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' dislike for their lifestyle

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.


Monday, August 28, 2017

'American Koko' Is Pro Black Pleasure That is Not Guilty

American Koko is available on ABC Go Digital
A brave web series (with co-producer Viola Davis conducting impressive voice over duties) has been delivered to us. Are we worthy of its juicy contents?

I loved every minute of binging on satirical, candid, and edgy American Koko. Led by dynamic Akosua Millard codenamed Koko, Los Angeles based Everyone is a Little Racist (E.A.R.) Agency has a small diverse staff looking to combat the race problem. Akosua is the former client turned imperfect ringleader, optimistic Lucky brings heart, genius Baldwin offers intellect and a sophisticatedly crafted "racist" machine meter, and Miles, often using black colloquialism, displays common sense in midst of his inherited white privilege.

In the opening, a sleekly dressed Akosua in powder blue trench coat and brown ankle boots, races to a parked car, carrying a large black purse. She gets inside and explains to an Asian mother that her adopted black daughter has 4C hair. That black purse contains conditioners, shampoos, a detangle comb and more-- all organic. Yes, this downright hilarious scene shares the scope of "crimes" that the struggling, nearly financially bereft E.A.R. Agency takes on.

Their first season main case involves Mr. Wallace, a white high school drama teacher. He has written a musical based on the life of Harriet Tubman. He has only one black student in his class, a testy Anita Benita, but it’s the Latino girl who has the perfect voice. Koko believes, that no matter how bad the singing, the girl has every right to play Harriet. After all, she is a real-life historical figure. Some of the gang disagree, which of course, is a freaking atrocity in the making.
Meet the E.A.R. Agents: Baldwin Bledsoe (Cedric Sanders), Lucky Ling (Elaine Kao), Akosua "Koko" Millard (Diarra Kilpatrick), and Miles Gold (Miles Orion Feldsott).

“She wore a headwrap," shoots Anita, "like she was going to bed—all the time."

That perception hits home.

My friends and I wear headscarves often. It unnerves people, especially fellow black Americans. A co-worker continuously stated that I looked like a runaway slave. I told her to stop, but the utterance continued coming out snarling, like a snapping dog refusing to keep its ferocious jaws shut. Vile criticism is a manifested mental conditioning that makes us feel ashamed of country history, allowing that shame, which shouldn’t be ours to bear, to seep into our consciousness, our moral fibers, our definition of beauty. It doesn’t matter if the headscarf has fascinating colors or rich patterns, it still symbolizes ugliness.

Generations are growing up like Anita, wanting to be more than the slave, failing to realize that Tubman is not only beautiful, but important to remember for her brave heroism. The agency made it a priority to get her to understand.

After the play, which was well done, the mom’s mouthed “thank you” made first season grand.
Mr. Wonderful (Nyambi Nyambi) is not so wonderful after all. 
Akosua’s hot and steamy relationship with Mr. Wonderful, had her heavily equating him to be the John (or Nelson Davis) to her Harriet. She is obsessed with all things African—her apartment is an homage to art, pattern, design, the works. She wears bold scarves and dresses and drops quotes from Love Jones. In complete opposition, private schooled Mr. Wonderful dated white women, doesn't know much black history/popular culture, and frequently says “awesome” (Akosua’s most hated word). In fact, one of their earlier mishaps is when Akosua suggests a Saturday night documentary on Jack Johnson. Mr. Wonderful believes it is on Jack Johnson the musician and Akosua means the boxing legend inspiration to Muhammed Ali and Joe Frasier. Like Akosua’s ardor for diaspora, she grasps hard at this relationship, wanting it to be epitome of black power romance. The tough sell is an overzealous clutch with red flags. Despite growing up in the same country, they operate on completely opposing spectrums.

Mr. Wonderful, who isn't even with Akosua because he wants her, ends his diabolical breakup rant to Akosua with, "you're not African!"

Ah, but she is. We all are descendants of Africa. Diluted with American culture yes, but in our DNA in our physical inheritances, in our souls, in our "residual trauma,"  exists an undeniable truth.

She may have grown up in Detroit, but Mr. Wonderful doesn’t understand Akosua. Maybe he wants her to be more like his previous white girlfriends. Akosua wants him to be proud of his black heritage. She mentally pairs the relationship end to that of Delonte West’s death, the lynching of the past equating to bullets of the present.

Tamika (Zainob Johnson), Grace (Simone Missick aka Misty Knight from Luke Cage and The Defenders), and Koko (Diarra Kilpatrick).
In season two, the gang's latest case--representing West's murderer John Williamson-- is a real doozy. Even though I rooted and hollered for Akosua smashing the living daylights out of Williamson's car, her anger spiraled out of control and created a bad look for the agency. Sadly, they need the evil blood money despite killing moral ethics of what they represent. Also, Akosua is not "cured and must return to “Angry Black Women” support group therapy to calm down compulsive rage. These beautiful black sisters are directed by properly named Grace, a spirited leader who urges the women to soothe and release their inner frustrations to other kinds of frenzied passion.

Enter Kwam. He is the writer of the famous Angry Asian Blog. Akosua meets him at a horrible poetry gathering and the two exchange awkward flirtation in front of the occupied restroom. They go on dates including reenacting Risky Business (complete with Akosua wearing the Tom Cruise white shirt), but Akosua is hiding a huge secret from him. Her real fear of destroying this new, refreshing relationship is understandable. At the same time, they both respect each other's work, especially in regards to combating racism and race myths. She is desperate to expose the murderer as racist. At the same time, Kwam believing that she is a fraud, is on a path of destroying and discrediting her.....

What a cliffhanger, right?

Still, interesting that an Angry Asian can be considered laudable and worthy of respect while "Angry Black Woman" is thought to be an ugly, demeaning stereotype that we have to let go of. Black women aren't allowed to be upset no matter the situation.

Diarra Kilpatrick with American Koko producers Viola Davis and Julius Tennon.
Thanks to the utterly captivating performance by show creator Diarra Kilpatrick, Akosua's savvy, unfiltered, bold character is believable, a statement for the black woman who ever feels intimidated, out of place. Akosua doesn’t censor herself for no audience. In cowrie shelled Havana twists, sleek outfits that highlight cocoa butter smooth skin, and “take no mess” attitude, she is the essence of cool. She doesn’t mute herself around her colleagues or white best friend.

American Koko isn't only ridiculing society with characters unknowingly walking around dead black bodies lying on street corners and bathroom stalls. This is a grueling representation of where we are right now.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Black Women Filmmakers of the 1970's And Where They Are Now

Barbara O (who played the wonderful Yellow Mary in Daughters of the Dust) is the title woman living simply above mountaintops.
Lightbox Film Center shared six pieces from four black women writer/directors. Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust), Alile Sharon Larkin, Fronza Woods, and the late Jacqueline Shearer (Eyes on the Prize) were granted rare showing, some 16mm films seen for the first time in years. These profoundly significant works made it important to know who these four women pioneers were, why they mattered, and where they are now. Unfortunately, they have paltry IMDb biographies. The information is further scarce on Woods and Shearer. No good quality photographs of them exist on the internet.

The black nun writes profusely.
Diary of an African Nun, a black and white picture, eloquently rendered a great Alice Walker short story. Pious Ugandan nun is indebted to her white sisters, the ones who inspired quiet marital bliss. She is comforted by cold showers, picturesque window views, and writing daily prose. The narrative, however, grows darker as she reveals pangs of being an "exotic stranger," a fascinating relic to travelers who question her nunnery decision. Among dangling rosary beads and hinged cross, she writes and speaks with soft tenderness, a vision of black woman innocence draped in demure black and white cloth. Suddenly, an escape from a Gothic religious horror, the camera pans creepily onto that hanging cross, zooming onto white savior version of Jesus, the tormented angles of his body, the sorrowful downcast eyes, the nails in his feet. As the black nun narrates, the music is stilted, passionate as the fire of her voice, articulating her agency, the push and pull of freedom and caged bird.

Linda Martina Young embodies Nina Simone's Aunt Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches in Dash's Four Women (1977).
Four Women uses hauntingly raw albeit controversial Nina Simone ballad. Linda Martina Young, a light skinned dancer, plays all four characters. While Saffronia is yellow and Sweet Thing is tan, Aunt Sarah and Peaches are black and brown respectively. The solitary dancer moved to piano keys trembling underneath inherited pain following struggles of black women archetypes/colorism. In each segment, she changes clothes, hats, and hairstyles, signifying time periods. As sophisticated the choreography and luscious the cinematography, it couldn't escape problematic flaws of using this one sole body to portray what Nina specifically conveys.

While What Happened, Nina Simone?, directed by Liz Garbous, a white woman was heavily praised, Cynthia Mort's Nina was a fabricated, grossly ingenuous mess featuring Zoe Saldana in black face. Everyone wrote about the disgrace including Nina's daughter Simone and MacArthur Fellow Ta-Neshi Coates. Now Adepero Oduye (inspired by Coates' essay) and Gabourey Sidibe have joined in the fray. In her second directed short, To Be Free, Oduye plays Nina. Sidibe's version of Four Women, called The Tale of Four, stars Ledisi as Aunt Sara, Meagan Kimberly Smith as Saffronia, Dana Gourrier as Sweet Thing, and Aisha Hinds as Peaches. Playwright Christina Ham takes the song to heightened degrees. She plays Peaches, who meets the other three at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Moreover, though Dash's Four Woman presents a stunning visual, but it falls flat in terms of the meaning behind this powerful song.

Out of the four black women filmmakers, New York City born Julie Dash has the most concrete biography. She is present in social media, including an active Twitter account. With Daughters of the Dust, released in 1991, Dash is the first African American woman to have a film released in the United States- a little late than never. A member of the L.A. Rebellion, during her years at UCLA, she joined other filmmakers such as Haile Gerima, Zeinabu irene Davis, and Barbara McCullough for the right to show and make black centric films. She directed music videos for Tracy Chapman, Tony! Toni! Tone!, and Adriana Evans. She has been nominated for many awards including the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and a Directors Guild Award for Outstanding Directional Achievement for Primetime Movies Made for Television-- another black woman first. Her films have won NAACP and Black Reel Awards. Daughters of the Dust has been restored, remastered, and rereleased, earning a well-earned place in the Library of Congress.

Still keeping busy, Dash is currently working on Traveling Notes for a Geechee Girl and directed Queen Sugar's ninth episode of season two (coming up in October).

Despite what IMDb and Google would have a researcher believe, Angela Burnett, who played intelligent Ruby in Sharon Larkin's Your Children Come Back to You (1979), is niece of renowned L.A. Rebellion filmmaker Charles Burnett and costume designer Gaye Shannon-Burnett- not their daughter.
Your Children Come Back to You strongly nailed everything that is still wrong with American society. The little girl protagonist embodied overused adjective "woke." In a poverty stricken ghetto rife with trash and struggle, lives a single pregnant mom raising this feisty precocious child. She is frank, way above her years. Her wild imagination places Africa with positive symbolism, implanted by her father who left his young family for Africa. A wealthy married sister is obsessed with adopting her brother's niece, believing that welfare is an improper place to raise a child.

"Are you adopted, Auntie?"

The little girl recites an allegorically layered story to her spoiled, disillusioned aunt, that specifically addresses this question asked three times. It goes (paraphrasing): once upon a time there was a Mother (Africa) whose children were stolen from her (ala slavery). She wept and wept, grieving each loss. The thieves instilled their way of thinking (colonialism) into the children. Whilst forcing them to work hard, they gave them new names, new religions, new languages. Eventually, however, some of the children (adults) come back to her (Africa), one by one, remembering the gift of life (ancestral heritage) that she gave them.

The outraged aunt immediately wanted her niece away from this school too, glaringly revealing her self-hatred, ignorance. Now in America, it is easy to manipulate children, to persuade them into buying fictional accounts-- "Christopher Columbus was great," "treasure our founding fathers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson," and so forth. Conditioned individuals, like the aunt, believe everything they were ever told and strive to live as closely to white people as possible. With fancy house containing polished silver and glass, the little girl knew that her aunt allowed herself to be adapted, to allow being rich in materialism to outweigh hereditary affluence.   

Your Children Come Back to You is an exceptional piece that sound be shown widely. It has a terrific message, asking the audience, who do you want to be-- the aunt, the mother, or the child?

In addition to winning film awards from the Black American Cinema Society, Black Filmmaker Foundation, and runner up prize from FILMEX, Chicago hailed Alile Sharon Larkin is an author, artist, and award winning educator, having taught early education to college. Dreadlocks and the Three Bears Productions, her production company, "creates Afrocentric and global multimedia and arts experiences for children and families." She continued making more shorts including The Kitchen, A Different Image, and a children's animated film, Dreadlocks and the Three Bears.

A still from Fannie's Film (1979).
In Killing Time, a satirical soliloquy, a brown actress contemplates suicide. When the film opens, she appears already gone, lying on her bed, eyes closed, body still, phone off the hook. A second flashes, she is up like a charged battery, sweeping through a chain of motion, trying on different clothes, flopping back and forth on wanna be deathbed. She plans this death like a stage set, wanting it to be theatrically creative. Her hilarious inner monologue is sarcastic deadpan, a drone pitch of someone defeated, purposeless. There is no explanation to her misery. Suicide is a strange road to take humor on, but between burning undergarments in the oven, deciding an exacto blade is too messy, and ripping crisp white pants ruins a jump off the fire escape, Woods does so with morbidly fascinating delivery.

Frannie's Film, lighthearted and sweet, centers on a charming elder cleaning woman who absolutely loves her role at an all white gym. Fannie is not the average well-to-do black custodian. She talks about her upbringing with glee as the camera focuses in and out on her wiping down a mirror, giving her visibility and invisibility at once. In the same breath, she can be candid about simplicity of marriage. Her independence is a source of pleasure, where she has everything she needs, and is fulfilled, rustic voice singing "Amazing Grace."

Fronza Woods, according to Women Make Movies, is "a Detroiter turned Manhattanite." In addition to her only two short films (a huge, crushing loss), she worked as an assistant sound engineer on The Brother From Another Planet (which stars Emmy winner Joe Morton) and taught as an Associate Professor of Film at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

She lives in France and has co-translated several books on aesthetics with Simon Pleasance.

This tiny cap of Jackie Shearer's A Minor Altercation (1977) seems to be only proof the short film existed.
Brilliant A Minor Altercation is the longest at half an hour long. In a girl's bathroom at a Boston high school, a white girl, angry that she didn't get into a computer class, instigates a melee with a black student, who the counselor coerced into taking the class. They are both suspended for fighting. Furthermore, the larger complex issue is how both families discuss the matter in their respective homes. The women operate on soothing levels, wanting their daughters to stay at the school, but the fathers want opposite, the angry white father going as far as using the "n" word to state a racist point.

Both mothers decide to head up to the school, three days before they're supposed to, in order to discuss the matter-- primarily a concern of the guidance counselor. Of course the guidance counselor is not present. The early arriving black mother is faced with atrocious disrespect whereas the later white mother is cooed and prodded, even allowed to go into the principal's office first.

A Minor Altercation  is another that should be shown in classrooms. The discussion about how families discuss race/racial problems operates on different wavelengths.

Boston native Jackie Shearer was a graduate of Brandeis University. She also founded a documentary company and worked for her hometown radio and TV stations. As a documentarian, Shearer wrote and directed episodes of Eyes on the Prize and produced/directed American Experience's episode, Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry.

On IMDb, rests this sole personal statement in her barren biography:
Much to my own relief, I found that there was nothing for me to be ashamed of in the story of Blacks and their participation in the Civil War. Black soldiers hadn't been the unwitting dupes I had once imagined them to be. It was these men who were the bedrock of abolitionism, not well-intentioned, benevolent whites as history has claimed.
Shearer sadly passed away at the age of 46 of colon cancer four days before her birthday.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Happy Birthday Ava DuVernay: Fem Film Rogue Icon Spotlight

It is very easy to gush about this amazing queen, a Time 100 honoree that frequents The Root 100.
Ava DuVernay is our modern day heroine. She is the slayer of outdated, crusty old white dragons in Hollywood and politics, blasting away stereotypical perceptions of black humanity with fiery heartfelt poise. This commendable award winning champion produces and directs films that show vastness of our beautiful black diaspora, scoping beneath chained pigeonholes. Her oeuvre is an incredulous stretch between documentary and narrative realms, letting blackness breathe usually oppressive breath into television and film screen, especially rewarding black women gifted narratives they deserve.

A double major (English and African American studies) at UCLA, DuVernay was first a public relations consultant for many film and television projects including Julie Dash's The Rosa Parks Story and Shola Lynch's Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed. She directed her first IMDb credit short in 2006 called Saturday Night Life. Then she helm top notch documentaries: This is the Life, Compton in C Minor (a short), My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women in Hip Hop, and a Nine XI feature Venus VS. Last year, she released 13th, a powerful must see discussing true ramifications of the thirteenth amendment; which deceivingly appeared to be abolishment of slavery. A nasty clause, however, enforced imprisoning blacks in another way, a creative loophole that takes away their rights long after they're released. Yet most of the time, they'll never regain stolen freedom.

I will always remember her talk last year, how passionate she is about giving black women filmmakers the chance to show their work. In Hollywood, where light skin prevails so constantly, it's also amazing to see that DuVernay lets women like Emayatzy Corinealdi and Rutina Wesley shine brightly as leading protagonists. 

For dramatic narrative, she directed poignant I Will Follow, the riveting Selma, and an episode of Scandal. Middle of Nowhere, a top ten favorite, is about a hardworking nursing school student sacrificing her dreams for an imprisoned husband on parole all the while balancing work, organizing a good lawyer, a dysfunctional family situation, and finding  beautiful bus driver companionship. The camera directions are pure art form, playing with metaphoric abstraction. Bradford Young, a frequent cinematographer collaborator of hers, knows how light operates on black skin.

For other shorts, The Door is delightful, colorful, glamorous, and magical Miu Miu produced black woman fairytale without a knight in shining armor. This sisterly love piece has the best actresses under the sun: Gabrielle Union, Adepero Oduye, Alfre Woodward, and Emayatzy Corinealdi. Fashion Fair's Say Yes is sweet and delicious, like a lingering love note.

And last but certainly not least, Queen Sugar, an adaptation of Natalie Bazsile's novel, is the most powerful, under appreciated prose on television today. With a strong cast, gorgeous cinematography, solid writing, and treasured directing by solely women directors, this is a gem for history/herstory books.

DuVernay's films have been nominated for Oscars (13th and Selma). She is the first African American woman to win Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Directing for a Drama, the first African American woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director of a Theatric Drama Film, the first African American woman to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the first African American woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Directing of a Documentary Film. Other notable wins include a Humanitas Prize, BAFTA, NAACP Image Award, The John Cassavetes Award, AAFCA, Black Reel, and Woman In Film Circle Awards. She was invited to join the AMPAS writers and directors branches, the second African American woman director to join after Kasi Lemmons. Up next, she is nominated for three Emmys and will receive the Directing Prize at the Brittania Awards.


This gorgeous Ava DuVernay inspired Barbie doll sold out in minutes.
Currently, she has many upcoming projects to be enthusiastic about-- A Wrinkle in Time (2018) for Disney, a documentary on the Central Park Five (2019), and Lupita Nyong'o/Rihanna girlfriends film both for Netflix. Battle of Versailles will be an adaptation of Robin Givhan's book and an adaptation of Octavia Butler's Dawn with Victoria Mahoney for television.

In addition to writing, directing, and producing films and television, DuVernay founded ARRAY, formerly AFFRM, promoting people of color and women's voices. It is tough receiving film distribution, especially for first time directors. The mission is to offer them that chance. So far, they have released films from all over the globe including the terrific British thriller Honeytrap. As an ARRAY Rebel, which helps ARRAY immensely, perks include digital music and beanies. Every now and then, ARRAY hosts a fun Twitter party/campaign drive that allows fans to tweet questions to their favorite black filmmakers. Past guests to the usually trending all day event have included Julie Dash, Gina Prince-Blythewood, Ryan Coogler, and so many more.

So yes, Ava DuVernay is a true queen, a worthy icon to celebrate.

Before going "onward," here are a few of her most inspiring quotes:

I make films about black women and it doesn't mean that you can't see them as a black man, doesn't mean that he can't see them as a white man or she can't see them as a white woman.

We're told that independent film lovers... folks that are used to watching art house films, won't come out and see a film with black people in it - I've been told that in rooms, big rooms, studio rooms, and I know that's not true.

I didn't start out thinking that I could ever make films. I started out being a film lover, loving films, and wanting to have a job that put me close to them and close to filmmakers and close to film sets.