Our Gilded Progress: ‘Great Gowns,’ Pop Culture and Reproductive Freedoms

This year’s Met Gala invited A-list celebrities in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, racial divides, rising inflation costs, and the widening gap between the top 1 percent and everyone else. 

During this event a leaked draft of the majority opinion from the Supreme Court immediately sent shockwaves, as the public learned that our highest court intends to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guarantees the right to abortion. Suddenly, the extreme wealth on display at the Met Gala seemed to represent all the “gilded” hubris of an historical era that seemed more “golden” than it really was—as we are now thrust back to a dystopian and despairing future we must confront and resist at all costs. 

A Conversation with Mary N. Elliott, Curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian Museum

Our final conversation in the Harriet Tubman Bicentennial Project features Mary N. Elliott, museum specialist and curator of American slavery at the Smithsonian Museum. Elliott helped to research, conceptualize and design the “Slavery and Freedom” inaugural exhibition for Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“Who is this woman beyond the iconic? That was really important for us: to humanize the experiences of African Americans and to also show that we’re not monolithic.”

Karen V. Hill, Director of the Harriet Tubman Home: ‘She Was Able To Separate the Brutality of Slavery From How She Loved the Land’

Karen V. Hill is president and CEO of the Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. in Auburn, N.Y. She has successfully pursued federal legislation to have Harriet Tubman’s homestead become one of the newest units of the National Park Service.

“To me that’s just startling, that this place in Maryland where she had been treated so harshly, she was able to separate the brutality of slavery from how she loved the land.”

A Conversation with Artist Nettrice Gaskins, “Beacon of Hope” Creator

Nettrice Gaskins is a digital artist and self-identified Afrofuturist whose work has been receiving national attention. A 2021 Ford global fellow, Gaskins’s work is featured in the current “FUTURES” exhibit at the Smithsonian.

Ms.’s Janell Hobson, who invited Gaskins to create original art for the Harriet Tubman Bicentennial Project, interviewed the artist over Zoom.  

A Conversation with Music Composer Nkeiru Okoye of “Harriet Tubman” Opera Fame

Dr. Nkeiru Okoye, whose first name means “the future is great,” has already dazzled the world as an internationally recognized music composer of opera, symphonic, choral, chamber, solo piano and vocal works. A 2021 Guggenheim fellow, Okoye is best known for her opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom, which premiered with The American Opera Project in 2014.

Family Portraits of a Legend: Conversations with the Descendants of Harriet Tubman

Tubman was the fifth of nine children born enslaved to Harriet “Rit” Green and Benjamin “Ben” Ross in Dorchester County, Md. She rescued her parents and some of her siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews from the clutches of chattel slavery. Their descendants thus have a special connection to “Aunt Harriet.”   

“We are witnessing slavery in many forms throughout the world. My advice: Don’t own anybody and don’t let anybody own you. Seek your own freedom, set yourself free, and when you do, take somebody else with you.” 

2021’s Best Feminist Pop Culture Moments

From the swearing in of our first woman vice president, Kamala Harris, to the severe restrictions on reproductive rights, 2021 has been a mixed bag for feminism. Of course, popular culture—ever a pulse from which to measure the present moment—served as a guide this year for feminist expression.

Here is a list of what got us thinking and talking about feminism in popular culture.

bell hooks: The Black Feminist Guide That Literally Saved Our Lives

bell hooks’s death is a reminder that the work continues, and that it is even more imperative to continue resisting systemic oppressions, to carve a path to liberation.

Her signed message to me—”Janell! To loving blackness –bell hooks”—still resonates with me because I have approached my critiques through this radical positioning of “loving blackness” and doing so as resistance to “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”