All right, peeps! While I usually express somewhat of an elitist disdain for celebrity culture and celebrity worship, the following three mainstream celebs have without a doubt garnered my full support!
Number One: Mindy KalingKelly Kapoor in NBC's The Office, also a writer, producer and director
Other credits: Recently published a memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out with Me? (And Other Concerns) and will be starring in her own sitcom called The Mindy Project starting on the fall.
Basic info: 33 years old, South Asian American, graduate of Dartmouth
Why I respect her: First of all, Mindy is, like, the only Asian American female actress that I've encountered that does NOT play an overly sexualized or racially stereotypical role (I'm indicting you, LUCY LIU!). Not only that, she is also a talented writer and has produced and directed at The Office. So right off the bat I am a fan.
Second, she has the perfect constellation of traits:
- middle class upbringing
- prestigious liberal arts education/vocabulary
- is completely witty+hilarious
- has a fresh perspective on body issues (i.e. she acknowledges the pressures of being thin in Hollywood yet considers dieting as a sort of fun pastime. In other words, she doesn't take "weight issues" too seriously--preoccupations like that don't consumer her.)
- unashamed about her obsession with TV and pop culture She knows that she's totally mainstream re: her movie tastes. I mean, she's aware that romantic comedies are awful and contrived. She's made peace with that and just enjoys it for what it is: trashy, implausible escapism.
- she's not totally consumed with race. God, what a relief!!! I mean, obviously she's racially aware, but she doesn't have a personal vendetta against all white people that ever lived. Whew. She straddles the intersections of her race & class with real grace, I believe. GO MINDY!
Where to begin if not a fan yet? I would recommend reading her autobiography, hands down. I mean, it's definitely meandering and unfocused in a lot of spots, but it will literally make you laugh out loud AND you will also start to love her. Available for Kindle on KCLS Overdrive.
Number Two: Donald GloverTroy Barnes in NBC's Community.
Other credits: former writer for NBC's 30 Rock, has a Comedy Central stand-up special, Weirdo, and is a rapper on the side by the name of Childish Gambino.
Basic Info: 28 years old, African American, graduate of New York University
Why I respect him: Like Kaling, Donald Glover does not portray a "typical" black male on Community. He is somewhat nerdy (in a cool way) and is a likable character (unlike Omar Epps in House or Phoenix in Fast Five--ugh, the black "bad guy" trope bugs the heck out of me!).
Constellation of awesome traits:
- middle class upbringing
- parents are devout Jehovah's witnesses and took in foster kids (i.e. He is a really considerate and aware person)
- presitigious liberal arts education/vocabulary
- sharp wit Many of Troy's lines in Community are improvised
- is diplomatic about race In interviews he's been asked about how the role of Troy was originally meant to be a white male, and in response he's said, "Well, let's face it, I am pretty white.. I'm basically a black hipster." He's definitely aware of race, the legacies of racism and the consequences today (see his tweets re: Trayvon Martin). Yet, he seems to have that incredible ability to navigate different contexts (elite white Hollywood land and the black underground hip-hop scene and err'ything in between) while still being his laid back, affable self. Again, his intersection of class & race makes him a super special, awesome, generalization-defying dude. Baratunde Thurston would be proud.
Where to begin if not a fan yet? Community Season 1, the pilot episode. Then I'd jump to season 3, "Origins of Vampire Mythology." He was awesome in that. Also, watching his stand-up exponentially increased my admiration levels.
Number Three: Marcus Samuelsson
Most famous for being a celebrity chef on the Food Network.
Other credits: guest chef for Obama, owner of Red Rooster in Harlem, philanthropist, author of several cookbooks and a memoir Yes, Chef
Basic info: 42 years old, Ethiopian-born & Swedish-raised, graduate of Gothenberg Culinary Institute
Why I respect him: I first saw Marcus Samuelsson as a guest on Chopped and noticed immediately how polite, articulate and encouraging he was in everything he said. Later, I saw him display his cooking chops on The Next Iron Chef America (he was cut WAY too early) and in Chopped Champions II (which he won!). What impressed me is his ambition in every challenge to tackle really complex dishes and new combinations--he doesn't settle for mediocre or "safe." What sealed the deal was the charity he competed for, Careers through Culinary Arts Program, and how he talked so passionately about creating avenues for young, low-income black youth to experience success and satisfaction in American society instead of getting disillusioned and ending up dead/in prison. I respect that he immersed himself in Harlem and really took in its history and politics and he's so game to invest in the community. LASTLY, he created an entire website, Food Republic, as a means to fight gender norms by encouraging men to cook and host. In sum, Samuelsson is a killer chef + social activist + paradigm shifter. WTF, how does he exist?
- trans-racially adopted Gives him such a unique perspective! How many people do YOU know that are Ethiopian-Swedish? His multicultural background makes him appreciate and value others' culture and his also grants him this huge edge in fusion cooking that isn't cultural appropriation but comes from a sincere place.
- middle class upbringing
- multilingual (Swedish, English, some Amharic and German)
- prestigious culinary background Yet he earned every promotion, slowly working his way up from prep boy to head chef.
- down-to-earth, kind-hearted This man deserves every bit of fame and them some!
- knows what's up about race He identifies with people of color in the U.S. and just "gets it" even though he grew up in Sweden. It's awesome. And he expresses it all in a polite but firm way, like when he explained how young black men in Harlem have few opportunities for success, which is why Careers through Culinary Arts is so important.
Where to begin if not a fan yet? Watch for him on Chopped! I promise, his warmth and humanity will shine through. It's incredible. Also, his memoir, Yes, Chef, is really heartwarming.
So there are definitely some apparent commonalities among these three celebrities. The main reason why I think they're the bees knees is that they carry the unique identities of being both middle class and people of color, which makes them their own special breed. They all at once belong nowhere, yet can adapt anywhere. They're in touch with oppressed groups (due to race) yet also travel in highly exclusive and elite social circles. They're basically amazing and--I'll say it--they are my role models!
What celebrities (if any) would you endorse?