Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Happy Birthday, Nia Long: Fem Film Rogue Icon Spotlight

Happy birthday, Nia Long.
Nia Long is hands down one of the most iconic Black women actresses of our time. The ageless, acting chameleon stepped out on the Hollywood scene as the fresh faced It Girl showing off a sleek cropped haircut and raisin lipstick, stealing hearts with that unbelievably gorgeous complexion and vivacious style. She played fierce, confident, sexy, intelligent characters that are still being hailed today.

Like Saved By the Bell's Lisa Turtle, Fresh Prince of Bel Air's Lisa Wilkes was a huge 90's fashionista.
Long made her start guest starring on an episode of 227 and The Magical World of Disney before taking turns as Brandi in John Singleton's Oscar nominated classic Boys in Da HoodMade in America, a Black girl finds out that her sperm donor dad is a white man and the role could have easily been offered to a biracial actress, but Long owned Zora Matthews. Long has starred in Friday as the unattainable Hot Girl Debbie. On the small screen, Her Stacey Evans toyed with Kyle's heart on Living Single and her Lisa Wilkes almost married The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Long starred as police officer Sasha Munroe on NBC's Third Watch and guest starred on the late soap Guiding Light as well as Judging Amy, Boston Legal, Big Shots, House of Lies, Uncle Buck, Empire, Dear White People, and NCIS: Los Angeles.

Leading Lady Material: Nia Long as Brandi in Boys in Da Hood (with Cuba Gooding Jr.) top left, Nina Mosley in Love Jones (with Larenz Tate) bottom left, and Jordan Armstrong in The Best Man (with Taye Diggs) right. 
Long is most certainly underrated as the romantic film lead. Love Jones will definitely go down as one of her best roles-- the talented, reserved photographer Nina Mosley who deliciously falls for the Casanova poet Darius Lovehall (played by the amazing Larenz Tate) to an amazing soundtrack. In The Best Man series, Jordan Lovehall has a complicated history with Harper Stewart (played by Taye Diggs) who is seriously committed to Robin (Sanaa Lathan) which leads into a very tumultuous triangle-- well rendered by the three actors involved, especially Long, not a loser but victorious by other means. Long can be seen in Soul Food, Big Mamma's House, AlfieKeanuAre We Done Yet and its sequel.

Nia Long with Lemon director Janicza Brazo and co-star Shiri Appleby.
In 2017, Long starred in a Black woman directed film, Lemon, Janicza Brazo's quirky Sundance Best of Next nominated feature-length debut, playing the love interest, Cleo. Hopefully, this opportunity could lead Long into more collaborations with women directors (though yes, women have written some of the screenplays Long has starred in). It would be a dream to see her in something raw and poignant with the likes of Ava DuVernay, Kasi Lemmons, Julie Dash, or Dee Rees. Long has the chops and one of these directors can deliver her juicy material and that juicy material can lead to the awards buzz that Long has deserved forever.

In addition to films and the small screen, Long is also a music video vixen, having starred in videos by Snoop Dogg, Kanye West pre fabricated church era, and other rappers. In Ashanti's Baby (which Long co-directed), Long is serving all kinds of sensational, flawless looks, even singing along to the lyrics to her "lover's" ear.

Long has won three NAACP Image Awards (Best Actress in a Drama Film for The Best Man and  Best Actress in a Drama Series for Third Watch, twice), a Black Reel Award (Best Theatrical Actress in The Best Man), and three honors from the Acapulco Black Film Festival (Star of Tomorrow for 2000, Best Actress and Best Ensemble Cast for The Best Man Holiday).

Up next Long will be in The Banker with Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie, Life in a Year with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jaden Smith, and Fatal Affair with KJ Smith and Omar Epps.

In a Hollywood that tragically suffers from colorism, Nia Long has always been that woman to look up to for the multifaceted image of a brown skin woman, choosing dignified, humanist roles.  She is still searching for the roles that are not race and gender specific, that allow her to be so much more than what is stereotypically required of her. Until she finds the answer, she has amassed a sweet body of work worth watching on repeat.

Nia Long Quotes:
"When I requested or wanted more, I was considered difficult, outspoken, entitled, and all of the things that should not be used to describe a woman who has earned her space, her place, and delivers. And that just doesn’t apply to me, that’s for everyone."
"I’m 45. I’m black. And I’m a woman. So those are three really hard things to deal with ... I work really hard to get sometimes crumbs. I feel blessed and lucky to have the career that I have. But there are times that I’ve been beat up in this business. It hasn’t just been roses and fairy tales. It’s been a tough road."
"I’m not trying to be an ingénue anymore. I wouldn’t want those opportunities because then that would just mean that I haven’t grown."
"No matter what level you’re on in this industry, you’re expected to be excellent. Being excellent — when the material isn’t — can be challenging."
I got to strip down and just be raw and vulnerable and afraid and misunderstood. All of us have a family member that resembles a Miss Peggy. She is you know she’s a hero, really, at the end of the day. ... So for me it was a no-brainer. I love the story.” (on playing Ms. Peggy in Roxanne Roxanne).

Friday, September 13, 2019

Young Sisters Survive Abandonment in 'Treeless Mountain'

Treeless Mountain film poster.
Jin is the oldest of two sisters and the only one in school. After class ends, Jin plays pogs and she's quite good at earning a considerable stack. Due to having a little fun, Jin is late in picking up her little sister Bin from an upset caretaker. From the scene, it sounds as though the caretaker too has had enough of Jin and Bin's mother and must take frustrations out on the children. Jin and Bin's mother isn't happy either, having enforced Jin to leave the precious parts of childhood behind at way too early an age.
"Why were you late?" The mother asks.
Jin doesn't respond, likely fearing disappointment that she wasted that time playing games. 
This foreshadows the mother's role in the film, in Jin and Bin's lives. The girls did what was expected of them by the mother, but the mother reappears the moment "she's supposed to."

The mother (Soo-ah Lee), Jin (Hee-yeon Kim), and Bin (Song-hee Kim) set out for an uncertain future. 
Later on, the mother has been evicted and goes off with her daughters via bus to stay with her sister-in-law. The next day, however, the mother leaves Jin and Bin a pink plastic piggy bank and promises to return once it is filled. She either knows that they will not make enough change or that she will truly reunite with their absent father. Thus, this reveals that children alone do not make unbelievable notions-- adults living in fanciful worlds can harm the family foundation. After all, the mother has been treating Jin like a babysitter and less like a little girl. It is not that she is shirking motherly duties because she doesn't want them, she can't afford the harsh realities that come with parenting. Financial burden--even with a job--is too heavy a burden and she seems to have no where to turn. She could drop the girls off from place to place, but where can a mother go?

Bin and Jin still watch out for their mother each day and work hard for their drunken aunt-- a woman who scolds and yells. She barely gives them coins for their piggy bank. Suddenly, there are times, Jin is sent to bed without supper or their aunt is passed out drunk, leaving the girls with nothing to eat. They befriend a neighborhood boy and his sweet, affectionate mother (who gladly feeds them). In fact, the mother is like a mother they should have had, a caring, thoughtful, generous woman who always has a plate of cookies to spare. The cookies are comforting to Jin and Bin. Yet they don't want to keep using her. Instead, they find a resourceful way to support their hunger pangs and fill the piggy bank. It is the grasshopper--an ancient symbol of good luck-- that helps them.

Unfortunately, Jin and Bin will realize that sometimes adults say things they are powerless to mean.

Bin (Song-lee Kim) watches her sister, Jin (Hee-yeon Kim) prepare grasshoppers. They sell these for cheap to make money-- more so than their aunt can give. 
Writer/director/producer So Yong Kim (who has directed episodes of Queen Sugar, American Crime, Good Girls, and Divorce) has rendered a narrative rich in beautiful cinematography and laudable characters. The poignant closeups on Jin and Bin's innocent, doe-eyed faces shows that portrayers Hee-yeon Kim and Song-lee Kim expertly express the pains and sorrows of growing up motherless. Their performances are riveting and heartbreaking, great vehicles to drive the film forward as the characters move from the city life to pitiful poverty to the simplistic farm life of their grandparents. Also, the use of food is important-- the characters eating at the table, picky Jin's dislike of her aunt's food, Bin's compulsion to "eat anything," their grandmother making dough from scratch-- it is all relative.

Bin (Song-lee Kim)  and Jin (Hee-yeon Kim).
The brave, candid Treeless Mountain is an exceptional film about two little girls relying on each other for emotional, moral, psychological, and physical support. Whenever nourishment is lacking, Jin will comfort Bin and likewise. In a world that can easily leave girls behind (especially irresponsible adults), Jin and Bin have to toughen up and let their imaginations breeze into the wind. By the end, the resolution is a somber, appropriate tone to all that of which they have carried and learned from the people around them. Patience ultimately becomes their biggest foe and their greatest ally.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

30 Best Films Directed By Women of Color

Jessie Maple, a Black director and cinematographer, is one of the first African American directors to release a full-length feature film. 
September kicks off the official Directed By Women celebration— a much needed way of highlighting the problematic film industry which still presents white male directors as the privilege key holders to the filmmaking gate. Directed By Women purposely breaks away from the male domination to open up the closed box, showcasing the nuanced stories women behind the camera (and often times behind the pen) portray in their respective films. Time and time again, women directors have masterly proven to take down drama, romance, comedy, horror, and other genres with the “best” white filmmaker. They have the ability to add unique layers often undervalued by the gritty (sexist/racist) awards season.
Although a women’s film renaissance seems to be rising (or falling) every year, there remains an evidenced hard-working ethic that continues to emerge forward despite the stacked uneven odds.
Now while perusing several “Best Women Directed” lists today, some solid films by women of color were left behind. All women have a difficult path to getting films made, especially Black, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern directors. Thus, this compiled list contains a number of theatrical releases, some limited showings, and few television films.

30. Kung Fu Panda by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

29. Just Another Girl on the I. R. T. by Leslie Harris

28. Wadjda by Haifaa Al Mansour

27. Night Catches Us by Tanya Hamilton

26. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Darnell Martin

25. Treeless Mountain by So Yong Kim

24. Eve’s Bayou by Kasi Lemmons

23. Ayiti Mon Amour by Guetty Felin

22. I Will Follow by Ava DuVernay

21. Belle by Amma Asante

20. In Between Days by So Yong Kim

19. Rafiki by Wanuri Kahiu

18. Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity by Mina Shum

17. Bend it Like Beckham by Gurinder Chadha

16. The Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye

15. I Like It Like That by Darnell Martin

14. Mississippi Damned by Tina Mabry

13. Real Women Have Curves by Patricia Cardoso

12. Queen of Katwe by Mira Nair

11. Selma by Ava DuVernay

10. The Rider by Chloé Zhao

9. Losing Ground by Kathleen Collins

8. Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair

7. Love and Basketball by Gina Prince-Blythewood

6. Double Happiness by Mina Shum

5. Down on the Delta by Maya Angelou

4. Pariah by Dee Rees

3. I Am Not a Witch by Rungano Nyoni

2. Middle of Nowhere by Ava DuVernay

1. Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash

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.