Posts Tagged ‘Vanessa Williams’

Cassie & Rhianna: Nude Gal Massive

May 13, 2009

By Thembisa S. Mshaka

After 17 years of working with many a superstar in the worlds of music, advertising, and television, I’ve seen a lot of skin. I must say, however, that the concentrated display of nudity by females in the entertainment business over the last week has been very interesting to watch.

First, images of Cassie topless and spread eagle surfaced online. She denied leaking them for publicity purposes, brushing them off to a degree, saying, “it seems that someone has hacked into my computer. That’s real foul and evil. Now stop acting like you haven’t seen a titty before”.

I recently released a book that addresses how to succeed in business without using one’s body as an all-access pass. During an interview with Mike Street  of WBTJ-Richmond I was asked to comment on Cassie’s nude photo leak. Here’s what I had to say about it, “if nudity is the route you choose to take, you still need to handle your entertainment business!” I mean, even Brangelina sold photos of their babies and gave the money to charity!

Branjelina and the Twins

Then, not 24 hours later, nude photos of Rhianna pop up! No one’s claiming responsibility for this act of career terror either. But after some discussions about this, I submit that a generational shift has occurred with how young women perceive ‘compensation’ for nudity, the value of their bodies, and their relaxed relationship to decency, privacy and technology. Chicks are uploading their own clips of themselves making it clap on social networks–and I mean literally clapping their asses, not their hands. Teens are performing oral sex yet don’t see it as sexual intercourse. They are also ‘sexting’ by sending and sharing provocative images through phones.

In the digital age, privacy has taken a hit. Identity theft is rampant. Even former President Bush was listening in on your cell phone conversations. Your employer may even be following you on Twitter. So whether you want a third party observing your life or not, it’s happening–and this generation by and large, has accepted the fact readily. My generation by and large, wants our right to privacy back in full, not in part.

Perhaps this is not so for Cassie or Rhianna. Perhaps they’ve forfeited their right to privacy, or see that right as less of a big deal. Maybe the consequences of being seen as less credible recording artists, less admirable role models to their peers and young girls, and less marketable pitch women for corporations aren’t that big of a deal either.




This book is ‘Mentorship In A Bottle’ for the entertainment industry



Maybe these leaks are their assertion of power over their bodies; maybe they did consent to the leaks and were in control of how and when they came out. Maybe they know it will help them sell records or get movie roles. Maybe Cassie’s half-shaved head didn’t get tongues wagging fast enough.


Maybe Rhianna’s relationship violence coverage needed to be one-upped. I truly can’t call it. I’d love to talk to them and find out directly from them. I would have bet that as a successful working model, Cassie knew the value of her exposed private parts. I would also have bet on Rhi Rhi leveraging her Good Girl Gone Bad image (after her Cover Girl contract expired of course) to pose nude for at least seven figures to launch her new album.

rhianna covergirl

Either way, I would have lost both bets. Taking nude photos is choice; I’m not knocking it. I simply wonder: Are Cassie and Rhianna handling their business, or getting screwed in the transaction?

Back when I was coming up, posing nude for the world to see was held at a premium and done in magazines for adults, like Playboy, Hustler, and Penthouse, long before lifestyle skin books like Maxim, Straight Stuntin’, Smooth, and the now-defunct King existed.


These nude spreads were major media events. The cover girls got paid handsomely for baring all. If you happened to be a star with nude photos floating around that got leaked on you, the word ‘scandal’ pretty much became your second surname. And for the woman in question, they were tremendously difficult to bounce back from.

Vanessa Williams speaks to this in the foreword to my book. She describes one of many obstacles she faced after the appearance of nude photos led to her losing the title of Miss America. “Not many songwriters were eager to give me good songs; they wanted to keep them for other artists who were proven, and of course they’d never bank on my success coming fresh of a scandal.”

Vanessa Williams Penthouse

I have signed copies of it waiting for Cassie and Rhianna. Looks like these Nude Gals could benefit from some industry mentorship in a bottle. What did they teach me this week? That when it comes to how a pop princess shows her ass, it’s a new day.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business available now from Business Plus/Grand Central Publishing.

Get Ahead In Business Without Giving It-ON HELLO Beautiful April 20, 2009

April 20, 2009

putyourdreamsfirst_finalmshakaauthor1_color10Thembisa Mshaka, as a creative executive at Sony Music, helped launch the careers of Beyoncé and 50 Cent. Now an executive at BET, Mshaka has gathered her experience and those of almost 100 other women in the entertainment business in her new book, “Put Your Dreams First,” available as a FREE DOWNLOAD until April 22, 2009 exclusively on HelloBeautiful. The book is an instant mentorship in all aspects of the business: Movies. Music. Radio & TV. New Media. Advertising & Publicity. Style & Design. Management & Representation.

We sat down with Mshaka recently to discuss how she turned the idea of this book into reality, and got some juicy details on how she got Vanessa Williams to write the forward for “Put Your Dreams First.”

What was your inspiration for the book?

There was really no one incident, more like a recurring series of the same incident in different settings. At the magazine where I was an editor, I was the only Black female to ever hold the position, and was appointed to it at the age of 21. I would moderate panels and be the only female on the dais. I would participate in panels and be the only woman of color who worked in entertainment.

At the end of many panels and events, women of all ages and backgrounds would literally bum-rush the table and ask me to mentor them, or help them with a specific situation, or ask me how I got started. I kept in touch with some, but inevitably I could not give them the mentorship they deserved. Which got me to thinking: What if I created “mentorship in a bottle” for these women, and anyone else who wanted the real story on the business? The idea lit me up, and I started researching to create what would become “Put Your Dreams First.”

What’s the most important thing you want women to come away with from this book?

Can I be honest at the risk of being a bit crude? The one thing I want women to get from “Put Your Dreams First” is that you do not need to get ahead by giving head. Unless you’re a soccer player, put away your knee pads! There are many more successful women in the business than they realize who got there with their clothes on and their integrity intact. I say this not to judge those who may not have; I believe God is the only and final judge. I believe even these women may need that affirmation so they can work in the business with dignity. If this book can give them that, I’ve accomplished my goal.

I’ve been in this industry for 17 years, and am disheartened by the predominant representation of women in our business as eye candy, gold diggers, human accessories in videos. Sure these women exist. These archetypes predate the entertainment industry as we know it. And they aren’t going anywhere. But that said, it’s 2009, and the time for balanced representation has come. We are finally at a point where the prospect of equal pay for equal work can become a legislative reality.

What was the most interesting interview you conducted and why?

If I had to choose standouts, I would mention Tina Davis, who speaks in detail about becoming a heavyweight in the A&R field and developing stars, including her own client, Chris Brown; Mo’Nique, who spoke about how to fire a manager; Lisa Cortes, who shared her triumphant story of rising from a painful lawsuit to become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after film producers; Cathy Hughes, who talked about why she refused to choose between her son and her education; and Tylibah, an emerging lyricist and self-published poet who refused to sleep with prominent men in the music world in exchange for opportunities. All of these women are courageous and inspiring.

What was the most surprising finding you encountered in your research and interviews?

That 80% of my respondents cited the absence of mentorship as the greatest barrier to their advancement in entertainment. As someone who had the benefit of multiple mentors, I realized how blessed I was to have those sounding boards and pillars of support.

How did you get Vanessa Williams to write the foreword?

This is a GREAT story. Vanessa and I are both clients of a wonderful salon called the J Sisters in New York City. Jane, one of the founders, was talking with me during a service. I lamented that I had a very strong short list of women for my foreword, but that I felt like it would be no easy task to secure one of them. I explained to her that this woman would have to have been successful across many areas of the business: music, film, television, stage, fashion, radio, or some combination of at least three. So you can imagine the list: Vanessa Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Nona Hendryx, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna.

Jane says, “Vanessa! She’s the one. She’s a client here too. I will call you the next time she’s here for her manicure, pedicure and hair appointment. You MUST rush over as soon as I call, okay?! I agreed, with my heart doing backflips inside. Vanessa was truly my first choice, especially because of what she endured to maintain her career post-Miss America. One day, Jane called. I rushed over. And sure enough, Vanessa was a captive audience of one soaking her feet and unable to move. So I spoke to her about the project (it helped that I had interviewed Lisa Cortes, whom she knew form her days as an artist with Wing/Mercury Records). She loved the idea and asked me to send her a few chapters to read while she was on the set of “Hannah Montana: The Movie.” She literally read them all from her Blackberry “from a cornfield in Tennessee” as she put it in an email. And within a couple weeks, I had an email containing her foreword, written 100% by her. Vanessa Williams is a woman’s woman; the real deal. Gorgeous inside and out. She didn’t have to even talk to me at the salon, let alone contribute the foreword. But she understood my mission. I am forever grateful to her for lending her name and part of her story to the book. I cannot wait to read to her memoir, which she’s working on now.

How do you balance your own career and personal life?

I don’t. I can no more balance the personal and career aspects of my life than I can divide them. They are inexplicably tied to one another, because I only have one life. So I choose to make my one life work. Teetering on the verge of falling between extremes is not living; that’s what I think of when I hear work-life balance. I strive for work-life function so I can be fully present in the moment as often as possible. I involve my very crucial village of family and friends when I need to, and take care of myself with solo vacations and spa days. Women should not be made to feel guilty for wanting careers, families, and relationships.

Have you ever had to deal with sexual harassment? Pay inequity? Bigotry?

Yes, yes, and yes. But you’ll have to read the book for the details.

What was the hardest lesson you ever learned in your career?

Actually, two tie for first place: That crying while on duty is a no-no, and that incompetent men fail up entirely too often to the detriment of very capable women.

This book in an amazing assembly of a virtual mentorship dream team. Who were your mentors?

It is important to have at least one for every major life transition you make. I am blessed to have had many. First and foremost, my mother, Fulani Mshaka, who I lost to cancer in October of 2007. The book is dedicated to her; she fed my love of words with books and movies. She was a social worker and therapist, my model for the importance of service to others in need. When I moved to Oakland, artist developer and beauty consultant Kelly Armstrong, who was a role model of success in the Bay Area entertainment scene took me under her wing. I met author Terrie M. Williams, at a Learning Annex event in San Francisco. When I moved to New York, I contacted her and she always made time to set me straight or invite me to events where I could learn and network. Industry giants Sharon Heyward and Dyana Williams have been a great source of wisdom for me. SO much so, that I included them both in the book. Last but not least I have to acknowledge Johnnie Walker, whose leadership through NABFEME has been invaluable. Remember: you don’t have to talk to mentors every day for them to serve in that capacity; you can be mentored by their actions and their legacies as well.