Work Friends is our interview series that digs into the complicated realities of people with interesting jobs.
Mandy Harris Williams talks like she knows I’m already hooked. Of course I am. My job is made infinitely easier by people who talk a lot, but rarely are they this commanding. Harris Williams drives her words ahead confidently, shifting comfortably between heady oration and introspection, owning the pensive silences in between. She detours frequently through entertaining tangents and anecdotes that make me glad we’re taking the scenic route. Watching her playfully negotiate the balance between academic and entertainer is truly enjoyable. As we roll on I occasionally catch a joke fast enough to throw another one back to her. She rolls her eyes with a half-grin. Perhaps I was funny, though it’s more likely my eagerness confirms what she already knows—she’s the star and I’m happily captive in the audience.
Having acted in short films—including her own upcoming self-directed release Couture Critiques—Harris Williams surely finds pleasure in performance, but, in her Harlem upbringing, the act was a necessity. “When I went to elementary school, actually preschool, I was like an Ideal Black Child. So I have grown up in the code switch, and so performance is really second nature.” Now, 33 and LA-based, the Harvard and Loyola-educated artist goes by @IdealBlackFemale on Instagram and wields her star power in service of her work as an intellectual. She channels her rigorous and daring theorizing through various platforms that enable her freedom to experiment—an NTS radio show, critical captions on IG, musical releases and Patreon-supported essays. “One of the great things about working as a conceptual artist or an intellect-based practitioner,” she says to me over Zoom with a winking smile, “is that you can do anything.”
But don’t let prolific output and pageantry fool you—or do, she’d likely be happy either way. The trendy aesthetics and mediums are actually highly considered tactics in Harris William’s plan to “glamorize the intellectual”—her agenda to apply pop culture production value to intellectual thought, rendering it seductive and unavoidable to the masses. While singular in her voice, I’ve noticed this Trojan horse strategy amongst a small but influential group of multifaceted millennials of colour, many of whom might reject (or feel rejected by) the title of intellectual for it’s negative associations with exclusionary white institutions. Instead of lecturing from ivory towers, people like Hawa Arsala, Celine Semaan, Alok Menom, Mimi Zhu and Fariha Roisin share in Harris Williams’ populist approach. Together, they are a new generation of Edward Said’s leveraging platforms like Substack, TikTok, Patreon, Youtube, and, of course, Instagram to create highly-engaged bubbles for niche critical discourse. (While Ziwe is more of a humorist, Harris Williams points out to me, she is still a powerful example of intellectual critique gone mainstream.) Though this approach is not wholly new—in 1978 Susan Sontag was on the cover of People and in 1969 James Baldwin electrified on the Dick Cavett Show—it is refreshing to witness the cultural shift. While the past couple years have made us ripe for revolution, maybe we just need a pop star intellectual to show us the way.
Sydney Allen-Ash, Co-Editor of Early: Hey, how's it going?
Mandy Harris Williams: Good.
SA: Yeah, you okay?
MHW: I'm like perpetually sleepy these days.
SA: I know. Life stuff, or just weather? What's the cause?
MHW: Actually, it's funny. So I wrapped my film last week so-
SA: Oh, okay, so you shot and everything?
SA: You're in post now?
MHW: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
MHW: Thank you.
SA: So that's why you're tired.
MHW: Yeah. Well, I shot on Monday and Tuesday, but I literally slept on Wednesday, Thursday and like half of Friday I was just out.
SA: Yeah, I bet.
MHW: Yeah, and then I'm trying to not overwork quite the same way that I have been. And I think what just made me sleepy is that I was thinking about all the things I've agreed to do. I'm like, "Oh gosh." Not this film particularly, but ongoing things.
SA: Do you feel good that you've finished shooting now and that you're in the ... Maybe not final stretches, but you're past halfway?
MHW: Yeah, I feel great about it. I started to sketch out a little rollout plan yesterday too. And yeah, I'm feeling really excited. I just think everybody's just hungover from the project.
SA: Right, makes sense. Okay, cool, so I have some questions lined up and planned. I figure this will take about an hour, we should be done before five. Do you have a hard stop at five just so I know?
MHW: No, I would love to stop before five though. And I'm also going to sneak a couple bites of food while we do this.
SA: That is totally allowed.
MHW: One thing about overworking, which you probably know well is that-
SA: You don't eat.
SA: Yeah, don't eat, don't drink water, don't sleep, all of those things. All those necessary human attributes are gone. Okay, so for background context for you, I want to focus a lot of this interview on the role of an intellectual and how you got to that place. The differences between intellectuals, activists, influencers, why we need intellectuals, and a lot of stuff like that. I have a bunch of questions but I'm also happy to veer off in a direction if something strikes you. Don’t worry if you go on tangents, I’m here for it.
SA: Great. Okay, so let's start with maybe the most basic question. I know that there's a lot of titles and labels to communicate all the different work that you do. Artist, performer, writer, critic, etcetera, the list goes on. But I'm most interested in intellectual, as I think that's kind of the most unique. So before we get into the nuances of that role, I'd love to just start with a definition. How do you explain being an intellectual?
MHW: That's a really great question. I've been borrowing other people's answers. So, for this latest project, Couture Critiques, which is the film I just finished shooting, I was borrowing Edward Said's definition. And I guess the reason why I gave so much due and cite that piece [Representations of the Intellectual] so much is because, in a way, it kind of helped me place myself. I've worked as a writer, I've worked as a conceptual artist, I've worked as a consultant, I've worked as a teacher. All of these things that are kind of slightly brainy. And I think the thing that undergirds them is that you're using a body of thought, habits of thought, critical thinking, study, and you're combining that with your experience. I think that there's this disinterest or dissatisfaction or distaste for being judgmental. And I think what an intellectual actively does is that they do make those judgments. They help us correct course, or steer towards correct course, by utilizing a body of knowledge.
I think a couple of things that are really relevant for this time, are the distinction between information and knowledge. So, an academic is somebody who might be very informed. You might have all of the...
SA: Accreditation or whatever.
MHW: Right, you might have plenty of credits to your name, or studies. But are you using that information for something? I think that there's a directionality that is born out of taking something from information to knowledge. Taking someone from an academic to an intellectual. It's funny because I used to have a hard time calling myself an artist because I was intimidated by the title. And I think similarly, it's difficult to call oneself an intellectual.
Like in the film, I am speaking about an intellectual but I never really say I'm an intellectual. I do recognize myself as that, but I know that there's a real weighty kind of distaste and dislike for that title. Which I think is born of bad PR, and untrustworthy intellectuals, shitty teachers. Actually, you know what? I'm such a tangential speaker that I do like to reference what the question was... Okay, so what is an intellectual? Yeah, I would say I'm just using Said's definition, that really does it for me. And actually, Céline [Semaan, of Slow Factory] posted a few quotes from Representations of the Intellectual that are really on point for that definition. I think he originally created that text for the live lectures at Oxford and it's all together like three hours long. I think part of what an intellectual is, it's not a simple answer. It's not somebody who's going to give you that one liner. It's not...
SA: A quotable thing.
I think that there's a directionality that is born out of taking something from information to knowledge.
MHW: Exactly. That it does require some kind of study of what that role is. I think an intellectual is like a conscientious objector. It's somebody who I think, in layman's terms, is a spoilsport. [Laughs]
SA: [Laughs] A curmudgeon?
MHW: Right. [Laughs] I like to think of it as a really hopeful act, though. To turn that and think about it like, "Okay, well how could this be better?" This is on a scale of one to 9.9. What is that .1? And I think it's an act of faith, as well as an informed position. Like an informed position moving with faith, I guess.
SA: Oh, that's really nice. “An informed position moving with faith.” I read Representations of the Intellectual earlier today. One of the things I read in there was the phrase “enthusiastically critical”, which I also like. I feel like it's in line with what you were just saying about the optimism and the faith that's involved. Do your parents understand what you do? Do they get it?
SA: Do you try to explain it to them? Or you're like, "I'm an artist. It's fine.”
MHW: They don't even understand that. When I showed work in Chelsea, three years ago, they finally were like, "Mhh okay, okay."
SA: They saw one of your shows?
MHW: Yeah. I showed at Paula Cooper with Jonathan Borowski, and they could tell it was a big deal. So they were like, "Okay, maybe this isn't completely hopeless."
SA: Maybe these two degrees are not for nothing.
MHW: Right. I mean, I don't know if they're like... they also could just be performing this understanding in hopes that I like-
SA: Change your mind?
MHW: Get a real job.
SA: I mean, if anything, you did have the real job as a teacher for seven years or six years.
MHW: They felt the same about that too.
SA: [Laughs] Oh, okay. Well, I guess it's all uphill from here. I don't know.
MHW: They're hard to please, I'm the only one, so.
SA: Okay, then that makes sense.
MHW: I guess we are all perfectionists in a way.
SA: Yeah, potentially. I think past intellectuals are easier to name—like James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Edward Said, obviously all big influences of yours. But present intellectuals are not really a thing that is discussed. If anything, the idea of intellectuals is just referenced in think pieces about how we don't have enough intellectuals. I was trying to think of people who I would consider your peers but I'm curious about your perspective, who do you see as your peers?
SA: Nobody? Really?
MHW: No, I was being flippant. I am also a little bit intimidated by this because I hate to give people too much credit. I hate to give myself credit to compare myself to people. I guess like one peer whose work I'm always really interested in, is Hawa Arsala. Do you know them?
SA: I think so. Is their substack Reality Streaming? Is that them or is that somebody else?
SA: Yeah, okay. I don't know her personally, but we're, like, fans of each other on the internet.
MHW: No surprise there. Yeah, I would say that we're very peered. We're actually working together on Somewhere Good in a think tank right now.
SA: Cool. What's that?
MHW: It’s called The Shift Fellowship, run by Naj Austin, who does Ethel's club. And also Somewhere Good is a social media platform that's being devised, designed, rolled out.
SA: Oh, yeah. Okay.
MHW: So when I think about peers, people I work with, obviously come to mind. It's hard to think about peers because I don't want to insult somebody who's ahead of me in their career. I also feel like an oddball in how I do what I do. So, I was being flippant, but I also do have a difficult time thinking about peers.
SA: Yeah. I think it is interesting because intellectual is not a title that many people take on. There's like a generational distaste towards the bourgeoisie and then intellectuals as part of that—even though the definition of an intellectual that you're adopting from Edward Said is in opposition to the bourgeoisie.
Some people I was thinking was like Celine Semaan, Alok Menom, adrienne marie brown. Then an older generation like Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy, Ta Nehisi Coates, bell hooks. But then you're getting into writer/activists. What's the difference? Actually leads me into my next question. I know you've written about this but I'd love if you could clarify and share the distinction you see between organizer, activist, intellectual and even celebrity—you were posting about Lil Nas X earlier.
MHW: Sure. Also, sorry, I had a thought... I think what you mentioned about the generational divide is really, really spot on. I think we would have a lot more intellectuals if not for the assault on print culture and publishing local newspapers. What is a journalist? What is an intellectual?
There was a one-off publication called GOOD Magazine, maybe 10 years ago at this point, which had a bunch of people who I was thinking of as intellectuals at the time, like Liz Dwyer, is one of those people. But I think a lot of people who wanted to make money off of writing got sucked into this stream of having to produce Clickbait. The market has divested us from so many people who might have gone down that route of really deepening their intellectual practice or wanting to say something, but it's so market untenable at this point, to be an intellectual. That's part of what produces the dearth.
There's also probably a lot of intellectuals who I don't know because they're creatives or commercial creatives. Maybe I'm seeing like 1/15th of something that they said in a meeting to Apple and now a Black person in one of their commercials. So, I think part of what I hope to do with bringing attention back to the position of the intellectual—and as much as I do feel that I identify as such, and I hold that question or positionality close to my heart—I think the more important endeavor is to redefine and perform as the intellectual, that it's more important as an archetype than a profession for me.
Because as I'm sitting here trying to think about it, it does stretch my brain a bit to think about how, at this point, we can ever push back against corporations. But one of the ways is just to build such a deep cultural esteem. I guess perhaps one of the reasons I have that faith is because I'm from Harlem, and you see shit that is not built by corporations eventually have so much credo in the community that the next thing you know, X, Y, or Z corporation is asking creatives of color to produce assets that are in line with this culture that wasn't created by Hollywood, wasn't created with a multinational conglomerate’s profit in mind. That the corporation has to respond to the culture.
And I'm not saying that necessarily I want recognition of intellectuals from corporations, but I guess, what I do see is that there can be this opposite pressure, where something is so big then some large institution has to take notice. Because the people are so hungry for it. I think probably the closest thing to that, and obviously, we both know that algorithms do their work, but something like the influencer IG model, where it's like, sure, many of our influencers are, at some point along the way, platformed by the corporation. For instance, I grew my following, basically, off of knowing some basic marketing skills, really being on it, and having a niche. And then eventually, there was a generation of people that used to be on an Instagram featured creators page, and there were curators for that. I had the opposite model, where I built such a large following that eventually the curators were like, "Okay, we'll put you on the creators page."
I do see that there is still the ability for something to be grassroots, to have so much community support that eventually there is that swing where even at its most pessimistic, even if it is for an ultimate profit, that larger corporations, institutions, academies, governments, that have they have to take notice.
I think the more important endeavor is to redefine and perform as the intellectual, that it's more important as an archetype than a profession for me.
SA: I feel like this also dovetails well into stuff you've been writing recently about glamorizing the intellectual too, which I think is a great phrase.
MHW: Thank you.
SA: Could you share more about where that particular kind of phrase and idea came from? In my notes I was also wondering if it connects to Brown Up Your Feed as well, are they in the same world of ideas? And I guess they must be since they all came from you, but...
MHW: Recently, I've actually been kind of struggling with that, because I do want them to be more harmonious. I'm on this Representations of the Intellectual, glamorizing the intellectual wavelength right now, and I want to make work about that. But I'm obviously still getting a lot of work and being hired to talk about Brown Up Your Feed still, so I'm like, "How do I marry these two worlds?"
SA: Yeah, how do you, “connect the IP” as they would say.
MHW: Exactly. Will you tell me your question once more because now I just got lost in the frustration of trying to think?
SA: It's all good. There's a whole bunch of questions, so I'll simplify it. So the first one was, where did the glamorize the intellectual idea come from? What's the genesis?
MHW: I've always been really curious about glamour, I'll say. I don't want to say “attracted to” because I'm actually highly skeptical of glamour. There are so many things that are really screwed up about the practice of glamor, for instance, why is smoking so glamorous?
SA: Totally. Why is it chic? I don't know.
MHW: Right. And as skeptical as I am, I over the quarantine became a smoker. [Laughs] But I think a lot of the idea of glamour is just attentionality. If you see a bunch of people looking over here, and you're looking over there, you're going to be like, "What are they looking at?" Even if that thing doesn't immediately register to you as spectacular, or important, or clever, or beautiful, just the attentionality to that thing creates a glamour. So I think glamorizing has to do with attentionality. I think the key idea of glamorizing is that you can't really put your finger on it, that's what the glamour is.
But I think some things that create glamour are a performativity, personification, catchy language. I once read there is a distinction between grace and glamour, or charisma and glamour. In part, glamour is based off of, I think, mystery, which to me feels very scary and speculative. Mystery offers whatever the glamorized thing is up for some desire to be captured. When I talk about that I think about this idea of containing the bombshell, and kind jingoistic language of how we want to access personas or streams of thought, like a capturing element to it.
So I think the glamorizing the intellectual thing comes from, number one, wanting more social esteem for the archetype of the intellectual, and number two, challenging what the glamour means and how glamour is ultimately manufactured in a lot of ways. To get back to the cigarette example, part of why cigarettes look great is because in film, smoking and taking a dramatic pause is so compelling. Or you have cigarette companies or paying studios to put cigarettes into the films. So it's the gesture, it's capitalism, it's addiction.
I think there's a lot of ways that something can be glamorized, and I think one of the ways, ultimately, is just by people deciding. I think about how mindsets are changed, and I think, in my own life, I've changed my mindsets by practicing radicalism. By practicing, like, "Okay, I'm going to dismantle this one thing, and I'm going to continue to dismantle it, and I'm going to continue to try to see the appeal or try to wrap my head around what is worthy and lovable about this other thing," which is how I've challenged a lot of internalized white supremacy.
So I think that the endeavor to glamorize the intellectual is very much similar, to where I know that intellectualism is not something that is easily glamorized. And yet we are in a day and age where there's a lot of mediocrity that becomes glamorized. So, I know that there are gears by which humans can intervene in glamour, it is not God-given. Nature is tremendous but it's not natural. Glamour is not natural.
SA: No, no.
MHW: And so, when I think about glamorizing and intellectual, I'm kind of like... playing with that? I don't know if there are any particular directives. But, I mean, one of the means is production value, which I think experimented with on the film, have a little budget, get a stylist, get a makeup artist, get nails. You know what I'm saying?
SA: Smoke a cigarette. There we go. You've got it all together.
MHW: There is no cigarette smoking in the film [laughs]. But especially in a day and age where literally, you have people shooting for the most glamorous publications in the world who were getting their start on Instagram, or like the most fabulous makeup artists, hair artists, fashion designers are appealing to supposedly an open market of consumers.
So, there's so much talent, I think, that can be coalesced around the intellectual. And I think that, again, and it's not solely about me, it's about the archetype. Something I play with and this gets to your question that I redirected from about Lil Nas X, I play with: how is a pop star different from an intellectual? And I think one of the things is just like, well, let's you have an intellectual and pop music star, same social media following, same engagement. Pop star is like, "Oh, I need some new press photos." And you're going to have like 500 DMs, as this one archetype. As the other archetype, the intellectual, people will be like, "Do you even take press photos?" Meanwhile, every talk I give requires a press photo. I find it, one, interesting, and maybe that's just because maybe people just happened to enjoy one more than the other. But I think that's kind of the crisis of the archetype being popular or being glamorized.
If you're supposed to be challenging things, disagreeing with things and making people uncomfortable, and you're even going to go so far as to say like, "As a matter of fact, you should do this. You should change your life such that we can get closer to World Peace." The challenge is that people are like, "Oh, this is hard." But the need is that much greater. So, I think if I have one particular intellectual plank, it is like, "Screw if it's easy, we must glamorize the intellectual." Because also you have like fucking Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, they still sell out stadiums, they're practically Beyonce. So the Right is getting it together. The right has their pop star intellectual. So even if it's just out of competition or need...
SA: Just like out of spite, we should.
MHW: Right. People give me pushback, because they're like, "We should not celebritize or popularize intellectuals.” And I'm like, "Okay, sure. Maybe we'll get to a point where we don't need that to happen, but this is not that time."
SA: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I was going through a line of questioning in my head like, "Oh, is there a danger to having a popular intellectual?" But we're so far away from that, we don't even have to really consider that as a potential argument until we even get to the point where there's like a D-list intellectual. When an intellectual gets on, like, The Bachelor, then we can start to be a little bit concerned."
MHW: You give me time, Sydney, you give me time.
SA: [Laughs] I have faith in you. If anyone could do it, it's you. When you were explaining the idea of glamorizing the intellectual, you were saying, "Yeah, I'm kind of playing at this." You were using that word “play” a lot. It reminded me of some interviews I read where you were talking about your Instagram name, Ideal Black Female, and how you use your Instagram and kind of calling it all a performance, in a way. And I'm curious if those two things are kind of connected, like the performance of this ideal Black female on Instagram‚—or just even using that name in a way to rile people up—and this idea of glamorizing the intellectual. Do you see the performance aspects of how you were/are using your Instagram and this call for glamorizing the intellectual to be in the same world?
MHW: Yeah, absolutely. But also I see my entire life in that world. When I went to elementary school, actually preschool, I was like an ideal Black child. So I have grown up in the code switch, and so performance is really second nature. Which, like, it would be scary except for when socially— actually, my friend's boyfriend the other day asked me, "Do you laugh when you're watching something funny alone?" And I was like, "Rarely." And I loved that question because it gets to how second nature performativity really is.
SA: Yeah, interesting.
MHW: Actually, I fear and distrust people who do not. I trust performance artists more than I trust anybody else because to be able to acknowledge like, "Sure, this is level one of the performance, maybe this is the social performance. And then this is another performance." And even in the space of performative lecture, it was funny, I was talking to these people on Occidental [College] today and they asked me for a lecture. And I gave this lecture two years ago at UCLA and the person on the call said, "Oh, yes, when you performed that lecture." And I was like, "Oh, I guess I did."
SA: You were like, "Not wrong."
MHW: Right. Yeah, I mean, maybe this is where my truest intellectualism lies, it's like every interaction is a performance. What is a performance? I'm like controlling my body to make an impact.
SA: The filter of some kind.
MHW: Right. But people think I'm performing when I'm not performing. They're like, "Oh, how is this Black person talking like this?" So yeah, I think performance is a condition of life. And so I guess maybe the thing that ties them together, I mean, is ... I think the thing that keeps me alive, actually, and the thing that keeps me engaged and not a total cynic is that they are a play. And that's not to say that there's not very real outcomes that I hope for, but as far as how I'm trying to get there, and my ability to be flexible, or even like ... And this goes for whether it's like performance, whether it's athletic, whether it's artistic, there's strategy I can change, there's voicing I can change, there's audience I can change, there's pacing or intensity that I can change. And those are all things that I'm kind of continually curious about.
And I would say, speaking of things that separate. And this is not to say that activists don't perform, I'd actually say, in a lot of ways, that performance is really important, because they have curry favor so often. But I think part of what's different about an organizer or an activist from me is that I play how I want to play. I make the rules to my game. And an activist or an organizer might be required to shift things about their performance in order to get the goal, in order to create favor, in order to get a consensus. And for me, I'm not particularly interested even in consensus.
SA: Yeah, yeah. I would say, under that kind of contrast, an organizer is more like the coach and they have to get a whole team to rally around a goal and they're playing within a system, they have to kind of fit in with the rules of the game. And then you're like—sorry, this is corny—like a dancer or something. You can be outside of the rules, you're not on a team. You're doing your own performance. You have your own vision. You can do whatever you want, freestyle. I've never been a professional dancer, so I don't know if there's rules, but-
MHW: I was going to say that illustration makes me think of my soccer days and people said I looked like a gazelle on the field… so maybe it was somewhat dance-like [laughs].
SA: There you go. Drop that in there.
MHW: I was like, "Pass me the ball when you're ready."
SA: [Laughs] "You let me know when you want to go, okay? You'll let me know."
MHW: "I'll be hanging up here with the sweeper."
SA: "I'm cherry-picking down here, so just let me know when you want a goal, whenever. It's fine."
MHW: Right. I was always the one, they were like, "No, you stay up there, don't come back." [Laughs] Because what fuck am I going to do?
SA: You're not going to flip on defense if they need it, you're not going to do it. I get it. You know your role, that's fine.
SA: Okay. I've been enjoying this so much, I forgot, we only have 10 minutes left. So I have a practical question then I do want to talk a little bit about your film that'll come out. Give you some space to promo that or explain however much you want to. The practical question is, how do you want people to work with you? Like if someone reads this and it's like, "Whoa, she seems really smart, and interesting, and blah, blah, blah. What's your ideal mode of collaboration right now? Or like, do you just want patrons? What are you looking for?
MHW: You answered the question.
SA: Patrons, there we go.
MHW: No, I mean, one of the great things about working as a conceptual artist or an intellect-based practitioner is that you can do anything. I always have an opinion about how people are doing what they’re doing. I mean, I've been loving consulting. I think in my ideal world, I'd be making a couple of creative projects a year maybe, maybe one larger one. But I don't really have a prescriptive answer to that question, I think the best opportunities, and some of the most mind-opening and practice-expanding opportunities have been collaborations that I did not expect at all. So I won't try to predict that too much. I will say in general, I like when people pay me and shut the fuck up.
SA: That's great. I do too. I love that.
MHW: I actually have had more collaborative moments in the past. This being my first film where I directed, wrote, starred, I'm very much feeling my solo artist’s moment—which is not to say that a production is done independently. But I’d really like people working for my vision to happen at this point. And I think actually, the drawback of being so applicable to so many things is that your intelligence can be applied to many different circumstances. And often those circumstances pay more than somebody who's just giving you a check and be me like, "Make something, we're going to shoot at this fabulous place."
So I think, frankly, like the ideal collaboration would be like, somebody like give me a television show, or a book deal. I'm saying like, I'm very much into making my voice the central voice at this point and getting somebody to pay me for it. I've been wanting to write a musical. I know that sounds like a little bit...
SA: I was a drama kid, so here for it. Was I a musical kid? Yes. I love that [laughs].
MHW: I went on tour with my friend SASAMI, like a year and a half ago. Frankly, I love making music. And I wanted to set some time aside for it. It's funny, because when I'm in music, I find myself being more purely artistic, like not quite so political even though the need to try to make something at this point feels very political.
SA: But the content itself might not.
MHW: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I mean, mostly, I'm so bothered and offended by how white people have been dominating the space of house and techno music. My mom's side of the family is from Chicago, I was hanging out with my cousins like three or four or five actual years ago now at this point, and I was like, "Yeah, I've been really into house and techno. I've been going out to warehouse raves every weekend." And my cousin was like, "You don't know shit about house music."
MHW: Yeah, it was amazing.
SA: That's awesome.
MHW: The very primary source education on what it was like to grow up as a young adult in Chicago listening to Frankie Knuckles, going to The Warehouse, the Family Den. So the intellectual piece of me is like, "Oh well, appropriation is murderous.” And then there's a piece of me as an artist that wants to respond by stepping into that space. I write music, but I just hate audio interfaces, honestly, just kind of give me agita. So I prefer to collaborate with a producer or engineer who makes my ideas come to life. But that's pretty much the type of collaboration I want. I want people who believe in the vision and fuck with the vision, and then I want people who give me money for the vision.
SA: I'm into this, I hope it happens for you.
MHW: Thank you.
I will say in general, I like when people pay me and shut the fuck up.
SA: And last question because we're almost out of time. Tell us about the film.
MHW: Sure, yeah. It's going to premiere in November at the Geneva Moving Picture Biennial, and premier digitally, later, on dis.art. It's just like amazing when you're first entering culture and all this stuff is cool. And then once you go through culture a little while you're like, "Oh, actually, this thing I thought was cool is not really that cool.” But dis.art has always been a platform that I really admire, in part because they really centralize critical thought. And everything that they do, even if it's tongue in cheek, is very thoughtful, there's a real critical impulse behind the things that are on that platform.
So I'm really excited to have been commissioned by them to create the film Couture Critiques. I don't know if I have a tagline yet, but the descriptive tagline is that it is an update of Representations of the Intellectual for the information age. I was writing about the mass media age and it's really not that far of a leap. As far as my most intense intellectual work, it is not that. But it is like a performance of Representations of the Intellectual set to the filmic language of the 1990 show, House of Style.
SA: Yes. Okay. When we talked last, you did mention this, I did watch it on YouTube afterwards. I'm very excited to see this mashup.
MHW: I'm very excited too. I think it'll be really cute. … I know this is a little bit out of order, but I think there have been a lot of ... I want to say interventions, but initiatives to kind of modernize that role of intellectual. Probably like, Steven Colbert, and then like a wave of folks following that trajectory. Like I was a fan of this guy, and then I had to put him out of my thought because I heard some allegations about him. He has a hit show on Netflix.
SA: Oh, the Patriot something?
MHW: Yeah. Yeah.
SA: What is his name? Hassan Minaj.
MHW: Yeah I think even Ziwe’s show is so much closer. I mean, obviously, Ziwe is like a humorist, but it's not without...
MHW: Yeah. Very critical standpoint. And the performance, even just the gesture of asking people uncomfortable questions, and holding them to it and sitting in that uncomfortable silence is such an intellectual gesture. Because it does the thing that Said says, that I'm going to make you uncomfortable. I'm really excited to contribute my own take on where some of those practitioners are going. But yeah, in November, it's going to premiere at the Geneva Moving Picture Biennial.
SA: Awesome. Are you going to go?
MHW: Oh, yes.
SA: That's amazing. That'll be so fun.
MHW: It'll be really fun.
SA: Awesome. I hope the borders don't close or something.
MHW: See how-
SA: [Laughs] Sorry, I just ... I'm sorry.
MHW: There you go with practicality! [Laughs]
SA: I can't be the first one to have brought that up.
MHW: You are the first one to set it to my face. Maybe others were thinking it.
SA: [Laughs] Sorry, sorry. Okay. Is there anything else that you want to share? Anything else you want to say? I want to respect your time.
MHW: No, I think we covered it. Thanks for letting me ramble.
SA: Yeah. Thanks for rambling.