jones On The Power Of "No" & Freeing Herself From The Fear Of Being Labeled 'Difficult'
Coco Jones’ journey through the industry has often tried to be silenced by the masses, but she never allowed her voice to go unheard. From early exposure as a child star on Disney Channel’s Next Big Thing competition and Let It Shine with Tyler James Williams and Trevor Jackson to using her personal platform to advocate for darker-skinned Black women at the hands of colorism, the R&B crooner hasn’t shied away from the opportunity to be seen in spaces that weren’t meant for women like her.
However, there was once a point in time when young Jones didn’t have the same amount of confidence in her decisions. Surprisingly, Jones admitted to me that her relationship with boundary setting and even the word “no” was not always a close-knit relationship.
“Over the past few years, I have grown to love the word 'no,'” she told xoNecole. While she admitted that she used to think it was a “very bad word” associated with being difficult to work with and diva-like behavior, she now knows that there’s nothing negative about setting boundaries and doing what’s right for yourself. “I literally would not [say 'no'] because I didn't want to be perceived that way, but I think knowing your worth makes a 'no' [a] very useful word. Being confident that the opportunities that are for you will be for you makes ‘no’ a safe word.”
Jones continued, “I think standing firm on your boundaries helps with being courageous, and being courageous is similar to being confident. I think they go hand in hand. You have to believe that you will [still] have good things. You have to believe that the right people will come into your life when you push out the wrong people. That takes courage, which I think in turn builds your confidence.”
Courtesy of Pure Leaf
While the word is only two letters long, it carries a lot of impact, and when using said word, sometimes you have to deliver it subtly sweet. Enter stage left, Jones' partnership with Pure Leaf for a second year in a row to dismantle the myth that saying "no" has to be a sour, instead of sweet, experience for the person delivering the package and receiving it.
Last year, Jones introduced viewers to the Subtly Sweet "Hotline," where the singer helped callers achieve the perfect balance of sweetness and bold boundary-setting. Fast forward to 2023, Jones is seen taking her acting chops to the small screen as she stars in "As Seen on Pure Leaf" – an in-faux-mercial promoting the power of "no," via Coco's TikTok and on Peacock's Streaming Service. When presented with the idea of partnering with Pure Leaf, Jones was instantly aligned with the brand based on her industry experience and "what it takes to really survive as yourself and to not lose yourself," she explained to xoNecole.
"Overall, it just really is a useful tool. I think so much of our lives, we feel this pressure to succumb to what people say we have to be or to people please," Jones continued. "I love that me and Pure Leaf are very aligned when it comes to saying no and being okay with staying true to your boundaries."
As a Black woman in the industry, Jones is no stranger to the trope of being labeled as the angry Black girl or the difficult diva in the entertainment world just because she wanted to say the once-deemed ugly two-letter word. Now, Jones uses her platform loud and proud to show her fans and followers the power of standing firm in your power and setting your boundaries. As a public figure, she recognizes that she has a sense of responsibility to the younger generation following her to be as true to herself as possible.
“I am on a platform, and I think my fans and honestly, the world, can really tell what's authentic and what's forced, especially with social media and all of the constant content that's out there,” Jones added.
“People would be steered incorrectly if they were to see me succumb to the pressures and be somebody that I'm not authentically, after all of this time.”
For Jones, choosing the road less traveled in an effort to remain authentic and true to herself is more satisfying than being someone that the industry would attempt to mold her into. “It was more important to choose the longer route, if it meant saying 'no' to the necessary things so that somebody watching my journey can feel motivated to continue to be their truest self in their journey, no matter how long it takes,” Jones added.
Joe Scarnici / Stringer/Getty Images
While she was growing up in the public eye, Jones admitted to xoNecole that she didn't experience much pushback because she was "so happy to be doing any of the roles." Rather than standing her ground, Jones did not want to jeopardize the opportunity to be in the room. Fast forward to her adulthood, she uses the strength that she has accumulated to become more in tune with herself and her voice to set her boundaries and subtly, sweetly "put people back in line."
Day by day, Jones practices boundaries by working on herself internally - including all aspects of emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being - and being aligned with the "why's" in her life. "I think one of my non-negotiables in general that is across the board is dishonesty. Especially being a child of this industry, I'm so traumatized by lies. I just can't," Jones admitted.
"I need honesty in all regards, even if it's a harsh truth. I respect people telling me truths that are not that easy to say because I hold honesty in very high regard. That's one of my non-negotiables in everything - personal, friendship, relationship, business."
For her supporters who may want to practice setting their own boundaries but don't want to sound too brash, Jones suggests practicing with yourself before going straight into the lion's den with others. "Honestly, practice in the mirror as well. That's something that I do. I will write down my points, and they will be very articulate, very educated, and then you can't push back because I've already practiced in the mirror," she added jokingly.
Specifically, when it comes to her role as Hilary Banks in Peacock's Bel-Air, Jones admires her character for being someone who doesn't fool around when it comes to her boundaries being crossed. While the original Hilary, portrayed by Karyn Parsons, didn't originally look like Coco Jones, the "ICU" singer adored the Zillennial fictional Bel-Air princess for her confidence, decisiveness, and not taking shit from anyone when it comes to following her own dreams.
Tim Mosenfelder / Contributor/Getty Images
"One thing about Hilary, she knows how to set her boundaries very subtly [and] sweetly. She might be a little salty too, but that representation can change the outcome of someone's lives. I wasn't necessarily intimidated; I was more honored that I got to do that," Jones said. "I really do learn from Hilary how to be a boss, to be decisive, to be self-assured in places where you have to stick up for yourself."
Retrospectively, before Jones and I closed out our conversation, I asked her where she could personally improve on her boundary-setting practices. "Lord, is this therapy?" she laughed. While I assured her that our conversation is a safe space, as it always is whenever we chop it up, she thought back to the notion of mixing business with pleasure and the idea that the political is always personal.
"I need to work more on my boundaries with friendship and business. I think a lot of the times, you get so comfortable working with glam and people really close to you. They'd start off as business, and then you become friends, and you're like, Let's hang out, but then it's like, Okay, now I can't say the thing that bothered me in the business side because now we're friends. What do I do?" she added. "I need to work a little bit more on my boundaries of keeping those lines clear and not blurry."
For more of Coco, follow her on Instagram @cocojones.
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Featured image by Neilson Barnard / Staff/Getty