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Real Talk: Notes on D'Angelo's Return

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Over the weekend, I caught sight of images from D’Angelo’s first photo shoot in 12 years. Yes, you read that right. D’Angelo — Brown Sugar, Voodoo, “the Next Marvin Gaye” D’Angelo, whose third album we’ve been not-so-patiently waiting for, who is set to give his first U.S. performance in a decade at the ESSENCE Music Festival this July. His hair is still cornrowed (but I’m not even mad), his body is trim — not that it matters, but I know you wondered — and he looks as yummy as he did all those years ago when he was glistened up, staring at the camera, and asking us, all slowly and carefully, “How Does It Feel?”

He’s on his way back to the spotlight, and GQ has the details. Of course, the article tackles the long-awaited answer to where the heck D’Angelo has been all this time. There was a car accident that nearly killed him and a few stints in rehab to treat alcohol abuse and cocaine addiction. But all those were symptoms to distract him from the pressures that arose after he went from successful off of Brown Sugar to superstardom after he appeared seemingly naked in the video for the lead single off Vodoo. (Doesn’t this story sound familiar? Whitney said her downfall was the hype over The Bodyguard.)

Writer Amy Wallace interviewed several entertainers and celebrities to help explain D’Angelo’s decade-plus disappearance. It was a telling observation by (my favorite) comedian Chris Rock that helped to explain what Black celebs are up against.

“Black stardom is rough,” Rock said. “I always say Tom Hanks is an amazing actor and Denzel Washington is a god to his people. If you’re a black ballerina, you represent the race, and you have responsibilities that go beyond your art. How dare you just be excellent?”

I get why this happens, even if I don’t agree that it should. Black folks don’t get enough mainstream positive images of themselves. The larger-than-life figures? The glamorous Hollywood stars or legendary performers? They come too few and far between. Just watch any non-Black awards show and you’ll find about 10 A-list Black faces in a sea of white ones where there are so many blond, lithe “superstars” that they’re nearly indistinguishable.

We don’t have the white privilege of having too many. And so when we get someone who excels, we support and rally around. For a while at least, we uplift; with the best of intentions, we see our “best” as ambassadors to go places we’ll never get invited and open doors we’ll never see, and we beg of them not show their natural behinds when they arrive. We place our “best” folk on pedestals with expectations no human can ever live up to. And on that pedestal, we often don’t allow for growth, missteps or many other things outside of a very narrow box we stuff Black celebrities into.

Need evidence? Ask LeBron James what happened when he went to Miami, or Tyler Perry when he cast Kim Kardashian in a film role, or Oprah for having too many non-color folk in her audience all those years. Ask Mo’Nique what happened when she tried her hand as a talk show host, or Beyoncé about being too private, then suddenly giving in to demand and being “too” public.  Ask Dave Chappelle about that unexpected trip to Africa, or Fantasia Barrino about how she ended up with a bottle of pills on her closet floor, or Lauryn Hill, who packed up her ish one day and moved back in with her mama. (We’ve spent a decade complaining about that departure.)

If we want to be entertained by our most talented celebrities, it might be helpful to cut them a little slack. Maybe they could get some much-needed relief to focus on their best work instead of keeping up appearances, and we could get consistent and consistently good output from entertainers we miss and have enjoyed the most.

Demetria L. Lucas the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life in stores now. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk
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