Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Beyond The Lights' Urges Us To Free The Blackbird Within

Beyond the Lights film poster.
 ".....truth is the only safe ground to stand on."- Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Beyond the Lights begins with a frantic white English mother needing her biracial child's hair done. She is to sing "Blackbird" for a talent show. Aide begrudgingly comes to the rescue. Next day Noni, partly cornrowed with springy curls tamed and properly combed, graces London stage, only brown “tainted” girl amongst contestants. However, as soon as she breaks into Nina Simone, youthful tentativeness disappears, evaporating into an older, worldlier soul. Each harrowing note is belted in wisdom and strength-- components that drove Simone's sorrow tipped ballad. Noni the child has grown up before teary-eyed, applauding listeners affected by bestowed gift.

However, fiercely delivered tenacity isn't enough to win.

Instead of telling Noni to take loss with dignity and grace, Mama Macy Jean abruptly pulls Noni offstage and forces first trophy to be trashed. A cruel reminder that runner ups are never remembered, never worth celebrating.

Young Noni (India Jean-Jacques) wows the crowd bellowing out, "Why you wanna fly Blackbird you ain't ever gonna fly?"
Years later, overtly graphic images flash subliminal messages. Noni is a dehumanized vessel, a fabricated industry product. Nowadays most pop music lacks profound substance. Quick, easily manufactured garbage is instantly popularized. The now is imperative-- fifteen minutes of fame, the speediness of existential high wrapped in bling and sexual voyeurism. Wearing more weave and makeup than clothing, Noni the voided robot, sings lifeless songs over loud, hyper synthesized beats. Oceanic pretend, more vast and abyssal than anything she's ever swam in, drowns out her real voice, her real soul. Popping and twerking like a stripper dancer, images of T&A displayed like twenty-first century Sarah Barrtman, Noni is finally victorious-- what Macy Jean always craved. It's an interesting contrast against earlier little girl showcasing vocal tenure, breathing into Simone's lyrical prowess, echoing desires of being free from cage. 

Thanks to Macy Jean's insatiable hunger for winning, Noni is still trapped and sees only one way out.

Mama Macy Jean (Minnie Driver) says less is more for her daughter Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
Kaz, the guard taking over someone's shift, rescues befallen tragedy.
When he saves her from almost falling, he holds her. In this intense moment, everything changes. Connection starts to grow. World around them becomes silently unnecessary. Nothing matters more than this profound destiny in the hotel suite. She is seeing him seeing her. The clutch is both sedimentary and powerful. Eyes meeting and greeting each other, offering comfort and balance. There is truth nestled here-- a real unexpected truth. Macy Jean drags Noni away, but Kaz is left rooted in same spot, stunted in same position. Noni's eyes stays transfixed to where he is located, searching and needing him still. 

Unexpected connection forms between Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Kaz (Nate Parker). It's the longest eye contact Noni herself has had with anyone in the film.
Kaz is the genuine good guy. Not a thug. Not a gun toting drug dealer. He is the American anti-black male perception. However, like Noni, he is a blackbird too. Following his father's hierarchy-- science whiz, police officer, politician, Kaz seems to desire stretching out his wings. His home is an intellectual landmine of books and post it note quotes. Off the job he wears empowering t-shirts with civil rights leaders like Malcolm X. At times, he speaks in the quotes inspiring him. 

His immaculate world is turned asunder, much to his father's dissatisfaction, when saving Noni grants "fifteen minutes."
"What do you see?" Noni asks.
"Nothing," Kaz replies.
He doesn't mean “nothing” in a hurtful way. He sees a lost woman, floating without lifesaver. 
Kaz and Noni both want him to be that lifesaver.
Honest Kaz doesn't like to lie, but for Noni he must.
We started on a lie so it could never be perfect.
Oh but the remarkable rendering of that "perfection."

The balcony "incident" is major headline news and not in a good way. Noni has an immediate press conference and coerces Kaz to falsify events. Noni's label is outraged and threatens not release impending album. They are to sell sex. Not suicide. Blind Macy Jean sugar coats visceral reality, saying "cry for attention" will never happen again. Mental illness is a sensitive issue and should be taken into utmost consideration, especially when desire to inflict self harm comes to light. In lethal combination of a mother's dismissive behavior and a record exec's blatant disrespect, how can Noni's self esteem rise any higher when it dwindled lower than below balcony? Kaz, however, sees a woman in need. The kind of need that a man on a white horse cannot give her. She starts to lean on him, drawn into playing "victim," coming to his job, stealing him away. Their connection is undeniable. They start seeing beyond the seeing in each other, opening imprisoned doors, shamelessly indulging. Noni shows him her secret lyrics box-- illustrious prose deeper than what she sexily spews onstage. Kaz shows her his special place, watching planes fly.ahead. He fears putting his life "in someone else's hands" and she has never steered her own. Under heart of everything, he knows that she is not a narcissistic, self absorbed pop tart wannabe. He is merely waiting on her to acknowledge it too.

After horrible events escalate, reaching horrific climax, Noni and Kaz take a much needed getaway. In Mexico, they are free to lose themselves in this private haven, a sweet endearing family unit complete with dog. Passionate discoveries lead to erotic interplay, as camera turns camaraderie into lustful gratification. Although earlier love scene is depicted in a humorous mile high club fashion, this private session draws on just how deep connection has become-- confessional euphoric commitment. Chemistry is smoldering, almost overwhelming. Touching is both titillating and seductive. Urban version of Spiderman's infamous upside down French kissing offers slow, deliberate suggestion-- artfully maneuvered craftsmanship. We are taught anatomy of eye sex, of touching, of kissing. Longing and need painted in genuine strokes of rapturous harmony. The scene is fascinating. It's rare viewing minorities become explicitly sensual and desirous with each other onscreen. Brown skin on brown skin create fervid matrimony against white inside mahogany room, compositions of love and sensuality evoke candid intimacy.

Beyond the Lights is a simply must see for all its poignant metaphors and compelling similes. The soundtrack is excellent from Yuna (one of my favorite artists) to Cynthia Erivo and beyond-- an eclectic symphony of independent R&B and hip hip musicians. Director/screenwriter Gina Prince-Blythewood's masterful ability to record moments astound and stimulate sometimes simultaneously. She wields bravery with both pen and camera lens, taking strands of African DNA to United States and England. Making fresh faced virgins plunder into uncharted travel.

The cast is brilliant.

Gugu Raw-Mbatha shines again. First in Belle, now in a modern contemporary piece, she showcases phenomenal depth, diving inside Noni's exterior to viscerally connect necessary puzzle pieces. Each layer is peeled. An invisible knife slices Noni, exposing old wounds and fragile scars. She is unveiled to not just Kaz, but herself. She cuts away contact, the weave, the loud, emotionless beats, and finally her mother-- the barriers of which kept her from being genuine, the one person who should have never misguided her. That broken down acapella scene in Mexico illustrates raw vocalization and riveting integrity. Mbatha-Raw is flawless in three dimensional art form, forcing viewers to use eyes to witness facial language and ears to listen to emotional story. Bared naked gem effectively expresses vulnerable girl's desperation to seek validation in exasperating adulthood. One cannot help crying over sheer genius. We are witnesses to fatherless blackbird thirsting for elixirs to heal loneliness and pain.

Nate Parker is definitely capable of playing male lead. I first saw him in Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters and found him to be one of the film's strongest components. His character Kaz is both protective-- standing up for women when no one else would and compassionate-- using ears to listen and comprehend. From the very beginning, he knows that Noni needs help. No one in her corner is willing to see or understand. Parker embodies power and charisma, filling screen with enchanting beauty and sincerest conviction. Yes, he is a gracious model to fetch feminine gaze, but his portrayal solidifies place as an actor. He is quite articulate and sympathetic-- balancing between soft and hard, this fluid embodiment supposedly not seen to be masculine. Let's hope Hollywood follows Washington's and Prince-Blythewood's wise advice and give Parker prestigious notoriety. This young man is amazing.

Minnie Driver's Macy Jean and Danny Glover's Captain Nicol also provide pivotal support. Their respective characters-- both fiery, intense, hot headed pushy parents pinning their hopes to offspring, are the catalysts to protagonists. India Jean-Jacques is impressive. This talented singer/actress is bound to go many intriguing places when her career takes off.

In Jezebel, Prince-Blythewood explains breaking romance film genre tradition
It was very important for me that this film was not just about a man saving her. It was about a woman saving herself. You can't love unless you love yourself, and that was really an important theme that I wanted to put out there. This is a woman who's literally on the edge and wanted to let go. She has to climb back from that, both physically and emotionally and discover in herself what's worth saving. Yes, Kaz was there to let her know there was something worth saving, but she had to ultimately find out what that was in herself....
The film is really about two people saving each other.
Noni and Kaz + dog are the centers of each other's universe, addictive drugs in themselves.
Prince-Blythewood is a magician-- capturing hypnotizing scenes difficult to look away from. She is both soft and tender like a woman's gentle caress and brave and fiery like a lioness tearing apart prey. She shows no mercy. Evocative shot of Noni's tears on the balcony, tears dripping down her cheeks, clear bubbling snot escaping nostrils was beautifully rendered, moving photography well done. Brutal domestic abuse depictions whether it be from a victim refusing Kaz's help or Noni being violently attacked in front of cheering millions. Noni's mortifying embarrassment is publicly chastised. Instead of focusing blame on what is perceived to be rape enactment, by ex-boyfriend rapper all blame shifts to Noni-- giving credence to our victim shaming culture. Sadly enough that particular stage scene is similar to Macy Jean snatching Noni off the stage earlier. There are further elaborate twists and turns. Scenes are terrifying, gritty, affectionate, and arresting.

At last, the Noni and Kaz "lie" turns into validated truth.

The end is a wonderful nod towards Noni's humble roots both figuratively and mentally. Noni's adult natural coiled hair is styled same as ten-year-old self by same kind savior. This symbolizes rebirth, a new path Noni controls. Closing vocal narrative reenforces Simone's guttural melody. However, twist is pure Noni. The song is about her journey, but includes Kaz too. They have both overcome fears, flown free from parental shadows. Maya Angelou said she knew why the caged bird sings. Here bellows answer in haunting powerful range. Mama Jean, Noni's first fan, is left listening to beginnings of her little girl, of the daughter she sold out on a meaningless device. Meanwhile, audience is left with real honesty, the stoic truth of a young woman just wanting to be heard and loved. 

Oh dearest Nina Simone, blackbirds are no longer lonely or crying pained tears. Prince-Blythewood has ensured them a joined joyous flight to infinite love and sincerest happiness.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hevon Must Be Missing Angels: Applauding Y&R's Hilary Curtis & Devon Hamilton Winters On Finding Rare Love

Young and the Restless's Hilary (Mishael Morgan) and Devon (Bryton James) are bringing back forbidden urban love dynamic in the afternoon.
Nowadays minority descent lovers being together seems to be ultimate forbidden taboo in the network television world-- ultimate unsolicited territory. Every turned channel features one brown toned individual pairing up with white counterpart. ABC's Shonda Rime's Scandal's Olivia and President Fitz and Grey's Anatomy's Jackson and April, Fox's Sleepy Hollow's Abbie to Icabob (they are so gonna go there), The Mindy Project's Mindy and Danny, and NBC's Parenthood's Jasmine and Crosby to name a few. Heck on PBS's Downton Abbey rebellious Rose was trying to marry to a "colored" jazz singer for scandalous plot point purpose. This feminist round table discussion about white obsession with viewing minorities as "beautiful attainable exoticism" addresses and slays perception. Viewers will continue watching these programs not realizing racial boundaries needing to come into play. Fact remains that one cannot be romanticized unless on canvas whiteness wants character to be romanticized.
That's why Young and the Restless has been applauded for as long as I can remember.

Drusilla (Victoria Rowell) and Neil (Kristoff St. John) were one of daytime's best beloved African American fairy tales.
Back in the 1990's, as a youngster on my mama's knee, I fell in love with vivacious Cinderella-esque Drucilla Barber. She was written to stereotype-- poor, uneducated, sassy black woman, but Victoria Rowell graced phenomenal wit, humor, intelligence, and bravery into this memorable character. Former runaway ballerina turned fashion model and illiterate turned excellence, Dru became radiant apple to eye of Neil Winters. Rich, successful, savvy businessman was bright, kind, and charming-- the eloquent black "prince" that Disney's Princess and the Frog were too afraid to create. Alongside evening episodes of The Cosby Show, watching Young and the Restless during summer and holiday noontime breaks were everything thanks to Dru and Neil's roller coaster romance. While Neilla (yes made up my first soap portmanteau) was going on, All My Children's Angie and Jesse (Mom was gung ho on her CBS soaps) were also making pivotal waves, breaking molds of predominately white genre. On Y&R, Neilla had their problems-- career interference (Neil didn't want Dru to become the big model) and affairs (Dru cheated with Neil's younger brother Malcolm due to sugar pill high and Neil with Carmen years later). Despite tangled messes they still loved one another in that traditionally over-dramatic, cannot-live-or-breathe-without-you soapy fashion. Now in comes the man Drusilla and Neil adopted-- Devon Hamilton Winters. Big kicker here-- Devon is in love with Neil's current wife, Hilary Curtis and she loves him too! Urban drama, angst, and sexy off the charts chemistry galore has come right back to Y&R with a fiery diligence!

Feelings were running deep when Devon (Bryton James) came to Hilary's (Mishael Morgan) aide after a pool escapade.
Why have I come to adore Hilary and Devon?
It's liberating happiness for varied reasons.
One: The actors are fantastic! Emmy winning Bryton James has come a long way from Family Matters. Now I have always been skeptical about Devon, but over the years he has grown like a wild, free spirited rose. Not weed nor thorn. A rose. Bryton is marvelous at expressing degrees of emotion, convincing viewers of Devon's inner turmoils and gracious joys. Mishael Morgan is an actress eliciting captivating charisma. I expect big wave currents in her future. Perhaps even future Emmy nominations once stories become basis to showcase depth she is capable of conveying. After all, Mishael has overcame hurdles of bad writing-- already a win.
Two: Hilary Curtis is a smart, snappy, well-traveled, trilingual woman with degrees under her belt (Y&R's young Olivia Pope). In the beginning, a real evil villainous lady-- placing alcohol in former alcoholic Neil's drink as well as revealing his journal entries to the web, trying to break up Lily (Drusilla's daughter with Malcolm) and Cane's marriage among other malicious shenanigans to avenge her mother's death. She's changed now. No, not sprouting halos and angel wings, Hilary's tough edges have softened just a bit and shell is broken. Like Dru, she was a former aspiring dancer and just as ambitious. How could I not appreciate evocative similarities? Oh, and she married Neil. Boom.
Three: Devon Hamilton Winters is made for Hilary. Simply put. He had a mother who loved drugs more than him. A rich father who never knew he existed. Devon too is a hard working individual like Hilary-- passionate about music (one needs music to dance sometimes right?). He lost his hearing due to meningitis and received a successful cochlear transplant. Ultimately revealed to be Katherine Chancellor's (R.I.P. valiant Jeanne Cooper) long lost grandson, he receives a vast inheritance. Money brought eventual troubles. Hilary isn't the first woman of Neil's that Devon has treasured. He had a one night stand with Tyra. However, with Hilary, Devon's heart is one hundred percent soul mate clad. And she feels the same.
Four: You know a couple is worth weight in pure gold if the actors can have great eye sex. Eye sex? Oh, that's when the eyes say everything without touching. Hilary and Devon had been making love for months, way before "innocent" hand brushing and unnecessary clothes came tumbling off. When two sets of chocolate brown eyes speak simultaneous sweet friendship and underlying ardent passion, pairing has exceeded expectation. Hevon is one helluva guilty pleasure. Even if they only have a three minute scene without uttering dialogue to one another. It's that abyssal deep.
Four: Neil is blind twice over! From Hevon's beginning, currents were swirling about for all to see and feel. Even Hilary's nemesis, Lily commented on the flying firecracker sparks.Yet somehow Neil does not sense rapturous phenomenon. Of course, as luck would have it, when Hevon prepared to announce and celebrate their beautiful love, Neil has a horrible accident and loses his eyesight. Now he really can't SEE them.
Five: I must explain strange fixation with diehard shipping of varied blond haired blue eyed women and dark haired, deep-eyed men-- primarily Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Buffy Summers and Angel, Days of Our Lives' Samantha Brady and EJ Dimera, Guiding Light's Tammy Winslow and Jonathan Randall, and General Hospital's Maxie Jones and Nathan West. I relish unseeable forces dooming pairings to be together, but undeniable, irrefutable love is driving catalyst forcing pairings to break conventional rules. Above mentioned pairings have that. Now Hilary and Devon falling into the category and obsession is quite an invigorating twist.

And by spend the night, they mean Devon (Bryton James) and Hilary (Mishael Morgan) have a splendid evening under the stars dancing. Still, they're right for calling it "the ultimate betrayal." The eye sex was off the charts sizzling.
Now there is nothing wrong with interracial love. Nothing. Love is love. But something is wrong with Hollywood perspective. There's always something wrong with Hollywood and race. Frankly, I'm sick of black women being valued and rewarded only when white man desire them and vice versa for black men. They're being painted not to want one another, avoid each other in scenes at times. I once had a social media argument with someone who viewed desirous outcry for African American couplings to be racist notion. I didn't understand her conviction. I do not dislike interracial pairings (favorites include Saved by the Bell's Zach and Lisa, Awkward Black Girl's J & Jay, and Y&R's Daniel and Lily when Davetta Sherwood played her). I have immensely championed white pairings. How is it not appropriate to a black woman and a black man to want each other-- to feel that same forbidden longing, that of which enhances a soap opera drama? I miss Dru and Neil a lot. Thus, I cannot help being drawn towards Hilary and Devon's destiny bound hearts. My longing is their longing like ravenous buzzing bees to promised nectar. Others shouldn't protest them either. Yes, it's a sordid affair, a truly terrible fate. Devon told Hilary before she got married that he had feelings for her. What does she do? Marries Neil anyway despite what inner voice telling her no. The dawn of long marriages seems to have passed in soap operadom. Sad but true. Perhaps Hevon is one of the few potential young pairings that can break this pattern, this notion that supercouples are extinct.

On September 17, 2014, Hilary and Devon's love could no longer fight against humming need for passionate consummation.
As for other soap operas still on the air with black couples in love, General Hospital has Jordan and Shawn. Bold and the Beautiful's Carter and Maya, however, are not ill fated destiny. Maya wants Rick Forrester and has always wanted Rick Forrester. Days Of Our Lives needs to catch up. Let's face it even when Renee Jones  (Lexie Carver) was on the latter soap, she wasn't used as front burner material. Unless her character had some tawdry affairs or died. Currently, the audience wants and craves Hevon fruit. TV Source Poll results have Hevon as #3 Best Couple (top Y&R pairing and only African Americans), Bryton at #3 for Best Actor and Mishael at #6 for Best Actress! Lord knows I want them. They just might be my last ship. After all, others sank hardcore. I'm still crying real tears. My track record with forbidden love isn't exactly peachy keen. Angel left Buffy. Tammy died. EJ died. Samantha went to Hollywood. Maxie and Nathan are banned from seeing each other right now.

It'll only be a matter of time before Hevon and its portrayers take number one spot in the CBS Soaps Poll.
So I need Hilary to dump Neil as soon as eyesight comes back. She should be with her true love-- Devon. It sounds real easy and maybe downright cornball, but the ride will be bumpy and soapy and hopefully not too traumatic. Since Dru fell off a cliff and left her jacket behind in 2007, the writers can create a sweet humble return for Victoria Rowell. Is that too much wonderful to ask for? Neil's eventual pain will need healing and having happily ever after with Drusilla would salve wounds. Whereas other creative juicy obstacles can just try damnedest to keep united Hevon apart. 

Cheers to Bryton and Mishael, hoping that there will be more twists and pulls as Devon ad Hilary continue to fall further into intricate webs of love.
In closing, Young and the Restless will always have steadfast allegiance. Occasionally, I despise character downfalls and scream at the screen, but its devotion to humanizing urbanism has stirred since childhood. I cannot completely turn my back on appreciative artistry. In Genoa City, African Americans rise alongside populated whiteness, fall in and out of love, and swarm in richly wealth sans beholden tendency. My excited, obligated heart swells at thoughts of more exploratory Hevon trysts and clandestine rendezvouses. Although fearing outcomes and revelations, I believe Hilary and Devon are meant for one another-- brown skinned Romeo Montague to brown skinned Juliet Capulet. Addictive angst and scorching drama cloaks them, but above all else fervent, consuming, bone-melting, soul stirring love-- most important element tying solid romance together. So much potential. I cannot wait to see what further stories are planned.
Besides if narratives don't meet expectations, there is always fanfiction.
Thank Hevon for that.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Belle: Amma Asante's Sumptuous Masterpiece Explores Forbidden Love And Acceptance In Various Ways

Belle film poster.
"Love must be a complicated thing."

Well, it certainly didn't have to be. Love can be the easiest, most naturally occurring emotion.  It's acceptance that's the more apocalyptic battle. 

Belle is a must see riveting period drama that teaches the paramount value of both love and acceptance-- the parallels are uniquely woven. Amongst opulent London backdrops and lavish scenery, blending together solid womenly friendships, racial prejudice, and forbidden romance, director Amma Asante and screenwriter Misan Sagay combine history of a remarkable realistically rendered oil painting alongside true account of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay- an Afro-European abolitionist showcasing Harriet Tubman like heroism and compassion. A compelling instrument that ties it all together are the relationships Dido forms along her journey to self-acceptance- taboo relationships that were nonetheless frowned upon. 

Born and raised under aristocratic privilege, Dido is the illegitimate bi-racial daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay. Dido's adoring father showcases paternal devotion-- the first male to fall in love with her on screen, showing her firsthand that it is the easiest emotion to feel. This acknowledgment is powerful

"You look just like your mother."

This proves apparent affection not only for Dido, but for the woman who birthed her. He sees beautiful offspring deserving to be raised of sacred birthright and leaves his child with his uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mansfield, pleading with utmost conviction for them to love and nurture her. Although no one is exactly thrilled that she is “black,” they begrudgingly agree. For Sir John Lindsay to then make her an heiress further proves that unconditional, parental endearment. Dido grows up, privileged and forms a powerful bond with her cousin Elizabeth- longest and most lovely relationship Dido has ever known. They laugh, play, and learn together, affectionately holding hands and passionately declaring inseparability. One of nine films that passed the Bechdel Test this year, Asante's film fervently illustrates beguiling closeness between these two women. Dido and Elizabeth's controversial yet synchronous devotion to one another is soon a driving force behind commissioned portrait.Vibrant backdrop to endearing friendship is a significant key, a factor that must be applauded. Having a portrait painted meant not only vast wealth and influence, but it also gave an acceptable validation to Dido- that she was loved by her family and by Elizabeth, half owner to her gracious heart.

Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) have a close relationship.
Except familial love had to be hidden whenever visitors come to the Mansfield home. Dido must dine in the parlor- away from guests. It is a rule she grows accustomed to. Yes, her family shows courtesy and admiration, but society dictates all, including whom one chooses to eat meals. It is unfortunate that their love cannot stand up to such stupendous rules. The snobby, upper crust Ashfords are no exception. One brother lustily eyes Dido with impervious provocation while the other cannot contain disdainful contempt, stating rather nastily that someone of Dido's skin tone suits for cotton field dalliance in the West Indies. Yes, sexual conquests and nothing more. Rather irksome. One cannot help but wish saliva could turn into venom and spit it at such a callous bastard.

Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)  is uncomfortable in her skin.
A rather depressing scene finds Dido sitting alone, saddened, peering into elegant oval mirror. She pinches and grabs frantically at brown hued hands and face, wanting desperately to “remove”shame. It defines demeaning hardships living with being different- the wrong shade of different and reflects lack of self-love. She longs to erase brown tint, to become populated, civilized fairer skinned- more cherished “English rose” setting high impossible to reach beauty standard. Surrounded by many luxurious, pretty objects, but inadequate in her own natural born skin, Dido's frustration is a powerful outcry for acceptance in an society blatantly celebrating racism. Although short, this visceral act of self-inflicted violence causes the viewer to take definite notice. Her struggle must be endured each day and night. The glaring subjection still remains a deep seated issue today. The role of African descendents appears to always be the entertaining Negro that knows all the right English words and proper mannerisms, catering to whims, displayed as an entertaining creature meant to be an stage performer instead of interacting in human society. One cannot forget that even as slavery eventually abolished, those with an ounce of Africanism DNA were not considered one hundred percent human. The astonished stares and perverse whispers cast in Dido's direction incite anguish. Impervious gawking both offensive and rude, white prestige are grossly intrigued by "Manfield's Negro," watching her like she embodies a freak show. However, Dido ignores critics, manages to bear turmoil, head up high. I am especially proud of how Dido gives snark back to Lady Ashford who more than deserves witty slap to her haughty pedestal.

Lord Mansfield's racially charged war is thrown at Dido's feet by passionate rebel thinker John Davinier.

Dido's (Gugu Mbartha-Raw) pompous world is turned upside down by John Davinier (Sam Reid).
He educates Dido and opens her eyes to the brutal barbaric ugliness of slavery. She reads eye opening notes that uncovers glaring truths Lord Mansfield has shunned from her. Slaves bound together, starved and thirsty, thrown overboard for profit. These horrendous allegations propel Dido's fury to see justice served. Lord Mansfield has deliberately smoothed over the hardcore honesty of the world, hiding atrocities that shouldn't exist. Dido is an intelligent woman who sees everything. Not just in ways of learned mannerisms like language and piano playing, she is aware that blackness isn't tolerable via in real life and depicted art.
"We are no better than paintings."

Realities simply cannot be tucked away forever. As an adult, Dido had every right to know. She isn't some stoic individual. She often spoke up about issues that mattered-- issues that certainly weren't learned between speaking eloquent Latin and French. I also believed studying the truth behind art gave another education. Art isn't solely about talent, mechanical prowess, and pretty frames to match drapes, art also provided subtle honesty about the orders of life. In the scenes where Dido glances at pieces, at times without dialogue, viewers know precisely where her thoughts are.

Belle (Gugu Raw-Mbartha) cannot hide her curiosity over Mabel (Bethan Mary-James). Also pictured Elizabeth (Sarah Gabor).

Dido meets Mabel, a free slave who works at the Mansfield residence as a maid. Dido turns into a casual observer, studying the woman. Over breakfast, Dido confronts her family over Mabel and slavery. Lady Mansfield blows up, believing these to be vulgar topics to discuss at breakfast. Wow. Human lives masqueraded as cargo could be descendents of Dido's past, relations that she doesn't get the opportunity to know and cherish. Mabel becomes a whole different bonding experience with Dido, setting forth another loving, accepting relationship outside jurisdiction of appeasing male ego. Dido struggles with kinky tresses and Mabel comes to aide, teaching her to comb from the ends. It is an endearing scene that ignites my own memories of struggling to appreciate strands and finding those who love it too. Once rare, now acceptance is vastly growing worldwide for the almighty afro. Mabel's caring, patient comb is just the beginning. She will be not only a maid- but a secret keeper of Dido's missions to see Davinier and his band of revolutionaries. Poetic regard that she shares this with Mabel and not Elizabeth-- who probably wouldn't understand Dido's roguish behavior. I see this vigilante justice as not only Dido's, but her gift to Mabel and others like them-- that side of herself that she grows to validate. Why should Dido have esteem? Why should Mabel be one of few to be "free?" I then imagined that while everyone left the house- Dido and Mabel played dress up prior to pub rendezvous. Mabel got a chance to get out of dowdy wardrobe and lived fantasy prestige, decked out in designer corsets and posh jewels. I am surely not alone in that. I hope.

Stupid prospects of suitors and marriage eventually begin to suck the life out of Dido and Elizabeth's earlier sisterly camaraderie. It's a thorn to the side, but it happens. A woman has to marry. Not for love, of course. To combine family wealth together and make heirs. Under flaring jealousy, tempers incite and hurtful words are exchanged. Elizabeth is a poor relation and Dido, an heiress, cannot marry due to her unacceptable skin tone. Thankfully, they made up because that nonsense (though logical) was killing me. Ha.

However, after Lord Mansfield throws the gable down to the right side of things, blackness fades on Dido and John. Although, my romanticist heart celebrated their chance to love one another freely, the final type of amour Dido receives, I cannot help but wonder if Dido ever looked back into the mirror and said, "I love you, Self. Brown skin and kinky hair and brown eyes and full lips and everything in between." That was a missing piece that needed insertion. The late great Maya Angelou said:
" I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt."
Did Dido love who she was inside and out? Accept herself? Or was Davinier her sole savior in seeing the beauty within? Perhaps so. I just preferred to see film end that way or at least give a glimpse into how Dido's perceptions shifted.

The famous painting of Dido and Elizabeth showcases their love and affection towards one another, a close bond depicted well in the film.
However, Belle is a visualized dream seeming to have been majestically stolen from my very own thoughts, a dream that impresses childhood fascination. A brown skinned woman dressed in fancifully designed, lacy, bow adorned, colorful ball gowns, wearing resplendent jewelry fit for a princess brings any period Disney film to shame. If only Princess and the Frog took this route. Words cannot begin to express the sentimental nature of Asante's gift. For the film is more than a glorious account of one woman's desire to see ancestors set free. It showcases a woman deserving love and respect.

 In Indiewire, Asante states:
When you see the real painting, which is at Scone Palace where Lord Mansfield was born, there’s more depth, you can see right to the back of the painting. And I got so much from it. The way Elizabeth is touching Dido, the way Dido is pointing at herself and looking straight at the painting, I wanted that to be her landing place, where she ends up. Once she’s combined this idea of being half daughter of slave, half daughter of aristocrat, half black, half white, all these seemingly contradictory terms, she has to combine and accept, and say "I’m ok with who I am. I’m bloody different from everyone I know, but I’m ok with that." I always say, this isn’t a Cinderella story, this isn’t rags to riches, this is a story of a girl who was loved, but has to teach people the right way to love her, the way she needs to be loved. So I took as much as I could from the painting, and then focused on the research as well.
I have it in mind that I will see this painting. I will. This piece of art commemorates womenly friendships in such a radiant light. We don't see racial prejudice or disdain. We don't see society dictating placement. We see two women who love one another intimately, familiarly.  Not incestuous or lesbian love, but an ardent, accepting love.

In her first period piece, standout Gugu Mbatha-Raw exhibited a versatile array of emotion as a woman torn between two worlds- European privilege and African ancestry. Mbatha-Raw must helm more of this purely white genre, breaking racial prejudice, setting foot into perhaps popular Jane Austen arena. One cannot help but wonder if Tom Felton was chosen due to his venerable sneering capability and the fact that one of his famous roles, Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter series included abhorrent dislike of Mudbloods- mixed magical folk.

Still, Asante shepherding Dido's story brings forth an inspiring hope for more to come. Only her second film, this BAFTA Award winning former actress, producer, and director is breaking new ground. Everyone is cheering her on. Palm Springs Film Festival named her a Director to Watch and she's won the Signis Award at the Miami Film Festival. Profound ladies like Terry McMillon are singing her praises on Twitter and interest has sprung all over again for her award winning The Way of Life-- a film she not only directed, she wrote the screenplay! I love that in the Guardian she says that she and Dido have walked the same division everyday, defining herself bi-cultural. She truly is opening doors for other African descent filmmakers from around the globe. Perhaps with Steve McQueen's, also Afro-British, earlier Oscar win this year, we'll see the brilliant Asante in the winner's circle someday.

Amma Asante is an up and coming director that we all must watch and support. She is paving the way.
Thus, I have recommended Belle to all those who will listen and pray that once awards season hits that Belle will not be put on backburner, especially for costume design. Directional effort for Asante and a nod for Mbatha-Raw might be a bigger stretch, but we don't want to have another Pariah or Fruitvale Station on our hands. Hollywood needs to wake up and smell the beauty-- the beauty of the Negro experience whether it be in America or in the heart of Europe or anywhere else in the world. People of color exist and they have human experiences worth acknowledging, worth accepting.

Belle is a fascinating, moving art that makes tears fall in great abundance. A viewer simply cannot help desiring Kleenex and some good old- fashioned love.

Now please go watch. It's playing nationwide. 



Monday, May 19, 2014

Happy Birthday Grace Jones: Fem Film Rogue Icon Spotlight

Zula (Grace Jones) stole the show in Conan the Destroyer.
I remember gathering at the television set, the whole family making it a big deal that Conan the Destroyer was coming on for the very first time. As our little hands dug into a mass of buttery special movie occasion popcorn, the appreciation in my mother's large hazel eyes grew. Not at the sight of star- Arnold Schwarzenegger. She gazed at the sight of Grace Jones with pure awe, excitedly shouting, “I didn't know Grace Jones was in this!” Now anyone at school would call Grace Jones unattractive and dark skinned calamity. No one would ever wear their hair that short and "masculine" trimmed into box formation. Especially not without a relaxer. In my mother's eyes and joyful tone of her voice, she admired this woman and so did I. Jones' Zula battled men twice her size and killed them with ease, expression wild and dangerous. Before Xena the Warrior Princess's yodeled cries and The Walking Dead's Michonne burst into the world slashing zombies with a machete, dreadlocks flying high, Grace Jones' Zula thrust herself into my heart like an arrowed dagger, piercing tender flesh asunder. As a child, I couldn't comprehend that emotion. Still, idealizing straight hair, thinner lips, and lighter skin- I had wanted that real American dream no one wants to talk about. 

Of course, Grace Jones set me straight real quick.

Jones is the diamond in the rut.
Hailing from Jamaica, born on this beautiful day (like playwright Lorraine Hansberry) in 1948, Grace Jones is all guts and glory. A fashion icon, a model, a musician, and a sexy firecracker, she sparkles every composition appealingly chiseled face and lithe body sets foot upon. She gives the most boring space pizzazz and personality. Taking charge, this bold, rebellious, creative genius has inspired millions since she stepped on the scene. Boxed haircuts and tailored men suits aren't just for the male equation anymore. From the hip 80s to beyond, Jones took "masculine" styles and gave them her own signature flare, marketing a brand new campaign of terming beautiful fashionista. 

There is power in Jones' version of sexual freedom. Some say it's embarrassing. Others say it's demeaning to a culture, a race that is often viewed as overly promiscuous. She is blunt and real. By acknowledging what drives others discomfort, she isn't afraid. Nope. She isn't sugar coating to the massively uptight agenda. Most protestors only despise Jones because she doesn't "look" sexy to them. That aesthetic reveals itself in a rather glaring manner. Skin nearing ebony shade, thick, pouty lips, African jawline, and choosing to wear hair in a short boyish natural makes certain characters clench their teeth in disgust. Top off that appearance with men's clothing and hell breaks loose.

An old American dream of whitewashed beauty revealed- disturbing and utterly wrong to glorify one race over another...
Whilst growing up, I disliked myself for all the wrong reasons. For not meeting idealized standards of beauty. Elle, Glamour, Vogue, and Vanity Fair told my teenage self countless times via imagery and startling text that to be lovely, to be desirable is to be pale with long straightened hair and thinner facial features, to be so bright, one looked like a halo missing angel from a period painting. That above image of Jones decked in "whiteface" was my dream- blue eyed, light skinned, and "perfect" haired fantasy. To scrub away darkness, the brown stained skin that seems to still symbolize grotesque monstrosity.

However, one day, I happened upon a stark black and white image of Jones that shattered my brainwashed mind. She looked stunning. So stunning that I observed the portrait for quite a while. Sensuous black eyes staring out at me, daring and challenging. Not whispering quietly. Like she knew things that she shouldn't know. Dressed in squared suit, no shirt underneath, revealing toned breastbone, she spoke loud despite lips closed over stemmed white cigarette. That day she told me to stop hiding behind those magazines, that those ideologies are not me, not catered to me. That I must be proud, free-spirited, and reckless. There is a wisdom in knowing true self- in being so genuine in that self that no cruel words could ever break that loyal, courageous bond. Loving self should be the strongest relationship in a human being;s life before loving another. At least I think so. I also felt a burgeoning love for Jones blossom, as well as the beginning of accepting myself, my appearance in the mirror- afro haired, brown skinned, and thick featured. I respect Jones and have always viewed her as a role model, a worthy inspiration.

I still recall Zula and her bravery. Zula seemed to be Grace herself. Fighting battles that media tossed. She always hits right back, widening, expressive eyes and opened mouth cross between shock and a smile.

Grace Jones is definitely a rogue, a fiery, amazing rule breaker. We need more women to be this passionate about running from the pack. She teaches us to stand out from the crowd and please ourselves first. 

Who cares about anyone else's perspective right?

A picture is worth a thousand silent words.
Closing off with some of the birthday girl's best quotes:

“I’ve always been a rebel. I never do things the way they’re supposed to be done. Either I go in the opposite direction or I create a new direction for myself, regardless of what the rules are or what society says.”

“Men are terrified of me. I can easily step into the man’s shoe, and that puts the man in a position where he has to become the female. That’s what sets off the tension. But my image is supposed to frighten men…”

“It doesn’t surprise me that people can’t see beyond my image. It’s amazing, but I can understand it. That’s what image is for. But it’s never a problem for me. It’s only a problem for them. I don’t really care. I do what I want regardless.”

“I think I’m doing a service to black women by portraying myself as a sex machine. I mean, what’s wrong with being a sex machine, darling? Sex is large, sex is life, sex is as large as life, so it appeals to anyone that’s living, or rather it should.”




Saturday, May 17, 2014

Quirky "Tiger Lily Road" Is All Dirty Sex, Romantic Lies, & No Kinky Videotape

"Tiger Lily Road" film poster.
Tiger Lily Road is a twisted little gem that deserves recognition for focusing on women over a certain age, especially in pertains to rather erotic subject matter. The dark, witty dramedy contains humorous one-liners and candid offbeat moments that weave magical touches of irresistible sweetness into its whimsical web. Quite commendable that Michael Medeiros's first full length feature screenplay celebrates heterosexual intercourse whilst dismantling ageism taboos. Let's applaud that.
Now the film centers on Annie and Louise- best friends who couldn't be any different than the other. Bold and assertive, Louise is the self-annointed town slut school principal, having had her way with any man she finds desirable. That happens to include Annie's on again off again boyfriend, Russ, the town deputy. Annie is a kind and docile veterinarian. The reclusive lily of the story, Annie speaks with softened tones and her facial expressions are often tender, subdued, and compassionate. She contemplates a lot. Certain scenes focus on water- a pure, sensually stirring element that seems to metaphor her muted nature. Annie is simply a closeted hermit whereas Louise is promiscuous and flaunts worldliness. Conflicting personalities could only mean opposing views on imperative matters like sleeping around. 

And there's a lot of sleeping around. Implied and otherwise.

Enter Russ- the first of two slap-worthy male characters. He has always jerked Annie around and has shacked up with Louise on numerous occasions. At an uncomfortable dinner, he brings Annie and Louise identical jewelry boxes (ASSHOLE!) and announces astonishing news- he's marrying a chick half his age. Afterwards, the pissed duo take a blood oath, vowing to swear off all men and be alpha feministic bitch goddesses.

Yippee! 
Sadly, this empowerment pact is short lived. Broken within twenty-four hours.
Louise (Karen Chamberlain) and Annie (Ilvi Dulack) easily capture the victim at gunpoint.
Enter Ricky- another man they would soon intimately share. Except he's younger and much more virile than Russ. After accidentally killing Russ, Ricky, a real piece of work jerk is rewarded with a tranquilizer dart in the derriere. It leads to an unorthodox kidnapping by Annie and Louise. Is this just desserts for the young dangerous loose cannon who recently slathered a woman's face with ketchup and mustard and then proceeded to slap that same face with a hotdog? The cold, heartless villain who dumped a woman's head in a toilet days later? His reign of lecherous assault on women would come to an end thanks to being snowed in on the home of what appeared to be a quaint, cookie cutter lady's residence.
But appearances are the most easily deceived notion...
It is a hilarious predicament. Ricky embodies youth, strength, and agility, but has become overpowered by women twice his age. Downright hysterical this whole age factor. He searches for an escape route via perceptive hazel eyes. Yet he is stuck. Stuck. Stuck being held at gunpoint and handcuffed to a bed. Predatory Louise is on Ricky like white on rice. Her bright, vivid gaze greatly implies whetted appetite for depraved bodily contact. She licks pink lips in provocation, watching the man pee with greedy relish. In fact, it is disturbing. Makes one scratch their heads and wonder about such perverse candidness. Then it comes. It actually comes. A horrendous rape revenge scenario that is utterly shocking- a woman taking advantage of a vulnerable man. Short, grotesque scene stained with revulsion. Should this empower women? Should this brand of vigilante justice be applauded? 

Wait. 

Should Louise be considered a vigilante? 
Ricky (Tom Pelphrey) cannot get privacy- not even in the bathroom and Louise (Karen Chamberlain) seems to have forgotten the Blood Oath.
"If it was one of us in there, they wouldn't think twice!"
She uses above argument to justify her own violent curiosity.
In this act, Louise has drugged the captive and proceeds to unleash unabashed prowess, striding atop him like a fiery alleyway cat in heat. Ricky protests, telling her to "get off" and piteously tugs on his handcuffs. Yet in a helpless situation, powerless and at her mercy, he receives lecherous punishment.  It is rather comical that Louise speaks about MILFs when she's not actually a parent. Her own moral compass is a bit misconstrued, lopsided even. Rape certainly solves no problems and it dirties an otherwise complicated situation. Sure he killed Russ and spat scrambled egg into her hair, but nothing gave excuse for Louise to overplay the vengeful vixen. Her actions are not honorable.

The scene ignited alarming tendency to wash hands clean and forget that such aberrant compulsiveness ever existed inside a person.
Ricky (Tom Pelphrey) stares at off screen Annie (Ilvi Dulack)- intended target.
On the other hand, dear sweet vulnerable Annie refuses to save Ricky from Louise's wrath. That tarnishes her halo just a bit. However, that doesn't diminish her purpose. She is the softer of the two, sole representation of feminine weakness. She represses physical desires by making every scenario about work-in-progress. Ricky uses Annie as an instrument, starting up conversation, lying casually, lifting lines from movies, going as far as feigning abusive past. Despite Louise's warnings, Annie laps up all of Ricky's manipulations, eating from his hand like an impuissant puppy needing sustenance. He cranks up the charm and she cannot resist alluring temptation. Over romantic candlelight, the mood for seduction is set. Is there anything sexier than a man in eggplant Jezebel glittered t-shirt and heart decorated pajama pants? I think not. While Louise controlled Ricky in crude aggressively charged manner, Annie lets the opportunistic man take advantage of her, lying underneath dominating figure, defeated in the alluring game of one-armed horizontal tango. He initiates the whole damn scenario and she lets him, breathing out a raspy “okay” as the deed gets cracking. It is creepily reminscent of an earlier scene of a little girl underneath a boy on the playground, a symbolism of how “sex is supposed to be-” aggressor (man) on top, complacent (lady) on the bottom.  

Still, Annie enjoys herself and who could blame her?

Bang. Bang. Bang. 

Suddenly her water visions symbolize urgent freedom. Sex is magical.
Betty (Rita Gardner) has discovered dildos!
Tiger Lily Road goes beyond double teaming Louise and Annie. Unforgettable moments include an eccentric elder lady who purposefully walks down the street too slow and hilariously kooky Betty- Annie's ailing mother. Sure, Betty loves her puzzles and overly attentive daughter, but watching her unearth dildo satisfaction was well worth movie ticket fare. I had no shame in shouting out “that's right! Do your thing!” to Betty. Cheer leading might be uncomfortable to a select few, but if men like Hugh Hefner can flaunt his fervent randiness at 88 years-old and be celebrated for it, why can't Betty have raucous fun too? Plus, she doesn't need a man to do it either. She mentions Russ fixing the washer a couple of times (something he doesn't even do!), but the great thing about Betty is that she is rarely in scenes with a male character. As for dildo enjoyment, it is a secret only the audience knows. Except, the whole awkward fact that Louise owned this dildo troubles the mind. These women tend to over share. Let's just hope it was brand spanking new and move on.

Towards the climax, Ricky tells the cops that he had been raped. They laugh it off, taking him away and shake their heads in disbelief.

Although summarized as a modern day fairy tale, there is nothing Hans Christian Anderson about Tiger Lily Road's narrative. With its mischievous snaps and nefarious whips, Brothers Grimm would be a more viable comparison. It is imperative to point out a glaring flaw. Fairy tales have an annoying tendency to concentrate on the youth as though that defines beautiful. It makes for terrifying notion that wrinkles equal powerlessness and loss of physical attraction. Medeiros concentrates on both the cruel and graceful side of maturity. These three women (Annie, Louise, and Betty) take on the age gods and win or lose some piece of dignity. It is an intriguing focus, viewing how each responds to their own personal awakening and how they come to grips with that nature.
Annie (Ilvi Dulack) and Louise (Karen Chamberlain) know that cookies (and possibly off screen orgies) will always melt some part of a delivery man (Kevin Kane)- heart or whatever.
I have known about Tiger Lily Road for quite a while and not ashamed to admit originally tuning in for the kidnapped eye candy. Tom Pelphrey, hailing from my old favorite soap opera Guiding Light, fits nicely amongst the cast, playing sarcastic, potty-mouthing, bad ass Ricky. Overall, he enacted with all the brilliance well known by many who have seen his versatile work. He just keeps getting better. I did get a lot more than bargained for. Performances from Ilvi Dulack and Karen Chamberlain are quite splendid treats- an added bonus. Dulack breathes warm humility into Annie while Chamberlain's Louise is troublesome, wild, and bitchtastic! The way these two women interacted with each other on screen- whether it be emotional sisterly bonding or over the top fighting (at least they threw plates and not fists) made for a believable friendship. Medeiros' also cameos as Deputy Bob, a notably funny scene stealer. 
Besides the thoughtful "don't be a lily all your life" sentiment, here is another moral of the Tiger Lily Road tale: surpassing twenty, thirty, forty, and so forth doesn't mean that a woman stops having sex, thinking about sex, or masturbating. Basic human inclinations don't die. They at times can manifest and grow larger than a beanstalk. In the end, everyone controls their own destiny. No romantic qualms. No silly pipe dreams about love. It's all about eating cookies and using men in a disposable manner. They don't even have to be kidnapped at gunpoint.
Except well, the ladies still share and inquisitive minds wonder if they let Betty join in.