Amanda Seales Takes the Heat: Speaking Out About Gaza & Hollywood

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What does it take to be politically outspoken in Hollywood? You may know Amanda Seales from her role on HBO’s “Insecure”, her stand-up comedy, her podcast and radio show or her viral videos on social media. She’s lost agents, her publicist, and had speaking gigs retracted for her commitment to social justice. From Black women to Palestinians in Gaza, Seales uses her platform to speak honestly about harm done to others. She talks powerfully about her experiences with the dangers of fame and celebrity in Hollywood, neurodivergence, white supremacy and a whole lot more. In this conversation, Laura Flanders asks Amanda Seales about our progress as a country, what it means to be an “artistic intellectual” and about the educators who’ve helped her along the way. Hear why Seales is “divesting from celebrity” and taking backlash from her support for Palestinians as “a badge of honor”. Plus, go behind the scenes with Seales with the full, uncut conversation from this week’s show. Laura will tell you more.

“. . . You are definitely expected to just take whatever gossip is said about you. You have to take it all on the chin because you’ve made this somehow unspoken exchange that having monetary gain and visibility means that you have to allow harm. And what I’ve decided is I am divesting from celebrity.” – Amanda Seales

“I lost my agents, I lost my publicist, and I have definitely had speaking engagements and different gigs retracted because of my support of Palestine and my outward support of the ending of apartheid in Palestine. I got to tell you, I take it as a badge of honor. I do. It’s good trouble, rest in peace to John Lewis. I am so honored for all those people.” – Amanda Seales


  • Amanda Seales: Artistic Intellectual



Amanda Seales Takes the Heat: Speaking Out About Gaza & Hollywood

LAURA FLANDERS: Listen or watch Ms. Amanda Seales and you are likely, as she’s put it, to laugh, and also to learn. Seales, you may know from her role on HBO’s hit series, “Insecure,” or possibly from her standup comedy, or as a musician, an author, a host of the classic 2020 BET Awards, or perhaps you’ve caught her weekly podcast, her daily radio show, or her viral videos on social media. Seales’ resume is long, but a running thread throughout all of it is a commitment to social justice. She calls herself an artistic intellectual. And true enough, from her early days in spoken word, and doing a benefit for Jesse Jackson, to her commentaries on everything from Kamala Harris and Gaza, to IVF, Seales weaves scholarship from her master’s degree in African American studies from Columbia University, throughout her work in the entertainment industry. And she talks powerfully about her own experiences with neurodivergence, white supremacy, and a whole lot more in the process. How does she do it? What price does she pay for it? What’s it take to be politically outspoken in Hollywood? And what is her advice for the rest of us? Let’s find out. Amanda Seales, I’m so glad to have you with me here on “Laura Flanders and Friends.” Welcome.

AMANDA SEALES: Thank you. I’m so glad to be one of the friends.

LAURA FLANDERS: You call yourself an artistic intellectual, and I love that phrase, and I wonder what you mean by it, or how you would define it for people.

AMANDA SEALES: It’s really someone who is an edutainer. I mean, at the end of the day, I come through a system that I’ve been in since I was eight, in the entertainment business, and I’ve seen, you know, what it means to make it in this business. And oftentimes, it simply just can’t be done without giving up bits of your integrity. It’s oftentimes not allowing for you to have both the career, and the ability to speak honestly to things that are harming others. We see that right now with what’s going on with Palestine. And so, and the other part of being a quote unquote “celebrity,” is that you’re expected to just take whatever is given. You’re always in the, which I know people may not realize, but you are definitely expected to just take whatever gossip is said about you, whatever, you have to take it all on the chin, because you’ve made this somehow unspoken exchange that you having monetary gain and visibility means that you have to allow harm. And what I’ve decided is I am divesting from celebrity. Like, y’all can have that. I don’t want fame. I would love reverence for my work.

LAURA FLANDERS: Now, your curiosity was clearly cultivated by a lot of great educators. I knew one of them. It was my honor to know Manning Marable a little. That must have been quite something, going to Columbia with him. Talk about it. What did he give you? What did you learn from him? How’d you get there?

AMANDA SEALES: I always remember, I always remember the first day of class with Professor Marable, when he came in with his Frederick Douglas hairdo. And he just like came in a tizzy, and he slammed his books down at the end of the conference table, and he said, “Do you all want hip-hop to die?” We were all like, “Oh, that was unexpected.” Okay. You know, one thing that I, that Professor Marable really contextualized for all of us, but you know, I can speak for myself specifically, is that learning about the past, has really no value if you’re not going to apply it for a better future. And, specifically within our classrooms, within the Institute for Research in African American studies at Columbia, that was what was the directive. Let’s make sure that we are considering ourselves responsible, and obligated to be the harbingers of a better future. And I’m working on a one woman show that I’m planning to produce as a live stream on November 2nd, and it’s called, “What Would the Ancestors Say?” And it is directly connected to that concept, and understanding that we can’t just keep talking about the past and romanticizing it. We have to be the future, because we’re somebody else’s past.

LAURA FLANDERS: I was thinking about that actually, today as we’re speaking. The news broke this morning, or maybe last night, that Reverend James Lawson had died. One of the civil rights era greats. And when I was reading his obituary, I was reading it, you know, up against the stories of what else is happening in the world today. And one of the things that’s happening is the arrest of, I think 20 students at UCLA for holding a funeral procession for the, at last count, 37,000 Palestinians killed. And I thought, you know, Today we’re honoring James Lawson, but when you, and when you look at his bio, it includes getting expelled from Vanderbilt for protests, getting imprisoned for refusing to fight in a war. The very protestors we see today could be those ancestors we honor tomorrow. And I’m wondering how you make sense of that as somebody who speaks out, who, you know, doesn’t take a lot of, well, stands up for herself, put it that way.

AMANDA SEALES: I think what we really are seeing is just this cyclical practice of ignorance. And it’s willful and hypocritical. And when we praise people who have done the same thing that we are now harming, and, you know, defaming people for, degrading people for. Not letting them graduate. You know, and on a basic capitalist level, they paid that money, okay? It really makes you question what is the standard for people? What is the value for people? What is their value system? And if we just put it in an American context, what is really the value system of this country? And a lot of people love to hold that flag and say, “I’m an American, I’m a proud American.” What does that really mean if we are constantly moving the goalpost, even when we have acknowledged these people, and lauded these people for doing the same thing that we are degrading these people for, simply because in this instance, we’ve been told that there is a criminality to supporting Palestinians. And you ask yourself, “Are the people who are even making that determination, morally sound to do that? No! No, they’re not. So we, I think the beautiful thing though, is that we have something positive out of social media, in that these people will still get love, and they will still get supported. I was able to host this People’s Graduation that was done at Columbia. And this was done as a whole separate, it’s not an official commencement, but it’s a ceremony that honored, you know, the students who were involved in the encampment, and the administrators and the faculty who supported. And it was a really, really just beautiful ceremony. It was, and I just felt like it was so necessary, because it really just on the basic note said, “They may not recognize you, but we do.”

LAURA FLANDERS: So looking at your career, and the way that you have tried to bring your knowledge, your curiosity, your thoughts, and opinions to the public, I’m just struck by how much effort’s had to go into it. You know, this has not been an easy ride for you. You don’t give up. I appreciate that. Those of us who are in independent media appreciate what it takes to be agile and dogged. And some would just say stubborn. And I wonder if you have reflections today for young people coming up, who are thinking, “Well I just, you know, the world is my oyster. We have the internet, I can get all these likes, I can be an influencer.” Not so easy, I think.

AMANDA SEALES: I mean, I think the real reality is, if you are tethering your idea of success to outside validation, there’s always going to be a wall that you hit. That’s just the reality of maturing, and of existing, particularly as an artist. Because when you are creating something that is so personal, and you are putting it out into the world, there is going to be that exchange, right? There is that exchange of, well, people do need to consume this and enjoy it. It needs to take a point. It needs to play a role in their life of validity for this to continue. However, for so many people, what they consume is based on authenticity and how it connects to them in an authentic way. And it just is very, it is, it is a limited pool to pull from when your authenticity is based on other people and not your own. So I always encourage young people to really make it their main focus of understanding their own process, of understanding their own internal self, their own way of working. And that is why it’s so dope that therapy has become less of a stigma, because I really believe that therapy allows you to become clear on the blueprint of you. And there’s myriads of ways to do therapy, right? But when you become able to really understand the inner workings of you, it also makes it capable for you to create boundaries that protect you much earlier. I mean, I think about the stuff that I know now. And had I started implementing that earlier in my life, my mental would’ve been so much more sturdy, had I been able to have the confidence to, you know, to put down boundaries that were reasonable, but that also allowed me to have self protectiveness that didn’t keep me from things that could help me, but just kept me from things that could harm me.

LAURA FLANDERS: Sometimes I think it’s really hard, especially for women, young girls coming up in a female body, to have a sense of your own self. Because you’re so often a person on display, and then be a Black girl, and there’s a whole lot of other things you gotta be careful about.

AMANDA SEALES: One thousand percent. I mean, this is why representation is so important, this is why community is so important. It is imperative that you surround yourself with people who believe in you more than you believe in you. Because there are so many aspects of our world that are constantly just trying to tear other people down for no even real reason oftentimes, but, and sometimes it’s inadvertent, and sometimes it’s direct. But I think of my own self, like I just went through a very public excoriation where there was just a lot of hubbub around “Amanda Seales is unlikable.” And I just think about how that would have really taken me out like 10 years ago in such a real way, because I was so connected to outward validation that I wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on. I mean, that could have led to really, really tragic circumstances. And I feel so lucky that I’ve had not just the support of my friends, but also the support of my community of people who really appreciate my work, and also that I have the tools from my therapy that allowed me to be able to push through that, and understand what’s real versus what is just being created for means and methods that I don’t even know.

LAURA FLANDERS: I do want to give you a chance to shout out some of the people that have helped you along the way. We mentioned Manning Marable. But there are a lot of teachers that preceded Dr. Marable. And I think that we sometimes jump over those early teachers that made a difference, including a gymnastics coach.

AMANDA SEALES: Well, I have to start with my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Sousa. Shout out to Miss Sousa at Gladstone Elementary School, because she was the one who said she should be tested for gifted. And another teacher might have said, “She’s a problem child.” “She’s talking too much.” She’s a Black child, so you know, that already is going to put you in a stigmatized position. And another teacher may have put a Black girl. We are criminalized in increasingly voracious numbers. And, I just feel so fortunate that she saw this as something positive and not something that needed to be suppressed. My first grade teacher, who I’m still in touch with, Miss Channel, she has told me before that, you know, she saw, along with my second grade teacher, Miss Law-Bowman, that I needed to be protected. She saw my brilliance, she saw my leadership skills, and that that was something that they needed to make sure was not mishandled. So I feel like these are people, that it’s so early on in my development. My mom is at work, I’m with them, and they’re seeing, you know, as educators, their personal responsibility towards me. I’m so, like, when people talk about privilege, that to me is my greatest privilege, that I had educators that cared, and that made it their business to care. You know, when I think about Karen Ruggerio at Dr. Phillips High School, you know, she just really broke the mold in terms of casting. We’re in Florida. We’re in central Florida in the 90’s, racism is rampant, and she was so conscious about making sure that everyone was considered in how she casted, and how she re-imagined roles. I mean, my first play at Dr. Phillips High School’s visual performing arts magnet was as Ariel in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” but she had broken up Ariel into four elements. So now you had four more roles for these incredibly talented students. So, I mean, I get really excited when I talk about educators, and the educators that I had the, you know, lucky and blessed experience to be served, because it really has made the difference in my life. I mean, it’s, and the educators in America are just simply not given their just due, they’re not given the resources that they deserve, they’re not given the salaries that they deserve. And when I hear politicians say things like, “Well, you know, you don’t really need training to be a teacher.” I mean-

LAURA FLANDERS: Funny how they don’t say that about jobs that men are concentrated in.

AMANDA SEALES: Right. Funny how politicians don’t need training, and they’re the ones who are literally determining how this nation functions. Unbelievable.

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, that goes to the things you’ve been speaking about recently, whether it is police killings, Gaza, the Democrats. I mean, where do you want to start? Where do you think we are seeing change? Well, here on the show, we try to focus, we try to find progress where we can. Where do you see that we perhaps are making some movement in the positive direction?

AMANDA SEALES: With the people. I think that’s the most positive direction that we’re moving in, is that people are waking up. People are learning. People, you know, are defying what has been a concerted effort for the past at least 20 years, to make intellect, and to make knowledge just simply not valuable, not cool. And people are making it their business to say, “No, no, no, let me, let me ask questions.” You know. “Let me, let me learn how to research, not just say, “I do my research.” People are also awakening their empathy. And we have also seen a massive global effort at trying to sever that between people of nations, right? That’s the goal of imperialism, is everybody thinks for themselves only. And, you kill empathy. You create a narcissist culture that seeks to only protect itself and not the community. So when we see people starting to understand community on another level, when we see people starting to awaken their empathy and say, “You know, even though this doesn’t affect me, it still sucks. I still feel like it’s my responsibility to, at the very least talk about it. That may seem like a small step forward, but I feel like in the greater scheme of the efforts that the powers that be have been, it has the power to change the axis of evil, so to speak.

LAURA FLANDERS: I was once lucky enough to be invited to go and see Anna Deavere teach her class at NYU. And she has this line about acting being the exercise of your empathy muscle. Which I thought was genius. And I wondered if you agreed, and what you might have learned from any of your roles.

AMANDA SEALES: Well, fun fact, the monologue that I used to audition for colleges, and to become an NFAA art scholar, was the monologue, “Identity,” which is in her piece, “Fires in the Mirror,” where she has the conversation with Nitozake Shange. But long story short, I, yes. I mean, I think acting in the best way, forces you to listen. I’m a good interviewer because I’m a good actor. I’m a good interviewer because I was really, you know, taught that I needed to listen to respond, not wait to respond. Yes, I know the next line, but if I’m going to do this line properly, it’s going to be a response to the line that’s being told to me, or it’s going to be a response to the sound I hear, or to the action that’s happening. It’s not going to be simply because it’s time to say the line. So you have to be locked in, and in order for you to be locked in, you have to be empathetic to not just the character you’re playing, but the others on the stage, because you have to be able to feel them. And that’s what empathy is. Feeling other people. And sometimes I know that, I understand why people are so afraid of empathy because they’re afraid of their own feelings. And that’s why mindfulness is so important. And what acting does teach you, is a certain level of mindfulness. Unfortunately, a lot of actors become better at mindfulness about their character than themselves. Mindful about that. But that’s a whole other show, Laura Flanders. Which is why I always tell people like, “Do not credit me as an actor. If you’re going to credit me as anything other than an artistic intellectual, say comedian, because we are a different kind of crazy. But, I really believe that empathy is at the core of everything.

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, it isn’t at the core about politics right now. I like to shout out as often as I can, Vassar Professor Luke Harris, partner of Kim Crenshaw, who talks about a diminution in over-representation, like white people panic when there’s a slight lessening in how overrepresented they are. And I think that’s what we’re seeing when we see those allegations of reverse discrimination, which is language has been pushed for decades by the right now, through their determined, dedicated and well-funded media. So it’s no surprise, it’s now coming at us from all, from all corners.

AMANDA SEALES: You just can’t talk about politics either without talking about lobbyists. And that’s the thing that I know a lot of just regular old Americans, myself included, just never really knew about. I mean, it felt very inside baseball. You know, when you talk about lobbyists, and you’re not just talking about AIPAC, you know. You’re talking about the NRA, you’re talking about insurance companies, you’re talking about big pharma, you’re talking about, you know, oil. That is a, an incredibly important aspect of the way our government functions, that simply does not get spoken about. And they are not elected.

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, it is interesting what things get complicated. I mean, AIPAC just remind people by the American Israel PAC, basically, political lobby. The things that are made complicated in our national media, I think it’s kind of like the Israel/Palestine situation, oh, it’s super complicated. Or civil rights law, it’s super complicated. Or history, it’s super complicated. Or not to mention, painful for poor, sensitive white kids. Gosh, I don’t even know where to go with that, except for, let’s just note it, that certain things that are really important, we’re told, are super complicated. Which I think is just a way of telling most people not to pay attention.

AMANDA SEALES: That’s it. It just encourages people to not worry about it. Just make sure you get your bills paid. Don’t worry about this over here. It’s not, we got, we got people who actually handle this. And the irony about that, is that at the same token, we ignore the actual experts. So, you have this idea, you present this idea to the American people, that this is very complicated. So it’s not for you to handle. And then those same people, media and government included, will ignore experts.

LAURA FLANDERS: And when I think of experts, I think of people who are actually on the frontline of something, so frontline of climate change, frontline of white supremacy, frontline of colonialism. They might know a thing or two about how to survive any one of those things.

AMANDA SEALES: You better say it, Laura Flanders.

LAURA FLANDERS: Coming back to you for a second, because you try to say a lot, you do say, I want to get expunge that word, “try.” You say a lot in the various media that you have in the, on the platforms that you have, in the venues that you’ve had, whether it’s comedy, or HBO, or you name it. Have you paid a price? And how do you navigate that?

AMANDA SEALES: I’ve paid a price, I think though, I navigate it by perspective. Let me just say I’m proud of myself though, because my perspective is representative of my wisdom. And that wisdom has come from having to face myself head on. And that’s something that I know a lot of people are afraid to do. And I had to get the courage to do that, to really face myself head on, and look at the toxicities that I’m carrying through, and really reshape myself in my own vision, not just the vision that I was shaped in by nature of just being in this world and trying to make it through. And so I lost my agents, I lost my publicist, and I, you know, have definitely had speaking engagements and different gigs retracted because of my support of Palestine, and my outward support of the ending of apartheid in Palestine. And I gotta tell ya, I take it as a badge of honor. I do. It’s good trouble. Rest in peace to John Lewis.

LAURA FLANDERS: Thank you so much. Ms. Amanda Seales. It’s been a pleasure having you with us, and I look forward to more, and good luck in all of your endeavors.

AMANDA SEALES: Thank you so much.

LAURA FLANDERS: Enjoyed that conversation with Amanda Seales? Well, I clearly did. And the good news is there’s much more of it. If you want to hear what Amanda has to say about ADD, and why she thinks she has it, what superpowers she thinks that gives her, and what she thinks Joe Biden’s chances are in the general election this fall, you can through subscribing to our free podcast. That’s right. You’re watching this show on TV, but this viewer and listener supported nonprofit media operation also produces a radio program that goes out across the country, and a free podcast that you can subscribe to through any of the podcast services out there. Subscribe to the free podcast, and you get the uncut version of every conversation. There’s often great stuff that doesn’t fit on the TV show. This time with Amanda Seales, she talks about Hollywood a little bit more, about what she calls that main character obsession we all have, and, a bit about her upcoming one woman show. You can get all of that through a subscription to our podcast. You’ll get the uncuts every week, and stay in touch with us through our newsletter. All the information is at the website. All that’s left for me to say is, “Thank you for joining me, and all of us here at “Laura Flanders and Friends.” Till the next time, stay kind, stay curious. I’m Laura.

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*Recommended book:

“Small Doses: Potent Truths for Everyday Use” by Amanda Seales,  Get the Book 

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Featured ‘Music in the Middle’ of the Podcast:

“Hope” by Shaun Escoffery from his forth coming expanded digital album release of In The Red Room to be released on Dome Records.


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