Thursday, August 29, 2019

‘August 28: A Day In The Life of a People’ Told Through Poetry and Stunning Visuals

A family watching the presidential nomination of Senator Barack Obama is just one of the moments depicted in Ava DuVernay's August 28: A Day in the Life of a People
Last year, Ava DuVernay announced her commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, August 28: A Day in the Life of a People, a part fiction, part documentary short film. For one day only, those who were not in Washington D.C or have yet to visit the museum, received a special invitation to watch the twenty-two minute work on DuVernay’s official website. Malik Sayeed’s mesmerizing cinematography operates to Meshell Ndegeochello’s soft, humble musical composition, setting the appropriate tones required for each layered vignette, baring heavy examples on what transpired on a significant date in Black history. 

A book flying in the flooded waters signify the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  
DuVernay’s art always ties to the past with a sharp, charged focus that is especially riveting when it comes to how Black bodies are portrayed. She cares about Black humanity, showcases Black strengths and weaknesses. Alongside a stellar cast that perform their tasks with phenomenal diligence and dignity, the exceptional writings of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Maya Angelou, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston and some Motown Records  produced medley (The Marvelettes, Please Mr. Postman) intertwine in the most electrifying ways. Images will speak to the viewer, sing to them, haunt them. 

During the many complimentary watches of August 28: A Day in the Life of a People, certain frames stood out so beautifully, so effortlessly like high contrast photographs, like painted portraits worthy of placing on absent walls. Hopefully, another time will come again when individuals can see this loving piece that DuVernay and her dear friends have created together.

On Wednesday, August 28, 1833, The Slavery Abolition Act passed, freeing many Africans in the Britsh colonies, Canada, and the Caribbean. Glynn Turman recites Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.
They walk along the freedom road. 
And a little Black girl carries a brown doll, a carving in her own image perhaps, in their humble basket of belongings. 
On August 28, 1961, Please Mr. Postman by the Marvelettes was the first song played on the radio by Motown Records. It would also go on to reach number one on the Billboard charts. Regina King stars as a woman listening to the record.
This gorgeous shot of her walking down the hall in 1960's getup 
The beautiful brown ladies dancing in sophisticated dress in a tastefully decorated middle class living room, a moment easily passing a Bechdel test.
Don Cheadle is part of the narrative about one of the most heinous acts of racist crime ever conceived. In the wee hours of August 28, 1955, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was graphically lynched for whistling at a white woman (which turned out to be false). Mamie Till would then give him an open casket funeral to let the world know what the monsters had done to her son.

David Oyelowo and Cheadle passionately speak Claude McKay's If We Must Die.
They are building a pine box. Till was shipped back to his mother in a pine box.
On Thursday, August 28, 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama of Chicago made history accepting the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Michael Ealy and Lupita Nyong'o portray a couple watching the moment on television. They embody Maya Angelou-- who would win the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama two years later.

There is such beauty and positivity in this image.
Their rapt daughter is tuned into a defining, unforgettable moment.

On Sunday, August 28, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a deadly category four, struck New Orleans. Gugu Mbatha Raw portrays a survivor in a water damaged/buried home whilst reciting Langston Hughes' Negro Speaks of Rivers.
Angela Bassett and Andre Holland recite Zora Neale Hurston's Dust Tracks on a Road and How It Feels to be Colored Me, interacting on Wednesday, August 28, 1963-- the day of Martin Luther King Jr.'s profoundly historic I Have a Dream speech, one of the largest political rallies ever recorded in the U.S.

He offers her replenishment back in a trustful time.

They clap as Martin Luther King Jr. is announced to give his speech.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

‘Middle of Nowhere’ is an Underrated Powerhouse

Middle of Nowhere film poster. 
On January 16, 2014, I watched Ava DuVernay’s romantic indie drama, Middle of Nowhere (released two years prior) for the first time on an iPhone. My laptop was broken and that iPhone was the sole way to finally see the film, a special AFFRM Rebel member exclusive. On January 13, 2015, the official DVD release day, it took several stores to find a copy and that would jumpstart the second, third, fourth or so viewings on a new laptop. Then, months later, the Lightbox Film Center showed it on a big screen during a celebration of cinematographer, Bradford Young. Each watch is a present unwrapped, especially to an avid film lover desiring to see more humanist depictions of Black lives by Black filmmakers.

Thus, Middle of Nowhere, an obvious personal favorite, is of significant importance often left off Best Black Film lists.

Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) puts her medical studies on hold in order to help her imprisoned husband Derek.
It opens with Ruby, a tough, resilient medical student who travels far by bus to see her imprisoned husband Derek— in for fraud. On the bus, women bond over their missing men, knowing that these short, strict visitations are all they can hold onto until the next one— year after year after year. When Ruby and Derek see each other, the sparks are flying, the love is spoken through their eyes and ready smiles. Afterwards, Ruby speaks on his behalf, constantly overworking and exerting herself to make ends meet and keep an expensive lawyer on Derek’s case. This authentically paints the true depressing reality for marginalized bodies— always over exerting themselves for a bit of freedom. Before the arrest, Ruby and Derek were dreamily living like a queen and king, well above middle class in a huge furnished house with a nicely manicured yard.

Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and Brian (David Oyelowo) share a dance. 
Aside from prison visits, Ruby is staying devoted to Derek by putting medical school on hiatus and taking extra hospital shifts much to the dismay of her mother, Ruth. Now Ruth is a stern parent prone to yelling and belittling even over the smallest matters. This constant verbal abuse makes for jarring scenes, especially between Ruth and Rosie— Ruby’s sister, a single mother of a precocious little boy. Meanwhile, Derek’s outside life threatens Ruby’s happiness. In comes Brian— a flirtatious bus driver— that has it bad for the married woman, Ruby.

Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) may be flawed in some instances, but she is far from stupid. 
Ruby, painted in pivotal degrees of vulnerable softness and graceful femininity, is one to be desired, fought for. Whether it is by two handsome men, a fretful mother, or a sister with a small son, Ruby is the light hovering around the shadowy places no one wants to remain stuck in. Derek kept a heartbreaking betrayal under wraps, Brian is staying civil to an old relationship, Ruth wants her daughters to still need her, and Rosie searches for love in all the wrong places. From Ruby, Derek wants her forgiveness, Brian wants to be her “next,” Ruth wants her to get her life in order without Derek, and Rosie wants guidance.

Yet Ruby refuses to be a mule to anyone.

One of the most jaw dropping scenes is what transpired between Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and Derek (Omari Hardwick) on her final visit. 
Although the story plays a bit into the “struggle love” narrative, DuVernay’s poignant writing and abstracted direction segways the overused Black love stereotype into another route altogether. Ruby eventually realizes that she cannot put her life on hold for Derek, wait in the wings for the course of an unseen future that has presently changed the both of them. Everything passed her by whilst working twice as hard to free him. She needs to be in a new, refreshing moment, deserves to find her path without him clouding her purpose. And that moment happens to be her career, her family, and Brian.

Middle of Nowhere is an intriguing trifecta of threes— Ruby’s need to keep an old life together whilst being seductively pulled by another is more than the typical interloper love triangle, Ruby and Rosie’s adulthood with complicated Ruth, and the unhealthy, unresolved generational turmoil from Ruth causes so much conflict that Rosie doesn’t grant her much grandmother time. 

Middle of Nowhere family: Sharon Lawrence, David Oyelowo, Ava DuVernay, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Edwina Findlay, Troy Curvey III, and Omari Hardwick. 
Middle of Nowhere is seamlessly tied together. There is a reason why this poignant picture won African American Film Critics Association Awards, Black Circle Film Awards, Black Reel Awards, Independent Film Awards, dramatic at Sundance Film Festival (DuVernay being the first African American woman to be honored), and the Josephine Baker Award from Women Film Critics Circle Awards. It is also why many still cannot comprehend its exclusion from the main awards circuit of Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, etc. The memorable music selection includes some Goapele. Bradford Young’s excellent cinematography reveals a tremendous, tender care in lighting Black bodies. Aisha Coley’s casting of Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Lorraine Touissant, Omari Hardwick, and Edwina Findlay remains top notch. This arrangement of brown and dark brown skin hues with Corinealdi playing a rootable lead makes women like her feel seen and loved, makes their stories valid.

DuVernay’s gorgeous effort is worth watching again and again because it is one of the finest, most masterful examples of Black people falling in love and making sacrifices in order to make love function. It is so very important to champion Black artistry when it is of this quality. Creators like DuVernay fight hard to write, direct, and produce films for us about us and distribution can be their biggest challenge. With this word of mouth in mind, please watch Middle of Nowhere and spread the gospel to family and friends. Tell them that DuVernay has a romantic poet side in addition to award heavyweights Selma, 13th, and When They See Us.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Is Nova Bordelon a Heroine or Foe?

Queen Sugar's Nova (Rutina Wesley) has come far-- far to become probably the most hated character on the show.
Nova Bordelon isn't an evil Black woman. Her intentions are not especially cruel or heinous. She, however, is a multifaceted character not original to Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar novel, a fine example of a layered, flawed addition. Sometimes this works. Other times not.
"Nova came directly from Ava DuVernay’s imagination. She was designed to be a reflection of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement: black queer women. It was a subtle allusion to the movement that anyone familiar with its roots could know and appreciate. Generally speaking, the show’s has since stopped being so subtle."
In season four, seven women directed episodes chart the journey of Nova a fiction weaved into fiction, whose current actions are considered both hurtful and powerful. The hurtful elements are from Nova's newfound bestselling memoir, "Blessings and Blood." She has included much of her family's private traumas-- Aunt Vi's abusive relationship with Jimmy Dale, Blu not being Ralph Angel's biological son, Charlie's many schemes like paying off Davis's former prostitute, and Darla's drug addiction. Despite the little yet important triumphs Nova's family has overcome in their respective personal lives, at the end of it all, Nova had no permission to tell the world. In fact, she made sure to give Charlie, Ralph Angel, and Aunt Vi the manuscript well after her book was sent to print. Nothing, not even Charlie "Miss Connections" could not rescue the "dirty" laundry from airing.

Despite Nova's questionable actions, it is undeniable that Rutina Wesley was made for this complex role.
While Nova's intentions for "Blessings and Blood" might seem selfish and vindictive, she thought her family’s struggles could be a resourceful tool for those going through the same situations—domestic violence, drug abuse, coercion. The stories are not juicy tidbits that appeal to gossip rags. Nova's poignantly written novel is specifically directed for Black readers. She has already accumulated a glowing New York Times review and was shortlisted for the National Book Award. Yet simultaneously, however, perhaps Nova should have opted to write a creative fiction versus a memoir that puts the Bordelons in jeopardy. Everyone in town knows who these characters are-- even Darla isn't disguised cleverly enough. Only one person champions Nova’s book-- Micah, her nephew fresh from a vacation in Paris.

Chantal (Reagan Gomez-Preston) and Nova (Rutina Wesley) were once a solid (albeit short-lived) example of beautiful Black women falling in love, but it looks like the ship has sailed away once again.

Dr. Octavia Laurent (Cree Summer) started Nova (Rutina Wesley) on exploring her sexuality, but Octavia's dominance in Nova's personal life diffused the reunion.
Nova's book tour, which takes her away from the toxic environment that she herself is responsible for creating, began with old flame Chantal on her last night in Saint Jo. Although it appears that a flirtatious Chantal may want to pick up where they left off, Chantal is livid that Nova only wants a booty call (with Chantal coming over to Nova versus the opposite) and no emotional/mental healing. On the road, Nova eventually gets her physical needs met with her former college professor, Dr. Octavia Laurent, but quickly ends things when she's sabotaging future opportunities. In Philadelphia, Nova runs into Calvin-- the white former police officer that started it all-- "keep the colors in the lines" indeed. She lays down the law with him, stating that she wants a connection before the physical intimacy can resume between them (coughs for Chantal). Nova's treatment of brown/Black women mirrors Ralph Angel's disposability factor behavior of last season. Brown/Black women are sexual objects while the non-black figure is uplifted/wooed (Ralph Angel with Vivien Ngô's Trinh Phan and Nova with Greg Vaughan's Calvin).
"If Nova is truly chasing “freedom,” she had it and (more importantly) she KNEW she had it with Chantal. It’s these kind of missed moments of continuity that make me wonder if Queen Sugar’s rotation of writers and directors and, subsequently, showrunners, are impacting the characterizations we’re seeing on screen."
The overwhelming community displeasure for Nova definitely started back in season one-- Nova stealing money from Charley and simultaneously judging her sister's actions on broadcast radio. Nova would often depict herself as the good one, the one on high moral ground, the liberator of the Black community. Nova worsened in season three when she became involved with Remy, Charley's ex (a bad story line that took ample heat). Her queer identity was gradually lost, swept aside for another sister against sister parallel that reaches its boiling point in this current fourth season.

Back in the good ole days. Will these sisters ever be this close again?
Thus, Nova has made colossal mistakes, especially for "research." She isn't a villain. Yet her finding Jimmy Dale to "get his side of the story" breaks a feminist code, an unspoken rule that breaches believing women's abuse stories. Nova seeking out Aunt Vi's abuser explicitly conveys that Nova doesn't completely side with Aunt Vi's truth. That is huge. A writer's work shouldn't stand above family, above integrity. Nova comes from a well-loved family too-- a beautiful gift when many Black families are continuously healing from broken, scarred, and violent places. Nova's work essentially re-traumatizes Aunt Vi, Charley, Ralph Angel, and Darla-- these four people who are moving forward, staying strong and positive.

Nova's "Blessings and Blood" may be helping others see a mesmerizing light in her talented voice, but it certainly isn't understood through the bleeding hearts of her family.