Last week, CAA held their annual CAA Amplify event in Ojai, California. The event is an inclusive space for community for people of color, queer people, people with disabilities and other marginalized folks as well as allies to engage in difficult dialogue, taking action, sharing best practices and creating business opportunities that lead to a more optimistic future in Hollywood and beyond.
The event included a wide array of speakers including Chloe and Halle Bailey, Rutherford Falls‘s Sierra Teller Ornelas, Beef star Steven Yeun, the Color Purple director Blitz Bazwule, Planned Parenthood president Alexis Mcgill Johnson, Blue Beetle star Xolo Mariduena as well as Becky G and The L Word: Generation Q‘s Jillian Mercado.
All Boys Aren’t Blue author, activist, and journalist George M. Johnson spoke at the event speaking on banned books. During his talk he explained if you read books, see TV shows and films where you don’t see yourself reflected, “you start to question if you even exist in this world.”
With the Toni Morrison quote “If there’s a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it” as a source of inspiration Johnson was inspired to write his young adult memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue, which shows a loving Black family who never shamed queerness but elevated it and support it.
The book has since become a New York Times bestseller, earned a Daytime Emmy nomination, and been translated into six languages. The book has made so much impact that Gabrielle Union has optioned it for television. All Boys Aren’t Blue has also become the second most banned book in the country. “I stand before you today as the most banned black author in the United States,” he told the audience at CAA Amplify.
Johnson had criminal charges filed against him which includes a woman on Twitter who he said “had a lot of mouth for somebody with no lips”. She claimed he was cyber-bullying. A white man accosted him in Iowa because the state’s governor read parts of his book on television out of context and wrote a bill in Iowa to make it a misdemeanor with a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail for any educator who gave Johnson’s book to a teen reader.
“When they told me to shut up, I decided to act up,” Johnson said. “They decided to ban one of my books so I decided to sign four more deals and release a Black queer book every year over the next five.”
He continued, “Right now, we are in the biggest banding of books this country has ever seen,” reminding us book burning in Nazi Germany. He adds we need to tell our stories and experiences “with conviction and timelessness” that says “yes, this story needs to be told and I have the power to tell it.”
In addition, basketball superstar Dwyane Wade and Golden State Warriors point guard Chris Paul spoke candidly about their experiences in sports, life and beyond. Wade graciously shared a very personal story about Zaya, her journey and how there was so much he, wife Gabrielle Union and his family had to learn — and in the public eye.
Wade said that the first conversation about Zaya coming out was when she was eight years old in 2016. She had an openly gay teacher and they had an assignment where the students had to write about themselves. “I think having an [openly gay] teacher gave her confidence to tell her about herself,” said Wade. “As Zaya said at the time, she wrote at 8 years old that ‘I’m a gay boy’… the teacher told us at home that she didn’t want to put it all over school. She just wanted to make sure that we knew.”
This was the first time Wade heard this from Zaya. He admitted that he felt that he was very attuned to his kids and connected. He felt that he and Union were good and he joked saying that he was a “cool dad”.
“When Zaya came home, I remember my child being scared to talk to me….hiding in my wife’s arm,” he said. “It was fear in my child’s face that told me I had to check myself because maybe I ain’t what think I am or I haven’t done what I think.”
He continued, “I had to go look myself in the mirror and ask myself, ‘Why was my child scared to tell me something about themself?’… a lot of what as parents do is we put our fears and everything on our kids and I guess I was doing that without knowing.”
It wasn’t until 12 years old that Zaya came out. “We were trying to allow her to grow up as natural and normal as possible, outside of the spotlight, so I was not posting her on social media,” said Wade. “I posted one photo on Thanksgiving and the world went crazy.”
He went into protection mode and was very mindful of what he was saying to people. At the same time, it wasn’t so much about Zaya, it was about the “education that needed to happen”.
“The first thing I did was I started listening,” he said that Zaya taught him to communicate with his ears. Wade and his family started to gather information. “We were getting educated by a child. She knew more than we did and so it was on us to talk to therapists, talk to doctors, get the information that we needed, so we can be better parents to a child that is going through something that we have no idea about.”