“Token” Black Actors of the 90’s

Posted on April 4, 2018 at 7:32 am

On The Undefeated: Interviews with Black Actors who played “token” characters on television in the 1990’s, from “Seinfeld” to “Dawson’s Creek.” Important, moving, and infuriating.

n the 1990s, the wealth of black representation on television could lull you into thinking (if you turned the channel from Rodney King taking more than 50 blows from Los Angeles Police Department batons) that black lives actually did matter. But almost all of these shows were, in varying ways, an extension of segregated America. It’s there in the memories of the stars below: There were “black shows” and there were “white shows.” If you were a black actor appearing on a white show, you were usually alone.

For some of the most visible black actors coming of age in the 1990s, it’s clear that along with the triumphs came isolation, blatant racial stereotyping and biased casting calls. As for “crossing over” to the mainstream, in the mostly segregated worlds of Seinfeld, Frasier, Melrose PlaceSaved by the Bell: The New ClassFelicityV.I.P.Buffy the Vampire SlayerDawson’s Creek and more, blacks were usually relegated to bit parts or were there for a short time. The Undefeated sat down with eight of these talented women and men. These are their stories. This is history.

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Actors Gender and Diversity Gender and Diversity Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Take Yourself to a Movie — Alone

Posted on April 3, 2018 at 8:00 am

I love seeing movies with my husband, my family, and my friends.  I also love the pre-release screenings, where I get to hang out with my fellow movie critics, who are great friends and lots of fun to talk with about movies.  But I also love to go go movies by myself (okay, I love seeing movies pretty much any way they come) and was delighted to read this tribute to solo movie viewing by Matthew Monagle of Film School Rejects:

Perhaps my favorite thing about watching movies by myself, however, is the lack of pressure to form an immediate opinion. Much to the annoyance of my friends and family members, I’m not particularly good at articulating how I feel about a movie until I’ve had a little time to think it over. Even then, I might not truly know how I feel until I start trying to write things down. Pauline Kael once described her writing process – and I’m paraphrasing pretty heavily here – as essential to the development of her opinion: she wouldn’t know how she truly felt about a movie until her words hit the page. I’m prone to that same sort of self-discovery. Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to commit to an opinion until I’m certain it’ll hold up under intense scrutiny; other times it’s because I can’t pin down my vague feelings of slight-dislike or slight-like for a movie I just watched. Whatever the reason, those extra minutes I spend to myself after watching a movie – on the subway, in the car, along the street – give me time to bounce ideas around in my head before trying an opinion on for size. And when you come across a movie you truly love, like The Devil’s Candy? Sometimes it’s just nice to sit and bask in it for a little bit without having to dig any deeper.

So the next time a movie catches your eye and you can’t find anyone to go see it with you, try something you may find a little uncomfortable at first: go by yourself.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Interview: Ser’Darius Blain of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

Posted on April 2, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Ser’Darius Blain plays Fridge, the high school football player whose avatar is Kevin Hart in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” one of the best family movies of 2017 and now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. I got to ask him some questions about acting and being in the film.

Copyright 2017 Sony Pictures

If you could pick any avatar of any game to represent you, what would you pick and why?

If I could pick any character from any game to represent me it would be Ryu from Streetfighter. He’s so cool and walks with so much still confidence.

In “Jumanji,” what did Fridge most need to learn from the game?

In Jumanji, Fridge most needed to learn to trust in himself and his own intelligence. He also needed to learn true teamwork and that nobody was judging him but himself…he gained huge lessons through friendship.

What is your favorite scene in the movie?

My favorite scene in the movie is when Jack Black discovers his… anatomy and had to relieve himself in the woods.

With “Jumanji” and “Charmed,” you’ve worked on two projects with a lot of fantasy and special effects.  What is most fun about that and what are the challenges?

The most fun about working with special effects is that you have to really rely on your imagination to build the scene. You can’t actually see how what you’re doing will fit in ultimately and You look silly while doing it but when you see the finished product it becomes something amazing! Like getting mystically sucked into a video game and turning into green jungle dust.

When did you first realize that you wanted to act?

I always knew I wanted to act but I was really afraid to desire something that seemed so unrealistic and a long shot. I was a kid memorizing entire movies and TV episodes but I didn’t take it seriously until I was about 19. Then I moved to New York and took it head on. Best decision I ever made.

What actors have inspired you most?

Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Derek Luke and Leonardo DiCaprio inspired me the most. The rawness balanced with charisma that they all bring to the screen is awe inspiring. I want to be like them when I grow up.

What’s the best advice you have received about acting?

The best advice I’ve received about acting is “to be as uniquely and unequivocally YOU as possible. YOU are special. YOU are interesting and if you’re real, people will find it interesting.” -Della Reese (to me at 22 years old)

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Actors Interview

In a Digital Movie World, Projectionists Still Matter

Posted on April 2, 2018 at 10:31 am

One of the great pleasures of seeing movies at the magnificent Virginia Theater each year for Ebertfest is the superb work of projectionist James Bond (yes, that is his name).  These days, most movies are digitally projected and remote controlled.  But for some films, projectionists still make all the difference.  It was great to see Vanity Fair profile Mike Katz, one of the best, sought after by perfectionist filmmakers like P.T.  Anderson and Martin Scorsese.  My favorite professor in film school started as a teenage projectionist, and that led him to go back to school to study film.

For the first time in years, specialists like him have once again become a hot commodity, thanks to fussy filmmakers like Phantom Threads Paul Thomas Anderson and others—“Batman guy, Scorsese guy, Tarantino guy”—who want to present their new films the way they believe they deserve to be seen, on 35mm or 70mm, in a handful of big-city markets. They’re frantically seeking projectionists like Katz to get the job done, even turning to those who have retired or moved on from the profession…Katz—like those film-nerds-turned-directors who are breathing new life into his industry—is hyper-aware of the differences between a D.C.P., or digital cinema package, and a film print. (He actually installed BAM’s first two digital projectors about 12 and 8 years ago.) He credits his father and uncle Louie, both of whom worked as projectionists and were proud members of New York’s still-thriving projectionists union, with giving him vital on-the-job training; he started working for them as a “reelboy,” rethreading just-screened film prints, and handing them back to the projectionist.


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