Excerpted by Latoya Peterson
I was not enthused about the project. There seemed to be little humanity in Christopher Wallace. He sold drugs, used the “N” word as a noun, verb, and adjective, then became a famous rapper. My initial thought, “So what?” Instinctively, though, I knew if I could find a way to connect to him, the film would be entertaining. I liked some of his music. I also knew a film about this icon could be a platform to challenge some of the “cancers” plaguing the inner city. There’s an expression: “You have to enter somebody’s world before you lead them out.” That’s what I would try to do. […]
I interviewed the important players in Biggie’s life – Faith Evans, Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Cease, Wayne Barrow. Even P. Diddy came to the crib. The peripheral characters began to take shape. However, I still had not uncovered Biggie. I had to go “method acting” on this bad boy. Instead of looking outside of myself for the main character, I looked inside. I never sold drugs, but as a teenager growing up in the hood, money was important to me. I got a gig acting on a soap opera when I was 16. I wasn’t making Donald Trump loot but I was making as much paper as the drug dealers. I defined my manhood in in a materialistic, superficial way. As I reflected on all this, it struck me. This movie is not about a rapper. It is not about a drug dealer. It is about someone navigating his way to manhood. Continue reading
by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. A longer version of this article appears on altmuslimah.
I finally got around to watching AmericanEast this weekend. Full disclosure: I had originally read Tariq Nelson’s review, which was a pretty good rundown.
AmericanEast is an attempt at mainstreaming American Muslims and attempts to portray the struggles Muslims face in the United States. In my opinion, they overdid it and never established a coherent plot. And on top of that, I found that the characters had no depth and some were cartoonish caricatures.
The movie centers on Mustafa, an Egyptian immigrant who owns a café in a heavily Middle Eastern part of Los Angeles. His life, and the lives of several close to him, is one problem or tragedy after another: at one point during the movie, I asked myself whether anything good was ever going to happen to anyone.
Mustafa has a sister, Salwah. Tariq outlines her character:
Salwah Marzouke, Mustafa’s sister, was a nurse that styled hair in the back of her brother’s restaurant and was arranged to marry her cousin Sabir. However she did not like him and they did not get married. But the cousin was never informed (at least not on camera) and the story was dropped. Salwah was also interested in a doctor at her hospital who was not Muslim.
The movie stresses over and over that marrying Salwah off is Mustafa’s duty (or so he believes). Sabir comes from Egypt to marry Salwah and take him back home with her, although she is less than excited (that’s an understatement) about this arrangement. Even though she often fights with her brother, she gives off major submissive, dutiful vibes that plague many female Muslim characters in the form of wide-eyed, helpless stares contrasted with humbly averted eyes and lowered chin. Continue reading
by Guest Contributor G.D., originally published at PostBourgie
For all its considerable charm and sharpness, there’s a patina of sadness that hangs over Medicine for Melancholy, a new film written and directed by Barry Jenkins that just entered limited theatrical release. The story focuses tightly on a man and a woman (Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins) in the wake of their one-night stand at a party. The initial awkwardness gives way to a tenuous connection, as the two quasi-bohos realize that they share many of the same cultural affinities (which Cenac’s character, Micah, refers to by the shorthand, “indie”). The stuff they like, Micah notes at one point, is decidedly about not being black.
This could all be cute and earnest in the way a lot of mumblecore is — quirky boy meets quirky girl in hip, scenester-ish town — but Melancholy has much bigger questions to ask.
Micah is a preternaturally chill native San Franciscan who feels increasingly alienated as the city rapidly gentrifies. “Imagine the Lower Haight filled with nothing but black folk and white artists,” he tells Jo, his would-be lover, about his long-gone San Fran. (It’s become the least black of America’s major cities.) Jo, wary at first but charming over time, is a transplant who doesn’t see the world in Micah’s specifically racialized terms, and it’s implied by the relative sizes of their living spaces that she occupies a higher position in the economic food chain. Both though, are black people partaking in a social milieu where Negroes are rarities. None of this tension is anywhere near as didactic as it may sound; these issues come up intermittently in the course of the pair walking and biking around, making each other laugh and generally feeling each other out. Continue reading
by Guest Contributor Alex Alvarez, originally published at Guanabee
In a press conference for his latest movie, The Pink Panther 2 (Why, God, why?!), Andy Garcia was quoted as saying, “I’m not a Latino actor, sincerely.” And, well. We think he has a point!
At the press conference, Andy said that, while he is known for being immensely proud of his Cuban heritage, he has tried (unsuccessfully, perhaps) to shed the label of “Latino” from being tacked in front of “Actor Andy Garcia.” He explains:
Everyone knows that I love my culture and that I’m Cuban, but I don’t consider myself a Latino actor, nor do I want other to classify me in that way. All actors should be classified in the same manner.
Dustin Hoffman isn’t described as “Jewish, American” actor. I don’t think heritage has anything to do with acting ability; in reality, we’ll all actors. In my case, I happen to be actor who is American with a Cuban heritage that’s given me a certain sensibility and point of view that maybe others might not have.
Andy also went on to address one of the stereotypes of Latino actors that we most love to loathe:
It’s possible that I’m thought of this way, but I’ve never accepted a script where I’ve had to play the “Latin Lover.” I’m not interested in that type of film.
by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, originally published at Women and Hollywood
When Push won the big awards at Sundance over a week ago I posited that it would be an awesome opportunity for Tyler Perry to use his mailing list and developed audience to promote a film outside his comfort zone which is pretty much himself. Here’s what I wrote on January 25th:
Film doesn’t yet have distribution, but hopefully now someone will sign on. I think this would be a great opportunity for Tyler Perry. I know that he is pretty much focused on his own work but he has a built in list and if he (or even Oprah) would put their names and muscle behind this film I bet it could get a release. Even though I have not seen the film I would guess that from the reception and reviews and awards that the issue with this film will be its hard content especially in this market.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this would happen. I am shocked and thrilled. The film was bought by Lion’s Gate for approx $5.5 million making it the biggest deal of the festival. Since it won both the audience and jury prize it make sense to me that it got the biggest deal. (Things should work this way yet hardly ever do.) Oprah and Tyler Perry are both going to put their muscle behind the film to get the word out. Props to Lion’s Gate for really thinking outside of their comfort zone on this film. They do very well with Tyler Perry and it makes sense that this film also has potential, but Tyler Perry’s films sell themselves and this one will take a lot of work.
Here’s what Oprah and Perry had to say about the film
“I’ve never seen anything like it. The moment I saw ‘Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire,’ I knew I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage other people to see this movie. The film is so raw and powerful — it split me open,” Winfrey said.
“I am honored to join Oprah Winfrey and Lionsgate in releasing Lee Daniels’ exceptional film,” Perry said.
Lionsgate, Winfrey, Perry push ‘Push‘ (Variety)
by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, originally published at Women and Hollywood
A couple of weeks ago the NY Times ran a piece about the lack of progress of African American directors over the last decade. It seems that African American filmmakers suffer the same issues as women filmmakers — being stuck in a niche and unable to get out. Whether it’s right or not, or desired or not, most African American directors get pigeon holed into creating stories for African American audiences which are still not seen as “mainstream.” Personally, I would rather see a film like The Secret Life of Bees directed by an African American woman like it was, because I would venture to say that Gina Prince-Bythewood (pictured top right) would do a better job than a white woman or white man. I don’t see anything wrong with that. But because women and people of color are seen as “niche audiences” anyone who is in those groups gets stuck. I don’t think the problem is with the audiences. The Secret Life of Bees was a steady earner all through the fall with black and white women. I think the word niche is evil and should be banished. Why aren’t stories like Cadillac Records which boasts an amazing performance from Beyonce (tell me why they couldn’t sell her?) seen as American stories? Once the movie business figures out that they can make money by getting people beyond the “niche” maybe we will see more opportunities for African American directors and women directors.
Some points from the article:
You could now literally count on one hand (using two fingers) the number of black directors who can get their projects made and distributed at a steady rate. One is (Spike) Lee…while the other is Tyler Perry.
Momentum for African-American cinema, it would seem, has been curtailed or at least stalled in part by studio executives’ preconceptions that black films are “niche product” with limited appeal. Yet at the same time black directors and producers still express optimism that they not only can continue to cultivate their black audiences but also can reach out further and wider to the mainstream…
Darnell Martin, the director of Cadillac Record is a cautionary, yet surprisingly typical tale of what happens to women directors:
Ms. Martin places much of the blame for her sporadic career in the feature-film business on the conflicts she had over the promotion of “I Like It Like That.” “They insisted on making me the poster child for the film, the ‘female Spike Lee,’ and I said, ‘Look, I don’t mind that. I’m proud to be a black woman director, and I want that out there.’ But we’d gotten some great reviews, and I felt that was what they should be leading with. If it had been a white director, they would have emphasized the reviews, but instead they were trying to get people to see it only because I was black.
by Guest Contributor SLB, originally published at PostBourgie
In grad school, I took an elective called Autobiografiction in Black, a course in first-person narratives illustrating a broad pastiche of Black life. The first novel we were asked to read was Sapphire’s Push. I read it in three days, growing more and more uncomfortable by the page. I had to take long, cleansing breaks after certain passages. Other times, I sat covering my mouth in disbelief at the central character’s myriad disfortunes. When the book finally ended, I wanted to hurl it across my apartment. My skin crawled for days and I felt betrayed by my professor. What possible reason could she have had for choosing this novel as the initial reading for her course?
Push is the story of Precious Jones, an obese and illiterate teen whose mother and father are sexually, physically, and emotionally abusing her. As a result of routine father-daughter incest, she is the mother of one child with Down’s Syndrome and is pregnant with a second. These horrifying occurrences are just the beginning of Precious’s troubles, but it’d behoove you to read the book to find out what else is going on.
Suffice it to say: Sapphire is relentless in her portrayal of this girl, who joins a literacy class and begins to slowly peek out from the cracks of her dark, shattered life and find a few rays of light.
People who love this book will tell you that it’s a triumphal story of hope in the face of brutality and despair. And it is. But for me, hope appeared too late in the work and retreated without a satisfying enough redemption for our heroine. I couldn’t stop mourning her abundance of tragedies, no matter what brief victories she won.
So when I found out Push was being adapted for the silver screen, I cringed at the prospect of revisiting Precious’s bleakly rendered world. I dreaded watching in technicolor all the awful things I’d imagined while reading. And I reeeally didn’t want to return to the hollowness that haunted the ending. What possible reason would Hollywood have for further dramatizing an existence as heinous as Precious’s? Continue reading
by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, orginally published at Women and Hollywood
Cherien Dabis is having one of those dreamlike weeks. She was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2009, and her film Amreeka had its world premiere at Sundance this past weekend to a standing ovation and positive reviews. Now all she needs to do it sell the film and get an agent.
Not being in Sundance, I haven’t seen the film but if I were there, it would been tops on my list. Here’s the description from the catalog:
Director Cherien Dabis’s auspicious debut feature, Amreeka, is a warm and lighthearted film about one Palestinian family’s tumultuous journey into Diaspora amidst the cultural fallout of America’s war in Iraq. Muna Farah, a Palestinian single mom, struggles to maintain her optimistic spirit in the daily grind of intimidating West Bank checkpoints, the constant nagging of a controlling mother, and the haunting shadows of a failed marriage. Everything changes one day when she receives a letter informing her that her family has been granted a U.S. green card. Reluctant to leave her homeland, but realizing it may be the only way to secure a future for Fadi, her teenage son, Muna decides to quit her job at the bank and visit her relatives in Illinois to see about a new life in a land that gives newcomers a run for their money.Dabis weaves an abundance of humor and levity into this tale of struggle, displacement, and nostalgia and draws an absorbing and irresistibly charming performance from actress Nisreen Faour as Muna, who stands at the heart of this tale. Amreeka glows with the truth and magic of everyday life and signals the arrival of an exciting, new directorial talent.
She took a couple of minutes to discuss the film and her Sundance experience.
Women & Hollywood: What made you want to make this film?
Cherien Dabis: The story is quite personal, inspired by my family and loosely based on true events. I grew up in a small town in Ohio of about 10,000 people. I actually grew up between Ohio and Jordan but most of my time was spent in this small town where as Arab Americans we were isolated because there was no Arab community and not a whole lot of diversity. For a while everything was fine and we fit in relatively well until the first Gulf War when my family was scapegoated and overnight we virtually became the enemy. All kinds of absurd things happened. My father who is a physician lost a lot of his patients because they wouldn’t support an Arab doctor and then it came to a head when the Secret Service came to my high school to investigate a rumor that my 17 year old sister threatened to kill the president.