Category Archives: FIlm

17Nov/22

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever…One of the Best Films of 2022

Wakanda Forever
Letitia Wright as Shuri in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

Wakanda Forever is a very emotional film; the feelings started to boil up within the first six minutes (so make sure you’ve got your popcorn ready before the movie starts, you don’t want to miss a second). It’s no surprise that Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa would die in this film because Marvel had made it clear that they would NOT be recasting Boseman’s role. Nothing hit harder than when the infamous Marvel introduction appeared sans music with various cutscenes of Boseman. I’ve seen the film twice, once with other critics and once with a crowd of people; both times, I could hear sniffling and see tears falling from many an eye. Hell, I even got misty-eyed during my first screening. If you have not yet seen the film, (1st of all, shame on you for missing opening weekend) be prepared to bring tissues or wear an ugly shirt to cry on. Wakanda Forever not only pulls on the heartstrings but also has some of the best action scenes I’ve seen in the MCU with a nice helping of humor sprinkled in here and there. This film was also incredibly well-directed. Next, allow me to go into more detail about this incredible Ryan Coogler-helmed project. 

Wakanda Forever
Letitia Wright as Shuri in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

Storyline

I was concerned about how Ryan Coogler would make this film work with the characters rumored to appear and how Wakanda would face one of its biggest threats without its biggest hero. Coogler did not disappoint and actually made me appreciate him as an artist even more. Let’s start with the way that T’Challa’s death was handled. It kind of mirrored reality; in the film, we discover that Shuri was unaware of her brother’s ailment until it was too late. We all felt Shuri… at least I did when I discovered that Chadwick had passed away without warning. Although Shuri had saved him and many other MCU characters in the past, she could not help her brother due to the lack of resources…the heart-shaped herb. I felt quite connected to this character because I lost my brother six years ago this very month. To feel as helpless as Shuri is nothing short of heartbreak.

Something else I noticed about Shuri was that she had difficulty grieving the loss of her brother, like some of us do, and it wasn’t until the very end of the film that she was able to deal with that. This is not unlike how some people of color take a long time to get help dealing with grief and mental health. The film interestingly (and quite surprisingly) explores her rage and need for retribution by reintroducing her to Michael B. Jordan’s Kilmonger after she ingests the synthetic heart-shaped herb she created. I was not surprised because as Kilmonger is a wildly compelling and rage-filled Marvel villain, Shuri (in a display of similar rage) had mentioned earlier that she wanted to burn everything after her brother’s loss. One can clearly see the parallels.

Shuri’s issues seemed to also parallel Namor’s as he had lost his mom at an early age and hadn’t properly dealt with that devastating loss and all the feelings that came with it. His anger drove him to hate colonizers and “land people” outside of Wakanda. 

The origin of Namor and the Talokan as told in the film was, in my opinion, a way better story than what was depicted in the comic book. It gave Namor more motivation to be angry after seeing his people who remained on land abused and enslaved once he returned to bury his mother at the very place she had called home. 

I am a Riri Williams fan because she is a young, Black, highly intelligent character my nieces can look up to. I felt her involvement in this story was necessary. Her ability to build a machine that could locate Vibranium underwater was invaluable. So much so that her idea was stolen by her professor with the intent to make a profit…hmmm, sounds like something that could happen in real life! 

This time, Wakanda kept its quarrels within its country’s borders and did not allow for spillage into America or any other place like it did in the first film. I appreciated this because it stayed true to the comic, just like when Namor and his warriors attacked Wakanda and flooded its citizens. I must say that part hurt my heart, but I knew it was coming. 

Wakanda Forever
(L-R): Danai Gurira as Okoye and Letitia Wright as Shuri in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo by Eli Adé. © 2022 MARVEL.

Angela Basset Oscar Buzz

There is already Oscar buzz surrounding Angela Basset for her role as Queen Ramonda; she deserves at least a nomination if not more. Her expression of pain from the loss of her family is heart-wrenching. She has been through more than most could handle starting with the murder of her husband, her kids being snapped away by Thanos then brought back to only be taken away again. That’s enough to drive anyone insane! On top of that, she STILL had to deal with the greedy members of the United Nations (UN) while trying to run a country with the threat of Namor. Whew! Talk about carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders…nicely toned shoulders, I might add. Outside of Basset being a phenomenal actress, the other cast members also performed amazingly. You would think, with such a large cast, at least one person would compromise the film, but no one underperformed. 

Wakanda Forever
(L-R): Dorothy Steel as Merchant Tribe Elder, Florence Kasumba as Ayo, Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, Danai Gurira as Okoye in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

Beware of the Talokan

For a moment there, I thought I was watching a horror film about Namor and the Talokan warriors wiping out Americans at sea. The singing Talokans hypnotizing the ship’s inhabitants to walk to their drowning death was surprising and had me thinking “What an awful way to die, but what an awesome war tactic!” The Talokan weapons were so creative, especially the water bombs that obliterated everything around them. 

Wakanda Forever
(L-R): Alex Livinalli as Attuma and Mabel Cadena as Namora in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

Namor was a fierce warrior, and Attuma (although not as powerful as Namor) was just as punishing as he was in the comics. The production notes mention that Namor is as strong as Thor and the Hulk, and man did it show. My man was tossing helicopters like little dice. 

A Soundtrack That Moves You

Of course, the soundtrack for this film was fire! When “They Want It, But No” played in the background as the Dora Milaje was going to work on the soldiers, I was all for the ass whoopings they were handing out. Burna Boy’s emotional “Alone” track adds to the somber mood of the characters dealing with loss. And Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” at the end was a tribute to the legend, Chadwick Boseman. 

Ruth Carter’s Costumes

The award-winning costume designer once again displayed her talents with beautiful designs for both the Wakandans and the Talokans. The intricate detail put into the Talokan costumes was beautiful in color and detail. In my interview with Mabel Cadena, she explained, “Well, it was huge because on the one hand, I thought, ‘This is beautiful, amazing, and I’m a Latin American woman playing a superhero in this movie’. On the other hand, I was like ‘This is very heavy’! I’d never worn something so heavy and needed to be able to move so fast”.

Wakanda Forever
Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo by Eli Adé. © 2022 MARVEL.

Final Thoughts

I know Rotten Tomatoes currently has Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at a critic score of 84%, but the film is more accurately reflected by the audience score of 94%, in my opinion. The fact that the film was able to use grief and mental health as part of the plot (which is vital for characters who are Black and Brown) and made it work in the Marvel Universe is a big accomplishment. The film also answered many questions I had about the fate of some characters. This is hands down the best MCU film/project to come out this year, and I can honestly say it’s in my top 5 favorite MCU films of all time. I was also surprised that the post-credit scene showed T’Challa had a son with Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o), whom she raised in Haiti. This will add even more interest to the future of Wakanda as the new prince learns to eventually become king. Finally, let’s give a round of applause to the women in the film who drive the story and show ultimate strength not only physically, but in their relationships as well. Overall, Wakanda Forever is one of if not the best Marvel films of 2022. It focuses on grief, forgiveness, family, and lastly a tribute to Chadwick Boseman that is worth watching.

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Starring Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Tenoch Huerta, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Mabel Cadena, and Alex Livinalli. 

19Oct/22

We Were Warned About Don’t Worry Darling… I Should Have Listened

Kiki Layne as Margaret and Florence Pugh as Alice
Photos courtsey of Warner Bros

Synopsis: A 1950s housewife living with her husband in a utopian experimental community begins to worry that his glamorous company could be hiding disturbing secrets.

Starring:  Olivia Wilde, Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, and Chris Pine. 

During the trailer for Don’t Worry Darling, we can see the character Margaret, played by KiKi Layne, shoving a hand from her face. Indicating she is not feeling what is going on and that something isn’t right about the neighborhood they live in. She was warning Alice, played by Florence Pugh, but after watching the film, I thought, “ Why didn’t I listen to Margaret before finishing the movie? Because Don’t Worry Darling showed promise with its star-studded cast, a budget, and lots of money put into marketing, it did not meet the mark. I’ll just have to go down the list of what went wrong with this film. 

First, I liked the videography, and the visuals were stunning. The moments where the lead character, Alice, experiences random experiences like drowning a body of water out of nowhere or being smushed by an imaginary wall. Or even the haunting images of the ghastly-faced dancers in her visions, all are what lured me to the film and kept me interested as to whether this was in her mind or was this all just an alternate reality. Either way, these scenes were something cinemas lovers would go crazy for…if it weren’t for the plot.

Florence Pugh as Alice
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros

Here is where the movie falls short. From the first act, I felt that something was off and that Alice would eventually have to face whatever reality or intriguing plot reveal was to come. Instead, the audience was duped by a rushed third act. Even the performance of Chris Pine as Frank, who was set up to be an influential cultish leader, is wasted when you find out the truth about the almost perfect life of these characters. Harry Styles’s performance was subpar and less convincing as the story progressed. 

There were some beautiful wide-shot scenes in the desert and of the perfect neighborhood where most of the story takes place. The transition from the dark and browns colored environment to the colorful scheme of the clothing, cars, and houses was appealing, making me feel the story took place in the 1950s. Two of the other things I loved about the film was the music selection, which they played during the special NYC screening I attended. The costume design felt vintage, making the character fit the era they modeled their existence after. 

With all the actors involved in this project, one would expect a lot of great performances; unfortunately, the film’s best performance was by Pugh due to the suffering plot. She was very convicneing in her performance, especially when the character felt her reality was blurred. KiKi Layne’s short screen time did stand out as her eyes were I need to tell the fear and concern she had about their existence. Harry Style was serviceable in his performance, I think he could’ve delivered a little bit better when he betrayed his wife, but besides that, he was not bad. All the other actors were decent and did not take away from the film. 


Gemma Chan as Shelley and Florence Pugh as Lisa
Photos Courstey of Warner Bros

This film is a slow burn carried mostly by Pugh, but it just doesn’t turn out to be the film I expected, and I think many will agree. The film’s third act was so rushed and a mess that it looked like it went through a rough editing process. Don’t Worry Darling would have been a better film had there been a better payoff at the end. It makes me wonder if the outcome of this film led an all the media hoopla. This tells me that if a Black woman is warning you in a movie trailer, pay attention because it means someone will suffer, and this time it was the viewer. 

Anyway, I would catch Don’t Worry Darling when it starts streaming because it’s not worth watching in the theaters. You can watch films like the Surrogates or Stepford Wives to fulfill your appetite for a good sci-fi domestic film.

30Sep/22

Hocus Pocus 2: More Diversity, More Surprises but Same Magic

Whitney Peak as Becca, Belissa Escobedo as Izzy, and Lilia Buckingham as Cassie
Photos Courtsey of Disney

Starring: Whitney Peak, Sam Richardson, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy

Where to watch it: Disney Plus

Release date: September 30th, 2022

Synopsis: It’s been 29 years since someone lit the Black Flame Candle and resurrected the 17th-century sisters, and they are looking for revenge. Now it is up to three high-school students to stop the ravenous witches from wreaking a new kind of havoc on Salem before dawn on All Hallow’s Eve.

With the announcement of Hocus Pocus 2 streaming on Disney Plus, I didn’t have high expectations for the sequel. After watching the film, I discovered I was right. The movie was not bad; it had the same loveable antagonists, the Sanderson Sisters (played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy), along with a new cast of teenage heroes living in the current day. If you remember the first film as I do, you will feel the same magic (pun intended) as I did while watching this film. 

I did like the introduction of the new characters and how the writer was able to connect them to the first film. The candle is the catalyst, and the book of magic is still what drives the story because of the contents it possesses…the secrets to how the sisters can become the most powerful in the world. The writer was able to give the book a more human aura, which is meant to be a big payoff in the end, and it comes close. 

Sam Richardson as Gilbert
Photos Courtsey of Disney

New Characters Spoiler Alert

I have to give kudos to Disney for being cleverly inclusive in the film and adding some Black characters. Instead of characters of color being speckled throughout the film as extras, the movie has two Black characters playing huge roles. Gilbert, played by Sam Richardson, is the magic shop owner that witnessed the Sanderson Sisters’ last stint at wreaking havoc on the townspeople as a child. Then there’s Becca, played by Whitney Peak, one of the lead protagonists and an aspiring witch. She attempts to thwart the witches’ plans with her two friends Izzy (played by Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (played by Lilia Buckingham). I won’t spoil why their roles are important, but I will say it is…..okay, I can’t help it! Y’all, we finally have a Black witch in the Hocus Pocus universe! Yes, Becca discovers she has the powers, and I am here for it! Will she defeat the Sanderson Witches? I’ll leave it up to you to find out, but all I know is I am happy. 

The Sanderson Sisters, once again, keep the same chemistry and evil attitude as they did 30 years ago. They weren’t over the top, nor did they underperform. Bette Midler’s voice is about the same. Although I was not as excited with the “One Way or Another” performance by Blondie, I enjoyed their performance of “I Put a Spell On You” by Nina Simone. No one can do it better than Nina, but the Bette Midler version was fun. Bette Midler does perform “The Witches Are Back”, a very fun song, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as background singers before the final credits roll. Speaking of the Sanderson Sisters, the little girls who play the younger versions of the sisters perfectly portrayed their adult versions. Especially young Winifred “Winnie” who immediately caught my attention as she was very charismatic and clearly has a lot of talent.

Costumes and CGI

I was happy the film looked like it used more practical effects than CGI. I think too much CGI would’ve ruined the film. There was some concern, for me at least, that zombie Billy Butcherson (played by Doug Jones) would be CGI. But Billy was still clumsy and losing his head; with Doug Jones portraying the character, there’s no need for much besides costume and makeup because of his tremendous talent. 

The costumes for the sisters and Billy look as good as in the original film. The first few minutes start off in the 1600s and I felt like I was transported back then with them. It is at this time we get to see the witch responsible for giving them their power when they were just some normal kids themselves. Because of this, I would not be opposed to a Hocus Pocus installment set entirely in the 1600s. 

Photos Courtsey of Disney

Hocus Pocus 2 may not have me clamoring for a rewatch, but it is still worth checking out for the nostalgia and same fun energy of the original. Kids will be entertained by the film and want to see the first one if they haven’t already. Fans of the original, who are now over 30, will be able to relive the experience of the Sanderson Sisters’ introduction to new technology. With a more diverse cast that moves the story forward, Hocus Pocus 2 is stream-worthy. The only issue I had with the film was the final act because it seemed a bit rushed. But you be the judge.

08Sep/22

Barbarian: An Unconventional, Jaw-Dropping Horror Film With an Ending That Will Piss You Off!

Georgina Campbell as Tess in 20th Century Studios’ BARBARIAN, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Barbarian

Starring Georgina Campbell, Justin Long, and Bill Skarsgard

After watching the first trailer, I thought to myself, “How in the hell is this film going to turn out and what’s in the basement?” Given that Bill Skarsgård (who played IT, the clown) stars in the film, Barbarian looked like a horror film worth watching. Boy was I right! This film had a bunch of “What in the f*ck!” moments and some really scary stuff in it. 

Let’s start off with Georgina Campbell: I give her two thumbs up as a horror protagonist. Her reactions to certain situations and actions are 100% believable and exactly what you’d expect. Campbell’s awkward chemistry with Skarsgard (Keith) in the Airbnb was spot on. I think two people would be awkward in this situation. With Skarsgard giving all sorts of creepy vibes, all I could yell at the screen is, “Tess baby, what is you doin’ baby?” but then Tess became warmer towards Keith as they both let down their guard and created a safe-feeling environment…well sort of.

I like that Tess was able to make smart decisions like most people would, such as not opening certain doors and staying out of certain areas. But you know it wouldn’t be a horror movie had she kept that same mindset throughout the whole film. Eventually, she let her curiosity get the best of her. 

When asked about how she became a part of the film, Campbell said, “I’ve always really wanted to do a horror film, but I hadn’t come across anything that was right, that I really, really liked. I just loved it. I thought it was fantastic. Then I spoke to Zach, and he was very passionate and knew exactly what he wanted to do and just seemed like he knew what he was doing, and yeah, I was in.” Campbell was right about her selection because this is not your typical horror film; nor does it follow traditional film beats. Her character, Tess, had to figure out how to survive, have sympathy, and learn who to trust. 

Outside of being creepy and awkward, Skarsgard straddles the line of trustworthiness. It works here because I couldn’t tell what the hell was causing the unusual activities in the house on that first night Tess and Keith stayed there. If you want a scary film, put Skarsgard in it! I think after IT, his performances will always fit this genre…or maybe it’s just something in his eyes. 

If you remember Jeepers Creepers, then you should remember Justin Long’s classic clash with an evil demon. Long plays AJ, an actor involved in a rape allegation who needs more money to keep his lawyers on staff. I’m not holding back any words when I say that Keith is a selfish, opportunistic asshole. Long brings a lot of humor to the film as AJ. There were also some moments when I thought he was worse than the villain. With all the flaws of this character, you can’t help but feel bad for him. You don’t want to see him suffer at the hands of the murderer… until the very end when you’re ready for him to suffer the worst death imaginable. Now that’s what I call a switch-up!

Justin Long as AJ in 20th Century Studios’ BARBARIAN, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The set design was amazing. I give much kudos to the crew. From the Airbnb to the rooms in the basement, every environment helped set the tone for each scene. Especially when the characters ventured into the creepy basement, but I won’t give too much away. You’ll have to see for yourself.  

I can not express how awesome the sound design was. For example, as a character walks down a dark hallway, you can hear their increased heartbeat as they approach an unknown area. It had my heart pumping fast. The multiple times the victims tried to evade the killer felt like a thrill ride in the theater. 

Actress Georgina Campbell shares the same sentiments saying the experience was “just incredible.” She further explained, “The set design was just amazing. It was all set on a sound stage for the interiors. And just walking into the Airbnb, it was incredible because it looks just like an Airbnb would. It’s got that Airbnb feel, where everything’s probably from Ikea. It’s all not quite got a personality, really. But yeah, so I just thought that was amazing. And then once we go downstairs into the basement, it was very easy to get lost in the scenes because everything felt and looked really real.”

Director/Writer Zach Cregger’s flashbacks in the film were unique and provided enough information to know the motivation of the antagonist. It’s interesting how he developed the idea for this film. He explained, “I had read a book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. There was a chapter primarily directed towards women, encouraging them to pay attention to these little minor red flags that men can give off in day-to-day situations. They can be very innocuous things that you might not notice. Things like complimenting you when it’s not necessarily appropriate or doing you a favor that you didn’t ask for or touching in a nonsexual way that’s not initiated by you, all these little things that seemingly don’t matter. He was basically saying [that’s] the gift of fear. It’s important to pay attention to these little red flags because you’re equipped with that to identify potential threats.”

Once the villain and its origin are revealed, the film heads into a series of chases, fights, and what the f*cks, but ends in an unexpected way. You’ll want to catch this film! And when you do, please leave a comment below on your thoughts. 

Watch Barbarian on September 6th, 2022 in theaters everywhere.

25Jul/22

NOPE is a Yes, Jordan Peele does it again

Ok that NOPE movie… I love horror films and I am especially excited when Black directors get the funding to fully realize their cinematic vision. A few great examples include Eve’s Bayou by Kasi Lemmons (she also starred in the original Candyman), Tales from the Hood by Rusty Cundieff, Demon Knight by Ernest Dickerson, and Black Box directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour.

Alright, let’s get into NOPE.

Nope film by Jordan Peele

What’s Up With The Monkey In NOPE?

The monkey in NOPE is not a Black man.

I repeat: the monkey in NOPE is not a Black man.

Some people will clumsily connect the killer chimp (Gordy) to enslaved Black people, but it’s not that deep. Gordy serves more as a way to illustrate the difference between the two strategies for dealing with the alien. Jupiter focused on his personal experience with Gordy, while OJ focused on the predator’s point of view. OJ cited various wild animals and their rules. (With a bear, you stand still; with a wolf, you make yourself big, etc.) Jupiter was more like the mayor from Jaws–his arrogance and greed led him to f*** around and find out.

My homeboy Derrick Weston Brown (and critically acclaimed poet/author) saw the film and had spoke interesting observations about nature that were on point. “What is the obsession with white people swimming with sharks and hugging monkeys? People always think they’ve got a lock on nature, but they don’t. It reminds me of that Richard Pryor joke about the jungle. Like OJ said in the movie, you have to understand your relationship to nature and make a deal.”

So Is The Movie About Race?

Now it’s a stretch, but if you wanted to make it about race you could. You could compare the UFO to white supremacy and say that taming structural violence (Jupiter’s approach to the UFO) leads to our destruction while understanding your oppressor and directly attacking its weakness accordingly (OJ’s approach to the UFO) is the only way to survive racism. You could comment on Angel’s FFFFFF coworker who is entertained by the predicament of the characters of color but never uses her privilege to offer support. *Insert reparations analogy*. With the erasure of Black jockeys and horse trainers through history, there could be an assertion that Peele is honoring Jerry Dixon Jr., Issac Murphy, and all the unnamed Black horse riders/racers/trainers.

For real, for real–NOPE is not about any of that. I’m cool with just enjoying this as a straight-up alien/SciFi horror film.

The Black Characters Don’t Die First

Black characters usually die first in mainstream horror films. We never get a chance to get attached to them or think too long about why their “urban” dialogue doesn’t sit right. Brown characters are absent altogether unless it’s a Robert Rodriguez flick. NOPE has a more diverse group of main characters than most in the genre without making the plot about race. In NOPE we get to see what would have happened if we weren’t immediately killed off. I know what yall are going to say: BUT NEWNEW’S DADDY FROM ATL DIED FIRST! First of all, put some respect on Keith David’s name. Second, that’s debatable. Chronologically that chimpanzee Gordy gave everybody the business on set back in the 90s when he went ape shit. OJ & Emerald’s daddy Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) died from falling metal debris which suggests the UFO had just eaten a bunch of people, most of whom were likely white based on the characters we see at Jupiter’s Claim and around town. 

Peele offers a subtle homage to all those Black characters who never got a backstory. We get to imagine ourselves in these classic horror film situations. Instead of running extra slow and falling at the wrong time and camping out unprotected in the woods where sexually active teens get murdered every year, Peele’s characters have a lot more sense. Angel stays wrapped in tarp and barbed wire just before the creature takes him. OJ strategizes logically from the perspective of the predator using context clues. Even Lucky the horse had sense enough to stay in the cage at Jupiter’s Claim when the creature was on its way to act a fool at the show.

Like the homie Derrick said, “we’re at the point where we’ve had lots of Black firsts. Now we can just make movies and enjoy them.” That said, he also referenced a thought he had about Daniel Kaluuya’s character being named OJ escaping on a horse like the white Bronco OJ Simpson drove. I had to laugh a little because I still remember our elementary school teacher making us watch the trial. It was third or fourth grade and when he was found not guilty I was overjoyed. I didn’t fully understand the situation, but my teacher was big mad at the time. That same joy erupted when the dust clears at the end and we find out OJ survived. I loved seeing him on top of a Black horse named Lucky in his orange hoodie. What if more horror films ended with a Black protagonist surviving a battle against the antagonist? It would be a stoic slap to convention. That’s the gift that Jordan Peele keeps on giving. I will forever appreciate Peele’s Black characters making it past the opening credits and playing pivotal roles in the story.

Behind The Scenes

Ok, can we talk about the music though?

Most of us were introduced to composer Michael Abels in Get Out–Peele’s first groundbreaking feature film. That song Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga (meaning listen to the ancestors) perfectly foreshadows the dispatches from the Sunken Place meant to warn Chris of the danger he was in. We collectively gave him an approving head nod for his haunting remix of Five On It by the Luniz. His self-described gospel horror was simultaneously familiar and distorted. In NOPE we were blessed with his love for mixing contemporary and traditional sounds. Dionne Warwick’s rendition of Walk On By perfectly accentuated Otis’s developing theory about the UFO.

Now personally I would have loved more Black people on hair & makeup. Was Felicia Leatherwood not available? Issa Rae slays in so many natural styles so maybe she can help get on payroll for the next Monkeypaw film. That said, as a #TeamNatural member for three decades, I still loved seeing afros, kinks, and curls. So happy they didn’t have Emerald (Keke Palmer) looking like she was wearing one of those Amazon wigs. You know the ones that look like Ari Lennox in the photo but arrive in real life looking like “Ooh baby no, what is you doing”. 

This the Last Thing Ima Say

I’m going to see the movie again this week. Heads up–if you see it in theaters, that Emmett Till movie is in the previews, but don’t worry–NOPE is not about Black trauma.

I didn’t know where this would fit in the article, but yall. The inconveniently timed nihilism of that weird camera guy made everybody in the audience throw up their hands in frustration. First of all–he showed up to a monster fight in a linen caftan and I will never forgive him for that. Between him and the TMZ reporter, I don’t know who I’m angrier with.

We’ve been bombarded with T’Challa-less Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailers. Some of y’all are plugged into the January 6th hearing. There’s always something in the news that reminds us how heavy it can be to exist in Blackness at times. Peele gives us a couple of hours to just watch a good movie. Best believe I’m going to see it in theaters again soon.

RIP Harambe.

07Mar/22

jeen-yuhs talks with Directors Coodie & Chike

Synopsis: You think you know Kanye West, but you really don’t. Get to know the man — from his budding producer days to his rise to global icon — in jeen-yuhs, Netflix’s epic Kanye West documentary Trilogy event chronicling 21 years of West’s life and legacy. Meet the college dropout who produced for Jay-Z, fought for a record deal, won 22 Grammy Awards, and became one of the most controversial figures in pop culture. Award-winning duo Coodie & Chike, the creative forces behind West’s “Through the Wire” and “Jesus Walks” music videos and other projects, directed and produced jeen-yuhs, which features hours of legendary footage, including studio sessions, live performances, West’s conversations with his late mother and appearances from top musicians like Jay-Z, Jamie Foxx, Common, Mos Def, Scarface and Beyoncé. 

Taji Mag super duo, Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF aka Felipe Patterson) and NayMarie, tag-teamed this feature to bring you double the viewpoints. They both received early access to view the first episode of jeen-yuhs and Nay interviewed Coodie and Chike after watching Episode 1, but wanted to see more episodes before releasing this feature (as understood caution because Kanye). 

jeen-yuhs

jeen-yuhs
Kanye ‘Ye’ West | Netflix © 2022

DDF: If you are like me, you become instantly uninterested when you hear anything with Kanye West attached because of his recent behavior and viewpoints. But I decided to give his docuseries, jeen-yuhs, a view and mainly because the project was helmed by the duo Coodie and Chike. Coodie and Chike were responsible for West’s debut music video “Through the Wire” and the recent Stephon Marbury documentary, A Kid From Coney Island. 

Nay: If you are like me, you are totally interested in everything that comes out of Kanye’s mouth because you don’t think he’s “crazy” and understand (despite not agreeing with) most of everything he says.

DDF: The film opens with Coodie interviewing Mase and his group Harlem World, introducing a young Kanye West at Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party in 1998. We see Coodie interview other artists from Run D.M.C. to Snoop Dogg, and one name kept coming up – Kanye West. The narrator, Coodie, explains to the viewer that the consistent mentioning of the up-and-coming producer caused him to keep tabs on West. 

Nay: I pay attention to the little things, especially when it comes to artistry. I immediately started laughing when the opening paused and Coodie says, “I bet y’all wondering who I am and what the hell I got to do with this story.” I had to ask him. 

Nay to Coodie: How intentional was the opening? It gave me real nineties vibes.

Coodie: Well, when Chike, Jay Ivy, and I were writing, and also Max our editor, we knew that I needed to put some of my personality into this narration. You know, Jay Ivy is such a prolific writer that they felt like different moments like that and my comedy because I was a standup comedian, they felt like I needed to do it. So that’s where that came from. 

Jay-Z and The Roc

DDF: We see Jay-Z talk about how his hit “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and performing it on the B.E.T. awards put Kanye on the map. This prompted Kanye to make his major push for a record deal and for Coodie to move to New York in 2002 to accompany West on his journey. A&R’s loved Kanye and saw he had talents, but the head of record labels did not agree, delaying his lifelong goal. It was interesting watching lower-tier record label employees show no interest in Kanye’s “Jesus Walks.” With the lack of fanfare and artists asking him for beats instead of bars, although Kanye has the look of defeat on his face, he is still persistent and ambitious to be the rapper he desires. He even mentions he used to practice his Grammy acceptance speech on his route to the train station.

Nay to Coodie: When you see Kanye going into different record labels and they’re answering phones and throwing papers everywhere, what was that like for you behind the camera?

Coodie: Well, I think in those times it was all about gangster rap or flashing, you know, I got the Benz and the Christal. Then you have somebody like Kanye talking about Jesus Walks. I don’t think they understood the message, and it took us to do the [Through the] Wire video to actually tell Kanye’s story. Steve Jobs said it’s not the product, it’s the story. It’s not about the products, it’s the story that sells and by us being able to use the documentary footage, which, full circle to today, to be able to tell Kanye’s real story, then people understood like, ohhhh. They understood the messaging. How did they not embrace that? It’s all about capital and it’s all about making money and they didn’t know that that can actually make money.

MTV News 

DDF: Young Kanye West was determined to make a name for himself by any means necessary. One of the ways was through MTV’s You Hear It First. Kanye knew if he was featured on MTV, it would make the world know he was not only a producer but a great rapper. The documentary shows Kanye finally getting his shot. Coodie was able to be a part of the experience. MTV requested he work on the set using his footage of Kanye. 

Nay to Coodie: When they used your footage for MTV’s You Hear It First, what was that like for you?

Coodie: That was exciting, you know, that they even asked to use it. Everybody has dreams and MTV was super huge at that time. For us even being in the halls and walking, and then that [happens], thank God for that. Yasmine originally took me in and I met Chike at MTV so that was a magical moment, but it just let me know that I was on the right track. Me and Chike, we joined forces and then we did Through the Wire and we stayed together, you know, and moved in faith together.

DDF: The film revisits Kanye’s moment of betrayal by one of his mentors, Dug Infinite, who dissed Kanye on the radio following his success with “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” Kanye confronts his old mentor about the diss, and they are able to talk things out before West makes a trip to see his mother. 

Donda 

DDF: When West’s mother, Donda West, is on screen, you see she is Kanye’s anchor and haven. The setting is calm, the walls of insecurity are down, and we get the vulnerability of Kanye West. A beautiful moment is when Donda recited one of Kanye’s old raps that she loved and almost did it without messing up. That showed how much she loved her son and how much she believed in him. Donda’s nurturing spirit and charisma were so effective that she inspired Coodie to be the best he could be and visit his family. The episode ends with Kanye finally getting his record deal with Roc-A-Fella Records and his near-fatal accident. 

jeen-yuhs
jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy. Kanye ‘Ye’ West and Donda West | Netflix © 2022

Reflections on jeen-yuhs

Nay: What was something that was difficult about this doc for you guys? 

Coodie: First, is understanding that Kanye was dealing with mental health. I always thought it was a part of the show, you know, that they were doing that for publicity or whatever, to sell records or whatever the case, when he would go on rants. Then to find out that he was really dealing with something, which is understandable by him losing his mom who was so precious to him and was guiding him throughout this whole journey. When they get to the point of success, he loses that anchor. 

You know that right there hurt me tremendously when she made her transition. Then I understood after my father made this transition as well as my grandmother, that we don’t die. Our spirits live forever. That right there helped me to understand that I didn’t lose my pops. We didn’t lose Donda. We gained them, they are here with us, their spirits are with us. Chike didn’t lose his pops, his pops is with us. When we did the Stephon Marbury documentary, A Kid From Coney Island, we knew all of our fathers were up there huddling up like, yo, okay, this is what we going to do. We’re gonna have them do this and that. That’s the same with this film.

Coodie & Chike

Nay: What are you hoping people get out of jeen-yuhs?

Coodie: When you trust in God, that trust would really help you to not have fear to move in your passion and move in your genius. When you understand that the creator that created everything, then the universe created you, you start to understand that the creator is with you at all times and is navigating you through. It’s like how Kanye says, Jesus walks with me, you will move with confidence and with no fear. We know that’s one message that will come out of this to the dreamers. 

Chike: And apply yourself. Like really, if you’re in a tough position in life where you just feel like you’re not really doing what you’re passionate about doing and if you’re not doing it because of fear, watch this film to see that it’s possible. It’s all the way possible. You know what I mean? It’s a hundred percent going to happen if you believe in it. 

If you allow God to navigate you through this journey and have faith and trust and actually embrace the adversities that you’re going to go through because they’re going to come. The only way around it is to just embrace it, see them as blessings, and learn from them. They’re going to make you stronger. That’s where your character is going to be built and that’s what’s gonna make you amazing. Hopefully, this can become a tool and device that people can use.

For those who are already moving in their passion, hopefully, it’s just continued affirmation that they are. That’s what it is for us! Editing this [film] is like the ultimate dose of inspiration to walk into every day. Then you just leave the editing room charged.

Nay to Chike & Coodie:  Trust this as confirmation. That’s exactly what I got from watching it. I was sitting there and I was like, YES. You guys nailed it. I felt like it was insightful to watch somebody literally go from the bottom up to where they are now being a billionaire. Seeing what you captured just from that first episode was amazing. It was really beautiful.

DDF: Coodie and Chike did a phenomenal job putting together this docuseries. Giving the audience a look at Kanye’s humble beginnings and struggle, the series is inspiring and relays a very powerful message. It also features cameos from hip hop legends, celebrities, early stages of his hits, and a few events in the archived footage. I have to be honest, the moments between Kanye and his mother were most touching. Although some may still have their opposing opinions of Kanye, jeen-yuhs humanizes him and shows respect for his craft. The series is worth watching and will be a discussion piece on social media. 

Watch the current 3 episodes of jeen-yuhs on Netflix.

After watching Episode 3 of jeen-yuhs, both Dapper Dr. Feel and NayMarie are confident in standing by their opinions.

18Jan/22
53rd NAACP Image Awards

Queen Sugar and All American Among Nominations for 53rd NAACP Image Awards

Today the 53rd NAACP Image Awards announced 16 nominations for Warner Bros. Television Group including some of our major favs, Queen Sugar, created for television by Emmy® winner/Oscar® nominee Ava DuVernay, and All American, from executive producer/showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll. They are both up for the Outstanding Drama Series category.

53rd NAACP Image Awards Warner Bro Nomination Highlights

Queen Sugar the 53rd NAACP Image Awards
Queen Sugar on OWN

Queen Sugar has received six nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series and acting nominations for Rutina Wesley (Nova Bordelon), Dawn-Lyen Gardner (Charley Bordelon West), Kofi Siriboe (Ralph Angel Bordelon), and Bianca Lawson (Darla).

All American has received three nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series, an acting nomination for Daniel Ezra (Spencer James), and writing for Nkechi Okoro Carroll.

Acting nomination for Anika Noni Rose received an acting nomination for the series Maid.

Director Cierra Glaude received a Breakthrough creative nomination for Queen Sugar.

Complete list of Warner Bros. Television Group Nominations

QUEEN SUGAR (Warner Bros. Television/OWN): 6 53rd NAACP Image Awards Nominations

  • Outstanding Drama Series
  • Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series: Dawn-Lyen Gardner
  • Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series: Rutina Wesley
  • Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series: Kofi Siriboe
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Bianca Lawson
  • Outstanding Breakthrough Creative (Television): Cierra Glaude

ALL AMERICAN (WBTV/The CW): 3 Nominations

  • Outstanding Drama Series
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Daniel Ezra
  • Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series: Nkechi Okoro Carroll, “Homecoming”

MAID (WBTV/Netflix): 2 Nominations

  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic Special: Anika Noni Rose
  • Outstanding Breakthrough Creative (Television): Quyen Tran

THE REAL (Warner Bros. Unscripted Television/Syndicated): 2 Nominations

  • Outstanding Talk Series
  • Outstanding Host in a Talk or News/Information (Series or Special) – Individual or Ensemble: Garcelle Beauvais, Adrienne Houghton, Loni Love, Jeannie Mai Jenkins

TED LASSO (WBTV/Apple TV+): 2 Nominations

  • Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series: Ashley Nicole Black, “Do the Right-est Thing”
  • Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series: Leann Bowen, “Lavender”

THE VOICE (Warner Bros. Unscripted Television): 1 Nomination

  • Outstanding Reality Program, Reality Competition or Game Show (Series)

Watch the 53rd NAACP Image Awards on February 26th at 8pm EST on BET.

53rd NAACP Image Awards
01Jan/22

Matrix Resurrections Is Far From Just a Nostalgic Sequel

Matrix Resurrections
Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS SYNOPSIS: Return to a world of two realities: one, everyday life; the other, what lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more.

My rule of thumb for movie franchises is do not bother to make movie trilogies because they are unlikely to be successful. In the case of The Matrix Resurrections, it has proven to be one of the exceptions as the fourth installment of The Matrix franchise. I have to admit, I was curious to see how the storyline would develop with one of the most iconic movie heroes, Neo (Keanu Reeves), playing alongside a re-casted Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). If you are a new reader, I must warn you there are spoilers if you haven’t seen the film already. And if you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you because it’s been out since last month on HBO Max! Just kidding! Here at Taji Mag, expect my honest review of the film, including a few things I didn’t like.  

Matrix Resurrections
Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Bugs (Jessica Henwick) Photos Courtsey of Warner Bros.

The Matrix Resurrections * Spoiler Alert *

Enter the Matrix

The film’s introduction starts off with the opening scene of The [first] Matrix movie, except the audience looks on from the perceptive of a new character, Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who is communicating with Sequoia, the operator of the MnemosyneThe introduction of Morpheus as one of the agents during the first act was a surprise but is a nice setup for his storyline. He eventually fights Bugs before taking the blue pill, transforming into full Morpheus, a modal program based on the original Morpheus. 

The team of Neo, Bugs, Morpheus, and other freedom fighters set Trinity free from The Matrix with the help of an adult Sati (from Matrix: Revolutions). Once freed, Trinity discovers she has powers similar to Neo’s and together they go on to fight through the Matrix with the help of Smith: a collaboration I’m confident in saying no one expected.

From there, the two break Neo out of the Matrix where he exists as a video game developer named Thomas Anderson and is working on a game called The Matrix which is based on the real Matrix story. Neo’s partner/CEO, who is actually Agent Smith, also begins to display signs of deja vu while slowly disconnecting from the Matrix. Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) is now Tiffany, a love interest that Neo admires from afar because she is unavailable, married with two kids. Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) makes an appearance as the leader of the new Zion. Keep in mind it’s been 60 years since the war with the machines from the last installment, so she’s aged a bit. 

Lights, Camera, Action! 

What can I say about the action? It is spectacular! In the first installment, The Matrix exposed audiences to new graphics and fighting styles. Resurrections built on the franchise’s strong foundation of action. I personally enjoyed the fight scene in the old buildings where Neo and his new team fight off The Frenchman’s henchmen and Agent Smith (a recast version of the Agent Smith we know from previous films). Am I the only one who found it funny how the Frenchman resembled a dried-up dirty gym sock on a tirade about how Neo’s previous actions led to his decline into poverty?

The graphics were excellent! The updated form of transportation into and out of The Matrix through mirrors definitely looked smoother than using payphones as we saw in previous films. (Wait! What’s a payphone??)

The flashbacks in the film were also edited well and didn’t make me feel like I was force-fed nostalgia like other films have done in the past. These flashbacks were vital for showing the differences between the original Matrix and where we are today while Neo and other characters continue to discover their true identities. 

Matrix Resurrections
Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Matrix Resurrections In Character

I was disappointed Lawrence Fishburne did not return as Morpheus because I’m truly a fan of Lawrence. Yes, ever since Cornbread Earl and Me. However, Yaya is such a talented actor that his character’s portrayal felt organic. The scenes where the new Morpheus and Neo recreate their sparring scene from the first film were very cool. Plus, we get to see some of Neo’s new powers.  

Reeves and Moss as Neo and Trinity continue to have on-screen chemistry. Their evolution into a super-powered couple was a great plot twist. The montage of Neo in his other life as Thomas Anderson is hilarious as we get a sense that Warner Bros is poking fun at itself. The video game company wants another sequel with or without its creator and the suggestions pitched during his meetings are resemblant to real life. 

I believe Smith could’ve been a whole new character since Agent Smith just doesn’t feel the same without Hugo Weaving. It was still nice to see Weaving in the flashbacks because the development of the Smith character has always felt significant to me. 

The Analyst was the perfect villain, primarily due to Neil Patrick Harris’ excellent portrayal. He was annoyingly arrogant…as a good action movie antagonist should be! 

Bugs (Jessica Henwick) had incredible charisma and was the strength of the Freedom Fighters. It was fitting to have such a strong-willed character lead the warriors of new Zion. She was an excellent addition to the story and carried her weight much as she did in the Iron Fist series.

The Power of Love

In the third act of the film, there’s a scene where the mind-controlled civilians hold Neo and Trinity apart as they reach for each other. In my mind, for some reason, I heard the song “Power of Love” by Luther Vandross playing. Of course, we discover that the love between Neo and Trinity is stronger than the Matrix, and (as we already assumed) they are indeed destined to be together. 

To summarize, Resurrections is excellent entertainment that will please audiences everywhere. I’m very interested to see where this franchise goes, but I would also be ok if it ended right here. So, log into HBO Max and watch it today! 

17Dec/21

Swan Song Review: Mahershala Ali’s Touching Performance Explores an Ethical Dilemma

Mahershala Ali as Cameron (Left) and his clone Jack (Right)

*Spoiler Alert*

When I saw the trailer for Swan Song, an Amazon series called Solos (starring Anthony Mackie) came to mind, specifically an episode entitled Tom. A 2 minute and 35 seconds-long glimpse at Mahershala Ali’s performance coupled with actress Naomie Harris‘ charisma led me to believe this sci-fi film would be nothing short of exceptional. Can I tell you I was not disappointed?! Performances by Ali and Harris kept me fully interested in this slow-paced film. I like Anthony Mackie (Falcon and all), but Mahershala Ali did a helluva job. 

Saying So Much Without Saying Anything 

I was impressed early on with a scene between Ali (Cameron) and Harris (Poppy) when their characters first met on the train. It’s actually my favorite part of the film! As Poppy sits in front of Cameron, while on the phone and snaps off a piece of chocolate on the table between the two, Cameron assumes it’s the chocolate he ordered moments before Poppy came onto the train. He slides the chocolate towards himself, breaks off a piece, and eats it, all the while smirking at Poppy. The two take turns eating the chocolate while Poppy is still on the phone. They’re clearly intrigued by each other. The chemistry here was uncanny, and so much was said without even an exchange of words between the two. After Poppy gets off at her stop, Cameron realizes he was eating her chocolate as he discovers his own chocolate bar was still in his jacket pocket.  

Mahershala Ali (Cameron) and Naomie Harris (Poppy)

Ali and Harris’ Performances 

Ali does a fantastic job portraying both Cameron and his clone, Jack. His reaction to first seeing the clone was completely expressed through his eyes. His reaction to seeing his clone for the first time was incredbly believable, and his clone’s reaction to its initial awakening seems as accurate as could be. Ali’s eyes alone provide all the emotion needed to perfectly portray what is required in certain scenes. 

Naomie Harris is charismatic, as usual. Her love as a mother is believable and feels genuinely organic. The scenes where she is heartbroken after her twin brother’s death creates a need for Cameron to be ambivalent about deciding to be a clone or not. I couldn’t blame Cameron; watching Poppy shut down and become distant was so concerning. In addition to Poppy being pregnant, Cameron is also concerned about his son not having a father while growing up and how that would affect him. 

Cameron meets Kate (Awkwafina), a woman on her deathbed who decides to undergo the transition of a clone taking over her life. At times, it seems Kate is ok with the decision and even displays a bit of humor as her lifeforce slowly deminishes, but I could tell from her conversations with Cameron (after he met her clone and daughter) that she misses her life. Although the island where the transition ensues seems fitted with the appropriate resources and comfortability, it is still somewhat isolated. No one knows you are there besides Dr. Scott and her two colleagues. 

What would be my concern if I was in Cameron’s shoes? Well, that scenario comes up when Cameron witnesses his clone interact with Poppy via facetime right in front of him. It was so eerie to see the connection and love with his wife replicated without Poppy even noticing a difference.

I like how the writer gives Cameron another variable: if Cameron decides to abort the program and tell his wife he is dying, the clone would be terminated. The clone, Jack, made a compelling case to live, which threw me off. But hey, Ali was playing this role, so why wouldn’t there be depth to the clone?

The film ends with Cameron escaping the island after passing out from a seizure as he went to spend his last hours with his family before the clone takes over. The clone allows Cameron to see (through his eyes) Poppy tell him she’ll love him always, an emotionally challenging but meaningful way to end the film. At this point I had a little eye sweat, then again, it may have been allergies. 

Mahershala Ali and Awkwafina (Kate)

Presentation

One of the first things I learned in filmmaking is to show the audience and not tell; this film does just that. It shows the audience that the movie is set in the future with the use of advanced technology. From the coffee-serving A.I. to the self-driving cars, this film has some pretty cool technology that I wish I had access to. The solid colors used in different scenes creates significant effects and mood. Swan Song uses a non-linear structure to explore Cameron’s history and transmit his memories and thoughts into his clone, which is kind of cool and not too overwhelming. I didn’t find myself getting lost as I have with similar movies in the past. 

Who Looked at My Playlist? 

The soundtrack of the film was on point! It uses songs from artists I am a fan of, Frank Ocean and Moses Sumney. The pieces used were well placed throughout the film and added to the scenes’ moods. For example, when Frank Ocean’s reimagining of Moon River played during Cameron’s flashbacks of his life with his wife. It pulled on my heartstrings, so I took a break and watched a couple of Tony Baker videos. Shoutout to the music supervisor of this film. It felt like they hacked into one of my playlists! 

In another cool scene, Cameron goes through his routine and watches his son sleep while Moses Sumney plays in the background. As he takes out his earbuds, the music lowers from the soundtrack to real-time, making me feel like I was a part of the scene. 

Overall, Swan Song is a great film that challenges the audience to think about what they would do in the lead character’s position. This actually would be a great film to watch with a group of friends or family, because it would serve as a fascinating conversation piece. This film is worth watching and I recommend putting it on your watchlist. 

Swan Song will be released and streamed on Apple plus on December 17th.

21Nov/21

King Richard Beautifully Captures the Journey of Venus and Serena’s Father

There is always a sense of nervousness that comes over me when I hear of a biopic about historical Black figures coming to theaters. These projects could be beautifully developed like Ray or the opposite could unfold (insert name of one of many horrible biopics here). When it comes to King Richard, I was delighted to see this film was not another lukewarm attempt. I know some skeptics may automatically think the movie stars, Will Smith, as the father of two sports icons (rolls eyes), then cringe at the thought of Wild Wild West. And let’s not forget how we were painfully subjected to the Michael Jackson biopic, Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror. I’m happy to say this was not the case! I walked away quite satisfied with this film and have some notables you can check out for yourself. 

Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis Academy Buzz

Will Smith has been snubbed a few times at the Academy Awards, but he just may win this prestigious honor with his performance in King Richard. I found myself forgetting that Will Smith was portraying Richard William because of his fantastic performance. From mannerism to language, Smith captured the essence of Williams and even provoked some anger out of me during some of Richard’s questionable decision-making. The Richard character was compelling because he wanted the best for his children, he worked hard for them and loved them, but sometimes his insecurities got the best of him. His wife, Brandi Williams (Aunjanue Ellis), points out one of his biggest hang-ups in the film: he doesn’t want to seem like another dumb Black person to the world. It’s not easy writing a character the audience can cheer for and also be upset with, but the screenwriter and director do a great job tackling this dynamic. I found it especially intriguing to see this character portrayed so organically; a nod to Smith’s acting abilities. 

Smith was not the only actor to garner attention in the film; Aunjanue Ellis should also be acknowledged for her performance and considered for nomination, in my opinion. Her supportive, but firm, portrayal of Brandi Williams elevated her to my Top Five Favorite Black Movie Mom list. From her Sistah Girl role in Undercover Brother to Hippolyta Freeman in Lovecraft Country, Ellis has played strong and intelligent characters over the years, some of whom she seems to have channeled for this role. When Richard makes questionable decisions, she puts him in his place without embarrassing him. She even lets him know she has taken on the responsibility of holding the family down despite having her own ambitions. Another favorite Brandi moment for me was when she confronts her neighbor who called Child Services on them. She reminds the neighbor that they both have daughters (Brandi having five) and how tough it can be, then ends the conversation with “don’t make me come over here again.” All I can say is can we give Aunjanue her flowers now?

I can recall a few powerful moments in this flick. The first for me was when the neighborhood thugs assaulted Richard. They had tried multiple times to harass his oldest daughter while she studied during Richard’s practice sessions with Venus and Serena. Richard decided to get his gun from his security job and kill the group leader, but a drive-by shooting beat him to it. The other was when Richard argued with his wife after pulling Venus from her first pro tournament. This was a powerful scene and showed how supportive Brandi was of the family. 

The Film, The Story 

I often feel biopic movies miss the mark when it comes to making an exciting project, but King Richard held my attention and, from what I could tell, the entire audience’s attention throughout the whole film. It may be because I grew up watching the Williams sisters and remember each of the events portrayed in the movie. I think the acting, plot, soundtrack, and editing helped make this film amazingly nostalgic. This film could’ve easily lost its focus while covering any part of the Williams’ lives, but the filmmaker made a great choice following Venus’ first pro tournament and ending with her defeat which was really a win for the Black community. It was also good to see Richard sitting in the stands with the family to show support for his daughter. During most of the matches, he was out of sight. This is a reminder he would be there for his daughter no matter what the situation. Earlier in the film, Richard told a story of how his father watched him get beat up by three adult white men and then ran away as the beating continued. I can remember the commercials and the amount of support the Williams family received for representing the community. 

King Richard is also a reminder of how society looked at and still does look at Black families. It was assumed that since they came from Compton, they weren’t educated enough to make the decision to (or even willing to) take any steps to leave their rough neighborhood. Richard spoke confidence into his daughters, ensured they received a good education, and made sure they didn’t cave into the stressors of being young tennis players as many of their counterparts did. 

Venus and Serena

The two actresses who portrayed the Williams sisters were great. I love how they gelled as sisters on screen. The portrayal of Venus (Saniyya Sidney) in the last act was so exciting as I, too, could feel the nervousness she felt facing the number one tennis player in the world. Demi Singleton as Serena was spot on as the determined and strong-willed younger sister. I would say if this were a series, I would love to witness Serena’s growth into the icon she is, but the film should stay as is, a solo project. Save the biopic of Serena for later as its own story since she is one of the greatest athletes of all time. These two actresses made me think of all the young Black girls who will love this film and be inspired just as the real Williams sisters inspired people all over the world. 

I enjoyed this film and, undoubtedly, so did my fellow audience members in attendance. The film was so engaging that I found myself cheering for Venus during her epic match against the number one seeded even though I already knew the outcome of the match. With excellent acting and hard-hitting themes, I recommend everyone watch King Richard. I know I will be watching it for a second time with my beautiful strong Black nieces, looking for that spark of inspiration in their young eyes. 

You can catch King Richard on HBO Max and in theaters on Nov.19th.