Saturday, April 14, 2018

Happy Birthday Sarah Michelle Gellar: Fem Film Rogue Icon Spotlight

I practically grew up alongside the talented, underrated Sarah Michelle Gellar, first watching her as the feisty, gorgeous rich girl, Sydney Rutledge on short lived teen soap, Swan’s Crossing. It was a far more wicked Saturday morning ritual than the campy sitcom Saved by the Bell, for Gellar’s compelling acting and vivacious beauty struck quite hard. she played a young conniving vixen well and carried on that torch as Kendall Hart in All My Children. From that role, at age 18, she won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Younger Leading Actress in a Drama Series after two nominations.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer came later, giving Gellar her starring due, making her a household name. The heroine will go down as one of the most incredible television heroines of all time and it is partly because of Gellar’s abilities to create a multifaceted Slayer, the Chosen One who will defeat evil against the forces of darkness. Buffy Summers wasn’t just a short, spry teen woman with smooth blond tresses, killer outfits, and great pink lipgloss, she was also smart, brave, vulnerable, funny, sweet, loving, and generous. Gellar scored a Saturn Award, Teen Choice, Kid’s Choice Awards for her portrayal. Although nominated for a Golden Globe, she was robbed of nominations for diligently carrying emotive weight in episodes The Body and The Gift. The Emmys weren’t especially kind either, but alas it matters no longer. Gellar was the heart and soul of a complex, layered champion and the win is that she will forever taint our minds with precious sentiment.

In the meantime, Gellar had memorable bite in Cruel Intentions as Kathryn Merteuil, a devilish, spoiled drug user who played sordid revenge games and planted a steamy, seductive kiss on Selma Blair’s innocent Cecile. She won Best Sleazebag at Teen Choice Awards and Best Female Performance and Best Kiss at the MTV Movie Awards. She starred in Simply Irresistible (a corny but lovable film with soundtrack gems), I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2, The Grudge, and Scooby Doo and its sequel.

She returned to television playing twins Siobhan and Bridget in Ringer, but won her first People’s Choice Award for Sydney Roberts in The Crazy Ones.

Gia Russo (left) is co-creator/creative director of Foodstirs alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar (right). Galit Laibow is the third owner.

Gellar guests on a few other things here and there, rapping as a Cinderella, voice work in Robot Chicken, Star Wars: Rebels, and The Simpsons. Nowadays, however, she is busily promoting her co-created Foodstirs, a line of organic non-GMO baking kits that offer all natural, chemical free, fair trade products from cakes and cookies to donuts and pancakes.

Still, she is a dominate force missed big time in both large and small screen. For starters, she shouldn’t be typecast in horror/thrillers. She definitely has the chomps for comedy and has always retained potential for a wonderful romance. Plus, it would be terrific if a woman director and/or writer generated something perfect for her. After all, Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured phenomenal female heavy hitters such as Marti Noxon and Jane Espenson. Perhaps someday, Gellar will receive another crucial role that lets her star shine brighter, deliver more accolades on her mantle, and grant the full fledged notoriety she has always deserved beyond cult fan status.

In television, women can really run anything. It can be a comedy, it can be a drama, it can be genre, it can be anything. But in films, women are still getting to the top.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Happy Birthday, Lupita Nyong'o: Fem Film Rogue Icon Spotlight

Lupita is a gem to film, fashion, and hair.
Is there no other person who steals hearts more than Lupita Nyong'o?

The Mexican born daughter of Kenyan parents is a multi-talented, resilient, award-winning force unlike any other. She has won an Oscar, a NAACP Image Award, an ABFF Award, two Black Reel Awards, an Obie Award, an Independent Spirit Award, two Gold Derby Awards, a SAG Award, and a slew of other critics honors. She has also been nominated for a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Satellite, two BAFTAs, an Empire Award, a Drama League Award, and endless other nods.

And she just turns thirty-five-years young today.

Lupita Nyong'o at the Academy Awards, winning for Best Supporting Actress, 2013.
Lupita at the SAG Awards, 2013.
Lupita at the Met Gala: Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, 2016.
Lupita at the Star Wars: The Last Jedi premiere, 2017.
Lupita at the Black Panther premiere, 2018.

Six years ago, Nyong'o stepped on the scene with pure dynamism and infectious sweetness, an accomplished Yale grad, a speaker of four languages (English, Spanish, Luo, and Swahili), a former understudy for Danai Gurira's debut play for another great actress Adepero Oduye (who she starred alongside in her first feature film, Steve McQueen's Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave). She seduced everyone with her intelligently authentic awards speeches, fabulous red carpet style, captivating smile, and short cropped natural. The latter made her fearless, a unique iconic ally among the plethora of black women celebrities who were not brave enough to rock anti-Europeanism. It was a candid, boastful political statement that championed the way we grew out our hair, not a thing of shame, but a beautiful, inspiring manifesto written in her coifed TWA, her twist outs, her bantu knots. Her gorgeous dark hued skin, luminous and glowing, also drew in rave reviews from everyone all over the world who occasionally saw themselves reflected on the big screen until Nyong'o shined incredible light. Colorism be damned.

Ayira (Lupita Nyong'o) wants more than what Ty (Pepe Haze) can offer her.
I first watched Nyong'o's work on Shuga, a MTV produced series that explores the consequences of unprotected sexual relationships in Kenya (later moving to Nigeria). She played Ayira, a spry, naïve college girl in a long-term relationship, using rich older men as a catalyst for making it big. Although at times, Ayira carelessly jeopardizing her relationship challenged relationship morals, yet Nyong'o's evenly layered performance made the character almost worth rooting for.

Eventually, Nyong'o and Gurira reunited for Eclipsed, the first Broadway play with an all female cast and female director, a drama with a few lighthearted moments about Liberian soldiers who escape turmoil and sexual abuse. Nyong'o's character changing from sweet, innocent child-woman to fierce, indestructible soldier shared a great depth of vulnerability, strength, dignity, and grace.

Rita (Akosua Busia) provides The Girl (Lupita Nyong'o) comfort.
Later, Queen of Katwe, a thoughtful, generous love letter to Africa, directed by the exceptional Mira Nair is a piece that I simply cannot recommend enough. From the splendid shot on location in Africa, to a rich, humorous, bittersweet story of a young chess girl living in the village, to that great Young Cardamom & HAB #1 Spice song/video, this may sound too Disney, but I must say that the story is about believing in dreams and defeating all odds-- gender, race, class, etc. Nyong'o is a reluctant mother who doesn't want her daughter to have high, grand hopes. Madina Nawanga has a great debut here as the real-life Phiona Mutesi and we hope that in the future, she too will become a dominant media star as well.
A step up from a Barbie.
Nyong'o's portrayal as Nakia is certainly a dream come to life for little black girls whom rarely see themselves as heroes, as vigilantes. Ryan Coogler fleshes out the character, for compassionate spy Nakia is T'Challa's key love interest-- a rare win in the Marvel Universe while Falcon, another black male hero, still plays only second fiddle to Captain America, but that's another story entirely. However, Nakia loves her freedom and wants to share that liberty with those in need, especially oppressed black women all over Africa. That makes her valid and rootable. Plus, her hairstyles and outfits are off the chain.

Nyong'o is also a producer, director, and writer: her first piece (she served as publicist, sound editor, and editor as well), a short called In My Genes explores albinoism in Africa and she is penning a children's book on colorism in Kenya entitled Sulwe, means "star" in Luo. It will be released next January. She advocates against poaching, launching a campaign called "Minds and Hearts," wrote a raw, poignant New York Times piece on her personal experience with serial sexual harrasser/rapist Harvey Weinstein, and vows to work solely with women and male feminist directors.

Lupita Nyong'o receiving an affectionate hug from her bestie, playwright/actress Danai Gurira on promotion of Eclipsed on Broadway.
Currently, in addition to being in Black Panther, the top movie in the world right now, it has been announced that Nyong'o and Gurira are teaming up once again to adapt Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie's brilliant novel, Americanah with Gurira writing the screenplay and Nyong'o starring and producing. Nyong'o will also be producing and starring in Trevor Noah's memoir, Born a Crime. Nyong'o's next film is Abe Forsythe's Little Monsters, which doesn't yet have a U.S. release date, and Ava DuVernay will be penning and producing a buddy film starring Nyong'o and Rihanna for Netflix.  

With so much happening on the horizon, Lupita Nyong'o remains a diligent, influential figure in black culture, having covered Vogue Magazine a record for times as a black woman (despite putting them in check for incorrectly guessing her Met Gala Ball hair inspiration) and is the first black woman to be brand ambassador for French beauty company, Lancôme.

Lupita is an inspiration that defies Western beauty standards, brazenly showing everyone the effervescent enthrallment of the black woman, wearing any color, any pattern, challenging the ever critical eye with her style, her acting choices, and producing decisions. Armored with privileged education and two loving parents and family, she brings that sharp edged tenacity and passion to those desperate to see themselves, hear themselves in all forms of visual media.
Here are some of her most memorable quotes:

"What I have learned about myself is that I don't have to be anybody else. Myself is good enough." From backstage after monumental Oscars win, 2013

"My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, "You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you." And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be." Read her full Black Woman in Hollywood speech here, 2014.

"Go where you are loved. Danai Gurira, who wrote Eclipsed, shared that with me, and it's a valuable thought that's really stuck. When you're trying to find collaborators, you need to go where you are loved—because that's precisely the place where your dreams and goals will be nurtured. People who see the best in you bring out the best in you." Oprah, 2016

Monday, February 19, 2018

‘Black Panther’ Gloriously Delivers Wakanda

Black Panther film poster.
Black Panther was indescribably above expectations and is the best Marvel film by far.

Although not the originally slated four hours that anxious fans desperately hoped for, the shorter run time still had plenty of juicy appeal to satisfy the appetite for all things African. This film is definitely not the average Marvel verse. At last, we see ourselves, our ancestral pride stitched in every detail. From the far and wide casting choices of black American, Kenyan, Zimbabwean, Ugandan, Rwandan actors/actresses to the elaborate costumes that pay homage to roots, to the jewelry to the sights of drums and dance and ritual to face painting, hair styles, makeup, fashion, language (both phonemic and hand communication) and scenery. Every ingredient unifies the world of Wakanda, taking audiences to a place they’ve always wanted to go, but rarely realized it could finally happen.

Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), and Okoye (Danai Gurira) are now home.
Black Panther starts off with an unexpected betrayal in the past, an act that will unravel and change the course of Wakandan allegiances in the future. Thus, in the present-day, after catastrophic events from Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa embarks home, retrieving Nakia, a bold, brazen woman spy who often leaves him rightfully "frozen," along the way. Upon his most welcomed return, the traditional ceremony of his crowning as King of Wakanda is a joyous occasion with music, dance, and battle.

Like an eloquent black Eve bearing an apple of fruitful knowledge, Nakia, refusing to be wife, offers T'Challa the first taste of forbidden resistance. She wants to share Wakanda to those in need, to generously spread the great wealth of resources all over the world, especially to black people. This is where they differ. T'Challa wants to stick with Wakandan tradition, to remain apart, and continue on with sacred, privileged black utopia. They are on opposing sides, but the love they have for Wakanda and for one another is a delightful. refreshing energy. Their banter, their looks into each other's eyes, their handholding, and their kissing is that splendid, exasperating thing, the first black on black heterosexual love story shown in the Marvel films.

T'Challa is reluctant, but is ready to be a remarkable leader. At the same time, he is not his father. He is tested throughout, challenged to consider exactly where Wakanda's loyalties lie. In his eventual pursuit of Klaue, he faces being surveillanced under the scrutiny of public eye and finding out some disheartening truths about his father, who had once said in the astral plane, "that a father who cannot prepare his son for the future has failed as a father."

The hypocrisy levels definitely tore T'Challas's fatherly love and admiration asunder. There is no question that what the former Wakandan king had did a horrific, inexcusable wrong.

Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) faces off against T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman).
With his malice lying deep in the feelings of isolation and trauma, Erik Killmonger is such a terrific many layered villain. Beyond the bad seed trope, he is the physical consequences of residual scars of seeing the abandoned body of his dead father like that of the black body grossly depicted in history, in our current landscape, dead and unattended, left without a sliver of compassion and empathy. The desire for revenge rightfully brews in him, gaining substantial ground as he grows up on American soil, experiencing heinous racism and oppression, while desiring a place in his father’s native homeland, the very place that he blames for his tragic childhood. Thus, his extreme politics bear great similarities between of the righteous need to arm civilians with tools necessary to flourish and thrive without fearing white supremacy. He is the Malcolm X to T'Challa's Martin Luther King Jr.

The heart of the film is finding one self conflicted between T’Challa and Erik, finding both sides wrong and right on different political and social parallels. That wherein the genius.

Okoye (Danai Gurira) and her beloved spear taking names in the midst of an awesome car chase.
Black Panther fearlessly passes Bechdel and Ava DuVernay tests with flying emergent colors. The women of Wakanda were an absolute, scene stealing treat! There are no background players and props here. Firstly, the dynamism between the four leading women was a chemistry barely tapped in the Marvel Comics film sphere seeing as most of its core female characters, Black Widow especially, operate alone in a male dominated situations. In Wakanda, levels of trust and friendship went beyond protecting their supreme ruler. Queen Ramonda, Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye are a beautiful, inspiring sentiment, an awesome portrayal of the communal bonds between the black women’s love for each other and their undying allegiance to their country.

Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) are ready to fight for their country.
Queen Ramonda has birthed two amazing individuals who have inherited her goodness, her tenacity, and her courage. Princess Shuya, the computer tech whiz behind Wakanda’s highly advanced superior technology had more than once saved the day behind-the-scenes. She is valiant, witty, sharp, and intelligent, a supreme highlight who had some of the best deep seated one-liners, especially about colonialism. Nakia, the prince’s heart, has love for all people, wanting nothing more than to share Wakanda’s wealth of knowledge and resources to those of the diaspora, but of course, her kind of vigilantism often gets her into trouble. She too is an excellent warrior, her fighting skills a tremendous glory to watch, seen in the visually stunning choreography sequence in the casino scene with her fellow sister, Okoye, the powerful, resilient, staff wielding leader of the impressively elite Dora Milaje. Okoye is fierce and loyal to the throne, which adds to her internal struggles further down the line.

In the forests near the mountains of Gorilla City, Jabari
s Tribe, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Shuri (Letitia Wright).  
When Nakia, having successfully taken the last of Wakanda’s most precious plant as Killmonger orders it all burned down, is pleaded by Queen Ramonda herself to engulf the advanced Black Panther powers, the powers entrusted in her familial line. Even with her own young daughter standing by, it is Nakia, that Queen Ramonda believes can save them.

Other must see highlights: Nakia's first secret mission of freeing captive women (because of its heartbreaking reminder of "Bring Back Our Girls," a movement to finding the missing kidnapped girls from Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria); Killmonger wisely informing a curator of the Museum of Great Britain that they stole artifacts from Africa (because us knowledged people cannot imagine Africans gifting precious artworks to "The Other" aka colonizers); M'Baku and his people barking over Agent Everett Ross, telling him that he couldn't talk (because white people constantly tend to speak over black people). A sweet Moonlight actor makes a cameo at the end (because this brings to full circle the monumental range of diaspora unleashed in this film, us brown and darker skinned complexions with our broad noses and protruding foreheads and full lips are present together).

Wakanda Ensemble: Forest Whittaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Chadwick Boseman, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright.
Black Panther does have minor adversaries. It is unsettling that a white C.I.A. operative comes to their country, wears their symbolic garb, and eventually must wield their sophisticated devices to blast down Wakandan vessels. There is no queer representation, which makes one wish that Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie, introduced in Thor: Ragnarok, would fly on down to Wakanda and have her way with a Dora Milaje soldier. Or perhaps in its sequel (oh there has got to be a sequel), Roxanne Gay can be brought into the writing room. The most glaring flaw is that black libertarianism, seemingly the real supposed villain, the conveyed message behind Killmonger's "evil," definitely conjures internalized friction. This idea to save long suffering black people from imperialism (Wakanda has plentiful which Nakia earlier addressed) isn't Wakanda's problem, but what T'Chaka did to Killmonger is. Where was Killmonger's mother? What role did she play in his life, if any? His masculinity was a toxic, misogynistic brand and yet, his desire to arm the most vulnerable people in the world was moving in spite of it.  

However, it is imperative to remember that one fictional superhero movie cannot hold everything, be everything to someone. It would be irresponsible to say the least.

Black Panther has granted us a black director (Ryan Coogler), black writers (Coogler with Joe Robert Cole), a black costume designer (Ruth Carter), a black jewelry designer (Douriean Flecther), a black production designer (Hannah Beachler), a black soundtrack director (Kendrick Lamar), and an almost all black cast from different pockets of the globe. And that stands for something undeniably profound.

T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has reassurance from Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) that he can and will thrive as king of Wakanda.
Overall, Coogler and his team have helm a magnificent picture with a fine, gratifying story that passionately entails the complexities of fights within the black community. He has achieved a finesse that few filmmakers in the comic book verse have by incorporating historical and contemporary problems. The performances are meticulously top notch and powerful, possibly one of the best ensembles of Marvel. With Oscar winners and nominees, Golden Globe contenders, NAACP Awards and Black Reel accolades, and even a Pulitzer Prize nominee in the mix, the stakes were high. From Chadwick Boseman's commanding lead (kudos to his dialect coach), Michael B. Jordan's ruthless aggression to Lupita Nyong'o's ferocious vitality to Danai Gurira's stout loyalty, everyone had came with their A game. Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Sterling K. Brown, Winston Duke, and Letitia Wright (who was superb in that must watch Black Mirror episode, "Black Museum') also put in incredible acting efforts.

Black Panther may not have televised the whole entire revolution, but this imperative comic book film drama passionately ignites conversations to take that leap.

Now go see and support the vision of black excellence. Wakanda forever.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

'Dirty Computer' Promises a Great Return of Janelle Monae's Epically Engaging Short Films

Janelle Monáe is coming back to snatch afro wigs and lace fronts.
The ArchAndroid Electric Lady, our beloved Cindi Mayweather is finally emerging back to retake seat on her throne of psychedelic R&B pop funkiness.
And boy has she been missed!
Although it has been extremely wonderful that Monáe entered the acting foray, stealing our breaking hearts in Moonlight and enticing our innermost ferocity in Hidden Figures, we cannot forget where she has originated, where she has originally tantalized and seduced us-- through powerful, soul-stirring music, through thoughtful artful videos like miniature movies. Cold War, Many Moons, and Queen are definitely highlights in her rather impressive, atrociously underrated oeuvre.
Sudden teaser release of Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe's upcoming follow up to spectacular albums, The Metropolis: The Chase Suite, The ArchAndroid, and The Electric Lady, shares a thirty-second rush of blinking rapid images that feature grouped beautiful black women in sophisticated costumes and gorgeous hairstyles whilst belonging and existing in dystopian science fiction spaces lit up by fantastic red and purple lights that bring out the marvelous glows of rich, diverse hues. Every moment is important and interesting, arresting the ravenous eye with such intense, gratifying portrayals of intimacy and longing. Surprisingly guest cameo-ing in Monáe's last video, Yoga, it is quite refreshing to see Tessa Thompson again, perhaps playing a tender girlfriend, a loving best friend. The delivered hints are fascinating, a mix between Afrofuturist fundamentals and present realities. There's the inclusive marginalized body experiencing sweet love and rebel carefreeness and contagious excitement.
Like Janet Jackson, Monáe has an authoritative control that makes music more than head bopping dance beats. She shoves negative stigmas and outdated stereotypes to the wind in order to bring forth a new daunting era, to inspire and influence new generations to awaken from the "sleep."
Here are some of my favorite snaps of Dirty Computer:

Thompson touching Monáe's face and hair, leaning in.....

Stepping in the club with fierce attitude.

Is this the infamous Anthony Greendown?
An affectionate hold.

Upside down with the popping necklace that charges around the braided wearer with radiant super charged energy.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Tale of Four: Gabourey Sidibe's Charged Directorial Debut

The Tale of Four film poster.

Promise reveals itself through the thoughtful directorial debut of Oscar nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe. Between delicately plucking tender flowers to passionately snatching the plants out of their soil pots, Sidibe breaks open Nina Simone's powerful song, "Four Women," composing a short narrative that places itself into contemporary America. In the course of a single day, four different women occupy an apartment complex, facing personal turmoil, coping with images and events that lead to emotional and mental health fragilities that black women must often confront alone, without support. It has always been a disturbing perception that black people, black women in particular, are conditioned to be strong, to be so above showing emotional "weakness."

The Tale of Four shares the struggles, triumphs, and failures of Aunt Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches.

Ledisi is Aunt Sarah.

First, duress and agitated, the black Aunt Sarah, obviously broken by the murder of a black man, cannot bear playing the parental role to two children whom so desperately need her. She is a morose creature, restless demons haunting the despair in her eyes, the burden weighing heavily upon someone so grossly unprepared for offering love to those in need.

Megan Kimberly Smith is Saffronia.

Battered and beaten, Saffronia, on the other hand, is the yellow scarred teen hiding secrets to her mother. In fact, this daughter/mother are both keeping traumatic wounds from each other, these wounds being emotional, sexual, and physical manifestations that must get out in some way before swallowed into internal gutter.

Dana Gourrier is Sweet Thing.

Confident and cocky, Sweet Thing is the tan, curvy vixen who wields sex as a weapon, as her sultry power source. She is raw and sensual. Yet brewing beneath the need for instant gratification, lies a desire for a deeper, fulfilling connection, something much more beautiful than the easy seconds to discard one's body for the empty, meaningless pleasure.  

Aisha Hinds is Peaches.

Peaches is the brown reckless crusader, a power-to-the people savior. Her room is an aggressive triggering of past images. From Emmitt Till's casket photos to slain young black people of our now, the little pictures and newspaper clippings that surround her add fuel to her angry rants, the flare of her message seemingly breaking the fourth wall, instructing viewers to take immediate charge, to bear no more suffering in an unjust society that has never wanted to be equal with any minorities. 

Gabourey Sidibe on set.

The Tale of Four's script is written by Ayanna McMichael and Kia Perry, two women who have worked in various departments of the film industry. This is their first imDb writing credit and the joined effort is pretty solid. It is definitely one of the most captivating perspective's of Nina's wondrous song. There is depth here as if they took the lyrics apart piece by piece and set these individual characters in this specific place, in this specific time. The performances also strengthened the short, especially the gritty significance of Peaches, that rough, embittered particle that passionately screams out injustice. 

Therefore, this short is a resonating piece to add to anyone's Black History Month roster.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

2018 Oscars Nominations Reactionary Post: Black Women Still Have A Long Road Ahead in the Inclusivity Conversation

A sight that Hollywood seems to hate: inclusive women behind the scenes. This is Mudbound's crew: editor Mako Kamitsuna (bottom left), makeup Angie Wells (far left), Oscar nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison (third from left), Oscar nominated Dee Rees (middle), composer Tamar-kali (right) and sound engineer Pud Cusack (far right).

The Oscar nominations were a slew of typical suspects.

Firstly, unsure why Meryl Streep is up in the running. The now 21x Oscar nominee shouldn't be nominated every year. She is a great actress, but voters are obviously dismissing other solid performances in order to shoe her in. Some of them probably didn't even watch The Post. They're like, "oh it's Meryl, let's just find the other four." And Margot Rob? Really? Looks like we'll be seeing Tonya Harding's ass on another red carpet.

Although it is laudable that the Best Lead Actor race features two black men: Roman J. Israel's Denzel Washington competing for his third Oscar (out of eight nominations) and Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya, it is disappointing that there are five white women vying for Best Leading Actress nominations-- which is business as usual. At this appalling point, it is laughable that Halle Berry is still the only black woman who has won in the eighty year history. Black women can always garner a support and have better chances of acquiring that win. And white women rarely speak on this injustice.   

However, the most exciting news is that Dee Rees is the first black woman to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Mudbound, a gritty drama that deserves more kudos, having been shut out show after show this season. It is heartbreaking that there is no Best Director for Rees or Best Picture honor for Mudbound. The writing credit is still a huge, momentous victory-- which means the voters have taken notice of the compelling narrative, impressive dialogue, and winning direction. Speaking of other commendable milestones.....

Congratulations Mary J. Blige on making history.
Mudbound's Mary J. Blige is a double nominee for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song-- the first performer to be nominated for acting and music for the same film whereas Rachel Morrison is the first woman to be nominated for Best Cinematography.

Plus, the Best Director (the most diverse range it has ever been though there's room for improvement)and Best Original Screenplay both feature Get Out's Jordan Peele and Ladybird's Greta Gerwig.

Octavia Spencer continues dominating the Best Supporting category.
Octavia Spencer is still the only black woman continuing to receive nominations after winning one and ties with Viola Davis for most Oscar nominations for black women. This, however, is her third nomination as Best Supporting Actress.

The various opinion pieces about black people needing to let go of obsessing over Oscar nominations and wins for our heroes, for ourselves is understandable. They contain high levels of disgust, asking if the Oscars themselves are how filmmakers should reach. Yes, admittedly the Oscar has always been a white man's institution. The white man vouches for who he likes. Yet, at the same time, can we not argue for validity? There is value for a film lover, a black film lover at that, to see their favorites succeed at not just getting their films shown onscreen (which remains a huge hurdle especially for black women). To be honored by their peers, by older white voters, is an ugly kind of beautiful. Sure, those voters tend to adore black people set in stereotypical roles. Good films come and go. Most will never be Oscar nominated. That doesn't lessen their integral contribution. We shouldn't say that just because so and so was nominated/won an Oscar that they "made it." The arresting fact that the work was delivered played its part already-- and that's what we should all congratulate in the end. Regardless of whether any of 2018's nominees actually receive the win, it is a nice honor to receive, not necessarily the most important thing to take away.

It is amazing that James Franco isn't nominated. Unfortunately, the bad blood over Casey Affleck remains and will be a putrid occasion for the woman who wins Best Actress in a Leading Role.

After each awards show this year, it is sad to note that the #MeToo and #TimesUp is for everybody save for black women.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Epic Goodness of "Insecure" Season Two

Insecure Season Two made the summer hot and funny.
Last night, my mom texted," what are you getting into?"
I responded, "I'm just binge watching my favorite show."
"Buffy? Roswell?"
"No. I'm watching Insecure!"
"Insecure? What is that about?"

The relationship between Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji) is a solid backbone of the whole show. It's very endearing that when either one of them has been driven to take a misstep, they edge each other from the ledge.
Yes, my teenage years were spent admiring vampire slayers and aliens. Back then, the pop culture was so good that ignoring the huge pink elephant in the room-- that WB shows and bedroom wall posters excluded black characters, black actors-- seemed easy to swallow. Insecure is a solid restoration project, a justified experience gifting those who rarely saw reflections of themselves on a weekly basis. These black women not only look like us, in deeper brown skin tones and varying hair textures, they are expressionistic, intelligent, funny, sharp, awkward, vulnerable, and desirable.

In the first season, Molly Carter searched for love in all the wrong places and Issa Dee tried to be a loyal girlfriend to Lawrence, her app creating boyfriend of five years (who definitely spent more time on the couch than anything else), but her old crush, music producer, Daniel, causes her to commit the ultimate relationship no-no.

Molly (Yvonne Orji) and her bilingual old neighbor Dro (Sarunus Jackson) catch up on things.....
Season two picks right up where we left off, going in hard core as Issa struggles to move on from a long-term relationship. Our hip hop heroine is juggling men (on some casual "hoe-tation"), letting horrific injustice slide at her job (which frictions up the Issa/Frieda relationship), and noticing gentrification of her apartment building and neighborhood (rent uphikes and all). Molly, on the other hand, seems less idyllic, abandoning shallow hookups for a while. She faces financial disparity at the law firm, her parents' marriage isn't what she deluded herself into believing, and her gorgeous old friend reveals shocking details about his marriage. Lawrence is trying to be a single man with boastful encouragement from Chad, his engaged homeboy. Lawrence winds up making questionable choices: mindless sex, "ghosting" woes, entering commitments he's not ready for, and being treated like the "cool black guy" that his young, white bosses are afraid to openly criticize.

"Hella Disrespectful" episode seven, featured an intense confrontation that had the exes facing each other for the first time since the tumultuous end of "Hella Great," episode one. Despite the hate fueled words exchanged,, Issa (Issa Rae) and Lawrence (Jay Ellis) had a flaring passion boiling between their insults.
There are laughs galore in this season. For starters, no one is ever going to look at eye patches the same way again. It's a nicely layered balance of comedy and drama, as infectiously entertaining as the creepy slave soap opera that everyone seems to watch-- guys included.

Squad goals: Molly (Yvonne Orji), Issa (Issa Rae), Tiffany (Amanda Seales), and Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) take a selfie pose at a Derrick Addams show, bringing contemporary art into the canvas.
The dynamic has shifted, granting imperative tidbits on Molly and Issa's other gal pals, boujie Tiffany and bluntly outspoken Kelli. Tiffany's marriage to Derek, like Molly's parents, appeared blissful and happy until she blabbered rather shocking news. Although it's unclear whether infidelity is involved, one thing is clear-- maybe the third season unleashes another chip in a seemingly perfect union. After all, the wandering eye has been an antagonizing obstacle in almost everyone's relationships. Meanwhile, hilarious Kelli, a constant relief, finds time to enjoy herself at the Kiss and Grind and the late-night food spot, which concludes in a very disturbing, albeit comically riveting moment.

Insecure has been receiving a modest amount of love on the award circuit. Black Reel nominated Jay Ellis recently won Best Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series at the NAACP Image Awards while triple-threat Issa Rae has been nominated six times in multiple categories as an actress, writer, and Entertainer of the Year. Rae has received BET, Golden Globe, MTV Movie + TV, Satellite, and Gold Derby nods as well as winning NAMIC and Black Reel Awards. Yvonne Orji has also garnered two consecutive NAACP nominations and a Black Reel nod. For two eight-episode seasons of creative, refreshingly candid stories, this HBO gem is utterly deserving of every honor Hollywood has to offer-- it's that damn good.

In Issa Rae's written "Hella Perspective," contains one of my favorite scenes. Issa (Issa Rae) faces one financial disaster after another and cannot make the maiden voyage to Morocco. So Molly (Yvonne) turns her apartment into a trip overseas, granting them costumes, food, and music. Cheers to that. 
This bonafide treat has been greenlighted for another season and hopefully more afterwards. The head bopping music (thank you, Raphael Siddiq), Issa's active imagination/mirror self talks, silly sister friends, and more cook beautifully together in this hot, simmering soup that is too tasty to pass up. Other pluses include women behind-the-scenes: Natasha Rothwell (Kelli) as executive story editor, Melina Matsoukas, Marta Cunningham, and Tina Mabry directing episodes, Rae, Regina Hicks, and Amy Aniobi writing, Ayanna James' dope clothing choices from endless pro-black message shirts/hoodies (bus bound Issa's "The FBI Killed Fred Hampton" sweatshirt was one of my favorites), funky denim, and stylish dresses, and Felicia Leatherwood giving endless hairstyle slayage to Rae.

"I'm rooting for everybody black," Rae had stated.

Insecure is worth applauding-- because it's a piece of reflective glass for everybody black. Although one can not the importance of Buffy and possibly Roswell, the fact remains that those shows were not showing an inclusive reality to escape into. They rarely shared positive images of ourselves. We didn't lead, let alone speak up enough. With Issa and all her crazy hot mess goodness, is the wonderful, thoughtful consideration for the audience, for the black women and black men who rally around these characters, who have formed an Issa Side and a Lawrence Hive, truly wanting what's best for all of them.

It's a show that reveals our flaws, our dreams, our beauty, and our undeniable strength.

And now my mom is eager to watch.