As Spike Lee serves as the director for the Cannes Film Festival, he also has something else major his fans can look forward to…his new book, SPIKE. The hardcover book covers Lee’s 30-year film career and includes never seen before photos from the set of his films. Some photos will come from the archives of Lee’s brother, David Lee, and will also feature photos from onset photographers from his films over the years.
The book is also designed by creative and founder of Vocal Type, Tré Seals. Seals created the custom typography for the book based on Radio Raheem’s iconic LOVE/HATE brass knuckles from Do the Right Thing. The same brass knuckles Lee wore during his win at the Academy Awards for BlacKkKlansman.
What I Look Forward To?
I look forward to seeing extra photos from some of the sets of my favorite films like Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and School Daze. These are the films I grew up appreciating because the characters look like me and some of the soundtracks were dope! Seriously, Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack was my gateway into my love for jazz and the He Got Game soundtrack re-introduced me to legendary hip hop group Public Enemy.
I hope to see more information about films like She Hate Me and Bamboozled because these films were released during a time when I started to pay more attention to social commentary in art and understanding how art imitates life. Lee’s films always prompt audiences to think but never forces the message intended for the viewers.
The book will also feature some stills and quotes from Spike Lee’s “Is it the shoes?” Nike campaign with Michael Jordan. I really want to see his commentary on that experience, especially when Jordan used to put on a show against his beloved Knicks. I mean Jordan used to embarrass everybody, but he used to obliterate the Knicks!
“As I Head Full Steam Ahead Into My 5th Decade As A Filmmaker I Was Elated When Steve Crist And Chronicle Chroma Approached Me About Doing A Visual Book Of All My Joints. We Would Revisit All Da Werk I’ve Put In To Build My Body Of Work. Film Is A Visual Art Form And That Sense Of My Storytelling Has Been Somewhat Overlooked. Why Now, After All These Years? FOLKS BE FORGETTING.” – Spike Lee
For the last few years, Spike Lee has received his long-awaited and deserved roses. Of course, many of us have supported and shown appreciation for the quality entertainment he has created but I feel now he is getting worldwide acknowledgment. So if you are a Spike Lee fan like I am, you will enjoy this book published by Chronicle Chroma and can embrace the nostalgia. The book will be released on November 10th and can pre-ordered here.
Spike Lee has been a celebrated filmmaker, a cultural icon, and one of America’s most prominent voices on race and racism for more than three decades. His dynamic storytelling and unique visual style have made an indelible mark on filmmaking and television. This comprehensive monograph will be a sumptuous visual showcase of Spike Lee’s life and work, a must‐have for cinephiles and fans of one of the most influential filmmakers in history. His career spans over 30 years and includes: She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Crooklyn, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game, Summer of Sam, Bamboozled 25th Hour, Inside Man, and more. Lee’s outstanding feature documentary work includes the double Emmy® Award-winning If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, a follow-up to his HBO documentary film When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, and the Peabody Award-winning A Huey P. Newton Story. In the television arena, he launched his Netflix original series She’s Gotta Have It, which ran two seasons on the platform. The series is a contemporary update of his classic film.
Synopsis: When high school student Jaylen Brown (Skylan Brooks) finds himself under suspicion after his classmate’s mysterious disappearance, prejudice quickly begins to bubble up to the surface of his small town. Working quickly to clear his own name, he begins to unravel a massive web of secrets that all point to otherworldly forces at play.
No Running made its premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. It is a sci-fi flick that reminds me of teen-based films like The Faculty or Attack the Block, but with the same racial themes of Get Out. Firstly, the film definitely had me wondering why the lead character’s life sucked so much, there could’ve been more clarity about his past. Secondly, I thought it was crazy how there were alien abductions going on and the town was still focusing on Jaylen and his family. Also, I found myself wondering what could’ve made this film better. Something was definitely missing and I feel this could be better as a series.
The protagonist, Jaylen Brown, was an intriguing character: one of the only Black men in the neighborhood with a troubled past in a town rumored to have experienced alien abductions. His character made me reflect on how young Black men can be perceived so negatively. Jaylen just wants to be a teenager, be with his crush, have fun with his family, and graduate! But it seems his aunt, his Bully, and his town just won’t let him be. Only the women in his life keep him grounded which is mainly because his life is absent of male figures, especially Black male figures.
Jaylen’s love interest, Amira (Clark Backo), was a great plot device and serves as the only bright spot outside of his family. Clark does a decent job of making Amira Jaylen’s charismatic love interest. It is unfortunate that Amira is abducted, but even moreso that she disappears while with Jaylen after a party in a predominantly white neighborhood.
Jaylen’s mother Ramila (Rutina Wesley) and sister Simone (Diamond White) were the foundation needed for him to stay optimistic, even during his time on the run. (Side note: I’m sorry, I will always see Diamond White as Tiffany from Boo: A Madea Halloween, but her portrayal as Simone was just as entertaining).
As I mentioned before, the premise sets up a promising story, but I am not sure if the film accomplished its goal? The correlation between a space alien and Jaylen in this neighborhood makes the film compelling, but I really had to look deep to make the connection. I also thought about how crazy it would be to walk in Jaylen’s shoes? Imagine being a young Black man who witnessed his high school crush get abducted by aliens in a town severely lacking diversity. I would run, too, and I’d be on the first Southwest Flight back to my aunt’s house.
The small side story of Jaylen’s relationship with his father towards the end of the movie kind of lost me. Honestly, I would’ve liked to see at least a flashback of the event(s) that caused the demise of Jaylen’s relationship with his father. Aso, I understood the reason for the conflict with his aunt, but I did not understand its timing.
When Jaylen was on the run and playing detective, the pacing was on point. The mini-missions were fun and felt reminiscint of the side missions from Grand Theft Auto. The scene where he tries to make it out of the sheriff’s house was both intense and comical. The sheriff’s and his father’s racist comments and discriminatory attitudes made me want to jump through the screen. I did enjoy, though, that the sheriff’s father’s story connected to the aliens plot.
No Running was an interesting film that questions the social commentary of believing in aliens or believing a young Black man. The idea is brilliant and I commend the screenwriter for using his experiences to bring life to this film, but I do feel the film could’ve been executed better.
The Sundance Film Festival 2021 presented its audience with not only some great new projects but also new experiences virtually. This year’s Black creatives gave us amazing content and compelling stories. Many of the projects had me sitting in my apartment in silence and reflecting on the stories being told. Below are a list of some of my favorite short films from the Festival and my interactive WebXR experience with the project Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler.
Favorite Short Black Films of the Sundance Film Festival
Synopsis: After his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley, Darious begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood.
Artist: Miles Warren is a filmmaker born and raised in New York City. Since graduating from Wesleyan University, he has directed various short films, music videos, and commercial content.
My Thoughts: How do we define masculinity and what influences our definition of it? The answer to these questions is formulated from the time we are born until we leave this earth. Bruiser gives the perspective of a young man, attempting to define masculinity after he witnesses his father fighting. I loved how the filmmaker shows how quickly the father’s words and actions impact Darious. There are also lessons the father learns about the importance of his influences. Bruiser is a short I recommend watching.
Synopsis: A God-fearing woman in present-day South Africa finds herself in a transactional relationship as she tries to support her sick husband and daughter.
Artist: Nomawonga Khumalo is a writer/director from Johannesburg, South Africa. Five Tiger is her narrative film debut. Her feature film, The Bursary, will head into production in the second half of 2021.
My thoughts: This is another film that touches on masculinity in addition to gender roles, morality, faith, and forgiveness. So much is told in this short that I was really interested to see what happens with the lead character and what led to her husband’s sickness. The most surprising part of the film is the reveal of who is involved in the transactional relationship. I really felt for the lead character as she juggled so much and fought internally to provide for her family.
Lizard | Short Film Grand Jury Prize, Presented by Southwest
Synopsis:Juwon, an eight-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger, gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a megachurch in Lagos.
Artist: Akinola Davies Jr.’s work is situated between West Africa and the United Kingdom, as he identifies as a member of the global diaspora, being part of both worlds. His work navigates the collision of colonial and imperial traditions, as well as a return to Indigenous narratives.
My Thoughts:This film reminded me of the childhood experiences and questions about the church. A journey with Juwon from the classroom to the church parking lot had me thinking, “ ]What is this little girl doing and why she is spending her church money on junk food?” Although she misses class exploring the church ground, she learns a lesson about cheating the church and God. This experience will for sure influence the moral compass of Juwon. What happens after the conclusion of the film? I wish the filmmaker would show us because it looked like there was going to be some real action.
Black Bodies by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall
Synopsis: SA Black man comes face-to-face with the realities of being Black in the twenty-first century.
Artist:Fyffe-Marshall is a director, screenwriter, and social activist whose work includes the award-winning short film, Haven (2018), and the two-part short film, Black Bodies and Marathon (2020).
My Thoughts: This speaks volumes about present-day racism and expresses the frustrations of the Black community. I sat in silence and could feel every bit of the powerful poems by Komi Olaf and Donisha Prendergast. A speakeasy piece, imperative art, and perspective all in one, Black Bodies ends on a note we are all too familiar with. To learn that Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s film was inspired by a viral racial incident makes her work even more compelling. The filmmaker/activist spreading the word of equality while chipping away at injustice one film and project at a time.
A Concerto is a Conversation
Synopsis: A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Artists: Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers. Proudfoot, an award-winning short-documentary director and entrepreneur, is the creative force behind Breakwater Studios. Bowers is a Grammy-nominated, Emmy Award-winning, and Juilliard-educated pianist and composer who creates genre-defying music that pays homage to his jazz roots—with inflections of alternative and R&B influences.
My Thoughts: I really loved the conversation between Kris Bowers and his grandfather about their family history. Kris Bowers’s love for music and his grandfather’s love for his dry cleaning business, have similar success stories. I liked how the film displays the love and bond between the two men. It’s no surprise the short film added Ava Duvernay as executive producer and is an Oscar contender.
Want to watch this beautifully crafted short documentary click the link and watch below.
New Frontier: The Interstitium with Octavia Butler
The Sundance Film Festival, although virtual, still provided audiences with personal and interactive ways to experience the festival. COVID has prevented many from traveling to Salt Lake City but, with the virtual experience, audiences interacted with others via an avatar and watched films. I loved participating in the New Frontier world and hope it returns next year because it allows those who can’t travel to experience the Sundance film festival.
The Octavia Butler virtual experience was one of the biggest highlights of the Sundance Film Festival. I loved being able to see the project “Pluto” by one of my favorite artists, Sophia Nahli Allison. Fresh off her Netflix documentary, “A Love Song For Natasha”, the artist takes the audience on an expedition from death to birth with varying imagery and an original poem as a voice-over. The text, “it’s not dying that hurts it’s coming back to life that’s painful,” displays at the beginning of the project and is the question the woman asks, what seems to be, a higher being. I loved this work as I felt like I was hovering through time and existence trying to answer the questions of reincarnation. As always, this project is worth the experience and I look forward to Allison’s future work.
Secret Garden, by Stephanie Dinkins (not the song featuring El Debarge, Barry White, and Christopher Williams), allows the participant to walk around a garden where oral histories spanning generations of African American women live. I was intrigued by the stories and the ability to see the expression displayed by each woman. It was like going to a concert with multiple stages and listening to women tell stories ranging from surviving an enslaved boat to growing up on a farm in the 1920s.
Idris Brewster’s virtual experience had me getting GTA vibes, exploring an island first-person view. Each island had its own unique environment and soundtrack featuring Black artists. It’s a music and art lover’s playground. I visited the island three times to see if the atmosphere of the island changed, nothing changed but the time of day changed. The only thing that would’ve made the experience better is if I would have had the VR goggles to fully enjoy the experience – but that was my fault. Maybe I should use my stimulus check to get some VR equipment.
Terence Nance’s piece reminds me of the screensavers we had back in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The type of art that mold’s itself to the vibration of sound. In this case, it’s the sound of people’s voices that alter both the color and environment of the piece. To experience what I mean you can go here.
Sundance Film Festival 2021 was a great success in my opinion, not only was there a lot of Black art representation but the opportunity for many around the world to experience the festival virtual. The movie drive-ins are great to keep safe and within the experience. I really hope more people participate next year to see something more than what’s on the streaming services. Plus you can have your own snacks…legally.
SYNOPSIS: Judas and the Black Messiah is the story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant, William O’Neal (LaKeith Standfield).
You may say it’s too early to say Judas and the Black Messiah is the best film this year given it’s only February, but damn this film is amazing! Usually, biopic films that take place during the civil rights movement and slavery uprising are too frustrating to watch but this film was well put together from the acting to directing. From the soundtrack to the 70’s aspect ratio style in the first act, the film pays homepage to the 70’s genre of film.
“ I AM A REVOLUTIONARY, I AM A REVOLUTIONARY!”
I’ve read the history books and heard some of the speeches by Fred Hampton. I must say, Daniel Kaluuya captured the essence of the activist. His presence in Judas and the Black Messiah is so powerful that even those on set have stated they believed Fred Hampton’s spirit was in the room. During the Sundance Q&A, Kaluuya talked about how he was losing his voice but the crowd was into his portrayal and yelling “I am revolutionary!” that he was able to push through and portray some powerful speeches.
The best chemistry in the film was between Kaluuay and Dominique Fishback. Fishback’s portrayal of Deborah Johnson aka Akua Njeri provided the confidence and magnified the articulation of the Fred Hampton character. She also provided a space of vulnerability for him. Fishback’s talent in spoken word is displayed in this film as she wrote and read her work throughout the film. The two most touching poems were read around act two where she describes the love she has for Hampton and the other is in act three where she questions motherhood after Hampton’s release. Fishback explained during the Q&A that director Shaka King allowed her to show the character’s creativity on screen.
The love remains but there’s a shift in the relationship of both Hampton and Johnson in the third act, as Hampton’s imprisonment and activism cause him to become more dedicated to the cause. I really felt the connection between the two and I loved Fishback’s performance even more. The ending where she held back her tears and her composure combined with the camera angle was dope! I hope she gets some Oscar buzz.
It’s not easy writing characters like Roy Mitchell but Shaka King does a great job turning this protagonist into a compelling and conflicted character. At times, he is just as conflicted as his informant O’Neal. Especially in the scene where J. Edgar Hoover questions Mitchell on what he was going to do when his daughter brought home a “nigger”. You could see the initial equivocation in his response.
LaKeith Standfield kept the tension during the whole movie. From when his position was almost compromised after an FBI mole was tortured by the Panthers to him almost getting shot during a shoot out with the police. He basically shifts into paranoia and identity crisis as his portrayal of O’Neal reminded me of how desperate the character was. I often forget that O’Neal was so young and easy to influence. His interaction with Hampton reminded me of films like In Too Deep because O’Neal was able to see the good in Hampton’s efforts and the evil in the actions of the FBI.
It was too crazy to see that O’Neal died shortly after the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” premiered. The documentary featured O’Neal talking about the guilt and struggle he faced after the murder of Hampton.
I like the fact that Judas and the Black Messiah showed how the Panthers did things and provided services to the community. Hampton’s desire to build with the underrepresented community no matter the color was good to see on film.
Judas and the Black Messiah Summit
Shortly after the premiere of the film at Sundance, Warner Bros. put together an all-day virtual summit featuring the artist and actors from the film. One of my favorites is the conversation between Dominique Fishback and Akua Njeri. The summit also featured LaKeith Standfield, Daniel Kaluuya, and Fred Hampton Jr.
See the Movie!!!
Overall Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the best films you will see on HBO Max and in theaters this year. You will not be disappointed like I was after I watched The Little Things. Sorry y’all, Denzel is still the GOAT when it comes to acting but I’d rather eat a dry PopEye’s biscuit than try to watch that film again. Tune into HBO Max this Friday and check out this great film!
While interviewing Skylan Brooks, I asked how he pulled off the portrayal of the optimistic and energetic Hamster in the film Archenemy. He stated that it was purely method acting. “Well, believe it or not, I was actually sick while shooting this film,” Brooks chuckled. Brooks is not new to the genre of superhero films, he played the super-intelligent Chubs in the 2018 film Darkest Minds.
The young talented actor took time away from his busy schedule to talk with Taji Mag about his new film, Archenemy, and other projects he is working on.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What brought you to this role and how did you prepare for it?
Skylan Brooks (SB): The film being a superhero, sci-fi film lured me to the role. I enjoy and previously had success in my other sci-fi projects like Castle Rockon Hulu. I wanted to know more about the director’s vision for my character, Hamster. I also wanted to understand the origin of the film and why it was being made.
DDF: Hamster shows optimism and drive, how did you manage to keep those present in the character?
SB: Actually, that was one of the things I worried about when portraying the character. It worried me in the audition. I have a very chill personality, so it was a fun challenge to play this high energy character. What made me really capture the essence of the character was talking to the director. Also remembering, Hamster’s deceased father was a storyteller and that is what motivates him to tell his stories no matter what.
DDF: What was the biggest obstacle to making this film?
SB: Well, believe it or not, I was actually sick while shooting this film. Every time you see me smiling, shouting, and laughing like I was having a good time, I was dying. I actually had pneumonia, bronchitis, and a fever. I had to go to the hospital because I had difficulty breathing at times. It was crazy because everyone else is healthy and I was just so sick. It was brutal but fun.
DDF: What the best part about making this film?
SB: I really enjoy the stunts. Every time there was a big stunt going on, everybody’s vibe changed. The director would be like, “ Okay, you’re going to get sent through this glass table and you are going to get killed.” It was fun and we just laughed through it. There was great energy on set and everyone was fun to work with.
DDF: Is your character, Hamster, inspired by other characters you previously played? I think of the characters you played in The Darkest Minds, The Get Down, and The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete.
SB: Not consciously. I tried to draw from a whole different place. That’s interesting but cool you had thought so.
DDF: Who are a few of your favorite comic characters?
SB: Growing up I didn’t really know the comic world as I do now. I didn’t understand the difference between brands like DC Comics and Marvel? I just knew of the comic book characters. I have an affinity for fast characters, that are not necessarily flashy but have this cool attitude. Characters like the Flash, Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and Static Shock. I loved watching Static Shock growing up. He’s just a normal dude from the hood that got powers and didn’t take advantage of the powers.
DDF: What comic book hero would you like to play?
SB: Ah perfect question! I heard there was a Static Shock movie being made, that is way early in development and I would love to take a crack at it.
DDF: Which movie universe do you prefer? DC or Marvel?
SB: That’s a hard question. Lol! I like both of them. Growing up I watched DC television shows, like Young Justice, but I watched Marvel movies.
DDF: What do you think the audience will get out of this film?
SB: I want the audience to understand that heroes have emotions. Max Fist is a hero where he comes from. Beyond his hero complex is a fragile human being that feels forgotten. I think, through companionship and friendship, he redeems himself without his powers.
DDF: How was it working with Zolee Griggs and Joe Manganiello?
SB: Joe is a very intense guy when it comes to playing his characters. Once he is in character, there is no way of breaking him out of it. I appreciate being on screen with that type of experience. Zolee is great too and this is her first feature, I think she killed the role. She’s dope and you can see her on Wu-tang on Hulu. Zolee has great energy and she’s hilarious.
DDF: What’s next for you?
SB: I am focusing on the film but I have a music EP project and music video dropping this month. It’s a fuse of hip-hop and jazz. I am also working on two projects, one of which I am executive producing.
DDF: If you make your own film, what genre would it be? What director would you work with and who would be your co-star?
SB: I would want to do a Steven Spielberg type film with the grit of a Quentin Tarantino and the feel of Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise as a co-star.
If you are looking for a hybrid of the Watchmen and Wolverine comic book genre film, make sure to watch Archenemy. The film has some cool animation, an exciting storyline, and a cool plot twist. ARCHENEMY is in theaters, and currently available on VOD and Digital.
SYNOPSIS: Inspired by the life and work of artist Keith Knight, comedy series, Woke, takes an absurdly irreverent look at identity and culture as it follows Keef, an African-American cartoonist finally on the verge of mainstream success when an unexpected incident changes everything. With a fresh outlook on the world around him, Keef must now navigate the new voices and ideas that confront and challenge him, all without setting aflame everything he’s already built.
Funny, relatable, timely, and entertaining are the words I use to describe the new comedy Woke from Hulu. I had an interest in the concept once I saw the trailer, but after watching a few episodes I can easily say Woke is worth viewing. The series is fitting for people who understand what it means to be woke and for those people who haven’t had their third eye open. Do you ever wonder why some Black people you know don’t understand why Black Lives Matter until they are racially profiled? The series Woke gives perspective on what it may look like and I am glad it exists! Here are a few reasons why!
Acting A Fool
From Lamorne Morris (BLOODSHOT, New Girl, who portrays the blissfully ignorant protagonist, Keef) to the voice-over talents of J.B. Smoove, the series has likable characters. I’m not going to lie, Keef made me call him an asshole like 5 times in my head. Of course, that is until he gets a dose of reality after the police basically assault him. I really like the way Keef is taken from an “it’s not my fight mentality” to “I have a talent and a voice I can use to fight racial injustice”. We’ve seen this narrative too many times with successful Black people. You know… the same Black people that distance themselves from Black culture but want back up when they have been discriminated against.
The topics and concepts within the series are definitely relatable – like people advocating for animal rights more than human rights or white people asking you about Kanye or reparations at a social mixer. All of it made me shake my head but really connected me with Keef. There are some good examples the show uses about securing the bag and remaining true to yourself. The John Legend reference was particularly intriguing and it really made me think, “You know, John Legend might’ve done that!”
We All Have That One Friend
The friends of Keef, Clovis (T.Murph) and Gunther (Blake Anderson), both remind me of the friends that pretty much every Black person has. Clovis is the friend who always has your back, keeps you in check, and does what he can for one night stands. I found the character’s social awareness and psychology of people almost academic yet he is unable to use it to fix his own personal issues.
Gunther is the white friend who is down to support Black people. He had me rolling at the time Keef was being arrested by the police. I like the fact that the writers didn’t have him appropriating Black culture and just made him a cool human being.
Ayana, played by Sasheer Zamata, is the Black editor for the local magazine. She is a good associate and, hopefully, a friend in the series that won’t allow Keef to escape this reality for his own good.
All of these characters are compelling and have very interesting character flaws that I can’t wait to see how they deal with.
Woke, Not For Cartoon Network
Ok, I know shows that consist of animation and live-action can sometimes be a little corny – ok some are corny as hell – but Woke is straight-up hilarious and for adults only. Much kudos to the casting director for choosing Black comedians to voice the animated characters, especially J.B. Smoove voicing the Marker character, who serves as Keef’s conscious. No matter how big the voice-over role, Smoove is always a standout and always funny. Comedy legend Cedric the Entertainer, Sam Richardson, David Keith, Nicole Byer, and veteran Eddie Griffith all made voice-over appearances that had me dying laughing. I am curious to see what other celebrities will appear as guest voiceovers. My hope is Samuel Jackson makes a guest voice cameo.
Given the emotional/mental stress many of us may have during this time of the pandemic and racial injustice, Woke is the perfect series to escape with laughter. I recommend adding Woke to your list of series to watch on Hulu.
Morgan Cooper made a huge impression with his trending Fresh Prince of Bel-Air inspired short, Bel-Air, and the filmmaker continues his success. The award-winning filmmaker snagged two awards in the 2020 Tribeca X category of the Tribeca Film Festival. Morgan Cooper won “Best Feature Film” for U Shoot Videos? and “Best Short” for Pay Day, winning in the two out of the three categories of the Tribeca X category. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the multi-award-winning filmmaker to see how his projects came to life.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What moment did you decide you want to make films?
Morgan Cooper (MC): My career started on my 18th birthday. I bought a Cannon P2I DSLR camera at Best Buy and, with that camera, I made a career. I felt like I had something to say through the medium. From that moment on, I just showed up and did the work every day. I took small steps to improve my skillset. Over the years I was able to find my voice.
U Shoot Videos?
U Shoot Videos is a powerful narrative following a filmmaker trying to excel in his career field. Being young, Black, and gifted but denied the opportunity to make commercials due to his lack of experience and no film school, Moji must figure out how to keep his dream alive and hurdle the obstacles in his path.
DDF:U Shoot Videos? provides a narrative some Black creatives can relate to. What has been the most interesting response to your film?
MC: Some of the people that reached out felt it was their story. They felt seen and heard through the film. I can’t think of any better feedback than that. There were people that were thinking about giving up, feeling so alone during their journey in filmmaking, and, after seeing this film, it gives them an extra boost. I was overwhelmed with how positive and how beautiful the feedback was.
DDF: There was a lot of support for the lead character Moji, from characters like Aaron and Moji’s brother. Was that intentional during the course of the film?
MC: The show of support was very important to me. You don’t see Black men supporting each other enough on screen. Everything in the film is based on real reactions that I had during the course of my career. I felt it was my responsibility to show these really honest moments where Black men support each other without any alternative motives. Like Aaron telling Moji “I’m down to help you because I want to learn. I have an interest in what you do and you inspire me.” I am really proud of that moment and I hope to see more support among Black males like that on film in the future.
PayDay is a collaborative project with Color Creative, Synchrony, Gian Spoon agency, and written by actress/comedian Gabrielle Dennis. The short follows Nyssa, a young woman who desires to open her own business but spends money like there is no tomorrow. On her payday, she gets caught in a time loop “Groundhog Day” style and is unable to break it until figures out a way to make better decisions.
DDF: How did you become apart of the PayDay Project and how was it working with Gabrielle Dennis?
MC: Denise from Color Creative reached out to my agent about the PayDay project. It just looked like an interesting and fun piece. I pitched on it and got the job. I locked arms with Color Creative, Giant Spoon, and Synchrony to make the film happen. It was a long two-day shoot but it turned out really nice in the end.
Gabrielle was great to work with. She brought a lot of enthusiasm to the table. She has a brilliant comedic mind. It was very fun being on set and creating space for her, letting her talent really shine. She trusted my vision from the start and throughout the shoot. We gave ourselves space to express the ideas that we both wanted to bring to the project. We were both aligned with the why behind the project and it was just a tremendous project from start to finish.
DDF: How did you become so good at providing the right light for people of color while you shoot?
MC: Perfecting that craft started from who I am, understand my background and culture. As a Black man, I wanted to make sure people of color are captured on film with care. That’s really the root of it. From there it filters into lighting, lens selection, and crafting the scene. Understanding how Black people have been captured on film historically, which hasn’t been great. Over the years I have tested, researched, and studied different techniques to maximize the quality in which our skin is captured. I often think about the actors who are overlooked especially from the city where I am from – Kansas City. With the opportunity for the actors to be on set, they can’t be wondering how they look, they have to just trust your direction. As a director, it’s something I take seriously. I like to make sure I capture actors in an honest way.
DDF: Have you had other filmmakers ask you about lighting while filming actors of color?
MC: I have had other colleagues that have sought out advice on lighting, different fusion techniques, transitions, lenses, etc.
DDF: What director inspires you?
MC: Ernst Dickerson has been one of the biggest inspirations of my career. He’s a former cinematographer who shot films like Do the Right Thing. He’s a brilliant cinematographer who goes into writing and directing. He penned some of my favorite films like Juice. I followed the same trajectory – working as a cinematographer then transitioning into writing and directing. I’m actually getting a chance to speak with him after this interview.
DDF: How does it feel to win Best Short and Best Feature in the Tribeca X?
MC: It feels amazing! I feel very humbled and I am full of gratitude, to be recognized by such a prestigious institution. More than anything, I am so happy for all of my collaborators and I am so thankful to the team for putting together these projects. I can not say enough about the honor.
DDF: What would be your dream project?
MC: I have several dream projects. I can’t really discuss them but I am very excited about the dream projects I will get to bring to life over the next several years. So stay tuned.
DDF: What actor/actress would you like to work with?
MC: I definitely want to work with Mahersla Ali and Janelle Monae. I think they are great actors. When you watch them, you are really transported into the moment they are expressing. I think we would be able to create something special together.
We hope to see more amazing films from the talented filmmaker. Hopefully, one of his dream projects will feature Mahersala Ali and Janelle Monae and will be one that is celebrated as a cult classic. Keep up with Morgan Cooper on Instagram at @cooperfilms.
‘No More Wings does an absolutely wonderful job of taking a scenario that is extremely grounded and using the form to imbue it with an elevated sense of emotion and spirituality.’ – Barry Jenkins (Oscar-winning filmmaker)
Award-winning filmmaker, Abraham Adeyemi, adds another award for his short film “No More Wings.” The South London native won the award for Best Narrative at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. “No More Wings” is a short film about two friends at their favorite chicken restaurant who catch up on old times. The film is an exploration of their friendship, the difference in their life choices, and what the future may hold for each. What the audience discovers by the end of the film is shocking and in some cases relatable. Taji Mag was able to catch up with this promising filmmaker to discuss his prize-winning film.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What inspired you to make this project?
Abraham Adeyemi (AA): I grew up in South London and I was thinking about two of my friends from the area, I just thought to myself what would the experience be like if we met up today? The film was the opportunity to explore a place I call home and to see how people can have the same upbringing but turn out differently.
Abraham Adeyemi was mentored by Oscar-winning Sam Mendes and he shadowed him during the production of 1917.
DDF: The cut scenes to flashbacks were dope, is that meant to be reflective of how most people are when catching up with an old friend?
AA: That was something I had on my mind. Everything in the moment, including their facial expression, explains what the moment means to them. There is definitely history happening within it. I definitely aim to get a sense of reminiscing.
DDF: How does it feel to be the only narrative short from the UK?
AA: I thought that it was crazy! Tribeca was the very first film festival we submitted the film to, we missed the deadline for the Sundance and some other film festivals. Just to know we got in blew me away. One day, I so happen to look through the catalog and thought to myself, “Wait a minute, there are no other Brit films. It’s funny because in advance I had been in contact with the British Film institution, they are responsible for being in contact with creatives going to the film festival. It was from there I discovered, “Oh my God, I am the only one on the list [from the UK]”. It really hit home how big an achievement it was to be at Tribeca.
DDF: I loved how relatable this film is. Many Black people all over the world can relate. What has the response been to the film from people outside of the UK?
AA: Besides Tribeca, not too many people from outside the UK have seen the film. I can only think of two who are Black who have seen the film. My friend and filmmaker Dream Hampton, who attended the Soho House premiere of the film in London in October, and Barry Jenkins, who was on the Soho House Script Judging panel, both at script stage and finished film.
Jury Comments: “It checked every box in terms of authenticity and heart and it was funny!” “It’s such an elegant piece of filmmaking.”
DDF: How did you react to your win for Best Narrative Short”?
AA: I never thought this would happen in my wildest dreams. In fact, I quite deliberately made sure I didn’t think about it. Quite a few of my friends had asked me “What do you get if you win? What happens if you win?” and things like that but I’m quite competitive. So I knew it was for the best too – rather than think about “if” I would win, to focus on just being grateful for the incredible achievement that was simply getting selected for Tribeca. It was, of course, the hope and ambition, I always strive for the top, but I was still very much shocked to have won, especially being my debut. In fact, I still am.
DDF: How did you celebrate your win?
AA: Well, I found out a few days before it went public so I was sworn to secrecy. So on the day, I found out, I actually just celebrated alone in my room. Like, full-on, celebrated. Loud music, popped a bottle of prosecco… And then – just before it got announced to the world – I set up a surprise zoom call with a group of my closest friends with an elusive message “Zoom in an hour. Don’t ask questions. you won’t want to miss this. Bring a drink.” I don’t know who I thought I was… But it worked! It was really important to me that those people didn’t find out through social media. They’ve been massively important in my journey and I wanted to be able to enjoy this moment with them, before the chaos that would ensue once the world knew I had won. It has been non-stop calls, emails, and zoom meetings! I couldn’t be happier.
DDF: Given the film takes place in a restaurant, what are a few food spots a tourist should hit up in London?
AA: I would definitely recommend Morley’s because the chicken is good and it’s where I shot my film. It’s a well-know chicken spot like KFC. I would also recommend the Chicken Shop, the chicken is good but they have the best apple pie. I could go there to grab only an apple pie and go about my day. The last restaurant I’d recommend would be Chuku’s, a Nigerian Tapas Restaurant (the first of its kind in the world!) where the sibling-duo that own it have their own original take on a number of familiar Nigerian dishes. I might be a little biased – because it’s owned by my friends – but I’ve been going since they started out with pop-ups and it’s been amazing to see them finally open their first permanent site earlier this year. Also, objectively, prior to COVID-19 enforcing a temporary close, every single night their reservations were fully booked! So they must be doing something right.”
Amid this COVID pandemic, Abraham Adeyemi is busy working on commissioned tv projects and an upcoming feature film project. Can he reach Barry Jenkins’s status? We’ll just have to keep a lookout for this award-winning creative. Keep up with him on Instagram at @abeislegend.
Disappointing and racist are the two words I’d use to describe the film Coffee and Kareem. Within the first five minutes, I could tell this film was going to be a hot mess. The dialogue was unbelievable, ridiculous, and, at times, unnecessary. The film felt like a horrible attempt to imitate the writing of the film Superbad with the concept of Cop and A Half.
Kareem’s character, played by Terrence Little Gardenhigh, was so offensive and stereotyped that I had to watch the film in three installments. I understand Kareem was an only child raised by a single mother, Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson), and there are some kids who actually misbehave like this, but there are other ways to represent this character without using so much unecessary foul homophobic language! It’s upsetting because I do believe that Terrence can develop into a great actor based on the charisma he presents on-screen, as long as he won’t be in any more projects like this.
When it comes to the action, I felt it was a complete waste and a Tropic Thunder rip off. Just random explosions and ridiculous violence that felt like they were added because there was extra room in the budget – especially during the final act where one of the henchmen just stood over a grenade and watched it explode. I understand the character was meant to seem like a numskull, but really? The Police Academy film series had plenty of whimsical comedy but none as terrible as this film.
Andrew Bachelor starred in this film and he did make me chuckle a few times but I really hope that he gets to work with more talented writers to really showcase his talent. I don’t think he or any of the antagonists were written with any purpose. The main antagonist, Detective Watts played by Betty Gilpin, felt like Crystal Creasey from the film The Hunt – also played by Gilpin.
In the end, Kareem and Coffee is a complete waste of money and time. I didn’t want to write a negative review out of respect for Taraji P. Henson but the film is horrible. Even during this time of social distancing, I would not recommend anyone watch this film. Next time, Netflix, let the Wayans Brothers write it!
Below are a few films I would suggest you watch instead.
I’m Gonna Git You Sucka This Keenan Ivory Wayans pinned 80’s film pays homage to Blaxploitation and still provides laughs that are share-worthy til this day. One of my favorite scenes is the bedroom scene. The joke is timeless and still relateable today! This star-studded film is about a soldier who returns home to find out his brother has died of an “OG” overdose of gold chains. He and his collection of action-ready friends set out to take on Mr. Big for revenge. It sounds ridiculous but it is hilarious.
Cop and A Half Starring Burt Reynolds and Norman D. Golden II, Cop and a Half, is old school but if you want to see a film that involves a white cop and a Black kid without too much racism, it’s definitely a go-to. The film is about a disgruntled veteran cop who takes on an 8-year-old kid to solve a murder.
Cop Out Starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. If you want the slapstick and nonsensical comedy that Coffee and Kareem attempts to have, this is a good film to watch on Netflix. Not the best writing but it’s entertaining enough to sit through for an hour.
Hollywood Shuffle Starring Robert Townsend. It’s not a buddy cop film but it explores how Hollywood stereotypes Black characters and how they are terribly written by white screenwriters. It’s another 80’s film I found to be hilarious and can be compared to some of the projects out today. Although Hollywood has gotten better since then, it still has a long way to go.
“People are not looking for [our] articles, they are looking for me and Damon Young when they read Very Smart Brothas,” explained Panama Jackson, co-founder of Very Smart Brothas, about people who ask to be in the publication in order to gain some notoriety. I have been an avid reader of the blog and The Root column (also partnered with Very Smart Brothas) for a while now. After meeting Jackson at a few events, I knew it was time to feature him in Taji Mag.
The first time I heard about Very Smart Brothas, I was talking to another freelance writer at the 2018 African American Black Film Festival in Miami. She suggested I read their published works and I found myself pre-occupied with doing so on my flight back to DC. The first article I read was Panama’s “So It Turns Out ‘Electric Boogie,’ the Song Your Mama ’nem Electric Slide To, Is About a Vibrator. Life Is Different Now.” It was then I knew I had a couple of writers I could look forward to reading and, hopefully one-day, meeting. My list now included the Very Smart Brothas and Jemele Hill, but that’s a feature for another day. Stay tuned! Wink wink.
Me and You, Your Mama and Panama’s Book Too!
Panama Jackson is known for his hilarious blogs that cover everything from family political debates to film and book reviews. He is also known to post his monthly book list which is typically composed of some of his favorite women writers, including the following:
Zora Neale Hurston. Well-known Black writer and essayest, some of her work has been released posthumously like Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo and Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance.
Nafissa Thompson Spires. Known for her multiple award-winning book, Heads of the Colored People: Stories.
Toni Morrison. Jackson mentions he has a love-hate relationship with her stating “Some of her work is brilliant, her work is not an easy lift, but I am a person that appreciates an easy lift in reading. It’s not that I can’t understand what’s happening but sometimes it’s just difficult to weigh through it.”
Samantha Urby. He stated, “She is a great essayist and I cannot do what she does. I could try, but I just can’t.”
Bassey Ikpi. Jackson stated, “Her newest book I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying: Essays is one of the best books I have read in my life. Off the strength of one album (book), she makes my list!”
Jackson’s colleague, Damon Young, has published a book titled, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker. When asked about his personal book deal, Jackson responded, “I am looking to have my own book out one day, it will be titled Elevators because the book will be about me and you, your mama and your cousin too!” (If you don’t know, the title is a nod to the legendary Hip-Hop group, OutKast, and their early chart topper entitled Elevators). Jackson talked about his ideal book which would include things like parenting, how Hip-Hop is tied to his masculinity, and a few other areas of his life. His goal is to explain how music and entertainment have shaped him as a man and as a human being.
In the Words of Nas, “Keep Integrity at Every Cost.”
Very Smart Brothers Founders Panama Jackson and Damon Young at The Root Gala
Being asked to review films for other popular platforms, Panama speaks on the importance of maintaining integrity when taking on commissioned pieces. One instance he recalls was when a notable publication asked him to write a review of Cardi B’s song Bodak Yellow and the cultural significance of the song. Jackson wrote the piece and turned it in, but the publication did not like his review. They wanted something more “culturally sound.” He recalls, “I had to leave the money on the table, I just thought Bodak Yellow was a great song. Cardi B killed it and that was it. I wasn’t going to force-feed this idea to their white audience that there was cultural significance in the song. It’s just good music and Black people make good stuff.”
He went on to talk about how he felt Black culture gets short-changed in the most popular publications. He used last year’s Jidenna album, 85 to Africa, as an example. “I read a lot of reviews on that album because I loved it so much. I really didn’t see anyone do the album real justice, so I told myself that I had to. Most reviews I saw were 200 words or less. I wrote 1500 words because I felt it needed context and as much effort as possible since I didn’t see it happening anywhere else.”
“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” – Zora Neale Hurston
Panama Jackson: From Black Bloggin to Very Smart Brothers
Panama explained the process it took to get to where he is now as a writer and even talked about his improvement along the way. “If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell myself to be more thoughtful and not be so hell-bent on a hot take. Back ten years ago, if I had an idea, I was willing to defend it to the ends of the earth and that’s not the way to be. This definitely took longer for me to learn than it should have.”
Jackson went on to explain his most significant growth as a writer stating, “I have also become Blacker in my writing. Very rarely you will see me write about white people. I have not done that for years and it’s something you would not notice unless you are actively paying attention. I write about Black people, Black experiences, and that’s it. My writing has become intentionally unapologetically Black.”
Panama Jackson talked about how lucky he and Damon were to make Very Smart Brothas as big as it is now. “It was timing. We started during the Black blogger’s scene and were lucky to build from there. It’s kind of like Jay-Z’s albums presently. If he comes out now, I don’t think he matters. But because he’s been around for so long, when he does put out an album now, people pay attention.” Jackson said he and Damon wrote everyday about their thoughts and opinions. From there they were able to build a fan base.
As we practice social distancing and quarantine ourselves during this Coronavirus pandemic, I recommend you head over to Very Smart Brothas to find some entertaining articles and videos to help pass the time. Jackson has also done a podcast called “What If Tyler Perry Had a Writer’s Room” which can be heard on SoundCloud and Spotify. The first episode features one of his favorite female writers, Bassey Ikpi, as they discuss Perry’s Netflix feature A Fall From Grace. Check it out and don’t forget to stay safe during these rough times.