19Apr/21

“Them” Is a Nod to Classic Horror With Lots of Gore

THEM

SPOILER ALERT

“Another series requiring me to sleep with my Black Panther nightlight on.” That is all I could think to myself. I’m kidding, I don’t have a nightlight, BUT Them definitely is a series with some really scary moments and shocking – almost unbearable – scenes. I am happy to see a horror series helmed by Black creatives that is receiving a major push on Amazon Prime. Not exactly satisfied with the finished product after watching the whole season, though. 

The acting in the series was great. Shahadi Wright Joseph as Ruby Emory, Deborah Ayorinde as Lucky Emory, Ashley Thomas as Henry Emory, and Melody Hurd as Gracie Henry all play their characters well as the Emory family. I just wish the series could’ve continued to be more compelling instead of shocking. Deborah and Ashley’s chemistry as the lead Black couple was substantial. I could really feel the love they had for each other throughout the series and how they were supportive of each other during each of their mental breakdowns. I’m not going to lie, whenever Lucky got pissed, slapped, or chased someone I was cheering for her because she brought that energy. 

Shahadi in “Us” was scary as hell as she played the doppelganger, this time around she is a teenager haunted by a teenage white ghost and the acceptance of her skin color. I found this to be interesting and made me see her as a household name in the industry. The acting she does with her eyes is a thing of pure talent. The scene where cutting her face out of possession/self-hate had me cringing the whole time.

THEM

Melody as Gracie Emory had some of the scariest scenes. The possession scene had me saying, “Oh hell no!,” mainly because evil-possessed children in horror films are horrifying. Her acting was impressive and helped the fright continue throughout the series. 

Them has great usage of music to enhance the horror. For instance, “Come on Get Happy” by Judy Garland playing as they ride into Compton California is all so peaceful until, on the other side on the loop, it starts to slow down chopped and screwed style as the white neighbors look at the Black family entering their new neighborhood. Their expressions are priceless like someone bringing potato salad with raisins in it to a Black barbeque.

There is a great scene where Betty Wendell’s character is fidgeting with a torn small piece of wallpaper of her perfectly placed and patterned wall. The camera angles were well-timed as the scene reflects Betty’s discomfort of having a Black family in her ideal, perfect, all-white neighborhood. Betty is for sure an annoying character and deserves to be called “dumb ass b*tch!” Trust me you’ll hate her too. Then the series shows her disturbing family upbringing, her jealousy of other women who can have children (because of her sterility), and reveals the truth behind her unhappy marriage.

The storyline in Them is compelling and shows promise within the first few episodes but then becomes a little more disturbing and confusing. There is the rape of the lead character and the murder of her infant son that has made its way onto Twitter but there is also the flashback origin of the man in The Man in the Black Hat that is also gruesome. 

THEM

I was a bit thrown off by the milk man’s character, I understand people can have some creepy characters but I would’ve rather seen more of Wendell’s (Betty’s husband) story. I understand most of his story is implied but there could’ve been a moment where you show the reason for resistance to harm the Black neighbors was because he was also an outsider for being gay.

Da Tap Dance Man was creepy as hell and had to rub all that paint off his face. His character was a good addition and served his role in Henry Emory’s story but I think I’ve grown tired of seeing these minstrel show-style demons/ghosts in Black entertainment. 

The camera work and editing for Them was also impressive. The usage of colors, cuts, and angles really helped to create the feeling for each scene. For example, Henry Emory struggles to eat pie because the sweet smell and taste remind him of the mustard gas tested on him in the military. 

Them is definitely a series you should watch if you like Jordan Peele and the classic horror creatives before. You’ll definitely be reminded of the Topsy and Bopsy episode of Lovecraft Country. You may become disinterested if you like a series with a solid storyline. You can watch now Them on Amazon Prime.

13Apr/21

Newcomer Kyra Jones is Ready to Evolve Like Issa Rae

Unapologetic, blunt, and intersectional are the words to describe the rising filmmaker, Kyra Jones. She has recently won multiple screenwriting competitions (Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition 2020, ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch 2020), is working on a feature (Got to the Body), writing other projects, modeling, and participating in activist work all while working a full-time job… during a pandemic. I could tell after meeting her at the 2020 DC Black Film Festival that she would be someone to keep an eye on and was I right. The day before our scheduled interview she was staffed on season two of the hit Hulu series, Woke. Luckily for me Kyra still had time to tell Taji Mag what life is like as an up-and-coming artist. 

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

Kyra Jones (KJ): I always really loved film and television. I started off as an actor in high school. The only reason I got into acting was because my mom wanted me to have an extracurricular activity. My friend told me she was trying out for the school play and told me I should try out too. So she dragged me to the audition and I ended up getting the lead. 

I didn’t become a screenwriter/filmmaker until I was about to graduate from college. I was studying theater at Northwestern with the intention of acting. I was one of four Black students in my class of 100 theater majors. The theater department isn’t diverse at all. Needless to say, I did not have a great time with my experience. Within the material we were reading, there were no real roles for Black women. The roles were the usual stereotypical roles like maids, nurses, etc. I was like, “ We (Black people) do more than this.” 

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou

I know I want to tell stories and I know I want to be involved in art and media. I always liked writing and I was the type of person that could type a good 8-page paper in a few hours. So I was a strong writer in that regard but I never tried to do anything like creative writing or screenwriting. 

In my senior year I realized I should have been a filmmaker, it was too late at that point but I tried to take as many classes as I could. So, you can say I fell in love with screenwriting/ filmmaking my senior year in college. 

*After Kyra graduated her career was sort of in limbo. Her fellow classmates were doing internships, working for production companies, and making the connections needed to succeed after college. She struggled to get an internship because she had made the decision to become a filmmaker her senior year. Since she wasn’t having much success, she went back to acting. 

It wasn’t until the Right Swipe came along. My writing partner and I did not intend on writing a web series we just serendipitously came up with an idea. From there we decided you know what, this is a web-series. This would be the first time I stepped on set for something that I wrote and it was the first time I said to myself ‘this is for me.’

DDF: What do you think you bring to the writer’s room of Woke? 

KJ: I was definitely not expecting to make the writers room for Woke. I was so excited but, when I officially become staffed, I had so much shit to do in order to get ready. I had a full-time job and had to take leave, I had to try and get my ducks in a row in such a short amount of time. I’m just grateful and still shocked. I may have to turn off my camera to cry once the first meeting is over. 

The Woke team is really excited to have me and thinks I will be a great addition to the team. I think my social justice background will be useful, especially for a show called Woke. I think bringing a more nuanced, intersectional perspective to the show, the Woke team will be interested to see what I will bring to one of the queer characters, Ayana (Sasher Zamata).  Plus I’m funny. The Woke team had to read one of my pilots before they approved me and they thought it was funny. I can throw in a few jokes here and there, I think I am funny.

“Progressive art can assist people to learn what’s at work in the society in which they live.”- Angela Davis

DDF: Issa Rae had “Awkward Black Girl” and then later had Insecure, is there a possibility we could see a version of “The Right Swipe” in the future? 

KJ: There will not be another version of the Right Swipe. I do intend on having my own TV show one day. There is already interest in a pilot that I wrote and I am really excited about it. It has some similarities to the Right Swipe. 

DDF: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers? 

KJ: Barry Jenkins, Ava Duverna, Donald Glover, and Beyonce. Lemonade and Black is King are both so good. I know she had a huge team on those projects but the fact there were so many directors and they were one cohesive vision, means Beyonce had to have communicated the vision to the creatives. 

Kyra stated Go to the Body is in the process of getting named talent, developing the budget, and looking to shoot next year with an expected release date to be 2023.

DDF: What women inspire you? 

KJ: Inspired by my grandmother, she is not a filmmaker but she really inspired me. She is very unapologetic and unafraid. I love Issa Rae, she is pretty much inspiration to everyone. And Michaela Coel. Black women everywhere inspire me.

“The discussion of representation is one that has been repeated over and over again, and the solution has always been that it’s up to us to support, promote, and create the images that we want to see.” – Issa Rae

Make sure to check out the current work of Kyra. Also, be sure to be on the lookout for her work on season two of Woke and her feature film, Got to the Body. I look forward to seeing more Black artists like Kyra provide the perspectives and voices needed for everyone to enjoy entertainment.

01Mar/21

Coming 2 America: Hilarious, Nostalgic and a Well Written Sequel

Coming 2 America
Eddie Murphy stars in COMING 2 AMERICA, Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Spoiler Alert

One of the biggest fears I had for Coming 2 America was the plot failing as other sequels have done in the past. The first film is a 30-year-old classic which is why many, including myself, were asking why they were making another sequel period, but this film was well written from the jokes to the plot, even the cameos weren’t forced or left the audience scratching our heads. 

The plot of the film revisits the moments from the first movie. The infamous club scene where Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) are looking for Akeem’s future wife brought nostalgic laughs. The events leading Akeem to have an illegitimate son by having a one-night stand with Mary (Leslie Jones) were pure comedy. Leslie Jones was in rare form. Of course, I wondered why there wasn’t a DNA test done to confirm Akeem had a son but it’s a comedy so that’s not important. 

Playing on the theme of making your path was also written well in the film. This especially goes well with Lavelle doing as a young Akeem did, escaping to America with his love interest, the royal barber, to live his own life. Akeem’s transformation from happy-go-lucky and free-spirited to becoming more conservative was also done organically through each act. 

Tying in Akeem’s daughter, Meeka’s (KiKi Layne) desire to become heir to Zamunda and breaking tradition was not forced into the script and paid off in the third act. You would think since there are multiple storylines in a film it would be a mess but in this case, it was just enough. 

The relationship between Queen Lisa Joffer (Shari Headly) and Mary was also interesting. We saw the two who both birthed children for Akeem become friends and not have a hot-mess relationship. Mary was even able to bring the New Yorker back out of Lisa as they drunkenly sang and danced the “Humpty Dance,” a great scene and transitional moment.

Coming 2 America
Leslie Jones and Jermaine Fowler stars in COMING 2 AMERICA Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

The payoff for me was Akeem’s mother being the voice of reason while being absent from the whole film when Cleo (John Amos) asks Akeem what his mother would do when Akeem was in a low place. Other women were also the ones providing words of wisdom. This includes Lavelle receiving important life advice from Mirembe, Mary, and Meeka throughout the film.

Music and Entertainment

Let’s talk about the music and performances in the film because there are some memorable ones. King Jaffe’s funeral was outrageous but desirable because he was able to witness it. He had performances by En Vogue, Salt-n-Peppa performing “What a King”, Glady’s Knight did “Midnight Train to Zamunda,” dance performances by the Zamunda dancers. Who wouldn’t want to go out to this type of celebration? 

Bopto’s (Teyana Taylor) entrance was also another fun musical set with a rendition of Prince’s “Get Off”. I loved this because I am a huge Prince fan. Of course, the film could not go without Oha, the royal orator that sung “She’s Your Queen to Be”, laying down some of Prince’s lyrics followed by Lavelle’s rap portion of the song. 

Cameos and Movie Nods

Coming 2 America
Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall star in COMING 2 AMERICA Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Some of our favorite characters portrayed by both Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy return from the first film including the old men in the barbershop, Reverend Brown, etc. The newest addition was Baba portrayed by Arsenio Hall who had me dying every scene he was in. There’s also a surprise performance by Randy Watson, whom I waited for in anticipation with excitement at the end of the film during the wedding, I’m sure people will enjoy it. 

Just like the first film, the Duke and Duke firm from Eddie Murphy’s other film Trading Places had a few scenes. If you don’t remember in Coming to America, the Duke brothers are shown homeless and broke until luck is bestowed upon them. 

Review 

Coming 2 America was a surprisingly hilarious sequel that I would happily watch in theaters. Some may argue but I found it to be just as funny as the original Coming to America. The film also has a great soundtrack featuring songs by John Legend and awesome costume designs with beautiful colors by the award-winning Ruth E. Carte. If you are looking for good laughs, nostalgic musical entertainment, and a good-hearted film, then tune into Amazon Prime Friday, March 5th. Watch the credits for bloopers!

18Feb/21

Sundance Film Festival 2021: Favorite Black Short Films and the Virtual Experience

Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival 2021 presented its audience with not only some great new projects but also new experiences virtually. This year’s Black creatives gave us amazing content and compelling stories. Many of the projects had me sitting in my apartment in silence and reflecting on the stories being told. Below are a list of some of my favorite short films from the Festival and my interactive WebXR experience with the project Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler.

Favorite Short Black Films of the Sundance Film Festival

Bruiser

Synopsis: After his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley, Darious begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood.

Artist: Miles Warren is a filmmaker born and raised in New York City. Since graduating from Wesleyan University, he has directed various short films, music videos, and commercial content. 

My Thoughts: How do we define masculinity and what influences our definition of it? The answer to these questions is formulated from the time we are born until we leave this earth. Bruiser gives the perspective of a young man, attempting to define masculinity after he witnesses his father fighting. I loved how the filmmaker shows how quickly the father’s words and actions impact Darious. There are also lessons the father learns about the importance of his influences. Bruiser is a short I recommend watching.  

Five Tiger

Synopsis: A God-fearing woman in present-day South Africa finds herself in a transactional relationship as she tries to support her sick husband and daughter.

Artist: Nomawonga Khumalo is a writer/director from Johannesburg, South Africa. Five Tiger is her narrative film debut. Her feature film, The Bursary, will head into production in the second half of 2021.

My thoughts: This is another film that touches on masculinity in addition to gender roles, morality, faith, and forgiveness. So much is told in this short that I was really interested to see what happens with the lead character and what led to her husband’s sickness. The most surprising part of the film is the reveal of who is involved in the transactional relationship. I really felt for the lead character as she juggled so much and fought internally to provide for her family.

Lizard | Short Film Grand Jury Prize, Presented by Southwest  

Synopsis: Juwon, an eight-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger, gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a megachurch in Lagos.

Artist: Akinola Davies Jr.’s work is situated between West Africa and the United Kingdom, as he identifies as a member of the global diaspora, being part of both worlds. His work navigates the collision of colonial and imperial traditions, as well as a return to Indigenous narratives. 

My Thoughts: This film reminded me of the childhood experiences and questions about the church. A journey with Juwon from the classroom to the church parking lot had me thinking, “ ]What is this little girl doing and why she is spending her church money on junk food?” Although she misses class exploring the church ground, she learns a lesson about cheating the church and God. This experience will for sure influence the moral compass of Juwon. What happens after the conclusion of the film? I wish the filmmaker would show us because it looked like there was going to be some real action. 

Black Bodies by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall

Synopsis: SA Black man comes face-to-face with the realities of being Black in the twenty-first century.

Artist: Fyffe-Marshall is a director, screenwriter, and social activist whose work includes the award-winning short film, Haven (2018), and the two-part short film, Black Bodies and Marathon (2020). 

My Thoughts: This speaks volumes about present-day racism and expresses the frustrations of the Black community. I sat in silence and could feel every bit of the powerful poems by Komi Olaf and Donisha Prendergast. A speakeasy piece, imperative art, and perspective all in one, Black Bodies ends on a note we are all too familiar with. To learn that Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s film was inspired by a viral racial incident makes her work even more compelling. The filmmaker/activist spreading the word of equality while chipping away at injustice one film and project at a time.  

A Concerto is a Conversation

Synopsis: A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Artists: Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers. Proudfoot, an award-winning short-documentary director and entrepreneur, is the creative force behind Breakwater Studios. Bowers is a Grammy-nominated, Emmy Award-winning, and Juilliard-educated pianist and composer who creates genre-defying music that pays homage to his jazz roots—with inflections of alternative and R&B influences. 

My Thoughts: I really loved the conversation between Kris Bowers and his grandfather about their family history. Kris Bowers’s love for music and his grandfather’s love for his dry cleaning business, have similar success stories. I liked how the film displays the love and bond between the two men. It’s no surprise the short film added Ava Duvernay as executive producer and is an Oscar contender.

Want to watch this beautifully crafted short documentary click the link and watch below.

New Frontier: The Interstitium with Octavia Butler

The Sundance Film Festival, although virtual, still provided audiences with personal and interactive ways to experience the festival. COVID has prevented many from traveling to Salt Lake City but, with the virtual experience, audiences interacted with others via an avatar and watched films. I loved participating in the New Frontier world and hope it returns next year because it allows those who can’t travel to experience the Sundance film festival.

The Octavia Butler virtual experience was one of the biggest highlights of the Sundance Film Festival. I loved being able to see the project “Pluto” by one of my favorite artists, Sophia Nahli Allison. Fresh off her Netflix documentary, “A Love Song For Natasha”, the artist takes the audience on an expedition from death to birth with varying imagery and an original poem as a voice-over. The text, “it’s not dying that hurts it’s coming back to life that’s painful,” displays at the beginning of the project and is the question the woman asks, what seems to be, a higher being. I loved this work as I felt like I was hovering through time and existence trying to answer the questions of reincarnation. As always, this project is worth the experience and I look forward to Allison’s future work.

Secret Garden, by Stephanie Dinkins (not the song featuring El Debarge, Barry White, and Christopher Williams), allows the participant to walk around a garden where oral histories spanning generations of African American women live. I was intrigued by the stories and the ability to see the expression displayed by each woman. It was like going to a concert with multiple stages and listening to women tell stories ranging from surviving an enslaved boat to growing up on a farm in the 1920s.

Idris Brewster’s virtual experience had me getting GTA vibes, exploring an island first-person view. Each island had its own unique environment and soundtrack featuring Black artists. It’s a music and art lover’s playground. I visited the island three times to see if the atmosphere of the island changed, nothing changed but the time of day changed. The only thing that would’ve made the experience better is if I would have had the VR goggles to fully enjoy the experience – but that was my fault. Maybe I should use my stimulus check to get some VR equipment.

Terence Nance’s piece reminds me of the screensavers we had back in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The type of art that mold’s itself to the vibration of sound. In this case, it’s the sound of people’s voices that alter both the color and environment of the piece. To experience what I mean you can go here.

Sundance Film Festival 2021 was a great success in my opinion, not only was there a lot of Black art representation but the opportunity for many around the world to experience the festival virtual. The movie drive-ins are great to keep safe and within the experience. I really hope more people participate next year to see something more than what’s on the streaming services. Plus you can have your own snacks…legally.

12Feb/21

Judas and the Black Messiah: The Best Film of 2021 So Far

Judas and the Black Messiah

SYNOPSIS: Judas and the Black Messiah is the story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant, William O’Neal (LaKeith Standfield).

You may say it’s too early to say Judas and the Black Messiah is the best film this year given it’s only February, but damn this film is amazing! Usually, biopic films that take place during the civil rights movement and slavery uprising are too frustrating to watch but this film was well put together from the acting to directing. From the soundtrack to the 70’s aspect ratio style in the first act, the film pays homepage to the 70’s genre of film.  

“ I AM A REVOLUTIONARY, I AM A REVOLUTIONARY!” 

I’ve read the history books and heard some of the speeches by Fred Hampton. I must say, Daniel Kaluuya captured the essence of the activist. His presence in Judas and the Black Messiah is so powerful that even those on set have stated they believed Fred Hampton’s spirit was in the room. During the Sundance Q&A, Kaluuya talked about how he was losing his voice but the crowd was into his portrayal and yelling “I am revolutionary!” that he was able to push through and portray some powerful speeches. 

The Chemistry 

The best chemistry in the film was between Kaluuay and Dominique Fishback. Fishback’s portrayal of Deborah Johnson aka Akua Njeri provided the confidence and magnified the articulation of the Fred Hampton character. She also provided a space of vulnerability for him. Fishback’s talent in spoken word is displayed in this film as she wrote and read her work throughout the film. The two most touching poems were read around act two where she describes the love she has for Hampton and the other is in act three where she questions motherhood after Hampton’s release. Fishback explained during the Q&A that director Shaka King allowed her to show the character’s creativity on screen. 

The love remains but there’s a shift in the relationship of both Hampton and Johnson in the third act, as Hampton’s imprisonment and activism cause him to become more dedicated to the cause. I really felt the connection between the two and I loved Fishback’s performance even more. The ending where she held back her tears and her composure combined with the camera angle was dope! I hope she gets some Oscar buzz.

It’s not easy writing characters like Roy Mitchell but Shaka King does a great job turning this protagonist into a compelling and conflicted character. At times, he is just as conflicted as his informant O’Neal. Especially in the scene where J. Edgar Hoover questions Mitchell on what he was going to do when his daughter brought home a “nigger”. You could see the initial equivocation in his response. 

LaKeith Standfield kept the tension during the whole movie. From when his position was almost compromised after an FBI mole was tortured by the Panthers to him almost getting shot during a shoot out with the police. He basically shifts into paranoia and identity crisis as his portrayal of O’Neal reminded me of how desperate the character was. I often forget that O’Neal was so young and easy to influence. His interaction with Hampton reminded me of films like In Too Deep because O’Neal was able to see the good in Hampton’s efforts and the evil in the actions of the FBI.

It was too crazy to see that O’Neal died shortly after the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” premiered. The documentary featured O’Neal talking about the guilt and struggle he faced after the murder of Hampton. 

Judas and the Black Messiah

I like the fact that Judas and the Black Messiah showed how the Panthers did things and provided services to the community. Hampton’s desire to build with the underrepresented community no matter the color was good to see on film.

Judas and the Black Messiah Summit

Shortly after the premiere of the film at Sundance, Warner Bros. put together an all-day virtual summit featuring the artist and actors from the film. One of my favorites is the conversation between Dominique Fishback and Akua Njeri. The summit also featured LaKeith Standfield, Daniel Kaluuya, and Fred Hampton Jr.

See the Movie!!!

Overall Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the best films you will see on HBO Max and in theaters this year. You will not be disappointed like I was after I watched The Little Things. Sorry y’all, Denzel is still the GOAT when it comes to acting but I’d rather eat a dry PopEye’s biscuit than try to watch that film again. Tune into HBO Max this Friday and check out this great film!

09Feb/21

Summer of Love, Quest Love’s Award-Winning Film, Will Be Televised

Summer of Love

Synopsis: In 1969, during the same summer as Woodstock, a different music festival took place 100 miles away. More than 300,000 people attended the summer concert series known as the Harlem Cultural Festival. It was filmed, but after that summer, the footage sat in a basement for 50 years. It has never been seen. Until now.

Artist, DJ, storyteller, and now award-winning director, Quest Love, won audiences over with his debut film, Summer of Love. The documentary features a slew of artists, attendees, historians, and celebs as they discuss the long-forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival. The Roots drummer brought together a beautiful collage of music, film, and history.  

Quest Love’s film starts off with a very emotional reaction by attendee Musa Jackson and cuts for a brief moment before the film starts again. This moment resembles how we all feel when the past is revisited during a time of joy. Much like my first Bulls game when I got to see Michael Jordan. 

The tone of the film mimics the musical archive of Quest. Every beat and note is well composed to fit each moment of the documentary. It’s like Quest Love is doing a DJ set and he is just feeding us the moment like he does while performing in front of a crowd. Love mentioned he approached the film as if it was a DJ set during the Q&A after the film. I really felt every single beat and not just the songs performed by each artist but by each scene. There are a few times the film touched me emotionally. Stevie Wonder’s drum solo was jaw-dropping. Nina Simone’s performance embodied Black Girl Magic. When Mahalia Jackson performed “Precious Lord” with Mavis Staples… whew. It was one of the only times the two had ever sung together on stage. I was honored to see Mavis Staple perform in 2016 at the Stephen Colbert Show, so it was cool seeing her perform in her prime in this film. 

The historical ties throughout Summer of Love let the audience know how special this moment in time was, to have a Black orchestrated music festival with top chart-topping performers. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X weighed heavily on the Black community, so it was good to see people have an escape for this moment in time. 

Not only did we see the producer and host Tony Lawrence put together magical series of concerts but I learned how the almost forgotten festival had so many invested. Take for instance the Black Panther party providing security for the event, it was intriguing to see how people came together to make this come together. 

I found myself dancing, singing (or at least trying to), and almost crying at some moments (my eyes were sweating) because of some of the experiences Black people had back then, we are having now. The performance by Sly and the Family Stone was great and it was dope to learn that they had performed the set from Woodstock, which was happening not too far from the festival. It was funny seeing the crowd’s reaction to the group showing up. Sly and the Family Stone show up late or not at all at times for performances.

I really truly loved learning the festival included not only the stable Black artist we know of but also Hispanic artists like Ray Barretto. Seeing how the festival included other diasporic cultures that were oppressed really showed the festival’s intention – to bring people of color together for a great time and good music. This is the same reaction I have while watching the award-winning documentary Mr. Soul that Quest Love was featured in. 

Summer of Love

Quest Love did an excellent job capturing the reaction of the interviewees during Summer of Love. It really made the film tug emotionally at my heartstrings. I could see how much this festival meant to each person and how the event impacted their life. Honestly, it made me jealous because to be a part of a moment like that had to be extraordinary. 

I was not surprised to see the film take home multiple awards including the Audience Award: U.S. Documentary and U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary. I even made mention of its greatness on social media before I watched the other films on my list. The documentary truly shows much of Black History is still out there and how awesome our people are. So yes, the “Summer of Soul” will be televised and you need to make sure to watch it! I’ll definitely re-watch this film with my family when it is available to the public and will continue to listen to my 70’s playlist the film inspired.

02Feb/21

Relationship between Poetry and the Body

Poetic Introduction – What is A Poem, But a Body?

If poetry is yet another body, then we are blessed. 
What else gets to create, envision, become, and shed more than one body?
A cat may have 9 lives, but we have as many lives as we have pens to paper; 
as we have scattered fleeting thoughts; 
as we have silence. 

What a true blessing it is playing, 
holding a moment still and alchemizing it into whatever we like: 
truth, lies, darkness, light, expression, secrets, life, death,
everything and nothing.

- Sadie Jay
A poem comes from emotion. Emotions are felt in the body. The body is the starting place of the poem, whether you write about the body or not. 

A poem is a container, just like the body. Because the black body is so highly politicized, Black poetry is highly politicized. 

What a poem presents is one thing and when you look more closely it shows itself in another light. Poetry is reflection; a way to understand yourself. 

- Dannie Ruth (excerpt from a cento with lines from Omotara James)

How We Found Poetry

Growing up, I was fascinated with sound, letters, and making words. I loved learning new words and their meanings and the many ways they could be used, reshaped, and used again. 

In the fourth grade, I began studying Latin and continued for many years. Although Latin is a ‘dead’ language, it has given itself to so many other languages. Ninety percent of English words are derived from Latin, while French, Portuguese, and Spanish are direct offspring. 

Ancestors are like Latin; dead bodies in this realm, yet they keep giving to the living. 

As a child, I learned to grieve and often found comfort in writing poetry and journaling. I’ve kept most of my composition notebooks and journals from then until now—pages and pages of me at different life stages. 

At a certain point, writing poetry became a hobby, something I would do when I was bored in class. Sometimes just coming up with lines. Noting words or phrases that were spoken that day. Depending on the class, I would manage to pay attention and play with words and worlds on my page. Writing allowed me to be somewhere else.

– Dannie Ruth

My relationship to poetry sparked in elementary school with my observation that the “trees danced in the wind.”

My fourth-grade teacher seemed so genuinely pleased by my answer that I kept a relatively positive association to poetry, even through the “write a sonnet in iambic pentameter” days of high school.

Poetry became a more focused interest during the quarantine. I started connecting to my body more through movement and dance. I looked to other black women and their life experiences.

From there, I realized people who had an intimate connection to their bodies could access their truth and express it in ways that felt inaccessible to me. Poetry has given me ease in expression.

– Sadie Jay
poetry and the body 
Image with pink and blue gradient background with white text that reads: 

"Write after a shower. Write on the toilet. Write after an argument. Write in and about liminal spaces. Writing can be cleansing. Revisit your writing. Keep adding layers or scrap everything and start all over again."

Try out this writing prompt!

Choose a photo, image, or piece of art. Write a description without naming any objects in the photo.

Ekphrasis & The Body Cave Canem Fall Workshop

I found Cave Canem during my time in The New School’s Creative Writing MFA Program. Their mission is to cultivate African American poets’ artistic and professional growth by offering fellowships, workshops, prizes, and host readings.

Finding them was a relief because it became challenging being one of the few Black poets in my program. Cave Canem is pouring into Black poets who elevate the canon.

– Dannie Ruth

I came across Cave Canem while searching for online poetry workshops. Although I consider myself still very much a novice in writing poetry, I felt a strong desire to explore. 

Among the many transitions that happened last year, I abruptly moved from Brooklyn back to my small beach town in Florida. I had come to my first writer’s block. 

Every week I was encouraged to write and connect. This consistency was calming as my world was in flux.

– Sadie Jay

We had the opportunity to attend a ten-week workshop, facilitated by Omotara James, titled Ekphrasis & The Body. Ekphrasis is a response to a piece of art, and the art does not have to be visual. We make ekphrastic responses daily (memes, comments, shade!). When a piece of art moves us, we usually experience it viscerally before we process it intellectually. In other words, we experience art in the body. The body not only houses these experiences but contains every memory that has shaped us: individually and collectively.

We completed the workshop and are now left to consider: (1) the way poetry can enact itself, (2) our duty as poets to research, explore and respond to the artwork and our respective worlds, and (3) how to cultivate a deeper understanding of our own bodies and the poems that come from us.

We must take time to unpack poetry as it relates to the body fully. Write and connect with us as we engage in this process. Whether you consider yourself a novice or experienced poet, check out the Spring Workshops offer by Cave Canem. A lottery now chooses community workshops, and participants receive a stipend of $250 upon completion. Submitting can’t hurt.

01Feb/21

Taji Vol26: Diasporic

Release Mar 7 2021 | Vol26 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Diasporic! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @TheOnlyWayIsMarbz by @_OKOBE_. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Jingle Jangle: The Film Every Child Needs While Growing Up ” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight on Greeting Cards by Adeyemi Artistry; our highlighted Hair Feature; “Solo Travel: How Travel Made Me A Better Person” by dCarrie; “The Texture of Education” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “The Chaos Theory of Education” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 26 contributed photo story, “Diasporic;” Fitness Highlight: @eliteperformancenyc; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Jalapeño  Honey Po’ Boy; “Are You Financially Prepared For This “New Normal”?” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; Featured Art Piece by Janelle Naomi; Comic Appreciation with Ezerea, Tales of the Zauberer by William C. Davis; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 26

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.

27Jan/21

Black Luxury Brands to Frequent: La Vie by CK

Let me start off by saying that La Vie by CK blew me away. I knew our people were talented but La Vie by CK is on another level! They instantly blow away anything you can get in your Ann Taylor’s or your H&M’s. The women’s bathing suit selection has some of the most gorgeous pieces I’ve ever seen.

The Greece bathing suit (understandably sold out), will absolutely have all eyes on you as you lounge poolside at any resort from Miami to, well, Greece! The white fabric of the sleeves is light and airy, giving you the look of a goddess come to earth, and the ankara print trim around the white bodice will beautifully complement melanated skin, from the lightest oak to the richest ebony. Most of the selections are named after African nations and are created from bold and colorful Ankara prints.

“The Greece bathing suit (understandably sold out), will absolutely have all eyes on you!”

Their current selection is a masterclass in garment construction, Claude Kameni’s eye for design and an appreciation for the black body is something that you can only get from brands run by people who look like us.

A photograph of 3 women of color, lounging on a large rock in the middle of a lush green forest wearing ankara print bathing suits
Swimsuits from LaVie by CK’s LE VOYAGÉ collection; Photo Credit/MC Gregor Lapierre

La Vie by CK also offers couture gowns which, if the ready-to-wear pieces are any indication of quality, will absolutely be worth every dollar spent – from the consultation all the way up to the design and finishing of the final product. A quick run-through of the brand’s Instagram can give you a good look at the kind of quality couture gowns and outfits Kameni is capable of.

The brand is featured on Beyonce’s website and was even brought on to design a wedding dress for the indelible, forever iconic Jennifer Lewis for the Golden Globe and NAACP Image award-winning show, Black-ish. The outfit, like many of her pieces, features a bold red Ankara print, a long flowing train, billowing sleeves over a simple but stated pant.

Jennifer Lewis wearing a La Vie by CK ensemble on the set of Black-ish; Photo Credit/ Claude Kameni

I could go on and on about the thought that goes into the construction of each garment and how they look on melanated bodies, but then this would be a book. Instead, go check out La Vie by CK for yourself and tell them I sent you!

30Dec/20

Karen Bryson, British Actress & Black Narcissus Star, Won’t Tell You About Justice League

Karen Bryson

I tried to get the inside scoop from British actress Karen Bryson about Zack Snyder’s Justice League film and her role as Elinore Stone. She just grinned and talked about how fun it was on set with her co-star Ray Fisher (Victor Stone/Cyborg). Needless to say, I was not able to get any information from her. Her lips were sealed shut on the anticipated project. Instead, she spoke excitedly about one of her newest projects, Black Narcissus on Hulu, and what she has been up to during the pandemic. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How have you been during COVID and what have you been up to? 

Karen Bryson (KB): I’ve actually been really lucky. The UK (United Kingdom) has been able to tone down strict guidelines when it comes to filming. I have been working on a UK drama, then I acted in a movie. 

DDF: What interested you about Black Narcissus?

KB: The audition process was incredible. I would like to say the series is more faithful to the book than it is to the film. This is not a remake. I know when people think of Black Narcissus they think, “Why would you remake such an iconic film?” and I say “No, we haven’t.” Even though the producer is the grandson of producer Emeric Pressburger (co-director of the 1947 film Black Narcissus), in the current version of Black Narcissus, we stayed faithful to the book and it is a miniseries. The characters come alive in a way that is not in film translated, the series is three hours of storytelling. I hope our version leaves people with a lasting impression like the film left people with a lasting memorable impression.

BLACK NARCISSUS SYNOPSIS: Black Narcissus is an FX limited series based on the best-selling novel by Rumer Godden. Mopu, Himalayas, 1934. A remote clifftop palace once known as the ‘House of Women’ holds many dark secrets. When the young nuns of St. Faith attempt to establish a mission there, its haunting mysteries awaken forbidden desires that seem destined to repeat a terrible tragedy.

DDF: How did you prepare for the role? Did you take anything from the movie? 

KB: It was very interesting preparing for the role. Sister Phillipa is the most spiritual and obedient to the rules of the group of nuns. She is in a time around the 1960s or 1970s where the rules were a bit more relaxed for the nuns than previously. The rules were incredibly strict. Some of the priest and nuns hired gave the cast and I information about their lives. The cast and I watched them pray, sing, and perform their rituals. 

Karen Bryson

Sister Phillipa believes she was called to be a nun and really has a closeness with God. There is a moment in the series where she says, “This place (Himalayas) is too much for all of us.” After that, she is like, “Bye,” and leaves. She also mentions the beautiful mischief of the location, which caused her to be distracted from her path. Sister Phillipa even stated it’s as if the mountain watches us, not God.

DDF: How much of Sister Phillipa is part of your personality? 

KB: Phillipa followed the rules, so there is no touching, I’m a hugger. No emotion being shown, I like to cackle and I cry. I’m a crier.

Karen Bryson

DDF: Did you learn anything from the role? Did you change the way you look at religion? 

KB: I learned so much. I actually learned I am more spiritual than I thought. I also decided I want to learn more about God. I’d also like to get into gardening more, you know, sowing the land and seeing what happens. Normally my husband is the one into gardening. 

DDF: There is a scene where Sister Phillipa comes across a mirror and stares at it. What do you think Sister Phillipa saw in the mirror? 

KB: Interesting. I would say the character hasn’t seen herself in about a good twenty years. I think she is shocked at the fact that she has aged. When I look at pictures of my younger self, I can see my face so plump as a baby and from there I know what I look like at each age of my life. Phillipa hasn’t seen her face in years, so when she happens to stumble upon her reflection and sees an aged version of herself, she becomes intrigued in my opinion. Her intrigue is broken, when she remembers that she and her fellow nun shouldn’t be looking into the mirror.  

DDF: What are some of your favorite films or series you are watching now? 

KB: The series of films, Small Axe, by Steve McQueen. It’s showing here (in the UK) on BBC and I think in the U.S. on Amazon Prime. I haven’t caught up with the most recent film because I have been in Guadalupe working. The five films in this project, couldn’t have come at a better time than now. Incredible films, sometimes they are difficult to watch but it’s exactly what we need. Looking at how far we’ve come as Black people in the UK. I think about how my parents experienced some of those rough times of racism, speechlessness. I urge you and everyone to watch them. Steve McQueen is a genius.

DDF:  What can you tell us about Zack Snyder’s Justice League film? How was it working with Ray Fisher and playing his mother in the film? 

KB: I can’t say too much. You’d get me in trouble (laughing). You’ve seen the trailer, it looks amazing. I can say that Ray Fisher and I have become close. He is a wonderful young actor and a wonderful young man. We got along great during the shoot, I think certain castmates you just connect with which is fortunate because sometimes it can go terribly wrong. I think the director, Zack Snyder, is great and really amazing at what he does. I’m excited to see this version of Justice League and excited to see the audience’s reaction to this version of the film. 

DDF: What would be your dream project? 

KB: I would really love to work with Viola Davis and Barry Jenkins.

You can watch Karen Bryson portray Sister Philippa in the mini-series, Black Narcissus, on F/X and Hulu. She will also be in the highly anticipated Justice League Director’s Cut on HBO Max. The actress has been so busy during the pandemic we can only hope she’ll soon be working with award-winning actress, Viola Davis. 

Karen Bryson