Category Archives: Film

Don’t Freeze: Love and Vulnerability in Black Panther

I remember in the trailer for Black Panther watching the scene over and over again where Okoye tells T’challa before he descends to from the ship, not to “freeze.” And of course he says, “I never freeze” before putting on his helmet falling through a hatch release into the night.

I kept wondering it meant. In what situation would a superhero freeze or let his guard down? I couldn’t imagine the scenario and I really wanted to know.

As a bonafide movie lover, I have a collection of moments in films that I love and adore and among them is the moment when a man looks at the woman he loves, the moment when he is just openly gazing at her and time stops no matter what is happening. I love to see his openness, his vulnerability, his total surrender. But then of course he needs to be equally capable of getting it together again and carrying on his duties. LOL!

When Black Panther descends on a van of girls captured by the Boko Haram in order to save Nakia who is embedded among them on an undercover rescue mission, the aforementioned freezing begins. But not before he and Nakia stealthily dispatch of the armed men.  Then, thinking they are no longer under threat he faces her and says…hi. His mask is on so you can’t see his eyes but you can tell that he’s no longer in Black Panther mode. Okoye then appears and kills a man that neither or aware of because they’re too busy sharing a moment. LOL!

To be immediately engaged with both the vulnerability and strength of Black Panther in this initial and pivotal scene was just one of hundreds of ways in which the movie has shattered previous notions about what it has meant to be a “superhero.”

There is also no Clark Kent/Superman identity crisis conflict to deal with here. Among his people, T’challa does not hide as the Black Panther. Black Panther is not his secret identity. It is who he is. So when he looks at Nakia and freezes as Black Panther in the midst of battle or as King T’challa walking leisurely through the marketplace with her, it’s all the same man.

With Nakia, T’Challa is able to safely express his doubts about being the kind of king he feels he should be and he entrusts all the women around him, his mother, sister, general with the responsibility to support, inform, guide, strategist, and help him protect and defend Wakanda. They are all uniquely necessary and equally committed to this mission.

T’Challa’s vulnerability is his strength and he never seems to be at odds with it. I have never seen that treated with such balance and normative reverence in a superhero movie before. To feel the burden of so many of the oppressive and conditioned narratives we’re used to in movies; Whiteness, the male gaze, hyper sexuality, and more,  lift away for just a few hours is indescribably liberating. When I first saw Black Panther, I froze as well. And after the third time, time still stopped for me. And each time I see it, I come back to the world slightly different.

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Sean Carter Confessionals: Family Feud

The wretched of the earth do not decide to become extinct, they resolve, on the contrary, to multiply; life is their weapon against life, life is all that they have.

-James Baldwin

A man who don’t take care of his family can’t be rich. I watched Godfather, I missed that whole shit…

-Jay-Z

 

The year is 2444 The home is rich and lavish. The setting is coldness, anger and betrayal. Michael B. Jordan storms angrily into the bedroom of Thandie Newtown’s characteron a particularly “important day” loudly berating her capacity to be the head of a clearly powerful family only to find her in bed with a dude played by Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes. I notice immediately how pale Thandie, Michael B. Jordan and X are. The only colors you see are like pale blues and yellows. But the paleness of their skin tone makes me think of sickness, deficiency, greed heartlessness and death. Sure enough, before the scene is done, both men are killed, Mark by Trevante and then Trevante by Thandie’s character, Game of Thrones style, because she wants the family “Throne” for herself.

2444

Both Anthony and Trevante are both wearing clothing at the waist inspired by garb worn by men in ancient Khemit. Thandie wears a scant bandage outfit nearly identical to the one Milla Jojovich wore in the “The Fifth Element” a film set in a future that opens in an Egyptian temple and where the planet is under threat of total destruction if an essential element, which is embodied by a woman is not recovered.

Jay Z Family Feud screen grab Credit: Tidal

In the year 2148 an indigenous woman, Bird and Jacob played by Irene Bedard and Omari Hardwick are joint world leaders hailing from two great families. They respond to questions from a citizenry council about violent events that have lead to Jacob’s rise in power. Jacob recounts the legacy of his family and their struggle to uphold and maintain law and justice throughout generations. He talks about how one of his ancestors who played a major role as one of the founding mothers.

Founding Mothers

She was the primary architect of something called “The Confessional Papers” in 2050 and revised the constitution with a group of amazing women, played by Janet Mock, Neicy Nash, Mindy Khaling, Rosario Dawson and Rashida Jones just to name a few.

His ancestor, played by Susan Kelechi Watson in the year 2050 by is none other than Blue Ivy Carter.

Now we’re in Blue Ivy’s  narrational 2050 memory as she recalls her father’s words, “Nobody wins when the family feuds.”

Beyonce-family-feud

Cut to 2018 which is basically now, where there the musical narrative of the video for Jay Z’s “Family Feud” begins. Jay-Z walks a present day Blue Ivy to sit in a church pew and then walks the front to start rapping before Beyonce who Amens at him from the pulpit in royal Blue, looking like a sanctified and sexy ass Popestress. She also appears in a black mini dress and billowy white sleeves behind the screen of a confessional as Jay speaks to her from the other side. The metaphor is plain to see now. And there is still so much left to unpack. I want this to be movie or a television series!

Blu ivy FF

I’m still on the floor!

I don’t know about you but I’ve already watched this video about five times now. I know I will lose count of how many times I watch it again and of how many other pieces of symbolism I pick out of this brilliant work of art and revolution made explicitly for the culture. I also know that 4:44 is a fierce, proud and unapologetically Black call to action to each of us who are about that life if there ever was one and I couldn’t have asked for anything better to arrive as 2017 comes to an end and 2018 kicks the door and our asses in.

Here’s to a Black Ass, Woke Ass 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock’s “Top Five”

Top Five Subway

I don’t want to give away any spoilers for Chris Rocks new film, “Top Five.” It’s not due for release until December 11th. But I saw a screening of it last Friday night with a friend of mine and I really liked it.

From the trailer I’d only just recently started to see last week, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m glad I saw it before reading or even hearing anything else about it because I would never have expected what I saw. I’ve already been let down by “Dear White People” and “Interstellar” so I tried to keep my expectations at an even keel.

“Top Five” is a film I know I have to see again because I was sort of thrown off by what is clearly being promoted as a haha funny comedy, but which has some surprisingly sober and contemplative moments. I was hooked immediately, not just by the story and the performances but also the editing, the score, the pace, the choice of New York City locations. As a native New Yorker, I love good New York movies. I’ve been to absolutely every location in New York that “Top Five” was shot in and some of those places hold very fond memories for me so already, I’m engaged on an emotional level. Even the courtyard of my old High School in Spanish Harlem had a quick split second cameo.

Ever since SNL, I’ve always really liked Chris Rock so I’m always rooting for him even if I don’t always love everything he does. The last movie he did “Good Hair,” which was a documentary, fell short for me. I appreciated the attempt but I think he could have cast his net a little broader with regard to testimonials, research and approach. But he’s Chris Rock and he does things the way he does. His interests and experiences as a man with regard to the issue of “Good Hair” and women of color were slightly different from mine.

Watching “Top Five” though, I can tell that Rock has begun to selectively incorporate into his writing and direction much of what he has learned from other films he has worked on and loved and finally made them his own. It’s clear how determined he is to break out of a one dimensional shell of projections, and depict himself as a man with a deep undying passion for the craft of comedy and the truth that it reveals about life, celebrity, social issues, racial politics, music and more.

He basically plays a character loosely based on his own celebrity and though this may sound like Rock was just turning the camera on himself I think it’s actually very challenging for an actor to elevate a self-referential character study beyond a reality television framework for the sake of sensationalism alone. And he nails it. I think that playing a famous Black comic allowed Rock to bring himself to the character in a way that stripped him of the need to hide behind a performance and reveal complex parts of himself instead. I didn’t feel him acting. I just felt him period. He called on his best resources, his life experiences, his talent and created something memorable, sentimental, raw, hilarious, and even sweet.

Belafonte: Film History 101

Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' 2014 Governors Awards - Show

Last night I was watching the acceptance speech Harry Belafonte gave after receiving the Humanitarian Award from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is someone I have admired greatly for years, more for his activism and work with youth, than his acting. I prefer his musical performances to his dramatic ones. But having worked in film at a time before racial integration, the projects he chose to work in were deliberate in their revolutionary positions on race, social justice and class structure. Even he has said that he never wanted to be an actor for any other reason than to have a platform from which to positively affect social change.

My favorite part of his acceptance speech is when he began to reverently and expertly break down the fundamental ways in which films like “Birth of A Nation” and “Tarzan,” while admittedly innovative for the time, helped to invent and stereotype popular ideas about who Black Americans and Black Africans were, to in effect plant the seed of hatred in the minds of Whites and Blacks alike. Even Belafonte was impressed as a young person, watching “Tarzan” for the first time. But he was clear that for people of color, awe and amazement were quickly stamped out by images of themselves that evoked and reflected the base fears of a dominant white culture that were bent on maintaining power over this medium by keeping aesthetic ideals of intelligence, beauty and heroism as white as could be.

That hasn’t changed by the way.

As an avid film lover with a degree in Media and Social Issues and as a woman of color I make it a point not only to study film but to try my best to understand what I am consuming when I watch films. Since the dawn of filmmaking there has only been one story to tell albeit in many different ways. The story is of humanity. We cannot tell any other story but this. Even in nature documentaries about animals, ecosystems, planets, everything that is being studied, or explored, or interpreted is being done through the human mind. We like mirrors. We hate mirrors. But if we do not look, we can never know we exist, how and for what reasons.

The medium of film has been co-opted by the dominate culture for decades but the stories of humanity within them that have been allowed into the mainstream have been broad, compelling, heartbreaking, transcendent, universal and beautiful nonetheless. Like any form of art, you can find the voices you’re looking for even if they are not released by the big studios. But you have to look. And if you can’t find the voice you’re looking for, try using your own or supporting and encouraging those around you which hold promise.

I know without looking at my film collection that it is primarily made up of white casts, and white directors. I can also guess that the majority of these directors are male. This is the world I live in. I can see myself in a story that does not include characters that look like me because as humans, we all share the human experience. But humane portrayal in film is not always shared equally across race and gender. Types stick. Genres and formulas generate buzz and bring in millions. And the deep psychological effects of racism and sexism play out on the big screen and the small in ways we are often depended upon to overlook as consumers.  Being educated about the history of any medium of expression is to understand more about its present day incarnations and the ways in which the actual evolution or change in its depictions are usually more or less the same as they ever were for better or worse.

With regard to film and the role it plays in enlightenment, exploration and inciting movement, it’s not always change that’s necessary, but a realization about why we tell stories the way we do in the first place. Our  voices, stories, faces, our diversity is there.  It has been from the beginning in directors like Oscar Micheaux and performers like Paul Robeson, in films like “Black Orpheus” and “Sugar Cane Alley” The problem is in the monopolization of the dominate eye behind the camera. And you can always tell whose eye it is because the same trail of evidence is left behind in each frame.