Category Archives: FIlm

Stateless

Stateless: The Systematic Denaturalization of Dark-Skin Haitians Born in the Dominican Republic

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. 

Rosa Iris with Juan Teofilo Murat

“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?”

Gladys and the national mouvement group

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.  

Stateless Trailer

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

20May/20

I Thought The Lovebirds would be Issa Rae’s Fall Off, I Was Wrong

The Lovebirds
Issa Rae as Leilani and Kumail Nanjiana as Jibran of The Lovebirds on NETFLIX.

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
Issa Rae as Leilani and Kumail Nanjiana as Jibran of The Lovebirds on NETFLIX.

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! 

The Lovebirds
Issa Rae as Leilani and Kumail Nanjiana as Jibran of The Lovebirds on NETFLIX.

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.

18May/20
Lenny Thomas

“Ruthless” Co-Star, Lenny Thomas, Talks Tyler Perry Studios and Life during COVID-19

Actor Lenny Thomas

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. 

Lenny Thomas as Dikhan in Ruthless

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. WilliamsMatt CedeñoLenny D. Thomas, Yvonne Senat JonesBaadja-Lyne Odums, Jaime Callica, Nirine S. BrownBlue Kimble, Stephanie CharlesHervé Clermont, Anthony Bless, and Bobbi Baker.

Watch Ruthless on BET and Amazon Prime.

15May/20

Steven St. Pierre is Blazing a Trail Set by the Likes of Duvernay

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?

Steven St. Pierre appears in an episode of High Maintenance season 4

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.

Steven St. Pierre’s award winning short Corey

10May/20
Abraham Adeyemi

South London Native, Abraham Adeyemi, Wins Best Narrative Short at Tribeca 2020

‘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.

06Apr/20

“Coffee and Kareem” is “Cop and A Half” Gone Terribly Wrong

Norman D. Golden II in Cop and a Half

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. 

22Mar/20

“Self Made” is a Colorful and Entertaining Look at Madam CJ Walker’s Life

MADAM CJ WALKER

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. 

Visuals

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

*Spoilers Ahead*

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.

Performances

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. 

Gender Roles

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. 

Conclusion

“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.

19Feb/20

Jon-Sesrie Goff’s “After Sherman” Spotlights Preservation

Jon Sesrie Goff

The audience was quiet as their eyes were focused on a young Black man who narrated his family origins in South Carolina. His captivating voice segways into one of the most horrifying and inhuman events in recent years – the Emanuel Church shooting. It was emotional but the filmmaker/creative, Jon-Sesrie Goff, was able to orate the event passionately, beautifully and concluding with a peaceful ending. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the artist at the Pop-Up Magazine Winter Tour event in Washington, D.C. for an interview. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was your inspiration behind After Sherman?

Jon-Sesrie Goff (JSG):  It’s a feature-length documentary, that I started in 2014, that was supposed to be a visual survey of the Gullah Geechie corridor. This area existed from Southern North Carolina to Northern Florida. I was going for a very experimental, lyrical approach and it was not a personal film at all, but then I wanted to use it as an opportunity to talk to my family about our land and our Country, that was not used. I just wanted to use the camera to talk about the land. 

DDF: The short film version of After Sherman is what you are showing and narrating during the Pop-Up Magazine Tour, correct? 

JSG: Yes, the piece has evolved after the Charleston Church Shooting. I had a professor/filmmaker during grad school tell me that I didn’t have the luxury to make an experimental film about this subject matter because it required a strong narrative. For the following four years, I have been finding out through Pop-Up that I was able to hone my narrative voice without it feeling inauthentic. I worked with people who were like “Say this!” and “You deliver it so well!” but it wasn’t me speaking. 

With the shooting, I immediately went back because I didn’t want to be apart of the press mob. All my footage from the immediate aftermath is horrible because I was so nervous. There are moments where I was next to my mom and I didn’t want to film her during the emotional moment; I also wanted to protect others as well. So I took more photographs than video footage. A few weeks later I went back, did an oral history with church members, politicians, and people in the community, which is very different from the film I was making. Then I went back to do the ending shots of me standing amongst the country scenery and other visual treatments. 

DDF: You had a very emotional moment during your narration, how do you get through it every night? 

JSG: This night was emotional because my two cousins were here. They are also heirs to the properties that I mention in the film. My aunt, their mother, appears in the photographs in the film. This was the first time I had family members present at my show on this tour and that was really emotional. When I doing the piece, talking about it or working on it without family members around, I am able to desensitize myself. 

DDF: You are a well-rounded artist. How does this project differ from other forms of media that you use? 

JSG: Well, a personal documentary is one of the hardest things anyone can do. I apologize because I am a cinematographer and kept asking the cinematographers I was working with, why the film was not done yet because it takes a different type of care. I feel like, as a cinematographer and working in commercial spaces, I would be flown in the night before and out the next day, with that there’s no real attachment to the material. It’s just execution and less of myself present in it. When you put yourself out there like that, if you are a thoughtful person, you have to make careful decisions.

DDF: What were some of the reactions from some of your family and friends in Charleston after you showed them the film? 

JSG: After the shooting, there was a Sunday School convention scheduled to be at the church and they still had the convention. Two days after the shooting, kids from Emmanuel church were there. Every year it’s around the same time, so it’s like this weird moment of memorial services and then the convention. 

A year after the shooting, I went back and showed people my work in progress to the Sunday School convention. They were excited to see and pointing out people they know in the film and all the other stuff sort of fades away. I made this film so that people in the low country could appreciate how special and unique our culture is and how valuable our land is, that was it. People in the Emmanuel and Charleston Community have been very supportive of the project. 

DDF: How much did the documentary “Sherman’s March” influence your project? 

JSG: When I first started making it before the shooting. It was an inside joke because I love Sherman’s March, the first commercially successful documentary film. And it’s this guy going back to the south, tracing his family steps and there’s like one scene with black people. I was like “That’s really hard to do?” It’s hard to go down south and the only encounter you have the Black people are with some kids. I respect, Ross McElwee as a filmmaker immensely but I was thinking to myself, “I wanna do After Sherman and it’s going to be about all Black people.” I actually shot the opening sequences shot by shot but it may not make it into the film. 

I was happy to see the show and honored to interview Jon, especially because of his previous work with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Pop-Up Magazine 2020 Winter Tour is wrapping on February 22, 2020, but be on the lookout for the full feature film After Sherman by Jon-Sesrie Goff. Website.

12Feb/20

The Photograph is About Loving Imperfectly

It was the late Toni Morrison who said “Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind.” This quote sums up the new romance film, The Photograph. The Stella Maghie helmed project follows Mae, an art curator who learns about her estranged mother’s past through a letter she left behind. This letter leads Mae to a romance with rising journalist, Michael Block.

Issa Rae as Mae Morton in “The Photograph,” written and directed by Stella Meghie.

Loving Imperfectly 

The beginning of the film starts off with a VHS interview of Mae’s mother saying she wishes she could love others like she loves her work. Her mom’s obsession with her work (and emotional abandonment of Mae) causes the adult version of Mae to live her adult years unbalanced and living day to day laden with her past. This aspect of the film is crucial because it shows how mental health plays a huge role in our relationships and lack thereof.

We see a poignant example of how mother-daughter relationships (and the way in which they treat each other) is, for sure, generational. Here, Mae’s mother was kicked out of her home because her mom was sick with cancer and didn’t want her daughter to see her waste away. Mae’s mother did the same in keeping her own cancer a secret from her daughter. These actions seem cruel in the moment, but they were only loving imperfectly.

Fast forward, we see two people romantically loving imperfectly, not knowing what to do. They’re walking on the tight ropes of dating, afraid of heights, and praying to God they make it to the other side where meaningful relationships reside without falling off. Let’s be real. Nobody wants to fall off that rope just to jump up and do it all over again with someone new and unfamiliar.

(from left) Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) and Mae Morton (Issa Rae) in “The Photograph,” written and directed by Stella Meghie.

Taking a Chance 

One aspect of the film I find undoubtedly relatable is Michael dealing with his emotions. After being dumped by an ex whom he planned to marry, finding vulnerability within himself again in a loving relationship was a difficult task, I’m sure. We see this in The Photograph as Michael falls for Mae and is entranced by her beauty. I know many have been in this situation. I know I have; building with a woman like Mae, a woman who fears heartbreak and is consistently ambivalent when things get serious.

When Michael finds the love he’s been looking for and his emotional barriers shatter, all this is threatened when he’s hired by his dream job at The Associated Press… in the UK! Far from New York and from Mae, the internal struggle commences as he figures out how to break the news to Mae. I thought to myself, “What would I do?”

Interestingly, Maghie told Mae of a similar scenario that her parents experienced years ago. After she learns of Michael’s decision to relocate, she (as her own father did years ago) decides not to fight for the love of her life and just let things play out as they would.

(from left) Asia (Teyonah Parris) and Kyle Block (Lil Rel Howery) in “The Photograph,” written and directed by Stella Meghie.

Family Dynamics 

From the positive imagery of a happy black family consisting of Lil’ Rel Rowery, Teyonah Parris, and two beautiful little girls to Mae’s father and stepfather, the family dynamics shown were awesome. It’s amazing how so many aspects of Black relationships are portrayed without crossing over into the comedic genre we’re so used to seeing in Black cinematography, i.e. Welcome Home Roscoe or Death At a Funeral.

One can really appreciate the directorial angles during dialogues, the lighting, and the colors used to add to the ambiance of scenes. Add to that the sheer talent of the cast. I’m very happy to have seen The Photograph and look forward to watching it again, just to see what else I can fall in love with about this film.

The Photograph is a necessary film for our culture and for our future. It is our Mo’Better Blues and, most importantly, it is a deep dive into what’s needed for Black people to have successful relationships – honesty, patience, therapy, and understanding. I am happy this film exists and I look forward to the many conversations it will stir up. This film is a must-watch I would personally like to thank Stella Maghie and the cast for giving this film life.

The Photograph

Starring : LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae

In theaters February 14, 2020

Writer/director Stella Meghie on the set of “The Photograph.”

10Feb/20

For Love, For Faith, For Life

From creator Hank Steinberg (“Without a Trace”) and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and inspired by the life of Isaac Wright Jr., “For Life” is a fictional serialized legal and family drama about an imprisoned man, Aaron Wallace, who becomes a lawyer fighting to reverse his own life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. His quest for freedom is driven by his desperate desire to get back to the family he loves—his estranged wife and daughter—and reclaim the life that was stolen from him. (ABC/Giovanni Rufino) NICHOLAS PINNOCK

Powerful is the one word I can use to describe the series For Life. Taji Mag was able to attend a DC advanced screening of the pilot and it did not disappoint!  The compelling series is influenced by Issac Wright Jr. who was falsely convicted under New Jew Jersey’s kingpin law. The series displays the strength of the human spirit and having unrelenting faith, how the justice system fails, and how all hope looks lost. Family dynamics, the corruption, and transition from the prison environment to life outside the prison walls are luring.  The series is so good, I only saw the pilot of the show and I’ve already downloaded the ABC streaming app to watch future episodes.  

 “ It was important for me for the audience to see what it’s like first hand, what the experience was like being imprisoned. That part where they had an innocent man, he goes to jail, he has to strip himself of clothing, he is talked to a certain way, he is mistreated and made to feel less than. That was really important to show.” – Nicholas Pinnock

For What?

The show follows as the lead character, Aaron (Nicholas Pinnock), is wrongfully convicted and sent to prison for many years. While serving time behind bars, he utilizes this time to become a lawyer. I questioned how this is possible but the pilot does a good job of explaining how Aaron was able to achieve this. 

One of the interesting moments in the series is Aaron’s representation of other prisoners that were wrongfully sentenced. I was intruged by how Aaron becomes a cerebral assassin when going againist the opposition, the same lawyer that placed him in jail.  The acting and writing is so well done, the audience in attendence for the screening cheered during Aaron’s small victories over his cases and filled the room with gasps whenever he dealt with unfair bias. 

“I really connected to it. I have family members who have been formerly incarcerated and I have two really good girlfriends that have partners who were formerly incarcerated and I know what it was like for them to stay connected to the person that they love. Having to travel states, planes, trains, and automobiles to stay connected. I understood their dynamic and that’s what I leaned into to create the role.” – Joy Bryant

For Love

(ABC/Giovanni Rufino)
TYLA HARRIS, NICHOLAS PINNOCK

Aaron is driven by the love for his family. His wife and daughter are who keep him motivated and in pursuit of his freedom. I felt there were many family dynamics explored within the show. From the relationship Aaron shares with his wife during his visits, to the distance placed between Aaron and his daughter. The show does well at displaying the chain reaction that occurs when a family member is placed in prison for a long sentence. “Do I give up on them?” “How much hope do I really have in their innocence?” These are some of the questions that plague the minds of the members involved during the incarceration of a loved one. I definitely felt an emotional tug when Aaron interacted with his wife during a prison visit. Their situation could not break the love they had for one another, even when life looks as if one of them is actively moving on, showing a bond with someone you love is impossible to break. 

“What happened to me and what I had to do started from somewhere. 9 times out of 10 it usually starts with the family. It starts off with your parenting and what’s instilled in you as a child. I would like to take the time out to recognize my parents.” – Issac Wright Jr. 

(ABC/Giovanni Rufino)
NICHOLAS PINNOCK, ERIK JENSEN

For Life

Throughout the pilot, there is an interesting transition as Aaron goes into the court bathroom dressed in an orange jumpsuit and coming out changed into a suit to represent his client. Only to return to the jail system where his life is threatened and his integrity challenged. 

Aaron is definitely a character you want to cheer for during the pilot, many in the theater did, as he attempts to take on the corrupt players in the judicial system, which include those that sent him to prison in the first place.

I really felt the cold, concrete walls that inclosed the inmates as the camera followed Aaron through his daily rituals.  

“A prison is broken down into three parts; administration (wardens, assistant warden), custody (the guards), and the inmate population. While the real stuff happens on the grounds with the inmate population, custody doesn’t want the administration to know because they want to continue to keep control of the prison. When this happens it is an environment of me against you with the inmates and custody. As an inmate, if it even looks like you are getting friendly with a guard somebody will be coming in your cell at 3 in the morning with a shank. It’s a very dangerous environment.” – Issac Wright Jr. 

If you love Power, you will definitely love For Life. With similar plot twists, scene breakdowns, and spectacular acting, the series will be undoubtedly one of the best series this year. 

Drama series “For Life” premieres TUESDAY, FEB. 11 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC.

Starring: Nicholas Pinnock, Joy Bryant

Executive Producer: 50 Cent

FOR LIFE – ABC’s “For Life” stars Timothy Busfield as Henry Roswell, Brandon J. Dirden as Darius, Joy Bryant as Marie Wallace, Tyla Harris as Jasmine Wallace, Nicholas Pinnock as Aaron Wallace, Indira Varma as Safiya Masry, Mary Stuart Masterson as Anya Harrison, Glenn Fleshler as Frank Foster, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Cassius, Dorian Missick as Jamal Bishop, and Boris McGiver as Glen Maskins. (ABC/Matthias Clamer)