Tag Archives: black culture

07Sep/22

Writer Kwame Kwei-Armah on His New Film“Breaking” and Making the World a Better Place

John Boyega as Brian Brown-Easley

Breaking Writer Kwame Kwei-Armah on His New Film and Making the World a Better Place

Starring: John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, and Michael K. Williams
Directed by: Abi Damaris Corbin
Written by: Kwame Kwei-Armah and Abi Damaris Corbin
Release Date: 08/26/2022

What happens when a veteran tries to make an honest living for his family but faces financial issues due to a mistake the government made? In the case of Brian Brown-Easley in the film Breaking, he asked to have his due of $892 returned from the government by holding up a bank. This sad and true story was well crafted by the writing team of Kwame Kwei-Armah and Abi Damaris Corbin in the new film “Breaking“. Taji Mag was able to discuss the writing process with Armah and get his thoughts on the project.

DDF: What was the writing process for this beautiful and emotional film?

Kwame Kwei-Armah (KKA): Well, first of all, thank you for your kind words. It means a lot. I was sent the article about Brian Brown-Easley, titled “They Didn’t Have to Kill Him,” from Abi, the director and co-writer. We knew that if we were going to tell this story together, we had to feel that we did our research as effectively as humanly possible.

So we flew to Atlanta and went to the bank where it happened. We walked from his hotel room to the bank. We walked around the area, we drove around, and we spoke to people who were there on the day of the incident. We spoke to Brian’s ex, but what was most important for us was that we listen to the transcripts of the 9-1-1 operators. So we knew every word that had been said in that room. And there was a draft of this. [It] was 200 pages long…we said the only dialogue we’ll use is the dialogue that was actually said. But it was a bit too long, so we shaped it from there.

DDF: I read in production notes that you both wrote a draft of the film and went through each one line by line. That’s absolutely surgical!

KKA: Abi did the first cut. I did the second cut. Then, from there, we just started cutting things out. We were in there together, shaving and shaving away at the script.

DDF: Were there any moments where you just had to stop and step away to take a break because, emotionally, it was too tough to get through? Especially while doing the research and listening to the transcripts?

Nicole Beharie

KKA: I don’t know if you’ve ever stepped away from your Blackness walking down the street, right? You know there’s no stepping way. If you have the luxury of being a storyteller and you’re telling a story, why? Because you wanna make the world incrementally better. You wanna put a spotlight on something that says “I do this so that people can be seen and people can be heard, and their stories can be heard”. But there’s no stepping away.

DDF: What was your process for developing the supporting characters? There’s no antagonist or protagonist in this film. It’s mostly just people, human beings.

KKA: I love how you frame it because, actually, the system was the antagonist, and that’s always hard to portray. But I think one of the big things [about writing] is that you have to love every character in any narrative you create. And if you don’t love them, you’ve gotta find something in them to love. So, actually, what we found with all of the characters was that everybody was in there, they all had a stake in how to help Brian survive that day, and it doesn’t mean that they weren’t scared. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t know how to do it at some point, but they all tried, and that’s joyous to try and write.

DDF: What song would you use to describe this film?

KKA: What song would you pick? Well, that’s funny. I don’t think there is a song. If there was one, it might be Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” If I had to choose a rap song, it would be Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”

DDF: What was Brian’s family’s first reaction to the film?

KKA: I tell you it was one of the most beautiful things when we were with Brian’s wife, John (Boyega), and Abi. I switched on the film and I was really nervous. Then Brian’s wife said she saw her husband. She saw Brian when John started acting on screen, and we were all in tears over it.

DDF: What was one of the happiest moments that you experienced from the set?

KKA: Actually, I didn’t get on set. COVID was around. I was based in London and we couldn’t fly. I couldn’t come back to the states. So Abi was writing this script with me, starting at 10:00 PM LA time and off we would go.

So actually, the happiest moment was when my manager, Max Gohar, and Abi were on set. He had recorded the first slate live. I saw John’s first lines and I was so proud. The movie went forward, and that was the greatest moment for me. It had to be like the greatest award you can ever have as a writer: just to have your craft perfectly said on paper and then on film.

Michael K. Williams

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

KKA: I think the universal thing we’re trying to tap into with this film is that we’re living in times where we’re all breaking a little bit. There are so many walking bombs; maybe our role as citizens is to see people more, hear people more, and help extinguish some of the fires burning inside. And that starts with listening, and that includes systems.

DDF: Is that why you changed the film’s title from 892 to Breaking?

KKA: Yes, kind of. I think part of why I changed the name was because when you sit in the film, you think, “892, I understand it now.” But we were having some problems with people wanting to access the film. Cause they were like “892. What does it even mean? Who cares?” So actually, you write for the maximum audience, not the minimum. So when that came to our attention, we went, “okay, let’s find another name” and Breaking was the name we came up with.

The Review:


Breaking is an emotional and touching film that is slow in pace but carefully detailed. Every moment in the film captures your attention as John Boyega puts on an excellent performance. From mannerisms to dialogue, you can tell Brian was a kind but broken man. At times, I understood the character’s motives and how he tried to control his emotions throughout the whole process. Boyega deserves praise for this compelling performance and hopes it’s worthy of some nominations during award season.

Nicole Beharie also had a compelling portrayal of bank Manager Estel Valerie. Estel, although she feared for her life, wanted to help make things right for Brian and assist him in getting home to his daughter. She could relate as she has a son herself. I like that Estel was brave by ensuring everyone got out before she did. This included her teller Rosa Diaz played by Selenis Leyva, who was very effective during those intense moments.

Breaking was Micheal K. Williams’ last film, and his performance as negotiator Eli Bernard was moving. He put on a quality performance. His relatability to Brian and desire to save his life made me want to keep rooting for him to get Brian out alive. I can believe the disappointment once Brian’s life was ended.

The transitions in the film from past to present were sleek and did not distract from the film’s intention. When Brian flashes back to the past, it frustrated me that he gave his life for a country that refuses to help him stay on his feet.

The film’s tone was solemn and dramatic, but not to the point where I got bored. Just enough to keep me in the moment. The tension was high, which I felt through the acting, sound design, and videography.

The film was well received at the Sundance Film Festival, taking home the “Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast” in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. At that time the film was called “892.”

Breaking is an emotionally compelling film about a man’s fight for what he is owed after sacrificing himself in a war. If you are looking for something beautiful and want something to touch you emotionally, I highly recommend Breaking, playing in a theater near you.

Co-Writer Kwame Kwei-Armah
30Jun/22

Rise is About Family, Love, and Perseverance

Streaming: Disney Plus

Release Date: June 24, 2022

Actors: Dayo Okeniyi as Charles Antetokounmpo, Yetide Badaki as Veronica “Vera” Antetokounmpo, Uche Agada as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ral Agada as Athanasios “Thanasis” Antetokounmpo, Elijah Sholanke as Alexandros “Alex” Antetokounmpo, and Jaden Osimuwa as Kostantinos “Kostas” Antetokounmpo

Synopsis: Based on the real-life story about the Antetokounmpo family, the first family to produce a trio of brothers who go on to become NBA champions. It explores their journey as Nigerian immigrants in Greece striving for a better life.

Many of us know about, or at least have heard of, Giannis Antetokounmpo (aka The Greek Freak) from his MVP awards and 2021 championship with the Milwaukee Bucks. For years now, he’s been dominating the NBA. We also know that he was born in Greece to Nigerian parents and has siblings in the NBA. One thing we are not sure about is his upbringing…until now. With the film Rise, audiences and fans can get a glimpse of what it was like for Antetokounmpo growing up. You’ll be surprised to learn what Giannis’ family had to go through…I know I was.

Giannis and his family

We’ve seen it before: the overseas basketball player struggling financially with aspirations to play in the NBA. But Rise has a different narrative; Giannis and his brothers were also trying to avoid deportation while living in Greece. Not ony does this make for a more interesting film with layers, but also provides a better feel for the family’s obstacles. This film brings to light the family’s obstacles and their persistence to make ends meet while also showcasing their optimism. This gave me a better understanding of why Giannis and his brothers are down to earth on the court and on social media. The scenes when the family was almost caught by the authorities and deported back to Nigeria felt incredibly tense. They were barely escaping each time, and so I couldn’t help but cheer for this family’s breakthrough since it was clear they needed it. It elicited an oddly intense response from me, especially for a Disney film. I found this quite impressive. Even during the part of the movie where Giannis was drafted, I couldn’t help but watch with great antcipation!

The direction and videography were very well executed in this film. Historically, it hasn’t been easy capturing the beauty of dark skin on screen, especially when it comes to lighting and angles, but this wasn’t an issue in this film. This is my first time watching a piece directed by Akin Omotoso and I look forward to seeing more of his work.

I have to be honest. When it comes to biopics, sometimes they aren’t the best quality, but I can say that Rise was well done. There was nothing lacking in the acting, especially with Yetide Badaki who played Giannis’ mother and who is Nigerian herself. She was nurturing, protective, and also provided an inspiring presence on screen. Every time I saw her, she reminded me of not only my mother but also other Black mothers I know.

Dayo Okeniyi (as Giannis’ father, Charles) also had a great performance. Portraying a father who’s doing all he can to provide for his family, considering everything they’d overcome, the stress was real and Dayo was able to channel that stress. I can only imagine how it would feel consistently trying to find ways to bring joy to my family while dealing with such difficult circumstances.

The actors portraying Giannis and his brothers added to the great performance of the cast as a whole. Uche Agada was convincing as a newcomer learning how to play the game of basketball at a later age. He provided a believable fish-out-of-water perspective. When the boys were faced with racism as teenagers, it definitely resonated with me because I too have experienced racism at a young age, as I’m sure many other young men of color have.

Giannis with actor Uche Agada

Overall, this film was a well-crafted project for Disney Plus that the entire family can watch and enjoy. It’s a film about family, love, and perseverance. After watching this film, I have a better appreciation for the Antetokounmpo family as a whole and it made me respect the former MVP even more. The writing and acting were compelling, and I hope many people watch this film as it’s a fresh take on a basketball story that happens to be based on true events. Not only am I cheering for the success of this film, but I am also cheering for the success of the Antetokounmpo family.

21Jun/22

DeWanda Wise and Dr.Rebecca Hall Discuss Audio Drama, “Wake”

Wake

I found myself intrigued with the history of women-led revolts during times of enslavement, mostly because it is barely mentioned when it comes to Black History. With the new audio drama, Wake, the audience is taken on a journey with Dr. Rebecca Hall as she learns more about these fierce and inspiring women while facing her own obstacles, including resistance from the educational system. With Dr. Hall’s story of perseverance and the captivating voice acting of DeWanda Wise, Wake is an audio project you’ll definitely have to check out. Dr. Hall and Wise were able to take the time to discuss the journey of the project with Taji Mag. 

Dapper Dr.Feel (DDF): What inspired you to turn your graphic novel into the audio version that has just been released? 

Dr. Rebecca Hall (DRH): The Podium, who produced the audiobook, swooped right in and was like, “We wanna make an audio drama” and I’m like, “Awesome!”

DDF: Ms. Wise, how did you get involved with this project? 

DeWanda Wise (DW): My TV agent sent it to me. They know that I love information. I need as much information as humanly possible, so they sent it all at once. I just devoured it all, honestly. I read the graphic novel and I was a real creep and really dug into Dr. Rebecca Hall’s whole life, as much as [was] available online. I was really struck by it and it was one of those things that I could automatically recognize as kindred, both in ideological point of view and the approach to the project. Something that we talked about quite a bit was my approach as an actor, it was quite anthropological. I was also an Urban Studies major, so I’m just deeply invested in how we carry our lives and the lives of our ancestors.

I prefer to be hit [with projects that grab my attention], which is, like, deep, you know. It’s just, it struck me really deep. Yeah. Yeah.

DDF:  So how was your preparation different from your acting roles or your theater roles? 

DW: Not much to be honest with you. I think my approach is my approach. I’m like super research-centric. It was mainly kind of balancing and matching her (Dr. Rebecca Hall’s) very iconic voice. Very specific. 

DRH: My voice is iconic? 

DW: As soon as someone hears your voice, they’re like, “I know who that is”. Now you know this about yourself. 

DRH: I don’t know this about myself at all. 

DW: Now you do.

DDF: Dr. Hall, you’ve been through a lot during your career…being fired and taking jobs you were over qualified for. How did you continue to press on? 

DRH: Yeah, it was a nightmare. There’s actually so much that’s not even in the story, but I actually kept track of how many jobs I applied for. At one point, this was actually during the recession. I had 184 cover letters that I created over a two-year period. I was a mess. I mean, the last time I got fired, I got in the car and drove down to Moab, which is about four hours from my house. Then checked into some fancy place and stayed for a few days. I was already overwhelmed and doing all of this. I had a lot of legal support from protestors. My partner was very supportive and kept motivating me to move forward.

My father was really influential: he helped shape this, this determination I have. He was born in 1898, and never finished eighth grade. He lived in Chicago, working weird jobs like shoe shining and waiting tables. He kept getting fired because he wouldn’t be deferential to white people. Like, he wasn’t doing the Jim Crow thing and he just kept getting fired. I guess that’s in my DNA.

DDF: DeWanda, what was one of the obstacles you faced while recording? 

DW: There weren’t really any obstacles. It was a really lovely week, honestly. I’d just finished a job that was very lovely, but also very white. So the experience on Wake was so nice. These are some of my favorite actors. I get there and Chante Adams is there, it was so lovely! [There] was a Black woman Playwright, Black woman Director… Podium really lets us do our thing. 

DeWanda Wise (Middle), Chanté Adams (Right), and other castmates reading WAKE.

DDF:  Dr. Hall, so which one was worse, reading the painful stories of Black women in the past or revisiting your past while developing this project?

DRH: It’s interesting. I was just thinking about that. So, in the book, where I talk about how difficult it was…my emotional journey dealing with a lot of racism obstacles at Archives…it was all almost 20 years ago, so I have a kind of distance from it. Whereas, Wake is very present. So in a way, it was kind of more painful to write this. 

DDF: DeWanda, what historical figure would you portray in a movie? 

DW: I would play Assata Shakur in a second! We were talking about getting the rights to that book and it is impossible because she’s a fugitive in Cuba. I’ve asked and am really trying to figure out a loophole, but yeah. 

DDF: Would you write that movie? 

DRH: I don’t think so, but I don’t know. Shakur’s autobiography helped me survive law school at Berkeley. Like, it was, you know, it was one of those reads where, at different moments of my life, I read it when I needed it. 

Make sure to purchase your copy of Wake, available exclusively on Audible now.

Wake

Wake is an imaginative tour-de-force that tells the powerful story of women-led slave revolts, and chronicles scholar Dr. Rebecca Hall’s efforts to uncover the truth about these women warriors who, until now, have been left out of the historical record. 

Cast: DeWanda Wise, Chanté Adams, Jerrie Johnson, Fọlákẹ́ Olówófôyekù, Katherine McNamara, Bahni Turpin, Rhian Rees, Karen Malina White, Román Zaragoza, Alex Ubokudom, John Clarence Stewart, Blake Cooper Griffin, Tim DeKay, Kate Steele, André Sogliuzzo, and Matthew Wolf.

Originally published as a part graphic novel and part memoir, Podium Audio acquired the exclusive global audio rights to Wake, the graphic novel named one of the Best Books of 2021 by NPR. Over the last year, Podium Audio has developed this work into a feature-length audio play in partnership with critically acclaimed playwright and television writer Tyler English-Beckwith.

14Apr/22

Actress Andrene Ward-Hammond Says 61st Street is Not Your Typical Courtroom Show

Andrene Ward-Hammond in 61st Street

James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” The new AMC series, 61st Street, does just that. It’s a story about the struggles of a Black man named Moses and the obstacles he must face in pursuit of his college dream. Andrene Ward-Hammond, the actress portraying Norma, the mother of Moses, let Taji Mag know why 61st Street is not a typical courtroom show and talked about what makes the series relatable. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What made you choose to be a part of this project?

Andrene Ward-Hammond (AWH): Other than getting booked? Lol. I came off of the show Your Honor, and Peter Moffat (61st Street creator) sent this project to me. So I’m super grateful for that. A mom raising two Black kids, specifically black sons in Chicago. I don’t know if I would want to pass up the opportunity to portray the character. I’m a Black mom, a few different sides of her, you know?

DDF: How did you approach this role? 

AWH: I am originally from New York and moved to Georgia. I [have] a daughter, and the part of Georgia we moved to, didn’t see much of us. It wasn’t a hard reach playing a mom, and it was easy to pull from experiences because I knew my challenges raising my daughter. Like, we are not seen in the best light in America…how we protect our tribe, how we protect our family, and how excited we are about our culture. It’s not hard to pull from because I am wildly protective of my daughter, my family, and of my friends. So to raise two Black men as characters, it’s already sitting in there ’cause we already fighting for Black men in America. So it’s like, we’re not way too far off from that. 

Andrene Ward-Hammond in 61st Street
Andrene Ward-Hammond as Norma Johnson in 61st Street Photo Credit: Chuck Hodes/AMC

DDF: What do you think Norma is thinking internally as her son is being blamed for killing an officer? 

AWH: That (Norma) wants him alive by any means necessary. She knows who her child is. She knows who she raised Moses to be. He is not the criminal the police are making him out to be. It’s so outside of Moses’ character, she tells him to run. She saw a child who was always the good kid. So it’s always a battle internally, too. Like, what can save him? What can she do to ensure that his life is saved? [The authorities] do not see him in the best light. Norma just wants to see her kids happy.

DDF: What was it like on set with the rest of the cast?

AWH: Mr. C (Courtney B. Vance) is dope. He is like that uncle you always wanted. Ms. Aunjanue (many flowers given) is like a big sister I absolutely needed. It’s so funny because we were just texting today. Tosin and Bentley were the sweetest ever. They can’t get rid of me now. Tosin’s like my little brother. Bentley’s like my son. Holt is hilarious and the best host ever. As for Mark. I just want to be on a comedy show that Mark writes because he is absolutely fricking hilarious. You can’t say no to a project that’s led by Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue. It was a given, it was a gift. I don’t care how it turned out. 

DDF: What do you think people will get out of this project? 

AWH: It’s not your typical courtroom show. It shows how these cases, like the one in 61st Street, affect families outside of a courtroom. It doesn’t lean towards anybody being a good or a bad guy. It’s based on your moral compass. So you get to determine, “okay well, this is how I feel about that”, but, more than anything, start to engage in conversation that’s incredibly uncomfortable. But it’s not like it’s going away ’cause it’s happening now. Although the show is [only now] made, the creators started on it six years ago. To have it land at a time after the kneeling on the neck incident, it just shows you how relevant the conversation is and how it needs to continue. We clearly still have a fight ahead of us.

The first two episodes of 61st Street have provided more than enough interest for me to stay invested. I want to see what paths each character will choose since the Chicago environment places some tension between the police and its citizens, much like real life. Veterans Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis bring their chemistry from Lovecraft County. The series looks promising as Andrene and other castmates add to the intensity and compelling stories in the series.

Promising high school teenager, Moses Johnson (Tosin Cole), finds himself running for his life after he is wrongfully accused of killing a police officer. His only hope is Franklin Roberts (Courtney B. Vance), a lawyer down to his last case and struggling with his health. Will Moses be placed on the path of prison or will he be able to live the life for which he’s worked so hard? 

61st Street | Where to watch: AMC 

Starring: Courtney B. Vance, Aunjanue Ellis, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Tosin Cole

Executive producer: Michael B. Jordan

14Apr/22

Omar Epps Discusses His New Film, The Devil You Know, and How He Defines Love

From Love and Basketball to House, Omar Epps has entertained us for years with characters that have been nothing short of memorable. With his new film, The Devil You Know, he serves as actor and executive producer. It’s a crime-thriller drama about a recovering alcoholic trying to piece his life together after being incarcerated. He is faced with a difficult decision to either tip off a detective (Michael Ealy) or keep quiet after discovering his brother, Drew (Will Catlett), was part of a horrific robbery. Omar Epps was able to sit down with Taji Mag to talk about his new project. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What made you want to be a part of this film? 

Omar Epps (OE): Charles and I were having lunch eight years ago. He just pitches me what I thought was a great idea. I’m like, ”Yeah, let me read the script!” and he’s like, “I haven’t started writing yet.” I’m pissed off thinking “Why did you get me all riled up with ideas?” But you know, it’s been living with me and him for years. It took us eight years to actually get it made, which is a whole other conversation.

DDF: What else did you love about this film?

OE: I also loved the idea selfishly, as far as just the artists, to try to unpack this fractured human. The character I play in this film, Marcus, always looked like, if you can visualize it, a picture on the wall that’s ripped up, but then it has a bunch of tape on it.

So it’s still on the wall to me… Here’s a guy the audience meets and he’s newly sober, he’s just gotten a new job after a few years. He’s just growing and having enough confidence to maybe open himself up… He’s in a very emotionally precarious position, then you throw a grenade on top of that and let’s see what happens. That’s just really what drew me to it. 

DDF: What makes this film stand out? 

OE: You know, we (as a Black community) don’t get the chance to make films similar to like a Mystic River or The Town. You know, films that just have certain pacing to them. And that’s what really got me excited.

DDF: I noticed in the film that Drew and Marcus both struggled with adversities in life and dealt with periods of hardship. Where do you think that came from? It seemed like the other two brothers in the family were doing fairly well.

OE: I think it’s a true depiction of a real family, right? The more people there are in a family, the better chance that everybody ain’t gonna be able to stay on the straight and narrow. That’s just the nature of things, but we support the ones who may struggle more than others because it’s a struggle either way. It’s like King Richard [who] looked out for his girls who went on to become legends. With all due respect (and God bless them), the Williams sisters also have other sisters who are not sports icons. Do you know what I’m saying? No telling how things would be if they went a different way. To me, it’s a true depiction of life. 

Sometimes you’ve got to love hard and sometimes you’ve got to love soft. It’s a push and pull in that way. It’s really a film for everyone because everyone comes from a family that is similar to the one in this film. Everyone knows what it’s like to sit around a table, the food’s being cooked, and your cousins are playing cards over here. Uncle such and such just cracked open a bottle of you know what and talks about social stuff [for] about a half an hour. We all know that feeling. We wanted to try to capture that feeling so that people could examine themselves in a sense, I guess, and live vicariously through Marcus.

DDF: Speaking of which, did you learn anything about yourself while doing this film that made you look at things differently? Perhaps anything you could turn into a book seeing as you’ve published books before? 

OE: Well, that’s an interesting question. From a creative standpoint, I think if I do the job right, it’s up to the audience to try to learn about themselves in some way, shape, or form, you know?

DDF: Your wife is making her acting debut in this film, how did that happen?

OE: Well, you know, that’s really all Charles. We would talk about funny things about my wife. She’s been under the tutelage of the great Tasha Smith for a few years now… Art is art is art. You know, it’s just the different formats, but she took it seriously. So, we threw around different names and one day he calls and says “You know who would be great to play this role?” And I’m like, “ Who?” He says “Your wife!”  And I was like, “I should have thought of that. Well, I can’t be the one to tell her (lol).”

DDF: If you could describe The Devil You Know using music, what song would you pick?

OE: No one’s asked me that question, so my mind just went blank. That is a great question. Let me go seventies, “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye.

DDF: You are widely known for your role in Love and Basketball. The film was about love. My question to you is how do you define love? 

OE: Love itself? Honestly, I think that it is a verb. We can say it all day. You could have whatever [written] on tank tops, t-shirts, or whatever, but it has to be an action for it to actually be real, you know?  I’m from Brooklyn, New York and I grew up around a lot of different people from a lot of different walks of life. I’ve seen various forms of love. If love is sort of the roots of a tree, you have compassion, empathy, and all of these other things that come along with that type of feeling that forms the trunk and branches of the tree.  

I’ve been fortunate enough to see both sides of love and see the effects that it has on people. I choose the side of light. I choose the side of love because you just never know what someone’s going through. 

DDF: Are there any moments in life where you learned about love? 

OE: One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned so far on this life journey is from my mother. She was an educator [with] the Board of Education for 30 something years. She basically taught half of New York City. When Juice first came out, I was about 17 years old. I didn’t know enough. People would come up to me on the street and I’m like “They might recognize me from the movie” and they would say “You are Bonnie Epps’ son? She used to teach me in eighth grade”. You know, it didn’t matter if they become a doctor or a bus driver. They would tell me to thank her for the conversations she had with them when they were young. The crazy part is, I would always go back to my mom and tell her these things and she would remember exactly who I was talking about. She would say “Oh, big head Craig? Oh, yeah. He used to give me trouble”. What that taught me was the power of giving and if we’re not giving, we ain’t doing enough. And you don’t give to receive, you give simply for the act of giving. Whether that’s if someone is homeless and you give whatever you got in your pocket or whatever you can spend. You see a homeless person outside a restaurant and you go in. If you can afford it, don’t just give them the scraps. Maybe get them a small little plate of something. Whatever you can do, you know? 

I’m just saying that to say, going back to my definition of love, it was instilled in me at a very early age. A big part of this cycle is all about giving because when you are giving for the sake of giving, the universe gives it back to you in some way, shape, or form. You just don’t know what that may be. And I’m not talking about material, I’m just talking about happenings, you know. So I know that was a long-winded answer, but it all kind of comes back to that.

Epps made a valid comparison when he mentioned movies like The Town and Mystic River because The Devil You Know is in par with the pacing of those movies. The film explores the dynamics of a blue-collar family and the lead character, Marcus, has to make choices that may jeopardize his relationships but also provide him an avenue for forgiveness and peace.  

The Devil You Know will serve as a great conversational piece in regards to what we would do in Marcus’ or Drew’s shoes, how the actions of one person in the family can affect others, and how we should deal with the sins of our past. The film’s finale is filled with surprises and twists that I am personally not ready for but could see how these things could happen in real life. As Omar Epps mentioned in the interview, we all have that family member who suffers and struggles with temptation, but how do we deal with those individuals? 

See how things turn out for Marcus and his family in The Devil You Know

Synopsis: Boundaries and bonds are tested in this gritty crime-thriller drama about family, morality, and redemption. Once incarcerated Marcus Cowans (Omar Epps) is trying to turn over a new leaf with the support of his loving family. Upon discovering that one of his brothers (Will Catlett) may have been involved in a horrific crime, Marcus grapples with the limits of brotherhood and loyalty. He and his family, increasingly weary of the justice system’s failings, end up in the crosshairs of a seasoned but jaded detective (Michael Ealy). Written and directed by Charles Murray, The Devil You Know evokes the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? And at what cost?

Starring: Omar Epps, Will Catlett, Glynn Turman, Curtiss Cook, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Erica Tazel, Vaughn W. Hebron, Michael Beach, Keisha Epps, Ashley A. Williams, with Theo Rossi, and Michael Ealy. 

Written and Directed by: Charles Murray 

Run Time: 116 minutes

Where to watch: AMC Theaters

06Feb/22
DC Black Film Festival

5th Annual DC Black Film Festival: Successfully Providing A Platform for Black Voices

DC Black Film Festival

If you love films that are compelling, artistic, entertaining, and, most of all, made by Black people, the DC Black Film Festival (DCBFF) should definitely be on your radar. The DCBFF presented its fifth year virtually this year due to COVID and, just like years past, it showcased a lot of great films and amazing talent. I even had the opportunity to do one this year. 

The brainchild and curator of the DCBFF, Kevin Sampson, has been optimistic since the change from in-person to virtual screenings stating, “The pandemic has kept us at bay as an online festival during the past couple of years. So I think we should be bigger than we are, but the festival’s reputation has grown nicely since its inception. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to provide filmmakers with a 5-star festival even while adapting. Without filmmakers, we don’t have a fest, so what they think matters a lot to me.” 

“I will be bold enough to say, I have gotten so many wonderful film roles, but I’ve gotten even more film roles where I haven’t been the show. It’s like I’ve been invited to a really fabulous party, only to hold up the wall. I wanted to be the show. I wanted to have a character that kind of took me out of my comfort zone, and that character happened to be in a Shonda Rhimes show. So I did the only smart thing any sensible actress would do—I took it.”Viola Davis 

There are some past DC Black Film Festival participants that have made the move in some mainstream projects like Kyra Jones and Angel Hobbs. “I’m like a proud dad any time I see artists go on to do big things! Not that I have anything to do with their success, but I’m rooting for them. The reason I started the festival was that I heard from so many indie filmmakers who said they have stories but no outlet to exhibit them. So being able to see them come through the festival and continue on to bigger opportunities is awesome! Any time a film gets into the festival it’s hard-earned.” Sampson said with delight. 

Sampson said some of the best moments for this year’s festival were the social events and programming. He further explained the filmmakers were able to get together multiple times virtually and connect. Sampson continued with, “That spark of collaboration and networking is important to a festival and I’m glad we were able to cultivate that. We had a lot of heavy hitter professionals in the industry that joined us and I was grateful for the time and knowledge they dispersed to everyone!” 

Sampson’s goal for next year’s festival is to be in person again. He explained “I believe having an online element will be a part of the festival but I can’t wait to be back in person. So that’s the number one goal, but it’s not up to me if that happens. (laughs) From there, I’d like to continue to have great special guests. We’ll see what the future holds, but I know we’ll continue to bring the quality festival people have come to love.” Sampson also hopes to screen a major film next year, that is the one goal he hasn’t achieved. He still loves showing independent projects, which is the reason the DCBFF was created in the first place. 

With the popularity of streaming services growing due to the influx of COVID cases, that lends more opportunities for more diversity and inclusion right? Well, the entertainment business has some ways to go but with film festivals like DCBFF, new stories by Black creatives are given a platform. DCBFF is definitely worth checking out every year and you are also supporting the Black artists. For updates on the DC Black Film Festival go to DCBFF.org

My DC Black Film Festival Favorites

DC Black Film Festival
“Eavesdropping on the Elders”

“Eavesdropping on the Elders” by Kiah Clingman, Robinson Vil – A story influenced by Kiah and her father, Jim Clingman. The story is about a young woman that must take care of her father struggling with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and finds herself getting assistance from her elders with help of magical glasses. The elders consist of Historical Black figures Frederick Douglas, Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, and more. The film was touching and provided some information about life with ALS.

We Deserve Better” by Keya Rice, Mariam Khan – What were some tenants going through during the pandemic? With cities shut down, workers were laid off, many property owners were evicting tenants or allowing them to live in terrible conditions. Keya gives the audience a look from her perspective as a tenant in a New York apartment complex. With conditions poor and tenants battling COVID, this story had me feeling sorry for Keya and the other tenants. I commend Keya for being brave enough to tell this story. 

Blue Cave” (Best Student Film Winner) by Muhammad Bilal – A story about a young Black man who escapes the harsh reality of the environment and his verbally abusive father, through his writing. This film is a coming-of-age story and a story about overcoming toxic masculinity. The personal project by Bilal is well told and would recommend people watch it. 

Check Out Time” by Calvin Walker– When two friends settle into a creepy hotel, their relationship encounters not only hidden feelings toward one another but a bitter hotel owner. This film was definitely a tale from the Darkside, pun intended. It made me think about just checking into hotels like the Hilton. 

“TNC” by Bobby Huntly (Best Director Winner) – A film that combines Tales From the Crypt with Tales From the Hood but with cool 80’s effects. Bobby Huntly does a good job visually with the fluorescent blue and red hues in the bar. A story about a young Black Man in a bar with other Black strangers, who have a common reason for being at the bar. The twist is both surprising and reflective. 

DC Black Film Festival
TNC
30Oct/21

SPIKE: A Collection of Movie Photography With Contributing Photographer, David Lee

David Lee

Movie set photos are the first of what we see of upcoming films. Before the trailers, the soundtrack singles, and promotional material, the images give the audience a visual of what is to come. Spike Lee‘s new book, SPIKE, features film still photos, behind-the-scenes, and on-the-set pictures of all of the Award-winning director’s life’s work. Most of the photographs were provided by Lee’s brother, veteran lensman, David Lee. David has provided photography for most of Spike’s films from She’s Gotta Have It to BlacKkKlansman. Taji Mag was able to discuss the creative’s experience and contribution to the new book. 

Picture of Spike Lee

Falling In Love With the Art 

David explained his first exposure to photography was when he was twelve or so. His mom had bought a brownstone and one of the tenants was a photographer. Lee said, “He (the photographer) taught me how to process black and white film. I had a 35mm camera with the screws falling out at the time. It was not that great of a camera.” When asked when he fell in love with photography, he said, “The moment photography really clicked was when I was at my maternal grandmother’s house in Atlanta. My grandfather had a Kodak Brownie camera and, to operate it, I had to look down. It gave me an idea of composition and, as I walked around with it, I saw perspectives changing and never forgot that experience. I understood that I could express what I saw from that moment on, and the camera would be my paintbrush. There is no getting tired of photography for me. My muse is in my photography.” 

David did photography throughout high school. In college, he aspired to be a renaissance artist much like Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and other artists he was exploring at the time. His inspiration for the written arts came from his mother, an English and African-American History Teacher. His father, a musician, inspired him to explore music, but that all came to a halt around age twenty. He’d finally realized his creative potential and even wrote screenplays himself, but had difficulty writing essays. So he followed his true passion, photography. 

“Photography will be the artistic expression that will be with me my whole life.” – David Lee

How to Capture the Moment 

Lee explained how he captured the moment by saying, “At first you just try to capture and cover everything. With digital, I shoot too much and bury myself in editing. I pride myself in picking the right photo out of hundreds to capture the moment. It’s a great position to have. After all, you are pretty much limited because sometimes your only shot is next to a camera.” Lee further explained, “You have to find the right space, the right lens, and get the shot that is usable. Most importantly, you have to capture the moment. It’s the visual component of visual storytelling.” 

Pictures from Mo’ Better Blues

David walked me through what it’s like to discover those good photos after shooting, stating, “Sometimes your good shots are intentional and other times you don’t realize what you have shot until later.” He recalled a moment when he caught a fantastic and unplanned shot, explaining, “…I just did photography for Denzel Washington’s new film Journal for Jordan. We had this one-shot with Michael B. Jordan; he was shirtless, as usual, and with a baby on a couch. Two film cameras are running on each side, so I had to squeeze in between them to find my shot. As Michael raised the baby, the baby reached down, grabbed the dog tags around his neck, and looked at it. All I could think was, “Yes! Yes! This is a great shot!” This was an unscripted moment, and I knew right away that was the shot.” 

David explained that he was proud of himself. The next break the crew had for filming, he downloaded the shot and showed the photo to Denzel on a computer. He recalled Denzel being so excited that he ran into another room to grab the co-star of the film, Chanté Adams, to see it. Once Chante saw the photo, she burst into tears. David continued to explain that Denzel called up Dana Canedy, whom the film was based on, and sent the image to her. “She too burst into tears. Everyone who saw that shot became emotional because it was as if it had channeled something”, he described.  

I asked David if he ever had a conversation with Denzel about his creative evolution over the years from Mo’ Better Blues to now Journal for Jordan. He replied, laughing, “You don’t have a conversation with Denzel; you listen. You do whatever he tells you to do.”  

David went on to talk about his history with Denzel. He humorously said, “While shooting Malcolm X, he was throwing me off the set so many times. I was messing up; he should’ve thrown me off the set. During the scene in Malcolm X where Malcolm is copying the dictionary in prison, I am under the table and below the camera, trying to get into a good position. Denzel was like, ‘Get out!’. He explained, “I didn’t take it personally because I [knew] I was distracting him. 

Favorite Films

When asked what films David loved shooting with his brother Spike, he said, “My favorites are Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, The BlacKkKlansman, and Da 5 Bloods but I mostly like documentaries… When the Leveey’s Broke and If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise.” He said Spike would send him off to take pictures for the films during the interviews and press. This threw me back into my documentary photography days”, David said excitedly. 

“It was hard for people to watch the opening death scenes of Clockers, but I had fun shooting!” David explained the research process and the method he used to recreate the photos he referenced, stating, “For research, Spike and I went to the Bronx homicide headquarters. We were able to look at pictures and look at old notes from investigations. I used that time to recreate the crime scenes and used my reference Weegee, a classic crime photographer in the 1940’s and 50’s. [With] projects like these, I like to showcase my creativity.”

I asked David how he became a part of this project to which he replied, “The editor, Steve Crist, got in touch with me through Spike. I started a months-long deep dive into my catalog.” David continued, “Three months into my search, I would remember having even more photos to go through. I would call Steve and tell him I had pictures of Lawrence Fishburne when he did the White Lines music video in NYU Film School. It allowed me the opportunity to go through my many years of work and find old photos. This book really covers the span of Spike’s career.”

  • FYI: David Lee has provided photography for films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, John Wick, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Broken Flowers. He is also providing photography for the Denzel Washington-helmed film, Journal For Jordan

SPIKE is genuinely a celebration of Spike Lee’s life and serves as a documentary in book form. I spent a couple of hours revisiting the time in my life when each film was released. It was so cool to see pictures of the handwritten script pages and how many actors/actresses were featured in Spike Lee films before becoming household names, i.e., Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, Alfre Woodard. I was surprised to find out through the book former President Barack Obama took his wife, former First Lady, on a date to see Do the Right Thing before they were married. Whether you are a creative, movie lover, or Spike Lee fan, you will appreciate the nostalgic journey that David Lee’s photos provide. 

SPIKE will be released on Nov.17th and can be purchased at https://spikelee.chroniclebooks.com/

Picture from Do the Right Thing
27Jan/21

Black Luxury Brands to Frequent: La Vie by CK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07Dec/18
Fit Grandpa

Exploring the Benefits of Mental and Physical Wellness with Titus aka Fit Grandpa

Fitness enthusiast, Jean Titus (@titusunlimited), has been an internet sensation and inspiration to many for his approach to fitness. Not only does he push himself physically but he also takes into account his overall wellness. His Instagram page is filled with health quotes, demos, and information for a healthy lifestyle. Taji Mag was able to speak with Titus, aka Fit Grandpa, about his keys to overall wellness.

Taji Mag (TM): What keeps you motivated towards a healthy lifestyle?

Titus: It is the belief that I haven’t reached my peak yet. I take the responsibility of being a profile name on social media seriously. When you see 181k followers on your account that you have inspired and motivated, it makes you feel accountable. That is because you don’t know how your actions might impact others. I believe that what you put into the universe comes back to you. Given that responsibility to be a good example is what motivates me.

TM: Besides exercising, what other areas do you concentrate on to improve physical wellness? 

Titus:  I meditate, detox my environment, and clear my mind because I believe that fitness is all-encompassing. You have to be fit mentally before you are physical. If you are not fit mentally, then, sooner or later, your physical follow suit. Like I mention in my 28-day plan, detox is not only a physical thing it’s also a mental thing as well. You have to detox your contact list, your situation, and your environment.

TM: Some people use fasting as a form of detox, what is your standpoint on fasting?

Titus: I did a wellness Wednesday on fasting on my Instagram account. When done correctly It is something that I recommend. If you can properly deprive yourself of food it can test your mental will and if done properly it can be to your benefit. Intermittent fasting does work, but the problem is that people use it as a quick solution. People say they are going to fast for a couple of days after leading an unhealthy lifestyle for a long period of time. That is not what fasting is meant for but if you are going to have it as part of a systematic thing I would advocate that. You can’t out train a bad diet. People think you can go to the gym and only put an hour’s worth of work but that is not going work by itself. It is the other 23 hours with that workout that help determine how healthy you are going to be. First, we make our habits and our habits make us.

TM: Can you give us an example of how you detox outside the physical?

Titus: For example, if you are in a toxic relationship or have a toxic friend. You will only go so far while you are existing in that toxicity. It’s like living in a house that has asbestos. No matter how much treatment or medication I give you after you leave that house, you won’t get any better unless you remove yourself from that environment completely. You have to extricate yourself from those toxic things and toxic mentality.

TM: Can you be fit on a budget? 

Titus: Not having the financial means to be fit is an excuse. At the end of the day, people will buy what they want. Healthy food is expensive but you see those very same people paying $8 for a cup of coffee. Other people may say that they don’t have enough time to make breakfast but will go wait in a drive-through line at McDonald’s for 15 mintues. They justify their choices with excuses. Living healthy is an investment but people will try to make it look like an option. Being healthy should be your primary obligation because if you are in the hospital you can’t help your family. So your health should come first, it should be your primary objective to ensure that you are capable of helping your loved ones. You do that by taking care of your overall health and wellness. Anything short of that and you are doing a disservice to you and them.

TM: What is your advice to those seeking occupational wellness? Can this affect your working out or should you let it?

Titus:  I would never tell one to quit their job because everyone is not in the financial situation to do so. But if you are going to work your job and not work on an exit strategy, then it becomes a choice that you are making. Unlike A couple hundred years ago, when you had people that were enslaved, you have a choice! I don’t care what job you have, you don’t have to stay there unless you are in prison. The problem is that people in those job situations complain but when they go home they do nothing. That in itself is depressing. When you are actively working on an exit strategy, you are working on an endgame. Even if the endgame is 2 or 3 years out, keep trying and eventually you will succeed. I did a post that says “Your salary is a bribe to give up on your hopes and dreams.” Your job doesn’t have to be a bribe, it can be a means. If you are using your salary towards your dreams then it is a means.

TM: Regardig your clients, what do they look forward to while participating in your program?

Titus: The 28-day plan is about building a better, healthy lifestyle. I made the plan easy to follow and easy to duplicate. It is not overly restrictive and it’s not a fad. Anything taken out of diet should remain out of your diet. It’s not one those diets like the cabbage diet, that is not sustainable. My plan is sustainable and it’s balanced. The key to success is to have balance.

You only have one body and it is wise to take care of it. To quote Carrie Latet, “If you don’t take care of yourself, the undertaker will overtake that responsibility for you.”

Make sure to check out Fit Grandpa on Instagram for health information and updates.

03Nov/18

Born Again: D.C.’s Own Crank LuKongo Releases First Album

DC-based Music Collective Crank LuKongo has gotten the ball rolling in a major way. Their new album Born Again is the jam session and history lesson you’ve been missing in your life. As your head nods and sways to the beat of each song, years of experience effortlessly pour into you. With both the group and the album produced and composed by D.C. Native, Matt ‘Swamp Guinee’ Miller, very few stones are left unturned. Master Drummer, Vocalist, Percussionist, Songwriter, Historian, and Renegade Realist, Swamp calls on his fellow artists within Crank LuKongo to create as a sacred art.

Briefly, the group itself includes vocals and drums by Swamp Guinee, the likes of Junior Marvin of ‘Bob Marley and The Wailers’ on electric guitar, plus vocals and acoustic guitar by songwriter David Blackwell of ‘Charles Road’. In actuality, the list of greatness of members and featured artists on the album goes on. The group consists of several hyper-talented individuals who each bring a unique and irreplaceable component to the overall sound. And boy, does it mesh. Spearheading their own genre, Swamp Guinee has distinctly named their sound ‘Afro-GoGo-Roots’. Make no mistake about the fact that each compositional influence holds equal weight in the recipe of the band. Afro for the unmistakable Jazz, Soul and Rock’n’Roll undertones throughout the entire project. GoGo for the don’t-leave-home-without-it attitude of their crankin’ native D.C. sound. Roots speaking to the revolutionary nature of their cause and the messages within their music, delivered in a way that you can’t help but jam or rock. Therein lies the perfect makeup for music that remains in the body and mind but aims for the heart.

Crank LuKongo’s sound stands as a testament to how our very existence relies on the existence of all that has come before us and also has the potential to shape what will follow. First single and video, ‘Ghosts of Anacostia‘, speaks directly to the extent of that history, especially regarding the guarantee of it repeating itself under the guise of willful ignorance. ‘After the Revolution’ touches on the future, asking of us what part we will play in the shaping of the world for ourselves– come hell or high water. Reaching back to the present, the album also touches greatly on Washingtonian pride, which is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. ‘The Legend of Petey’ is a sonnet of Funk dedicated to beloved Shock-Jock Petey Greene, while ‘Mayor 4 Life’, featuring D.C. rap artist, Head Roc, expresses the town’s widespread and undying allegiance to the late Mayor Marion Barry. The range of sound and subject on this project makes for a truly artistic journey.

Aware that we live a multi-dimensional existence, Crank LuKongo’s album “Born Again” stands as the perfect embodiment of just that. From pre-colonial history to current issues intertwined with songs about life and love, the project is undeniably a classic. Grown from the fertile soils of Chocolate City, Crank LuKongo is a clear benchmark for musical excellence and possesses a special brand of Soul that is unique unto itself. The album serves to give you a chef’s table sampling of a richness you may have not been lucky enough to experience yet. Be sure to hear it for yourself.

Requests regarding booking information for Crank LuKongo, Swamp Guinee, along with album purchases, can be found here.

Subscribe to my blog for upcoming profiles on members of Crank LuKongo.