Tag Archives: Film

11Jun/21

In The Heights Will Make You a Lin Manuel Miranda Fan If You Aren’t Already

In The Heights

No way as a 30-something-year-old man did I think I would be fanboying over a Lin Manuel project but there I was – almost as excited as my niece, Lin Manuel’s #1 fan (in her opinion), to watch his latest film, In the Heights. Not to mention, the film was also helmed by Crazy Rich Asians award-winning director, John M. Chu, and had a cast full of colorful characters. Yes, literally the cast was full of diversity that was organic and not uncomfortable like it is in some other films. Trust me, you will become a fan if you are not already.  

Plots, Subplots, and Sub-subplots

Like the play, the film has multiple subplots that tie together perfectly. Kudos is due to Miranda and screenwriter, Quiara Alegría Hudes, for In the Heights’s last act takes a surprising twist. The way the film opens, the way it is shot, the character introductions, and the plot all had me fooled!

Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina’s (Leslie Grace) relationship was endearing. I enjoyed how Nina focused on her being back home as Benny tries to talk about Nina’s college life. She missed home so much she changed her hair from straight to natural – code-switching on deck! The love Benny has for Nina runs so deep. You can tell he wants to spend all of his time with her and support her future goals. Nina’s subplot definitely pays off as the film progresses and, to me, was one of the most important since her character’s choices could affect the most lives. 

Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa’s (Melissa Barrera) relationship was also interesting. Both were charismatic, admired each other, and desired a different life that would lead their lives in opposite directions. Their chemistry was strong though and their moments at the club were hilarious.

One of the stand out scenes was when the power outage occurred while the main cast was in the club. When “Powerless” was performed and transitioned to “Look at the Lights”, I really felt the emotion. This community feels powerless in their situations, mostly controlled by the government, but they all look toward a bright hope for the future. Poverty, social economics, cultural identity, and immigration were all heavily explored but not force-fed. 

In The Heights

I loved pretty much all the performances in the film but my top three were the flash mob-style “96,000”, “No Me Diga” and “Paciencia y Fe” by Olga Merediz as “Abuela” Claudia. Olga gave one of the best performances as her character chronicles her life as a New York immigrant through song. Applause to the creative minds of Chu and Miranda for making Merediz’s solo so visually stunning. The transition of time on the subway was memorable and kind of made me feel like I was watching the play. Also, I’m proud to see Corey Hawkins perform his dance scenes well because I’ve only seen him fight zombies (Walking Dead) and shoot bad guys. 

FYI: Lin-Manuel Miranda completed his first draft of the stage musical “In The Heights” during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University, where it was performed as part of the school’s Second Stage. There, the 80-minute one-act played for a mere three days, but the potential for a grander production was evident from the start. Even now, after a wildly successful Broadway run and film adaptation, Miranda is amazed that it all started when he was still that young. Having recently seen a stage production of the work, he muses, “I went to see something a child wrote—a child version of me.”

Miranda’s Music for In The Heights

If you are familiar with Miranda’s work you know his soundtrack is always on point and will most likely keep you singing in the shower for weeks. Seriously, songs like “In the Heights”, “We Gotta Go” and “Piragua” performed by Miranda himself, stayed in my head for a while… partly due to my niece singing the songs for hours. Since the movie soundtrack was not out when I screened the film I had to utilize good ole YouTube. 

I’m still amazed how one man can develop an awesome combination of storytelling and music composition. Plus, his adaptability is impeccable because to go develop powerhouse soundtracks from “In the Heights” to “ Hamilton” is just uncanny. I have to be honest, the music in this film made me want to take up salsa again. 

I think Lin Manuel Miranda fans will enjoy it and people new to Manuel’s work will become fans like I am. In the Heights is a movie many of you will eventually end up watching multiple times. The product of good acting, catchy songs, music that will make you dance, diversity, and cool cinematography, In the Heights, gets two thumbs up and a “ You better not watch it on bootleg!” Watch In the Heights opening June 10th in theaters and HBO Max.

“In the Heights” stars Anthony Ramos (“A Star is Born,” Broadway’s “Hamilton”), Corey
Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Kong: Skull Island”), singer/songwriter Leslie Grace, Melissa
Barrera (TV’s “Vida”), Olga Merediz (Broadway’s “In the Heights”), Daphne Rubin-Vega
(Broadway’s “Rent”), Gregory Diaz IV (Broadway’s “Matilda the Musical”), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Dascha Polanco (TV’s “Orange Is the New Black”) and Jimmy Smits (the
“Star Wars” films).

21Dec/20

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a Gift To Chadwick Boseman Fans Everywhere

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020) Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Cr. David Lee/NETFLIX

Synopsis: Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Academy Award® winner Viola Davis). Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music. As the band waits in the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious cornet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) — who has an eye for Ma’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry — spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories revealing truths that will forever change the course of their lives.

Chadwick’s on-screen performance was captivating and his charm was irresistible. His years of theater experience are on full display in this film. I felt as if his performance was a gift to his fans and anyone who loves good acting. There are many plays that are turned into films but not all plays are translated well. *Cough Cats! *Cough* American Son. Yeah, you know those were bad. Queue the Kerry Washington memes! 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, Director George C. Wolfe, and Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

I shouldn’t expect anything less than great work, since the film was based on the play by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson. The same energy and passion audiences received from his plays, like “Fences” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” is the same energy in the film. I can say August’s works are written so well they can be translated in any form with the right cast and so far he’s had nothing but some of the best involved in his work or anything based on his plays. James Earl Jones has won a Tony for Fences, Denzel and Viola Davis won a Tony, Golden Globe plus Oscar nominations. Now Viola Davis is back with another award-winning performance and Chadwick Boseman was one of the greatest actors of our time. With COVID stalling plans of the theater performances, the film is a satifsfying substitute. 

Chadwick’s character, Levee, personified what it meant to be a Black man at that time. His own band, nice clothes, a good woman, and a dream of ownership are in his sight during a time where racism and deceit are major spoils to his plans. Yet, Levee is optimistic about his talent and charm and believes an open promise will bring him closer to his dreams. Chadwick does an extremely beautiful job and shows range with the character in acts one and three. In the first act, he talks about how his mother was raped by a group of white men and how one of the men slashed him across his chest. He spoke with so much conviction that I could feel the pain Levee was carrying, noting that behind his winning smile was so much hostility. This scene pays off even more later in act three when he and Cutler (played by Coleman Domingo) talk about God. It is at this point Chadwick challenges Slo Drag about God and mocks him by threatening to harm Slo Drag with a knife. 

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM(2020) Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Colman Domingo as Cutler, Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, Michael Potts as Slow Drag and Glynn Turman as Toledo. Cr. David Lee/NETFLIX

Viola Davis’s performance… Oscar-worthy is how I describe Davis’s performance as Ma Rainey. I could barely tell it was Viola underneath the make-up. Davis captured the essence of Ma Rainey from the way she walked to the way she talked. Ma Rainey knows her worth and lets everyone know. Black, white, male or female, Ma Rainey imposes her divaesque persona on anyone she encounters. Ma Rainey is also the only LGBTQ character in her songs and relationship with Dussie Mae (played by Taylour Paige). I was laughing whenever her white manager would beg her to record or for her signature for contracts, she would get what she wanted every time. An interesting aspect of the film was powerful and in control, the artist was inside the recording studio, but on the outside of the studio, their white counterparts were perceived themselves to be superior.

It was good to see Glynn Thurman in the film as the wise Toledo – although he will always be Colonel Bradford Taylor from “It’s a Different World” and Preach from “Cooley High.” He and all the cast did a great job bringing Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to the screen. The film is definitely a must-watch and should be continued to be praised for storytelling. It made me appreciate the time Chadwick was on this earthly plane. 

August Wilson’s play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom celebrates the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society’s prejudices dictate their worth. Directed by George C. Wolfe and adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the film is produced by Fences Oscar® nominees Denzel Washington and Todd Black. Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Taylour Paige, Dusan Brown, Jeremy Shamos, and Jonny Coyne co-star alongside Grammy® winner Branford Marsalis’ score.

19Jun/20

Alexis Chikaeze Chats About Her Character in Miss Juneteenth

Synopsis: Built like a bird, Turquoise Jones is a single mom who holds down a household, a rebellious teenager, and pretty much everything that goes down at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge. Turquoise is also a bona fide beauty queen—she was once crowned Miss Juneteenth, a title commemorating the day slavery was abolished in Texas. Life didn’t turn out as beautifully as the title promised, but Turquoise, determined to right her wrongs, is cultivating her daughter, Kai, to become Miss Juneteenth, even if Kai wants something else.

Miss Juneteenth is a compelling film that debuts on VOD just in time for Juneteenth, the most celebrated commemoration marking the end of slavery. The film stars Nicole Beharie (42, Sleepy Hollow), Kendrick Sampson (Insecure), and newcomer Alexis Chikaeze. Alexis is not only an up-and-coming actress, she is also an activist against racial injustice. The soon to be HBCU student took time from her busy schedule to talk to Taji Mag about her new film Miss Juneteenth. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What does Juneteenth mean to you and why is it important? 

Alexis Chikaeze (AC): It is about the end of slavery, it’s about our freedom to speak about what is right. Back in the day, we weren’t able to, but now we can speak up for change. 

FYI: Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Also known as Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was dated January 1, 1863, however, many slave owners continued to hold their slaves captive after the announcement. In turn, Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom.

Alexis Chikaeze

DDF: Was this your first film?

AC: This is my first big role ever and my first audition ever. It’s surreal, a week after I signed with my agent, I got the audition. 

DDF: How much of the Kai character was relatable to you? 

AC: Honestly, we are just about the same. It made embodying the character a little easier. Kai is outgoing, she’s headstrong, she is willing to do just about anything to make sure that she can do what she loves. Kai loves her mother and I feel she was set on showing her mother that dancing was her passion. She is really trying to convince her mother just as I had to convince my parents that I wanted to pursue acting. My parents are Nigerian immigrants and the preference that was given career-wise was Doctor or Engineer. Venturing out into other professions is not really something to consider. When I first started, they were skeptical. They were questioning if acting would secure my future. It’s similar to how Kai’s mother wants the best for her. 

“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important. It says: ‘I was here. I may be sold tomorrow. But you know I was here.” – Maya Angelou

DDF: What was it like working with Nicole Beharie and Channing Godfrey Peoples?

AC: Both of them are very humble individuals. It was a wonderful experience working with Nicole, she’s kind-hearted and high spirited. She was so happy to help me and, even before shooting, we would do some exercises to make sure we were both ready mentally and physically. Anytime I felt like I needed help or had to ask Nicole a question, she was more than happy to assist me in any way she could. As for Channing, she allowed me to put into the character what I thought would fit the character and use my own perspective. During the times I was frustrated and hard on myself she reassured me and gave me words of encouragement. 

Nicole Beharie

DDF: What do you think people will take away from the film?

AC: I really hope that people take the time to learn about Black History, the Black community, who we are as Black people, and how rich our culture is. I think more people, myself included, are taking time to learn more about Black history because we don’t learn enough in this educational system.

Miss Juneteenth is a must-watch that I found to be similar to Mommy Dearest but better and more relatable. So much so, that after the film I had to call my mother to tell her “I love you and thank you for your sacrifices.” With Nicole Beharie’s ability to pull the audience in through her character’s obstacles and Alexis’ charm, this is a film many should enjoy on Juneteenth. 

Directed and written by  Channing Godfrey Peoples 

Starring Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, and Alexis Chikaeze

09Jun/20

Tribeca Selection “Tangled Roots” Documents Attica Scott’s Fight Against Hair Discrimination

Kentucky House of Representative for the 41st district

Tangled Roots follows Attica Scott, the only black woman in the Kentucky state legislature, as she fights to dismantle a system of discrimination against black people penalized for something seemingly innocuous – their hair.

The lost lives of those like Breonna Taylor due to police brutality have been more than enough to encourage protests around the world. There have been many activists, such as Kentucky State Representative Attica Scott, who have been fighting on the frontlines against discrimination and injustice long before most recent events. 

Tribeca Film Festival selection and Queen Latifah produced documentary, Tangled Roots, follows Representative Scott in her fight for House Bill 33. House Bill 33 would ban the discrimination of hairstyles associated with African Americans and Kentucky is one of the last states to pass and not have an active bill against hair discrimination. Support from many around the world, activists, and filmmakers like Matthew Cherry (director of the Oscar-winning short film, Hair Love), have influenced states across the country to pass bills that ban hair discrimination. Tangled Roots shows the importance of this bill and the future of minority representation in legislation. Representative Scott was able to take time from her activism and participation for protesting in memory of Breonna Taylor for an interview with Taji Mag. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How did you become involved in the film? 

Attica Scott (AS): I was contacted by the documentarian because she has seen my daughter’s issue of hair discrimination at her school and was interested in the bill I had filed against hair discrimination. 

DDF: What are the latest House Bill 33 updates, I can only imagine COVID-19 having some impact on things? 

AS: It’s interesting we find ourselves with COVID-19, the protesting, and uprising against discrimination. It’s a reminder for me how important it is that I work on legislation that is about us being able to show up as our whole selves and not have to fear discrimination.

DDF: What do you think it is going to take for people to realize this needs to be enforced? 

AS: We need to have people share their stories more. While Sam Knowles (director of Tangled Roots) was here during the shoot, I was able to get some people to share their stories with her. We’ve got to have more of that because it is part of how we make it real for people. It’s sad to say but we still, as Black people with our natural hair, are almost always justifying our existence and our humanity. We also need more people to understand that injustice is injustice, we have to have people that want a different world. 

As a legislator, I am going to support a bill I think has nothing to do with me because it affects the people that I serve and represent. I need more of my white colleagues to do that. I want them to know legislation shouldn’t be about you, it’s about making things better for the people of the Commonwealth. 

DDF: What reaction do you expect people to have once people see the film? 

AS: I am hopeful that people around the world will see how important it is to tell the story of advocacy for colored policy in southern states. I don’t imagine people around the country not seeing Kentucky as a place for human rights and social activism. I am glad to lift up that story for people right here in the Commonwealth. I am hopeful people get inspired and energized to help the passage of this bill during the next legislation. I am also hopeful our governor will see how important this is and make it a priority to support bills like this.

We’ve been talking about the impact of COVID-19 on Black people around country and support for Breonna Taylor and her family, it shows that white people and white people in power can no longer ignore us and think it is ok.

DDF: How have you been active during the protesting and police brutality cases? 

AS: Three years ago, my second year as representative. I had actually sponsored a bill related to independent investigations of police shootings and I will continue to file the bill. I will continue to be a champion of police accountability. One of the attorney’s who has been working on Breonna Taylor’s case and Kenneth Walker’s (Breonna’s boyfriend) case, is the same person that brought the bill to my attention because he was working on a case involving a young man named Darnel Wicker who was shot and killed by police. 

I have been currently sharing information about the Breonna Taylor case via social media because I have people who go to my page for information that they may not get otherwise. I’ve also been working with our legislation research commission on a suite of bills to address things like “No Knock” warrants across the Commonwealth and repealing Stand your ground laws. 

I also think it’s important to show up, to have my body in places where it’s needed, and be in the community where my people are in pain.  

DDF:  What is your advice to Black people during these times of the protest?

AS: I want Black people to know that you are beautiful, your skin is beautiful. What we are seeing right now comes from a deep place of love. People are in pain, people are hurting because they love. Keep leading with that love, keep showing up, keep resisting, and keep making white people uncomfortable because it is only in those places of discomfort that white people move. They do what they are supposed to do when they are in elected positions to make a difference in our lives so we don’t have to keep doing stuff like this time after time. 

Tangled Roots is a well organized short film that shows the struggle of minority support from the Kentucky government. With the increased support of Black Lives Matter, Attica Scott will hopefully have the support she needs to pass House Bill 33 and other bills to help improve the lives of many Black people. 

Tangled Roots

Directed by Samantha Knowles

Starring Attica Scott and Ashanti Scott

Tangled Roots is a QUEEN COLLECTIVE Film

The Queen Collective – a program developed in partnership with Queen Latifah, Procter & Gamble, and Tribeca Studios – aims to accelerate gender and racial equality behind the camera by opening doors through mentoring, production support, and creating distribution opportunities for content by the next generation of multicultural women directors.

20May/20

I Thought The Lovebirds would be Issa Rae’s Fall Off, I Was Wrong

The Lovebirds
Issa Rae as Leilani and Kumail Nanjiana as Jibran of The Lovebirds on NETFLIX.

I have to be honest, when I first saw the trailer for The Lovebirds I thought, “Oh no, will this be Issa Rae’s fall-off movie, her ‘Will Smith Bomb’ she mentioned in her 2018 GQ article?” That negativity was dissolved by a friend pointing out the hilarious bacon grease scene that did make me chuckle. After watching the film, I found out he was right – the combination gave me a night of favorite scenes and a few scenes that will be re-created on Tik-Tok. I recommend people watch this film and here are the reasons why. 

In order to eventually succeed, you have to bomb. That’s what every comedian says—that’s when the fear goes away. And I feel like I’m still fearful because I haven’t publicly bombed yet, in terms of my career. Yeah, Insecure is successful now, but where’s my bomb coming? Where are my Will Smith bombs coming? Where, where is that happening?”
Issa Rae (GQ  May, 22nd 2018)

Guilt Free Entertainment 

At no time did I feel uncomfortable while watching his film. (You know that feeling where you hear or see  racist jokes/stereotypes in a film so offensive you can’t ignore it?) The scenes in the film were so well written and performed I was able to enjoy myself and laugh freely. It was a good feeling and that’s the way it should be. A great example of this was a scene where Issa Rae’s character, Leilani, was explaining to Kumail Nanjiani’s character, Jibran, as they were looking at some f*ck boys (frat boys whom they were sneaking up on), and Kumail’s character had no clue what that was and was very curious to know. He wasn’t making fun of the word, he was making fun of how oblivious a person can be to terminology.

More Than Trailer Clips

Plenty comedies present hilarious trailers before the films are released just for the audience to discover that those were the only funny parts of the film. Then you think to yourself, they wasted all this money on a mess of a movie and wasted your time. Love Birds was hilarious! I found myself Steve Urkel snorting a few times, the level of funny was totally unexpected. 

I felt like Issa and Kumail fed off of each other’s performances like the Splash Brothers, Clay Thompson, and Steph Curry when they both get hot in a game. 

The Lovebirds
Issa Rae as Leilani and Kumail Nanjiana as Jibran of The Lovebirds on NETFLIX.

The Lovebirds Chemistry 

Yeah, I didn’t know if the chemistry between Issa and Kumail would be good in The Lovebirds. Don’t ask me why, I just didn’t. They were able to play off of each other very well during both the serious scenes and the funny scenes. They definitely showed that they both have range and adaptability. 

One of the funniest scenes is the interrogation. They interrogate one of the frat boys and it kind of reminds me of a buddy cop interrogation scene akin to Bad Boys (Martin Lawrence and Will Smith). When I tell you Kumail ain’t got no sense, y’all I mean it! 

The Lovebirds
Issa Rae as Leilani and Kumail Nanjiana as Jibran of The Lovebirds on NETFLIX.

Imitating life (Spoiler Alert)

From the beginning of the film, where the couple transitions from the honeymoon stage to the ‘here’s your part of the deposit ‘cause we not going to make it’ stage, I really felt. Unfortunately, my ex and I didn’t make it after being almost killed by a crooked cop, but those moments did spark some memories.

There was also a moment when Leilani was fooled by the happy couple photos another character posted on social media, making her evaluate her own struggling relationship. This is understandable because some of us have been through social media jealously, hell, some are going through it right now. 

The film releases this Friday, May 22nd, on Netflix. Make sure to add The Lovebirds to your list of films to stream. I commend Issa Rae for being on this project and making a quality rom-com about an interracial couple. I really hope that The Lovebirds has created an example (not a formula to be consistently repeated) of how diversity in film should look. 

A couple (Issa Rae & Kumail Nanjiani) experiences a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery. As their journey to clear their names takes them from one extreme – and hilarious – circumstance to the next, they must figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.

10May/20
Abraham Adeyemi

South London Native, Abraham Adeyemi, Wins Best Narrative Short at Tribeca 2020

‘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.

25Aug/19
DC Black Film Festival

The DC Black Film Festival Rocked its Third Year

If you didn’t attend the DC Black Film Festival this past weekend then you missed out on some really great films from some talented creatives. Hollywood still struggles to represent diversity in the industry but, with events like the DC Black Film Festival,  people can enjoy quality films about people of color and not the rhetoric that Hollywood loves to repeat. 

There were over 50 films shown that had me laughing, crying (I call it eye sweat, lol), and, most of all, sympathizing with some of the characters on screen that look that like me.

“People of color have a constant frustration of not being represented, or being misrepresented, and these images go around the world.” – Spike Lee 

Below are some films that I loved.  

We Want to Make It A film that explores the journey of young musicians (Jourdan, 14yrs old, and Tarron) as they strive to make their way from performing on the DC metro to stardom. It’s a very well done piece that shines light on Black youth doing something positive with their talents instead of becoming a statistic out on the streets. 

The DC Black Film FestivalMe Time A hilarious short, done by Iyabo Boyd, that had me laughing the whole time. This film goes into the thoughts of a young Black woman (portrayed by Adnike Thomas) who just wants to find her own peace of mind while reaching her happy place and maybe an orgasm along the way. This film has a Nutty Professor feel as the very talented actress takes on all the various roles in the film. I went from chuckling in my seat to choking on my water with laughter. 

Slave Cry A film, by Jai Johnson, speaks volumes on the issue of token characters that Black people are offered in hollywood. With films like Black Panther having much success and displaying diversity in the Black community, hollywood still has a long way to go. Slave Cry was a well written film that made me feel so bad for the lead character, played by Courtney Jamison, as she learns that no matter the level of talent, the entertainment business still needs to work on diversifying characters in their projects. Thank God we have a well selected Ariel for the Little Mermaid and thank God Jai Jackson made this film artist can relate to. 

Roasted A hilarious short film that has a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off feel which follows a coffee shop employee who talks about his work day dealing with customers, making coffee, putting up with his boss, working solo and enjoying time listening to music while writing. His expression and body language change from animated to annoyance as he switches his focus from the audience to the characters in the film. 

The DC Black Film FestivalEmmett One of the standout features about a boy genius  (Miles Brown from Grown-ish) that deals with social issues, being a championed student of color, and adapting to change and maturity. This great film was both relatable and touching as it took me back to my days in my youth and adapting to life as an over achiever in academics. This film sets the tone as it really touches on some of the issues we’ve all dealt with. 

LiME A story of a young man’s hardwork and success of achieving his goals threatened by bullies who attack him based on his lifestyle. Truly a touching story of how cruel people can be and how beautiful the human spirit can manifest surrounded by the right crowd. Creator/director, Donta Story, put together a great short. 

East of the River East of the River, by Hannah Peterson, is a compelling story of how a young girl, her highschool mate, and former schoolmate now sex worker connect through exploring the streets of DC. I think this film had great chemistry amongst the actors. Their relationship was very ambivalent, because it felt a little romantic. Nonetheless, the young DC natives did an amazing job!  

The DC Black Film FestivalUna Great Movie Explores the world of a Black female screenwriter and her hopes of getting her film picked up. The film also follows the lead character in her film as the two worlds reflect the difficulties of having creative and unconventional Black love stories, as the character portrayed in the screenwriter’s film looks to rekindle an old love that is of Mexican descent. The creator and director, Jennifer Sharp, explained the difficulty in getting new and fresh content 

The Call Angel Weaver’s work is a film that captures the moment when a girl receives the phone call from her brother locked up in the prison system. The film showcased the unsettling experience of receiving the call, with a hilarious beginning that shows that the call can come at any moment.  

Corey Creator/director/actor, Steven St. Pierre, put together a touching film about a Black man that has a difficult relationship with his wife, who has a drug addiction, and is raising his daughter while shielding her from the ugly truth about her mom. By the end of the film, the audience discovers why Corey works hard to keep his emotions together and his daughter safe emotionally. 

The Right Swipe A show about two female friends that start a business helping men find matches on a dating app by curating their profiles. Although I have had little experience on dating apps, I found the pilot interesting and humorous. When I asked co-creator and Maryland native, Kyra Jones, about the show, she explained, Through our research, we found that Black women and Asian men are less likely to get different matches. Even the cast is diverse, we wanted to make sure that we brought Black love to the forefront of the show. The show discusses how complex and how difficult it is to find romantic partners.” Watch the pilot here!

Together This film was one of the moving films of the festival. The story of Black love between an older married couple as they hold true to their vows through sickness and health. The film left me and those in attendance in tears as we saw the astonishing acting of EFE (2019 DC Black Films Best Actress) and her co-star show love at its best. There is talks of this being developed into a full feature film and I can’t wait to see it. 

Having the Peele Appeal Night at the table and Dog Person are films from the film festival that had a Jordan Peele feel to them. It’s no surprise that the creatives of the films are inspired by Jordan Peele. 

Night at the table A horror film that had definitely gave me a chill, from start to finish, as the film introduces a normal Black family that is more than just that. The director was inspired by the film Hereditary and even coached the lead actress to channel the mother of the film Hereditary. The multi-talented creative describes her films as being consequential pain in two words. 

Dog Person If you loved watching the film Us by Peele or Tusk then you have to see this short film by Justin Fairweather. It’s a little disturbing in some parts but entertaining nonetheless. With a good performance by Jordanna Hernandez, Dog Person left me wanting to see what more films from Fairweather and hopefully a feature that have audiences everywhere entertained. 

Who is Kevin Sampson?

Kevin Sampson is the BrainChild behind the DC Black Film Festival. He said it all started when Think Like a Man 2 came out and he was a little upset while he watched it because it was less about Black love and more of the Kevin Hart show. He explained that “We (Black people) only get a few movies per year and this is how we wasted it and maybe sometimes we need that.” 

He then wrote an open letter to creatives everywhere explaining that black creatives have to do better. Many people including some hollywood actors commented on it. This inspired him to start a kickstarter for a documentary about Black Hollywood. The Kickstarter wasn’t successful but that led Kevin to create the DC Black Film festival. A place where Black people can showcase their talent and love for Black people. 

Fast Facts About Kevin Sampson:
  • Graduated from American University Film school with a MFA in Film & Electronic Media 
  • Created Picture Lock, an entertainment website, radio show/podcast, and hour long film review TV show.
  • Director of the Rosebud Film Festival since 2013. 
  • Created Picture Lock PR to represent independent films. 

The DC Black Film Festival was an amazing event and a success in it’s third year. It is important that we have events like these to not only show people of color on screen or Black culture but the diversity within the Black community. I think the DC Black Film festival will continue to grow to inspire young creatives and encourage people to watch quality films.

Winners From the Festival:

DC Best Film “ We Want to Make It”

Best Student Film “Masks” 

Best Web Series “The History of White People in America”

 Best Short Film “East of the River” 

 Best Experimental Film “Here”

 Best Documentary Feature “Owned: The Tale of Two Americas”  

 Best Narrative Feature “Una a Great Movie” 

 Best Director Mahaliy Ahayla O

 Best Actress Efe

 Best Actor  Roderick Bradford Jr. 

 

16Jul/19
Gbenga Akinnagbe

Gbenga Akinnagbe Discusses DC Noir, Theater, Activism | Exclusive

Gbenga Akinnagbe, DC NoirAs I interviewed Gbenga Akinnagbe on the red carpet at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Luce, I began to think of how his career and activist work reminded me of Harry Belafonte – without the singing voice of course. They were both born in the United States and have parents native to outside of the United States. Harry Belafonte’s parents were Jamaican and Gbenga Akinnagbe’s parents were Ghanaian. Besides both being talented actors in both TV and theater, they both have served as advocates for not only the rights of African Americans but for others who have had their rights constantly threatened. 

To catch his attention I inquired about his article published in the New York Times, My Left Foot: The High Costs of Fallen Arches. “Well, I was getting my feet cut up and I was thinking that this was an interesting journey,” Gbenga said about his informative article for the Washington Post. “I wanted to write something for The Times and they were open to it so far as I wrote about the whole journey of a double calcaneal osteotomy, which is the process where they cut your heels and move them over. The whole surgery was wild!” he added.  

When I asked him about the importance of diversity in the entertainment industry he caught me off guard by saying “I’m not for it all, I think there are too many Black people and shit!” After gathering myself and wiping off the ‘you for real?’ look off my face he chuckled and responded with “I think it’s great and I think it’s necessary to what people have been calling for a long time in the industry. I think the industry is beginning to finally crack open and embrace diversity. It’s not a new day yet but it’s the beginning of a new day.”

Gbenga Akinnagbe’s Debut 

Gbenga Akinnagbe, DC NoirThe DC native had his directorial debut in George Pelecanos’ DC Noir; a series of four short films that come from stories written by Pelecanos centered around the Washington, D.C. area in Noir fashion. Gbenga explained that the noir style was explored a little in the Wire but, with this project, it fully unboxes the genre. The series also featured creatives and actors from the Washington, D.C area. 

The stories are all emotional, poetic, dark, realistic, and definitely magnify the social issues that saturate the media. More notably, they focus on the relationships between civilians and police. There is an interesting perspective of police in the episode directed by Gbenga where you have a hard working a detective with integrity and an officer the polar opposite with intentions that are self-driven. 

Gbenga Akinnagbe described DC Noir as such: “With the noir genre, you can tell a lot of different stories, especially darker stories that usually involve things that I am very interested in highlighting. So being able to use this genre to highlight social injustice in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area is important to me. We are all from the area.”

DC NoirIn the short, “String Music,” directed by Gbenga Akinnagbe, star rapper, Wale, cousin of Gbenga, put on a good and convincing performance. Wale definitely added flair to the role. Gbenga went on to mention, “I did cast Wale as my antagonist in the film, I got to cast the actors for my piece and I was lucky to be able to get him in my film with his busy schedule and all. I gave him as much acting tips as I could, as an actor, as his director. He has a natural talent, he is a creative as you can tell from his music and it translates on screen.”

Other episodes of series DC Noir have been directed by Stephen Kinigopoulos, George Pelecanos and Nicholas Pelecanos. All of the films were written very well and well directed with very compelling subject matters.

Easy Like Sunday Morning 

During an early Sunday morning phone interview with Gbenga Akinnagbe, I realized that although he had similarities with Belafonte, he is carving his own place in entertainment and activism using his platform. An inspiration to people of all ages, especially the young Black men in the DMV, Gbenga is making waves from TEDtalks to protests outside of his creative career. The young Nigerian boy from Silver Spring, MD has grown to be a gifted artist and humanitarian who isn’t afraid to put energy into the things and people he loves.

His passion for politics came at a young age. “I’ve always been  interested in government systems that people live in and how some of social groups operate in the system as well. Maybe it’s the Nigerian in me that loves to talk about international themes and politics. I didn’t know what that was when I was younger, I just knew I had an interest in it.” 

To Kill A MockingbirdThis is the reason he enjoys taking on projects like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a stage play written by Aaron Sorkin based of the book of the same name in which Gbenga plays Tom Robinson and co-stars with Jeff Daniels who plays Atticus Finch. 

Gbenga’s inspiration for his role on Broadway comes from his own life. “I think my whole existence as a Black man in the United States is what I brought to portray the character in To Kill a Mockingbird. We also had good writing to be our guide from both the playwright and the book. My experience influenced how I saw Tom’s life, how people interacted with him, it was a relevant piece when it was written and a relevant piece now.” Gbenga explained. 

“When I accepted the part, it was exhilarating. I was prepared for the long hours, the conversations dissecting race and class, and what the role would demand of me. I loved the work. I still do. What I did not anticipate was how deeply it would affect me — how wearing it would be to play a part that makes me the daily object of racist invective and racial violence for a majority-white audience.”Gbenga Akinnagbe from the Washington Post article Every night, racists kill me. Then I leave the theater for a world of danger.

Gbenga explained that he often thought about the lives of people like Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Saundra Bland, that were victims that were unjustly killed. He mentioned that he has known Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother) for years now and it was a tragedy when Trayvon was taken. “Once you meet them (parents/family of the unjustly killed men and women) and you see their work, their work is more personal. I can’t see how people can play this role and not think of the Black and brown people that have lost their life that way.” Gbenga said. 

We also talked about his clothing line, Liberated People, which is dedicated to making political statements and support through fashion. Some of the proceeds go to selected foundations. He explained “I have been a part of protest around the world and in the streets with people from different backgrounds and languages, but everyone was out there for the same thing, which was human and democratic rights. We felt that we were in this struggle alone in our own subgroups and relating to others going through the same struggle. After seeing this I wanted to make something that highlights the struggle, the liberation is something that we have in common and if we recognize the struggle for liberation as sisters and brothers in different locations around the world, we can unify as a stronger impact.”

The Future

I asked Gbenga what were other writing projects he had in mind and he said “I am working on something right now, some books and scripts. I enjoy writing a great deal and I want to continue to develop as a writer.” 

Thus far as I have been fortunate to work with George Pelecanos, David Simon and Ed Burns in my early 20’s. Reading their scripts from The Wire, and the Duece and just having them around as mentors has been super helpful. I also enjoy books from Don Ridley, Stephen King, and just recently I have been reading Ta-Nahsi Coates. I don’t read as much as I used to.

Gbenga at the Luce premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo by William Baldon.)

Gbenga has a promising future ahead of him in both the political and entertainment worlds, but has no interest in running for politics because he never has been attracted to it due to its practice in this country.  He further explained that “The money game is really not for the people but of the people. I don’t want to contribute to that. I’m already taking part in activities that help make changes for the better.”

Gbenga Akinnagbe will continue his put out quality projects and actively fight the good fight. Here’s to hoping he will be valued as much as impactful Black creatives like Nina Simone, Dick Gregory, and yes, Harry Belafonte. 

31May/19

Another Dream, a Tribeca VR Immersive, tells a Story that Needs to be Heard and Felt

Another Dream

Tamara Shogaolu and Dapper Dr. Feel aka Felipe Patterson. (Photo by William Baldon)

Love is hard to find in this world, so image finding a bond with someone so deeply that you can’t stand being away from them. Now imagine having to hide that relationship, restricted from fully exploring it in fear that you will be disowned, harmed physically, or killed. So you escape with your partner, leaving behind family friends and a life within a community, to have emotional and relationship freedom. That is the case for the two women in the virtual reality (VR) immersive, Another Dream, by Tamara Shogaolu.

Another Dream started out as a collection of interviews that were collected by Tamara and journalist Nada ElKouny over two years in Egypt. They interviewed many women, ethnic minorities, and people of the LGBTQ community about their experiences.

These stories needed to be heard because their relationships, in the eyes of some people in Egypt, are seen as immoral; having the livelihood and lives of people in the LGBTQ community threaten due to aggressive homophobia.

“After the Revolution, people became very open and started to reimagine what Egypt could be. What stood out to me about the experience was a lot of the queer voices and stories had optimism that things were going to change,” Tamara Shogaolu explained about her interviews.

Another Dream has more themes of discrimination within the project than that of the LGBTQ. When it came to explaining this Tamara stated, “For me, it’s not only about the LGBTQ community in Egypt, it’s also about when the characters come to Europe they face racism. You leave one form of discrimination to another form of discrimination. I think that is a global issue of how we create our own empathy and compassion so that we can all be better humans.” She then added, “With this project, the intersectionality of their identity goes that they are LGBTQ but they are also people of color, and even within the LGBTQ they face discrimination.”

Another DreamTamara mentions that the word refugee is misinterpreted, elaborating, “The word refugee has been highly politicized. If you really think about it, it’s someone that is forced from their home and I think people forget that. It means we don’t want you here and there are people that have whole lives, like the characters in our story. One is an engineer and the other is a medical professional. They have to leave that and start from scratch. They are doing well, back in school re-studying the occupation that they were doing, in another language, while only being there for two years. That’s amazing.”

FYI: There are some cases where authorities in Egypt have stepped in opposition to the LGBTQ community. In this case, eight men were jailed after their gay wedding video went viral showing two men kissing.

The Another Dream VR Experience

Another Dream

Dapper Dr. Feel experiencing the VR immersive Another Dream (Photo by: William Baldon)

Another Dream is a virtual reality immersive that pulls you into a world where two lesbian lovers have their relationship and love tested through many challenges. Two lovers are first introduced to you with their dog while sitting on a couch. As their story begins, the environment changes to match the narration of the two. The colors and visuals evoked emotions that allowed us to sympathize more with the couple telling the story.

The experience is very interactive, having intermissions where I had to use a laser pointer (almost a like a lightsaber from Star Wars, so I was geeked!) to trace positive Arabic words. Upon completion, I moved on to the next part of the story.

Another DreamThe most beautiful scene was that of the city; it’s a mix of colorful hues and sounds of the environment that are highlighted by the dark of night. I found myself floating as if I were on a magic carpet ride from Aladdin when exploring the area. It’s definitely amazing work by the VR and sound team.

During the journey, I got to a part of the story where the two lovers escape to Europe overnight because their love for each other is not accepted and one of them was set to wed in an arranged marriage. At this point, I felt the cold and dark of night, the fear of being captured by those in search of the two or just any random stranger that could harm the women on their search for refuge.

When the characters arrive in Europe, you feel the eyes of judgment and unfamiliarity of them being women of color as characters shop at the local grocery.

Eventually, they become comfortable in the fact that the only thing that matters is their love for one another. By the end of the experience, I felt happy for the two coming to the revelation that they were safe and although they are starting their lives together, they can do it happily together.

FYI: Another Dream is part of an animated transmedia series, Queer in a Time of Forced Migration. The first part of the series began with the first short Half A Life.

Who is Tamara Shogaolu?

Another Dream

Tamara Shogaolu and Dapper Dr. Feel aka Felipe Patterson. (Photo by William Baldon)

Tamara Shogaolu is a talented director/creator/artist from a multifaceted cultural background. While studying economics at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA, she was convinced by a professor to study film after creatively using it in her economics research projects.

From there she earned her MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and her previous work, Half-Life, is a short film that has garnered many awards. Not only has her work has been featured all over the world in galleries and festivals, but she also is the creative director for Ado Ato Pictures.

Seeing Through It All

I didn’t know what to expect when I first put on the VR gear but I am glad I went to the experience with an open mind and with no expectation. This experience is a learning tool that may help others understand that love shouldn’t only be celebrated and hindered.

With the work that Tamara and her crew have put into this project, I am happy to say they have achieved the goal of both creativeness, experience, and informing the audience. Hopefully, Another Dream will touch enough people that it will allow people to safely and openly love whomever they want without any hindrance.

29Oct/18

Boom for Real: Documentary Paints Stunning Portrait of Basquiat

For Real. Instead of depicting Basquiat’s story as an isolated tragedy, Director Sara Driver diligently addresses the circumstances and environment that the Artist’s life was lent to. No debating his greatness, Boom for Real takes on Jean-Michel as a feeling and thinking human being. One who interacted and lived his life with intention. Focused on the accounts of friends and contemporaries, the viewer gains perspective and insight to some of the intricate parts behind the Artist so many have come to love. The Soho art scene, the popular clubs, the music culture — his fellow artists reconstruct a wild and sometimes crowded portrait while managing to place Basquiat neatly within it. Fab 5 Freddy, Al Diaz, and Lee Quinones are just a few of the remaining staples of that period who appear on-screen.

For 78 mins, both you and Basquiat watch from afar; you through the silver screen and him through wrinkles in time. You actually rarely get to hear him speak during the documentary. It’s almost as if the very words that his peers speak are forming the images of him. Throughout the film, he flips on and off of the screen. Sometimes he’s a still close-up while other times it’s his full body in reverse motion. This allows him to feel to the viewer, at once, both omnipresent and imaginary. Perhaps this powerfully alludes to the artist’s eternal presence in the art world; Lord over the renegades and disruptors yet to come. As opposed to allowing Basquiat to speak for himself, Boom for Real bestows upon those who were akin to his flame the task of reconstructing his essence. He, young, beautiful, and full of potential. Perhaps they even succeed in conjuring his very existence, because by the end of the documentary you will feel as though he is someone you have sat with, hungered with, and grown with. Not only as if you have known him, but as though you also lived through and were shaped by that time and era.

If you are looking for fundamentals such as the likes of family life etc, you will have better luck digging through public record. Appropriate, seeing as how Boom for Real addresses the artist’s teenage years, for most of which he was homeless on the city streets. For a feast of form figuratively following function, allow the film to take you to the very streets and people that shaped his formative teenage years. The years that led to him being the Basquiat that is written in stone on our hearts.

More information about the film can be found here.