Release Dec 7 2021 | Vol29 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Wata! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @Honey.Scarlette captured by @TheOneWillFocus3. Gracing the pages areRead More…
Today the 53rd NAACP Image Awards announced 16 nominations for Warner Bros. Television Group including some of our major favs, Queen Sugar, created for television by Emmy® winner/Oscar® nominee Ava DuVernay, and All American, from executive producer/showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll. They are both up for the Outstanding Drama Series category.
53rd NAACP Image Awards Warner Bro Nomination Highlights
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS SYNOPSIS: Return to a world of two realities: one, everyday life; the other, what lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more.
My rule of thumb for movie franchises is do not bother to make movie trilogies because they are unlikely to be successful. In the case of The Matrix Resurrections, it has proven to be one of the exceptions as the fourth installment of The Matrixfranchise. I have to admit, I was curious to see how the storyline would develop with one of the most iconic movie heroes, Neo (Keanu Reeves), playing alongside a re-casted Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). If you are a new reader, I must warn you there are spoilers if you haven’t seen the film already. And if you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you because it’s been out since last month on HBO Max! Just kidding! Here at Taji Mag, expect my honest review of the film, including a few things I didn’t like.
The Matrix Resurrections * Spoiler Alert *
Enter the Matrix
The film’s introduction starts off with the opening scene of The [first] Matrix movie, except the audience looks on from the perceptive of a new character, Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who is communicating with Sequoia, the operator of the Mnemosyne. The introduction of Morpheus as one of the agents during the first act was a surprise but is a nice setup for his storyline. He eventually fights Bugs before taking the blue pill, transforming into full Morpheus, a modal program based on the original Morpheus.
The team of Neo, Bugs, Morpheus, and other freedom fighters set Trinity free from The Matrix with the help of an adult Sati (from Matrix: Revolutions). Once freed, Trinity discovers she has powers similar to Neo’s and together they go on to fight through the Matrix with the help of Smith: a collaboration I’m confident in saying no one expected.
From there, the two break Neo out of the Matrix where he exists as a video game developer named Thomas Anderson and is working on a game called The Matrix which is based on the real Matrix story. Neo’s partner/CEO, who is actually Agent Smith, also begins to display signs of deja vu while slowly disconnecting from the Matrix. Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) is now Tiffany, a love interest that Neo admires from afar because she is unavailable, married with two kids. Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) makes an appearance as the leader of the new Zion. Keep in mind it’s been 60 years since the war with the machines from the last installment, so she’s aged a bit.
Lights, Camera, Action!
What can I say about the action? It is spectacular! In the first installment, The Matrix exposed audiences to new graphics and fighting styles. Resurrections built on the franchise’s strong foundation of action. I personally enjoyed the fight scene in the old buildings where Neo and his new team fight off The Frenchman’s henchmen and Agent Smith (a recast version of the Agent Smith we know from previous films). Am I the only one who found it funny how the Frenchman resembled a dried-up dirty gym sock on a tirade about how Neo’s previous actions led to his decline into poverty?
The graphics were excellent! The updated form of transportation into and out of The Matrix through mirrors definitely looked smoother than using payphones as we saw in previous films. (Wait! What’s a payphone??)
The flashbacks in the film were also edited well and didn’t make me feel like I was force-fed nostalgia like other films have done in the past. These flashbacks were vital for showing the differences between the original Matrix and where we are today while Neo and other characters continue to discover their true identities.
Matrix Resurrections In Character
I was disappointed Lawrence Fishburne did not return as Morpheus because I’m truly a fan of Lawrence. Yes, ever since Cornbread Earl and Me. However, Yaya is such a talented actor that his character’s portrayal felt organic. The scenes where the new Morpheus and Neo recreate their sparring scene from the first film were very cool. Plus, we get to see some of Neo’s new powers.
Reeves and Moss as Neo and Trinity continue to have on-screen chemistry. Their evolution into a super-powered couple was a great plot twist. The montage of Neo in his other life as Thomas Anderson is hilarious as we get a sense that Warner Bros is poking fun at itself. The video game company wants another sequel with or without its creator and the suggestions pitched during his meetings are resemblant to real life.
I believe Smith could’ve been a whole new character since Agent Smith just doesn’t feel the same without Hugo Weaving. It was still nice to see Weaving in the flashbacks because the development of the Smith character has always felt significant to me.
The Analyst was the perfect villain, primarily due to Neil Patrick Harris’ excellent portrayal. He was annoyingly arrogant…as a good action movie antagonist should be!
Bugs (Jessica Henwick) had incredible charisma and was the strength of the Freedom Fighters. It was fitting to have such a strong-willed character lead the warriors of new Zion. She was an excellent addition to the story and carried her weight much as she did in the Iron Fist series.
The Power of Love
In the third act of the film, there’s a scene where the mind-controlled civilians hold Neo and Trinity apart as they reach for each other. In my mind, for some reason, I heard the song “Power of Love” by Luther Vandross playing. Of course, we discover that the love between Neo and Trinity is stronger than the Matrix, and (as we already assumed) they are indeed destined to be together.
To summarize, Resurrections is excellent entertainment that will please audiences everywhere. I’m very interested to see where this franchise goes, but I would also be ok if it ended right here. So, log into HBO Max and watch it today!
When I saw the trailer for Swan Song, an Amazon series called Solos (starring Anthony Mackie) came to mind, specifically an episode entitled Tom. A 2 minute and 35 seconds-long glimpse at Mahershala Ali’s performance coupled with actress Naomie Harris‘ charisma led me to believe this sci-fi film would be nothing short of exceptional. Can I tell you I was not disappointed?! Performances by Ali and Harris kept me fully interested in this slow-paced film. I like Anthony Mackie (Falcon and all), but Mahershala Ali did a helluva job.
Saying So Much Without Saying Anything
I was impressed early on with a scene between Ali (Cameron) and Harris (Poppy) when their characters first met on the train. It’s actually my favorite part of the film! As Poppy sits in front of Cameron, while on the phone and snaps off a piece of chocolate on the table between the two, Cameron assumes it’s the chocolate he ordered moments before Poppy came onto the train. He slides the chocolate towards himself, breaks off a piece, and eats it, all the while smirking at Poppy. The two take turns eating the chocolate while Poppy is still on the phone. They’re clearly intrigued by each other. The chemistry here was uncanny, and so much was said without even an exchange of words between the two. After Poppy gets off at her stop, Cameron realizes he was eating her chocolate as he discovers his own chocolate bar was still in his jacket pocket.
Ali and Harris’ Performances
Ali does a fantastic job portraying both Cameron and his clone, Jack. His reaction to first seeing the clone was completely expressed through his eyes. His reaction to seeing his clone for the first time was incredbly believable, and his clone’s reaction to its initial awakening seems as accurate as could be. Ali’s eyes alone provide all the emotion needed to perfectly portray what is required in certain scenes.
Naomie Harris is charismatic, as usual. Her love as a mother is believable and feels genuinely organic. The scenes where she is heartbroken after her twin brother’s death creates a need for Cameron to be ambivalent about deciding to be a clone or not. I couldn’t blame Cameron; watching Poppy shut down and become distant was so concerning. In addition to Poppy being pregnant, Cameron is also concerned about his son not having a father while growing up and how that would affect him.
Cameron meets Kate (Awkwafina), a woman on her deathbed who decides to undergo the transition of a clone taking over her life. At times, it seems Kate is ok with the decision and even displays a bit of humor as her lifeforce slowly deminishes, but I could tell from her conversations with Cameron (after he met her clone and daughter) that she misses her life. Although the island where the transition ensues seems fitted with the appropriate resources and comfortability, it is still somewhat isolated. No one knows you are there besides Dr. Scott and her two colleagues.
What would be my concern if I was in Cameron’s shoes? Well, that scenario comes up when Cameron witnesses his clone interact with Poppy via facetime right in front of him. It was so eerie to see the connection and love with his wife replicated without Poppy even noticing a difference.
I like how the writer gives Cameron another variable: if Cameron decides to abort the program and tell his wife he is dying, the clone would be terminated. The clone, Jack, made a compelling case to live, which threw me off. But hey, Ali was playing this role, so why wouldn’t there be depth to the clone?
The film ends with Cameron escaping the island after passing out from a seizure as he went to spend his last hours with his family before the clone takes over. The clone allows Cameron to see (through his eyes) Poppy tell him she’ll love him always, an emotionally challenging but meaningful way to end the film. At this point I had a little eye sweat, then again, it may have been allergies.
One of the first things I learned in filmmaking is to show the audience and not tell; this film does just that. It shows the audience that the movie is set in the future with the use of advanced technology. From the coffee-serving A.I. to the self-driving cars, this film has some pretty cool technology that I wish I had access to. The solid colors used in different scenes creates significant effects and mood. Swan Song uses a non-linear structure to explore Cameron’s history and transmit his memories and thoughts into his clone, which is kind of cool and not too overwhelming. I didn’t find myself getting lost as I have with similar movies in the past.
Who Looked at My Playlist?
The soundtrack of the film was on point! It uses songs from artists I am a fan of, Frank Ocean and Moses Sumney. The pieces used were well placed throughout the film and added to the scenes’ moods. For example, when Frank Ocean’s reimagining of Moon River played during Cameron’s flashbacks of his life with his wife. It pulled on my heartstrings, so I took a break and watched a couple of Tony Baker videos. Shoutout to the music supervisor of this film. It felt like they hacked into one of my playlists!
In another cool scene, Cameron goes through his routine and watches his son sleep while Moses Sumney plays in the background. As he takes out his earbuds, the music lowers from the soundtrack to real-time, making me feel like I was a part of the scene.
Overall, Swan Song is a great film that challenges the audience to think about what they would do in the lead character’s position. This actually would be a great film to watch with a group of friends or family, because it would serve as a fascinating conversation piece. This film is worth watching and I recommend putting it on your watchlist.
Swan Song will be released and streamed on Apple plus on December 17th.
From eighty dollars and a suitcase to Emmy award-nominated writer, X Mayo has always had a knack for entertainment. With her new NBC show, American Auto airing on December 13th and Amazon comedy special Yearly Departed premiering on December 23rd, X Mayo is giving audiences much-needed laughs into the new year. The South Central native took time out of her busy schedule to chat with Taji Mag to talk about her new show, her love for comedy, and her homage to Living Single.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): When did you fall in love with comedy?
X Mayo (XM): When I was 8 or 9 years old, I acted with a dance theater company. I wasn’t sure what was classified as improv, comedy, or sketch at that age. All I knew about was performing and dancing, no specific category. During a performance of Cinderella, I was acting as one of the evil stepsisters with another little girl. The girl’s afro wig fell off on stage because we all had costume afro’s in the play. I came on stage and pulled my afro off, and yelled at the audience, “Stop laughing at my sister!” The audience laughed so hard. It was all instinct, and I wanted to protect her too. The little girl was mortified because we were dancing to fucking Mozart, and my improvising was not supposed to happen. I wasn’t sure what I did, but once I got backstage, the experience felt terrific, and all I could think was, “I want to do that again.”
X Mayo’s Inspiration
DDF: Who was your favorite comedian growing up?
XM: Martin Lawrence. He is one of my top 5 favorite comedians. He was just a fucking idiot when he performed on his show, Martin. Martin reminded me of a lot of my cousins and many people I grew up with, and I loved how he played so many characters on his show. That show still makes me laugh so hard to this day.
Starring in American Auto
DDF: What made you take this role?
XM: Justin Spitzer created it, and he has worked on hit shows like The Office. I thought to myself the opportunity to work with him. I just love the character. Dori is not just an assistant or some minor character; she’s three-dimensional. I love the fact that she cares about Catherine, and the writers wrote her not to play small, which gave me free rein to do my thing and not worry about being restricted.
DDF: What is it like during the table read?
XM: I am extroverted-introverted, so I was like, “Fuck, I want to be in the room with you all!” I feed off energy. Anna, John, and Humphrey were all improvisers, so they made me really want to do the table read in person. I loved that we, as the cast, could get feedback directly from the studio. I could feel all this good energy during the table read, which made me think this show would be a hit.
DDF: How much input did you have on your character Dori? Did you come up with the pink braids?
XM: I definitely had some input because she was initially written to be a 50 years old white woman from the midWest and a grandmother, which I am none of those things! I talked to Justin, and I got to speak to the writers. After my audition and shooting the show, the writers definitely curtailed Dori to fit my voice.
DDF: Who came up with Dori’s pink braids?
XM: I auditioned in braids, but they weren’t pink, but they were pink at the table read. Justin Piltzer (Creator/ showrunner) and Jeff (executive producer/writer) decided at the table that the pink braids fit the character. Throughout the entire season, you’ll see Dori’s hair change. I grew up watching Living Single and, to this day, I think it’s one of the greatest depictions of uniquely different Black women ever! So my homage to Regine (played by Kim Fields) is Dory’s hair change. That’s not just a trait of Dori, but Black women in general, and I change my hair a lot. I told Justin, “I know you like the pink braids, but next episode, the hair has to change.” and he was ok with it.
DDF: Were there any obstacles shooting this show?
XM: Just this thing called COVID. That was the only obstacle. We made adjustments, wore our masks, tested three times a week, sanitized our hands, stayed six feet apart, and I went to my trailer more often so I could take my mask off to breathe. So, I wouldn’t say it was an obstacle, it’s just the new normal, and we want to keep everyone safe, which is totally fine.
X Mayo Self-Reflecting
DDF: Did you learn anything about yourself after playing this role? If so, what?
XM: I learned that it is essential to prepare. So I knew I needed to punch up my jokes on the side before I came to work. Because the cast was so kind and collaborative, I would punch up jokes for other people and pitch things to them. I just wanted the best possible product, not to say that my jokes or ideas are the best, but maybe they can take part of my suggestion to make it work for them.
I also learned the director would always pull me back; they would encourage me to do my thing but guide me. I come from a theater background, so I would be concerned that I was overacting when I was not. I am just used to playing for audience members in the last row of the theater. I would play small in some scenes, but the director would work with me to get me where I needed to be.
DDF: Can you explain, “If my momma asks, I am in school for nursing?” in your bio for Instagram?
XM: Ha! I switched up my bio. It was my filler until I changed my bio to promote American Auto and Yearly Departed. I put that because my mom is super supportive, but she is like “Mija…” because my mom is Mexican, “Mija, I love what you are doing, and I am so proud of you. But if anything fails, you need to have a degree.”
Anybody in my fucking life that has had any achievement or success. My mom is like, “Mija, you know why Dorian got that job? Because he has a degree. You know why Ashley has a fiance? Because she went to college. Mija, you know Joy got a house? Because she went to school.
I am like, “what are you talking about?” Lol. If my mom saw someone get a reservation ahead of us, she would be like, “They probably have a master’s degree.” That is why I put that quote because if mom asks what I am doing? I am going to school for nursing.
DDF: What do I have to say about haters/negative energy?
XM: I don’t have haters. I have people that count my blessings and prayers. I don’t think people want what I want, I think they (haters) focus on what they don’t have, and I don’t address negative energy. I stop it in its tracks if it ever tries to come my way.
DDF: How would Dori handle it?
XM: It depends on who the hater was. If it were someone she worked with like Wesley, Dori would have a conversation with him, and she’s going to keep that shit he did to her in her back pocket and whip it out when she needs it. Like, “No, you are giving me a Porsche. Remember what you said; you are giving me a Porsche.”
Final Thoughts from X Mayo
DDF: What do you think the audience will get out of this show?
XM: These are a group of funny-ass people that work at this place. Sometimes you will hate them; sometimes, you’ll love to hate them. A lot of laughter, fun, and you’ll want more.
Catch X Mayo as Dori on American Auto, airing Tuesdays on NBC 8/7c and streaming on Hulu. You can also watch her on Amazon Prime’s Comedy special Yearly Departed streaming now.
American Auto: From the creator of Superstore comes a new workplace comedy that takes the wheels off the automobile industry. Set in Detroit, the corporate executives of Payne Motors are at a crossroads: adapt to the changing times or be sent to the junkyard. Shaking things up is the new CEO, whose leadership, experience, and savvy is only slightly offset by her complete lack of knowledge about cars. Luckily, her team has some of the best minds in the business – when they aren’t fighting or trying to outwit each other. From the corporate office to the factory floor, the crew of Payne Motors is driving home the laughs.
Often, when a gifted person becomes famous and has a child, society waits to see what talents the child develops and if they mirror their parent in any way. iNTeLL, the first-born son of U-God from the legendary rap group, Wu-Tang Clan, definitely doesn’t disappoint. It’s arguable that his pen and cadence may even outshine his father’s (which is all we really want as parents anyway), but iNTeLL never misses a beat to homage to his pops (and uncles). 2nd Generation Wu is led by iNTeLL with other Wu spawn, PXWER (son of Method Man), and features SUN GOD (son of Ghostface Killah) and Young Dirty Bastard (son of Old Dirty Bastard). Taji Mag went to Staten Island to chat with iNTeLL about his motivations and future.
Taji Mag: How did you discover you have bars? iNTeLL: When I was 13-years-old, my best friend told me after hearing my poetry.
Taji Mag: You are multi-disciplined, list off some of your talents outside of rapping and acting. iNTeLL: Painting, photography, melting wax on canvas, organizing, curating, executive producing.
Taji Mag: How was 2GWU conceived? iNTeLL: It was conceived once I was conceived. However, it started in 2019 after my production company, Intellectual Entertainment, did a joint venture with the independent label, Dock Street Records. I then had the space and funds to cultivate the idea into a reality.
Taji Mag: What are some of your accomplishments that you’re most proud of? (Brag a bit lol) iNTeLL:
I’ve Collaborated with Method Man, Inspectah Deck & Masta Killa from the Wu-Tang Clan. I’ve Collaborated with Snoop Dogg, current president of Def Jam Records. I’ve Collaborated with 88-Keys, whose work on DONDA is Grammy nominated.
Established my own Production Company
Established my own independent music label
Landed Placement on Peter Rosenberg’s, of hot97, debut album
One of My Hip Hop Idols and Lyrical Mentor from afar, Lupe Fiasco, referred to me as “Royalty”
I got to do a song with Del The Funkee Homosapien, another one of my Lyrical Mentors from afar
Have had Several Songs played on the Radio, FM & Sirius Satellite
Received Over 1million Streams on a song
Created 2nd Generation Wu which will be remembered forever Alongside WU-TANG CLAN because WU-TANG is Forever For The Children.
Taji Mag: Verzuz is allowing us to see our Hip Hop favs put on full shows in their 50s, how are you preparing for longevity in your health and wellness? iNTeLL: Method Man started Tical Athletics, I’m bout to go to the gym with him and only drink seamoss.
Taji Mag: As the sun of U-God, do you feel pressure to carry on the Wu legacy? Why or why not? iNTeLL: I did in my teens, but got over that early because their shoes not even the same size for me to be trying to fill them. I decided to use their soul to build my own shoes and walk my own path. A Legacy Branched out from a Legacy. Hip Hop is a Tree, not a totem.
Taji Mag: What gems have you received about/applied to the game from any OG WuTang member? iNTeLL: Take your time. Let them hear you.
Taji Mag: What have you discovered from your journey that you would pass on to a potential 3rd Gen Wu member? iNTeLL: With Art, There are no rules.
Stay connected with iNTeLL at @gftd.iNTeLL! Check out his music below and tell us what you think in the comments!
There is always a sense of nervousness that comes over me when I hear of a biopic about historical Black figures coming to theaters. These projects could be beautifully developed like Ray or the opposite could unfold (insert name of one of many horrible biopics here). When it comes to King Richard, I was delighted to see this film was not another lukewarm attempt. I know some skeptics may automatically think the movie stars, Will Smith, as the father of two sports icons (rolls eyes), then cringe at the thought of Wild Wild West. And let’s not forget how we were painfully subjected to the Michael Jackson biopic, Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror. I’m happy to say this was not the case! I walked away quite satisfied with this film and have some notables you can check out for yourself.
Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis Academy Buzz
Will Smith has been snubbed a few times at the Academy Awards, but he just may win this prestigious honor with his performance in King Richard. I found myself forgetting that Will Smith was portraying Richard William because of his fantastic performance. From mannerism to language, Smith captured the essence of Williams and even provoked some anger out of me during some of Richard’s questionable decision-making. The Richard character was compelling because he wanted the best for his children, he worked hard for them and loved them, but sometimes his insecurities got the best of him. His wife, Brandi Williams (Aunjanue Ellis), points out one of his biggest hang-ups in the film: he doesn’t want to seem like another dumb Black person to the world. It’s not easy writing a character the audience can cheer for and also be upset with, but the screenwriter and director do a great job tackling this dynamic. I found it especially intriguing to see this character portrayed so organically; a nod to Smith’s acting abilities.
Smith was not the only actor to garner attention in the film; Aunjanue Ellis should also be acknowledged for her performance and considered for nomination, in my opinion. Her supportive, but firm, portrayal of Brandi Williams elevated her to my Top Five Favorite Black Movie Mom list. From her Sistah Girl role in Undercover Brother to Hippolyta Freeman in Lovecraft Country, Ellis has played strong and intelligent characters over the years, some of whom she seems to have channeled for this role. When Richard makes questionable decisions, she puts him in his place without embarrassing him. She even lets him know she has taken on the responsibility of holding the family down despite having her own ambitions. Another favorite Brandi moment for me was when she confronts her neighbor who called Child Services on them. She reminds the neighbor that they both have daughters (Brandi having five) and how tough it can be, then ends the conversation with “don’t make me come over here again.” All I can say is can we give Aunjanue her flowers now?
I can recall a few powerful moments in this flick. The first for me was when the neighborhood thugs assaulted Richard. They had tried multiple times to harass his oldest daughter while she studied during Richard’s practice sessions with Venus and Serena. Richard decided to get his gun from his security job and kill the group leader, but a drive-by shooting beat him to it. The other was when Richard argued with his wife after pulling Venus from her first pro tournament. This was a powerful scene and showed how supportive Brandi was of the family.
The Film, The Story
I often feel biopic movies miss the mark when it comes to making an exciting project, but King Richard held my attention and, from what I could tell, the entire audience’s attention throughout the whole film. It may be because I grew up watching the Williams sisters and remember each of the events portrayed in the movie. I think the acting, plot, soundtrack, and editing helped make this film amazingly nostalgic. This film could’ve easily lost its focus while covering any part of the Williams’ lives, but the filmmaker made a great choice following Venus’ first pro tournament and ending with her defeat which was really a win for the Black community. It was also good to see Richard sitting in the stands with the family to show support for his daughter. During most of the matches, he was out of sight. This is a reminder he would be there for his daughter no matter what the situation. Earlier in the film, Richard told a story of how his father watched him get beat up by three adult white men and then ran away as the beating continued. I can remember the commercials and the amount of support the Williams family received for representing the community.
King Richard is also a reminder of how society looked at and still does look at Black families. It was assumed that since they came from Compton, they weren’t educated enough to make the decision to (or even willing to) take any steps to leave their rough neighborhood. Richard spoke confidence into his daughters, ensured they received a good education, and made sure they didn’t cave into the stressors of being young tennis players as many of their counterparts did.
Venus and Serena
The two actresses who portrayed the Williams sisters were great. I love how they gelled as sisters on screen. The portrayal of Venus (Saniyya Sidney) in the last act was so exciting as I, too, could feel the nervousness she felt facing the number one tennis player in the world. Demi Singleton as Serena was spot on as the determined and strong-willed younger sister. I would say if this were a series, I would love to witness Serena’s growth into the icon she is, but the film should stay as is, a solo project. Save the biopic of Serena for later as its own story since she is one of the greatest athletes of all time. These two actresses made me think of all the young Black girls who will love this film and be inspired just as the real Williams sisters inspired people all over the world.
I enjoyed this film and, undoubtedly, so did my fellow audience members in attendance. The film was so engaging that I found myself cheering for Venus during her epic match against the number one seeded even though I already knew the outcome of the match. With excellent acting and hard-hitting themes, I recommend everyone watch King Richard. I know I will be watching it for a second time with my beautiful strong Black nieces, looking for that spark of inspiration in their young eyes.
You can catch King Richard on HBO Max and in theaters on Nov.19th.
This year’s Bentonville Film Festival was 71% comprised of women-directed films. Of those, 75% were works by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) or AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) people. After watching most of the movies by Black creatives, I’m happy to say it was refreshing to see Black films about healing that didn’t involve a crackhead ex or an estranged father played by Clifton Powell. By the way, I like Clifton Powell. Two short films that stood out the most were Ludi and Message Read because of their relatability.
Ludi at Bentonville Film Festival (Directed by Edson Jean)
Ludi is the story of a hard-working nurse in Miami who works to save money to send back home to her family in Haiti. While chasing the “American Dream”, Ludi faces pressures from her coworkers, clients, and patients. One associate encourages her to take on extra shifts as a caretaker for an old man, but she is hesitant because the extra hours are illegal. Ultimately she agrees after her family at home asks for extra money.
How it displays healing:
Most of us have a mindset of chasing “the bag” to the point where we lose track of what matters in life or simply don’t have the time to appreciate life. Taking personal time, having a conversation with your loved ones, and taking care of your overall health are all critical, especially for health care providers like Ludi during times of COVID when essential workers were/are oftentimes overworked. In conclusion, she realizes that sometimes chasing a bag is not worth it: a lesson learned from taking the caretaker position.
Message Read at Bentonville Film Festival (Directed by Spencer Glover)
Message Read is about Gwen, a man serving as a concierge to Heaven in a place called “Firth”, a place between Heaven and Earth. Gwen helps those struggling to let go of their finality by giving up a prized possession (anything from a Black Panther toy to a piece of jewelry). This routine changes when Benny, recently deceased, is unwilling to release his cell phone which holds his only connection to his child. To the surprise of Benny and Gwen, the phone can carry a signal! It suddenly receives a call from Earth. This moment challenges Gwen to deal with his inability to let go of his attachment to his son. This film is beautifully shot and the use of coordinated colors is fantastic.
How it displays healing:
Black men are only recently beginning to accept that it’s ok to not be ok and that talking about their issues is not a sign of weakness. This film shows two Black fathers expressing their love for their sons and dealing with letting go. Benny gives up his phone and accepts his place in the afterlife by the end of the film. In the process, he has inspired Gwen to face his own refusal to move on. This film did a fantastic job displaying how Black men can express themselves, show love, and be vulnerable.
Bentonville Film Festival Final Thoughts
Both of these films were excellent in storytelling and presentation. Other short films that were in step with the theme of healing were Big Touch (Chris Tenzis), Americanized (Sara Saedi), and Cracked (Lin Que Ayoung). As inclusivity and representation in storytelling slowly become the norm, I hope that projects like these will continue to have more exposure and distance audiences from the Hollywood stereotypes.
I just viewed Netflix’s virtual advanced screening of Halle Berry’s directorial debut, Bruised, that I was invited to by the Urban Action Showcase & Expo anddd… I’m here for it. I watched it without bias or prejudgment and allowed the film to take me on the journey with Jackie Justice, the MMA fighter portrayed by Halle Berry. The synopsis of the film is a disgraced fighter finds redemption in the cage and the courage to face her demons when the son she had given up as an infant unexpectedly reenters her life.
First of all, Halle Berry is 55. FIFTY-FIVE. On November 8th of 2019, she posted her amazing rock-hard abs on Instagram that she achieved while training for the film. In the film, she is standing next to women half her age and was giving them a run for their money even during her disheveled scenes. Outside of her aesthetic, Berry did amazing with the fight choreography. In her post-screening Q&A with H.E.R., who wrote and sings the film’s anthem, Berry stated that she was given a script that was originally intended for an Irish-Catholic white woman. In her head, she rearranged the role for a Black woman who has been beaten up by life and had to find her way through. She was tasked with finding a director but ultimately opted to take on the role herself when no one could bring to life what she saw because it only existed in her head. With this freedom, she was able to capture the intensity of her fight scenes as she dreamed because she was also executing them WITHOUT a stunt or body double. Berry trained in various martial arts styles for over 2 years to make her role as authentic as she could.
The film also comes equipped with a great supporting cast. Stephen McKinley Henderson is Pops, the inspirational “old head” who remembers who Jackie was and sees who she can be. Sheila Atim is Bobbi Buddhakan Berroa, Jackie’s elite trainer and mental sanity. Adriane Lenox is Angel, Jackie’s mom with the hella ironic name. Then there is Danny Boyd Jr. as Manny Lyons Jr., Jackie’s son who reenters her life and stole our hearts as viewers.
The Not So Good
I fully expect this movie to be ripped apart. We’re in a day and age where everything Black people touch is scrutinized under a microscope. There are definitely some cringy and eye-raising moments that will probably need to be explored in post-release interviews. I’ll leave those up to your interpretation, but I will say that the script felt like a lot of stories that needed to be fleshed out more. We received the gist of Jackie’s origin (some of it was even predictable), but there was room left to round out how she spiraled into the Jackie we were presented with.
The was also a scene where Jackie should’ve cracked someone in the face and didn’t but I guess her leaving was sufficient (eye-roll).
Earlier I mentioned Danny Boyd Jr portraying Jackie’s son, 6-year-old Manny Lyons Jr. Danny should be about 11 now which should’ve placed him between 7 and 9, if the math is mathing, when he was filming. This young king’s facial acting tugged at all of our heartstrings. He had to play a traumatized boy inside a range of emotions from scared to angry and all I wanted to do was protect him. I was ready to fight errybody. Throughout all of the storylines, I just kept wondering how whatever was currently happening was going to inevitably affect Manny. He drew me in. He understood his assignment. Mission Accomplished.
Will You Watch Bruised?
I think you should. Bruised is directed and led by a Black woman. Check. It has a predominantly Black cast that shows a range of Black lifestyles. Check. The soundtrack is all women artists. Check. It has literally kick-ass fight choreo with women who are powerfully strong (no bad running scenes or terrible punches, praise whoever you pray to). Check.
Movie set photos are the first of what we see of upcoming films. Before the trailers, the soundtrack singles, and promotional material, the images give the audience a visual of what is to come. Spike Lee‘s new book, SPIKE, features film still photos, behind-the-scenes, and on-the-set pictures of all of the Award-winning director’s life’s work. Most of the photographs were provided by Lee’s brother, veteran lensman, David Lee. David has provided photography for most of Spike’s films from She’s Gotta Have It to BlacKkKlansman. Taji Mag was able to discuss the creative’s experience and contribution to the new book.
Falling In Love With the Art
David explained his first exposure to photography was when he was twelve or so. His mom had bought a brownstone and one of the tenants was a photographer. Lee said, “He (the photographer) taught me how to process black and white film. I had a 35mm camera with the screws falling out at the time. It was not that great of a camera.” When asked when he fell in love with photography, he said, “The moment photography really clicked was when I was at my maternal grandmother’s house in Atlanta. My grandfather had a Kodak Brownie camera and, to operate it, I had to look down. It gave me an idea of composition and, as I walked around with it, I saw perspectives changing and never forgot that experience. I understood that I could express what I saw from that moment on, and the camera would be my paintbrush. There is no getting tired of photography for me. My muse is in my photography.”
David did photography throughout high school. In college, he aspired to be a renaissance artist much like Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and other artists he was exploring at the time. His inspiration for the written arts came from his mother, an English and African-American History Teacher. His father, a musician, inspired him to explore music, but that all came to a halt around age twenty. He’d finally realized his creative potential and even wrote screenplays himself, but had difficulty writing essays. So he followed his true passion, photography.
“Photography will be the artistic expression that will be with me my whole life.” – David Lee
How to Capture the Moment
Lee explained how he captured the moment by saying, “At first you just try to capture and cover everything. With digital, I shoot too much and bury myself in editing. I pride myself in picking the right photo out of hundreds to capture the moment. It’s a great position to have. After all, you are pretty much limited because sometimes your only shot is next to a camera.” Lee further explained, “You have to find the right space, the right lens, and get the shot that is usable. Most importantly, you have to capture the moment. It’s the visual component of visual storytelling.”
David walked me through what it’s like to discover those good photos after shooting, stating, “Sometimes your good shots are intentional and other times you don’t realize what you have shot until later.” He recalled a moment when he caught a fantastic and unplanned shot, explaining, “…I just did photography for Denzel Washington’s new film Journal for Jordan. We had this one-shot with Michael B. Jordan; he was shirtless, as usual, and with a baby on a couch. Two film cameras are running on each side, so I had to squeeze in between them to find my shot. As Michael raised the baby, the baby reached down, grabbed the dog tags around his neck, and looked at it. All I could think was, “Yes! Yes! This is a great shot!” This was an unscripted moment, and I knew right away that was the shot.”
David explained that he was proud of himself. The next break the crew had for filming, he downloaded the shot and showed the photo to Denzel on a computer. He recalled Denzel being so excited that he ran into another room to grab the co-star of the film, ChantéAdams, to see it. Once Chante saw the photo, she burst into tears. David continued to explain that Denzel called up Dana Canedy, whom the film was based on, and sent the image to her. “She too burst into tears. Everyone who saw that shot became emotional because it was as if it had channeled something”, he described.
I asked David if he ever had a conversation with Denzel about his creative evolution over the years from Mo’ Better Blues to now Journal for Jordan. He replied, laughing, “You don’t have a conversation with Denzel; you listen. You do whatever he tells you to do.”
David went on to talk about his history with Denzel. He humorously said, “While shooting Malcolm X, he was throwing me off the set so many times. I was messing up; he should’ve thrown me off the set. During the scene in Malcolm X where Malcolm is copying the dictionary in prison, I am under the table and below the camera, trying to get into a good position. Denzel was like, ‘Get out!’. He explained, “I didn’t take it personally because I [knew] I was distracting him.
When asked what films David loved shooting with his brother Spike, he said, “My favorites are Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, The BlacKkKlansman, and Da 5 Bloods but I mostly like documentaries… When the Leveey’s Broke and If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise.” He said Spike would send him off to take pictures for the films during the interviews and press. This threw me back into my documentary photography days”, David said excitedly.
“It was hard for people to watch the opening death scenes of Clockers, but I had fun shooting!” David explained the research process and the method he used to recreate the photos he referenced, stating, “For research, Spike and I went to the Bronx homicide headquarters. We were able to look at pictures and look at old notes from investigations. I used that time to recreate the crime scenes and used my reference Weegee, a classic crime photographer in the 1940’s and 50’s. [With] projects like these, I like to showcase my creativity.”
I asked David how he became a part of this project to which he replied, “The editor, Steve Crist, got in touch with me through Spike. I started a months-long deep dive into my catalog.” David continued, “Three months into my search, I would remember having even more photos to go through. I would call Steve and tell him I had pictures of Lawrence Fishburne when he did the White Lines music video in NYU Film School. It allowed me the opportunity to go through my many years of work and find old photos. This book really covers the span of Spike’s career.”
FYI: David Lee has provided photography for films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, John Wick, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Broken Flowers. He is also providing photography for the Denzel Washington-helmed film, Journal For Jordan.
SPIKE is genuinely a celebration of Spike Lee’s life and serves as a documentary in book form. I spent a couple of hours revisiting the time in my life when each film was released. It was so cool to see pictures of the handwritten script pages and how many actors/actresses were featured in Spike Lee films before becoming household names, i.e., Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, Alfre Woodard. I was surprised to find out through the book former President Barack Obama took his wife, former First Lady, on a date to see Do the Right Thing before they were married. Whether you are a creative, movie lover, or Spike Lee fan, you will appreciate the nostalgic journey that David Lee’s photos provide.