That Was Wild

Among the titles from this year’s Sundance that have made it to my Netflix recommendations, Wild Wild Country is the first that I’ve sat down and watched so far.

Now off rip, I wasn’t swayed by the title. Wild Wild Country: I didn’t know what I’d be getting myself into with that. But after reading the description and learning that the Duplas brothers had a hand in producing the series, I reconsidered. The Duplas brothers, Mark and Jay, have been working in film a long time and I’ve been an admirer of theirs for some years now.

So I said, “fuck it, I got some time to kill” and pressed play.

This series has me feeling all kinds of ways.

The doc is about this “cult” of Rajneesh. Baghwan Shree Rajneesh a.k.a Osho. I certainly wasn’t familiar with the title Baghwan, but Osho I was familiar with. People like to quote him a lot on Instagram and Tumblr. Osho was a spiritual teacher who believed that utopian society was possible and developed a whole spiritual teaching based on this belief. He had an ashram in India, but where this series starts is when he and his followers decide to pick up and leave Puna, India and set up shop in Oregon, near the town of Antelope, Oregon.

Already I’m like, “Oregon, tf?”

But it gets crazier. Evidently, the Baghwan had bags and he bought several thousand acres of land – 80,000 to be exact – to build his new utopian city. And oh, did people come out.

These “sannyasins” were out in Oregon deep af. ENTER Ma Amand Sheela. personal secretary to Osho who managed the newly established Rajeeshpuram in Wasco, Co., Oregon.

You can say a lot about her but all I’ll say is that, she was strategic in making sure that her job, as the “spokesperson” for the Baghwan and his ashram, was done efficiently and effectively………. even if those methods were illegal/not entirely ethical.

List of charges against Sheela:

  • Attempted murder
  • Voter fraud
  • Wire tapping
  • Arson
  • Conspiracy
  • Immigration fraud

In a timeline of about four years, Ma Amand Sheela and her “cabinet” of sorts, transforms this sex-positive, peace promoting, truth seeking sannyasin movement into an army, having so much control over those closest to her that she could talk them into murder. MURDER.

It’s truly an enthralling tale and it all went down in little ole’ Wasco County, Oregon.

I don’t know about y’all, but I must have missed this page in my history books. Or maybe it was conveniently left out, who can really say?

Moral of the story: The series raises philosophical questions and grapples with some seemingly contradictory forces: hippies strapping up, Christians being intolerant, the nature of conviction vs. control. Sometimes, in life, there are moments where I’m like “Y’all serious right now?” Real life is often times more fantastical, frightening, and unexpected than what any imagination can conjure. The world is as frightening as it is fascinating. Even if you couldn’t care less about the philosophical implications of this whole Rajneeshpuram debacle, the series is sure to make you think, “What the fuck,” on more than one occasion.

 

 

Expanding the Canon of Black Film

Sorry to Bother You is the first film of the Sundance Class of 2018 to pique my interest thus far. In short, it’s a comedy, but mix in elements of surrealism and sci-fi and you’ve either got something really amazing or something not so much.

This is director Boots Riley’s, a musician by trade, debut into the independent film world. At first glance, he has a disposition of quiet confidence and his personality seems as ambitious and interesting as the vision for this film. With Sorry to Bother You, Riley adds his name to a growing list of black writer/directors emerging in film.

The movie stars LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, and Omari Hardwick and it follows the story of telemarketer, Cassius Green who discovers the “secret to success,” catapulting Cassius into a world of fantastical fuckery. It’s set to come out in July.

LaKeith has been a favorite of mine for a while now. His role as Darius in Atlanta is what endeared me to him initially and though his role in Get Out was small, that meme will last for ages.

Tessa, Tessa, Tessa Thompson. *bites lip* From what I understand, she plays Cassius’ girl in the movie – an interesting pair. I’m excited to see what her performance brings to the table. She’s always been such a talent to me, attraction aside, and her presence on screen is always refreshing.

My expectations are always high when Terry Crews’ name is attached to a project. Not only is he hilarious, he’s intelligent and always delivers a performance that is as endearing as it is daring.

All in all, my expectations are quite high for Sorry to Bother You. I’m always excited to see how the independent film scene is moving and changing. As of the past five years, independent film has been especially popping, particularly as it pertains to black folks. Films like Dear White People, Tangerine, Night Catches Us, Mississippi Damned, Pariah, and Middle of Nowhere are all indies that came out within the last 5- 10 years. These films, among many others that I do not have the space to mention, ushered in a renaissance era in film for black filmmakers and auteurs that continues to push the boundaries to give us shows and movies like Insecure, Queen Sugar, The Chi, Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, and now, Sorry to Bother You. 

 

 

 

Wakanda Forever: Thoughts on Black Panther

Four times… and counting. That’s how many times I’ve seen Black Panther and honestly, Marvel can continue to take my money until it’s no longer in theaters.

This. Movie. is simply everything. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like it. As someone who aspires to write for the screen and work in film, I feel like this movie has changed the game has began an era of clearing the path for folks like me who have new ideas and new stories.

What Black Panther has assured us of is that black does indeed translate internationally. Black entertainers like Kevin Hart have made a point of talking about this very phenomenon in multiple interviews. And Kevin does bring down the house. He’s kind of a superstar. (I mean how many movies has he done in the past five years?) But he’s one guy.

Black Panther gave us a cast full of black excellence, some familiar faces, and some new.

And oh baby, did it travel.

$1 B I L L I O N, and still climbing.

Following Ryan Coogler’s career, I knew he was capable of delivering something of quality. He’s a brilliant story teller, but I wondered how he would bring his auteurism to a studio like Marvel, who, in my opinion, makes movies that generally lack depth. Marvel makes good movies, obviously, but I rarely go to the theater to see them.

The two philosophies pitted against each other in the film worked perfectly as the defining conflict between T’Chala and Eric. Tradition vs. Innovation? What is a nation that has built and sustained itself to do in the context of a global society? Do they have a moral obligation to help those who cannot help themselves? Or should they just mind their business like they’ve been doing?

I knew I smelled a rat. W’Kabi a.k.a. Brutus, Daniel Kaluuya’s character, said something telling in the first act of the film.

“If you bring the refugees here, they bring their problems with them. Then Wakanda is like everywhere else.”

Sounds like a Trump supporter to me. When he said that, I knew I had to watch that nigga. And low and behold, this bitch is leading the rebellion. But he knew he wasn’t stepping to T’Chala – and winning – so he waited for his moment.

ENTER Eric Killmonger.

The beginning of the movie sets up his tragic story and we get some context to what he’s trying to accomplish here. The MO: to liberate oppressed people the world over and usher in a new era of Wakandan global dominance. But his motives are revealed to be completely selfish and ill-founded so the mission was doomed to fail from the start.

From what I’ve seen on the internet, very few people are acknowledging the voice of reason, Nakia, Lupita Nyong’o’s character, who was basically saying “We don’t have to wage war on the world to help it. We have the juice here. Ain’t nobody fuckin’ with Wakanda. We can all be great.” A happy medium right? I thought so.

T’Chala is ultimately won over by Nakia’s philosophy and he even confronts his dad about it after being revived from the spirit realm. Leave it to a woman to be the rational one.

This is where my absolute favorite comes in. Lord M’Baku of the Jabari people.  He sees himself as this defender of tradition in his initial combat with T’Chala. He’s been watching from the mountains and does not like what he sees. He’s gracious enough to keep T’Chala alive after finding him nearly lifeless but set in resolve to remain neutral in the ensuing struggle for power. But in the end, the Jabari people help to save their Wakanda, realizing that it would be more a crime to remain silent than to let Killmonger and W’Kabi wage war on the world.

Depth. Thought provoking. Insightful. The performances were amazing. The costume design, the detail, the aesthetic, everything about this movie was out of this world. It’s the best Marvel movie I’ve ever seen hands down, but it also one of the best movies I’ve ever seen period.

This was a feat of tremendous proportions and I am both floored and fascinated. What the world is about to witness something I will call the Black Panther effect, pushing forward an era of pushing boundaries, telling new stories, and inspiring new ideas.

And I cannot wait.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Embed from Getty Images

Today in Black History, I’m honoring Lena Waithe.

Lena’s name first came to my knowing back in 2014 during press for Dear White People, the movie. I was deep into Tumblr back then and there was a lot of buzz around the movie. I watched every interview with Justin Simien that I could find. I was just stunned to see a black guy who wrote and directed his own movie that wasn’t Spike Lee. Justin dropped the name Lena Waithe as someone who was instrumental to getting DWP made in a few interviews before I was compelled to do some research.

Lena Waithe’s been doing her thing for a good while now. She produced for Justin Simien, she’s rubbed shoulders with the likes of Gina Prince Bythewood and Ava DuVernay, and now she’s out here leading her own projects.

I remember watching the pilot for “Twenties” on YouTube back in my freshman year of college and thinking “I’d like to see more.” Now three years later, TBS has picked the show up for a fully realized first season. Talk about full circle.

Her “Thanksgiving” episode in the second season of Master of None was groundbreaking. It was the story of her character Denise’s coming out to her mother. Lena later revealed in interviews that she drew on her own coming out story as she was writing that episode.

This episode went on to put everybody else who watched it in their feels and Lena won an Emmy for the episode last year for comedic writing, making her the first black woman to do so. Goals.

Now, she’s at the helm of the Showtime Original, The Chi, which is some damn good television if I do say so myself.

Being from the South, I’ve heard about the situation in Chicago primarily through social media. Artists like Chance the Rapper, who hail from the city, have also shed light on the reality of living in Chicago, specifically the Southside, and the paranoia and violence that plague the youth of that environment.

What’s happening in Chicago is ultimately indicative of discriminatory housing policies targeted at communities of color in inner cities all over the country. But of course, this is a more informed and nuanced understanding of what’s happening in the city of Chicago. Mainstream media will tell you that black folks are just violent and senselessly killing each other just because. To this point, Spike Lee took a particularly tone deaf approach to this very issue with his film, Chi-raq, portraying an oversimplified, bloods-vs-crips example of gang relations. The film caught series backlash from Chicago natives and activists.

But Lena Waithe pays homage to her city in a beautiful, nuanced display of real people living real lives with real problems. Her characters are not static stereotypes of the people of Chicago. Brandon could easily be my brother, Poppa, Jake, and Kevin, my little cousins. Even the dope boys that run the block seem sympathetic at times.

This show is simply amazing!

On top of all this, Lena will be starring in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, coming to theaters on March 29th.

It’s like she doesn’t sleep, y’all.

Lena is my friend in my head. As someone out here doing what I want to do with my career in the future, she is just a well of inspiration. Not only does she just  make consistently good content, she’s a queer, black woman in Hollywood who’s kicking ass and taking names. With every move she makes, she is showing me and young, black creatives all over the world that we have the power to tell our own stories and change the paradigms of what content can do.

I’ve gushed enough. Lena, if you ever read this, I love you forreal. You’re an inspiration, sis.

Lena Waithe is black history in the making.

 

What Black Panther Means to Me

Today in Black History, I would be remise without acknowledging the release of Black Panther.

When I saw the photos from the Black Panther premiere, I knew right then and there that the cast and crew of Black Panther was readying themselves to take aim at our necks.

Everyone looked stunning. Just regal. Black excellence.

I overheard a coworker gripping the other day over the fact that all these people were going to see Black Panther who weren’t true fans of the Marvel universe. I rolled my eyes. He’s a white, if you couldn’t tell already… He’s one of those “you can’t wear the shirt if you’re not a fan of the band” type bitches.

To my coworker and anyone else harboring a similar sentiment, this is bigger than your little childish fandom, bitch. Get over yourself or go choke.

I realize that some folks might not grasp the immensity of the occasion, so let me break it down.

First of all, for all the white supremacists talking about how this is some nigger shit and how the Black Panther is some black power propaganda: the character of the Black Panther was introduced in the Marvel comics before the Black Panther Party was formed. With this in mind, we can then conclude that Stan Lee simply thought the Black Panther would be a cool character to add to his comic universe.

While it is a revolutionary thought that an entire African country could exist completely outside of the reality of European colonization and that because of this, they are more technologically and socially advanced, but at the end of the day, Wakanda is fictional. (But oh, can’t we dream?)

Second, the fact that this movie is directed by a black man and features an all black cast is monumental when you consider the discussion about diversity in Hollywood.

Side note on the director, Ryan Coogler

Mr. Coogler’s been working for a long time. His first film, Fruitvale Station, made him an indie darling, taking home the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance as well as international acclaim, winning the Avenir Prize at Cannes. He also directed Creed as well as a few other short films.

The #oscarssowhite thing brought the issue of diversity to public consciousness a few years ago, but just because it’s not trending anymore doesn’t mean the work has stop nor that the problem has been solved. Ryan Coogler, along with other filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay, have been out here championing the cause to make Hollywood a not-so-white place.

In theory, this movie should’ve been made. However, I doubt it would’ve been carried out on such a grand scale. There was no Ryan Coogler to direct it (or an Ava DuVernay, who was approached for the project first) and up until recently only a handful of black actors were even getting booked for roles. And the ones who were damn sure weren’t getting booked for Marvel movies. Don’t make me break out the receipts.

As the release date draws near, the girls are readying their hearts and minds to receive something that is way past due.

White people can honestly get over themselves and shut the fuck up.

This movie is not inherently political, but the conditions that even make this movie a possibility are. The fact that the thought of “Maybe somebody black should direct this” actually went through someone’s head is revolutionary. The fact that Marvel didn’t just cast some random white people and white wash this story is revolutionary because we know its been done in the past with no after thought.

If you really wanna know why black folks are going all the way up for this movie, it’s because this is a celebration of us. This beautiful cast is all shades, shapes, and sizes of black. This movie will affirm for so many young black kids that they too can be extraordinary and that they too have the potential to be a superhero.

Not to mention, the soundtrack is produced, at least in part by Top Dawg Entertainment, which…

Honestly, I’ve been burnt out on Marvel movies for a while now. After the Avengers 12 and Iron Man 23, I started to wonder how much more shit these hoes could blow up and smash and destroy with reckless abandon. And for what? (Yeah, yeah, to save the world or whatever)

But best believe,I will be present and accounted for for Black Panther.

 

 

 

 

Rumble in the Jungle

Today in Black History, I want to look at some documentary films.

All of these can be found on Hulu, Netflix, and/or YouTube and all of them focus on stories centering on people of color and their cultural influences. I love documentary films. In recent years, the ways in which a non fictional narrative can be portrayed on screen can make the subject seem larger than life and I think that can be said for all of these films. For all of these films, I can say that I am always left with the weight of their respective subjects and the ways that the narratives relate to my life and my own path.

I’ve numbered this sequence because in many ways, you can view these films chronologically and see the ways the spirit of a time trickled its way into the lives of real black and brown folks who were the unwitting scapegoats of bureaucratic miscondunct.

Rubble Kings

Made in 2015, this documentary is about the youth gang culture that exploded through the Bronx, most notably, and subsequently the rest of the boroughs of New York City.

This is the picture of New York City that my mom has when she thinks of the Big Apple. I told her I was planning on moving there after undergrad and she didn’t seem sold on the idea.

Of course, there’s always a small chance that shit can pop off, but that’s true anywhere. Even here in Mississippi, there are some places you just don’t go to. But there’s enough wy ppl there gentrifying the city that getting mugged at any given moment is significantly less likely.

Anyhoo… this film puts a lens on the crime ridden borough of the Bronx and the political plays that were made that resulted in the high crime rates and rise in youth gang activity.

In a nutshell, we can trace the causes of these social conditions back to the start of Ronal Reagan’s War on Drugs. Nixon took the presidency and breathed new life into Reagan’s crusade and the rest is history. The rise of “the rubble kings,” these adolescent gang boppers, begin organizing themselves between their neighborhoods and policing the streets with violence and vigilantism as a result of various new laws put in place that accelerated the rise of urban decay and neglect in which these kids were innocently born in to.

Fresh Dressed

Fresh Dressed, produced by Pharrell, picks up where Rubble Kings leaves off. After the turbulance of the the 70s and the onslaught of the War on Drugs, after the hundreds of resulting deaths, and after one reckoning moment, the tide of the times changes as hip hop forges on to the scene in the late 70s.

Fresh Dressed, as the title alludes, is about fashion. The film archives the change in fashion trends beginning in the late 70s as the prevailing gang culture subsides and from its ashes, hip hop culture arises.

Fresh Dressed is a culture study through the lens of fashion.

The Radiant Child

The Radiant Child is a personal favorite. Taking the bigger picture that Rubble Kings and Fresh Dressed painted and seeing how the issues discussed in those films ended up affecting a singular narrative.

Though Jean Michel Basquiat was one guy, his work has touched millions and he was a product of a very specific environment.

These three films overlap in the time periods that they cover, especially as it pertains to the late 70s and 80s in New York City. In fact, when watching, you might notice that some of the references and even the talking heads themselves are featured in two of the films, if not all three.

When I think about Black History, that is the history of Black people in America, I think it’s important to know just how we got to where we are at this moment in history. Existentially speaking, history has been building on itself, expressing itself through the stories in these films, and reaping itself accordingly.

Today in Black History, we must honor the process.

The turbulent 60s gave rise to the violent 70s which gave rise to the electric 80s, the iconic 90s, and so on and so forth. If we are to look to the future, we really have to come to terms with the now and realize that nothing happens in a vacuum.

If we wish to change the future, change has to begin now.