Faces of Black Twitter: Meet Pia Glenn
Pia Glenn photographed by Shayan Asgharnia for Okayplayer
Name: Pia Glenn
Twitter Handle: @PiaGlenn
As a performer of stage and screen, Pia Glenn has played a politician, an amazon, a detective and even “crumped” alongside Will Ferrell on a Broadway stage. In between her memorable sets and performances, the You’re Welcome, America starlet proved to be more than just a scene-stealing, bump-and-grindin’ Condoleezza Rice. A native New Yorker, Ms. Glenn is an Astaire Award winning performer who has appeared on stages from Broadway to Hollywood. Whether it is comedy (Spamalot, The Frogs) or drama (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) — Pia Glenn has passionately taken her love for the Arts to rarefied places while remaining down-to-earth through her Twitter page, @PiaGlenn.
Having first witnessed Pia Glenn on the television screen, this statuesque professional was quite noticeable alongside the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, in his final long-form video, “You Rock My World.” Yet for those who might not be up on game, Pia is consistently enjoyed by thousands of Twitter followers who appreciate her real talk, her unapologetic stance on the empowerment of black women and her fearlessness against any form of ignorance. Ms. Glenn has stood on the digital front lines against #OscarsSoWhite, the deaths of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice (to only name a few) and even took Jezebel to task for attempting to align Saartjie Baartman to Kim Kardashian.
As a self-professed “late adopter” of social media, Pia Glenn might have been late to the “Black Twitter” party, but she didn’t take lightly the collective strength that was at her fingertips. “I first heard the actual phrase ‘Black Twitter’ a few years ago when a white editor I knew asked me to write about its power, calling me one of its voices,” she told us a few months while developing this project. “I was a bit taken aback because I hadn’t yet learned that the historically established vulture-like consumption of what we, black people, create had spawned such a virulent strain so specific to Twitter.” Yes, the original touring “Lady of the Lake” might not have had an understanding of the power she wielded, but soon enough she would have Twitizens in an uproar over her brand of rhetoric and commentary.
In today’s time and age, revealing who you are online can open the floodgates to trolls, leeches and hackers. Such monstrosity would make a thinner-skinned person cower from the weight of hate flung in one’s direction, yet for the New York native, she shares her government name with her followers in full and plain view. “I’ve been acting professionally for just under 20 years using my real name,” Ms. Glenn told us. “I started my first Twitter account with a pseudonym and intended to really use it for comedy, with the freedom to truly talk shit and shame the devil that comes from anonymity. I wasn’t interested in maintaining multiple accounts, so, using social media as promo tool, I just made [the account] my real name.”
For the #BlackTwitter project, those who agreed to participate were asked to come into OKP HQ to be shot by our own, Shayan Asgharnia, and present themselves in effect to us in a meeting of the minds (and faces). After shooting numerous names with backgrounds each different from the other, Pia Glenn ended our night with such humor, such striking beauty and grace that it became apparent once she entered the room that we were doing the right thing in spotlighting the different facets of #BlackTwitter. When asked what the difference was between Pia Glenn IRL versus her online persona, her remark endeared us even more. “None, actually, except that I smell better in person [laughs]. You can’t smell me online and I smell delicious.”
#BlackTwitter, as an experience, means different things to all sorts of people. There are those who use the community to start trending topics, while others aim to raise awareness about injustice around the globe. In Pia Glenn’s world, #BlackTwitter has enriched and challenged her personal and professional life. “I know that I’ve lost work opportunities because of my tweets and writing about race and social justice,” she shared with us. “It’s been a difficult negotiation at times because so much of my professional work is theater and comedy, so industry people might go to my timeline expecting selfies with Nathan Lane and get a whole lot of #SayHerName tweets, plus an article about Freddie Gray.” With over 13K followers, Pia Glenn uses her bandwidth to spread the word about issues that are relevant to black-and-brown communities. And for that, she is greatly appreciated.
“I definitely tell the truth and I think people appreciate that.”
Pia told us that when we asked about how she became a trusted source of information. Having never really branded herself as someone searching for an audience, Pia Glenn tweets unfiltered, directly from the gut and wholly comes off as someone original and honest in the process. Her online activity has not forced her to transition from her gig as an entertainer, but she doesn’t let that stop her from being a social advocate. “[Being on Twitter] has actually cost me work. A lot of producers and the like want you to have that large reach, but not touch any ‘dangerous’ topics, so my balance gets very off as far as talking about what I’m working on and what I choose to talk about that’s happening in society,” she told us when discussing how she handles controversial subjects.
Don’t think that you can just slide into Pia Glenn’s DMs or challenge her to a fair one through the social networks, homie doesn’t play that mess! “It’s tempting sometimes to have a long drawn-out back-and-forth with a mild racist who seems incapable of rational thought, but a mild racist is still a racist, so ultimately I pull back from engaging in that sort of rhetoric to protect myself,” Ms. Glenn said when talking about ugly confrontations she’s had on Twitter. We wondered aloud if there was an activist or interventionist mission attached to her 13.6K followers. To which she let us know straight up, “My ‘message’ issues are, of course, blackness, woman-ness and something I’m really vocal about: ending the stigma around mental illness.” As an advocate for marginalized communities, Pia Glenn speaks out against ableist language and approaches social injustice with a healthy understanding through humor. “I love to laugh,” she told us in our interview, “and I believe in the healing, communicative and transformative power of a solid guffaw. But I don’t feel the luxury of being anywhere just for the laughs.”
#BlackTwitter, as a social construct, has created almost instantaneous awareness about issues ranging from the humorous (#BlackDerbyHorseNames) to brilliant (#TimeTitles, which was created by Pia Glenn) to upsetting (#SayHerName). That level of engagement is almost always sure to bring the negative Nancys and trolls from the depths of Trollville, of which Pia Glenn stands up to repeatedly. “It’s excellent to see direct change happening,” she said, “even tiny changes or incremental shifts. It’s crucial to be able to see where that goes.” When #BlackTwitter is on a roll, there is nothing like it anywhere in the world or the World Wide Web. “I love it when we can come together to help someone,” Pia conferred to us. “[There may be] an individual whose name might never have reached their own local news being amplified on a global level [because of Black Twitter].”
But #BlackTwitter is not a monolith and any Rachel Dolezal’s out there that are attempting to become famous through the medium need not apply. “Not everybody f***s with me, and that’s cool too, but I am grateful to those who do,” Pia tells us while discussing her online legacy. “I’m not in it [Black Twitter] to ‘do numbers’ or ‘go viral,’ I’m really just being myself and I think that it is incredibly dope to connect with people on Twitter.” As a platform, #BlackTwitter has enabled the average jill and joe to reach millions of individuals around the world. “If you do us dirty, I may not be able to end you myself, but I have a direct line to those who can,” the consigliere of Black Twitter told us in confidence. “And if you’re talking to me and you mind your tone, you just might make it out alive.”
With such power comes the responsibility to wield it righteously, so why has #BlackTwitter made so many (like Donald J. Trump and Fox News) upset and retaliatory? “Because we’re amazing,” Pia said. “To paraphrase Tyler Durden in ‘Fight Club,’ we look like you want to look, we f**k like you want to f**k and we’re everything that you want to be. Those who are locked out keep peering in and wanting to have access, and we’re (Black Twitter) just not here for you.” Yes, as social media drives dollars and cents to corporations looking to cash in on the bubble, #BlackTwitter is not for the tomfoolery. “We’ll roast you while flipping the table in your general direction if you try to troll us for clicks, so you can keep your anthropologist-styled headlines to yourself!” Evidently, #BlackTwitter and its legions of participants are, in short, cooler than you. The ability to shield, detract or defend from negativity is another skill trait that #BlackTwitter has over the rest of the Twittersphere. “When I made a joke on television that earned me death threats, it was Black Twitter that held me up and got me through. Black Twitter formed a wall of tweets around me that helped filter out the hate, and I have since done the same for others.”
In making a space for ourselves within the vast internet space, #BlackTwitter has proven to be just the right place to say that we rock. “Because we do, period.”
>>>Follow Ms. Pia Glenn on Twitter @PiaGlenn.