Thursday, July 6, 2017

Compassionate 'Okja' Strikes A Cord

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

That is, until everything drastically changes for her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, June 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

Times are changing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 18, 2017

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

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

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

Pretty unfair criteria, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When her parents find her, independent times are over.

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

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

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

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

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

Still, there should have been some inclusiveness.

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Love is a Many Splendored, Forsaken Kind of Thing in 'Still Star-Crossed' (Spoiler Alert)

Ah, a television series period romance with brown bodies in it. If you, like me, watched because of the utterly romantic promo, you were sadly misled by a few things....
Although based on Melinda Taub's book, on the silver screen Still Star Crossed is the delicious allegory of a juicy, guilty pleasure Beverly Jenkins coming to the world of medieval Shakespearean delight. It's a plus that the nighttime bodice ripper features a diverse cast not treated like tokens. 

A shamelessly beautiful, flawless example of a Beverly Jenkins if you didn't know what a Beverly Jenkins historical fiction novel looks like.
It starts off with what we know: Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet secretly marry with Juliet's cousin Rosaline Capulet and Romeo's cousin Benvolio Montague acting as witnesses and then they die, committing suicide together. Simultaneously, Escalus's father has just passed away and he is crowned prince of Verona.

To set the tragedy to right, Prince Escalus believes that the joining of Rosaline and Benvolio will strengthen Verona and perhaps bring an end to the ancient rivalry. 

This means exactly what it means. And yes, I am withholding sobs and clutching my chest.
However, Rosaline and Escalus share a history hinted in a few flashbacks and their current eye affair. They too have "Romeo and Juliet" moments, with Escalus visiting Rosaline's balcony on a midsummer night, wooing her with flowery words and sincere promises. The actors certainly have the forbidden staring down pact, for brown eyes meeting brown eyes are filled with tenderness, longing, agony, and love. One wishes that they didn't know the outcome, but alas, find these poignant long looks and stolen sultry kisses worthy treasures. Their chemistry is like an ignited match, burning the small screen with its tendril flames. They have both innocence and passion. I believed that Escalus loved Rosaline before he even said the words in episode two. The way he gazes upon her, the way he touches her face, the tentative way he kisses her are the markings of a man consumed by the heart. Rosaline conveys her love with a response that is anything but submissive.

Lord Silvestro Capulet (Anthony Stewart Head aka forever Rupert Giles) with his niece Rosaline Capulet (Lashana Lynch).
From the sounds of the narrative thus far, Escalus and Rosaline were dearest friends that became more. Escalus's father had disapproved of the burgeoning relationship, wanting his son far away from the feud, believing his ardor chooses one side over another. Royalty simply cannot be involved with the notion of loving a Capulet or vice versa.

The Montagues are responsible for the death of Rosaline and Livea's father. Naturally, Rosaline hates them. Her uncle, Silvestro Capulet, however, doesn't care and believes that her fate will save the family's misfortune. He even moves her from the servants' quarters to Juliet's bedroom much to the horror of his wife, Lady Guiliana. She truly despises Rosaline.

Little sister, Isabella (Madalion Rahimi) is the sly serpent whispering evil nothings into Escalus's (Sterling Sulieman) ears.
While Prince Escalus struggles between right and wrong, his sister, Princess Isabella seems to add gorgeous accessory of poise and prowess to every scene she's in. At every turn, she is egging on Escalus's bad side, slowly poisoning his compassionate nature. She feels that they must abide by horrific laws. She must have an agenda. Hopefully, there is more story to tell about her soon and that writers don't wait and lose momentum. 

Sisters Rosaline (Lashana Lynch) and Livea (Ebonee Noel) Capulet have different goals in this period life.

There is no Bechdel pass yet. Unless one counts the many times Lady Guilana has threatened Rosaline's life. Or the small scene when Princess Isabella admits to missing Rosaline's companionship. 

In regards to other family matters, the ebony Capulet sisters don’t have conversations surpassing the subject of men. Although at the time, marriage was profitable for women, especially women of color flying in higher circles, it would have been nice to see them talk beyond that. Livea is obsessed with getting hitched and would rather have a husband than flee the countryside with her sister. She is after all, the obedient, docile sister, comfortable in her lowly place. Rosaline is a daringly defiant spirit, seemingly wanting pious, independent nunnery life, showing that rare combination of black woman innocence and dignity. However, different Livea and Rosaline are, there should have had been small scenes of them preparing for the big ball, telling each other that they’re beautiful, and braiding each other’s hair. I wanted desperately for something that showcased pivotal emotional bond between sisters. It was wonderful that instead of staying safe with Escalus during the point of danger, Rosaline instead decides to find Livea to ensure that she was safe and sound.

In a man's world, Rosaline (Lasana Lynch) is a woman determined to take charge of her own destiny.
In the vein of strong black women leads, welcome Lynch to where powerhouses Kerry Washington and Viola Davis are breaking barriers-- Shondaland. She is a radiant gem, bringing forth a noble, brazen character with intellect, determination, and vulnerability. Whether Still Star Crossed returns for a second season or not, the future has to be promising for an actress with a commanding presence, rich depth, and a supreme beauty that desperately needs to be seen. 

It is wonderful seeing Rosaline (Lashana Lynch with Sterling Sulieman) outside of her servant uniform. She looked like Princess Tiana with her Prince Naveen beside her. Oh, the endless Disney princess dreams....
As for romance, Rosaline and Escalus were good while they lasted. For two episodes at least.

Okay, good is the operative word.

Escalus left town without telling her. Sure, his father controlled most of this horrendous situation, forcing him to leave, waiting carriage and all. However, during Escalus's time away, he didn't write Rosaline a single letter. That's pretty damn awful. Surely, he could have given her word somehow. He returns back to Verona and is taking control of her life, a woman he claims to love. He would risk and damage it all for the kingdom. There must be some other way to end a feud rather than forsake a person, tie them down into an unwanted marriage. Lastly, the most terrible act, Escalus confesses his love and wants to tell the world the next morning. After a disgusting travesty occurs and is discovered, he uses their one night of intimacy (not sexual intimacy, something deeper, something profound) against Rosaline. He casually threatens her with a sullied reputation if she doesn't go through with marrying the enemy. The romance went to the grave right then and there.

As the prince's character darkens, the tide will turn to Rosaline and Benvolio while secretive Livea might have a blossoming relationship with Paris, formerly Juliet's betrothed, the man Romeo stabbed before dying.

Yet this chemistry between Rosaline and her prince, this tantalizing short-lived taboo, was a precious sentiment to some of us desiring black love to prevail.

Distant lovers for now and ever.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Big Tease: Recapping the Lit 'Black Panther' Trailer

Black Panther film poster.
Black Panther's newly released mini trailer is only less than two minutes long, but it's the most incredible, nail-biting one minute and fifty-two seconds existing right now. Led by solid master scribe Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station and Creed), performance top houses such as Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Forest Whitaker just to name a few, and gorgeous costume design by Oscar and Emmy nominated Ruth E. Carter (Malcolm X, Amistad, and Roots), Black Panther promises to deliver and honor our greatest hero dreams through the art of film.

Chadwick Boseman is the perfect choice for as the King of Wakanda, T'Challa.
Firstly, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are the two white men who created Black Panther and the fictional Africanized world of Wakanda. In this modern day and age, it's right to hand the film reins over to Coogler, a phenomenal award-winning African American filmmaker, wonderfully adept at humanizing blackness, giving his black anti-stereotype characters full breadth: vulnerability, flaws, and integrity. Most importantly, Africa and the black experience is still a sensitive issue. When often filtered through white lenses, films starring people of color are told with blatant or hinted exoticism, white imperialism, and misogynoir. The black villain is also a huge fear to tackle among non-black filmmakers due to history. Coogler is definitely capable of rendering a villain that is not a mustache twirling tagline.

Although not filmed on any African continent, filming locations include Argentina, parts of South Korea, and Atlanta, Georgia.


Raised fists, the likely stance film goers will have come February 16, 2018.
Forest Whitaker is Zuri, T'Challa's spiritual advisor. Coogler states, "Forest’s character, more than anything, is a major tie-back to T’Challa’s father. Zuri is someone he looks to for guidance."
Secondly, Black Panther's casting is out of this world. With a few Oscars winners and nominees in the mix, this film is not only a black superhero film, it's a black superhero that will include top notch acting. Boseman resumes his role (leading instead of supporting) as the fiery crime fighter nodding to African roots, Jordan and Nyong'o play layered villains (against their usual goodie-two-shoes roles), and Bassett and Whitaker mentor their characters.

Arrested Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) comes forward with W'Kabi (Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya) at right.
Thirdly, it makes one a bit teary eyed to see a cast featuring so many brown and ebony skinned bodies and in a big budget Marvel film no less! Like Moonlight, Black Panther shows the array of African diaspora, the varied skin hues, the specific features, the individualized hairstyles. The black women, with their short crops and regal clothing, are sensual, sleek, powerful goddesses confident in their own chemical makeup. The black men have dignity, honor, and sexual appeal. That kind of validation, of ownership told through Coogler's vision is downright laudable.

Villainous Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) stepped out, a fierce stunner in a fetchingly designed dress and awesome twist out 'fro.
Warriors led by Ayo (Florence Kasumba) who is fighting Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o).
In closing, the excitement and anticipation for the film is gaining momentum. The trailer showcases awesome cinematography, excellent lighting and camera direction, and amazing costumes.
Black Panther, we're ready and rooting for you.