- American Dirt, a novel about a mother and son migrating from Mexico to the United States, has received backlash because the author, Jeanine Cummins, is not Mexican or an immigrant and is mostly white.
- Critics believe this was not Cummins’ story to write and called her depiction of immigration inaccurate, stereotypical, and irresponsible.
- Oprah Winfrey was slammed after selecting the novel for her book club, with many urging her to rescind that choice.
- Meanwhile, Cummins’ publishers canceled her book tour over threats to her safety.
Book Tour Canceled
The publishers of the controversial new novel American Dirt have canceled the book tour over concerns for the author’s safety.
Since the book hit shelves on January 21, it has started a large debate. The story depicts a fictional mother fleeing Mexico with her son after her husband is killed by drug cartel violence, hoping for a new life in the United States. The author, Jeanine Cummins, is not Mexican, not an immigrant, and is mostly white. Because of that, many critics believed that this was not Cummins’ story to tell.
Flatiron Books, which published American Dirt, released a statement on Wednesday addressing the backlash.
“The discussion around this book has exposed deep inadequacies in how we at Flatiron Books address issues of representation, both in the books we publish and in the teams that work on them,” it wrote.
In addition to backlash from critics, authors, and readers, Flatiron Books said there were also threats of violence made.
“While there are valid criticisms around our promotion of this book that is no excuse for the fact that in some cases there have been threats of physical violence,” the statement added.
“Unfortunately, our concerns about safety have led us to the difficult decision to cancel the book tour. Based on specific threats to booksellers and the author, we believe there exists real peril to their safety,” it continued. Now, instead of a full tour, the book publisher says it will host town hall meetings where Cummins can talk about criticism of her novel.
Controversies Surrounding American Dirt Author
The conversations around Cummin’s whiteness have contained nuance. In a story she wrote for The New York Times back in 2015, Cummins says that she is white. After noting that her grandmother is Puerto Rican, she continues to say that “in every practical way, my family is mostly white.”
In an interview promoting American Dirt, however, she said that she is Latinx. She also added that she felt unqualified to write the story because it is not her lived experience. In her author’s note, she also said that she “wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.”
That note also included a segment about her husband being an undocumented immigrant. While this is true, Cummins’ husband came to the U.S. from Ireland, which is a different migration experience than that of someone crossing the border between Mexico and the U.S.
In their statement, Flatiron Books admitted that it regretted the methods it used rolling the book out, including hailing it as a definitive migration story and calling Cummins’ husband undocumented without specifying where he came from.
Oprah Receives Backlash for Book Club Selection
American Dirt entered 2020 as one of the most anticipated books of the year. Before it was even published, it was being optioned for film adaptations. On the day it was released, Oprah Winfrey announced it was the newest selection in her book club. Her recommendation of the book is what brought the controversial subject matter to light.
“This story changed the way I see what it means to be a migrant in a whole new way,” Winfrey wrote in an Instagram post announcing American Dirt’s selection.
Celebrities like Salma Hayek and Gina Rodriguez posted that they were excited that American Dirt was chosen for Winfrey’s book club. Internet users then quickly criticized Winfrey for choosing it, as well as Hayek and Rodriguez for promoting it. The two actresses later removed their social media posts touting the novel, and Hayek later apologized for promoting a book she had not read.
After Winfrey put it on her book club’s list, several Latinx authors and writers shared their thoughts on American Dirt. Esmeralda Bermudez, an immigrant whose family came on foot to the U.S. from El Salvador, wrote about her take on the book in the Los Angeles Times.
“What made me cringe was immediately realizing that this book was not written for people like me, for immigrants,” she wrote. “It was written for everyone else — to enchant them, take them on a wild border-crossing ride, make them feel all fuzzy inside about the immigrant plight. All, unfortunately, with the worst stereotypes, fixations and inaccuracies about Latinos.”
Many also started sharing a review written by Myriam Gurba back in December, after she read an advance copy of American Dirt. She said that in the novel, Cummins appropriated works by people of color, slapped a coat of mayonnaise on the story to make it more palatable to American tastebuds, and repackaged the story for colorblind consumption.
Others also believed some of the promotion of the novel was insensitive. Cummins shared a photo of her getting nail art of barbed wire modeled after the book’s cover, which many thought was in poor taste.
Others felt similarly about a centerpiece used at a dinner party celebrating the book, where flowers were wrapped in barbed wire.
Some, however, defended American Dirt. Sandra Cisneros the Mexican-American author of the acclaimed book The House on Mango Street spoke to NPR about the book and said it could reach an audience: “who maybe is undecided about issues at the border.”
“It’s going to be someone who wants to be entertained, and the story is going to enter like a Trojan horse and change minds,” she continued. “And it’s going to change the minds that, perhaps, I can’t change.”
Oprah Aims to Start an Open Dialogue
Still, since this book started such a strong debate, Winfrey took to Instagram to address the concerns on Monday.
“I’ve spent the last few days listening to members of the Latinx community to get a greater understanding of their concerns,” Winfrey said in a video posted to her book club’s account. “And I hear them, I do. So, what I want to do is bring people together from all sides to talk about this book and who gets to publish what stories.”
Redirecting the conversation of the book was not enough for everyone, though. 122 authors signed a letter posted to LitHub on Wednesday asking her to reconsider recommending it.
“This letter is not written to attack Cummins, a fellow writer whose intentions we can’t know. But good intentions do not make good literature, particularly not when the execution is so faulty, and the outcome so harmful,” the letter said.
“In a time of widespread misinformation, fearmongering, and white-supremacist propaganda related to immigration and to our border, in a time when adults and children are dying in US immigration cages, we believe that a novel blundering so badly in its depiction of marginalized, oppressed people should not be lifted up,” it continued.
The book is still linked in the bio of Oprah’s Book Club’s Instagram, with the reading schedule for it also posted.
See what others are saying: (Vox) (Los Angeles Times) (NPR)
Netflix Reinstates Employee Who Crashed Director-Level Meeting After Criticizing Dave Chapelle
Terra Field had publicly accused Chappelle of making transphobic remarks in his new stand-up special “The Closer” just days before she was suspended.
Netflix Reinstates Terra Field
Netflix reinstated a transgender employee who was critical of Dave Chappelle’s new stand-up special after suspending her for attending a director-level meeting without an invitation.
Terra Field tweeted on Tuesday that she was reinstated once the company determined “there was no ill-intent in” her decision to attend the meeting.
“I’m going to take a few days off to decompress and try to figure out where I’m at,” she added. “At the very least, I feel vindicated.”
Field also shared an email Netflix sent her regarding her suspension being lifted.
“Our investigation did not find that you joined the QBR meeting with any ill intent and that you genuinely didn’t think there was anything wrong with seeking access to this meeting,” the email said. “Additionally, when a Director shared the link it further supported that this was a meeting you could attend.”
Field’s suspension came just days after she tweeted a viral thread criticizing Chappelle’s latest program on Netflix, “The Closer.” She was one of many activists who claimed Chappelle’s set was transphobic and encouraged Netflix to take action. Field wrote that his comments attacked “the very validity of transness.” Netflix insisted those tweets had nothing to do with her suspension.
Field reportedly attended the director-level meeting with two other employees who were also suspended. A spokesperson for Netflix told Deadline that those two staffers have likewise been reinstated and the company “will be distributing broader guidance about meetings and clarifying which are for which people.”
Netflix’s Response to Dave Chappelle Controversy
Netflix, for its part, has defended Chappelle and rejected calls to remove “The Closer” from the streaming service.
“It never feels good when people are hurting, especially our colleagues,” Netflix co-CEO Ted Srandos wrote in an internal memo. “You should also be aware that some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do.”
“We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line,” he added. “I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
Among other things, Chappelle took time in his special to defend author J.K. Rowling, who previously faced backlash over a series of transphobic remarks she made. Chappelle said he agreed with Rowling.
“I’m team TERF,” he added. “I agree. I agree, man. Gender is a fact.”
Chappelle went on to make jokes about Caitlyn Jenner before comparing the genitalia of transgender women to Beyond and Impossible meat.
Many employees at Netflix are still frustrated with the way the platform has handled the controversy surrounding “The Closer.” According to The Verge, a trans employee resource group is planning a walkout on Oct. 20.
“Trans Lives Matter. Trans Rights Matter,” the group said in a memo. “And as an organization, Netflix has continually failed to show deep care in our mission to Entertain the World by repeatedly releasing content that harms the Trans community and continually failing to create content that represents and uplifts Trans content. We can and must do better!”
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Deadline) (The New York Times)
Lil Nas X and Bella Poarch May Have Abandoned Plans To Participate In TikTok NFT Program
Lil Nas X’s TikTok NFT was scheduled to debut a week ago and is still not available to the public.
Creators Allegedly Leave TikTok’s NFT Program
Musicians Lil Nas X and Bella Poarch may have quietly exited TikTok’s new NFT collection, according to a report from Rolling Stone.
TikTok first announced the line, which is called “TikTok Top Moments,” at the end of September. It involves a series of creator-led NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are unique and tradeable digital assets. TikTok’s NFTs can be purchased with the cryptocurrency Ethereum. According to a press release, the money will “largely go directly to the creators and NFT artists involved.”
TikTok said that creators like Poarch, Lil Nas X, Grimes, Curtis Roach, Brittany Broski, and more would be participating in the program. The company called NFTs an “empowerment tool” that will allow these creators to “be recognized and rewarded for their content.” It planned to debut the collection on Oct. 6 with Lil Nas X’s NFT, but that token has still not been made available. A source told Rolling Stone that it may never be released.
NFT Rollout Described as “A Mess”
The outlet also reported that Poarch is “actively contemplating pulling out of the program due to worries about its execution.” According to Rolling Stone, three sources familiar with the rollout of the program have described it as “a challenge,” “a mess,” and “a complete joke.”
Those sources claimed that in order to secure Poarch’s initial participation, TikTok offered her marketing support worth potentially $4 million for her next release. The company also allegedly promised to use one of her songs in an end-of-year campaign. A spokesperson for TikTok, however, described these claims as “not accurate.”
Neither Poarch nor Lil Nas X has commented on their participation yet. Meanwhile, TikTok declined to answer Rolling Stone’s questions about the status of their NFTs.
Some of TikTok’s announced NFTs have gone public, though. Throughout Tuesday, Roach’s “Bored in the House” video was up for auction on the platform Immutable.
NFTs took the internet by storm in early 2021, but their popularity peaked in May and declined throughout the summer. Celebrities, tech moguls, and everyday people featured in viral memes have hopped on the trend and made millions doing so.
According to Rolling Stone, TikTok has valued some of its own NFTs at $1 million. Now, it’s unclear if those tokens will ever hit the market.
See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Dexerto)
Ariana Grande, Bella Hadid, and Others Honor World Mental Health Day
A slew of stars acknowledged the day by sharing personal stories and making hefty donations to organizations that offer mental health resources.
Celebrities Donate to Mental Health Organizations
Major celebrities honored World Mental Health Day on Sunday by speaking candidly about their mental health struggles and donating to nonprofits.
Singer Ariana Grande announced that she is donating $5 million worth of free therapy through the online counseling platform Better Help. The star previously partnered with the company over the summer to give $1 million in therapy to fans and opted to throw more money at the program following its success.
“I acknowledge that there are very real barriers when it comes to accessing mental health resources, and while this is only one small gesture (and a much larger systemic problem remains) I wanted to do this again with @betterhelp in hopes of bringing access to a few more people and perhaps inspiring a few of you to try something new and prioritize your own healing,” Grande wrote on Instagram.
Those interested can sign up for a free first month of Better Help and get an additional 15% off the second month.
Model Bella Hadid also pledged to donate to mental health resources. She teamed up with the beverage company Kin Euphorics, which will donate 10% of its October sales to Gurls Talk, a nonprofit that gives adolescent girls a space to talk about mental health, along with various educational tools to aid those discussions. Hadid will match those donations.
“Dealing with mental illness for most of my life, bringing awareness to the education of mental health through my platform is something that I will continue to do until our mental is just as respected as our physical,” Hadid wrote. “I want everyone who struggles daily to know that you are not alone.”
Stars Share Resources and Personal Stories
Meanwhile, actress and singer Selena Gomez used her new makeup brand Rare Beauty to share statistics about the prevalence of mental illness and the efforts to combat it. The company, which has previously focused on several mental health initiatives, shared that just 1.3% of philanthropic investments go towards supporting mental health.
The company additionally cited information from an American Psychological Association report, which revealed that young people are particularly vulnerable to mental health struggles. It found that seven out of 10 Gen Z adults are more likely to report experiencing depression symptoms compared to other generations.
Gomez shared Rare Beauty’s post to her own story as well.
Singer Olivia Rodrigo similarly opened up about mental health and therapy during an interview with CBS that aired Sunday. In it, she said she has been in therapy since she was 16, which she believes has helped her both personally and professionally.
“That was a really big, life-changing moment,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about myself.”
“I think there’s sometimes a stigma around it, too, like I was saying,” the singer continued. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Oh, you don’t need that. You have so much. Your life is so great. What are your problems?’ I think that’s definitely a thing that sometimes older people can do to younger people to kind of trivialize what they’re going through.”