Thursday, September 20, 2018

Regina King and Her Three Emmy Wins Matter

Regina King now joins an exclusive club of Emmy winning African American actresses.
Monday was a heartbreaking night for the people of color nominees robbed once during a telecast making light of diversity. In a segment entitled "Reparations," co-host Michael Che tracked down black acting heavyweights like Marla Gibbs, Tichina Arnold, John Weatherspoon, Kadeem Hardison, and Jaleel White to hand deliver them stolen Emmys. Although humorous, the skit laid bare historical problems with the Emmys, with white fronted awards shows in general. Still, one of the profound highlights of the night was Regina King receiving her third Emmy win. In the face of likely mostly white voters, this speaks volumes.

A Primetime Emmy nomination is a godsend and to win the actual thing is a small yet vital showing of progress. For the past four years, King has received four consecutive nods-- three for Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for American Crime and one for Leading Actress in a Limited Series for Seven Seconds.

King--having won three of those four nominations-- is in an exclusive club. Rarely has an African American actress won one Emmy, let alone two and three for her acting efforts. So far, Alfre Woodward has four wins out of seventeen nominations and Cicely Tyson has three wins out of fourteen nominations.

Not to discount King's Black Reel or NAACP Image awards and nominations-- those triumphs are significant and valid. However, the Emmys falsely presented themselves as inclusive after the historic nominations were announced last month. During the ceremony itself, "diversity" jokes were sprinkled throughout. King was the first black winner of the night.

"Thank you for creating an opportunity to tell a story and  hold a mirror up to what's going on today," King says in her 2018 Emmys acceptance speech.

When Issa Rae answered, "I'm rooting for everybody black," before last year's ceremony, the white people were on a rampage. Defensive white social media jumped into people's commentary with typical "why make this about race" statements, personally offended by accurate observational assessments. This gaslighting mechanism is designed to keep African Americans silent about what matters during the watching of award shows-- winners representing reflections of themselves. We're at a time now that speaking up for talented actresses and actors. History suggests that African Americans deserve more than to dress up and present to white people. Viewers, especially to those who are avid champions of the nominees, want to see a real change. It obviously doesn't end on the nominations, it ends on the stage with that statuette.

For King, an outstanding actress for decades, a versatile player from dead serious pensive acting to hilarious comedic chops, is worth applauding. With an upcoming turn in Barry Jenkins' adaptation of James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk, here is hoping that the Oscars will knock on her triumphant door soon.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

'Insecure' Season Three, Recap of Episode Two's 'Familiar-Like'

Daniel is trying to ghost on Issa (Issa Rae) while she's staying at his place. The jig isn't working.

Familiar-Like focuses on Issa for the first time--no Molly and certainly no Dro. The girl is struggling to hold it together while keeping a sane head at Daniel's place.

Defensive Joanne (Catherine Curtin) cannot see the problem with We Got Y'all's graphic artwork (designed by her Pratt Institute niece which thickly lays on another layer to the privilege problem) or the structural problems of her staff. 
We Got Y'all is a work environment that essentially represents our current political climate. "White savior complex" sufferer Joanne is not keen on changing the logo of the white hand holding black children. Yet everyone diligently speaks up, shocking Issa who has found Joanne's ideas and actions problematic for years. This can be uncomfortable to address, especially considering the history of black people fired for speaking up against workplace discrimination.

Issa meets with Kelli to weigh her options. Her credit score is low and finances are still not enough to lease a new apartment.

"Light skin love" Vanessa (Candice Ramirez) is obviously crowded by Daniel (Y'lan Noel) camping out at her place."
At the same time, Daniel's backstory is further explored. Jada, his adorable niece spends time with him in the studio and provides compelling commentary that subtly references why Daniel's career is not taking off. She loves that his music requires thinking, but on the other hand appreciates ratchet (aka the music Daniel doesn't make). For the past few episodes, Daniel has shown great distaste at the artists Seven hooks him up with, talentless people who happen to know bigger (or are related to) musicians Daniel wants to collaborate with.
 
In addition to music, his relationship with Vanessa appears strictly sexual and lacks a solid intimate connection. She can barely stand being attentive in a conversation, let alone tolerate his presence at her place (and he had only been staying for three days).

Daniel spits some game in Issa's ear and the lighting is fantastic.

When Daniel returns home, he is amused to find Issa cleaning up the apartment. Kelli has gotten into her head. Yes, Daniel is not asking her for anything in return, not even rent money, but Issa's thoughtful gesture, though heavily scented with delayed gratitude, earns some brownie points.

Seven, who earlier promised to support Daniel at the club, chickens out, leaving Daniel stranded. He doesn't want to go until Issa offers to be his wing woman. They leave with Issa in denim and Daniel in an interesting white Playboy sweater (late homage to Hugh Hefner?).

At the club, surprisingly Daniel is not on the list and Seven may be a little responsible for that error. Their high school buddy Khalil, a big time producer, gets them in. He even offers Daniel and Issa seats at his private table.

"We got our own," says the pride wounded guy who would have likely stood outside all night.

Daniel and Issa simultaneously gulp up liquid courage.
Daniel then looks out at the stage, observing like a hawk. Spyder, his prey, raps and wows the crowd. He turns to Issa and requests to beatbox in her ear. Beautifully shot in the blue club lights, this riveting scene is much more intimate than anything Daniel does with Vanessa. As Issa bobs her head, lost in Daniel's music, their chemistry is off the charts fiery and hot. Issa, perturbed by his closeness, decides to get drinks. Afterwards, Daniel shoots his shot at Spyder (thanks to an encouraging Issa) and this exchange is awkwardness galore. Daniel doesn't have a lot of confidence, wobbling through words, letting pauses saturate in the club atmosphere. Spyder's behavior is reminiscent of Vanessa, listening but not all present. Sure, he hears Daniel, but his aimless eyes wander around, drifting for something else to entertain him. Still, he gives Daniel a chance. Yet in the course of excitement, someone fires a gun and Daniel pulls Issa down, protecting her body with his own.

A refreshing reboot for Daniel and Issa?
Daniel is able to open up to Issa, unload emotional baggage that Issa is able to weigh in on because she is such a good listener and gives solid advice.

It is a nice episode that shows what Issa sees in Daniel and vice versa, but where can they go from this chapter? They have such a good and bad history. Yet similarly, they are beautiful awkward black people stuck in career quicksand-- a demoted Issa at We Got Y'all and Daniel reluctant to sell his musical soul to be popular. Things close positively on that front with Issa receiving a call back for property manager and Daniel willing to work with successful Khalil.

And Kelli would loudly exclaim that this is "growth."

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Poignant 'Night Comes On' A Reflection On Sisterhood and Regret

Night Comes On film poster.
I left Philadelphia's downtown Prince Theatre from watching Night Comes On with an urgent sea of unhinged sadness rushing forward, wiping away spilt tears and trying to regain some semblance of decent composure. This raw, barren film struck such a resonating cord, my own two lost sisters, two dear friends whom I will never see or hear again, floating at the forefront of my mind.

Sisters on board: Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall) gets Angel (Dominique Fishback) to go to Long Island under false pretenses.
Night Comes On, set in Philadelphia where every scene bears familiarity, begins with Angel's release from juvenile detention. She is about to turn eighteen, the age of consenting adulthood. The first thing on her agenda, however, is not seeing her sister from whom she's been separated for months. Filled with grief and anger over witnessing a violent tragedy, the revenge devil rests on her shoulder, the dark clouded apparatus that cloaks judgment.

The road to nowhere-- sans dreams and ambitions-- seems to be the package for every brown and black girl in America, a tougher plight in the fifth largest city of poverty, tougher still for one with criminal history. Without a nurturing maternal figure to lead Angel down a redemptive path or a sympathetic counselor to heal inner wounds, her lack of self worth muddies her second chance out in the cruel, harsh landscape. She makes heartbreaking choices, allowing her own body to be disrespected, mentally holding onto the visions of pulling other weaponry triggers

Still, Angel is happy to see Abby despite deleting her text messages. They have an awkward exchange. A silence stretched for miles highlights the fragile relationship between young siblings, a thread that can easily sever at the most tremulous times. Yet the biological bond between sisters is felt as Angel goes to Abby's latest foster home. They make small talk. Abby is more excited about Angel's birthday than Angel. Angel is void and distracted, bloodthirsty. She perks up at the mention of their father. Her stern parole officer couldn't give personal information due to circumstances, but she believes that Abby would.  However, Angel underestimates that Abby is perceptive and intelligent. This will later cause major conflict.

Angel then faces more setbacks. Her girlfriend dumps her, leaving Angel in a hopeless, sunken place. During a vulnerable evening, silent and solemn Angel has no one to ask for help. She seeks loneliness and safety among shady places and those that make her invisible. By the wee dawn, all that is lost is lost again.  
Angel constantly reminisces about her mother (Nastashia Fuller)-- a quiet, gentle figure whose demure presence shapes Angel. Sadly, it is likely that the father had been abusing the mother, but she could not leave him. Angel witnessing her death 
Angel and Abby certainly have different personalities. Whereas Abby can make instant friends, Angel is intensely quiet and guarded. They make friends on the bus to Long Island. These girls are typical friendly girls, a clique of jubilance and innocence, a little younger than Angel and older than Abby. Angel stares at them, observing like a spectator in the wrong group. Abby seems right at home.

Angel is upset by Abby's betrayal-- that their whole trip wasn't to see their father at all.

At the beach, however, Angel and Abby showcases how anger dissolves into splendid happiness and bliss. Everything can be forgiven and forgotten. No amount of time apart diminishes the way sisters can mean to each other. Abby is the remaining light in Angel's life, her hope and moral compass. The love conveyed between them a thrilling spectacle frolicking in the water, their brown girl bodies a beautiful contrast against endless blue waters and coarse white sand. Almost reminds one of Moonlight's Juan and Little.

Girls at the beach.

Angel carries Abby on her back.
Throughout, I was caught by the feelings that an older sister has for her younger one, the follower, the one who looks up, which the screenplay expresses vividly well. I recalled countless annoyances, the many mini battles, late night conversations, good times. For ten years, I shared a bunk bed with her. Like Abby, my sister (and our brothers) were eventually in the system, roaming from foster home to foster home. The family would meet on Mondays at juvenile courts in a room with one door. She was finally emancipated at eighteen. We spent time together-- so much catching up, having been separated. We had spats and arguments along the way. She disappeared in 2010, leaving behind no trace. Her absence cuts like a knife.

Meanwhile, my other younger sister on my father's side whom I never met, died two years ago in September. I will always remember her high pitched voice, our long conversations on Facebook, and regret never taking the time to see her in the flesh.

Night Comes On is a medicinal balm soothing the few broken parts inside. Angel and Abby's sisterhood struck a cord-- an art that moved and expressed vicarious feeling difficult to release day by day. It means something profound and sacred to find a tie to one's own personal struggle from that of two characters framing a beautiful picture.

Angel's got a gun.
Jordana Spiro has directed a powerful, significant film with a raw, intelligent screenplay co-written with Angelica Nwandu. The merit lies fully in the dignified performance of Fishback, offering a complex portrait of a girl who realizes at the most pivotal moment that she has something to lose-- her sister, the most important person in her world. Tatum Marilyn Hall in her first role is quite stellar, holding her own against seasoned Fishback, expressing the right emotional notes from heartbreak to disappointment.

Night Comes On is a solid revenge tale with an affectionate twist. Angel faces her demons alone and realizes that the act of pressing forward positively far outweighs the aftermath of an even greater tragedy. Angel can build a new start and become the steady, influential figure Abby can count on. They need each other in order to survive in a remorseless system that chews and spits them out.

Moral of this sentimental narrative: a sister's love will always be eternal regardless if the sister is here on the earth or in spirit.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Quirky 'Life is Fare' Keeps Eritrean Culture Alive

Life is Fare film poster.

"This is a San Francisco film about Eritrea. It’s colorful and visually whimsical in a way that can only be described as if the Wizard of Oz went to Africa."- Sephora Woldu
That's accurate.

Life is Fare is a humorous story within story that plays like a documentary but is a cleverly disguised narrative. Writer/director Sephora Woldu is Sephora, an Eritrean American girl recanting to her mother (Almaz Negash, her real-life mother) an idea for an eccentric, quite absurd feature. Of course, the traditional parent is not sold on the idea. Beneath the incredible lacings of infectious laughs and moments of joy, there is an underlying quest for uncovering clandestine history in the Northern African country of Eritrea, its present political climate, and the historical on/off relationship with its neighboring sister, Ethiopia.

Haile, the cab driver with unresolved feelings about Eritrea.
The setup is a miniature lesson conducted through quirky drawings, animated hands, and an articulate female narrator. Then the skeptical mother/artist daughter argument fades into the main character-- a young cab driver named Haile. The narrator's voice (kind, funny, and serious) also turns male.

In the meantime, roller blade enthusiast, Sephora is skating around town having conversation with a friend who keeps an even pace. The skates add a layered depth to Sephora's free spirited nature, a fun, witty punchline that reworks the phrase "don't run, walk" with "don't walk, skate." Much later, her friends meet up for drinks at a bar. These second generation girls are not talking fashion. They are divisive about Eritrea's current politics with valid reasons for and against.

Esther Kibtreab, Natra Zehriyun, Sephora Woldu make up the girls. The middle is neutral. Sephora opposes and Esther's character is for.
They also discussed blackness in America and its separation anxiety. Black Americans and African descendants contain differing mindsets due to opposing experiences. Whereas Sephora and her friends have parents that immigrated to America whilst still holding onto their cultural values (language, food, music, etc) and instilling that into their children, most black Americans, having tragically undergone generations upon generations of consequential damage, lost their heirlooms long ago thanks to colonialism. The fascinating outlook counterargues the split between Northern African and Western African (often seen in history and art museums), this notion that Northern Africa has purely Arab peoples and that Western Africa has true black peoples. 

Haile and his dentist form a therapeutic connection.
Haile's world is rocked upside down by his visions of dancing colorful ladies. To his ordinary mundane routine, they bring him tea, cryptic wisdom, and songs with Cheshire smiles. He, however, detests their unwanted influence and finds solace in his dentist. They get to the root-- no pun intended-- of his situation. He had lost a favorite uncle (whom he surprisingly had met only once as a child). As an adult, Haile sees his uncle again at the same bar Sephora and her friends are clashing against contemporary Eritrean politics. The man is not his uncle. It is a singer whose mannerisms remind Haile of someone he lost and loved-- a metaphor about an immigrant's life in a new country, defining his purpose whilst reflecting on his upbringing.


Life is Fare writer, director, actress, Sephora Woldu.

To be a jack of all trades in cinematic verse is quite an achievement, especially if one has the chops to be front and center as well as have behind-the-scenes passion. Sephora Woldu is like Issa Rae sans the awkwardness. Woldu embodies her multidisciplinary talents everywhere. While she has written, directed, and starred in Life is Fare and Impresa! (a silent film about Eritrean owned businesses in San Francisco), she also majors in architecture at the prestigious California College of the Arts (which explains the beautiful shots of building tops) and heads Abyssurdian, a production company releasing indie films and public art projects. Here is a great interview from her award winning presence at the San Francisco Black Film Festival.

Life is Fare delivers magical charm, humor, and inclusive history to the fantasy genre. Woldu has made sure to add Eritrea's musical achievements, pieces of the country's interest in folk instruments. A nod to the qudo dance is present (defined as dancers forming a circle and dancing continuously). The costumes, the cinematography, the coloring, the narrator, Woldu and her mother are reasons enough to watch. There are moments like one character played by Natra Zehriyan who stands at a bus stop and three observing passengers have stereotypical perceptions of her. That experience alone is a universal exchange, especially for people of color, for black people. Sephora speaks in English and her mother often responds back in Tigrinya (Impresa! contains English and Tigrinya subtitles). A trans black woman enters Haile's cab and has the most sweetest personality. Their short encounter has affected him in a profound way, so much so that she is in his imagination in a lovely follow up song/dance scene.

Moreover, as Life is Fare continues its festival rounds, hopefully it comes to DVD release someday. It is a highly recommendable treat.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

'Insecure' Season Three, Recap of Episode One's 'Better-Like'

Insecure season three promo.

Insecure is back!

What would summer be without the raucous, sexy, awkward, humorous duo of Issa and Molly? The glow up is on lock as the two besties enter this new, fresh season sans Lawrence (and boy are #LawrenceHive upset). The focus on female empowerment is commendable. In the first episode alone, Molly and Issa need each other. The confidante layer of their friendship has always been a strong, regenerative factor. Plus, the chemistry between portrayers Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji remains golden.

Issa (Issa Rae) can't sleep with the commotion. She goes out to Lyft. Only the passenger pukes in her backseat.

In the opening of "Better-Like," written by Issa Rae and directed by Prentice Penny, Daniel's sexual prowess is bringing the house down. For a moment, the sweat induced session appears like the old friends reunited, that Issa's strictly platonic stay turned hot and steamy real quick. Unfortunately, Issa is lying on the couch in utter disbelief, trying to silence Daniel and his night visitor's throes of passion with pillows. The next morning, Daniel is off putting and Issa takes the jab.

Issa's rap alter ego in the mirror is hard to bring out in a roommate situation, but Daniel might like catching the act every once in a while, especially seeing as his studio is struggling to bring talented musicians.

"Guess the color of my shirt?" Daniel (Y'lan Noel) asks the "very observant" Issa. She guesses completely wrong.
Like Daniel's sister, we wonder why Issa chose to stay with Daniel. Yes, her brother sucks. However, she has three other girlfriends. She probably couldn't stay with pregnant Tiffany and her husband, Derek. Kelli would be a riot. Molly isn't over her broken vase, but still is willing to have Issa stay. Co-worker Frieda would have been a good option if Issa hadn't damaged their friendship last season. Then again, they rarely hung outside of work functions. Why Daniel? Issa admits to having lingering feelings for him. The delicate situation between them is filled with unresolved tension. They can play as friends (they have a history), but where can a former non-couple head towards after a friends-with-benefits situation? Daniel definitely still has a thing for Issa (which Issa takes advantage of) and Issa has yet to grow and mature as an intimate partner. Her "me time" is appropriate for right now.

Molly (Yvonne Orji) had a nice, relaxing getaway and even scored a "Vacation Bae" (Chris Brew).
In other relationship messes, Molly is back from her vacation and into the mistake with married man, Dro. Again, it is that same scenario as Issa-- except Daniel isn't married. When it comes to Dro, Molly believes that she can have the cake and eat it too. Yet it is Dro that has the most just desserts. After he spends a night at Molly's, Dro suggests his infamous pancakes and Molly is in. Until his wife Candice calls. Molly has changed her mind on the pancakes. In fact, she wants a strictly physical relationship. None of the manipulation tactics Dro uses to coerce Molly into doing things she doesn't want-- like making her pancakes, everyday calls and texts, and other lovey dovey behavior. Dro is good at cajoling her. This is how this tawdry affair began in the first place. He preyed on her emotional weakness and she caved. Now she is having the hardest time cutting him off because the man doesn't respect her boundaries.

"I don't like him no more," Issa had stated earlier at the diner.

Same.

Except the disdain began at the proposition. How dare an old married friend make such a request?

By the end of the episode, Molly and Dro have a screaming match. She has apparently told him about the Lyft fight (again she still lets him in on the intimate friendship level). He lets himself in Molly's apartment with her keys since she hadn't responded to text messages (disturbing, beyond creepy). Dro is a big kid that treats Molly like a toy that he cannot stop playing with. Candice is in the box for later, but Molly has that shiny, new thrill. Molly kindly asks for her key back. Dro, obviously wanting to keep the key/Molly access, simply cannot fathom why.

Molly bluntly lays it out in the open. At the mention of Candice, Dro takes immediate offense.

"First of all, don't talk about what me and my wife do!" He retorts.

The pink elephant has escaped.

Molly has to restate boundaries to get it through Dro's thick skull. Dro gives Molly her key, having had it attached to his personal ones, a rather symbolic gesturing of his options-- a wife or a mistress.

He makes a leave to go, but stands for a moment, as if waiting for Molly to change her mind.

And she doesn't.

The pleasure before the reckoning: Molly (Yvonne Orji) and Dro (Sarunas J. Jackson) . 
While Molly has her professional game together complete with her terms agreed and settled at a new law firm, Issa has been demoted at We Got Y'all, doing remedial desk duty. It is unsettling that despite their fragile office relationship, Issa asks Frieda for help. Issa's unprofessionalism jeopardized her camaraderie and the students relying on We Got Y'all resources. She is fortunate that she still has a job. At the same time, she deserves better and can have better if she pushed herself into believing both. When the schools start dropping We Got Y'all services, Issa takes the initiative (underhanded yes, but necessary) to see why. Joanne, her boss, is upset at Issa's gumption, looking very intent on firing her on the spot. Issa keeps her job. Yet her dignity is falling below the waste side.

At Issa's makeshift home, she and Daniel have reached an understanding.

The Party Lyft was hilarious. Issa's side hustle game has hits and misses.
Things to love: the new obsessive show within a show called "Kevin" starring Erika Alexander, Daryl Bell, and Bill Bellamy, Daniel's sister braiding her daughter's hair between her knees and not liking her parting efforts, Daniel playing guitar and relishing the playback with a glass of Jameson, and rider Nathan (How to Get Away With Murder's killer "Caleb," Kendrick Sampson) beat up a big man in Issa's Party Lyft and tipped her $50.

Also, the cinematography is downright amazing. Some shots alone can be framed artworks. Perhaps one day, there will be a published book on the art of Insecure.

Gorgeous shot of Issa...

followed by a beautiful portrait of conflicted Molly.
Overall, Insecure is off to a fabulous start.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Chaste Girlfriends Rule in 'virgins! the series'

Four virgins and one scandalous box. Photo credit: Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, director and Alysha Galbreath, director of photography.
virgins! the series, a unique YouTube debut, stars four Afro-Canadian actresses portraying sexually inactive young professionals. This contemporary concept brings a liberating perspective to birds of a feather flock together.

Sara (Kadhija Ali)-- thanks to a forgetful fiance-- has to take the subway. High maintenance lawyer lady don't got time for that. After a little prayer, she steps down the public transportation stairs regardless. Photo credit: Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, director and Alysha Galbreath, director of photography.

Delina (Genet Berhe) missed the lesson on Flirtation 101. Her neighbor likes eating out. Instead of taking the spelled out hint, Delina suggests that he eats out with his friends! Photo credit: Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, director and Alysha Galbreath, director of photography.
East African descendants residing in Toronto: Sudanese Sara, Eritrean Delina, Somalian Amina, and Ethiopian Abyssinia (nicknamed Aby) have distinctive individual styles and personal career motivations. They get along great-- despite Delina seeming to have compiled a laundry list of repayments, Aby's burnt pot included. Maybe that's why she doesn't have a key to Aby's apartment, eh?

Amina (Sarah Bashir) didn't get the grant for her arts proposal-- heartbreaking and personally relatable--but she will keep pressing forward by sheer strength of determination and commitment. Plus, a solid circle behind her. Photo credit: Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, director and Alysha Galbreath, director of photography.
Aby (Rebecca Amare) has a surprise waiting at home. Her array of shocked expressions whilst staring at her boss's email executed panic and fear quite accurately. Photo credit: Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, director and Alysha Galbreath, director of photography.
The five minute first episode and four accompanying character vignettes highlight a refreshing perspective, something that can be attested to in terms of patiently looking for Mister or Miss Right, waiting for marriage, asexuality (which some strongly feel is unnatural but this lifestyle exists), and everything existing between personal bias against sexual intercourse. It is especially noted for portraying brown women pursuing other interests, other loves as a precursor to emotional and physical intimacy.

Over orange juices (some virgin, some not), the girls are suddenly interested in Aby's package-- a Pandora's box mystery that will surely be seen in the next episode.  Photo credit: Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, director and Alysha Galbreath, director of photography.
In this thoughtfully concise interview with This Worldtown, virgin! the series creator Aden Abebe (partially inspired by Issa Rae's fantastic web series Awkward Black Girl) says this about the perceptions of virginity:
In Toronto, and the Western world at large, when you come out (as a virgin) to folks who are not of your community, they try to put you in a box of what it means to be a virgin. They assume you must be “really religious,” or, that it comes from some issue, be-it trust or intimacy issues. That’s really annoying and I think that’s a reason why a lot of virgins stay quiet about it. At least from what I understand, growing up in the Ethiopian community with my peers, from neighbouring communities; Somalis, Sudanese and Eritrean; virginity is not something that’s shameful or embarrassing, it just is. It’s only embarrassing in the context of the broader North America and European life.

Aden Abebe photographed by Leila Dhore Photography.

In episode one's "The Box," Aby rushes home to retrieve an incriminating package, knowing that her friends are waiting. As they're passing time, Amina spikes the orange juice, Sara wants takeout, and Delina can't cook. Delina signs for the package and is about to open. Aby arrives and tries to play it off casual. No one falls for her act though.

It is short. Its shortness, however, hypes up the anticipation for what happens next. In the minutes revealed, virgins! the series is funny, witty, and therapeutic. These different women from diverse upbringings (religions, education, etc) have come together as friends, interact with an obvious trust and bond between them that feels natural. Their shared virgin status is just icing on the cake. When Sara asks Aby, "do you want me to contact HR?" That opens up this whole gray area pertaining to sex-- how much does anyone need to know about personal life in the workplace and beyond? At the same time, why the shame? You feel bad for Aby. On one hand, the account is a huge investment, possibly beneficial to her future. Yet, she has stern beliefs that also should be considered.

In the meantime, looking forward to learning more about Delina, Amina, Sara, and Aby. With this gorgeous cast and a team of mostly women behind-the-scenes, the potential is simmering beautifully.

virgins! the series has an IndieGoGo (please, please support this much needed vision). The episodes are written by Aden Abebe, Fatuma Adar, and Baakal Getela, directed by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, and director of photography by Alysha Galbreath.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

The 7th Annual Blackstar Film Festival

A dynamic conversation between long time friends was one commendable highlight of the 7th Annual Blackstar Film Festival.
Last weekend, the 7th Annual Blackstar Film Festival made West Philadelphia the hottest place to be. An elevated array of fashionably dressed, Afro'ed, braided, loc'ed peoples, their beautiful faces in all meccas of brown, glowing radiant from healthy sun and lots of loving affection. The film buffs and the filmmakers carried an extreme sense of woke consciousness-- the greatest accessory among migrations from place to place. Main events were housed at Lightbox Film Center, Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia (ICA), and Pearlstein Gallery with opening reception at Johnny Brenda's and closing awards ceremony at World Live Cafe.

Festivities started on Thursday morning and ended Sunday.

Glory Edim with Radha Bank, Janine Sherman Barrois, and Roni Nicole Henderson. 

On Friday morning, Well Read Black Girl founder Gloria Edim led an insightful panel featuring talented women creators/heavyweights: screenwriter/playwright/actress Radna Bank (She's Gotta Have It, Empire), producer/screenwriter/director Janine Sherman Barrois (ER, Criminal Minds, Claws, French Fries, upcoming Madame CJ Walker Netflix project starring Octavia Spencer), and visual artist/filmmaker/music video director
Roni Nicole Henderson. The women share a mutual love for writing goddess, Toni Morrison and boasted endlessly on Beloved as well as generational stories, hand-me-down narratives, and oral storytelling. Henderson's dream about her mother's life after her death was very visceral and heartfelt. The women also spoke about their respective careers in episodic television, the challenge of getting features made, becoming a slashie (I first heard this in Zoolander)-- people are inclined to having more than one purpose, importance of building community with kindred spirits (tribe members) who are willing to critique and rip it up, and being patient, especially in white controlled environments.

Nijla Mu'min, Avril Speaks, and Bruce Francis Cole discuss the behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations of filmmaking. 
On "The Making of Jinn" panel, writer/director Nijla Mu'min shared influences behind a story that she wrote many years prior, putting it away after receiving unwarranted criticism by a professor. The poetry lover began having recurring dreams about Jinn, deciding to rewrite the draft and sent it to Avril Speaks, a director/producer she previously collaborated with.
Jinn, loosely based on Mu'min's upbringing, and her father's conversion, was shot in nine days-- shocking considering that bigger budgets take on months, a year even at a time. Speaks came on, at first mentoring: providing an attentive ear and encouraging feedback before becoming fully engaged to making sure Jinn received as much funding as possible. As production began, she worked hard on getting every last promised dollar. Enter director of photography, Bruce Francis Cole-- who went to film school and wasn't invited back until he learned about cinematography-- helped every step of the way.
Films like Dee Ree's Pariah and CĂ©line Sciamma's Girlhood inspired Mu'min to think about color. Thus, Jinn features pinks and greens to highlight girliness and nature respectively.

Celebrated cinematographer Bradford Young with Color of Change's Chief Storytelling Officer Rashid Shabazz in front of a beautiful projected image of Gordon Park's Nation of Islam sisters of the M.G.T. and G.C.C. Class. The late Ethel Sharrieff, Elijah Muhammad's eldest daughter, is at the forefront.
On Saturday evening, Bradford Young and Rashid Shabazz's conversation spilled the most tantalizing tea. Nothing was off limits as the two tight friends discussed black artist champions James Van Der Zee and Gordon Parks, the relationship between blackness and spirituality, and the value in creating a place to distribute infastructure, a legacy whilst navigating through Hollywood hostility. Young stated that cinematography was geometry and trust on set (that trust between him and the director) were pivotal. He compared the camera to a gun-- the white man's invention-- and the power black people wield as filmmakers, but wasn't afraid to address terrible imperfectness, the fear to criticize and unpack even films like Moonlight for its women characters. The deeper context raised questions about black cinema-- potential versus pushing development-- and that a film attached with a black director, black cast, and black money doesn't equal a black film. Young's suggested inclusions in the black cinema cannon are Haile Gerima's Ashes and Embers, Kathleen Collins' Losing Ground and Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep and To Sleep With Anger and Nefertite Nguvu's In the Morning. Hopefully, the entire list will be released soon.

Back of the Theater Live! podcast hosted by two hilarious filmmaker friends, Menelek Lumumba (left) and Hans Charles (right). They are joined by filmmaker, Nefertite Nguvu (center).
Sunday contained more essential goodness.

Uncensored, raw, and humorous, Back of the Theater Live! the podcast was a treat. The roaring chemistry between Hans Charles and Menelek Lumumba sent instant reminders of my brothers-- differing ideals and convictions, overwhelmingly nestled by a fierce, loving bond. For these two (Menelek is a writer/director and Hans Charles is a noted cinematographer) film is that glue bridging them together. They argued, cursed, and hollered. Yet Lumumba gave sweet sentiments to Charles for all his help and dedication in seeing through Lumumba's first writing/directing feature film effort, 1 Angry Black Man (debuted at Blackstar). And the biggest on set struggle involved a couch. The hilarity....

Nefertite Nguvu and Hans Charles discuss their collaboration on her film, In the Morning.
"If you're the smartest in the room, you're on the wrong set," Nefertite Nguvu, who joined the podcast, wisely stated.
Despite various mishaps (sneakily filming scenes on restricted property and being horrendously followed or reusing stale bagels to the point of scrapping mold off or almost losing a whole days worth of shot footage), she managed to complete her award-winning feature, In the Morning thanks to a diligent team. The blood, sweat, and tears are half the battle. It takes not just the tenacity of the filmmaker-- the whole team plays a role in keeping things at bay, each contributing to problem solving. Yet once production ends, the editing process behind another element. And a film could be told in three ways-- the way it is written, the way it is directed, and the way it is edited. Each scenario can conflict emotion. Still, Nguvu and spoke highly of collaboration. Yes, some artists enjoy the natural thrill of isolation, being married to their ideas. However, more often than not, another creator could bring in just the right puzzle pieces at the right possible moment to make the original vision a bigger masterpiece.

ICA curator Meg Onli moderated a discussion on black film experimentalism with Frances Bodomo, Jheanelle Brown, Kevin Jerome Everson, and Terence Nance.
The filled solid "Free Form: Using Nontraditional Cinema to Liberate Story" panel allowed no newcomers-- a "closed mouths don't get fed" situation-- well, in this case closed doors. Twenty minutes later, people streamed out, and I received permission to enter the fortress. The conversation already deep into black creativity, compelled the recesses of a starving soul. Artist/curator Meg Onli asked the tough questions about positions of power, putting out images to an audience that artists couldn't control, and circulation of works through capitalism, bringing up artists such as Sondra Perry. Curator Jheanelle Brown discussed artist responsibility, especially in terms of showing Frances Bodomo's work, Everybody Dies! and the guilty burden of consumption, of accountability. Artist/filmmaker Terence Nance (HBO's Random Acts of Flyness) revealed laughter landing hyper discomforts and the complicated spiritual and ethical gymnastics of self value whilst operating in a hypothetical monetary, tyrannical plantation. Screenwriter/director Bodomo (Afronauts and Everybody Dies!) brought out the importance of creating work for black people and having that be accessible to them specifically as well as breaking the film school rule books dictating that film must contain sequential narrative. Director/writer/editor/artist Kevin Jerome Everson (Cinnamon and Ears, Nose, and Throat) broke down formalistic properties of filmmaking execution. Overall, the authenticity of these great voices delivered abundant food for thought-- the integrity and intelligence outstanding. Plus, they reenforced the notion that it is not black filmmakers' responsibility to teach non-black people about blackness. If they cannot humanize our unique experiences as a people, as a culture, a whole host of talent are already making the stout commitment to do so.

Now I have volunteered many times for Philadelphia Film Festival and Athena Film Festival at Barnard College. In my second year at Blackstar, the homage to ancestors through spiritual creativity arrests strongly, vividly.  The environment is rich and vibrant, pulsing alive with the splendorous hearts of inspiring black geniuses. These artists create films and discuss them as unapologetically black significance. They create images for us, purely for black people, black people always at the forefront no matter what. Just as it is imperative to see ourselves on the screen, we also must see ourselves behind-the-scenes too. That utmost dedication to staying true to their visions even with capitalist hands digging into their pots, is a thing of undeniable strength and dignity.

Final gushworthy highlights: briefly meeting Terence Nance, Frances Bodomo, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, and Janine Sherman Barrois. I greeted poet Sandra Sanchez, always a joy to see her out and about. I treasured Shaz Bennett introducing herself and swallowing back that sacred knowledge (check out my review of Blackstar screened Alaska is a Drag which debuted last year at Philadelphia Film Festival). I spoke to Life Is Fare writer/producer/director/actress, Sephora Woldu (will be reviewing her deliciously quirky film soon) and was thrilled to see recent Sundance Institute fellow A-lan Holt (Inamorota director) again. The best thing, however, was being in a cheerful, packed room, applause and whistles for Blackstar Film Festival creator, Maori Karmael Holmes, while her mother stood there, proud and joyful. It was a glorious full circle moment to bear witness-- the mother, the child, and the Blackstar baby.

Oh and the films.... Wow.