Wednesday, April 17, 2019

'Little' Uplifts And Unleashes the Inner Misfit

Little film poster.

"Kids are mean," many nonchalantly say as though this resolves the huge bullying problem.
Little opens with junior high schooler Jordan Sanders's triumphant moment. Unfortunately, it becomes a perfect time for public humiliation to strike-- not ala dance spectacle like most films surrounding coming of age teen drama. After Jordan's onstage scientific feat, the mean girl pushes back, physically hurting Jordan and singlehandedly traumatizing her to death.

Jordan (Regina Hall) messes with the wrong child. 
Years later, Jordan--a tech company CEO-- is an insufferable, carb-hating diva that treats everyone in her life as inferior beings. No one is safe from her Cruella De Ville-ish wrath-- her robot HomeGirl, her hotel barista, her bellhop, her employees, random children. Jordan's cruel-heartedness is certainly a colossal jump from the sweet, afro haired, bespectacled science nerd who believed that everyone would admire her hard work. Adult Jordan wraps around the cloak that power grants her. Instead of finding much needed aide (like seeing a therapist, formulating real-life girlfriend relationships, cooking or cleaning for herself, and ending reliance on capitalism for meaningless happiness), she abuses power to make others feel insignificant.

On the opposite spectrum, Jordan's assistant April is eerily similar to Little Jordan. The donut lover surrounds herself in art supplies, dresses with quirky spunk, and doubts her creative abilities. In fact, she mumbles a lot. Preston, her co-worker, encourages her to speak up.  Like everyone else in the company, April is terrified of Jordan. However, April seems to fear herself more.

Jordan is only insecure around Connor-- the firm's biggest client is a rich white guy. He sits in her chair, props his feet on her desk, and announces that he is moving his finances elsewhere unless they can keep him interested/invested. At this, Jordan goes berserk in the staff meeting, screaming at someone to have a good idea. April keeps mum. An on edge Jordan threatens to fire them all and eventually yells out to the donut man's adorable daughter. The daughter retaliates with a wand flicker and shouts, "I wish you were little!"

Black Girl Magic happens.

April (Issa Rae) and Little Jordan (Marsai Martin) aren't too keen on Young Jordan returning to school mostly because April doesn't want to go to jail.
Jordan wakes up to a huge surprise-- reverting to her younger self, an embodiment of her innermost shame-- Little Jordan. Of course, she thinks it unnatural. Everyone sees that she is a nonthreatening girl. Her authority is gone. April comes to the rescue. It leads to a rather farfetched plot involving Children's Services. An agent demands that Little Jordan goes to middle school otherwise the circumstances will be detrimental.

Little Jordan is the exact opposite of Never Been Kissed's Josie Gellar (the overly enthusiastic, twenty-five-year-old journalist disguising as a high schooler versus thirty-eight-year-old Jordan magically stuck in her younger self's middle school body). Little Jordan is cursed into going back to school as opposed to incognito. With the mind of an adult, she develops a hilarious crush on her teacher and finds she has no power over her "peers." Sadly harassed, ridiculed, and humiliated on her first day, she once again faces the unstoppable bullying and links in with the uncool crowd-- three naïve kids who believe that unveiling their talents will make them fit in. It is the same innocence Little Jordan had. Perhaps that need had been buried deep, never fully dissolving. Those of us that have experienced bullying (the straws placed in Little Jordan's massive afro are almost as bad as having spitballs launched at you everyday) can find empathy in Little Jordan's plight. To torment another for the expense of laughter and being a "bigger" person can have weighty consequences emotionally, mentally, psychologically, especially around that seeking age where childhood becomes teenage uncertainty.

After their big climatic fight, April (Issa Rae) and Little Jordan (Marsai Martin) make up and bond.
The three essential characters Jordan, Little Jordan, and April are battling the self-doubts within themselves and take the path to growth respectively. Whereas Little Jordan mentors her new friends, believing that money can resolve their issues, April finds that leadership is a daunting impossibility when the co-workers are conditioned to Jordan's bossiness. Thus, they see April as a pushover and borrowing Jordan's flashy expensive clothes cannot make up for lacking confidence. Eventually, April assertively addresses her boss with the great idea that could save the company....

Brand new, reawakened Jordan (Regina Hall) returns.
Childhood and adulthood role reversal has been told in Big and 13 Going On 30 with touches of Freaky Friday, but Little undergoes a different tactic to convince women to act accordingly. Tracy Y. Oliver and Tina Gordon Chism's screenplay understates that one does not need to become a menacing bully to acquire what is needed to succeed. It is valuing the people around you, to guide those who come after you, and allow them to grow into their strengths. April would have likely not have spoken about her Discover Eyes (Discoverize?) idea for another thirty years. It is not shown who performed the kind deed of buying the app. However, best case scenario theory is that Jordan probably bought it, proving her growth by truly believing that April's creativity could save their company. Secretly, still would have been sweet justice for Jordan to kick Connor's butt though.

Little is a humorously enjoyable film initiated by the youngest producer in Hollywood history-- Marsai Martin. The credits introduce Martin though most audiences know the award-winning actress as Diane Johnson on black*ish. The chemistry between Martin and Issa Rae and between Rae and Regina Hall lights up the screen in absolutely genuine and delightful ways. This charming combination articulately expresses challenges Black women must endure, mostly alone. It is also great that Eva Carlton plays both Caren Greene (Jordan's bully) and Jasmine (Little Jordan's bully), symbolizing that the junior high mean girl will always be replaced by a carbon copy. She will always be there to torment the low self-esteem kids. Teachers like Mr. Marshall (played by Justin Hartley) will never be able to punish spoiled girls like her enough. The love interests start off with promise, especially April and Preston, but fizzle with underdevelopment by the end.

Still, this big screen Blackness is so beautiful and refreshing. All this melanin. For brown and dark brown skinned girls and women with 4C hair and distinctive African features who laugh out loud, are authentic, smart, creative, and bond with other women like them-- this celebrates and uplifts us.

Lastly, Little is popcorn fluff bringing on laughs and blushes, a solid escapism, especially for the Black girls who have been bullied and bounced into adulthood, valiantly holding onto their passions whether it be for science, technology, art, and all the other things that make us special and great. Money cannot buy and manufacture what is natural within.

Friday, March 29, 2019

'Us' Unpacks a Bag of Stimulating Psychological Horror

Us film poster.

Us, writer/director Jordan Peele's follow up to Oscar-winning Get Out, puts the middle class black family in peril twice. It starts with a small television playing a commercial, a hands across America campaign to fight hunger. The charts are red and blue. Red and blue figures joining hands to bring peace and harmony.

Circa 1986, at the amusement park on the beach of Santa Cruz, Adelaide "Adele" is a silent child who wanders off from her father. She holds onto a red apple-- a red apple so deliciously enticing that it dominates the scene with rich, intense purpose. As thunder and lightning strike and the rain falls, she stumbles into a fun house and the madness begins. Although all the mirrors show her reflection, she is stunned to find someone else, an exact replica. Afterwards, she is even more withdrawn.

Young Adele (Madison Curry) puts on a scare worthy acting display that is mostly unspoken. 

It is important to note how young Adele studied her parents, studied the world around her as if plotting to mimic everything. The childlike desire to do this is a natural inclination. In young Adele, however, there certainly appears to be a newness in how she stares, how she interacts. At the therapy office, she is absent of affection, quite robotic and distant when her father pats her shoulder. This behavior further demonstrates how much the environment affects the individual.

In present day, Adele has married a man much like her father-- tall, dark skinned Gabe Wilson. They have two children--Zora and Jason, the youngest a keen, observant boy who dons a mask throughout. Again, masks portray a sense of wanting to hide true self, to retain a mystery.

Gabe (Winston Duke), Adele (Lupita Nyong'o), and Jason (Evan Alex) look out at danger.

The family are at their vacation home for the summer in Santa Cruz. Whilst enjoying a lusciously red strawberry, as inviting as the red apple yet symbolically conveying an adult persona, Adele refuses going to the beach or socializing. They do so at Gabe's urging. At night, after 11:11 PM, The Tethered arrive and the real fright begins. The Tethered are human clones dressed in matching red jumpsuits holding gold surgical scissors, shadows living underground, living beneath the house of mirrors, abandoned and left to fend for themselves, all stark, raving mad and hungry. At the same time, they are able to replicate the activities their human counterparts possess. Interesting too, The Tethered communicate through grunts and sounds, but Adele's, Red, is the only one that can speak.

"It's us," Jason says of the family in their driveway.

The twist sheds compelling light. Adele is actually Red, The Tethered living among humans, having cruelly pulled real Adele inside the mirror as a child. Red just wanted a normal life and decided to take over Adele's. The Tethered can procreate, meaning Zora and Jason are half human, half clone. Adele seeks revenge for the cruel switch. At the same time, she has masterminded the whole entire scheme of world domination with the educated mentality of a child growing up angry and malnourished. She has ultimately become evil. Still, it's not quite clear on how Adele became trapped in the underworld or why it took long for her to rise to the surface with the others. Why this particular summer to wreak havoc? Adele also knew how The Tethered came to being without no one uttering a word to her. Red has always known that Adele would come, but appears flabbergasted that her human half orchestrated a whole plot that stemmed mostly from hatred with beings that are not her species. Moreover, the switcheroo has affected them: Adele's rage manifested beyond her feelings for Red and Red's insertion into humanity gave a false sense of security.

Finally, Lupita is given the freedom to unleash her craft.

Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and her scissors.

The performances are absolutely stellar. Every actor channels believable emotional complexities with or without dialogue, using facial expressions and body motions to pull this narrative forward. Standout Lupita Nyong'o puts on an incredible double performance full of complex range from frightening and vulnerable to sinister and twisted. In her animated eyes, the significant tears are eerily reminiscent of Daniel Kaluuya's Chris in Get Out. Yet the creepy, raspy voice of Red downright cements the phenomenal depth of Nyong'o's talent as an actress, that avidly speaks on her finessing all methods acting allows. After winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2012, this is her first starring role. Us definitely showcases why she should have been leading films for years.

Winston Duke brings humor and light to an otherwise dark and dreary story. His bespectacled, Howard educated Gabe is quite the opposite of Black Panther's M'Baku. Gabe evokes the typical middle class father personality, articulating the proper accent to a tee. Gabe is envious of Tony (whose similar to Iron Man/Tony Stark-- in terms of arrogance and wealth)-- his larger house, his high tech Ophelia (aka an advanced Suri), his larger boat, his flare fun. Gabe doesn't covet Tony's white wife, Kitty, always seen to be the idealized trophy of status quo black men like him. He is also infallible, wounded early on, walking with a makeshift crutch during the later parts. With the temporary physical loss, his resourcefulness becomes a reliable strength.

Spoiled, self-absorbed, Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) is shot with such intensity, as though her blue-eyed, blond-haired presence is a thing to marvel and idolize.  

From Virgin to Mad Men to Top of the Lake to The Handmaid's Tale, Golden Globe and Emmy award winning Elizabeth Moss continues delivering exceptional work with a pretty juicy supporting part. Kitty's first appearance voices white women's obsession with youthfulness and their envy of black women's agelessness. Kitty has gotten work done (funny considering that Moss and Nyong'o are the same age). Kitty's doppelganger's scissors can't cut Adele's face because either the struggle to destroy such flawless beauty seems wasted or she knows that Adele is not human, but is confused by Adele speaking. Moss exhibits fine acting elements particularly when Kitty's tethered puts on lipstick and stares at her grotesque reflection.

Jason and his doppelganger both have a fascination with fire. Strangely, however, his double is dog like, a family pet. 

The child actors are undeniably brilliant-- Madison Curry as young Adele, Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora, and Evan Alex as Jason showed that up and coming Black talent have champions to future thrones. The perfect young Adele adjacent to Nyong'o, Curry's giant eyes, wide opened mouth, and braided hair with white ball barrettes hued in blue cleverly frames a new horror aesthetic. Her passive silence stirs and electrifies. She is able to convey a quietness stemmed from shy, vulnerability and a quietness that is vacant, almost inhuman. Joseph's Zora has the modern teenager attitude to a science. She then grows up overnight, killing any clone endangering her family and it is a bloody, dangerous business. Now this is a black girl heroine. Alex as Jason exemplifies the plight of the little Black boy, often misunderstood, the especially precious child to Adele. He likes to tease and frighten his sister as brothers often do. When he disappears and leaves Adele frantic, he returns and later asks her if she thought he was dead. That question spoken softly from Alex's young child's voice, poignantly addresses that though the Wilsons are privileged, they're still Black and not immune to the brutalities racism provokes.

Other cast highlights: Anna Diop-- a solid choice in playing Adele's worrisome mother who misses her daughter's voice. Howard alum Napiera Groves of As The World Turns makes a small cameo as the therapist pushing Adele into pursuing a creative outlet.

Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) shoulders her father, Gabe (Winston Duke) through an apocalyptic morning.

Us shows Black people surviving a massacre, shows white people dying first, dying many times, and no dead black casualties-- an opposition to the history of horror films and real life situations. And the police never showed up! Again, the law enforcement role in Peele's films are an imperative detail in both Get Out and Us. Whereas Chris is frightened when he sees those flashing red and blue lights, the police don't come to the Wilson family's aide and Kitty's request to Ophelia to call them is denied by a specific N.W.A. song. Peele has recently come under fire for acknowledging Black talent and commitment to having that Black talent (which goes virtually unnoticed for years and years) lead his films. He is performing a commendable service that upsets others so much because his passionate words actively followed through on those words.

The gorgeous cinematography-- an appreciative kudos to noir and nostalgic horror with Hitchcockian repetitive rabbits and bird flocks-- operates well alongside Michael Abel's heartstopping score. The excellent music choices heighten scenes to petrifying degrees, especially that profoundly epic The Tethered Vs. Human fight with the haunting, pronounced "I Got Five On It" piano keys. Lord. Even the opening "Anthem" theme (featuring a haunting, harmonious choir) pleases and forces the head to bop shamelessly.

Red in red and Adele in white asks the audience who is truly good and villainous in the scenario. Red wanted to kill Adele of course. Yet she has killed nobody in the film.

Like the hypnotic, lilting sounds silver spoons make against the rim of tea cups, the quick flicking scissors ignites a refreshingly unique source of terror. By bringing in Black Renaissance and Black capabilities in this contemporary age of filmmaking, entering specifically through the horror genre, Peele and Monkeypaw Productions created another great work with Us.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Happy Birthday, Queen Latifah: Fem Film Rogue Icon Spotlight

Happy birthday, Queen Latifah.

Is there anyone more iconic than the sensational, multitalented Queen Latifah?

Born Dana Elaine Evans on this day, the U.N.I.T.Y. rapper, singer, actress, talk show host, entrepreneur, and producer first took flight on the music circuit with giant bold hats, flashy jewelry, and kente fashion, weaving a proud African Diaspora into her songs and imagery.

Scooter (Cress Williams, left) and Alonzo (Adam Lazarre-White) battled for Khadijah (Queen Latifah, center) in Living Single.

On television, Latifah currently plays in Star, but it was Khadijah James that first revealed her silver screen potential. Every week, viewers tuned in on FOX's Living Single partly due to a full figured, voluptuous lead who owned Flava Magazine, supported her girlfriends through their hilarious hijinks and was the apple of many men's eyes like cameo loves from Morris Chestnut, Grant Hill, and Isaiah Washington. Although Latifah scored a NAACP Image nomination, the Emmy's and Golden Globes ignored the dynamic Living Single, preferring white Friends, the copycat much later on.

The classic Set It Off's bank robbing Black women clique: Stony (Jada Pinkett-Smith), Tisean (Kimberly Elise), Cleo (Queen Latifah), and Frankie (Vivica A. Fox).

In the meantime, Latifah has had great roles in the film arena like the feisty lesbian Cleo Sims in Set it Off-- leading to an Independent Spirit Award nomination. She has starred with fellow rappers and again, treated as a goddess to pursue in Brown Sugar (with Mos Def), Last Holiday (with LL Cool J), and Just Wright (with Common). Brown Sugar, is a small but minor part for Latifah and Last Holiday (if you can forget the whole hotel segment with the uninteresting white people and focus only on Latifah and LL Cool J) is the more tolerable gem of the three.

Mama (Queen Latifah) belts it out.
Latifah's memorable performance in Chicago truly put Hollywood on notice (though the Black community already knew Latifah was exceptionally gifted). For the incredibly nuanced Manton Mama Morton, a busty blues singer and leader of the prison row circuit that Roxie (Renee Zellweger) finds herself in, Latifiah is full of magnificent gusto and relish in an anti-mammy archetype. Her every scene is a steal. Latifah garnered Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, but the critics favored her co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Queen Latifah plays the illustrious Bessie Smith in the HBO film Bessie; directed by Oscar nominated Dee Rees. It's a match made in heaven.
The Grammy award-winning Latifah has gone on to phenomenal career highlights scoring a Gracie Allen, Image, SAG, and Golden Globe for playing an AIDS activist Life Support and winning accolades for playing noted singer Bessie Smith-- a NAMIC, Image, SAG, Black Reel, and an Emmy (for producing). She created the Queen cosmetics line for Cover Girl, hosted a talk show, co-wrote Put on Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom and authored Queen of the Scene, a children's book. She has starred in the Ice Age films, Hairspray, Steel Magnolias (all Black remake of the 90's classic), Flint, and Girls Trip.

The Girls Trip's flosse posse was a huge R rated hit! Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) attend the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. 
With an impressive career spanning decades and touching countless generations along the way, Latifah continues being a jack of all trades. She enters every creative avenue as though always belonging. She carves out a niche for herself and others, a leading personality in opening doors. Her production company, Flavor Unit Entertainment, has recently teamed with Essence in order to support makers of color. They'll be financed to create and promote new content that focuses on the life experiences Black women endure. In addition, she launched The Queen Collective-- a way of putting women directors on the map via film, TV, and commercials.

Although not yet directing, Latifah does hope to shoot a comic book adaptation (Storm or Vixen would be perfect) or a science fiction film (Works by Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, and Octavia Butler come to mind). She has upcoming roles in The Trap co-starring T. I. and Mike Epps and the Master Plan biopic Master of the South.

Whether its behind-the-scenes producing new series and films, a new rap or jazz album release, or a new film or television series, Queen Latifah always delivers a charming, charismatic, and dynamite performance.

Rest in peace to Rita Owens a shining light in Queen Latifah's life and career. It's especially memorable that she played Khadijah James' mother on Living Single. Those episodes gave a hint of their loving, tender bond. 

Memorable Queen Latifah Quotes:

"There's no way I can represent for everyone. I can't represent for all women or all big women or all black women. It's important for people not to make celebrities their source of who they should be in life. I can't take on the pressure of being perfect. Nobody is."

"I really don't know how to be anyone else, and whenever I try to be anyone else, I fail miserably. Or I disappoint myself. It doesn't build my self-esteem, and it doesn't help me grow me at all."

"It was a very vulnerable time going from being insecure about my body and who I am to becoming comfortable with me. I had to tune out what the hell everybody else had to say about who I was. When I was able to do that, I felt free."

"I wish every woman would love herself and embrace what she was given naturally."

Saturday, March 16, 2019

'Diggstown' Lets a Black Woman Take Charge in Canada

Diggstown TV advertisement.

"And still, I would have to live three lifetimes to live close to your privilege."-- Marcie Diggs to her white colleague Pam Maclean-- threatened by Marcie's new position. 
Diggstown is hitting the right notes with the second episode a stronger current moving along great possibilities. The show is led by Marcie Diggs, the northern answer to Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating, a beautiful, sassy woman who doesn't let anyone stand in her way.

Black women surfing: Marcie Diggs (Vinessa Antoine) and her dearly departed aunt, Rolanda Diggs (Karen LeBlanc).
The first episode, Willy MacIsaac, isn't exactly presenting a memorable case (former alcoholic truck driver dad is on the verge of losing his license), but the profound highlight, however, is Marcie Diggs' resonating family drama. Marcie is close to Rolanda-- an aunt caught up in a horrendous sex scandal that not only damages Rolanda-- but isolates her from the community, specifically the church. The church is supposed to represent a safe haven, a refuge for the Black community, but the pastor publicly condemns Rolanda. This triggers colossal emotional damage to Rolanda, causing her to eventually commit suicide. Marcie remains devastated by the loss. Rolanda taught Marcie to surf and the icy waters became a special place for them. Her cousin, however, is being married by the disrespectful pastor. The church, despite it's message on forgiveness and redemption, can be one of the most hypocritical places on earth and Marcie speaks on that truth, rightfully refusing to attend. The writing and acting were top notch on segmenting black women's mental health and the pivotal signs of depression. Also, the water breaks away from old black stereotypes-- getting hair wet, being unable to swim, etc. Although this is Rolanda's place to die, Marcie continues finding pleasure in surfing, a significant tie to her aunt's memory.

Marcie (Vinessa Antoine) fights for justice.
The second episode, Renee Joy, unpacks several issues: first generation gifted teen Renee is unlawfully subjected to a humiliating strip search, an indigenous paralegal comes to terms with his past, and Marcie fights to keep her case from a pushy activist lawyer and decides to take a romantic plunge with a cop that is almost similar to Nova's situation on Queen Sugar. At least, this one isn't married with children and delivers doughnuts. Sorry Calvin.

Renee is from a strict, hardworking Asian family. They want Mercy Lincoln (aka pushy activist lawyer) to represent them and aggressively tell Marcie to back off. Yet Marcie takes matters in her own hands, visiting Renee, seeing not just potential, but a way to have the poor girl keep her scholarship and not face petulant charges. While Marcie refuses to back down from taking Renee's case, she is also teaching teenage girls how to surf in her spare time-- just wonderful and empowering to witness Marcie's commitment in advancing other women characters.

Another primary person of color at the firm is Doug Paul. His utterly devastating revelations to his daughter call attention to the many indigenous people killed by white police and civilians. They are often are not punished severely enough, mirroring again the great American plight of black death. Instead of placing his identity and safety of his people above everything, Doug puts seeking the approval and pleasure of white authority above obtaining justice for innocents in his own heritage community. The tribe bans him for this.

Stylish Marcie Diggs (Vinessa Antoine) takes a pause in the Toronto streets.
As a General Hospital Jordan Ashford fan anxious to see portrayer Vinessa Antoine more than once a week, a few times a month, Diggstown gives viewers the opportunity to see her shine bright in all the extra screen time as a leading lady. Antoine bites into a character that is tough, vulnerable, smart, and caring, bringing forth charming charisma to this multifaceted black woman lawyer. Natasha Henstridge of Species and She Spies (loved that show) plays the resilient department head, Colleen MacDonnell, Shailene Garnett is the snappy receptionist Iris Beals, and Brandon Oakes brings something special when keeping his shoes on as Doug. This Toronto based firm of public defenders is a nice inclusive touch and more should follow the lead.

Diggstown has plenty of story to tell and Marcie Diggs and her team must be the ones to see it through.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

'The Diary of Evelyn Lau,' A Raw Exposé On Teen Prostitution, Drugs, And Poetry

Sun TV Magazine spot for The Diary of Evelyn Lau.
The Diary of Evelyn Lau penetrates deeply into grisly horrors young women undergo in this tragic, patriarchal world. Beneath the surface is a talented girl who deserves to share her voice and not her body.

Evelyn Lau, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, has it rough. She is a young writer bursting with talent, but her strict parents place abnormal obligations on her. In the opening scene, her mother takes Evelyn to the bathroom and places her on the scale, immediately slapping her and calling her "fat." Evelyn's father neglects her during this critical moment, demonstrating his partake in her daily abuse, his silence consenting to his wife's toxic verbal, physical, and psychological harassment. 

Evelyn (Sandra Oh) turns to the wrong people for help.
A life on the streets seems the best escape for fourteen-year-old Evelyn. She naively believes that staying with an older man could be safe, but he rapes her in a disturbing scene and blames her for "tempting him." She succumbs to his other advances, not out of desire or affection, but out of safety and comfort-- lacking at home. Except, they want to discard her immediately when the cops arrive. The social services soon have her in custody and they rule in her parents' favor-- for her to return back home. Evelyn has a major breakdown and is immediately drugged and placed in a facility-- a grave mistake considering no one cares about the extent of how damaged she is.

Eventually, two worlds seduce the teen into different directions-- the shotty group homes with too many rigid rules and the streets with its grimy men looking for prostitutes. She tries with both, falling fast for the latter, introduced to drinking and further sexual deprivatity. Through it all, however, she continues writing, her language evolving and maturing as fast as the destructive tornado of homelessness, drugs, and sex combined. She recites to these johns, these immoral older white men, like the most well-trained poetess, her oratory delivery quite concise and articulate, her words sharper than sword blades. They listen, feigning interest, only seeing her body as an instrument to desire. She uses them as they used her-- a machine, their ears.

Sandra Oh on playing Evelyn.
It is no surprise that Sandra Oh beat out 2,000 actresses in her first on-camera role. She is downright riveting as the real-life poet, Evelyn Lau. Although Oh is a twenty-something playing a teenager, she vividly expresses child innocence and its thievery swept in the dangerous undercurrent of the street life. Her depth is remarkable. She conveys-- especially through devoid and lifeless eyes--how desperate decisions can take away pieces of the self that can perhaps never be regained. Oh's natural evolution from a shy, awkward girl with giant glasses and overlong bangs to a drug addicted femme showcases her gifted tenacity early on. Oh was nominated for a Gemini and won a Golden FIPA for Best Actress.

Director Sturla Gunnarsson adapted Evelyn Lau's book with Barry Stevens. It is a dark, bitter film to endure. Certain scenes fuel hatred for male behaviors. These people could have looked out for her, having known her age, but instead took advantage. After overcoming inappropriate lust, gross fetishising, and harmful self-hatred, a poet breaks free and finds her voice. It is a true testament of courage that Lau has survived a disgustingly foul place. Poetry saved her life like no one else could.

Real life Evelyn Lau is an award-winning poet, writer, and college professor, Lau was the third Poet Laureate of Vancouver.

The Diary of Evelyn Lau's poignant ending suggests that though one can be awarded and well-received, some people (even in high circles) can still see a woman to objectify.

Monday, November 19, 2018

'Widows' Is a Hyperbolic Machine of Big Names and Cheap Thrills

Widows film poster.
Widows failed to truly understand and convey the racial turmoil in the gritty parts of Chicago. The weak script-- a joint effort by director Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn's adaptation of Lynda La Plante's novel-- suffered to stand ground. It relies heavily on media perceptions of black trauma and sugarcoats political strife, but doesn't penetrate inside the underbelly of the problem.

Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry) threatens Veronica (Viola Davis) and her little dog too. 
First of all, the heist plotline didn't adhere in a seamless execution . Jack Mullins is running against Jamal Manning. Contractor thief Harry and his pals have been burned alive with Jamal's two million dollars. Jamal barges inside Veronica's penthouse, threatens her dog-- a dog that she often carries around like a rich white socialite-- and demands she give him that money. Veronica is left Harry's crime book and utilizes this to involve the other widows.

Now Widows deliberately celebrates white desirability in ways that could mentally harm and damage a black psyche. Alice, the youngest, calls Veronica a bitch and a cunt and even slaps her. Meanwhile, Alice's mother is ten times worse. She doesn't undermine her mother face to face. However, she treats a complete black woman stranger like the enemy. She is supposedly too broken and shattered, a woman treated objectively. Yet it is this black woman that she can fully launch unrepressed venom and hatred.

Too little, too late: Veronica (Viola Davis) seems to live for white compassion, i.e. Alice (Elizabeth Debicki). 
Veronica and Harry seem to have the perfect life-- her being a teacher and him being a criminal and all-- but it turns out to be terrible fiction. They play up the background Nina Simone ballad reminding the audience that this sultry magnificent singer with prominent African features and dark ruddy skin had also married a white man. Harry and Veronica's teenage son dies in a twisted, unbelievable cop narrative that just harms true American reality. This catalyst drives them apart, leaving Harry to cheat and make a white on white baby. At the end of the day, white was right and safe for Harry. To worsen matters, backstabbing Harry-- who turns out to be alive and well-- is quick to point a gun at Veronica after she pulls off a finicky heist with Harry's own handwritten instructions. A real win for the interracial love marketing team.

Thus, the black women depictions were not kind, lacking genuine tenderness and care. Belle is introduced to Veronica as the driver. They attack each other without reason. The only scene they are alone together, the two women have no dialogue. As if McQueen's camera artfully focusing on their gazes at one another is enough. Well, it's not. It's lazy. In one unnecessary scene, the slender, muscled Belle beats a punching bag like she's Rocky. Again, she's just the driver. Yet also a single mother, she spends more time with Linda's kids than her own-- an indentured servant role, the black mother nursing white babies, or in Belle's case Latinos. She barely shows affection to her daughter. Whereas, Veronica, the older woman, mother hens everyone. Other than distracting flashbacks with Harry, she has no purpose beyond obtaining Jamal's money. 

Veronica (Viola Davis) leads the three: Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Belle (Cynthia Erivo), and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki).

The casting decisions were not the best. Viola Davis-- astounding in the degrees of acting proficiency-- could not rescue this tangled web that hurts more than it helps. Whereas Elizabeth Debicki is bad and difficult to watch, Michelle Rodriquez's Linda is severely underdeveloped. Cynthia Erivo is thrown in rather late in the film. As a whole, these actors (a majority of overseas talent) were not believable Chicagoans. Despite McQueen's avante garde camera angles, Widows was not the film in which one could be creative and thought-provoking due to the terrible script.

Widows is especially insensitive to the needs of black women film viewers, demonstrating by story and imagery a glaring disrespect that is calculative and deceitful. This painful illustration is not at all as intelligent as the trailer disguises itself to be. 

Other than that, Adepero Oduye deserves better than this.

Monday, November 12, 2018

'Rafiki' Defies LGBTQIA Odds in Fiction and Reality

Rafiki film poster.
Rafiki is a modern forbidden love story told in a strict political society condoning unions between same sex couples. The heinous parable is introduced through a silent male figure. He is constantly abused by other men-- verbally and physically assaulted for existing as gay, illustrating also etched in miscontrued religious context. His story, seemingly small, is a significant integration into the lives of main characters, Zika and Kena.
Zika (Sheila Munyiva) has dreams of being a nurse, but it's Kena pushes her to become more.
Zika and Kena's fathers are running for the same political post. Zika works in her father's store and hangs out with womanizing Blackstar and his posse-- the bullies who abuse the gay man. Outgoing, carefree Kena is always out with two lively girls dancing and jiving, entirely girlish. Her big smiles and pastel rainbow hair seem an anomaly in their environment. Zika often watches Kena, intrigued yet shy.

Zika and Kena come together in a refreshing, natural way. Their mesmerizing camaraderie sewn eloquently-- an abandoned van for clandestine trysts, raw, unconfined joy at the carnival, glowing together at a nightclub.

Once the fallout happens, the families reactions are both expected and surprising. Yet the community's reaction is ugly and horrific.

Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mutgatsia are dynamite partners portraying Zika and Kena. Their chemistry blooms beautifully from tentative stares to an affectionate friendship to passionate kisses. The actresses resonate a genuine tenderness for these characters and for each other, articulating vulnerabilities and demanding strengths. It is also a plus that Munyiva and Mutgatsia have distinctive skin tones and features lacking in black films. The camera poignantly focuses on Munyiva's eyes and lips and Mutgatsia's hair and smile with deliberate celebration and pride.

Kena (Samantha Mutgatsia) and Zika (Sheila Munyiva) have the most fun together. 
Other wonderful highlights include a great soundtrack (the opening sequence plays high colored credits while Muthoni Drummer Queen's Suzi Noma pumps in the background), cinematography has amazing shots of Kenya city life (and chapiti), and African print cloth duelly operating as fashion and home decor. Every stitch of the film comes together to deliver a special experience.

The church is no taboo to show love for Kena (Samantha Mutgatsia, right), but Zika (Sheila Munyiva, left) isn't ready.
Africa Academy Award winner (for From a Whisper) Wanuri Kahiu overcame a huge battle in obtaining Rafiki's rightful consideration for representing Kenya in the tight Oscar category Best Foreign Language Film. Kenya retains outdated opposition on same sex relationships and allowed government interference in this colossal case against Kahiu.

Activist art is imperative across the globe. Kenyan Wangechi Mutu, whose has a framed collage featured, creates pieces centering Afrofuturism and earth and runs Africa Now!-- an organization advocating for the continent's LGBTIA communities. South African Zanele Muholi and her team document harmed lesbians, telling their stories inside endless galleries and institutions. Meanwhile, Kahiu's great cinematic achievement expresses hostile turmoil, aggravated battery, and cruel separation in communities collectively despising and interfering on a love that does not look like their program.

The goddesses of Cannes: Sheila Munyiva (Zika), Rafiki writer/director Wanuri Kahiu, and Samantha Mutgatsia (Kena).
Rafiki is a gentle outstretched hand. On the fine, delicate lines of the palm, rests a beating heart yearning for human decency, acceptance, and respect. The viewer has no choice but to succumb to Zika and Kena's everlasting love. Forced bigoted trials and tribulations are no match against the strongest, most sacred emotions. No time or distance (or government interference) can defeat such an important narrative.