Category Archives: FIlm

22Mar/20

“Self Made” is a Colorful and Entertaining Look at Madam CJ Walker’s Life

MADAM CJ WALKER

Netflix’s “Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” is an introduction to one of the most celebrated Black female business owners in history, Sarah Breedlove. This project is directed by Kasi Lemmons (Harriet) and Demane Davis (Queen Sugar). NBA Superstar, LeBron James, and businessman, Maverick Carter, have joined the project as Executive Producers. Taji Mag was able to check out the series before its release on March 20th and here’s the review. 

Visuals

Once again Kasi Lemmons has provided the audience with the vision of a powerful Black woman taking on a form that transcends reality. In this instance, whenever Sarah has a vision of or is faced with adversity, the audience is presented with colorful dance routines, mocking female logos, and even a boxing match with her adversary, Addie Monroe (I assume this character is based off of Annie Malone). I really found the boxing scenes with Addie to be quite enjoyable. I also found myself waiting to see Sarah give Addie a one-hitter quitter for her trifling ways. 

Octavia Spencer as Madam C.J. Walker and Carmen Ejogo as Addie Monroe

*Spoilers Ahead*

The Walker girl logo that mocked Sarah (and was created by Sarah’s husband, C.J. Walker) was also an interesting concept. It paid off in the end when we learned that the Walker girl was not only designed by C.J. but it was also his ideal woman. This is discovered towards the end of the series when C.J. cheats on Sarah with Dore Larrie.

Performances

Octavia Spencer does an amazing job of portraying one of the most celebrated Black entrepreneurs. She was able to capture the excitement in her facial expressions whenever an idea manifested. Spencer also was convincing when her character was met with doubt or fear, a prime example is whenever she was haunted by her past self with “bad hair”. 

Tiffany Haddish also did pretty well as Leila, the daughter of Sarah. I found it very interesting how the character’s liberal lifestyle was introduced to the audience. It made me want to research Leila’s entrepreneurial success with her business, The Dark Tower, in New York.

Kevin Carroll as Ransom was a standout to me in the series. His performance as Madam C.J. Walker’s legal advisor had very compelling moments. I wasn’t really familiar with his work but, after viewing the series, a thorough Youtube and Google search went underway. I just had to see his other accomplishments.

Another notable character was Ransom’s cousin, Sweetness, played by Bill Bellamy. This role was well written and was a great example of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Sweetness can be seen as a smart conman who always sought out a quick buck, but in reality he was a man of integrity who only wanted to make it in the world legally. We learn this at the end of the series when Ramson explains his demise. 

Gender Roles

Before recalling what I’d already known about C.J. Walker, I was feeling the support he was giving his wife: uprooting his life with Sarah and moving to a whole different city to help support her haircare business. I bet it was seen as very impractical at the time, but nonetheless he did and they were successful. Toxic masculinity and society’s infatuation with the lighter complexion existed heavily during the 1900s. I’m sure this greatly influenced his decision to cheat on Sarah; however, it doesn’t give him a pass to do so. Blair Underwood did a great job of portraying C.J., then again he always does a great job of portraying the conniving, cheating husband (i.e. Madea’s Family Reunion).

Unity Over Racism 

Blair Underwood as CJ Walker, Octavia Spencer as Madam CJ Walker and Kevin Carroll as Ransom.

This series explores racism, colorism, and gender discrimination in a thought-provoking manner. I kept thinking to myself, what if I was trying to build a business for haircare in the world Madam C.J. Walker lived in? Not only was racism still a major issue at the time, but to fight within my own race about my gender and skin color? Talk about hurdling obstacles! The series really provided some in-depth perspective on how difficult it was to achieve what Madam C.J. Walker did. Seeing the pain she had to go through was quite an eye-opening experience. 

The death of Sweetness (played by Bill Bellamy) gave a sense of closure for Sarah and her rival, Addie Monroe. It made the characters reflect on their biggest threat: racism and gender discrimination, not each other. Sweetness’ lynching was touching, to say the least, as the Director gave the audience first perspective scenes that can only be described as heart-wrenching. 

Conclusion

“Self Made: Inspired By The Life of Madam C.J. Walker” is a beautifully told story. The creatives in charge did a great job of pacing the story and supplying just enough conflict to make the viewer want to binge-watch the whole series on a Sunday night. I am glad I was able to speak with Kasi Lemmons about this project and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the series. I highly recommend giving it a watch. Of course it’s not completely accurate; however, it’s still very entertaining. While we celebrate women’s month at this time when self-distancing is in place, this Madam C.J. Walker series will allow the viewer four hours to escape the current troubles of the world. 

Academy Award® winner, Octavia Spencer, stars as Madam C.J. Walker, the trailblazing African American haircare entrepreneur who was America’s first female self-made millionaire. Inspired by the book, On Her Own Ground, written by Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, the Netflix original series “SELF MADE: INSPIRED BY THE LIFE OF MADAM C.J. WALKER”  brings the uplifting story of this cultural icon to the screen for the first time. Against all odds, Walker overcame post-slavery racial and gender biases, personal betrayals, and business rivalries to build a ground-breaking brand that revolutionized black haircare, as she simultaneously fought for social change.

19Feb/20

Jon-Sesrie Goff’s “After Sherman” Spotlights Preservation

Jon Sesrie Goff

The audience was quiet as their eyes were focused on a young Black man who narrated his family origins in South Carolina. His captivating voice segways into one of the most horrifying and inhuman events in recent years – the Emanuel Church shooting. It was emotional but the filmmaker/creative, Jon-Sesrie Goff, was able to orate the event passionately, beautifully and concluding with a peaceful ending. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the artist at the Pop-Up Magazine Winter Tour event in Washington, D.C. for an interview. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was your inspiration behind After Sherman?

Jon-Sesrie Goff (JSG):  It’s a feature-length documentary, that I started in 2014, that was supposed to be a visual survey of the Gullah Geechie corridor. This area existed from Southern North Carolina to Northern Florida. I was going for a very experimental, lyrical approach and it was not a personal film at all, but then I wanted to use it as an opportunity to talk to my family about our land and our Country, that was not used. I just wanted to use the camera to talk about the land. 

DDF: The short film version of After Sherman is what you are showing and narrating during the Pop-Up Magazine Tour, correct? 

JSG: Yes, the piece has evolved after the Charleston Church Shooting. I had a professor/filmmaker during grad school tell me that I didn’t have the luxury to make an experimental film about this subject matter because it required a strong narrative. For the following four years, I have been finding out through Pop-Up that I was able to hone my narrative voice without it feeling inauthentic. I worked with people who were like “Say this!” and “You deliver it so well!” but it wasn’t me speaking. 

With the shooting, I immediately went back because I didn’t want to be apart of the press mob. All my footage from the immediate aftermath is horrible because I was so nervous. There are moments where I was next to my mom and I didn’t want to film her during the emotional moment; I also wanted to protect others as well. So I took more photographs than video footage. A few weeks later I went back, did an oral history with church members, politicians, and people in the community, which is very different from the film I was making. Then I went back to do the ending shots of me standing amongst the country scenery and other visual treatments. 

DDF: You had a very emotional moment during your narration, how do you get through it every night? 

JSG: This night was emotional because my two cousins were here. They are also heirs to the properties that I mention in the film. My aunt, their mother, appears in the photographs in the film. This was the first time I had family members present at my show on this tour and that was really emotional. When I doing the piece, talking about it or working on it without family members around, I am able to desensitize myself. 

DDF: You are a well-rounded artist. How does this project differ from other forms of media that you use? 

JSG: Well, a personal documentary is one of the hardest things anyone can do. I apologize because I am a cinematographer and kept asking the cinematographers I was working with, why the film was not done yet because it takes a different type of care. I feel like, as a cinematographer and working in commercial spaces, I would be flown in the night before and out the next day, with that there’s no real attachment to the material. It’s just execution and less of myself present in it. When you put yourself out there like that, if you are a thoughtful person, you have to make careful decisions.

DDF: What were some of the reactions from some of your family and friends in Charleston after you showed them the film? 

JSG: After the shooting, there was a Sunday School convention scheduled to be at the church and they still had the convention. Two days after the shooting, kids from Emmanuel church were there. Every year it’s around the same time, so it’s like this weird moment of memorial services and then the convention. 

A year after the shooting, I went back and showed people my work in progress to the Sunday School convention. They were excited to see and pointing out people they know in the film and all the other stuff sort of fades away. I made this film so that people in the low country could appreciate how special and unique our culture is and how valuable our land is, that was it. People in the Emmanuel and Charleston Community have been very supportive of the project. 

DDF: How much did the documentary “Sherman’s March” influence your project? 

JSG: When I first started making it before the shooting. It was an inside joke because I love Sherman’s March, the first commercially successful documentary film. And it’s this guy going back to the south, tracing his family steps and there’s like one scene with black people. I was like “That’s really hard to do?” It’s hard to go down south and the only encounter you have the Black people are with some kids. I respect, Ross McElwee as a filmmaker immensely but I was thinking to myself, “I wanna do After Sherman and it’s going to be about all Black people.” I actually shot the opening sequences shot by shot but it may not make it into the film. 

I was happy to see the show and honored to interview Jon, especially because of his previous work with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Pop-Up Magazine 2020 Winter Tour is wrapping on February 22, 2020, but be on the lookout for the full feature film After Sherman by Jon-Sesrie Goff. Website.

12Feb/20

The Photograph is About Loving Imperfectly

It was the late Toni Morrison who said “Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind.” This quote sums up the new romance film, The Photograph. The Stella Maghie helmed project follows Mae, an art curator who learns about her estranged mother’s past through a letter she left behind. This letter leads Mae to a romance with rising journalist, Michael Block.

Issa Rae as Mae Morton in “The Photograph,” written and directed by Stella Meghie.

Loving Imperfectly 

The beginning of the film starts off with a VHS interview of Mae’s mother saying she wishes she could love others like she loves her work. Her mom’s obsession with her work (and emotional abandonment of Mae) causes the adult version of Mae to live her adult years unbalanced and living day to day laden with her past. This aspect of the film is crucial because it shows how mental health plays a huge role in our relationships and lack thereof.

We see a poignant example of how mother-daughter relationships (and the way in which they treat each other) is, for sure, generational. Here, Mae’s mother was kicked out of her home because her mom was sick with cancer and didn’t want her daughter to see her waste away. Mae’s mother did the same in keeping her own cancer a secret from her daughter. These actions seem cruel in the moment, but they were only loving imperfectly.

Fast forward, we see two people romantically loving imperfectly, not knowing what to do. They’re walking on the tight ropes of dating, afraid of heights, and praying to God they make it to the other side where meaningful relationships reside without falling off. Let’s be real. Nobody wants to fall off that rope just to jump up and do it all over again with someone new and unfamiliar.

(from left) Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) and Mae Morton (Issa Rae) in “The Photograph,” written and directed by Stella Meghie.

Taking a Chance 

One aspect of the film I find undoubtedly relatable is Michael dealing with his emotions. After being dumped by an ex whom he planned to marry, finding vulnerability within himself again in a loving relationship was a difficult task, I’m sure. We see this in The Photograph as Michael falls for Mae and is entranced by her beauty. I know many have been in this situation. I know I have; building with a woman like Mae, a woman who fears heartbreak and is consistently ambivalent when things get serious.

When Michael finds the love he’s been looking for and his emotional barriers shatter, all this is threatened when he’s hired by his dream job at The Associated Press… in the UK! Far from New York and from Mae, the internal struggle commences as he figures out how to break the news to Mae. I thought to myself, “What would I do?”

Interestingly, Maghie told Mae of a similar scenario that her parents experienced years ago. After she learns of Michael’s decision to relocate, she (as her own father did years ago) decides not to fight for the love of her life and just let things play out as they would.

(from left) Asia (Teyonah Parris) and Kyle Block (Lil Rel Howery) in “The Photograph,” written and directed by Stella Meghie.

Family Dynamics 

From the positive imagery of a happy black family consisting of Lil’ Rel Rowery, Teyonah Parris, and two beautiful little girls to Mae’s father and stepfather, the family dynamics shown were awesome. It’s amazing how so many aspects of Black relationships are portrayed without crossing over into the comedic genre we’re so used to seeing in Black cinematography, i.e. Welcome Home Roscoe or Death At a Funeral.

One can really appreciate the directorial angles during dialogues, the lighting, and the colors used to add to the ambiance of scenes. Add to that the sheer talent of the cast. I’m very happy to have seen The Photograph and look forward to watching it again, just to see what else I can fall in love with about this film.

The Photograph is a necessary film for our culture and for our future. It is our Mo’Better Blues and, most importantly, it is a deep dive into what’s needed for Black people to have successful relationships – honesty, patience, therapy, and understanding. I am happy this film exists and I look forward to the many conversations it will stir up. This film is a must-watch I would personally like to thank Stella Maghie and the cast for giving this film life.

The Photograph

Starring : LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae

In theaters February 14, 2020

Writer/director Stella Meghie on the set of “The Photograph.”

10Feb/20

For Love, For Faith, For Life

From creator Hank Steinberg (“Without a Trace”) and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and inspired by the life of Isaac Wright Jr., “For Life” is a fictional serialized legal and family drama about an imprisoned man, Aaron Wallace, who becomes a lawyer fighting to reverse his own life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. His quest for freedom is driven by his desperate desire to get back to the family he loves—his estranged wife and daughter—and reclaim the life that was stolen from him. (ABC/Giovanni Rufino) NICHOLAS PINNOCK

Powerful is the one word I can use to describe the series For Life. Taji Mag was able to attend a DC advanced screening of the pilot and it did not disappoint!  The compelling series is influenced by Issac Wright Jr. who was falsely convicted under New Jew Jersey’s kingpin law. The series displays the strength of the human spirit and having unrelenting faith, how the justice system fails, and how all hope looks lost. Family dynamics, the corruption, and transition from the prison environment to life outside the prison walls are luring.  The series is so good, I only saw the pilot of the show and I’ve already downloaded the ABC streaming app to watch future episodes.  

 “ It was important for me for the audience to see what it’s like first hand, what the experience was like being imprisoned. That part where they had an innocent man, he goes to jail, he has to strip himself of clothing, he is talked to a certain way, he is mistreated and made to feel less than. That was really important to show.” – Nicholas Pinnock

For What?

The show follows as the lead character, Aaron (Nicholas Pinnock), is wrongfully convicted and sent to prison for many years. While serving time behind bars, he utilizes this time to become a lawyer. I questioned how this is possible but the pilot does a good job of explaining how Aaron was able to achieve this. 

One of the interesting moments in the series is Aaron’s representation of other prisoners that were wrongfully sentenced. I was intruged by how Aaron becomes a cerebral assassin when going againist the opposition, the same lawyer that placed him in jail.  The acting and writing is so well done, the audience in attendence for the screening cheered during Aaron’s small victories over his cases and filled the room with gasps whenever he dealt with unfair bias. 

“I really connected to it. I have family members who have been formerly incarcerated and I have two really good girlfriends that have partners who were formerly incarcerated and I know what it was like for them to stay connected to the person that they love. Having to travel states, planes, trains, and automobiles to stay connected. I understood their dynamic and that’s what I leaned into to create the role.” – Joy Bryant

For Love

(ABC/Giovanni Rufino)
TYLA HARRIS, NICHOLAS PINNOCK

Aaron is driven by the love for his family. His wife and daughter are who keep him motivated and in pursuit of his freedom. I felt there were many family dynamics explored within the show. From the relationship Aaron shares with his wife during his visits, to the distance placed between Aaron and his daughter. The show does well at displaying the chain reaction that occurs when a family member is placed in prison for a long sentence. “Do I give up on them?” “How much hope do I really have in their innocence?” These are some of the questions that plague the minds of the members involved during the incarceration of a loved one. I definitely felt an emotional tug when Aaron interacted with his wife during a prison visit. Their situation could not break the love they had for one another, even when life looks as if one of them is actively moving on, showing a bond with someone you love is impossible to break. 

“What happened to me and what I had to do started from somewhere. 9 times out of 10 it usually starts with the family. It starts off with your parenting and what’s instilled in you as a child. I would like to take the time out to recognize my parents.” – Issac Wright Jr. 

(ABC/Giovanni Rufino)
NICHOLAS PINNOCK, ERIK JENSEN

For Life

Throughout the pilot, there is an interesting transition as Aaron goes into the court bathroom dressed in an orange jumpsuit and coming out changed into a suit to represent his client. Only to return to the jail system where his life is threatened and his integrity challenged. 

Aaron is definitely a character you want to cheer for during the pilot, many in the theater did, as he attempts to take on the corrupt players in the judicial system, which include those that sent him to prison in the first place.

I really felt the cold, concrete walls that inclosed the inmates as the camera followed Aaron through his daily rituals.  

“A prison is broken down into three parts; administration (wardens, assistant warden), custody (the guards), and the inmate population. While the real stuff happens on the grounds with the inmate population, custody doesn’t want the administration to know because they want to continue to keep control of the prison. When this happens it is an environment of me against you with the inmates and custody. As an inmate, if it even looks like you are getting friendly with a guard somebody will be coming in your cell at 3 in the morning with a shank. It’s a very dangerous environment.” – Issac Wright Jr. 

If you love Power, you will definitely love For Life. With similar plot twists, scene breakdowns, and spectacular acting, the series will be undoubtedly one of the best series this year. 

Drama series “For Life” premieres TUESDAY, FEB. 11 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC.

Starring: Nicholas Pinnock, Joy Bryant

Executive Producer: 50 Cent

FOR LIFE – ABC’s “For Life” stars Timothy Busfield as Henry Roswell, Brandon J. Dirden as Darius, Joy Bryant as Marie Wallace, Tyla Harris as Jasmine Wallace, Nicholas Pinnock as Aaron Wallace, Indira Varma as Safiya Masry, Mary Stuart Masterson as Anya Harrison, Glenn Fleshler as Frank Foster, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Cassius, Dorian Missick as Jamal Bishop, and Boris McGiver as Glen Maskins. (ABC/Matthias Clamer)

29Jan/20

Star Wars: A Universe Where Black People Don’t Die… Except for Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu

The new Star Wars is a piece of sh*t!” my friend yelled into the phone as we exchanged our reviews of the most recent highly anticipated hit film, Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. “Yeah, but did you notice something? Lando didn’t die!” He’s one of the few remaining characters from the first trilogy of Star Wars films… and he’s Black! As I explained, his tone seemed to lighten right along with his mood. I could literally see my point sinking in. Well, he still thinks the film is shit, but at least Lando and Finn survived the events of “Rise of Skywalker”. Not to mention the survival of other Black characters in the film franchise and Disney Plus series, The Mandalorian, alike – an honorable mention to Moff Geidon exquisitely played by Giancarlo Esposito. In stark contrast to your typical sci-fi story, Black characters have and still are eluding death as if there were some direct relation to Marvel’s Deadpool himself. This may sound odd but in a way it is history if you think about it? A major franchise that doesn’t kill off its minorities in the first 5 minutes of their appearance. 

Finn portrayed by John Bpyega and Jannah portrayed by Naomi Ackie in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Don’t get me wrong. I, and surely many others, were pissed about the wasted potential of the Finn character, but at least he and Jannah (another Black female character) survived the war just as their chances were beginning to look bleak. I must be honest, as I watched Finn’s sacrifice, it prompted a deeply dramatic “Nooooooo!” after seeing him destroy the satellite that would doom the Resistance. All that changed once he and Jannah were saved. I was really happy to see Finn make it to the end because, let’s face it, not too many Star Wars characters make it through myriad close calls but he did, and to that, I say “Celebration!” (in my Dave Chappelle voice). 

We’ve for years witnessed Black people suffer early untimely deaths in horror movies and in action films while sparing their counterparts. It’s refreshing to see one of the most-loved sci-fi franchises of all time manage to keep minorities alive, especially the Black characters. 

A Shout Out to Disney Plus and The Mandalorian Writing Team!

I was already excited about the Disney Plus series, The Mandalorian, because Bubba Fett is another favorite of mine. Yes, I love the fact that the series has some awesome creatives like Jon Favreau and I admit I’ve fallen in love with The Child aka Baby Yoda, but what I love most is that the Black people in this series haven’t been killed off! 

While watching the series of events leading up to Greef Karga’s betrayal (in true Lando fashion), I was forced to relive deep feelings of disappointment but was also kind of relieved to see him survive what could’ve been a deadly gunshot wound. I recall at that moment yelling “Don’t die, Apollo!” (a reference to Carl Weathers’ portrayal of Apollo Creed in the beloved Rocky series). I was most definitely having a flashback to Rocky IV. There was another moment in which he escaped death after being ambushed by flying carnivorous creatures only to be saved by the cute little Baby Yoda and The Force… of course. 

Next up, the villainous Moff Gideon: Leading a large group of StormTroopers, he tries to convince the Mandalorian and crew (Greef and Cara) to surround baby Yoda. 1st things 1st, hats off to Giancarlo Esposito as a great actor, especially as a villain (check out his notable performance in Breaking Bad as Gustav Fring). He definitely evokes a feeling of disdain. As an avid watcher of film and television, I should know to detach from characters because, after all, they’re not real. Giancarlo’s Breaking Bad character, Gustav, *spoiler alert* had already suffered a gruesome death and was also a dope villain, so to see it happen again would be downright wrong. Yet I knew a character like Moff would need to die. While watching the latest episode of the Mandalorian, something inside of me thought he wasn’t dead or at least didn’t want him to be dead after his Fighter ship crashed, and of course, I was right! Once again, I felt good that the Black person didn’t die and that they could make good use of a good character. 

What About Windu? 

For all you die-hard Star Wars fans, I haven’t forgotten Mace Windu, one of THE dopest saber-wielding Jedi the Star Wars universe has ever seen. His death was terrible but not surprising since Sam dies in pretty much all of his sci-fi films. To witness the Mace Windu die in Star Wars Episode III hurt my heart. I just knew Samuel L. Jackson was going to say “Yes, you deserve to die and I hope you burn in hell too!” whilst destroying Emperor Palpatine. And why does Palpatine’s face look like a Walking Dead zombie using an aging filter?  But I digress. Instead, he had his hand chopped off by the annoying Anakin Skywalker and fell to his death by the hand of evil Palpatine. All I could think was “at least we still have Lando Calrissian”. 

Jar Jar Binks Who? 

What about Jar Jar Binks you may ask? What about him and who cares?

As a true fan who’s privy to the ultimate turnout, I know the trend of POC (people of color) surviving in the Star Wars universe will likely come to an end in future seasons of the Mandalorian, but as we enter into 2020 I can say with pride that I really love Star Wars, a Universe where Black people don’t die. 

07Oct/19
Emanuel

Emanuel Documentary is About the Power of Faith Amidst Hate

Inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

It was as if a pine cone was lodged in my throat and my heart was sinking into my stomach when I watched the documentary Emanuel. Revisiting the story of the nine black people that were killed in a mass shooting by Dylan Roof in Charleston, SC was an emotional roller coaster that I was not ready for. The Steph Curry and Viola Davis executive produced the film was a chilling documentary that reminds its viewers about the power of faith, the destruction of hate, and the state of racial discrimination in America. 

The intro featured a clip of the moving and memorable eulogy given by President Barrack Obama for the funeral of the Emanuel massacre. I remember this moment and the post devastation that many were in after the event and how the following events further perpetuated the bias that the criminal system had against people of color. 

Nadine Lance Collier lost her mother Ethel Lance in the Emanuel shooting.

Emanuel gives an in-depth perspective of the event and things following it. Those featured include the families of the victims, Dot Scott (Charleston NAACP Branch President), Muhiyida D’bhana (Black Lives Matters Founder), Phillip Pickney (Activist), media that covered the event, historians, South Carolina’s political figures, and survivor, Polly Shepard. 

History of Charleston 

The film starts off explaining some of the historical roots of Charleston, SC and Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Going back to the time of the 1800s during slavery, a section of the film I found to be very interesting showed the connection between religion and racism in South Carolina. I really found the short history lesson about Denmark Vessy to be very enlightening and conducted more research about him after I watched the film. He is a former slave that bought his freedom through a lottery and, later, became one of the founders of the AME church. Charged and executed for an uprising of the slaves, Vessey was a very important figure in the AME community. 

Loved Ones

Pastor Anthony Thompson remembering his loving wife, Myra, killed in the Emanuel church massacre.

Pastor Anthony Thompson told a beautiful story about the ritual he had with his wife. They would see each other at the door with a kiss. He expressed how blessed she felt on that day, how much more full of life she was. Stories like this one were refreshing and gave me a break from the wave of negative emotion I felt during the course of the film. 

Another moving story was told by Nadine Lance Collier. Her welcoming and charismatic persona held my attention as she shared stories about her mom, Ethel Lance, one of the nine people killed in the shooting. She expressed how optimistic her mother was and, from her description, I could tell that her mom had a pure soul that the world lost.  

Revisited

It was entriguing how the film summarized an origin for Dylann Roof and his life before he committed his crime. The fact that his actions/ideas were sparked by the Trayvon Martin case was surprising. Society speaks about how rap music and violent video games are the cause for destructive behavior, yet here we have the racist acts of others influencing people to think maliciously. 

Survivor of the Emanuel shooting Polly Shepard.

The most disturbing recollection and description of the massacre was from the survivor, Polly Shepard. She fought through tears as she recalled the events of the shooting, her conversation with Roof, and witnessing him shoot her already wounded son. I felt angered when I heard her speak, I wanted to hug her through the screen, and I couldn’t understand how a “mentally disturbed” individual killed innocent people in cold blood, especially after they welcomed Roof in their church with open arms. 

“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.” – President Obama, the eulogy at the Emanuel funeral. 

When the film spoke about and showed the footage of how Roof was apprehended, it reaffirmed that America has a racial bias in the law enforcement system that cannot be ignored. I couldn’t help but think about the many innocent Black people that have had police officers draw guns on them and, in some cases, were killed, while Dylann Roof was calmly taken in without force after murdering nine innocent Black people.

Live and Let Love  

The documentary revisited the verdict of the trial, some of the victim’s family members expressed their forgiveness to Dylann Roof. There are many curious about their forgiveness, including myself, but this documentary allowed the family members to explain their reason. 

The film ended telling the stories of the victims’ family members, how they are dealing with the loss, how they are moving on, how their faith has helped them, and their real struggles with the battle. 

Emanuel was a well structured and touching film that I think many should watch. Especially after hearing the verdict and following events of the Amber Guyger case. If you can’t understand the power of faith and forgiveness, the documentary Emanuel will definitely show you how.

Emanuel

Release: Oct. 11, 2019 

Directred by: Brian Ivie

Distributed by: Fathom Events

 

25Aug/19
DC Black Film Festival

The DC Black Film Festival Rocked its Third Year

If you didn’t attend the DC Black Film Festival this past weekend then you missed out on some really great films from some talented creatives. Hollywood still struggles to represent diversity in the industry but, with events like the DC Black Film Festival,  people can enjoy quality films about people of color and not the rhetoric that Hollywood loves to repeat. 

There were over 50 films shown that had me laughing, crying (I call it eye sweat, lol), and, most of all, sympathizing with some of the characters on screen that look that like me.

“People of color have a constant frustration of not being represented, or being misrepresented, and these images go around the world.” – Spike Lee 

Below are some films that I loved.  

We Want to Make It A film that explores the journey of young musicians (Jourdan, 14yrs old, and Tarron) as they strive to make their way from performing on the DC metro to stardom. It’s a very well done piece that shines light on Black youth doing something positive with their talents instead of becoming a statistic out on the streets. 

The DC Black Film FestivalMe Time A hilarious short, done by Iyabo Boyd, that had me laughing the whole time. This film goes into the thoughts of a young Black woman (portrayed by Adnike Thomas) who just wants to find her own peace of mind while reaching her happy place and maybe an orgasm along the way. This film has a Nutty Professor feel as the very talented actress takes on all the various roles in the film. I went from chuckling in my seat to choking on my water with laughter. 

Slave Cry A film, by Jai Johnson, speaks volumes on the issue of token characters that Black people are offered in hollywood. With films like Black Panther having much success and displaying diversity in the Black community, hollywood still has a long way to go. Slave Cry was a well written film that made me feel so bad for the lead character, played by Courtney Jamison, as she learns that no matter the level of talent, the entertainment business still needs to work on diversifying characters in their projects. Thank God we have a well selected Ariel for the Little Mermaid and thank God Jai Jackson made this film artist can relate to. 

Roasted A hilarious short film that has a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off feel which follows a coffee shop employee who talks about his work day dealing with customers, making coffee, putting up with his boss, working solo and enjoying time listening to music while writing. His expression and body language change from animated to annoyance as he switches his focus from the audience to the characters in the film. 

The DC Black Film FestivalEmmett One of the standout features about a boy genius  (Miles Brown from Grown-ish) that deals with social issues, being a championed student of color, and adapting to change and maturity. This great film was both relatable and touching as it took me back to my days in my youth and adapting to life as an over achiever in academics. This film sets the tone as it really touches on some of the issues we’ve all dealt with. 

LiME A story of a young man’s hardwork and success of achieving his goals threatened by bullies who attack him based on his lifestyle. Truly a touching story of how cruel people can be and how beautiful the human spirit can manifest surrounded by the right crowd. Creator/director, Donta Story, put together a great short. 

East of the River East of the River, by Hannah Peterson, is a compelling story of how a young girl, her highschool mate, and former schoolmate now sex worker connect through exploring the streets of DC. I think this film had great chemistry amongst the actors. Their relationship was very ambivalent, because it felt a little romantic. Nonetheless, the young DC natives did an amazing job!  

The DC Black Film FestivalUna Great Movie Explores the world of a Black female screenwriter and her hopes of getting her film picked up. The film also follows the lead character in her film as the two worlds reflect the difficulties of having creative and unconventional Black love stories, as the character portrayed in the screenwriter’s film looks to rekindle an old love that is of Mexican descent. The creator and director, Jennifer Sharp, explained the difficulty in getting new and fresh content 

The Call Angel Weaver’s work is a film that captures the moment when a girl receives the phone call from her brother locked up in the prison system. The film showcased the unsettling experience of receiving the call, with a hilarious beginning that shows that the call can come at any moment.  

Corey Creator/director/actor, Steven St. Pierre, put together a touching film about a Black man that has a difficult relationship with his wife, who has a drug addiction, and is raising his daughter while shielding her from the ugly truth about her mom. By the end of the film, the audience discovers why Corey works hard to keep his emotions together and his daughter safe emotionally. 

The Right Swipe A show about two female friends that start a business helping men find matches on a dating app by curating their profiles. Although I have had little experience on dating apps, I found the pilot interesting and humorous. When I asked co-creator and Maryland native, Kyra Jones, about the show, she explained, Through our research, we found that Black women and Asian men are less likely to get different matches. Even the cast is diverse, we wanted to make sure that we brought Black love to the forefront of the show. The show discusses how complex and how difficult it is to find romantic partners.” Watch the pilot here!

Together This film was one of the moving films of the festival. The story of Black love between an older married couple as they hold true to their vows through sickness and health. The film left me and those in attendance in tears as we saw the astonishing acting of EFE (2019 DC Black Films Best Actress) and her co-star show love at its best. There is talks of this being developed into a full feature film and I can’t wait to see it. 

Having the Peele Appeal Night at the table and Dog Person are films from the film festival that had a Jordan Peele feel to them. It’s no surprise that the creatives of the films are inspired by Jordan Peele. 

Night at the table A horror film that had definitely gave me a chill, from start to finish, as the film introduces a normal Black family that is more than just that. The director was inspired by the film Hereditary and even coached the lead actress to channel the mother of the film Hereditary. The multi-talented creative describes her films as being consequential pain in two words. 

Dog Person If you loved watching the film Us by Peele or Tusk then you have to see this short film by Justin Fairweather. It’s a little disturbing in some parts but entertaining nonetheless. With a good performance by Jordanna Hernandez, Dog Person left me wanting to see what more films from Fairweather and hopefully a feature that have audiences everywhere entertained. 

Who is Kevin Sampson?

Kevin Sampson is the BrainChild behind the DC Black Film Festival. He said it all started when Think Like a Man 2 came out and he was a little upset while he watched it because it was less about Black love and more of the Kevin Hart show. He explained that “We (Black people) only get a few movies per year and this is how we wasted it and maybe sometimes we need that.” 

He then wrote an open letter to creatives everywhere explaining that black creatives have to do better. Many people including some hollywood actors commented on it. This inspired him to start a kickstarter for a documentary about Black Hollywood. The Kickstarter wasn’t successful but that led Kevin to create the DC Black Film festival. A place where Black people can showcase their talent and love for Black people. 

Fast Facts About Kevin Sampson:
  • Graduated from American University Film school with a MFA in Film & Electronic Media 
  • Created Picture Lock, an entertainment website, radio show/podcast, and hour long film review TV show.
  • Director of the Rosebud Film Festival since 2013. 
  • Created Picture Lock PR to represent independent films. 

The DC Black Film Festival was an amazing event and a success in it’s third year. It is important that we have events like these to not only show people of color on screen or Black culture but the diversity within the Black community. I think the DC Black Film festival will continue to grow to inspire young creatives and encourage people to watch quality films.

Winners From the Festival:

DC Best Film “ We Want to Make It”

Best Student Film “Masks” 

Best Web Series “The History of White People in America”

 Best Short Film “East of the River” 

 Best Experimental Film “Here”

 Best Documentary Feature “Owned: The Tale of Two Americas”  

 Best Narrative Feature “Una a Great Movie” 

 Best Director Mahaliy Ahayla O

 Best Actress Efe

 Best Actor  Roderick Bradford Jr. 

 

15Aug/19

Luce is a Captivating Thriller That Addresses Racism and Mental Health

Tim Roth, Kelvin Harrison Jr, and Naomi Watts.

High schooler, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), overcame a nightmarish past as a child soldier in Eritrea to become the definition of the All-American teenager. As a valedictorian, track star, and all-around popular kid, his life seems set until he suddenly finds himself at odds with an overbearing teacher, Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer). When his loving adoptive parents, played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, become entangled in the suspicions of this teacher, complex questions of prejudice suddenly bubble to the surface, threatening to expose the ugly truths about all involved. (Tribeca Film Festival) 

Luce is a captivating thriller that challenges views on parenting and prejudice surrounding adoptive interracial families. The film really kept me ambivalent as to what the motives of each character really was. The talented cast peeled back the layers of their respective characters, especially rising star, Kelvin Harris Jr., who portrays Luce as a cunning, charming, and an innocent teenager. The parents did well at convincing us of juggling raising Luce and keeping their marriage together. Octavia Spencer, once again, portrayed a phemonal role as the teacher that has concerns about Luce that may derail his path to a successful college career. 

Luce at Tribeca

At the Tribeca Film Festival, I was able to talk to the writer, director, and producer, Julius Ohna, on the red carpet who explained, “ I want people to ask real questions about the way they perceive things like privilege. We live in these multicultural societies, where the ways that we look at each other can have a real impact on the way people’s lives are led and if we are asking questions that are beyond our blind spots and not looking past them, I think there’s a real change that can come.” 

The red carpet interviews and the showing were followed by a Q&A with the director and cast. I felt there was going to be tension in the room as the film depicted issues that society as a whole tends to leave unanswered. 

The host of the Q&A – writer, director, and radio producer, Rebecca Carroll asked thought-provoking questions. Those very same questions caused a lot of the audience members to leave the building due to the sensitive topic. One of the more difficult questions asked was about how does the white couple feel raising a young black teenager? A question that only Onley could answer since he wrote the film.

Tim Roth and other castmates could only approach the question as concerned parents, nothing more. Boasting a revelatory central performance by Harrison (who also appears this year in Gully) and nuanced work from an electrifying ensemble, director and co-writer Julius Onah twists this tale (adapted with JC Lee from his own play) into unexpected shapes, forcing the audience to examine the characters from every imaginable angle. Tension pulls at the screen, allegiances shift, and the viewer’s own biases are used to deepen the storytelling in masterful ways.
—Loren Hammonds 

Takaways from the film? 

  1. Mental health is still a significant issue that needs to be addressed for people of color, especially the child soldiers, like Luce, who suffer from a tremendous amount of stress and mental manipulation. 
  2. Luce, Tribeca Film Festival

    Caring for family with extreme mental health conditions is a difficult job. The Wilson sisters in the film, portrayed by Octavia Spencer and Marsha Stephanie Blake, gave an in-depth look at how this situation requires patience and a lot of energy.

  3. People still don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation when it comes to racism. While watching this film and attending the Q&A after the Tribeca premiere, I noticed how the characters in the film and people in the audience avoided the issue of racism. 
  4. Immigrants are not evil and they are not novelties. In the film, it is shown that Luce is sort of a token character and he plays the role to a tee to fit his needs. Although it is just a film, it can show how, in some cases, children in this situation can be championed in comparison to another teens who come from a background with non-adoptive parents who happen to be Black. 
  5. Trials and tribulations have no bias. The film does a great job of displaying the temptations and issues that the teenagers in the suburbs deal with that are similar to teens living in the inner city. The teens come from different backgrounds but still face life challenges. 

Nonetheless, Luce is a great, thrilling film that properly addresses mental health, social and racial issues. If you’re looking for a film that is thought provoking and filled with many plot twists, you should definitely check it out. 

Luce is in theaters now. It stars Kelvin Harris Jr., Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, Andrea Bang, and Marsha Stephanie Blake. 

03Jul/19
Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is a Necessary Watch

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures
Toni Morrison and Me

I was a freshman in college when I realized that Toni Morrison was a not only a big deal but an important part of literature. It wasn’t that it was my first time being exposed to her, it was the fact that I was at a private, predominantly white school (Denison University) taking a freshman English class named after her that focused on her work. After taking the class, I gained a deeper respect for the author because I had finally been exposed to her world that far surpassed the two books, “Song of Solomon” and “Sula,” I read in high school. 

The film, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, made me feel as if I was previously foreign to Toni Morrison and her contributions to the African American community. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders did an amazing job of putting this introspective and commentary piece together about one of the greatest influences in literature. I got to know Toni Morrison as a writer, teacher, mother, award winner, and overall incredible human being. The documentary explores the early years of her life where her grandparents encouraged her and other children in her family to get as much education as they could.  Her grandparents were alive during a time where it was forbidden for Black people to receive an education. This was the foundation that would inspire one of the world’s greatest writers.

To understand her affinity at an early age gives the audience an understanding of how Morrison became such a distinguished storyteller. At one point she described how she loved books so much that when she worked in a library, she spent more time reading the books than doing the work. They naturally promoted her to a managerial role. 

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures

Howard University & Random House

The Pieces I Am traveled through Morrison’s college roots as she attended the infamous Howard University where, like most graduates, she discovered the true value of being Black and educated. She felt free in her natural habitat amongst other intellectuals and creatives that shared a love for education. After her time at Howard, the film discusses her start at Random House as an editor. This was where the start of her literary career began.

There are so many key moments in this documentary that it’s not hard to see how Toni Morrison became a Pulitzer winner and why many influential figures in Black history have looked up or desired to work with her.  In fact, it’s noted how both Muhammad Ali (The Greatest: My Own Story) and Angela Davis (Angela Davis: An Autobiography) had a huge amount of respect for her, allowing her to write their autobiographies.

Morrison set a standard in the writing industry early on with her works “The Black Book”, “Sula” and “The Bluest Eye.” The film noted how Toni Morrison’s novels transcended race yet encouraged people of color to embrace their melanin and not be afraid or ashamed of the skin they were born in. In fact, “The Black Book” has been described as an emotional exploration of Blackness.  

While watching the film, I wondered why we had to wait until now to receive a Toni Morrison documentary. After all, she had some of her biggest moments in the 90s and previous years but the film also addresses that Toni Morrison is a very private person. When I spoke with director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, he explained how there were a few moments while filming Toni Morrison that they all had to hold their breath because what she was saying was so powerful and captivating. It was hard for him to do cuts during editing because of all the great footage from her interview.

Interviews
Toni Morrison

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures

Talents and activists that were featured via interview included Angela Davis, Hilton Als, Fran Lebowitz, Walter Mosley, Sonia Sanchez, Farah Griffin, and Oprah Winfrey. They all praised the innate skills, inspiration, and hard work of Morrison. One of the most interesting stories came from Oprah Winfrey when she mentioned how she called the fire station in the neighborhood where Morrison stayed to get in contact with her to do the movie Beloved.  The excitement in the voices and faces of the interviewees show the importance of Toni Morrison, especially Sonia Sachez who had emotional final words at the conclusion of her interview.

During Morrison’s interviews, she explained how she developed some of her books. The way she describes her influences for her work are interesting and visually beautiful, much like her storytelling. Speaking on Beloved, a novel that originated from the Margaret Garner story, Morrison recalled her being out one day looking at the docks when she saw a woman in a hat by the river who suddenly disappeared. This is what sparked the beginning of the amazing Beloved novel that made Oprah a huge admirer.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is not only recommended, it is necessary. To quote Paula Giddins from the film “If you don’t understand the history of African American women, you don’t understand America.” The documentary released in theatres on June 28th, 2019.

Photos: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures

15Jun/19

Lil’ Buck: The Real Swan Doc World Premiered at Tribeca

Lil’ Buck discussing his career with Taji Mag during the Tribeca Film Festival.
Photo by William Baldon

A crowd of people sat in silence and awe at a dance performance that was beautiful, captivating and fluid to the accompaniment of music provided by the talented musician, Yo-Yo Ma. Though there weren’t many if any, people of color in the crowd as this was in Beijing, China, what mattered was the headliner was a young Black man from Memphis, Tennessee named Lil’ Buck.

It was a thing of beauty – a man doing what he loves and performing art for the world to see. His performance was something that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be proud of, a young man being seen for his talent and not just his color. In a world where Black men are vilified, subjected to toxic masculinity and seen on the wrong side of police brutality, it was refreshing to see a glimpse into a world that could exist without racism or discrimination.

When asked about his performance, Lil’ Buck stated, “I never really thought about my performance in that way. For me it wasn’t about performing for the audience, I’m trying to make them feel a certain way. I think that’s why a lot of people gravitate towards me because they don’t see anything else because I don’t. When I’m performing, I am doing my best to become music. It’s a real thing for me. Especially to music that has a story already in it, like the Swan. You can hear the story within it. For me, I can visually see the journey in that song. I don’t come up with anything to impress people, I just feel the music and bring people into my imagination.”

Lil' Buck

Lil’ Buck performing during the documentary Lil’Buck: Real Swan. (Photo provided by Tribeca Film Festival)

The video is a snippet from the documentary “Lil’ Buck: Real Swan” that world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival; it was also the part that stuck out the most to me. To be honest, it made me misty-eyed because it’s what every person wants, or at least what every human being should want — to be able to live in peace and love freely. About the documentary, Andrea Passafiume wrote, “In this exuberant documentary, director Louis Wallecan takes an in-depth look at this extraordinary artist whose passion, drive, discipline, and talent have blazed a unique new path in the world of dance that has included performing all over the world, touring with Madonna, mentoring young dance students, and becoming a passionate advocate for arts education.”

Lil’ Buck: A Young Man From Memphis

Growing up in the Memphis skating scene, particularly at Crystal Palace Roller Rink, was the big thing for youth to keep them entertained and off the streets. Once the skates were taken off and the rink was open for dancing, that’s when the main fun began and people were able to show off their new jookin moves. Jookin is a popular dance style in Memphis for all ages that stems from breakdancing and the gangsta walk. This is how the film, Lil’ Buck: Real Swan, starts to chronicle the life of Lil’ Buck.

“I was born in Chicago and my family moved to Memphis when I was eight. Even back in Chicago, I can remember seeing footwork in indigenous street dancing.” – Lil Buck explained about his roots in dancing and upbringing.

Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley developed a passion for jookin and dance at the young age of 12. From there he had the desire to become the best dancer he could be. He became so impressed with the length of time that ballerinas could stay on their toes that he decided to take up ballet.

“Growing up I always thought these dancers in videos were making all this money, we literally thought they were rich. All these dancers are next to celebrities like Lil’ Wayne, Madonna, and all these people. Some were not as good as my friends and I, so we would be like, “How the f*ck are they on TV?” We would ask this question every day and tell ourselves that’s where we needed to be.” – Lil’ Buck

Lil’ Buck said that in the beginning, he just wanted to be in videos and put jookin on the map. To be able to reach where he is now. Thinking about how small his dreams were, it just inspires him to dream larger and tell others to do the same. He further explained to not be afraid to dream big and to go after it! It’s not enough just to dream, its the work you put into it. He remembers when he experienced bloody toes and toenails falling off, trying to stand on his toes in his sneakers. Lil’ Buck reminisced, “Imagine walking around all day in school on your toes because you want to build that strength and to be on the level where you surpass ballerinas. It was painful but worth it!”

With some dancers, their goal is to tour with a different artist but not too many dancers see themselves as the artist that has the same strength and power as a singer or actor. They can make a good living for themselves and their family, creating generational wealth. Dancers like Lil’Buck, don’t always have that platform but their art is just as captivating. A lot of kids today are gravitating towards this instant success instead of really investing in themselves and really building themselves, enjoying that journey towards their goal. Lil’ Buck hopes to be a good example of enduring and enjoying the journey.

The Inspiration

Lil’ Buck being interviewed by Felipe Patterson (aka Dapper Dr Feel) of Taji Mag at the Roxy hotel during the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. (Video by William Baldon)

Lil’Buck discussed that his inspirations are Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker, the Nicholas Brothers, Little Buck, Buck and Bubbles, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Michael Jackson. He explained the way they combined film and dance was inspiring to him. The way they combined storytelling and dance was amazing to him. He remembers that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, always called his music videos short films.

“Those that inspire me are my peers, Daniel Price, G-Nerd, Jah Quincey, Caviar Taylor (On My Toes), BoBo and all the rappers like 3×6 Mafia, DJ Squeaky, they created what I’m into.” – Lil Buck talking about others that inspire him.

Bruce Lee was one of his biggest inspirations because of his philosophy on life. Not isolating yourself mentally to learning only one thing. He was open to learning and putting together different forms of martial arts. He’s always into strengthening himself and thinking outside the box.

Lil' BuckThe doc starts off with smooth jookin moves, that impressed me and reminded me of the great dancing films like Breakin’. I wasn’t sure what the aim of the film was but this direction definitely kept me engaged. It didn’t feel corny or fake like the multiple Step Up films that lack the originality of dancers in this film. Every one of them passionate about their craft and every move.

The film was amazing and well done down the other performers describing their love of jookin and their performance that followed to the storytelling of a young Buck’s evolution of aspiring background dancer to a headlining performer. The ending of the film is creative as it has a dancing Lil’ Buck transitioning from background to foreground and left of the screen to the opposite side, representing the journey the project has taken you on.

It’s a film that everyone should see, especially the little boys of color, to show them that they should follow their heart and that they can truly be what they want to be in life.

Thank you Lil’ Buck and Lois Wallecan for the great film about such an inspiring young black man!