Tag Archives: African American

26Oct/19

Exclusive: Harriet director, Kasi Lemmons, Discusses Film, Eve’s Bayou, Candy Man

Harriet director Kasi Lemmons and actress Cynthia Erivo (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

This year, director and writer, Kasi Lemmons, will bring one of the most heroic and inspiring Black woman figures to the screen, Harriet Tubman.  The film, Harriet, stars Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr,. and Jonelle Monae. It is a biopic about the life of Harriet Tubman from her first escape to freedom to being the conductor of the Underground Railroad. The film premiere was held on Oct. 22, 2019 in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian African American Musem. Taji Mag was able to speak with the director, Kasi Lemmons, about her creative process and development of the film. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was the importance of making this film and will this film impact the future of storytelling from the perspective of Black people? 

Kasi Lemmons ( KL): As filmmakers, we always ask ourselves, what are the great characters? I write from the characters all the time. Harriet Tubman was one of the greatest figures who has lived. So for me, the fact that no feature film has ever been made about Harriet and she is just such an important person for Americans, especially African American women… This hero needs to be brought to the world, a hero to me on the level of Mother Teresa and Gandhi. She’s a real superhero.

In terms of our future as storytellers, the more we can tell compelling stories that people relate to, the better. There are so many women directors right now and there are so many stories to tell, it’s always been a matter of is the industry ready to accept these stories. Now we are in a period where we can have a Black person as the lead and hero in a movie and bring characters like Harriet to the screen.   

(Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): What makes this film different from the other films that are about Black slavery? 

(KL): Harriet, to me, has always been a story about freedom. If I were to ask you to tell me the story of Harriet Tubman, you would say that she escaped from slavery and then she went back to liberate others. To me, those were like the verbs, that is the Harriet Tubman story. 

(DDF): What was your reaction when you found out that you were doing this film? 

(KL): My heart started racing, they just kind of sprung it on me and I didn’t have time to think about it, which was good in a way because I went to a meeting and the producer said it in the room. They surprised me because I thought I was just going to a general meeting. I was able to check my pulse to measure my own reaction and, as I am experiencing it, I am thinking, “your heart is really racing, I think you are very interested in this!” 

(DDF): You have mentioned in one of your articles that this feeling of excitement is like falling in love. Can you explain?

(KL): Find a good film to work on is always like falling in love to me. There’s always a process of courtship; you’re getting to be friends and then all a sudden you fall in love. With this film, I was really intrigued by it from the very beginning. The love started in my research; she is an incredible presence in my life. 

Lemmons with her husband Vondie Curtis Hall and son. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): What was your approach to creating the premonition scenes that Harriet experienced? 

(KL): I went through a lot of stages with it, then boiled it down to its most simple form, because I felt like they were like flashes of inspiration. They took many different forms, she had dreams, trances, sometimes just flashes of premonitions, and seizures. So I started to think about what seizures felt like and tried to make a shocking type of image. 

(DDF): You did some very creative things to create the premonition scene with the various colors used. How did that come about? 

(KL): When I looked up seizures and really tried to read people’s experiences of what seizures looked like to them, I would find the word monochromatic over and over again. I thought that is what I was trying to make it look like. 

(DDF): “What is a man to with a woman touched by God” is a line in the script that stood out to me. How did you come up with it? 

(KL): It’s interesting, that is a scene that I wrote the night before we shot it. The producers and executive producers at Focus Features, wanted me to try and describe what it felt like to Harriet after her husband re-married. So we imagined a scene with Marie where she would tell her what it felt like to her. I put off writing it because it was a hurdle to me – how do you write what God feels like? Then I started to explore what it would it feel like to Harriet, I wrote it the night before the shoot and they (Cynthia Erivo and Janelle Monáe) did it in two takes. 

Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): In the film, we see the evolution of the heroic woman icon, how did you go about the character development from Minty to Harriet? 

(KS): There is a huge arc that we felt in her character, she almost becomes different people. From an ordinary woman into this almost mythic side of herself, she names herself and she is apart of that. So we named them, Minty, Harriet, and Moses. Everybody participated in the character development; Me, Cynthia, and costume designer, Paul Tazewell.  We created her and it was a group effort to give you that arc. From Minty and her dress to when she becomes Harriet in her mission costume, it’s a big arc. 

(DDF): What advice would you give to your younger self at the time you made Eve’s Bayou? 

(KL): In some ways, I don’t know if I would give myself any advice. Now, where I am in life, I like the way that things unfolded. Take for instance, after I made Eve’s Bayou, I didn’t know if I was going to make another movie but that was a wonderful thing to think at that moment because I was going for broke. So I put everything into it. I’ve had ups and downs in my career. If I could talk myself through those, I would tell myself that you are going to have ups and downs but if you keep going, you get to travel the world, you’ll meet extraordinary people, you’ll work with some of the most talented people and you’ll have a great time. 

(DDF): You are also doing a CJ Madam Walker series, what brought you to do that project? 

(KL): I have been infatuated with Madam CJ Walker for 20 years. Literally 20 years ago, I was thinking, “You know, it would be dope if we did something about Madam CJ Walker!” So when that came about, I was super excited about being involved in it. Then, Octavia Spencer, she’s perfect for the role. It’s a story that has been interesting for a long time, she is the first self-made Black woman millionaire and you know hair is so special to us black women, we’ve got our own thing. I had a really good time working it. 

Kasi Lemmons on set. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): Do you hope to bring more important black women figures to film or tv? Any ideas? 

(KL): Oh, I am sure I will do more films about important Black women figures. Do I have any in mind…maybe? (laughs) 

(DDF): You were in the horror films Candyman and Silence of the Lambs.  Have you had any input or help in the development of the new Candyman film? 

(KL): I have contributed to Candyman already in that I mentor the director for the film, Nia DaCosta, since her first Sundance film. She’s great!   

(DDF):  Will you make your own horror film?

(KL): There is something that I have in mind but I have to be careful because I am extremely sensitive. I have to protect my energy a lot and be careful of what I bring into my life. When I bring in truth, beauty, and righteousness, it’s a good feeling, so I am afraid and that’s the truth. 

The film Harriet was a great film with a lot of exploration of the characters’ bravery, selflessness, spiritually, and intelligence. It stands out as a story about the perseverance of the human spirit against discrimination. Creatively, it is a departure from the usual ‘slave cry’ moments that have become rhetoric in most of the blockbuster slave themed movies and I am thankful for that. Go see Harriet November 1st. 

Harriet

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., and Janelle Monae.

 

17Sep/19

Hip-Politics Awards is Aiming to Become the Mecca of Black Politics

Left to right: Hip-Politics Founder/Executive Director Cameron Trimble, Brad “Scarface” Jordan, and Trae the Truth.
photos courtesy of Curtis Thurston.

The Congressional Black Congress (CBC) hosted a week full of events celebrating with galas, lunches, and panels galore, but there was one event that combined hip-hop, one of the most celebrated genres of music today, and politics – the first annual Hip-Politics Awards. The event was held at the @1015 Lounge, which featured an array of honorees and guests who included Brad “Scarface” Jordan, rapper Trae the Truth, New York Congressman, Hakeem Jefferies, Michigan House Representative, Sheldon Neely, and The Source founder, Dave Mays. 

Hip-Politics

Brad ” Scarface” Jordan

With the political season around the corner, Brad “Scarface” Jordan, the former member of the legendary hip-hop group, The Geto Boys, has thrown his bid in for Houston City Council. The news broke after the current seat holder, Dwight Boykins, decided to run for mayor. When asked about his bid for city council, Jordan stated: “It’s not about what he gave me, it’s about what I took from him. What I took from Boykins was that he wanted me to explore running for mayor. Me on the other hand, having no political background, I have a passion for my people. With that said, it made me want to step up and run for the city council. I was supposed to be prepping for 3-4 years but now I am in the fire. Win, lose, or draw, I hope it will inspire other candidates like me to take control of the narrative. Let’s be real with ourselves, we have not been in a position to take care of our brothers and sisters. I am here to change that, it’s our turn.”

Houston native rapper, Trae the Truth, let it be known he was appreciative of being an honoree at the Hip-Politics Awards explaining, “It’s a blessing because  I get to create more of a legacy, you know? It’s nice to know people stand with me and behind me, showing what we can become.”  He added, “There’s a lot of people that need it, it’s a wonderful feeling to know that you can assist people and help them to not give up and not tap out. Everybody needs encouragement, I needed it when I came on,” said The Truth explaining the reason for his philanthropy work within his community. He also spoke about building the community up like the late and talented rapper Nipsy Hussle.

Trae the Truth’s new album, “Exhale,” released on August 23, 2019 and he expressed the purpose of his new album is “clearly the truth, I mean that’s what my name says. Life is important and that’s what I am trying to promote right now.” 

House Representative and Green Justice award honoree, Sheldon Neely, and his wife, Cynthia, were delighted to be in attendance at the first annual event and expressed pride in what they were witnessing at awards. Neely stated, “I am grateful to be selected as one of the honorees tonight, especially being a representative from Flint (Michigan). Three things come to my mind. Number 1, I am very grateful; Number 2, I am very proud of the positivity that I see here tonight and; Number 3, I want to congratulate all these young people. It’s very refreshing to see the amount of African-Americans in a professional setting, it just brings life to all that I’ve been fighting for and standing for. I’m really rejuvenated by this atmosphere.” He then stated “I think people need to be aware of what’s going on with our African-American youth and millennials, I would hope that we can draw more young people into this type of atmosphere and they can actually see.”

Hip-Politics

House Representative Sheldon Neely and wife Cynthia Neely.

Known for quoting rappers during his speeches on the house floor, Congressman Hakeem Jefferies responded positively to his selection as an honoree saying  “It’s a tremendous honor, Hip-Politics is a wonderful organization that combines millennial political empowerment and hip hop culture. I look forward to being supportive of it in any way that I can. We want to make sure that we continue to promote the music, the culture and the social justice responsibility that we all have during these complicated and challenging times.”

Jeffries noted that his two favorite rappers are Biggie and Tupac, but he claimed Jay-Z as his selection for a living legend.

Founder of the Source magazine and Source Awards, Dave Mays, enjoyed his experience at the awards. He explained his support for Hip-Politics, saying “I recently created Dave Mays Media, I got to meet Cameron (one of the founders of Hip-Politics) at a Hip-Hop Museum pop up that I put together. He explained what they were doing with Hip Politics and ever since that moment, I have tried to come out and support the organization. That is why I am here tonght.”  

Hip-Politics podcast co-host, Mike McQuerry, was proud of the success of the organization. McQuerry talked about the origin of Hip-Politics stating, “We try to fuse Hip-Hop and politics together. Cameron is more of the hip-hop one and I am more of the political one since I work on Capitol Hill. I have been working on the Hill for 24 years. Hip Hop and policy are easy to combine together since a lot of the rep content out there now reloves around politics.” 

Hip-Politics

Congressman Hakeem Jefferies holding the Hip-Politics Award.

Hip-Politics Founder/Executive Director, Cameron Trimble, was very happy with the turn out of the event.  He annotated that “the hip-hop generation is strong. To see the turnout, to feel the energy in the room, to see some of our legends come out, this event shows that hip-hop has the power to effect change. Hip-hop has the power to mobilize millions of people across racial and socioeconomic demographics around the country. This is what I like to call the Superbowl of Black Politics. Putting on this event was a blessing and it’s only going to get bigger!”