Monday, May 27, 2019

Cinematic Summer Sensations On the Horizon

It's Memorial Day--the unofficial start of summer--and there's no better time than the present to highlight this summer's cinematic gems heading our way by us and/or starring us. Whether the horror genre is your thang or it's 70s blaxploitation (reboot) flicks that's your groove, there will be a little something for everyone coming to a theater near you offering the perfect retreat from the summer heat yet setting the screen on fire all the same. Take note, mark the dates, and get ready to be entertained!

Ma - May 31st 

Academy-award winner Octavia Spencer has made us laugh and cry, but her starring role in her first spine-tingling horror thriller will be sure to make us scream! Spencer plays the role of Ma, a lonely middle-aged woman who befriends a group of teenagers and lets them party in her basement. What begins as the time of their lives slowly turns into the teens' worst nightmare as Ma's friendship with her new "friends" morphs into a deadly obsession instead. Directed by Tate Taylor and co-starring Juliette Lewis and Luke Evans, Ma is noted as the first horror movie to feature a female, black lead. See trailer here.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 - June 7th

You won't be able to physically recognize comedian Kevin Hart as Snowball--fierce white rabbit and former flushed pet--in one of the summer's most anticipated animated sequels, but his voice and, of course, humor is undeniable. Hart and all of his furry co-stars are back in the Secret Life of Pets 2, wrecking havoc yet somehow saving the day.  Terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) faces some major changes after his owner gets married and has a child creating new fears for Max's security. On a family trip to the countryside, Max meets a farm dog named Rooster, and both attempt to overcome his fears. Meanwhile, Gidget tries to rescue Max's favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment, and Snowball sets on a mission to free a white tiger named Hu from a circus. Hart again team's up with his co-star Tiffany Haddish from last summer's comedy Night School, when she stars in Pets as Daisy, a keep-it-real Shih Tzu. See trailer here.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco - June 7th

Take a heartfelt, cinematic journey through San Francisco, when the city is used as the backdrop for a passionate and painful conversation about the impact of gentrification in Joe Tablot's directorial debut. Last Black Man, which stars Tichina Arnold, Danny Glover, and Mike Epps, centers on the efforts of an African-American man, Jimmie, trying to reclaim his childhood home, a Victorian house in the Fillmore District built by his grandfather. Jimmie Fails plays himself in the film, partly based on his life, and which won the Special Jury Prize for Creative Collaboration at the Sundance Film Festival. See trailer here.

Shaft - June 14th

Shaft's Richard Roundtree is still a "bad mother shut your mouth" and he's back this summer kickin' more butt alongside his nephew John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson) and John "JJ" Shaft Jr. (Jessie Usher). JJ, now an FBI agent and cybersecurity expert, teams up with his dad and uncle to solve the mystery of the death of his best friend who dies under suspicious circumstances. Uncle, father, and son take to the streets of Harlem's underworld to solve the crime and shake Uptown all the way up as only they can. Directed by Tim Story, and written by Alex Barnow and Kenya Barris of "black'ish" fame, Shaft also stars Regina Hall, Method Man, and Alexandra Shipp. See trailer here.

Emanuel - June 17th and 19th

Showing for two nights only--commencing on the fourth anniversary of the tragic mass shooting with an encore showing on Juneteenth--is the documentary Emanuel. Emanuel features survivors and family members of victims recounting the events that led up to and during the June 17, 2015 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, committed by a white supremacist who walked into the church's bible study and gunned down nine African Americans. Produced by Stephen Curry, Mariska Hargitay, Viola Davis, and Mike Wildt, Emanuel is directed by Brian Ivie and will also be available on streaming platforms in September 2019. See trailer here.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am Movie - June 21st

If documentaries more your soul, there will not be a more intriguing subject to embrace this summer than Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, the documentary will focus on the 87 years young literary giant's career, highly acclaimed novels, and life through personal reflection and the reflections of close colleagues and friends including poet Sonia Sanchez and media mogul Oprah Winfrey. See trailer here.

Brian Banks - August 9th

This August, real life takes its riveting place on the big screen with Brian Banks. The movie tells the true story of Brian Banks, an all-American high school football star whose life unravels when he's wrongly convicted of a crime he didn't commit. Despite a lack of evidence, Banks becomes a victim of the broken justice system and is sentenced to a decade of prison and probation. However, with the legal support of Justin Brooks and the California Innocence Project, Banks fights to reclaim his life and make his dreams of playing in the NFL a reality. Directed by Tom Shadyac, the film stars Aldis Hodge and Greg Kinnear. See trailer here.

The Kitchen - August 9th

Can you ever get enough of funny girl Tiffany Haddish? If the answer is no, you're in luck. In August, Haddish tries out her dramatic acting chops when she teams up alongside Melissa McCarthy and Elisabeth Moss as three 1978 Hell’s Kitchen housewives whose mobster husbands are sent to prison by the FBI.  Left without anything, the three ladies take the Irish mafia’s matters into their own hands to keep business afloat, proving surprisingly adept at everything from running rackets to bringing down the competition. Directed by Andrea Berloff, who co-wrote "Straight Outta Compton," the Kitchen also stars rapper/actor Common. See trailer here.

Hustlers - September 13th

Closing out the summer on a hot note in every sense of the word is Hustlers. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, Lizzo, and Keke Palmer, Hustlers follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. Lopez plays the ringleader to the group of women who take their plans of getting what they think they deserve to the next level. Hustlers also stars Julia Stles, Lili Reinhart, and Constance Wu. See trailer here.

That's it--for now--folks. Have a Happy Memorial Day and a sensational movie-watching summer!

Photo credits: N/A
Sources: Movie Insider; YouTube; Wikipedia

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Great Comeback: From the Holy Land to Hip Hop

On this 11th day of April, as those in the hip hop community and beyond, celebrate the life of rapper, entrepreneur, and business man, Ermias Joseph Asghedom, professionally known as Nipsey Hussle, I must be honest in admitting though a fan of the music genre, I didn't know Nipsey's music or much about the now legendary man behind the moniker. As is often (and unfortunately) the case, our true greatness is elevated by and often not recognized until death, as is reflective of the accolades, tributes, citations, and celebrations given in Nipsey's honor from those who lived on his block to those in the highest offices (most notably Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) commemoration of him on the House floor and of President Barack Obama's letter of condolences read at Nipsey's homegoing services).

Photo Credit: Semmi W
It was without question that the late rapper--though on earth a mere 33 years--had done what many from any walk of life, most notably, the inner city, struggle to do: turn a bleak nothing into a great something. More explicitly, to take street knowledge and transform it into a knowledge of economic empowerment and ownership that both changed his life and the lives of those in his community through the creation of businesses and thus jobs, green space, real estate, and countless other ventures with a projected value of over $210 million. However, I still felt only a distant adjacency to the impact Nipsey made, having no real awareness of his works or his words. Yet, driving from a conference in the Ohio Valley over the weekend, I desperately searched for a radio station in range playing anything to my liking to make the trek from the Valley to the airport an easier one. My search landed me on Magic 95.5 and the Straight Talk Live with Khari Enaharo show. It would be no surprise to me that the show, which focuses on the economic and political issues that impact the African-American community, would open in homage to Nipsey.

Yet, what gave me considerable food for thought were some lyrics from one of Nipsey's tracks "Bigger Than Life" that Enharo recited: But I don’t want no help, just let me suffer through this/The world would not know Jesus Christ if there was never Judas. Whether the world would have known Jesus or not had it not been for his conspirator can be debated, but what is both very prolific and an appropriate reflection during this Resurrection season, is that Judas indeed served as the catalyst that caused the set back for the set up that led way to Christ's great comeback, both literally and figuratively. In layman's terms--and what Nipsey's lyrics reminded me--is that our disappointments, discouragements, struggles--and even our enemies--can be used to fuel our greatest victories.

NBA veteran Kobe Bryant once said, "Everything negative - pressure, challenges - is all an opportunity for me to rise." Taking it a step further, how we view those challenges determines whether we'll settle in our circumstances or see them as stepping stones toward our greatness. My mother often said, "In every life some rain must fall" but she also reminded me that every day was a new day to do better; be better; start again. To grow; to learn. To fall; to rise; to reclaim. Thus, as we celebrate the life of Nipsey--and the many lives of those living or who have passed, whose demonstration of perseverance, change, and re-birth despite challenges, inspire us to keep going, may we be reminded of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 "We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair, we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed...."

In the memory of those who rose from the ashes of their own circumstances to create a place of promise and prosperity for themselves and others, and as we "run our own marathons," may we always be motivated to be better and do better in spite of.

Rest in peace, Nip. Happy Easter, everyone.

Addition photo credits: N/A

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A "Cool" Piece of Black History

Me with a fellow reveler
Of the many fond memories 2018 left me with, one that I didn't anticipate was the excitement I gained from being swept up in Caps Fever. When the Washington Capitals hockey team forged a clear path toward clinching its first ever Stanley Cup win in franchise history, it didn't take long for Washingtonians to get on board the Celebration Train--yours included--in what we hoped would be an energy that would transform all of the city's sporting teams into something that would give us long-dreamed of bragging rights. What Caps Fever also did was bring everyone together (if only for a few weeks) regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status. When bar and restaurant tables were full, quick friendships formed allowing extra space to be made for stray chairs to join in the commune. Fans bought drinks for strangers; fist bumps were aplenty; and high fives were exchanged as passing fans hopped bars along Chinatown's 7th Street stretch, that was blocked off for those watching all of the action taking place inside Capital One Arena via jumbotrons.

Devante Smith-Pelly
To say it was a period of DC pride would be accurate. To say it also was a moment of African-American pride due to one of the leading scorers on the Caps team being Devante Smith-Pelly--a 26-year-old Black Canadian power forward--would be an understatement. (Note: The Capitals second black player currently on the roster is Madison Bowey). Despite the Capitals having actually been among the most diverse in the league, with eleven black players playing a game for the team since 1974, racism surrounding black hockey players in general is both not uncommon nor a thing of the past. In fact, in February 2018, a Capitals game against the Chicago Blackhawks found Smith-Pelly at the center of racial taunts, leading to four fans being ejected from the arena and the Capitals issuing a public statement on the matter. "This has happened [to me] in hockey before," Smith-Pelly said. "It's disgusting, that in 2018 we're still talking about the same thing, over and over. It's sad that athletes like myself, 30, 40 years ago were standing in the same place." (Source: The Washington Post).

Even sadder is the long-held belief that hockey is a "white sport" in which blacks do not and should not belong when, in fact, at the foundation of hockey history are black players. Hence why it felt appropriate that for Black History Month and in February, which the National Hockey League has deemed "Hockey is for Everyone" month, that I spotlight a group of pioneers in the sport of hockey: the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes.

Coloured Hockey League players
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia: The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHL) was an all-Black men's hockey league founded in 1895 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Organized by Black Baptists and Black intellectuals, the league was designed as a way to attract young Black men to Sunday worship with the promise of a recreational hockey match between rival churches following religious services. Later, with the influence of the Black Nationalism Movement of the period — and with rising interest in the sport of hockey — the league came to be seen as a potential driving force for the equality of Black Canadians. By the early 20th century, the CHL had expanded from a humble three-team league in 1895 — which included its maiden club, the Dartmouth Jubilees — to involve newly formed regional challengers. Though the CHL would see its popularity grow--with game attendance bypassing that of its white counterparts' games--it would ultimately face its own eradication when racism in the form of a proposed railroad expansion that would adversely affect the black community in the north-end of Halifax caused black residents and white city officials to be at odds. During the legal battle, some rink owners refused to rent out their hockey rinks to the league or to any Black teams. Other rink owners agreed to only do so in late March when the natural ice surface was already beginning to melt. Local newspaper coverage of the league also disappeared virtually overnight, with only one article penned between 1905-06. With a poor playing surface slowing the game and no means of promotion, the league was forced to move back onto the local ponds, effectively killing the CHL as an economic and social Black movement. The last recorded newspaper account of the league during this era appeared in 1911. (The CHL's full history can be read here).

Wilie Eldon O'Ree
The National Hockey League eventually would organize in Canada in 1917 but would not expand to the United States until 1924. However, despite the impact of the CHL, it would not be until 1958 that Black-Canadian professional hockey player Willie Eldon O'Ree would become the first black player in the NHL, thus linking Black-Canadian and African-American sports history forever. O'Ree played as a winger for the Boston Bruins and was often referred to as the "Jackie Robinson of ice hockey" due to breaking the black color barrier in the sport.

J.T. Brown of the Tampa Bay Lightning
There's no arguing that hockey will always be viewed as a "white sport," due to the limited amount of players of color it boasts, as well as those who will always question our place in the sport's history altogether. However, thanks to the pioneers of the Coloured Hockey League that would influence the likes of Willie O'Ree and ultimately lead to the birth of present day hockey greats like Smith-Pelly and Bowey, we can agree with the National Hockey League's mantra that "hockey is for everyone" while raising a hockey stick proudly in the air alongside a power fist.

Photo Credits: N/A
Sources: The Washington Post, the Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Never Too Late: A Thanksgiving Message

The month of November delivers us Thanksgiving, which brings a time of both gratitude and reflection on the past. As the next to last month of the year, it's also when we either pat ourselves on the back for how much we've accomplished or give ourselves a hard pass (after a little self criticism) on how much we didn't, then vow to hit the restart button after the New Year. However, whether 10 days, 10 months, or 10 years have slipped from your time clock, I was recently reminded of a famous quote for which we should all be thankful: "It’s never too late to follow your dreams, and there’s no time like the present to start."

As comic fans reeled from the news of the passing of American comic book writer, editor, and publisher Stan Lee at the blessed age of 95, my admiration for Lee didn't have much to do with his 60 years of print and cinematic genius as much as it did that Lee was in a club of historic "late bloomers." Although Lee joined the publishing business at Timely Comics in 1939 at the age of 17 and became editor-in-chief within a couple of years, it wasn’t until 1961--nearly at the age of 40--that he would hit his stride. Timely Comics would be renamed Marvel Comics that year, and in association with legendary comics writer-artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee would go on to revolutionize superhero comics.

Not to leave the "late bloomers" club without competition, late American playwright and double Pulitzer Prize winner, August Wilson's, career path took him on a journey as an Army vet, porter, short-order cook, gardener, and dishwasher. However, never abandoning his deep love for writing, Wilson co-founded the Black Horizon Theater in the Hill District of Pittsburgh along with his friend Rob Penny in 1968 and introduced his first play, Recycling, which performed for audiences in small theaters, schools and public housing community centers for 50 cents a ticket. However, it would not be until 1982 when the first of Wilson's famed 10-cycle plays--Jitney--would premiere, and seal his place in history as one of the greatest playwrights to ever live. Wilson, at the time, was 37.

On a more serious and timely note, this years mid-term election--due to current administrative turmoil and the non-leadership entities that reside in both our Nation's Capitol and White House--brought out candidates running for election that were both many and varied. Although the Democrats lost the Senate, it gained the House, and there was not a more notable victory than that of Georgia, first-time congressional candidate winner Lucy McBath, infamously known as the mother of Jordan Davis. Davis was killed in 2012 in an act of racist gun violence, while sitting in a car at a stop light with three friends. His murderer, frustrated by the "loud rap music" emanating from the vehicle in which Davis was riding, retrieved a loaded shotgun from his car, fired 10 rounds, and killed 17-year-old Davis instantly. The senseless act of violence would propel Bath to become a gun control advocate, serving as a spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, and ultimately leading her to make a bid for the Congressional seat in order to turn her personal loss into national change. Before tragedy propelled Bath into a different place in history, she was a flight attendant for Delta Airlines. She is 58.

May we all be fortunate to avoid the tragedy and pain Bath has endured as a motivation toward our greatness; however, it does not erase that fact that dreams, no matter how they're ignited, reside inside all of us and, unless acted upon, will also tragically wither and die. Whether it's a career change, returning to school, starting a business, starting a family, or even redefining relationships, it's simply never too late to make a change. No, it won't be easy but as another famous quote states, "If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth it." Because of this, however, I'm also wise enough to know there will be those beyond age 37, 40, even 58, who may read these historic accounts and think they're still too old to begin again or start something new. To that, I leave you with this: Harlan David Sanders, better known to chicken lovers everywhere as Colonel Sanders, founded the Kentucky Fried Chicken company at age 65. He went on to become a multimillionaire. I rest my finger, lickin' case.

In all seriousness, on this Thanksgiving, as we sit among family and friends and reflect on the past year, let's remember to be thankful for both what we've accomplished but also for dreams that remain in our hearts that remind us that as long as we have breath in our bodies, it's never to late to chase after them. May you be blessed with the courage and tenacity that propels you into your destiny, and may you be an encouragement to others on their path who can benefit from your support. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said "The time is always right to do what's right." Find out what your "right" is and get started working on it TODAY.

Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Baby or the Bathwater: Examining the Cosby Show

In a summer that felt remarkably short, its list of notable news items--from #MeToo rallies and Russian Summits to Lebron announcing his move to the Lakers and the loss of the Queen of Soul--has been remarkably long. However, not to be outdone, the fall season is coming in "chilly" with the breaking news that comedian, philanthropist, TV star Bill Cosby has been sentenced to three to 10 years in state prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand--a claim defended by 50+ women, who spoke publicly and/or gave testimony regarding their related experiences with Cosby. Cosby's request for bail has been denied, he was immediately placed in handcuffs and transported to begin serving his sentence, and a year-plus-long trial has come to a definitive end.

Despite the celebrations across social media juxtaposed against the outrage from those noting everything from the swift prosecution of "another black man" in the twilight hours of the possible appointment of Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who is also being accused of sexual assault by three victims thus far to the blatant reality that a Commander in Chief sits at the head of our Free World with a closet full of the same sordid laundry, makes the disbelief somewhat plausible. But the judge has spoken, and I am not here to neither defend or condemn Cosby. After all, I didn't know him. I did, however, know Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. We all did. And for that, I WILL defend what that character meant to the correcting of America's lens, because for every black garbage man that lived up the block, we could also point to a black doctor that lived across town. And this reality gave white America (and unfortunately some in black America) a crash course on the "levels of blackness" and in dismantling the often misguided notion that we are a monolithic people. 

In fact, I recall quite vividly being a freshmen at Howard University in an English Composition 101 class during a discussion about the influence of pop culture on society in which the Cosby Show was of topic. So imagine my surprise when a young sista immediately blurted out "I don't find that show realistic at all! I mean, come on: a black doctor husband and a black lawyer wife?" To which I immediately responded, "If that feels so unrealistic to you, then why are you at Howard?" Believe me when I say my question was not rhetorical or in jest; it was asked in complete disbelief that a student would walk the halls that produced black excellence for decades in the form of doctors, lawyers, politicians, and entertainers, and yet view her own quest for success as an unobtainable dream. Believe me when I say I think of that young woman from time to time and wonder if her years at "the Mecca" erased her limited thinking and instead created in her a profusion of possibilities that would rival any TV show. But it also validated the argument that if the vision of a successful black family rang foreign to a college freshman, there were a lot of people in the world who also needed to be educated and the show had a purpose to fulfill.

Because of this, and despite the rescinding of numerous accolades awarded to Cosby from the esteemed Kennedy Center Honors prize to dozens of honorary degrees from the Berkeley College of Music to Johns Hopkins University to Boston College, the most disappointing mass move to dismantle the legacy of Cosby was the attempt to erase The Cosby Show from TV--and dare I say Black--History. It goes without saying that the first thought in most networks' decision-making to eliminate the show from its syndication lineup was to avoid public backlash and, thus, lawsuits. However, the second thought was undoubtedly to prevent "rewarding" Cosby any further revenue stream in the form of residuals as to not contribute to his already $400 million net worth. However, when networks began to put their decision into swift action (in which I feel was mostly driven by "herd mentality" and pressure from the court of public opinion) my immediate thought was how the Cosby Show's other stars, co-stars, and 100+ guests would be affected, whose current incomes also were tied to the residuals of the show moreso and had nothing to do with the deeds of Cosby. 

My thoughts were confirmed on August 31st when fellow Cosby Show' actor Geoffrey Owens (a.k.a. Elvin Tibideaux who played oldest daughter Sondra's lovesick boyfriend turned doctor husband) was spotted and reported as bagging groceries at a New Jersey Trader Joe's. While many applauded Owens tenacity in doing honorable work to support his family, despite having acted in a few shows since the Cosby Show's 1992 ending, Owens admitted money became tight when networks began yanking reruns from the air following the accusations against Cosby. “That was one of the many factors that contributed to my decision to take a job outside the entertainment industry,” Owens told TheWrap. “[The networks' decisions] did not help me financially.” 

And that, my friends, is what the old folks call throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For in the rush to play judge and jury, and try Cosby in the court of public opinion before we ever let the law serve justice, more than just the accusers' lives were altered and more than just a TV show was lost. Instead a period in television history that served as a viable money stream for some and a monumental moment for an entire generation of people was destroyed. However, I am happy to see that there are networks and services (I see you, TV One and Amazon Prime) who have taken this into consideration and restored the Cosby Show--not Bill Cosby--to its iconic place in history. The show's legacy changed mindsets and thus lives--black and white--for the better, just as A Different World (another Cosby production) did, resulting in an increase in the number of black students who enrolled in historically black colleges and universities during the show's 1987-1993 run. Yes, William Henry Cosby Jr.'s name will now be forever tarnished, but we can't afford to have his deeds impact the art that stands on its own merit. After all, these shows are fictional, but their impact is indeed real and should not be tossed away or forgotten--for that would be a judgment that does not fit the crime.

Photo Credits: N/A