Tag Archives: Tribeca Film Festival

15Aug/19

Luce is a Captivating Thriller That Addresses Racism and Mental Health

Tim Roth, Kelvin Harrison Jr, and Naimo Watts.

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

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

Luce at Tribeca

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

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

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

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

Takaways from the film? 

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

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

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

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

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. 

15Jun/19

Lil’ Buck: The Real Swan Doc World Premiered at Tribeca

Lil’ Buck discussing his career with Taji Mag during the Tribeca Film Festival.
Photo by William Baldon

A crowd of people sat in silence and awe at a dance performance that was beautiful, captivating and fluid to the accompaniment of music provided by the talented musician, Yo-Yo Ma. Though there weren’t many if any, people of color in the crowd as this was in Beijing, China, what mattered was the headliner was a young Black man from Memphis, Tennessee named Lil’ Buck.

It was a thing of beauty – a man doing what he loves and performing art for the world to see. His performance was something that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be proud of, a young man being seen for his talent and not just his color. In a world where Black men are vilified, subjected to toxic masculinity and seen on the wrong side of police brutality, it was refreshing to see a glimpse into a world that could exist without racism or discrimination.

When asked about his performance, Lil’ Buck stated, “I never really thought about my performance in that way. For me it wasn’t about performing for the audience, I’m trying to make them feel a certain way. I think that’s why a lot of people gravitate towards me because they don’t see anything else because I don’t. When I’m performing, I am doing my best to become music. It’s a real thing for me. Especially to music that has a story already in it, like the Swan. You can hear the story within it. For me, I can visually see the journey in that song. I don’t come up with anything to impress people, I just feel the music and bring people into my imagination.”

Lil' Buck

Lil’ Buck performing during the documentary Lil’Buck: Real Swan. (Photo provided by Tribeca Film Festival)

The video is a snippet from the documentary “Lil’ Buck: Real Swan” that world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival; it was also the part that stuck out the most to me. To be honest, it made me misty-eyed because it’s what every person wants, or at least what every human being should want — to be able to live in peace and love freely. About the documentary, Andrea Passafiume wrote, “In this exuberant documentary, director Louis Wallecan takes an in-depth look at this extraordinary artist whose passion, drive, discipline, and talent have blazed a unique new path in the world of dance that has included performing all over the world, touring with Madonna, mentoring young dance students, and becoming a passionate advocate for arts education.”

Lil’ Buck: A Young Man From Memphis

Growing up in the Memphis skating scene, particularly at Crystal Palace Roller Rink, was the big thing for youth to keep them entertained and off the streets. Once the skates were taken off and the rink was open for dancing, that’s when the main fun began and people were able to show off their new jookin moves. Jookin is a popular dance style in Memphis for all ages that stems from breakdancing and the gangsta walk. This is how the film, Lil’ Buck: Real Swan, starts to chronicle the life of Lil’ Buck.

“I was born in Chicago and my family moved to Memphis when I was eight. Even back in Chicago, I can remember seeing footwork in indigenous street dancing.” – Lil Buck explained about his roots in dancing and upbringing.

Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley developed a passion for jookin and dance at the young age of 12. From there he had the desire to become the best dancer he could be. He became so impressed with the length of time that ballerinas could stay on their toes that he decided to take up ballet.

“Growing up I always thought these dancers in videos were making all this money, we literally thought they were rich. All these dancers are next to celebrities like Lil’ Wayne, Madonna, and all these people. Some were not as good as my friends and I, so we would be like, “How the f*ck are they on TV?” We would ask this question every day and tell ourselves that’s where we needed to be.” – Lil’ Buck

Lil’ Buck said that in the beginning, he just wanted to be in videos and put jookin on the map. To be able to reach where he is now. Thinking about how small his dreams were, it just inspires him to dream larger and tell others to do the same. He further explained to not be afraid to dream big and to go after it! It’s not enough just to dream, its the work you put into it. He remembers when he experienced bloody toes and toenails falling off, trying to stand on his toes in his sneakers. Lil’ Buck reminisced, “Imagine walking around all day in school on your toes because you want to build that strength and to be on the level where you surpass ballerinas. It was painful but worth it!”

With some dancers, their goal is to tour with a different artist but not too many dancers see themselves as the artist that has the same strength and power as a singer or actor. They can make a good living for themselves and their family, creating generational wealth. Dancers like Lil’Buck, don’t always have that platform but their art is just as captivating. A lot of kids today are gravitating towards this instant success instead of really investing in themselves and really building themselves, enjoying that journey towards their goal. Lil’ Buck hopes to be a good example of enduring and enjoying the journey.

The Inspiration

Lil’ Buck being interviewed by Felipe Patterson (aka Dapper Dr Feel) of Taji Mag at the Roxy hotel during the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. (Video by William Baldon)

Lil’Buck discussed that his inspirations are Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker, the Nicholas Brothers, Little Buck, Buck and Bubbles, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Michael Jackson. He explained the way they combined film and dance was inspiring to him. The way they combined storytelling and dance was amazing to him. He remembers that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, always called his music videos short films.

“Those that inspire me are my peers, Daniel Price, G-Nerd, Jah Quincey, Caviar Taylor (On My Toes), BoBo and all the rappers like 3×6 Mafia, DJ Squeaky, they created what I’m into.” – Lil Buck talking about others that inspire him.

Bruce Lee was one of his biggest inspirations because of his philosophy on life. Not isolating yourself mentally to learning only one thing. He was open to learning and putting together different forms of martial arts. He’s always into strengthening himself and thinking outside the box.

Lil' BuckThe doc starts off with smooth jookin moves, that impressed me and reminded me of the great dancing films like Breakin’. I wasn’t sure what the aim of the film was but this direction definitely kept me engaged. It didn’t feel corny or fake like the multiple Step Up films that lack the originality of dancers in this film. Every one of them passionate about their craft and every move.

The film was amazing and well done down the other performers describing their love of jookin and their performance that followed to the storytelling of a young Buck’s evolution of aspiring background dancer to a headlining performer. The ending of the film is creative as it has a dancing Lil’ Buck transitioning from background to foreground and left of the screen to the opposite side, representing the journey the project has taken you on.

It’s a film that everyone should see, especially the little boys of color, to show them that they should follow their heart and that they can truly be what they want to be in life.

Thank you Lil’ Buck and Lois Wallecan for the great film about such an inspiring young black man!

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.