Category Archives: Creative

10Aug/23

Film Review: “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” – A Haunting Missed Opportunity

Clemens (Corey Hawkins) and Anna (Aisling Franciosi) Pictures courtsey of Universal

Where to Watch: In theaters

Release Date: August 11

Runtime: 1h 59m

Rated: R

Cast: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian

Synopsis: Sinister and chilling occurrences besiege an ill-fated crew as their struggle for survival on the perilous journey from Transylvania to London is marred by haunting events. Night after night, an unrelenting malevolence (embodied by the legendary vampire Dracula) lurks onboard, casting a shroud of terror. The voyage culminates as the Demeter approaches English shores, its once-proud form now reduced to a smoldering, desolate wreck, devoid of life. A haunting mystery lingers, with the crew’s fate cloaked in an enigma, leaving behind an eerie void.

In the dimly lit sea on a 19th-century ship, the stage seemed set for a nightmarish horror film moviegoers could enjoy. The prospect of Dracula, the iconic vampire, trapped onboard the vessel as the focal point intrigued me along with other fellow movie lovers. However, despite its chilling premise, The Last Voyage of the Demeter (LVD) struggles to harness its potential, leaving audiences yearning for the true terror that should have been.

As the film unfurls, the narrative’s pacing reveals its first flaw. Tediously introducing the ship’s crew, the characters (for all their stereotypical personas of boisterous sailors) fail to distinguish themselves. Even the protagonist, Clemens, portrayed by Corey Hawkins (yes, the same Corey Hawkins who played Dr. Dre in the NWA biopic), only gradually unravels his background, leaving an underwhelming impact. Clemens, an educated Black doctor, promises layers of complexity. Still, his origin story (including the impact of his race) remains frustratingly underexplored until the film’s third act, devoid of the empowering or emotional revelation one would expect. I’m not saying that Hawkins is a bad actor; honestly, he plays the role well, but the direction and writing of the character did not fair well. 

Also, I don’t understand why the men hired to pack and staff the ship didn’t detail what the evil specimen was onboard. They all just repeated, “That’s the devil’s marking, I’m not getting on this boat with that evil spirit”. Why not just disclose there is a monster in there that will suck your blood and/or kill you? 

There is a  stowaway named Anna, played by Aisling Franciosi, who appears on the ship as a pivotal figure in the unfolding narrative. However, the film’s potential is undercut by perplexing plot holes that cast a shadow over her impact. As she speaks and responds to the shipmates’ demise, a barrage of unanswered questions looms, leaving myself and other audience members confused. The intended chemistry between Anna and Clemens fails to ignite as anticipated. While the actors perform admirably, the characters’ development fails to evoke the intended emotional resonance.

Javier Botet as Dracula Pictures courtesy of Universal

The film does, however, boast some commendable elements. Notably, the meticulous attention to lighting, costume design, and set construction transports the audience to the grimy, vermin-ridden ship of yore. These moments provide immersive glimpses into the harrowing voyage. Yet, these flashes of authenticity are fleeting, as the film stumbles to maintain its grip on the audience when Dracula is shown on screen, or when the ship’s inhabitants go into exposition about their lives. 

Enter Dracula, whose appearance fails to evoke the dread and terror synonymous with his name. The decision to portray him with a Gollum-like visage, marred by a grotesque set of jagged teeth, falls dishearteningly flat. The film’s few instances of genuine tension stem from the subtle glimpses of the vampire lurking in the shadows. These moments serve as a testament to the potential that remains unfulfilled by the rest of the film.

Clemens (Corey Hawkins) and Anna (Aisling Franciosi) Pictures courtsey of Universal

When assessing the fear factor, The Last Voyage of the Demeter falls short. Dracula’s appearance fails to inspire dread, and the kills lack the spine-chilling impact necessary to qualify as a true horror experience. One notable exception is a sequence involving the pursuit of a young boy, which briefly taps into an elusive sense of fear. The visceral reaction from my friend beside me during this scene validated the experience that I, too, had during that scene. 

In conclusion, The Last Voyage of the Demeter struggles to capture the essence of horror that its premise promises. While the film boasts moments of visual immersion and fleeting tension, it ultimately pales in comparison to the book’s sinister chapters. One may find a better experience in revisiting the source material and imagining their own vision of Dracula’s terror. As the credits roll, the verdict is clear: this voyage does not necessitate a hasty trip to the theater.

07Aug/23

Taji Vol36: Joy

Taji Mag Vol 36

Release Sep 7 2023 | Vol36 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Joy! Each volume is a tabletop collector’s item and Vol36 is no different! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @ghettofalsetto by photographers @theonewillfocus and @adornedintaji. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Ali Siddiq Bares It All in  ‘Domino Effect 2: Loss’… His Most Personal Comedy Special Yet” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, Dejha B Coloring; our highlighted Hair Feature, Intl I Love Braids Day 2023; “How to Set Your Expectations When Traveling” by dCarrie; the Universe Lounge’s “The Value of Elders” by Jashua Sa’Ra; Nicholas Ryan Gant, a heavenly voice and angelic spirit; Our Vol 36 contributed photo story, “Joy;” “How To Find Joy In Your Work As A Black American Recovering From Burnout” by Nantale Muwonge; Fit Body By Ashley. Making fitness fun!; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Spicy Red Curry Noodle Bowl; “Sex Down South Conference Is An Invitation To Explore Unbridled Joy” by Nantale Muwonge; “Tre Hale Talks About the Series “Platonic” by Dapper Dr. Feel; Featured Art Piece “Time Goddess” by @CraigCTheArtist; Comic Book Appreciation with “Sweaty Minds #12 – Exposure” by Hab Oh; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Taji Mag Vol 36

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 36

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 OUR people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.

26Jul/23

“Talk to Me”: A Terrifying Gem That Defies Horror Tropes

Sophie Wilde as Mia
photos courtsey of A24

Where to Watch: In theaters

Release Date: July 21st

Runtime: 1h 54m

Rated: R


Starring Sophie Wilde, Miranda Otto, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Zoe Terakes, and Chris Alosio

Directed by Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou

Synopsis:  A close-knit group of friends stumbles upon an ancient secret – the ability to summon spirits through an embalmed hand. Initially, the thrill of connecting with the supernatural world captivates them, but as they delve deeper into their newfound power, a dark obsession takes hold. When one of them dares to push the boundaries, they unwittingly unleash malevolent and terrifying forces beyond their control, setting off a heart-pounding chain of events that will test their friendships and their very sanity.

Why Should You Watch? 

I kept hearing about this A24 horror film at the South by Southwest Film Festival that apparently was so scary that people were having nightmares. I found out it was Talk to Me and I can tell you this movie is indeed scary as hell. It delivers an unforgettable horror experience right from its shocking opening sequence, setting the tone for an intense and gripping story. Lead actress Sophie Wilde puts on a standout performance (particularly during her possessed moments) as she captivates and chills audiences to the bone. With a skillful sound design that adds to the scares, eerie costume designs, and a haunting ceramic hand at the center of it all, this film stands out as one of the best in the genre without relying heavily on gore or clichés. Directed and written by the talented duo Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou, Talk to Me is a must-watch that will keep you on the edge of your seat, both terrified and enthralled.

From the first five minutes, Talk to Me grabs your attention with a shocking and horrifying moment that leaves you bracing for what’s to come. The opening sets the stage for a tense and chilling narrative, establishing the film’s unique approach to horror.  It had me thinking to myself, “alright, this is what we are doing, and I am up for the challenge”. 

Sophie Wilde’s portrayal of the lead character is nothing short of exceptional. From a dysfunctional teenager yearning for her deceased mother’s presence to becoming enslaved by the hand’s false promises, Wilde’s remarkable performance showcases an impressive range of emotions and transformations. Her portrayal of the possessed state is truly terrifying and haunting, leaving audiences genuinely unsettled. As she explores deeper into her character’s pain and loss, viewers can’t help but empathize with her turmoil, making her a captivating and sympathetic figure. I found myself cheering for her but at the same calling her stupid for making some not-so-smart emotional decisions.

The other actors in this film also deserve praise for their convincing portrayals of possessed beings. The moment they clasp the eerie ceramic hand, their transformations are spine-chilling, leaving audiences on edge throughout the film. It is this ceramic hand that serves as a conduit between the living and the dead, inviting possession and eerie encounters… proof positive that teenagers do stupid things when they are bored.

The sound design of Talk to Me plays a crucial role in the overall horror experience. The subtle, spine-tingling sounds contribute to the scares, making even the simplest scenes cringe-worthy. The masterful use of sound elevates the tension, leaving viewers in constant suspense and on the edge of their seats… or maybe even under their seats. I actually witnessed a viewer next to me slide way down in her seat in genuine fear. 

Sophie Wilde as Mia
photos courtsey of A24

Jump-scares are plentiful in Talk to Me, skillfully executed to keep viewers on their toes. The eerie costumes of the possessed characters make the encounters with the dead even more terrifying, ensuring that every scene is filled with dread. Just like the characters in the film, some of the appearances of the dead on screen will make you want to turn away or even have you screaming “yuck!”, I know I did. 

The film’s underlying themes and symbolism add depth to the horror. The creepy ceramic hand can be interpreted as a metaphor for addiction or other vices that lure individuals into dangerous territory. This element introduces a thought-provoking layer to the film, making it more than just a typical horror flick. There are other themes heavily depicted in the film: closure and acceptance. These areas are both important as our characters are confronted with them.

The directing and writing by Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou are commendable, as they masterfully crafted a horror film that stands out from the rest. By steering away from the usual gore and horror tropes, they create a suspenseful and engaging experience that relies on strong storytelling, intriguing visuals, and exceptional acting. My favorite is a side shot, where the characters tilt back into their seats once they are possessed, then sit back up with fully black pupils. The camera follows the transition of the characters. Another cool trick that the director uses is the space between Mia and her father to show how distant they are. Also, the father’s face is hidden a lot, showing how disconnected Mia is from her father.

Joe Bird as Riley
photos courtsey of A24

In conclusion

Talk to Me is an outstanding horror film that delivers an intelligent and chilling narrative. Sophie Wilde’s incredible performance, supported by a talented cast, brings possessed characters to life in a way that will leave you unnerved. The combination of sound design, eerie visuals, and symbolic elements makes Talk to Me a standout in the horror genre. Kudos to the dynamic duo of Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou for their exceptional direction and writing that has crafted an unforgettable horror gem. Whether you’re a horror enthusiast or simply seeking a gripping film experience, Talk to Me is a must-watch that will keep you riveted and haunted long after the credits roll.

20Jul/23

Barbie: An Entertaining Mix of Feminism, Diversity, and Self-Reflection

Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Alexandra Shipp, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa, and Will Ferrell.

Where to Watch: In theaters

Release Date: July 21st

Runtime: 1h 54m

Synopsis: Barbie (Margot Robbie) is a young woman who embarks on a mission to the real world with her counterpart, Ken (Ryan Gosling), once a sudden emotional and mental change challenges her existence. Leaving behind her familiar world, she finds herself (along with Ken) on a journey filled with diverse personalities and cultures, inspiring her to embrace her own uniqueness and self-discovery.

I did not know what to expect when I attended the screening of Barbie. What I thought would be a fairly entertaining movie about an iconic toy line with a star-studded cast turned out to be much much more, and I came out of the theater with a smile on my face. I would not have expected this seemingly light-hearted film to be such an empowering story that celebrates diversity, feminism, and self-reflection. Directed and co-written by a Greta Gerwig, this modern adaptation takes audiences on a journey that redefines what it means to be a heroine, inspiring audiences of all ages and backgrounds to embrace their uniqueness and find strength in their own individuality.

Within the first 10 minutes, it was made clear that this film was going to be self-aware, making fun of the stereotypes connected to “Barbie” and the ridiculous expectation of perfection. Even the voiceovers and background helped set up the audience for this premise throughout the rest of the film. So make sure you pay attention because here is where you will find some of the most comedic moments.The film truly comes to life with the captivating portrayal of the iconic figure by the immensely talented Margot Robbie. She effortlessly embodies the essence of the character and skillfully hits all the emotional tones throughout the course of the movie, making her the perfect fit for the role.

The film weaves various cultural elements, introducing characters/models of Barbie (and Ken) from different backgrounds, each with their own routine lifestyle and role in the Barbie world. From an iconic Barbie, played by Robbie, to President Barbie, played by Issa Rae, Barbie showcases a variety of talents and professions, but they lack individuality and simply follow their assigned roles in Barbie world. My favorite, Ken, is beach; no, this is not a typo or grammar error. His thing is “beach”. You’ll have to watch the film to get it. 

The Cast

One of the most applaudable aspects of Barbie is its diverse and inclusive casting. By doing so, Barbie speaks directly to an audience that is often underrepresented on the big screen. These roles are not only diverse but well cast, and each character fits into the story organically. You won’t find “token” characters in this film, which I find refreshing. I mean one of the reasons the film gained my interest was because of Issa Rae’s involvement, and I can see why she signed up. She is a Black woman president running the community effectively. Plus, I like the fact that they allow her to have a bit more of her own personality because her reactions/responses are priceless. It makes me wonder if she adjusted her lines in the film. Besides Issa, I was looking forward to watching Kate McKinnon because she is always in rare form in anything she’s in; and trust me, she is funny in practically every scene as Weird Barbie. A couple moments worth noting: Micheal Cera’s and Will Smith’s short time on screen is hilarious! Also, Lizzo and Helen Mirren were perfectly chosen for their roles in this film. 

The Ken’s 

Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, had me falling out of my seat in laughter because he was so ridiculous, especially when he arrived in the real world. Plus, consistent beef with the other Ken (played by Simu Liu) is hilarious because as both talented actors, they have a chemistry that works and makes their comedic timing almost perfect. Kingsley Ben-Adir and Ncuti as Ken also were perfect in the cast as they too had their stand-out moments on screen. Together they help build a final act scene that I am sure will be trending on social media. It’s so funny. I would watch it again for that scene alone. The writers of the film must’ve gotten insight from a therapist about the male psyche because some of the areas and psychology of Ken’s character had me thinking, “wow, that’s really how men think sometimes”.

Message! 

What I like about Barbie is its unapologetic approach to feminism. Breaking away from the outdated damsel-in-distress stereotype, this modern adaptation portrays all of the Barbies as strong, independent, and intelligent women who stand up for themselves and others. The film emphasizes the importance of female empowerment and the value of girls dreaming big and reaching for the stars. Through her endeavors, Barbie proves that success and happiness are not defined by appearance or societal expectations, but rather by embracing one’s passions and aspirations. 

The film also offers a refreshing sense of self-reflection, encouraging audiences to embark on their own personal journeys of growth and self-discovery. Barbie’s quest to find her true self leads her to confront her own insecurities and doubts. By doing so, she becomes a symbol of resilience and courage, demonstrating that the path to self-fulfillment is often strewn with challenges that can be overcome through perseverance and self-belief. Barbie urges viewers to question their own preconceived notions and to embrace change as an opportunity for growth.

Set Design and Cinematography

Visually, we see stunning elements from the imaginative world of mixed real life to 2-D environments, adding to the unfolding narrative and giving the audience a look at how different the worlds are. The vibrant and diverse color palette adds to the story creating visuals of how the citizens of Barbie-land see their surroundings. The attention to detail in costume design and set production brings Barbie’s world to life, captivating audiences and immersing them in the magic of the film. This is what makes the film work! Because when Barbie and Ken go to the real world, their color palate changes right along with their personalities, adjusting based on interactions with their new environment. 

The Soundtrack

Furthermore, the film’s soundtrack is a perfect complement to the narrative, featuring songs from Lizzo, Nikki Minaj (with Ice Spice), and Billie Eilish. All of these songs perfectly complement the scenes in which they were featured, most notably the Eilish song played during the final act. I heard one viewer in attendance say she was getting teary-eyed, fitting as it was during a moment of revelation. 

Another surprise was the song performed by Ryan Gosling (once again, this is not a typo; Gosling does actually sing lol!). I won’t be surprised to see this song and music video go viral, much like the “Peaches” song by Jack Black, because it’s so ridiculous yet memorable. 

In conclusion, Barbie brings to life aspects of the iconic toy while celebrating diversity, feminism, and self-reflection. Kudos to the film’s commitment to inclusivity and authentic representation, I can see it setting a new standard for the industry, thus paving the way for more diverse and empowering narratives in the future. With its positive message and powerful storytelling, Barbie is a must-see film that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on audiences of all ages. You won’t be surprised to find that the film has received a Critics Choice seal of distinction even before its release.

19Jul/23

An Exclusive Interview with Erika Alexander, Tia Nomore, and Director Savanah Leaf of “Earth Mama”

Tia Nomore as Gia and Erica Alexander as Miss Carmen

Earth Mama stands tall as a film that not only holds the attention of its audiences but also ignites a conversation about the significance of women’s voices in healthcare. Produced by visionary studio A24, this thought-provoking project ventures into uncharted territory, shedding light on the challenges faced by women of color in healthcare and social services. I had the privilege of sitting down with talented actresses Erika Alexander and Tia Nomore alongside emerging director Savanah Leaf to explore the themes of Earth Mama and the urgent need for authentic representation in the healthcare landscape.

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): Savanah, this movie was based on your short film, The Hearts Still Hums, and explores the intersection of art and motherhood. How were you able to focus on that in this film?

Savanah Leaf (SL): I guess from an art perspective, I was thinking about how to tell this story in a way that I think people would receive it and not be manipulated into the narrative. I was thinking about how we can tell the story with a visual language that’s observing real life as much as possible and not intruding on that life’s circumstances. But also telling it with grace and making people heroes of their own stories no matter what they are going through or doing in their lives. So we created a visual language which allowed our actors to kind of only have to do the performance once rather than repeating it many times and just kind of having one frame or one camera angle…just doing the whole scene from start to finish rather than chopping it up. So that’s kind of from an art perspective how I tried to bring art into it. 

And motherhood, it was part of the story from day one, I was thinking a lot about my sister’s birth mother and how much she impacted and inspired me in such a short period of time. I was thinking about mothers in general and what they give their children and what their children don’t want to take with them, the trauma they’re trying to break away from. So from the heart of the story, motherhood was there, and then it just kind of expanded with every person that got involved and how they brought themselves into the story.

DDF: My next question is for Tia and Erika. Erika, you’re a seasoned vet, I know you’ve done your research on this. And Tia, you have a close connection because you were a new mother at the time, plus you had some background training as a doula. What was your approach to these characters you played in the film? What are some details about their relationship?

Tia Nomore (TN): I think that Gia and Ms. Carmen are constantly trying to learn from each other and are disappointed in each other. But it’s all reflective, and it is just an awesome energy exchange, I think, for me. There are a lot of similarities on camera and off camera between both of us, and yes, it is just synergetic and growing all the time, so it keeps you wondering where that relationship’s gonna go.

Most of my research came from the literature that Savannah was lending me. [Also] I had a friend who had two kids when we were 16, and I had called her and just said, “You know, I never apologized for kind of just disconnecting with you at that time ’cause I didn’t know how to show up for you”.

In a lot of ways, it was a lot of self-preservation and healing that came about in the research as well. Savanah would call it emotional research. I think I really had to get in the rubble with it. 

Director Savanah Leaf instructing the cast on set

Erika Alexander (EA): Yeah, I think that my relationship with Tia is organic, but I also knew because of my past and sort of knowing my way around the set that it was my job to stay out of her way. That I wasn’t there to tell her what to do, and that if she wanted or had questions, she might see them within me. And I also knew that she was mature enough to ask if she didn’t. Also, she was the most mature person on set as far as I was concerned, because she’s extremely bright and just genius-level smart, but also she was a mother and she was having a different experience than me in that I could play one, but I had not been one.

I also needed to take lessons from her. She would give me my cues. The other thing was that the assignment from Savanah was for us to feel, and she got that in spades because we were opening up Pandora’s box. You know, everybody’s going around a very sensitive space. Tia was a new mother, she wasn’t with her daughter. That’s difficult already, but now you’re in a space where you don’t get to control anything, and you’re around people who wanna control everything. So I just wanted to have fun, and I kept trying to tell myself that I was given the opportunity to watch people be born.

They were all seasoned, as far as I’m concerned. So as for Tia, Doechii, and some of the new actors that Savannah found, they were all leaders in their own categories.

I thought to myself that I’m probably doing the most performance work here, and they’re authentically creating that. But the truth is, my mother and father were orphans. My mother was a social worker and my sister is a social worker who was, for many years, in adoption.

So I had that as research and frankly I think those things are inherited in your bones and your DNA. Then you allow yourself to explore and live in them because Ms. Carmen must keep herself in a different space. She’s not supposed to be their friend, and yet she’s supposed to help them figure out what the most important question is in their life. And you can’t do that unless you love them. So she loves them on a level, but she’s, I’m sure, also frustrated with them because she wants them to do the right thing so they can get on with their lives and have the fun they deserve, their anonymity, and not have to ask for permission to live their lives. But they can’t in this system. So that’s the heartbreaking thing. She’s trying to make them navigate a system that she knows is set against them, and yet this is the way. So that’s difficult, but there you go.

DDF: This movie is very emotionally heavy. What are some activities you guys took part in to have fun on set?

Tia: You know, Gia is quite athletic, Tia is not, but there were times when Savanah and I would just go to the park and shoot hoops. You know what I mean? There were times when Doechii and I would just cat off and just dance together. Like, I gotta feel this or, you know, go for a walk with one another. Miss Erica is hella funny all the time, so she’s always providing a space of comic relief. After going through something really difficult (like an intense scene), we were embraced. I remember the first time getting physical with one another and I was just like “grab her, come back here. I’m so sorry I pushed you that hard”. We love each other, so it was a fun loving experience as well and we knew that we had to take care of ourselves and one another after doing something intense. 

DDF: Wait, wait, wait! So who won between you and Savanah?

TN: Oh, we weren’t like hooping like that, like we were just shooting around. I’m terrible. There was not a one-on-one. We were just shooting. 

EA: It was unfair. It’s stacked against her (Tia). She’s up against an Olympian, and no one is winning up against an Olympian.

DDF: I don’t know. Hey, Tia could have a mean crossover on her. 

EA: No, come on. That’s why she said “let’s go play hoops”, so she could go dominate and be on the court. 

You have to understand, we laughed our asses off. I mean, at least I certainly did. I was fascinated with all the really amazing young talent. We were out there together and often in the holding spaces just having a good time. They were so thankful and grateful to have the opportunity to be there. And so it was just a place of love. But I do have to say that if you go on hair and makeup, there was a lot of fun in there.

You know, our crew was wonderful. I mean, truly it was a really wonderful space…a heavy subject, but the space was light. And that was intentionally formed from who Savanah chose to be in that space.

SL: I gotta say it was really heavy. I didn’t realize until making it how much receiving of people’s pain or suffering I was doing. And so a lot of times, I didn’t really wanna joke around. To be honest, sometimes I just needed space to sleep or eat some good food and those were the lighter moments for me because it was a sort of recovery period I needed. There were scenes where I’m literally sitting next to the camera, receiving women’s stories and feeling them weep and be upset. Even with Tia, she’s going through a lot emotionally and afterwards, I would need to take time for myself too. I know that’s not probably what you wanted to hear. I wasn’t really joking around as much as maybe other people were. My lighter moments were me taking time for myself.

DDF: This film tackles themes of healing, growth and community. How do you hope that Earth Mama can contribute to larger conversations about these topics and inspire change?

SL: For me, I really hope that this can spark a lot of conversation between people. I think it’s been really interesting hearing people after screenings and hearing unexpected stories from unlikely places and realizing that so many people are connected by this story.

I hope that it sparks some conversations between friends and family members, so it’s not as uncomfortable to talk about. I think that it ultimately leads to more empathy and pulling away judgment.

EA: Well, let me say what’s done in the dark shall come to light. And Savanah gave us light into a space that very few people are looking. I think if you can illuminate space, that means that now we’re responsible for that information. And that’s a huge, big deal because I had no idea; even though I knew these systems existed, I didn’t know it existed like this. It breaks my heart because people have their attitudes and point of view about many things, but we don’t know what we’re talking about. One of my favorite scenes is when Tia’s just taking a portrait of a family. That’s such a beautiful scene. I love it. I knew I would love it on the page, but I saw it (in my mind). Savanah, I did. And to me she’s isolated. They’re having an experience that she’s denied and she can take a picture of it, but she can’t get it. You know how cruel that is? It’s deep, and every day we’re asking people to have these dreams of what it is to have a family, all these shows on TV about family and loyalty and all that stuff, and there are so many people who are far away from it, and it feels so cruel.

To show them that’s also part of the American dream is the propaganda that we feed each other about how our lives should be. Then you look under the hood, and then you have a point of view about it, and you say, “Oh, that person’s lazy” and that’s not true.

They had a certain set of circumstances that most people will never have, and yet we look at them rise, look at them overcome, look at them exist, because sometimes that’s all you can do. It’s so powerful. That’s why Earth’s mama. Wow. That’s why that name is powerful too.

TN: Wow. Wow, wow. Ate it up. No crumbs. You know, I am a Black woman. I’m a Black mother. I come from a Black family. I really would love for everyone to just consider us in ways that we’ve never been considered before. You know? We are—so precious and sacred people. I think that we should be cared after in a way I’ve never seen before. I think maybe I’d have to leave the country to see it, maybe on the route. And that’s all we know is, you know, loving, caring, community, organizing, resource, lending, and giving. Naturally. I think that’s what we do for one another in any space or community. We help to coagulate. So, I really want us to learn how to navigate and take up all the space that we need so that we can get what we deserve. I want to see all of us walking and stepping in a little bit more seriously into these roles of responsibility and allyship and all of this, all of this that has to do with the Gia’s in the world and, you know, seeing them more and not looking away.

You know, you see someone on the street, we look away. Sometimes it’s just looking at somebody and saying, “I don’t really have anything for you, but I definitely see you, and I could just wish you the best right now.” That carries people eons. But simply looking away, I think I’m over that, and I think that this movie forces us to look deeper. 

Even Gia, she’s quite avoidant of the camera, you know, she’s quite avoidant of what it is she’s showing, you know what I mean? I want everybody to feel that intensity and walk beside us more. 

Erica Alexander, Tia Nomore, and director Savanah Leaf have brought to life the stories of women who have long been silenced, sparking a collective awakening to the importance of women’s voices in healthcare and the social work system. Make sure to catch Earth Mama in theaters July 14th.

15Jun/23

The Blackening – a Horror-Comedy That’s Unapologetically Black and Utterly Hilarious

Antoinette Robertson as Lisa, Grace Byers as Allison, Jermaine Fowler as Clifton and Dewayne Perkins as Dewayne in The Blackening. Photo Credit: Glen Wilson

Starring: Melvin Gregg as King, Grace Byers as Allison, Antoinette Robertson as Lisa, Sinqua Walls as Nnamdi, Jermaine Fowler as Clifton, Dewayne Perkins as Dewayne, Xochitl Mayo as Shanika, Yvonne Orji as Morgan and Jay Pharoah as Shawn

Director: Tim Story

Where to Watch: In theaters

Date of Release: June 16th

Length of Time: 1hr and 36mins

Fear and laughter go hand in hand in Tim Story’s latest offering, The Blackening. This horror comedy is hilarious, a laugh-out-loud blend of satire and humor that just works. And it’s about time someone put the actions and thoughts of real people on screen during a horror movie. Just to think, this all started from a viral short film on Youtube of the same name.

On the surface, The Blackening seems like your typical horror comedy. A group of friends travel to a cabin in the woods to celebrate Juneteeth ( I don’t know to many Black folk that would celebrate Juneteenth in the woods, which is acknowledged in the film.) Who becomes hunted by a killer in a creepy house and tormented by a mysterious killer, Black Face, who wants the group to play a game…until the last man or woman stands. The usual horror movie cliches are all there: weird police officers, bumps in the night, and an eerie atmosphere. But The Blackening takes these Black tropes and turns them on their head, so we end up with something fresh, fun, and absolutely bonkers.

Melvin Gregg as King, Grace Byers as Allison, Antoinette Robertson as Lisa, Sinqua Walls as Nnamdi, Jermaine Fowler as Clifton, Dewayne Perkins as Dewayne, and Xochitl Mayo as Shanika in The Blackening. Photo Credit: Glen Wilson

The tone of the movie is its biggest draw. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes for a refreshing change of pace. Horror comedies are nothing new, but what sets Tim Story’s movie apart is that it doesn’t rely on cheap scares to get a reaction out of its audience. Instead, it finds humor in the absurdity of the situation, poking fun at horror movies and the Black experience in equal measure.

The entire cast is a delight and funny, but special mention Dewayne Perkins, who plays Dewayne in the film, returns as he starred in the short film that The Blackening was based on, he is more knowledgeable about the horror genre and the more believable and entertaining character. There was also, Clifton, played by Jermain Fowler, who was the nerdy archetype, think Urkel except weirder. There were several moments Fowler had campy moments on screen with the other characters, and when it comes to seeing who is the Blackest, he stuck out like a sore thumb because of his awkwardness. 

The horror elements are solid, but the comedy shines here because the characters react the way I, or any other Black person, would during these scenarios in the film.  Whether it’s a running joke about the town’s “blackening” or a ridiculous chase scene involving a 6’6 athletic man in a Black Face mask trying to murder a group of friends, there’s always something to laugh at. Basically, the antagonist is a hybrid of The Jigsaw killer, Ghost face from the Scream movies, and Jason from Friday the 13th. And it’s not just the quips and one-liners – the movie is packed with visual gags and absurd set pieces that had me howling with laughter. It’s not often you see Black characters in horror films live to fight the villain and, better yet, outrun them. The best I can remember is the Black character Julius in Jason Takes Manhattan, where he tried to fight Jason on a rooftop in New York. He threw a barrage of punches that barely affected Jason, only to have his head knocked off with one punch. Then there’s Joel ( Duane Martin) in Scream 2, who decided to do what I would do, leave the location where people are dying. I’m still cracking up at the fact he left Gale’s ass at the college with the camera and like, “People are getting murdered, and I’m out!”

The movie’s pacing is sometimes tight, and there’s never a dull moment. The jokes come fast and furious, but it never feels overwhelming. And while there are certainly some cringe-worthy moments – the gore factor is relatively high – Tim Story’s deft direction keeps everything in balance. The movie knows when to ramp up the tension and when to let loose with some ridiculousness, resulting in a thoroughly entertaining experience from start to finish. 

There may be some comparisons to Scary Movie and there but the film is more rooted in the completely Black experience in a horror movie, where the characters are predominantly Black, and they are completely different is personalities and how they interact with each other. 

Grace Byers as Allison in The Blackening. Photo Credit: Glen Wilson

Horror comedies are a tough nut to crack, but The Blackening hits the mark perfectly. It’s a movie that manages to be both genuinely funny and genuinely scary, a rare feat in a genre that usually leans too heavily on one or the other. But with Tim Story at the helm, we get a movie that’s both a love letter to the horror genre and a biting satire of it. It’s the kind of movie you’ll want to see again and again to catch all the little jokes and visual nods you might have missed the first time. I am sure this movie will have clips plastered all over social media and trending for weeks. 

In short, if you’re looking for a horror comedy that delivers laughs and scares in equal measure, look no further than The Blackening. It’s a wild ride that’ll have you cackling with laughter and cringing of your seat at the gore. And honestly, we could all use a good laugh right about now.

14Jun/23

How This Black & Indigenous Curator is Putting Louisville on the Map

Huddled over a canvas or gazing thoughtfully at a sculpture, Shauntrice Martin is in her element. She has honed her craft for years, working with various media and exploring race, culture, and identity themes. Her art has captivated audiences in Louisville, KY and beyond, earning her a well-deserved reputation as a rising star in the city’s flourishing arts scene.

But for Martin, art is more than just a vocation. It’s a passion that extends beyond the studio into the community where she lives and works. As a Louisville Visual Art Association board member, she has actively engaged in the city’s cultural landscape, partnering with other artists and curators to bring new perspectives and fresh voices to the forefront.

For Martin, building awareness and understanding around issues of race and identity is always at the forefront of her work. “The stories of my ancestors inspire me,” she says, “those who were taken from their homes, families, and cultures and brought here against their will, their stories are our stories, and we must remember them”.

Martin’s work reflects a deep sense of connection to the past and a commitment to telling forgotten stories. Her mixed media pieces (including sculpture, photography, and textiles) are often layered and complex, inviting the viewer to engage with them on a deeper level. Using different textures and materials, Martin creates a sense of tension and depth that mirrors the complexity of her themes.

Throughout her career, Martin has been inspired by various curators, artists, and creatives who have challenged her to think more deeply about her work. Among her influencers are Kelli Morgan (Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Speed Art Museum), Poet and Activist, Hannah Drake, and Aurora James (a fashion designer committed to sustainability and ethical production).

Martin is also guided by the legacies of the artists who came before her, particularly those from her hometown of Louisville. “We are at the epicenter of creativity,” she says. “There is something incredibly innovative and culturally significant about the West End of Louisville in particular”.

For Martin, the West End is a place of deep historical significance, one that the experiences of African Americans and other marginalized communities have shaped. She points to the Ohio River (which played a key role in the slave trade) as a reminder of the city’s heritage and the need to keep telling these stories.

But despite the weight of this history, Martin remains optimistic about the future of the arts in Louisville. She is particularly excited about the work of artists like Hannah Drake, who push the boundaries of what is possible and create new conversations around race and identity.

For Martin, the importance of these conversations cannot be overstated. “We must continue to have these discussions, to push ourselves and others to think more deeply about the issues that affect us all,” she says. “It’s through art and creativity that we can begin to build bridges and find common ground”.

Martin is deeply committed to highlighting and promoting the work of other Black artists. She created Chahta Noir as a resource for artists to network and develop their skills. Some of the artists she has worked with include Lance G. Newman II, Tomisha Lovely-Allen, Sandra Charles, Ashlee Phillips, and Jon P. Cherry. For Martin, showcasing the work of Black artists is not just a passion but a mission. She believes that Black artists are often overlooked and undervalued in the art world and that it is her responsibility to help change that.

As Martin continues to make her mark on the Louisville art scene, her work serves as a reminder of art’s power to heal, inspire, and challenge. Through her captivating and thought-provoking pieces, she invites us to consider our histories, identities, and place in the world. In doing so, she reminds us that art is not just a product but a process that requires us to engage with each other and the world around us in new and meaningful ways.

Martin has had her work featured in some of the top art spots in Louisville. Places like the Speed Art Museum, Roots 101 African American Museum, Kennedy Center, and Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture & History have housed her works.

14Jun/23

How The Flash Gave New Life to the DCEU Franchise in Just One Sprint

Starring: Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdu, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Ben Affleck, and Michael Keaton

Where to Watch: In theaters

Date of Release: June 16th

Length of Time: 2hrs 24mins

Synopsis: Worlds collide in The Flash when Barry uses his superpowers to travel back in time in order to change the events of the past. But when his attempt to save his family inadvertently alters the future, Barry becomes trapped in a reality in which General Zod has returned, threatening annihilation with no Super Heroes to turn to. That is, unless Barry can coax a very different Batman out of retirement to rescue an imprisoned Kryptonian. Ultimately, to save the world that he is in and return to the future that he knows, Barry’s only hope is to race for his life. But will making the ultimate sacrifice be enough to reset the universe?

What can I say? I came for Micheal Keaton’s Batman and stayed because The Flash actually turned out to be a good movie. It is an ambitious and thrilling superhero adventure that more than lives up to audience’s expectations. From the opening frame to its pulse-pounding conclusion, this film is a frenetic rush of action, emotion, and mind-bending time-travel hijinks that will surely leave audiences satisfied. 

At the center of the film is Ezra Miller’s charismatic and vulnerable performance as both a current version of Barry Allen (aka The Flash) and a younger alternate version of Barry Allen. Miller brings a youthful energy to the role, capturing the unbridled optimism of a young hero with newfound powers and the deep emotional pain that drives him to use those powers to rewrite his tragic past. It’s too bad his recent legal issues have overshadowed his potential, as I am sure there would’ve been some award nomination buzz. 

But it’s not just Miller’s magnetic performance that makes this movie successful. The supporting cast also turns in fantastic performances, with Michael Keaton shining as the alternate version of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Sasha Calle bringing a certain gravitas to her role as Supergirl. Keaton’s introduction into the film is fitting, entertaining, and surprising as he is almost unrecognizeable in long hair and a beard. I may be slightly biased as an 80’s baby, but this is my favorite version of Batman outside of Christian Bale. 

We are all still recovering from the news of Henry Cavill not returning as Superman, but Calle’s performance gave me hope for the future. Calle’s portrayal was powerful and vulnerable; the writers gave the character a relatable and compelling story arc. 

Beyond some strong performances, The Flash excels in its special effects and action sequences. Director Andy Muschietti creates a visually stunning world as vibrant and colorful as the comic books on which it is based. Its extensive use of visual effects creates mind-bending action sequences that push the envelope of what is possible on the big screen.

I also enjoyed the return of the Kryptonians, General Zod (played by Michael Shannon), and Faora-UI (played by Antje Traue); they are even more brutal in this film than in their first appearance in Man of Steel (2013). When told to dominate and destroy without any sympathy, they annihilate humanity. 

Can we take a moment to talk about Keaton’s fighting sequence when they rescue Supergirl? It was beautifully shot and the fight choreography was masterful, paying a massive tribute to my favorite version of The Caped Crusader. I’m pretty sure this scene will be posted on Youtube and viewed more than a few times. 

However, what truly sets The Flash apart is its heart. At its core, this story is about the power of family, the pain of loss, and the desire for redemption. Muschietti handles these emotional themes with care and sensitivity while never losing the exhilarating sense of fun that propels the film forward.

Moreover, The Flash takes risks with the superhero genre, introducing time-travel elements that keep the audience on the edge of their seats throughout. Barry’s attempts to change history are compelling and suspenseful, adding depth and complexity to the storyline (something often missing in other DC films). 

There are a bunch of easter eggs and cameos that comic book fans will enjoy. If you haven’t already heard Twitter going crazy over it, I am sure you will because it definitely put a smile on my face, but don’t worry, I won’t ruin it for you. 

Overall, The Flash is a good superhero movie well-deserving of applause. It fully embraces the fantastical elements of the comic book world while delivering a meaningful emotional message.

In a time when the DCEU has struggled to consistently produce quality films, The Flash arrives on the scene just in time to be recognized as a 2023 summer smash. Although it’s not my favorite for ‘Comic Book Movie of the Year’, it still is one of the best DCEU films I have seen.

12Jun/23

‘Flamin’ Hot’: A Sizzling and Spicy Tale of Success and Overcoming Adversity

Jesse Garcia and Dennis Haysbert in FLAMIN’ HOT. Photo by Anna Kooris. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Where to Watch: Hulu or Disney+

Date of Release: June 6th

Length of Time: 1hr 39mins

Starring: Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, Dennis Haysbert, Emilio Rivera, Tony Shalhoub, Matt Walsh, Bobby Soto, Jimmy Gonzales, and Brice Gonzalez

Synopsis: This is the inspiring true story of Richard Montañez who, as a Frito Lay factory janitor, disrupted the food industry by channeling his Mexican heritage to turn Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from a snack into an iconic global pop culture phenomenon.

Flamin’ Hot is a movie that will spice up your life! The biographical drama tells the inspiring true story of Richard Montañez, the son of Mexican immigrants who went from janitor to executive at Frito-Lay by creating one of the company’s most successful products – Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Directed by Eva Longoria and starring Jesse Garcia as Montañez, the film takes viewers on a heartwarming journey of perseverance, passion, and ingenuity. We see Montañez facing adversity at every turn, but he never gives up on his dreams of success. The movie explores the complexities of identity, race, and class, all while celebrating the power of determination to overcome obstacles. In my opinion, this is why the film is so relatable to its viewers. 

One of the standout performances in the film is given by Annie Gonzalez who portrays Montañez’s supportive wife, Judy. The chemistry between Garcia and Gonzales is palpable, and their relationship serves as a testament to the power of partnership in achieving success. During my interview with producer DeVon Franklin, he mentioned the importance of Richard’s support from his wife and how vital she was to his success. 

Annie Gonzalez, in FLAMIN’ HOT. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Another performance I applauded was by veteran actor Dennis Haysbert who plays Clarence C. Baker, another supporting and encouraging character who helped Richard in his pursuit of success. The chemistry between Haysbert and Garcia was a bromance for which I couldn’t help but cheer. I could see a hint of Pedro Cerrano, whom Haysbert played in Major League and Major League II

Brice Gonzalez (who plays Richard’s son) was adorable in this film, especially when he tried out the samples of Flamin’ Hot recipes. It brought me back to my childhood and my own reaction to tasting the spicy snack for the first time. His character added some cute heart-warming moments to the film. Also, how much Richard’s kids loved and believed in him was beautiful to see onscreen.

Flamin’ Hot also boasts impressive visuals with stunning cinematography perfectly capturing the film’s vibrant energy. There are plenty of mouth-watering shots of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that will leave viewers craving a bag of their own by the end of the movie. I know I did! It’s worth mentioning how Longoria makes the challenging flashback scenes and transitions work, a testament to her directorial skills. I’d say Longoria had a successful debut as a director and I look forward to checking out her future projects.

Overall, Flamin’ Hot is a film that will leave you feeling inspired and uplifted. It’s a celebration of the American dream and a testament to the power of hard work and ingenuity. If you’re looking for a movie that will ignite your passion for life, Flamin’ Hot is one to watch.

12Jun/23

‘An Angry Black Girl and Her Monster’  Challenges Preconceptions Through Powerful Storytelling

Synopsis: Vicaria is a brilliant teenager who believes death is a disease that can be cured. After the brutal murder of her brother, she embarks on a dangerous journey to bring him back to life.

Starring: Laya DeLeon Hayes, Chad L. Coleman, and Denzel Whitaker

Director: Bomani J. Story

Where to Watch: In theaters and On-Demand

Date of Release: In select theaters on June 9th. On-Demand and streaming on June 23rd.

Length of Time: 140 mins

An Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is a powerful and thought-provoking movie exploring racial injustice and socioeconomic inequality. The movie tells the story of a young black girl struggling to navigate a world that often feels stacked against her. Despite her many challenges, she refuses to let her spirit be broken and instead finds solace in her studies and her pursuit of finding the cure for death…resurrection. 

Laya DeLeon Hayes brilliantly plays Vicaria, a poster child for STEM in the Black community. She is not only brilliant but also confident and loves her family…qualities we want to see more of in Black youth. She shares a close bond with her father, Donald (played by Chad L. Coleman) who struggles with drug addiction after the loss of both his wife and son, Chris. What is so interesting about the dynamic of Donald and Vicaria’s relationship is that even though Donald struggles with addiction, Vicaria still supports her father and is not ashamed of him. After all, they both have an addiction; hers is simply science-focused. 

Denzel Whitaker as the local drug dealer, Kango, is a character who is not reduced to just a lowly drug dealer. We see his character has more layers than he puts off. Only Whitaker could make this role work in this type of film. During an interview with director Bomani J. Story and actor Chad L. Coleman, we learn that Whitaker is one of the reasons some of the cast joined the project in the first place, including Coleman himself.

What makes An Angry Black Girl and Her Monster compelling is its unflinching honesty. The movie doesn’t shy away from complex topics, but instead dives headfirst into issues like police brutality, racial profiling, and poverty. Through its nuanced and thought-provoking storytelling, it encourages viewers to think critically about the systems of oppression in our society and consider how we can work together to bring about real change. I found the film intriguing because there is no real antagonist; like in the real world, for these characters there are only obstacles and their reactions based on their experiences. 

The film also touches on how Black men view themselves and their mental health. This is artistically depicted in Donald’s transitions into Chris, his Frankenstein-type monster. This is one specific reason why I feel a connection to the film and believe it could be used as a discussion piece for many others who want to have the discussion but don’t know where to begin. 

In addition to its powerful message, An Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is a wonderfully crafted movie. Its visual style is stunning with vibrant colors and intricate details that make each scene feel like a work of art. I applaud Costume Designer Cailey Breneman for the unique and creepy look of the monster, Chris, who is absolutly terrifying. Many gory horror films have cheap props and, instead of grossing out audiences, cause people to laugh or think “a 5-year old could do better”. That is not the case in this film, as the death scenes look convincingly real and can traumatize you if you are not a fan of gore. Story’s feature film debut is a success, lending him a promising future in the realm of not only horror but any genre into which he decides to venture.

Overall, An Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is a must-see movie that should be part of the cultural conversation. From the onset of the Black Lives Matter movement in July of 2013 up to recent events, this movie challenges us to take a hard look at our world and strive toward a better, more equitable future. I don’t expect all audiences to understand the film’s underlying messages and themes; however, I do expect the movie to spark more conversation about oppressed communities and discrimination…hopefully productive conversation that can lead to the further empowerment of Black communities nationwide.