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
23Dec/20

Archenemy Star, Skylan Brooks, as Static Shock, Why Not?

While interviewing Skylan Brooks, I asked how he pulled off the portrayal of the optimistic and energetic Hamster in the film Archenemy. He stated that it was purely method acting. “Well, believe it or not, I was actually sick while shooting this film,” Brooks chuckled. Brooks is not new to the genre of superhero films, he played the super-intelligent Chubs in the 2018 film Darkest Minds. 

The young talented actor took time away from his busy schedule to talk with Taji Mag about his new film, Archenemy, and other projects he is working on. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What brought you to this role and how did you prepare for it? 

Skylan Brooks (SB): The film being a superhero, sci-fi film lured me to the role. I enjoy and previously had success in my other sci-fi projects like Castle Rock on Hulu. I wanted to know more about the director’s vision for my character, Hamster. I also wanted to understand the origin of the film and why it was being made. 

DDF: Hamster shows optimism and drive, how did you manage to keep those present in the character?

SB: Actually, that was one of the things I worried about when portraying the character. It worried me in the audition. I have a very chill personality, so it was a fun challenge to play this high energy character. What made me really capture the essence of the character was talking to the director. Also remembering, Hamster’s deceased father was a storyteller and that is what motivates him to tell his stories no matter what.  

DDF: What was the biggest obstacle to making this film? 

SB: Well, believe it or not, I was actually sick while shooting this film. Every time you see me smiling, shouting, and laughing like I was having a good time, I was dying. I actually had pneumonia, bronchitis, and a fever. I had to go to the hospital because I had difficulty breathing at times. It was crazy because everyone else is healthy and I was just so sick. It was brutal but fun. 

DDF: What the best part about making this film? 

SB: I really enjoy the stunts. Every time there was a big stunt going on, everybody’s vibe changed. The director would be like, “ Okay, you’re going to get sent through this glass table and you are going to get killed.” It was fun and we just laughed through it. There was great energy on set and everyone was fun to work with. 

DDF: Is your character, Hamster, inspired by other characters you previously played? I think of the characters you played in The Darkest Minds, The Get Down, and The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete. 

SB: Not consciously. I tried to draw from a whole different place. That’s interesting but cool you had thought so. 

DDF: Who are a few of your favorite comic characters? 

SB: Growing up I didn’t really know the comic world as I do now. I didn’t understand the difference between brands like DC Comics and Marvel? I just knew of the comic book characters. I have an affinity for fast characters, that are not necessarily flashy but have this cool attitude. Characters like the Flash, Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and Static Shock. I loved watching Static Shock growing up. He’s just a normal dude from the hood that got powers and didn’t take advantage of the powers. 

DDF: What comic book hero would you like to play?  

SB: Ah perfect question! I heard there was a Static Shock movie being made, that is way early in development and I would love to take a crack at it.

 

DC Comics superhero Static Shock

DDF: Which movie universe do you prefer? DC or Marvel? 

SB: That’s a hard question. Lol! I like both of them. Growing up I watched DC television shows, like Young Justice, but I watched Marvel movies.

DDF: What do you think the audience will get out of this film? 

SB: I want the audience to understand that heroes have emotions. Max Fist is a hero where he comes from. Beyond his hero complex is a fragile human being that feels forgotten. I think, through companionship and friendship, he redeems himself without his powers. 

DDF: How was it working with Zolee Griggs and Joe Manganiello? 

SB: Joe is a very intense guy when it comes to playing his characters. Once he is in character, there is no way of breaking him out of it. I appreciate being on screen with that type of experience. Zolee is great too and this is her first feature, I think she killed the role. She’s dope and you can see her on Wu-tang on Hulu. Zolee has great energy and she’s hilarious.

DDF: What’s next for  you? 

SB: I am focusing on the film but I have a music EP project and music video dropping this month. It’s a fuse of hip-hop and jazz. I am also working on two projects, one of which I am executive producing. 

DDF: If you make your own film, what genre would it be? What director would you work with and who would be your co-star? 

SB: I would want to do a Steven Spielberg type film with the grit of a Quentin Tarantino and the feel of Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise as a co-star. 

If you are looking for a hybrid of the Watchmen and Wolverine comic book genre film, make sure to watch Archenemy. The film has some cool animation, an exciting storyline, and a cool plot twist.
ARCHENEMY is in theaters, and currently available on VOD and Digital.

21Dec/20

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a Gift To Chadwick Boseman Fans Everywhere

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020) Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Cr. David Lee/NETFLIX

Synopsis: Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Academy Award® winner Viola Davis). Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music. As the band waits in the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious cornet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) — who has an eye for Ma’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry — spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories revealing truths that will forever change the course of their lives.

Chadwick’s on-screen performance was captivating and his charm was irresistible. His years of theater experience are on full display in this film. I felt as if his performance was a gift to his fans and anyone who loves good acting. There are many plays that are turned into films but not all plays are translated well. *Cough Cats! *Cough* American Son. Yeah, you know those were bad. Queue the Kerry Washington memes! 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, Director George C. Wolfe, and Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

I shouldn’t expect anything less than great work, since the film was based on the play by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson. The same energy and passion audiences received from his plays, like “Fences” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” is the same energy in the film. I can say August’s works are written so well they can be translated in any form with the right cast and so far he’s had nothing but some of the best involved in his work or anything based on his plays. James Earl Jones has won a Tony for Fences, Denzel and Viola Davis won a Tony, Golden Globe plus Oscar nominations. Now Viola Davis is back with another award-winning performance and Chadwick Boseman was one of the greatest actors of our time. With COVID stalling plans of the theater performances, the film is a satifsfying substitute. 

Chadwick’s character, Levee, personified what it meant to be a Black man at that time. His own band, nice clothes, a good woman, and a dream of ownership are in his sight during a time where racism and deceit are major spoils to his plans. Yet, Levee is optimistic about his talent and charm and believes an open promise will bring him closer to his dreams. Chadwick does an extremely beautiful job and shows range with the character in acts one and three. In the first act, he talks about how his mother was raped by a group of white men and how one of the men slashed him across his chest. He spoke with so much conviction that I could feel the pain Levee was carrying, noting that behind his winning smile was so much hostility. This scene pays off even more later in act three when he and Cutler (played by Coleman Domingo) talk about God. It is at this point Chadwick challenges Slo Drag about God and mocks him by threatening to harm Slo Drag with a knife. 

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM(2020) Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Colman Domingo as Cutler, Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, Michael Potts as Slow Drag and Glynn Turman as Toledo. Cr. David Lee/NETFLIX

Viola Davis’s performance… Oscar-worthy is how I describe Davis’s performance as Ma Rainey. I could barely tell it was Viola underneath the make-up. Davis captured the essence of Ma Rainey from the way she walked to the way she talked. Ma Rainey knows her worth and lets everyone know. Black, white, male or female, Ma Rainey imposes her divaesque persona on anyone she encounters. Ma Rainey is also the only LGBTQ character in her songs and relationship with Dussie Mae (played by Taylour Paige). I was laughing whenever her white manager would beg her to record or for her signature for contracts, she would get what she wanted every time. An interesting aspect of the film was powerful and in control, the artist was inside the recording studio, but on the outside of the studio, their white counterparts were perceived themselves to be superior.

It was good to see Glynn Thurman in the film as the wise Toledo – although he will always be Colonel Bradford Taylor from “It’s a Different World” and Preach from “Cooley High.” He and all the cast did a great job bringing Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to the screen. The film is definitely a must-watch and should be continued to be praised for storytelling. It made me appreciate the time Chadwick was on this earthly plane. 

August Wilson’s play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom celebrates the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society’s prejudices dictate their worth. Directed by George C. Wolfe and adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the film is produced by Fences Oscar® nominees Denzel Washington and Todd Black. Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Taylour Paige, Dusan Brown, Jeremy Shamos, and Jonny Coyne co-star alongside Grammy® winner Branford Marsalis’ score.

31Oct/20
Taji Mag Vol25 AfroFuture

Taji Vol25: AfroFuture

Release Dec 7 2020 | Vol25 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of AfroFuture! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @NoriRaneMUA (by @BymshaBrownePhotography with @NYCNory). Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Jurnee Smollett Talks Lovecraft Country, Activism, and Breonna Taylor” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight on Nichelle Consulting; our highlighted Hair Feature by Angela Plummer; “Solo Travel: Are You A Performative Global Ally?” by dCarrie; “Micro Betrayals?” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “Building the Image Nation” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 25 contributed photo story, “AfroFuture;” Fitness Highlight: @itsdreamsworld; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Wontons; Think Tank, “Lack of Love” by Brianna Burnley; Earth’s Cabinet LLC, Aligning Your Body Holisticly; “The Garden Metaphor Of Finance” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; Lovely Leo Skincare Awakens All of Your Body’s Senses; Featured Art Piece; Comic Appreciation; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 25

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.

22Oct/20

Wunmi Mosaku Says the Lovecraft Country Experience and Being Able to Speak About Racism Was Therapeutic

Wunmi Mosaku

Award-winning actress, Wunmi Mosaku (Instagram), has been featured in some amazing content from Luther to Black Mirror and has had her most recent success with the HBO hit series Lovecraft Country. The British- Nigerian actress spoke with Taji Mag about her character, Ruby Baptiste, in Lovecraft and her experience as a Black actress working on the set of a show featuring a predominantly Black cast with a Black female showrunner. 

*SPOILER ALERT*

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): During episode four, “Strange Case,” we saw Ruby transform into a white woman, how much do you think that experience affected Ruby? 

Wunmi Mosaku (WM): Ruby is a very confident self-assured woman. Being white did not change that for her. She did appreciate walking around freely, her skin color not incriminating her or being weaponized against her. Ruby mentions she was railing and raging around the streets, people were scared for her and not scared of her. 

I think Ruby will always use the magic potion as a tool for herself. She is not disillusioned, like “Gimme some more, gimme some more! This is the life I want to live!” Ruby is as Black on the inside as she is on the outside when the potion turns her white. I don’t think the transformation comes with joy or freedom for her. Ruby is Ruby and she loves who she is. She just wants everyone out there to stop fucking with her and let her be brilliant. Ruby wants to be all that she is without any interruption. 

Ruby has learned a lot and her eyes are open. If anything the transformation made her love herself more. 

Wunmi Mosaku, Jurnee Smollett-Bell
Wunmi Mosaku & Jurnee Smollett-Bell

DDF: Do you think during the course of the season that Ruby gravitates more towards Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) than she does towards her sister, Leti ( Jurnee Smollett-Bell)? 

WM: I think there’s truth in that. Ruby and Leti have such a tense relationship and truly don’t understand each other. Maybe it’s because they walk around the world so differently with different privileges and lack thereof. It’s also because Leti is difficult. Ruby has this idea that if she works hard enough and cracks through this whole system, she’ll be apart of it rather than against it. 

Yes, sometimes Black people can “crack” through the system, but let’s face it you can be famous as whoever, be stopped by the police, and be treated inappropriately. 

Ruby has this eye-opening experience and growth from Leti. Whereas before she was the big sister that looked after her little sister and bailed her out many times. Ruby would be like, “Leti, you can stay with me but when are you going to get a real job like the rest of us?”

Ruby and Leti do not have an equally yoked relationship. Ruby is kind of Leti’s mom in a way? They’ve both had a weird relationship with their mom. With Ruby having a mother-daughter relationship with Leti, it’s really hard to be open and honest. To be able to say how she feels and how the world is treating her as a dark-skinned woman when her sister is a light-skinned woman and has these privileges, plus someone looking after her, Atticus. 

Ruby doesn’t open up to Leti. Leti does not even know Ruby moved out of her nice apartment to pay for their mother’s funeral until she reconnects with her sister in the first episode.

Wunmi Mosaku

DDF: Can you interpret the William/Christina and Ruby relationship? 

WM: There is something about when she first meets William, that she just lets it all out. While reading the script I thought, ‘Why is she telling her business to this stranger?’ but there is some chemistry between them – which is obviously sexual in episode four. Ruby’s relationship between Christina and William kind of veers. William gets one side of her, which is physical and has a magical connection, while with Christina she is honest, it’s not explained but it’s understood.

DDF: Ruby’s character is a talented musician. Who would you say would be your top three favorite artists from any time period? 

WM: I would say, Jill Scott, Billie Holiday, Erykah Badu and  I really love Red Hot Chili Peppers but mostly their album “Californication.”

DDF: What made being on this show so unique?  

WM: Just being on the set of Lovecraft Country, having Misha as my showrunner, and being able to talk about my experiences as a Black woman was great. Being able to talk about being a Black woman with a Black woman on set was a great experience. I did not do that beyond my husband or my siblings. I had to do it every day for work, during these interviews. I have to talk about body images, these things I did not talk about. It was just like “Let me get this work done.”  Talking about those things has been both scary and therapeutic. I feel like I’m growing every time I have these conversations. I have never been on a show so Black before.

Wunmi Mosaku

DDF: Is there anything you learned about yourself while portraying this character? 

WM: I feel changed spiritually and emotionally by portraying Ruby. Her confidence in who she is which includes intelligence, sexuality, and education. Ruby is so beautiful and she loves herself, it’s so beautiful and rebellious. She isn’t afraid of the changes that have been made in her because of her experiences. Rubi embraces these changes that have happened to her intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. She doesn’t try to fit back into who she was five minutes ago, two years ago, etc. I feel like I have taken on a little bit of that. 

I love myself by playing Ruby. I never thought I’d play a character like Ruby. People always struggled to dress me because I am not this size or my hair is too kinky. I always thought I am not commercial, I am not this or I am not that. I feel so much more confident because I embraced all of me and I was encouraged to by Misha. 

Hopefully, you have already watched Wunmi Mosaku play the charismatic Ruby Baptiste in the horror series Lovecraft Country. If not, you can catch the full season on HBO Max. Wunmi Mosaku is also starring in the upcoming Netflix thriller, His House, about a refugee couple that escapes from war-torn South Sudan.