The Last Breakfast Club review

A friend of mine recently asked me if the The Last Breakfast Club was good.

For those of you who don’t know, The Last Breakfast Club is the newest musical parody from Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Angeles. I have gone to see the show every weekend since it made its preview debut three weeks ago. When I saw her question, I wanted to laugh. Obviously the show was good if I’d seen it so many times, but I knew what she was really asking–Would I recommend it? While the answer is fairly simple, I felt that I had enough thoughts about the show to merit an entire blog post, so here we go: my review of The Last Breakfast Club: a Musical Parody.

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This innovative musical is packed full of 80s tunes that feel like they were written for The Last Breakfast Club. If you’re not singing them along with the cast during the show, you will definitely be singing them to yourself for the rest of the week. Part of the fun of the show is trying to guess what iconic 80s song the characters will jump into next.

As the cast of The Last Breakfast Club comes right out of the gate chorusing, “It’s the end of the world as we know it,” we understand that they’re talking about the nuclear zombie apocalypse that has trapped them in the library. But it also kind of feels like they’re talking about our world too. In a present where our president regularly tweets about his latest indignation, the threat of nuclear war hangs in the air and children are killed at concerts, it certainly feels like the end of the world as we know it. Hardly any of us would claim we “feel fine.”

The Last Breakfast Club doesn’t ignore our current political climate. It embraces it. The show explores our deepest hopes and fears for this new world. At one moment it’s blaming Republicans, Christians and white men (which some may argue are synonymous) for the doomed apocalyptic world the characters are forced to live in. The next, it’s advocating for love and compassion in spite of it all.

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This amazingly talented cast is increasingly mind blowing with every scene. The unique layout of the Rockwell theater allows for most of the audience to gain at least one closeup of the cast during the show. This unique set-up explains why each cast member boasts both stage and screen credits. Both sets of skills are fully utilized in the show to great effect, switching effortlessly between big over the top “theatrical” moments and nuanced quieter ones.

The Last Breakfast Club calls itself a parody of the original 1985 John Hughes film, but that label isn’t quite fair. It’s clear the show has a great respect for the original, preserving most of the film’s format and signature lines. At times, it feels like a revisionist take on the film. This updated version of the story tackles the age old issue of Allison’s makeover (selling out or naw?), the original couples (would they have lasted past detention?), the assumed boy-girl couple structure (you might of gotten away with it back then, but today it’s considered “heteronormative”) and the Bratpack’s general treatment of adults as the cause of all their problems. The musical doesn’t shove its modern perspective onto the original to the point of losing the film’s original intent, but it also isn’t afraid to address some of the issues with the movie.

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In spite of several revisionist changes, however, the Breakfast Club is still #sowhite. The majority of the seven cast members in the new show are Caucasian, reflexive of the all-white cast from the film. On the one hand, this reflects more on the original filmmakers than the producers of the latest reincarnation. The moral of the original film was that “each one of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal.” Apparently the only way to teach that lesson in the 80s was to make every character white and therefore, relatable.

There is, of course, an easy explanation for the lack of racial diversity in The Last Breakfast Club. The premise of the show is that the same characters from the film have aged roughly ten years, so each of the cast members physically resembles their cinematic counterpart. However, it’s worth questioning whether, in a world where these beloved characters have been given new sexual orientations and religions (and in Claire’s case, hair color), might they have been given new ethnicities as well? In an alternate reality where the characters crack culture references they shouldn’t know and reference both the original movie and the musical they’re currently starring in, the audience must quickly adapt a strong suspension of disbelief. Might this suspension have also held up to, say, an African American Princess or a Latino Brain? It is unclear if it would have worked, but a part of me wishes the producers would have been willing to find out.

Which isn’t to say that the show isn’t perfectly cast, because it is.

Anna Grace Barlow brings a sweetness and a sass to Claire the Princess, as well as an acute vulnerability most present in her big solo number where she reminisces on time spent with her parents. Barlow brings down the house every time during said solo number with her powerhouse of a soulful voice and tear-filled eyes. As her sister Abigail stated so well, the music of the show fits her voice perfectly. In addition to the spotlight moments, Barlow’s sweet harmonies perfectly round out the overall sound of the show.

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Jonah Platt anchors the show as Bender the Criminal, riling each character in turn. He holds all the brashness and insensitivity of the original character, but Platt’s natural charm bubbles through in time for the tender moments that eventually come toward the end of the show, most notably a heart to heart with Vernon. This scene in particular sets Platt’s version of Bender apart from the original, mixing his biting humor with remarkable sensitivity.

While Platt prods the plot forward, Garrett Clayton holds the show together in a virtual group hug as Brian the Brain. His soft insistence for everyone to get along is broken only by his piercingly amazing high notes and incredible comedic timing. Fans of Clayton from the Teen Beach movie franchise may even hear his signature Tanner laugh break through some of Brian’s iconic “Sir?”s during a few of his particularly funny scenes with Vernon.

Rockwell veteran Lana McKissack completely commits to all that is Allison the Basketcase, including the character’s numerous quirks and various animal noises. Her skills as an actress, however, truly shine brightest in the serious moments where she gets to spit straight truth. The complexity and sensitivity she brings to her scenes with Andrew, in particular, make the characters’ relationship one of my favorites in the show.

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Four time Emmy nominee Max Ehrich brings vulnerability and heart, as well as fierceness, to Andrew the Athlete. He manages to simultaneously wear his heart on his sleeve while fighting to keep his mask up. His Act One return to “total assholery” may be initially off-putting, but the character lets his true self come through in time to enthrall the audience with his showstopping ballad in Act Two.

The two adult characters, Vernon as played by Jimmy Ray Bennett and Damon Gravina’s born again Janitor, are just as charming as the young adult characters, bringing another level of humor and ridiculousness to the whole production.

Now back to the original question, do I recommend the show? My answer is a resounding YES… with two caveats.

The first is language. The show’s social media coordinator joked that the show has “zero f*cks to give…. because they’re all in the show.” He’s not wrong. To be fair, if you’ve seen the OG Breakfast Club, its cast also had a lot of fun throwing around f-bombs. But it does bear noting that those sensitive to strong language or those on the younger side should probably skip out on this particular show.

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My second warning pertains to the way Christianity is portrayed in the show. The show relies heavily on the use of satire in order to comment on religion, ridiculing various aspects of Christianity in a way that some may find offensive or sacrilegious. Now, the show does not hate religion or Christianity as a whole. The hate-filled, holier-than-thou Christian character does not denounce his faith or speak ill against God in order to become likable by the end. He does have a change of heart, of course, but the show does not demand that he give up his faith in order to be considered an ally. The show also makes it clear that religion itself is not the problem, but rather how people abuse religion. Still, if this seems like the type of humor that would keep you from enjoying the show, maybe just stick to the original movie for now.

There are no better last thoughts to leave you with than these well-spoken words from The Last Breakfast Club’s director, executive producer and co-writer, Bradley Bredeweg, “Let us laugh together as 150 people in a bar in Los Angeles while we also talk about and explore some really important and scary shit. Because entertainment is a powerful medium that not only makes us laugh and cry… it provokes, encourages, raises awareness, and it allows us to look inward.”

For those of you willing to laugh, cry and be challenged, please head down to Rockwell Table and Stage this summer and show this amazing production some love!

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Tickets: tickets.rockwell-la.com

 

Photos from the show by me, Promotional photos for TLBC by Bryan Carpender, Promotional photos from the original Breakfast Club belong to their respective owners

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Self Love (V-Day 2017)

Self love, to me, doesn’t mean I think I’m the greatest. It doesn’t mean believing the world revolves around me or trying to force it to. Self love is dressing up simply cuz looking cute makes me feel good. It means taking myself to a movie or a show because it feeds my soul. It means understanding I’m valuable only because the Creator of the world handcrafted me and declared it to be so. I can love me because He loved me first 💕

Jesus already outlined how we’re supposed to love in Matthew 22:36-40: Love God, love others and love self.

This Valentine’s Day, be sure to show love for and appreciate love from your family and friends, share love with your significant other if you have one, but don’t forget to send a little love to yourself as well 😘 Love you all, happy Valentine’s Day!!

xoxo, CMB

Winter Things: the Conclusion

So, it is official! Winter Things is available for purchase on Amazon! It is so surreal after so many years of dreaming and so many weeks of hard work to finally have my stories available to the world.

I want to give a huge shout out to my editors Lizzie Cragg and Elena Ender who helped give me a second set of eyes by reading over my stories and letting me know what was and wasn’t working. They helped alleviate any fears I had about releasing something into the world that I was less than proud of.

I cannot wait for you all to finally get a chance to read it and to hear your feedback, so please check out the link below, download the book and when you’re done reading, leave me a comment on Amazon. Thanks for your support!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N7MLBEB

xoxo, CMB

 

Winter Things: the Completion

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So, bad news: The release date of Winter Things has been pushed back. This week has been crazier than anticipated and I really want to make sure I put out something that I’m proud of. I expect to have it out by Christmas, but I will keep y’all updated.

Good news: I can now reveal the official book cover! Again, so so grateful for the assistance of Rachel and Andrew in making this happen. Excited for you all to finally get to see what’s inside very soon.

Drum roll please…

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xoxo, CMB

Winter Things: the Crew

Almost a month ago, I posted this tweet:

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I was tired, I was frustrated and I was about to give up. I was so excited about the concept for the Winter Things cover, I was trying my darndest to get the project off the ground and no one would help me. Well, that’s not exactly true. No one was willing to help me for free.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I definitely belong to the school of thought that artists deserve to be paid for their work. Heck, I am hoping some of you decide Winter Things is worth paying a few bucks for. But I am so tired of money holding me back from creativity. As a starving college student and a starving artist, it is often hard to pay for food, much less pay people to help me out on passion projects. Now this is not a specific diss to those I asked to help me on this project. I am so proud that I have friends who are so established in their field that they can charge consistently for their services. It is just generally difficult to find people who are willing to help you out simply for the love of the art, mutual excitement over your idea and a desire to bring your vision to life.

Just as I was beginning to give up on the prospect of an original cover and bracing myself to go through stock images, I found my team, the very people I wished for in the tweet.

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Rachel

After being turned down by multiple photographer friends, I came to the realization that I needed to find someone who was good at photography, but wasn’t a “photographer.” That’s when my dear friend Rachel David came to mind. I had just finished working with her as the director on the school film I co-produced, which had placed us in a professional working relationship for the better part of eight months. It also convinced me that she was someone I wanted to continue working with. Still, when I reached out, I fully expected her to turn me down.

There’s something that happens to your sense of hope when you’ve been rejected so many times. You start to believe all you’ll ever hear is no. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, Rachel pretty much said yes right away, which was amazing. I knew she was the right person for the job, though, when I sent her the Pinterest board I made and only to found out she had already made one! Hers lined up with my vision exactly, even though I had only sent her a few key words.

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Andrew

Despite successfully convincing Rachel to join the project, I was still convinced there was no way it was actually going to happen. If it was this hard to find one of my friends willing to help me out for free, how the heck was I going to find a male model? Did I mention I know zero male models, which guaranteed somehow talking a stranger into doing this for free. Enter Andrew Bliek.

I had been watching Andrew’s performance as the male lead in my classmates’ film “Hazel” all semester and been impressed by it, so when I found out he also modeled and also went to my school, he was my natural choice first. I put off contacting him until Rachel said yes, then sent him an email basically just saying that I’d been impressed by his work in “Hazel” and wanted to know if he would be interested in modeling for a passion project of mine I thought he would be a good fit for, but couldn’t pay him for. When I got the email back a few days later and I put off reading it, convinced it was going to be a no. When I finally mustered the courage to open it, I found instead a simple reply thanking me for my kind words and offering his availability.

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Despite finding such an amazing team, I was scared up to the last moment that things were going to fall apart. Seriously! I sat next to my phone all day before the shoot until everyone showed up at the location, waiting for the text from either him or Rachel canceling on me. I may or may not have had several bad experiences in the past of people pulling out on projects, especially unpaid ones. Imagine my surprise when the shoot went off without a hitch! It was an amazing work experience, the type where the actual experience left me so happy and artistically fulfilled that I almost didn’t care about the final product…. Almost.

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The final images that Rachel was able to capture were so magical and exactly what I wanted. Also, Andrew was the best fake boyfriend I could have asked for. He kept me laughing the whole time as we had the most ridiculous conversations about the most random things. It was so much fun! I can’t wait for you all to see the final cover.

Rachel, I am so sorry sorry for not realizing right away that you were the perfect person for this project. Thank you for making me feel so comfortable and allowing me all the creative control I wanted (although you have great instincts!). Andrew, thank you for trusting me enough to say yes and for making a potentially awkward situation so much fun. Hope to work with you both in the future!

One more shot form the shoot to demonstrate that we clearly had no fun…

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Stay tuned for the final cover reveal soon!

xoxo, CMB

Winter Things: the Compositions

The initial idea for Winter Things came to me when I was reading the young adult holiday anthology My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins and featuring some of my favorite YA authors like Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl) and Ally Carter (The Gallagher Girls series). It reminded me of the Christmas short stories I have written on and off over the years. Christmas tends to inspire me to take a break from whatever I’m working on and explore some sort of little holiday love story or new interpretation of the biblical Christmas story. When digging through my personal writing archives for stories to use for this project, I found Christmas short stories from as far back as 2007.

I put together this collection in about a month, so the biggest deciding factor was which stories I felt I could throw together in that time period, but ultimately I wanted a mix of old stories and a few new ones. In the end I narrowed it down to five. Here is a little background on each one:

  1. Christmas & Chill: I wrote this one last year after seeing Nathan Sykes in concert unexpectedly. If you’ve never heard him sing, do a quick Youtube search right now. He has the most amazing voice. He also used to date Ariana Grande, who has a great collection of modern Christmas music out. Her Christmas stuff, specifically “Last Christmas” and “Santa Tell Me” inspired the version of Christmas & Chill I posted last year as fanfiction. I think this new version serves as a nice intro to the collection. It also seems only fair that I start with a tribute to Ari, as her Christmas material helped supply a lot of titles for the anthology.
  2. Merry Un-Exmas: When I was coming up with the concept for the collection, I had just discovered Little Mix’s single “Shout Out to My Ex,” which made me wanna do an epic girl power breakup story. This story is the result of that effort. It was a lot of fun to write and hopefully will be just as fun to read. It was heavily influenced by Little Mix, especially their “Hair” music video.
  3. Method Acting: This story is the oldest in the collection. I wrote the original version in 2009 during my first high school drama production, an original Christmas musical called “3rd Time’s a Charm.” The story kicked off a tradition of me writing short stories that correlated with every show I was in. It only last a few more shows, but it was a fun way to entertain me and my friends backstage. I included this story in the anthology because I thought the concept was really fun and because theater was always a really big part of my Christmas experience, growing up in church choirs and school drama ministries.
  4. Love is Everything: When I got the idea for this anthology, I was standing inside a small church in Lone Pine, California. One of the first story ideas that came to me during that brainstorming session (in-between worship songs and sermon notes) was the idea of a modern Mary and Joseph visiting a small church with a new pastor. I thought about all the ways Mary and Joseph were social pariahs in their day and tried to come up with a modern equivalent. I then did my best to logically play out how a modern church community might react to them. Once this story became controversial in my own mind, I tried to give up on it but church sermon after church sermon made it clear that it was something I needed to write. I think the message of the story is important and I hope people can take positive things away from it, even if they don’t agree with the position I took.
  5. Christmas in the City: As a native Southern Californian, one of my biggest dreams is to experience various types of Christmases. One of the original story ideas for the collection was a Tennessee Christmas story, but ultimately that idea proved too underdeveloped to be ready in time. The story I chose instead fulfills my fantasy of a city Christmas. It also features some characters I’ve been writing for a few years now as part of a modern Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series I hope to get published some day. While I’m waiting for all that to pan out, I thought it would be fun to introduce people to these characters in a Christmas-themed short story. Hopefully readers will grow to love Nina, Ethan, Lewis and Sage as much as I do.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed these little snippets into my creative writing process. I cannot wait for you all to read them in a few days! In the meantime, please comment and let me know which story you’re most excited for.

Check back the rest of blogmas this week for more info on the cover shoot! While you’re waiting, here are some of the outfits I tried on while figuring out what to wear for the cover. What did I decide on? Stay tuned to find out!

xoxo, CMB

Winter Things: the Cover

I am by nature a very visual person. I knew when I decided to self-publish “Winter Things” that the cover was going to be really important to me. I didn’t want to just choose some stock image. I wanted it to be an image that captured the way the Christmas season made me feel and the overall feel of this anthology. 

For me, Christmastime is the most romantic time of year, which is why most of the stories in the anthology revolve around a love story of some kind. I wanted the cover to reflect that. I considered all sorts of things from having someone draw a cover to asking one of the real-life couples I knew to pose for the cover. 

In the end, however, I realized it was really important for me to have a multi-ethnic couple on the cover of my book. The greatest part about making independent art is the ability to create your own rules. Hopefully someday I will be working with a publishing company that will have all sort of input on what goes inside my book and what it looks like on the outside, but for now, I am my own boss. For me, it was important that there wasn’t some “generic” white couple on the cover if for no other reason than because “generic couple” somehow automatically means all white and probably blonde. I’d like to do what I can to change that stereotype or at least challenge it.

Once I had landed on a general concept for the cover, I needed to find someone to pose for it. That then led me to rack my brain for any non-white models I knew. I came up blank, which is when I realized that I had to be the representation I was seeking. So no, the decision to put myself on the cover was not because I’m just that full of myself. It’s because I think it’s important to see girls like me on the cover of books. And I am so excited for a Christmas romance book to be out in the Kindle universe with a multi-racial couple on the front.

The search then began for a male model and a photographer. Spoiler alert: I found them and they were both amazing!

More on the cover team later this week along with some fun BTS from the cover shoot! In the meantime, here’s a picture of the dream team to tie you over.

Stay tuned…

xoxo, CMB

Winter Things: the Concept 

So, if you guys have noticed, usually when I go a long time without working on a project, I tend to go a little crazy and create (or attempt) something big and ambitious. Well, this time my burst of creativity resulted in my first self-published e-book! It is called “Winter Things” and it is an anthology of holiday-themed short stories I written over the years. I am so excited for you all to read it.

I am also so grateful to my wonderful team for helping me put it all together and cannot wait to share the journey with you guys over the next few days.

Stay tuned this week for more on the story of the book’s evolution from idea to actuality! Including, but not limited to, behind the scenes information on the cover shoot, teasers for each short story in the collection, and how my vision for the cover came to life! This wonderful week of blogmas will of course culminate with the publication of “Winter Things: a holiday anthology” on Christmas Eve.

Look forward to sharing this journey with you all!

In the meantime, check out the Ariana Grande song that inspired the title!

xoxo, CMB

Thank You for Reminding Me I Don’t Matter

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Hey Facebook friends,

Do you realize when you knock the Black Matters Movement (as a whole) or the feminist movement (as a whole) or any kind of movement seeking to give voice to the marginalized, you are telling me:

“Sit down, shut up, your opinions don’t matter and neither do you”?

Do you realize you’re doing the same thing when a white policeman kills a black man and you immediately react by justifying his actions? Not by calling for a stop to these kinds of events, not by mourning another black life lost, not by calling for a reform of the law enforcement system as it is being abused by some of those in power, not by asking the policemen you know and support to stand up against what is happening, but by blaming the dead person? How often do you blame countries being bombed or targeted by terrorist attacks? I’m not saying every black person shot by a white policeman was innocent. I’m not saying some of them did not act in ways that required them by law to be shot. What I am saying is what your Facebook posts are telling me:

“Sit down, shut up, your opinions don’t matter and neither do you.”

Do you realize when post comments complaining that people are harping on race issues or gender inequality issues that don’t exist that you are telling me, “Shut up, your problems aren’t real. Your struggles are all in your head”? Do you realize when you complain about the new emphasis on diversity in the job place, you are telling me I shouldn’t be considered for jobs that otherwise wouldn’t see me because of my gender and/or skin color? Do you realize when you complain about the call for diversity in film and TV, you are telling me I don’t deserve to have people that look like me on screen unless they’re fulfilling some small stereotypical or supporting role?

“Sit down, hush up, your opinions don’t matter and neither do you.”

Maybe you argue, you’re racially color-blind. You don’t see me as black. Great. I don’t primarily identify as black. I see myself as a human being, a child of God, an American, a woman, a friend, a daughter, a sister and more before I see myself as black. But I don’t have the luxury of putting that perception onto other people. I don’t get to pretend I’m not black or identify as black only when I feel like it. When I walked down Hollywood Blvd the other night, I didn’t get to keep other people from lumping me in with the rowdy black guys on the street corner trying to sell them things. People see me as black because I am. These issues affect me because I’m African American. Me, Cassondra Barnes. These issues affect me because I’m a woman. I don’t get to change that. I don’t get the benefit of walking in a room and being judged as a human. I have the benefit of people noting that I’m a black female, bringing in all their preconceived notions, and then hoping they’ll stick around long enough for me to prove them wrong.

The next time you type up a post supporting a political candidate or movement that stands against supporting the rights of minorities, maybe you should set aside your color-blinders and scan through your friends list. Just briefly. Are there any women, people of color, immigrants, people of a different faith than you, someone with a disability, etc? Before you hit “post” stop and ask yourself, are you ready to tell them:

“Sit down, shut up, your opinions don’t matter and neither do you”

Or would you rather set aside the keyboard and actually listen to what they have to say?

Ariana & the Hollywood Problem with Self-Respect

I recently watched a video that promised to show me all of Ariana Grande’s shadiest/most diva moments ever. For those of you who don’t know, Ari is frequently accused of being a diva or being difficult to work with. Now I happen to be a fairly big Ariana fan and have never really understood the diva hype. So I sat there for 10 minutes and watched footage from red carpets and interviews, listened to rumor patrols and you know what? I didn’t see a diva, per say. Not in the way I expected to. I saw mostly a woman who was balking against society’s expectations for female celebrities.

When talk show hosts pried into her personal life, she got annoyed and yes, gave some push back. When photographers took pictures of her, especially from an unfavorable side, she asked to see the picture and to have it deleted if it was unflattering. When interviewers asked her sexist questions, she called them on it.

Why is it that women in the media are supposed to mostly sit still and look pretty? Why are they not allowed to have a say in whether or not they want a bad picture of ourselves broadcast to the whole world?

As someone who takes pictures of her friends fairly often, I am more than used to having to get pictures approved by the girl in them before they’re posted. I don’t consider that unusual or “diva” behavior. It happens all the time. I also know how it feels to have someone else post an unflattering picture of you. It makes you feel ugly and usually imaging how many people have already seen it only makes you feel worse.

Why aren’t women in the media allowed to have a say in how much of their personal lives they have to share with millions of people? Why can’t they be offended when someone asks them to choose between makeup or their cellphone, as if that is the toughest choice a girl has to face on a daily basis? Also the constant questions about boys and high heels? Yeah, I feel you, Ari. I’m over it too. And she’s not the only one. The Disney Channel show Liv and Maddie ran an entire episode about sexist interview questions for female celebrities. (I’ve included a clip below for your viewing pleasure)

Now I get that there is a certain level of professionalism required when you are a public figure. I get that Ariana certainly slips up sometimes (er… donuts, anyone?) and may be a little too demanding (sometimes we all have to be filmed on our bad side, girl), but why does demanding respect and control over one’s public image automatically label a woman a diva?