Category Archives: News

14Jul/21

Spike Lee’s New Book SPIKE Is a Visual Celebration of His Career

SPIKE

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 10th and can pre-ordered here.

SPIKE

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.

SPIKE

28Jun/21

Renaissance Woman, Nana Mensah, Impresses with Directorial Debut: “Queen of Glory”

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.

Pit t(Meeko Gattuso) and Sarah (Nana Mensah)

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.

24Jun/21

No Running: Alien Abductions and A Young Black Man’s Innocence

No Running Film

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 Characters

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). 

The Story

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.

No Running 

Starring: Skylan Brooks

Directed by: Delmar Washington

Written by: Tucker Morgan

19Jun/21

Deon Taylor Channels Phil Jackson While Directing The House Next Door

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/

18Jun/21

No Ordinary Love Explores Corrosive Control, Spiritual and Domestic Abuse

No Ordinary Love

Synopsis: In No Ordinary Love, vulnerability and strength prove vital to a resilient woman who finds herself in a dangerous situation with her Police Officer husband. When she exposes his secret to her pastor’s wife, the two women’s lives intersect with shocking results.

No Ordinary Love provides a new perspective on abusive relationships. With characters like these, this film lets me know I had no clue as to what an abusive relationship looks like without violence. Up and coming award-winning director, Chyna Black, brings to light the domestic abusive relationships that are not so subtle and characters that are not so easily defined. 

The two antagonists, Derrick and Michael, had me wanting to jump into the screen and give each of them a two-piece combo with a biscuit. I really had to catch myself from getting emotionally upset and not yell at the screen. Yet that is what good character development will do! Robinson explained, “We had people looking for actors portraying Micheal and Derrick after the screenings but they are really nice guys.”

Michael Jeffries (Eric Hanson) is a church pastor with an alcohol addiction that heightens his manipulation of his wife, Elizabeth, and the misuse of his spiritual practices. It is easy to see how his abuse and belief are influenced by his father. Chauvinistic and controlling, Michael’s father encourages Micheal’s mistreatment of his wife, making his whole family terribly dysfunctional. The facade of a celebrated worship leader makes it harder for Elizabeth to leave the relationship. It was interesting to see how Elizabeth wanted Tanya (DeAna Davis) to leave her relationship when Elizabeth needed to escape her own. Robinson stated, “I wanted him to come off as charming to everyone, and especially to the people in his congregation. I wanted to write him in a way that would make it difficult to define how abusive he was. I know it was corrosive control, but most people don’t use that term or know what it means.”

Derrick Anderson (Lynn Andrews) is a respected Policeman who struggles with alcoholism and the pressures of work. The once-loving husband now resorts to abusing his wife Tanya. When asked how Robinson developed the Derrick character she said “The Derrick character was my research. Police officers are 40% more likely to be involved with domestic violence and violent situations in their home.”  What I find intriguing about the film is how the men don’t address their issues or ask for help, but instead proceed to cause harm and chaos in their households. 

I find Tanya to be very endearing and a loving woman for her family. DeAna’s portrayal is on point. I could really feel the character’s innocence, especially when Elizabeth reports Tanya’s husband for domestic abuse. 

The character of Elizabeth is intelligent, caring, and good at her job as a therapist. She is able to give advice to her clients (like Tanya) about escaping abusive relationships, but struggles in her own marriage. Her abusive husband is not easily definable. Robinson explained, “It’s a little harder to leave someone when they are not cursing you out, not stepping outside the home, or hitting you…it’s difficult to call it abuse, which was my goal for Elizabeth’s situation.” 

No Ordinary Love opened my eyes to what abusive relationships can look like when there is no violence or obvious verbal abuse. The film also sheds light on how publicly well-respected partners can be the most dangerous, thus hindering the victim from getting help. Chyna Robinson does a great job of creating compelling characters and had me truly hating the antagonists in the film. After viewing this thought-provoking and emotional film, I look forward to seeing Robinson’s next project. As for now, check out No Ordinary Love on Amazon Prime or Itunes

No Ordinary Love, Chyna Robinson, Director, Writer, Producer

Chyna Robinson, Director, Writer, Producer Winner of several Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Film awards on the national and international film circuit, is a Writer, Director, and Producer. Her directorial work most recently includes No Ordinary Love, which received multiple accolades from Best Film to numerous Best Edit and Best Actor awards. No Ordinary Love will be released to Video on Demand platforms in June 2021. Her other narrative work includes the historical drama, Greenwood: 13 Hours, and the thriller Lola Lisa.

11Jun/21

In The Heights Will Make You a Lin Manuel Miranda Fan If You Aren’t Already

In The Heights

No way as a 30-something-year-old man did I think I would be fanboying over a Lin Manuel project but there I was – almost as excited as my niece, Lin Manuel’s #1 fan (in her opinion), to watch his latest film, In the Heights. Not to mention, the film was also helmed by Crazy Rich Asians award-winning director, John M. Chu, and had a cast full of colorful characters. Yes, literally the cast was full of diversity that was organic and not uncomfortable like it is in some other films. Trust me, you will become a fan if you are not already.  

Plots, Subplots, and Sub-subplots

Like the play, the film has multiple subplots that tie together perfectly. Kudos is due to Miranda and screenwriter, Quiara Alegría Hudes, for In the Heights’s last act takes a surprising twist. The way the film opens, the way it is shot, the character introductions, and the plot all had me fooled!

Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina’s (Leslie Grace) relationship was endearing. I enjoyed how Nina focused on her being back home as Benny tries to talk about Nina’s college life. She missed home so much she changed her hair from straight to natural – code-switching on deck! The love Benny has for Nina runs so deep. You can tell he wants to spend all of his time with her and support her future goals. Nina’s subplot definitely pays off as the film progresses and, to me, was one of the most important since her character’s choices could affect the most lives. 

Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa’s (Melissa Barrera) relationship was also interesting. Both were charismatic, admired each other, and desired a different life that would lead their lives in opposite directions. Their chemistry was strong though and their moments at the club were hilarious.

One of the stand out scenes was when the power outage occurred while the main cast was in the club. When “Powerless” was performed and transitioned to “Look at the Lights”, I really felt the emotion. This community feels powerless in their situations, mostly controlled by the government, but they all look toward a bright hope for the future. Poverty, social economics, cultural identity, and immigration were all heavily explored but not force-fed. 

In The Heights

I loved pretty much all the performances in the film but my top three were the flash mob-style “96,000”, “No Me Diga” and “Paciencia y Fe” by Olga Merediz as “Abuela” Claudia. Olga gave one of the best performances as her character chronicles her life as a New York immigrant through song. Applause to the creative minds of Chu and Miranda for making Merediz’s solo so visually stunning. The transition of time on the subway was memorable and kind of made me feel like I was watching the play. Also, I’m proud to see Corey Hawkins perform his dance scenes well because I’ve only seen him fight zombies (Walking Dead) and shoot bad guys. 

FYI: Lin-Manuel Miranda completed his first draft of the stage musical “In The Heights” during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University, where it was performed as part of the school’s Second Stage. There, the 80-minute one-act played for a mere three days, but the potential for a grander production was evident from the start. Even now, after a wildly successful Broadway run and film adaptation, Miranda is amazed that it all started when he was still that young. Having recently seen a stage production of the work, he muses, “I went to see something a child wrote—a child version of me.”

Miranda’s Music for In The Heights

If you are familiar with Miranda’s work you know his soundtrack is always on point and will most likely keep you singing in the shower for weeks. Seriously, songs like “In the Heights”, “We Gotta Go” and “Piragua” performed by Miranda himself, stayed in my head for a while… partly due to my niece singing the songs for hours. Since the movie soundtrack was not out when I screened the film I had to utilize good ole YouTube. 

I’m still amazed how one man can develop an awesome combination of storytelling and music composition. Plus, his adaptability is impeccable because to go develop powerhouse soundtracks from “In the Heights” to “ Hamilton” is just uncanny. I have to be honest, the music in this film made me want to take up salsa again. 

I think Lin Manuel Miranda fans will enjoy it and people new to Manuel’s work will become fans like I am. In the Heights is a movie many of you will eventually end up watching multiple times. The product of good acting, catchy songs, music that will make you dance, diversity, and cool cinematography, In the Heights, gets two thumbs up and a “ You better not watch it on bootleg!” Watch In the Heights opening June 10th in theaters and HBO Max.

“In the Heights” stars Anthony Ramos (“A Star is Born,” Broadway’s “Hamilton”), Corey
Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Kong: Skull Island”), singer/songwriter Leslie Grace, Melissa
Barrera (TV’s “Vida”), Olga Merediz (Broadway’s “In the Heights”), Daphne Rubin-Vega
(Broadway’s “Rent”), Gregory Diaz IV (Broadway’s “Matilda the Musical”), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Dascha Polanco (TV’s “Orange Is the New Black”) and Jimmy Smits (the
“Star Wars” films).

13May/21
Chris Blue Taji Mag

Chris Blue Discusses How He Rose After the Calls Stopped

Chris Blue Taji Mag

Oftentimes, viewers of shows like The Voice and American Idol wonder what happened to the contestants after the show. The Voice has a solid Country following so a few of their artists are able to chart, but what about everyone else? I had a wonderfully candid conversation with The Voice season 12 winner, Chris Blue, where we discussed what he did after the phone calls stopped and the excitement for his current projects. If you haven’t yet, check out his recent release, Moon, on all major platforms. See the full Video interview below.

Taji Mag (TM): What do you feel is the difference between this project and your previous projects?
Chris Blue (CB): I think for this one, it’s something people have been asking for. People have been asking for Moon, essentially, since I finished my time with NBC. It was a journey getting them here but now they’re like ‘thank you, finally, this what we’ve been wanting and we gon blow this thing up’… and that’s what they’ve been doing! So I think that’s what’s different. Back2TheFuture was a great song because I felt like I needed to say something, I needed to have my imprint on society, but as far as my musicality and my art and my VISION… Moon, to me, is it. It’s that cross between what’s new and the respect of what I have to what’s old. It’s old school/new school. You’ll hear influences of the Weeknd, Michael Jackson, and you get to the end of it and it’s like where’d this Afrobeat vibe come from? The reason I did that was because I’m still learning about my heritage, I’m a descendant of the Jamaican-Caribbean-African heritage. I’m really digging into my ancestry now. I was like maybe THAT’S why I love curry chicken…

(TM): Did you feel like you couldn’t produce the same type of artistry during your time at NBC?
(CB): Yea… I mean… Yea. I feel like I was somewhat restricted on what I could do. My first anything as a solo career happened on NBC. I wasn’t out here grinding grinding grinding before that show. So when I won and got the accolades, the money, and the deal, it was great, I get to do what I want to do. I’m telling people now, I won but at the same time I lost because for about 2 years, I think, I realized like I’m losing myself. I’m losing who I am. I’m losing Chris Blue…

(TM): Was there a lot of outside influence on who they wanted you to be as an artist.
(CB): There was. There was a lot of influence on what they wanted because, again, it’s a business. A lot of people have to remember it’s the music business. So that word business sometimes outshines the music in most cases, especially when you’re dealing with other people and other people’s money and they have to figure out how am I going to make my money back? So when you start to see this is trending and this is what most people will like and this is selling, let’s reshape and redefine you and make you fit this. The issue with that with me is and was I’m not that. I’m me. I can only do me well. I can’t do that well. So I lost. I lost a lot of confidence in myself. I lost a lot of belief. Because I’m not becoming that, the telephone stopped ringing as much, my emails weren’t blowing up, I wasn’t getting as many messages on Instagram, and everything just started to collapse. I was just like well maybe I wasn’t that good… It messed me up in a lot of ways, so much that my family started to feel the effects of it. My mom just sat me down one day and was like you’re changing. I was like dang, what you mean by that mama. That was one of the defining moments for me that brought me back. If I’m gonna do music, I gotta do it my way, I gotta do what I love and I can’t do it to spare feelings or to pacify anyone else.

You can’t sustain living a certain way that’s not conducive to what you want to live like. You can’t do it. It don’t work. You’ll wake up every day hating yourself. You’ll become the perfect example of the person who wakes up to the 9-to-5 job that you hate.

Chris Blue Taji Mag

(TM): Makes note of how I’ve watched contestants change from the beginning to the end of the show to fit cookie-cutter molds and that, by the end of it, I’m just skipping through each episode to see who they chose as the winner.
(CB): It’s funny you say that. I had to learn this as well. The American public ain’t stupid. Y’all are not dumb. You watch artists on them shows and you be like ok dope, they this, they that, but ya’ll know, nah, this is show. Some people have to be reminded it’s a show, right, so the expectation that as soon as you come off of a show like that you’re supposed to just blow up… I didn’t realize that going in. That’s a TV show. They have to do what’s best for them. It’s on me to get out here and actually work and grind and build. I tell people, I wish… If could do it all over again, with the same result (big smile), I would. I would go in thinking like an artist. I wasn’t thinking like an artist. I was some green, wet behind the ears, new-to-this-thing singer. I wasn’t an artist. I just want to sing. Put me on the stage, give me a microphone, let me SANG, let me do what I do. If I could go back and do it again, I’d have my team in place, I’d have everything ready to go so that by the time they said and the winner is I’m ready to use that launching pad to actually launch off.

(TM): What else are you working on now? I hear you’re doing a docuseries?
(CB): Yea so ya boy just got a leading role in a docuseries that we’re getting ready to shoot next month at a studio in Atlanta. So I’m excited about that. The role I’m playing is a guy who I feel like is me right now. Everything this bruh is going through, that’s ME. Everyone feels good about this docuseries, It’s real. It’s raw. It’s uncut. You’ll see a lot of truth a lot of reality. I believe highly in putting things into the atmosphere, when you put things into the atmosphere, God’s ear, he hears.

So happy that Chris Blue is stepping into his true artistry and exploring multiple avenues of his creative genius. Click here to stream Moon. Follow Chris Blue on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. Stay tuned for more updates and real conversations.

Click below to watch the full video interview.

Taji Vol27: Utopia

Release Jun 7 2021 | Vol27 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Utopia! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @UniquelyWiredM and @JaymisonBeverly by @iamNayMarie. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Concrete Cowboy: Becoming a Man and Father” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight; our highlighted Hair Feature with Tajah Olson; “Solo Travel: Building Confidence Through Travel” by dCarrie; “Just My Imagination?” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “The Childhood Challenge” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 27 contributed photo story, “Utopia;” Fitness Highlight; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Spicy Sushi Rolls; “How to Fight Racism…Financially” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; Featured Art Piece; Comic Appreciation; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Taji Mag Vol 27 Utopia

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 27

Taji Mag is the epitome of ‘Cultural Drip’ – elevating Black brands, narratives, and imagery to new levels of Black Excellence. We embody the traditional and modern royalty of Pan-African people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.

28Apr/21

Black Luxury Brands to Frequent: Adele Dejak

Attention all accessorizing and glamorizing sistas!! The sistas who love a beautiful statement piece. The sistas who love good, quality accessories. Adele Dejak is the brand for you. Eponymously named after its Nigerian creator Adele Dejak in 2008, the brand creates the most beautiful afro-futuristic jewelry ranging from rings to chokers and they also carry an array of rustic calfskin clutches. 

Although I am not an avid accessorizer, the ÁMI I & II collections of chokers are truly a masterclass of metalwork and craftsmanship. The pendants are either hammered brass or aluminum and are paired with a smooth black leather cord or are attached to a large brass ring. I would not be a reliable fashion contributor if I did not tell you how wonderfully brass and gold hues compliment melanated skin. 

Adele Dejak Accessories Nigerian Afro-futurism
Models wearing the ÁMI II collection of neckpieces; Photo Credit | @adeledejak on Instagram

Aside from being wonderfully and carefully crafted by African artisans, Adele Dejak has been endorsed by the Queen Bee herself!! Flaunting the Afrika Comb in the Black Is King film and, on another occasion, wearing the Margret Aluminum Statement Bracelet in tandem with the Dhamani Kanini bracelet in the music video for My Power from the soundtrack of the 2019 remake of the Lion King. 

Adele Dejak Accessories Nigerian Afro-futurism Beyonce
Beyonce wearing the Afrika Comb necklace from Adele Dejak; Photo Credit | @beyonce on Instagram

AD is also big on sustainability, according to their website, only using recycled and upcycled brass and aluminum for their jewelry. They also have a partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Australia to train people in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps to produce goods using upcycled materials to sell to provide for their families.

The pieces may be a little pricey for some (150$+), but the cost of supporting a black business is priceless. Besides, who doesn’t want to step into their next board meeting looking like they stepped off the first flight back from Wakanda? Go check out Adele Dejak and tell them I sent you ♥!

This is the second piece in a 5 part series about my favorite Black Luxury Brands, check out the first part here!

26Apr/21

Taji Mag at the Oscars: Entertaining with a Side of Snubs

Oscars, Danil Kaluuya
Daniel Kaluuya holding his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor

The 93rd Oscars was one of the most entertaining Oscars I’ve seen in a while. I kind of assumed it would be given the number of Black creatives listed in the programming and the nominees. Never mind that I had media credentials this year, even my friends were texting me saying the same thing. The night was filled with surprises and laughs… to be enjoyed in the comfort of my home and not in the hot sun trying to waive down people for interviews.  

The Winners Are…

Daniel Kaluuya started the night with his win in the Best Actor in a Supporting Role category for Judas and the Black Messiah. He made sure to include his castmates and follow feature creatives in his speech stating, “I share this honor with the gift that is Lakeith Stanfield. The light that is [applause], yeah yeah, the light that is Dominique Fishback. [applause] The incredible cast, the incredible crew –you know what I mean– Lucas Brothers for starting the journey. Will Berson.” 

Kaluuya thanked Chairman Fred Junior and Mama Akua. “Thank you so much for allowing us into your life and into your story. Thank you, thank you for trusting us, you know, with your truth.” He added, “He (Fred Hampton) was on this earth for 21 years, 21 years, and he found a way to feed kids breakfast, educate kids, give free medical care, against all the odds. He showed, he showed me, he taught me him. Him, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party. They showed me how to love myself. And with that love, they overflowed into the black community and into other communities.”

Daniel surprised the crowd and his mother when he said “Like, it’s incredible, my mum, my dad. They had sex. It’s amazing. Like do you know what I’m saying, I’m here. You know what I mean?” I am pretty sure his mom was shocked and surely sent Daniel a text message or two about his speech.

Shortly after, in the interview room, he explained, “I’m going to wait on my phone for a bit, man. Trust me. I’m going to wait on my phone for a little bit. I think my mom is going to be very happy. But she’s going to be cool. She’s going to be cool, man. She’s going to be cool. She knows ‑‑ she’s got a sense of humor. So she’s glad ‑‑ we give it to each other. So it’s cool.”

The most hilarious part of the night for me in the press area was when a reporter asked Kaluuya “what it meant to be directed by Regina King?” My reaction was like “Huh?” and I am sure it threw off Daniel because he had to ask them to repeat the question. Judas and the Black Messiah was NOT directed by Regina King. * facepalm *

Tyler Perry was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He told a story about a homeless woman asking him for shoes. Perry explained how he took her into his studio and helped her find shoes. He said she stayed looking down after he waited for her to look up and all this time she’s looking down. She finally looks up. She’s got tears in her eyes. She says “Thank you, Jesus, my feet are off the ground.” He explains at that moment he can recall her saying to him, “I thought you would hate me for asking.” “I’m like how can I hate you when I used to be you?” 

When asked what made him tell the story he said, “Where we are a country and world, where everybody is grabbing a corner and a color, and they are all ‑‑ nobody wants to come to the middle to have a conversation.  Everybody is polarized, and it’s in the middle where things change.  So I’m hoping that that inspires people to meet us in the middle so that we can get back to some semblance of normal.  As this pandemic is over, we can get to a place where we are showing love and kindness to each other again.”

Fresh off her Grammy win for “I Can’t Breathe,” H.E.R picked up an Oscar for Original Song for “Fight for You” for the film “Judas and the Black Messiah.” She collaborated with Dernst Emille and Tiara Thomas for the uprising song. H.E.R started by saying “Thank you to the Academy. I’ve always wanted to say that. And of course, my collaborators, D’Mile and Tiara Thomas, the song wouldn’t be what it was without them.” She then continued to thank her family and musical inspirations stating, “Of course I have to thank God for giving us these gifts and my parents, my beautiful mother who’s here with me today and my father at home. All those days of listening to Sly and the Family Stone, and Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, they really paid off.” 

With H.E.R winning an Oscar and a Granny, placing her at the halfway mark of receiving EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winner) status, the question is what is next? She replied “Oh, there’s absolutely going to be an EGOT in my future hopefully. But, yeah, you know, I’m also super compassionate about acting as well. So you may see me up here as an actress also.  And I love musicals. Me and Brandy have been talking a lot, and she inspired me since she did a musical.  But, yeah, honestly, I cannot believe that we are here.  I’m so thankful to be standing next to these two.  I’m still speechless.  I feel like the Oscars are happening tomorrow, and I’m dreaming right now. I’m still pinching myself. So I have no words.”

What does the song “ Fight for You” mean? H.E.R describes, “We are literally saying, you know, as long as I’m standing, I’m going to fight for you.  And I have been given this platform and now an Oscars stage to share a message, you know, and to really speak my own truth and to continue to spread the word of our history, what is happening today.”

Oscars
Jamika Wilson (Center), Sergio Lopez-Rivera, and Mia Neal pose backstage with the Oscar® for Makeup and Hairstyling during the live ABC Telecast of The 93rd Oscars® at Union Station in Los Angeles, CA on Sunday, April 25, 2021.

Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, along with Sergio Lopez‑Rivera, become of the few Black women to win in Hair and Makeup Styling for the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Mia Neal accepted the award with her family background. “I was raised by my grandfather, James Holland. He was an original Tuskegee Airman. He represented the U.S. in the first Pan Am Games. He went to Argentina. He met Evita. He graduated from Northwestern University at the time that they did not allow Blacks to stay on campus, so he stayed at the YMCA. And after all of his accomplishments, he went back to his hometown in hopes of becoming a teacher. But they did not hire Blacks in the school system. So I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied but never gave up.” She then continued to praise her colleagues and stated her hopes for future winners. “I stand here as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling with so much excitement for the future. Because I can picture Black trans women standing up here and Asian sisters and our Latino sisters and indigenous women. And I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking; it will just be normal.” 

Notable jazz musician Jon Baptiste was amongst the trio (with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) to win Best Original Score. After winning the award he had this to say about his work. “I think I re‑affirm the fact that your collaborators, the people around you, the people who you have the pleasure of trading information as we all accumulate information on the journey of life and music is life.  So I look at them as one and the same. And just kind of seeing how that transpires in the next project you take on and transpires in the next moments in your life.  And this will definitely be something that will resonate until the day I die, this collaboration.” 

Martin Desmond Roe and Travon Free pose backstage with the Oscar® for Live Action Short during the live ABC Telecast of The 93rd Oscars® at Union Station in Los Angeles, CA on Sunday, April 25, 2021.


Travon Free won Best Live Action Short for “Two Different Strangers” with Martin Desmond Roe. Travon relayed to the audience his reasoning for making the film stating “Today the police will kill three people. And tomorrow the police will kill three people and the day after that, the police will kill three people because on average, the police in America every day kill three people. Which amounts to about 1,000 people a year. And those people happen to disproportionately be Black people. And, you know, James Baldwin once said the most despicable thing a person can be is indifferent to other people’s pain. And so I just ask that you please not be indifferent. Please, don’t be indifferent to our pain.” Earlier that day another Black life, Isaiah Brown, was taken by a police officer who gave him a ride earlier that day. Similar to the storyline of the award-winning short film.

Lil Rel is Hilarious 

Oscars
Lil Rel providing comedy relief

Lil Rel had the Oscars program feeling like a block party on Sunday. He had Daniel Kallayk talking to him like he was his spades partner and had Angela Basset grooving like her favorite jam just dropped. The most shocking and most hilarious part of the night was when Lil Rel quizzed Glenn Close on EU’s “Da Butt” song. She answered correctly and gave a little history about the Backyard Band, a popular go-go band in the ’80s, and proceeded to do ‘the butt.’ With Lil Rel engaging the crowd and Quest Love providing the evening’s tunes, the Oscars was a thing even Black people could enjoy. No matter if you only know two of the many nominees. 

Black Behind the Scenes of the Oscars

Why did the Oscars have a little more flavor this year? The Academy Awards had some more Black influence behind the scenes. Starting with Dionne Harmon, she is the Executive Vice President of Content & Strategy at Jesse Collins Entertainment, where she oversees the development and production of unscripted and scripted content. She has done some work on BET’s “Bobby Brown Series” and “American Soul.”

Amberia Allen returned as a writer for the second year in a row. Her notable credits include “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and “The Last O.G.,” and she has written for numerous live awards shows and variety specials, including the “Golden Globe Awards,” “Primetime Emmy Awards” and “The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.” 

One of the writers of the Boondocks, Rodney Barnes, returned to the Oscars production team as a writer. He serves as showrunner, writer, and creator of “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable” for HBO Max. Barnes also penned Marvel Comics’ “The Falcon,” Marvel/Lucasfilm’s “Lando: Double or Nothing” and “Quincredible” for the Lion Forge imprint.  

Mitchell Marchand returned to the Oscars show as a writer. His credits as a comedy writer include such awards shows as the “BET Awards,” “Hip Hop Awards,” “UNCF Evening of Stars,” MTV Video Music Awards,” “NAACP Image Awards” and “Primetime Emmy Awards.” 

The founding member of the Roots, Questlove, joined the production team as the musical director of the Oscars. The five-time Grammy award-winning creative is fresh off the directorial debut of his award-winning “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Although some most of us are bummed that Chadwick Boseman did not win Best Actor for his amazing performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the Academy Awards was thoroughly entertaining and worth the watch this year. With Lil’ Rel hosting the event like that funny uncle at a family gathering and the music masterfully selected by DJ Quest Love, I’m sure you will not be bored. I know I wasn’t…