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Ebony's Evolution, Robin Givens' New Book

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

It's Friday and time to talk lifestyle and trends with Allison Samuels, entertainment reporter for Newsweek magazine. Thanks for coming in.

Ms. ALLISON SAMUELS (Entertainment Reporter, Newsweek Magazine): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Well, it's always great to have you here. And there was a red carpet event Wednesday night for the New York premiere of "A Mighty Heart." It's the story of Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, who was the late Wall Street Journal reporter abducted and killed by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in early 2002.

Now, his wife in this movie is played by Angelina Jolie, even though in real life she is a woman of color. What's breaking down on that front?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, that - you know, before even the movie began filming there was some controversy about that because people like - actresses like Thandie Newton, sort of, questioned, you know, why not give that role to a woman of color given the lack of roles for women of color, and that this is such a meaty, juicy role. How many of those roles actually come around? They don't come around that often.

But Mariane Pearl wanted Angelina to play the role. She felt like it wasn't an issue for this particular film, which I think, you know, can be seen as unfortunate given that, you know, it is an issue with any film where the main character is a woman of color.

CHIDEYA: And I've seen pictures - I haven't seen the movie yet - but I've seen pictures and she's kind of not blackfaced out but brownfaced out.

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah. It looks like she had a deep tan and a curly sort of wig Afro. And you know, it's hard with Angelina because you certainly like lot of things that she's done and I think that is why she probably won't get the - the criticisms has been sort of muted. You know, you haven't heard it as much as I think people thought you would have given that it's so obvious. But I think people have this love affair by Angelina. So she's been able to sort of get by. And when the woman, you know, she just wanted her to play it. I think it's sort of hard to sort of criticize it when that was her request.

CHIDEYA: And of course, she's Angelina Jolie that is very active in all these international…

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: …affairs. And it's interesting. We'll see, you know, whether or not this unfolds further.

Ms. SAMUELS: Well - and she has - I mean, an African daughter so it's interesting if she wants to become an actress. You sort of wonder, like, you know, will Angelina take her roles because it's like you know, what - it's like what did you do? So that's the interesting part.

CHIDEYA: Interesting. Let's move on to the world of publishing - Ebony and Essence. They are considered the magazines of record for the black community, but some critics and readers think they're becoming more tabloid-like. What's going on?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think that all - both of them are feeling the pressure of competing with the Us and the In Touch and those lifestyle magazines that really get into celebrities' background. And I think those magazines are selling so well that Essence feels like it has to compete.

So lately, like the last issue, they had R. Kelly's wife talking. And if you read the interview it wasn't really that juicy but it certainly was promoted as being very juicy. They did Eddie Murphy's wife talking about her marriage and why it ended. They did that a few months ago. And now, they're going after Michael Jordan's wife and Jay-Z's baby's mother. I mean, all those sort of stories that make you go wow, you know, what's going on.

But I think the controversy revolves around the fact that African-Americans can be very, I think, they're much in the middle on whether they want their celebrities and their heroes, you know, beaten down. And I think that is a fine line that Essence and Ebony is trying to sort of figure out where they stand.

Ebony recently had the rapper Ludacris on the cover with his daughter. It's a Father's Day issue. Then the Imus thing broke out. They had to pull him off the cover and put Boris Kodjoe on the cover and it was huge mess. But that's the risk they take when they put controversial figures on the cover.

And Ebony, I think for over the years have been very safe and tried not to sort of get into those kind of matters. And I think that sort of scared them, putting Ludacris on and I mean, the magazine had gone to print. They had to pull it back, which caused…

CHIDEYA: Explain exactly why they pulled it.

Ms. SAMUELS: Because of the Imus controversy about rappers, you know, using the B, you know, using the B-words and the H-words. And Ludacris has been very, you know - you know, he's been known for using those words even though I think that he's trying to tone his music down that is what he's known for. You know, I think he has a song called "Hoes in Different Area Codes." So…

CHIDEYA: Oh, yes.

Ms. SAMUELS: To have that - to have him on the cover in the midst of that, I think, they thought it was very, you know, just not the thing to do for that type of magazine. But, you know, it would have gotten that provocative sort of, you know, sort of take that they wanted. And I think that is where they are. Like, how do we become provocative, but also sort of stay true to what African-Americans want, which is - I don't necessarily know if they want - again, their heroes torn apart. That's - I don't think that's really (unintelligible) from.

CHIDEYA: Do you think some of it has to do with age demographics because, you know, I was - I am the proud owner of a few, wonderful, old Ebony magazines passed down from my grandparents, and they were so, you know, beautiful and majestic. But I think of them as compared to like Life magazine…

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: …and a lot of magazines that either have disappeared or fallen on hard times, and I wonder if they are afraid that they're not getting younger people and this is part of it?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, I totally think that they want a younger demographic. And I think that's why they put a Raven-Symone on about two or three months ago who's, you know, like 19 or 20 or just out of their teens. I think that was their reason for doing that. But again, there's supply and balance because the main people who subscribe are the older African-Americans. So how do you keep them interested as well as bring in a whole new audience? You know, I don't envy them in that situation because I don't know how you find that sort of middle ground.

CHIDEYA: We only have a couple of minutes left, but I want you to walk me through "Grace Will Lead Me Home" by Robin Givens. She was one of People's 50 Most Beautiful People. And then she became the most hated woman in America, divorced Mike Tyson. Ninety-three percent of people in a 1998 CNN viewer poll said the couple's divorce was her fault.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: Now, she's come out with this book.

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, it's interesting because I think, you know, she's been gone for so long that you sort of wondered where she had actually disappeared to. But this book really goes into detail on why she just sort of left Hollywood, what her marriage was like to Mike Tyson, and how she sort of regrets a lot of things that happened during that marriage. Like, she regrets even marrying him, but that he's a really nice person. But - nice person had his issues, she saw those issues, should have never married him, which I think the bottom line of it.

But I think the overall is that, you know, in this time and - celebrity, I think writing a book is the in-thing. You know, this is how you become current again. This is how you get people to pay attention to you again. And I think with Robin, I mean, I'd forgotten about her. I think a lot of people had, up until sort of the last few years, you know.

So this book sort of gets her back in the forefront, let's her talk about a lot of the demons that she's faced. And you know, sort of makes people - maybe give her a role in a movie because…

CHIDEYA: Well, very briefly before we let you go. Is there anything coming up? Do you know of anything that she might be doing, cast in, et cetera?

Ms. SAMUELS: No, she hasn't - she doesn't have any significant roles coming up, but I think the more she does to talk shows, the more she gets in the casting directors' mind again because she's a beautiful woman, and she was a talented actress. I think that, you know, the Mike situation just derails her career.

CHIDEYA: Well, Allison, thanks for coming in.

Ms. SAMUELS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Allison Samuels is an entertainment writer for Newsweek. She joined me here in our NPR West studios. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.