Release Sept 7 2021 | Vol28 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Fire! This volume’s cover features features the #SlayBells of @Queen__Reinvented. Gracing the pages are the Editor’sRead More…
I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking) Synopsis: Danny, a recently widowed hairdresser, and her 8-year-old daughter, Wes, are houseless. Shielding Wes from the truth, Danny pitches a tent and convinces Wes that it’s a fun camping trip. AsRead More…
If you haven’t been watching Lovecraft Country, you have been missing a great series! It’s filled with fear, adventure, history, monsters, and awesome storytelling. The recent episode, “Jig-a-bobo” has more scares and interesting plot twists outRead More…
How do I even start an article like this? I want to write something that gives us hope and makes me think I can raise my seven-year-old safely, but that doesn’t feel genuine. My mind franticallyRead More…
Synopsis: While vacationing in Greece, American tourist Beckett (John David Washington) becomes the target of a manhunt after a devastating accident. Forced to run for his life and desperate to get across the country to the American embassy to clear his name, tensions escalate as the authorities close in, political unrest mounts, and Beckett falls even deeper into a dangerous web of conspiracy.
My reaction to the Beckett trailer was, “Okay, so…this film has to be produced by Jordan Peele because it looks like a version of Get Out overseas.” I mean, the protagonist Beckett, a Black American, crashes a car his car into a house in Greece, and his white girlfriend ends up dying instantly. Yeah, I can see this story going in an interesting direction. A horror movie indeed.
Does the writer give an exciting and compelling reason for Beckett to be on the run? Not in my opinion. The film had an unexpected twist, but my guess was the local authorities were trying to kill Becket because he unintentionally killed his wife, who we discover was a spy of some sort, but that wasn’t the case. By the end of the film, I was disappointed.
It was crazy that Beckett uncovered that the local authorities were trying to kill him to keep a politically driven kidnapping under wraps. Beckett saw the kidnapped child of an important political figure right after his crash.
The chase and tension in the film were great. I felt like Beckett couldn’t catch a break though; the locals were surprisingly friendly and even knew how brutal the police were. Multiple tried to help him, despite facing terrible interrogations or maybe even death for their assistance.
Now for the many ass-whoopings Beckett took in this film. John David Washington made it believable that the character was a regular non-fighting citizen. I’ve known Washington to play some badasses and to see this character get destroyed the whole movie was a change. During the movie, I was like damn I hope he has some good health insurance.
One of the worst beatings he took was in the subway tunnel, where he was punched and stabbed multiple times. Becket was basically knife practice, but he kept fighting and escaped severely injured. During the film, I can say Becket was a survivor because he would run every time, but of course not before getting hurt in some way.
Becket redeemed himself by not getting caught and killed by the U.S. embassy staff member, Tynan, and escaping the attempts on his life. Beckett’s fights with Tynan and the female antagonist were hilarious to me. I guess he had a “Karen” trigger moment because he smashed the hell out of her head into the concrete.
But the ending, the ending had me like…
I couldn’t believe it? Beckett jumped off the parking garage and landed on top of the car like Macho Man Randy Savage doing a high-flying elbow in a WWE match. He landed on the car like a sack of potatoes and saved the day. I am sure he had some internal bleeding and probably needed medical treatment for the rest of his life. Of course, the audience is lead to believe Becket sacrificed his life for the child since he was the cause of death for his wife. Although it was an attempt to pay off the heart on Becket’s hand-drawn tattoo given by his wife, there could’ve been a better way to end the movie.
The film has entertaining moments but I was not happy about the ending or the plot involving the mafia and politics. Maybe if Becket or his wife had direct involvement in the kidnapping it would’ve made for a better story. I am always going to cheer on John David Washington as an actor but I have to be honest, this film missed the mark for me.
I remember when the original Candyman first came out, I was scared out of my mind. Granted, I was only eight years old. To even think about saying his name five times in the mirror was a no-no because in my mind the Candyman was real. When news broke that Nia Da Costa and Jordan Peele would be working on the project, I knew horror fans would be in for a treat! This film (unsurprisingly true to its predecessor) provides horror, social commentary, storytelling, and lots of great camera work!
The Candyman Victims
In the first two candyman films, the victims were plenty and there was no discrimination. Candyman was carving up more people than a butcher on meat special Sunday. The 2021 film’s victims were all white and represented some of the stereotypical racists the Twitterverse has made famous of late, starting off with the arrogant art dealer and his girlfriend. This scene was artfully done as they could not see Candyman firsthand, but could only see his reflection (this visual occurs throughout the film). As Candyman is about to murder the art dealer, he slices through a projection screen showing Black people being violently attacked in the 50s during a protest; clearly, he is done with the historical injustice and ready for blood. Not only that, but the different parts of the art space flash red, white, and blue which could represent the American flag or police lights as the victims are being slain.
The rude and arrogant art critic was the next one to go after. She had me pissed after telling Anthony, a budding artist portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, about “his kind” ruining neighborhoods, an insult not only to him but also to his work. She said “artist” but the audience knows she meant “Black artist”. Before the art critic’s demise, Da Costa visually deceives the audience with the usage of reflections, mirrors, and camera angles. As Anthony walks the hall of the art critic’s home, he sees the reflection of Candyman and even sees Candyman mimicking his movement. This is preparing the artist to follow his destiny to become Candyman and it also shows that he, too, could be a victim.
The teenage girls getting slaughtered in the bathroom scene was very reminiscent of today’s social media culture. Those girls did not give a damn what was going on and wanted to play the Candyman game. Their Asian friend fleeing the bathroom before saying Candyman for the fifth time had the audience cracking up because she obviously knew what was up and did not want that smoke. This murder scene in the bathroom was interesting. Seeing the girls pulled, cut, and lifted by Candyman’s hook without anyone actually seeing him was crazy. Great camera-work and editing made the invisible antagonist even scarier.
Side Note: Why didn’t anyone acknowledge that Anothony’s hand looked like a prop from a zombie apocalypse movie? Eventually, Brianna said something, but damn his hand looked disgusting after the bee stung him. Could he get some Neosporin or something?
I am not sure if the Brianna character’s name was inspired by Breonna Taylor, but I am going to assume that it was. To see her character go through so much and to witness the police bust into the row house and kill Anthony was definitely triggering. Nia De Costa did an awesome job hiding Anthony’s body from the camera’s view, creating a moment where the audience is not sure if the police shot Anthony or if they shot Brianna. That moment reminded me of the tragic story of Breonna Taylor and how her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, felt while holding her.
The sequel tie-ins and legend of Candyman were also well written and showed that there were others who carried on the Candyman spirit. The way each was killed was much like how many innocent Black men and women have been killed. As Anthony, the final Candyman, walks around the police car showing the faces of the various Candymen, I could see the victims Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Atatianna Jefferson, Philando Castile, Saundra Bland, etc.
The stories told via shadow puppets were a great idea. It gave creepy vibes but played on the idea of how many of us used to tell campfire stories and use shadow puppets for effect. It made me think of the television show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”.
Was Will Right?
As crazy as Will Burke, the Laundromat owner in Cabrini Green, was I would have to say he had a compelling reason for bringing the Candyman to life. The gentrification of the neighborhood as well as the police ignoring and killing people would drive a person to take extreme actions. It’s akin to when people ask, “Why are the neighborhood folk destroying their own neighborhood” after the wrongful death of a Black person by a police officer. It’s for the same reason. People get tired of feeling powerless, oppressed, and ignored. In this case, Will had seen enough injustice and wanted to give the Candyman all the blood he could possibly want in the form of justice for his people. Although, I must say he was crazy for kidnapping Brianna and for sawing off Anthony’s hand. Jesus, that was gruesome! Made me cringe!
“Say His Name!”
The film ends with a cameo of the original Candyman, Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), asking Brianna to “Tell Everyone”. This resembles the “Say Their Names” culture in which we live where we consciously recognize all the victims of hate crimes, police brutality, etc. Candyman exacting his revenge by killing the cops who took his life along with the one who tried to intimidate Brianna into telling a false story is seen as a sort of redemption for Black people, a story of vengeance I’m sure many people of color could appreciate. The idea of turning a horror icon into a spirit of vengeance was a great idea and I am not surprised the three writers came up with the idea to do so. Is Candyman worth watching? I’d say yes! Saying Candyman five times in the mirror? Hell no!
Synopsis: “What If…?” flips the script on the MCU, reimagining famous events from the films in unexpected ways. Marvel Studios’ first animated series focuses on different heroes from the MCU, featuring a voice cast that includes a host of stars who reprise their roles—directed by Bryan Andrews with AC Bradley as head writer, “What If…?” launches exclusively on Disney+ on August 11th, 2021.
Growing up, I was a fan of the What If…? comics when they were released back in the 90s. What If…the Punisher Killed Daredevil was the first comic of that series I bought with my own money. Other times, I begged my parents for a few bucks in order to get my What If…? fix. So you can imagine the excitement I felt when I was invited to the Marvel What If…? press conference. The presser (short for press conference) featured Director Bryan Andrews, Showrunner A.C.Bradley, Executive Producer Brad WinderBaum, and Jeffrey Wright (the voice of The Watcher). They discussed the anthology’s tie-in with the MCU, The Watcher, and Chadwick Boseman.
What If..? in the MCU
When asked about the future of the What If..? series in the MCU, nothing was confirmed, but AC Bradley said that there’s a reason the show airs after Loki. If you haven’t seen Loki, it is focused on time travel and variants considered to be timeline outlaws. “The series is just as important as any story in the MCU. It’s woven into that same tapestry”, added Winderbaum. MCU fans, like myself, are already speculating if some of the characters or stories in the series will show up in the MCU. For example, the Marvel zombies, Shuma-Gorath, Star-Lord, T’Challa, etc. It’s also been mentioned that there is a season two of What If…? in development, and Captain Carter is a character whom the writers look to revisit.
“The Watcher deals with the temptation to involve himself in these alternate universes but at the same time living vicariously through these characters/stories and taking it all in.” – Jeffrey Wright on The Watcher
Jeffrey Wright discussed his excitement to be on the project and talked about how The Watcher is a surveyor of the alternate timeline. He said he made the development of The Watcher as personal as possible. “The Watcher is described as the most dramatic being in all the known [Marvel] universe. He’s a fairly dramatic guy, fairly powerful guy that overseas the multiverses,” Wright explained. “The Watcher is a Rod Sterling character…in some ways narrating, in some ways, not the biggest Marvel fan there is,” Wright added. Wright stated he wants the audience to feel like they’re watching the stories unfold just as if The Watcher is in real-time. Will The Watcher be in the MCU? Bradley and Wright left the answer open but did mention there is a chance.
Chadwick Boseman Remembered
Bryan Andrews talked about how Chadwick Boseman was one of the first to sign onto the project and was happy to portray this more humorous version of T’Challa. Bradley added when developing the episode featuring T’Challa, they were inspired by a Marvel poster where the Black Panther and Star-Lord were positioned side-by-side. They realized the two characters were close in age, and this information sparked the idea of T’challa being abducted instead of Star-Lord. Winderbaum, Andrews, and Bradley talked about the pressure they felt to perfect episode 2 because it was the last performance by Boseman. Bradley said they wanted to honor not only T’Challa but Boseman as well.
Wright talked about the first time he met Boseman. It was in a bathroom at Comic-Con. He said Boseman was introducing Black Panther and he himself was at the event advertising West World. Wright talked about how great of an actor and overall person Chadwick was. He also mentioned he was supposed to star in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with Boseman but his schedule wouldn’t allow it.
My First Reactions
I will say the episodes are exciting, engaging, and well-executed. Episode 2 was the best of the three episodes I got to see. Not only because it featured Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, but because of how the story and characters were developed. Showrunner AC Bradley talked about how even though T’Challa was not the king of Wakanda in this timeline, he still influenced the environment around him, and the writers were intentional about it. Like the other episodes, the alternate versions of Marvel characters in this episode were shocking. Marvel’s What If…? gets two thumbs up and an “I am Groot!” from me! This series will go over well with fans of the comics and MCU in general. Be sure to catch the series premiere on August 11th on Disney+.
SYNOPSIS: Alvin Ailey was a trailblazing pioneer who found salvation through dance. AILEY traces the full contours of this brilliant and enigmatic man whose search for the truth in movement resulted in enduring choreography that centers on the Black American experience with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty. Told through Ailey’s own words and featuring evocative archival footage and interviews with those who intimately knew him, director Jamila Wignot weaves together a resonant biography of an elusive visionary.
A working-class, gay, Black man, he rose to prominence in a society that made every effort to exclude him. He transformed the world of dance and made space for those of us on themargins—space for black artists like Rennie Harris and me. – Jamila Wignot
I moved to DC over ten years ago, and one of the first advertisements I saw was for the Ailey Dance Company at the Kennedy Center. I googled the name of the dance company because I was interested in its origin. After all, it featured Black dancers. To my surprise, I found out the company was well known; its visionary, Alvin Ailey, was even more significant. Ailey, the documentary by Jamila Wignot, gave me a more introspective look at the famous creative. There is so much I learned about Ailey. His passion, hard work, and his resilience as a dance creative were unparalleled. I can say without a doubt that this is one of the best documentaries I have seen at Sundance 2021.
As the film starts, voiceovers commence as photos of Alex Ailey are shown on screen. Jamila Wignot does a great job of adding in archived recordings of Ailey. This made me feel as if Ailey was talking to me directly or as if I was watching him chat live at the Actor’s Theater. You can tell the Ailey Dance company is still rich with the passion Ailey provided. When I saw the Artistic Director, Robert Battle, and Choreographer, Rennie Harris, instruct students, I could immediately see Alvin Ailey’s influence.
I found it interesting that at age 14, Ailey fell in love with dancing, but his gym teacher wanted him to play football. After all, back in that time, the understanding of masculinity was not as broad as it is today. Ailey would be teased if he were to skip men’s athletics to participate in dance.
The dance performance of Carmen at the Lester Horton School was one of the inspirations that prompted Ailey to immerse himself into the art. Ailey would go to the arrangements with his friend, Don Martin. He described the performances as “beautifully executed by incredible creatures that took the audience into another world”. After noticing Ailey in the audience at multiple concerts, Horton encouraged Ailey to come out and try dance.
Not Easily Broken
I learned from the film how brave Ailey was to pick dancers who were considered atypical at the time. They traveled around the world sharing their dance art when Black performers were not widely accepted. During one of their first tours, they performed for twenty-five people in Australia and were so good that the show sold out the next night. Director Jamila Wignot’s interpretation of this moment was so spectacular, I felt as though I was actually in attendance of this historical event.
I appreciated the interviews with former Ailey dancers (Sylvie Winters, Sanita Miller, Masazumi Chaya, and Bill T.Jones). They painted a clear picture of what it was like to be a part of the Ailey dancing family. The stories of the terrible hotels, their crowded small bus, and the long rides made the performers’ tours that much more commendable. It was clear that no matter the conditions, they could still perform to the best of their ability and wow the audience.
His Love, His Creation
The documentary featured his mom, lover, teacher, and the greatest love of his life, dance. They all were essential to his existence and life force, but his mother, in particular, was highlighted for how much she meant to him. Ailey did not have many relationships or close friends; all he had was dance. It was not until later he realized that outside of his biological family, his dance company was his family, and dance was the glue that held it all together.
One of the relationships explored in the film was with his short-term lover, Abdullah, a young man he met in France who traveled to New York to be with him. Abdullah disappeared one night via fire escape during a party thrown by Ailey and never returned. The death of his excellent friend, Joyce Trisler, caused him tremendous grief. The repeated loss in his life led to several months of him dealing with depression, leading him to eventually enter a rehabilitation center.
I loved the film because it showed Ailey’s work was inspired by what he was feeling. For instance, when Fred Hampton died, he developed the play Masekela Langage, and after Joyce Tisler died, he created his tribute, Memoria.
Ailey’s battle with AIDS was a struggle; not only was the disease taking a toll on his physical health, but it was also taking a toll on him mentally. What kept him sane and at peace with this mortality? Dance and his dance family. Although he could barely stand, let alone dance, Ailey would watch his dancers rehearse from a couch his team put in the studio.
After watching this film, I’ve gained whole new respect for Alvin Ailey, and I now see why advertisements for his dance company can be found everywhere. Ailey’s concerts have received standing ovations and encores because audience members love to see a passion-filled project. It’s apparent that Alvin Ailey’s essence was present during the development of Wignot’s project. If you want to see the beauty of Ailey’s growth as a man and his contribution to dance, I would recommend watching Ailey. The documentary is set to be released in theaters nationwide on August 6th, 2021.
As Spike Lee serves as the director for the Cannes Film Festival, he also has something else major his fans can look forward to…his new book, SPIKE. The hardcover book covers Lee’s 30-year film career and includes never seen before photos from the set of his films. Some photos will come from the archives of Lee’s brother, David Lee, and will also feature photos from onset photographers from his films over the years.
The book is also designed by creative and founder of Vocal Type, Tré Seals. Seals created the custom typography for the book based on Radio Raheem’s iconic LOVE/HATE brass knuckles from Do the Right Thing. The same brass knuckles Lee wore during his win at the Academy Awards for BlacKkKlansman.
What I Look Forward To?
I look forward to seeing extra photos from some of the sets of my favorite films like Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and School Daze. These are the films I grew up appreciating because the characters look like me and some of the soundtracks were dope! Seriously, Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack was my gateway into my love for jazz and the He Got Game soundtrack re-introduced me to legendary hip hop group Public Enemy.
I hope to see more information about films like She Hate Me and Bamboozled because these films were released during a time when I started to pay more attention to social commentary in art and understanding how art imitates life. Lee’s films always prompt audiences to think but never forces the message intended for the viewers.
The book will also feature some stills and quotes from Spike Lee’s “Is it the shoes?” Nike campaign with Michael Jordan. I really want to see his commentary on that experience, especially when Jordan used to put on a show against his beloved Knicks. I mean Jordan used to embarrass everybody, but he used to obliterate the Knicks!
“As I Head Full Steam Ahead Into My 5th Decade As A Filmmaker I Was Elated When Steve Crist And Chronicle Chroma Approached Me About Doing A Visual Book Of All My Joints. We Would Revisit All Da Werk I’ve Put In To Build My Body Of Work. Film Is A Visual Art Form And That Sense Of My Storytelling Has Been Somewhat Overlooked. Why Now, After All These Years? FOLKS BE FORGETTING.” – Spike Lee
For the last few years, Spike Lee has received his long-awaited and deserved roses. Of course, many of us have supported and shown appreciation for the quality entertainment he has created but I feel now he is getting worldwide acknowledgment. So if you are a Spike Lee fan like I am, you will enjoy this book published by Chronicle Chroma and can embrace the nostalgia. The book will be released on November 17th and can pre-ordered here.
Spike Lee has been a celebrated filmmaker, a cultural icon, and one of America’s most prominent voices on race and racism for more than three decades. His dynamic storytelling and unique visual style have made an indelible mark on filmmaking and television. This comprehensive monograph will be a sumptuous visual showcase of Spike Lee’s life and work, a must‐have for cinephiles and fans of one of the most influential filmmakers in history. His career spans over 30 years and includes: She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Crooklyn, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game, Summer of Sam, Bamboozled 25th Hour, Inside Man, and more. Lee’s outstanding feature documentary work includes the double Emmy® Award-winning If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, a follow-up to his HBO documentary film When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, and the Peabody Award-winning A Huey P. Newton Story. In the television arena, he launched his Netflix original series She’s Gotta Have It, which ran two seasons on the platform. The series is a contemporary update of his classic film.
Synopsis: Queen of Glory is the story of Sarah Obeng, a brilliant child of Ghanaian immigrants, who’s quitting her Ivy League PhD program to follow her married lover to Ohio. However, when her mother dies suddenly, Sarah is bequeathed a Christian bookstore in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx where she was raised. A follow-up on the classic immigrant’s tale, Queen of Glory provokes laughter and empathy as its heroine is reborn through her inheritance.
Queen of Glory is a humorous film about identity, family, and culture; a story that shares the perspective of a Ghana-American preparing to bury her mother while following her deep-rooted cultural practices in the process. Like the lead character, Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah), many of us leave our parents’ nest to explore the world, become educated, and gain exposure to other ways of life. Sometimes we find ourselves embracing other cultures while abandoning our own along the way. This Nana Mensah project proves that growth and self-discovery can be full of humor, even when things are not so much. It comes as no surprise that the film took home the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival’s Best New Narrative Director and Special Jury Prize for Artistic Expression. Mensah was able to take time from her busy Tribeca schedule to update Taji Mag about the film.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): How was the process of making this film?
Nana Mensah (NM): Incredibly long. I had a very, very expensive script that still has not been made but takes place in Ghana and it was a historical biopic. I showed it to my good friend who is an indie filmmaker, Emily Abt, and she was like “Girl, nobody knows who you are. Nobody is going to give you $100 million dollars to make this movie in Ghana. Why don’t you start again and put this script on the back burner? Work on something intimate and small but you can put it in the festival circuit, make a name for yourself as a storyteller. Then that will be the launchpad to the $100 million projects”. That’s how I came to develop my labor of love, my passion project, Queen of Glory. I wrote this story around something film veterans advise young filmmakers to do which is cheap and [sometimes] free. My family owns a Christian bookstore in the Bronx, so I wrote the story around the idea of that bookstore and fictionalized everything else.
DDF: What was the most difficult part of the process?
NM: The hardest part was fundraising and getting resources. As a first-time filmmaker, nobody knows who you are and when you go to them to ask for money they are kind of like “Who, why, what are you using the money for?”. When you are a child of immigrants in the United States, it’s so cliche [that] you become a lawyer, doctor…and those are your options. My network was not a network that was very familiar with investing in film or things like that. Usually, it’s investing in an app or someone’s business, but when it comes to film it’s like, “What does that mean?”. It took a while to really convince people of my vision and to get resources.
I thought the world needed this story because I simply hadn’t seen it anywhere. West African stories don’t quite fit in the boxes Western audiences want to fit them into. In Asante culture— my parents’ culture and that of Sarah’s parents depicted in ‘Queen of Glory’— great joy and celebration can exist right alongside pain and loss. Asante stories show life as a symbiosis of drama and comedy, each stepping in when the other swells too wildly, needing to be checked. – Nana Mensah
DDF: Pit (Meeko Gattuso) was one of my favorite characters in the film. What made you cast Meeko Gattuso?
NM: There’s a friend and family kind of vibe when it came to casting Meeko. Meeko was directed by my friend, Adam Leon, who also directed Gimme the Loot. Leon also plays Lyle, my boyfriend, in the film. Adam found Meeko. How? I have no idea. I always wanted to work with that guy…he’s so compelling and he’s so, you know, great to watch. We were looking at casting that role in the bookstore and one of our producers was like “Meeko!” and I was like “Really, oh my God, that’s so weird, wait that’s perfect”. It was one of those ideas where you’re like “no, no, no!” when the producers first say it, but then you are like “wait, wait, wait!” Now I can’t imagine anyone else playing that part.
DDF: Sarah’s next door neighbors always have chaos going on. How and why did you create those scenes?
NM: My background is in theater so when you’re watching a play, you get to kind of move your eyes around. You’re not being told where to look. A lot of times you just kind of pick out what you are absorbing. I wanted to play with the idea of being able to do that in film and so I figured with that family there’s so many people and so much chaos it would be great just to have this tableau. Then you get to choose your own adventure. Three of those characters are related, so there was a lot of familial beef they could draw from which worked in my favor.
DDF: What was going through Sarah’s mind when she was preparing for the funeral?
NM: What I was trying to convey was that sometimes you don’t have to do it anymore, and just be who you are. Sarah cutting off the weave and letting her natural hair out and then, like, really grieving her mother…something that she’s been keeping at bay this entire time, you know, keeping a bit of distance between herself and the grief. Letting the loss of her mother wash over her is how I wanted it to end at that point of the act.
DDF: Do you think we will see more stories like Queen of Glory?
NM: I’m just excited to add another contribution to the different ways that Black people live, are being raised, and what they’re being exposed to in the United States; and just adding another Drop in the Ocean of Blackness reflected in cinema.
Queen of Glory is a uniquely funny film that audiences are bound to enjoy. I found myself connected to the film and especially relating to the lead character. This film is another great project released by Magnolia Pictures and definitely worth watching. Hopefully it will open the door for Nana Mensah’s $100 million dollar film of her dreams. In the meantime, you can also catch Nana in the upcoming Netflix series, The Chair.
Synopsis: When high school student Jaylen Brown (Skylan Brooks) finds himself under suspicion after his classmate’s mysterious disappearance, prejudice quickly begins to bubble up to the surface of his small town. Working quickly to clear his own name, he begins to unravel a massive web of secrets that all point to otherworldly forces at play.
No Running made its premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. It is a sci-fi flick that reminds me of teen-based films like The Faculty or Attack the Block, but with the same racial themes of Get Out. Firstly, the film definitely had me wondering why the lead character’s life sucked so much, there could’ve been more clarity about his past. Secondly, I thought it was crazy how there were alien abductions going on and the town was still focusing on Jaylen and his family. Also, I found myself wondering what could’ve made this film better. Something was definitely missing and I feel this could be better as a series.
The protagonist, Jaylen Brown, was an intriguing character: one of the only Black men in the neighborhood with a troubled past in a town rumored to have experienced alien abductions. His character made me reflect on how young Black men can be perceived so negatively. Jaylen just wants to be a teenager, be with his crush, have fun with his family, and graduate! But it seems his aunt, his Bully, and his town just won’t let him be. Only the women in his life keep him grounded which is mainly because his life is absent of male figures, especially Black male figures.
Jaylen’s love interest, Amira (Clark Backo), was a great plot device and serves as the only bright spot outside of his family. Clark does a decent job of making Amira Jaylen’s charismatic love interest. It is unfortunate that Amira is abducted, but even moreso that she disappears while with Jaylen after a party in a predominantly white neighborhood.
Jaylen’s mother Ramila (Rutina Wesley) and sister Simone (Diamond White) were the foundation needed for him to stay optimistic, even during his time on the run. (Side note: I’m sorry, I will always see Diamond White as Tiffany from Boo: A Madea Halloween, but her portrayal as Simone was just as entertaining).
As I mentioned before, the premise sets up a promising story, but I am not sure if the film accomplished its goal? The correlation between a space alien and Jaylen in this neighborhood makes the film compelling, but I really had to look deep to make the connection. I also thought about how crazy it would be to walk in Jaylen’s shoes? Imagine being a young Black man who witnessed his high school crush get abducted by aliens in a town severely lacking diversity. I would run, too, and I’d be on the first Southwest Flight back to my aunt’s house.
The small side story of Jaylen’s relationship with his father towards the end of the movie kind of lost me. Honestly, I would’ve liked to see at least a flashback of the event(s) that caused the demise of Jaylen’s relationship with his father. Aso, I understood the reason for the conflict with his aunt, but I did not understand its timing.
When Jaylen was on the run and playing detective, the pacing was on point. The mini-missions were fun and felt reminiscint of the side missions from Grand Theft Auto. The scene where he tries to make it out of the sheriff’s house was both intense and comical. The sheriff’s and his father’s racist comments and discriminatory attitudes made me want to jump through the screen. I did enjoy, though, that the sheriff’s father’s story connected to the aliens plot.
No Running was an interesting film that questions the social commentary of believing in aliens or believing a young Black man. The idea is brilliant and I commend the screenwriter for using his experiences to bring life to this film, but I do feel the film could’ve been executed better.
Synopsis: Carl Black (Mike Epps) is about to face off with the neighbor from hell (Katt Williams) in The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2. Carl has only ever wanted the best for his family, but after surviving the events that led to his (not-so-)bestselling book, he’s moving everyone to his childhood home, where he must contend with not only dealing with his wife Lorene (Zulay Henao) and kids Allie (Bresha Webb) and Carl Jr. (Alex Henderson) but everyone under the sun who drives him crazy: Cronut (Lil Duval), Freezee (Andrew Bachelor), Rico (Tyrin Turner), along with an entire neighborhood of characters who seem to attract strange activity after dark. And nothing could be freakier than their new neighbor, Dr. Mamuwalde (Williams), who may or may not be a vampire. From Co-Writer/Director Deon Taylor (Fatale, Black and Blue), as the Meet the Blacks universe expands, it will be up to Carl to figure out what his neighbor is up to in the middle of the night before it’s too late for him and his family.
Mike Epps, Katt Williams, Lil’ Duval, and Snoop Dogg are a few names in the star-studded The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 horror-comedy: the sequel to Meet The Blacks (once again helmed by Director Deon Taylor). Taylor is known for his recent works such as Fatale, Black and Blue, and Intruder. The Director took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his latest project.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): Does your creative approach differ from genre to genre?
Deon Tayor (DT): I think the approach is always the same. In order for me to do a project, I have to be excited about it for some reason. That reason changes at different times of my life. I do understand the film is art. The idea is for you to keep painting. I see directors doing a movie every eight years. I don’t know how to do that. It took me so long as a Black director to get a movie made. Once the door was ajar, I put it into my mindset that I’m not going to stop.
DDF: What inspired you to make the first Meet the Blacks?
DT: I made Meet the Blacks at a time when I was over making films, then Mike Epps made me laugh and told me he wanted to do a horror film. I was like that’s an interesting idea.
DDF: So, that’s why you’ve been putting out movies frequently?
DT: Yes, you don’t want to stop. Especially when you are conscious of the time you are living in. If you have an opportunity to run you should run. Don’t let anything cool off, because we can’t afford that. If we lived in a different environment where I could point to 5 or 6 Black filmmakers and say they can afford to make one film and [take] three years off, then I would do it.
DDF: What was your approach to this film?
DT: I had finished the first Meet the Blacks and I was doing the press tour for The Intruder with Dennis Quaid. Everywhere I went with Dennis during the press tour, someone would always ask “When are you doing Meet the Blacks 2?” White people, Black people, Asian people were all asking about a Meet the Blacks sequel. So Finally Dennis Quaid was like “Hey, are you going to do another Meet the Blacks?” That experience stayed with me for a year and a half then finally my friend from New York, Omar, was like “Son, we gotta make another Meet the Blacks son.”
DDF: What was it like on set with all the talents?
DT: Not only are you a Director, but you are also an usher for energy. It’s like everyone has energy. I credit that to basketball a lot, how I pulled this movie off…and the first one. The first one was Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, and Mike Tyson. They are all on set. Everybody’s got an agenda. Everybody had something they wanted to do. For me, it’s about becoming invisible with your ego.
If you ever played on a successful basketball team, everyone plays a role. When you have Mike Epps, Lil Duvall, Micahel Blackson, Gary Owen and you add Katt, it’s like the Brooklyn Nets. Katt said it best, he was James Harden on set. Sure he could drop 50 but we didn’t need for him to give 50, we needed him to facilitate. That’s what he did in this film. He stood back and played a vampire in the heavy and let the comedy happen around him.
DDF: So you are Doc Rivers coaching the Celtics huh?
DT: Lol. I don’t want to be Doc, I wanna be Phil (Jackson). Lol
DDF: Any stories from Epps and Williams about their experience on Friday After Next?
DT: Every day there was something. That’s the beauty of these movies, the memories you get to keep. You don’t realize Mike and Katt had so much history outside of what we know as public. Like, how they remember starting and doing shows together. You don’t know how long Micheal Blackson has been in entertainment or how long he and Gary Owens have known each other. You realize this is a community of talent that has been evolving around each other for the past 20years.
DDF: Are there some special moments that stick out in your mind from Meet the Blacks and A House Next Door?
DT: I remember being in the room with Mike Tyson, Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, and Paul Mooney. They were talking about Eddie Murphy and their careers in the ’80s. You hear stuff and you are just like “Damn this [is] historically crazy. Now you see Charlie is gone, Paul Mooney is gone, and it makes you feel blessed to do a movie like A House Next Door. Every now and again you have a Harlem Knights or a Wayans film, but I am happy to get this calibur [of] film together because these are all the people we love.
DDF: What does the audience have to look forward to?
DT: Fun, entertainment, a couple of jumps. I think we live in a world where we remake things and that’s cool, but I think Meet the Blacks and A House Next Door are their own thing.
If your mom gives you $20 to watch a film or you spend your last $50 to go on a date, I want to make sure you enjoy it. I’m trying to give you some message like to be an artist. I can give you that in the context of it, but my biggest job as an artist is to entertain you and make sure you have a good time.
DDF: How do you make movies that deliver a message without boring the audience?
DT: I think about how I can give my daughter something in a film. Like Traffik, you get the thrills like A Quiet Place but you ask yourself does this stuff happen in real life? Yeah, it happens in real life. Critics don’t understand because most people don’t present the films this way.
Take The Intruder, for instance, it is about a Black couple and there’s an evil that’s trying to separate them. They have to overcome that evil and they become closer through adversity. We have to be free thinkers to tell these stories and not [be] programmable.
If I’m going to tell the John Lewis Story next, which I am, my job is to make that story real, authentic, and entertaining so you can go see it. I have to make films that people will go see, talk about, and remember.
You think Glory starring Denzel, when it comes on TV, I will watch it right now? Why? Because it was just a dope movie. The message and truthfulness educated you on the battalion, but you were entertained.
DDF: How do you develop a good ending for a film?
DT: That’s just being a fan of movies. Anybody can lie to you, Felipe, and be like “I try to process how the characters think”. Part of this is [because] I don’t have any film school, no one has ever taught me film or tv writing. Everything I have is because I love movies, because I watch them like you. Like, I just watched Wrath of Man and I was like “Yo, that’s crazy!”
I treat my films like rollercoasters: here goes the twist, here goes the turns, and people exit the theater excited. Our little production company makes these little films but gets A and B+ cinema scores.
DDF: I saw your post about the film All Falls Down and thought to myself “It would be dope to see Deon make a version of All Falls Down.
DT: That would be dope!
DDF: What are your top three horror films?
DT: I want to say The Exorcist, but it’s in its own category. You can’t beat that horror film. It’s in everyone’s top 3. It’s the GOAT of horror movies.
Event Horizon, the first Strangers, and Nightmare on Elm St. The girls in white jumping rope and singing the Freddie Krueger song were scary when I was young.
But for now, check out The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 availabe in theaters everywhere. I, personally, really hope Deon does make his version of Falling Down with a cool ass one shot. If he does, you best believe I will ask to be a part of that project.
The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 stars comedy superstars Mike Epps (Next Friday, Netflix’s The Upshaws) and Katt Williams (Friday After Next, Scary Movie V) with Bresha Webb (Ride Along 2), Lil Duval (Scary Movie V), Zulay Henao (The Oath), Tyrin Turner (Menace II Society), Alex Henderson (Creed), Michael Blackson (Dutch), Andrew Bachelor (Holidate), Gary Owen (Ride Along), and Snoop Dogg returning from the first film. Danny Trejo (Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn) and Rick Ross (Hip Hop artist) join the supporting cast for the sequel.
ABOUT HIDDEN EMPIRE FILM GROUP
Hidden Empire Film Group (“HEFG”), founded by Black filmmaking team Deon Taylor and Roxanne Avent Taylor in partnership with investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith, is a next-generation film production, distribution, and marketing company. HEFG has partnered with major distributors including LIONSGATE on the steamy thriller FATALE starring Michael Ealy and two-time Academy Award® winner Hilary Swank and TRAFFIK, starring Paula Patton and Omar Epps as well as SONY SCREEN GEMS on the timely and insightful crime thriller BLACK & BLUE starring Academy Award® nominee Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Mike Colter, and Frank Grillo and the psychological thriller THE INTRUDER starring Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, and Dennis Quaid. Upcoming projects include the John Lewis biopic FREEDOM RIDE; the psychological thriller DON’T FEAR, which completed principal photography during the pandemic; the psychological thriller SILENT JOHN to be directed by Aisha Tyler; the next installment in the Meet the Blacks franchise, THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR; and CJ Entertainment’s horror title GRAVE HILL. Learn more at https://hiddenempirefilmgroup.com/