Saturday, October 28, 2017

Thank You, Christy Marx For 'Jem and the Holograms'

Jem and the Holograms debuted on October 6, 1985.
I don’t remember watching cult animated classic Jem and the Holograms during childhood, but my mom swears that it happened. Apparently, I sat in front of the television, fixated on the screen, drawn by these women pop rock musicians and their super sophisticated computer, Synergy. Perhaps, it is true, that my love for purple is deeper than imagined, that the purple haired afro fashionista Shana may have been the catalyst to my lifelong passion for the color.

Plus the theme song is catchy.

Shana Elmsford, the purple afro queen, is a drummer and fashion designer. She was voiced by Cindy McGee who also voiced Starlight Girls Chrissy and Lela.
A few years ago, The Hub Channel aired 1980's throwback cartoons: Transformers, My Little Pony, and G.I. Joe with Jem and the Holograms capturing my utmost attention. Viscerally stunned by the stylish foursome (turned quintet in later seasons), I tuned into late night marathons, growing intrigued by the inherited Synergy machine, Jerrica Benton's her one-named alter ego, Jem, and the amazing band: songwriter/keyboardist, Kimbra Benton (Jerrica's younger red haired sister), blue-haired guitarist Aja Leith, and drummer/fashion designer/bassist, Shana Elmsford. Technical engineer and road manager, Rio Pacheco was an honorary member with drummer Carmen "Raya" Alonso coming on board much later to temporarily replace Shana, who wanted to pursue a fashion design career.

Jem and the Holograms' unique, pop art palette came alive with great colors and stellar patterns. Plus the frequent outfit changes were rare in a cartoon. The impressive 1980's fashion statements showcased top notch funky, sophistication, irresistible in the many sleek, fantasy fantastic music videos playing in every episode. From band members to the Starlight girls, almost every character sang a tune among magical segments about journey, love, family, and happiness.
The first words, Synergy ever recited were, "Jerrica Benton, I have come for you."
After the death of Emmett Benton whose Starlight Music Company conjoined with his foster children "The Starlight Girls," from her beloved father, Jerrica inherits red star shaped earrings, secret projectors that allow Jerrica and Synergy to communicate and create the Jem hologram.

Jem and the Holograms jamming out.
One of the biggest coops was the Jerrica/Rio/Jem love triangle. Complications went funnily overboard with Jem seducing Rio away from Jerrica. A truly, truly outrageous moment was the song, "Who Is He Kissing?" Rio is making out with a fake version of his girlfriend, which leads to the how. Holograms aren't real. Yet Jem is touchable and kissable. He can't distinguish the difference. Jerrica doesn't want to say anything. The obvious distrust leads to dispute central. Perhaps Jerrica didn't really trust her boyfriend. After all, she did make a third alter character just to test him.

Kind-hearted, thoughtful, and sincere, generous Gemini, Jerrica Benton is lead singer, Jem. She is voiced by Samantha Newark while Britta Phillips sings.

Rio loves Jerrica but......

he has a major thing for Jem.
The other girls had relationships. Boy hungry Kimber had various boyfriends of her own, Shana entered a relationship with film director Anthony Julian, and Aja fell for Stormer's brother, Craig Phillips, who was almost the new drummer for the band.

Kimber is the other wiizardress behind the curtain. Next to Synergy's incredible machine, Kimber's role has importance-- she wrote every Jem' song from the heart. She also says "Outrageous" the most.

Aja, the tomboy auto mechanic, is the most problematic one. She doesn't have a lot of episodes focused on her. Although she is an Asian-American character, her voice work is done by a white actress who also does Kimber, Princess Adriana (Kimber's doppelganger), and Starlight Girl, Ashley.  A real miss here.
Last addition Raya was a nice final addition. Late Asian American actress Linda Dangcil voiced her.

One of the several Shana centric episodes, "In Stitches," is delivers a sweet message about believing in your art and putting best foot forward even in the most desperate times.

The best thing about Jem and the Holograms aka Jem, Her Sister and Their Best Friends, however, is their sisterhood. They are always there for one another and support each other. They are a loving, beautiful family that extends to every Starlight Girl. It was especially tough for Kimber to befriend each girl that the Bentons adopted, but eventually she came to her senses. This illustrated an often tough reality in families, the brewing jealousy that comes with questioning if parental love can be divided equally-- biological verses adopted.

Attempted murderers Stormer, Pizazz, and Roxy.

The Misfits, an alternative girl band with feisty, pulp punk edge, were on the opposite spectrum of the Jem team's goody goody image. Rude, obnoxious rivals, who though talented and beautiful, allowed misplaced jealousy and ambition to corrupt their integrity. Led by rich, spoiled Phyillis "Pizazz" Gabor (lead singer and rhythm guitar), docile Mary "Stormer" Phillips (often reluctant to be full fledged evil, keytar and lyricist) and feisty Roxanne "Roxy" Pellegrini, the trio (who later turned quad with British saxophonist Jetta). Portion of blame rests on Eric Raymond, former associate at Starlight Music, a greedy, misogynistic crook stopping at nothing to win and takeover his former . Their schemes were horrific attempted murder plots that made this animated pop tart a bit hard to watch. Plus the stalking and bullying were not fun extremes. A lot of my friends consider The Misfits a pleasurable favorite, but their pettiness overwhelmed the bad girl dynamic. It seemed like two very different musically styled bands could not get along much less find a common ground (joy of music and fashion) to exist together. One had to be super positive while the other was borderline evil, except Stormer whose moral compass actually worked.

The many faces of Eric Raymond via Synergy's hologram of course.

Still, some memorable highlights were episodes that focused on Roxy's illiteracy (season two's Roxy) and Stormer's sweet side gig with Kimber when both songwriting/keyboardists momentarily quit their respective groups (season two's The Bands Break Up).

The awesome Aja, Shana, Jem, and Kimber telling Raya that she is one of them.
With the many animated reboots lately, it is such a shame that Jem and the Holograms (ignore that horrible trite that just stole its name) are left off revisit lists. For years, Christy Marx and devoted fans have wanted this to happen.

There are problematic issues. Every show, especially cartoons, have major flaws. With Jem and the Holograms, however, Marx showed a real investment in having every girl see herself in an inclusive pop band. Jerrica/Jem, Kimber, Shana, Aja, and Raya had individual style, a sense of uniqueness that was a huge crossing bridge in the 1980's decade.

To this day, Jem and the Holograms remains one of the most truly, truly outrageous cartoons that ever existed.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

'Brown Girl Begins' Gives Us The Afrofuturist Heroine We've Been Waiting For

Brown Girl Begins film poster.
At the Urbanworld Film Festival, an extraordinary film debuted.

I never thought a day would come to see a heroine who looked like me, a family member, or a dear friend.

Yes, I had seen the fantastic trailer and drooled at beautiful visuals.

However, three minutes wasn't enough preparation for a splendidly grand feast.

For perhaps the first time, in Brown Girl Begins, with Ti-Jeanne, we witness compelling depth of black women complexity. Her dark brown skin, an embraced anomaly, screamed joyful sentiment. One didn’t need to have bi-racial genes to be a beautiful, fiery leader-- to be Hollywood's only version of black. Her giant, wiry curled hair, out and free or braided elegantly, tall, graceful curved figure was as powerful and strong as any typical long haired spry, tiny white vixen.

In most big budget post-apocalyptic science fictions, the world disposes brown and black people, leaving white to rule as they always have prior. To those filmmakers, it is as though in some strange sadistic way, colonialism has not only taken over and destroyed almost everything possessed throughout history, it survives the future whilst finding new area to thrive and conquer. The lead must be a white man or a white woman. Even though Book of Eli and I Am Legend showed black men as lone valiant protagonists, black women were invisible, unvoiced with the women (sidekick) roles filled by Alice Braga and Mila Kunis respectively.

The past haunts Ti-Jeanne to the point where she refuses forget about what happened to her mom, Mi-Jeanne (Keeka King, left). On the other hand, Mami (Shakura S'Aida, right)) wants Ti-Jeanne to accept her fate.
Brown Girl Begins changes the narrative.

In the year 2049, left behind in the gruesome ghetto conditions, in dystopian Toronto, the fate of desecrated world rests with one girl, a girl with a fearful past that could possibly change the future. Clairvoyant Ti-Jeanne is a skilled natural healer and herbalist who knows every plant's medicinal properties and uses them to make concoctions against the brutal scars inflicting poor, desperate addicts.
However, in order to become even greater, more powerful than ever, it is her destiny to allow Papa Legba to seep his ancient power inside of her own human body and take over.
Due to complicated memories of the past, she doesn't want this.
In a golden afro halo, exceptional makeup including little silver rhinestones on her lipstick, and floating ethereal lavender dress, Ovo (Measha Brueggergosman) is the equivalent of a fairy godmother/guardian angel, assigned to Ti-Jeanne, watching over her and singing in high suspenseful octaves. 
Handsome Tony enters the picture. Instantly, Ti-Jeanne is smitten, falling hard for Mami's new volunteer delivery man. Seeing their idyllic closeness and obvious attraction, with wary eyes and stern tongue, Mami forbids them to stay away from each other.

But alas, Ti-Jeanne listens to her heart. A beautiful montage happens between Ti-Jeanne and Tony: sharing tentative first kisses and brown eyed stares in woodsy abyss, collecting chopped tree branches, and stolen touches of budded love. When Ti-Jeanne and Tony come together, staying at his high towered place, dark brown skin meet over and around dark brown skin, colliding slowly, softly, passionately. These magical, tenderly placed scenes share divine love between these two characters. As it grows and deepens, the arousing, euphoric peace they blissfully experience becomes further tangled as outer threats become greater.

Still, black forbidden love, heartbreakingly poignant and sweetly sincere, is executed brilliantly.

Ti-Jeanne (Mouna Traoré) and Tony (Emmanuel Kabongo) have a bittersweet forbidden love story. 
In the midst of keeping foundational relationship together, however, is the problematic circumstances wrought by horrendous segregation, a glaring "history repeats itself" allegory, but with more technological warfare. The isolated suburbs, floating silver skyscrapers rising from endless rivers, are the dream, a metaphoric picket fence, so close, so in reach. Yet to obtain its valuable resources, protected by an impenetrable spherical fortress and isolated by poisonous waters, is a dangerous risk that has taken lives. Those left behind are barely hanging on, limited by resources, a slave to monstrous addictions.

Suddenly, this world of Ti-Jeanne's inner intimate circle feels contemporary, feels present.

It is adjacent to now-- the Flint water crisis, implanted drugs in poverty stricken  neighborhoods, the white supremacists in Congress sabotaging health insurance...

Ti-Jeanne (Mouna Traoré) and mute Gracie (Hannah Chantée) have a tenderly portrayed relationship of dear sisters and close friends.
Sharon Lewis's remarkable direction is a vivid combination of shaky camera angles, lingering stills, and colorful shots. Her refusal to snuff whittled campaign to give life to Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring is an inspiration to all filmmakers to not give up, to keep hold of vision, and believe that it will be seen. She had earned the book rights fifteen years ago and worked hard on obtaining a budget, revealing the hardships in finding money to fund this incredible pursuit-- a full-length feature science fiction film starring mostly black actors living in the future, in a winsome story channeling elements of mysticism, fantasy, romance, and drama. Background music choices, which bordered on independent, trip hop like sounds with melodic, serene voices, blended coherently with sensational visuals. And the lighting, which someone mentioned, highlighted brown and black hues beautifully in brightness and shadows.

Moreover, Mouna Traoré was an astounding fire starter, a gem to watch, playing each note of Ti-Jeanne's multi-faceted humanity. Her big doe eyes expressed love for her family, for friends, for her boyfriend, and for her community. To allow that love to transform into grief and sorrow as her balance falls apart, as that balance then manifests into fearlessness and strength, showed that this actress has phenomenal range. She had amazing chemistry with Emmanuel Kabongo, who too portrays a deeply layered character, a man wanting to be a good boyfriend while his honorable intentions are stripped away, peeling and peeling, putting him up to a test that is too difficult to pass.   

Ti-Jeanne (Mouna Traoré) reigns supreme.
Brown Girl Begins unveils profound beauty in a fragile, corruptive society, like an opening flower opening petals upon a barren, bleak landscape. Ti-Jeanne, a reluctant she-ro, is brave, smart, and gifted, restoring balance and hope, bringing prosperous healing to not only her shattered, devastated community, but to an audience who often imagined themselves at the cusp of such a story, but rarely saw fruition, unsown seeds plowed into earth. Well, what seemed like forever is now. It is finally arrived. This wondrously rendered art can be the catalyst to expanding conversations about black women heroes, especially in the science fiction realm.

Thanks to Hopkinson and Lewis, a black girl can see herself in the future saving the world.

Friday, September 8, 2017

'The Hedgehog' Crawls Out of Its Cloister to Offer Refined Pleasure

The Hedgehog film poster.
Two seemingly different female protagonists center The Hedgehog-- Paloma, an intelligent, very gifted eleven-year-old planning suicide before her next birthday and Renée Michel, the fifty-year-old apartment super who when not cleaning up the mess of her aristocratic tenants devours chocolates and reads an illustrious world of classical books alongside a lazy fat cat.
According to Paloma, the richly shallow life is as boring as a water filled goldfish bowl. Her chaos includes an annoyed father who sweeps a secret cigarette habit under the rug, a neurotic mother who cries so often it's pathetic, and a wickedly snobbish sister, Columbe.

Paloma (Garance La Guillermic) is the unwanted director in this brilliant picture directed by a woman.
Both women are seeking refuge- Paloma makes it her business to hide anywhere in the apartment, filming every bit of the adults faults and criticizing every crumbling flaw. She is a precocious adolescent girl embracing her creative genius, being energetic, taking action, and having a grand scheme of ideas. The camera pans majestically towards her wall of marvelous squares, making some of her black stroked marks come to life in short animation. One of the most memorable scenes is a pen study of Ms. Michel, a woman closeted in a well-refined atmosphere, a haven that is a most inspiring place to Paloma. That in which is turned into a little pop up gift, that immensely delights Ms. Michel.
On the other side, Ms. Michel is a real life hermit, cloisters herself inside of an outer dowdy appearance of slacken clothes and unkempt hair, refusing to showcase an intellectually compelling mind. Behind closed doors, sequestered with books and a refrigerator of chocolate bars lined up together, Ms. Michel wants for nothing. She is comfortable in the life she has set, a quiet, peaceful choice that makes her happy.
Enter the new neighbor, Mr. Ezo, a Japanese gentleman takes the small community by storm, seeming to elevate the status of the apartment. Intelligent, cultured, and very successful, he takes an immediate shine to Ms. Michel, thinking her to be of worthy pursuit, especially since she quotes Tolstoy and has a cat named Leo. Infectiously charming schoolgirl shyness makes Ms. Michel appear youthful and beguiling as she starts to break out of a vulnerable shell, allowing herself albeit a bit hesitantly to fully emerge into the refined world that Mr. Ezo generously shares with her. He literally takes her outside of the written word and into places she never expected, to unexplored delights of companionship and the blossoming elements of a refreshing kind of love.
Though one could argue why would it take a man to show Ms. Michel the world? Couldn't she do that by herself? The answer is that she has already traveled far and wide, from coast to coast with the luxury of chocolate and Leo. In those volumes, rich in sophistication and cultivated gems, she has been everywhere and probably farther than most of her neighbors ever will.
And the sad thing is that only Paloma and Mr. Ezo know that truth.

Ms. Michel (Josiane Balasko) enjoys solitary pleasure with Leo, her Tolstoy named cat.
With an observant Paloma stating to Mr. Ezo that she finds Ms. Michel to be just like a hedgehog, that underneath the concierge's "prickly" exterior, there's a soft, refined elegance. The young girl couldn't have been any more poetic, more concrete in her honest critique. Rather touching and eloquent, the most wonderful aspect was that Ms. Michel didn't have to be in the scene to hear it.
Whenever they're together, it's relevant that Paloma and Ms. Michel have a very special relationship that is genuinely unique and rarely captured in cinema- one planning to die and the other starting to live vivaciously!
In turn, it is Mr. Ezo and Paloma that make matronly Ms. Michel smile, interact, and become cordially inviting.
Yet just on the brink of an amazing rebirth, a captivating transformation that transcends physical appearance, tragedy strikes unexpectedly rocking the lives of the three intertwined individuals.

Ms. Michel (Josiane Balasko) and Paloma (Garance La Guillermic) sharing a tender moment. 
While her sister, Columbe is hellbent on not being on camera, perhaps not too eager to reveal her destructive and spoiled sensibilities, Ms. Michel is much braver, expelling humility behind a grand façade, emptying the crevices of a barren heartbroken soul as Paloma records. The woman may have considered herself "fat, ugly, and lonely" but she enjoyed her modest seclusion- laughing and crying in between her rather blunt confessions.
Overall, though with humorous quips and warm hearted charm, the reality of the situation in Paloma's case is that the obsession with suicide is quite a serious topic, especially when she intentionally poisons her sister's goldfish, an important iconic element in the film. It's maddening to contemplate, much less put forth into action as she was taking one pill a week from her mother and one has to wonder what is her next phase after the audience exits. What will she continue recording? Will her creative spirit dissipate?
Such a wonderful film that raises pivotal questions about the deception of appearances, closely guarded enigmas, and the exteriors and interiors of the human psyche. Once the key to unlock the door is offered, would anyone even want to open that possibility or just walk away from curious intrigue and crush remarkable destiny?

Director Mona Achache.
The Hedgehog states that it is okay to let someone in, that one doesn't always have to relish in loneliness. Happening in the least expected of circumstances, sometimes companionship can be the most awe striking phenomenon. Josiane Balasko and Garance La Guillermic had a charismatic partnership that dazzled the screen. It is truly believeable that Ms. Michel and Paloma would strike up a unique relationship, for she provided the mentorship that Paloma desperately needed, a desire to live, and love life.

Kudos to Mona Achache for adapting Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Hopefully, Achache is not only crafting more films for future generations, that she is inspiring a new crop of other female directors and producers trying to carve out their place in this male dominated arena. She did a wonderful work, showing strengths, weaknesses, and vitality in these memorable characters, creating a beautiful, humorous, sweetly engaging picture.

It is one that I continue watching over and over again.

* Although edited this post first appeared here.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Coming to America: Hermione Granger Through A Black Woman Lens

Hermione Granger's Quarter Life Crisis.

In J. K. Rowling's epic magical world of men and mayhem, Hermione Granger was the smart, resourceful witch who outsmarted the most horrific baddies. She survived giant trolls, venomous snakes, and the menacing Bellatrix Lestrange (whom I'll never forgive for killing my beloved Sirius). Behind the infamous Boy Who Lived aka Harry Potter, it was Hermione who while embodying feminist principles, a champion with sharp wit, supreme intellect, and phenomenal courage.

So of course black fans, especially women loved imagining frizzy haired brilliance as a black queenly afro goddess. Often a huge look at comic cons and book fares, Hermione Granger fans chose to cosplay one of the finest Gryffindor students the house ever received.

It wasn't just those nerds bringing the idea to life. The Cursed Child, a play that debuted last summer in London set 19 years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, received a lot of flack for hiring a black woman Hermione, award winning actress Noma Dumezweni. I couldn't escape across the pond to see this. Despite the hoopla (racially based hate from the "I don't see color, but..." crowd), it sounded amazing.

Recently, a friend suggested Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis, this humorous YouTube web series that also introduces a similar concept, but set much earlier. In it, our curly coifed brainiac is a twenty-five-year old basket case, crashing her friend's pad in Los Angeles, bringing British sorcery into the states. Thus, the pond came to us in refreshing effervescence.

Plus, Hermione kicking back a few drinks? Never imagined that I could enjoy such a sight. She should be allowed to evolve beyond butter beer.

Hermione (Ashley Romans) is about to put a spell on the wrong one.
Now Hermione seems to have everything going for her-- a steady boyfriend, an extended family of red haired misfits and hand-me-downs, and a cushy new promotion at the Ministry of Magic. Her life is what a few twenty-five-year-olds would consider the idyllic dream.

She doesn't think so.

Instead of crashing with the famous Harry Potter, Hermione seeks solace with her out of country girlfriends, former roommate, Parvati Patil and cousin, Laquita Granger (who doesn't know about Hogwarts, magic, muggles, etc). I'm a huge fan of Rowling's work, but the girlfriends aspect was vastly missing. I never wanted to vouch for Hermione being "just one but of the guys" or truly appreciated that all eight film adaptations were directed by men.

In Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis, women form a circle around Hermione. Juniper Dias, Parvati's roommate, is a bit hesitant, but the sarcastic firecracker comes around. Heck, not everyone has it all together. While Hermione is suffering, Parvati is trying to be taken seriously in the wizardy newspaper business and Juniper is looking for a gig. Laquita appears to have her life together, but she is still a mystery. Maybe in that respect, she is a lot similar to Hermione. She too could be hiding something.

However, after the episode five cliffhanger, who knows what to expect....

Glammed up Hermione.
The terrific highlight about Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis is that this takes off the shimmering invisibility cloak off a wonderful character. She is very much present in the Harry Potter spectrum, but the books are mostly about him, his growth, and the people he surrounded himself with. This compelling web series explores Hermione, giving her mobile space, a real speaking voice in an overwhelmingly welcomed female environment produced by women. These episodes are painting intriguing relationships with her fellow female wizards and muggle cousin. Hermione gets to be herself—smart and cautious, still a bit awkward—no lightning bolt scars to keep her awake at night. There is no nonsensical tug of war triangle between friends, the complications that suddenly emerged in her later teen years with her, Harry, and Ron. The latter was in Ron’s mind, but it still sucked the air from the trio, that the threat of jealousy would have torn them apart.

At last, Hermione is just Hermione.

Eliyannah Amarah Yisrael leads a female production team of writers, producers, and manager.

Eliyannah Amirah Yisrael, series creator/director has put an innovative spin by telling Hermione’s story at a relatable stage. The late twenties seem to be this faulty, implausible time where people feel life should be near put together, nicely constructed, white picket fence and all. It is a myth. In truth, things take longer. Immediately, offscreen Ron wants to get married, have children, and everything. He is beyond ready. But Hermione, who rarely had opportunity to breathe away from London air and her male best friends, needs the time and space to think, to figure her tangled web outside of them. She’ll always love Harry and Ron, but it has been wonderful seeing her around other individuals. Olive Hernandez and Jessica Jenks are taking turns writing thought provoking scripts, letting viewers know that it takes longer than a few nights on a friend’s sofa to find the answers.

The cast is well put together, especially fist bumping the choice of Ashley Romans as Hermione. She has been a pleasure to watch grow and interpret Hermione. Romans chemistry with Tamara French (Laquita), Sinead Pursuad (Pavarti) and Stephanie Ezeklel (Juniper) is sweet and comforting, a real genuineness. There are enough scenes with trios and quartets of these women that begging for more would be unnecessary.

Hopefully, next season promises stronger story direction, a new path for Hermione, her friends, and that five dollars she spent. Still, unclear on where Draco Malfoy would fit into this equation, in L.A., in Hermione's life, but biting my nails.

Thus, in other words, happily looking forward to round two of mischief, fun, tough love, and afro envy.

Do the Hermione dance.
Finally, it is great to see a black woman in Harry Potter land, having more than a few lines, not going the bloody Dean Thomas route.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Revisiting 'Pariah,' A Must See That Transcends Time

Pariah film poster.
Still, some years later, I find myself returning to something amazingly profound, a work that comes back, hugging close like an old friend.

Pariah is an astounding, vibrant piece of finely weaved storytelling with thoughtfully spoken artistry. This independent film centers on Brooklyn high school teen, Alike (pronounced ah-lik-e) an exceptionally good student and aspiring poet from a hard working middle class family. In her underground world, the shy girl hangs out with bold, outspoken, Laura, who has already proudly come out and lives with her sister.

Alike, however, is much too afraid of such honesty and chooses to entrap herself with dual identities- switching from hood gear to chic fashion, she is trying to do right by parents, Arthur and Audrey, but it's her little sister, Sharonda that begins suspecting the truth first.

Laura (Pernell Walker) and Alike (Adepero Oduye) test out a certain kind of package.

Filled with hilarity, wit, and compassion, viewers follow Alike’s course of adolescence as she tries unsuccessfully talking to women, tests out her first strap on with Laurie’s aide, writes poetry in a colorful composition notebook, and privately shares her talents with the encouraging English teacher.

All the while Audrey is desperate to make Alike appear more feminine and attractive to boys and wishing Alike to stop hanging around Laura, someone she clearly detests. Yet Arthur turns a blind eye, seeming not to give a care about his overbearing wife’s feelings and accepts Alike "flaws" and all.

Mother and daughter Aubrey (Kim Wayans) and Alike (Adepero Oduye) don't see eye to eye.
Fed up with Laura, an interfering Audrey wants Alike to be friends with "normal" girl, Bina. But unbeknownst to Audrey, Bina shows the kind of interest in Alike that would have had her head spinning. A smart, intelligent, and worldly artistic individual, she shares a lot of compelling ideas and music with Alike, striking up a friendship that soon blossoms into a refreshing first love.

Spending time at clubs and critiquing each others writings, things were so blissful.

However, her immediate discarding of their relationship the morning after was quite detrimental and heartbreaking.

Alike breaks down, guttural and hurt by the strange 180, but sadly has no one to tell and transforms that anguish into poetry.
Bina (Aasha Davis) shows Alike (Adepero Oduye) mixed signals.

Once Alike finally confesses to her parents, hell breaks loose tenfold.

In the very turbulent scene, Sharonda pleas with Alike not to get in between the battle of their parents who are loudly arguing about her sexual orientation, but valiant Alike bravely wages on and puts up with an emotionally distressed Audrey who then verbally attacks and violently beats her revulsion into Alike.

After that climatic horror, things change.

With a condoning mother seeing lesbianism as a treacherous disease deemed unlovable, Arthur is the exact opposite. A man harboring his own secrets, he seemed to have always known that Alike was a unique case. Not due to her escalating intelligence and her disdain for pretty clothing. Their relationship is much closer and because of this, it makes his understanding of Alike’s lifestyle believable.

In Laura’s own story, she also has a mother disgusted by her choices. Looking disgusted, she makes no move to be affectionate and slams the door in Laura’s face even as Laura expresses joy over passing the GED. This makes her friendship to Alike all the more genuine. Their mothers' intolerance for their lifestyle is another common factor.

Though she is an active flirt and very popular with the ladies, it’s perfectly clear that Laurie needs constant companionship and love and once she sees Alike having fun with Bina, her jealousy comes clawing out. 

A worthy note of mention, Dee Rees has done an exceptional job of not only showcasing strong female relationships, but also revealing the blunt shift that occurs when weakened and severed, especially the natural bond of a mother and daughter.

Alike (Adepero Oduye) knows the world is her oyster.

Adepero Oduye’s portrayal is touching, riveting, and beautiful as she plays a character struggling with the great divide, breaks free from timidity, and falls in love. Breathing sophisticated complexion into Alike, Oduye is divine poetry in motion, expelling words articulately and with tenderly, perfected bravado. From the moment she tearfully tells her mother she loves her and that end scene on the bus, Oduye showcases Alike’s proud acceptance into a promising future that only she can control.

Now this is the kind of African American role that the Academy is deadest against honoring. A woman who doesn’t allow herself to repressed by negativity and has the strength to move forward to better opportunities with talent driving her. To the conservative viewer- it’s crucial. Not only is this young African American woman smart and gifted, she happens to be gay.

Definitely robbed of an Oscar nod, here's hoping that Oduye nabs another pivotal role that garners attention from the snubbing Hollywood elite.

The rest of the cast played their parts commendably, especially the incredible Kim Wayans, a famed comedian utterly unrecognizable in a very dramatic role. The polar opposite of Monique's character in Precious, Wayans was marvelous as the cruelly ashamed, Bible clinging mother.

In terms of story holes, Pariah does have its little flaws.

Alike delivers two powerful poems like a heavenly prophet. Thirsting for more, especially with Bina making suggestions to open mic nights and poetry clubs, there was an expectancy to seeing Alike come further out of her shell and share her gifts to an audience that actually wants to hear fresh talent onstage.

Alas no such scenes came into play.

What of Laura and Alike's relationship?

Do they come together as a couple and bond even further?

What secrets was Arthur keeping under tabs?

A scene of him on the phone and then changing into a silk black shirt while chatting to Alike seemed oddly questionable. With them being so close, one imagined that he would voice his affair to Alike.

Now if it were with another man, Audrey would never be the same...

Pariah's writer/director Dee Rees with stars Kim Wayans and Adepero Oduye.

I greatly appreciate the woman’s voice and their courage to tell such a profound story. Hoping that Dee Rees continues on the path of enlightening women and minorities to come forth and share their creative vision, bring their enriching narratives to independent screens and beyond. Let the age old statistics of white men being sole judge and victor be a thing of the past.

It's been high time for segregation in the film honor system to be buried. 

Women have more than breasts to bare, they have vocal hearts and fervent souls to unleash and set free.

Pariah passionately illustrates that though the uncertain future can be filled with failures, heartbreak, and disappointments, there are rewards despite the ugly, gritty turmoil that comes and goes.

That wherein lies life's bittersweet poetry.

*This post, although edited, first appeared here and was cross posted here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

September Is #DirectedByWomen Month

In 1981, Jessie Maple was the first African American woman director to helm an independent film.
I am not a super diligent film, television, and media critic. If that were so, maybe my sporadic blog posts would be much more constant and consistent. It is a shame, considering how much I value the topic. At heart, I am primarily a self-indulgent soap opera buff, especially obsessing over Y&R when the writers don’t anger me (which is often). I started this journey as an offset to my unfulfilled desires, drawing on fond memories as a short-term staff writer of a great feminist film/tv site while tackling graduate school, carrying on a painter/drawer practice, and writing a food/lifestyle/art blog. It was a complicated challenge to juggle and maintain simultaneously.

While I wrote for the site, which raised various complex issues, I became fixated onto topics that I hadn’t previously thought about. Most of the films/TV shows that I grew up idolizing were mostly male driven manifestos, writing women as desperate, man hungry, dependent. Even black male writer/directors created stereotypical black women characters who needed a man to feel important. Success and independence were simply not good enough. Plus, not every man could write a believable woman to woman friendship either.

There is just a big fat enormous difference when one starts watching women directed films.

Monica (Sanaa Lathan) puts basketball first in Gina Prince-Blythewood's unforgettable sports romance, Love and Basketball, up for a nomination at the National Film Registry.
For starters, dimensional characters are fully fleshed out and emotionally layered, valuing their careers or wanting to change the road they’ve taken. They have real friends that support or hate their choices-- no sugar coating allowed. In Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy, Issa Rae's The Misadventures of the Awkward Black Girl, and Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust, I find strong, valid female characters that are relatable, refreshing, and kinship worthy. With women directors, the camera focus is on these real, substantial humanized women who are not objects to be critiqued on appearance and personality. They’re allowed to breathe and exist without some selfish, egotistical male presence spitting out their supposed moral obligations (as well as take over her narrative).

Alice Guy-Blaché was the first woman director with some 443 director credits. Currently, a documentary called Be Natural: the Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is in the works!
I found encouragement in film theory women writers and film enthusiast bloggers, candidly dissecting lifelong errors of the troubled male gaze, dismantling how we were seen and misconstrued for almost forever. In this mecca of thoughtful regard, I discovered wonderful films helm by women and wanted to see and support as much as I could. I went to the theaters, searched on Netflix, and joined crowd sourcing sites Indiegogo and Seed & Spark, supporting a few GoFundMe's along the way. I joined ARRAY too, which works diligently at distributing films from around the world.

Most importantly, I must applaud Barbara Ann O'Leary, the creator of the Twitter hashtag #DirectedByWomen, for campaigning every year for women's voices to be known and watched. She gave a fantastic interview at Screen Queens, giving the scope of how dedicated she is to informing the world about women in film, in TV, on the web:
One thing that‘s grown is the #DirectedbyWomen list of women who have directed film (and I use film as a shorthand for any motion picture creation: TV, webisodes, video installation art, etc). At the moment the list has 10,611 directors and it is growing all the time. I have a backlog of information to add. On the new and full moon each month I dedicate 6 hours to intensively add content to the list. Sometimes I sneak in updates between those times but this work could take all my time, so I have to pace myself.  Every day I find out about more women who have directed in the past or are directing now.  It’s really exciting and I love helping others bring their attention to their work.
Almost 11,000+ works directed by women, waiting to be discovered and talked about.

Julie Dash directing Daughters of the Dust.
For September, I focus on women directed film. This week includes two revisits: Dee Rees’ Pariah and Mona Achache’s Hedgehog and reaction pieces to the five-episode web series, Hermione’s Quarter Life Crisis, Victoria Muhaney’s Yelling to the Sky, and Celine Sciamma’s Girlhood. For remainder of the month, I would love to see other films by women directors unfamiliar to me and pen reactionary posts about their visions.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Comeback Couple & Blame Games: Why Y&R's Hevon Still Matters

Will Devon (Bryton E. James) and Hilary (Mishael Morgan) reunite?
The golden brown couple may finally be back to skipping on Genoa City's yellow brick lover's road.

Last Thursday's Young and the Restless episode offered a wondrous peek at a much needed "Hevon" reunion. To see Devon smiling at Hilary again was a coveted treasure, the rosy satin ribbons torn off with greedy relish, the unexpected gift a welcome sight to behold. With forced pairings endured between Hilary and a bad version of Malcolm Winters and Devon and his red haired gold digger, I had almost forgotten what Devon and Hilary looked like together-- when truly happy and falling back into sweet friendship that blossomed into utterly romantic everlasting love.

Hilary arrives at the athletic club fresh from working out, looking quite stunning. Devon couldn't take his eyes off his beautiful ex-wife. Their light, affable banter resembled old time goodness.

Later, they continue having friendly chat over iced waters. It was a few minutes of bliss: the way they stared at each other, smiled, grinned, with Hilary doing the hand reach. Bryton and Mishael played each beat skillfully, making us hunger for any little tidbit of revealed emotion. They delivered tantalizing morsels, feeding our craving, our unsated hearts needing more and more. In fact, I'm still clutching my chest from weeks ago. Hilary had boldly gazed at Devon dead in his eyes, barely blinking, stating without hesitance, "would your girlfriend like the way you're staring at me right now?" Devon outright blushed and spoke no further. That scene in combination with latest developments prove that Hevon is rising like a phoenix out of dust.

Exhibit A: Devon watches Hilary drink her glass of water. Oh how his eyes are looking at her and she at him over her rim.

Exhibit B: Hilary observes Devon emulating her earlier action-- gulp, gulp, gulp. But is he really thirsty for water?
Circumstances have been bumpy for our daytime television dynamic duo. They were on the cusp of supercouple status after an almost gorgeous wedding (a selfish good-for-nothing interloper had to crash the nuptials) and steamy honeymoon last summer. Tragedy struck and the audience grieved a missing Hilary alongside Devon, searching frantically for his love. Of course, it turned out our heroine fell off the mountain (thanks to a jealous stalker) and was recuperating at the house he bought for her. Obviously that particular house had more than fried his brain, but that's another tale for another rant. She came to, brand spanking new, and forgetting all about falling in love with Devon. It was a very difficult time to watch. We lost several sweet Hevon cyber friends over this too. Once Hilary (and eventually Devon) forgave Jeeper Creeper, it felt like a point of no return. Still, Hevon were blissfully back together, deeper in love, in a place of their own, melting our televisions a few times a week. It was wonderful, tainted, but wonderful.

Months later, after a nonsensical divorce under a foolish writing regime, Hilary and Devon crashed immediately into other relationships. The signatures weren't even dry before Hilary succumbed to mediocre seduction by a weak, watered down photographer who couldn't even hold the base for the candle to the pure dynamism Malcolm brought. Now he is not the point. Neither is Devon's settlement. The important pairing, the true love epic is Devon and Hilary. They are the missing part of each other's lives. It has been quite interesting seeing Hilary interact with other characters like Victor and Nick Newman, forming a bond with Chelsea, and others. The audience has long since criticized that the black figures don't engage outside of their circle. That brings us to Devon, who though is dating an important family member (Newman?), he seems to be stuck with his very evil adoptive dad or Lily, his high horse sister.

This short cute scene watered soil on our hopeful hearts.
Hevon fans have been used to being blamed ever since the beginning. Truth remains, Hilary only loved one man and took her gratitude way too far. Yes, Hilary and Devon had an affair. It lasted for months. Still, people continue ragging on them, refusing to let this old story die. Currently, Devon's replacement is falling hard for another woman! Instead of cheering the chemistry and celebrating Y&R's descent into 21st century, people are upset and calling out the Hevon base, holding them responsible for this poor woman's newfound lesbianism. It is quite a ridiculous call, especially when several popular soap opera accounts chime in, spilling the same trite. Despite campaigns, presents, letters, and wishes, the fans are not responsible for the writers' decisions. We might have impact from time to time, but in the end, the writers' have a vision set forth in stone. Thus, soap fans, who are starting to sound like grating bigots, need to pin their frustrations elsewhere. Don't pick on a fanbase that has yet to receive a story outside of insipid interferences.

I will state this for the umpteenth time-- soap opera writers need to stop believing that formulaic triangles/quadrangles are the best ways to keep a couple interesting. Nope.

In happier times, Devon and Hilary spent wedded bliss in a shared penthouse (aka a real home) after months of staying at the GCAC. Things seemed so peachy (and chocolaty) back then.
Although those Thursday scenes were sincere and thoughtful, a step towards a positive direction, Hilary and Devon are stubbornly focused on extra unnecessary partnerships. This week, Hilary discloses that she still wants a good for nothing man who already has a place at Lily's dinner table. He dumped her twice. Why on earth would she want to be with him again? He is beneath the ground her stilettos walk on! On the other hand, Devon has inherited blindness with his billions, not seeing the obvious connection between the last thing on his mind and her cozy new friend. I feel bad for him just a little bit. After all, he had a weird character shift, badmouthing Hilary and allowing her clothes to be worn, downright humiliating her, but I like to pretend that he wasn't in his right mind. He wasn't.

For now, it's annoying and detestable filler, but someday soon these two will realize that these dull, time wasting pursuits are nothing like the magical splendor they have together.

There were many better ways of handling Devon's accident/memory loss,. The writers chose the route of ending this great couple and pull them into immediate other relationships instead of dealing with their problems. 
Hilary and Devon are an important pairing. They represent this passionate, unique, awe-inspiring love that we attest to. They're dreamy, romantic, best friends, sweethearts. They have had the potential to be greater than what the writers sparingly offer. They deserve more than what they have been granted.

I love Hevon. So many people love Hevon. We root for Hevon. Until they get back together, no other couple takes their shine.  

Devon's swoon worthy smile speaks volumes.
Only time will tell what happens. The new writing regime is just getting started. Tomorrow, Hilary supposedly spins into Devon's orbit again. Fall sweeps promises that their undeniable bond smothers the Genoa City landscape. Let's pray hard for friendly fires to keep sparking, steadily grow into something once more, that special blaze that these happy people were blushingly discussing last week. This slow, tentative burn is surely going to scorch the small screens all over again.

And frankly I cannot wait.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

'Love Jones,' 20 Years, 5 Months Later, A Motion Still Tumbled in Earth

Love Jones DVD cover.
“This here, right now, at this very moment is all that matters to me. I love you and that’s urgent like a mother….”
How can a sis not swoon over grandiose words spoken by teenage crush, Larenz Tate, playing this beatnik brother poet, Darius Lovehall? Trust and believe that is the hardest notion of all, fighting against problematic perceptions of the young black Chicagoan male. Darius is intelligent, eclectic, and charming, the laidback, ear pierced black man whose tiny apartment makes room for an impressive library, listens to the rustic scratchy sounds vintage records make, and understands distinct difference between sadness and melancholy.

Twenty years ago, I wasn’t quite old enough to see Love Jones in theaters, but saw it much, much later. Recently, I rewatched the Sundance Film Festival Audience Prize Winner, hooked to the sweetness of black artists falling in love with each other and their respective practices.

Nina (Nia Long) and Darius (Larenz Tate) giving each other the Kool-Aid smile.
The queen bee eating up spoonfuls of Darius's freestyle scat is gorgeous, talented, fiercely ambitious Nina Mosley. With her crop top blouses (including that amazing outfit at the end), high-waisted denim jeans, and dark lipstick, she defined fashion. An up and coming photographer whose vignette portraits have a Gordon Parks meets James Van Der Vee in the 90s kind of vibe, Nina uses vintage cameras, taking her passion onto the streets, capturing mostly people in love. Big shot magazine editors don't like her style. A man calls her "unpolished" without really defining his criticism. This rejection adds stress to a woman who left her selfish fiance.

Darius and Nina first meet at The Sanctuary, a hip underground nightclub for bohemian sisters and brothers who collectively snap their fingers to open mic visionaries. Darius is part of a black bohemian posse of knowledgeable sophisticates-- Afrocentric vibing Sheila, humble married Savon, cool Eddie, and player Hollywood. The sparks fly immediately, even after a minor fumble at the bar, but Darius walks up to the mic and spills out a raw, sexy poem, Brother to the Night, (A Blues For Nina). Nina's embarrassment is genuine. She doesn't like its sexual components, but she is a tiny bit flattered, putting on a sisterly blush. They meet again and stubborn Darius continues to woe her with sweet, explicit music and dance.

I love that after Nina recites Sonia Sanchez's poetry, Darius believes that Nina will come up with words of her own. He knows it. As well as he knows she is skilled with the camera, he knows that she has other skills up her sleeve, that she too is a poet at heart.

Now growing up, in regards to film watching, I had been mostly exposed to white romances-- white people falling in love, white faces kissing, white bodies thrusting together, the whole nine yards. Hell, my entire middle school sex education was an instructive white people "doing it" cartoon. To see Darius and Nina becoming deeper than two passing strangers: dancing at a reggae spot, passionately making out at her doorstep, dissolving into full fledged intimacy in a beautifully compiled erotic montage. This epic thing of wonder charged with poetic moments of clarity utterly shook and dismantled my whitewashed education. I thought, damn, is this what Hollywood is afraid of? That black people can be fully realized, three dimensional beings that can love the living life out of each other? That they can be hot, sexy, and set the screen on fire without stereotypical exaggeration?

Nina (Nia Long) working with the professional camera.
Darius and Nina have their ups and downs. At the same time, so does the married Savon. Trust is the enemy. Everybody makes mistakes and smashes that needed relationship essential. I understand that Nina wanted to see if she would miss something with Marvin, but his ill-fitting childish behavior obviously wasn't ever going to change. Plus, he would have smothered Nina's independence. Meanwhile, Darius finds Lisa, a new squeeze to warm his bed, but she incites no spark of inspiration. Nina returns to Chicago and is immediately broken-hearted over seeing Darius and Lisa. She turns to Hollywood (eerily similar to Marvin) for affection and fair play turnabout. Savon is lonely after his wife leaves with their son, bringing questionable companions to the posse get togethers. He has a valid outlook on love and relationships, ultimately stating that it's the staying in love that is the most challenging hardship. It's tough seeing his struggle in the marriage. Troubles do not end after "I do." And that's real.

Josie (Lisa Nicole Carson) and Nina (Nia Long).

Ava DuVernay said, “I think that women definitely have a special bond as friends that is hard to describe to men, and we don't often see that portrayed narratively."

That is sort of expressed greatly here. With their amazing girlfriend chemistry, Nina and Josie's onscreen conversations mostly revolve around men and their relationships with them. Apparently, Josie has an active sex life, but her purpose (in this film) is to live vicariously through Nina. However, the taxi cab scene is hilariously memorable, a real game changer in how women discuss male anatomy. When Nina explains that Darius speaks to her down there, it was so much more hysterical than any fake deli orgasm. This was straight fire. Though the male taxi driver overhears and is thoroughly amused, carnal sharing is for the benefit of sisterhood spillage, not for him.

Still, it is a huge missed opportunity to not have the girls celebrating Nina scoring a break (after months of being dismissed) with Vibe Magazine. Would have loved to see these women toasting to that milestone. I appreciated her phone call to Darius and the crushing train scene afterward, but I needed a Nina/Josie girl party. Plus, what the heck did Josie do for a living anyway? She wasn't exactly fleshed out. Also, it is such wasted potential that none of the fine brothers of the posse wanted to engage with her. For example, Hollywood has always wanted Nina-- friend's girl or not. Eddie is a closed book, great deep voice, the host of the soirées, but without a partner. He and Josie would have hit it off if the chance had been granted. 

On the other hand, Sheila is an amazing, sensational independent woman. She works at Last of the Old Time Record Stores with giant posters of Janet Jackson's Design of a Decade, Eric Clapton's From the Cradle, and funky posters on the front door. She spoke her mind and put characters like Hollywood and Savon in their place if they stepped off. Her side eye expressions put everyone on notice.

Darius and Nina looking like a "One in a Million" couple on the motorcycle.
The film is put together brilliantly, each piece playing its part to utmost perfection-- the acting, the script, the cinematography, the music. From Lauryn Hill’s guitar strumming serenade “The Sweetest Thing” to spoken word sensuality of Meshell Ndegeocello and Mark Miller’s “Rush Over,” the music selection is ridiculously slick, keeping interest flowing from Darius's sexy ode to Nina to Nina's "virgin" popping at Darius in front of the mic. The in between is a lacy groove set of Maxwell, Cassandra Jones, and Duke Ellington designed to never let the mood shift out of a lover's mindset.
Earlier this year, Love Jones received the ABFF (African Black Film Festival) honor for being the Ultimate Black Love Classic.  Omari Hardwick introduced the sweet award to the cast: Bernadette Clarke (Sheila), Theodore WItcher (writer/director), Lisa Nicole Carson (Josie), Larenz Tate (Darius), Leonard Roberts (Eddie), Nia Long (Nina), and Isaiah Washington (Savon).  Bill Bellamy (Hollywood) wasn't present, but they shouted him out. 
Nominated for three Image Awards and four Acapulco Film Festival Awards (winning for Best soundtrack), Love Jones was way above the time of its 1997 release date. Cumulative box office total says nothing about the kind of impact this film made on so many people. The story of Darius and Nina and their surrounding friends stands on the paramount of black romance, standing atop a pedestal so grand that few others can topple its worthy place in nostalgia.

Darius and Nina reuniting in the pouring Chicago rain! 
The Love Jones ending is a special kind of gold that all sisters appreciate. When a grown woman runs out in the pouring rain, risking the world (yes, getting a nice straight press/relaxer wet), that is a sign of true dedication, a willingness to sacrifice everything in the name of love.