Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Awkwardness & Hilarity About Sex in 'Hello Cupid'

Hello Cupid: Farrah takes a look at Farrah..


That single exclamation repeated itself throughout audience showing of Hello Cupid, a film from the studio behind Black and Sexy TV. Tina Cerin, Numa Perrier, and Dennis Dortch directed with Perrier, Cerin, and Thais Francis (Cassie) writing this humor laced story about a young black woman virgin, bravely embarking on sexual journey riddled with frankly honest complications.

The opening focuses on quirky, stylish Farrah dressed in a long black duster, tee, and jeans; a free spirited, bare faced skateboarder with a killer massive Afro and infectious gap toothed grin. Her innocence is refreshingly genuine, a rarely depicted characterization in black women portraiture. In most popular modern films, television, and books, black women automatically know the ins and outs of sexual intercourse without ever a mention of first time experience.

Before Farrah enters a queer mixer, she has the attention of Justin, another skilled black skateboarder. Originally, she intended to meet Cassie, a confident, assertive, dark skinned beauty whose smile borders between sticky sweet to falsely chipper.

Farrah (Gabrielle Maiden) was first seen in Sexless.
Hello Cupid is a like a rich contemporary reminscence of Janie Crawford's path to sexuality in first acts of Their Eyes Were Watching God. With a comedic twist that is. Between her flustered blushing and inability to look pursuiters in the eyes, Farrah's bee sting is quite apparent, buzzing about her, attracting those around her, especially Justin and Cassie. Although Farrah is curious about which sexual destiny is best for her, she tests what each offers. Fascination mixed with hilarity and chaos ensues. Sometimes Farrah seems ready and other times, she allows herself to be coaxed. With overeager Cassie, Farrah is cautiously wary, but allows the gratification, succumbing to an alarmingly good, bathroom sink ride to orgasm ville. The aftermath, however, is awkward as hell-- Cassie acts strangely distant while Farrah is starry eyed enchanted. It's that sad Pariah scene again-- one is thrilled by the act and the other wants to bow out gracelessly. Yet the difference is that Cassie is out and proud, not shamefully hiding in the shadows clinging to misguided societal demands like Bina.

Still, Farrah is flashbacking to the heated moment of her "deflowering," changed provocatively, wearing makeup and little black dress to symbolize maturity. Out of fear of further rejection, she avoids Cassie, who appears interested again, and turns to Justin. They have a great date--skating, ice cream eating, the works. Unfortunately, the sex is awful. All degrees of clumsiness and fumbling occurs, which laughably crafted is the sordid truth. No one is a maestro overnight. 

In comparison with introductive experience, obviously one is far more enjoyable than the other for Farrah. 

Beautiful, talented Thais Francis, who co-wrote Hello Cupid: Farrah,
brought laughs and eyebrow raises as the strong willed Cassie. 
Hello Cupid's laudable highlight is that Farrah has a supportive She Circle. Her roommate is the first person she tells about her newfound sexual awakening and she is over the moon happy and supportive of her friend "finally getting some." Sex isn't always the most comfortable subject matter, often taking time to discuss openly. It was great that Farrah could confide in her female friends. Another amazing part featured a Farrah inspecting her lady parts in the bathtub and the real apprehension of acquiring an STD-- which more than likely was a result of Farrah's giant over exaggeration. The rivalry between Cassie and Justin was also very funny. One wondered if the scene of unseen stranger knocking on Cassie's door was in fact, a jealous Justin lusting for Farrah. 

In the end, Farrah, having gained separate experiences, remains holding onto lost innocence, still believing that she carries the virgin status card. Perhaps she has room to grow in her sexual path and it looks like Cassie might be the way.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Happy Birthday Viola Davis: Fem Film Rogue Icon Spotlight

Don't call her the "Black Meryl Streep," Viola Davis (first African American actor to win triple crown of acting: Oscar, Emmy, and Tony) has definitely carved a stake in Hollywood on her own terms.
I first saw this incredibly gifted actress in John Patrick Stanley's Doubt. She had this huge, pivotal scene that stole the whole film from seasoned Meryl Streep and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. I was taken aback, shaken to the core. "Until June," this mother would willingly ignore heinous allegations that a priest was possibly making on her young son, testimony based on words by a nun. What?

Viola Davis's delivery was excellent-- aghast, stunned, complacent. Immediately, I looked up her imdb, desperate to watch whatever else she blessed. Her ability to convey a wide range of human emotion is a tremendous skill few can truly touch.

Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis) only had one scene of dialogue and Davis gave script one hundred percent gold.
On this day in 1965, Davis was born in St. Matthews, South Carolina, the fifth of six children. Her mother worked several jobs, was also a Civil Rights activist, going as far as being jailed with young Viola in tow. Overcoming great strife such as wretched hardship, Davis went on to succeed at Rhode Island College and Julliard.

Is it any wonder why she was chosen as Time 100's Most Influential? Viola hasn't only just crafted acting. She has given voice to black Hollywood's unhidden issues.  
Davis is a well-trained theater actress. No doubt. In film and television, her fierce tenacity translates beautifully onscreen. She has worked with some of the best actors and actresses in Hollywood, but brings her own dish to the table. Often at times, outshining her partner. In Fences, she brought it all (sorry Denzel).

How to Get Away With Murder functions from fall season opener, to winter breaker, to spring season finale due to Davis's weekly top notch acting class masterpieces. Davis breathes effortlessly into Annalise Keating. She cries, tears joining with nostril snot. She pulls off her hair pieces and wipes away makeup. Everyone feels her pain and struggle as though fourth wall has been cracked. We just want to offer her hugs and tissues. Annalise is also manipulative, seductive, fiery, smart, and courageous. At times, she can be selfish and selfless. She has significant relationships with men and women. Thanks to this wig popping, heart beat snatching role, Davis is still the first and only black woman to receive the Primetime Emmy for Best Leading Actress in a Drama Series. Weeks ago, she received her third consecutive nomination.

In addition to redefining history, her award win list is miles long. With vast theater expertise, she has won two coveted Drama Desk Awards (including one for two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel)  and two Tony Awards. She has five SAG Awards (first for a black actor). In addition to a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, our sis has three AAFCA Awards (African American Film Critics Association), four NAACP Image Awards, three Black Reel Awards, and a BET Award. And this year, she won her first Academy Award after two prior nominations.

Yet Davis shows no signs of stopping. She and her husband have a production company called JuVee Productions which have produced amazing films like Lila and Eve and Custody. They're working on a biography of Barbara Jordan. Plus the digital series American Koko is on its second season.

In Shondaland's hit How to Get Away With Murder, in criminal defense attorney Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), audiences see a powerful, multi-layered dark skinned black woman grace the screens for fifteen suspenseful episodes per season.
Another wonderful, motivating trait about Davis, next to her commendable acting ability and realm into producing black stories, is her advocacy for black women, especially dark skinned women still searching for a pedestal, a right to be deemed acceptable and sexy in this Europeanized society. She bravely includes this notion in almost every awards speech, the need to be seen, to be a desirable character. She talks bluntly about colorism, the paper bag test that will never die, sharing hopes that our stories will continue being complex and honest portrayal of African diaspora. The future deserves a champion like Davis. She eloquently speaks a truth that few dare to bring to light.    

Viola with her much ado Oscar. She is a Grammy win away from EGOT status and there's no doubt that she'll achieve that.

Whether playing an anti-hero or a flawed feminine icon, Davis is here to stay and help move us along.

Four Viola Davis quotes to live by:

"The one thing I feel is lacking in Hollywood today is an understanding of the beauty, the power, the sexuality, the uniqueness, the humor of being a regular Black woman." Essence, 2013

"Vanity destroys your work. That's the one thing you have to let go of as an actor. I don't care how sexy or beautiful any woman is. At the end of the day, she has to take her makeup off. At the end of the day, she's more than just pretty." The New York Times Magazine, 2014

"Every time I look at the [photo of myself as a] little girl, I always thought, Oh, that's a cute outfit.' But she was always hungry, she was always shy, she was always kind of in the background, but inside she had big dreams bursting. And the only thing I could think about is that saying, 'What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly.'" On receiving her Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, 2016

"You know, there's one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place and that's the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life...." Oscar Speech, 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

'Inamorata' Brilliantly Defines "The Other Woman"

Inamorata film poster.



        a person's female lover

Inamorata made an impressive Philadelphia premiere at Blackstar Film Festival with degreeing touches of surrealistic voodoo bringing haunted vitality to A-lan Holt's supernatural filmmaking debut. The drama stars a rather ubitiquitous triangle, the three individuals irrevocably tangled in a web ignited by one man's treacherous deceit. Betrayal goes beyond cheating when a women's friendship is involved, but sordid messiness is handled with unique twists and turns.

Sabrina Karlsson filters through as a powerful woman who isn't necessarily scorned.

This lush, sensually crafted film opens with a full figured woman with long curly tendrils, endless freckles, and pillowy lips. She unveils cards from her tarot deck, possibly seeing the threads of her future misfortune. She is a devoted girlfriend, mother, yogi, and painter, shifting between these roles, diligent and strong. She articulates fierce words with alluring intelligence and humbleness, employs the screen with poignant camera panning every inch of her rarely depicted flesh.

Her man, however, has a whole other second life, going on dates, stealing bittersweet sentiments, having Kodak glory with another woman. His world is rocked when she says, "I love you." It is obvious, in that moment the confession escapes, that deep emotional connection wasn't rendered fully in him. He cannot reciprocate response. In a way, maybe he is still in love with main character. Yet in this new, seemingly uncomplicated side life, this non heart involving hustle, he finds a missing piece that should have been found in his existing relationship.

The tarot woman discovers the affair. She is crushed. He is guilty, more so frightened. After all, she has alarming power and strength that could potentially be detrimental to his path. Perhaps those reasons rendered him incapable of being faithful, showing his putrid weakness.

Furthermore, the other woman isn't a simpering damsel. She is fiery, dignified, smart. She isn't abstract. She is fully rendered, a near mirror of her yogi friend. This reveals that the man is attracted to a certain type of feminine personality, but it doesn't redeem his error. The other woman finds out (in a horribly contemporary way) that he has a situation and is rightfully peeved.

However, despite great wrongs inflicted upon them by the cake eating cad, both women love him and want to stay committed in a relationship.

The plot thickens like sticky sap goodness straight out of a viciously pumped maple tree. As the other woman instructs yoga, letting out a fired spark, moving and gyrating lithe form to suspenseful music sweeping out from background to foreground, the passionately swift action suddenly pains her back. The allegiance of her exercising sisters comfort her, but there is only one who can heal, the one she didn't mean to hurt.

Writer/director A-lan Holt photographed by Luscombe.

This leads to an amazingly visceral moment of intimacy, an unexpected reaction from one woman to the other.

Inamorata is a remarkable must see short film. Seductive without being overtly erotic, all elements meld beautifully. The cast trio of Sabrina Karlsson, Joel L. Daniels, and Natasha Mmonatau have a refreshing chemistry together-- raw, subdued, authentic. As the narrative is sophisticatedly complex in its layered counterparts, these three actors maneuver through uncharted storms, evoking multifaceted depth using voice and body language. The visuals are immensely beautiful shot artworks, cinematography astounding and breathtaking. Magic dances around rendered script, each scene sparkling with triumph and bravery. The music shifts between serene pleasure and haunting renaissance, playing sharp cords to the surprise tale unfolding.  

This eighteen-minute piece delivers significant, metaphorical messages with its sharp eyed camera direction a Hitchcock meets Butler in a dimly lit alley fashion. One hopes that writer/director A-lan Holt creates more dynamic works to add in her repertoire. Her vision is definitely needed. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Compassionate 'Okja' Strikes A Cord

Okja film poster.
Are there silent tears of the dead swirling on your plate?
Most likely.
Okja is an eye-opening film that asks tough moral questions, aiming to grab audience empathy. It is an honest, critical look at slaughterhouses, raising animals purely for consuming them without repercussions of the cruelty inflicted upon sentient beings. 
Okja and her caretaker Mija (An Seo Hyun) are a sincere pair.
The tale begins with false promises by the Mirando Corporation. They want to create a new brand of meat. Okja is one of several thousand genetically created super pigs raised in different pockets of the earth. She has been kindly raised in Korea by a sweet girl named Mija. They roam expansive mountains gathering fruit, playing games, and saving each other from harm. In other words, more outgoing than a housecat and much larger than a dog, Okja is a different sort of pet. Still, she is intelligent, affectionate, and trusting.

That is, until everything drastically changes for her.

Mija (An Seo Hyun) and the translator K (Steven Yeun) is a shocking scene.
When Okja is taken away, Mija gives a rampant chase that takes her away from her continental homeland all the way to America. Along this compassionate journey, she meets a secret animal rights organization who have their own agenda for Okja as well.

Jay (Paul Dano) and K (Steven Yeun) join forces to get Okja returned home with Mija.
Graphic in nature, Okja is filled with twists and turns that could change a few perceptions on meat industry. For example, the slaughterhouse scenes are viciously terrifying and painfully brutal. Between giant pigs behind electrical fences huddled together with little interactive space or the conveyor belt of them crying out because they sense upcoming torture, there are plentiful bitter pills to uncomfortably swallow.

Another glaring scene is when K told Mija to learn English. It is grossly offensive. English is the only language I speak and write. There is validity in having a native tongue, a rich history that is part of your own cultural makeup. As a black person in America, speaking English is the main part of colonialism's triumph. The language has authority over us. K is lucky to know Korean tongue. He is the only one in the van that can speak to Mija. That is an honor. How many of us wish we knew where our origins hailed? Knew the language of our ancestors? By the end, K understands and appreciates the gift that he has. 

Tilda Swinton (Lucy Mirando) is the perfect villain, especially considering that she stole what should have been an Asian role for Doctor Strange, but that's another story.....
In a world of mostly Asian extras, Okja features a terrific cast led by incredible newcomer, South Korean actress An Seo Hyun (technically not new, she's been acting since 2009). She is believably brave as Mija, daring, and heroic, charging into battle, sleek and purposeful, willing to risk anything, even her integrity for her beloved pet. Giancarlo Esposito is amazingly brilliant as Frank Dawson, playing both sides of the evil fence, a most charming schemer. Steven Yeun is given tons to work with and delivers a flawed character that some will hate and be appalled by. Also impressed by Paul Dano, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal (almost unrecognizable), and even Shirley Henderson's small role.

Okja's eyes have gone from warm to victimized agony due to many pains inflicted upon her, but she eventually recognizes her dearest friend.
Director/writer Bong Joon Ho (behind one of my favorite films, Mother) produced a solid piece with Okja-- moving, intense, and thought provoking as it simultaneously tackles on mass animal harm, and capitalism together. The pigs are beautifully rendered, especially the superstar Okja, whose eyes tell emotional stories throughout.

Okja asks, "where does compassion meet and sympathy end when it comes to animals?"

Despite its seemingly serene end, there is no happy, peaceful conclusion.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ferocious 'Queen Sugar' Returns With Vital Strength and Meaningful Passages That Hit Home

Life is more complicated than ever for the Bordelon clan.
The African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) named it best and number one television drama series. The NAACP Image Awards named it outstanding drama. 

Now award-winning Queen Sugar’s back. After the Winter (episode one directed by Kat Candler) and To Usward (episode two directed by Cheryl Dunye) provide graceful followup to continued commitment of offering television at finest authenticity. Stories are richly formed thanks to several components successfully operating together. Beautiful, focused camera lights dance around brown and black skin tones, singing harmonies in accentuating contrasts between radiance and shadows, illustrating tender portraits rarely seen. Shot exterior vignettes among succulent backdrops are as visually stunning as lush, colorful paintings hung in the walls of various interior settings. Meshell Ndegeocello's solid musical choices behind gorgeous scenes set appropriate tone for facets of emotional range. Lastly, the perfectly cast ensemble is a dream unlike any other, embodying exceptional notes of deeply manifested scripts that present the current world that we live in, especially complex histories of gritty American South.

Nova (Rutina Wesley) wants women to support the community bail fund-- a source that helps young brothers who cannot afford the outlandish bail fees.
After the Winter is an up and down roller coaster opener. The girls are hanging out, having laughs, dancing, and bonding as a close-knit sisterhood. This visible unity between Nova, Charley, and Violet seemed to deepen overnight despite the tense undercurrents of last season. The love and forgiveness is strong, undeniable, wonderful.

Last season, Ralph Angel received news (a handwritten letter from Papa Bordelon) that he is the sole heir to the farm. He has kept this huge secret from his sisters and is focused on growing soybeans. Once again, he is clashing with headstrong Charley who still has trouble taking him seriously. Charley and Ralph Angel are each other's biggest obstacles when it comes to this significant inherited land. They each have ideas, but have yet to sit down together and have a civilized discussion. Both sides have valid support from the family and the local black farmers. Remy, especially, is an asset.

Nova (Rutina Wesley), in an amazing "Unheard Voices of Louisiana" t-shirt, advocates for justice in her community.
Rutina Wesley continues to bring top notch acting class to the silver screen. She is a chameleon. We don't know where the acting begins or ends. She is Nova from the inch of her locs to the fabric of her clothing to sole of her shoes. It is her voice, breaking on a tear spoken cry that renders audience to listen. She is reason. She is purpose. We cannot deny the imperative message she passionately exhales near closing of To Usward:
"These brothers and sisters find themselves caught up in a system meant to destroy them. Falling into an abyss that has swallowed too many of our people for too long. These police officers, they're trying to intimidate us. They want us to fear them. But we're not afraid. They want us to fade away, but we won't. They want to erase our humanity. To act as if we don't exist. But these black bodies are real. We cannot allow black bodies to be simply disposed of like trash."
Charley (Dawn Lyen-Gardner) doesn't like to lose.
The Bordelons often make questionable decisions. That much is true.

Dawn Lyen-Gardner portrays Charley as a multifaceted character whose faulty ambition overrides greater good. Charley sees positive endgame of becoming a black woman sugar cane farmer. Before reaching goals, however, she sacrifices moral ethics and a burgeoning new relationship. She's not evil or vindictive, but she can come across as selfish. Her "needs" are the rights for her family. It is their right to own that property and see it thrive. Charley wants that. We want that for her too. Although her methods are at times eyebrow raising, Charley's inner struggles are tested. When she needs Davis' signature on a loan he didn't authorize (much less know about), there is a beat or two, a silence mirrored in Charley's thinking, a singular pause. She quickly scrawls his name and rests a hand on her chin, defiant in an empty room. In her eyes, rests a tiny flicker of regret.

Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) is holding strong as an ex-convict single father finding his purpose and retaining love.
Kofi Siriboe is more than a handsome man melting hearts around the globe. He is a phenomenal actor inhibiting balances between stern determination and rustic charm, finessing Southern Hospitality accent as though he ruthlessly studied locals. Siriboe's role is complex and layered. Ralph Angel harbors an angered spirit due to circumstance, but is doing the best he can with a second chance, something rarely granted in society. He is a thoughtful, encouraging father, telling Blue in words and actions to be himself, dolls and all. His affection towards Darla as the loving boyfriend is maturing each episode, their vulnerable love conveyed convincing looks and touches. The first season showed a rough and volatile relationship filled with anguish, regret, and loss. This season is healing, the healing between man and woman, between man, woman, and their child as well as individual healing.

Most precious family unit: Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), Blue (Young Artist Award winning Ethan Hutchison), and Darla (Bianca Lawson).
Don't discount secondary players also showing their hand in this full house deck of brilliant performances. Bianca Lawson has been utterly riveting as a former substance abuser, bringing such profound significance to recovering Darla-- still a work-in-progress. In a meaningful singular scene, she bared insecurities, her soft, candid delivery poised, expressing tender sensitivity that leaves soul shaken with empathy. It seems abhorrently unsympathetic when the white woman sponsor sucks out vapid energy, showing how little white people care about black suffering.

Micah (Nicholas Ashe) finds himself in a most horrific situation.
After the Winter bravely addresses "fear" of the black body, the male black body. Micah just celebrated his birthday with Charley and Kiki, enjoying his special milestone with those he loved and cared about. The world crumbles down on its ears when this ugly American shadow pulls Micah over-- in his newly gifted car no less. Although Micah has respectfully followed the white cop's instructions to a tee, the white cop ungraciously draws out his gun and aims, fingers on the trigger. It is frighteningly violent. Almost surreal in its honest depiction of police brutality. Nicholas Ashe is exceptional in these scenes, articulating Micah's wide eyed panic and trepidation as this innocent teen seemingly stares at what could have been his own untimely death. With his family desperate to find him, everything blurs in a state of pure, horrifying despair and agony. Dramatic suspense is riveting here: the missing child, the scared mother, the helpful aunt, and the remaining members of the concerned family.

To Usward relays aftermaths and consequences. Micah is withdrawn, bereft, robbed of security, left with broken shards that Charley sweeps underneath the rug. Ready to finally become divorced from Davis, she is pretending everything is fine, that she would come out victorious. When she finds out Micah wants to spend more time with Davis, which means rearranging custody, her calm demeanor flips the script, crashing into itty bitty pieces. Interestingly enough, she leaves a message for her mother and turns to Remy. In a poignant outburst of pain, Remy reveals that it is the anniversary of his wife's death.

Hollywood (Omar Dorsey) and Violet (Tina Lifford) have much to overcome.
Love has no age limit. There is no perfect love either. Every romantic pairing has hurdles to jump through, not just over. Vi and Hollywood are no exception. These two are collard greens and yams simmering in a pot together, trying to find right nuances between salty and sweet. When they reunite  no words are necessary. Love is apparent in the fierce cling, that gracious touch.

In a shocking twist, Nova has had relations with a tantalizing black barber, but of course, it "was just for fun." Heck, she even flinches away from him. Hopefully, this is building blocks for new territory, an awakened sensory for a woman who campaigns for brothers, but not necessarily forms any other kind of other intimacy with them.

The auntie/nephew hug was a beautiful tear jerker alongside that wonderful song.

What is next for Charley and Micah now that Davis will have a bigger role in his son's life? How will these flawed couples (Ralph Angel/Darla and Hollywood/Vi) strive in the midst of family turmoil? Will Charley and Remy stay professional? Will Nova let someone in? Or has Calvin ruined her heart for other men? Most importantly, will the farming succeed? Only time will tell.

Queen Sugar is telling intriguing narratives that we need to see. As the talented writers and directors keep venturing down the road to the healing of the Bordelons' clan, we are holding on tightly, treasuring each part (good and bad) of the gold paved journey.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Giving Black Love A Chance & The Best Black Soap Opera Couples (In No Particular Order) of American Daytime History

Watching a black couple fall in love with each other was often not a common occurrence in the daytime television scope.
In daytime television realm, representation will never not matter. Writers, producers, and directors, often overwhelmingly white, must understand the outcry. Minorities (who pull in largest audience numbers) need to see those who look like and fall in love with versions of themselves. Soap operas should not be so far behind in showcasing black love, but truth is, they are.

Among overbearing seascape of white Newmans and Abbotts dominating Young and the Restless' fictional town of Genoa City, Wisconsin, is the most prominent black soap opera cast. In the distant past, the Barbers and the Winters felt like my own family. They channeled through having this rare triumphant presence, the ups and pitfalls of staying in love, and wrestling in the power hungry business world. Other soap operas, with just four remaining altogether, have entered the minority foray, allowing their black characters a turn in the romance department.

Since its fruition, Bold and the Beautiful's fashion rivalry paradox neglected adding diversity while Days of Our Lives had a black pairing often put on back burner.

Times are changing.

Nicole Avant Forrester (2x Daytime Emmy nominee Reign Edwards) and Zende Forester (Rome Flynn) are the premiere black couple on Bold and the Beautiful, having gotten married in a beautiful Valentine's Day ceremony this year.
When it comes to daytime television, however, it is important to realize that the struggle is real behind-the-scenes too.

Former Young and the Restless star Victoria Rowell told Black Press Magazine this:
"We have the most popular daytime show and the number one show for African Americans, hands down. Yet, there are no black writers, there are no black producers, there are no black directors. There are no Black make up artists. There are no Black hairstylists."
So yes, in many aspects, soap operas may reflect "diversity" on the outside, but it's a false sense of inclusion security, nothing at all like what Ava Duvernay is accomplishing at Queen Sugar. Then again, none of the soap operas are truly creating three-dimensionally rendered characters as the hit OWN show. Head writers come and go and with that comes characters transforming, doing things they wouldn't do under another regime. The inside will remain backwards until someone else speaks up. Yet whenever that happens, that individual becomes an outcast, causing soap runners, writers, and fans to go on a ranting witch hunt....

Still, if soap operas tried different tactics as opposed to sticking with old, formulistic habits, maybe numbers wouldn't be rapidly declining. They have to allow black writers, directors, and etc. to enter the closed door, let their ideas come into play.

General Hospital had its black queen slash Port Charles police commissioner Jordan Ashford (Afro-Canadian Vinessa Antoine) torn between two men: psychiatrist Dr. Andre Maddox (Anthony Montgomery) and P.I./former brother-in-law Curtis Ashford (Donnell Turner).
It is worthy to note that some actors featured in the top black soap romances have been celebrated at the Daytime Emmys. Two years ago, in a special fan favorite category for "Most Romantic Duo," Young and the Restless' highly popular Devon and Hilary took the "prize," beating out the two competing white couples. Nonetheless, at the real Emmys themselves, there are problems primarily for a black actress to receive a golden statuette, let alone the coveted nomination. In fact, Debbi Morgan's sole win is shadowed by being tied with Nancy Lee Grahn, a white actress who spewed venomous rage about Viola Davis's Primetime Emmy speech.

Davis's speech:
"In my mind, I see a line. And over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line. But I can't seem to get there no how. I can't seem to get over that line." That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something. The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here's to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods. To Gabrielle Union. Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you."
Nancy's hate (deleted tweet):
“Im a f—ing actress for 40 yrs. None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunity. ALL women belittled."
We must disagree. The Emmy's are a venue for racial opportunity, for real progressive change. Black actors, especially black actresses deserve to be praised for their commendable contributions to "love in the afternoon." It is a hard, demanding business with actors needing to memorize and emote hundred page scripts. The upset is still burning bright for those who feel that Bold and the Beautiful's Karla Mosley was wrongly not pre-nominated for playing the first transgender character in daytime television. She had put on a memorable, captivating performance that remains being hailed. The fact that there is yet to be a black woman winner for best leading actress in a daytime drama provides reasonably substantial debate to Grahn's ignorance. David Michaels, senior VP of the Daytime Emmy Awards, is also blind.
“When I was observing all of the [#OscarsSoWhite] controversy last year, my initial thought was the Daytime Emmys seem to be automatically diverse. I guess it’s because of the makeup of the shows, but the talent in almost every area is very diverse. Therefore, I think maybe the viewership becomes the same way. … Obviously we can control it by making sure that our talent on our award show stays diverse. But if you look at our entries, it’s truly diverse without having to make that happen.”
When it comes to acting nominations, however, Michaels' words aren't necessarily true. All of the winners this year were white. There are many years that the awards went to white actors. The landscape for soaps may be appearing different, but in the end, whom voters choose to reward remains the same.

Notable Daytime Emmy acting winners, not in the list, include Young and the Restless' Shemar Moore, Bold and the Beautiful's Obba Babatundé (a Tony winner), and Guiding Light's Kevin Mambo (who won twice) and Monti Sharp. Black women nominees include One Life to Live's Renée Goldsberry (Tony/Grammy winner) and Young and the Restless' Tanya Lee Williams.

With the NAACP Image Awards no longer having a soap opera category, the Daytime Emmys are the sole opportunity for black actors to receive notice.
Salem PD officers Eli Grant (Lamon Archey) and Lani Price (Saleisha Lashawn Stowers) have something budding on Days of Our Lives.
As the growing addition of black couples continue building in daytime, let's hope that while they cast fresh new brown faces, darker skinned individuals (just as beautiful and talented) are considered. The African diaspora and complexity of hues has always been uniquely sporadic. Daytime should reflect this authenticity.

Without further ado, The Best Black Soap Opera Couples List....

On General Hospital, secret DEA agent Jordan Ashford (Vinessa Antoine) fell for Shawn Butler (Daytime Emmy winning Sean Blakemore) who did dirty jobs for mobster Sonny Corinthos. It appeared to be a Westside Story narrative with Jordan "working" for the Jeromes and Shawn on the opposite spectrum. She originally came to Port Charles, hoping to reunite with her son TJ (whom Shawn raised while Jordan was in jail), remove him from Shawn's clutches, and take down the Jerome family's drug business. Shawn stood in the way, watching her at every turn, warning her, in between stealing kisses or passionate grasps. They enter into relationship territory, but remain resentful of each other's mob associations and also kept their union from TJ. In one of the most epic showdowns, they turned guns on each other, Jordan preventing Shawn from kidnapping Ava Jerome. Soon the chocolate brigade of Shordan were operating together.
It also turned out, they had an affair while Jordan was married and that TJ is his biological son. Shawn is currently serving time for the attempted murder of Hayden Barnes, although it's been known that he isn't the culprit. Meanwhile, Jordan is wrapped up in the arms of Curtis.
On Young and the Restless, divorced couple of billionaire heir Devon Hamilton-Winters (Daytime Emmy winning Bryton James) and executive assistant turned celeb reporter Hilary Curtis Hamilton (Mishael Morgan) have a connection that a piece of paper cannot destroy (let alone the writers of the soap). Sparks flew for Hilary and Devon upon their first meeting even though Hilary stormed into Genoa City to avenge her mother's death. With longing looks and humored conversations over drinks, enemies turned cordial friends. The chemistry between them was undeniable, before the preemptive kiss ever took claim. They fought against love, holding it off for as long as possible, at last succumbing into a steamy, passionate affair, and eventually marrying in summer of 2015.
"Hevon" were so popular, they topped polls and covered soap magazines, becoming the Angie and Jesse of our generation.
Now Hilary and Devon may have moved into other pairings (not as well-received), but the flame is still flickering, waiting to be ignited. Stay tuned....
On Sunset Beach (a soap with Latino, Asian, and black characters), heroic lifeguard Michael Bourne (Daytime Emmy nominated Jason George) and snoopy journalist Vanessa Hart (Daytime Emmy nominated Sherri Saum) had the most wild ride to getting together thanks to the crazy antics of Virginia Harrison, one of the first black soap opera villains. Who can ever forget the turkey baster storyline? Greater controversy was that Michael and Vanessa rarely interacted with the other characters, their stories were often about them and them alone (both good and bad). 
Often wrongly parted, but strongly in love, Michael and Vanessa overcame criminals, his dark past (he accidentally killed Virginia's husband), Virginia's schemes (murder attempts, implanted Martian's Syndrome, rape/pregnancy/miscarriage) to finally tie the knot in a two wedding closer of the soap's series finale in 1999.
On All My Children, Jesse Hubbard (2x Daytime Emmy winning Afro-British Darnell Williams) and Angie "Big Dimples" Baxter (Daytime Emmy winning Debbi Morgan) were the epitamy of black love. Otherwise known as the first black supercouple, roughly raised Jesse fell in love with upper class Angie. They soon eloped after Jesse was cleared by a false rape allegation (Liza Colby, a white woman, lied). Insecurities (Angie divorced Jesse because she thought he wouldn't want the baby), and interlopers (hey Vanessa Bell Calloway) briefly tore them apart. After kidnapping their newborn baby, Jesse and Angie remarried and retained happy bliss until unexpected tragedy rocked their world. In 1988, Jesse died of a gunshot wound, devastating Angie, in turn giving Morgan one of the finest performances of her career.  During this time, the actors covered soap magazines even Essence and hosted a hip hop/R&B music video program. Jesse and Angie are considered the number one supercouple of all time according to Entertainment Weekly.
Ten years later, Angie and Jesse reunited. Jesse had faked his death because his family was in danger. They then suffered further sadness with Angie's blindness, their baby's death, and a desperate baby switch, but stayed together through the soap's end in 2013.
On Young and the Restless, Neil Winters (2x Daytime Emmy winning Kristoff St. John) and Drucilla Barber (3x Daytime Emmy nominated Victoria Rowell) had the rags to riches romance beginning in 1991. Dru was a vivacious, resilient runaway with ballerina dreams, taught to overcome illiteracy by Nathan Hastings, the love of her sister Olivia, a doctor. Neil was the spoiled rich boy eager to make it to the top. Originally, Dru wanted Nathan and Neil wanted Olivia, but their plans to break up the couple backfired and they fell for each other instead. Eventually, they marry. There are problems along the way, however, with Dru posing for a men's magazine, refusing to be a stay-at-home-wife, and building a successful modeling career. Plus, unbeknownst to Neil, she slept with his brother Malcolm and became pregnant with Lily. A huge opportunity came. She chose to go to Paris with Lily over staying in GC with Neil in 1995. They divorced.Years later, she and Lily returned, helping Neil overcome his alcoholism. They remarried, but alas more trouble ensued. Dru started working for Newman (Jabot's rival) and eventually, it was revealed that Malcolm fathered Lily. Thus, Dru and Neil's romance started crumbling once more. Neil separated from her and began seeing another woman named Carmen, inciting Dru's jealousy. When Carmen was murdered, Dru was a main suspect, tortured with visions of "Carmen's body" and checking into a mental hospital. Together, Dru and Neil worked on solving the mystery.
In 2007, Dru falls off a cliff after a violent scuffle with Phyllis. Sadly, her body was never found.
On Days of Our Lives, Abe Carver (2x Daytime Emmy nominated James Reynolds, longest running black actor on a soap) and Lexi Brooks (Renée Jones) met as partners at Salem PD and fell in love. Adopted Lexie, in the bloodline of Salem's dangerous DiMera family,  was booted out of the police force and studied to become a doctor instead. She was a doctor and eventually the Chief of Staff. She tried to be the good, dutiful wife, but had countless affairs (including with Abe's biological son Brandon Walker) and even stole her best friend Hope Brady's baby. Through other moral struggles of temptations (Abe had an intense connection with Lexie's birth mom, Celeste Perrault), the Carvers carried onward, raising an autistic son Theo, Abe's mayoral campaign, staying together until Lexie's tragic death from a brain tumor in 2012.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Snout-y Fairy Tale and Privilege: The Goods and Bads of 'Penelope'

Penelope film poster.
Whimsical, quirky Penelope is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. It has a wonderful, strong lead character, a handsome anti-prince charming, a simple ugly duckling narrative with a twist, and pensive indie music. Scenes often look like fairy book illustrations come to life. Plus, there is laughable cursing. Penned by Emmy award winning Leslie Caveny (producer of Everybody Loves Raymond), the film follows the antics of Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), a rich, pampered young lady living among people with American or British accents. For example, Penelope and her mother, Jessica (Catherine O'Hara) are American while her father, Franklin (Richard E. Grant) is clearly not.

Penelope's snout got so much unnecessary hate from rich men and even her own mother.
The film opens with backstory of how the Wilhern family received their awful curse. A selfish, aristocratic jerk knocked up a poor servant and refused to marry her, instead marrying another. The girl commits suicide. The vengeful mother, instead of rightfully inflicting pain on the guilty responsible man, curses the Wilburn clan.
"And only when one of your own claims this daughter as their own til death do them part will the curse be broken!"

Pretty unfair criteria, right?

Thus, the newest Wilherns take that to mean that once their daughter, the chosen one born with the unfortunate affliction-- pig like features-- must marry someone who would accept her and break the curse.

Penelope (Christina Ricci) is quite beautiful, but a certain demographic of men don't see it as such.
For years, since turning eighteen, future horticulturist Penelope has been introduced to rich men behind invisibility glass, hoping that her impressive dowry will entice a man to marry her. The moment she comes out to politely greeting these suitors, however, disrespectful ruckus often ensues. They tend to stare at her in horror, scream, run off, and jump through the Wilhern mansion's second floor glass windows. Of course, this must have done a number on Penelope's mental capability, dwindling what was left of her little self-esteem. Jessica also rejects her daughter. She rarely looks at Penelope's face, doesn't consider Penelope's feelings, and prefers that as the husband search continues, Penelope must stay in. There is even a swing in Penelope's room. Bird cages have swings.

Now at age twenty-three, Penelope is right in the middle of finding another. A boring, conceited, spineless Edward Vanderman calls her "Dear Sweet Penelope" as though he's some Lord Byron reincarnate. She comes out, uttering her signature polite "hello." Edward immediately rushes out and screams, beating out sneaker clad Jake, who has for the first time, not caught up to have him sign the gag order.

Max (James McAvoy) and Penelope (Christina Ricci) have a solid connection.
Peter Dinklage has a meaty role as Lemon. He is a nosy reporter who first discovered Penelope's "condition" and would have exposed the piglet baby if it hadn't been for Jessica clocking him in the eye. At that time, Jessica had faked Penelope's death. Lemon never bought it. He joins forces with Edward and finds a down-on-luck Max, offering the poor lad money to flush out the truth about Penelope. In exchange for newly acquired gambling money, Max has to wear a suit with cameras sewn in, in hopes of snatching pictures of the presumed dead Wilhern daughter.

Kind, compassionate Max has other ideas in mind for the sheltered heroine.

He befriends the real Penelope, through the invisibility glass of course. He comes by often. In the same camera-strapped suit, he discovers her favorite author, gets his butt killed in chess, and sings "You Are My Sunshine" whilst terribly playing several instruments. It is on his piano playing visit that they physically meet, by hands. He stares at her, observes her with mild affection and quiet yearning. As he lifts a hand to touch her face, the camera snaps and he lets out a curse.

Their romance becomes both infectious and problematic. Max does want Penelope, but cannot due to specific conditions of the curse. His deceit is discovered. He tries to tell her the truth about his origins. Penelope begs him to marry her anyway (which is quite pathetic, they haven't known each other long enough). He says, "no." Yet his "no" doesn't come with screams, fingers pointing at her nose, the urgent need to run, and jump out of the window. He goes only because Penelope tells him to.

Much later, Penelope decides to steal Jessica's purse and runs away, finding freedom, adventure, and friendship with Annie (nice Reese Witherspoon cameo), wrapped in a sleek purple coat and multi-colored scarf. The confident, spirited lady is turning in photographs of herself to Lemon for money, having beers at the Cloverdilly Pub (Max's favorite spot), riding the back of mopeds, visiting museums, and sending her parents post cards.

When her parents find her, independent times are over.

Penelope enjoying her first taste of on tap beer, slurping it through a straw underneath her trademark scarf of course. Don't know many fairy tales featuring their leading princesses drinking ale, but it was quite a humorous turn of events to have Penelope involved in an adult social realm that always seems taboo. After all, her bedroom still had a swing and lots of fluffy toys.
The public discovery and acceptance of Penelope is very sweet. Much like the tepidness of current society, in which anyone who has an unusual tidbit or connection become instantaneously cherished (or hated), they treat her like a celebrity talent, celebrating the hated nose, in collective awe of her. Jessica, forever the Negative Nelly, believes it is hype.

"You're just a talking pig to them," she says tartly.

She encourages (more like forces) Penelope to marry Edward (who still cannot look her in the face) and Penelope reluctantly agrees. On the wedding day, Penelope runs away (for good reason). It is then, Penelope discovers the power to break the curse.

Max and Penelope are together in the end. Thankfully, they don't get hitched (which would have been cheesy). They still need to learn about each other, find out their individual sleeves, especially Penelope.

Max doesn't know that Penelope has changed......
and kisses her anyway.
It is great that the film is written by a woman and has that vibe, especially memorable scenes-- when Penelope befriends Annie, turns the tables on Lemon, and accepts herself.

Still, there should have been some inclusiveness.

Penelope is a guilty pleasure (for me) because residual feelings of exclusivity kick in. At times, it is extremely discomforting to enjoy glaringly white privilege with the exception of the black British officer serving minor comic relief. Despite Penelope's lonely existence, she is spoiled relentlessly in her prosperous, upper class lifestyle. When she caught Max trying to steal a book from her antiquated library, she informs him that three hundred and twenty five books are worth big money. She also has the Disney body shape, gloriously long brown hair, beautiful tailored clothing, and wide eyed naivety that can sometimes be irritating or downright corny (i.e. she encounters joggers and runs from them, petrified). She isn't even asked for ID when she checks into a hotel with Jessica's card or when she has beer. In this fictional place, contemporary imperialism stays present, leaving all else as invisible as Penelope's unique mirror.

In the end, Penelope is a flawed fantasy bubble. We are just looking in it.