With season one of 61st Street ending on May 29th and most of the stories surrounding Mose’s case beginning to unfold, many more opportunities to clean up the police and judicial system are in sight for lawyer Franklin Roberts, played by Courtney B. Vance. The same police and prosecutors are responsible for illegal activity and conviction of Black people in the community, are still not happy with the result of the case and will continue with their illicit tactics. Who knows how Lt. Brannigan, played by Holt McCallany, and his underlings will react to the righteous efforts of Roberts and his wife. By the way, I’m not too fond of Lt. Brannigan because he has shown me he is the devil. I know it’s just acting but Holt plays that role so well; he had me yelling at my tv screen. You’ll have to see what I mean by watching the first season streaming on AMC+.
The second season will start streaming in 2023, enough time for me to cool down and lower my blood pressure before revisiting my dislike for Lt. Brannigan. Check out the trailer below. If you are like me you’ll have a few questions and it looks like there won’t be any dancing to Kirk Franklin at the end of season two.
About 61st Street: A propulsive thriller that courses through the dark heart of the infamous Chicago criminal justice system as police and prosecutors investigate a deadly drug bust that threatens to unravel the police department’s code of silence.
Starring: Courtney B. Vance, Aunjanue Ellis, Mark O’Brien, Holt McCallany, Tosin Cole, Andrene Ward-Hammond, and Bentley Green.
Every once in a while, I find an indie short film I can connect with during my coverage of film festivals. One of the films that stood out to me at the 2021 Bentonville Film Festival was Message Read by Spencer Glover. Not only did Spencer impress audiences with his touching film, but he also won over the judges for the Disney Launchpad contest. He was selected as Director for the project, Black Belts.
Taji Mag was able to catch up with the busy Writer/Director to talk about his upcoming Disney Plus project and his work as a creative.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): When did you fall in love with filmmaking?
Spencer Glover (SG): It’s been a little bit of a, well, not-so-crazy story. As a kid, I watched a lot of movies. I remember watching movies like Blood Sport and Jurassic Park. And so I think the love for filmmaking started when I was a kid. The “seed” was planted when I was young, but it didn’t really sprout until college when I got into Tennessee State.
I remember as I was walking on campus and, at this point, I was studying Music. I was walking around the music building and it was connected to the Communications department. So I walked past some students that were running the Tiger News Broadcast, which goes out to the entire school. And I just saw this group of kids and they’re running the show… the cameras, they had a director, there were students working on the sound, and they were doing interviews. Something about that just sort of struck me and, later that semester, I changed my major to Film. From there, everything exploded.
DDF: What is your process for making your films? Does it differ depending on the genre?
SG: You know, I’ve realized this: that [with] films, for me, all I’m trying to do is just connect to the emotions that I felt as a kid watching movies. So, I’m trying not to be a Filmmaker who just deals with one topic because I love so many different types of films. But I do recognize that there are certain personal dramatics that come out of your work unconsciously.
For me, the themes could be anything from losing a parent or dealing with childhood trauma to just protecting things, protecting the world that you live in. Those things have sort of found their way into everything that I’ve written so far. And I think it’s going to continue to be that way. I try to recognize that feeling when I have an idea and I feel like that inspiration comes over my body. I try to really grasp onto that and examine what it is about the idea that is sticking with me.
DDF: What is your favorite film genre?
SG: I have a lot of guilty pleasures in film. Action films are probably always going to be some of my favorite. Action comedies too! I think of films like Rush Hour shamelessly. It’s one of my favorites. It’s got a little bit of a different tune than what I regularly watch now, but I just try to appreciate the heart of the story and what it was trying to say. I’ve always been attracted to Sci-fi films and, like, the whimsy of filmmaking. So, I love to watch stuff that transports me to a different place where I can just forget about my problems and the world for an hour or two, and just kind of get sucked into the world of the movie.
I like those character-driven sort of indie dramas too. Like the ones you watch and just know that this film is going to break your heart. I was watching Drive My Car the other day and during the first 20 minutes of the film I’m like “This movie is going to break my heart.”. An hour or two later I am in tears saying to myself “Why is life like this, why do we have to go through this?”
DDF: What was your reaction when you got selected as a Launchpad finalist?
SG: Just pure joy. I remember one of the coordinators for the program set up a meeting with me for 15 minutes after the second interview. I got on the call and the coordinator said “man, I’m not even gonna waste time…you got it”. And I just had the biggest smile on my face. It was a big thing for me and I just felt a lot of joy.
I’ve gotten over a little bit of a hurdle in my career because, as Filmmakers, we all struggle with this; that idea of “can I perform at a level that’s high enough?” You aspire to that, but you do the work and then you put it out. Sometimes it doesn’t resonate or connect the way that you want. And you have that battle of, like, “Man, I don’t know if I’m in the right space or doing the right thing”. So hearing that I got into this was, it was a boost of confidence and it was really validating.
DDF: This leads to my next question. Have you ever questioned yourself at any moment in your filmmaking career? If so, how did you overcome it?
SG: I did have my moment, but I was able to get over it. The post-production of my film, Message Read, was really hard. We had plans to take it to the professional post house, do professional color, and all these other things and, you know, money is tight in our industry. We only had, I think, a $12k budget for the project, and all of that money was used up during the shoot. So I had to take on being an Editor and doing graphics, visual effects, and color. It was a lonely process, but in the end, this film is such a personal story.
I’m very critical of my own work, so I’m seeing all of the shortcomings. We sent it out into the world and we submitted it to the Sundance Film Festival and South By Southwest Film Festival and all these places. We got rejected from all of them.
I’ve learned that everything you create, you don’t control and it has it’s own life. So we put the film out and it got rejected a bunch in the beginning. Kariss (my partner and wife) had similar feelings: that we did a great job with this film. We’re happy and proud of it. We can’t control anything else. Then, at about four months into the pandemic, the movie started gaining momentum. Out of nowhere the project just started getting into festivals and people were really starting to respond to it. I think it had to do with the fact that, as a group, we were losing so many people at that time and the story is about dealing with loss. It was just connecting in a way that we didn’t expect. And it just goes back to the idea: you don’t know what’s going to happen. So, I’m thankful that Message Read is making a connection now.
DDF: Can you tell us about your Disney project, Black Belts?
SG: It’s a Kung Fu story. It’s a father and son relationship dealing with loss. It touches on aspects of masculinity and what it means to be masculine. I think you and I grew up in an era where a macho man was the way to be for boys and young men. I was talking to a friend about how from the 80s and early 90s, it was peak macho. It was, like, shoot’em up and a lot of action associated with masculinity, especially in entertainment. It was such a fun time, but it could be a little toxic and Black Belt touches on a few of those areas.
It’s coming out in 2023 on Disney Plus. We’re in development with it right now. We’re doing rewrites on the script and I’m working with Xavier Styles (the writer of the story). It’s also a true story for him, so it’s been really fun. It’s definitely a process and it’s really setting me up in a way that feels true to the studio world because this is the first film that I’m going to be directing something I did not write.
Also, a big part of this program is that it’s multi-hyphenate filmmaking. This season, they actually split it into two groups. So there are Writers and there are Directors. I just applied as a Director because I wanted to really take a shot at receiving somebody else’s script, finding myself in it, and then putting it up on screen.
You try to find your way into it and make sure that you connect with the material. It’s been a journey. We have about another month of development, then we go into pre-production, then we shoot the film in the Summer, then post-production takes place, and then there’s a release on Disney Plus.
The entertainment industry has shown progress in Black creatives getting exposure to audiences across the world. Spencer Glover is one of the names that will be on that list. I know Spencer talked about how the movie Drive My Car broke his heart. Well, Message Read broke my heart and so I’ll be looking forward to seeing his future projects. Make sure to check out his work on his website and be on the lookout for his Disney Plus project, Black Belt, in 2023.
THE ENDGAME SYNOPSIS: A pulse-pounding high-stakes two-hander about Elena Federova, a recently captured international arms dealer and brilliant criminal mastermind who orchestrates a number of coordinated bank heists throughout New York City for a mysterious purpose. Her antagonist is Val Turner, the principled, relentless, and socially outcast FBI agent who will stop at nothing to foil her ambitious plan. The gripping heist drama reveals how far some people will go for love, justice, and the most valuable commodity in the world: the truth.
While watching the pilot of the new NBC series, The Endgame, all I could think about was the relationship between lead character Val Turner (played by Ryan Michelle Bathé) and her husband, Owen Turner (played by Kamal Angelo Bolden ). The show gives us this loving couple who’d been together for years, and now Owen is divorcing Val. All the while she is having a cerebral chess match with a crime boss in custody and orchestrating multiple bank heists involving hostages all over New York City. Just brutal! Luckily for Taji Mag, we were able to sit down with actor Kamal Angelo Bolden and ask him “what’s up with Owen in The Endgame?”
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How did you get involved with this project?
Kamal Angelo Bolden (KAB): My agent hit me up with the opportunity to audition last summer while I was in Chicago filming a TV show for AMC (61st street) and I read the script. I was lucky enough to get a script. At the time, the Owen character was named Elgin. That’s a little Easter egg for some people. The first time we encounter Owen, he’s issuing his wife divorce papers inside a correctional facility. And I was automatically like, “Wait a minute. What is this? I thought this was going to be, like, network television”.
It’s hard-hitting and not like your typical show. I was like, “this is kind of deep!” because the further I read on, I found out that his relationship with his wife goes back to when they were about five years old. So they’re, like, not just only high school sweethearts, but they’ve known each other their entire lives.
After getting to know more of the story, it was something I had never ever had an opportunity to explore or relate to. You automatically question, “How could Owen divorce his wife (Val) like that, with all that history? So, I was already taken by the script and I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna do my best…if I get this particular callback.”
I got a callback and the dominoes kept falling in place because I got the screen test while I was at home in Peoria, Illinois (my mom’s house). Obviously, I knocked it out of the park. I felt God sent the job my way.
DDF: How would you describe Val and Owen’s relationship to someone who hasn’t seen the show?
KAL: Their love is deeper than words can describe. When you encounter these two individuals who have been together their whole lives, they have a certain amount of trust to make it as far as they have.
So when you see the pilot, there’s a sense of betrayal. But they’re both fighting for something bigger than themselves. Val, played by Ryan Michelle, is fighting to keep their relationship while trying to bring down Elaina Federer over the international arms dealer who’s seized seven banks across New York City. And in the same point, she’s also dealing with some of her personal paths with her father and her mother. And then she’s also trying to figure out why her husband is in prison, you know, ’cause I’m a former FBI agent who [was] accused of stealing money.
So there’s a lot going on there. She’s trying to figure out if I’m on her side or if I’m on the side of the other people who are running these heists. And for me, I can only divulge so much information to her, even as she comes and visits me while I’m in prison.
Right now we are further along into the series and finding out some really, really deep, intricate stuff about Owen and Val’s relationship.
DDF: What is going through Owen’s mind while he is going through all this?
KAL: What I think Owen is really experiencing while he’s behind bars is a sense of struggle. There’s like a battle between feeling helpless and protecting his wife from the inside of this correctional facility, but there’s this sense of optimism that it’ll all be worth it in the end. There’s this plan that Owen has.
And so every day is a battle. It’s a struggle inside there. You’ve lost your freedom. You are in there with other criminals, and being an FBI agent in a facility like that, you’re not a welcome, you’re a persona non grata. He has got to watch his back all the time, but at the end of the day, he’s trying to work towards getting his wife.
DDF: I’m trying to get you to think objective now. Who would you choose: team Val or team Elena?
KAL: So we have two strong cerebral women that are competing against each other. You know, it changes each episode in a way. Objectively, when you start off in episodes one and two, I think it’s pretty easy to be team Val.
The thing is whether you’re team Val or team Elena, you know that both women are very strong for different reasons and have very strong motivations for why they go head to head.
So you root for Val because she has the smarts, she has the intuition, and she has the, like, stamina to go after these things with such a passion and ruthlessness.
As for Elena, she is slick, smooth, and she’s pulling off stuff that you’re like “how does she pull it off?” Because she thinks so many moves ahead! They’re both playing tough. So it was kind of like watching two chess masters go against each other.
In the end, I don’t care who wins. This is just an exciting match to watch.
DDF: What’s been your favorite experience while shooting this series?
KAL: Shooting in New York. First of all, there’s that. It’s a different energy to the city of New York, you know? I’m from Illinois. It’s just something about New York that reminded me of Chicago, but just a little bigger and a little bit more energy.
My favorite part is just the people. Everybody from the cast and crew is super dope!
They’re super goofy. We have a lot of fun, but then even our hair and makeup people…they’re hilarious! They keep the day going. And our crew is hilarious. Shooting in New York is super fun and super dope. And I think we make good TV.
DDF: In a previous interview. You said your favorite character you play was Emile Griffin. Would you be interested in turning it into a film?
KAL: Absolutely! I would love to direct it and not have to play the lead. I would be honored. I believe his story 100% deserves, like, a $50 million, a $100 million budget. His story is absolutely phenomenal. He was a great human being, but he was also coming through in a time where his sexuality and his humanity were not only questioned but attacked.
It was easy for people to kind of paint him a certain way because of what he did for a living, which is boxing. And of course what happened to him, tragically, against Benny “The kid” Paret is heartbreaking. It’s a beautiful story, man.
DDF: Say you are doing an action film? Who would be your sidekick, love interest, or villain, and who would direct it?
KAL: That’s a crazy question, man. Who would be my sidekick in this bad boy? You know what? I’ll cast for this movie right now. If I’m filming an action film, I’m going to say I want Don Cheadle to play my pop. Right. Okay. Um, I’m going to have Lisa Nicole Carson play, even though she is not old enough, to play my mother but we can figure something out. As for my sidekick, I would have to go with my boy Aaron J. Who would be my nemesis? Let me see? Dang. You got me on that. Oh, you know what? I might go with either Yaya or LaKeith Stanfield.
That’s a good question, man. That’s a good one.
DDF: Okay. So who’s going to direct this big-budget, phenomenal film?
KAL: I think I might have to go with Ryan Coogler.
Until he shoots his dream action film or biopic film, you can catch Kamal Angelo Bolden as Owen Turner in The Endgame on NBC and Peacock. Hopefully, Owen will redeem himself because where he is in early episodes is not a good look.
Release Jun 7 2022 | Vol31 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Colors! Each volume is a tabletop collector’s item and Vol31 is no different! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @chrissythevocalist. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: ““Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” Explores Devotion and Relationship” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, Stop The Deregulation of the NYS Natural Hair Styling License; our highlighted Hair Feature with Debra Hare Bey; “Solo Travel: Who Am I Outside of My Blackness?” by dCarrie; “Heart and Mind are a Power Couple” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “Sankofa — Go back but don’t forget to also go forward” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 31 contributed photo story, “Colors;” Fitness Highlight, Rose Rollins Rocks Long Slow Exhale as Head Coach Abernathy; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Black Bean Quinoa Burger; “Use Credit to Pay Off Debt While Building Wealth in 7 Steps” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; “Healing With Hugs or Softcore Prostitution?” by Jehriko Turner; Featured Art Piece by Craig C The Artist; Comic Appreciation featuring “Kishi and the Island of Dreams” by AnimeHipHop; Black Business Highlights; and more!!
Taji Mag is the epitome of ‘Cultural Drip’ – elevating Black brands, narratives, and imagery to new levels of Black Excellence. We embody the traditional and modern royalty of OUR people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.
Synopsis: Set in the high-stakes world of women’s college basketball, Long Slow Exhale stars Rose Rollins, Lyric Bent, Josh Lucas, and Ian Harding. The drama follows J.C. Abernathy (Rollins), a successful Head Coach of a competitive women’s college basketball team who finds herself in the middle of a potentially career-shattering sexual abuse scandal. As she tries to find the truth among the many secrets she uncovers, she has to make hard decisions that will affect her, her family, and the team of female athletes who all rely on her.
If you’re not familiar with Rose Rollins, let’s bring you from under the rock and get you familiar. Rollins is amazing as head coach, J.C. Abernathy on Spectrum Original’s smash series, Long Slow Exhale. Taji Mag had the pleasure to enjoy a brief chat with Rollins about her time as Coach Abernathy.
Taji Mag (TM): Without spoiling anything, what can you tell us about J.C. Abernathy?
Rose Rollins (RR): Where do I start? She is a very complicated woman. She leads with strength. Obviously, she’s gotta whole lot on her plate that she kind of effortlessly handles until she’s just blindsided by so much at once, so many issues and a major scandal. So it kind of throws her off her game. And, she’s compassionate. She’s flawed. She makes a few major mistakes, but I think that the most important part is not about the mistakes she makes. It’s what she does and how she goes about remedying and correcting those mistakes and redeeming herself. I think that’s important, you know, it’s how you take accountability for what you do in life.
TM: Absolutely! How did you prepare for this role? Were you able to speak with any other women head coaches?
RR: Cynthia Cooper. To be exact! Yeah. She was with me every step of the way and I couldn’t imagine it being anyone else. It was actually quite intimidating, especially on game days, where she’d be like, “all right, this is how you do it. You do this. Yo, yo, yo, come here.” You know? And I’m like, how am I supposed to do that?? That’s not what I’m going to do. I actually intentionally had to create J.C.’s dynamic that was a lot different from hers, just so that I don’t get in my head about how miserably I’m failing at what she’s doing. So I chose to do the exact opposite and that’s a true story!
TM: That’s actually excellent though, you did an amazing job! Were there any other challenges in preparing for this role that you came across?
RR: Yeah, just, um, the rawness in certain moments. The true honest moments that J.C. has. You can’t play those moments unless you are truthful in your own truth. That’s really hard to do sometimes because you know, human nature, we like to hide, right? Or we like to show you what we want to show you, but when you’re forced to be like, here I am, here’s my truth, it’s scary as hell. So that was definitely the biggest challenge.
TM: What do you hope the audience will receive from watching Long Slow Exhale?
RR: That you are heard, you are seen. We are fighting for you. Don’t be afraid to stand up. Your time is now.
James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” The new AMC series, 61st Street, does just that. It’s a story about the struggles of a Black man named Moses and the obstacles he must face in pursuit of his college dream. Andrene Ward-Hammond, the actress portraying Norma, the mother of Moses, let Taji Mag know why 61st Street is not a typical courtroom show and talked about what makes the series relatable.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What made you choose to be a part of this project?
Andrene Ward-Hammond (AWH): Other than getting booked? Lol. I came off of the show Your Honor, and Peter Moffat (61st Street creator) sent this project to me. So I’m super grateful for that. A mom raising two Black kids, specifically black sons in Chicago. I don’t know if I would want to pass up the opportunity to portray the character. I’m a Black mom, a few different sides of her, you know?
DDF: How did you approach this role?
AWH: I am originally from New York and moved to Georgia. I [have] a daughter, and the part of Georgia we moved to, didn’t see much of us. It wasn’t a hard reach playing a mom, and it was easy to pull from experiences because I knew my challenges raising my daughter. Like, we are not seen in the best light in America…how we protect our tribe, how we protect our family, and how excited we are about our culture. It’s not hard to pull from because I am wildly protective of my daughter, my family, and of my friends. So to raise two Black men as characters, it’s already sitting in there ’cause we already fighting for Black men in America. So it’s like, we’re not way too far off from that.
DDF: What do you think Norma is thinking internally as her son is being blamed for killing an officer?
AWH: That (Norma) wants him alive by any means necessary. She knows who her child is. She knows who she raised Moses to be. He is not the criminal the police are making him out to be. It’s so outside of Moses’ character, she tells him to run. She saw a child who was always the good kid. So it’s always a battle internally, too. Like, what can save him? What can she do to ensure that his life is saved? [The authorities] do not see him in the best light. Norma just wants to see her kids happy.
DDF: What was it like on set with the rest of the cast?
AWH: Mr. C (Courtney B. Vance) is dope. He is like that uncle you always wanted. Ms. Aunjanue (many flowers given) is like a big sister I absolutely needed. It’s so funny because we were just texting today. Tosin and Bentley were the sweetest ever. They can’t get rid of me now. Tosin’s like my little brother. Bentley’s like my son. Holt is hilarious and the best host ever. As for Mark. I just want to be on a comedy show that Mark writes because he is absolutely fricking hilarious. You can’t say no to a project that’s led by Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue. It was a given, it was a gift. I don’t care how it turned out.
DDF: What do you think people will get out of this project?
AWH: It’s not your typical courtroom show. It shows how these cases, like the one in 61st Street, affect families outside of a courtroom. It doesn’t lean towards anybody being a good or a bad guy. It’s based on your moral compass. So you get to determine, “okay well, this is how I feel about that”, but, more than anything, start to engage in conversation that’s incredibly uncomfortable. But it’s not like it’s going away ’cause it’s happening now. Although the show is [only now] made, the creators started on it six years ago. To have it land at a time after the kneeling on the neck incident, it just shows you how relevant the conversation is and how it needs to continue. We clearly still have a fight ahead of us.
The first two episodes of 61st Street have provided more than enough interest for me to stay invested. I want to see what paths each character will choose since the Chicago environment places some tension between the police and its citizens, much like real life. Veterans Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis bring their chemistry from Lovecraft County. The series looks promising as Andrene and other castmates add to the intensity and compelling stories in the series.
Promising high school teenager, Moses Johnson (Tosin Cole), finds himself running for his life after he is wrongfully accused of killing a police officer. His only hope is Franklin Roberts (Courtney B. Vance), a lawyer down to his last case and struggling with his health. Will Moses be placed on the path of prison or will he be able to live the life for which he’s worked so hard?
From Love and Basketball to House, Omar Epps has entertained us for years with characters that have been nothing short of memorable. With his new film, The Devil You Know, he serves as actor and executive producer. It’s a crime-thriller drama about a recovering alcoholic trying to piece his life together after being incarcerated. He is faced with a difficult decision to either tip off a detective (Michael Ealy) or keep quiet after discovering his brother, Drew (Will Catlett), was part of a horrific robbery. Omar Epps was able to sit down with Taji Mag to talk about his new project.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What made you want to be a part of this film?
Omar Epps (OE): Charles and I were having lunch eight years ago. He just pitches me what I thought was a great idea. I’m like, ”Yeah, let me read the script!” and he’s like, “I haven’t started writing yet.” I’m pissed off thinking “Why did you get me all riled up with ideas?” But you know, it’s been living with me and him for years. It took us eight years to actually get it made, which is a whole other conversation.
DDF: What else did you love about this film?
OE: I also loved the idea selfishly, as far as just the artists, to try to unpack this fractured human. The character I play in this film, Marcus, always looked like, if you can visualize it, a picture on the wall that’s ripped up, but then it has a bunch of tape on it.
So it’s still on the wall to me… Here’s a guy the audience meets and he’s newly sober, he’s just gotten a new job after a few years. He’s just growing and having enough confidence to maybe open himself up… He’s in a very emotionally precarious position, then you throw a grenade on top of that and let’s see what happens. That’s just really what drew me to it.
DDF: What makes this film stand out?
OE: You know, we (as a Black community) don’t get the chance to make films similar to like a Mystic River or The Town. You know, films that just have certain pacing to them. And that’s what really got me excited.
DDF: I noticed in the film that Drew and Marcus both struggled with adversities in life and dealt with periods of hardship. Where do you think that came from? It seemed like the other two brothers in the family were doing fairly well.
OE: I think it’s a true depiction of a real family, right? The more people there are in a family, the better chance that everybody ain’t gonna be able to stay on the straight and narrow. That’s just the nature of things, but we support the ones who may struggle more than others because it’s a struggle either way. It’s like King Richard [who] looked out for his girls who went on to become legends. With all due respect (and God bless them), the Williams sisters also have other sisters who are not sports icons. Do you know what I’m saying? No telling how things would be if they went a different way. To me, it’s a true depiction of life.
Sometimes you’ve got to love hard and sometimes you’ve got to love soft. It’s a push and pull in that way. It’s really a film for everyone because everyone comes from a family that is similar to the one in this film. Everyone knows what it’s like to sit around a table, the food’s being cooked, and your cousins are playing cards over here. Uncle such and such just cracked open a bottle of you know what and talks about social stuff [for] about a half an hour. We all know that feeling. We wanted to try to capture that feeling so that people could examine themselves in a sense, I guess, and live vicariously through Marcus.
DDF: Speaking of which, did you learn anything about yourself while doing this film that made you look at things differently? Perhaps anything you could turn into a book seeing as you’ve published books before?
OE: Well, that’s an interesting question. From a creative standpoint, I think if I do the job right, it’s up to the audience to try to learn about themselves in some way, shape, or form, you know?
DDF: Your wife is making her acting debut in this film, how did that happen?
OE: Well, you know, that’s really all Charles. We would talk about funny things about my wife. She’s been under the tutelage of the great Tasha Smith for a few years now… Art is art is art. You know, it’s just the different formats, but she took it seriously. So, we threw around different names and one day he calls and says “You know who would be great to play this role?” And I’m like, “ Who?” He says “Your wife!” And I was like, “I should have thought of that. Well, I can’t be the one to tell her (lol).”
DDF: If you could describe The Devil You Know using music, what song would you pick?
OE: No one’s asked me that question, so my mind just went blank. That is a great question. Let me go seventies, “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye.
DDF: You are widely known for your role in Love and Basketball. The film was about love. My question to you is how do you define love?
OE: Love itself? Honestly, I think that it is a verb. We can say it all day. You could have whatever [written] on tank tops, t-shirts, or whatever, but it has to be an action for it to actually be real, you know? I’m from Brooklyn, New York and I grew up around a lot of different people from a lot of different walks of life. I’ve seen various forms of love. If love is sort of the roots of a tree, you have compassion, empathy, and all of these other things that come along with that type of feeling that forms the trunk and branches of the tree.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see both sides of love and see the effects that it has on people. I choose the side of light. I choose the side of love because you just never know what someone’s going through.
DDF: Are there any moments in life where you learned about love?
OE: One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned so far on this life journey is from my mother. She was an educator [with] the Board of Education for 30 something years. She basically taught half of New York City. When Juice first came out, I was about 17 years old. I didn’t know enough. People would come up to me on the street and I’m like “They might recognize me from the movie” and they would say “You are Bonnie Epps’ son? She used to teach me in eighth grade”. You know, it didn’t matter if they become a doctor or a bus driver. They would tell me to thank her for the conversations she had with them when they were young. The crazy part is, I would always go back to my mom and tell her these things and she would remember exactly who I was talking about. She would say “Oh, big head Craig? Oh, yeah. He used to give me trouble”. What that taught me was the power of giving and if we’re not giving, we ain’t doing enough. And you don’t give to receive, you give simply for the act of giving. Whether that’s if someone is homeless and you give whatever you got in your pocket or whatever you can spend. You see a homeless person outside a restaurant and you go in. If you can afford it, don’t just give them the scraps. Maybe get them a small little plate of something. Whatever you can do, you know?
I’m just saying that to say, going back to my definition of love, it was instilled in me at a very early age. A big part of this cycle is all about giving because when you are giving for the sake of giving, the universe gives it back to you in some way, shape, or form. You just don’t know what that may be. And I’m not talking about material, I’m just talking about happenings, you know. So I know that was a long-winded answer, but it all kind of comes back to that.
Epps made a valid comparison when he mentioned movies like The Town and Mystic River because The Devil You Know is in par with the pacing of those movies. The film explores the dynamics of a blue-collar family and the lead character, Marcus, has to make choices that may jeopardize his relationships but also provide him an avenue for forgiveness and peace.
The Devil You Know will serve as a great conversational piece in regards to what we would do in Marcus’ or Drew’s shoes, how the actions of one person in the family can affect others, and how we should deal with the sins of our past. The film’s finale is filled with surprises and twists that I am personally not ready for but could see how these things could happen in real life. As Omar Epps mentioned in the interview, we all have that family member who suffers and struggles with temptation, but how do we deal with those individuals?
See how things turn out for Marcus and his family in The Devil You Know.
Synopsis: Boundaries and bonds are tested in this gritty crime-thriller drama about family, morality, and redemption. Once incarcerated Marcus Cowans (Omar Epps) is trying to turn over a new leaf with the support of his loving family. Upon discovering that one of his brothers (Will Catlett) may have been involved in a horrific crime, Marcus grapples with the limits of brotherhood and loyalty. He and his family, increasingly weary of the justice system’s failings, end up in the crosshairs of a seasoned but jaded detective (Michael Ealy). Written and directed by Charles Murray, The Devil You Knowevokes the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? And at what cost?
Starring: Omar Epps, Will Catlett, Glynn Turman, Curtiss Cook, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Erica Tazel, Vaughn W. Hebron, Michael Beach, Keisha Epps, Ashley A. Williams, with Theo Rossi, and Michael Ealy.
From writer/producer/director, Phil Augusta Jackson (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine“) and creator, Dan Goor (also “Brooklyn Nine-Nine“) comes a new comedy that proves life is better with your crew.
Synopsis: This group of young professionals are all trying to navigate the ups and downs of life and love in Los Angeles, and they always find time to gather at their favorite bar to “wine down” and unpack it all. There’s Noah, a hopeless romantic too eager to settle down; Nicky, a go-getter in real estate who’s adventurous in romance; Sherm, a low-key genius who plays the dating odds; Anthony, whose true love is his career; Wyatt, who’s relieved to be married and out of the dating scene; and Fay, who’s recently divorced and looking to start fresh in LA. And just like wine, their friendship gets better with time.
Issa Rae’s popular series, Insecure, recently aired its last episode, posing the question “What Black-led series will be the next to have genuine relatability to the Black community?” My answer is Grand Crew! Not only is the series Black-led, but it’s mostly a male cast. Something not commonly seen on television. Grand Crew is a show about Black people navigating everyday issues where drugs, police, and violence are not the main focus. Taji Mag was able to talk to the cast and producers of the show to discuss the importance of having shows like Grand Crew on television.
Representation is Everything
When asked about the show being the next big hit like Insecure, Jackson said “Anybody that is saying it’s the next Insecure…I think that’s very flattering. I do think that the shows are very different [though]. I think highly of Issa Rae and Prentice as a team and as leaders behind the scenes. I was able to learn so much from them about the craft and the business. You know, like how to run a room and every job that I’ve had working with Dan on Brooklyn‘, too.” Jackson also added “As far as those comparisons go, we are not setting out to replace Insecure, especially after having worked on the show. I knew how special that show was. I think, tonally, the show’s different. I think the point of view is different. It does take place in Los Angeles, but it’s also a different part of Los Angeles.”
What does the cast want people to get out of the show? Grasie Mercedes stated, “I would love it if people watch the show and are inspired to create more characters like this; to create more shows like this that just show different black, different Latin, different Asian, different people’s of color experiences, and not try to put us in these monolithic boxes that we are constantly portraying over and over again.”
Justin Cunningham added, “[With] the majority of black characters or diverse cast or diverse crew or diverse producers, whatever the makeup of the show, we can start to open our eyes to what is possible and not try to place labels or limits. Not to say what something should or should not be in society’s eyes, but what things could be. This could be a show that is just about people who happen to be Black and has Black themes. But there are people who go through the same things and themes in the show.”
The Actors on Their Characters
With part of the show exploring the dating lives and relationships of the characters, I had to ask what advice would the actors give their characters? When asked what advice Nicole would give to her character, Nicky, she said, “I would tell Nicky to keep doing what she’s been doing. She’s pulling them in and getting dates. She’s getting what she wants. She’s having the relationship she wants. I would tell her to not dim her light for anybody.”
For Noah, Echo stated, “I would definitely tell him to be true to himself. Don’t try to force anything. Let it come naturally and really take your time with love. Because the truth is that if love doesn’t come from within, it can’t come from anywhere else. To do yourself justice for the rest of your life, I think you have to deal with yourself, love, and aspects of yourself before you can brag now.”
Grasie Fields encourages her character, Fay, to continue to be “open to love”, especially after being divorced. “It hasn’t discouraged her from finding love again. And I think she believes she has a good relationship with her ex-husband. Maybe we’ll see him, if we continue to be able to do the show, in a future episode. But I think she’s very open to love”, Fields says about Fay.
Noah, Fay, and Nicky all have unique ways of approaching dating, and the audience has seen some development towards a season finale that has everyone wondering with whom they will end up. Part of the reason why we need a season 2!
One of the things I love about the show is its coverage of Black masculinity. Wyatt, the level-headed voice of reason in the group, is a stay-at-home husband. He isn’t ridiculed or insulted because of the arrangement he has with his wife, his situation is normalized by not focusing on his status.
When asked how Wyatt embraces his masculinity, Justin exclaimed, “How does he embrace his masculinity [while] being a stay-at-home husband? By vacuum cleaning the floor as perfectly as possible, by cooking meals as an expert like Gordon Ramsey would. That’s it. It’s fabulous. It’s great. I think that because that’s part of myself (as I’m [also] a perfectionist in that sense), I’m gonna do my best to be good at whatever I’m doing. I’m going to find joy in whatever I’m doing.”
Episode two of the first season, titled “Wine and Serendipity”, I found to be very funny because it addressed the topic of men crying and one of the characters, Sherm, talked about how he doesn’t cry. The episode even poked fun at how some men perceive that being caught crying is worse than being caught naked, a notion that is tested when Wyatt is caught naked in the bathroom by Sherm and, indeed, was more concerned about being caught crying.
When asked what would make Sherm cry, Carl Tart said, “The only thing that would make Sherm cry is the LA Clippers winning a championship. That would make me cry.” Tart added, “I have a $10,000 Clippers crystal ball sitting in the cart online now for when they win a championship.” “Yeah, by the time the Clippers win a championship, you’ll have enough money to buy the Clippers”, Aaron Jennings jokingly replied.
Aaron Jennings and Carl Tart as Sherm and Anthony have great chemistry as roommates. Various episodes have resonated with me and brought back memories of my experiences with a roommate. When I asked them what sports duo they could be compared to, Carl responded “I’m going to say their relationship is like two teams at odds. This is the Lakers versus the Clippers. Sherm and Anthony are like those two teams. We share a home like they share a home court.” Aaron jokingly replied, “It’s like greatness versus mediocrity. Lol!”
I love the fact that the show explores some of the very same topics my friends and I have discussed and they utilize a group chat, which my friends and I have also used. If you are a fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Living Single, or other single-camera comedies like those, you will love this show. I do, however, find a few moments where the dialogue is not authentic, or at least not relatable to me and my friends. Then again, dialogue is difficult to write.
With the lack of representation and exploration of the dynamics of the Black community on television, Grand Crew is considerably one of the better shows to watch. With a helluva cliffhanger, an awesome cast, and more room for relatable content, we all hope to see this series renewed beyond season 1…and hopefully beyond a season 2! Tune in to NBC Peacock to catch the first season of Grand Crew.
Starring: Oscar Isaac (“Show Me a Hero” and “Star Wars [Trilogy]”) as Steven/Marc, May Calamawy (“Ramy” and “The Long Road Home”) as Layla El-Faouly, and Ethan Hawke (“The Good Lord Bird” and “Before [Trilogy]”) as Arthur Harrow.
Synopsis: When Steven Grant, a mild-mannered gift-shop employee, becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life, he discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector. As Steven/Marc’s enemies converge upon them, they must navigate their complex identities while thrust into a deadly mystery among the powerful gods of Egypt.
Who is Moon Knight?
For those who are not familiar with Moon Knight, he is what many consider the Batman of Marvel. Basically, a vigilante with dissociative identity disorder imbued with powers from an Egyptian God. What makes him interesting is he has multiple identities and they change so often that he sometimes is unclear about what is real and what is not. This synopsis makes for a perfect series and it does not disappoint!
Oscar Isaac, as both Steven Grant and Marc Spector, is spectacular. His portrayal of the soft-spoken Englishman, Steven, is quite convincing! Honestly, I could not believe that was his voice. Although he’s not of much use as a scrapper, Steven’s knowledge of Egyptian history proves to be useful during the series. He even provides some comic relief that breaks up the serious tone without interrupting the flow of the series. Issac’s mannerisms, posture, and responses were so different when playing each character that both were unique and clearly distinguishable.
The mercenary and fearless Marc Spector is the complete opposite of Steven. He is better suited for tense situations and impending combat. It’s interesting how these two talk to each other through reflective items (windows, mirrors, etc.) about the predicament they’re in and the past life of Marc Spector. It is during these moments that Oscar Issac seems to shine and shows his range of skills.
Dr. Paul Puri, an Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA and past president of the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty Association, was brought onto the project to help the actors and filmmakers understand Dissociative Identity Disorder and its implications. This was key in making the performance as authentic as possible.
Khonshu, the ancient Egyptian god of the Moon, looks amazing and his introduction is what nightmares are made of! With lights flickering, objects moving, and Khonshu’s eerie invisibility, Marc/Steven’s reaction provides a great display of true horror. The way the directors kept Khonshu as a shadowy figure before showing him on screen was great camera work. The moments between Marc, Steven, and Khonshu remind me of Venom and Eddie Brock. Hmm, that would be interesting to see on screen…Moon Knight and Venom. Let’s make THAT happen, Marvel!
The beautiful scenery of Egypt and the artifacts in the series are a plus. I could tell the directors paid attention to every single detail, from the background actors to the venues. My favorite scene is when the characters are looking at the stars in the desert, completely ignoring the colorful diversity of its people. Speaking of which, May Calamawy (an Egyptian-Palestinian actress), as Marc’s wife, Layla, is also a great screen presence. She has a vulnerability towards Marc/Steven, but also gets her hands dirty when needed. All I can say is she can definitely handle herself! Sidebar: since Black Widow is dead, maybe she could join the Avengers? Just a thought.
Ethan Hawk as the main protagonist, Arthur Harrow, is convincingly evil. His menacing and manipulative ways made me want to punch him right in the face (what can I say…I got sucked in). Harrow is definitely demented and has a warped idea of justice. However; his followers all seem grateful for his leadership and are loyal to his cause. Being the former avatar to Khonshu, Harrow serves as a formidable opponent and plays off of the weaknesses of anyone he crosses.
The scenes where the identities switch in order to take over, especially when Steven wakes up from his blackouts with no recollection of how he arrived there, are very cool. The most hilarious scene to me is when Steven comes to after his alter ego, Marc, has murdered henchmen around him. The flashes of light, the smash cuts, and other edits make for great transitions. Egyptian director, Mohamed Diab, sets up some great scenes specifically in the third episode when the characters are in Egypt. Action-wise, this series has some kick-ass fight scenes like when Marc turns into Moon Knight. Let’s just say he kicks a lot of butt! Even some of the dog-like demons he faced were afraid of him.
I’ve only seen up to episode four thus far, but I can assure you that Moon Knight is worth watching. The series has plenty of intriguing storylines to follow and cliffhangers that will leave you wanting more…not to mention director Mohamed Diab makes sure the audience is aware the basis of the story comes from Eygpt. In addition, there are lots of easter eggs I’m sure Marvel fans (and history buffs!) will have fun with. This series is far from family-friendly due to the amount of blood and violence, but it wouldn’t be the same without it. If you love Batman, Deadpool, or the original Moon Knight comic, then you will enjoy this project.
Release Mar 7 2022 | Vol30 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Grounded Earth! Each volume is a tabletop collectors item and Vol30 is no different! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @justhalo_. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Aunjanue Ellis, One of the Best to Portray Black Mothers” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, Earth’s Pot Kisses Your Taste Buds; our highlighted Hair Feature with Debra Hare Bey; “Solo Travel: You’re More Prepared for Solo Travel Than You Think” by dCarrie; “Paper Can’t Hold A Marriage” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “And how are the children?” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 30 contributed photo story, “Grounded Earth;” Fitness Highlight, actor, Kevin Wallace; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Hit Meh Walnut Burritos; “3 Tips For Lowering Your Grocery Bill” by Naomi Bradley; NURILENS Eyewear Prioritizes Eye Care Maintenance, Wombilee Menstrual Pads are Helping to Combat Unhealthy and Unprotected Wombs; Featured Art Piece by Craig C.; Comic Appreciation with Concept Moon; Black Business Highlights; and more!!
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