Tag Archives: Dapper Dr. Feel

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

01Apr/22

Grand Crew Cast Talks Representation, Relationships, and Why They’re More than Just a Black Cast 

Watch via these Stream services: NBC/Peacock/Hulu

Cast: Echo Kellum, Nicole Byer, Justin Cunningham, Aaron Jennings, Grasie Mercedes, and Carl Tart

From writer/producer/director, Phil Augusta Jackson (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine“) and creator, Dan Goor (also “Brooklyn Nine-Nine“) comes a new comedy that proves life is better with your crew. 

Synopsis: This group of young professionals are all trying to navigate the ups and downs of life and love in Los Angeles, and they always find time to gather at their favorite bar to “wine down” and unpack it all. There’s Noah, a hopeless romantic too eager to settle down; Nicky, a go-getter in real estate who’s adventurous in romance; Sherm, a low-key genius who plays the dating odds; Anthony, whose true love is his career; Wyatt, who’s relieved to be married and out of the dating scene; and Fay, who’s recently divorced and looking to start fresh in LA. And just like wine, their friendship gets better with time.

Grand Crew cast: (left to right): Justin Cunningham, Nicole Byer, Echo Kellum, Grasie Mercedes, Carl Tart, and Aaron Jennings. 

Issa Rae’s popular series, Insecure, recently aired its last episode, posing the question “What Black-led series will be the next to have genuine relatability to the Black community?” My answer is Grand Crew! Not only is the series Black-led, but it’s mostly a male cast. Something not commonly seen on television. Grand Crew is a show about Black people navigating everyday issues where drugs, police, and violence are not the main focus. Taji Mag was able to talk to the cast and producers of the show to discuss the importance of having shows like Grand Crew on television. 

Representation is Everything 

When asked about the show being the next big hit like Insecure, Jackson said “Anybody that is saying it’s the next Insecure…I think that’s very flattering. I do think that the shows are very different [though]. I think highly of Issa Rae and Prentice as a team and as leaders behind the scenes. I was able to learn so much from them about the craft and the business. You know, like how to run a room and every job that I’ve had working with Dan on Brooklyn‘, too.” Jackson also added “As far as those comparisons go, we are not setting out to replace Insecure, especially after having worked on the show. I knew how special that show was. I think, tonally, the show’s different. I think the point of view is different. It does take place in Los Angeles, but it’s also a different part of Los Angeles.” 

What does the cast want people to get out of the show? Grasie Mercedes stated, “I would love it if people watch the show and are inspired to create more characters like this; to create more shows like this that just show different black, different Latin, different Asian, different people’s of color experiences, and not try to put us in these monolithic boxes that we are constantly portraying over and over again.”

Grasie Mercedes and Nicole Byer

Justin Cunningham added, “[With] the majority of black characters or diverse cast or diverse crew or diverse producers, whatever the makeup of the show, we can start to open our eyes to what is possible and not try to place labels or limits. Not to say what something should or should not be in society’s eyes, but what things could be. This could be a show that is just about people who happen to be Black and has Black themes. But there are people who go through the same things and themes in the show.”  

Grand Crew cast: (left to right): Echo Kellum, Carl Tart, Justin Cunningham, Nicole Byer, and Aaron Jennings

The Actors on Their Characters

With part of the show exploring the dating lives and relationships of the characters, I had to ask what advice would the actors give their characters? When asked what advice Nicole would give to her character, Nicky, she said, “I would tell Nicky to keep doing what she’s been doing. She’s pulling them in and getting dates. She’s getting what she wants. She’s having the relationship she wants. I would tell her to not dim her light for anybody.” 

For Noah, Echo stated, “I would definitely tell him to be true to himself. Don’t try to force anything. Let it come naturally and really take your time with love. Because the truth is that if love doesn’t come from within, it can’t come from anywhere else. To do yourself justice for the rest of your life, I think you have to deal with yourself, love, and aspects of yourself before you can brag now.” 

Grasie Fields encourages her character, Fay, to continue to be “open to love”, especially after being divorced. “It hasn’t discouraged her from finding love again. And I think she believes she has a good relationship with her ex-husband. Maybe we’ll see him, if we continue to be able to do the show, in a future episode. But I think she’s very open to love”, Fields says about Fay. 

Noah, Fay, and Nicky all have unique ways of approaching dating, and the audience has seen some development towards a season finale that has everyone wondering with whom they will end up. Part of the reason why we need a season 2! 

Black Masculinity

One of the things I love about the show is its coverage of Black masculinity. Wyatt, the level-headed voice of reason in the group, is a stay-at-home husband. He isn’t ridiculed or insulted because of the arrangement he has with his wife, his situation is normalized by not focusing on his status. 

When asked how Wyatt embraces his masculinity, Justin exclaimed, “How does he embrace his masculinity [while] being a stay-at-home husband? By vacuum cleaning the floor as perfectly as possible, by cooking meals as an expert like Gordon Ramsey would. That’s it. It’s fabulous. It’s great. I think that because that’s part of myself (as I’m [also] a perfectionist in that sense), I’m gonna do my best to be good at whatever I’m doing. I’m going to find joy in whatever I’m doing.”

Episode two of the first season, titled “Wine and Serendipity”, I found to be very funny because it addressed the topic of men crying and one of the characters, Sherm, talked about how he doesn’t cry. The episode even poked fun at how some men perceive that being caught crying is worse than being caught naked, a notion that is tested when Wyatt is caught naked in the bathroom by Sherm and, indeed, was more concerned about being caught crying.

Aaron Jennings, Carl Tart (center), and Justin Cunningham

When asked what would make Sherm cry, Carl Tart said, “The only thing that would make Sherm cry is the LA Clippers winning a championship. That would make me cry.” Tart added, “I have a $10,000 Clippers crystal ball sitting in the cart online now for when they win a championship.” “Yeah, by the time the Clippers win a championship, you’ll have enough money to buy the Clippers”, Aaron Jennings jokingly replied. 

Aaron Jennings and Carl Tart as Sherm and Anthony have great chemistry as roommates. Various episodes have resonated with me and brought back memories of my experiences with a roommate. When I asked them what sports duo they could be compared to, Carl responded “I’m going to say their relationship is like two teams at odds. This is the Lakers versus the Clippers. Sherm and Anthony are like those two teams. We share a home like they share a home court.” Aaron jokingly replied, “It’s like greatness versus mediocrity. Lol!” 

The Take-Away 

I love the fact that the show explores some of the very same topics my friends and I have discussed and they utilize a group chat, which my friends and I have also used. If you are a fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Living Single, or other single-camera comedies like those, you will love this show. I do, however, find a few moments where the dialogue is not authentic, or at least not relatable to me and my friends. Then again, dialogue is difficult to write. 

With the lack of representation and exploration of the dynamics of the Black community on television, Grand Crew is considerably one of the better shows to watch. With a helluva cliffhanger, an awesome cast, and more room for relatable content, we all hope to see this series renewed beyond season 1…and hopefully beyond a season 2! Tune in to NBC Peacock to catch the first season of Grand Crew.

01Apr/22

Moon Knight: A Disturbed Vigilante with Powers From an Egyptian God

Oscar Issac as Moon Knight photo courtesy of Disney

Airing weekly on Disney+ beginning March 30, 2022  

Starring: Oscar Isaac (“Show Me a Hero” and “Star Wars [Trilogy]”) as Steven/Marc, May Calamawy (“Ramy” and “The Long Road Home”) as Layla El-Faouly, and Ethan Hawke (“The Good Lord Bird” and “Before [Trilogy]”) as Arthur Harrow.

Synopsis: When Steven Grant, a mild-mannered gift-shop employee, becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life, he discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector. As Steven/Marc’s enemies converge upon them, they must navigate their complex identities while thrust into a deadly mystery among the powerful gods of Egypt. 

Who is Moon Knight? 

For those who are not familiar with Moon Knight, he is what many consider the Batman of Marvel. Basically, a vigilante with dissociative identity disorder imbued with powers from an Egyptian God. What makes him interesting is he has multiple identities and they change so often that he sometimes is unclear about what is real and what is not. This synopsis makes for a perfect series and it does not disappoint! 

Oscar Isaac, as both Steven Grant and Marc Spector, is spectacular. His portrayal of the soft-spoken Englishman, Steven, is quite convincing! Honestly, I could not believe that was his voice. Although he’s not of much use as a scrapper, Steven’s knowledge of Egyptian history proves to be useful during the series. He even provides some comic relief that breaks up the serious tone without interrupting the flow of the series. Issac’s mannerisms, posture, and responses were so different when playing each character that both were unique and clearly distinguishable.

The mercenary and fearless Marc Spector is the complete opposite of Steven. He is better suited for tense situations and impending combat. It’s interesting how these two talk to each other through reflective items (windows, mirrors, etc.) about the predicament they’re in and the past life of Marc Spector. It is during these moments that Oscar Issac seems to shine and shows his range of skills.

Dr. Paul Puri, an Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA and past president of the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty Association, was brought onto the project to help the actors and filmmakers understand Dissociative Identity Disorder and its implications. This was key in making the performance as authentic as possible.

Khonshu, the ancient Egyptian god of the Moon, looks amazing and his introduction is what nightmares are made of! With lights flickering, objects moving, and Khonshu’s eerie invisibility, Marc/Steven’s reaction provides a great display of true horror. The way the directors kept Khonshu as a shadowy figure before showing him on screen was great camera work. The moments between Marc, Steven, and Khonshu remind me of Venom and Eddie Brock. Hmm, that would be interesting to see on screen…Moon Knight and Venom. Let’s make THAT happen, Marvel!

Steven Grant (Oscar Issac) sees Egyptian God Khonshu

The beautiful scenery of Egypt and the artifacts in the series are a plus. I could tell the directors paid attention to every single detail, from the background actors to the venues. My favorite scene is when the characters are looking at the stars in the desert, completely ignoring the colorful diversity of its people. Speaking of which, May Calamawy (an Egyptian-Palestinian actress), as Marc’s wife, Layla, is also a great screen presence. She has a vulnerability towards Marc/Steven, but also gets her hands dirty when needed. All I can say is she can definitely handle herself! Sidebar: since Black Widow is dead, maybe she could join the Avengers? Just a thought.

Ethan Hawk as the main protagonist, Arthur Harrow, is convincingly evil. His menacing and manipulative ways made me want to punch him right in the face (what can I say…I got sucked in). Harrow is definitely demented and has a warped idea of justice. However; his followers all seem grateful for his leadership and are loyal to his cause. Being the former avatar to Khonshu, Harrow serves as a formidable opponent and plays off of the weaknesses of anyone he crosses. 

The scenes where the identities switch in order to take over, especially when Steven wakes up from his blackouts with no recollection of how he arrived there, are very cool. The most hilarious scene to me is when Steven comes to after his alter ego, Marc, has murdered henchmen around him. The flashes of light, the smash cuts, and other edits make for great transitions. Egyptian director, Mohamed Diab, sets up some great scenes specifically in the third episode when the characters are in Egypt. Action-wise, this series has some kick-ass fight scenes like when Marc turns into Moon Knight. Let’s just say he kicks a lot of butt! Even some of the dog-like demons he faced were afraid of him. 

Oscar Isaac as Moon Knight, photo courtesy of Disney

Final Thoughts

I’ve only seen up to episode four thus far, but I can assure you that Moon Knight is worth watching. The series has plenty of intriguing storylines to follow and cliffhangers that will leave you wanting more…not to mention director Mohamed Diab makes sure the audience is aware the basis of the story comes from Eygpt. In addition, there are lots of easter eggs I’m sure Marvel fans (and history buffs!) will have fun with. This series is far from family-friendly due to the amount of blood and violence, but it wouldn’t be the same without it. If you love Batman, Deadpool, or the original Moon Knight comic, then you will enjoy this project.

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
02Feb/22

Taji Vol30: Grounded Earth

Release Mar 7 2022 | Vol30 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Grounded Earth! Each volume is a tabletop collectors item and Vol30 is no different! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @justhalo_. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Aunjanue Ellis, One of the Best to Portray Black Mothers” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, Earth’s Pot Kisses Your Taste Buds; our highlighted Hair Feature with Debra Hare Bey; “Solo Travel: You’re More Prepared for Solo Travel Than You Think” by dCarrie; “Paper Can’t Hold A Marriage” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “And how are the children?” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 30 contributed photo story, “Grounded Earth;” Fitness Highlight, actor, Kevin Wallace; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Hit Meh Walnut Burritos; “3 Tips For Lowering Your Grocery Bill” by Naomi Bradley; NURILENS Eyewear Prioritizes Eye Care Maintenance, Wombilee Menstrual Pads are Helping to Combat Unhealthy and Unprotected Wombs; Featured Art Piece by Craig C.; Comic Appreciation with Concept Moon; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Vol30 Grounded Earth

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 30

Taji Mag is the epitome of ‘Cultural Drip’ – elevating Black brands, narratives, and imagery to new levels of Black Excellence. We embody the traditional and modern royalty of OUR people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.

01Jan/22

Matrix Resurrections Is Far From Just a Nostalgic Sequel

Matrix Resurrections
Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS SYNOPSIS: Return to a world of two realities: one, everyday life; the other, what lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more.

My rule of thumb for movie franchises is do not bother to make movie trilogies because they are unlikely to be successful. In the case of The Matrix Resurrections, it has proven to be one of the exceptions as the fourth installment of The Matrix franchise. I have to admit, I was curious to see how the storyline would develop with one of the most iconic movie heroes, Neo (Keanu Reeves), playing alongside a re-casted Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). If you are a new reader, I must warn you there are spoilers if you haven’t seen the film already. And if you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you because it’s been out since last month on HBO Max! Just kidding! Here at Taji Mag, expect my honest review of the film, including a few things I didn’t like.  

Matrix Resurrections
Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Bugs (Jessica Henwick) Photos Courtsey of Warner Bros.

The Matrix Resurrections * Spoiler Alert *

Enter the Matrix

The film’s introduction starts off with the opening scene of The [first] Matrix movie, except the audience looks on from the perceptive of a new character, Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who is communicating with Sequoia, the operator of the MnemosyneThe introduction of Morpheus as one of the agents during the first act was a surprise but is a nice setup for his storyline. He eventually fights Bugs before taking the blue pill, transforming into full Morpheus, a modal program based on the original Morpheus. 

The team of Neo, Bugs, Morpheus, and other freedom fighters set Trinity free from The Matrix with the help of an adult Sati (from Matrix: Revolutions). Once freed, Trinity discovers she has powers similar to Neo’s and together they go on to fight through the Matrix with the help of Smith: a collaboration I’m confident in saying no one expected.

From there, the two break Neo out of the Matrix where he exists as a video game developer named Thomas Anderson and is working on a game called The Matrix which is based on the real Matrix story. Neo’s partner/CEO, who is actually Agent Smith, also begins to display signs of deja vu while slowly disconnecting from the Matrix. Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) is now Tiffany, a love interest that Neo admires from afar because she is unavailable, married with two kids. Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) makes an appearance as the leader of the new Zion. Keep in mind it’s been 60 years since the war with the machines from the last installment, so she’s aged a bit. 

Lights, Camera, Action! 

What can I say about the action? It is spectacular! In the first installment, The Matrix exposed audiences to new graphics and fighting styles. Resurrections built on the franchise’s strong foundation of action. I personally enjoyed the fight scene in the old buildings where Neo and his new team fight off The Frenchman’s henchmen and Agent Smith (a recast version of the Agent Smith we know from previous films). Am I the only one who found it funny how the Frenchman resembled a dried-up dirty gym sock on a tirade about how Neo’s previous actions led to his decline into poverty?

The graphics were excellent! The updated form of transportation into and out of The Matrix through mirrors definitely looked smoother than using payphones as we saw in previous films. (Wait! What’s a payphone??)

The flashbacks in the film were also edited well and didn’t make me feel like I was force-fed nostalgia like other films have done in the past. These flashbacks were vital for showing the differences between the original Matrix and where we are today while Neo and other characters continue to discover their true identities. 

Matrix Resurrections
Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Matrix Resurrections In Character

I was disappointed Lawrence Fishburne did not return as Morpheus because I’m truly a fan of Lawrence. Yes, ever since Cornbread Earl and Me. However, Yaya is such a talented actor that his character’s portrayal felt organic. The scenes where the new Morpheus and Neo recreate their sparring scene from the first film were very cool. Plus, we get to see some of Neo’s new powers.  

Reeves and Moss as Neo and Trinity continue to have on-screen chemistry. Their evolution into a super-powered couple was a great plot twist. The montage of Neo in his other life as Thomas Anderson is hilarious as we get a sense that Warner Bros is poking fun at itself. The video game company wants another sequel with or without its creator and the suggestions pitched during his meetings are resemblant to real life. 

I believe Smith could’ve been a whole new character since Agent Smith just doesn’t feel the same without Hugo Weaving. It was still nice to see Weaving in the flashbacks because the development of the Smith character has always felt significant to me. 

The Analyst was the perfect villain, primarily due to Neil Patrick Harris’ excellent portrayal. He was annoyingly arrogant…as a good action movie antagonist should be! 

Bugs (Jessica Henwick) had incredible charisma and was the strength of the Freedom Fighters. It was fitting to have such a strong-willed character lead the warriors of new Zion. She was an excellent addition to the story and carried her weight much as she did in the Iron Fist series.

The Power of Love

In the third act of the film, there’s a scene where the mind-controlled civilians hold Neo and Trinity apart as they reach for each other. In my mind, for some reason, I heard the song “Power of Love” by Luther Vandross playing. Of course, we discover that the love between Neo and Trinity is stronger than the Matrix, and (as we already assumed) they are indeed destined to be together. 

To summarize, Resurrections is excellent entertainment that will please audiences everywhere. I’m very interested to see where this franchise goes, but I would also be ok if it ended right here. So, log into HBO Max and watch it today! 

10Dec/21

American Auto’s X Mayo Says Martin Lawrence and Living Single Are Her Inspirations for TV Comedy

X Mayo

From eighty dollars and a suitcase to Emmy award-nominated writer, X Mayo has always had a knack for entertainment. With her new NBC show, American Auto airing on December 13th and Amazon comedy special Yearly Departed premiering on December 23rd, X Mayo is giving audiences much-needed laughs into the new year. The South Central native took time out of her busy schedule to chat with Taji Mag to talk about her new show, her love for comedy, and her homage to Living Single. 

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

X Mayo (XM): When I was 8 or 9 years old, I acted with a dance theater company. I wasn’t sure what was classified as improv, comedy, or sketch at that age. All I knew about was performing and dancing, no specific category. During a performance of Cinderella, I was acting as one of the evil stepsisters with another little girl. The girl’s afro wig fell off on stage because we all had costume afro’s in the play. I came on stage and pulled my afro off, and yelled at the audience, “Stop laughing at my sister!” The audience laughed so hard. It was all instinct, and I wanted to protect her too. The little girl was mortified because we were dancing to fucking Mozart, and my improvising was not supposed to happen. I wasn’t sure what I did, but once I got backstage, the experience felt terrific, and all I could think was, “I want to do that again.”

X Mayo’s Inspiration

DDF: Who was your favorite comedian growing up? 

XM: Martin Lawrence. He is one of my top 5 favorite comedians. He was just a fucking idiot when he performed on his show, Martin. Martin reminded me of a lot of my cousins and many people I grew up with, and I loved how he played so many characters on his show. That show still makes me laugh so hard to this day. 

Starring in American Auto

DDF: What made you take this role?

XM: Justin Spitzer created it, and he has worked on hit shows like The Office. I thought to myself the opportunity to work with him. I just love the character. Dori is not just an assistant or some minor character; she’s three-dimensional. I love the fact that she cares about Catherine, and the writers wrote her not to play small, which gave me free rein to do my thing and not worry about being restricted. 

DDF: What is it like during the table read? 

XM: I am extroverted-introverted, so I was like, “Fuck, I want to be in the room with you all!” I feed off energy. Anna, John, and Humphrey were all improvisers, so they made me really want to do the table read in person. I loved that we, as the cast, could get feedback directly from the studio. I could feel all this good energy during the table read, which made me think this show would be a hit.

X Mayo

DDF: How much input did you have on your character Dori? Did you come up with the pink braids?

XM: I definitely had some input because she was initially written to be a 50 years old white woman from the midWest and a grandmother, which I am none of those things! I talked to Justin, and I got to speak to the writers. After my audition and shooting the show, the writers definitely curtailed Dori to fit my voice.

DDF: Who came up with Dori’s pink braids? 

XM: I auditioned in braids, but they weren’t pink, but they were pink at the table read. Justin Piltzer (Creator/ showrunner) and Jeff (executive producer/writer) decided at the table that the pink braids fit the character. Throughout the entire season, you’ll see Dori’s hair change. I grew up watching Living Single and, to this day, I think it’s one of the greatest depictions of uniquely different Black women ever! So my homage to Regine (played by Kim Fields) is Dory’s hair change. That’s not just a trait of Dori, but Black women in general, and I change my hair a lot. I told Justin, “I know you like the pink braids, but next episode, the hair has to change.” and he was ok with it.

DDF: Were there any obstacles shooting this show? 

XM: Just this thing called COVID. That was the only obstacle. We made adjustments, wore our masks, tested three times a week, sanitized our hands, stayed six feet apart, and I went to my trailer more often so I could take my mask off to breathe. So, I wouldn’t say it was an obstacle, it’s just the new normal, and we want to keep everyone safe, which is totally fine. 

X Mayo Self-Reflecting

DDF: Did you learn anything about yourself after playing this role? If so, what? 

XM: I learned that it is essential to prepare. So I knew I needed to punch up my jokes on the side before I came to work. Because the cast was so kind and collaborative, I would punch up jokes for other people and pitch things to them. I just wanted the best possible product, not to say that my jokes or ideas are the best, but maybe they can take part of my suggestion to make it work for them. 

I also learned the director would always pull me back; they would encourage me to do my thing but guide me. I come from a theater background, so I would be concerned that I was overacting when I was not. I am just used to playing for audience members in the last row of the theater. I would play small in some scenes, but the director would work with me to get me where I needed to be. 

DDF: Can you explain, “If my momma asks, I am in school for nursing?” in your bio for Instagram?  

XM: Ha! I switched up my bio. It was my filler until I changed my bio to promote American Auto and Yearly Departed. I put that because my mom is super supportive, but she is like “Mija…” because my mom is Mexican, “Mija, I love what you are doing, and I am so proud of you. But if anything fails, you need to have a degree.”

Anybody in my fucking life that has had any achievement or success. My mom is like, “Mija, you know why Dorian got that job? Because he has a degree. You know why Ashley has a fiance? Because she went to college. Mija, you know Joy got a house? Because she went to school. 

I am like, “what are you talking about?” Lol. If my mom saw someone get a reservation ahead of us, she would be like, “They probably have a master’s degree.” That is why I put that quote because if mom asks what I am doing? I am going to school for nursing.

X Mayo
X Mayo as Dori (American Auto) Photo courtesy of NBC

DDF: What do I have to say about haters/negative energy?

XM: I don’t have haters. I have people that count my blessings and prayers. I don’t think people want what I want, I think they (haters) focus on what they don’t have, and I don’t address negative energy. I stop it in its tracks if it ever tries to come my way. 

DDF: How would Dori handle it? 

XM: It depends on who the hater was. If it were someone she worked with like Wesley, Dori would have a conversation with him, and she’s going to keep that shit he did to her in her back pocket and whip it out when she needs it. Like, “No, you are giving me a Porsche. Remember what you said; you are giving me a Porsche.” 

Final Thoughts from X Mayo

DDF: What do you think the audience will get out of this show? 

XM: These are a group of funny-ass people that work at this place. Sometimes you will hate them; sometimes, you’ll love to hate them. A lot of laughter, fun, and you’ll want more. 

Catch X Mayo as Dori on American Auto, airing Tuesdays on NBC 8/7c and streaming on Hulu. You can also watch her on Amazon Prime’s Comedy special Yearly Departed streaming now.

American Auto: From the creator of Superstore comes a new workplace comedy that takes the wheels off the automobile industry. Set in Detroit, the corporate executives of Payne Motors are at a crossroads: adapt to the changing times or be sent to the junkyard. Shaking things up is the new CEO, whose leadership, experience, and savvy is only slightly offset by her complete lack of knowledge about cars. Luckily, her team has some of the best minds in the business – when they aren’t fighting or trying to outwit each other. From the corporate office to the factory floor, the crew of Payne Motors is driving home the laughs.

07Nov/21

Taji Vol29: Wata

Release Dec 7 2021 | Vol29 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Wata! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @Honey.Scarlette captured by @TheOneWillFocus3. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “SPIKE: A Collection of Movie Photography With Contributing Photographer, David Lee” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, MAKEDA Maska-Fleurs by FLORAFFIA©; our highlighted Hair Feature with the Moriri project; “Solo Travel: Now That I’m Outside, Here’s How I’m Managing My Travel Anxiety by dCarrie; “A Simple (But Not Easy) Formula for Freedom” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “Pedagogy in a Pandemic” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 29 contributed photo story, “Wata;” Fitness Highlight; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Creamy Dream Pasta; “Eugenics & Economic Depravity by the Numbers” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; Around The Way Girl Da Remix by Kaloni Cush of Seven Essential Creates; Featured Art Piece by @CraigCTheArtist; Comic Appreciation; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Taji Mag Vol29 Wata

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 29

Taji Mag is the epitome of ‘Cultural Drip’ – elevating Black brands, narratives, and imagery to new levels of Black Excellence. We embody the traditional and modern royalty of Pan-African people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.

31Aug/21

Candyman: A Horror Classic Filled With Social Commentary

Candyman
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy/Candyman

I remember when the original Candyman first came out, I was scared out of my mind. Granted, I was only eight years old. To even think about saying his name five times in the mirror was a no-no because in my mind the Candyman was real. When news broke that Nia Da Costa and Jordan Peele would be working on the project, I knew horror fans would be in for a treat! This film (unsurprisingly true to its predecessor) provides horror, social commentary, storytelling, and lots of great camera work!

The Candyman Victims

In the first two candyman films, the victims were plenty and there was no discrimination. Candyman was carving up more people than a butcher on meat special Sunday. The 2021 film’s victims were all white and represented some of the stereotypical racists the Twitterverse has made famous of late, starting off with the arrogant art dealer and his girlfriend. This scene was artfully done as they could not see Candyman firsthand, but could only see his reflection (this visual occurs throughout the film). As Candyman is about to murder the art dealer, he slices through a projection screen showing Black people being violently attacked in the 50s during a protest; clearly, he is done with the historical injustice and ready for blood. Not only that, but the different parts of the art space flash red, white, and blue which could represent the American flag or police lights as the victims are being slain.

The rude and arrogant art critic was the next one to go after. She had me pissed after telling Anthony, a budding artist portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, about “his kind” ruining neighborhoods, an insult not only to him but also to his work. She said “artist” but the audience knows she meant “Black artist”. Before the art critic’s demise, Da Costa visually deceives the audience with the usage of reflections, mirrors, and camera angles. As Anthony walks the hall of the art critic’s home, he sees the reflection of Candyman and even sees Candyman mimicking his movement. This is preparing the artist to follow his destiny to become Candyman and it also shows that he, too, could be a victim. 

The teenage girls getting slaughtered in the bathroom scene was very reminiscent of today’s social media culture. Those girls did not give a damn what was going on and wanted to play the Candyman game. Their Asian friend fleeing the bathroom before saying Candyman for the fifth time had the audience cracking up because she obviously knew what was up and did not want that smoke. This murder scene in the bathroom was interesting. Seeing the girls pulled, cut, and lifted by Candyman’s hook without anyone actually seeing him was crazy. Great camera-work and editing made the invisible antagonist even scarier.

Side Note: Why didn’t anyone acknowledge that Anothony’s hand looked like a prop from a zombie apocalypse movie? Eventually, Brianna said something, but damn his hand looked disgusting after the bee stung him. Could he get some Neosporin or something? 

Candyman
Teyonah Parris as Breanna Cartwright

Candymen 

I am not sure if the Brianna character’s name was inspired by Breonna Taylor, but I am going to assume that it was. To see her character go through so much and to witness the police bust into the row house and kill Anthony was definitely triggering. Nia De Costa did an awesome job hiding Anthony’s body from the camera’s view, creating a moment where the audience is not sure if the police shot Anthony or if they shot Brianna. That moment reminded me of the tragic story of Breonna Taylor and how her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, felt while holding her. 

The sequel tie-ins and legend of Candyman were also well written and showed that there were others who carried on the Candyman spirit. The way each was killed was much like how many innocent Black men and women have been killed. As Anthony, the final Candyman, walks around the police car showing the faces of the various Candymen, I could see the victims Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Atatianna Jefferson, Philando Castile, Saundra Bland, etc. 

The stories told via shadow puppets were a great idea. It gave creepy vibes but played on the idea of how many of us used to tell campfire stories and use shadow puppets for effect. It made me think of the television show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”. 

Candyman
Colman Domingo as William Burke reading Clive Barker’s Weaveworld.
Clive Barker wrote ” The Forbidden” the story in which Candyman is based.

Was Will Right? 

As crazy as Will Burke, the Laundromat owner in Cabrini Green, was I would have to say he had a compelling reason for bringing the Candyman to life. The gentrification of the neighborhood as well as the police ignoring and killing people would drive a person to take extreme actions. It’s akin to when people ask, “Why are the neighborhood folk destroying their own neighborhood” after the wrongful death of a Black person by a police officer. It’s for the same reason. People get tired of feeling powerless, oppressed, and ignored. In this case, Will had seen enough injustice and wanted to give the Candyman all the blood he could possibly want in the form of justice for his people. Although, I must say he was crazy for kidnapping Brianna and for sawing off Anthony’s hand. Jesus, that was gruesome! Made me cringe! 

“Say His Name!” 

The film ends with a cameo of the original Candyman, Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), asking Brianna to “Tell Everyone”. This resembles the “Say Their Names” culture in which we live where we consciously recognize all the victims of hate crimes, police brutality, etc. Candyman exacting his revenge by killing the cops who took his life along with the one who tried to intimidate Brianna into telling a false story is seen as a sort of redemption for Black people, a story of vengeance I’m sure many people of color could appreciate. The idea of turning a horror icon into a spirit of vengeance was a great idea and I am not surprised the three writers came up with the idea to do so. Is Candyman worth watching? I’d say yes! Saying Candyman five times in the mirror? Hell no!