As Spike Lee serves as the director for the Cannes Film Festival, he also has something else major his fans can look forward to…his new book, SPIKE. The hardcover book covers Lee’s 30-year film career and includes never seen before photos from the set of his films. Some photos will come from the archives of Lee’s brother, David Lee, and will also feature photos from onset photographers from his films over the years.
The book is also designed by creative and founder of Vocal Type, Tré Seals. Seals created the custom typography for the book based on Radio Raheem’s iconic LOVE/HATE brass knuckles from Do the Right Thing. The same brass knuckles Lee wore during his win at the Academy Awards for BlacKkKlansman.
What I Look Forward To?
I look forward to seeing extra photos from some of the sets of my favorite films like Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and School Daze. These are the films I grew up appreciating because the characters look like me and some of the soundtracks were dope! Seriously, Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack was my gateway into my love for jazz and the He Got Game soundtrack re-introduced me to legendary hip hop group Public Enemy.
I hope to see more information about films like She Hate Me and Bamboozled because these films were released during a time when I started to pay more attention to social commentary in art and understanding how art imitates life. Lee’s films always prompt audiences to think but never forces the message intended for the viewers.
The book will also feature some stills and quotes from Spike Lee’s “Is it the shoes?” Nike campaign with Michael Jordan. I really want to see his commentary on that experience, especially when Jordan used to put on a show against his beloved Knicks. I mean Jordan used to embarrass everybody, but he used to obliterate the Knicks!
“As I Head Full Steam Ahead Into My 5th Decade As A Filmmaker I Was Elated When Steve Crist And Chronicle Chroma Approached Me About Doing A Visual Book Of All My Joints. We Would Revisit All Da Werk I’ve Put In To Build My Body Of Work. Film Is A Visual Art Form And That Sense Of My Storytelling Has Been Somewhat Overlooked. Why Now, After All These Years? FOLKS BE FORGETTING.” – Spike Lee
For the last few years, Spike Lee has received his long-awaited and deserved roses. Of course, many of us have supported and shown appreciation for the quality entertainment he has created but I feel now he is getting worldwide acknowledgment. So if you are a Spike Lee fan like I am, you will enjoy this book published by Chronicle Chroma and can embrace the nostalgia. The book will be released on November 10th and can pre-ordered here.
Spike 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.
One of the biggest fears I had for Coming 2 America was the plot failing as other sequels have done in the past. The first film is a 30-year-old classic which is why many, including myself, were asking why they were making another sequel period, but this film was well written from the jokes to the plot, even the cameos weren’t forced or left the audience scratching our heads.
The plot of the film revisits the moments from the first movie. The infamous club scene where Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) are looking for Akeem’s future wife brought nostalgic laughs. The events leading Akeem to have an illegitimate son by having a one-night stand with Mary (Leslie Jones) were pure comedy. Leslie Jones was in rare form. Of course, I wondered why there wasn’t a DNA test done to confirm Akeem had a son but it’s a comedy so that’s not important.
Playing on the theme of making your path was also written well in the film. This especially goes well with Lavelle doing as a young Akeem did, escaping to America with his love interest, the royal barber, to live his own life. Akeem’s transformation from happy-go-lucky and free-spirited to becoming more conservative was also done organically through each act.
Tying in Akeem’s daughter, Meeka’s (KiKi Layne) desire to become heir to Zamunda and breaking tradition was not forced into the script and paid off in the third act. You would think since there are multiple storylines in a film it would be a mess but in this case, it was just enough.
The relationship between Queen Lisa Joffer (Shari Headly) and Mary was also interesting. We saw the two who both birthed children for Akeem become friends and not have a hot-mess relationship. Mary was even able to bring the New Yorker back out of Lisa as they drunkenly sang and danced the “Humpty Dance,” a great scene and transitional moment.
The payoff for me was Akeem’s mother being the voice of reason while being absent from the whole film when Cleo (John Amos) asks Akeem what his mother would do when Akeem was in a low place. Other women were also the ones providing words of wisdom. This includes Lavelle receiving important life advice from Mirembe, Mary, and Meeka throughout the film.
Music and Entertainment
Let’s talk about the music and performances in the film because there are some memorable ones. King Jaffe’s funeral was outrageous but desirable because he was able to witness it. He had performances by En Vogue, Salt-n-Peppa performing “What a King”, Glady’s Knight did “Midnight Train to Zamunda,” dance performances by the Zamunda dancers. Who wouldn’t want to go out to this type of celebration?
Bopto’s (Teyana Taylor) entrance was also another fun musical set with a rendition of Prince’s “Get Off”. I loved this because I am a huge Prince fan. Of course, the film could not go without Oha, the royal orator that sung “She’s Your Queen to Be”, laying down some of Prince’s lyrics followed by Lavelle’s rap portion of the song.
Cameos and Movie Nods
Some of our favorite characters portrayed by both Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy return from the first film including the old men in the barbershop, Reverend Brown, etc. The newest addition was Baba portrayed by Arsenio Hall who had me dying every scene he was in. There’s also a surprise performance by Randy Watson, whom I waited for in anticipation with excitement at the end of the film during the wedding, I’m sure people will enjoy it.
Just like the first film, the Duke and Duke firm from Eddie Murphy’s other film Trading Places had a few scenes. If you don’t remember in Coming to America, the Duke brothers are shown homeless and broke until luck is bestowed upon them.
Coming 2 America was a surprisingly hilarious sequel that I would happily watch in theaters. Some may argue but I found it to be just as funny as the original Coming to America. The film also has a great soundtrack featuring songs by John Legend and awesome costume designs with beautiful colors by the award-winning Ruth E. Carte. If you are looking for good laughs, nostalgic musical entertainment, and a good-hearted film, then tune into Amazon Prime Friday, March 5th. Watch the credits for bloopers!
The Sundance Film Festival 2021 presented its audience with not only some great new projects but also new experiences virtually. This year’s Black creatives gave us amazing content and compelling stories. Many of the projects had me sitting in my apartment in silence and reflecting on the stories being told. Below are a list of some of my favorite short films from the Festival and my interactive WebXR experience with the project Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler.
Favorite Short Black Films of the Sundance Film Festival
Synopsis: After his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley, Darious begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood.
Artist: Miles Warren is a filmmaker born and raised in New York City. Since graduating from Wesleyan University, he has directed various short films, music videos, and commercial content.
My Thoughts: How do we define masculinity and what influences our definition of it? The answer to these questions is formulated from the time we are born until we leave this earth. Bruiser gives the perspective of a young man, attempting to define masculinity after he witnesses his father fighting. I loved how the filmmaker shows how quickly the father’s words and actions impact Darious. There are also lessons the father learns about the importance of his influences. Bruiser is a short I recommend watching.
Synopsis: A God-fearing woman in present-day South Africa finds herself in a transactional relationship as she tries to support her sick husband and daughter.
Artist: Nomawonga Khumalo is a writer/director from Johannesburg, South Africa. Five Tiger is her narrative film debut. Her feature film, The Bursary, will head into production in the second half of 2021.
My thoughts: This is another film that touches on masculinity in addition to gender roles, morality, faith, and forgiveness. So much is told in this short that I was really interested to see what happens with the lead character and what led to her husband’s sickness. The most surprising part of the film is the reveal of who is involved in the transactional relationship. I really felt for the lead character as she juggled so much and fought internally to provide for her family.
Lizard | Short Film Grand Jury Prize, Presented by Southwest
Synopsis:Juwon, an eight-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger, gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a megachurch in Lagos.
Artist: Akinola Davies Jr.’s work is situated between West Africa and the United Kingdom, as he identifies as a member of the global diaspora, being part of both worlds. His work navigates the collision of colonial and imperial traditions, as well as a return to Indigenous narratives.
My Thoughts:This film reminded me of the childhood experiences and questions about the church. A journey with Juwon from the classroom to the church parking lot had me thinking, “ ]What is this little girl doing and why she is spending her church money on junk food?” Although she misses class exploring the church ground, she learns a lesson about cheating the church and God. This experience will for sure influence the moral compass of Juwon. What happens after the conclusion of the film? I wish the filmmaker would show us because it looked like there was going to be some real action.
Black Bodies by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall
Synopsis: SA Black man comes face-to-face with the realities of being Black in the twenty-first century.
Artist:Fyffe-Marshall is a director, screenwriter, and social activist whose work includes the award-winning short film, Haven (2018), and the two-part short film, Black Bodies and Marathon (2020).
My Thoughts: This speaks volumes about present-day racism and expresses the frustrations of the Black community. I sat in silence and could feel every bit of the powerful poems by Komi Olaf and Donisha Prendergast. A speakeasy piece, imperative art, and perspective all in one, Black Bodies ends on a note we are all too familiar with. To learn that Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s film was inspired by a viral racial incident makes her work even more compelling. The filmmaker/activist spreading the word of equality while chipping away at injustice one film and project at a time.
A Concerto is a Conversation
Synopsis: A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Artists: Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers. Proudfoot, an award-winning short-documentary director and entrepreneur, is the creative force behind Breakwater Studios. Bowers is a Grammy-nominated, Emmy Award-winning, and Juilliard-educated pianist and composer who creates genre-defying music that pays homage to his jazz roots—with inflections of alternative and R&B influences.
My Thoughts: I really loved the conversation between Kris Bowers and his grandfather about their family history. Kris Bowers’s love for music and his grandfather’s love for his dry cleaning business, have similar success stories. I liked how the film displays the love and bond between the two men. It’s no surprise the short film added Ava Duvernay as executive producer and is an Oscar contender.
Want to watch this beautifully crafted short documentary click the link and watch below.
New Frontier: The Interstitium with Octavia Butler
The Sundance Film Festival, although virtual, still provided audiences with personal and interactive ways to experience the festival. COVID has prevented many from traveling to Salt Lake City but, with the virtual experience, audiences interacted with others via an avatar and watched films. I loved participating in the New Frontier world and hope it returns next year because it allows those who can’t travel to experience the Sundance film festival.
The Octavia Butler virtual experience was one of the biggest highlights of the Sundance Film Festival. I loved being able to see the project “Pluto” by one of my favorite artists, Sophia Nahli Allison. Fresh off her Netflix documentary, “A Love Song For Natasha”, the artist takes the audience on an expedition from death to birth with varying imagery and an original poem as a voice-over. The text, “it’s not dying that hurts it’s coming back to life that’s painful,” displays at the beginning of the project and is the question the woman asks, what seems to be, a higher being. I loved this work as I felt like I was hovering through time and existence trying to answer the questions of reincarnation. As always, this project is worth the experience and I look forward to Allison’s future work.
Secret Garden, by Stephanie Dinkins (not the song featuring El Debarge, Barry White, and Christopher Williams), allows the participant to walk around a garden where oral histories spanning generations of African American women live. I was intrigued by the stories and the ability to see the expression displayed by each woman. It was like going to a concert with multiple stages and listening to women tell stories ranging from surviving an enslaved boat to growing up on a farm in the 1920s.
Idris Brewster’s virtual experience had me getting GTA vibes, exploring an island first-person view. Each island had its own unique environment and soundtrack featuring Black artists. It’s a music and art lover’s playground. I visited the island three times to see if the atmosphere of the island changed, nothing changed but the time of day changed. The only thing that would’ve made the experience better is if I would have had the VR goggles to fully enjoy the experience – but that was my fault. Maybe I should use my stimulus check to get some VR equipment.
Terence Nance’s piece reminds me of the screensavers we had back in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The type of art that mold’s itself to the vibration of sound. In this case, it’s the sound of people’s voices that alter both the color and environment of the piece. To experience what I mean you can go here.
Sundance Film Festival 2021 was a great success in my opinion, not only was there a lot of Black art representation but the opportunity for many around the world to experience the festival virtual. The movie drive-ins are great to keep safe and within the experience. I really hope more people participate next year to see something more than what’s on the streaming services. Plus you can have your own snacks…legally.
Synopsis: In 1969, during the same summer as Woodstock, a different music festival took place 100 miles away. More than 300,000 people attended the summer concert series known as the Harlem Cultural Festival. It was filmed, but after that summer, the footage sat in a basement for 50 years. It has never been seen. Until now.
Artist, DJ, storyteller, and now award-winning director, Quest Love, won audiences over with his debut film, Summer of Love. The documentary features a slew of artists, attendees, historians, and celebs as they discuss the long-forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival. The Roots drummer brought together a beautiful collage of music, film, and history.
Quest Love’s film starts off with a very emotional reaction by attendee Musa Jackson and cuts for a brief moment before the film starts again. This moment resembles how we all feel when the past is revisited during a time of joy. Much like my first Bulls game when I got to see Michael Jordan.
The tone of the film mimics the musical archive of Quest. Every beat and note is well composed to fit each moment of the documentary. It’s like Quest Love is doing a DJ set and he is just feeding us the moment like he does while performing in front of a crowd. Love mentioned he approached the film as if it was a DJ set during the Q&A after the film. I really felt every single beat and not just the songs performed by each artist but by each scene. There are a few times the film touched me emotionally. Stevie Wonder’s drum solo was jaw-dropping. Nina Simone’s performance embodied Black Girl Magic. When Mahalia Jackson performed “Precious Lord” with Mavis Staples… whew. It was one of the only times the two had ever sung together on stage. I was honored to see Mavis Staple perform in 2016 at the Stephen Colbert Show, so it was cool seeing her perform in her prime in this film.
The historical ties throughout Summer of Love let the audience know how special this moment in time was, to have a Black orchestrated music festival with top chart-topping performers. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X weighed heavily on the Black community, so it was good to see people have an escape for this moment in time.
Not only did we see the producer and host Tony Lawrence put together magical series of concerts but I learned how the almost forgotten festival had so many invested. Take for instance the Black Panther party providing security for the event, it was intriguing to see how people came together to make this come together.
I found myself dancing, singing (or at least trying to), and almost crying at some moments (my eyes were sweating) because of some of the experiences Black people had back then, we are having now. The performance by Sly and the Family Stone was great and it was dope to learn that they had performed the set from Woodstock, which was happening not too far from the festival. It was funny seeing the crowd’s reaction to the group showing up. Sly and the Family Stone show up late or not at all at times for performances.
I really truly loved learning the festival included not only the stable Black artist we know of but also Hispanic artists like Ray Barretto. Seeing how the festival included other diasporic cultures that were oppressed really showed the festival’s intention – to bring people of color together for a great time and good music. This is the same reaction I have while watching the award-winning documentary Mr. Soul that Quest Love was featured in.
Quest Love did an excellent job capturing the reaction of the interviewees during Summer of Love. It really made the film tug emotionally at my heartstrings. I could see how much this festival meant to each person and how the event impacted their life. Honestly, it made me jealous because to be a part of a moment like that had to be extraordinary.
I was not surprised to see the film take home multiple awards including the Audience Award: U.S. Documentary and U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary. I even made mention of its greatness on social media before I watched the other films on my list. The documentary truly shows much of Black History is still out there and how awesome our people are. So yes, the “Summer of Soul” will be televised and you need to make sure to watch it! I’ll definitely re-watch this film with my family when it is available to the public and will continue to listen to my 70’s playlist the film inspired.
I tried to get the inside scoop from British actress Karen Bryson about Zack Snyder’s Justice League film and her role as Elinore Stone. She just grinned and talked about how fun it was on set with her co-star Ray Fisher (Victor Stone/Cyborg). Needless to say, I was not able to get any information from her. Her lips were sealed shut on the anticipated project. Instead, she spoke excitedly about one of her newest projects, Black Narcissus on Hulu, and what she has been up to during the pandemic.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How have you been during COVID and what have you been up to?
Karen Bryson (KB): I’ve actually been really lucky. The UK (United Kingdom) has been able to tone down strict guidelines when it comes to filming. I have been working on a UK drama, then I acted in a movie.
DDF: What interested you about Black Narcissus?
KB: The audition process was incredible. I would like to say the series is more faithful to the book than it is to the film. This is not a remake. I know when people think of Black Narcissus they think, “Why would you remake such an iconic film?” and I say “No, we haven’t.” Even though the producer is the grandson of producer Emeric Pressburger (co-director of the 1947 film Black Narcissus), in the current version of Black Narcissus, we stayed faithful to the book and it is a miniseries. The characters come alive in a way that is not in film translated, the series is three hours of storytelling. I hope our version leaves people with a lasting impression like the film left people with a lasting memorable impression.
BLACK NARCISSUS SYNOPSIS:Black Narcissus is an FX limited series based on the best-selling novel by Rumer Godden. Mopu, Himalayas, 1934. A remote clifftop palace once known as the ‘House of Women’ holds many dark secrets. When the young nuns of St. Faith attempt to establish a mission there, its haunting mysteries awaken forbidden desires that seem destined to repeat a terrible tragedy.
DDF: How did you prepare for the role? Did you take anything from the movie?
KB: It was very interesting preparing for the role. Sister Phillipa is the most spiritual and obedient to the rules of the group of nuns. She is in a time around the 1960s or 1970s where the rules were a bit more relaxed for the nuns than previously. The rules were incredibly strict. Some of the priest and nuns hired gave the cast and I information about their lives. The cast and I watched them pray, sing, and perform their rituals.
Sister Phillipa believes she was called to be a nun and really has a closeness with God. There is a moment in the series where she says, “This place (Himalayas) is too much for all of us.” After that, she is like, “Bye,” and leaves. She also mentions the beautiful mischief of the location, which caused her to be distracted from her path. Sister Phillipa even stated it’s as if the mountain watches us, not God.
DDF: How much of Sister Phillipa is part of your personality?
KB: Phillipa followed the rules, so there is no touching, I’m a hugger. No emotion being shown, I like to cackle and I cry. I’m a crier.
DDF: Did you learn anything from the role? Did you change the way you look at religion?
KB: I learned so much. I actually learned I am more spiritual than I thought. I also decided I want to learn more about God. I’d also like to get into gardening more, you know, sowing the land and seeing what happens. Normally my husband is the one into gardening.
DDF: There is a scene where Sister Phillipa comes across a mirror and stares at it. What do you think Sister Phillipa saw in the mirror?
KB: Interesting. I would say the character hasn’t seen herself in about a good twenty years. I think she is shocked at the fact that she has aged. When I look at pictures of my younger self, I can see my face so plump as a baby and from there I know what I look like at each age of my life. Phillipa hasn’t seen her face in years, so when she happens to stumble upon her reflection and sees an aged version of herself, she becomes intrigued in my opinion. Her intrigue is broken, when she remembers that she and her fellow nun shouldn’t be looking into the mirror.
DDF: What are some of your favorite films or series you are watching now?
KB: The series of films, Small Axe, by Steve McQueen. It’s showing here (in the UK) on BBC and I think in the U.S. on Amazon Prime. I haven’t caught up with the most recent film because I have been in Guadalupe working. The five films in this project, couldn’t have come at a better time than now. Incredible films, sometimes they are difficult to watch but it’s exactly what we need. Looking at how far we’ve come as Black people in the UK. I think about how my parents experienced some of those rough times of racism, speechlessness. I urge you and everyone to watch them. Steve McQueen is a genius.
DDF: What can you tell us about Zack Snyder’s Justice League film? How was it working with Ray Fisher and playing his mother in the film?
KB: I can’t say too much. You’d get me in trouble (laughing). You’ve seen the trailer, it looks amazing. I can say that Ray Fisher and I have become close. He is a wonderful young actor and a wonderful young man. We got along great during the shoot, I think certain castmates you just connect with which is fortunate because sometimes it can go terribly wrong. I think the director, Zack Snyder, is great and really amazing at what he does. I’m excited to see this version of Justice League and excited to see the audience’s reaction to this version of the film.
DDF: What would be your dream project?
KB: I would really love to work with Viola Davis and Barry Jenkins.
You can watch Karen Bryson portray Sister Philippa in the mini-series, Black Narcissus, on F/X and Hulu. She will also be in the highly anticipated Justice League Director’s Cut on HBO Max. The actress has been so busy during the pandemic we can only hope she’ll soon be working with award-winning actress, Viola Davis.