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.
While interviewing Skylan Brooks, I asked how he pulled off the portrayal of the optimistic and energetic Hamster in the film Archenemy. He stated that it was purely method acting. “Well, believe it or not, I was actually sick while shooting this film,” Brooks chuckled. Brooks is not new to the genre of superhero films, he played the super-intelligent Chubs in the 2018 film Darkest Minds.
The young talented actor took time away from his busy schedule to talk with Taji Mag about his new film, Archenemy, and other projects he is working on.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What brought you to this role and how did you prepare for it?
Skylan Brooks (SB): The film being a superhero, sci-fi film lured me to the role. I enjoy and previously had success in my other sci-fi projects like Castle Rockon Hulu. I wanted to know more about the director’s vision for my character, Hamster. I also wanted to understand the origin of the film and why it was being made.
DDF: Hamster shows optimism and drive, how did you manage to keep those present in the character?
SB: Actually, that was one of the things I worried about when portraying the character. It worried me in the audition. I have a very chill personality, so it was a fun challenge to play this high energy character. What made me really capture the essence of the character was talking to the director. Also remembering, Hamster’s deceased father was a storyteller and that is what motivates him to tell his stories no matter what.
DDF: What was the biggest obstacle to making this film?
SB: Well, believe it or not, I was actually sick while shooting this film. Every time you see me smiling, shouting, and laughing like I was having a good time, I was dying. I actually had pneumonia, bronchitis, and a fever. I had to go to the hospital because I had difficulty breathing at times. It was crazy because everyone else is healthy and I was just so sick. It was brutal but fun.
DDF: What the best part about making this film?
SB: I really enjoy the stunts. Every time there was a big stunt going on, everybody’s vibe changed. The director would be like, “ Okay, you’re going to get sent through this glass table and you are going to get killed.” It was fun and we just laughed through it. There was great energy on set and everyone was fun to work with.
DDF: Is your character, Hamster, inspired by other characters you previously played? I think of the characters you played in The Darkest Minds, The Get Down, and The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete.
SB: Not consciously. I tried to draw from a whole different place. That’s interesting but cool you had thought so.
DDF: Who are a few of your favorite comic characters?
SB: Growing up I didn’t really know the comic world as I do now. I didn’t understand the difference between brands like DC Comics and Marvel? I just knew of the comic book characters. I have an affinity for fast characters, that are not necessarily flashy but have this cool attitude. Characters like the Flash, Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and Static Shock. I loved watching Static Shock growing up. He’s just a normal dude from the hood that got powers and didn’t take advantage of the powers.
DDF: What comic book hero would you like to play?
SB: Ah perfect question! I heard there was a Static Shock movie being made, that is way early in development and I would love to take a crack at it.
DDF: Which movie universe do you prefer? DC or Marvel?
SB: That’s a hard question. Lol! I like both of them. Growing up I watched DC television shows, like Young Justice, but I watched Marvel movies.
DDF: What do you think the audience will get out of this film?
SB: I want the audience to understand that heroes have emotions. Max Fist is a hero where he comes from. Beyond his hero complex is a fragile human being that feels forgotten. I think, through companionship and friendship, he redeems himself without his powers.
DDF: How was it working with Zolee Griggs and Joe Manganiello?
SB: Joe is a very intense guy when it comes to playing his characters. Once he is in character, there is no way of breaking him out of it. I appreciate being on screen with that type of experience. Zolee is great too and this is her first feature, I think she killed the role. She’s dope and you can see her on Wu-tang on Hulu. Zolee has great energy and she’s hilarious.
DDF: What’s next for you?
SB: I am focusing on the film but I have a music EP project and music video dropping this month. It’s a fuse of hip-hop and jazz. I am also working on two projects, one of which I am executive producing.
DDF: If you make your own film, what genre would it be? What director would you work with and who would be your co-star?
SB: I would want to do a Steven Spielberg type film with the grit of a Quentin Tarantino and the feel of Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise as a co-star.
If you are looking for a hybrid of the Watchmen and Wolverine comic book genre film, make sure to watch Archenemy. The film has some cool animation, an exciting storyline, and a cool plot twist. ARCHENEMY is in theaters, and currently available on VOD and Digital.
Award-winning actress, Wunmi Mosaku (Instagram), has been featured in some amazing content from Luther to Black Mirror and has had her most recent success with the HBO hit series Lovecraft Country. The British- Nigerian actress spoke with Taji Mag about her character, Ruby Baptiste, in Lovecraft and her experience as a Black actress working on the set of a show featuring a predominantly Black cast with a Black female showrunner.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): During episode four, “Strange Case,” we saw Ruby transform into a white woman, how much do you think that experience affected Ruby?
Wunmi Mosaku (WM): Ruby is a very confident self-assured woman. Being white did not change that for her. She did appreciate walking around freely, her skin color not incriminating her or being weaponized against her. Ruby mentions she was railing and raging around the streets, people were scared for her and not scared of her.
I think Ruby will always use the magic potion as a tool for herself. She is not disillusioned, like “Gimme some more, gimme some more! This is the life I want to live!” Ruby is as Black on the inside as she is on the outside when the potion turns her white. I don’t think the transformation comes with joy or freedom for her. Ruby is Ruby and she loves who she is. She just wants everyone out there to stop fucking with her and let her be brilliant. Ruby wants to be all that she is without any interruption.
Ruby has learned a lot and her eyes are open. If anything the transformation made her love herself more.
DDF: Do you think during the course of the season that Ruby gravitates more towards Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) than she does towards her sister, Leti ( Jurnee Smollett-Bell)?
WM: I think there’s truth in that. Ruby and Leti have such a tense relationship and truly don’t understand each other. Maybe it’s because they walk around the world so differently with different privileges and lack thereof. It’s also because Leti is difficult. Ruby has this idea that if she works hard enough and cracks through this whole system, she’ll be apart of it rather than against it.
Yes, sometimes Black people can “crack” through the system, but let’s face it you can be famous as whoever, be stopped by the police, and be treated inappropriately.
Ruby has this eye-opening experience and growth from Leti. Whereas before she was the big sister that looked after her little sister and bailed her out many times. Ruby would be like, “Leti, you can stay with me but when are you going to get a real job like the rest of us?”
Ruby and Leti do not have an equally yoked relationship. Ruby is kind of Leti’s mom in a way? They’ve both had a weird relationship with their mom. With Ruby having a mother-daughter relationship with Leti, it’s really hard to be open and honest. To be able to say how she feels and how the world is treating her as a dark-skinned woman when her sister is a light-skinned woman and has these privileges, plus someone looking after her, Atticus.
Ruby doesn’t open up to Leti. Leti does not even know Ruby moved out of her nice apartment to pay for their mother’s funeral until she reconnects with her sister in the first episode.
DDF: Can you interpret the William/Christina and Ruby relationship?
WM: There is something about when she first meets William, that she just lets it all out. While reading the script I thought, ‘Why is she telling her business to this stranger?’ but there is some chemistry between them – which is obviously sexual in episode four. Ruby’s relationship between Christina and William kind of veers. William gets one side of her, which is physical and has a magical connection, while with Christina she is honest, it’s not explained but it’s understood.
DDF: Ruby’s character is a talented musician. Who would you say would be your top three favorite artists from any time period?
WM: I would say, Jill Scott, Billie Holiday, Erykah Badu and I really love Red Hot Chili Peppers but mostly their album “Californication.”
DDF: What made being on this show so unique?
WM: Just being on the set of Lovecraft Country, having Misha as my showrunner, and being able to talk about my experiences as a Black woman was great. Being able to talk about being a Black woman with a Black woman on set was a great experience. I did not do that beyond my husband or my siblings. I had to do it every day for work, during these interviews. I have to talk about body images, these things I did not talk about. It was just like “Let me get this work done.” Talking about those things has been both scary and therapeutic. I feel like I’m growing every time I have these conversations. I have never been on a show so Black before.
DDF: Is there anything you learned about yourself while portraying this character?
WM: I feel changed spiritually and emotionally by portraying Ruby. Her confidence in who she is which includes intelligence, sexuality, and education. Ruby is so beautiful and she loves herself, it’s so beautiful and rebellious. She isn’t afraid of the changes that have been made in her because of her experiences. Rubi embraces these changes that have happened to her intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. She doesn’t try to fit back into who she was five minutes ago, two years ago, etc. I feel like I have taken on a little bit of that.
I love myself by playing Ruby. I never thought I’d play a character like Ruby. People always struggled to dress me because I am not this size or my hair is too kinky. I always thought I am not commercial, I am not this or I am not that. I feel so much more confident because I embraced all of me and I was encouraged to by Misha.
Hopefully, you have already watched Wunmi Mosaku play the charismatic Ruby Baptiste in the horror series Lovecraft Country. If not, you can catch the full season on HBO Max. Wunmi Mosaku is also starring in the upcoming Netflix thriller, His House, about a refugee couple that escapes from war-torn South Sudan.
It was last year when I was able to watch the highly touted Last Black Man in San Francisco and I loved every single bit of it. Not only because of the title or the visually stunning camera shots, but because of the powerful performance of Jonathan Majors. I didn’t know much about the 31-year-old actor, all I knew was that his performance in the final act of the film showed the promise of a rising star.
Jonathan Majors’ new series hit, Lovecraft Country on HBO, and the Spike Lee helmed, Da Five Bloods, has made way to take part in many big-budget films. Luckily for Taji Mag, Majors took time out to talk about the new series, his GQ feature, and his desire to portray Superman.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How do you keep your faculties together given all you have gone through in Lovecraft Country?
Jonathan Majors (JM): Love, man! I think that’s the key. He [Atticus aka Tic] is the most selfless character I’ve played. The alternative is if I fail the family fails. If I don’t get this right, Leti goes down, if I don’t get this right Uncle George goes down. We know how this plays out in the series. He loves his family so much he is willing to take the hit and keep on going because failure is not an option.
DDF: In episode 6, Meet Me in Daegu, we see Atticus’s life during the Korean War and relationship with Ji-ah. Who do you think is more of the monster Ji-ah or Atticus?
JM: In one of the scenes, Ji-ah tries to persuade Atticus that he is the monster. I would say from Atticus’s point of view, he would be the monster. He was closest to freedom when he was with Ji-ah and then it was snatched away. Exoneration was close but snatched away. That event made him double down on the idea that he was a monster. For some reason or another, he was not worthy of this love between him and Ji-ah because it all went bad.
DDF: What was your reaction after you read episode 6 “Meet Me in Dego”?
JM: To me, that episode is very different from the other episodes. I love the episode because it gave me insight into who Tic was. From that episode, there is a transition from “Tic” to Atticus. When episode 6 ends, it is the birth of Atticus. He knows too much now. He’s seen physical violence, he’s done physical violence and war crimes. Now he’s experiencing something so mystical, spiritual, monstrous and it’s stuck in his brain. So when I read the script, I was like “Cool, this episode unlocks a great deal of information.” It was so great, I happened to have read episode 6 before we started shooting episodes 2 and beyond. So I could walk around with that feeling of dread and fear. This is necessary because, as you see in the series, Atticus calls back to Korea multiple times. I loved the script! It’s sort of a ballet piece I would say.
DDF: I read some of the GQ article you were featured in. It mentioned your father was in Desert Storm; your paternal grandfather served in World War II, your maternal grandfather in Korea and Vietnam. What kind of memorable advice did they give you and have you used it for roles like Atticus in Lovecraft Country?
JM: It’s interesting how the men in my life work. Advice never really comes. As cliche as it sounds, we lead by example. Take care of your business, look after your brother, make up your bed, say what you need to say and that’s it. Get your work done and do your best. These are simple things that are inherent in survival. More so when it comes from men whose lives been in jeopardy since their genesis. Then there are ancestors, that is who hooked me on set. They were with me and looked after me. Sometimes they would tell me how to walk. The baron of them is what I use and remember to portray Atticus.
DDF: In episode 7 we see Atticus go into a time portal. If he were to be transported to the present day, how would he react to what’s going with Breonna Taylor and racial injustice?
JM: I think Atticus would hit the front line. Atticus knows things, he knows magic. There’d be a whole genre of action taken.
I think emotionally he would be saddened. Especially because there’s such a jump of over 70 years and he’s worked so hard for protection. So, to see his tribe adjacent with sister [Breonna] Taylor is not protected. It could be an existential crisis with him.
DDF: During your Zoom interview with Jimmy Fallon, I saw you had a guitar in the background. Do you play guitar or any instruments?
JM: I play a little bit of guitar and am learning how to improve my playing skills. I am also learning to play saxophone and to play the harmonica. So yeah, I get down.
DDF: What is your favorite thing to listen to?
JM: It’s a mixture of things. It depends on the day. If I had put on some music now I’d say, Otis Redding, Ella Fitzgerald, Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillepsie.
DDF: Is there an artist you would like to portray in a biopic?
JM: Oh yeah, I’d play Coltrane. I’d like to try that out.
DDF: Would you like to write and direct that project yourself?
JM: I’d be involved. I think if I had the time and spirit hit me, I could get it done. I think he is such a fascinating man.
DDF: If you could portray a superhero or villain in a movie, who would they be?
JM: To be honest, I have an infatuation with Superman. I love Superman. I think they’ve gotten him wrong in film this whole time. Somehow we have to get Metropolis caught up in Gotham because I would like to play the Riddler. If we could somehow get that going where the Riddler takes his interest off Batman and he focuses on Superman, that would be crazy!
DDF: You may have to pitch it to DC films!
JM: You can produce it, we can roll!
The future is looking bright for Jonathan Majors as he prepares to star in the upcoming star-studded film The Harder They Fall with Idris Alba. There are also talks of him portraying a villain in the MCU, rumored to be the next big villain after Thanos. Until then make sure to tune into HBO and HBO MAX to catch the latest episodes of Lovecraft Country.
Four months… it’s been four months since I have been to a movie theater because of COVID-19. I used hella bleach wipes on my seat before I sat down but it was worth seeing Tenet at a press screening, especially because it was in IMAX® and there were like 6 people in the theater. The director used utilized a mixture of IMAX® and 70mm film to bring the story to life so it only made sense to watch the film in its intended form. After viewing Tenet, I understand why the studio pushed to show Tenet in its truest form.
Visually stunning and action-packed is how I describe the first act Tenet and, given its director, I expected nothing less. It was cool following the Protagonist (yep, that’s the lead character’s name!), played by John David Washington, as he stealthily took out the opposition to reach his target. Angles in which these are shot are done artfully and the perspectives felt very immersive. It was like experiencing virtual reality without the glasses.
“The movie challenges our traditional ways of interpreting time, interpreting what we perceive is real, our learned behaviors.”
John David Washington
The second act provided some great action scenes, especially when the Protagonist and his partner use a contraption to scale up a wall. It was a bit exciting, something I would not do and I am sure Jonathan David Washington didn’t do either. If he did, no doubt he’s a badass. I feel at this point in the film the audience starts to grow with the Protagonist as he leans into this new role as a spy, using his military training. It’s funny because there is a part of the film where the Protagonist meets an informant and he mentions that to pull off his portrayal of a wealthy client he would have to wear better clothing than the Brooks Brothers brand.
“We’re all a little bit obsessed with time, aren’t we? It’s something that, whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever your life experience is, you know you can’t do anything about it. It rules you. I can’t really speak for Chris, but that’s my perspective on it. It’s interesting because, given the fact that time is universal, it’s also something that you feel very subjectively: you know, kids feel time very differently from adults. I feel like it’s speeding up immeasurably. And then, during this pandemic, our perception of time has been a whole other thing…days have felt like weeks and months have felt like minutes. It’s been very weird.”
– John David Washington
I have to be honest, the third and fourth act had me at the edge of my seat. Seeing the Protagonist have to make timely choices to save the world and save a life was exciting. The film became trippy once I got to see how the inversion world works. I finally understand why the characters were heavily featured on the movie posters and trailers wearing masks. The inversion world deprives you of oxygen and causes crazy reactions like being caught on fire causes you to then suffer from hyperthermia.
It was also interesting how Johnathan’s character tried to change the timeline but had to understand the grandfather paradox before he did anything. The explanation of it and inversion can make you get lost in your thoughts. I found myself getting lost in the information abyss trying to understand the concept after I watched the film. Per the dictionary, the grandfather paradox is defined as a causality paradox speculated about in theories of time-travel in which traveling back in time would allow one to alter the conditions at the earlier time in such a way as to make current conditions impossible, as by causing the death of one’s grandfather, making one’s very existence impossible.
The climax war scene was intense! I was rooting for Jonathan and his team to stop the antagonist from killing himself and the world. That scene reminded me of the Co-op missions on Halo 4 – I know, I haven’t played video games in a minute. The visual effects were on point during this war scene, people and things going backward as our heroes try to thwart the plans of the villain.
I enjoyed the film, the storyline had a dope plot twist that made me want to see more of this world and I wondered what the other timelines looked like. There were also some intense moments where I could hear and see that John was Denzel Washington’s son. Some of the film’s viewers will also have to google words like inversion and grandfather paradox to understand more of how the science of the film worked… or maybe it was just me. Anyway, Tenet is the action, espionage, sci-fi film I’ve been looking for. It was refreshing to see a film that was more entertaining than cliche.
Mr. SOUL! is a documentary chronicling the development and eventual end of the Black variety show SOUL! featuring Black artists and entertainers alike. Ellis Hazlip, the brainchild of SOUL!, is shown to be a visionary ahead of his time. SOUL! was celebrated and considered to be America’s first “Black Tonight Show”. Before Oprah, before Arsenio Hall, there was Ellis Hazlip aka Mr. SOUL! Coincidentally, the show did feature a teenage Arsenio Hall as a guest.
To celebrate the documentary’s premiere, Amanda Seales will host a virtual kickback Sunday, August 30th at 4 pm PT/7 pm ET online with a bevy of known creatives, artists, and entertainers. The following guests are scheduled to appear: Filmmaker Melissa Haizlip; actor and Executive Producer Blair Underwood; legendary director/producer Stan Lathan (who also appears in the film); Grammy® winner and the film’s composer Robert Glasper; award-winning writer, poet, and activist Nikki Giovanni; award-winning poets/musicians The Last Poets and Felipe Luciano; the R&B group Black Ivory; and the iconic author, poet, and professor Sonia Sanchez.
“Our Mr. SOUL! PREMIERE KICKBACK will be just like a re-creation of the SOUL! show for a new audience, with these amazing guests in conversation with Amanda Seales. Amanda will moderate a conversation with both artists from the film and the original series, to talk about the cultural impact of SOUL! and its special guests, like James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, and the legacy of Ellis Haizlip and SOUL! for a millennial audience,” says the film’s director Melissa Haizlip.
Mr. Soul will premiere this Friday, August 28th at over 60 theaters across the country in the virtual cinema space. The film premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival where it was gained much support and has won 17 awards, including; the International Documentary Association (IDA) Best Music Documentary, AFI Docs Audience Award, and Woodstock Best Documentary.
The tickets to the star-studded virtual kickback are part of the MR.SOUL! ticket package which can be be purchased here. The event promises to be a recreated experience from the SOUL! television experience show with tons of entertainment.
Mr. SOUL! is directed, written, and produced by Melissa Haizlip, featuring music composed and performed by Grammy® winning musician/composer Robert Glasper, with the voice of Ellis Haizlip by Grammy® / Emmy® winner Blair Underwood – one of the film’s Executive Producers. The virtual cinema release run is presented together by Shoes In The Bed Productions and Open Your Eyes & Think MF.
SYNOPSIS: HBO’s new drama series, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff of the same name, debuts this August. The series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Letitia “Leti” (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback.
If you love 80’s movie nostalgia and horror-themed shows like Tales From the Crypt and Underground, this is the series for you. Showrunner and creator of Underground, Misha Green, brings all of these elements together in the new HBO MAX series Lovecraft Country. Me being a horror buff and a supporter of the various creatives involved (i.e. Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Jonathan Major, Jordan Peele, etc.), I had to check it out and satisfy my pallet for a Black horror series. Added bonus, the series showrunner is a Black woman, something not common in Hollywood.
The Horror of Lovecraft Country
While watching the characters interact with the world around them, I wondered if racism in the 1950s was scarier than the ghosts and monsters? I saw the terrifying look Black characters had when they were being questioned by white police officers and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between those moments and the moments when they encountered a monster.
I asked actress, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, which was scarier, racism in the 1950s or monsters, ghosts, and witches? She replied, “With the Monsters, what you see is what you get. You kind of know what to expect? It’s pure danger. You do whatever you can to escape, otherwise you’re screwed. With systemic racism, which is what this country has been built upon and has yet to dismantle, it’s more horrifying because it’s more nuanced. You have to fight it at every single step of your life. In the pursuit of your happiness, whether it’s purchasing a home and fight against the redlining and housing discrimination in the 1950s, not being able to get a loan from a bank if you wanted to purchase in a certain neighborhood, driving while Black, trying to apply for a job at a local store. It’s actually more oppressive and terrifying to me because you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know when it’s coming.”
I can definitely see the Jordan Peele influence – using racism as a horror element. Showrunner, Misha Green, mentions in her Warner Media interview how much influence Jordan Peele had stating, “When we were working on Lovecraft – he was doing the film Us at the time – we talked a lot about our shared belief regarding horror, which is: You need the metaphor. I’d played with that on ‘Underground’;that it was a heist movie but set in slavery times.”
Actor Jonathan Majors also noted Jordan Peele’s influence. “This series shows we as Black people contain multitudes. We have all these things inside of us. We know that horror is a part of our life, we know Afrofuturism is just our imagination. It gives us permission to move into any genre we want. I was surprised that Jordan Peele took Black bodies and put them into a horror genre and expanded the scope.”
Tic and Leti
The series lead protagonist, Atticus Aka Tic, is played by actor Jonathan Majors. The character has a love for books and a protector mentality – an extremely compelling character. Starting off as a nerdy kid with glasses who transformed into a courageous young man, I wanted to see more background of his transition into manhood. I discovered Majors had researched his role by reading various authors, some of whom are mentioned in the series. When Atticus is introduced, he’s seen reading a book and even mentions his love for books. I ask Majors if he had to survive in a mansion filled with ghosts and monsters what historical black figure would he choose to be with him? He responded, “Fredrick Douglas and Nat Turner because, in this type of scenario, we have to do a trio. Like Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. It would be me, Frederick Douglas, because he has the brains and Nat Turner because he’s a fighter! Go homeboy Nat!”
Leti is a very amiable character. Her confidence, charisma, and charm had my attention every time she was on screen. She embodies the strength of strong female Black lead actresses from that time period. Smollet-Bell explained the inspiration for the character came from her grandmother, whom she never got to meet. “My grandmother’s nickname was Showtime! I grew up hearing the stories about her being a single mother, raising four kids, and being so mistreated by white folks whom she cleaned the house for. Yet they could not rob her of her dignity!” Smollet-Bell also read prominent writers like James Baldwin and Gwendalyn Brooks to research for the role. She mentioned her search to find the fire inside Eartha Kitt to bring life to her character Letitia and it shows.
Misha and the Music
One of the elements that set the tone of each scene was the amazing soundtrack. I found myself lured in the various songs and speeches that really give the series life. In my head, I thought, “Yeah we needed to have a Black showrunner in charge of this show because this soundtrack is dope and engaging.” Being a music, tv, and film lover, I was definitely satisfied having all those boxes checked off in one project. Especially when artists like Moses Sumney, Leon Bridges, and Black opera singer, Marian Anderson, play throughout the course of the series.
When asked about the soundtrack selection, Misha Green explained, “Joe Pokaskiand I used to talk about how do we pull the slavery portrait off the museum wall and evolve the story beyond, ‘Look at how bad slavery was’? One way was by using more vibrant camera movements; the other was through using modern music. I wanted to build on that in Lovecraft and also integrate ‘found audio’ into the score. For example, in the opening, we use voiceover from [the 1950 film] ‘The Jackie Robinson Story.’ Later we have [Ntozake Shange’s 1975 poem] For Colored Girls and [poet, Gil Scott-Heron’s] Whitey on the Moon. I love the idea of taking our show ‘out of time.’ It’s the past, present, and future. How do we wrap all of that into a unique soundscape? We want the show to be full-sensory, engaging, and have people learn from it without having to learn from it. My favorite learning experiences are immersive; those that make me re-think what I know as opposed to ‘here’s some bad history.’ How can we immerse the viewer even further? I love when I have revelations two weeks after the fact where I’m like, ‘Oh wow, ok.’”
The horror-themed time period piece, Lovecraft Country, it is in a league of its own – providing a world where fear is a theme defined in many ways and in some cases relatable. Is racism scarier than monsters, witches, and ghosts? Check out the series Lovecraft Country August 16th on HBO Max at 9pm and you can decide…
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY is executive produced by Misha Green, who also serves as showrunner, Jordan Peele, and J.J. Abrams.