Tag Archives: Felipe Patterson

26Oct/19

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harriet

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

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

 

11Sep/19

How Ardre Orie Is Changing Black Literature

With the loss of literary great Toni Morrison, the world looks to many great authors who can create inspiring works as she has – talented authors like Ardre Orie. She is an author, playwright, ghostwriter, and Black creative who has worked with many high profile clients and told many moving stories. Taji Mag got to speak with her about her career and her inspiration for writing.  

“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Dapper Dr Feel ( DDF): When did you write your first book? 

Ardre Orie (AO): I wrote my first book at the age of 10 when I was in elementary school.  At this age, I was one of those students that talked a lot and my teachers were thinking maybe we need to give her something else to do. My teachers gave me a special assignment, the opportunity to create something, anything from drawing, painting, etc.

DDF: What was your book about? 

AO: I decided to write a book about women in my neighborhood and how they were examples of excellence. I thought they would be great role models to the young women in my community. 

I completed the book and then got it published. Next, I hosted a book signing, I invited the press/media, and I had a big article in the newspaper. It was pretty amazing because I had no idea that is what I would be doing as a career 30 years later in life. 

Ardre Orie

DDF: What was the next book you wrote? How did you develop it? 

AO: The second time I wrote a book, I resigned from my job as an assistant principal at an elementary school in Florida. After that I relocated to Atlanta with my family. I made the decision to take a leap of faith into entrepreneurship. 

As I pursued this goal, I had not gone to school for entrepreneurship and it was a learning curve for me. I started a non-profit organization where we taught entrepreneurship and leadership skills to young ladies. We were servicing 500 families of women and children. 

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” – Lorraine Hansberry

DDF: When did your non-profit start and what was your next move? 

AO: 2009 is when the non-profit started, the economy was not doing well as this was during the recession. I thought to myself, I really need to be selling something, to really make a profit. I had all these women and girls and, with that, I decided to create a cosmetic line. It consisted of lip gloss and lipstick. I knew I had an audience that loved that, so I started to make the products. This placed me in the makeup, beauty, film, and entertainment industry in Atlanta. At this time, Black Hollywood was forming in the area. 

Ardre OrieDDF: What made you come up with a cosmetic line? 

AO: I started to notice that there were a lot of women that were concerned with self-esteem and I wanted to be able to get this message out about these products. The name of my products were called I Love Me, but I didn’t have the budget to advertise the company traditionally, so that had me look at what I had in my hand and what I had available to me, and that was the ability to write. So I decided to write a book that only showcased women and their different stories, but it would also serve as a marketing tool for this cosmetic line to promote it. That is how the book evolved, it was out of a need to market a product, to market a message, to market a brand that I was creating.

DDF: You had a unique way of advertising the book, tell me about that? 

AO: While developing the book, I enlisted 21 women and teens. I hosted a casting call. I got the women to come to Atlanta to have a makeover, particpate in a photoshoot, then I interviewed them and I turned around and wrote the book and their stories as if I was them. This was my introduction to ghostwriting. I remember what I did for my book when I was 10. I studied the industry after that book; it was successful. I had a signing at Barnes and Noble and then I started to receive calls for writing. 

DDF: When did you start seeing yourself as a ghost writer? 

AO: One of the first clients was from VH1. They had a show coming out and they wanted to know if a book could be made in a short amount of time. The book did well and so did the show.  I started to receive more calls after that via word of mouth from VH1, MTV, We TV, Centric, etc. This is when I started to understand that I had found my niche as a ghostwriter. 

DDF: How do you approach your work as a ghostwriter? 

AO: As my career as a ghostwriter progressed along the way, I developed my processes and how I approach situations. The most important thing is that I grew up in a home with a counselor – my mother was a counselor for 35 years. It was through her, I learned how to listen very well. I learned to not only listen to the words but to also the delivery, the emotion attached to those words, and the yearning of their souls. 

DDF: How are the working relationships with you and your clients during a project? 

AO: The reason why my clients say “That’s what I was trying to say but I didn’t know how to verbalize it!” is because I try to listen deeply within them. Like what motivates them, what drives them, I am trying to understand their pain, trying to understand the things that make them truly happy, how they find true joy, the things that cause them pain along their journey. I try to pay attention to things that just deal with words. I approach all projects like that no matter if my client is a man, woman, child, etc. There is no difference in the process, but each person’s story is different. 

Ardre Orie

DDF: How did you get your second book published? 

AO: When I went to publish my second book, I was doing research and I looking up companies to help me get published. The first quote I got was for $10,000 and this included me doing the writing myself. I was like oh my gosh, I just walked away from a career that took me ten years to build. I am married and have children and that amount of money is nothing just sitting around for me to spend for that kind of project. In that moment, I thought that I would never become an author even though I know that I can write, I have a story to tell, and I know that this project can help other people. That was very disheartening to me, it caused me to do a lot of research about the industry. In doing that, I found a second company that cost $6,000, which was still a stretch, but I made the decision to make an investment in myself because if I don’t make an investment in myself, then how can I expect anyone else to do the same? 

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston

DDF: What is the origin of your publication company 13th and Joan? 

AO: After I started to learn more about the industry, I soon started writing theatrical productions and screenplays because my creative juices were starting to flow. All this content flowing from me and I realized that I could create this content and it wouldn’t cost me a dime to create. It was the same thing in elementary school. It was then that I decided I needed a company that is about the promotion media, especially for stories of color.

We publish everybody, 13th and Joan does not discriminate when it comes to the content we produce, but I just realized there is no home for people of color to tell it with some sauce on it. We believe that our books use correct grammar, sentence structure, and that our projects are in alignment with the industry standard for well-edited books, but we want to be able to add flavor to our books. We provide stories that mainstream told us that there is no market for. 

My research is what lead me to understand that there was not a black-owned publishing company. Some of these companies that do exist, have been in existence for over 95 years. If you trace back 95 years, you can clearly explain why we weren’t having our own publishing companies.

“A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it.” – Zora Neale Hurston, 

DDF: Out of all the books you have written, which is your favorite? 

AO: I have so many favorite books that I have written but there is one that touched me. The author was so in love with the finished product that he wanted to add my name as a co-author of the book. The author’s name is Thomas McClary (Rock and Soul: Thomas McClary Founder of The Commodores). Lionel Richie, also one of the founders of the Commodores, was discovered by McClary. Richie was playing an instrument and not singing, McClary is the one who encouraged Richie to sing. They founded this group at Tuskegee University and they were Motown royalty.  He also was the first person to integrate schools in Lake County Florida. We had to do over 60 years of research for the book. Through that, I learned a lot about history. 

DDF: Why is this book so special? 

AO: It is very special to me because we were able to tell his life story, achievements, and all he had to overcome as a Black man during a difficult time. I am proud to give the story to any Black boy or man to show them what they are capable of.

Follow Ardre Orie on Instagram or Facebook and be sure to visit her website!

 

15Aug/19

Luce is a Captivating Thriller That Addresses Racism and Mental Health

Tim Roth, Kelvin Harrison Jr, and Naomi Watts.

High schooler, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), overcame a nightmarish past as a child soldier in Eritrea to become the definition of the All-American teenager. As a valedictorian, track star, and all-around popular kid, his life seems set until he suddenly finds himself at odds with an overbearing teacher, Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer). When his loving adoptive parents, played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, become entangled in the suspicions of this teacher, complex questions of prejudice suddenly bubble to the surface, threatening to expose the ugly truths about all involved. (Tribeca Film Festival) 

Luce is a captivating thriller that challenges views on parenting and prejudice surrounding adoptive interracial families. The film really kept me ambivalent as to what the motives of each character really was. The talented cast peeled back the layers of their respective characters, especially rising star, Kelvin Harris Jr., who portrays Luce as a cunning, charming, and an innocent teenager. The parents did well at convincing us of juggling raising Luce and keeping their marriage together. Octavia Spencer, once again, portrayed a phemonal role as the teacher that has concerns about Luce that may derail his path to a successful college career. 

Luce at Tribeca

At the Tribeca Film Festival, I was able to talk to the writer, director, and producer, Julius Ohna, on the red carpet who explained, “ I want people to ask real questions about the way they perceive things like privilege. We live in these multicultural societies, where the ways that we look at each other can have a real impact on the way people’s lives are led and if we are asking questions that are beyond our blind spots and not looking past them, I think there’s a real change that can come.” 

The red carpet interviews and the showing were followed by a Q&A with the director and cast. I felt there was going to be tension in the room as the film depicted issues that society as a whole tends to leave unanswered. 

The host of the Q&A – writer, director, and radio producer, Rebecca Carroll asked thought-provoking questions. Those very same questions caused a lot of the audience members to leave the building due to the sensitive topic. One of the more difficult questions asked was about how does the white couple feel raising a young black teenager? A question that only Onley could answer since he wrote the film.

Tim Roth and other castmates could only approach the question as concerned parents, nothing more. Boasting a revelatory central performance by Harrison (who also appears this year in Gully) and nuanced work from an electrifying ensemble, director and co-writer Julius Onah twists this tale (adapted with JC Lee from his own play) into unexpected shapes, forcing the audience to examine the characters from every imaginable angle. Tension pulls at the screen, allegiances shift, and the viewer’s own biases are used to deepen the storytelling in masterful ways.
—Loren Hammonds 

Takaways from the film? 

  1. Mental health is still a significant issue that needs to be addressed for people of color, especially the child soldiers, like Luce, who suffer from a tremendous amount of stress and mental manipulation. 
  2. Luce, Tribeca Film Festival

    Caring for family with extreme mental health conditions is a difficult job. The Wilson sisters in the film, portrayed by Octavia Spencer and Marsha Stephanie Blake, gave an in-depth look at how this situation requires patience and a lot of energy.

  3. People still don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation when it comes to racism. While watching this film and attending the Q&A after the Tribeca premiere, I noticed how the characters in the film and people in the audience avoided the issue of racism. 
  4. Immigrants are not evil and they are not novelties. In the film, it is shown that Luce is sort of a token character and he plays the role to a tee to fit his needs. Although it is just a film, it can show how, in some cases, children in this situation can be championed in comparison to another teens who come from a background with non-adoptive parents who happen to be Black. 
  5. Trials and tribulations have no bias. The film does a great job of displaying the temptations and issues that the teenagers in the suburbs deal with that are similar to teens living in the inner city. The teens come from different backgrounds but still face life challenges. 

Nonetheless, Luce is a great, thrilling film that properly addresses mental health, social and racial issues. If you’re looking for a film that is thought provoking and filled with many plot twists, you should definitely check it out. 

Luce is in theaters now. It stars Kelvin Harris Jr., Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, Andrea Bang, and Marsha Stephanie Blake. 

12Aug/19

Hip Hop Visionary Missy Elliott To Receive the 2019 MTV VMA Video Vanguard Award

NEW ORLEANS, LA – JULY 07: Missy Elliott performing at the 2018 Essence Music Festival at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on July 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

Just Announced! Five-time Grammy award-winning artist Missy Elliott will receive the prestigious Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards! There is sure to be a great tribute to her and the hip hop pioneer herself will perform on stage! This will be a special treat for fans everywhere since she hasn’t performed at the MTV VMA’s since 2003. Fans will be looking forward to the performance of her hits “ Get Ur Freak On”, “ Work It” and “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”

Missy has had an amazing year thus far from being inducted into the SongWriters Hall of Fame to receiving an honorary doctorate at the Berklee College of Music. 

In honor of Missy, MTV and Pepsi have partnered together to host a fan pop up event entitled MTV and Pepsi Celebrate the Museum of Missy Elliot. The pop-up event will be in New York from August 24th-25th highlighting the career and work of the multi-talented, transcending musician. 

Several people on Twitter congratuatled the artist and Missy responded back with the following tweet:

https://twitter.com/MissyElliott/status/1160961691527602176?s=20&fbclid=IwAR2IelHerRhkYXTwjIAy37obXyCQ1ZLF2htCjCKwEnXy7i6l_zUEtKHTO6Q

Missy will join the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, and Jennifer Lopez. Tune in Monday, August 26, 2019 at 8pm EDT live from the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.

About MTV:

MTV is the leading global youth media brand in 180 countries, reaching 450 million households in nearly 30 different languages across every platform. A unit of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB, VIA), MTV operations span cable and mobile networks, live events, theatrical films and MTV Studios. 

03Jul/19
Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is a Necessary Watch

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures
Toni Morrison and Me

I was a freshman in college when I realized that Toni Morrison was a not only a big deal but an important part of literature. It wasn’t that it was my first time being exposed to her, it was the fact that I was at a private, predominantly white school (Denison University) taking a freshman English class named after her that focused on her work. After taking the class, I gained a deeper respect for the author because I had finally been exposed to her world that far surpassed the two books, “Song of Solomon” and “Sula,” I read in high school. 

The film, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, made me feel as if I was previously foreign to Toni Morrison and her contributions to the African American community. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders did an amazing job of putting this introspective and commentary piece together about one of the greatest influences in literature. I got to know Toni Morrison as a writer, teacher, mother, award winner, and overall incredible human being. The documentary explores the early years of her life where her grandparents encouraged her and other children in her family to get as much education as they could.  Her grandparents were alive during a time where it was forbidden for Black people to receive an education. This was the foundation that would inspire one of the world’s greatest writers.

To understand her affinity at an early age gives the audience an understanding of how Morrison became such a distinguished storyteller. At one point she described how she loved books so much that when she worked in a library, she spent more time reading the books than doing the work. They naturally promoted her to a managerial role. 

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures

Howard University & Random House

The Pieces I Am traveled through Morrison’s college roots as she attended the infamous Howard University where, like most graduates, she discovered the true value of being Black and educated. She felt free in her natural habitat amongst other intellectuals and creatives that shared a love for education. After her time at Howard, the film discusses her start at Random House as an editor. This was where the start of her literary career began.

There are so many key moments in this documentary that it’s not hard to see how Toni Morrison became a Pulitzer winner and why many influential figures in Black history have looked up or desired to work with her.  In fact, it’s noted how both Muhammad Ali (The Greatest: My Own Story) and Angela Davis (Angela Davis: An Autobiography) had a huge amount of respect for her, allowing her to write their autobiographies.

Morrison set a standard in the writing industry early on with her works “The Black Book”, “Sula” and “The Bluest Eye.” The film noted how Toni Morrison’s novels transcended race yet encouraged people of color to embrace their melanin and not be afraid or ashamed of the skin they were born in. In fact, “The Black Book” has been described as an emotional exploration of Blackness.  

While watching the film, I wondered why we had to wait until now to receive a Toni Morrison documentary. After all, she had some of her biggest moments in the 90s and previous years but the film also addresses that Toni Morrison is a very private person. When I spoke with director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, he explained how there were a few moments while filming Toni Morrison that they all had to hold their breath because what she was saying was so powerful and captivating. It was hard for him to do cuts during editing because of all the great footage from her interview.

Interviews
Toni Morrison

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures

Talents and activists that were featured via interview included Angela Davis, Hilton Als, Fran Lebowitz, Walter Mosley, Sonia Sanchez, Farah Griffin, and Oprah Winfrey. They all praised the innate skills, inspiration, and hard work of Morrison. One of the most interesting stories came from Oprah Winfrey when she mentioned how she called the fire station in the neighborhood where Morrison stayed to get in contact with her to do the movie Beloved.  The excitement in the voices and faces of the interviewees show the importance of Toni Morrison, especially Sonia Sachez who had emotional final words at the conclusion of her interview.

During Morrison’s interviews, she explained how she developed some of her books. The way she describes her influences for her work are interesting and visually beautiful, much like her storytelling. Speaking on Beloved, a novel that originated from the Margaret Garner story, Morrison recalled her being out one day looking at the docks when she saw a woman in a hat by the river who suddenly disappeared. This is what sparked the beginning of the amazing Beloved novel that made Oprah a huge admirer.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is not only recommended, it is necessary. To quote Paula Giddins from the film “If you don’t understand the history of African American women, you don’t understand America.” The documentary released in theatres on June 28th, 2019.

Photos: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures

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!

17May/19

Exclusive: Phillip Youmans, Youngest Director and 1st Af-Am to Win Featured Film at Tribeca

Phillip Youmans

Phillip Youmans (Photo by William Baldon)

“I didn’t dream about being a director. I didn’t know I wanted to do something with film until the summer between my sophomore and junior years at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.” – Spike Lee. Spike Lee may have spent his early years in college discovering his talent but there was a young director who has spent his first years in college winning awards for produced work. Juggling press junkets, red carpets, interviews, all while finishing his college exams. That was the case for the 19-year old director, Phillip Youmans, who became the youngest and first African American to win the Founders Award (Best Narrative Award) category for his creative and introspective film Burning Cane.

Phillip Youmans, Burning Cane

About the Film: Burning Cane is Phillip Youmans’ first film that stars the talented Wendell Pierce, Karen Kaia Livers, Dominique McClellan, and Braelyn Kelly. It explores relationships of a Southern Protestant church, toxic masculinity, gender/family roles within the small African American community, and toxic cultures that can plague families.

The Louisiana native discussed with Taji Mag the film’s origin. Youmans had put time and energy into a screenplay titled, Brothers and Sisters, that he is looking to produce next. His focus changed after a teacher suggested he put more energy into the Burning Cane realizing its potential upon reading the draft.

Inspiration for Burning Cane

Mostly inspired by his upbringing and questions about the southern Black church culture/spirituality, Youmans explained that the film was a form of therapy for him. Youmans went more in-depth about the film stating, “The biggest inspiration for Burning Cane was my upbringing and childhood in the Southern Baptist church, a lot of the hypocrisy and fallacies that I recognized early on in my childhood in the church. These were questions I had about the church that I was able to work through while making the film.”

Lessons of Life In Film

There are many topics that Youmans addresses in the film – one being toxic masculinity. Particularly when the film focuses on the character Daniel Wayne, played by Dominique McClellan. When asked about toxic masculinity, Youmans said, “In terms of toxic masculinity, there is a lot of danger in trying to uphold traditional gender roles. I think a lot of that is indirectly upheld through the Southern Baptist church. Especially in the fundamentalist Protestant communities. I did want to touch on it and it’s a pretty glaring issue. It’s a part of the fabric of American culture, world culture.”The struggle of religious practice was also a player in the film, having the various characters learn their moral identity. Helen Wayne, the main character played by Karen Kaia Livers, struggles with it the most as she faces decisions that push her to make impactful choices.

When it comes to exploring his thoughts on religion in the film, Youmans explained, “Growing up, I was able to extrapolate life lessons from religious doctrine. For instance, there’s a sermon about how relationships are more important than material possessions, that’s a valuable lesson regardless of age or experience.”

Phillip Youmans on Directing

Phillip Youmans, Wendell Price

Wendell Pierce in Burning Cane

Making the film, Youmans didn’t have any issues directing the cast and crew to bring his vision to life, even working with well-known talents like Wendell Pierce. “Wendell is dope! Working with him was incredible!” Youmans said excitingly. “This dude is a talented actor and he approached the script with so much excitement that it was a dream come true! Mel, my producer, knows that Wendell is a hometown hero in New Orleans – working with him was insane,” Youmans added.

Youmans said that the production went really smooth for all involved in Burning Cane. He further explained that “the camera is like neutralize and since we are all students of the craft, that age or experience doesn’t matter, we are all just trying to make something cool. In truth, it went really smooth, I think what was great about all of the actors was that there wasn’t any placed or forced upon hierarchy because there was such a respect for the material. By the time we showed up on set, it was about implementing the project. There were never any conversations about talking down.”

With the passing of the virtuous John Singleton, who himself created a film masterpiece at a young age titled Boyz n the Hood, we can only hope that Phillip Youmans continues his success in developing amazing films that add to the legacy of Black filmmakers.

Phillip Youmans

Directed by: Phillip Youmans
Starring: Wendell Pierce, Karen Kaia Livers, Dominique McClellan, and Braelyn Kelly
Production: Denizen Pictures

08Apr/19
Black Owned Healthcare Practice

Self Love Series | Black Owned Healthcare Practice Targets Sexual Health and Education

Black Owned Healthcare Practice

Vontrese at her practice.

“Everyone is doing it (sex) but nobody is talking about it.” I hear Vontrese Warren, nurse practitioner and fellow Louisville Central High school alum, explain. As a writer covering self-love and seeing sex as a part of that, I felt it important that Vontrese shares her story and the importance of sexual/reproductive health. Besides being a credible resource on the topic, Vontrese also co-owns her own healthcare practice (with Cynthia Parker) in west Louisville, KY. Their Black-owned healthcare practice focuses on reproductive health and education. West Louisville is not known to have many Black-owned healthcare businesses, especially not considering its population demographics.

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What made you become a nurse practitioner? 

Vontrese Warren (VW): I have always wanted to be in the health field since I was a child, I really wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I attended Moorhead State University as a pre-med/chemistry major but realized it wasn’t for me and changed my major. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an obstetrician and went to nursing school. Once I completed the nursing bachelor’s program, I got a job working at UK (University of Kentucky) hospital in the labor and delivery department. For the next ten years, I held jobs at UK hospital, Medical University of North Carolina, and Baptist Health Louisville.

“I early conceived a liking for and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others.” – Rebecca Lee Crumpler (The first African American Woman to earn a medical degree)

FYI: Crumpler, like Like Vontrese Warren, was a nurse for 10 years before she furthered her education and practice.  

DDF: What made you go into reproductive education? 

VW: After being on call on holidays during the summer and spring break when most families are on vacation and realized I’m missing out on family events like some of my sons’ events, I decided that I didn’t like the current lifestyle/schedule. I decided to go in another direction. It was at this point I decided to get my master’s in nursing at the University of Cincinnati. While studying nursing, I also studied sex counseling.

Black Owned Healthcare Practice

When you put yourself in a specialty, you put yourself in a bubble, like, a family nurse practitioner can get a job anywhere. However, I knew what I wanted to do and I didn’t want a job just anywhere.

It was difficult finding a job that fit me. Job after job, I searched and they were either already taken or not a good fit for me. I finally found a job at a doctors office where we performed aesthetic care which included weight loss management and reproductive care. This was right up my alley but it still didn’t work out.

After two years looking to find a job, I thought, if I can’t find a job I am going to make a job. So that’s what I did.

“…somewhere in your life, there has to be a passion. There has to be some desire to go forward. If not, why live?” –Alexa Canady (The first African American Neurosurgeon) 

DDF: What is the importance of sexual health education, outside of just grade school? 

VW: As I mentioned, everybody is doing it but nobody wants to talk about it. When people are talking about it, they are not discussing correct information. Like my son is in second grade, you have kids in third grade and up talking about sex but what are they saying?  

Even when it comes to the parents or grandparents sharing old wives tales about sex, these aren’t backed with education or studies. So, I like to inform people to give them the direction to go. If you are doing it the right way and have a good knowledge base, then you are better off in any relationship with your own sexual health and whomever your partner is.

“Talk to her about sex, and start early. It will probably be a bit awkward, but it is necessary.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

DDF: Do you have male patients as well? 

Both women and men are patients, but I have more women patients because I provide more for women. It just depends on the type of venue.

DDF: How important is sexual health and sex education to self-love? 

If you are unhealthy in any aspect, you have to take some accountability on why you are like that. Why aren’t you as healthy as you can be? You know what can be done and/or can seek the resources to help yourself.

DDF: What are your goals, both short term and long term? 

VW: My goal both short and long term is to educate the community on reproductive health and let people know that there are resources out there. Here in West Louisville, there are not too many businesses, let alone healthcare, but that’s why I have my services here.

If you are in the Kentucky area, visit Vontrese at her business:

Warren & Williams Health C.A.R.E., PLLC

2600 West Broadway, Suite 208, Louisville, Kentucky 40211, United States

Contact: [email protected]

Tel: (502) 653-9716 or (502) 309-4432

15Mar/19
Anthony Trucks

Former NFL Player Anthony Trucks Explains How Self-Love Affects Your Service

Anthony TrucksAnthony Trucks is currently one of the few football players to complete an American Ninja Warrior gauntlet. At 225lbs he really wasn’t expected to complete the gauntlet because the people that are normally able to complete these obstacles are around 160lbs. He approached the obstacles at the event like he approaches life, looking to only to do his best and nothing more. Taji Mag was able to talk to the competitor and former NFL athlete about the importance of self-love, life shifts, and overcoming obstacles as a current self-help coach, influencer, and inspirational speaker.

“Sometimes it takes years to really grasp what has happened to your life.” – Wilma Rudolph

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What is an Identity Shift?

Anthony Trucks (AT): “We have a lot of things that vastly change in life, things like relationships, income, family, and self-image. Along with that is what we desire to change and that change comes from not only our mindset and habits but our identity as well. When our identity becomes dialed into where you want it to be, the mindset and habits will fall into place smoothly. I believe that when you have identity anchors in place, life becomes easier and smooth.

We as individuals want more. More love, more freedom, more time, etc. But we want these things without changing our routines or schedule. Life doesn’t work that way. I think the desire for change came through the desire to want.

I’m always looking back at my life to evaluate my desire for that certain period and time. At that point I was thinking about why I wanted to close my gym, why I didn’t do anymore consulting or guest speaking. Well, about two years ago I decided that the last thing I want to be on my deathbed is the person I could’ve been.

DDF:  What gave you the strength you needed during your childhood?

AT: Being a kid, you know no other option. For me, I started to grow into my conscious mind as a young fostered child. I knew no better nor examined the difference between my self and other kids until I was exposed to more things. It is then I began to question “Why don’t I have new clothes or why are there holes in my shoes?” I was lucky enough to have a caring foster family to get me through difficult times in my life. The other thing that helped was that I had people outside of my family who helped facilitate me into programs and spoke positivity into me.

“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” -Muhammad Ali

DDF: What allowed you to move into your calling and current position after your career ending injury?

AT: The change from my NFL life was one of the big identity teachers for me, I think it’s a good teacher for anybody. I think what we do is what we become, much like if a person at a young age swings a bat every day, often times they become a baseball player. This happens to athletes and some people in the military. When you are an athlete, you base your sense of self-worth and guidance on this thing you do, but when the thing you do (career or activity)  is no more, you don’t know who you are.

I was smart enough to know that there may be an asterisk on the future of my football career, so I took care of my academics and made sure I graduated. When I came home, I started to figure out who I was because my life went from everyone wanting to talk to me and have me sign stuff to not even knowing my name because I didn’t play anymore due to my injury. That is definitely a difficult transition.

Anthony Trucks

I had to find a way to re-direct my energy into finding that new thing that made me feel as if I mattered. It helps me more when I find things that will help other people.

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” – Maya Angelou

DDF: Where did this re-directing of energy take you?

AT: I decided that I wanted to use my kinesiology degree to open a gym. There was a drawback, however. I became hyper-focused on the gym. At the same time, I had a family – wife and kids – but I neglected them all with my focus being to maintain and build this gym. Thinking that if I had this thriving business then it would be best for my kids but all they wanted was quality time with me, money or not.

DDF: How do you use self-love to be the best version of yourself?

AD: The reason that I am able to serve at a high level is that I love me. When you love someone, you not only tell them that you love them but you love them with action. You don’t want to let that person that you love down, no matter who it is. Yet, we don’t take this same perspective and reflect it internally.

We eat a crappy meal during a diet, we miss a workout, we don’t make phone calls to people to help ourselves, or we don’t chase a dream. It is during these times that you are not doing actions of love to the person you need to do it for the most and therefore you don’t show up. That makes you feel like you are not deserving and when you feel that way, you don’t put things out into the world. Self-love affects your service for sure.

DDF: You have a wonderful family and of course you are full of good advice. What advice do you give your children?

AT: It’s a daily conversation with my kids. As children get into their teens, they seek freedom, they seek autonomy. Freedom is like value. It’s like giving a kid $20 million dollars, if you don’t have experience then you will burn through it.

In regards to adults, freedom is you get to make the choices you want to make but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about responsible decisions.

I teach my kids how to be responsible and, with that, explain how this approach will allow them to attain any goal.

Anthony Trucks

Check Anthony Trucks via social media and follow up on his TV appearances on American Ninja Warrior and more here!

17Jan/18
Black Lightning

Black Lightning Lights Up DC in DC 2018

This past weekend Warner Brothers hosted DC Comics in D.C. highlighting the upcoming tv show Black Lightning. It featured four different panels and premiered the first episode of Black Lightning. All of the panels were great and featured a lot of great talent and artists, but the panel that was most representative of the MLK weekend was the panel titled “The Many Shades of Heroism: DC Heroes Through the African American Lens”. This panel explained the creation of many of the popular Black characters of the DC television series world. The panel consisted of the show’s producers, Salim and Mara Akil, as well as actors Cress Williams (Black Lightning), Candice Patton (The Flash), Chris Chalk (Gotham), David Harewood (Supergirl), comic artist and producer Denys Cowan, writer John Ridley, and author and songwriter Alice Randall.

Black Characters on DC TV Series

Candice Patton portrays Iris West on the popular show The Flash. She discussed the importance of portraying an outstanding version of the character on television and how doing so has influenced creators to change the race of the character in the comics. Originally Iris West is portrayed as a white woman in DC comics. “I feel extremely honored first of all to be put in this position,” Patton explained.

“I am happy that a black woman is carrying the torch so generations after this will remember that Iris West was a black woman .” – Candice Patton on portraying Iris West.

Chris Chalk plays the intelligent and brilliant minded Lucius Fox on the show, Gotham. The show is based on a young Commissioner Gordon fighting crime against many of the developing iconic villains in the city of Gotham from the Batman series. “This character is great! I went to this STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) program for Black youths and the kids would tell me they knew how I solved a problem on the show and I was like well tell me, ’cause I don’t know…” He emphasized the joy in playing a character that breaks racial stereotypes in television, saying “It is cool to have a Black character that is the smartest person in the series and he doesn’t fight.”

David Harewood plays Martian Manhunter on the show Supergirl. Being a native of London, he explained how important it is to have a Black lead character on a television show because, where he is from, there aren’t really any characters that look like him. He smiled as he proudly displayed his Black Lightning t-shirt. Harewood also discussed how happy he was to represent a person in of color in the media, making the audience aware that there are opportunities for all races and backgrounds to be represented.

Black Lightning: The Series For The Time

Black Lightning takes place in an urban, poverty and violence-stricken community where our hero, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), lives as a high school principal and family man. He has hung up the mantle of Black Lighting for 15 years because of the stress it was placing on his family but is forced to return to crime fighting when the local gang, The One Hundred, starts wreaking havoc on the neighborhood.

“It is a dream come true! After I put on the costume I was ready to run into the wall! I was ready to fight!” – Cress Williams on portraying Black Lighting

The show is produced by the power couple Salim and Mara Akil. They both have a successful history of producing great shows like the Soul Food TV series, Girlfriends, and Being Mary Jane. When asked about Black Lightning, they expressed the importance of the project and how great of a story it can tell about love, family, and community. “We are led by a vision and clearly this is Salim’s,” Mara explained about choosing the project to bring to life in television form. She explained the importance of giving people the perspective of a Black man that is positive, stating “July 2016, two Black men were killed after the long list of other Black men and we were in that moment of what was happening in our communities. When you look on television there were no Black men in the center of a television show, speaking on the issues that were about his life.” Salim Akil explored his vision of the project in-depth when quoting:

“We use that authenticity when it comes to other cultures but really we are talking about the nuance and Black folks are an integral part of American culture. What we will see with Black Lightning is that yes, we are getting culturally specific nuances of what it is going to be like being an African American man in the United States, but you will also see a man that loves his family and his community and wants what is best for his community. You can take the African American off that (character) and you have just a man that wants the best for his family. I hope everybody can identify wanting the best for their families and their community.”

DC Comics is continuing to evolve its characters that people from different backgrounds can relate to. Black Lightning debuted tonight, January 16th at 9pm, how’d you like it?