Category Archives: film

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Racialicious Review: Dear White People

By Kendra James

The partial cast of “Dear White People,” including Tyler James White

“Dear White People. The single ladies dance is dead. Please turn off your web cams and go on about your lives.”

Dear White People centers around the lives of four Black students at the a fictional Ivy League school. Sam (Tessa Thompson, Copper) runs the controversial campus radio show ‘Dear White People’ which has been accused by the administration of stirring racial tensions around the school. Troy (Brandon P Bell) is under pressure to succeed in all aspects of university life from his father, the Dean of Students (Dennis Haysbert, 24). Things begin to unravel when Sam, his ex-girlfriend, beats him in the campaign for president of the one traditionally Black dorm on campus. Their stories weave in with Lionel (Tyler James White, Everybody Hates Chris), a gay sci-fi geek who can’t find a dorm where he fits in, and Coco (Teyonah Parris, Mad Men), a Black girl from the south side of Chicago who doesn’t want to be seen as the stereotypical ghetto girl.

Tensions on campus have already been running high with the decision to abolish traditional housing preferences (a policy that only seems to apply to Black students). Things finally come to a head in the form of a riot when the campus humour magazine throws a Blackface party for Halloween, with Coco agreeing to MC.

I loved this movie. I loved everything about it from the characters painted first in broad, archetypical strokes, to the obvious film and directorial references peppered throughout, to the delivery of the promised laughter, to the fact that it appeared to be shot by someone who knew more than how to turn the camera on and off- something that one can’t take for granted in Black, independent, or mainstream film.

Dear White People was recently picked up by Lionsgate for distribution this fall. Despite it’s internet viral success (the initial Indiegogo campaign raised approximately $25,000 in three days) and Sundance credentials, Simien acknowledged that it is likely to be seen as a Black Film by the general public. Simien’s film is definitely an homage to the late 80s and early 90s satirical movies by directors like Spike Lee and Robert Townsend, but this isn’t a movie that is –or should be- aimed at Black audiences alone. For me that would be a strange place to put a movie filmed in the style of Spike Lee and Wes Anderson’s love child with hints of a 60s New Wave influence. The film’s referential style is likely in part due to this being Simien’s first feature length film. As a director he hasn’t had the time to develop his own style, and it shows as he meshes together several imitations of others’ styles and various cinematic influences. But there was truth to what he said later, explaining that the references were also pointed and intentional because they’re not something expected (or often seen) from a Black director and cast.

A familiar aesthetic probably doesn’t hurt when it comes to gathering a wider audience either. I found the characters relatable despite their broadness. A sci-fi nerd with questionable hair game? Check. A media studies major who writes papers seen as over the top about Gremlins as a manifestation of white suburbia’s fear of Black people and struggles with an interracial relationship? Double check. Granted, it’s fair to say that I was relating to them -and the story as a whole- directly via my experiences as a Black student who spent seven years being educated in majority White institutions. There’s legitimately nothing wrong with that and empathy is a skill worth developing (dear white people, contrary to popular belief your stories aren’t the only ones that need telling), but in the eyes of a studio executive looking to make money one can see how pairing aesthetically to one of the most popular indie directors would be a plus.

The movie is bound to find its critics in wide release; the cast and crew spoke briefly about some of the criticism they took from white people at Sundance (an astounding majority of which hadn’t even seen the movie yet). Pictures of several Blackface Parties and other racist themes prevalent on college campuses roll with the credits. The subject matter satirised isn’t far-fetched at all; in fact it’s fairly common place. The film doesn’t act as a morality play either. Yes, there’s the assumption made that the viewer assumes that these parties are wrong, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree with the the characters’ methods, behaviour, or the outcomes. The title is probably the most abrasive thing about the movie, and even that’s stretching things. As Simien told the audience before the film began, this is a film for all groups and white people? It’s even okay to laugh. Overall, this isn’t overtly a movie about racism or white people being cartoonishly horrible to non white people. It’s more a reflection of our current culture in America, both visually and content wise. Those finding themselves offended probably need to ask themselves why that is.

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE is directed by Justin Simien and will open in theatres in late 2014. Thanks to the Museum of Modern Art’s New Directors, New Films for hosting us at the film’s screening. 

 

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Open Thread: The 2014 Academy Awards

By Arturo R. García

Best Supporting Actress Winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years A Slave”)

Well, that was a lot to take in. Some of the highlights:

  • Maybe the night’s sentimental favorite, Lupita Nyong’o, won the Best Supporting Actress award for her work on 12 Years A Slave, which went on to win Best Picture.
  • John Ridley also won Best Adapted Script for his work on 12 Years, though … was it us, or was there some shade going between him and director Steve McQueen?
  • Robert Lopez, a Filipino-American, won Best Original Song along with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez for “Let It Go,” from Frozen.
  • Mexican-born Alfonso Cuarón, who some felt was snubbed for the Best Director award after Children of Men, made good Sunday and won for Gravity. 
  • Cis-hetero actor Jared Leto won Best Supporting Actor for playing a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club, and seemed to omit mentioning the trans community during his far-flung acceptance speech. As Autostraddle notes, it’s not like he can claim ignorance of his actions at this point.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments and check out the full storify below, but under the cut, some video, and some more observations from the evening.

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Athena FF: Amma Asante’s Belle Revisits Jane Austen Through Black POV

By Guest Contributor Inkoo Kang, cross-posted from Women And Hollywood

“This is the story of a woman who is loved.”

Those are the words black British director Amma Asante used to describe her marvelous sophomore feature Belle at the Athena Film Festival this past weekend, and they had a palpable emotional impact when Asante uttered them at the film’s post-screening Q&A.

That’s because it’s still all-too-maddeningly rare to see a gentle romance about the loveliness or adorableness or winsome sweetness of black women. Asante’s intention to make exactly that — her version of Jane Austen, based on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an 18th-century half-African, half-British historical noblewoman — feels radical, even though the film is in many ways a comfortably familiar period piece primarily concerned with courtship and marriage.

Last year saw a flurry of high-profile films with (male) black protagonists (12 Years a SlaveMandelaFruitvale StationThe Butler, and 42), and the wonderful thing about Asante’s carefully constructed film is that it’s not a story grounded in black suffering. Living in a pre-abolition Britain, Dido, played with grace and passion by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is certainly no stranger to racism.

But, as Asante explained, her film tells a story about Dido “teaching people how to love her” — to let themselves be won over by her charms and wit despite their knee-jerk prejudices. Rounded out by critiques of sexism and classism, Belle is a quietly ambitious project that’s already put Asante on an ascendant path in Hollywood.

If you missed its NY premiere at Athena, Belle will be released on May 2.

Searching for Our Decolonized Image: Nicki Minaj Puts the Other in The Other Woman

By Guest Contributor Rajul Punjabi

The trailer for The Other Woman, a flick about the unlikely blossoming friendship of three women (Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, and Kate Upton) while they conspire against their mutually shared cheating man (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), was released last week. Nicki Minaj is in it too, and a plethora of entertainment outlets are ablaze with blurbs about her non-animated silver screen debut.

One of my favorite headlines reads, “Nicki Minaj Stars in The Other Woman.” Fun, right Barbz? Finally, her formal theatrical training and the scintillating possibilities of Minaj channeling one of her alter egos on the silver screen. But, as the preview reveals, she’s hardly the star of the movie. She plays a “sassy, outspoken, legal assistant” to Cameron Diaz’s power lawyer. She’s not even the side chick. She is the side chick’s sidekick.
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Will Black Woman-Directed Docs Make it to the Oscars?

Shadow & Act big ups the phenomenal work being done by black women  documentarians. Out of 151 Academy Award-qualifying documentaries (admittedly a large pool), more than five were directed by black women, including Free Angela and All Political Prisoners by Shola Lynch and Valentine Road by Marta Cunningham. Jai Tigget writes, “…black documentary filmmakers – and black women in particular – are doing groundbreaking work that continues to be overlooked even within the doc and independent film space. The films listed above have been awarded and recognized widely on the film festival circuit, but many are still struggling to get mentioned on the shortlists that will push them towards serious Oscar consideration.”

Also included among the qualifying documentaries by black women, Yoruba Richen’s The New Black,  about race, sexuality, and the black church.

Rumour Mill: Casting for the Man of Steel sequel and CW’s The Flash pilot

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Gal Gadot cast as Wonder Woman via. IGN.com

By Kendra James and Arturo Garcia

The ups and downs of being a DC Comics fan have never been more apparent than this past week. The WB cast a big screen Wonder Woman (Israeli actress, Fast and the Furious alum Gal Gadot)… but not for her own movie. She’ll be sharing the stage with Henry Cavil’s Superman, Ben Affleck’s supposedly older and wizened Batman, and a potential mutual adversary in Lex Luthor. Luthor who will, according to casting rumours, most likely be African-American, echoing the WB’s already demonstrated willingness to race-bend with Perry White in Man of Steel. Personally, I don’t think this should be much of a stretch of the imagination for anyone who grew up on the Superman cartoon of the 90s. 

I didn’t think this man was white when I was 7 and I still don’t.

On the heels of a fantastic Arrow mid-season finale, the CW revealed a casting call for their Flash pilot showing their intentions to making Iris West Allen (The Flash’s –Barry Allen– main love interest and Wally West’s –another Flash– aunt) and her extended family African-American woman rather than white, as she’s been traditionally portrayed in the comics. If the pilot and ensuing show is anywhere near as good as Arrow, a diverse cast of main characters won’t be an issue (even if I am still annoyed about Sin.)

With DC’s television and cinematic universes both expanding quickly, we thought it was time for another quick chromatic casting.

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Young Lakota Premieres Nov. 25 on Independent Lens

“Young Lakota” Official Trailer from marionlipschutz/roserosenblatt on Vimeo.

Young Lakota will air at 10 .m. EST, Monday, Nov. 25, on PBS’s Independent Lens. The film chronicles Tribal President Cecelia Fire Thunder’s challenge to a proposed abortion ban in South Dakota, and the political awakening she inspires in Sunny Clifford, a young Lakota woman living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Young Lakota was an Official Selection at the Big Sky Film Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, the American Indian Film Festival, and won Best Documentary at Cine Las Americas and the Smithsonian Showcase.