Tag Archives: black excellence

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.

24May/22

Disney Launchpad Finalist, Spencer Glover, Is Ready to Share More Stories

Every once in a while, I find an indie short film I can connect with during my coverage of film festivals. One of the films that stood out to me at the 2021 Bentonville Film Festival was Message Read by Spencer Glover.  Not only did Spencer impress audiences with his touching film, but he also won over the judges for the Disney Launchpad contest. He was selected as Director for the project, Black Belts

Taji Mag was able to catch up with the busy Writer/Director to talk about his upcoming Disney Plus project and his work as a creative. 

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

Spencer Glover (SG): It’s been a little bit of a, well, not-so-crazy story. As a kid, I watched a lot of movies. I remember watching movies like Blood Sport and Jurassic Park. And so I think the love for filmmaking started when I was a kid. The “seed” was planted when I was young, but it didn’t really sprout until college when I got into Tennessee State. 

I remember as I was walking on campus and, at this point, I was studying Music. I was walking around the music building and it was connected to the Communications department. So I walked past some students that were running the Tiger News Broadcast, which goes out to the entire school. And I just saw this group of kids and they’re running the show… the cameras, they had a director, there were students working on the sound, and they were doing interviews. Something about that just sort of struck me and, later that semester, I changed my major to Film. From there, everything exploded. 

DDF: What is your process for making your films? Does it differ depending on the genre?  

SG: You know, I’ve realized this: that [with] films, for me, all I’m trying to do is just connect to the emotions that I felt as a kid watching movies. So, I’m trying not to be a Filmmaker who just deals with one topic because I love so many different types of films. But I do recognize that there are certain personal dramatics that come out of your work unconsciously.

For me, the themes could be anything from losing a parent or dealing with childhood trauma to just protecting things, protecting the world that you live in. Those things have sort of found their way into everything that I’ve written so far. And I think it’s going to continue to be that way. I try to recognize that feeling when I have an idea and I feel like that inspiration comes over my body. I try to really grasp onto that and examine what it is about the idea that is sticking with me.

DDF: What is your favorite film genre? 

SG: I have a lot of guilty pleasures in film. Action films are probably always going to be some of my favorite. Action comedies too! I think of films like Rush Hour shamelessly. It’s one of my favorites. It’s got a little bit of a different tune than what I regularly watch now, but I just try to appreciate the heart of the story and what it was trying to say. I’ve always been attracted to Sci-fi films and, like, the whimsy of filmmaking. So, I love to watch stuff that transports me to a different place where I can just forget about my problems and the world for an hour or two, and just kind of get sucked into the world of the movie.

I like those character-driven sort of indie dramas too. Like the ones you watch and just know that this film is going to break your heart. I was watching Drive My Car the other day and during the first 20 minutes of the film I’m like “This movie is going to break my heart.”. An hour or two later I am in tears saying to myself “Why is life like this, why do we have to go through this?”

DDF: What was your reaction when you got selected as a Launchpad finalist?

SG: Just pure joy. I remember one of the coordinators for the program set up a meeting with me for 15 minutes after the second interview. I got on the call and the coordinator said “man, I’m not even gonna waste time…you got it”. And I just had the biggest smile on my face. It was a big thing for me and I just felt a lot of joy.

I’ve gotten over a little bit of a hurdle in my career because, as Filmmakers, we all struggle with this; that idea of “can I perform at a level that’s high enough?” You aspire to that, but you do the work and then you put it out. Sometimes it doesn’t resonate or connect the way that you want. And you have that battle of, like, “Man, I don’t know if I’m in the right space or doing the right thing”. So hearing that I got into this was, it was a boost of confidence and it was really validating.

DDF: This leads to my next question. Have you ever questioned yourself at any moment in your filmmaking career? If so, how did you overcome it? 

SG: I did have my moment, but I was able to get over it. The post-production of my film, Message Read, was really hard. We had plans to take it to the professional post house, do professional color, and all these other things and, you know, money is tight in our industry. We only had, I think, a $12k budget for the project, and all of that money was used up during the shoot. So I had to take on being an Editor and doing graphics, visual effects, and color. It was a lonely process, but in the end, this film is such a personal story.

I’m very critical of my own work, so I’m seeing all of the shortcomings. We sent it out into the world and we submitted it to the Sundance Film Festival and South By Southwest Film Festival and all these places. We got rejected from all of them. 

I’ve learned that everything you create, you don’t control and it has it’s own life. So we put the film out and it got rejected a bunch in the beginning. Kariss (my partner and wife) had similar feelings: that we did a great job with this film. We’re happy and proud of it. We can’t control anything else. Then, at about four months into the pandemic, the movie started gaining momentum. Out of nowhere the project just started getting into festivals and people were really starting to respond to it. I think it had to do with the fact that, as a group, we were losing so many people at that time and the story is about dealing with loss. It was just connecting in a way that we didn’t expect. And it just goes back to the idea: you don’t know what’s going to happen. So, I’m thankful that Message Read is making a connection now. 

DDF: Can you tell us about your Disney project, Black Belts

SG: It’s a Kung Fu story. It’s a father and son relationship dealing with loss. It touches on aspects of masculinity and what it means to be masculine. I think you and I grew up in an era where a macho man was the way to be for boys and young men. I was talking to a friend about how from the 80s and early 90s, it was peak macho. It was, like, shoot’em up and a lot of action associated with masculinity, especially in entertainment. It was such a fun time, but it could be a little toxic and Black Belt touches on a few of those areas.

It’s coming out in 2023 on Disney Plus. We’re in development with it right now. We’re doing rewrites on the script and I’m working with Xavier Styles (the writer of the story). It’s also a true story for him, so it’s been really fun. It’s definitely a process and it’s really setting me up in a way that feels true to the studio world because this is the first film that I’m going to be directing something I did not write.

Also, a big part of this program is that it’s multi-hyphenate filmmaking. This season, they actually split it into two groups. So there are Writers and there are Directors. I just applied as a Director because I wanted to really take a shot at receiving somebody else’s script, finding myself in it, and then putting it up on screen. 

You try to find your way into it and make sure that you connect with the material. It’s been a journey. We have about another month of development, then we go into pre-production, then we shoot the film in the Summer, then post-production takes place, and then there’s a release on Disney Plus. 

The entertainment industry has shown progress in Black creatives getting exposure to audiences across the world. Spencer Glover is one of the names that will be on that list. I know Spencer talked about how the movie Drive My Car broke his heart. Well, Message Read broke my heart and so I’ll be looking forward to seeing his future projects. Make sure to check out his work on his website and be on the lookout for his Disney Plus project, Black Belt, in 2023.

 

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
14Jul/21

Spike Lee’s New Book SPIKE Is a Visual Celebration of His Career

SPIKE

As Spike Lee serves as the director for the Cannes Film Festival, he also has something else major his fans can look forward to…his new book, SPIKE. The hardcover book covers Lee’s 30-year film career and includes never seen before photos from the set of his films. Some photos will come from the archives of Lee’s brother, David Lee, and will also feature photos from onset photographers from his films over the years.  

The book is also designed by creative and founder of Vocal Type, Tré Seals. Seals created the custom typography for the book based on Radio Raheem’s iconic LOVE/HATE brass knuckles from Do the Right Thing. The same brass knuckles Lee wore during his win at the Academy Awards for BlacKkKlansman. 

What I Look Forward To? 

I look forward to seeing extra photos from some of the sets of my favorite films like Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and School Daze. These are the films I grew up appreciating because the characters look like me and some of the soundtracks were dope! Seriously, Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack was my gateway into my love for jazz and the He Got Game soundtrack re-introduced me to legendary hip hop group Public Enemy. 

I hope to see more information about films like She Hate Me and Bamboozled because these films were released during a time when I started to pay more attention to social commentary in art and understanding how art imitates life. Lee’s films always prompt audiences to think but never forces the message intended for the viewers. 

The book will also feature some stills and quotes from Spike Lee’s “Is it the shoes?” Nike campaign with Michael Jordan. I really want to see his commentary on that experience, especially when Jordan used to put on a show against his beloved Knicks. I mean Jordan used to embarrass everybody, but he used to obliterate the Knicks! 

“As I Head Full Steam Ahead Into My 5th Decade As A Filmmaker I Was Elated When Steve Crist And Chronicle Chroma Approached Me About Doing A Visual Book Of All My Joints. We Would Revisit All Da Werk I’ve Put In To Build My Body Of Work. Film Is A Visual Art Form And That Sense Of My Storytelling Has Been Somewhat Overlooked. Why Now, After All These Years? FOLKS BE FORGETTING.” – Spike Lee

For the last few years, Spike Lee has received his long-awaited and deserved roses. Of course, many of us have supported and shown appreciation for the quality entertainment he has created but I feel now he is getting worldwide acknowledgment. So if you are a Spike Lee fan like I am, you will enjoy this book published by Chronicle Chroma and can embrace the nostalgia. The book will be released on November 17th and can pre-ordered here.

SPIKE

Spike Lee has been a celebrated filmmaker, a cultural icon, and one of America’s most prominent voices on race and racism for more than three decades. His dynamic storytelling and unique visual style have made an indelible mark on filmmaking and television. This comprehensive monograph will be a sumptuous visual showcase of Spike Lee’s life and work, a must‐have for cinephiles and fans of one of the most influential filmmakers in history.  His career spans over 30 years and includes: She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Crooklyn, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game, Summer of Sam, Bamboozled 25th Hour, Inside Man, and more. Lee’s outstanding feature documentary work includes the double Emmy® Award-winning If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, a follow-up to his HBO documentary film When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, and the Peabody Award-winning A Huey P. Newton Story. In the television arena, he launched his Netflix original series She’s Gotta Have It, which ran two seasons on the platform. The series is a contemporary update of his classic film.

SPIKE

28Apr/21

Black Luxury Brands to Frequent: Adele Dejak

Attention all accessorizing and glamorizing sistas!! The sistas who love a beautiful statement piece. The sistas who love good, quality accessories. Adele Dejak is the brand for you. Eponymously named after its Nigerian creator Adele Dejak in 2008, the brand creates the most beautiful afro-futuristic jewelry ranging from rings to chokers and they also carry an array of rustic calfskin clutches. 

Although I am not an avid accessorizer, the ÁMI I & II collections of chokers are truly a masterclass of metalwork and craftsmanship. The pendants are either hammered brass or aluminum and are paired with a smooth black leather cord or are attached to a large brass ring. I would not be a reliable fashion contributor if I did not tell you how wonderfully brass and gold hues compliment melanated skin. 

Adele Dejak Accessories Nigerian Afro-futurism
Models wearing the ÁMI II collection of neckpieces; Photo Credit | @adeledejak on Instagram

Aside from being wonderfully and carefully crafted by African artisans, Adele Dejak has been endorsed by the Queen Bee herself!! Flaunting the Afrika Comb in the Black Is King film and, on another occasion, wearing the Margret Aluminum Statement Bracelet in tandem with the Dhamani Kanini bracelet in the music video for My Power from the soundtrack of the 2019 remake of the Lion King. 

Adele Dejak Accessories Nigerian Afro-futurism Beyonce
Beyonce wearing the Afrika Comb necklace from Adele Dejak; Photo Credit | @beyonce on Instagram

AD is also big on sustainability, according to their website, only using recycled and upcycled brass and aluminum for their jewelry. They also have a partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Australia to train people in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps to produce goods using upcycled materials to sell to provide for their families.

The pieces may be a little pricey for some (150$+), but the cost of supporting a black business is priceless. Besides, who doesn’t want to step into their next board meeting looking like they stepped off the first flight back from Wakanda? Go check out Adele Dejak and tell them I sent you ♥!

This is the second piece in a 5 part series about my favorite Black Luxury Brands, check out the first part here!

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!

07Oct/19
black excellence hyperbole

Black Excellence is Not Hyperbole

“If our education is not about gaining real power, we are being miseducated and mislead and we will die ‘educated’ and misled.” – Amos Wilson, 1993.

You may remember from grade school that hyperbole is an exaggerated statement or claim that is not to be taken literally. A couple of examples are “this bag weighs a ton” or “her smile was a mile wide”. These exaggerations are sometimes used in educational spheres in this country where we talk about the ‘achievement gap’ and say things like “children of color are able to excel”, and “there is no reason these children [Black children] can’t do exactly what their white counterparts can”. These statements insinuate that Black children are striving to reach a status or level that white children hold. It is oxymoronic to insinuate that it is the goal of Black children to reach a status of white children because Black Excellence is not hyperbole; it is fact.

If Black Excellence is not hyperbole, why doesn’t society acknowledge our children being as excellent as they are?

black excellence hyperbole

Blake Barrett drumming at his Graduation from Little Sun People | Photo by NayMarie

The Gesell Early Screener (GES) is a test which measures the typical development cycles of children from birth/infancy through their childhood. It shows if a child is at risk for learning or developmental delays. These tests overwhelmingly show that children of the African Diaspora are far more advanced than their European counterparts. Studies found that in early development, Black children were sitting up, making eye contact with speakers, crawling, and attempting to engage with their surroundings earlier than their white counterparts. The developmental cycle of an infant is very quick, which is why we know the things that an infant should be able to do by a certain number of months until they reach about two and a half years old. When speaking on his book, Awakening the Natural Genius of Black Children, Dr. Amos Wilson states, “forgetting our history is like a child forgetting they learned how to walk or talk.” We must teach our children their history, the true history, so that they know how to walk and talk as the African children – the natural geniuses, the Exceptional Light Beings – that they are!

If Black Excellence is not hyperbole, why do we find that many of our Melanated boys are outperformed in schools in contrast to their white counterparts?

Last year, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) released a 68 page study, entitled The Opportunity Myth, that claimed to explain in detail with statistics to prove “what students can show us about how school is letting them down – and how to fix it”. But in 1997, Michael Porter was already speaking about The Opportunity Myth in his book, Kill Them Before They Grow: Misdiagnosis of African American Boys in American Classrooms. His book details the overdiagnosis of Black Boys with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) which, under the guise of supporting the child, is actually a crippling agent in the development of the child’s ability to think critically. Brother Michael reminds us in his text that “Oppressed people become equal with their oppressors when they are no longer oppressed” and reminds us that in order to overcome our oppression we will have to develop a definition for education that meets “our reality and our real needs.’’

If Black Excellence is not hyperbole, how do we shift the low expectations that are held for Black children in and out of the classroom?

black excellence hyperbole

Photo by NayMarie for Little Sun People

Black Excellence is lifelong, as we are students of life. In this country, most of us begin our formal pursuit of knowledge in public American classrooms. Our great Baba, Ancestor Asa Hilliard, reminds us in SBA: The Reawakening of the African Mind, “Study is a requirement for our redemption”. We must study with ourselves and with our children outside of the classroom. Yes, we know that the African diasporic infants are able to naturally develop faster than their white counterparts. But this is Babylon, a degenerative government, a backward education. There are many evidences of society that are as backward and anti-African as they come. So we must diligently study and show ourselves improved. Baba Hilliard goes on to tell us in his text that “Africans have a long history of educational excellence” and gives a historical perspective that will shift how we view ourselves today. We must study, teach our children practical habits of study, study alone, study in groups, find joy in study, find solutions in study. We are excellent in all that we do, so we must study excellently so that we can grow in our African selves.

15Jun/19

Lil’ Buck: The Real Swan Doc World Premiered at Tribeca

Lil’ Buck discussing his career with Taji Mag during the Tribeca Film Festival.
Photo by William Baldon

A crowd of people sat in silence and awe at a dance performance that was beautiful, captivating and fluid to the accompaniment of music provided by the talented musician, Yo-Yo Ma. Though there weren’t many if any, people of color in the crowd as this was in Beijing, China, what mattered was the headliner was a young Black man from Memphis, Tennessee named Lil’ Buck.

It was a thing of beauty – a man doing what he loves and performing art for the world to see. His performance was something that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be proud of, a young man being seen for his talent and not just his color. In a world where Black men are vilified, subjected to toxic masculinity and seen on the wrong side of police brutality, it was refreshing to see a glimpse into a world that could exist without racism or discrimination.

When asked about his performance, Lil’ Buck stated, “I never really thought about my performance in that way. For me it wasn’t about performing for the audience, I’m trying to make them feel a certain way. I think that’s why a lot of people gravitate towards me because they don’t see anything else because I don’t. When I’m performing, I am doing my best to become music. It’s a real thing for me. Especially to music that has a story already in it, like the Swan. You can hear the story within it. For me, I can visually see the journey in that song. I don’t come up with anything to impress people, I just feel the music and bring people into my imagination.”

Lil' Buck

Lil’ Buck performing during the documentary Lil’Buck: Real Swan. (Photo provided by Tribeca Film Festival)

The video is a snippet from the documentary “Lil’ Buck: Real Swan” that world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival; it was also the part that stuck out the most to me. To be honest, it made me misty-eyed because it’s what every person wants, or at least what every human being should want — to be able to live in peace and love freely. About the documentary, Andrea Passafiume wrote, “In this exuberant documentary, director Louis Wallecan takes an in-depth look at this extraordinary artist whose passion, drive, discipline, and talent have blazed a unique new path in the world of dance that has included performing all over the world, touring with Madonna, mentoring young dance students, and becoming a passionate advocate for arts education.”

Lil’ Buck: A Young Man From Memphis

Growing up in the Memphis skating scene, particularly at Crystal Palace Roller Rink, was the big thing for youth to keep them entertained and off the streets. Once the skates were taken off and the rink was open for dancing, that’s when the main fun began and people were able to show off their new jookin moves. Jookin is a popular dance style in Memphis for all ages that stems from breakdancing and the gangsta walk. This is how the film, Lil’ Buck: Real Swan, starts to chronicle the life of Lil’ Buck.

“I was born in Chicago and my family moved to Memphis when I was eight. Even back in Chicago, I can remember seeing footwork in indigenous street dancing.” – Lil Buck explained about his roots in dancing and upbringing.

Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley developed a passion for jookin and dance at the young age of 12. From there he had the desire to become the best dancer he could be. He became so impressed with the length of time that ballerinas could stay on their toes that he decided to take up ballet.

“Growing up I always thought these dancers in videos were making all this money, we literally thought they were rich. All these dancers are next to celebrities like Lil’ Wayne, Madonna, and all these people. Some were not as good as my friends and I, so we would be like, “How the f*ck are they on TV?” We would ask this question every day and tell ourselves that’s where we needed to be.” – Lil’ Buck

Lil’ Buck said that in the beginning, he just wanted to be in videos and put jookin on the map. To be able to reach where he is now. Thinking about how small his dreams were, it just inspires him to dream larger and tell others to do the same. He further explained to not be afraid to dream big and to go after it! It’s not enough just to dream, its the work you put into it. He remembers when he experienced bloody toes and toenails falling off, trying to stand on his toes in his sneakers. Lil’ Buck reminisced, “Imagine walking around all day in school on your toes because you want to build that strength and to be on the level where you surpass ballerinas. It was painful but worth it!”

With some dancers, their goal is to tour with a different artist but not too many dancers see themselves as the artist that has the same strength and power as a singer or actor. They can make a good living for themselves and their family, creating generational wealth. Dancers like Lil’Buck, don’t always have that platform but their art is just as captivating. A lot of kids today are gravitating towards this instant success instead of really investing in themselves and really building themselves, enjoying that journey towards their goal. Lil’ Buck hopes to be a good example of enduring and enjoying the journey.

The Inspiration

Lil’ Buck being interviewed by Felipe Patterson (aka Dapper Dr Feel) of Taji Mag at the Roxy hotel during the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. (Video by William Baldon)

Lil’Buck discussed that his inspirations are Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker, the Nicholas Brothers, Little Buck, Buck and Bubbles, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Michael Jackson. He explained the way they combined film and dance was inspiring to him. The way they combined storytelling and dance was amazing to him. He remembers that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, always called his music videos short films.

“Those that inspire me are my peers, Daniel Price, G-Nerd, Jah Quincey, Caviar Taylor (On My Toes), BoBo and all the rappers like 3×6 Mafia, DJ Squeaky, they created what I’m into.” – Lil Buck talking about others that inspire him.

Bruce Lee was one of his biggest inspirations because of his philosophy on life. Not isolating yourself mentally to learning only one thing. He was open to learning and putting together different forms of martial arts. He’s always into strengthening himself and thinking outside the box.

Lil' BuckThe doc starts off with smooth jookin moves, that impressed me and reminded me of the great dancing films like Breakin’. I wasn’t sure what the aim of the film was but this direction definitely kept me engaged. It didn’t feel corny or fake like the multiple Step Up films that lack the originality of dancers in this film. Every one of them passionate about their craft and every move.

The film was amazing and well done down the other performers describing their love of jookin and their performance that followed to the storytelling of a young Buck’s evolution of aspiring background dancer to a headlining performer. The ending of the film is creative as it has a dancing Lil’ Buck transitioning from background to foreground and left of the screen to the opposite side, representing the journey the project has taken you on.

It’s a film that everyone should see, especially the little boys of color, to show them that they should follow their heart and that they can truly be what they want to be in life.

Thank you Lil’ Buck and Lois Wallecan for the great film about such an inspiring young black man!