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.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

'Proud Mary," All Maternal Fluff And Little Action

Proud Mary film poster.

Proud Mary's purposely orchestrated trailer had audiences eager and excited, fists pumped and everything. At the start, slick designed credits had that black pulp aesthetic, like Foxy Brown meets Cleopatra was coming to town, the 1970's color scheme and bubbled letters flaring up the hype. Taraji P. Henson’s Mary dons on her deadly femme assassin’s gear complete with bobbed blond wig, enters an apartment, and shoots her shot with a silencer before the poor victim can speak a word. Mary then looks around and spies a child inside his bedroom, a boy that will suddenly become the center of her world, essentially center this whole entire film. 

The film flat lines for a long while before picking up a heartbeat.

Mary (Oscar nominated for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Oscar robbed for Hidden Figures Taraji P. Henson) means business-- only of the motherly kind.
For a while, there are no wig disguises, no hit lists, no fights. That enticing opener had revealed sexy colored hair pieces (ugh, why didn't she wear that red one?) and an arsenal of high tech guns, but Mary is so focused on motherhood, on becoming a surrogate beacon of hope to poor, beaten Danny, the child she feels utterly responsible for. It becomes a pure drama with missing beats, with writing having no quality continuity, confusing dips between drama and action genre-- which isn't at all believably consistent.

Mary (Taraji P. Henson) and Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston) have a good connection.
Despite the countless hiccups, two action scenes stood out. The first featured Mary and her ex, Tom sending out a “message” to a rival group not to mess with them. The dynamic twosome, dressed in black embodying Bonnie and Clyde, entered in quietly, battling and shooting their targets in "yippee ki yay" fashion, flipping each other around, exchanging fire power back to back and side to side. It was a gorgeous blend of black woman and black man in sweet satisfactory action, their sophisticated movements and agile bodies in sync, the sexual energy charged and wasted, the chemistry desperately needing to be more than what was scripted.

However, Mary is an awesome, badass lone woman. She has a great, tastefully decorated apartment with a giant TV and sectional furniture, a well stocked fridge in a clean, modern designed kitchen, and marvelous bedroom equipped with a dream girl walk in closet for her wardrobe. So guilty conscience and all, at least the assassin life pays well.

The other pivotal action sequence was the juicy, jaws dropping climax that had Mary doing the most epic slide shooting ever. It was outrageously wild, popcorn fun, watching her single-handedly demolish the patriarchy (so to speak), blasting them all the way to hell, injured and all. Again, it would have been far more enjoyable for it to be about her escaping the organization, taking the controlling reins of her own destiny, telling Benny and his boys to kiss her black buns, but it turned into a saintly play for motherhood, with her last bullet reserved for letting that fact be known, "I'm the mothering type!"

Oh hell naw.
Another star of the film was the guilt carried by Mary (Taraji P. Henson). This guilt smothered the story, this drama.  
Henson executive produced Proud Mary, a piece lacking in depth and details. Perhaps even she couldn’t possibly predict the outcome of viciously destroyed potential, the power of being more than what these writers put forth. For starters, they didn’t utilize the breadth of wondrous Margaret Avery, one of history’s greatest actresses, having her Minnie character serving as a wife and mother role, telling Mary that she couldn’t fathom abandoning a child is a cheap attempt at passing the Bechdel. They should have had these two beautiful, immensely talented black women discussing notorious crimes, fighting styles, great wig companies, or which African vendor sells the best authentic cocoa butter on the market. Hell, near the end, Minnie should have arrived with guns blazing, scorned and pissed. Alas, Minnie was lacking just as Mary, who needed more fight and fury than crying. The writers seemed to try balancing Mary's humanist emotions with that of an assassin, that her traumatic childhood, homelessness, and Benny taking her in and training her (among other unmentionable missing parts) were reasons for her behavior. One wonders how many hits has Mary made, how many of them had children, and why it took Danny for her maternal clock to tick tock.

Danny Glover portrays villainous Benny who could have also been much more than a yelling, furrowed brow old man. After all, Glover was a monster in The Color Purple (also starred Avery). It seemed Benny had performed grisly acts upon Mary, the incestuous vibes of a father/son were a wee bit strong. Still, it's part a weird fear in movies where filmmakers don't want to cross the bridge of black characters being too evil.

Proud Mary had eye candy for everyone, but neglected to let these desires manifest. So comes the pros and cons of Mary not having a love interest. The pros are that she is strong, valiant, graceful. She is comfortable in her own skin, seen in the tight, hugging outfits, the way she carries herself. She knows she's a gorgeous woman. Certainly, there are emotional issues within, a few pieces of the past that cannot be buried. Then again, maybe the past is why she is alone. It is so feminist, so contemporary, especially as she is the only woman in this all male organization. The cons of her lack of interest pertains to her being reduced to maternal instincts, to not being desired for the passionate woman she is. For starters, before Proud Mary, an awful Jennifer Lawrence trailer featuring her with a bad accent had her femme character kissing and grinding with men half her age (as usual). Mary doesn’t make out or touch a man's fine chiseled cheekbones. Sure, she gets felt up (uncomfortably over a slice of red velvet cake) and Tom wants things to be how they used to be. Tom has the silver spoon syndrome, his father spoiled him, probably "gave" him Mary as a gift or something around those disgusting lines, and Tom feels entitled to her.  

Tom (How to Get Away With Murder's Billy Brown) and Mary (Taraji P. Henson) on the set.
Proud Mary need not to be extra controversial, definitely needed a vital tale worthy of the revenge tagline, but enjoyable for Miss Henson kicking serious butt.

Everything else was clouded in a smoky enigma.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

'Mudbound' Is The Most Important Film Release of 2017

Mudbound film poster.

Some films are good. Some films are terrific. Only few will tug at a person's innermost emotions and grip them in its strong, riveting chokehold like a tough, combative wrestler by very end. And Mudbound is that nitty, gritty fighter film that ignites countless thought.
An intense American historical drama entailing egregious societal infrastructure set in stone for black and white residents of the deep South, Mudbound is a real solid game changer for a Netflix feature. Writer/director/producer, Dee Rees addresses-- with such vital clarity-- this racially fueled class system that has established a gross power imbalance since colonialism and slavery upset the natural selection of the whole entire world, leaving behind a great generational devastation.

For starters, raised by Pappy, a vulgar racist father, Jamie and Henry McAllan are brothers who couldn't be any more different from one another. While younger Jamie is bright, reckless, and charismatic, older Henry is a practical and spineless simpleton. Metaphorically throughout the film, the analogy is crystal clear-- Jamie represents dawning of a needed crucial change-- accepting others regardless of race, status, and creed whereas Henry holds on tightly to white privilege like a stern, stubborn mule, his father's son without crass indecency.

Henry marries a spoiled socialite, Laura and they have two children. Henry, who imposes his male dominance over Laura, makes the decision to waste their money on farmland down in Mississippi, and Laura, who absolutely detests the move, has no authority on the matter. Jamie is fighting on European soil, dropping bombs from the sky, bearing witness to the ugly, violent sides of war. The accumulation of medals and honors do not diminish mental and emotional trauma. Jamie returns to America scarred and hurting, using drinking as a consolatory outlet for his pain.

In Mississippi, the Jackson family are humble brood, led by Hap, a preacher with a passionate, authoritative voice in the church and Florence, a loving, devoted mother who would do anything to break the psychological cycle of a mother she barely knew. Ronsel, their eldest son, goes off to become a soldier, thrown into the same fiery ring as Jamie, but is treated like an equal.

The McAllan's and the Jackson's intersect on this gorgeous piece of muddy land with promises of becoming more than what anyone has ever dreamed. However, the power balance is established the moment Henry rudely interrupts the Jackson's dinner, forcing the master and slave relationship to take repulsive shape, eventually threatening to rupture the mesmerizing strength of Hap and Florence. It is quite fascinating to address the differences between how Henry treats Laura and how Hap sees Florence. Henry and Laura are a union of comfort, a product of society privilege. When it comes to Jamie, Laura comes to life, having bitten the taste of forbidden passion, that real intense ardor that of course, Pappy can see. In Hap and Florence's case, the love and tenderness is a sweet dosed prescription of strong, foundational black romance. Hap sees Florence as an equal, a queen and he respects her.

Under the wary, watchful eyes of town, Jamie and Ronsel return from war, changed, eventually forming an intriguing bond.  

Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) befriends Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) despite the turmoil of white and black mingling beyond silent acknowledgement.
"Have you ever been with a white woman?" Jamie asks Ronsel.

Ronsel smiles with pride, jogs around the answer before diving into the nitty gritty affirmative, then later adding:

"We had to show them who we were."

Ronsel's words about proving his humanity to white women (aka sexually) is a startling revelation about black people's desire to be on equal footing with their oppressor. Since his return, he wishes to make the white men see him as a man, especially considering that he fought on their side during war. European white women had freely dallied with Ronsel and his black cavalry, that is after these men proved their fetishist worth, why doesn't the white men show such appreciative kindness, respect even?

In another power trip, after learning what Florence (Mary J. Blige) can do, spoiled Laura (Carey Mulligan) demands the woman to work for her on a permanent basis.
This mirrors Laura's interpretation of Florence. When Henry fetches the woman to cure his daughters' whooping coughs, Laura doesn't warm up to the idea at first, until she realizes that Florence is indeed useful. Without asking Florence herself, Laura demands that the woman "help" her with the children. Reluctantly, Florence agrees, breaking her own inner promise, sadly repeating the life of her mother.

Henry (Jason Clarke) once again requesting help from Hap (Rob Morgan).
Mudbound is rich, concise, layered complexity. The cast operates like a well oiled machine, perfecting their individual parts with brilliant tenacity, grace, and harrowing conviction. Their gritty Southern twanged voice overs, like vital, melodic poems recited at the podium, are painful, dispirited, joyous stories of strife and happiness, of wanting and valuing change, of simple desires. The watchers must snap fingers and cheer collectively at these performances. Mary J. Blige is utterly wonderful as Florence, valiant, soft, and encouraging, with her expressive facial expressions, vocal ability to being a compassionate wife to a broken mother. Carey Mulligan also holds her own as a privileged woman torn by social duty and captivating passion for things that she cannot have. Jason Mitchell is great at portraying Ronsel's struggles with coming back to a town that doesn't deserve his allegiance-- the ending alone ensures a huge sob fest. Plus Kennedy Derosin plays Lilly May Jackson, the young daughter of Hap and Florence, aspiring to become a stenographer. In one scene, she stands her ground against her laughing brothers who don't believe black people can step out of their station. Florence sternly tells him that Lilly May can become anything she wants to be. That smile shared between mother and daughter as well as the scene of Lilly May reading stenography books are beautiful touches about chasing dreams and receiving the treasure of female support. On Film Comment, Rees explains why she choose this path as opposed to Hillary Jordan's original writing.  

"My grandmother grew up in the small town of Ferriday in Louisiana,” said Rees. “She was born in 1925, and she’d talk about riding on her mother’s cotton sack. They owned their land, but they farmed it, and her parents cultivated cotton. She decided early on that she didn’t want to do that, nor did she want to be a domestic. She said she wanted to be a stenographer, so that was a touch I added in the film, when the Jacksons’ daughter declares her career ambition. In [Hillary Jordan’s] book, she can sing, but I didn’t want it to be the typical ‘little black girl can sing’ thing. I found it more interesting that she had this other ambition.”

Dee Rees for The Undefeated. Photo by Khoolod Mid.
Everyone and their grandparents should watch Mudbound. Yes, it would have been epic to see this in theaters, to witness this resoundingly important piece be on the giant big screen. Still, it's humbling to be at home, to not pause this history, to let every bit of the McAllans and the Jacksons steal eyes and ears. Don't let the Netflix factor fool you or anyone else into believing that this isn't a worthy accomplishment of integrity nestled between the acting, the cinematography, music, and all.