Synopsis: Built like a bird, Turquoise Jones is a single mom who holds down a household, a rebellious teenager, and pretty much everything that goes down at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge. Turquoise is also a bona fide beauty queen—she was once crowned Miss Juneteenth, a title commemorating the day slavery was abolished in Texas. Life didn’t turn out as beautifully as the title promised, but Turquoise, determined to right her wrongs, is cultivating her daughter, Kai, to become Miss Juneteenth, even if Kai wants something else.
Miss Juneteenth is a compelling film that debuts on VOD just in time for Juneteenth, the most celebrated commemoration marking the end of slavery. The film stars Nicole Beharie (42, Sleepy Hollow), Kendrick Sampson (Insecure), and newcomer Alexis Chikaeze. Alexis is not only an up-and-coming actress, she is also an activist against racial injustice. The soon to be HBCU student took time from her busy schedule to talk to Taji Mag about her new film Miss Juneteenth.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What does Juneteenth mean to you and why is it important?
Alexis Chikaeze (AC): It is about the end of slavery, it’s about our freedom to speak about what is right. Back in the day, we weren’t able to, but now we can speak up for change.
FYI: Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Also known as Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was dated January 1, 1863, however, many slave owners continued to hold their slaves captive after the announcement. In turn, Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom.
DDF: Was this your first film?
AC: This is my first big role ever and my first audition ever. It’s surreal, a week after I signed with my agent, I got the audition.
DDF: How much of the Kai character was relatable to you?
AC: Honestly, we are just about the same. It made embodying the character a little easier. Kai is outgoing, she’s headstrong, she is willing to do just about anything to make sure that she can do what she loves. Kai loves her mother and I feel she was set on showing her mother that dancing was her passion. She is really trying to convince her mother just as I had to convince my parents that I wanted to pursue acting. My parents are Nigerian immigrants and the preference that was given career-wise was Doctor or Engineer. Venturing out into other professions is not really something to consider. When I first started, they were skeptical. They were questioning if acting would secure my future. It’s similar to how Kai’s mother wants the best for her.
“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important. It says: ‘I was here. I may be sold tomorrow. But you know I was here.” – Maya Angelou
DDF: What was it like working with Nicole Beharie and Channing Godfrey Peoples?
AC: Both of them are very humble individuals. It was a wonderful experience working with Nicole, she’s kind-hearted and high spirited. She was so happy to help me and, even before shooting, we would do some exercises to make sure we were both ready mentally and physically. Anytime I felt like I needed help or had to ask Nicole a question, she was more than happy to assist me in any way she could. As for Channing, she allowed me to put into the character what I thought would fit the character and use my own perspective. During the times I was frustrated and hard on myself she reassured me and gave me words of encouragement.
DDF: What do you think people will take away from the film?
AC: I really hope that people take the time to learn about Black History, the Black community, who we are as Black people, and how rich our culture is. I think more people, myself included, are taking time to learn more about Black history because we don’t learn enough in this educational system.
Miss Juneteenth is a must-watch that I found to be similar to Mommy Dearest but better and more relatable. So much so, that after the film I had to call my mother to tell her “I love you and thank you for your sacrifices.” With Nicole Beharie’s ability to pull the audience in through her character’s obstacles and Alexis’ charm, this is a film many should enjoy on Juneteenth.
Directed and written by Channing Godfrey Peoples
Starring Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, and Alexis Chikaeze
Tangled Roots follows Attica Scott, the only black woman in the Kentucky state legislature, as she fights to dismantle a system of discrimination against black people penalized for something seemingly innocuous – their hair.
The lost lives of those like Breonna Taylor due to police brutality have been more than enough to encourage protests around the world. There have been many activists, such as Kentucky State Representative Attica Scott, who have been fighting on the frontlines against discrimination and injustice long before most recent events.
Tribeca Film Festival selection and Queen Latifah produced documentary, Tangled Roots, follows Representative Scott in her fight for House Bill 33. House Bill 33 would ban the discrimination of hairstyles associated with African Americans and Kentucky is one of the last states to pass and not have an active bill against hair discrimination. Support from many around the world, activists, and filmmakers like Matthew Cherry (director of the Oscar-winning short film, Hair Love), have influenced states across the country to pass bills that ban hair discrimination. Tangled Roots shows the importance of this bill and the future of minority representation in legislation. Representative Scott was able to take time from her activism and participation for protesting in memory of Breonna Taylor for an interview with Taji Mag.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How did you become involved in the film?
Attica Scott (AS): I was contacted by the documentarian because she has seen my daughter’s issue of hair discrimination at her school and was interested in the bill I had filed against hair discrimination.
DDF: What are the latest House Bill 33 updates, I can only imagine COVID-19 having some impact on things?
AS: It’s interesting we find ourselves with COVID-19, the protesting, and uprising against discrimination. It’s a reminder for me how important it is that I work on legislation that is about us being able to show up as our whole selves and not have to fear discrimination.
DDF: What do you think it is going to take for people to realize this needs to be enforced?
AS: We need to have people share their stories more. While Sam Knowles (director of Tangled Roots) was here during the shoot, I was able to get some people to share their stories with her. We’ve got to have more of that because it is part of how we make it real for people. It’s sad to say but we still, as Black people with our natural hair, are almost always justifying our existence and our humanity. We also need more people to understand that injustice is injustice, we have to have people that want a different world.
As a legislator, I am going to support a bill I think has nothing to do with me because it affects the people that I serve and represent. I need more of my white colleagues to do that. I want them to know legislation shouldn’t be about you, it’s about making things better for the people of the Commonwealth.
DDF: What reaction do you expect people to have once people see the film?
AS: I am hopeful that people around the world will see how important it is to tell the story of advocacy for colored policy in southern states. I don’t imagine people around the country not seeing Kentucky as a place for human rights and social activism. I am glad to lift up that story for people right here in the Commonwealth. I am hopeful people get inspired and energized to help the passage of this bill during the next legislation. I am also hopeful our governor will see how important this is and make it a priority to support bills like this.
We’ve been talking about the impact of COVID-19 on Black people around country and support for Breonna Taylor and her family, it shows that white people and white people in power can no longer ignore us and think it is ok.
DDF: How have you been active during the protesting and police brutality cases?
AS: Three years ago, my second year as representative. I had actually sponsored a bill related to independent investigations of police shootings and I will continue to file the bill. I will continue to be a champion of police accountability. One of the attorney’s who has been working on Breonna Taylor’s case and Kenneth Walker’s (Breonna’s boyfriend) case, is the same person that brought the bill to my attention because he was working on a case involving a young man named Darnel Wicker who was shot and killed by police.
I have been currently sharing information about the Breonna Taylor case via social media because I have people who go to my page for information that they may not get otherwise. I’ve also been working with our legislation research commission on a suite of bills to address things like “No Knock” warrants across the Commonwealth and repealing Stand your ground laws.
I also think it’s important to show up, to have my body in places where it’s needed, and be in the community where my people are in pain.
DDF: What is your advice to Black people during these times of the protest?
AS: I want Black people to know that you are beautiful, your skin is beautiful. What we are seeing right now comes from a deep place of love. People are in pain, people are hurting because they love. Keep leading with that love, keep showing up, keep resisting, and keep making white people uncomfortable because it is only in those places of discomfort that white people move. They do what they are supposed to do when they are in elected positions to make a difference in our lives so we don’t have to keep doing stuff like this time after time.
Tangled Roots is a well organized short film that shows the struggle of minority support from the Kentucky government. With the increased support of Black Lives Matter, Attica Scott will hopefully have the support she needs to pass House Bill 33 and other bills to help improve the lives of many Black people.
Directed by Samantha Knowles
Starring Attica Scott and Ashanti Scott
Tangled Roots is a QUEEN COLLECTIVE Film:
The Queen Collective – a program developed in partnership with Queen Latifah, Procter & Gamble, and Tribeca Studios – aims to accelerate gender and racial equality behind the camera by opening doors through mentoring, production support, and creating distribution opportunities for content by the next generation of multicultural women directors.
Gabrielle Dennis (@gabrielle_dennis) has the comedic charm, beauty, and talent that has given her the opportunity to play many roles in some notable shows. Now the actress can add award-winning writer to her accolades with her win in the 2020 Tribeca X category. She wrote and starred in a comedic short about a character named Nyssa repeating her Pay Day, a-la Ground Hog Day. Although Hollywood has been halted due to COVID-19, Gabrielle has been able to pick up the award for her writing and acting chops — while realizing her culinary skills are actually on point. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the actress/writer to discuss her Tribeca win, writing future, and how she’s throwing down in the kitchen.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What is the inspiration for Pay Day?
Gabrielle Dennis (GD): A payday! Getting paid to be able to say that I am a writer because it’s actually what I went to school for. I went to school for tv production (Howard University…. HUUUUUUU). The acting was the thing that took off. I had been recently putting it out into the universe that I wanted to get back into a creative space and creating content. Then this opportunity fell in my lap when one of the producers from the Black Lady Sketch Show, who is actually one of the producers on Pay Day, Deniese Davis, said “I have an opportunity if you are willing to take a shot at it?” From there, things felt so aligned. I felt motivated to follow this goal and follow through on this dream that I’ve had for years. The experience was really exciting and really fun.
GD: Cooper Morgan is so awesome! He is such a visionary! He is a great visionary and has so much energy. I could not get over how he could just be on top of it all day. His vision is very clear. I am very excited to see what he has in line for the future. Cooper just gets it! From the colors to the music, he kind of catches all of the senses which makes him a great storyteller and I hope to work with him again.
DDF: What was the atmosphere like on the set of Pay Day? Was there a hard day?
GD: The atmosphere was cool but things seemed very fast. We had a lot of content, even though it was a six-minute film. The final script that we shot was about 8 mins, we had to cut it down some more. I got to work with people that I knew. We were working so fast, we didn’t have enough time to develop a conversation to make these friends feel like real friends. We had just enough time to say “Hey girl, good to see you!” Then it was like boom! Back to work. I think it was smart of the producers to bring together people we were familiar with each other as peers.
DDF: How did it feel being on set as the writer and actress of the film?
GD: It was different for me to be on set as the writer and actress, I developed more respect for our writers for whatever work they put on the page. I’m always an actress that tries to respect and honor what’s on the page. As the writer on set, you are like “ Oh no! They are cutting out another piece (of the script).” Our director was so great at adjusting to what we needed to get. He reassured me, allowed me to breathe, and understand we had enough footage to tell the story. Shout out to the entire team, the whole team was just awesome!
DDF: What has been your greatest investment after you started landing larger roles?
GD: I would say investing in the stock market. I am by no means an expert in stock but to have the ability to see how far your money can go and have the excitement of knowing your money is working. It’s like “Money has a job and it’s to make more money!”
I’ve had fun investments. I was able to buy my SUV. When I booked my role on Rosewood, I thought about my long commute and it was time to turn in my college car. I thought to myself “I am going to treat myself!” I had this long commute, I get to be comfortable, I get to drive fast and sit up high in my new vehicle. We all know that an automobile is a depreciating item, as soon as you drive it off the lot.
DDF: What would be your reaction to being stuck in a time loop like Nyssa?
GD: I think I would learn my lesson a little sooner than Nyssa for sure. I feel like I would have been extremely extravagant, I am talking about trips around the world as far as I could get in that 48 hr period. Like the morning of I’m buying a plane, I would spend 200 of those days learning to fly the plane myself. I feel like I would have had a lot more adventure and be more of a risk-taker because I know I would be ok the next day. I would have spent way more money than Nyssa did.
DDF:Pay Day has been compared to skits on A Black Lady Sketch Show (ABLSS). How do you feel about the comparison?
GD: I take that as a compliment. I think the writers from A Black Lady Sketch Show are brilliant. I love the full-color wheel we get with the types of comedy we get to create. We all have different experiences. I love quirky, bizarre comedy. We get things that make you think, so I take it as a compliment. The scenario in Pay Day is not a normal thing that would happen to anybody and the whole idea for the project with Synchrony Bank was to make people think about their finances. I feel like it was an education in disguise.
*Hopefully the writers and producers from A Black Lady Sketch Show read this and give Gabrielle a seat at the table*
DDF: Will you get more writing duties for the next season of ABLSS?
GD: I don’t think I could write on ABLSS because the writing team is already intact. I think I am going to need a little bit more than 6 and a half minutes of experience before I get confident enough to be a part of a writer’s room. If the team from the show would have that, I would love that. It is a goal of mine to write some more for sure.
DDF: If there was a Luke Cage season 3, what do you think would’ve happened to Tilda Johnson in your opinion?
GD: She wants what’s owed to her. Her mother used to preach family first and she left paradise to Luke Cage, which is a slap in the face to Matilda. Which ruined her relationship with her mother but then again we see what Tilda did to her mom. I would just have Tilda growing into her villain role. I am cheating a little because I know the plans for season three and it was for her to be one of the main villains. I would love to see the complexity in the role of how can someone get to the other side of the tracks? Does she have guilt for killing her mother? Does she feel emboldened about what she did to Mariah?
I feel like when she walked into the club with her afro puffs at the end of season two, at that moment she was a different person. To be able to see all the things she was willing to do at all cost, like really, really allowing herself to no longer fight, deny or be ashamed of the villainy in her DNA. I could see her being like Cotton Mouth and Mariah times 10! From what is known in the comic books, I just would love to have seen her character just take off. I think Tilda and Bushmaster would team up at some point.
DDF: Would you be open to appearing in the MCU films?
GD: Oh yeah! Who’s turning that down?! I wish that would happen, I would accept it with open arms.
DDF: You have to write a romantic comedy using two characters you’ve played on tv and film. Who would you choose and what would the film be about?
GD: I would say the first one would have to be my character from The Game, Janay. I feel like she was misunderstood by some people. She’s deemed as tough, but I would like to see the more thoughtful side of her, the romantic side of her, and see her relationship grow.
Another character I would like to see in a rom-com is from Rosewood. To see where the relationship went with TMI. How they grow and blossom. I would also love to see if they could make it throughout the engagement and marriage because of the challenges TMI brought to the table with her past. Pippy wore her heart on her sleeve and put everything out there, then seeing the tables turn at some point with the two lovers.
Out of all the characters I have played, those two get talked about a lot and people miss those shows the most. So I would love an opportunity to bring those characters back.
DDF: If you had to be quarantined in a house with three other actors or actresses who would it be and why? It can’t be anyone you know…
GD: Howie Mandel would be the first person because everyone knows he is a germophobe. We would definitely be clean.
Erykah Badu because she’s going to have the vocals on deck, she’s going to have the vibes, the incense you need to mellow out, and she’s going to be able to keep my chakras in check.
For the last person, I need someone that is going to feed me…I’ll go with Bobby Flay.
DDF: What have you learned about yourself during this COVID-19 crisis?
GD: I discovered that I am a really, really good cook, even though I don’t like cooking. I love eating, I always have. I can handle meals I didn’t think I could cook on my own before. I also don’t like cooking because it comes with having to clean up. I would say I was a recovering germophobe and when all the shutdown stuff happened I went into a full relapse. I envisioned everything being germy like everything has COVID-19 on it. I watched this handwashing demo where the guy used the glitter on his hands to demonstrate and everywhere I went I saw green glitter. I can’t wait to see what happens on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. If people are going to be more OCD with clean hygiene or just have reckless abandon and not care.
I learned you can get to a point that you hate washing your hands and I am a really good cook.
DDF: What are some of the dishes you have been cooking and are most proud of?
GD: I made red snapper for the first time and I could not decide if I wanted to fry it or bake it, I just ended up making both.
I make really good Brussels sprouts. I made collard greens for the very first time that weren’t from a can. Lol! I cleaned them really well, seasoned them, just being a mad scientist in the kitchen with ingredients. I’m very proud of the greens. My mother drove 45-mins and sat outside in my yard share waiting for me to make her a plate of food. I gave her fried chicken and greens, she raved about them for days.
DDF: Is your family going to ask you to cook for the holidays?
GD: Now that’s the danger since I’ve been cooking. People will be expecting me to cook and I will be “No, no, no!” Hopefully, I won’t have to fall back on it and I have a career after this (COVID-19) is over.
DDF: What was your reaction to your win at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival online?
GD: I couldn’t celebrate too much but I was super excited about it. When I saw the text message that Pay Day had won, I got on the phone and I squealed with Denise about it. It was surprising because I didn’t even know they had submitted the film for the Tribeca Film Festival. As an artist, you hope to be involved in a project at a festival like Tribeca. I am pretty sure I had a glass of wine and danced
With all of this talent manifesting in Gabrielle Dennis’s life, we may see her get her own comedy show. Hey, maybe even a Black Comedy Cooking Show… For now, you can catch Gabrielle on Black Ladies Sketch Show season one on HBO, and be on the lookout for season two of the show. Check out her award-winning short Pay Day below.
SYNOPSIS: In 1937, tens of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent were exterminated by the Dominican army, based on anti-Black hatred fomented by the Dominican government. Fast-forward to 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court stripped the citizenship of anyone with Haitian parents, retroactive to 1929. The ruling rendered more than 200,000 people stateless, without nationality, identity, or a homeland. In this dangerous climate, a young attorney named Rosa Iris mounts a grassroots campaign, challenging electoral corruption and advocating for social justice. Director Michèle Stephenson’s new documentary, Stateless, traces the complex tributaries of history and present-day politics, as state-sanctioned racism seeps into mundane offices, living room meetings, and street protests.
The 2020 Tribeca Film Festival selection, Stateless, is an extremely compelling film that touches on a discrimination narrative I find to be all too familiar. Watching the film, I could not help but feel emotionally drained by the actions of the Dominican Supreme Court’s decision to strip people of their nationality, rights, and life altogether. Given the state the United States has been in concerning immigration politics, I can not help but see a possible future where people in our country will meet the same demise.
“As a child, growing up in a Haitian and Latinx household and diasporic communities in North America, I continued to overhear stories about the history of my birthplace relating to race, color, class, colonialism, and human rights. Those observations formed the basis of how I made sense of the world that surrounded me, especially as those notions collided with the racism, segregation, and discrimination that we faced in our adopted countries. Those experiences fueled my passion to dig deeper into the consequences of our deeply painful common history of slavery and colonialism and how we continue to internalize such self-hatred.” – Michele Stephenson
I was really impressed by the work of young attorney Rosa Iris and her pursuit of justice for those wronged by the system. Her effort to free her people of oppression and discrimination so admirably left me rooting for her the whole documentary. I could see the drive in her eyes and the passion for her work pouring from her heart so badly and her wanting only the best for her people. Stephenson was very fond of Rosa’s efforts stating “I fell in love with Rosa and her vulnerability. She was an all-in collaborator, which you could not ask better for a project. She told me that when you get into a relationship of trust with your collaborator, they end up helping you find the story. They know what you are looking for and it’s that kind of exchange.”
It was heartbreaking to watch the system reject Rosa’s cousin, Teofilo Murat, who was one of the unfortunate stateless people displayed in the film.
“She (Rosa) is the one that told me her cousin, Teofilo Murant, he’s stateless and he’s leaving for Haiti. He was a working-class guy, able to pay his rent, and one day to the next he lost his papers, he lost everything. So, we reached out to him and spent time with him before he moved to Haiti. He said I’m outta here because I’m suffering too much, it’s too dangerous, it’s too precarious and he left for the mountains of Haiti. For me, there’s this flipping the narrative of what Haiti means to folks, there’s this idea that refugees have no place and they are in destitute situations. But for me, Teofilo represents a modern maroon. He’s escaping this oppression to what he perceives as freedom in the mountains of Haiti. You can see in the film that Rosa still has faith in the system when Teofilo does not believe the country has his best interest,” explained Stephenson about the origin of Teofilo’s involvement in the film.
“The question of what citizenship means is shaken up in this beautiful documentary. Also, watching anti-immigration bias alongside garden variety racism spread globally, you realize how timely this film is. I’m proud to work with Michèle and bring this story to the world.” – Jennifer Holness, Producer (Hispaniola Productions)
Gladys, another featured person in the film, is a right-winged Dominican of Haitian descent who has a strong dislike for Haitians. When asked about Gladys, Stephen stated, “A couple of years into the project, I felt very strongly about Gladys. The whole right-wing nationalist in the country was so profound and I felt that being there I couldn’t ignore that narrative, that presence, but also I had to challenge myself as a light-skinned person that could have potential access to that narrative in a more intimate way that others may not be able to. I never really confront Gladys with my own ideology because I wanted to get what I could get. I challenged myself to be uncomfortable to get to the point where I can grab the story that Gladys had to tell because she really wanted to tell her story. I barely had to ask questions because she really wanted to make her point.”
Stephenson said she and producers did a casting and they approached a couple of people, who in her opinion were way too aggressive. She didn’t know if she could spend half a day with them. They were men, they were very aggressive when they talked about Haitians with great disdain. She said “their hatred was virulent, it was like spitting out of their mouths. It’s like here in the U.S., do you want the stereotypical hater to be the one to represent the other side and lose the complexity and the depths of the hatred?”
Stephenson also said that when she met Gladys, she thought to herself, “here is this woman that presents a paradox. She presents a certain way, she presents as Black, and yet the hatred she has is hatred for Haitians.” She went on to explain how her friends and colleagues who watched the film in New York immediately recognized Gladys as an archetype.
Filmmaker Michele Stephenson put together a powerful and enlightening piece, that will challenge you to think about the state the U.S. is in when it comes to immigration laws and the awful conditions that some of the Haitians and Dominicans with Haitians parents are in. The imagery and art used to display the sugar canes are visually pleasing and serve as short intermissions from the harsh realities within the film.
My objective is to connect the film to a network of committed partners in the Caribbean region, Latin America, the U.S., and internationally, to utilize the film as a platform for their work on protecting the rights of migrants, and citizens, and to deepen people’s understanding of the intersection between anti-black racism, migration, and citizenship rights.” – Michele Stephenson
Hopefully, Stateless will be widespread and will inform people about the injustices some of the people in the Dominican Republic are facing. I also hope Michele achieves her goal to involve more people and organizations that can help give these people their rightful lives. This film encourages people to work together in this fight against oppression and discrimination worldwide. May this film tap into the viewers’ cores and enlighten their minds.
Hispaniola Productions and the National Film Board of Canada present
A Rada Film Group and Hungry Eyes Media film
Director: Michèle Stephenson
Producers: Michèle Stephenson, Jennifer Holness, Lea Marin
Screenwriter: Michèle Stephenson
Cinematographers: Alfredo Alcántara, Tito Rodriguez, Naiti Gámez, Nadia Hallgren, Pedro Arnau Bros Santana, Jaime Guerra
Editor: Sophie Farkas-Bolla
Executive Producers: Joe Brewster, Anita Lee, Sudz Sutherland
Cast: Rosa Iris Diendomi-Álvarez, Teofilo Murat, Gladys Feliz
I have to be honest, when I first saw the trailer for The Lovebirds I thought, “Oh no, will this be Issa Rae’s fall-off movie, her ‘Will Smith Bomb’ she mentioned in her 2018 GQ article?” That negativity was dissolved by a friend pointing out the hilarious bacon grease scene that did make me chuckle. After watching the film, I found out he was right – the combination gave me a night of favorite scenes and a few scenes that will be re-created on Tik-Tok. I recommend people watch this film and here are the reasons why.
In order to eventually succeed, you have to bomb. That’s what every comedian says—that’s when the fear goes away. And I feel like I’m still fearful because I haven’t publicly bombed yet, in terms of my career. Yeah, Insecure is successful now, but where’s my bomb coming? Where are my Will Smith bombs coming? Where, where is that happening?” –Issa Rae (GQ May, 22nd 2018)
Guilt Free Entertainment
At no time did I feel uncomfortable while watching his film. (You know that feeling where you hear or see racist jokes/stereotypes in a film so offensive you can’t ignore it?) The scenes in the film were so well written and performed I was able to enjoy myself and laugh freely. It was a good feeling and that’s the way it should be. A great example of this was a scene where Issa Rae’s character, Leilani, was explaining to Kumail Nanjiani’s character, Jibran, as they were looking at some f*ck boys (frat boys whom they were sneaking up on), and Kumail’s character had no clue what that was and was very curious to know. He wasn’t making fun of the word, he was making fun of how oblivious a person can be to terminology.
More Than Trailer Clips
Plenty comedies present hilarious trailers before the films are released just for the audience to discover that those were the only funny parts of the film. Then you think to yourself, they wasted all this money on a mess of a movie and wasted your time. Love Birds was hilarious! I found myself Steve Urkel snorting a few times, the level of funny was totally unexpected.
I felt like Issa and Kumail fed off of each other’s performances like the Splash Brothers, Clay Thompson, and Steph Curry when they both get hot in a game.
The Lovebirds Chemistry
Yeah, I didn’t know if the chemistry between Issa and Kumail would be good in The Lovebirds. Don’t ask me why, I just didn’t. They were able to play off of each other very well during both the serious scenes and the funny scenes. They definitely showed that they both have range and adaptability.
One of the funniest scenes is the interrogation. They interrogate one of the frat boys and it kind of reminds me of a buddy cop interrogation scene akin to Bad Boys (Martin Lawrence and Will Smith). When I tell you Kumail ain’t got no sense, y’all I mean it!
Imitating life (Spoiler Alert)
From the beginning of the film, where the couple transitions from the honeymoon stage to the ‘here’s your part of the deposit ‘cause we not going to make it’ stage, I really felt. Unfortunately, my ex and I didn’t make it after being almost killed by a crooked cop, but those moments did spark some memories.
There was also a moment when Leilani was fooled by the happy couple photos another character posted on social media, making her evaluate her own struggling relationship. This is understandable because some of us have been through social media jealously, hell, some are going through it right now.
The film releases this Friday, May 22nd, on Netflix. Make sure to add The Lovebirds to your list of films to stream. I commend Issa Rae for being on this project and making a quality rom-com about an interracial couple. I really hope that The Lovebirds has created an example (not a formula to be consistently repeated) of how diversity in film should look.
A couple (Issa Rae & Kumail Nanjiani) experiences a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery. As their journey to clear their names takes them from one extreme – and hilarious – circumstance to the next, they must figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.
Lenny Thomas portrays Dikhan on Tyler Perry’s new series Ruthless. Dikhan is one of the ruthless and intimidating antagonists in the series but, as for Lenny himself, he is far from it. The New Yorker has a heart of gold and an optimistic attitude. Taji Mag was able to find out how unlike Dikhan Lenny really is in an exclusive interview during this COVID-19 crisis.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What brought you to this role?
Lenny Thomas (LT): Thankfully my agent has a great relationship with the casting director of most of Tyler Perry’s projects. I was thrown in the mix through a self take. Mind you, during the auditing process of tv and movies, there are multiple rounds. Lucky me, I got this role off of one self-tape which still, ’til this day, blows my mind. While putting together my self-tape, my agent coached me and I sent it in. A week later, I’m on set with Tyler Perry. I’ve had some success, so I was not a stranger to hard work and diving right in and getting the job done.
DFF: What was your inspiration for the role?
LT: Honestly, if I didn’t have the proper guidance that I did growing up, I could have been Dikhan. Exercising the demons in my life allowed me to tap into this character. Being in the New York area, the undercurrent is kind of negative, so I pulled from dealing with that and seeing the negative characters in my life while growing up.
DDF: Dikhan is the second in command and seems ruthless, how do you think he got to this point?
LT: Apparently, he spent some time in jail and used to be involved with numerous gangs. Decade or so time he spent in jail, something broke him. In this broken state, he met The Highest and they decided they were no longer going to be the victims of their circumstances by taking matters into their own hands, thus creating the life they currently live.
DDF: What is it like working with Tyler Perry?
LT: It was tough, everyone was trying to keep up with him. I have not seen a person work as hard as that man works. We barely passed a 12-hour day somehow. That is unheard of in television, usually, it’s between 12 to 16 hours in my experience. It was all inspiring too because of the people he surrounds himself with. There’s so much love in Tyler Perry Studios, I have never been on a set that had so much love and care. Everyone was taking care of each other. Also, to be unapologetically Black, I have never been around so many Black people on set in my life. It was overwhelming, so many times it was overwhelming. I was thinking to myself, “Is this my life right now, is this really happening?”
DDF: Who have you developed a relationship with on set?
LT: That’s a hard question because I love my castmates. There are 11 leads on the show and the people I grew closest to are Blue Kimble who plays Andrew on the show and Melissa Williams who plays Ruth Truesdale. Melissa, in particular, set the stage, she is perfect to lead the show because her heart is big. I did not notice she was the lead of the show because it was like I was shot out of a cannon into shooting the series, once I got the role. I was still working before I flew out to set, so I was playing catch up the whole time. When I met her I was like, you are unusually nice to me. I’m not used to this, I mean I’m from New York, we don’t treat each other like this.
DDF: What is the best acting advice you have received and who gave it to you?
LT: Best acting advice was from Risa Garcia. She has an acting podcast and is also an acting teacher/casting director. Her advice just blew my mind, it makes life worth living honestly. She says to her students, “When you get these jobs that you’ve been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is after you have some power, then you should empower somebody else. This is not just a grab bag candy game.” That wisdom really speaks to the person I am going to be for the rest of my life.
DDF: What director would you like to work with next?
LT: Steve McQueen! I would love to work with him. He got on my radar with his movie starring Micheal Fassbender called Shame. He just seems like an actors director.
DDF: How has life been during COVID-19?
LT: I turned myself into an introvert years before this happened so staying inside, has not been a problem. The beautiful thing is, before I booked Ruthless, I was going through a breakup and my life was seemingly falling apart. Then, all of a sudden, the Ruthless opportunity comes along and it was like a defibrillator was used on my life. My lady and I started to reconcile and said we would start to build this life together. We unsuccessfully tried to reconcile before but I didn’t have the tools for it. Now I do.
Social distancing has been cool, we have spent several weeks in the apartment and we have been more connected than before. I’m not missing outside. I’m not missing a thing. I want to do my part and make sure no one gets infected by my doing. I’m curious to see how life is going to change but I am hopeful for the future.
As I was watching the first part of the show Ruthless, I developed a disdain for the Dihkan character and was ready to fight him myself. Luckily he is only a character on the show, so I guess you can say Lenny has done a great job at portraying this role. Check it out for yourself!
“Tyler Perry’s Ruthless,” a spin-off of the hit television series “Tyler Perry’s The Oval,” tells the riveting story of a woman named Ruth who kidnaps her young daughter to join her in the dark underworld of a fanatical religious cult. “Tyler Perry’s Ruthless” stars Melissa L. Williams, Matt Cedeño, Lenny D. Thomas, Yvonne Senat Jones, Baadja-Lyne Odums, Jaime Callica, Nirine S. Brown, Blue Kimble, Stephanie Charles, Hervé Clermont, Anthony Bless, and Bobbi Baker.
Steven St. Pierre is a budding creative/actor I met at last year’s DC Black Film Festival. While interviewing him during my coverage of the film festival, he mentioned how he started film making just recently and that Ava Duvernay had been an inspiration to start on a desirable path towards acting. After the interview, we kept in contact and I watched his progression. Little did I know, he would be achieving a lot more than he could imagine. I had an opportunity to catch up with the rising creative.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): How does it feel to have so much success for your short film, Corey?
Steven St. Pierre (SSP): The success has been great! The way I have been perceived for making something great, for myself. Last time we spoke in person, I was halfway into my festival run and we went to places like Canada and DC and I had entered the film Corey in multiple film festivals in the New York area.”
Note: St. Pierre’s short film Corey has won multiple awards that include but are not limited to: Best Short film at the Validate Yourself Film Festival, Wavemaker Award at the Everybody Digital Film Festival Black History Month Edition, Audience Choice award at the Astoria film festival, Best Short Film winner and Grand Prize Winner at the Queens City Film Festival.
DDF: You won big at the Queens City Film Festival, what’s next?
SSP: After I won the grand prize award, I now have the opportunity to have my next short produced from the Queens City Film Festival. The prize is worth $50,000. Taking the passion I had into my own work turned into something I could have never imagined.
DDF: That’s truly a blessing! I remember you telling me about the trials and tribulations you had putting Corey together. Your co-star, Chantal Maurice, put on a great performance, how has her career been since the short film?
SSP: Chantal has since moved to Atlanta P-Valley (Starz), Queen Sugar, Dynasty, and other projects that are coming out later this year. She’s killing the game.
DDF: What women have influenced you?
SSP: My mother and grandmother, the women who raised me in my household. Just seeing their work ethic. My mom worked two jobs, to this day she still works two jobs to help support my grandmother because she is not doing well. Just really seeing all the sacrifices shes made, as an adult, I have developed a deeper appreciation and respect for her.
I have to give a shout to my work mom and my assistant director Catherine, she just retired. Always supported me, always had my back, she was amazing. When you are in the workplace, you always need an ally and she definitely was that for me.
Ava Duvernay has really been an influence on me. I don’t know how many people are aware that before she was a filmmaker, she was a publicist. She was pounding the pavement, making everyone else’s dream come true and she decided, at what some people would think as an older age, to pivot her whole career. I feel like that has been my journey as well.
“I was a film publicist, so I represented a lot of filmmakers and I was always around them. I [started thinking], ‘They’re just regular people, like me, with ideas. I’ve got ideas.’ That’s literally how it started. It was definitely a career change; I didn’t make my first little short until I was 32.” – Ava Duvernay
DDF: You had your biggest role as a co-star on High Maintenance, how was that experience?
SSP: I got that role not too long after I spoke with you in DC, it’s my first major network role. I felt like I finally cracked that code. Going out on auditions is tough, especially being new to the scene, but it’s going on four years now. It brought two passions together because I am playing a basketball player. I played ball growing up, so going into the audition I felt comfortable. I got offered the job via email and was excited! That was the most excited I have been in a long time.
DDF: What are your other goals?
SSP: My ultimate goals are to establish myself in the industry so I can have the visibility to reach people from places in my community. Letting them know they can do anything they are passionate about. Even today, I go to a lot of career days for my friends who are teachers or are a part of programs for children. I think it helps children see someone like me, who is making it, but not a huge celebrity, to let them know goals are attainable. Otherwise, if they see someone who is a huge celebrity they won’t think things are attainable. They can also see the grind I am going through, so when I make it further into my acting career, it will hopefully inspire them.
Steven St. Pierre looks to continue his success as a creative and achieve many of his entertainment goals during his career change. With Ava Duvernay serving as an inspiration, St. Pierre knows that, with hard work and persistence, the sky is the limit.
Follow Steven St. Pierre on social media or check out his web page here.
‘No More Wings does an absolutely wonderful job of taking a scenario that is extremely grounded and using the form to imbue it with an elevated sense of emotion and spirituality.’ – Barry Jenkins (Oscar-winning filmmaker)
Award-winning filmmaker, Abraham Adeyemi, adds another award for his short film “No More Wings.” The South London native won the award for Best Narrative at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. “No More Wings” is a short film about two friends at their favorite chicken restaurant who catch up on old times. The film is an exploration of their friendship, the difference in their life choices, and what the future may hold for each. What the audience discovers by the end of the film is shocking and in some cases relatable. Taji Mag was able to catch up with this promising filmmaker to discuss his prize-winning film.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What inspired you to make this project?
Abraham Adeyemi (AA): I grew up in South London and I was thinking about two of my friends from the area, I just thought to myself what would the experience be like if we met up today? The film was the opportunity to explore a place I call home and to see how people can have the same upbringing but turn out differently.
Abraham Adeyemi was mentored by Oscar-winning Sam Mendes and he shadowed him during the production of 1917.
DDF: The cut scenes to flashbacks were dope, is that meant to be reflective of how most people are when catching up with an old friend?
AA: That was something I had on my mind. Everything in the moment, including their facial expression, explains what the moment means to them. There is definitely history happening within it. I definitely aim to get a sense of reminiscing.
DDF: How does it feel to be the only narrative short from the UK?
AA: I thought that it was crazy! Tribeca was the very first film festival we submitted the film to, we missed the deadline for the Sundance and some other film festivals. Just to know we got in blew me away. One day, I so happen to look through the catalog and thought to myself, “Wait a minute, there are no other Brit films. It’s funny because in advance I had been in contact with the British Film institution, they are responsible for being in contact with creatives going to the film festival. It was from there I discovered, “Oh my God, I am the only one on the list [from the UK]”. It really hit home how big an achievement it was to be at Tribeca.
DDF: I loved how relatable this film is. Many Black people all over the world can relate. What has the response been to the film from people outside of the UK?
AA: Besides Tribeca, not too many people from outside the UK have seen the film. I can only think of two who are Black who have seen the film. My friend and filmmaker Dream Hampton, who attended the Soho House premiere of the film in London in October, and Barry Jenkins, who was on the Soho House Script Judging panel, both at script stage and finished film.
Jury Comments: “It checked every box in terms of authenticity and heart and it was funny!” “It’s such an elegant piece of filmmaking.”
DDF: How did you react to your win for Best Narrative Short”?
AA: I never thought this would happen in my wildest dreams. In fact, I quite deliberately made sure I didn’t think about it. Quite a few of my friends had asked me “What do you get if you win? What happens if you win?” and things like that but I’m quite competitive. So I knew it was for the best too – rather than think about “if” I would win, to focus on just being grateful for the incredible achievement that was simply getting selected for Tribeca. It was, of course, the hope and ambition, I always strive for the top, but I was still very much shocked to have won, especially being my debut. In fact, I still am.
DDF: How did you celebrate your win?
AA: Well, I found out a few days before it went public so I was sworn to secrecy. So on the day, I found out, I actually just celebrated alone in my room. Like, full-on, celebrated. Loud music, popped a bottle of prosecco… And then – just before it got announced to the world – I set up a surprise zoom call with a group of my closest friends with an elusive message “Zoom in an hour. Don’t ask questions. you won’t want to miss this. Bring a drink.” I don’t know who I thought I was… But it worked! It was really important to me that those people didn’t find out through social media. They’ve been massively important in my journey and I wanted to be able to enjoy this moment with them, before the chaos that would ensue once the world knew I had won. It has been non-stop calls, emails, and zoom meetings! I couldn’t be happier.
DDF: Given the film takes place in a restaurant, what are a few food spots a tourist should hit up in London?
AA: I would definitely recommend Morley’s because the chicken is good and it’s where I shot my film. It’s a well-know chicken spot like KFC. I would also recommend the Chicken Shop, the chicken is good but they have the best apple pie. I could go there to grab only an apple pie and go about my day. The last restaurant I’d recommend would be Chuku’s, a Nigerian Tapas Restaurant (the first of its kind in the world!) where the sibling-duo that own it have their own original take on a number of familiar Nigerian dishes. I might be a little biased – because it’s owned by my friends – but I’ve been going since they started out with pop-ups and it’s been amazing to see them finally open their first permanent site earlier this year. Also, objectively, prior to COVID-19 enforcing a temporary close, every single night their reservations were fully booked! So they must be doing something right.”
Amid this COVID pandemic, Abraham Adeyemi is busy working on commissioned tv projects and an upcoming feature film project. Can he reach Barry Jenkins’s status? We’ll just have to keep a lookout for this award-winning creative. Keep up with him on Instagram at @abeislegend.
Disappointing and racist are the two words I’d use to describe the film Coffee and Kareem. Within the first five minutes, I could tell this film was going to be a hot mess. The dialogue was unbelievable, ridiculous, and, at times, unnecessary. The film felt like a horrible attempt to imitate the writing of the film Superbad with the concept of Cop and A Half.
Kareem’s character, played by Terrence Little Gardenhigh, was so offensive and stereotyped that I had to watch the film in three installments. I understand Kareem was an only child raised by a single mother, Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson), and there are some kids who actually misbehave like this, but there are other ways to represent this character without using so much unecessary foul homophobic language! It’s upsetting because I do believe that Terrence can develop into a great actor based on the charisma he presents on-screen, as long as he won’t be in any more projects like this.
When it comes to the action, I felt it was a complete waste and a Tropic Thunder rip off. Just random explosions and ridiculous violence that felt like they were added because there was extra room in the budget – especially during the final act where one of the henchmen just stood over a grenade and watched it explode. I understand the character was meant to seem like a numskull, but really? The Police Academy film series had plenty of whimsical comedy but none as terrible as this film.
Andrew Bachelor starred in this film and he did make me chuckle a few times but I really hope that he gets to work with more talented writers to really showcase his talent. I don’t think he or any of the antagonists were written with any purpose. The main antagonist, Detective Watts played by Betty Gilpin, felt like Crystal Creasey from the film The Hunt – also played by Gilpin.
In the end, Kareem and Coffee is a complete waste of money and time. I didn’t want to write a negative review out of respect for Taraji P. Henson but the film is horrible. Even during this time of social distancing, I would not recommend anyone watch this film. Next time, Netflix, let the Wayans Brothers write it!
Below are a few films I would suggest you watch instead.
I’m Gonna Git You Sucka This Keenan Ivory Wayans pinned 80’s film pays homage to Blaxploitation and still provides laughs that are share-worthy til this day. One of my favorite scenes is the bedroom scene. The joke is timeless and still relateable today! This star-studded film is about a soldier who returns home to find out his brother has died of an “OG” overdose of gold chains. He and his collection of action-ready friends set out to take on Mr. Big for revenge. It sounds ridiculous but it is hilarious.
Cop and A Half Starring Burt Reynolds and Norman D. Golden II, Cop and a Half, is old school but if you want to see a film that involves a white cop and a Black kid without too much racism, it’s definitely a go-to. The film is about a disgruntled veteran cop who takes on an 8-year-old kid to solve a murder.
Cop Out Starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. If you want the slapstick and nonsensical comedy that Coffee and Kareem attempts to have, this is a good film to watch on Netflix. Not the best writing but it’s entertaining enough to sit through for an hour.
Hollywood Shuffle Starring Robert Townsend. It’s not a buddy cop film but it explores how Hollywood stereotypes Black characters and how they are terribly written by white screenwriters. It’s another 80’s film I found to be hilarious and can be compared to some of the projects out today. Although Hollywood has gotten better since then, it still has a long way to go.
Netflix’s “Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” is an introduction to one of the most celebrated Black female business owners in history, Sarah Breedlove. This project is directed by Kasi Lemmons (Harriet) and Demane Davis (Queen Sugar). NBA Superstar, LeBron James, and businessman, Maverick Carter, have joined the project as Executive Producers. Taji Mag was able to check out the series before its release on March 20th and here’s the review.
Once again Kasi Lemmons has provided the audience with the vision of a powerful Black woman taking on a form that transcends reality. In this instance, whenever Sarah has a vision of or is faced with adversity, the audience is presented with colorful dance routines, mocking female logos, and even a boxing match with her adversary, Addie Monroe (I assume this character is based off of Annie Malone). I really found the boxing scenes with Addie to be quite enjoyable. I also found myself waiting to see Sarah give Addie a one-hitter quitter for her trifling ways.
Octavia Spencer as Madam C.J. Walker and Carmen Ejogo as Addie Monroe
The Walker girl logo that mocked Sarah (and was created by Sarah’s husband, C.J. Walker) was also an interesting concept. It paid off in the end when we learned that the Walker girl was not only designed by C.J. but it was also his ideal woman. This is discovered towards the end of the series when C.J. cheats on Sarah with Dore Larrie.
Octavia Spencer does an amazing job of portraying one of the most celebrated Black entrepreneurs. She was able to capture the excitement in her facial expressions whenever an idea manifested. Spencer also was convincing when her character was met with doubt or fear, a prime example is whenever she was haunted by her past self with “bad hair”.
Tiffany Haddish also did pretty well as Leila, the daughter of Sarah. I found it very interesting how the character’s liberal lifestyle was introduced to the audience. It made me want to research Leila’s entrepreneurial success with her business, The Dark Tower, in New York.
Kevin Carroll as Ransom was a standout to me in the series. His performance as Madam C.J. Walker’s legal advisor had very compelling moments. I wasn’t really familiar with his work but, after viewing the series, a thorough Youtube and Google search went underway. I just had to see his other accomplishments.
Another notable character was Ransom’s cousin, Sweetness, played by Bill Bellamy. This role was well written and was a great example of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Sweetness can be seen as a smart conman who always sought out a quick buck, but in reality he was a man of integrity who only wanted to make it in the world legally. We learn this at the end of the series when Ramson explains his demise.
Before recalling what I’d already known about C.J. Walker, I was feeling the support he was giving his wife: uprooting his life with Sarah and moving to a whole different city to help support her haircare business. I bet it was seen as very impractical at the time, but nonetheless he did and they were successful. Toxic masculinity and society’s infatuation with the lighter complexion existed heavily during the 1900s. I’m sure this greatly influenced his decision to cheat on Sarah; however, it doesn’t give him a pass to do so. Blair Underwood did a great job of portraying C.J., then again he always does a great job of portraying the conniving, cheating husband (i.e. Madea’s Family Reunion).
Unity Over Racism
Blair Underwood as CJ Walker, Octavia Spencer as Madam CJ Walker and Kevin Carroll as Ransom.
This series explores racism, colorism, and gender discrimination in a thought-provoking manner. I kept thinking to myself, what if I was trying to build a business for haircare in the world Madam C.J. Walker lived in? Not only was racism still a major issue at the time, but to fight within my own race about my gender and skin color? Talk about hurdling obstacles! The series really provided some in-depth perspective on how difficult it was to achieve what Madam C.J. Walker did. Seeing the pain she had to go through was quite an eye-opening experience.
The death of Sweetness (played by Bill Bellamy) gave a sense of closure for Sarah and her rival, Addie Monroe. It made the characters reflect on their biggest threat: racism and gender discrimination, not each other. Sweetness’ lynching was touching, to say the least, as the Director gave the audience first perspective scenes that can only be described as heart-wrenching.
“Self Made: Inspired By The Life of Madam C.J. Walker” is a beautifully told story. The creatives in charge did a great job of pacing the story and supplying just enough conflict to make the viewer want to binge-watch the whole series on a Sunday night. I am glad I was able to speak with Kasi Lemmons about this project and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the series. I highly recommend giving it a watch. Of course it’s not completely accurate; however, it’s still very entertaining. While we celebrate women’s month at this time when self-distancing is in place, this Madam C.J. Walker series will allow the viewer four hours to escape the current troubles of the world.
Academy Award® winner, Octavia Spencer, stars as Madam C.J. Walker, the trailblazing African American haircare entrepreneur who was America’s first female self-made millionaire. Inspired by the book, On Her Own Ground, written by Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, the Netflix original series “SELF MADE: INSPIRED BY THE LIFE OF MADAM C.J. WALKER” brings the uplifting story of this cultural icon to the screen for the first time. Against all odds, Walker overcame post-slavery racial and gender biases, personal betrayals, and business rivalries to build a ground-breaking brand that revolutionized black haircare, as she simultaneously fought for social change.