Category Archives: Culture


“Medusa Deluxe”…A Blend of Intrigue and Charm

Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Timba Photos Courtesy of A24

Where to Watch: In theaters and on demand

Release Date: August 11

Runtime: 1h 41m

Rated: R

Starring: Clare Perkins, Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Kae Alexander, Harriet Webb, Darrell D’Silva, Luke Pasqualino, and Heider Ali.

Synopsis: A group of skilled, driven, and scheming hairstylists convene in England for a prestigious competition, only to be met with the shocking discovery that one of their colleagues has been brutally murdered just before the judging begins.

As a fan of the whodunnit genre, I’m always on the lookout for films that not only challenge my detective skills but also interest me with compelling characters and unexpected narratives. Medusa Deluxe (originally showcased at the Locarno Festival in August 2022 then later released in the UK just this past June) is a British murder mystery that emerges as a refreshing and ingenious addition to the genre, offering a unique twist that sets it apart from other films of the genre. As I watched, I found myself invested in not only the murderer’s identity but also in the relationships and backstories that enveloped the characters.

One of the film’s achievements lies in its ability to create a cast of characters who are not just suspects but individuals with charm and complexity. While I, like any dedicated armchair detective, tried to deduce the murderer’s motives, I was consistently drawn into the personal histories and interactions that unfolded on screen. It’s rare for a film to balance suspense and character depth, and Medusa Deluxe accomplishes this with flair.

Clare Perkins as Cleve Photos Courtesy of A24

What sets this film apart is its balance of humor and drama. This tonal duality infuses the story with a dynamic energy that never wanes, keeping audiences thoroughly engaged from start to finish. The film’s pacing is masterful, ensuring that each revelation and twist is perfectly timed in order to hold the audience’s interest.

One of my favorite characters who had me both amused and intrigued was Cleve, portrayed by Clare Perkins. Perkins’ portrayal of the assertive, hot-headed hairstylist was a true highlight, infusing the film with a delicious mix of intensity and humor. The character was ready to take on any challenger, regardless of size, gender, etc. Plus, she was serious about her craft and determined to win the competition by any means necessary.  

Cinematographically, Medusa Deluxe is a triumph. The camera’s graceful movements around the characters’ interactions engulfed me into their world, creating an immersive experience that made me feel like a fly on the wall in the best way possible. The innovative choice to seamlessly transition from one scene to the next, with the camera accompanying characters from one setting to another, was brilliant. This technique not only enhanced the flow of the narrative but also underscored the director’s attention to detail in propelling the story forward. While this approach is a positive in my book, the lag time in between scenes may be a bit too long for other viewers. 

(left to right) Kae Alexander as Inez and Kayla Meikle as Divine Photos Courtesy of A24

Directorial finesse aside, the film’s visual aesthetics are a treat for the eyes. The use of color and lighting throughout adds an extra layer of storytelling, conveying emotions and setting the mood in a visual language that speaks volumes. The visuals are synchronized with the narrative, showcasing the director’s keen eye for nuances that make each scene resonate.

In conclusion, Medusa Deluxe is a cinematic gem that excels on multiple fronts. It effortlessly marries the intrigue of a classic whodunnit with a roster of characters so captivating that they become more than mere suspects—they are individuals with stories worth uncovering. The clever interplay of humor and drama, combined with cinematography and the delightful use of color, elevates this film beyond the confines of its genre. If you’re seeking a whodunnit film that doesn’t just challenge your deductive skills but also treats you to compelling characters and emotions, Medusa Deluxe is a must-watch.


Spotlight on Cinema: Kevin Sampson Discusses Film Favorites, Festival Impact, and the DCBFF Experience

I had the privilege of sitting down with Kevin Sampson, movie critic and the visionary founder of the DC Black Film Festival (DCBFF). Our conversation explored his top film picks for 2023 thus far, shedding light on the cinematic gems that have left an indelible mark on this year. As an advocate for the power of storytelling through film, Sampson emphasizes the vital role that film festivals play in celebrating diverse voices and narratives. He brings his insightful perspective to the importance of fostering connections within the industry and the incredible opportunities that platforms like DCBFF provide for both emerging and established filmmakers.

This year’s DCBFF promises an immersive cinematic experience that bridges the gap between film enthusiasts and creators. The festival is scheduled to take place live on August 18th – 19th, offering attendees the chance to engage with compelling films and connect with fellow cinephiles. For those seeking the convenience of virtual screenings, the festival will continue to offer a curated selection of films from August 20th – 30th. Sampson encourages film lovers to seize this chance to partake in a festival that not only celebrates the art of storytelling but also champions diversity and inclusion. Secure your tickets now at to take part in this celebration of cinema.


Crafting Love, Truth, and Vulnerability: Nijla Mu’min’s Journey in Directing “Swagger”

Nijla Mu’min

In the realm of filmmaking and screenwriting, the journey from spectator to creator is often ignited by moments of cinematic magic. For Nijla Mu’min, the spark was ignited by the emotionally charged narrative of Malcolm X, viewed as a child at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater. This early encounter with storytelling’s transformative power left a mark, a prelude to Mu’min’s dedication to creating narratives that illuminate the complexity of the human experience. From those humble beginnings to her recent directorial venture into the compelling world of Swagger, Mu’min’s artistic trajectory is a testament to the enduring allure of love, truth, and vulnerability. Mu’min gives Taji Mag an exploration of her creative process for Swagger and her thoughts about the current writers’ and actors’ strike. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): When did you fall in love with filmmaking and screenwriting? 

Nijla Mu’min (NM): I fell in love with filmmaking, maybe more indirectly, when I saw Malcolm X as a kid. My father took me to this theater in Oakland called Grand Lake Theater, and I was just immersed in that story. I grew up Muslim also, so it had an importance to me and I saw how the audience was really responding to the movie emotionally. I just knew at that point “I wanna have that impact on people”. Then later in life, when I was at UC Berkeley, I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was immersed in poetry, film, and photography, I wanted to take it a step further. So I started making my own short films, short documentaries, and I wanted to highlight the interior lives of Black women and Black girls, giving us a space just to be ourselves. And that’s really what became my life mission when I was a college student. 

DDF: So how did you get involved with directing season two, episode six of Swagger

NM: So, Swagger came about after my feature film Jinn, which is a coming-of-age story about a Black Muslim teenage girl discovering life and love. The showrunner of Swagger, Reggie Rock Bythewood, saw my film, Jinn, and he really loved it and asked me to be a part of the show. And from there, I just grew to love the show. It was like a family. I learned so much, and I love basketball, but I’m not a basketball player. I was in the room with lots of former basketball players and athletes. I wrote and directed an episode for season one (episode 6, “All on the Line). For season two, I directed the “Jace +Crystal” episode, and it was such a beautiful experience.

Quvenzhané Wallis and Isaiah Hill in “Swagger.”Photos Courtesy of Apple TV+

DDF: What was your approach to the “Jace +Crystal” episode?

NM: I knew going in that this was the love episode, and I am a lover. I love directing love, romance, and relationships. That is, I think if I had a brand, a lot of my work would be about relationships and about falling in love or family members loving each other. So I really came in with that passion. When I got the script, it was so beautifully written by Steve DiUbaldo and Autumn Joy Jimerson. I studied the script, and I just found all of the moments where I could insert my voice. I also developed a relationship with the actors. 

This episode had a lot of intimacy and romance. So building trust between myself, Quvenzhané, and Isaiah was really important. We had an intimacy coordinator, and we really talked about the scenes. I was there for them throughout the process and building off their chemistry.

They have a very natural, exciting chemistry. So I said, “Okay, I want to work to really just build their chemistry and use everything that they have as actors to our advantage, which is what we did. I think it really came out beautifully. The shots we did were all about complimenting this relationship that had grown over the course of the two seasons.

DDF: How could you balance out the flashbacks and the current events in this episode? 

NM: I really looked at this episode with the theme of vulnerability. And I said what it means to be vulnerable and to stand in your truth. Those themes are carried out in every scene because when the main character, Jace, has his teammates stand in their truth and say, “I’m not going to apologize, and I’m gonna be vulnerable. No matter what happens to me, I’m standing in my truth.” And even the relationship between Jace and Crystal was about this theme of “This is my truth. I love you, and I will show a side of myself that I may not show.”

And I think that is what helped me gel together everything. The whole episode was about truth, vulnerability, and love. Even in the scene with Tanya and Emery going back and forth, she’s like, “I’m going to stand in my truth”. And he’s also coming from what he knows. I thought it was important to really keep reminding myself this is what we’re trying to do. It was about Black women and girls feeling seen. You see a young Black woman named V who feels invisible and needs to talk to someone, so she goes to Tanya. So it was just a lot of that, speaking your truth into power and being vulnerable to love.

Orlando Jones and Christina Jackson in “Swagger.” Photos Courtesy of Apple TV+

DDF: What parallels can you make between what’s going on with the strike and the episode “Jace +Crystal” that you directed?

NM: I think we could, as people, see the love, truth, and vulnerability of humanity more instead of trying to see people as commodities, which I think is an issue with the strike right now.

It’s like seeing writers in their craft as just some content you can quickly buy and not fairly compensate as a human being. I just think we need more humanity in this industry. We need to love and understand that these are people with lives and families that really are trying to survive here. It’s not a game. So I think that’s what this episode also encourages people to do. Like the relationship between Jace and Crystal, it’s a lifelong bond. Even the scene with them at the end, that’s a life journey they’ve been on. I didn’t want to cheapen it in any way.

Like I wanted to really show the power of love, so I think if we get more of that in our industry where we care about the well-being of others, our lives would be better.

In a world where industry dynamics can sometimes overshadow the human element, Mu’min’s episode serves as a poignant reminder of the humanity that underscores every creation. Just as Jace and Crystal embark on a lifelong bond, Mu’min invites us all to forge a deeper connection with the stories, struggles, and triumphs that shape our world. 

Watch Swagger on AppleTV+ and Jinn on Tubi.


Film Review: “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” – A Haunting Missed Opportunity

Clemens (Corey Hawkins) and Anna (Aisling Franciosi) Pictures courtsey of Universal

Where to Watch: In theaters

Release Date: August 11

Runtime: 1h 59m

Rated: R

Cast: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian

Synopsis: Sinister and chilling occurrences besiege an ill-fated crew as their struggle for survival on the perilous journey from Transylvania to London is marred by haunting events. Night after night, an unrelenting malevolence (embodied by the legendary vampire Dracula) lurks onboard, casting a shroud of terror. The voyage culminates as the Demeter approaches English shores, its once-proud form now reduced to a smoldering, desolate wreck, devoid of life. A haunting mystery lingers, with the crew’s fate cloaked in an enigma, leaving behind an eerie void.

In the dimly lit sea on a 19th-century ship, the stage seemed set for a nightmarish horror film moviegoers could enjoy. The prospect of Dracula, the iconic vampire, trapped onboard the vessel as the focal point intrigued me along with other fellow movie lovers. However, despite its chilling premise, The Last Voyage of the Demeter (LVD) struggles to harness its potential, leaving audiences yearning for the true terror that should have been.

As the film unfurls, the narrative’s pacing reveals its first flaw. Tediously introducing the ship’s crew, the characters (for all their stereotypical personas of boisterous sailors) fail to distinguish themselves. Even the protagonist, Clemens, portrayed by Corey Hawkins (yes, the same Corey Hawkins who played Dr. Dre in the NWA biopic), only gradually unravels his background, leaving an underwhelming impact. Clemens, an educated Black doctor, promises layers of complexity. Still, his origin story (including the impact of his race) remains frustratingly underexplored until the film’s third act, devoid of the empowering or emotional revelation one would expect. I’m not saying that Hawkins is a bad actor; honestly, he plays the role well, but the direction and writing of the character did not fair well. 

Also, I don’t understand why the men hired to pack and staff the ship didn’t detail what the evil specimen was onboard. They all just repeated, “That’s the devil’s marking, I’m not getting on this boat with that evil spirit”. Why not just disclose there is a monster in there that will suck your blood and/or kill you? 

There is a  stowaway named Anna, played by Aisling Franciosi, who appears on the ship as a pivotal figure in the unfolding narrative. However, the film’s potential is undercut by perplexing plot holes that cast a shadow over her impact. As she speaks and responds to the shipmates’ demise, a barrage of unanswered questions looms, leaving myself and other audience members confused. The intended chemistry between Anna and Clemens fails to ignite as anticipated. While the actors perform admirably, the characters’ development fails to evoke the intended emotional resonance.

Javier Botet as Dracula Pictures courtesy of Universal

The film does, however, boast some commendable elements. Notably, the meticulous attention to lighting, costume design, and set construction transports the audience to the grimy, vermin-ridden ship of yore. These moments provide immersive glimpses into the harrowing voyage. Yet, these flashes of authenticity are fleeting, as the film stumbles to maintain its grip on the audience when Dracula is shown on screen, or when the ship’s inhabitants go into exposition about their lives. 

Enter Dracula, whose appearance fails to evoke the dread and terror synonymous with his name. The decision to portray him with a Gollum-like visage, marred by a grotesque set of jagged teeth, falls dishearteningly flat. The film’s few instances of genuine tension stem from the subtle glimpses of the vampire lurking in the shadows. These moments serve as a testament to the potential that remains unfulfilled by the rest of the film.

Clemens (Corey Hawkins) and Anna (Aisling Franciosi) Pictures courtsey of Universal

When assessing the fear factor, The Last Voyage of the Demeter falls short. Dracula’s appearance fails to inspire dread, and the kills lack the spine-chilling impact necessary to qualify as a true horror experience. One notable exception is a sequence involving the pursuit of a young boy, which briefly taps into an elusive sense of fear. The visceral reaction from my friend beside me during this scene validated the experience that I, too, had during that scene. 

In conclusion, The Last Voyage of the Demeter struggles to capture the essence of horror that its premise promises. While the film boasts moments of visual immersion and fleeting tension, it ultimately pales in comparison to the book’s sinister chapters. One may find a better experience in revisiting the source material and imagining their own vision of Dracula’s terror. As the credits roll, the verdict is clear: this voyage does not necessitate a hasty trip to the theater.


Taji Vol36: Joy

Taji Mag Vol 36

Release Sep 7 2023 | Vol36 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Joy! Each volume is a tabletop collector’s item and Vol36 is no different! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @ghettofalsetto by photographers @theonewillfocus and @adornedintaji. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Ali Siddiq Bares It All in  ‘Domino Effect 2: Loss’… His Most Personal Comedy Special Yet” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, Dejha B Coloring; our highlighted Hair Feature, Intl I Love Braids Day 2023; “How to Set Your Expectations When Traveling” by dCarrie; the Universe Lounge’s “The Value of Elders” by Jashua Sa’Ra; Nicholas Ryan Gant, a heavenly voice and angelic spirit; Our Vol 36 contributed photo story, “Joy;” “How To Find Joy In Your Work As A Black American Recovering From Burnout” by Nantale Muwonge; Fit Body By Ashley. Making fitness fun!; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Spicy Red Curry Noodle Bowl; “Sex Down South Conference Is An Invitation To Explore Unbridled Joy” by Nantale Muwonge; “Tre Hale Talks About the Series “Platonic” by Dapper Dr. Feel; Featured Art Piece “Time Goddess” by @CraigCTheArtist; Comic Book Appreciation with “Sweaty Minds #12 – Exposure” by Hab Oh; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Taji Mag Vol 36

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 36

Taji Mag is the epitome of ‘Cultural Drip’ – elevating Black brands, narratives, and imagery to new levels of Black Excellence. We embody the traditional and modern royalty of OUR people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.


“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” Delivers Nostalgia and Heart


Where to Watch: In theaters

Release Date: August 2nd

Runtime: 1h 39m

Rated: PG

Synopsis: After years of being sheltered from the human world, the Turtle brothers set out to win the hearts of New Yorkers and be accepted as normal teenagers through heroic acts. Their new friend April O’Neil helps them take on a mysterious crime syndicate, but they soon get in over their heads when an army of mutants is unleashed upon them.

Starring: Micah Abbey voices Donatello, Shamon Brown Jr. voices Michelangelo, Nicolas Cantu voices Leonardo, Brady Noon voices Raphael, Ayo Edebiri voices April O’Neil, Hannibal Buress voices Ghengis Frog, Rose Byrne voices Leatherhead, John Cena voices Rocksteady, Jackie Chan voices Splinter, Ice Cube voices Superfly, Natasia Demetriou voices Wingnut, Giancarlo Esposito voices Baxter Stockman, Post Malone voices Ray Fillet, Seth Rogen voices Bebop, Paul Rudd voices Mondo Geck, and Maya Rudolph voices Cynthia Utrom.

Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and (my personal favorite) Raphael are back in action with the animated movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. As a long-time TMNT fan, I eagerly awaited this film’s release, and though I had high expectations, I knew that adaptations of beloved toy or game-based franchises could be tricky. However, this movie pleasantly surprised me and delivered a dose of nostalgia that warmed my heart. Let’s look at why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem works so well and why I wholeheartedly recommend it.

One of the standout features of the film is the impeccable voice acting, bringing to life the distinct personalities of each turtle. From the righteous leadership of Leonardo to the lighthearted and party-loving Michelangelo, every turtle feels genuine and unique. The attention to detail (such as Michelangelo’s braces and Donatello’s headphones and fanny pack) adds depth to the characters and endears them to the audience.


Underneath all the action-packed sequences, there lies a compelling story about the turtles’ struggle to fit in, much like any regular teenager. Not only were the turtles struggling with this, April was as well, which helped her empathize with the turtles. However, the film’s brilliance lies in its focus on self-acceptance and self-discovery. Each character embarks on a journey to find their true selves, allowing them to be comfortable in their own shells. This theme resonates not only with the turtles but also with other mutated characters, including their mentor, Splinter. Speaking of Splinter, the movie skillfully crafts the origin of both Splinter and the turtles. Splinter’s anti-human stance and his reason for teaching the turtles how to fight adds depth to the story and provides an intriguing look into the character’s motivations.

The movie doesn’t shy away from humor but keeps it age-appropriate, considering the turtles are teenagers. I feel while some jokes may seem juvenile to adults, they are perfect for the target audience and evoke fond memories of our own teenage years. The humor also comes from the turtles’ learning curve as they polish their fighting skills, reminding us that even heroes have room to grow. Additionally, the film embraces its weird and wacky side, with scenes filled with ooze, drool, vomit, and amusing mutations. These elements might not appeal to all adult viewers, but they certainly delighted younger audiences (including my 9-year-old goddaughter) who laughed at these quirky moments on screen.

Despite a large voice cast and an extensive roster of characters, the writers masterfully balance the storytelling, ensuring that the characters enhance the plot rather than overshadow it. As a devoted TMNT fan, I was thrilled to see characters from the cartoon and previous movies brought to life in this film. My favorite characters outside of the four heroes were Ray Fillet (brought to life by the talented Post Malone who charmed us with his melodic voice), Mondo Gecko (voiced by the ever-charismatic Paul Rudd, adding his cool and effortless flair to the character, making him an instant favorite), and of course, Superfly (portrayed by Ice Cube who infused the role with his own famous lyrics and mannerisms). These supporting characters truly stood out and added an extra dimension to the movie’s already fantastic cast.


The animation is visually stunning, reminiscent of Marvel’s Spiderverse films. The blend of 3-D and 2-D animation creates a unique and vibrant aesthetic that perfectly complements the turtles’ colorful personalities. The use of bright colors against authentically dark inner city streets at night during action sequences adds to the film’s overall appeal. The creators of the film also delighted fans with clever Easter eggs and references from the TMNT universe, as well as nods to the classic cartoon and previous movies. The inclusion of an impressive soundtrack further amplifies the nostalgic experience, making the film a treat for long-time fans like myself.

In conclusion, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a highly entertaining film that not only celebrates the world of mutants and martial arts but also explores the universal themes of self-discovery and acceptance. The film’s heartwarming messages and authentic voice acting will undoubtedly resonate with audiences worldwide. Anticipation brews as we eagerly await the creative direction that producer Seth Rogen and fellow talented creators will take this franchise. The prospect of witnessing Shredder’s appearance adds an extra layer of excitement, leaving fans like myself excited for the upcoming installment.


Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge… An Exclusive Interview with Co-Host Dalal Elsheikh

Taji Mag had the pleasure of catching up with Dalal Elsheikh, the charismatic co-host of Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge on NBC. As the show continues to grow its audience with the customizing of dream cars and the excitement of competition, we sat down with Dalal to get into the heart of the action. From discussing the show’s development, her favorite car that sets her heart racing, and even her passion for designing cars, Dalal shared exclusive insights into her world of wheels.

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What inspired you to pursue a career in this field, and how did you get involved with Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge?

Dalal Elsheikh (DE): I’ve always been someone who liked to draw. I kind of think that kids grow up as designers naturally, whether they know it or not. We like to tinker with things and take things apart and build. I just grew up having a passion for that, and it never stopped. I know there comes an age when kids kind of stop drawing or maybe stop tinkering, but I never had that gap in my time.

I was always drawing, building and taking things apart, despite my parents’ disapproval. That kind of snowballed into a career in design. Later on through my undergrad design experience, I kind of realized that I loved cars, and I never understood that there was an actual career path to do that.

And I think that’s the case for a lot of people. They don’t realize that you can go and become a car designer or someone in automotive. So once I was empowered to search that out, that’s really what got me started. I ended up going to grad school and studying transportation, it was just history from there.

DDF: You are one of the few women, Black women as a matter of fact, in your field. What has your experience been like as a woman in the automotive design space? 

DE: Design itself, luckily, is about 50/50. There are a lot of women in design broadly, but in automotive design, there are much fewer of us. Um, so it’s been really difficult throughout my schooling. I was one, if not sometimes, the only Black woman or the only woman I saw. Even in my professional career, I was oftentimes the only woman in the room, especially if we were doing something like physical design or something that was strictly automotive-related.

So that’s been really difficult and really disheartening. It’s hard to understand why because I know so many black women and so many women of color, so many women in general who are interested in automotive design and interested in these things that are seen as male-dominated or seen as, you know, boys hobbies.

It’s been really disheartening, but I see that there is some change going on in the industry, and I hope that in my lifetime, I see us get closer to that 50/50 split.

DDF: As an automotive designer, what challenges do you face in creating cars that perform well AND look aesthetically pleasing?

DE: That’s a great question. So I’m actually an experienced designer. I have the luxury of not having to think about how well a car performs on the road or on the track. Luckily, I get to let our very talented engineering partners have the burden of figuring that out. But I will say it does become difficult sometimes when maybe there are feature sets or designs that you’d like to add that kind of go against the performance of a vehicle or it might go against the cost-effectiveness of a vehicle.

So sometimes those two concepts do butt heads a little bit. The most aesthetically pleasing car isn’t always the most aerodynamic. So there is that kind of challenge. Those two concepts will butt heads occasionally, and you’ll see that in the design or automotive profession where the designers and the engineers struggle.

The challenge is just reckoning those two things and making sure that they can play in harmony of each other. 

DDF: How do you approach the creative process of Hot Wheels Challenge? You have your co-hosts, Rutledge and Hertz; what goes into developing this show with them, putting this show together?

DE: We wake up every morning with a smile on our faces. Honestly, that’s the thing that really keeps the show running. I don’t know if you’ve ever met Rutledge Wood and Hertrech Eugene Jr. but they are the most playful, just adult children I’ve ever met. So they wake up every morning, real giddy, real ready to go, Red Bull in hand, and just ready to party.

We’re filming long hours throughout the week almost every day and that can be really tiring. But we love what we do and we get to sit around and look at cars all day. Some really classic, really iconic vehicles, and then get to watch people’s dreams come true and watch them recognize these really incredible designs day after day. When I tell you from day one they have already transformed the vehicle, it’s insane to see that. And so there’s never a boring day on set. You know? It’s always so exciting.

DDF: Do you have a favorite episode or one that’s most memorable to you? 

DE: I think out of the episodes that I’ve filmed so far, or have aired so far, Jaipur Jewel was one of my favorite builds. Another is the Monte Carlo versus a Dodge Caravan. And that’s a really fun episode because they are probably one of the wildest transformations so far in the season. I’m really excited for people to see this one because when I tell you party is an understatement. That one was fun, there’s going to be a lot of dancing. 

DDF: How do they balance the classic Hot Wheels style with their first take on designs and how do you judge their creations? 

DE:  I don’t envy what they have to do because they really do take this iconic, classic car, something that they grew up with and they have to transform it completely. And that can be easy to take something like a ‘69 charger, a dream car for so many people, and then have to transform and cut it up when, honestly, it’s kind of perfect as is. That’s something that a lot of our contestants run up against, where it’s like, “Okay, I have this car that I already thought was beautiful. How could I possibly make this better?”. So it’s hard to meet that task. It’s hard to meet that challenge of really transforming something when you already loved the original so much.

So it’s been fun watching them try to figure out how they could even possibly make something better. That’s been challenging for a lot of our contestants, balancing that transformation versus celebrating what the car already looks like. But it’s fun when they do it well. Some people have really, really executed it, and that’s been fun to watch. 

And as far as how we judge them, well, we have a list of criteria, which includes the transformation and their personal story and how much of that we see in the build, the Hot Wheels, iconic design elements, things like loud, vibrant colors. Does it look fast? Does it look bold? Does it look epic? Those are the things that we’re looking for. 

DDF: Who would be your two dream contestants, and then who would you like to work with and who would you pair your co-host, Hertz, with?

DE: Oh, that’s a great question. Well, I think it’s gonna be a cheat, but Hertz would have to work with T-pain because they’re already doing the Nappy Boy automotive.  I think T-Pain would be such a great contestant and I would love to have him. Oh, you know who would be great? Nicole Byer, who’s already done a few TV shows, and I know she’s a huge car enthusiast, which people don’t know about her. I just think she’s such a great personality and I would love to see her on the show. She’d be on my team. We’d kill it for sure. 

DDF: What do you think is most appealing to young viewers about this show? 

DE: I think what’s most appealing to young viewers and maybe people who haven’t really worked on cars is that it’s not necessarily a gearhead show. It’s a show about transformation. So it’s a show about doing something that’s super imaginative, that’s super wild and crazy, and I think kids really love seeing these bold, bright colors, thinking outside the box and doing something that you wouldn’t normally see done to a car. Kids, because they have such large imaginations, I feel like they’re the perfect audience for this show.

DDF: What advice do you have for the young women who are watching or who aspire to be in your same field? 

DE: Wow. I would say to those young women, never stop doing what you’re doing. Keep drawing, keep looking at inspiration. Look for other women who have done what I’m doing, or even better. There are so many women in automotive that are incredibly inspiring. One of them being the woman who designed the N S X, which is, I think, the first supercar to be designed by a woman. Like, that’s incredible. People like that and stories like that I find incredibly inspiring. So there is a way to get into automotive. There is a way to be a designer. There is a way to break into these male-dominated spaces. So never stop. Being unique and being different in the room is your superpower. 

DDF: What is your dream car and what are the perfect shoes to wear? Because I saw your post earlier about loafers not worth driving in. 

DE: My dream car is a Ferrari Testa Rosa. And then my shoes, I’m going to have to bring it back to like the original Michael Jordans, Jordan 1’s,  because he has a Ferrari Testa Rosa. I’d have the red and white colored shoes, it kind of matches the red and white of the Ferrari. 

Dalal Elsheikh’s passion and enthusiasm for Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge on NBC shines through with every word. Her dedication to delivering heart-pounding entertainment and inspiring the next generation of car enthusiasts is evident in her every move. Beyond the screen, Dalal’s love for designing cars showcases her diverse talents and deep-rooted connection to the automotive and design world. As the show continues to rev up excitement and ignite the thrill of racing in viewers of all ages, we can’t wait to see what jaw-dropping ventures Dalal and Hot Wheels have in store.


Barbie: An Entertaining Mix of Feminism, Diversity, and Self-Reflection

Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Alexandra Shipp, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa, and Will Ferrell.

Where to Watch: In theaters

Release Date: July 21st

Runtime: 1h 54m

Synopsis: Barbie (Margot Robbie) is a young woman who embarks on a mission to the real world with her counterpart, Ken (Ryan Gosling), once a sudden emotional and mental change challenges her existence. Leaving behind her familiar world, she finds herself (along with Ken) on a journey filled with diverse personalities and cultures, inspiring her to embrace her own uniqueness and self-discovery.

I did not know what to expect when I attended the screening of Barbie. What I thought would be a fairly entertaining movie about an iconic toy line with a star-studded cast turned out to be much much more, and I came out of the theater with a smile on my face. I would not have expected this seemingly light-hearted film to be such an empowering story that celebrates diversity, feminism, and self-reflection. Directed and co-written by a Greta Gerwig, this modern adaptation takes audiences on a journey that redefines what it means to be a heroine, inspiring audiences of all ages and backgrounds to embrace their uniqueness and find strength in their own individuality.

Within the first 10 minutes, it was made clear that this film was going to be self-aware, making fun of the stereotypes connected to “Barbie” and the ridiculous expectation of perfection. Even the voiceovers and background helped set up the audience for this premise throughout the rest of the film. So make sure you pay attention because here is where you will find some of the most comedic moments.The film truly comes to life with the captivating portrayal of the iconic figure by the immensely talented Margot Robbie. She effortlessly embodies the essence of the character and skillfully hits all the emotional tones throughout the course of the movie, making her the perfect fit for the role.

The film weaves various cultural elements, introducing characters/models of Barbie (and Ken) from different backgrounds, each with their own routine lifestyle and role in the Barbie world. From an iconic Barbie, played by Robbie, to President Barbie, played by Issa Rae, Barbie showcases a variety of talents and professions, but they lack individuality and simply follow their assigned roles in Barbie world. My favorite, Ken, is beach; no, this is not a typo or grammar error. His thing is “beach”. You’ll have to watch the film to get it. 

The Cast

One of the most applaudable aspects of Barbie is its diverse and inclusive casting. By doing so, Barbie speaks directly to an audience that is often underrepresented on the big screen. These roles are not only diverse but well cast, and each character fits into the story organically. You won’t find “token” characters in this film, which I find refreshing. I mean one of the reasons the film gained my interest was because of Issa Rae’s involvement, and I can see why she signed up. She is a Black woman president running the community effectively. Plus, I like the fact that they allow her to have a bit more of her own personality because her reactions/responses are priceless. It makes me wonder if she adjusted her lines in the film. Besides Issa, I was looking forward to watching Kate McKinnon because she is always in rare form in anything she’s in; and trust me, she is funny in practically every scene as Weird Barbie. A couple moments worth noting: Micheal Cera’s and Will Smith’s short time on screen is hilarious! Also, Lizzo and Helen Mirren were perfectly chosen for their roles in this film. 

The Ken’s 

Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, had me falling out of my seat in laughter because he was so ridiculous, especially when he arrived in the real world. Plus, consistent beef with the other Ken (played by Simu Liu) is hilarious because as both talented actors, they have a chemistry that works and makes their comedic timing almost perfect. Kingsley Ben-Adir and Ncuti as Ken also were perfect in the cast as they too had their stand-out moments on screen. Together they help build a final act scene that I am sure will be trending on social media. It’s so funny. I would watch it again for that scene alone. The writers of the film must’ve gotten insight from a therapist about the male psyche because some of the areas and psychology of Ken’s character had me thinking, “wow, that’s really how men think sometimes”.


What I like about Barbie is its unapologetic approach to feminism. Breaking away from the outdated damsel-in-distress stereotype, this modern adaptation portrays all of the Barbies as strong, independent, and intelligent women who stand up for themselves and others. The film emphasizes the importance of female empowerment and the value of girls dreaming big and reaching for the stars. Through her endeavors, Barbie proves that success and happiness are not defined by appearance or societal expectations, but rather by embracing one’s passions and aspirations. 

The film also offers a refreshing sense of self-reflection, encouraging audiences to embark on their own personal journeys of growth and self-discovery. Barbie’s quest to find her true self leads her to confront her own insecurities and doubts. By doing so, she becomes a symbol of resilience and courage, demonstrating that the path to self-fulfillment is often strewn with challenges that can be overcome through perseverance and self-belief. Barbie urges viewers to question their own preconceived notions and to embrace change as an opportunity for growth.

Set Design and Cinematography

Visually, we see stunning elements from the imaginative world of mixed real life to 2-D environments, adding to the unfolding narrative and giving the audience a look at how different the worlds are. The vibrant and diverse color palette adds to the story creating visuals of how the citizens of Barbie-land see their surroundings. The attention to detail in costume design and set production brings Barbie’s world to life, captivating audiences and immersing them in the magic of the film. This is what makes the film work! Because when Barbie and Ken go to the real world, their color palate changes right along with their personalities, adjusting based on interactions with their new environment. 

The Soundtrack

Furthermore, the film’s soundtrack is a perfect complement to the narrative, featuring songs from Lizzo, Nikki Minaj (with Ice Spice), and Billie Eilish. All of these songs perfectly complement the scenes in which they were featured, most notably the Eilish song played during the final act. I heard one viewer in attendance say she was getting teary-eyed, fitting as it was during a moment of revelation. 

Another surprise was the song performed by Ryan Gosling (once again, this is not a typo; Gosling does actually sing lol!). I won’t be surprised to see this song and music video go viral, much like the “Peaches” song by Jack Black, because it’s so ridiculous yet memorable. 

In conclusion, Barbie brings to life aspects of the iconic toy while celebrating diversity, feminism, and self-reflection. Kudos to the film’s commitment to inclusivity and authentic representation, I can see it setting a new standard for the industry, thus paving the way for more diverse and empowering narratives in the future. With its positive message and powerful storytelling, Barbie is a must-see film that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on audiences of all ages. You won’t be surprised to find that the film has received a Critics Choice seal of distinction even before its release.


An Exclusive Interview with Erika Alexander, Tia Nomore, and Director Savanah Leaf of “Earth Mama”

Tia Nomore as Gia and Erica Alexander as Miss Carmen

Earth Mama stands tall as a film that not only holds the attention of its audiences but also ignites a conversation about the significance of women’s voices in healthcare. Produced by visionary studio A24, this thought-provoking project ventures into uncharted territory, shedding light on the challenges faced by women of color in healthcare and social services. I had the privilege of sitting down with talented actresses Erika Alexander and Tia Nomore alongside emerging director Savanah Leaf to explore the themes of Earth Mama and the urgent need for authentic representation in the healthcare landscape.

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): Savanah, this movie was based on your short film, The Hearts Still Hums, and explores the intersection of art and motherhood. How were you able to focus on that in this film?

Savanah Leaf (SL): I guess from an art perspective, I was thinking about how to tell this story in a way that I think people would receive it and not be manipulated into the narrative. I was thinking about how we can tell the story with a visual language that’s observing real life as much as possible and not intruding on that life’s circumstances. But also telling it with grace and making people heroes of their own stories no matter what they are going through or doing in their lives. So we created a visual language which allowed our actors to kind of only have to do the performance once rather than repeating it many times and just kind of having one frame or one camera angle…just doing the whole scene from start to finish rather than chopping it up. So that’s kind of from an art perspective how I tried to bring art into it. 

And motherhood, it was part of the story from day one, I was thinking a lot about my sister’s birth mother and how much she impacted and inspired me in such a short period of time. I was thinking about mothers in general and what they give their children and what their children don’t want to take with them, the trauma they’re trying to break away from. So from the heart of the story, motherhood was there, and then it just kind of expanded with every person that got involved and how they brought themselves into the story.

DDF: My next question is for Tia and Erika. Erika, you’re a seasoned vet, I know you’ve done your research on this. And Tia, you have a close connection because you were a new mother at the time, plus you had some background training as a doula. What was your approach to these characters you played in the film? What are some details about their relationship?

Tia Nomore (TN): I think that Gia and Ms. Carmen are constantly trying to learn from each other and are disappointed in each other. But it’s all reflective, and it is just an awesome energy exchange, I think, for me. There are a lot of similarities on camera and off camera between both of us, and yes, it is just synergetic and growing all the time, so it keeps you wondering where that relationship’s gonna go.

Most of my research came from the literature that Savannah was lending me. [Also] I had a friend who had two kids when we were 16, and I had called her and just said, “You know, I never apologized for kind of just disconnecting with you at that time ’cause I didn’t know how to show up for you”.

In a lot of ways, it was a lot of self-preservation and healing that came about in the research as well. Savanah would call it emotional research. I think I really had to get in the rubble with it. 

Director Savanah Leaf instructing the cast on set

Erika Alexander (EA): Yeah, I think that my relationship with Tia is organic, but I also knew because of my past and sort of knowing my way around the set that it was my job to stay out of her way. That I wasn’t there to tell her what to do, and that if she wanted or had questions, she might see them within me. And I also knew that she was mature enough to ask if she didn’t. Also, she was the most mature person on set as far as I was concerned, because she’s extremely bright and just genius-level smart, but also she was a mother and she was having a different experience than me in that I could play one, but I had not been one.

I also needed to take lessons from her. She would give me my cues. The other thing was that the assignment from Savanah was for us to feel, and she got that in spades because we were opening up Pandora’s box. You know, everybody’s going around a very sensitive space. Tia was a new mother, she wasn’t with her daughter. That’s difficult already, but now you’re in a space where you don’t get to control anything, and you’re around people who wanna control everything. So I just wanted to have fun, and I kept trying to tell myself that I was given the opportunity to watch people be born.

They were all seasoned, as far as I’m concerned. So as for Tia, Doechii, and some of the new actors that Savannah found, they were all leaders in their own categories.

I thought to myself that I’m probably doing the most performance work here, and they’re authentically creating that. But the truth is, my mother and father were orphans. My mother was a social worker and my sister is a social worker who was, for many years, in adoption.

So I had that as research and frankly I think those things are inherited in your bones and your DNA. Then you allow yourself to explore and live in them because Ms. Carmen must keep herself in a different space. She’s not supposed to be their friend, and yet she’s supposed to help them figure out what the most important question is in their life. And you can’t do that unless you love them. So she loves them on a level, but she’s, I’m sure, also frustrated with them because she wants them to do the right thing so they can get on with their lives and have the fun they deserve, their anonymity, and not have to ask for permission to live their lives. But they can’t in this system. So that’s the heartbreaking thing. She’s trying to make them navigate a system that she knows is set against them, and yet this is the way. So that’s difficult, but there you go.

DDF: This movie is very emotionally heavy. What are some activities you guys took part in to have fun on set?

Tia: You know, Gia is quite athletic, Tia is not, but there were times when Savanah and I would just go to the park and shoot hoops. You know what I mean? There were times when Doechii and I would just cat off and just dance together. Like, I gotta feel this or, you know, go for a walk with one another. Miss Erica is hella funny all the time, so she’s always providing a space of comic relief. After going through something really difficult (like an intense scene), we were embraced. I remember the first time getting physical with one another and I was just like “grab her, come back here. I’m so sorry I pushed you that hard”. We love each other, so it was a fun loving experience as well and we knew that we had to take care of ourselves and one another after doing something intense. 

DDF: Wait, wait, wait! So who won between you and Savanah?

TN: Oh, we weren’t like hooping like that, like we were just shooting around. I’m terrible. There was not a one-on-one. We were just shooting. 

EA: It was unfair. It’s stacked against her (Tia). She’s up against an Olympian, and no one is winning up against an Olympian.

DDF: I don’t know. Hey, Tia could have a mean crossover on her. 

EA: No, come on. That’s why she said “let’s go play hoops”, so she could go dominate and be on the court. 

You have to understand, we laughed our asses off. I mean, at least I certainly did. I was fascinated with all the really amazing young talent. We were out there together and often in the holding spaces just having a good time. They were so thankful and grateful to have the opportunity to be there. And so it was just a place of love. But I do have to say that if you go on hair and makeup, there was a lot of fun in there.

You know, our crew was wonderful. I mean, truly it was a really wonderful space…a heavy subject, but the space was light. And that was intentionally formed from who Savanah chose to be in that space.

SL: I gotta say it was really heavy. I didn’t realize until making it how much receiving of people’s pain or suffering I was doing. And so a lot of times, I didn’t really wanna joke around. To be honest, sometimes I just needed space to sleep or eat some good food and those were the lighter moments for me because it was a sort of recovery period I needed. There were scenes where I’m literally sitting next to the camera, receiving women’s stories and feeling them weep and be upset. Even with Tia, she’s going through a lot emotionally and afterwards, I would need to take time for myself too. I know that’s not probably what you wanted to hear. I wasn’t really joking around as much as maybe other people were. My lighter moments were me taking time for myself.

DDF: This film tackles themes of healing, growth and community. How do you hope that Earth Mama can contribute to larger conversations about these topics and inspire change?

SL: For me, I really hope that this can spark a lot of conversation between people. I think it’s been really interesting hearing people after screenings and hearing unexpected stories from unlikely places and realizing that so many people are connected by this story.

I hope that it sparks some conversations between friends and family members, so it’s not as uncomfortable to talk about. I think that it ultimately leads to more empathy and pulling away judgment.

EA: Well, let me say what’s done in the dark shall come to light. And Savanah gave us light into a space that very few people are looking. I think if you can illuminate space, that means that now we’re responsible for that information. And that’s a huge, big deal because I had no idea; even though I knew these systems existed, I didn’t know it existed like this. It breaks my heart because people have their attitudes and point of view about many things, but we don’t know what we’re talking about. One of my favorite scenes is when Tia’s just taking a portrait of a family. That’s such a beautiful scene. I love it. I knew I would love it on the page, but I saw it (in my mind). Savanah, I did. And to me she’s isolated. They’re having an experience that she’s denied and she can take a picture of it, but she can’t get it. You know how cruel that is? It’s deep, and every day we’re asking people to have these dreams of what it is to have a family, all these shows on TV about family and loyalty and all that stuff, and there are so many people who are far away from it, and it feels so cruel.

To show them that’s also part of the American dream is the propaganda that we feed each other about how our lives should be. Then you look under the hood, and then you have a point of view about it, and you say, “Oh, that person’s lazy” and that’s not true.

They had a certain set of circumstances that most people will never have, and yet we look at them rise, look at them overcome, look at them exist, because sometimes that’s all you can do. It’s so powerful. That’s why Earth’s mama. Wow. That’s why that name is powerful too.

TN: Wow. Wow, wow. Ate it up. No crumbs. You know, I am a Black woman. I’m a Black mother. I come from a Black family. I really would love for everyone to just consider us in ways that we’ve never been considered before. You know? We are—so precious and sacred people. I think that we should be cared after in a way I’ve never seen before. I think maybe I’d have to leave the country to see it, maybe on the route. And that’s all we know is, you know, loving, caring, community, organizing, resource, lending, and giving. Naturally. I think that’s what we do for one another in any space or community. We help to coagulate. So, I really want us to learn how to navigate and take up all the space that we need so that we can get what we deserve. I want to see all of us walking and stepping in a little bit more seriously into these roles of responsibility and allyship and all of this, all of this that has to do with the Gia’s in the world and, you know, seeing them more and not looking away.

You know, you see someone on the street, we look away. Sometimes it’s just looking at somebody and saying, “I don’t really have anything for you, but I definitely see you, and I could just wish you the best right now.” That carries people eons. But simply looking away, I think I’m over that, and I think that this movie forces us to look deeper. 

Even Gia, she’s quite avoidant of the camera, you know, she’s quite avoidant of what it is she’s showing, you know what I mean? I want everybody to feel that intensity and walk beside us more. 

Erica Alexander, Tia Nomore, and director Savanah Leaf have brought to life the stories of women who have long been silenced, sparking a collective awakening to the importance of women’s voices in healthcare and the social work system. Make sure to catch Earth Mama in theaters July 14th.