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. 

 

 

 

Django Jane

Not gone lie, I was a little turned on watching the Make Me Feel video.

What a cute way to finish Black History Month.

I kind of have a thing for both of Tessa Thompson and Janelle Monae individually, but just the idea of the two together like as a thing is just… ugh *swoon*

I’ve been a fan of Janelle Monae’s since Metropolis: Suite 1. She never said she was one of us definitively but I always kind of got that vibe. She was an inspiration from jump in her black and white tuxedos. At the time that she first came into the music scene, her aesthetic was drastically different from other female artists, which I found refreshing and interesting.

Personally, Janelle came into my life at a time where I was trying to start expressing myself through my own wardrobe (i.e. wearing “boys” clothes). My mother wasn’t too crazy about my shopping choices and if I hadn’t seen Janelle shuffling around in a tux in the tightrope video, I’d still probably be out here perpetrating a fraud to be fem.

Since Metropolis, I’ve been a loyal fan. And it really makes me smile to see her out here still wearing her suits and slaying my life.

A few days ago, she released another one of her trademark “Emotion Pictures,” this iteration entitled “Dirty Computer.”

Immediately, I knew new music was afoot and earlier this week she delivered with Django Jane and Make Me Feel, which people appear to be holding up as a declaration of her (bi)sexuality. Like I said earlier, I suspected as much but in all honesty the thing that I’m most taken with from the video is the aesthetic of it. It looked like freedom. It looked fun. It looked like somewhere I needed to be. It made me feel good to watch it. The fact that she’s dancing between Tessa Thompson and that light skinned young man, as a woman, not only makes a statement about her sexuality, it illustrates a larger idea of liberation which is what the Archandroid has always stood for.

I’m happy to see Janelle staying true to her narrative and continuing this arch that she started with Cindi Mayweather on Metropolis back in 2007. The fact that this story that Janelle started on that project has been developing for over ten years now is a testament to her storytelling. With each consecutive project, she builds on the narrative and sucks me in to the dystopic reality of our favorite fugitive, Android 57821 a.k.a Cindi Mayweather a.k.a The Archandroid.

Janelle Monae is really an artist of a generation.

 

Robbin’ Season

Today in Black History, I want to honor Atlanta.

This show was good in so many unexpected ways. Not only was the acting good and the lighting right and the shots crispy, the stories of each of these characters unfolded in interesting ways with every episode. I really started to love each character for their quirks. At moments, it almost felt surreal, like what was happening on screen was happening in some other dimension.

In fact, there are several moments where I think to my, “Who the fuck came up with this?”

The Migos pop up in episode 3 for one of the most interesting cameos in television history, honestly. I was thoroughly entertained for their entire scene.

The B.A.N. was the most cerebral and most hilarious. Every episode puts you in a specific character’s shoes for 30 minutes and in this episode we got to get to know Paper Boy through an interview where he gets grilled on the issue of race. The ensuing debate had me on the floor by the end of the episode.

Not to mention, a dose of Darious, Paper Boy’s right hand man, in almost every episode is good for your fix for deep, philosophical offshoots.

It’s been a year now since the show earned several Golden Globes at the 2017 ceremony. Donald gave an acceptance speech for the culture for their winning Best Comedic TV series.

The show is set for return on March 1st, the perfect way to start my birthday month! I’m excited to see where this second season goes. Is Paper Boy gonna pop? Is Earn gonna get his shit together? Where’s Vanessa working now?

So many questions.

Then as if he could sense my growing anticipation, the good people at FX finally released a trailer

I want to do a separate post on Donald Glover himself. He’s a man of many talents who has influenced my artistic journey heavily. His “alter ego,” Childish Gambino is the name I first came to know him as and even though Because the Internet wasn’t his first album, it’s the album that made me a Childish Gambino fan. But more on that in a later post.

March 1st. Mark your calendars. It’s robbin’ season.

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.

 

Give Em LaHelle

On this day in Black History, I’m honoring Patti LaHelle.

It’s impossible to talk about comedy without talking about black women. I’ll forgo waxing on the idea of the plight of the black woman and comedy sometimes coming from situations that aren’t funny at all and  and all that and just say black women are funny as shit. They have been from jump.

If you haven’t seen the masterpiece that is the Got 2B Real series, stop what you’re doing.

 

Comedy gold. The style. The wit. The reads. Patti LaHelle truly created something for the culture when she created Got 2B Real.

G2bR, also known as the Diva Variety Show, is a spoof of a reality show that features some of the most legendary names in pop, soul, and r&b of our time. Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce are some of the cast members featured on the show. The women are all invited to Patti LaBelle’s house for dinner and the personalities that find their way to the dinner table make for two seasons (and a short film!!!) of piping hot tea.

Together they deliver some the shadiest reads, quickest comebacks, and most potent quotables ever caught on tape.

The brain child of Patti LaHelle has been a mainstay in my life since I discovered it sophomore year of college. I consider Ms. LaHelle a visionary for what she created. Though her Got 2B Real journey is over (allegedly), Patti LaHelle has proven herself to be a force on the internet and a lot of folks, including myself, want to see her create even more content. The day is on its way, I’m sure of it.

This black woman is a comedic genius.

If ever there is a dull moment in your day, take a moment, pull out your phone, and watch a couple episodes. That always makes me feel better.

Thank you, Ms. LaHelle for your contribution to the culture.