When I first read the premise for the Janicza Bravo-directed "Zola," I recall having a déjà vu moment of “Why have I heard this story before?” It’s because I and million others had, courtesy of a viral 148 tweet-thread that A'ziah "Zola" Wells King had posted in 2015, recounting her tale as a waitress who meets a sex worker and embarks on a wild cross-country adventure. Almost everyone agreed it sounded like something out of a movie; it’s no doubt Bravo felt the same, prompting her to rush to her agent and manager for advice on next steps on how to make it so. And as they say, the rest is history. Or, better yet, the rest is one of the most anticipated movie drops of the year. Starring Taylour Paige (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) and Riley Keough (“The Lodge”), the noir dramedy follows Zola who meets sex worker Stefani at a restaurant where Zola works and where the two immediately bond, leading to an impromptu two-day cross-country road trip to Florida that finds the two of them, along with Stefani's lovesick boyfriend, caught in a tangled web of madness that involves strip clubs, seedy hotels, unwelcoming locals, and a pimp named "X." See trailer here.
Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – July 2nd
Some movies are just too powerful to not be seen on the big screen. Although streaming on Hulu as well, you’ll want the full concert experience of The Root’s Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson’s directorial debut, “Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised”). As the 2021 Sundance Film Festival moved to a virtual platform earlier this year, I had the pleasure of seeing the release on its opening night and it did not disappoint. As Thompson recounted in a recent Essence July/August 2021 issue, when producers David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent told him about archival footage they’d stumbled upon of a 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that rivaled Woodstock and, in fact, took place mere months before over a period of six weeks, Thompson called B.S., stating there was no way such greatness had occurred that there would be no record of. Oh, there was record of it; sadly, it was all sitting in the basement of late filmmaker Hal Tulchin’s home, all but forgotten after his many attempts to shop it for distribution failed due to “lack of interest.” Thompson, reluctant of being handed such a treasure, hesitated to get involved with the project. But, after seeing a snippet of footage, knew bringing it to light would be one of his greatest callings. The roster of artists who appear in 'Soul' are too long to list and their performances too astounding to be captured in words. All I’ll say is this: the 117-minute concert documentary features a young Stevie Wonder—on drums. Thank me later. See trailer here.
Respect – August 13th
The Queen of Soul has been getting a lot of, well, respect the past year from Cynthia Erivo’s portrayal of the superstar in "Genius: Aretha" to the soon-to-be released biopic, “Respect” starring Academy and Grammy-award winner Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) as Franklin; Academy-award winner Forest Whitaker (“Black Panther”) as Franklin’s father, C.L. and, in his first big screen dramatic role, Marlon Wayans (“White Chicks”) as Franklin’s first husband Ted White. Directed by Liesl Tommy, the movie's star power alone is guaranteed to make 'Respect' a winner, especially since the late Franklin herself endorsed Hudson to best portray her, but also because much of Franklin’s personal life remained somewhat of a mystery, leaving fans to use all the joy, hurt, and pain she delivered in her songs as the only tiny glimpse into her world. What Franklin never kept from her fans, however, was her soul. Neither does Hudson. And if Hudson’s tour de force performance in Dreamgirls is just a prequel to what we can expect her to deliver in 'Respect,' “ain’t no way” it won’t be a hit. See trailer here.
Candyman – August 27th
You already know not to say it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it…. Let’s face it: the original 1992 Candyman (and its subsequent two follow-ups) didn’t, as the young folks would say, “give what it was supposed to have gave.” Sure, it gave us a fair share of jumpy moments but there’s a whole different fear factor level anticipated whenever Jordan Peele adds his name to a project. As the writer of this fourth installment, Peele and director Nia DaCosta's revamped version of Candyman merges morality and macabre as Chicago artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, “Watchmen”; “Us”), now residing in the infamous, yet gentrified, Cabrini Green neighborhood, is told about the horrific history of Candyman and the Cabrini Green Towers. Looking to revitalize his flagging career, McCoy decides to incorporate the legend and images of his destruction into his artistry, unknowingly awakening Candyman and sending him on murderous new streak. We all know chanting Candyman’s name five times leads to doom. Here's hoping Peele’s offering, after several lackluster attempts, will revive the legend in a more "positive" way. Also starring Vanessa Estelle Williams (“Soul Food”) reprising her role in the original film. See trailer here.
The Harder They Fall - late 2021
Not since 1993’s Mario Van Peebles-directed “Posse” has a Black western been as highly anticipated as this year’s forthcoming "The Harder They Fall" directed by Jeymes Samuel, who co-wrote the screenplay with Boaz Yakin. 'Harder's" chamber is locked and loaded with the best in Black Hollywood including Jonathan Majors (“Lovecraft Country”), Idris Elba (“The Wire”; “Luther”), Zazie Beetz and LaKeith Stanfield (both of FX’s “Atlanta”), Delroy Lindo (“Da 5 Bloods”) and Regina King (“Watchmen”). Need I say more? Okay, if I must, here's a little bit of a plot drop to lasso you in: Major portrays real life African-American cowboy and former slave, Nat Love, who reassembles his former gang to seek revenge against the man who murdered his parents. Love’s real-life exploits have made him one of the most famous black heroes of the Old West. Saddle up and head to a theater near you. Note: 'Harder' is scheduled for a Fall 2021 Netflix release but may be available in theaters as well. See trailer here.
That’s it for now, my fellow cinephiles. May each of you continue to stay safe and return to indulging in those things that bring you joy! See you in the lobby after the movie….