Category Archives: Creative

06Sep/21

Beckett is a Horror Movie That Ended Like A WWE Match

Synopsis: While vacationing in Greece, American tourist Beckett (John David Washington) becomes the target of a manhunt after a devastating accident. Forced to run for his life and desperate to get across the country to the American embassy to clear his name, tensions escalate as the authorities close in, political unrest mounts, and Beckett falls even deeper into a dangerous web of conspiracy.

My Impression

My reaction to the Beckett trailer was, “Okay, so…this film has to be produced by Jordan Peele because it looks like a version of Get Out overseas.” I mean, the protagonist Beckett, a Black American, crashes a car his car into a house in Greece, and his white girlfriend ends up dying instantly. Yeah, I can see this story going in an interesting direction. A horror movie indeed. 

Does the writer give an exciting and compelling reason for Beckett to be on the run? Not in my opinion. The film had an unexpected twist, but my guess was the local authorities were trying to kill Becket because he unintentionally killed his wife, who we discover was a spy of some sort, but that wasn’t the case. By the end of the film, I was disappointed.

It was crazy that Beckett uncovered that the local authorities were trying to kill him to keep a politically driven kidnapping under wraps. Beckett saw the kidnapped child of an important political figure right after his crash. 

The chase and tension in the film were great. I felt like Beckett couldn’t catch a break though; the locals were surprisingly friendly and even knew how brutal the police were. Multiple tried to help him, despite facing terrible interrogations or maybe even death for their assistance. 

Beckett Beatings

Now for the many ass-whoopings Beckett took in this film. John David Washington made it believable that the character was a regular non-fighting citizen. I’ve known Washington to play some badasses and to see this character get destroyed the whole movie was a change. During the movie, I was like damn I hope he has some good health insurance.

One of the worst beatings he took was in the subway tunnel, where he was punched and stabbed multiple times. Becket was basically knife practice, but he kept fighting and escaped severely injured. During the film, I can say Becket was a survivor because he would run every time, but of course not before getting hurt in some way. 

Becket redeemed himself by not getting caught and killed by the U.S. embassy staff member, Tynan, and escaping the attempts on his life. Beckett’s fights with Tynan and the female antagonist were hilarious to me. I guess he had a “Karen” trigger moment because he smashed the hell out of her head into the concrete. 

But the ending, the ending had me like…

I couldn’t believe it? Beckett jumped off the parking garage and landed on top of the car like Macho Man Randy Savage doing a high-flying elbow in a WWE match. He landed on the car like a sack of potatoes and saved the day. I am sure he had some internal bleeding and probably needed medical treatment for the rest of his life. Of course, the audience is lead to believe Becket sacrificed his life for the child since he was the cause of death for his wife. Although it was an attempt to pay off the heart on Becket’s hand-drawn tattoo given by his wife, there could’ve been a better way to end the movie. 

The film has entertaining moments but I was not happy about the ending or the plot involving the mafia and politics. Maybe if Becket or his wife had direct involvement in the kidnapping it would’ve made for a better story. I am always going to cheer on John David Washington as an actor but I have to be honest, this film missed the mark for me.

31Aug/21

Candyman: A Horror Classic Filled With Social Commentary

Candyman
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy/Candyman

I remember when the original Candyman first came out, I was scared out of my mind. Granted, I was only eight years old. To even think about saying his name five times in the mirror was a no-no because in my mind the Candyman was real. When news broke that Nia Da Costa and Jordan Peele would be working on the project, I knew horror fans would be in for a treat! This film (unsurprisingly true to its predecessor) provides horror, social commentary, storytelling, and lots of great camera work!

The Candyman Victims

In the first two candyman films, the victims were plenty and there was no discrimination. Candyman was carving up more people than a butcher on meat special Sunday. The 2021 film’s victims were all white and represented some of the stereotypical racists the Twitterverse has made famous of late, starting off with the arrogant art dealer and his girlfriend. This scene was artfully done as they could not see Candyman firsthand, but could only see his reflection (this visual occurs throughout the film). As Candyman is about to murder the art dealer, he slices through a projection screen showing Black people being violently attacked in the 50s during a protest; clearly, he is done with the historical injustice and ready for blood. Not only that, but the different parts of the art space flash red, white, and blue which could represent the American flag or police lights as the victims are being slain.

The rude and arrogant art critic was the next one to go after. She had me pissed after telling Anthony, a budding artist portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, about “his kind” ruining neighborhoods, an insult not only to him but also to his work. She said “artist” but the audience knows she meant “Black artist”. Before the art critic’s demise, Da Costa visually deceives the audience with the usage of reflections, mirrors, and camera angles. As Anthony walks the hall of the art critic’s home, he sees the reflection of Candyman and even sees Candyman mimicking his movement. This is preparing the artist to follow his destiny to become Candyman and it also shows that he, too, could be a victim. 

The teenage girls getting slaughtered in the bathroom scene was very reminiscent of today’s social media culture. Those girls did not give a damn what was going on and wanted to play the Candyman game. Their Asian friend fleeing the bathroom before saying Candyman for the fifth time had the audience cracking up because she obviously knew what was up and did not want that smoke. This murder scene in the bathroom was interesting. Seeing the girls pulled, cut, and lifted by Candyman’s hook without anyone actually seeing him was crazy. Great camera-work and editing made the invisible antagonist even scarier.

Side Note: Why didn’t anyone acknowledge that Anothony’s hand looked like a prop from a zombie apocalypse movie? Eventually, Brianna said something, but damn his hand looked disgusting after the bee stung him. Could he get some Neosporin or something? 

Candyman
Teyonah Parris as Breanna Cartwright

Candymen 

I am not sure if the Brianna character’s name was inspired by Breonna Taylor, but I am going to assume that it was. To see her character go through so much and to witness the police bust into the row house and kill Anthony was definitely triggering. Nia De Costa did an awesome job hiding Anthony’s body from the camera’s view, creating a moment where the audience is not sure if the police shot Anthony or if they shot Brianna. That moment reminded me of the tragic story of Breonna Taylor and how her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, felt while holding her. 

The sequel tie-ins and legend of Candyman were also well written and showed that there were others who carried on the Candyman spirit. The way each was killed was much like how many innocent Black men and women have been killed. As Anthony, the final Candyman, walks around the police car showing the faces of the various Candymen, I could see the victims Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Atatianna Jefferson, Philando Castile, Saundra Bland, etc. 

The stories told via shadow puppets were a great idea. It gave creepy vibes but played on the idea of how many of us used to tell campfire stories and use shadow puppets for effect. It made me think of the television show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”. 

Candyman
Colman Domingo as William Burke reading Clive Barker’s Weaveworld.
Clive Barker wrote ” The Forbidden” the story in which Candyman is based.

Was Will Right? 

As crazy as Will Burke, the Laundromat owner in Cabrini Green, was I would have to say he had a compelling reason for bringing the Candyman to life. The gentrification of the neighborhood as well as the police ignoring and killing people would drive a person to take extreme actions. It’s akin to when people ask, “Why are the neighborhood folk destroying their own neighborhood” after the wrongful death of a Black person by a police officer. It’s for the same reason. People get tired of feeling powerless, oppressed, and ignored. In this case, Will had seen enough injustice and wanted to give the Candyman all the blood he could possibly want in the form of justice for his people. Although, I must say he was crazy for kidnapping Brianna and for sawing off Anthony’s hand. Jesus, that was gruesome! Made me cringe! 

“Say His Name!” 

The film ends with a cameo of the original Candyman, Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), asking Brianna to “Tell Everyone”. This resembles the “Say Their Names” culture in which we live where we consciously recognize all the victims of hate crimes, police brutality, etc. Candyman exacting his revenge by killing the cops who took his life along with the one who tried to intimidate Brianna into telling a false story is seen as a sort of redemption for Black people, a story of vengeance I’m sure many people of color could appreciate. The idea of turning a horror icon into a spirit of vengeance was a great idea and I am not surprised the three writers came up with the idea to do so. Is Candyman worth watching? I’d say yes! Saying Candyman five times in the mirror? Hell no!

Taji Mag Vol28 Fire

Taji Vol28: Fire

Release Sept 7 2021 | Vol28 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Fire! This volume’s cover features features the #SlayBells of @Queen__Reinvented. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James is a Music Love Story” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, Lady M Mannequins; our highlighted Hair Feature with Debra Hare Bey; “Solo Travel: Audacious Adventure” with Ty Vaughn by dCarrie; “The Value of Values” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “The Childhood Challenge” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 28 contributed photo story, “Fire;” Fitness Highlight, Dorian DuBois of EFitBrand; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Savory Veggie Flatbread; “What Banks Don’t Want You to Know” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; Featured Art Piece by @TheOneWillFocus; Comic Appreciation with INFINITUM by Tim Fields; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Taji Mag Vol28 Fire

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 28

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.

Pandemic Inspired Film, I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking), Encourages Empathy for the Homeless

I'm Fine
Actress/director/producer Kelley Kali

I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking) Synopsis: Danny, a recently widowed hairdresser, and her 8-year-old daughter, Wes, are houseless. Shielding Wes from the truth, Danny pitches a tent and convinces Wes that it’s a fun camping trip. As Danny works to find permanent housing, Wes grows increasingly tired of weeks in the heat, so Danny promises her that they will go home by the end of the day. With clients lined up, Danny is confident that she will have the final cash she needs to secure an apartment, but a series of mishaps threaten to derail her plans. Under mounting pressure, and with roller skates as her only means of transportation, she has to somehow manage to get the money she needs in order to keep her promise to her daughter. 

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” is a quote by Sun-Tzu that sums up the development of Kelley Kali’s award-winning film I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking) during the COVID pandemic and a heatwave. Kali, like many, was not working and almost houseless when she decided to make the film. Not only is it about overcoming obstacles while raising a child, but it’s also about having empathy for the homeless.

Kali explained she needed to do this project stating, “I woke up one day with a pressing sense of urgency that I needed to create something NOW. I started to think about what resources I had access to and, being from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, I realized that I had many resources. I thought about what friends would be crazy enough to do this with me and I immediately called my two good friends from USC Film School, Angelique Molina and Roma Kong.” The group of creatives pondered over concepts. Kali stated she had noticed a lot more women on the streets in Los Angeles. Kali said Los Angeles already had a fairly large homeless population, but she specifically noticed a lot more women and children recently. 

“We went through the many issues facing us today, but one issue that hit us all was the threat of  not being able to pay rent and the lingering danger of becoming houseless.” – Kellie Kali 

When it comes to the trials and tribulations of Danny, I can’t tell you how many times I kept saying to myself, “It can’t get any worse than this?”, but as the film continued, Danny’s situation continued to worsen. To top it off, she was also continually sexually objectified by pretty much every male encountered; all but the Asian property manager who clearly was taking social distancing seriously. Chad, played by Deon Cole, was one of the worst of the male characters. He taunted and insulted Danny as he dropped hundred-dollar bills from his luxury car. “The Chad character was just another dynamic added to Danny’s decision-making so far as what she needed to do. Chad is who we, as the creatives, thought needed to be piled on to the drama of Danny’s decision making,” stated Deon Cole. 

This is something we were able to control and make without someone telling us what to do. Doing television, it’s a collective group of people that have a vision. You are hired to portray that vision and bring it to life. – Deon Cole

The beautiful scenery, great camera angles, and natural character interactions were wonderful. Interestingly enough, the actors were the crew. “I decided the crew would be the actors. At first, everyone laughed until they realized I was serious,” Kali explained. I especially loved the scene where after getting high with her friend, Danny falls over into a pool of her troubles. Drowning, while her money and desirables elude her, was a great visual for the film. “As artists, we always want to keep what the audience is watching interesting, especially when it has a social message because we, as the artists, don’t want to be hammering the message on the audience’s head. So we find creative ways to keep you entertained and captivated using metaphors. At that point of the story, she was drowning in her troubles, the grief of her dead husband, not being able to keep the secret of houselessness from her daughter, and not knowing what to do.” 

In the end, I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking) is an inspirational film and a reminder of how the human spirit can persevere. Given the time the film was shot (during COVID and with limited resources), precautions needed to be put in place to keep the staff safe. Production had many obstacles to overcome, but the finished product was well worth it. Star/Producer of the film, Deon Cole, stated the film is “necessary for today” and after watching it, I would have to agree. Check out I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking) when it makes its network debut on Saturday, August 7th at 7 PM ET/PT on BET Her.

I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking): Directed by Kelley Kali & Angelique Molina; Written by Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina, & Roma Kong; Executive Produced by Kelley Kali, Deon Cole, & Capella Fahoome; Produced by Roma Kong, Angelique Molina, Kelley Kali, Capella Fahoome, & Deon Cole.

31Jul/21

Ailey, the Documentary, Is Proof There’s Power in Following One’s Passion

Ailey

SYNOPSIS: Alvin Ailey was a trailblazing pioneer who found salvation through dance. AILEY traces the full contours of this brilliant and enigmatic man whose search for the truth in movement resulted in enduring choreography that centers on the Black American experience with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty. Told through Ailey’s own words and featuring evocative archival footage and interviews with those who intimately knew him, director Jamila Wignot weaves together a resonant biography of an elusive visionary.

Ailey Director Jamila Wignot
Director Jamila Wignot

A working-class, gay, Black man, he rose to prominence in a society that made every effort to exclude him. He transformed the world of dance and made space for those of us on the margins—space for black artists like Rennie Harris and me. – Jamila Wignot

I moved to DC over ten years ago, and one of the first advertisements I saw was for the Ailey Dance Company at the Kennedy Center. I googled the name of the dance company because I was interested in its origin. After all, it featured Black dancers. To my surprise, I found out the company was well known; its visionary, Alvin Ailey, was even more significant. Ailey, the documentary by Jamila Wignot, gave me a more introspective look at the famous creative. There is so much I learned about Ailey. His passion, hard work, and his resilience as a dance creative were unparalleled. I can say without a doubt that this is one of the best documentaries I have seen at Sundance 2021.

Ailey

As the film starts, voiceovers commence as photos of Alex Ailey are shown on screen. Jamila Wignot does a great job of adding in archived recordings of Ailey. This made me feel as if Ailey was talking to me directly or as if I was watching him chat live at the Actor’s Theater. You can tell the Ailey Dance company is still rich with the passion Ailey provided. When I saw the Artistic Director, Robert Battle, and Choreographer, Rennie Harris, instruct students, I could immediately see Alvin Ailey’s influence. 

I found it interesting that at age 14, Ailey fell in love with dancing, but his gym teacher wanted him to play football. After all, back in that time, the understanding of masculinity was not as broad as it is today. Ailey would be teased if he were to skip men’s athletics to participate in dance. 

The dance performance of Carmen at the Lester Horton School was one of the inspirations that prompted Ailey to immerse himself into the art. Ailey would go to the arrangements with his friend, Don Martin. He described the performances as “beautifully executed by incredible creatures that took the audience into another world”. After noticing Ailey in the audience at multiple concerts, Horton encouraged Ailey to come out and try dance. 

Not Easily Broken

I learned from the film how brave Ailey was to pick dancers who were considered atypical at the time. They traveled around the world sharing their dance art when Black performers were not widely accepted. During one of their first tours, they performed for twenty-five people in Australia and were so good that the show sold out the next night. Director Jamila Wignot’s interpretation of this moment was so spectacular, I felt as though I was actually in attendance of this historical event. 

I appreciated the interviews with former Ailey dancers (Sylvie Winters, Sanita Miller, Masazumi Chaya, and Bill T.Jones). They painted a clear picture of what it was like to be a part of the Ailey dancing family. The stories of the terrible hotels, their crowded small bus, and the long rides made the performers’ tours that much more commendable. It was clear that no matter the conditions, they could still perform to the best of their ability and wow the audience.

His Love, His Creation 

The documentary featured his mom, lover, teacher, and the greatest love of his life, dance. They all were essential to his existence and life force, but his mother, in particular, was highlighted for how much she meant to him. Ailey did not have many relationships or close friends; all he had was dance. It was not until later he realized that outside of his biological family, his dance company was his family, and dance was the glue that held it all together. 

One of the relationships explored in the film was with his short-term lover, Abdullah, a young man he met in France who traveled to New York to be with him. Abdullah disappeared one night via fire escape during a party thrown by Ailey and never returned. The death of his excellent friend, Joyce Trisler, caused him tremendous grief. The repeated loss in his life led to several months of him dealing with depression, leading him to eventually enter a rehabilitation center. 

I loved the film because it showed Ailey’s work was inspired by what he was feeling. For instance, when Fred Hampton died, he developed the play Masekela Langage, and after Joyce Tisler died, he created his tribute, Memoria.  

Last Days

Ailey’s battle with AIDS was a struggle; not only was the disease taking a toll on his physical health, but it was also taking a toll on him mentally. What kept him sane and at peace with this mortality? Dance and his dance family. Although he could barely stand, let alone dance, Ailey would watch his dancers rehearse from a couch his team put in the studio. 

After watching this film, I’ve gained whole new respect for Alvin Ailey, and I now see why advertisements for his dance company can be found everywhere. Ailey’s concerts have received standing ovations and encores because audience members love to see a passion-filled project. It’s apparent that Alvin Ailey’s essence was present during the development of Wignot’s project. If you want to see the beauty of Ailey’s growth as a man and his contribution to dance, I would recommend watching Ailey. The documentary is set to be released in theaters nationwide on August 6th, 2021. 

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

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.