Rewriting Black And Brown History, With A Little Help From Augmented Reality

  • Glenn Cantave works to introduce more diverse representation and narratives in school curricula, at a time when problematic statues are hotly debated the public square.
  • The twist? He’s doing it with augmented reality technology, allowing students to visualize their new history.

Glenn Cantave claims to have been a “hyper” kid — whose youth was all about his large family and his soccer obsession. But there are a couple of salient moments from his childhood in Long Island that provide clues of who Cantave, now 27, would become. 

He vividly remembers the time his first-grade teacher told his class to color in an illustration of Christopher Columbus’ famous ships: the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María. Like most American schoolchildren, he memorized the names of the boats and learned that Columbus first set sail for the so-called New World in 1492, but he didn’t hear much about the mass killing of Native Americans that followed. He remembers the teacher telling him how George Washington “treated his slaves nicely.” 

What he also remembers is his first brush with immersive technology. “When I was 9, my mom bought me a VR helmet. And I was really excited about it. And I put it on, and it was super underwhelming. Just years ago, a friend introduced me to Google Cardboard and I was blown away.” 

Cantave

Cantave is creating AR educational content focused on highlighting the narratives of marginalized communities.

Those two threads joined together when Eric Garner was killed after Daniel Pantaleo, a New York City Police Department officer, put him in a prohibited chokehold while arresting him. “My mother took me to that protest in 2014. And that was kind of a trigger.” 

Cantave’s activism now comes with an app. Movers & Shakers, a New York City-based educational advocacy group he co-founded with Idris Brewster, is rewriting Black and brown narratives into American curricula — with a little help from augmented reality (AR). His app has a catalogue of “heroes you never learn about in school” — women, people of color, members of the LGBT community, etc. Students use the app to select an underrepresented icon and then advance to doing assignments on them. Plus, they can take selfies with their chosen icon, download them and share.

Cantave acknowledges that moving entrenched systems like school boards to adopt this kind of tech is no easy task. But it’s vitally important because the young boy in him — whose family is originally from Haiti — didn’t learn anything about Columbus’ brutal legacy at his Long Island public school. It’s also why he organized a pop-up slave auction performance piece/AR exhibit and ran the New York City Marathon in chains (he still managed to break the four-and-a-half-hour mark).

All of our heroes are slave owners that would own people like myself if they were still around.

Glenn Cantave

Cantave’s goal is to use AR to highlight systemic racism, tell the world “that all of our heroes are slave owners that would own people like myself if they were still around,” and “hit hypocrisy at the foundation of a lot of our institutions, our rules, our social contracts.” That’s because, Cantave believes, “if children get nuanced education while growing up, it helps them form informed decisions and choices when they grow up.”

He’s ensuring technology and history are brought together by working with communities, museums and schools. Their projects include depictions of alternative monuments and one that allows young people to experience a holographic protest. Come Black History Month 2021, he has big 5G AR programming plans that he will initiate in 100 under-resourced schools — focusing on lifting up the stories of people of color, women, and queer and trans people. It will include the launch of the Monuments Project, which allows students to create augmented reality monuments of underrepresented people — rather than the usual white men who are now finding their marble station under threat. Funded by Verizon and others, Cantave and his team are trying to raise $300,000 to get the project off the ground.

While dismantling statues of slave owners across the world gained steam this summer, following George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Cantave has been reimagining monuments and statues since 2017, when the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, drew attention to the disputed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

New York City Council Speaker Calls For Review Of Two City Statues, The Dr. J. Marion Sims And The Columbus Statue

A 76-foot statue of explorer Christopher Columbus in New York City

Source Spencer Platt/Getty

Soon after the deadly clashes in Charlottesville, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a review of monuments that could potentially be “symbols of hate” to determine if they should be taken down. But in January 2018, the mayor and his monument commission decided that one of the city’s most contentious — the statue of Christopher Columbus in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle — would stay up. “Reckoning with our collective histories is a complicated undertaking with no easy solution,” the mayor said in a statement

Cantave refused to take it laying down.

So he pulled together his team of coders, artists and designers to outmaneuver the city’s decision by using his app to add digital statues of other historical figures — namely, people of color and women. Now anyone who walks by Trump Tower can see Colin Kaepernick take a knee in augmented reality. You can see Jackie Robinson swing for the fences on the former site of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. “Our vision is a ‘Pokémon Go’ for a contextualized history,” Cantave says.

In these early stages, his AR approach has seen promising results from testing in one New York school. And the concept is drawing attention elsewhere. “This sounds horrible, but we need to see what white people actually did to Black people because textbooks only tell you this much — and it’s not enough,” says Arianna LaPoint, an eighth grader at Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource School in Crystal, Minnesota, just a few miles from where George Floyd was killed by police.

Celebrities Support The Black Lives Matter Movement

Glenn Cantave, founder of Movers and Shakers, speaks at a Black Lives Matter rally in New York’s Times Square on June 7.

Source Noam Galai/Getty

Douglas Flowe, an assistant professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis, believes that movements such as Black Lives Matter eventually need to be distilled down to a sustainable and mundane educational program. “I see something like the Movers and Shakers’ augmented reality concept as a part of a broader ecosystem of reevaluating the importance of African American history in American education and curricula,” Flowe says. “So it’s definitely a part of a larger kaleidoscope of the society.”

Cantave, who loves to run, is ready for another marathon of repeating his narrative over and over again, just like his idol Bernie Sanders does. Because someday, he hopes, it’s finally going to stick.

How Dachau’s American Liberator Protected Nazi POWs

Be sure to check out A&E’s The Liberator, an animated series about Felix Sparks and his infantry unit, launching today on Netflix.

When Felix Sparks entered the Dachau concentration camp at the end of April 1945, his men were already enraged. The 45th Infantry Division was still reeling from the discovery of 39 boxcars containing thousands of corpses outside the camp, and from hearing the accounts of surviving inmates of the atrocities they had suffered since the camp had opened, in 1933.

Just 26 years old, Sparks had joined the Army to make money for law school. He, like many soldiers, had never even heard of concentration camps. But by the time Sparks reached Dachau, he was already a war hero. In 1944’s Battle of Anzio, which ended with the Allied capture of Rome, almost his entire company had been killed. When they got to Dachau, Sparks didn’t expect “much of a battle,” according to his later testimony to the Shoah Foundation — and he didn’t get one. At least not at first.

Sparks believed high-ranking Nazis at the concentration camp, including the camp commander, had fled ahead of the expected Allied incursion. In the days before American forces reached Dachau, thousands of prisoners were forced out of the camp and on a death march by the Nazis. When Sparks arrived, some 30,000 prisoners remained. According to Harold Marcuse, author of Legacies of Dachau, replacement leader Heinrich Wicker had roughly 560 personnel at his disposal, including Hungarian troops and conscripted inmates from a disciplinary prison inside the camp.

After Sparks and his men scaled the Dachau’s 8-foot walls, they rounded up approximately 50 German soldiers and lined them up against a wall, with a few armed U.S. soldiers guarding them. Sparks watched them until a member of his division called him over to “see what we found.” That’s when he heard the gunfire and ran back to where the POWs were.

Sparks kicked the soldier who’d fired off 20 rounds, then grabbed him by the collar. “What the hell are you doing?” he demanded. The soldier maintained that the prisoners had tried to escape, but Sparks didn’t believe it. His men, however, kept firing.

Felix Sparks

“I ran over there, I drew my … .45 and fired it into the air several times to get everybody’s attention. I was yelling that there should be no more firing unless I give a specific order,” Sparks later testified.

“[This incident] shows an ordinary working-class American GI does not let his man become like the enemy, become beasts,” Alex Kershaw, author of the Sparks biography The Liberator, said during a discussion at the Friends of the National World War II Memorial. “He stops them. He shows in that one moment that he has integrity, a moral core and courage that allows him to do the right thing at the most difficult time.” 

However, Marcuse says the situation on the ground was likely more complicated. “There’s a sort of military code of honor about how to treat prisoners of war,” he says, “but the Germans violated it openly.” In December 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, 84 American prisoners had been mowed down with machine guns by German soldiers.

While Sparks maintained his own moral code, he acknowledged the horrors of what his men had seen. “We were used to death. I mean, death was a constant companion,” he later said. “But we never witnessed anything of this magnitude.” After the liberation, the camp’s former prisoners hunted down their torturers with any weapons they could find, and American soldiers rarely tried to restrain them. None of the Americans who shot guards that day were ever tried in court. Still, historians dispute later accounts of the liberation that describe the killings of the guards as a massacre.

After the war, Sparks returned to the Southwest and settled in Colorado, where he headed the state National Guard as a brigadier general. He also attended law school and eventually made it onto the Colorado Supreme Court.

But Sparks’ battle against violence didn’t end with the war. In 1993, his grandson was killed in a shooting, and once again, Sparks — then 76 — suited up for combat, going toe-to-toe with the National Rifle Association to demand better legislation against gun violence. He got it: A state law banning minors from carrying handguns was passed. “The thing about war is it can give you a pretty low opinion of mankind,” Sparks told the Rocky Mountain News in 1993. “I don’t have a low opinion of mankind, but sometimes we sure do some stupid things.”

Is This the World Leader Most Eager for a President Biden?

  • Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, who’s been at the forefront of his country’s political life for a quarter century, buttonholed Joe Biden in early 2019, trying to get him to run for president.
  • Now Sarkissian’s country is at war and sees in Biden a lifeline.

Politics, like the universe, is relative, or so believes Armen Sarkissian, the physicist turned president of Armenia. In his telling, quantum physics can be a helpful guide to the turbulent geopolitics of recent years. “The world is changing, rapidly so. … And [all] politicians will come and go,” he told Russia Today last year.

Yet some have remarkable staying power, like Sarkissian — prime minister of the country from 1996–97, its longtime ambassador to the United Kingdom and now president since 2018 — and Joe Biden, the longtime senator-turned-vice president, now the U.S. president-elect.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that he thought he could apply his own force to global affairs by bantering in hushed tones with Biden at the Munich Security Conference in February 2019. 

In buttonholing Biden about whether he’d run for president, Sarkissian, 67, appeared to get quite the scoop — as the two whispered about it, months ahead of Biden’s formal announcement. Asked about the exchange later, Sarkissian had a good laugh and drank a sip of water before saying of his friend: “Whether Biden will run for presidency or not is … quite obvious … just have patience.”

Now, patience is running out for Armenia in light of the war that has broken out in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

And while Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently claimed that Azerbaijan’s uncompromising posture has exhausted all hopes for a political settlement and urged all Armenians to “take up arms and defend the Motherland,” Sarkissian believes negotiations, not the use of force, are the way to solve the conflict. “Imagine the Caucasus becoming another Syria,” he said recently in a desperate plea for support from the international community. 

That support likely would be more forthcoming from a Biden administration, making Sarkissian a global winner when Biden takes the oath of office in January. While plenty of world leaders and traditional American allies will breathe a sigh of relief if Biden, a known quantity on the global stage from his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, takes over, Armenia has many reasons to be thankful. As Eduard Abrahamyan wrote in the Central Asia Caucasus Analyst, Armenia has long had stronger ties with Democrats and didn’t recalibrate well in the Trump administration. Even though the foreign-aid spigot has remained open, “Yerevan’s ability to interact positively with the Trump administration is limited, given its geopolitical collision course with Russia and China, compounded with escalating diplomatic tensions with Iran,” wrote Abrahamyan.

ARMENIA-YEREVAN-PRESIDENT-CHINA-AMBASSADOR-MEETING

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian during a meeting with Chinese ambassador to Armenia Tian Erlong.

In Biden, Armenia sees a glimmer of hope. During his presidential campaign, he pledged to formally recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide — though Barack Obama made the same pledge and did not follow through, as the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians is a touchy subject for Turkey. Biden also vows to reinvigorate U.S. engagement in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Vahagn Avedian, historian and author of Knowledge and Acknowledgement in the Politics of Memory of the Armenian Genocide, remains skeptical. “So far, the United States has failed to be with Armenia,” and the country, in turn, has always been “caught between a rock and a hard place.” Perhaps why, he says, it has veered toward Russia.

Europe and the U.S., have upheld a balanced approach toward Armenia and Azerbaijan, especially in regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during the past 20 years. The criticism toward these two governments has been, Avedian maintains, in almost perfect parity, carefully avoiding favoritism to uphold the image of perfect objectivity on behalf of the mediators of the conflict.

But what is different now, says Emil Sanamyan, of the University of Southern California Institute of Armenian Studies, is how Biden called for U.S. leadership to stop the advance of Azerbaijani troops into Nagorno-Karabakh and end the “flow of military equipment to Azerbaijan.”

Mike Pompeo -  Armen Sarkissian in Washington

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, meets Armenian President Armen Sarkissian at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.

Source asin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty

“Following the collapse of the cease-fire announced by Secretary of State Pompeo on Oct. 25, a large-scale humanitarian disaster is looming for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, who have already suffered too much and need to have their security protected,” Biden recently said in a statement.

If Biden follows through, Sarkissian will play an important role in bridging the gap between Armenia and the West — despite the fact that as president, he holds a mere ceremonial role in Armenia’s new democratic system. That’s because it will require strong political will, diplomatic skills and political knowledge. 

“In terms of the democratic system, he might be the second fiddle, but he has higher popularity because his role has been that of an auxiliary foreign policy person — looking at diaspora and economic outreach,” says Sanamyan.   

The outreach draws in all kinds. Sarkissian has hosted Prince Charles in Armenia; made Dariga Nazarbayeva, daughter of the Kazakhstan president, head of the organizing committee of the Eurasian Media Forum; and made sure Kim and Kourtney Kardashian get “positive vibes” when they visited the country, walking hand in hand with Sarkissian and having dinner at the Armenian Palace.

In his pre-political career, Sarkissian was always keen to apply new touches to working theories. He helped design the game Wordtris, a Tetris spin-off that was popular on PC and Nintendo in the early 1990s.

Now the conflict tearing his country apart may be his most difficult puzzle yet.

Meet the ‘Charm Cannon’ for Hungary’s Regime

  • Judit Varga, Hungary’s justice minister, is the telegenic face of Viktor Orbán’s government as it clashes with Europe.
  • Her stalwart advocacy is upending gender politics in Hungary.

In April, Judit Varga uploaded a video on Facebook in which she plays the violin to a new rendition of “Gloomy Sunday” — which some call the Hungarian suicide anthem — with young singer Tandi Flora. Her hair tightly tied and her focused eyes radiating passion, the Hungarian minister of justice looks and plays like a professional. In fact, pop music radio channel Petőfi soon started playing it on air.

But it isn’t the first time the tall, slender Fidesz politician — with a fashion sense that reeks of confidence and a personality that oozes charm — has broadcast her many talents to the world. In 2018, when she was still a minister of state, Varga uploaded a video on social networking platforms wherein she was juggling a soccer ball an impressive 37 consecutive times. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that she’s athletic: Varga was captain of the basketball team at the University of Miskolc. Later, when she lived in Brussels while working as a political adviser, she took up soccer and played for the professional team Saint Michel.

And the 40-year-old mother of three boys also knows when exactly to tell the world how much she cares for her family.

It’s all part of the package for the woman Hungarian President Viktor Orbán has called his “Charm Cannon.” Varga relishes her role as the chief global defender of Orbán’s authoritarian approach to the rule of law that has Europe worried. You might not be convinced by her insistence that a recent law giving Orbán the power to effectively rule by decree to fight the coronavirus isn’t a power grab, and such criticism is a “witch hunt due to Hungary’s take on the refugee crisis,” but she’ll keep at it. 

Popular Dutch weekly Elsevier Weekblad ranked Varga among the 20 most influential female politicians this year alongside the likes of New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin. But Andrea Peto, professor of gender studies at the Central European University, Vienna, who describes the Hungarian state as essentially an idea-less parasite, says, “Varga is successfully capitalizing whatever has a value in the market of illiberal politics.”

Varga’s meteoric rise in the global political arena can be understood through her upbringing. Born into a middle-class family in Miskolc — a city that suffered massively after the collapse of the one-party Communist system — Varga was always closely attached to her hometown and lived there until she got her law degree. While in high school, she was nicknamed “the scholar,” and it’s evident from her oratorial command. She is able to negotiate in at least three foreign languages — English, German and French.

Some Western European thinkers believe it is their raison d’être to discredit the Hungarian government at every opportunity — a government whose ‘sin’ is that it pursues a coherent, Christian-Conservative policy.

Judit Varga

In fact, says Daniel Hegedüs, Central European Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Varga’s father was an agent of the Communist secret service in Hungary and her mother has been a part of the judiciary, so the family had elite connections. “The fact that she plays music and knows basketball and soccer also point to the fact that she comes from an elite background,” Hegedüs says. In addition, her husband, Péter Magyar, is childhood friends with a top Orbán government official, Gergely Gulyás, according to the Hungarian Spectrum blog. 

It’s rare for someone who served in the European Parliament, as Varga did for nine years, to attain a high executive position in Hungary. But after she was a low-key firebrand promoting Fidesz’s “Christian conservative” approach in the parliament, she was elevated to an unusual government role — where she’s often at the EU clashing with other nations. “Of course, she is the minister of justice, but what is happening in her case is that the judiciary and legislature is taking a backseat as she is focusing on protecting the Hungarian ruling party’s position in the EU regarding the rule of law, etc.,” Hegedüs says.

In March, Varga blasted the EU for its “double standard,” in an opinion piece for Politico on the criticism of Hungary’s new emergency powers. “These attacks are, once again, evidence that some Western European thinkers believe it is their raison d’être to discredit the Hungarian government at every opportunity — a government whose ‘sin’ is that it pursues a coherent, Christian-Conservative policy,” Varga wrote. When Hungary lifted the emergency powers in June, she said it was proof that the criticism was off base. “An apology would be appropriate,” she said, adding: “But I’m not so naive to expect an apology.”

Hegedus says Varga comes off like a preprogrammed parrot for Orbán, dispensing the same legal rationales over and over again. But she’s also a more effective, telegenic communicator than the prime minister, as she leads efforts to bring about a “Conservative Green Policy,” arguing that environmentalism has been monopolized by the left.

While she’s proven her loyalty to Orbán, Hungary’s mercurial leader is known for reshuffling and throwing out politicians at his convenience. And last week Varga was sidelined — at least for now — after testing positive for COVID-19.

But in the long run, Peto says, she could upend gender politics in Hungary. Already, Varga’s appointment has stumped the opposition and forced them to stop their criticism of gender inequalities in the Orbán government. In the coming years, Peto says, “it may lead to meaningful and long-overdue inclusion of gender equality in the politics of the Hungarian opposition too.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt on How Black Lives Matter Is Changing Hollywood

Since the mid-1990s, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been a fixture on screens both big — the box-office hit Inception — and small (3rd Rock From the Sun). He joins The Carlos Watson Show to talk about his journey and his reactions to the craziness that is 2020. Below you’ll find the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can listen to on the podcast feed.

Origin Story

Carlos Watson: How did the acting start?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I think being in Los Angeles was a big part of why it ended up being a professional thing. The other important thing to say is my parents never pressured me to do it. I consider that really lucky.

Watson: When you look back at your story, what were some of those lucky moments? 

Gordon-Levitt: Well, 3rd Rock From the Sun is one of the first things that comes to mind, which was a hugely formative experience for me. I started that show when I was 13; I finished when I was 19. John Lithgow, who was the star of that show, as well as a lot of the writers, producers, directors and the other cast members really looked out for me and they were really intent upon the kid of the set not getting maladjusted. They really played a mentorly, familial role in my life.

Watson: If you were going back and you were going to tell young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Hey, here’s what’s going to surprise you while you’re in the game,” what are two or three things that are going to surprise him, that really would make you step back and go, “Oh, even though I’ve thought about this, even though I’ve wanted this, I would not have known X or I would not have expected X”? What would surprise people about what it means to be a high-level professional actor?

Gordon-Levitt: I’m going to give a probably not-sexy answer, but if I were going to talk to my younger self, one of the things I would say is, “You know what’s going to help you most is nothing you learned from all the great actors that you’ve had the opportunity to work with, but actually something you learned from your dad, which is just a really strong work ethic. That you don’t give up and you keep doing it, and even when it sucks, and even when it’s boring and even when it’s mundane, or even when it’s disappointing, you keep doing it and you keep a positive attitude and you are good to people and you don’t get frustrated with people and you show up on time and you’re reliable and you do the things you say you’re going to do. You’re a grown-up about this.”

Talking Politics

Watson: Did you ever seriously think about politics yourself — running for office or doing something like that?

Gordon-Levitt: I haven’t really ever thought about it seriously because I really like privacy and it seems that part of politics is opening up your house and your family and your kids and everything to the public conversation, which makes me uncomfortable personally. 

A Crazy 2020

Watson: Do you feel like you have changed a lot over the last year? Are you still in many ways the person I would’ve met a year ago or five years ago?

Gordon-Levitt: I always think about that. I always feel like there’s both, because in a way I feel like I’m still the same person I was when I was 12. And then in a lot of ways I’m completely different than I was when I was 12. But yeah, I mean, this year has been so extraordinary and I think I’m only beginning to understand the ways that it has impacted me. I think we’ve all together undergone, and are continuing to undergo, some real trauma. I hate to be melodramatic about it, but I think we’re probably all suffering some PTSD, or you can take off the P because it’s not post-traumatic yet. And that makes me sad to be honest. But then again … I have many things to be grateful about. 

Watson: Joseph, tell me a little bit about your new film The Trial of the Chicago 7. And tell me a little bit about what you learned in making that film, if anything.

Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, sure. What’s funny is this is a story about 1968, but when you watch it, it feels like you’re watching something about today.… If you look back in history, the way the American government conducted themselves, it was disgraceful. 

Watson: Do you think, as a result of all the Black Lives Matter conversation, are you yourself hearing more open and productive conversation around race and racial change in Hollywood? Is it actually starting to filter into conversations that you’re a part of, or not yet?

Gordon-Levitt: For sure. I think it’s much more prevalent than it was. And it should have been prevalent for all this time. I think even before the tragedies of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the recent round of protests, there’ve been more conversations since what happened in Ferguson. But I do think that, yes, I think this year this sort of reckoning that’s happening in our country is definitely being heard by Hollywood. Now, I also think that there’s a certain amount of people acting out for, I guess, appearances, like how it looks, or optics or whatever you want to call it. Like, “Well, I have to make sure that I don’t look racist,” or something. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. And there’s also a desire to try to fix the problem quickly, when there’s no real quick fix to this problem. 

Why Nationalist Regimes Are Embracing War Criminals

  • From the U.S. to India, Sri Lanka to Saudi Arabia, democracies under nationalist leaders and authoritarian regimes are now embracing war criminals as symbols of support to the military.
  • The shift is a reflection of the marriage between masculinity and nationalism playing out in many of these countries, say experts.

At a February 2016 campaign rally in South Carolina, Donald Trump, then running for president, invoked a false story about Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing and how he crushed a Muslim insurgency in the Philippines. Pershing took 50 bullets, dipped them in pigs’ blood and executed 49 Muslims in retaliation for Islamic terrorism, Trump declared at the rally. He even tweeted later: “There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!” 

Like many other elements of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, his embrace of war crimes wasn’t just hyperbole. As president, Trump pardoned Mathew Golsteyn, an Army Special Forces officer who claimed to the CIA in a job interview that he killed an Afghan detainee whom he believed was a bomb maker. He prevented the demotion of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of war crimes charges but was convicted of posing for photographs with a detainee’s corpse. He pardoned Clint Lorance, an Army lieutenant who ordered his unit to fire on unarmed Afghans. And in May this year, Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, a former Army lieutenant who was convicted of killing an unarmed Iraqi detainee.

Matt Golsteyn, 38, is a former special forces officer that is now being investigated for war crimes committed in Afghanistan.

Mathew Golsteyn is a former Army Special Forces officer who admitted to killing an Afghan detainee. He was later pardoned by President Trump.

Source Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty

Yet while Trump’s actions have sparked criticism from veterans and experts alike, they’re in keeping with a growing global pattern. Muscular, nationalist governments are increasingly demonstrating their support for their militaries by overlooking or even rewarding crimes, while others are turning to war criminals to replicate their brutality in other theaters of war.

In April, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned Sunil Ratnayake, an army sergeant convicted of the murder of eight Tamil civilians during the country’s 26-year civil war. The U.S. has successfully pressured the Afghan government to release hundreds of Taliban prisoners, including some of the most brutal killers, whose victims include soldiers of coalition forces. 

India’s Narendra Modi government has awarded a soldier who tied an innocent Kashmiri man to his jeep and paraded him through a town in 2018. And the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and others are hiring a militia known as the RSF, behind some of the worst crimes in Darfur, to fight in Libya and Yemen.

Nationalism, masculinity and violence are all tied up together.

Ernesto Verdeja, political scientist, University of Notre Dame

If the brutality of these war crimes is at variance with the more sophisticated — though no less dangerous — tools of 21st-century power, such as data and information, financial heft and technology, that’s no coincidence. Carolyn Nordstrom, professor emeritus of anthropology at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, explains that modern nation-states are built on 19th-century political and economic foundations. And despite their technological advances, they’re in the midst of internal power struggles between old and new approaches. “The old power is using the only tricks it knows by institutionalizing the armed forces,” she says.

Politics is front and center. The White House insists the pardons are meant to “offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country.” But Trump was blunt on Twitter: “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!” 

This pattern of reprieves and rewards for alleged or convicted war criminals is visible in nations with autocratic regimes or democracies that have witnessed an erosion in the rule of law under nationalist governments, acknowledges Ernesto Verdeja, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame who has been a longtime war crimes watcher. But he points out that motivations across regimes vary.

For Saudi Arabia, for instance, the decision to use a notoriously brutal militia of mercenaries to support its overseas wars is little more than a pragmatic strategic choice. For democracies that formally subscribe to the rule of law, like the U.S. or India, “the audience is fundamentally domestic,” Verdeja says. And for that particular domestic audience, “nationalism, masculinity and violence are all tied up together.”

Charles Anthony Smith, associate professor of political science at University of California, Irvine and author of The Rise and Fall of War Crimes Trials: From Charles I to Bush II, concurs.

“When you get a leader of a country who has constructed a tough-guy image, the reality is, the very bad acts happen against people that these tough guys don’t care about,” Smith says. “They either don’t like their ethnicity or their country of origin, or something like that.” The ones who fail to get justice by such pardons are almost “never the tough guys’ constituents.” 

Leaders such as Trump, Modi and Rajapaksa pitch themselves as their countries’ best hope for law and order. But in reality, they end up defending lawlessness. “By fanning the flames of bigotry, they feel good about what they’re doing,” Smith adds. “It gives them a sense of empowerment.”

Can the Left Win Over Singapore?

  • The center-right People’s Action Party has ruled Singapore since it gained independence in 1965.
  • Now the left-leaning Workers’ Party is rising rapidly, drawing support from youth and an ethnically diverse demographic and emerging as the strongest challenger the PAP has seen yet.

Wearing a crisp blue blazer, Pritam Singh stood up in Singapore’s parliament to insist that the city-state’s government needed to be more transparent with citizens and the opposition, and ought to listen more.

“The road ahead will not be easy,” said Singh, secretary-general of the center-left Workers’ Party in his 33-minute speech on Aug. 31 as the country’s first leader of opposition. “But anything worthwhile never is.”

That tag — leader of opposition — is one no Singapore politician has formally held previously. Since gaining independence in 1965, a single party — the center-right People’s Action Party (PAP) — has ruled with such a dominating majority that the opposition in Parliament has largely been meaningless. That’s now changing in ways that could fundamentally alter Singapore’s future.

A tax haven that frowns on red tape and is routinely near the top of the global ease of doing business rankings, Singapore is every capitalist’s dream state. Now it’s beginning to turn pink, as a young generation questions the social contract that has bound the nation: economic prosperity in exchange for limited freedom of expression under the PAP.

[The 2020 election] may well be the breakthrough election for Singapore’s opposition parties.

Eugene Tan, Singapore Management University

The Workers’ Party registered its best-ever performance in July’s national elections, winning 10 seats in the legislature of 93, and securing more than 50 percent of the votes in the seats it contested. While victory went to the PAP, its popular vote fell by nearly 9 percent to 61 percent. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong formally appointed Singh as leader of opposition.

The 2020 election “may well be the breakthrough election for Singapore’s opposition parties,” says Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University who served as a nominated member of Parliament between 2012 and 2014.

Since then, Singh and his fellow Workers’ Party legislators have engaged in heated debates with Lee and the PAP in Parliament. It wants Parliament to consider criminal justice reforms to make the law enforcement machinery more responsive to economically vulnerable citizens and is demanding that the government look at subtle racial biases in its policies.

To be sure, the Workers’ Party as an organization has existed for decades. Ying-Kit Chan, a research fellow at the International Institute of East Asian Studies in the Netherlands, says former party chief Low Thia Khiang — a longtime member of Parliament — helped build the organization’s brand. The Workers’ Party, says Tan, has had smaller gains in the past. “Each breakthrough, arguably, sowed the seeds for subsequent ones,” he says.

But the latest elections and the subsequent confidence with which the Workers’ Party has challenged the PAP points to “the tentative makings of a two-party system in Singapore,” Tan says.

Singapore General Election 2020

Workers’ Party Secretary-General Pritam Singh

Source Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty

Driving the Workers’ Party’s rise is Singapore’s youth. Independent pollsters found Singh’s call to deny the PAP a “blank check” drew most support from voters under the age of 30 ahead of the election. That support among young Singaporeans is also why the Workers’ Party appears poised for further gains in coming years.

So why are youth supporting the Workers’ Party? “They appear willing to experiment with a politically pluralistic system and taste a higher degree of freedom, which includes internet or online speech and expression of views that are critical of the government,” says Chan. There’s an economic reason too. Unlike their parents and grandparents who grew up in a country that moved from poverty at independence to significant wealth, Singapore’s millennials and Gen Zers have inherited a nation where a sky-high cost of living — among the highest in the world — has made upward mobility harder. “Many of them do not see how they can eke out a living in the country,” says Chan. The economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic has only amplified those concerns.

Loke Hoe Yeong, political analyst and author of The First Wave, a book on the history of the opposition in Singapore, says there’s another reason for the Workers’ Party growing base. The PAP and Singapore have always been led by ethnic Chinese politicians. Yet while the community constitutes 74 percent of the population, that figure is dipping as ethnic diversity — driven by Indians and Malays — is growing. And the Workers’ Party, with a young Indian-origin Sikh leader in Singh, is addressing that demographic shift.

“The ruling PAP has long claimed that majority-Chinese Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister,” says Yeong. “This general election has shown that Singaporeans are ‘ready’ for a non-Chinese leader of the opposition, who is technically a prime minister-in-waiting under the Westminster system.”

The PAP appears to have read the tea leaves. A day after the election, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam — the senior-most Indian-origin leader in the party — acknowledged that “the government has to reconsider its approach in addressing issues of race and religion with the younger generation.”

Questions remain both about the Workers’ Party’s ability to actually move from a strong opposition to a serious challenger to the PAP, and whether it’s truly a progressive alternative to the party in power.

“The history of the PAP is one that is difficult to disentangle from the history of Singapore itself,” political scientist Bilveer Singh wrote for the Singapore-based digital publication Kopi in June.

Chan points out that parties that are more socially progressive than the Workers’ Party, such as the Singapore Democratic Party — which champions liberal values and engages with sexual minorities, transient workers and the poor — haven’t done as well in elections. That suggests that the Workers’ Party’s electoral success is in part a factor of its positioning as a moderate left force — pro-business but also pro-immigrant. Chan suggests that the Workers’ Party will need to cultivate the image of a credible and responsible party even more than the PAP has built if it wants greater electoral success.

Still, it’s clear that if any party can turn Singapore into a truly competitive democracy, it’s the Workers’ Party. The PAP needs to watch its back.

“There is no love, only transaction, between the PAP government and the Singaporean electorate now,” Singh wrote before the election. “Lightning cannot strike three times at the same place.”

Why Russia, China and Iran Love Twitter — Without Really Being on It

  • The percentage of Iranians, Russians and Chinese on Twitter is small compared with the percentage of Americans.
  • Tehran, Moscow and Beijing use the platform for aggressive messaging to U.S. audiences without being concerned about American tweets influencing as many of their own citizens.
  • The U.S. is more vulnerable to domestic pressures when President Trump uses Twitter to escalate tensions.

Who can forget President Donald Trump’s January 2018 tweet calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man” — or his threat of a nuclear response.

Since 2017, the U.S. under Trump has used Twitter in an unprecedented manner to issue threats against key rivals such as China and Iran, and to a lesser extent, North Korea. These countries are giving it back with their own provocative — even incendiary — comments.

Now, the first comprehensive research on the subject by King’s College London researchers shows that Twitter diplomacy during crises could substantially exacerbate tensions. In the physical world, the U.S. enjoys military, technological and economic advantages none of its rivals can match. But on Twitter, the research finds, the U.S. is most vulnerable:

20 percent of the country’s population is on the platform, compared with 3 percent for Iran and 6 percent for Russia. Twitter is banned in China.

That allows these other countries to use Twitter for international posturing and signaling without needing to be concerned about how domestic audiences are consuming the messages. The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the country’s embassies, for example, use Twitter even though the platform is banned domestically for ordinary citizens. In the U.S., on the other hand, every tweet by the president raises political stakes for him, his administration and the country.

“Increasingly, what we’re beginning to see is that social media has made diplomacy become more of a public thing … we’re seeing diplomacy take place between officials in a public setting where everyone has an audience to it,” says Alexi Drew, a co-author of the King’s College London study.

Twitter, which has a limit of 280 characters per post, doesn’t allow for nuance. “Such tweets are having an impact on what diplomacy is starting to look like,” Drew says. 

It isn’t the software, though, that leaves the U.S. more vulnerable to Twitter diplomacy. It’s the imbalance in the audience that Twitter offers its users.

“If you look at the Iran-U.S. case, when Iranian politicians are using Twitter to inject themselves into the U.S. domestic foreign policy debate, they are going to have a larger audience because there’s a huge U.S. market,” Drew says. “But American officials and politicians can’t have the same leverage via Twitter because there is no Iranian Twitter market. And the same is true of Russia, of China.”

To effectively reach audiences in these countries, American diplomats and leaders must use other platforms, says Ilan Manor, a digital diplomacy scholar at the University of Oxford. He cites the example of former President Barack Obama, who used YouTube, rather than Twitter, to wish the Iranian people a happy New Year, because YouTube is more popular in Iran.

To communicate with people in China, Weibo is more effective than Twitter or Facebook. The Israeli Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, operates an Arabic-language Facebook profile to reach people in Iraq, where Facebook is popular. 

Governments principally use social media platforms to reach out to their domestic audience. Lithuania, for example, wants to reverse its brain drain, so the government is using LinkedIn to connect with young workers. The Obama administration used Twitter to proactively sell the Iran nuclear deal to the American public.

Indeed, says Drew, much of Trump’s “very blunt, very escalatory and direct” Twitter diplomacy might actually be aimed not at a foreign policy audience but “to connect with his domestic base.”

“He’s writing from the position of what appears to be a strong man, like a powerful, aggressive man, because that’s what he believes he is and that’s what his voting base wants him to be,” Drew says.

The problem for the U.S., Drew says, is that Trump’s base — and others in the country — also get to see how Iran, Russia, China and North Korea respond to the president’s tweets. “[Iran’s] Ayatollah [Ali] Khomeini reads it. Kim Jong Un reads it. [Chinese President] Xi Jinping reads it — all these people also read the tweets where he is promising fire and fury,” Drew says. “They are reacting to it.” That in turn forces Trump to offer an even more shrill response so as not to appear weak to his voters — fueling a cycle that experts say might well push America toward its first Twitter war.

How Yoga Got Oge Egbuonu Into Filmmaking

Actress and director Oge Egbuonu sat down with OZY’s CEO for the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show. Known for working as an associate producer on Eye in the Sky and Loving, Egbuonu made her directorial debut this year with In(Visible) Portraits in which she explores the lives of Black women. Learn how this young star is taking Hollywood by storm, and how she has yoga to thank. Watch the full episode here.

On Growing Up in Houston 

Carlos Watson: Where are you sheltering in place? Where are you staying safe?

Oge Egbuonu: I am in LA. 

Watson: But you’re not an Angeleno, are you? You didn’t grow up in LA?

Egbuonu: No. Born and raised in Houston, Texas.

Watson: OK. And I don’t hear any of that Houston accent. Did you let it go over time or what happened to it?

Egbuonu: No, I actually never really had it, but it does come out every now and again. People tell me that as I’m speaking to them, sometimes they may just hear like a y’all or something like that. But I never really had the Southern accent. I wish I did, though.

Watson: There is something about Houston, I know it’s the fourth-largest city or whatever it is right now, but Houston is just making so many interesting people these days. I feel like whether we’re talking about political figures, whether we’re talking about singers, filmmakers, basketball players, there’s something going on in Houston. Was it like that when you were coming up? Was Houston as dynamic and active and filled with talented people?

Egbuonu: Yeah, I think when I was growing up, it was very much so still filled with that, but I think that we were in our gestation phase. And so now we’re actually in full bloom. So you’ve got the Megan Thee Stallions, you got the Travis Scotts, you got the Oges. And it’s our time now, so it’s pretty exciting.

Watson: I love that you didn’t even put Queen Bey in there, but I loved it. 

Egbuonu: I mean, she was iconic while we were in our gestation phase. Like she was someone that we all looked up to. So when you hear Houston, you automatically think of her. So I felt like that was a given.

On a New Chapter, in Los Angeles

Watson: And then, so how did you leave Houston? What took you out of Texas?

Egbuonu: At the time it was work. I was working for a retail company that I had been with for about four years, and they wanted to move me to a different location, and I got them to move me to LA. And I moved to LA and I was with the company for about six months out in LA. And then I eventually quit, because I did fully realize at the time that my values were not in alignment with this company. And so it became very apparent living here in LA, the morals and the values of this particular company. And so at the young tender age of 27, I decided to quit.

Watson: And you quit like righteously, you quit like scared out of your mind? How did you quit?

Egbuonu: I think it was a mixture of all of it. It was a mixture of me knowing that I couldn’t continue to do life not standing in my truth and living in my truth. And so that’s what propelled me to quit. And so when I quit, I was absolutely terrified. I’m 27, I’m in a new state, I really have no friends, no family here. I didn’t know anyone. And it was actually quite challenging for me. I went through a mild phase of depression at the time, about three months of depression because I just couldn’t realize like what was going to come out of this. And at the time, I just was so confused and I felt kind of lost. But a friend introduced me to yoga. I had never heard of it at the time. And I went to a yoga class, and the first yoga class I went to I absolutely hated it. I was like, “This is not for me, this is very mechanical, not into it.” And then about two weeks later, another friend was like, “Come with me to yoga.” And I was like, “What is up with everyone wanting to do yoga out here?” Like, “No, I’m not into it.” And she’s like, “But this yoga is so different, you’ll love it.” And I was like, “OK fine, I’ll try it.” And it was restorative yoga and I fell in love with it. And that’s what started the next chapter of my life.

On Restorative Yoga and Healing

Watson: What was it about restorative yoga that won you over?

Egbuonu: It reminded me that I had the power to heal myself, which is what I had been looking for, and which was a reminder that I needed to be reminded of. And in that particular session, the teacher at the time let us do such a powerful sequence that it allowed me to tap back into who I was through breath work and through restorative poses. And I walked out of that class not the same person that I walked into the class being.

Watson: Wow. As someone who has felt a little bit of what I think you felt, especially when you didn’t expect it, when you walked into that class not knowing, but feeling heavy and feeling stressed and to finally feel like there’s a window opened up, I wasn’t with you in that moment, but I can assume what it felt like when you walked out. What came next? How did you keep breathing in that fresh air?

Egbuonu: I became addicted to restorative yoga. So I just started taking restorative yoga multiple times a week for about three months. And then I realized that this is something that I wanted to teach. I wanted to teach people how to heal themselves, particularly marginalized folks. And so I decided to get certified as a restorative yoga teacher. So I went through training for about a year of meditation work, of breath work, of learning restorative yoga poses, learning the difference between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Just really educating myself on the various modalities regarding healing. And I started teaching restorative yoga throughout LA.

Watson: And what did the healed you look like? How was she different? 

Egbuonu: Well, I think the biggest difference is that I realized that I hold the power to heal myself. Versus prior to being introduced to restorative yoga, I was always looking for outside sources to help heal me and to also discover who I was. But restorative yoga for me laid down the foundation that everything that I was looking for was already within me. And so that is the biggest difference between Oge then versus Oge now. And it also just taught me that healing isn’t linear … it’s cyclical. We go through these moments of highs and lows, but I think the most important is when you’re in these lows, how quickly can you notice it and get back into the flow of life.

On Becoming a Filmmaker

Watson: How did a 27-year-old in LA … I mean, this is starting to sound like an episode of Insecure … a 27-year-old in LA, who’s quitting her job, tried out yoga and meet new friends and beginning a journey, like how does she go from that woman to filmmaker?

Egbuonu: No, that was totally something that found me.

Watson: Enjoyed it the whole time or most of the time?

Egbuonu: Most of the time. It was challenging because I ended up moving to London. I was supposed to go to London for two weeks to meet the team. And I ended up being there for about four months and then immediately went to South Africa because we got our first film green-lit, Eye in the Sky … And then right after leaving South Africa, coming back to London for posts and then immediately getting Loving green-lit and then moving to Richmond, Virginia, for three months. … There was a lot of travel and a lot of just steep learning. So there were moments where it was quite enjoyable, but then there were also moments where it was quite difficult.

Watson: But so now, how do you go from Raindog [Films, producer of Eye in the Sky and Loving] to producing your own film?

Egbuonu: So I left Raindog, after about four years of being with them. … And a woman that I had met a few months prior at a charity event sent me a text randomly and said, “Really random, at lunch with a friend. He has this idea about a movie. I thought about you, can you meet with him tomorrow before he flies to New York?” And I was like, “OK.” So I go to the Peninsula and I meet with this guy. I walk into a meeting, middle-aged white guy, and we do the formal introductions. And then he starts to tell me this idea he has about a film or a documentary or a TV show that he wants to create. And in the midst of hearing it, that’s how it came about me having the opportunity to have my directorial debut.

Watson: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re talking about everybody’s dream here. You can’t skip over it, and like one minute, I’m sitting down at the Peninsula and the next minute I’ve got an award-winning film. Was it that magical? Did it literally happen over drinks or what was the deal like?

Egbuonu: Yeah, it literally happened over breakfast. I walked into the meeting and Michael Meyer, who is the executive producer and financier of the film, told me that he had watched this YouTube clip of Isiah Thomas being inducted into the Hall of Fame. And he was so moved by his story of how his mother sacrificed so much for him to be where he’s at today. And so it inspired him to want to create something that celebrates Black mothers, because he felt that Black mothers weren’t celebrated in a way that they should be. And I was like, “OK, well, if I’m going to create anything, I would want to create something that celebrates Black women and girls, because we’re that before we’re mothers.” And so Michael was like, “OK, if you can go and create a pitch, and if I like it, I’ll fully fund it.” But in my head, I’m still thinking, oh, he wants me to produce it because he’s only known me and he knows my history as a producer, not a director. And so I go and I start to do a little bit of research and I create this pitch. And then I meet up with him about a week later and I pitched the idea of what I wanted to create. And I was like, “We’ll hire a director. We can hire a whole entire team, but this is the vision of what I want to do.” And Michael looked at me and goes, “Well, I want you to make it.” 

William Jackson Harper Wants to Expand How We Think of Black Masculinity

William Jackson Harper stole everyone’s heart in his role as nervous philosopher Chidi on The Good Place, playing the romantic hero in a way rarely seen on TV. He and Carlos Watson broke it all down on The Carlos Watson Show — here are a few of our favorite excerpts from their conversation.

On Black Masculinity in Theater

Carlos Watson: How did you get comfortable … with that idea that you want to be unusual, because most of us don’t say that out loud, people want to kind of fit in.

William Jackson Harper: I’ve always felt a little bit of an outsider anyway. And so really trying to wedge myself into a specific idea of how I should present myself or exist in the world, it never really worked for me. People will see right through it. And so the only way for me to move through the world is to just be comfortable in being a little bit strange and a little left of center. That’s just where I live. 

CW: How much has your height and how much has race do you think tied into that idea that you’re an outsider and that you need to be yourself?

WJH: Look, man, it’s when you study in theater, one of the things that I think a lot of Black actors probably run into is a lot of the things in the great American canon, there’s not a lot of roles for us. There’s not a lot of things for us to sort of latch onto. It’s like, I don’t read Tennessee Williams and see me and say, “That’s the thing. That’s my dream role is to be Stanley in Streetcar.” It’s something that, it’s changing and there’s a lot of great theater artists that are turning all these things on their head and sort of being like, why do we have to adhere to these strict sort of ideas of race in regards to these roles in the great American canon? These people are flipping that as we speak and even before.

But I think that, for me, my race has always played a factor in how I navigate this business and how I navigate my art. And maybe not in a way where it’s like I’m at odds with it or combating the system all the time. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more selective about being … I don’t want to lean into an idea of what Black masculinity is supposed to be. That’s a wide thing and that’s a huge thing and there’s many different colors and facets to it. And so I want to be able to just sort of introduce my little corner of it, which is really just my view of the world.

So I think realizing that there are certain ideas of blackness and certain ideas of maleness that sort of pervade a lot of art and media, I like to subvert that when I can. It’s just if there’s a way to add a certain depth or understanding that is something outside of just the agreed-upon idea, that there’s a way to insert something else that might just color it in a different way, I want to do that as much as I can. So being an outsider, being and really sort of embracing what that is for me, is something that’s important. And especially as a Black man, I feel like we have to really sort of dive into the nuances of these experiences because it’s not monolithic and it’s really useful to get it. I think everyone will benefit from having a deeper understanding and a broader understanding of the different renderings of Black masculinity. 

On the Turning Point of His Career

CW: Was there a turning point for you? Was there a moment when it all started to go well? Has it just been a gradual ascent? Tell me from your vantage point, as a person who actually lived it, what has your story of success been?

WJH: I was doing a lot of theater in New York. That was my bread and butter. That’s what I thought I was going to do. And everyone told me, “You ain’t going to make no money in theater.” Everybody said it. But I was like, “Man, but look, if you look in the Samuel French guide and you see the initial cast, you know they made some money.”

But then, again, I was broke all the time and I was employed all the time. And living in New York as an actor on stage is really difficult. And so I had decided, after one of my bouts of “am I going to keep doing this theater thing?” I decided that, a few years ago, I was going to come out to LA for pilot season. I was going to get a full team behind me. I was going to get a manager and an agent, and just have all hands on deck, go just all in and try to get a job on TV and just see what it is. And if I do, great, if I don’t, that’s enough. I’m not going to do any more of this. I’m going to try to figure out something else to do with my life so I can invite more things in instead of just chasing the next job all the time. So I think that the real success moment for me was coming out and getting The Good Place, literally within like two weeks of actually coming out to LA. So that was the real turning point. And really, ever since then, it’s been sort of a slow build, over the last four years, of different opportunities that I’ve always been really excited about.

CW: What would you tell your younger self about why you scored that pilot that you did? Like, if you tried to deconstruct it and you tried to go back and give him advice, or give someone else, what did you do? 

WJH: Well, a couple of things that sort of shifted in my thinking that I think were really useful: One, because it was my last pilot season, as I had told myself, I was just looking to have a good time. I was looking to go in there and enjoy being an actor, because I may not do it again. … And so, I feel like if I was going to give myself some advice to younger me, I’d say: (a) Don’t go in there looking to get the job, go in looking to give the performance; and (b) Just relax, enjoy it. 

On the Best Advice He Ever Got

CW: What’s the best advice you’ve received or given about dreaming fearlessly and realizing your dreams?

WJH: Especially when it comes to being an actor, there comes a point where I think for a lot of us where you hit the point where you’re just sort of like, “I am not sure I’m enjoying this right now,” and it’s totally fine to get your bearings and to check in with yourself and the industry’s going to be there. You know, it’s not always now or never. It’s like, it took me from the time that I got my first professional job to The Good Place, it took 15, 16 years. And you know, there’s a lot of jobs in between there. And so there’s moments in that, in that 15, 16 years, where I was feeling on top of the world and moments where I was like down in the dumps and then moments where I was just desperate and chasing.

If the dream becomes something that is making you unhappy and making you feel desperate and afraid, step back for a second, breathe, like take some time. It’s OK. It’s going to be there. The dream isn’t going away, but just pursue the thing that makes you happy. And as long as it’s making you happy, go for it. And if it’s not, take a second, because you might get happy again. You probably just need some time.