Four months… it’s been four months since I have been to a movie theater because of COVID-19. I used hella bleach wipes on my seat before I sat down but it was worth seeing Tenet at a press screening, especially because it was in IMAX® and there were like 6 people in the theater. The director used utilized a mixture of IMAX® and 70mm film to bring the story to life so it only made sense to watch the film in its intended form. After viewing Tenet, I understand why the studio pushed to show Tenet in its truest form.
Visually stunning and action-packed is how I describe the first act Tenet and, given its director, I expected nothing less. It was cool following the Protagonist (yep, that’s the lead character’s name!), played by John David Washington, as he stealthily took out the opposition to reach his target. Angles in which these are shot are done artfully and the perspectives felt very immersive. It was like experiencing virtual reality without the glasses.
“The movie challenges our traditional ways of interpreting time, interpreting what we perceive is real, our learned behaviors.”
John David Washington
The second act provided some great action scenes, especially when the Protagonist and his partner use a contraption to scale up a wall. It was a bit exciting, something I would not do and I am sure Jonathan David Washington didn’t do either. If he did, no doubt he’s a badass. I feel at this point in the film the audience starts to grow with the Protagonist as he leans into this new role as a spy, using his military training. It’s funny because there is a part of the film where the Protagonist meets an informant and he mentions that to pull off his portrayal of a wealthy client he would have to wear better clothing than the Brooks Brothers brand.
“We’re all a little bit obsessed with time, aren’t we? It’s something that, whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever your life experience is, you know you can’t do anything about it. It rules you. I can’t really speak for Chris, but that’s my perspective on it. It’s interesting because, given the fact that time is universal, it’s also something that you feel very subjectively: you know, kids feel time very differently from adults. I feel like it’s speeding up immeasurably. And then, during this pandemic, our perception of time has been a whole other thing…days have felt like weeks and months have felt like minutes. It’s been very weird.”
– John David Washington
I have to be honest, the third and fourth act had me at the edge of my seat. Seeing the Protagonist have to make timely choices to save the world and save a life was exciting. The film became trippy once I got to see how the inversion world works. I finally understand why the characters were heavily featured on the movie posters and trailers wearing masks. The inversion world deprives you of oxygen and causes crazy reactions like being caught on fire causes you to then suffer from hyperthermia.
It was also interesting how Johnathan’s character tried to change the timeline but had to understand the grandfather paradox before he did anything. The explanation of it and inversion can make you get lost in your thoughts. I found myself getting lost in the information abyss trying to understand the concept after I watched the film. Per the dictionary, the grandfather paradox is defined as a causality paradox speculated about in theories of time-travel in which traveling back in time would allow one to alter the conditions at the earlier time in such a way as to make current conditions impossible, as by causing the death of one’s grandfather, making one’s very existence impossible.
The climax war scene was intense! I was rooting for Jonathan and his team to stop the antagonist from killing himself and the world. That scene reminded me of the Co-op missions on Halo 4 – I know, I haven’t played video games in a minute. The visual effects were on point during this war scene, people and things going backward as our heroes try to thwart the plans of the villain.
I enjoyed the film, the storyline had a dope plot twist that made me want to see more of this world and I wondered what the other timelines looked like. There were also some intense moments where I could hear and see that John was Denzel Washington’s son. Some of the film’s viewers will also have to google words like inversion and grandfather paradox to understand more of how the science of the film worked… or maybe it was just me. Anyway, Tenet is the action, espionage, sci-fi film I’ve been looking for. It was refreshing to see a film that was more entertaining than cliche.
Mr. SOUL! is a documentary chronicling the development and eventual end of the Black variety show SOUL! featuring Black artists and entertainers alike. Ellis Hazlip, the brainchild of SOUL!, is shown to be a visionary ahead of his time. SOUL! was celebrated and considered to be America’s first “Black Tonight Show”. Before Oprah, before Arsenio Hall, there was Ellis Hazlip aka Mr. SOUL! Coincidentally, the show did feature a teenage Arsenio Hall as a guest.
To celebrate the documentary’s premiere, Amanda Seales will host a virtual kickback Sunday, August 30th at 4 pm PT/7 pm ET online with a bevy of known creatives, artists, and entertainers. The following guests are scheduled to appear: Filmmaker Melissa Haizlip; actor and Executive Producer Blair Underwood; legendary director/producer Stan Lathan (who also appears in the film); Grammy® winner and the film’s composer Robert Glasper; award-winning writer, poet, and activist Nikki Giovanni; award-winning poets/musicians The Last Poets and Felipe Luciano; the R&B group Black Ivory; and the iconic author, poet, and professor Sonia Sanchez.
“Our Mr. SOUL! PREMIERE KICKBACK will be just like a re-creation of the SOUL! show for a new audience, with these amazing guests in conversation with Amanda Seales. Amanda will moderate a conversation with both artists from the film and the original series, to talk about the cultural impact of SOUL! and its special guests, like James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, and the legacy of Ellis Haizlip and SOUL! for a millennial audience,” says the film’s director Melissa Haizlip.
Mr. Soul will premiere this Friday, August 28th at over 60 theaters across the country in the virtual cinema space. The film premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival where it was gained much support and has won 17 awards, including; the International Documentary Association (IDA) Best Music Documentary, AFI Docs Audience Award, and Woodstock Best Documentary.
The tickets to the star-studded virtual kickback are part of the MR.SOUL! ticket package which can be be purchased here. The event promises to be a recreated experience from the SOUL! television experience show with tons of entertainment.
Mr. SOUL! is directed, written, and produced by Melissa Haizlip, featuring music composed and performed by Grammy® winning musician/composer Robert Glasper, with the voice of Ellis Haizlip by Grammy® / Emmy® winner Blair Underwood – one of the film’s Executive Producers. The virtual cinema release run is presented together by Shoes In The Bed Productions and Open Your Eyes & Think MF.
SYNOPSIS: HBO’s new drama series, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff of the same name, debuts this August. The series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Letitia “Leti” (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback.
If you love 80’s movie nostalgia and horror-themed shows like Tales From the Crypt and Underground, this is the series for you. Showrunner and creator of Underground, Misha Green, brings all of these elements together in the new HBO MAX series Lovecraft Country. Me being a horror buff and a supporter of the various creatives involved (i.e. Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Jonathan Major, Jordan Peele, etc.), I had to check it out and satisfy my pallet for a Black horror series. Added bonus, the series showrunner is a Black woman, something not common in Hollywood.
The Horror of Lovecraft Country
While watching the characters interact with the world around them, I wondered if racism in the 1950s was scarier than the ghosts and monsters? I saw the terrifying look Black characters had when they were being questioned by white police officers and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between those moments and the moments when they encountered a monster.
I asked actress, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, which was scarier, racism in the 1950s or monsters, ghosts, and witches? She replied, “With the Monsters, what you see is what you get. You kind of know what to expect? It’s pure danger. You do whatever you can to escape, otherwise you’re screwed. With systemic racism, which is what this country has been built upon and has yet to dismantle, it’s more horrifying because it’s more nuanced. You have to fight it at every single step of your life. In the pursuit of your happiness, whether it’s purchasing a home and fight against the redlining and housing discrimination in the 1950s, not being able to get a loan from a bank if you wanted to purchase in a certain neighborhood, driving while Black, trying to apply for a job at a local store. It’s actually more oppressive and terrifying to me because you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know when it’s coming.”
I can definitely see the Jordan Peele influence – using racism as a horror element. Showrunner, Misha Green, mentions in her Warner Media interview how much influence Jordan Peele had stating, “When we were working on Lovecraft – he was doing the film Us at the time – we talked a lot about our shared belief regarding horror, which is: You need the metaphor. I’d played with that on ‘Underground’;that it was a heist movie but set in slavery times.”
Actor Jonathan Majors also noted Jordan Peele’s influence. “This series shows we as Black people contain multitudes. We have all these things inside of us. We know that horror is a part of our life, we know Afrofuturism is just our imagination. It gives us permission to move into any genre we want. I was surprised that Jordan Peele took Black bodies and put them into a horror genre and expanded the scope.”
Tic and Leti
The series lead protagonist, Atticus Aka Tic, is played by actor Jonathan Majors. The character has a love for books and a protector mentality – an extremely compelling character. Starting off as a nerdy kid with glasses who transformed into a courageous young man, I wanted to see more background of his transition into manhood. I discovered Majors had researched his role by reading various authors, some of whom are mentioned in the series. When Atticus is introduced, he’s seen reading a book and even mentions his love for books. I ask Majors if he had to survive in a mansion filled with ghosts and monsters what historical black figure would he choose to be with him? He responded, “Fredrick Douglas and Nat Turner because, in this type of scenario, we have to do a trio. Like Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. It would be me, Frederick Douglas, because he has the brains and Nat Turner because he’s a fighter! Go homeboy Nat!”
Leti is a very amiable character. Her confidence, charisma, and charm had my attention every time she was on screen. She embodies the strength of strong female Black lead actresses from that time period. Smollet-Bell explained the inspiration for the character came from her grandmother, whom she never got to meet. “My grandmother’s nickname was Showtime! I grew up hearing the stories about her being a single mother, raising four kids, and being so mistreated by white folks whom she cleaned the house for. Yet they could not rob her of her dignity!” Smollet-Bell also read prominent writers like James Baldwin and Gwendalyn Brooks to research for the role. She mentioned her search to find the fire inside Eartha Kitt to bring life to her character Letitia and it shows.
Misha and the Music
One of the elements that set the tone of each scene was the amazing soundtrack. I found myself lured in the various songs and speeches that really give the series life. In my head, I thought, “Yeah we needed to have a Black showrunner in charge of this show because this soundtrack is dope and engaging.” Being a music, tv, and film lover, I was definitely satisfied having all those boxes checked off in one project. Especially when artists like Moses Sumney, Leon Bridges, and Black opera singer, Marian Anderson, play throughout the course of the series.
When asked about the soundtrack selection, Misha Green explained, “Joe Pokaskiand I used to talk about how do we pull the slavery portrait off the museum wall and evolve the story beyond, ‘Look at how bad slavery was’? One way was by using more vibrant camera movements; the other was through using modern music. I wanted to build on that in Lovecraft and also integrate ‘found audio’ into the score. For example, in the opening, we use voiceover from [the 1950 film] ‘The Jackie Robinson Story.’ Later we have [Ntozake Shange’s 1975 poem] For Colored Girls and [poet, Gil Scott-Heron’s] Whitey on the Moon. I love the idea of taking our show ‘out of time.’ It’s the past, present, and future. How do we wrap all of that into a unique soundscape? We want the show to be full-sensory, engaging, and have people learn from it without having to learn from it. My favorite learning experiences are immersive; those that make me re-think what I know as opposed to ‘here’s some bad history.’ How can we immerse the viewer even further? I love when I have revelations two weeks after the fact where I’m like, ‘Oh wow, ok.’”
The horror-themed time period piece, Lovecraft Country, it is in a league of its own – providing a world where fear is a theme defined in many ways and in some cases relatable. Is racism scarier than monsters, witches, and ghosts? Check out the series Lovecraft Country August 16th on HBO Max at 9pm and you can decide…
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY is executive produced by Misha Green, who also serves as showrunner, Jordan Peele, and J.J. Abrams.
SYNOPSIS: ANOUSCHKA is an animated mixed reality (XR) experience inspired by the Black Girl Magic ethos and all Black girls around the world. In this interactive story, we follow Amara, a Black teenager from Amsterdam’s Bijlmermeer (Bijlmer) neighborhood, as she embarks on a magical journey of self-discovery through time and space. Amara must travel back in time and connect with generations of women that preceded her in order to save her grandmother and twin brother from a multi-generational family curse. She discovers her family’s ancestry and magical powers along the way and reconnects with her roots while also learning more about her present.
The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival’s Virtual Arcade featured a lot of talented women filmmakers, but one Black woman director stood out the most…Tamara Shogalu. The international award-winning director gained attention with her successful hybrid animated documentary and VR game, Another Life. Now she has started production on her new project ANOUSCHKA. A project that promises to be more than a virtual reality medium, it will be a Black Girl Magic experience. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the skilled filmmaker and get more details ahead of her Kickstarter launch.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): Can you please explain what XR reality is and how effective it is at bringing the project to life?
Tamara Shogaolu (TS): We define Anouschka as an XR experience that utilizes virtual and sensory technology to promote a more engaging and immersive experience for the user. We do not classify this experience as VR since our goal with this project was to create immersion without the need for VR headsets, consequently allowing for a more sensory-rich, collective adventure. We do not use holograms, but instead, the audience will interact with wall projections, motion sensors, and voice recognition. We developed the Bemmbé Interactive™ platform for new ways of interactivity and engagement in a highly stylized space. We like to describe this form of experience as a story room or a magic box. The most important aspect of the technology is the use of immersive, 3D audio, that will create a tangible yet magical aural landscape. We want users to live the story, rather than just observe it.
DDF: What are some of the short term and long term goals for the project?
TS: First and foremost, one of our main goals is to create content that tells Black stories, about Black girls, written by Black women, and directed by Black women.
Following four generations of women of color across time and space, this project will serve to increase visibility and representation of women of color in general. The migration and diaspora stories of people of color continue to be unjustly sidelined. ANOUSCHKA celebrates and encourages engagement with this culturally rich heritage while bringing the positive message of Black Girl Magic to the forefront.
As well, we are telling this story through our Bemmbé Interactive™ platform.
The Bemmbé Interactive™ platform harnesses the power of multi-sensory technology to create powerful and immersive experiences. In Bemmbé Interactive™, bulky gadgets are discarded for the story to take center stage. The audience will experience the story in the room while wearing headphones. The technology also allows for custom audiovisual interactions, with projected visuals through infrared motion tracking and 3D spatial audio. By allowing full story immersion, the platform grants audiences the power to collaboratively explore, interact with, and participate in the narrative and deeply bond with the characters of the world of Anouschka or of other stories.
Since the beginning of time, humans have been fascinated by the magical power of narratives and storytelling. Exploring the endless possibilities of the imaginary has always been of special interest to us. This passion for storytelling drove us to create Bemmbé Interactive™—an audio-driven story room platform that uses multi-sensory technology to create powerful and immersive experiences.
ANOUSCHKA will utilize the Bemmbé Interactive™ platform to allow its users to live the story and its world without the gadgets traditionally required by VR technology. However, the platform can be adapted for different narratives, providing unique and meaningful experiences. It is also scalable and flexible, allowing for different audience sizes and the use of different physical spaces.
“Since I was a child, I have been yearning and dreaming to see and create a story like ANOUSCHKA, a story about a smart young Black girl raised in a world of magical Black women like those in my world. I am even more thrilled that I get the opportunity to make a story that is written by talented Black women, produced by Black women and directed by a Black woman. “– Tamara Shogaolu
DDF: Are there any Black female directors in animation who inspire you?
TS: Currently, and heartbreakingly, there are no Black female directors in animation. But on this note:
Years ago, as a student in film school, I was told by a writing professor that a studio would never greenlight a film about a little Black girl. The professor asked me to change my script to incorporate white leads or else I would fail the class. I was forced to write a story that wasn’t mine and swallow a pill that said, “stories about people like me don’t matter.” This experience lit a fire in me. I refused to believe that stories about Black girls didn’t matter and made it my mission to dedicate my life and career to sharing stories of and lifting the voices of marginalized people and communities around the world.
As I grew professionally and expanded into working with new and immersive technology like virtual reality and augmented reality, I saw many of these same tropes being used to shape the new medium. Until today, there has been no major studio animated feature film directed by a Black woman and there continues to be a glass ceiling and barriers to entry for Black women in tech, among many other fields. As a Black and Latinx woman working at the intersection of film, animation, and technology, I want to believe that I can contribute to shattering those ceilings by allowing Black girls like me to see themselves and their magic come to life while re-imagining how technology can help us tell stories.
Since I was a child I have been yearning and dreaming to see and create a story like ANOUSCHKA, a story about a smart young Black girl raised in a world of magical Black women like those in my world. I am even more thrilled that I get the opportunity to make a story that is written by talented Black women, produced by Black women and directed by a Black woman. I hope that you will join us in bringing ANOUSCHKA to life so that there is a space and a place for stories like ours.
Tamara is collaborating with spoken word artist Sandy Bosmans and playwright Elle Vanderburg. With all these Black women coming together and the rest of the Ados Pictures crew, Anouschka will be another award-winning project that may propel Black female filmmakers in animation to new heights! Check out the Kickstarter and join in the Black Girl Magic animation experience.
ADO ATO Pictures is an award-winning media studio based in Amsterdam and Los Angeles. Following an ambition to produce the unexpected, their international team approaches creation with a pioneering spirit, always pushing to compose the most diverse and engaging experiences for audiences who crave fresh, boundary-pushing, and meaningful storytelling.
Synopsis:Led by a warrior named Andy (Charlize Theron), a covert group of tight-knit mercenaries with a mysterious inability to die has fought to protect the mortal world for centuries. But when the team is recruited to take on an emergency mission and their extraordinary abilities are suddenly exposed, it’s up to Andy and Nile (KiKi Layne), the newest soldier, to join their ranks, to help the group eliminate the threat of those who seek to replicate and monetize their power by any means necessary. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Greg Rucka and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (LOVE & BASKETBALL, BEYOND THE LIGHTS), THE OLD GUARD is a gritty, grounded, action-packed story that shows living forever is harder than it looks.
First off, I want to say that I was excited to see the film, Old Guard, was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. If her name sounds familiar it’s because she helmed the classic film, Love and Basketball, one of my favorite films. I also saw the trailer featuring budding actress KiKi Layne and the talented Chiwetel Ejiofor as the co-stars, thinking “Oh, Netflix might have a nice action film on their hands?” As I read more about the comic-based film, I knew I had to see if I would recommend it or tell my friends to pass on it.
What Worked? * Spoiler Alert *
The opening action scene with the immortal protagonists was awesome, one of the best fight scenes I have seen in a Netflix film. I mean it was crazy how the crew revived a la wolverine style and beat the living mess out of the special ops unit sent to “kill” them. Charlize Theron has done some decent action scenes in previous films, but Gina Prince-Bythewood had her looking like she could be Neo from the Matrix.
Nile, Kiki Layne’s character, was also well developed. Seeing her character struggle to accept her newly developed immortality and adjust to killing was interesting and made the character more compelling. If I spontaneously became immortal and had to leave my life behind, it would definitely cause some inner turmoil. Especially knowing that I would have to watch people around me die and kill people for the rest of my life, that would be crazy!
The plot twist involving Booker and Copley was one of the best parts. Their hope was to utilize the immortality as a means to find cures for diseases and ailments. I found this twist to be something that would cross my mind if immortality existed. Working in healthcare and experiencing the loss of loved ones due to aliments is rough so if we help people live longer through science, why not try to use the immortals DNA to help the medical world? The only problem, which is explored in the film, would be the greed and possible monopoly involved. I was truly irked by Booker and Copley for their betrayal but I could understand their perspectives.
“It’s such a universal story and it’s certainly been a theme in my work. But also inherent in my work is the normalcy of women being warriors. I love to reframe what it means to be a female, and I feel that movies can absolutely change the narrative and the conversation. Courage has no gender. Badass has no gender. It just is.” – Gina Prince-Bythewood.
Why It Would Be Better As A Series?
The time travel element could be explored more and there are so many stories that could be told without giving away too much of how the heroes possessed immortality. I really felt act two of the film was a bit slow and had the interesting storytelling of the soldier who was left behind. I can imagine how great these stories could be explored in a series, like Highlander, you could span the centuries following each of our heroes’ origins. I understand Netflix is doing a sequel but I think they could pull off a series that would be just as interesting and would draw an excellent fan base.
I would love to see Nile’s life before she becomes one of the immortals, I would love to see Andy’s travel through time as a badass fighter and I would love to see the how each character dealt with the relationships they had (and lost). There was so much in the film that would be interesting to see in a series and director Gina Prince-Bythewood could bless the audience with more of her talents.
In the end, Old Guard had some great action, strong plot points and the fight scenes were on point. I just felt, going into the third act of the film, Old Guard would’ve been better as a tv series. There was a whole world to explore, so many great stories to tell, and the film did an awesome job of covering it all, but a series would do the franchise more justice. I still enjoyed watching Gina Prince Bythewood put together a dope action film and can’t wait to see the sequel. Check out Old Guard now on Netflix.
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Screenplay by Greg Rucka
Based on the Graphic Novel Series by Greg Rucka and Illustrated by Leandro Fernández
Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Van Veronica Ngo, with Matthias Schoenaerts, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Synopsis: Built like a bird, Turquoise Jones is a single mom who holds down a household, a rebellious teenager, and pretty much everything that goes down at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge. Turquoise is also a bona fide beauty queen—she was once crowned Miss Juneteenth, a title commemorating the day slavery was abolished in Texas. Life didn’t turn out as beautifully as the title promised, but Turquoise, determined to right her wrongs, is cultivating her daughter, Kai, to become Miss Juneteenth, even if Kai wants something else.
Miss Juneteenth is a compelling film that debuts on VOD just in time for Juneteenth, the most celebrated commemoration marking the end of slavery. The film stars Nicole Beharie (42, Sleepy Hollow), Kendrick Sampson (Insecure), and newcomer Alexis Chikaeze. Alexis is not only an up-and-coming actress, she is also an activist against racial injustice. The soon to be HBCU student took time from her busy schedule to talk to Taji Mag about her new film Miss Juneteenth.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What does Juneteenth mean to you and why is it important?
Alexis Chikaeze (AC): It is about the end of slavery, it’s about our freedom to speak about what is right. Back in the day, we weren’t able to, but now we can speak up for change.
FYI: Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Also known as Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was dated January 1, 1863, however, many slave owners continued to hold their slaves captive after the announcement. In turn, Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom.
DDF: Was this your first film?
AC: This is my first big role ever and my first audition ever. It’s surreal, a week after I signed with my agent, I got the audition.
DDF: How much of the Kai character was relatable to you?
AC: Honestly, we are just about the same. It made embodying the character a little easier. Kai is outgoing, she’s headstrong, she is willing to do just about anything to make sure that she can do what she loves. Kai loves her mother and I feel she was set on showing her mother that dancing was her passion. She is really trying to convince her mother just as I had to convince my parents that I wanted to pursue acting. My parents are Nigerian immigrants and the preference that was given career-wise was Doctor or Engineer. Venturing out into other professions is not really something to consider. When I first started, they were skeptical. They were questioning if acting would secure my future. It’s similar to how Kai’s mother wants the best for her.
“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important. It says: ‘I was here. I may be sold tomorrow. But you know I was here.” – Maya Angelou
DDF: What was it like working with Nicole Beharie and Channing Godfrey Peoples?
AC: Both of them are very humble individuals. It was a wonderful experience working with Nicole, she’s kind-hearted and high spirited. She was so happy to help me and, even before shooting, we would do some exercises to make sure we were both ready mentally and physically. Anytime I felt like I needed help or had to ask Nicole a question, she was more than happy to assist me in any way she could. As for Channing, she allowed me to put into the character what I thought would fit the character and use my own perspective. During the times I was frustrated and hard on myself she reassured me and gave me words of encouragement.
DDF: What do you think people will take away from the film?
AC: I really hope that people take the time to learn about Black History, the Black community, who we are as Black people, and how rich our culture is. I think more people, myself included, are taking time to learn more about Black history because we don’t learn enough in this educational system.
Miss Juneteenth is a must-watch that I found to be similar to Mommy Dearest but better and more relatable. So much so, that after the film I had to call my mother to tell her “I love you and thank you for your sacrifices.” With Nicole Beharie’s ability to pull the audience in through her character’s obstacles and Alexis’ charm, this is a film many should enjoy on Juneteenth.
Directed and written by Channing Godfrey Peoples
Starring Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, and Alexis Chikaeze
Tangled Roots follows Attica Scott, the only black woman in the Kentucky state legislature, as she fights to dismantle a system of discrimination against black people penalized for something seemingly innocuous – their hair.
The lost lives of those like Breonna Taylor due to police brutality have been more than enough to encourage protests around the world. There have been many activists, such as Kentucky State Representative Attica Scott, who have been fighting on the frontlines against discrimination and injustice long before most recent events.
Tribeca Film Festival selection and Queen Latifah produced documentary, Tangled Roots, follows Representative Scott in her fight for House Bill 33. House Bill 33 would ban the discrimination of hairstyles associated with African Americans and Kentucky is one of the last states to pass and not have an active bill against hair discrimination. Support from many around the world, activists, and filmmakers like Matthew Cherry (director of the Oscar-winning short film, Hair Love), have influenced states across the country to pass bills that ban hair discrimination. Tangled Roots shows the importance of this bill and the future of minority representation in legislation. Representative Scott was able to take time from her activism and participation for protesting in memory of Breonna Taylor for an interview with Taji Mag.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How did you become involved in the film?
Attica Scott (AS): I was contacted by the documentarian because she has seen my daughter’s issue of hair discrimination at her school and was interested in the bill I had filed against hair discrimination.
DDF: What are the latest House Bill 33 updates, I can only imagine COVID-19 having some impact on things?
AS: It’s interesting we find ourselves with COVID-19, the protesting, and uprising against discrimination. It’s a reminder for me how important it is that I work on legislation that is about us being able to show up as our whole selves and not have to fear discrimination.
DDF: What do you think it is going to take for people to realize this needs to be enforced?
AS: We need to have people share their stories more. While Sam Knowles (director of Tangled Roots) was here during the shoot, I was able to get some people to share their stories with her. We’ve got to have more of that because it is part of how we make it real for people. It’s sad to say but we still, as Black people with our natural hair, are almost always justifying our existence and our humanity. We also need more people to understand that injustice is injustice, we have to have people that want a different world.
As a legislator, I am going to support a bill I think has nothing to do with me because it affects the people that I serve and represent. I need more of my white colleagues to do that. I want them to know legislation shouldn’t be about you, it’s about making things better for the people of the Commonwealth.
DDF: What reaction do you expect people to have once people see the film?
AS: I am hopeful that people around the world will see how important it is to tell the story of advocacy for colored policy in southern states. I don’t imagine people around the country not seeing Kentucky as a place for human rights and social activism. I am glad to lift up that story for people right here in the Commonwealth. I am hopeful people get inspired and energized to help the passage of this bill during the next legislation. I am also hopeful our governor will see how important this is and make it a priority to support bills like this.
We’ve been talking about the impact of COVID-19 on Black people around country and support for Breonna Taylor and her family, it shows that white people and white people in power can no longer ignore us and think it is ok.
DDF: How have you been active during the protesting and police brutality cases?
AS: Three years ago, my second year as representative. I had actually sponsored a bill related to independent investigations of police shootings and I will continue to file the bill. I will continue to be a champion of police accountability. One of the attorney’s who has been working on Breonna Taylor’s case and Kenneth Walker’s (Breonna’s boyfriend) case, is the same person that brought the bill to my attention because he was working on a case involving a young man named Darnel Wicker who was shot and killed by police.
I have been currently sharing information about the Breonna Taylor case via social media because I have people who go to my page for information that they may not get otherwise. I’ve also been working with our legislation research commission on a suite of bills to address things like “No Knock” warrants across the Commonwealth and repealing Stand your ground laws.
I also think it’s important to show up, to have my body in places where it’s needed, and be in the community where my people are in pain.
DDF: What is your advice to Black people during these times of the protest?
AS: I want Black people to know that you are beautiful, your skin is beautiful. What we are seeing right now comes from a deep place of love. People are in pain, people are hurting because they love. Keep leading with that love, keep showing up, keep resisting, and keep making white people uncomfortable because it is only in those places of discomfort that white people move. They do what they are supposed to do when they are in elected positions to make a difference in our lives so we don’t have to keep doing stuff like this time after time.
Tangled Roots is a well organized short film that shows the struggle of minority support from the Kentucky government. With the increased support of Black Lives Matter, Attica Scott will hopefully have the support she needs to pass House Bill 33 and other bills to help improve the lives of many Black people.
Directed by Samantha Knowles
Starring Attica Scott and Ashanti Scott
Tangled Roots is a QUEEN COLLECTIVE Film:
The Queen Collective – a program developed in partnership with Queen Latifah, Procter & Gamble, and Tribeca Studios – aims to accelerate gender and racial equality behind the camera by opening doors through mentoring, production support, and creating distribution opportunities for content by the next generation of multicultural women directors.
Gabrielle Dennis (@gabrielle_dennis) has the comedic charm, beauty, and talent that has given her the opportunity to play many roles in some notable shows. Now the actress can add award-winning writer to her accolades with her win in the 2020 Tribeca X category. She wrote and starred in a comedic short about a character named Nyssa repeating her Pay Day, a-la Ground Hog Day. Although Hollywood has been halted due to COVID-19, Gabrielle has been able to pick up the award for her writing and acting chops — while realizing her culinary skills are actually on point. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the actress/writer to discuss her Tribeca win, writing future, and how she’s throwing down in the kitchen.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What is the inspiration for Pay Day?
Gabrielle Dennis (GD): A payday! Getting paid to be able to say that I am a writer because it’s actually what I went to school for. I went to school for tv production (Howard University…. HUUUUUUU). The acting was the thing that took off. I had been recently putting it out into the universe that I wanted to get back into a creative space and creating content. Then this opportunity fell in my lap when one of the producers from the Black Lady Sketch Show, who is actually one of the producers on Pay Day, Deniese Davis, said “I have an opportunity if you are willing to take a shot at it?” From there, things felt so aligned. I felt motivated to follow this goal and follow through on this dream that I’ve had for years. The experience was really exciting and really fun.
GD: Cooper Morgan is so awesome! He is such a visionary! He is a great visionary and has so much energy. I could not get over how he could just be on top of it all day. His vision is very clear. I am very excited to see what he has in line for the future. Cooper just gets it! From the colors to the music, he kind of catches all of the senses which makes him a great storyteller and I hope to work with him again.
DDF: What was the atmosphere like on the set of Pay Day? Was there a hard day?
GD: The atmosphere was cool but things seemed very fast. We had a lot of content, even though it was a six-minute film. The final script that we shot was about 8 mins, we had to cut it down some more. I got to work with people that I knew. We were working so fast, we didn’t have enough time to develop a conversation to make these friends feel like real friends. We had just enough time to say “Hey girl, good to see you!” Then it was like boom! Back to work. I think it was smart of the producers to bring together people we were familiar with each other as peers.
DDF: How did it feel being on set as the writer and actress of the film?
GD: It was different for me to be on set as the writer and actress, I developed more respect for our writers for whatever work they put on the page. I’m always an actress that tries to respect and honor what’s on the page. As the writer on set, you are like “ Oh no! They are cutting out another piece (of the script).” Our director was so great at adjusting to what we needed to get. He reassured me, allowed me to breathe, and understand we had enough footage to tell the story. Shout out to the entire team, the whole team was just awesome!
DDF: What has been your greatest investment after you started landing larger roles?
GD: I would say investing in the stock market. I am by no means an expert in stock but to have the ability to see how far your money can go and have the excitement of knowing your money is working. It’s like “Money has a job and it’s to make more money!”
I’ve had fun investments. I was able to buy my SUV. When I booked my role on Rosewood, I thought about my long commute and it was time to turn in my college car. I thought to myself “I am going to treat myself!” I had this long commute, I get to be comfortable, I get to drive fast and sit up high in my new vehicle. We all know that an automobile is a depreciating item, as soon as you drive it off the lot.
DDF: What would be your reaction to being stuck in a time loop like Nyssa?
GD: I think I would learn my lesson a little sooner than Nyssa for sure. I feel like I would have been extremely extravagant, I am talking about trips around the world as far as I could get in that 48 hr period. Like the morning of I’m buying a plane, I would spend 200 of those days learning to fly the plane myself. I feel like I would have had a lot more adventure and be more of a risk-taker because I know I would be ok the next day. I would have spent way more money than Nyssa did.
DDF:Pay Day has been compared to skits on A Black Lady Sketch Show (ABLSS). How do you feel about the comparison?
GD: I take that as a compliment. I think the writers from A Black Lady Sketch Show are brilliant. I love the full-color wheel we get with the types of comedy we get to create. We all have different experiences. I love quirky, bizarre comedy. We get things that make you think, so I take it as a compliment. The scenario in Pay Day is not a normal thing that would happen to anybody and the whole idea for the project with Synchrony Bank was to make people think about their finances. I feel like it was an education in disguise.
*Hopefully the writers and producers from A Black Lady Sketch Show read this and give Gabrielle a seat at the table*
DDF: Will you get more writing duties for the next season of ABLSS?
GD: I don’t think I could write on ABLSS because the writing team is already intact. I think I am going to need a little bit more than 6 and a half minutes of experience before I get confident enough to be a part of a writer’s room. If the team from the show would have that, I would love that. It is a goal of mine to write some more for sure.
DDF: If there was a Luke Cage season 3, what do you think would’ve happened to Tilda Johnson in your opinion?
GD: She wants what’s owed to her. Her mother used to preach family first and she left paradise to Luke Cage, which is a slap in the face to Matilda. Which ruined her relationship with her mother but then again we see what Tilda did to her mom. I would just have Tilda growing into her villain role. I am cheating a little because I know the plans for season three and it was for her to be one of the main villains. I would love to see the complexity in the role of how can someone get to the other side of the tracks? Does she have guilt for killing her mother? Does she feel emboldened about what she did to Mariah?
I feel like when she walked into the club with her afro puffs at the end of season two, at that moment she was a different person. To be able to see all the things she was willing to do at all cost, like really, really allowing herself to no longer fight, deny or be ashamed of the villainy in her DNA. I could see her being like Cotton Mouth and Mariah times 10! From what is known in the comic books, I just would love to have seen her character just take off. I think Tilda and Bushmaster would team up at some point.
DDF: Would you be open to appearing in the MCU films?
GD: Oh yeah! Who’s turning that down?! I wish that would happen, I would accept it with open arms.
DDF: You have to write a romantic comedy using two characters you’ve played on tv and film. Who would you choose and what would the film be about?
GD: I would say the first one would have to be my character from The Game, Janay. I feel like she was misunderstood by some people. She’s deemed as tough, but I would like to see the more thoughtful side of her, the romantic side of her, and see her relationship grow.
Another character I would like to see in a rom-com is from Rosewood. To see where the relationship went with TMI. How they grow and blossom. I would also love to see if they could make it throughout the engagement and marriage because of the challenges TMI brought to the table with her past. Pippy wore her heart on her sleeve and put everything out there, then seeing the tables turn at some point with the two lovers.
Out of all the characters I have played, those two get talked about a lot and people miss those shows the most. So I would love an opportunity to bring those characters back.
DDF: If you had to be quarantined in a house with three other actors or actresses who would it be and why? It can’t be anyone you know…
GD: Howie Mandel would be the first person because everyone knows he is a germophobe. We would definitely be clean.
Erykah Badu because she’s going to have the vocals on deck, she’s going to have the vibes, the incense you need to mellow out, and she’s going to be able to keep my chakras in check.
For the last person, I need someone that is going to feed me…I’ll go with Bobby Flay.
DDF: What have you learned about yourself during this COVID-19 crisis?
GD: I discovered that I am a really, really good cook, even though I don’t like cooking. I love eating, I always have. I can handle meals I didn’t think I could cook on my own before. I also don’t like cooking because it comes with having to clean up. I would say I was a recovering germophobe and when all the shutdown stuff happened I went into a full relapse. I envisioned everything being germy like everything has COVID-19 on it. I watched this handwashing demo where the guy used the glitter on his hands to demonstrate and everywhere I went I saw green glitter. I can’t wait to see what happens on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. If people are going to be more OCD with clean hygiene or just have reckless abandon and not care.
I learned you can get to a point that you hate washing your hands and I am a really good cook.
DDF: What are some of the dishes you have been cooking and are most proud of?
GD: I made red snapper for the first time and I could not decide if I wanted to fry it or bake it, I just ended up making both.
I make really good Brussels sprouts. I made collard greens for the very first time that weren’t from a can. Lol! I cleaned them really well, seasoned them, just being a mad scientist in the kitchen with ingredients. I’m very proud of the greens. My mother drove 45-mins and sat outside in my yard share waiting for me to make her a plate of food. I gave her fried chicken and greens, she raved about them for days.
DDF: Is your family going to ask you to cook for the holidays?
GD: Now that’s the danger since I’ve been cooking. People will be expecting me to cook and I will be “No, no, no!” Hopefully, I won’t have to fall back on it and I have a career after this (COVID-19) is over.
DDF: What was your reaction to your win at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival online?
GD: I couldn’t celebrate too much but I was super excited about it. When I saw the text message that Pay Day had won, I got on the phone and I squealed with Denise about it. It was surprising because I didn’t even know they had submitted the film for the Tribeca Film Festival. As an artist, you hope to be involved in a project at a festival like Tribeca. I am pretty sure I had a glass of wine and danced
With all of this talent manifesting in Gabrielle Dennis’s life, we may see her get her own comedy show. Hey, maybe even a Black Comedy Cooking Show… For now, you can catch Gabrielle on Black Ladies Sketch Show season one on HBO, and be on the lookout for season two of the show. Check out her award-winning short Pay Day below.
SYNOPSIS: In 1937, tens of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent were exterminated by the Dominican army, based on anti-Black hatred fomented by the Dominican government. Fast-forward to 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court stripped the citizenship of anyone with Haitian parents, retroactive to 1929. The ruling rendered more than 200,000 people stateless, without nationality, identity, or a homeland. In this dangerous climate, a young attorney named Rosa Iris mounts a grassroots campaign, challenging electoral corruption and advocating for social justice. Director Michèle Stephenson’s new documentary, Stateless, traces the complex tributaries of history and present-day politics, as state-sanctioned racism seeps into mundane offices, living room meetings, and street protests.
The 2020 Tribeca Film Festival selection, Stateless, is an extremely compelling film that touches on a discrimination narrative I find to be all too familiar. Watching the film, I could not help but feel emotionally drained by the actions of the Dominican Supreme Court’s decision to strip people of their nationality, rights, and life altogether. Given the state the United States has been in concerning immigration politics, I can not help but see a possible future where people in our country will meet the same demise.
“As a child, growing up in a Haitian and Latinx household and diasporic communities in North America, I continued to overhear stories about the history of my birthplace relating to race, color, class, colonialism, and human rights. Those observations formed the basis of how I made sense of the world that surrounded me, especially as those notions collided with the racism, segregation, and discrimination that we faced in our adopted countries. Those experiences fueled my passion to dig deeper into the consequences of our deeply painful common history of slavery and colonialism and how we continue to internalize such self-hatred.” – Michele Stephenson
I was really impressed by the work of young attorney Rosa Iris and her pursuit of justice for those wronged by the system. Her effort to free her people of oppression and discrimination so admirably left me rooting for her the whole documentary. I could see the drive in her eyes and the passion for her work pouring from her heart so badly and her wanting only the best for her people. Stephenson was very fond of Rosa’s efforts stating “I fell in love with Rosa and her vulnerability. She was an all-in collaborator, which you could not ask better for a project. She told me that when you get into a relationship of trust with your collaborator, they end up helping you find the story. They know what you are looking for and it’s that kind of exchange.”
It was heartbreaking to watch the system reject Rosa’s cousin, Teofilo Murat, who was one of the unfortunate stateless people displayed in the film.
“She (Rosa) is the one that told me her cousin, Teofilo Murant, he’s stateless and he’s leaving for Haiti. He was a working-class guy, able to pay his rent, and one day to the next he lost his papers, he lost everything. So, we reached out to him and spent time with him before he moved to Haiti. He said I’m outta here because I’m suffering too much, it’s too dangerous, it’s too precarious and he left for the mountains of Haiti. For me, there’s this flipping the narrative of what Haiti means to folks, there’s this idea that refugees have no place and they are in destitute situations. But for me, Teofilo represents a modern maroon. He’s escaping this oppression to what he perceives as freedom in the mountains of Haiti. You can see in the film that Rosa still has faith in the system when Teofilo does not believe the country has his best interest,” explained Stephenson about the origin of Teofilo’s involvement in the film.
“The question of what citizenship means is shaken up in this beautiful documentary. Also, watching anti-immigration bias alongside garden variety racism spread globally, you realize how timely this film is. I’m proud to work with Michèle and bring this story to the world.” – Jennifer Holness, Producer (Hispaniola Productions)
Gladys, another featured person in the film, is a right-winged Dominican of Haitian descent who has a strong dislike for Haitians. When asked about Gladys, Stephen stated, “A couple of years into the project, I felt very strongly about Gladys. The whole right-wing nationalist in the country was so profound and I felt that being there I couldn’t ignore that narrative, that presence, but also I had to challenge myself as a light-skinned person that could have potential access to that narrative in a more intimate way that others may not be able to. I never really confront Gladys with my own ideology because I wanted to get what I could get. I challenged myself to be uncomfortable to get to the point where I can grab the story that Gladys had to tell because she really wanted to tell her story. I barely had to ask questions because she really wanted to make her point.”
Stephenson said she and producers did a casting and they approached a couple of people, who in her opinion were way too aggressive. She didn’t know if she could spend half a day with them. They were men, they were very aggressive when they talked about Haitians with great disdain. She said “their hatred was virulent, it was like spitting out of their mouths. It’s like here in the U.S., do you want the stereotypical hater to be the one to represent the other side and lose the complexity and the depths of the hatred?”
Stephenson also said that when she met Gladys, she thought to herself, “here is this woman that presents a paradox. She presents a certain way, she presents as Black, and yet the hatred she has is hatred for Haitians.” She went on to explain how her friends and colleagues who watched the film in New York immediately recognized Gladys as an archetype.
Filmmaker Michele Stephenson put together a powerful and enlightening piece, that will challenge you to think about the state the U.S. is in when it comes to immigration laws and the awful conditions that some of the Haitians and Dominicans with Haitians parents are in. The imagery and art used to display the sugar canes are visually pleasing and serve as short intermissions from the harsh realities within the film.
My objective is to connect the film to a network of committed partners in the Caribbean region, Latin America, the U.S., and internationally, to utilize the film as a platform for their work on protecting the rights of migrants, and citizens, and to deepen people’s understanding of the intersection between anti-black racism, migration, and citizenship rights.” – Michele Stephenson
Hopefully, Stateless will be widespread and will inform people about the injustices some of the people in the Dominican Republic are facing. I also hope Michele achieves her goal to involve more people and organizations that can help give these people their rightful lives. This film encourages people to work together in this fight against oppression and discrimination worldwide. May this film tap into the viewers’ cores and enlighten their minds.
Hispaniola Productions and the National Film Board of Canada present
A Rada Film Group and Hungry Eyes Media film
Director: Michèle Stephenson
Producers: Michèle Stephenson, Jennifer Holness, Lea Marin
Screenwriter: Michèle Stephenson
Cinematographers: Alfredo Alcántara, Tito Rodriguez, Naiti Gámez, Nadia Hallgren, Pedro Arnau Bros Santana, Jaime Guerra
Editor: Sophie Farkas-Bolla
Executive Producers: Joe Brewster, Anita Lee, Sudz Sutherland
Cast: Rosa Iris Diendomi-Álvarez, Teofilo Murat, Gladys Feliz
I have to be honest, when I first saw the trailer for The Lovebirds I thought, “Oh no, will this be Issa Rae’s fall-off movie, her ‘Will Smith Bomb’ she mentioned in her 2018 GQ article?” That negativity was dissolved by a friend pointing out the hilarious bacon grease scene that did make me chuckle. After watching the film, I found out he was right – the combination gave me a night of favorite scenes and a few scenes that will be re-created on Tik-Tok. I recommend people watch this film and here are the reasons why.
In order to eventually succeed, you have to bomb. That’s what every comedian says—that’s when the fear goes away. And I feel like I’m still fearful because I haven’t publicly bombed yet, in terms of my career. Yeah, Insecure is successful now, but where’s my bomb coming? Where are my Will Smith bombs coming? Where, where is that happening?” –Issa Rae (GQ May, 22nd 2018)
Guilt Free Entertainment
At no time did I feel uncomfortable while watching his film. (You know that feeling where you hear or see racist jokes/stereotypes in a film so offensive you can’t ignore it?) The scenes in the film were so well written and performed I was able to enjoy myself and laugh freely. It was a good feeling and that’s the way it should be. A great example of this was a scene where Issa Rae’s character, Leilani, was explaining to Kumail Nanjiani’s character, Jibran, as they were looking at some f*ck boys (frat boys whom they were sneaking up on), and Kumail’s character had no clue what that was and was very curious to know. He wasn’t making fun of the word, he was making fun of how oblivious a person can be to terminology.
More Than Trailer Clips
Plenty comedies present hilarious trailers before the films are released just for the audience to discover that those were the only funny parts of the film. Then you think to yourself, they wasted all this money on a mess of a movie and wasted your time. Love Birds was hilarious! I found myself Steve Urkel snorting a few times, the level of funny was totally unexpected.
I felt like Issa and Kumail fed off of each other’s performances like the Splash Brothers, Clay Thompson, and Steph Curry when they both get hot in a game.
The Lovebirds Chemistry
Yeah, I didn’t know if the chemistry between Issa and Kumail would be good in The Lovebirds. Don’t ask me why, I just didn’t. They were able to play off of each other very well during both the serious scenes and the funny scenes. They definitely showed that they both have range and adaptability.
One of the funniest scenes is the interrogation. They interrogate one of the frat boys and it kind of reminds me of a buddy cop interrogation scene akin to Bad Boys (Martin Lawrence and Will Smith). When I tell you Kumail ain’t got no sense, y’all I mean it!
Imitating life (Spoiler Alert)
From the beginning of the film, where the couple transitions from the honeymoon stage to the ‘here’s your part of the deposit ‘cause we not going to make it’ stage, I really felt. Unfortunately, my ex and I didn’t make it after being almost killed by a crooked cop, but those moments did spark some memories.
There was also a moment when Leilani was fooled by the happy couple photos another character posted on social media, making her evaluate her own struggling relationship. This is understandable because some of us have been through social media jealously, hell, some are going through it right now.
The film releases this Friday, May 22nd, on Netflix. Make sure to add The Lovebirds to your list of films to stream. I commend Issa Rae for being on this project and making a quality rom-com about an interracial couple. I really hope that The Lovebirds has created an example (not a formula to be consistently repeated) of how diversity in film should look.
A couple (Issa Rae & Kumail Nanjiani) experiences a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery. As their journey to clear their names takes them from one extreme – and hilarious – circumstance to the next, they must figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.