19Apr/21

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

THEM

SPOILER ALERT

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

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

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

THEM

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

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

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

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

THEM

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

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

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

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

13Apr/21

Newcomer Kyra Jones is Ready to Evolve Like Issa Rae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DDF: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers? 

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

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

DDF: What women inspire you? 

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

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

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

07Mar/21

Jingle Jangle: The Film All Children Need While Growing Up

Editor’s Pick: Growing up there were a handful of films I watched every year during the holidays. Peanuts Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Christmas Story were good but none of these films featured characters that looked like me. This past holiday season, the Black community was given a film that we will be able to share and enjoy for many years to come, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.

Taji Mag was able to speak with Jingle Jangle filmmaker/playwright, David E. Talbert, and his wife, producer/author, Lyn Talbert, about the amazing film. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): Lyn, what made you convince David to turn Jingle Jangle into a film? 

Lyn Talbert (LT): David’s scope was so broad on what he wanted to do and I felt he could capture everything in a film. I knew the project could be immortalized in film and he could also do the play. I thought David could have fun with Jingle Jangle in film form and bring together everything he’s ever done. 

DDF: David do you still plan on turning Jingle Jangle into a play? 

David E. Talbert (DET): Absolutely! The project’s first incarnation was to be a Broadway play but it will live on the stage. 

DDF: What was the first holiday cartoon or film that you fell in love with growing up? 

DET: One of my favorites growing up was Santa Clause is Coming to Town with Keith Meiser, The Abominable Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Peanuts Christmas – those were my favorite. 

LT: I love those films as well. I also liked the claymation cartoons like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Those were really stories! I also love Home Alone and Coming to America, even though it’s not usually considered a holiday film. 

DDF: In one of your interviews you talked about what a great impression Black Panther made on you and how you like what it did for the Black community. Was your intention to make Jingle Jangle leave that same impression on people? 

DET: My intention was to create the most evolved version of this story possible and we tried to put almost everything we could into it. What has happened and feels overwhelming to me, is the significance of what it means not only to the world but the Black community. The Black community has taken ownership of this film like I wouldn’t have expected. A friend of mine just texted me, a pastor in Oakland, that one of his members had a daughter and they named her Journey.

LT: It’s funny David mentioned his friend’s church member naming their daughter Journey, I was on a virtual book reading and a little girl said “It’s because of you guys (David and Lyn) my little sister’s name is Journey and she was just born a few weeks ago.”

Jingle Jangle
JINGLE JANGLE (2020) Writer/Director David Talbert and Producer Lyn Sisson-Talbert on the set of Jingle Jangle. Cr. Gareth Gatrell/NETFLIX

DDF: What was the writing process like for Jingle Jangle?

DET: You have to learn how to open up your mind and just write whatever version of that idea is. There have been many projects over the years that Lyn and I had to work with a very finite budget, so we had to retrain our brains to utilize our imagination. We both are not short on imagination, so it helps. I have to really give so much thanks to Netflix, Scott Stuber, and Nick Nesbit. 

DDF: Lyn, what was your reaction when you read the script? 

LT: I loved it. I could visualize everything he was writing. This project has been incubating for many years. I’ve seen the evolution of it which has been phenomenal. While reading it, I tried looking at it as the viewer and it touched the little girl in me and I know our community took ownership of it because of what it meant. Dave is a phenomenal writer and he taps into the emotion of his words. He is so good at finding balance and you don’t feel like you are being preached to or like there is no escaping this dark place. This is important because we do want the lesson but we don’t want to be hit over the head with it. We just need a little reminder of the things that are important. 

DDF: Lyn, what was the process like writing the Jingle Jangle book? 

LT: For me, the song “Square Root of Possible” is my song throughout this process because it is the most difficult thing I have ever done. I need to find my square root of possible at every turn and solve it at every turn. That was my mantra throughout the film and the process of putting together the book. I always love picture books and have 7-year-old son that I read to all the time. I feel like picture books are simple ways to teach lessons and tell stories in a fun way. I want this film to be a classic piece that’s around forever. I think about how other films are immortalized through books, toys, socks, bedding, and animation. I want to do the same with Jingle Jangle. 

DDF: You both have worked on many projects together, how was your experience working on this project? 

LT: Jingle Jangle was a big deal and there was a lot of pressure. It was equally important to us as the people who were behind it and if we didn’t get this project right, it may take another 20 years for someone to have an opportunity like this. We had our moments but what kept us centered was that we wanted the same thing. We did have our thing where we would ride separately, so we could allow each other to think about what we had to do that day. 

Whether it be married or on set, you are actually married to the people on set because you have to be with them several hours a day. If it’s a good relationship, you will always get back to where you need to. 

DET: Advice from a married man, you just have to say Ahman. 

Jingle Jangle
JINGLE JANGLE (2020) Madalen Mills and Writer/Director David Talbert on the set of Jingle Jangle. Cr. Gareth Gatrell/NETFLIX

DDF: What advice do you have for all the aspiring filmmakers out there? 

DET: Trust your own instinct. Be open to people evolving your idea. 

LT: I second that. I would also add that you should continue to work on your idea. You guys have so much access to so many things we didn’t have growing up in the business and you have so many outlets like Instagram. You see many artists like Issa Rae who have success from those outlets. Just continue to work on it and do the research on those who came before you.

It was an honor to sit with the couple and chat about this historic film. I made sure to let them know that Jingle Jangle is a film I needed as a child and that every child needs while growing up. I am so happy to share the experience of the film with my nieces. Make sure to check out Jingle Jangle on Netflix and purchase the book sold on various outlets. 

07Mar/21
Finance

Are You Financially Prepared For This “New Normal”?

“If you allow someone to feed you, they can also starve you.” 

Heard the saying, “feed a man a fish, feed him for a day”? Fact: it’s not really hard to fish… once you know how to. When it comes to finances, it has been purposely kept a mystery. Why?  Because this system would rather you let them feed you ‘fish’ instead of you ‘learning to fish’ on your own—and they’ve been successful at it! 

To no fault of their own, our parents told us we need a job to provide – which really means to survive. It was never suggested by them to master money, which enables you to own your time and earn your own income. In today’s world, the latter has become most apparent. With automated jobs on the rise, employment will be different, leaving many jobs we train for obsolete within the next five years. Artificial Intelligence will see to that as we embark on a new Industrial Revolution that will cause millions of unemployed citizens as a result. Since Trump took and left office, a total of 3 million jobs were lost and they’re not all because of a virus. 

Fact is, no job equals no money. Little-to-no finances lead to the inability to sustain yourself as well as compound debt. At this point, the topic of retirement can’t even be a thought, much less wealth transfer! As we witness the instability of this country, realize we don’t have to go down with it. Now, more than ever, is the time to be proactive in planning and then executing a sustainable plan that will cut your dependency on a possibly soon-to-be automated job to sustain yourself. 

There can only be but so many stimulus checks given out. Eventually, we will have to have a way to earn money to live in today’s world. None of our  “leaders” are speaking about this, nor our financial advisors—and they won’t! If we continue to wait for some miracle to “make it the way it was”, this awakening will be ruthless with no remorse.

PLAN IT THEN PLANT IT! 

2020 was either your best or worst financial year. Quarantine made us eat out less, travel and commute less, some got moratoriums on rent/mortgage, car insurance, and other t-bills. And let’s not mention two stimulus checks! But what did you do with it? Did you spend it on the holiday season or invest it? We cannot afford to use the same plan in this new normal. 

I invite you to join the Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement where I  show you ways to live off your savings and investments without falling victim to job loss nor being taken advantage of in money markets rigged to fail.  

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

07Mar/21

The Texture of Education

One of the most effective hustles being run on people around the globe is to make “white” culture the standard of validation. It’s systemic, obviously, but it’s also insidious. As it progresses, it creeps deeper, quietly and subtly. Participating in American culture is a poison that makes you think that getting more poison is the cure. It’s a game that you lose by the very act of playing, like arguing with a fool. You can’t beat the beast at being the beast…and even if you can, your reward is that you’ve become the beast, but beastier.

What does freedom look like for maafa survivors? Barack Obama, right? Nah. His administration was white imperialism in blackface. It was under his watch that Ghadafi was killed and Libya destroyed. That was a major loss for African people globally. It happened because of what he was doing with the dinar, the United States of Africa, an African central bank, African satellites, etc. He was getting his people out of their adversaries’ traps.

For us to truly be a free people, it requires a separation from “America.” It requires us to step away from that identification and really comprehend who we are in the world. We will have to be reflective and creative. I don’t like any of the familiar names we go by: black, negro, colored, nigga, African American, etc. I didn’t want to just say African because that’s a continent, not a people, and I don’t have a particular culture I can claim. Plus we got melanin ancestors who were here before Europeans arrived. I tried to switch it up to American African, but nah. I’m pan-African, but that’s political science, not a cultural identity.

We are the people who lost familial, national, and historical affiliations. We’ve had to find something more intrinsic to connect on. We talk about a “Black card” in acknowledgment that we do have a shared cultural reality, though loosely defined. A clear and organized unity amongst us is the single most threatening thing to America — at least that was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s professional opinion. The recurring response to a melanin unifier is to destroy and/or discredit, whether it’s a person or a group. The fact that it causes the height of their fear response should be assessed thoroughly and used as strategic information. 

Why does Black unity threaten the American corporation on such a high level? The basic European economic model is this: take away what you have, repackage it, then sell it back to you. We had community, happiness, spirituality, health, love; now all of those things are monthly bills. Community has been parceled out as child care, education, elder care, restaurants, medical care, therapy, etc. Happiness has been relegated to material accumulation and over-consumption. And the government is a hustle to get money off of all that. The entire system is set up to capitalize on pain and feelings of separation. If we heal our pain and unite, that is, by default, the complete collapse of their system. That’s why it evokes in them hostility with extreme prejudice.

Their cultural psychological diseases provoke them to toss relentlessly from one fear to another. Rather than courage, they have historically turned to anger and violence to process fear. Because they see everything through the lens of fear, then all their actions are to be seen rightly as attacks. Therefore, even the societies they create attack the very people in them. As long as you’re inside the belly of the beast, it’s feeding on you, no matter what you do. An abusive relationship is still abusive on the “good” days.

The obvious question is: “where we gonna go?”

We don’t necessarily know where our ancestral homes were before the maafa. I’ve suggested that the only meaningful reparations the US could offer maafa survivors is to cede at least three southern states for us to self-govern, along with a financial contribution. Maybe there’s an African or Caribbean country that is willing to let us get a few hundred thousand acres to set up our new country.

Really though, it’s not about leaving America physically. The entire earth is our domain! The issue is that when we wake up in the morning, our thoughts start to participate with and empower the poisoners. It’s not that we need to “get out of America,” it’s that we need to get America out of us! We need to move to a different identity and worldview. The solution, I see, is to identify our bodies as the land that we are from, have loyalty to, and dominion over. From this, we have the authority to insist our culture be observed on our land. A nation can identify regions of land as their base, and name it, with governing practices to accompany. But without people to call it a country, the earth is just earthing. If we take off the cultural practices and names from ourselves, then what are we? Just some spirits spiriting around in earthships. We, “Black Americans,” as a group, are composed of many different people, from every continent. Therefore as a group, we are physically related to the whole earth. 

I call “Black Americans” Earthiopians, because of the above explanations, and the extreme spiritual heights we’ve had to reach to avoid being destroyed. We can call it whatever we want; the important thing is for those of us who value self-determination and wholistic self-reliance, to have a clear identity and worldview, that is meaningful and inclusive to all of us. We can then retrieve our incredible resources, powers, and capacities from being funneled into an adversarial system, and reroute them to our homeland (ourselves). Then we’ll easily recognize how wealthy and capable Earthiopia already is. Your nation is not where your body lives, but where your heart lives. When we move like this as a group, then it is much easier to get those three states of land for our base, or just buy a few islands!

Photo by Peter Idowu

07Mar/21

The Chaos Theory of Education

The Butterfly Effect Theory states, “if you change one thing you change everything”. It is connected to TheChaos Theory and states, as an example, if a butterfly flaps its wings in New Mexico at exactly the right time it can cause a hurricane in China. It could take a long time for the hurricane to come, but the cause could be traced to the butterfly who flapped its wings at the exact right time and location. Suffice it to say that there is always an impact on the things that we do, and we may never fully see the long-term impacts of our actions. 

In 2001, September 11 happened and many people rushed to the Pentagon and to the World Trade Center to support with efforts to find those who were trapped. Ten years later I saw similar advertisements for those men and women who were experiencing suicidal thoughts, cancers in their throats and lungs, and some had even died due to the exposure to chemicals while at Ground Zero. 

How much more will our children be impacted by the forced isolation, mask-wearing, and these educational shifts? Children are currently missing out on valuable learning, as not just education is taught at schools. Sharing and compassion, lifelong friendships, as well as morals and values are often crystallized. Our children are being deprived and while there may not be lawsuits twenty years from now, society will be forever impacted by the shift in reality that children are experiencing. If you are able to facilitate safe and consistent ways for the children in your life to continue interacting with one another, it could be the shift needed to assuage the inevitable chaos that is forming in the future.

Furthermore, check on the educators you know and ensure that they are caring for self. How do educators transmute that love of being around the youth through a screen? The electronic disconnect is causing some educators to stress out, sometimes even at the expense of their own families and self wellness. The chaos that educators are experiencing with trying to create “virtual classrooms” that hold space for all that would go on in the physical classroom is having lasting impacts. The pressure of being able to perform in this virtual reality and still maintain the joy that came from being in person has its costs.

The most beautiful thing about chaos theory is that out of chaos must come order, we can rebuild and build the educational world that we desire. My warning is to hunker down for the storm that is to come, keep your loved ones close and stay learning with your children and be connected to the educators in your life. Don’t allow them to be lost in the chaos of this long-term isolation and the potentially harmful educational shifts. 

Photo by Suad Kamardeen

07Mar/21
dCarrie Taji Mag

How Travel Made Me A Better Person

I’ve personally decided against air travel during the pandemic. While home, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reminiscing on past trips as Facebook and Amazon Photos show me reminders of where I was this day the last few years. Spoiler – I was out of the country. As I look fondly on past travels, I can’t help but recall how those experiences changed me. I’m reminded of the people who went the extra mile to help me find my way every time I got lost (it’s been quite often lol), the friendly strangers who took the time to translate for me, and an assortment of others who went the extra mile to assist in the little ways that make a huge difference.  

Thinking of all the goodness that was poured into me gave me pause – it gave me a reason to reflect on the different ways I pour it back out into the world when I’m not traveling. I find myself much more patient with tourists when I’m out and about and they are obnoxiously not embodying the understood NYC culture of “stay out the f***ing way”. When someone who doesn’t speak English comes into my job looking for assistance, I take my time to be patient and use my translate app.  I’ve always been a kind person but travel has allowed me to see first hand how many different ways I’m able to be more compassionate simply by giving me extraordinary experiences where that compassion was shown to me. 

My travel has also given me the opportunity to sharpen my situational awareness and intuition.  It’s very easy to get complacent with seeing the same things day in and day out. I’m not much of a social person who goes out often, so my opportunity to experience new surroundings has most often been through travel. Constantly being in new environments and trying new things has given me a much more expansive knowledge base to pull from. It’s a constant reminder of how much of the world there still is to see and experience while giving me such a sense of gratitude to be able to attempt to do it. 

Every Thursday I release an episode of my podcast Travel N Sh!t where I discuss the nuanced ways travel permeates our lives and re-enforce the concept of travel being more than a vacation. Visit www.travelnshitpodcast.com for past episodes and more travel resources. 

01Mar/21

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

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

Spoiler Alert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music and Entertainment

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

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

Cameos and Movie Nods

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

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

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

Review 

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

18Feb/21

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

Sundance Film Festival

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

Favorite Short Black Films of the Sundance Film Festival

Bruiser

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

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

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

Five Tiger

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

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

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

Lizard | Short Film Grand Jury Prize, Presented by Southwest  

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

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

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

Black Bodies by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall

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

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

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

A Concerto is a Conversation

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

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

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

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

New Frontier: The Interstitium with Octavia Butler

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

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

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

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

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

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

12Feb/21

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

Judas and the Black Messiah

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

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

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

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

The Chemistry 

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

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

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

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

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

Judas and the Black Messiah

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

Judas and the Black Messiah Summit

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

See the Movie!!!

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