Synopsis: While vacationing in Greece, American tourist Beckett (John David Washington) becomes the target of a manhunt after a devastating accident. Forced to run for his life and desperate to get across the country to the American embassy to clear his name, tensions escalate as the authorities close in, political unrest mounts, and Beckett falls even deeper into a dangerous web of conspiracy.
My reaction to the Beckett trailer was, “Okay, so…this film has to be produced by Jordan Peele because it looks like a version of Get Out overseas.” I mean, the protagonist Beckett, a Black American, crashes a car his car into a house in Greece, and his white girlfriend ends up dying instantly. Yeah, I can see this story going in an interesting direction. A horror movie indeed.
Does the writer give an exciting and compelling reason for Beckett to be on the run? Not in my opinion. The film had an unexpected twist, but my guess was the local authorities were trying to kill Becket because he unintentionally killed his wife, who we discover was a spy of some sort, but that wasn’t the case. By the end of the film, I was disappointed.
It was crazy that Beckett uncovered that the local authorities were trying to kill him to keep a politically driven kidnapping under wraps. Beckett saw the kidnapped child of an important political figure right after his crash.
The chase and tension in the film were great. I felt like Beckett couldn’t catch a break though; the locals were surprisingly friendly and even knew how brutal the police were. Multiple tried to help him, despite facing terrible interrogations or maybe even death for their assistance.
Now for the many ass-whoopings Beckett took in this film. John David Washington made it believable that the character was a regular non-fighting citizen. I’ve known Washington to play some badasses and to see this character get destroyed the whole movie was a change. During the movie, I was like damn I hope he has some good health insurance.
One of the worst beatings he took was in the subway tunnel, where he was punched and stabbed multiple times. Becket was basically knife practice, but he kept fighting and escaped severely injured. During the film, I can say Becket was a survivor because he would run every time, but of course not before getting hurt in some way.
Becket redeemed himself by not getting caught and killed by the U.S. embassy staff member, Tynan, and escaping the attempts on his life. Beckett’s fights with Tynan and the female antagonist were hilarious to me. I guess he had a “Karen” trigger moment because he smashed the hell out of her head into the concrete.
But the ending, the ending had me like…
I couldn’t believe it? Beckett jumped off the parking garage and landed on top of the car like Macho Man Randy Savage doing a high-flying elbow in a WWE match. He landed on the car like a sack of potatoes and saved the day. I am sure he had some internal bleeding and probably needed medical treatment for the rest of his life. Of course, the audience is lead to believe Becket sacrificed his life for the child since he was the cause of death for his wife. Although it was an attempt to pay off the heart on Becket’s hand-drawn tattoo given by his wife, there could’ve been a better way to end the movie.
The film has entertaining moments but I was not happy about the ending or the plot involving the mafia and politics. Maybe if Becket or his wife had direct involvement in the kidnapping it would’ve made for a better story. I am always going to cheer on John David Washington as an actor but I have to be honest, this film missed the mark for me.
I remember when the original Candyman first came out, I was scared out of my mind. Granted, I was only eight years old. To even think about saying his name five times in the mirror was a no-no because in my mind the Candyman was real. When news broke that Nia Da Costa and Jordan Peele would be working on the project, I knew horror fans would be in for a treat! This film (unsurprisingly true to its predecessor) provides horror, social commentary, storytelling, and lots of great camera work!
The Candyman Victims
In the first two candyman films, the victims were plenty and there was no discrimination. Candyman was carving up more people than a butcher on meat special Sunday. The 2021 film’s victims were all white and represented some of the stereotypical racists the Twitterverse has made famous of late, starting off with the arrogant art dealer and his girlfriend. This scene was artfully done as they could not see Candyman firsthand, but could only see his reflection (this visual occurs throughout the film). As Candyman is about to murder the art dealer, he slices through a projection screen showing Black people being violently attacked in the 50s during a protest; clearly, he is done with the historical injustice and ready for blood. Not only that, but the different parts of the art space flash red, white, and blue which could represent the American flag or police lights as the victims are being slain.
The rude and arrogant art critic was the next one to go after. She had me pissed after telling Anthony, a budding artist portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, about “his kind” ruining neighborhoods, an insult not only to him but also to his work. She said “artist” but the audience knows she meant “Black artist”. Before the art critic’s demise, Da Costa visually deceives the audience with the usage of reflections, mirrors, and camera angles. As Anthony walks the hall of the art critic’s home, he sees the reflection of Candyman and even sees Candyman mimicking his movement. This is preparing the artist to follow his destiny to become Candyman and it also shows that he, too, could be a victim.
The teenage girls getting slaughtered in the bathroom scene was very reminiscent of today’s social media culture. Those girls did not give a damn what was going on and wanted to play the Candyman game. Their Asian friend fleeing the bathroom before saying Candyman for the fifth time had the audience cracking up because she obviously knew what was up and did not want that smoke. This murder scene in the bathroom was interesting. Seeing the girls pulled, cut, and lifted by Candyman’s hook without anyone actually seeing him was crazy. Great camera-work and editing made the invisible antagonist even scarier.
Side Note: Why didn’t anyone acknowledge that Anothony’s hand looked like a prop from a zombie apocalypse movie? Eventually, Brianna said something, but damn his hand looked disgusting after the bee stung him. Could he get some Neosporin or something?
I am not sure if the Brianna character’s name was inspired by Breonna Taylor, but I am going to assume that it was. To see her character go through so much and to witness the police bust into the row house and kill Anthony was definitely triggering. Nia De Costa did an awesome job hiding Anthony’s body from the camera’s view, creating a moment where the audience is not sure if the police shot Anthony or if they shot Brianna. That moment reminded me of the tragic story of Breonna Taylor and how her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, felt while holding her.
The sequel tie-ins and legend of Candyman were also well written and showed that there were others who carried on the Candyman spirit. The way each was killed was much like how many innocent Black men and women have been killed. As Anthony, the final Candyman, walks around the police car showing the faces of the various Candymen, I could see the victims Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Atatianna Jefferson, Philando Castile, Saundra Bland, etc.
The stories told via shadow puppets were a great idea. It gave creepy vibes but played on the idea of how many of us used to tell campfire stories and use shadow puppets for effect. It made me think of the television show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”.
Was Will Right?
As crazy as Will Burke, the Laundromat owner in Cabrini Green, was I would have to say he had a compelling reason for bringing the Candyman to life. The gentrification of the neighborhood as well as the police ignoring and killing people would drive a person to take extreme actions. It’s akin to when people ask, “Why are the neighborhood folk destroying their own neighborhood” after the wrongful death of a Black person by a police officer. It’s for the same reason. People get tired of feeling powerless, oppressed, and ignored. In this case, Will had seen enough injustice and wanted to give the Candyman all the blood he could possibly want in the form of justice for his people. Although, I must say he was crazy for kidnapping Brianna and for sawing off Anthony’s hand. Jesus, that was gruesome! Made me cringe!
“Say His Name!”
The film ends with a cameo of the original Candyman, Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), asking Brianna to “Tell Everyone”. This resembles the “Say Their Names” culture in which we live where we consciously recognize all the victims of hate crimes, police brutality, etc. Candyman exacting his revenge by killing the cops who took his life along with the one who tried to intimidate Brianna into telling a false story is seen as a sort of redemption for Black people, a story of vengeance I’m sure many people of color could appreciate. The idea of turning a horror icon into a spirit of vengeance was a great idea and I am not surprised the three writers came up with the idea to do so. Is Candyman worth watching? I’d say yes! Saying Candyman five times in the mirror? Hell no!
I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking) Synopsis: Danny, a recently widowed hairdresser, and her 8-year-old daughter, Wes, are houseless. Shielding Wes from the truth, Danny pitches a tent and convinces Wes that it’s a fun camping trip. As Danny works to find permanent housing, Wes grows increasingly tired of weeks in the heat, so Danny promises her that they will go home by the end of the day. With clients lined up, Danny is confident that she will have the final cash she needs to secure an apartment, but a series of mishaps threaten to derail her plans. Under mounting pressure, and with roller skates as her only means of transportation, she has to somehow manage to get the money she needs in order to keep her promise to her daughter.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” is a quote by Sun-Tzu that sums up the development of Kelley Kali’s award-winning film I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking) during the COVID pandemic and a heatwave. Kali, like many, was not working and almost houseless when she decided to make the film. Not only is it about overcoming obstacles while raising a child, but it’s also about having empathy for the homeless.
Kali explained she needed to do this project stating, “I woke up one day with a pressing sense of urgency that I needed to create something NOW. I started to think about what resources I had access to and, being from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, I realized that I had many resources. I thought about what friends would be crazy enough to do this with me and I immediately called my two good friends from USC Film School, Angelique Molina and Roma Kong.” The group of creatives pondered over concepts. Kali stated she had noticed a lot more women on the streets in Los Angeles. Kali said Los Angeles already had a fairly large homeless population, but she specifically noticed a lot more women and children recently.
“We went through the many issues facing us today, but one issue that hit us all was the threat of not being able to pay rent and the lingering danger of becoming houseless.” – Kellie Kali
When it comes to the trials and tribulations of Danny, I can’t tell you how many times I kept saying to myself, “It can’t get any worse than this?”, but as the film continued, Danny’s situation continued to worsen. To top it off, she was also continually sexually objectified by pretty much every male encountered; all but the Asian property manager who clearly was taking social distancing seriously. Chad, played by Deon Cole, was one of the worst of the male characters. He taunted and insulted Danny as he dropped hundred-dollar bills from his luxury car. “The Chad character was just another dynamic added to Danny’s decision-making so far as what she needed to do. Chad is who we, as the creatives, thought needed to be piled on to the drama of Danny’s decision making,” stated Deon Cole.
This is something we were able to control and make without someone telling us what to do. Doing television, it’s a collective group of people that have a vision. You are hired to portray that vision and bring it to life. – Deon Cole
The beautiful scenery, great camera angles, and natural character interactions were wonderful. Interestingly enough, the actors were the crew. “I decided the crew would be the actors. At first, everyone laughed until they realized I was serious,” Kali explained. I especially loved the scene where after getting high with her friend, Danny falls over into a pool of her troubles. Drowning, while her money and desirables elude her, was a great visual for the film. “As artists, we always want to keep what the audience is watching interesting, especially when it has a social message because we, as the artists, don’t want to be hammering the message on the audience’s head. So we find creative ways to keep you entertained and captivated using metaphors. At that point of the story, she was drowning in her troubles, the grief of her dead husband, not being able to keep the secret of houselessness from her daughter, and not knowing what to do.”
In the end, I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking) is an inspirational film and a reminder of how the human spirit can persevere. Given the time the film was shot (during COVID and with limited resources), precautions needed to be put in place to keep the staff safe. Production had many obstacles to overcome, but the finished product was well worth it. Star/Producer of the film, Deon Cole, stated the film is “necessary for today” and after watching it, I would have to agree. Check out I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking) when it makes its network debut on Saturday, August 7th at 7 PM ET/PT on BET Her.
I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking): Directed by Kelley Kali & Angelique Molina; Written by Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina, & Roma Kong; Executive Produced by Kelley Kali, Deon Cole, & Capella Fahoome; Produced by Roma Kong, Angelique Molina, Kelley Kali, Capella Fahoome, & Deon Cole.
SYNOPSIS: Alvin Ailey was a trailblazing pioneer who found salvation through dance. AILEY traces the full contours of this brilliant and enigmatic man whose search for the truth in movement resulted in enduring choreography that centers on the Black American experience with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty. Told through Ailey’s own words and featuring evocative archival footage and interviews with those who intimately knew him, director Jamila Wignot weaves together a resonant biography of an elusive visionary.
A working-class, gay, Black man, he rose to prominence in a society that made every effort to exclude him. He transformed the world of dance and made space for those of us on themargins—space for black artists like Rennie Harris and me. – Jamila Wignot
I moved to DC over ten years ago, and one of the first advertisements I saw was for the Ailey Dance Company at the Kennedy Center. I googled the name of the dance company because I was interested in its origin. After all, it featured Black dancers. To my surprise, I found out the company was well known; its visionary, Alvin Ailey, was even more significant. Ailey, the documentary by Jamila Wignot, gave me a more introspective look at the famous creative. There is so much I learned about Ailey. His passion, hard work, and his resilience as a dance creative were unparalleled. I can say without a doubt that this is one of the best documentaries I have seen at Sundance 2021.
As the film starts, voiceovers commence as photos of Alex Ailey are shown on screen. Jamila Wignot does a great job of adding in archived recordings of Ailey. This made me feel as if Ailey was talking to me directly or as if I was watching him chat live at the Actor’s Theater. You can tell the Ailey Dance company is still rich with the passion Ailey provided. When I saw the Artistic Director, Robert Battle, and Choreographer, Rennie Harris, instruct students, I could immediately see Alvin Ailey’s influence.
I found it interesting that at age 14, Ailey fell in love with dancing, but his gym teacher wanted him to play football. After all, back in that time, the understanding of masculinity was not as broad as it is today. Ailey would be teased if he were to skip men’s athletics to participate in dance.
The dance performance of Carmen at the Lester Horton School was one of the inspirations that prompted Ailey to immerse himself into the art. Ailey would go to the arrangements with his friend, Don Martin. He described the performances as “beautifully executed by incredible creatures that took the audience into another world”. After noticing Ailey in the audience at multiple concerts, Horton encouraged Ailey to come out and try dance.
Not Easily Broken
I learned from the film how brave Ailey was to pick dancers who were considered atypical at the time. They traveled around the world sharing their dance art when Black performers were not widely accepted. During one of their first tours, they performed for twenty-five people in Australia and were so good that the show sold out the next night. Director Jamila Wignot’s interpretation of this moment was so spectacular, I felt as though I was actually in attendance of this historical event.
I appreciated the interviews with former Ailey dancers (Sylvie Winters, Sanita Miller, Masazumi Chaya, and Bill T.Jones). They painted a clear picture of what it was like to be a part of the Ailey dancing family. The stories of the terrible hotels, their crowded small bus, and the long rides made the performers’ tours that much more commendable. It was clear that no matter the conditions, they could still perform to the best of their ability and wow the audience.
His Love, His Creation
The documentary featured his mom, lover, teacher, and the greatest love of his life, dance. They all were essential to his existence and life force, but his mother, in particular, was highlighted for how much she meant to him. Ailey did not have many relationships or close friends; all he had was dance. It was not until later he realized that outside of his biological family, his dance company was his family, and dance was the glue that held it all together.
One of the relationships explored in the film was with his short-term lover, Abdullah, a young man he met in France who traveled to New York to be with him. Abdullah disappeared one night via fire escape during a party thrown by Ailey and never returned. The death of his excellent friend, Joyce Trisler, caused him tremendous grief. The repeated loss in his life led to several months of him dealing with depression, leading him to eventually enter a rehabilitation center.
I loved the film because it showed Ailey’s work was inspired by what he was feeling. For instance, when Fred Hampton died, he developed the play Masekela Langage, and after Joyce Tisler died, he created his tribute, Memoria.
Ailey’s battle with AIDS was a struggle; not only was the disease taking a toll on his physical health, but it was also taking a toll on him mentally. What kept him sane and at peace with this mortality? Dance and his dance family. Although he could barely stand, let alone dance, Ailey would watch his dancers rehearse from a couch his team put in the studio.
After watching this film, I’ve gained whole new respect for Alvin Ailey, and I now see why advertisements for his dance company can be found everywhere. Ailey’s concerts have received standing ovations and encores because audience members love to see a passion-filled project. It’s apparent that Alvin Ailey’s essence was present during the development of Wignot’s project. If you want to see the beauty of Ailey’s growth as a man and his contribution to dance, I would recommend watching Ailey. The documentary is set to be released in theaters nationwide on August 6th, 2021.
As Spike Lee serves as the director for the Cannes Film Festival, he also has something else major his fans can look forward to…his new book, SPIKE. The hardcover book covers Lee’s 30-year film career and includes never seen before photos from the set of his films. Some photos will come from the archives of Lee’s brother, David Lee, and will also feature photos from onset photographers from his films over the years.
The book is also designed by creative and founder of Vocal Type, Tré Seals. Seals created the custom typography for the book based on Radio Raheem’s iconic LOVE/HATE brass knuckles from Do the Right Thing. The same brass knuckles Lee wore during his win at the Academy Awards for BlacKkKlansman.
What I Look Forward To?
I look forward to seeing extra photos from some of the sets of my favorite films like Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and School Daze. These are the films I grew up appreciating because the characters look like me and some of the soundtracks were dope! Seriously, Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack was my gateway into my love for jazz and the He Got Game soundtrack re-introduced me to legendary hip hop group Public Enemy.
I hope to see more information about films like She Hate Me and Bamboozled because these films were released during a time when I started to pay more attention to social commentary in art and understanding how art imitates life. Lee’s films always prompt audiences to think but never forces the message intended for the viewers.
The book will also feature some stills and quotes from Spike Lee’s “Is it the shoes?” Nike campaign with Michael Jordan. I really want to see his commentary on that experience, especially when Jordan used to put on a show against his beloved Knicks. I mean Jordan used to embarrass everybody, but he used to obliterate the Knicks!
“As I Head Full Steam Ahead Into My 5th Decade As A Filmmaker I Was Elated When Steve Crist And Chronicle Chroma Approached Me About Doing A Visual Book Of All My Joints. We Would Revisit All Da Werk I’ve Put In To Build My Body Of Work. Film Is A Visual Art Form And That Sense Of My Storytelling Has Been Somewhat Overlooked. Why Now, After All These Years? FOLKS BE FORGETTING.” – Spike Lee
For the last few years, Spike Lee has received his long-awaited and deserved roses. Of course, many of us have supported and shown appreciation for the quality entertainment he has created but I feel now he is getting worldwide acknowledgment. So if you are a Spike Lee fan like I am, you will enjoy this book published by Chronicle Chroma and can embrace the nostalgia. The book will be released on November 17th and can pre-ordered here.
Spike Lee has been a celebrated filmmaker, a cultural icon, and one of America’s most prominent voices on race and racism for more than three decades. His dynamic storytelling and unique visual style have made an indelible mark on filmmaking and television. This comprehensive monograph will be a sumptuous visual showcase of Spike Lee’s life and work, a must‐have for cinephiles and fans of one of the most influential filmmakers in history. His career spans over 30 years and includes: She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Crooklyn, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game, Summer of Sam, Bamboozled 25th Hour, Inside Man, and more. Lee’s outstanding feature documentary work includes the double Emmy® Award-winning If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, a follow-up to his HBO documentary film When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, and the Peabody Award-winning A Huey P. Newton Story. In the television arena, he launched his Netflix original series She’s Gotta Have It, which ran two seasons on the platform. The series is a contemporary update of his classic film.
Synopsis: Queen of Glory is the story of Sarah Obeng, a brilliant child of Ghanaian immigrants, who’s quitting her Ivy League PhD program to follow her married lover to Ohio. However, when her mother dies suddenly, Sarah is bequeathed a Christian bookstore in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx where she was raised. A follow-up on the classic immigrant’s tale, Queen of Glory provokes laughter and empathy as its heroine is reborn through her inheritance.
Queen of Glory is a humorous film about identity, family, and culture; a story that shares the perspective of a Ghana-American preparing to bury her mother while following her deep-rooted cultural practices in the process. Like the lead character, Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah), many of us leave our parents’ nest to explore the world, become educated, and gain exposure to other ways of life. Sometimes we find ourselves embracing other cultures while abandoning our own along the way. This Nana Mensah project proves that growth and self-discovery can be full of humor, even when things are not so much. It comes as no surprise that the film took home the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival’s Best New Narrative Director and Special Jury Prize for Artistic Expression. Mensah was able to take time from her busy Tribeca schedule to update Taji Mag about the film.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): How was the process of making this film?
Nana Mensah (NM): Incredibly long. I had a very, very expensive script that still has not been made but takes place in Ghana and it was a historical biopic. I showed it to my good friend who is an indie filmmaker, Emily Abt, and she was like “Girl, nobody knows who you are. Nobody is going to give you $100 million dollars to make this movie in Ghana. Why don’t you start again and put this script on the back burner? Work on something intimate and small but you can put it in the festival circuit, make a name for yourself as a storyteller. Then that will be the launchpad to the $100 million projects”. That’s how I came to develop my labor of love, my passion project, Queen of Glory. I wrote this story around something film veterans advise young filmmakers to do which is cheap and [sometimes] free. My family owns a Christian bookstore in the Bronx, so I wrote the story around the idea of that bookstore and fictionalized everything else.
DDF: What was the most difficult part of the process?
NM: The hardest part was fundraising and getting resources. As a first-time filmmaker, nobody knows who you are and when you go to them to ask for money they are kind of like “Who, why, what are you using the money for?”. When you are a child of immigrants in the United States, it’s so cliche [that] you become a lawyer, doctor…and those are your options. My network was not a network that was very familiar with investing in film or things like that. Usually, it’s investing in an app or someone’s business, but when it comes to film it’s like, “What does that mean?”. It took a while to really convince people of my vision and to get resources.
I thought the world needed this story because I simply hadn’t seen it anywhere. West African stories don’t quite fit in the boxes Western audiences want to fit them into. In Asante culture— my parents’ culture and that of Sarah’s parents depicted in ‘Queen of Glory’— great joy and celebration can exist right alongside pain and loss. Asante stories show life as a symbiosis of drama and comedy, each stepping in when the other swells too wildly, needing to be checked. – Nana Mensah
DDF: Pit (Meeko Gattuso) was one of my favorite characters in the film. What made you cast Meeko Gattuso?
NM: There’s a friend and family kind of vibe when it came to casting Meeko. Meeko was directed by my friend, Adam Leon, who also directed Gimme the Loot. Leon also plays Lyle, my boyfriend, in the film. Adam found Meeko. How? I have no idea. I always wanted to work with that guy…he’s so compelling and he’s so, you know, great to watch. We were looking at casting that role in the bookstore and one of our producers was like “Meeko!” and I was like “Really, oh my God, that’s so weird, wait that’s perfect”. It was one of those ideas where you’re like “no, no, no!” when the producers first say it, but then you are like “wait, wait, wait!” Now I can’t imagine anyone else playing that part.
DDF: Sarah’s next door neighbors always have chaos going on. How and why did you create those scenes?
NM: My background is in theater so when you’re watching a play, you get to kind of move your eyes around. You’re not being told where to look. A lot of times you just kind of pick out what you are absorbing. I wanted to play with the idea of being able to do that in film and so I figured with that family there’s so many people and so much chaos it would be great just to have this tableau. Then you get to choose your own adventure. Three of those characters are related, so there was a lot of familial beef they could draw from which worked in my favor.
DDF: What was going through Sarah’s mind when she was preparing for the funeral?
NM: What I was trying to convey was that sometimes you don’t have to do it anymore, and just be who you are. Sarah cutting off the weave and letting her natural hair out and then, like, really grieving her mother…something that she’s been keeping at bay this entire time, you know, keeping a bit of distance between herself and the grief. Letting the loss of her mother wash over her is how I wanted it to end at that point of the act.
DDF: Do you think we will see more stories like Queen of Glory?
NM: I’m just excited to add another contribution to the different ways that Black people live, are being raised, and what they’re being exposed to in the United States; and just adding another Drop in the Ocean of Blackness reflected in cinema.
Queen of Glory is a uniquely funny film that audiences are bound to enjoy. I found myself connected to the film and especially relating to the lead character. This film is another great project released by Magnolia Pictures and definitely worth watching. Hopefully it will open the door for Nana Mensah’s $100 million dollar film of her dreams. In the meantime, you can also catch Nana in the upcoming Netflix series, The Chair.
Synopsis: When high school student Jaylen Brown (Skylan Brooks) finds himself under suspicion after his classmate’s mysterious disappearance, prejudice quickly begins to bubble up to the surface of his small town. Working quickly to clear his own name, he begins to unravel a massive web of secrets that all point to otherworldly forces at play.
No Running made its premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. It is a sci-fi flick that reminds me of teen-based films like The Faculty or Attack the Block, but with the same racial themes of Get Out. Firstly, the film definitely had me wondering why the lead character’s life sucked so much, there could’ve been more clarity about his past. Secondly, I thought it was crazy how there were alien abductions going on and the town was still focusing on Jaylen and his family. Also, I found myself wondering what could’ve made this film better. Something was definitely missing and I feel this could be better as a series.
The protagonist, Jaylen Brown, was an intriguing character: one of the only Black men in the neighborhood with a troubled past in a town rumored to have experienced alien abductions. His character made me reflect on how young Black men can be perceived so negatively. Jaylen just wants to be a teenager, be with his crush, have fun with his family, and graduate! But it seems his aunt, his Bully, and his town just won’t let him be. Only the women in his life keep him grounded which is mainly because his life is absent of male figures, especially Black male figures.
Jaylen’s love interest, Amira (Clark Backo), was a great plot device and serves as the only bright spot outside of his family. Clark does a decent job of making Amira Jaylen’s charismatic love interest. It is unfortunate that Amira is abducted, but even moreso that she disappears while with Jaylen after a party in a predominantly white neighborhood.
Jaylen’s mother Ramila (Rutina Wesley) and sister Simone (Diamond White) were the foundation needed for him to stay optimistic, even during his time on the run. (Side note: I’m sorry, I will always see Diamond White as Tiffany from Boo: A Madea Halloween, but her portrayal as Simone was just as entertaining).
As I mentioned before, the premise sets up a promising story, but I am not sure if the film accomplished its goal? The correlation between a space alien and Jaylen in this neighborhood makes the film compelling, but I really had to look deep to make the connection. I also thought about how crazy it would be to walk in Jaylen’s shoes? Imagine being a young Black man who witnessed his high school crush get abducted by aliens in a town severely lacking diversity. I would run, too, and I’d be on the first Southwest Flight back to my aunt’s house.
The small side story of Jaylen’s relationship with his father towards the end of the movie kind of lost me. Honestly, I would’ve liked to see at least a flashback of the event(s) that caused the demise of Jaylen’s relationship with his father. Aso, I understood the reason for the conflict with his aunt, but I did not understand its timing.
When Jaylen was on the run and playing detective, the pacing was on point. The mini-missions were fun and felt reminiscint of the side missions from Grand Theft Auto. The scene where he tries to make it out of the sheriff’s house was both intense and comical. The sheriff’s and his father’s racist comments and discriminatory attitudes made me want to jump through the screen. I did enjoy, though, that the sheriff’s father’s story connected to the aliens plot.
No Running was an interesting film that questions the social commentary of believing in aliens or believing a young Black man. The idea is brilliant and I commend the screenwriter for using his experiences to bring life to this film, but I do feel the film could’ve been executed better.
No way as a 30-something-year-old man did I think I would be fanboying over a Lin Manuel project but there I was – almost as excited as my niece, Lin Manuel’s #1 fan (in her opinion), to watch his latest film, In the Heights. Not to mention, the film was also helmed by Crazy Rich Asians award-winning director, John M. Chu, and had a cast full of colorful characters. Yes, literally the cast was full of diversity that was organic and not uncomfortable like it is in some other films. Trust me, you will become a fan if you are not already.
Plots, Subplots, and Sub-subplots
Like the play, the film has multiple subplots that tie together perfectly. Kudos is due to Miranda and screenwriter, Quiara Alegría Hudes, for In the Heights’s last act takes a surprising twist. The way the film opens, the way it is shot, the character introductions, and the plot all had me fooled!
Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina’s (Leslie Grace) relationship was endearing. I enjoyed how Nina focused on her being back home as Benny tries to talk about Nina’s college life. She missed home so much she changed her hair from straight to natural – code-switching on deck! The love Benny has for Nina runs so deep. You can tell he wants to spend all of his time with her and support her future goals. Nina’s subplot definitely pays off as the film progresses and, to me, was one of the most important since her character’s choices could affect the most lives.
Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa’s (Melissa Barrera) relationship was also interesting. Both were charismatic, admired each other, and desired a different life that would lead their lives in opposite directions. Their chemistry was strong though and their moments at the club were hilarious.
One of the stand out scenes was when the power outage occurred while the main cast was in the club. When “Powerless” was performed and transitioned to “Look at the Lights”, I really felt the emotion. This community feels powerless in their situations, mostly controlled by the government, but they all look toward a bright hope for the future. Poverty, social economics, cultural identity, and immigration were all heavily explored but not force-fed.
I loved pretty much all the performances in the film but my top three were the flash mob-style “96,000”, “No Me Diga” and “Paciencia y Fe” by Olga Merediz as “Abuela” Claudia. Olga gave one of the best performances as her character chronicles her life as a New York immigrant through song. Applause to the creative minds of Chu and Miranda for making Merediz’s solo so visually stunning. The transition of time on the subway was memorable and kind of made me feel like I was watching the play. Also, I’m proud to see Corey Hawkins perform his dance scenes well because I’ve only seen him fight zombies (Walking Dead) and shoot bad guys.
FYI: Lin-Manuel Miranda completed his first draft of the stage musical “In The Heights” during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University, where it was performed as part of the school’s Second Stage. There, the 80-minute one-act played for a mere three days, but the potential for a grander production was evident from the start. Even now, after a wildly successful Broadway run and film adaptation, Miranda is amazed that it all started when he was still that young. Having recently seen a stage production of the work, he muses, “I went to see something a child wrote—a child version of me.”
Miranda’s Music for In The Heights
If you are familiar with Miranda’s work you know his soundtrack is always on point and will most likely keep you singing in the shower for weeks. Seriously, songs like “In the Heights”, “We Gotta Go” and “Piragua” performed by Miranda himself, stayed in my head for a while… partly due to my niece singing the songs for hours. Since the movie soundtrack was not out when I screened the film I had to utilize good ole YouTube.
I’m still amazed how one man can develop an awesome combination of storytelling and music composition. Plus, his adaptability is impeccable because to go develop powerhouse soundtracks from “In the Heights” to “ Hamilton” is just uncanny. I have to be honest, the music in this film made me want to take up salsa again.
I think Lin Manuel Miranda fans will enjoy it and people new to Manuel’s work will become fans like I am. In the Heights is a movie many of you will eventually end up watching multiple times. The product of good acting, catchy songs, music that will make you dance, diversity, and cool cinematography, In the Heights, gets two thumbs up and a “ You better not watch it on bootleg!” Watch In the Heights opening June 10th in theaters and HBO Max.
“In the Heights” stars Anthony Ramos (“A Star is Born,” Broadway’s “Hamilton”), Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Kong: Skull Island”), singer/songwriter Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera (TV’s “Vida”), Olga Merediz (Broadway’s “In the Heights”), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s “Rent”), Gregory Diaz IV (Broadway’s “Matilda the Musical”), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Dascha Polanco (TV’s “Orange Is the New Black”) and Jimmy Smits (the “Star Wars” films).
The 93rd Oscars was one of the most entertaining Oscars I’ve seen in a while. I kind of assumed it would be given the number of Black creatives listed in the programming and the nominees. Never mind that I had media credentials this year, even my friends were texting me saying the same thing. The night was filled with surprises and laughs… to be enjoyed in the comfort of my home and not in the hot sun trying to waive down people for interviews.
The Winners Are…
Daniel Kaluuya started the night with his win in the Best Actor in a Supporting Role category for Judas and the Black Messiah. He made sure to include his castmates and follow feature creatives in his speech stating, “I share this honor with the gift that is Lakeith Stanfield. The light that is [applause], yeah yeah, the light that is Dominique Fishback. [applause] The incredible cast, the incredible crew –you know what I mean– Lucas Brothers for starting the journey. Will Berson.”
Kaluuya thanked Chairman Fred Junior and Mama Akua. “Thank you so much for allowing us into your life and into your story. Thank you, thank you for trusting us, you know, with your truth.” He added, “He (Fred Hampton) was on this earth for 21 years, 21 years, and he found a way to feed kids breakfast, educate kids, give free medical care, against all the odds. He showed, he showed me, he taught me him. Him, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party. They showed me how to love myself. And with that love, they overflowed into the black community and into other communities.”
Daniel surprised the crowd and his mother when he said “Like, it’s incredible, my mum, my dad. They had sex. It’s amazing. Like do you know what I’m saying, I’m here. You know what I mean?” I am pretty sure his mom was shocked and surely sent Daniel a text message or two about his speech.
Shortly after, in the interview room, he explained, “I’m going to wait on my phone for a bit, man. Trust me. I’m going to wait on my phone for a little bit. I think my mom is going to be very happy. But she’s going to be cool. She’s going to be cool, man. She’s going to be cool. She knows ‑‑ she’s got a sense of humor. So she’s glad ‑‑ we give it to each other. So it’s cool.”
The most hilarious part of the night for me in the press area was when a reporter asked Kaluuya “what it meant to be directed by Regina King?” My reaction was like “Huh?” and I am sure it threw off Daniel because he had to ask them to repeat the question. Judas and the Black Messiah was NOT directed by Regina King. * facepalm *
Tyler Perry was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He told a story about a homeless woman asking him for shoes. Perry explained how he took her into his studio and helped her find shoes. He said she stayed looking down after he waited for her to look up and all this time she’s looking down. She finally looks up. She’s got tears in her eyes. She says “Thank you, Jesus, my feet are off the ground.” He explains at that moment he can recall her saying to him, “I thought you would hate me for asking.” “I’m like how can I hate you when I used to be you?”
When asked what made him tell the story he said, “Where we are a country and world, where everybody is grabbing a corner and a color, and they are all ‑‑ nobody wants to come to the middle to have a conversation. Everybody is polarized, and it’s in the middle where things change. So I’m hoping that that inspires people to meet us in the middle so that we can get back to some semblance of normal. As this pandemic is over, we can get to a place where we are showing love and kindness to each other again.”
Fresh off her Grammy win for “I Can’t Breathe,” H.E.R picked up an Oscar for Original Song for “Fight for You” for the film “Judas and the Black Messiah.” She collaborated with Dernst Emille and Tiara Thomas for the uprising song. H.E.R started by saying “Thank you to the Academy. I’ve always wanted to say that. And of course, my collaborators, D’Mile and Tiara Thomas, the song wouldn’t be what it was without them.” She then continued to thank her family and musical inspirations stating, “Of course I have to thank God for giving us these gifts and my parents, my beautiful mother who’s here with me today and my father at home. All those days of listening to Sly and the Family Stone, and Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, they really paid off.”
With H.E.R winning an Oscar and a Granny, placing her at the halfway mark of receiving EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winner) status, the question is what is next? She replied “Oh, there’s absolutely going to be an EGOT in my future hopefully. But, yeah, you know, I’m also super compassionate about acting as well. So you may see me up here as an actress also. And I love musicals. Me and Brandy have been talking a lot, and she inspired me since she did a musical. But, yeah, honestly, I cannot believe that we are here. I’m so thankful to be standing next to these two. I’m still speechless. I feel like the Oscars are happening tomorrow, and I’m dreaming right now. I’m still pinching myself. So I have no words.”
What does the song “ Fight for You” mean? H.E.R describes, “We are literally saying, you know, as long as I’m standing, I’m going to fight for you. And I have been given this platform and now an Oscars stage to share a message, you know, and to really speak my own truth and to continue to spread the word of our history, what is happening today.”
Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, along with Sergio Lopez‑Rivera, become of the few Black women to win in Hair and Makeup Styling for the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Mia Neal accepted the award with her family background. “I was raised by my grandfather, James Holland. He was an original Tuskegee Airman. He represented the U.S. in the first Pan Am Games. He went to Argentina. He met Evita. He graduated from Northwestern University at the time that they did not allow Blacks to stay on campus, so he stayed at the YMCA. And after all of his accomplishments, he went back to his hometown in hopes of becoming a teacher. But they did not hire Blacks in the school system. So I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied but never gave up.” She then continued to praise her colleagues and stated her hopes for future winners. “I stand here as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling with so much excitement for the future. Because I can picture Black trans women standing up here and Asian sisters and our Latino sisters and indigenous women. And I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking; it will just be normal.”
Notable jazz musician Jon Baptiste was amongst the trio (with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) to win Best Original Score. After winning the award he had this to say about his work. “I think I re‑affirm the fact that your collaborators, the people around you, the people who you have the pleasure of trading information as we all accumulate information on the journey of life and music is life. So I look at them as one and the same. And just kind of seeing how that transpires in the next project you take on and transpires in the next moments in your life. And this will definitely be something that will resonate until the day I die, this collaboration.”
Travon Free won Best Live Action Short for “Two Different Strangers” with Martin Desmond Roe. Travon relayed to the audience his reasoning for making the film stating “Today the police will kill three people. And tomorrow the police will kill three people and the day after that, the police will kill three people because on average, the police in America every day kill three people. Which amounts to about 1,000 people a year. And those people happen to disproportionately be Black people. And, you know, James Baldwin once said the most despicable thing a person can be is indifferent to other people’s pain. And so I just ask that you please not be indifferent. Please, don’t be indifferent to our pain.” Earlier that day another Black life, Isaiah Brown, was taken by a police officer who gave him a ride earlier that day. Similar to the storyline of the award-winning short film.
Lil Rel is Hilarious
Lil Rel had the Oscars program feeling like a block party on Sunday. He had Daniel Kallayk talking to him like he was his spades partner and had Angela Basset grooving like her favorite jam just dropped. The most shocking and most hilarious part of the night was when Lil Rel quizzed Glenn Close on EU’s “Da Butt” song. She answered correctly and gave a little history about the Backyard Band, a popular go-go band in the ’80s, and proceeded to do ‘the butt.’ With Lil Rel engaging the crowd and Quest Love providing the evening’s tunes, the Oscars was a thing even Black people could enjoy. No matter if you only know two of the many nominees.
Black Behind the Scenes of the Oscars
Why did the Oscars have a little more flavor this year? The Academy Awards had some more Black influence behind the scenes. Starting with Dionne Harmon, she is the Executive Vice President of Content & Strategy at Jesse Collins Entertainment, where she oversees the development and production of unscripted and scripted content. She has done some work on BET’s “Bobby Brown Series” and “American Soul.”
Amberia Allen returned as a writer for the second year in a row. Her notable credits include “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and “The Last O.G.,” and she has written for numerous live awards shows and variety specials, including the “Golden Globe Awards,” “Primetime Emmy Awards” and “The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.”
One of the writers of the Boondocks, Rodney Barnes, returned to the Oscars production team as a writer. He serves as showrunner, writer, and creator of “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable” for HBO Max. Barnes also penned Marvel Comics’ “The Falcon,” Marvel/Lucasfilm’s “Lando: Double or Nothing” and “Quincredible” for the Lion Forge imprint.
Mitchell Marchand returned to the Oscars show as a writer. His credits as a comedy writer include such awards shows as the “BET Awards,” “Hip Hop Awards,” “UNCF Evening of Stars,” MTV Video Music Awards,” “NAACP Image Awards” and “Primetime Emmy Awards.”
Although some most of us are bummed that Chadwick Boseman did not win Best Actor for his amazing performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the Academy Awards was thoroughly entertaining and worth the watch this year. With Lil’ Rel hosting the event like that funny uncle at a family gathering and the music masterfully selected by DJ Quest Love, I’m sure you will not be bored. I know I wasn’t…
Unapologetic, blunt, and intersectional are the words to describe the rising filmmaker, Kyra Jones. She has recently won multiple screenwriting competitions (Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition 2020, ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch 2020), is working on a feature (Got to the Body), writing other projects, modeling, and participating in activist work all while working a full-time job… during a pandemic. I could tell after meeting her at the 2020 DC Black Film Festival that she would be someone to keep an eye on and was I right. The day before our scheduled interview she was staffed on season two of the hit Hulu series, Woke. Luckily for me Kyra still had time to tell Taji Mag what life is like as an up-and-coming artist.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): When did you fall in love with filmmaking?
Kyra Jones (KJ): I always really loved film and television. I started off as an actor in high school. The only reason I got into acting was because my mom wanted me to have an extracurricular activity. My friend told me she was trying out for the school play and told me I should try out too. So she dragged me to the audition and I ended up getting the lead.
I didn’t become a screenwriter/filmmaker until I was about to graduate from college. I was studying theater at Northwestern with the intention of acting. I was one of four Black students in my class of 100 theater majors. The theater department isn’t diverse at all. Needless to say, I did not have a great time with my experience. Within the material we were reading, there were no real roles for Black women. The roles were the usual stereotypical roles like maids, nurses, etc. I was like, “ We (Black people) do more than this.”
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou
I know I want to tell stories and I know I want to be involved in art and media. I always liked writing and I was the type of person that could type a good 8-page paper in a few hours. So I was a strong writer in that regard but I never tried to do anything like creative writing or screenwriting.
In my senior year I realized I should have been a filmmaker, it was too late at that point but I tried to take as many classes as I could. So, you can say I fell in love with screenwriting/ filmmaking my senior year in college.
*After Kyra graduated her career was sort of in limbo. Her fellow classmates were doing internships, working for production companies, and making the connections needed to succeed after college. She struggled to get an internship because she had made the decision to become a filmmaker her senior year. Since she wasn’t having much success, she went back to acting.
It wasn’t until the Right Swipe came along. My writing partner and I did not intend on writing a web series we just serendipitously came up with an idea. From there we decided you know what, this is a web-series. This would be the first time I stepped on set for something that I wrote and it was the first time I said to myself ‘this is for me.’
DDF: What do you think you bring to the writer’s room of Woke?
KJ: I was definitely not expecting to make the writers room for Woke. I was so excited but, when I officially become staffed, I had so much shit to do in order to get ready. I had a full-time job and had to take leave, I had to try and get my ducks in a row in such a short amount of time. I’m just grateful and still shocked. I may have to turn off my camera to cry once the first meeting is over.
The Woke team is really excited to have me and thinks I will be a great addition to the team. I think my social justice background will be useful, especially for a show called Woke. I think bringing a more nuanced, intersectional perspective to the show, the Woke team will be interested to see what I will bring to one of the queer characters, Ayana (Sasher Zamata). Plus I’m funny. The Woke team had to read one of my pilots before they approved me and they thought it was funny. I can throw in a few jokes here and there, I think I am funny.
“Progressive art can assist people to learn what’s at work in the society in which they live.”- Angela Davis
DDF: Issa Rae had “Awkward Black Girl” and then later had Insecure, is there a possibility we could see a version of “The Right Swipe” in the future?
KJ: There will not be another version of the Right Swipe. I do intend on having my own TV show one day. There is already interest in a pilot that I wrote and I am really excited about it. It has some similarities to the Right Swipe.
DDF: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?
KJ: Barry Jenkins, Ava Duverna, Donald Glover, and Beyonce. Lemonade and Black is King are both so good. I know she had a huge team on those projects but the fact there were so many directors and they were one cohesive vision, means Beyonce had to have communicated the vision to the creatives.
Kyra stated Go to the Body is in the process of getting named talent, developing the budget, and looking to shoot next year with an expected release date to be 2023.
DDF: What women inspire you?
KJ: Inspired by my grandmother, she is not a filmmaker but she really inspired me. She is very unapologetic and unafraid. I love Issa Rae, she is pretty much inspiration to everyone. And Michaela Coel. Black women everywhere inspire me.
“The discussion of representation is one that has been repeated over and over again, and the solution has always been that it’s up to us to support, promote, and create the images that we want to see.” – Issa Rae
Make sure to check out the current work of Kyra. Also, be sure to be on the lookout for her work on season two of Woke and her feature film, Got to the Body. I look forward to seeing more Black artists like Kyra provide the perspectives and voices needed for everyone to enjoy entertainment.