28Jun/21

Renaissance Woman, Nana Mensah, Impresses with Directorial Debut: “Queen of Glory”

Synopsis: Queen of Glory is the story of Sarah Obeng, a brilliant child of Ghanaian immigrants, who’s quitting her Ivy League PhD program to follow her married lover to Ohio. However, when her mother dies suddenly, Sarah is bequeathed a Christian bookstore in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx where she was raised. A follow-up on the classic immigrant’s tale, Queen of Glory provokes laughter and empathy as its heroine is reborn through her inheritance. 

Queen of Glory is a humorous film about identity, family, and culture; a story that shares the perspective of a Ghana-American preparing to bury her mother while following her deep-rooted cultural practices in the process. Like the lead character, Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah), many of us leave our parents’ nest to explore the world, become educated, and gain exposure to other ways of life. Sometimes we find ourselves embracing other cultures while abandoning our own along the way. This Nana Mensah project proves that growth and self-discovery can be full of humor, even when things are not so much. It comes as no surprise that the film took home the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival’s Best New Narrative Director and Special Jury Prize for Artistic Expression. Mensah was able to take time from her busy Tribeca schedule to update Taji Mag about the film. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): How was the process of making this film?

Nana Mensah (NM): Incredibly long. I had a very, very expensive script that still has not been made but takes place in Ghana and it was a historical biopic. I showed it to my good friend who is an indie filmmaker, Emily Abt, and she was like “Girl, nobody knows who you are. Nobody is going to give you $100 million dollars to make this movie in Ghana. Why don’t you start again and put this script on the back burner? Work on something intimate and small but you can put it in the festival circuit, make a name for yourself as a storyteller. Then that will be the launchpad to the $100 million projects”. That’s how I came to develop my labor of love, my passion project, Queen of Glory. I wrote this story around something film veterans advise young filmmakers to do which is cheap and [sometimes] free. My family owns a Christian bookstore in the Bronx, so I wrote the story around the idea of that bookstore and fictionalized everything else.

DDF: What was the most difficult part of the process?

NM: The hardest part was fundraising and getting resources. As a first-time filmmaker, nobody knows who you are and when you go to them to ask for money they are kind of like “Who, why, what are you using the money for?”. When you are a child of immigrants in the United States, it’s so cliche [that] you become a lawyer, doctor…and those are your options. My network was not a network that was very familiar with investing in film or things like that. Usually, it’s investing in an app or someone’s business, but when it comes to film it’s like, “What does that mean?”. It took a while to really convince people of my vision and to get resources.

I thought the world needed this story because I simply hadn’t seen it anywhere. West African stories don’t quite fit in the boxes Western audiences want to fit them into. In Asante culture— my parents’ culture and that of Sarah’s parents depicted in ‘Queen of Glory’— great joy and celebration can exist right alongside pain and loss. Asante stories show life as a symbiosis of drama and comedy, each stepping in when the other swells too wildly, needing to be checked. – Nana Mensah

DDF: Pit (Meeko Gattuso) was one of my favorite characters in the film. What made you cast Meeko Gattuso? 

NM: There’s a friend and family kind of vibe when it came to casting Meeko. Meeko was directed by my friend, Adam Leon, who also directed Gimme the Loot. Leon also plays Lyle, my boyfriend, in the film. Adam found Meeko. How? I have no idea. I always wanted to work with that guy…he’s so compelling and he’s so, you know, great to watch. We were looking at casting that role in the bookstore and one of our producers was like “Meeko!” and I was like “Really, oh my God, that’s so weird, wait that’s perfect”. It was one of those ideas where you’re like “no, no, no!” when the producers first say it, but then you are like “wait, wait, wait!” Now I can’t imagine anyone else playing that part.

Pit t(Meeko Gattuso) and Sarah (Nana Mensah)

DDF: Sarah’s next door neighbors always have chaos going on. How and why did you create those scenes?

NM: My background is in theater so when you’re watching a play, you get to kind of move your eyes around. You’re not being told where to look. A lot of times you just kind of pick out what you are absorbing. I wanted to play with the idea of being able to do that in film and so I figured with that family there’s so many people and so much chaos it would be great just to have this tableau. Then you get to choose your own adventure. Three of those characters are related, so there was a lot of familial beef they could draw from which worked in my favor.

DDF: What was going through Sarah’s mind when she was preparing for the funeral?

NM: What I was trying to convey was that sometimes you don’t have to do it anymore, and just be who you are. Sarah cutting off the weave and letting her natural hair out and then, like, really grieving her mother…something that she’s been keeping at bay this entire time, you know, keeping a bit of distance between herself and the grief. Letting the loss of her mother wash over her is how I wanted it to end at that point of the act.

DDF: Do you think we will see more stories like Queen of Glory?

NM: I’m just excited to add another contribution to the different ways that Black people live, are being raised, and what they’re being exposed to in the United States; and just adding another Drop in the Ocean of Blackness reflected in cinema. 

Queen of Glory is a uniquely funny film that audiences are bound to enjoy. I found myself connected to the film and especially relating to the lead character. This film is another great project released by Magnolia Pictures and definitely worth watching. Hopefully it will open the door for Nana Mensah’s $100 million dollar film of her dreams. In the meantime, you can also catch Nana in the upcoming Netflix series, The Chair.

24Jun/21

No Running: Alien Abductions and A Young Black Man’s Innocence

No Running Film

Synopsis: When high school student Jaylen Brown (Skylan Brooks) finds himself under suspicion after his classmate’s mysterious disappearance, prejudice quickly begins to bubble up to the surface of his small town. Working quickly to clear his own name, he begins to unravel a massive web of secrets that all point to otherworldly forces at play.

No Running made its premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. It is a sci-fi flick that reminds me of teen-based films like The Faculty or Attack the Block, but with the same racial themes of Get Out. Firstly, the film definitely had me wondering why the lead character’s life sucked so much, there could’ve been more clarity about his past. Secondly, I thought it was crazy how there were alien abductions going on and the town was still focusing on Jaylen and his family. Also, I found myself wondering what could’ve made this film better. Something was definitely missing and I feel this could be better as a series.

The Characters

The protagonist, Jaylen Brown, was an intriguing character: one of the only Black men in the neighborhood with a troubled past in a town rumored to have experienced alien abductions. His character made me reflect on how young Black men can be perceived so negatively. Jaylen just wants to be a teenager, be with his crush, have fun with his family, and graduate! But it seems his aunt, his Bully, and his town just won’t let him be. Only the women in his life keep him grounded which is mainly because his life is absent of male figures, especially Black male figures. 

Jaylen’s love interest, Amira (Clark Backo), was a great plot device and serves as the only bright spot outside of his family. Clark does a decent job of making Amira Jaylen’s charismatic love interest. It is unfortunate that Amira is abducted, but even moreso that she disappears while with Jaylen after a party in a predominantly white neighborhood. 

Jaylen’s mother Ramila (Rutina Wesley) and sister Simone (Diamond White) were the foundation needed for him to stay optimistic, even during his time on the run. (Side note: I’m sorry, I will always see Diamond White as Tiffany from Boo: A Madea Halloween, but her portrayal as Simone was just as entertaining). 

The Story

As I mentioned before, the premise sets up a promising story, but I am not sure if the film accomplished its goal? The correlation between a space alien and Jaylen in this neighborhood makes the film compelling, but I really had to look deep to make the connection. I also thought about how crazy it would be to walk in Jaylen’s shoes? Imagine being a young Black man who witnessed his high school crush get abducted by aliens in a town severely lacking diversity. I would run, too, and I’d be on the first Southwest Flight back to my aunt’s house. 

The small side story of Jaylen’s relationship with his father towards the end of the movie kind of lost me. Honestly, I would’ve liked to see at least a flashback of the event(s) that caused the demise of Jaylen’s relationship with his father. Aso, I understood the reason for the conflict with his aunt, but I did not understand its timing.

When Jaylen was on the run and playing detective, the pacing was on point. The mini-missions were fun and felt reminiscint of the side missions from Grand Theft Auto. The scene where he tries to make it out of the sheriff’s house was both intense and comical. The sheriff’s and his father’s racist comments and discriminatory attitudes made me want to jump through the screen. I did enjoy, though, that the sheriff’s father’s story connected to the aliens plot.  

No Running was an interesting film that questions the social commentary of believing in aliens or believing a young Black man. The idea is brilliant and I commend the screenwriter for using his experiences to bring life to this film, but I do feel the film could’ve been executed better.

No Running 

Starring: Skylan Brooks

Directed by: Delmar Washington

Written by: Tucker Morgan

19Jun/21

Deon Taylor Channels Phil Jackson While Directing The House Next Door

Synopsis: Carl Black (Mike Epps) is about to face off with the neighbor from hell (Katt Williams) in The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2. Carl has only ever wanted the best for his family, but after surviving the events that led to his (not-so-)bestselling book, he’s moving everyone to his childhood home, where he must contend with not only dealing with his wife Lorene (Zulay Henao) and kids Allie (Bresha Webb) and Carl Jr. (Alex Henderson) but everyone under the sun who drives him crazy: Cronut (Lil Duval), Freezee (Andrew Bachelor), Rico (Tyrin Turner), along with an entire neighborhood of characters who seem to attract strange activity after dark. And nothing could be freakier than their new neighbor, Dr. Mamuwalde (Williams), who may or may not be a vampire. From Co-Writer/Director Deon Taylor (Fatale, Black and Blue), as the Meet the Blacks universe expands, it will be up to Carl to figure out what his neighbor is up to in the middle of the night before it’s too late for him and his family.

Mike Epps, Katt Williams, Lil’ Duval, and Snoop Dogg are a few names in the star-studded The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 horror-comedy: the sequel to Meet The Blacks (once again helmed by Director Deon Taylor). Taylor is known for his recent works such as Fatale, Black and Blue, and Intruder. The Director took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his latest project.  

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): Does your creative approach differ from genre to genre? 

Deon Tayor (DT): I think the approach is always the same. In order for me to do a project, I have to be excited about it for some reason. That reason changes at different times of my life. I do understand the film is art. The idea is for you to keep painting. I see directors doing a movie every eight years. I don’t know how to do that. It took me so long as a Black director to get a movie made. Once the door was ajar, I put it into my mindset that I’m not going to stop. 

DDF: What inspired you to make the first Meet the Blacks?

DT: I made Meet the Blacks at a time when I was over making films, then Mike Epps made me laugh and told me he wanted to do a horror film. I was like that’s an interesting idea.

DDF: So, that’s why you’ve been putting out movies frequently? 

DT: Yes, you don’t want to stop. Especially when you are conscious of the time you are living in. If you have an opportunity to run you should run. Don’t let anything cool off, because we can’t afford that. If we lived in a different environment where I could point to 5 or 6 Black filmmakers and say they can afford to make one film and [take] three years off, then I would do it.

DDF: What was your approach to this film? 

DT: I had finished the first Meet the Blacks and I was doing the press tour for The Intruder with Dennis Quaid. Everywhere I went with Dennis during the press tour, someone would always ask “When are you doing Meet the Blacks 2?” White people, Black people, Asian people were all asking about a Meet the Blacks sequel. So Finally Dennis Quaid was like “Hey, are you going to do another Meet the Blacks?” That experience stayed with me for a year and a half then finally my friend from New York, Omar, was like “Son, we gotta make another Meet the Blacks son.”

DDF: What was it like on set with all the talents? 

DT: Not only are you a Director, but you are also an usher for energy. It’s like everyone has energy. I credit that to basketball a lot, how I pulled this movie off…and the first one. The first one was Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, and Mike Tyson. They are all on set. Everybody’s got an agenda. Everybody had something they wanted to do. For me, it’s about becoming invisible with your ego. 

If you ever played on a successful basketball team, everyone plays a role. When you have Mike Epps, Lil Duvall, Micahel Blackson, Gary Owen and you add Katt, it’s like the Brooklyn Nets. Katt said it best, he was James Harden on set. Sure he could drop 50 but we didn’t need for him to give 50, we needed him to facilitate. That’s what he did in this film. He stood back and played a vampire in the heavy and let the comedy happen around him. 

DDF: So you are Doc Rivers coaching the Celtics huh? 

DT: Lol. I don’t want to be Doc, I wanna be Phil (Jackson). Lol

DDF: Any stories from Epps and Williams about their experience on Friday After Next?

DT: Every day there was something. That’s the beauty of these movies, the memories you get to keep. You don’t realize Mike and Katt had so much history outside of what we know as public. Like, how they remember starting and doing shows together. You don’t know how long Micheal Blackson has been in entertainment or how long he and Gary Owens have known each other. You realize this is a community of talent that has been evolving around each other for the past 20years. 

DDF: Are there some special moments that stick out in your mind from Meet the Blacks and A House Next Door

DT: I remember being in the room with Mike Tyson, Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, and Paul Mooney. They were talking about Eddie Murphy and their careers in the ’80s. You hear stuff and you are just like “Damn this [is] historically crazy. Now you see Charlie is gone, Paul Mooney is gone, and it makes you feel blessed to do a movie like A House Next Door. Every now and again you have a Harlem Knights or a Wayans film, but I am happy to get this calibur [of] film together because these are all the people we love.  

DDF: What does the audience have to look forward to?

DT: Fun, entertainment, a couple of jumps. I think we live in a world where we remake things and that’s cool, but I think Meet the Blacks and A House Next Door are their own thing.

If your mom gives you $20 to watch a film or you spend your last $50 to go on a date, I want to make sure you enjoy it. I’m trying to give you some message like to be an artist. I can give you that in the context of it, but my biggest job as an artist is to entertain you and make sure you have a good time.

DDF: How do you make movies that deliver a message without boring the audience? 

DT: I think about how I can give my daughter something in a film. Like Traffik, you get the thrills like A Quiet Place but you ask yourself does this stuff happen in real life? Yeah, it happens in real life. Critics don’t understand because most people don’t present the films this way. 

Take The Intruder, for instance, it is about a Black couple and there’s an evil that’s trying to separate them. They have to overcome that evil and they become closer through adversity. We have to be free thinkers to tell these stories and not [be] programmable. 

If I’m going to tell the John Lewis Story next, which I am, my job is to make that story real, authentic, and entertaining so you can go see it. I have to make films that people will go see, talk about, and remember. 

You think Glory starring Denzel, when it comes on TV, I will watch it right now? Why? Because it was just a dope movie. The message and truthfulness educated you on the battalion, but you were entertained.

DDF: How do you develop a good ending for a film? 

DT: That’s just being a fan of movies. Anybody can lie to you, Felipe, and be like “I try to process how the characters think”. Part of this is [because] I don’t have any film school, no one has ever taught me film or tv writing. Everything I have is because I love movies, because I watch them like you. Like, I just watched Wrath of Man and I was like “Yo, that’s crazy!” 

I treat my films like rollercoasters: here goes the twist, here goes the turns, and people exit the theater excited. Our little production company makes these little films but gets A and B+ cinema scores.

DDF: I saw your post about the film All Falls Down and thought to myself “It would be dope to see Deon make a version of All Falls Down.

DT: That would be dope!

DDF: What are your top three horror films? 

DT: I want to say The Exorcist, but it’s in its own category. You can’t beat that horror film. It’s in everyone’s top 3. It’s the GOAT of horror movies.

Event Horizon, the first Strangers, and Nightmare on Elm St. The girls in white jumping rope and singing the Freddie Krueger song were scary when I was young.

But for now, check out The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 availabe in theaters everywhere. I, personally, really hope Deon does make his version of Falling Down with a cool ass one shot. If he does, you best believe I will ask to be a part of that project. 

The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 stars comedy superstars Mike Epps (Next Friday, Netflix’s The Upshaws) and Katt Williams (Friday After Next, Scary Movie V) with Bresha Webb (Ride Along 2), Lil Duval (Scary Movie V), Zulay Henao (The Oath), Tyrin Turner (Menace II Society), Alex Henderson (Creed), Michael Blackson (Dutch), Andrew Bachelor (Holidate), Gary Owen (Ride Along), and Snoop Dogg returning from the first film.  Danny Trejo (Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn) and Rick Ross (Hip Hop artist) join the supporting cast for the sequel.

ABOUT HIDDEN EMPIRE FILM GROUP

Hidden Empire Film Group (“HEFG”), founded by Black filmmaking team Deon Taylor and Roxanne Avent Taylor in partnership with investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith, is a next-generation film production, distribution, and marketing company.  HEFG has partnered with major distributors including LIONSGATE on the steamy thriller FATALE starring Michael Ealy and two-time Academy Award® winner Hilary Swank and TRAFFIK, starring Paula Patton and Omar Epps as well as SONY SCREEN GEMS on the timely and insightful crime thriller BLACK & BLUE starring Academy Award® nominee Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Mike Colter, and Frank Grillo and the psychological thriller THE INTRUDER starring Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, and Dennis Quaid. Upcoming projects include the John Lewis biopic FREEDOM RIDE; the psychological thriller DON’T FEAR, which completed principal photography during the pandemic; the psychological thriller SILENT JOHN to be directed by Aisha Tyler; the next installment in the Meet the Blacks franchise, THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR;  and  CJ Entertainment’s horror title GRAVE HILL. Learn more at https://hiddenempirefilmgroup.com/

18Jun/21

No Ordinary Love Explores Corrosive Control, Spiritual and Domestic Abuse

No Ordinary Love

Synopsis: In No Ordinary Love, vulnerability and strength prove vital to a resilient woman who finds herself in a dangerous situation with her Police Officer husband. When she exposes his secret to her pastor’s wife, the two women’s lives intersect with shocking results.

No Ordinary Love provides a new perspective on abusive relationships. With characters like these, this film lets me know I had no clue as to what an abusive relationship looks like without violence. Up and coming award-winning director, Chyna Black, brings to light the domestic abusive relationships that are not so subtle and characters that are not so easily defined. 

The two antagonists, Derrick and Michael, had me wanting to jump into the screen and give each of them a two-piece combo with a biscuit. I really had to catch myself from getting emotionally upset and not yell at the screen. Yet that is what good character development will do! Robinson explained, “We had people looking for actors portraying Micheal and Derrick after the screenings but they are really nice guys.”

Michael Jeffries (Eric Hanson) is a church pastor with an alcohol addiction that heightens his manipulation of his wife, Elizabeth, and the misuse of his spiritual practices. It is easy to see how his abuse and belief are influenced by his father. Chauvinistic and controlling, Michael’s father encourages Micheal’s mistreatment of his wife, making his whole family terribly dysfunctional. The facade of a celebrated worship leader makes it harder for Elizabeth to leave the relationship. It was interesting to see how Elizabeth wanted Tanya (DeAna Davis) to leave her relationship when Elizabeth needed to escape her own. Robinson stated, “I wanted him to come off as charming to everyone, and especially to the people in his congregation. I wanted to write him in a way that would make it difficult to define how abusive he was. I know it was corrosive control, but most people don’t use that term or know what it means.”

Derrick Anderson (Lynn Andrews) is a respected Policeman who struggles with alcoholism and the pressures of work. The once-loving husband now resorts to abusing his wife Tanya. When asked how Robinson developed the Derrick character she said “The Derrick character was my research. Police officers are 40% more likely to be involved with domestic violence and violent situations in their home.”  What I find intriguing about the film is how the men don’t address their issues or ask for help, but instead proceed to cause harm and chaos in their households. 

I find Tanya to be very endearing and a loving woman for her family. DeAna’s portrayal is on point. I could really feel the character’s innocence, especially when Elizabeth reports Tanya’s husband for domestic abuse. 

The character of Elizabeth is intelligent, caring, and good at her job as a therapist. She is able to give advice to her clients (like Tanya) about escaping abusive relationships, but struggles in her own marriage. Her abusive husband is not easily definable. Robinson explained, “It’s a little harder to leave someone when they are not cursing you out, not stepping outside the home, or hitting you…it’s difficult to call it abuse, which was my goal for Elizabeth’s situation.” 

No Ordinary Love opened my eyes to what abusive relationships can look like when there is no violence or obvious verbal abuse. The film also sheds light on how publicly well-respected partners can be the most dangerous, thus hindering the victim from getting help. Chyna Robinson does a great job of creating compelling characters and had me truly hating the antagonists in the film. After viewing this thought-provoking and emotional film, I look forward to seeing Robinson’s next project. As for now, check out No Ordinary Love on Amazon Prime or Itunes

No Ordinary Love, Chyna Robinson, Director, Writer, Producer

Chyna Robinson, Director, Writer, Producer Winner of several Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Film awards on the national and international film circuit, is a Writer, Director, and Producer. Her directorial work most recently includes No Ordinary Love, which received multiple accolades from Best Film to numerous Best Edit and Best Actor awards. No Ordinary Love will be released to Video on Demand platforms in June 2021. Her other narrative work includes the historical drama, Greenwood: 13 Hours, and the thriller Lola Lisa.

11Jun/21

In The Heights Will Make You a Lin Manuel Miranda Fan If You Aren’t Already

In The Heights

No way as a 30-something-year-old man did I think I would be fanboying over a Lin Manuel project but there I was – almost as excited as my niece, Lin Manuel’s #1 fan (in her opinion), to watch his latest film, In the Heights. Not to mention, the film was also helmed by Crazy Rich Asians award-winning director, John M. Chu, and had a cast full of colorful characters. Yes, literally the cast was full of diversity that was organic and not uncomfortable like it is in some other films. Trust me, you will become a fan if you are not already.  

Plots, Subplots, and Sub-subplots

Like the play, the film has multiple subplots that tie together perfectly. Kudos is due to Miranda and screenwriter, Quiara Alegría Hudes, for In the Heights’s last act takes a surprising twist. The way the film opens, the way it is shot, the character introductions, and the plot all had me fooled!

Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina’s (Leslie Grace) relationship was endearing. I enjoyed how Nina focused on her being back home as Benny tries to talk about Nina’s college life. She missed home so much she changed her hair from straight to natural – code-switching on deck! The love Benny has for Nina runs so deep. You can tell he wants to spend all of his time with her and support her future goals. Nina’s subplot definitely pays off as the film progresses and, to me, was one of the most important since her character’s choices could affect the most lives. 

Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa’s (Melissa Barrera) relationship was also interesting. Both were charismatic, admired each other, and desired a different life that would lead their lives in opposite directions. Their chemistry was strong though and their moments at the club were hilarious.

One of the stand out scenes was when the power outage occurred while the main cast was in the club. When “Powerless” was performed and transitioned to “Look at the Lights”, I really felt the emotion. This community feels powerless in their situations, mostly controlled by the government, but they all look toward a bright hope for the future. Poverty, social economics, cultural identity, and immigration were all heavily explored but not force-fed. 

In The Heights

I loved pretty much all the performances in the film but my top three were the flash mob-style “96,000”, “No Me Diga” and “Paciencia y Fe” by Olga Merediz as “Abuela” Claudia. Olga gave one of the best performances as her character chronicles her life as a New York immigrant through song. Applause to the creative minds of Chu and Miranda for making Merediz’s solo so visually stunning. The transition of time on the subway was memorable and kind of made me feel like I was watching the play. Also, I’m proud to see Corey Hawkins perform his dance scenes well because I’ve only seen him fight zombies (Walking Dead) and shoot bad guys. 

FYI: Lin-Manuel Miranda completed his first draft of the stage musical “In The Heights” during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University, where it was performed as part of the school’s Second Stage. There, the 80-minute one-act played for a mere three days, but the potential for a grander production was evident from the start. Even now, after a wildly successful Broadway run and film adaptation, Miranda is amazed that it all started when he was still that young. Having recently seen a stage production of the work, he muses, “I went to see something a child wrote—a child version of me.”

Miranda’s Music for In The Heights

If you are familiar with Miranda’s work you know his soundtrack is always on point and will most likely keep you singing in the shower for weeks. Seriously, songs like “In the Heights”, “We Gotta Go” and “Piragua” performed by Miranda himself, stayed in my head for a while… partly due to my niece singing the songs for hours. Since the movie soundtrack was not out when I screened the film I had to utilize good ole YouTube. 

I’m still amazed how one man can develop an awesome combination of storytelling and music composition. Plus, his adaptability is impeccable because to go develop powerhouse soundtracks from “In the Heights” to “ Hamilton” is just uncanny. I have to be honest, the music in this film made me want to take up salsa again. 

I think Lin Manuel Miranda fans will enjoy it and people new to Manuel’s work will become fans like I am. In the Heights is a movie many of you will eventually end up watching multiple times. The product of good acting, catchy songs, music that will make you dance, diversity, and cool cinematography, In the Heights, gets two thumbs up and a “ You better not watch it on bootleg!” Watch In the Heights opening June 10th in theaters and HBO Max.

“In the Heights” stars Anthony Ramos (“A Star is Born,” Broadway’s “Hamilton”), Corey
Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Kong: Skull Island”), singer/songwriter Leslie Grace, Melissa
Barrera (TV’s “Vida”), Olga Merediz (Broadway’s “In the Heights”), Daphne Rubin-Vega
(Broadway’s “Rent”), Gregory Diaz IV (Broadway’s “Matilda the Musical”), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Dascha Polanco (TV’s “Orange Is the New Black”) and Jimmy Smits (the
“Star Wars” films).

07Jun/21

The Value of Values

If you type “value definition” into a search engine, the majority of results you will likely get are related to money. That is telling, and we’ll come back to it, but our first question is: what is value if there is no money? Does a child with no money value nothing, or have no value? How does a culture that exchanges energy without a token (dollar, cedi, rand, yen, etc.) set up its value system? What is the monetary value of being in a grandparent’s lap? We need to take time to examine what value is, and why it determines our motivation.

If you look further than the monetary definitions, you will find that value is a noun, verb, and adjective. Its definitions are associated with math, music, light, linguistics, and principles, among other things. My definition of value is the power to activate your own abilities by focusing love on something.

Ultimately, your values are what you think of yourself and the world that you’re in; actions (public and private) are the proof of your values. Low values mean we don’t think we have the capacity to accomplish great things (inferiority) or that there are no great things to be accomplished (apathy). High values mean we expect great things from ourselves (confidence) and see opportunities in the world to show it (vision).

In math, value means it is what it is! The value of 3 is 3. The value of 3+6 is 9. The value of 9×9 is 81. Value is the definition of a math object (number, equation, constant, variable, etc.), and the result of any math operation. The point is that these mathematical values are self-evident and always exist, so they can’t be falsified. If I give you three dollars and tell you it’s seven dollars, the math will prove me a liar or uneducated, instantly. So, it’s crucial to know there are universal values that help us navigate this existence.

Spiritual systems have numerical associations with ritual, celebration, sacred moments and places, galactic calculation, etc. There are numerology systems, zodiac systems, I Ching, obi, enneagrams, archetypes, tarot…and they all come down to assessing the value of numbers and aligning behavior to the numerical order of the universe. So, the principles of these various systems are all formulas/equations to arrive at a value of divinity. In other words, “What equation/ritual equals god?”

Value as a verb means to hold something as important; or to assess the importance of something. The way you get a society where dishonesty, theft, lechery, violence, etc. is the norm, is get the society to believe divinity is beyond reach, and thus an irrelevant pursuit. It encourages you to value earthly accomplishments over spiritual goals. To bring that into clear focus: which is most likely to be brought up in a conversation about dating potential, great assets or great record of community involvement? Which would get us closer to our life goals, vacationing multiple times a year or going into a week of meditative silence multiple times a year? Both have their benefits, but what outcome do we value more, if either?

What we have here are two truths that are at our disposal: 1) there are fixed values; 2) we can assign values. Our nose can smell a rose because it has a fixed chemical value. But once inside of our olfactory, we can assign a value of how we personally experience it. To one person, A/C on 59 degrees may be perfect, but to a “normal” person, that’s a home-sized freezer (bias showing?) Either way, the fixed value is 59. By using this simple understanding, it’s obvious why so much money is spent on advertising because it is suggesting what people should value. The simple truth is, whatever you value, you will spend energy on it. Your lover, family member, your pet, your job, hobby, vice…whatever gives a result that you consider important, you will figure out an equation. I’ll bet you know someone who you consider unmotivated, but I’ll also bet that person has something they do every day. Search those activities to discover their values. This is a crucial assessment tool, especially for parents or those involved in the lives of young people. It can help inform your guidance and allow you to create a space for children to learn cultural values. Use healthy lifestyle choices to celebrate moments (pop bottles of alkaline water). Invite family or friends over for bonding activities (dinner, game night). Make time for a spiritual practice daily. Submersion is how you activate values.

We live in a society where typing “value” in the web of the wide world speaks mostly of money. Money is just a storage battery that is charged by the work that people do. Why is money now the default container for all value? One reason is because all of our community needs have been capitalized, which means we’re paying for everyday humanity (survival). But, also, because it allows you to do business with people who don’t share the same VALUES. That isn’t necessarily to our benefit. Consider how realigned power would be if everybody only exchanged money, resources, goods, and services with people who are aligned culturally (i.e., self-sufficiency).

For a real-time example of how it might look to run a modern nation with high values, study Ghana under the leadership of Jerry Rawlings, or Burkina Faso under Thomas Sankara.

Imagination and spirit give us the ability to do wonders. By setting values, we are deciding how to shape the malleable universe.

Everything is based on values, no matter what system or level you consider. We can use that intentionally to determine if the formulas we’re using in any area actually equal the results we want. If anything doesn’t add up to the right value, we can recognize it and move on. When something adds up to our intended future, then we keep stacking!

Photo by Aude Andre Saturnio

07Jun/21

Concrete Cowboy: Becoming a Man and Father

Editor’s Pick: Concrete Cowboy.

SYNOPSIS: When fifteen-year-old Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) is expelled from school in Detroit, he is sent to North Philadelphia to live with Harp (Idris Elba), his estranged father. Harp finds solace in rehabilitating horses for inner-city cowboys at the Fletcher Street Stables, a real-life black urban horsemanship community that has provided a safe haven for the neighborhood residents for more than 100 years. Torn between his growing respect for his father’s community and his reemerging friendship with troubled cousin Smush (Jharrel Jerome), Cole begins to reprioritize his life as the stables themselves are threatened by encroaching gentrification.

At first, I thought Concrete Cowboy was a western with Idris Elba taking out a bunch of bad guys with Caleb McLaughlin as his sidekick. Boy was I wrong… it was something better, unique, and necessary for Black viewership. A story about a Black boy reconnecting with his father and his father finding a way to be there for him, McLaughlin and Elba were moving in this father and son drama.  During a Taji Mag invited Netflix interview, they explained their preparation, experiences on set, and characters. 

Concrete Cowboy Taji Mag
CONCRETE COWBOY – (L-R) Ivannah-Mercedes as Esha, Lorraine Toussaint as Nessi, Idris Elba as Harp, Caleb McLaughlin as Cole, Jamil “Mil” Prattis as Paris and Cliff “Method Man” Smith as Leroy. Cr: Jessica Kourkounis / Netflix © 2021

Spoiler Alert

How to be a Man and a Father 

“Harp has been a cowboy all his life. The community of riders look to him as a leader. He’s also a dedicated father but doesn’t know how to be a father. When he sees his son for the first time in so many years, emotions start to bubble because he realizes what his absence has caused,” explained Idris Elba. This was evident as Cole felt Harp did not have the same love for him as he did the horses. There’s a particular scene where Cole says Harp is more than a father to the others in the community than he is to him. This scene was powerful and made me think back to when I learned my parents were not born parents. 

Cole’s issues stem from his lack of having his father around and not having something of interest he could funnel interest into. When he forms a bond with his horse, it’s a thing of beauty and great symbolism. That very same horse would not let anyone tame him and at one point broke loose from the stable, only to be tamed by Cole. “Cole is a complex character, who has serious abandonment issues,” Elba remarked.

Getting Out

“He’s angry with Harp because he wasn’t around. So, he’s having a hard time being separated from his mom, being in a world he’s not used to, and then having to deal with a father that hasn’t been there for him” McLaughlin reflected about Cole. At first, we see a troubled Cole dropped off in Philadelphia and he is scared out of his mind because of the unfamiliar surroundings. He then becomes more comfortable hanging out with his cousin, Smush, and also getting to know the local cowboys. 

Although Smush is a drug dealer, we later find out that he plans to flip ranches to escape the poverty and social strain of his neighborhood. Unfortunately, his means of raising capital is also a game of roulette as the drug game never brings money without consequences. 

Love and Support

The death of his cousin, both a hurtful experience and a reality check, allows him to see what the future may hold for him if he remained on his current path. This family trauma allowed the opportunity for both Cole and Harp to be vulnerable, to be father and son. From there they both make amends continuing to do what they both love, raise and tend their horses. Even Cole’s mother has an opportunity to reconnect, or at least it’s implied.

In the end, Concrete Cowboy was a great film about the growth of a boy and his father while providing exposure for the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in Philadephia. It is a welcomed change from the normal Black suffering themes creatives use as a carbon copy. If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you add it to your Netflix playlist. 

07Jun/21

Just My Imagination?

“The greatest nation is imagination.” Everyone who goes there is the ruler. It’s not limited by borders and won’t disappear in history, but do you know what it is? How does it work? Can it be impaired like hearing or sight? How much thought have you given to what it actually does? 

Physiologically, imagination is connected to the pineal gland. It’s also known as the third eye and depicted with its associated surrounding brain structures as the eye of Heru or Ra (depending on which hemisphere of the brain you’re looking at). It has photoreceptors, which means it knows when there’s light. The pineal gland produces melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep and circadian rhythms, from serotonin, the day time hormone. It not only tells us what time of day it is, but also what time of year by how much light and darkness we experience in a day. That means it’s specifically there to interact with galactic vibrations. It influences the pituitary gland, which is the master gland of the endocrine system (emotions). The pineal contains piezoelectric crystals which create a spark when compressed (many lighters use this technology). It also has piezochromatic crystals that create all the colors in the spectrum of the rainbow. So, inside your brain is a gland that knows what’s happening in the cosmos, affects how you feel and when you sleep, and can create light and colors inside your head. It’s a spiritual/organic virtual reality kit! Using machinery to download info into your brain is just lazy!

Think about it like this. Chromosome means color (chroma) body (soma). We know that colors are fragments of light. If consciousness is light, then chromosomes are a library of filters that the light uses to project images of its parts into the world. The mind is the control console with access to all the filters, and the imagination is the real-time projection of which filters are being activated.

Consciousness is the “knowing” of existence. It’s the thing that says, “I am.” The mind is a tool of consciousness to interact with creation. Imagination is the result of consciousness using the mind to interpret the various vibrations it encounters. When something moves, our eyes process the changes in light vibrations and our mind interprets what we see (right or wrong). When a co-worker calls our name, ears process the sound vibrations and then we can act like we didn’t hear them. On a subtler level, when someone is attracted to us they secrete pheromones. We may not “know” what those smell like, but when the receptors in our nose are triggered by them, the mind processes it, and you might get a mental image of leaning in for a kiss. The imagination is the faculty that takes all of the vibrations you encounter and projects a “view” of the world.

Simply put, the imagination is the 6th sense. While our 5 external senses perceive the present world around us, the 6th sense is also able to perceive what came before (memories/ancestors) and what has not come yet (possibilities/inspiration). When we close our eyes and imagine, we’re doing more than just seeing an image. We “conjure” holographic representations of a thing, person, or place, in our mind. We can also “hear” things that aren’t in our vicinity through imagination. You can remember a song in your head or makeup one you’ve never heard. You can remember your favorite food and smell it for just a moment, even taste it, until your body starts to act like you’re about to eat. Imagination is not JUST seeing, it’s actually synthesizing that thing/experience in the inner realm known as consciousness. Whatever takes place in this internal plane of reality determines what we experience and how we interpret the world around us. It determines our physical body’s moment-to-moment biochemical balance.

You already know that something in our consciousness affects our physiology as if it is real. If you watch a horror movie from the complete safety of your home, your body will still react as if you were the dummy going in the basement. The thought of a sexual encounter (remembered or hoped for) can get the juices flowing, even if it’s not the right time! Remember that these thoughts have hormonal correspondences that enter the bloodstream. That’s why deep breathing helps to change moods, it helps flush out the rush of chemicals that occur from/as emotions.

When a child is scared of something and you tell them “it’s just your imagination” you are diminishing or denying their reality. Pretending and imagining are not the same. Pretending is one of many things you can do with imagination. But it is not appropriate or intelligent to always dismiss things that children say as pretending or unreal. They are often perceiving something, even if it’s inside of them. You would do best to investigate and communicate instead of telling them to ignore it. Give them art supplies to recreate what they experienced. Acknowledge that they may not have the vocabulary (because of inexperience and, well, English) to actually express themselves. Ask them open-ended questions and encourage creative answers like sounds, movements, dances, etc.

Like any of our senses, imagination can be controlled and honed. You can adjust your vision by squinting or changing focus. You can hold your breath and breathe deeper to control smells. Here are a few ways to strengthen and expand the imagination. It recognizes patterns and makes use of them, so study sacred geometry, starting with the properties of a circle, and how that creates the flower of life. Engage in abstract visualization, like staring at clouds and looking for recognizable images. Imagine the best possible outcome you can think of for your life. Do arts. Enjoy arts. Play with children. Create a lesson plan to teach something you’re good at.

Did you know that western culture leads to the calcification of the pineal gland?

I’ll leave the “why” to your imagination.

07Jun/21
Finance

How to Fight Racism…Financially

“If Black people started getting million-dollar Life Insurance Policies, the police killings would immediately stop.” 

May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed at the hands (really knee) of former Minneapolis policeman-naow-convicted-murderer, Derek Chauvin. From May 26th to August 31st, the police killed another 288 people. The same day Chauvin was pronounced guilty, 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was fatally shot by police in Columbus, OH. She was one of six police shootings 24 hours post-verdict! A few weeks before, Andre Hill (age 47) was shot and killed by former cop Adam Coy. April 11th, Daunte Wright (age 20) was murdered by Brooklyn Center, MN officer, Kimberly Potter, who claimed she mistakenly pulled her gun despite tasers being known to be significantly lighter in weight and having bright neon colors to help tell the difference.

Police could’ve used tasers instead of guns in each encounter. Since 2005, 15,000 have died by police—that’s 1,000 annually. Only 104 officers have been charged with a mere 35 convicted of any crime.1 

Unarmed Black people are four times more likely to be killed by police. This civil disparity is continually evident: 

1) June 2015, after shooting nine Black people in a Charleston, SC church,  Dylann Roof was taken by police to Burger King before being booked. 2) October 2020, Lithia, FL, Nicholas Furgason (age 21) stabbed a cop in the neck and then fled. Deputy Charles Williams’s bodycam showed him changing from his gun to tase Furgason without taking his life. 3) On March 16, 2021, eight people, including six Asian-American’s, were gunned down in Atlanta, Georgia. April 22nd—just 37 days later—the  COVID-19 (Asian) Hate Crimes Act, passed 94-1. 

Black people have been the victim of hate crimes since we were brought here to be enslaved, and still, there are no hate crime laws for us! 

When will we realize chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands up. Don’t shoot”  doesn’t work? What does work? Re-read the quote at the beginning of this piece… 

The life/annuity insurance sector totaled $678.7 billion in 2019. If we made sure we’re properly insured, insurance companies would demand and get police reform because death benefit payouts are a major financial loss for them!  Simple, we know what talks; not politricks, not marching, not voting…  shmoney! 

This strategy can lower police brutality AND simultaneously build Black wealth, empowering us for generations! Once we self-determine economically, congress may begin to take us seriously. Even if the killing of our people doesn’t decrease, properly insured, our families are able to create sustainable lives that enable living off annuities. This is the way of the rich! 

Want to know how to use insurance as a wealth-building tool? I invite you to join the Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement. I’ll show you how to live off your savings and investments using insurance and other methods without needing a job. 

Join the Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement 

M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder and Author 
A Pot to Piss In: Intergenerational Wealth Planning for Black People 
Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement 
cryptowokemovement.com 
cryptowokemovement@gmail.com 
Facebook & Instagram: @cryptowoke

07Jun/21

Building Confidence Through Travel

I’ve learned my share of things the hard way.  I’ve also learned a thing or two from incredibly enjoyable first-hand experiences. One of my favorites of those lessons happens to be discovering how much I’ve grown. The greatest teacher of those lessons has to be travel. 

One of my favorite sayings is “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  Before I started paying attention to my experience of myself while traveling, I only brought home memories, photos, souvenirs and a tan. The more times I told a travel story, the more I started to see how I was changing as much as my scenery. I found that I was less anxious (not to be confused with anxiety-free) about not knowing what was going to come next in uncertain situations back home because I’d figured out what to do when my first solo trip out of the country got canceled the morning of. I realized that I can speak up simply when I’m displeased with something and not just when there’s a major problem because I was successfully upgraded after expressing my dissatisfaction in Costa Rica. I realized the power of my words when the creative collaborations and warm connections I expressly declared I wanted manifested in Colombia. 

Now, I can’t say that any of these lessons are exclusive to travel. I can absolutely see how similar scenarios could happen at home. However, these are lessons I was able to see more clearly because they were framed with the excitement of travel! I constantly had a reason to think about the environment and situations they were created in. We relive and reminisce about travel frequently, but how often do you reflect on who you were before said trip?  When was the last time you asked yourself who you were while abroad? 

I’ve made it a practice to consistently check in with myself while traveling.  I take an audit of the major discomforts and concerns I’m dealing with at the time and do my best to look at them from the perspective of making some good of it all.  Something about “vacation mode” has me willing to see the brighter side of so many dim corners. I invite you to travel intentionally and take inventory of ALL the gifts you bring home. 

For stories and resources on how you can travel more intentionally, visit travelnshitpodcast.com.