Category Archives: Culture

09Sep/20

New Series, Woke, Reminds Me of That One Friend Everybody Has

Woke — “Rhymes with Broke” – Episode 101 — When up-and-coming cartoonist Keef Knight has a traumatic run-in with the police, he begins to see the world in an entirely new way. Keef (Lamorne Morris), shown. (Photo by: Joe Lederer/Hulu)

SYNOPSIS: Inspired by the life and work of artist Keith Knight, comedy series, Woke, takes an absurdly irreverent look at identity and culture as it follows Keef, an African-American cartoonist finally on the verge of mainstream success when an unexpected incident changes everything. With a fresh outlook on the world around him, Keef must now navigate the new voices and ideas that confront and challenge him, all without setting aflame everything he’s already built.

Funny, relatable, timely, and entertaining are the words I use to describe the new comedy Woke from Hulu. I had an interest in the concept once I saw the trailer, but after watching a few episodes I can easily say Woke is worth viewing. The series is fitting for people who understand what it means to be woke and for those people who haven’t had their third eye open. Do you ever wonder why some Black people you know don’t understand why Black Lives Matter until they are racially profiled? The series Woke gives perspective on what it may look like and I am glad it exists! Here are a few reasons why!

Acting A Fool

From Lamorne Morris (BLOODSHOT, New Girl, who portrays the blissfully ignorant protagonist, Keef) to the voice-over talents of J.B. Smoove, the series has likable characters. I’m not going to lie, Keef made me call him an asshole like 5 times in my head. Of course, that is until he gets a dose of reality after the police basically assault him. I really like the way Keef is taken from an “it’s not my fight mentality” to “I have a talent and a voice I can use to fight racial injustice”. We’ve seen this narrative too many times with successful Black people. You know… the same Black people that distance themselves from Black culture but want back up when they have been discriminated against. 

The topics and concepts within the series are definitely relatable – like people advocating for animal rights more than human rights or white people asking you about Kanye or reparations at a social mixer. All of it made me shake my head but really connected me with Keef. There are some good examples the show uses about securing the bag and remaining true to yourself. The John Legend reference was particularly intriguing and it really made me think, “You know, John Legend might’ve done that!”

Clovis (T. Murph) and Gunther (Blake Anderson). (Photo by: Joe Lederer/Hulu)

We All Have That One Friend

The friends of Keef, Clovis (T.Murph) and Gunther (Blake Anderson), both remind me of the friends that pretty much every Black person has. Clovis is the friend who always has your back, keeps you in check, and does what he can for one night stands. I found the character’s social awareness and psychology of people almost academic yet he is unable to use it to fix his own personal issues. 

Gunther is the white friend who is down to support Black people. He had me rolling at the time Keef was being arrested by the police. I like the fact that the writers didn’t have him appropriating Black culture and just made him a cool human being.  

Ayana, played by Sasheer Zamata, is the Black editor for the local magazine. She is a good associate and, hopefully, a friend in the series that won’t allow Keef to escape this reality for his own good. 

All of these characters are compelling and have very interesting character flaws that I can’t wait to see how they deal with.

Woke, Not For Cartoon Network

Ok, I know shows that consist of animation and live-action can sometimes be a little corny – ok some are corny as hell – but Woke is straight-up hilarious and for adults only. Much kudos to the casting director for choosing Black comedians to voice the animated characters, especially J.B. Smoove voicing the Marker character, who serves as Keef’s conscious. No matter how big the voice-over role, Smoove is always a standout and always funny. Comedy legend Cedric the Entertainer, Sam Richardson, David Keith, Nicole Byer, and veteran Eddie Griffith all made voice-over appearances that had me dying laughing. I am curious to see what other celebrities will appear as guest voiceovers. My hope is Samuel Jackson makes a guest voice cameo.

Given the emotional/mental stress many of us may have during this time of the pandemic and racial injustice, Woke is the perfect series to escape with laughter. I recommend adding Woke to your list of series to watch on Hulu

Woke — Inspired by the life and work of artist Keith Knight, comedy series Woke takes an absurdly irreverent look at identity and culture as it follows Keef, an African-American cartoonist finally on the verge of mainstream success when an unexpected incident changes everything. With a fresh outlook on the world around him, Keef must now navigate the new voices and ideas that confront and challenge him, all without setting aflame everything he’s already built. (Key Art Courtesy of Hulu)
01Sep/20
Potty Break

Potty Break Speaks to the Soul of Women Restroom Convos

SYNOPSIS: Everyone wants to know why women go to the bathroom together. Welcome to Potty Break where we show you why. This is a wild/raw/comedic journey of two aging party girls who tackle serious situations while looking for love and/or meaning in a shallow and NYC party scene. Starring Toni Thai Sterrett and Donna Augustin-Quinn.

Potty Break is a hilarious series from Toni Thai Sterrett who wore multiple hats to see it to come to fruition – writer, director, producer, songwriter, lead actress. Toni gave us some insight into Potty Break’s core.

Taji Mag (TM): What spawned the concept for Potty Break?

Toni Thai Sterrett

Toni Thai Sterrett (TTS): A few things spawned the concept. One was the idea of the bathroom being a sacred space for women. When you want to have a private cry in a professional setting, bathroom. You want to take a bath to soak a hard day away, bathroom. And for some of us who have wacky periods, we can spend a lot of time in the bathroom just sitting there, enjoying the comfort of just sitting there. LOL. Even moms sometimes use the bathroom to escape their children. But last but not least, the bathroom is where women congregate. In clubs, bars, restaurants, etc. People always want to know why we go to the bathroom together so I used this as an opportunity to show them.  

TM: There are so many important discussions addressed in the series. What are some that are most important to you?

TTS: For me, the most important discussions addressed in the series are 1. Men’s mistreatment of women. In the “To Dump A Predator” episode, I compare men who take advantage of vulnerable women to child molesters. It’s the same thing. Misusing your power over someone who is trusting and vulnerable. 2. Colorism. I know for a fact that my complexion has opened (fake) doors for me and gotten me in certain rooms. I also know that it tends to attract certain types of men and I’m not going to sit up here and gaslight Darker-skinned black women by saying the thing is not a thing. I want to air this shit out and help my chocolate sisters heal from the bullshit. 3. We talk about dating outside of your race. It’s important to me that Black women open their minds up. Yes, most of us want a Black man but we can’t cry racism then turn our noses up to a man from another culture who wants to get to know and love us. Not fetishize you, but love you. They are out there. I mean have your preference but be open to what God has for you. He just might be from Korea. IJS. 🙂

TM: Centering Black women is obviously important in the series but it appears that so was flipping stereotypes. What were your thoughts behind Kandi Kream Kane as well as Adrienne and Taylor’s characters?

Santana Caress as “Kandi Kream Kane” with Toni & Donna in Potty Break

TTS: Kandi Kream Kane is important because she is a sex worker. A porn star. So we judge and look down on pornstars but the porn industry is booming. So the same people talking shit, are secretly indulging. That’s crazy to me. I believe Pornstars serve an important function in society. It’s stress relief, acne prevention (you have to watch), educational, and probably even Rape prevention. I hate to say that but I feel it’s true. As far as Adrienne (Black) and Taylor (White), I wanted to show that there can be a sisterhood between Black and white women. Also, I wanted to show that the Black girl isn’t always the hanger-on and plus one. She was the one from money that exposed the white girl to the club culture and excess. I love those episodes. They are so fun and the ladies are amazing. 

TM: Who would you love to make a cameo on Potty Break?

TTS: Dave Chapelle for sure. I just think he’s one of the most brilliant minds we have in our culture. He’s funny, smart, honest and he challenges his audience which I love and I set out to do in my own work. He also curates an amazing, positive, kind group of people in real life around him which I think says a lot about him. I know he’d probably be smoking a cigarette in the scene, which I hate, but I’d let it slide, I’d even write that in!

TM: I loved everything about the series except the concept of you all sitting on a bare toilet in a public restroom lol, would you consider including an episode that addresses those of us with OCD and how we maneuver through these same girl chats “without touching anything”?

TTS: Thank you. and OK, so full disclosure, that was a fuck up. The first time we shot it, I was doing the squat thing my mom taught me as a little girl but let me tell you, I was so overwhelmed with all the hats I wore on set that I honestly just forgot. That’s why it’s important that you have someone covering your blind spots when you are writing and directing. In Santana’s episode, She actually lined that seat with toilet paper first but our editor cut it out for timing. Looking back, we should’ve left that in. I love that you bring that up and we need to address that in future eps because that would never happen. 

TM: I enjoyed how every episode zones in on the conversations and builds character development without ever having to leave the restroom. Would you consider expanding the Potty Break episodes to other 1 location stories?

TTS: Oh absolutely. And thank you for that. You know, the possibilities are endless and when you have limited resources and time/budget, you have to be really creative. I love that. We are working on different ways to flip it so stay tuned. 

TM: Are you planning on future seasons?

TTS: Yes, because of the current climate, we are working on new ways to tell our stories. Obviously, clubs are closed so we have to flip it and are working on that now. 

TM: What else do you have in the works?

TTS: So we actually have a theme song for Potty Break that I wrote and performed called “Queen Of The Club” so we will be promoting that soon. We are also in talks to do an entire mixtape. In addition to that, we are in talks to do a podcast to dig in deeper on the serious themes that we tackle in Potty Break

Watch Potty Break on YouTube now and get in on the conversation!

29Aug/20

Tenet is a Time Traveling, Thought Provoking, Espionage Thriller

Four months… it’s been four months since I have been to a movie theater because of COVID-19. I used hella bleach wipes on my seat before I sat down but it was worth seeing Tenet at a press screening, especially because it was in IMAX® and there were like 6 people in the theater. The director used utilized a mixture of IMAX® and 70mm film to bring the story to life so it only made sense to watch the film in its intended form. After viewing Tenet, I understand why the studio pushed to show Tenet in its truest form.

Visually stunning and action-packed is how I describe the first act Tenet and, given its director, I expected nothing less. It was cool following the Protagonist (yep, that’s the lead character’s name!), played by John David Washington, as he stealthily took out the opposition to reach his target. Angles in which these are shot are done artfully and the perspectives felt very immersive.  It was like experiencing virtual reality without the glasses.

“The movie challenges our traditional ways of interpreting time, interpreting what we perceive is real, our learned behaviors.”

John David Washington

The second act provided some great action scenes, especially when the Protagonist and his partner use a contraption to scale up a wall. It was a bit exciting, something I would not do and I am sure Jonathan David Washington didn’t do either. If he did, no doubt he’s a badass. I feel at this point in the film the audience starts to grow with the Protagonist as he leans into this new role as a spy, using his military training. It’s funny because there is a part of the film where the Protagonist meets an informant and he mentions that to pull off his portrayal of a wealthy client he would have to wear better clothing than the Brooks Brothers brand.

“We’re all a little bit obsessed with time, aren’t we? It’s something that, whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever your life experience is, you know you can’t do anything about it. It rules you. I can’t really speak for Chris, but that’s my perspective on it. It’s interesting because, given the fact that time is universal, it’s also something that you feel very subjectively: you know, kids feel time very differently from adults. I feel like it’s speeding up immeasurably. And then, during this pandemic, our perception of time has been a whole other thing…days have felt like weeks and months have felt like minutes. It’s been very weird.”

– John David Washington

I have to be honest, the third and fourth act had me at the edge of my seat. Seeing the Protagonist have to make timely choices to save the world and save a life was exciting. The film became trippy once I got to see how the inversion world works. I finally understand why the characters were heavily featured on the movie posters and trailers wearing masks. The inversion world deprives you of oxygen and causes crazy reactions like being caught on fire causes you to then suffer from hyperthermia. 

It was also interesting how Johnathan’s character tried to change the timeline but had to understand the grandfather paradox before he did anything. The explanation of it and inversion can make you get lost in your thoughts. I found myself getting lost in the information abyss trying to understand the concept after I watched the film. Per the dictionary, the grandfather paradox is defined as a causality paradox speculated about in theories of time-travel in which traveling back in time would allow one to alter the conditions at the earlier time in such a way as to make current conditions impossible, as by causing the death of one’s grandfather, making one’s very existence impossible.

The climax war scene was intense! I was rooting for Jonathan and his team to stop the antagonist from killing himself and the world. That scene reminded me of the Co-op missions on Halo 4 – I know, I haven’t played video games in a minute. The visual effects were on point during this war scene, people and things going backward as our heroes try to thwart the plans of the villain. 

I enjoyed the film, the storyline had a dope plot twist that made me want to see more of this world and I wondered what the other timelines looked like. There were also some intense moments where I could hear and see that John was Denzel Washington’s son. Some of the film’s viewers will also have to google words like inversion and grandfather paradox to understand more of how the science of the film worked… or maybe it was just me. Anyway, Tenet is the action, espionage, sci-fi film I’ve been looking for. It was refreshing to see a film that was more entertaining than cliche.

16Aug/20

Lovecraft Country: Is Racism Scarier Than Ghosts, Monsters, and Witches?

SYNOPSIS: HBO’s new drama series, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff of the same name, debuts this August. The series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Letitia “Leti” (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback.

If you love 80’s movie nostalgia and horror-themed shows like Tales From the Crypt and Underground, this is the series for you. Showrunner and creator of Underground, Misha Green, brings all of these elements together in the new HBO MAX series Lovecraft Country. Me being a horror buff and a supporter of the various creatives involved (i.e. Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Jonathan Major, Jordan Peele, etc.), I had to check it out and satisfy my pallet for a Black horror series. Added bonus, the series showrunner is a Black woman, something not common in Hollywood. 

Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollet-Bell
Photo courtesy of Warner Media

The Horror of Lovecraft Country

While watching the characters interact with the world around them, I wondered if racism in the 1950s was scarier than the ghosts and monsters? I saw the terrifying look Black characters had when they were being questioned by white police officers and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between those moments and the moments when they encountered a monster.

I asked actress, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, which was scarier, racism in the 1950s or monsters, ghosts, and witches? She replied, “With the Monsters, what you see is what you get. You kind of know what to expect? It’s pure danger. You do whatever you can to escape, otherwise you’re screwed. With systemic racism, which is what this country has been built upon and has yet to dismantle, it’s more horrifying because it’s more nuanced. You have to fight it at every single step of your life. In the pursuit of your happiness, whether it’s purchasing a home and fight against the redlining and housing discrimination in the 1950s, not being able to get a loan from a bank if you wanted to purchase in a certain neighborhood, driving while Black, trying to apply for a job at a local store. It’s actually more oppressive and terrifying to me because you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know when it’s coming.”   

I can definitely see the Jordan Peele influence – using racism as a horror element. Showrunner, Misha Green, mentions in her Warner Media interview how much influence Jordan Peele had stating, “When we were working on Lovecraft – he was doing the film Us at the time – we talked a lot about our shared belief regarding horror, which is: You need the metaphor. I’d played with that on ‘Underground’; that it was a heist movie but set in slavery times.” 

Actor Jonathan Majors also noted Jordan Peele’s influence. “This series shows we as Black people contain multitudes. We have all these things inside of us. We know that horror is a part of our life, we know Afrofuturism is just our imagination. It gives us permission to move into any genre we want. I was surprised that Jordan Peele took Black bodies and put them into a horror genre and expanded the scope.”

Jurnee Smollet-Bell
photo courtesy of Warner Media

Tic and Leti

The series lead protagonist, Atticus Aka Tic, is played by actor Jonathan Majors. The character has a love for books and a protector mentality – an extremely compelling character. Starting off as a nerdy kid with glasses who transformed into a courageous young man, I wanted to see more background of his transition into manhood. I discovered Majors had researched his role by reading various authors, some of whom are mentioned in the series. When Atticus is introduced, he’s seen reading a book and even mentions his love for books. I ask Majors if he had to survive in a mansion filled with ghosts and monsters what historical black figure would he choose to be with him? He responded, “Fredrick Douglas and Nat Turner because, in this type of scenario, we have to do a trio. Like Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. It would be me, Frederick Douglas, because he has the brains and Nat Turner because he’s a fighter! Go homeboy Nat!”  

Leti is a very amiable character. Her confidence, charisma, and charm had my attention every time she was on screen. She embodies the strength of strong female Black lead actresses from that time period. Smollet-Bell explained the inspiration for the character came from her grandmother, whom she never got to meet. “My grandmother’s nickname was Showtime! I grew up hearing the stories about her being a single mother, raising four kids, and being so mistreated by white folks whom she cleaned the house for. Yet they could not rob her of her dignity!” Smollet-Bell also read prominent writers like James Baldwin and Gwendalyn Brooks to research for the role. She mentioned her search to find the fire inside Eartha Kitt to bring life to her character Letitia and it shows. 

Misha and the Music

One of the elements that set the tone of each scene was the amazing soundtrack. I found myself lured in the various songs and speeches that really give the series life. In my head, I thought, “Yeah we needed to have a Black showrunner in charge of this show because this soundtrack is dope and engaging.” Being a music, tv, and film lover, I was definitely satisfied having all those boxes checked off in one project. Especially when artists like Moses Sumney, Leon Bridges, and Black opera singer, Marian Anderson, play throughout the course of the series. 

When asked about the soundtrack selection, Misha Green explained, “Joe Pokaski and I used to talk about how do we pull the slavery portrait off the museum wall and evolve the story beyond, ‘Look at how bad slavery was’? One way was by using more vibrant camera movements; the other was through using modern music. I wanted to build on that in Lovecraft and also integrate ‘found audio’ into the score. For example, in the opening, we use voiceover from [the 1950 film] ‘The Jackie Robinson Story.’ Later we have [Ntozake Shange’s 1975 poem] For Colored Girls and [poet, Gil Scott-Heron’s] Whitey on the Moon. I love the idea of taking our show ‘out of time.’ It’s the past, present, and future. How do we wrap all of that into a unique soundscape? We want the show to be full-sensory, engaging, and have people learn from it without having to learn from it. My favorite learning experiences are immersive; those that make me re-think what I know as opposed to ‘here’s some bad history.’ How can we immerse the viewer even further? I love when I have revelations two weeks after the fact where I’m like, ‘Oh wow, ok.’”

The horror-themed time period piece, Lovecraft Country, it is in a league of its own – providing a world where fear is a theme defined in many ways and in some cases relatable. Is racism scarier than monsters, witches, and ghosts? Check out the series Lovecraft Country August 16th on HBO Max at 9pm and you can decide…

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY is executive produced by Misha Green, who also serves as showrunner, Jordan Peele, and J.J. Abrams.

09Aug/20

Ending the Black Woman’s Emotional Taboos

Why don’t we cry in public? Why do we, as Black women, feel that we can only express our emotions in solitude?  Why is it that our only safe space? Well, the answer depends on the woman and her personal experiences. However, the answers all tend to be rooted in similar childhood experiences.  

In the majority of households of color we heard things like:

“Don’t you dare cry!”

“Fix your face before I fix it for you!”

“If you cry I’ll give you something to cry about!”

“Don’t let one single tear fall from your eyes!”

“Close your mouth!”

“Whose doors are you slamming?”

“You mad now? You better get over it.”

“Why are you mad? You don’t pay any bills around here!”

We were brought up to stifle our emotions. From childhood, we are taught to suppress our tears and we learned the lesson that crying shows weakness.  We are taught that any emotion other than joy should be kept to ourselves. This way of thinking is problematic and fosters shame and self-denial.  Each is unhealthy in its own right, but severely detrimental when combined for generation after generation. Our enslaved ancestors were beaten until their backs were raw, yet they didn’t cry out for fear of increased retribution.  Our mothers and aunties stifled their cries so they wouldn’t be next.  The children who were a witness to such horrific acts of brutality, and oftentimes the victim themselves, were told to be brave and show no signs of weakness.  Those days are over (well, kind of over but that’s an article for another day) but the suppression of our emotions continues to be the only way of life for far too many of us.  

Today, in the Black community, crying in public is still seen as a taboo. It is seen as unacceptable. As Black women, we have to hide in order to find a safe space where we can shed our emotions without judgment.  In bed alone.  In our mirrors. In the car. In the shower. It is while we are alone that we find solace in our tears. It is there that we give ourselves permission to be weak, fallible, sad, or angry. It is there that we give ourselves permission to have the wide range of emotions indicative of the human spirit. Here, it’s ok to be human. Here, alone with our thoughts, it’s acceptable to be who we are.  However, there is a high price to pay for the suppression of our emotions. Living life in such a way that it diminishes who we are for the sake of what others may think is detrimental to say the very least.  

As Black women we are subject to a double standard that isn’t applicable to other women. We aren’t afforded the luxury of being seen as competitors in business; rather, we are seen as emotionally unstable and we are labeled as such.  Despite those labels, we have more power than we give ourselves credit for.  Moreover, those who label us as such, see our power as well and do all they can to prevent us from realizing it.  When we are assertive, they call us aggressive. When we are truthful, we are labeled as difficult.  When we lead effectively, we are labeled as bossy. When we cry, we are labeled as weak and ineffective. When we demand answers, we are said to be “too much.” The most disheartening label that has been stitched into our collective psyches is given when we stand up for ourselves and speak our minds. It’s then that we are called an “angry Black woman.”  Whereas these labels may seem irksome, remember that the people who label us do so in an attempt to diminish our power.  

I’m here to tell you, fuck that and fuck them. No, for real; there is no mandate that says we must conform to the box others insist on placing us in.  How many times have you had to hide your emotions because you didn’t want to seem weak?  How many times have you changed what you were going to say solely because you were worried what someone would think of you? How many times have you needed to break yourself into bite-sized pieces just so someone else could feel whole? Even if your answer is “only once”, that was one time too many.  It’s high time that we reclaim and embrace who we are and how we must handle our business. Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.  That is their issue and, as such, it should rest on their shoulders.  What becomes of a pressure cooker when the release valve is glued shut? What happens when you shake up a bottle of carbonated drink with the top on? Just like the pressure cooker and the closed bottle, suppressed emotions will build up behind the mask you use to hide how you feel.  Pent up sadness and anger can and will breed discontentment and resentment.  

Let me ask you this: Where do you cry? Where do you feel safe while crying? Where do you vent your anger? Do you wait until nighttime? Do you immediately separate yourself and find a place to safely let it all out? Do you wait until the next day? Or are you among the growing number of women who continually hold it in with the hopes that it will all go away? Many of us refuse to shed a tear even if we are alone. Why is that so? Is it because we have been conditioned to believe that tears, even in solitude, are a weak spot in our armor? We are such believers in the idea of “not letting any cracks show”, that we beat ourselves up at the first sign of what we perceive as weakness. Our internal narrative is abusive and toxic. We are harsh in our attempts to soothe ourselves. Soothing words shouldn’t be abrasive yet we whisper our self-contempt daily: “What’s wrong with me? I’m acting like a baby! Get it together Sis, you can’t let them get to you! Toughen up. Stiff upper lip. Knock it off, you’re better than this!” We swallow our tears, we suck it up and keep it moving. What many of us don’t understand is that regardless of how long it’s been since the triggering event, that emotion is still sitting in our psyche, building and festering. It will keep doing so until a seemingly innocuous incident triggers us, unlocking the emotional floodgates. It’s at that point we are accused of overreacting. Maybe so, but if we give ourselves license to freely express ourselves regardless of the opinions of others, we wouldn’t find ourselves in said position to begin with.  Let’s unpack this further.  

What would it take for us to ignore the societal restrictions and cry when it’s warranted? What would it take for us to feel safe enough to vent our anger in a healthy manner? What would it mean for us to have the power to express ourselves at will?

Pssst…come a little closer, I have a secret to tell you.  You already have the power to express sadness or any of the myriad of emotions we have at any time, anywhere, ever.  Don’t let these people fool you into believing that you’re limited in your public interactions.  Our emotions are natural. It’s the suppression of them that’s unnatural and unacceptable.  

Let’s make an agreement with ourselves that each and every time we need to assert ourselves, or express any emotions, that we do so without pause or reservation.  Crying is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, crying is cathartic; it’s healthy.  The repression of our emotions is what’s detrimental. Expressing how we feel freely means we are in touch with who we are at our core. Expressing our emotions releases stress. It opens up a pathway between our hearts and our minds. It creates connectedness and allows for clarity in the end.  

We as Black women are our most powerful when we give ourselves permission and space to be human in all of our experiences. We have both strengths and weaknesses but it’s when we accept the totality of who we are that we are our most powerful selves.  So, how do we handle our interactions with coworkers or colleagues? How can we hold space for ourselves? First, we have to give ourselves permission to be unapologetically authentic. We have to be more concerned with our progress and our own mental health than we are with what anyone else has to say about us. Suppression of our emotions is damaging to our health and our psyche. Changing how we respond to judgmental people in an attempt to placate them, fosters a sense of inadequacy, frustration, and eventually resentment.  Their opinion of you is their problem and theirs alone.  

In the instances where the person passing judgment is the same person that pays your salary: 

Be polite.

Be professional.

But do not back down. Do. Not. Back. Down. 

The same strength it takes to soften your words to appease someone is the same energy it takes to say: “I said what I said.”  It’s the same energy it takes to reply: “What words did I use that made you uncomfortable and doubt my ability to perform my duties?” Ask this and then wait for an honest answer. Their judgments of you are more a reflection of who they are than anything else.  They are not the reflection of who we are, they are only a reflection of who they are, their limited views, and experiences.  You are the reflection of their inadequacies and a constant reminder of your superiority. They see our power and they use demeaning labels in an attempt to subjugate, diminish, and belittle us, thereby removing our power.  

The strongest defense is to shine brighter. Blind them with your brilliance. Smile with the knowledge that they see what we are capable of and they seek to eliminate it. Again, that’s their problem. Go around them. Go over them. Go through them if you must. No matter how they counter you, just keep at it until they shut up, sit down, and voluntarily move out of your way. You’re better than they are, now I want you to act like it.  

Photo by Jessica Felicio

06Aug/20

Filmmaker Tamara Shogalou’s animation, ANOUSCHKA, is a #BlackGirlMagic XR Experience

SYNOPSIS: ANOUSCHKA is an animated mixed reality (XR) experience inspired by the Black Girl Magic ethos and all Black girls around the world. In this interactive story, we follow Amara, a Black teenager from Amsterdam’s Bijlmermeer (Bijlmer) neighborhood, as she embarks on a magical journey of self-discovery through time and space. Amara must travel back in time and connect with generations of women that preceded her in order to save her grandmother and twin brother from a multi-generational family curse. She discovers her family’s ancestry and magical powers along the way and reconnects with her roots while also learning more about her present.  

The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival’s Virtual Arcade featured a lot of talented women filmmakers, but one Black woman director stood out the most…Tamara Shogalu. The international award-winning director gained attention with her successful hybrid animated documentary and VR game, Another Life. Now she has started production on her new project ANOUSCHKA. A project that promises to be more than a virtual reality medium, it will be a Black Girl Magic experience. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the skilled filmmaker and get more details ahead of her Kickstarter launch.

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): Can you please explain what XR reality is and how effective it is at bringing the project to life? 

Tamara Shogaolu (TS): We define Anouschka as an XR experience that utilizes virtual and sensory technology to promote a more engaging and immersive experience for the user. We do not classify this experience as VR since our goal with this project was to create immersion without the need for VR headsets, consequently allowing for a more sensory-rich, collective adventure. We do not use holograms, but instead, the audience will interact with wall projections, motion sensors, and voice recognition. We developed the Bemmbé Interactive™ platform for new ways of interactivity and engagement in a highly stylized space. We like to describe this form of experience as a story room or a magic box. The most important aspect of the technology is the use of immersive, 3D audio, that will create a tangible yet magical aural landscape. We want users to live the story, rather than just observe it. 

Tamara Shogaolu
Director/Producer/ Founder of Ado Ato Pictures

DDF:  What are some of the short term and long term goals for the project?

TS: First and foremost, one of our main goals is to create content that tells Black stories, about Black girls, written by Black women, and directed by Black women. 

Following four generations of women of color across time and space, this project will serve to increase visibility and representation of women of color in general. The migration and diaspora stories of people of color continue to be unjustly sidelined. ANOUSCHKA celebrates and encourages engagement with this culturally rich heritage while bringing the positive message of Black Girl Magic to the forefront. 

As well, we are telling this story through our Bemmbé Interactive™ platform.

The Bemmbé Interactive™ platform harnesses the power of multi-sensory technology to create powerful and immersive experiences. In Bemmbé Interactive™, bulky gadgets are discarded for the story to take center stage. The audience will experience the story in the room while wearing headphones. The technology also allows for custom audiovisual interactions, with projected visuals through infrared motion tracking and 3D spatial audio. By allowing full story immersion, the platform grants audiences the power to collaboratively explore, interact with, and participate in the narrative and deeply bond with the characters of the world of Anouschka or of other stories. 

Since the beginning of time, humans have been fascinated by the magical power of narratives and storytelling. Exploring the endless possibilities of the imaginary has always been of special interest to us. This passion for storytelling drove us to create Bemmbé Interactive™—an audio-driven story room platform that uses multi-sensory technology to create powerful and immersive experiences. 

ANOUSCHKA will utilize the Bemmbé Interactive™ platform to allow its users to live the story and its world without the gadgets traditionally required by VR technology. However, the platform can be adapted for different narratives, providing unique and meaningful experiences. It is also scalable and flexible, allowing for different audience sizes and the use of different physical spaces.  

Amara, a Black teenager from Amsterdam’s Bijlmermeer (Bijlmer) neighborhood

Since I was a child, I have been yearning and dreaming to see and create a story like ANOUSCHKA, a story about a smart young Black girl raised in a world of magical Black women like those in my world. I am even more thrilled that I get the opportunity to make a story that is written by talented Black women, produced by Black women and directed by a Black woman. “ – Tamara Shogaolu

DDF: Are there any Black female directors in animation who inspire you? 

TS: Currently, and heartbreakingly, there are no Black female directors in animation. But on this note:

Years ago, as a student in film school, I was told by a writing professor that a studio would never greenlight a film about a little Black girl. The professor asked me to change my script to incorporate white leads or else I would fail the class. I was forced to write a story that wasn’t mine and swallow a pill that said, “stories about people like me don’t matter.” This experience lit a fire in me. I refused to believe that stories about Black girls didn’t matter and made it my mission to dedicate my life and career to sharing stories of and lifting the voices of marginalized people and communities around the world.

As I grew professionally and expanded into working with new and immersive technology like virtual reality and augmented reality, I saw many of these same tropes being used to shape the new medium.  Until today, there has been no major studio animated feature film directed by a Black woman and there continues to be a glass ceiling and barriers to entry for Black women in tech, among many other fields. As a Black and Latinx woman working at the intersection of film, animation, and technology, I want to believe that I can contribute to shattering those ceilings by allowing Black girls like me to see themselves and their magic come to life while re-imagining how technology can help us tell stories.

Since I was a child I have been yearning and dreaming to see and create a story like ANOUSCHKA, a story about a smart young Black girl raised in a world of magical Black women like those in my world. I am even more thrilled that I get the opportunity to make a story that is written by talented Black women, produced by Black women and directed by a Black woman. I hope that you will join us in bringing ANOUSCHKA to life so that there is a space and a place for stories like ours.

Tamara is collaborating with spoken word artist Sandy Bosmans and playwright Elle Vanderburg. With all these Black women coming together and the rest of the Ados Pictures crew, Anouschka will be another award-winning project that may propel Black female filmmakers in animation to new heights! Check out the Kickstarter and join in the Black Girl Magic animation experience. 

ADO ATO Pictures is an award-winning media studio based in Amsterdam and Los Angeles. Following an ambition to produce the unexpected, their international team approaches creation with a pioneering spirit, always pushing to compose the most diverse and engaging experiences for audiences who crave fresh, boundary-pushing, and meaningful storytelling. 

05Aug/20

A Letter To End The Food Apartheid

We are tired of struggling and we refuse to stand down. Kroger and other multi-billion dollar corporations post #BlackLivesMatter, but don’t even have the decency to treat Black customers like human beings. I will not bow down and accept their crumbs. This is a movement. I am proud to share our most recent call for food justice. Much love to all the Black folks in Louisville who fought these same battles. I look forward to speaking with our elders about past Black supermarkets.

In the meantime, join us. Email/text/call/tweet Kroger and demand that Black folks be given reparations for the historic disenfranchisement of our community. If CEO, Rodney McMullen, can post about #BlackLivesMatter, then he should be held to that standard. Read our letter below and help us hold these executives accountable for the harm they continue to do in Black communities.

—–

Peace,

My name is Shauntrice. I am the director of #FeedTheWest. Over the last 2 months, we have served more than 14,000 West End residents who currently live in a food desert. I am also the owner of the Black Market KY, a West End home owner, and author of the Bok Choy Project.
Since you responded to our social media post today (and not the calls or emails made to Kroger directly over the last few weeks) we’d like to speak candidly with you about about food justice and racism for a moment. Kroger must do much better. The mobile market is not sufficient. The partnership with Dare To Care is not sufficient. Here are some highlights from the #BokChoyProject:

From 2011-2015, there were 335 infant deaths in Louisville Metro, out of 49,577 total births. Far and away, preterm births, low birth weights and infant mortality disproportionately affect Black babies. This is important because infant outcomes can impact health throughout the rest of one’s life. While infant mortality has slowly been falling, the death rate for Black babies from 2011- 2015 was 1.95 times higher than for Louisville Metro; 2.31 times higher than for White babies. (Louisville Metro 2017 Health Equity Report).

Black residents in Louisville are much more likely than white residents to have diabetes and heart disease. Black children are more likely to suffer from health issues, which lead to truancy and incarceration, but the Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR), reported fiscal 2019 sales of $122.3 Billion. We invite Kroger to join us during our Press Push tomorrow (Wednesday, 5 August 2020) to respond to our Antiracism and Equity Commission‘s recommendations outlined below:

  1. Kroger should publicly admit to discriminatory food apartheid practices in the West End
  2. We ask that Kroger gift $5 million in unrestricted funds to #FeedTheWest
  3. Since many Kroger workers in the West End are facing eviction, we support an increase of all non-management workers’ wages to a living wage by deducting the difference from executive level Kroger representatives including the CEO.
  4. Increase Black farmer support by sourcing at least 30% more of your produce from the following Black farmers: Kentucky Greens and Cleav Family Farm.

Please respond by 11:00 am tomorrow (Wednesday 5 August 2020). We look forward to hearing from you.
For transparency and accountability, I have CCd a number of community members.


All the best,
Shauntrice L. Martin

#FeedTheWest Director

Change Today, Change Tomorrow

03Aug/20
Black Dance Stories

Black Dance Stories August 2020 Lineup

Black Dance Stories

Black Dance Stories announces its August 2020 lineup featuring dancers and choreographers who use their work to raise societal issues, strengthen community through their programming, and use history as a source of inspiration. This month the story sharing and discussion series brings together yonTande and Meredith Rainey (Aug 6); Sydnie Mosley and Raja Feather Kelly (Aug 13); Zane Booker and Oluwadamilare “Dare” Ayorinde (Aug 20); and Leslie Parker and Wanjiru Kamuyu (Aug 27) in discussion. Black Dance Stories will also present the world premiere video of nora chipaumire’s new work—[another] township manifesto (Aug 27). The piece was created specifically for the digital platform in response to our current world environment where Black artists are finding innovative ways to continue to address the politics of Black bodies and connect to their audience. The series streams live via Zoom every Thursday in August at 6pm.

For full schedule and artist bios click here

The Black Dance Stories team consists of Black creatives in the arts, including Charmaine Warren, Kimani Fowlin, Nicholas Hall, Cynthia Tate, and Gabe Dekoladenu. The series is consistent with the tradition of Black artists finding a way for their voices to be heard during turbulent times. When civil, moral, and social freedoms are challenged and at times stifled, Black artists find ways to use their talents as activism. Black Dance Stories upholds, highlights, and celebrates Black creatives.

The series launched in June 2020. Previous artists include Ayodele Casel, Stefanie Batten Bland, Jamar Roberts, Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Cynthia Oliver, Marjani Forté-Saunders, Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris, J. Bouey, Kyle Marshall, and Okwui Okpokwasili. Each session will be archived on the Black Dance Stories YouTube page.

Black Dance Stories streams live on Zoom, every Thursday in August at 6pm. For more information visit @BlackDanceStories or email [email protected]. Sign up for updates here.

Taji Mag Vol 24 Curves & Serves

Taji Vol24: Curves & Serves

Release Sep 7 2020 | Vol24 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Curves & Serves! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @ruby_glam (Hair by @hairdoctor_locs, Photo by @PascalChikezie, Wardrobe and Accessories by @udiahgebi and @householdofjewellery1). Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, organic holistic health detoxes, teas, and supplements from Earth’s Cabinet LLC; our Community Spotlight on Budda by Yvee body butters; our highlighted Hair Feature by Angela Plummer; “Solo Travel: The Adult Gap Year with Stephanie Perry of Vaycarious.com” by dCarrie; “Resolution: Does the Earth Need Surgery?” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “#BlackLoveConvo: Alexis Chikaeze Chats about her Character in Miss Juneteenth” by Dapper Dr. Feel; “Education in the New World Order” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 24 contributed photo story, “Curves & Serves;” Fitness Highlight; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Mac & Cheese; “Black Honey Toys for All of Your Erotic Needs”; “Forq You Up is Adding Some Flavor to the Spice Game;” Featured Art Piece; Comic Appreciation with “Okemus” by T.J. Sterling; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 24

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 Pan-African people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.

25Jul/20
old guard

Old Guard Was a Great Film but Would Be Better as a Series

old guard
THE OLD GUARD (2020) – (L to R) Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker, Marwan Kenzari as Joe, Charlize Theron as Andy, Luca Marinelli as Nicky, Kiki Layne as Nile. NETFLIX ©2020

Synopsis: Led by a warrior named Andy (Charlize Theron), a covert group of tight-knit mercenaries with a mysterious inability to die has fought to protect the mortal world for centuries. But when the team is recruited to take on an emergency mission and their extraordinary abilities are suddenly exposed, it’s up to Andy and Nile (KiKi Layne), the newest soldier, to join their ranks, to help the group eliminate the threat of those who seek to replicate and monetize their power by any means necessary. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Greg Rucka and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (LOVE & BASKETBALL, BEYOND THE LIGHTS), THE OLD GUARD is a gritty, grounded, action-packed story that shows living forever is harder than it looks. 

First off, I want to say that I was excited to see the film, Old Guard, was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. If her name sounds familiar it’s because she helmed the classic film, Love and Basketball, one of my favorite films. I also saw the trailer featuring budding actress KiKi Layne and the talented Chiwetel Ejiofor as the co-stars, thinking “Oh, Netflix might have a nice action film on their hands?” As I read more about the comic-based film, I knew I had to see if I would recommend it or tell my friends to pass on it. 

What Worked? * Spoiler Alert *

The opening action scene with the immortal protagonists was awesome, one of the best fight scenes I have seen in a Netflix film. I mean it was crazy how the crew revived a la wolverine style and beat the living mess out of the special ops unit sent to “kill” them. Charlize Theron has done some decent action scenes in previous films, but Gina Prince-Bythewood had her looking like she could be Neo from the Matrix. 

Nile, Kiki Layne’s character, was also well developed. Seeing her character struggle to accept her newly developed immortality and adjust to killing was interesting and made the character more compelling. If I spontaneously became immortal and had to leave my life behind, it would definitely cause some inner turmoil. Especially knowing that I would have to watch people around me die and kill people for the rest of my life, that would be crazy! 

The plot twist involving Booker and Copley was one of the best parts. Their hope was to utilize the immortality as a means to find cures for diseases and ailments. I found this twist to be something that would cross my mind if immortality existed. Working in healthcare and experiencing the loss of loved ones due to aliments is rough so if we help people live longer through science, why not try to use the immortals DNA to help the medical world? The only problem, which is explored in the film, would be the greed and possible monopoly involved. I was truly irked by Booker and Copley for their betrayal but I could understand their perspectives. 

THE OLD GUARD – CHIWETEL EJIOFOR as COPLEY in THE OLD GUARD. Cr. AMY SPINKS/NETFLIX © 2020

“It’s such a universal story and it’s certainly been a theme in my work. But also inherent in my work is the normalcy of women being warriors. I love to reframe what it means to be a female, and I feel that movies can absolutely change the narrative and the conversation. Courage has no gender. Badass has no gender. It just is.” – Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Why It Would Be Better As A Series? 

The time travel element could be explored more and there are so many stories that could be told without giving away too much of how the heroes possessed immortality. I really felt act two of the film was a bit slow and had the interesting storytelling of the soldier who was left behind. I can imagine how great these stories could be explored in a series, like Highlander, you could span the centuries following each of our heroes’ origins. I understand Netflix is doing a sequel but I think they could pull off a series that would be just as interesting and would draw an excellent fan base. 

THE OLD GUARD (2020) – KIKI LAYNE as NILE. Photo Credit: AIMEE SPINKS/NETFLIX ©2020

I would love to see Nile’s life before she becomes one of the immortals, I would love to see Andy’s travel through time as a badass fighter and I would love to see the how each character dealt with the relationships they had (and lost). There was so much in the film that would be interesting to see in a series and director Gina Prince-Bythewood could bless the audience with more of her talents. 

In the end, Old Guard had some great action, strong plot points and the fight scenes were on point. I just felt, going into the third act of the film, Old Guard would’ve been better as a tv series. There was a whole world to explore, so many great stories to tell, and the film did an awesome job of covering it all, but a series would do the franchise more justice. I still enjoyed watching Gina Prince Bythewood put together a dope action film and can’t wait to see the sequel. Check out Old Guard now on Netflix.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood 

Screenplay by Greg Rucka 

Based on the Graphic Novel Series by Greg Rucka and Illustrated by Leandro Fernández

Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Van Veronica Ngo, with Matthias Schoenaerts, and Chiwetel Ejiofor