Just Mercy

Posted on January 9, 2020 at 5:26 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content including some racial epithets
Profanity: Strong language including n-word and other racist terms
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: References to violent crimes, non-explicit depiction of an execution
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 10, 2020

Copyright Warner Brothers 2019
The third 2019 awards season story based on a real-life lawyer stars producer Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Legacy Museum (sometimes referred to as the Lynching Museum) and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The movie shows him as a young graduate of Harvard Law School who moved to the small town where Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Like Lee’s Atticus Finch, Stevenson defends those who were unfairly accused. He established the Equal Justice Initiative. The only other staff was a local woman named Eva Ansley (Brie Larson). Stevenson began helping men on death row at no cost.

The local community, especially law enforcement, did not like having old cases re-opened and weaknesses of evidence and exposed. The hostility and obstruction seemed insurmountable. But Stevenson was undaunted. Unlike most heroic lawyers in movies (and real life), this story does not have family members complaining that he is working too hard or a love interest who feels neglected. Stevenson does not lose his temper or feel like giving up. The great gift of this movie is what sometimes, if you are not watching carefully, may make it seem like its pilot light is turned down too low. This movie does have some rousing moments (and some sad ones) but it does not follow the usual courtroom underdog stories that make the intricacies of the judicial system follow the beats of a feel-good sports story.

Jordan is that rare performer who is a superb actor and a full-on movie star. After his electrifying appearance in “Black Panther,” he shows his range as a lawyer whose only superpowers are his integrity and his constant courtesy toward everyone he deals with. client, friend, and foe. The quiet power of the respect he shows to his clients is critical to gaining their trust and to restoring their sense of dignity in a system that has done its best to take it from them. And it is wisely given as much weight here as any revelation of evidence or legal right left out of the original proceedings.

Director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton also treats Stevenson’s clients with respect, with an outstanding performance by Jamie Foxx as Stevenson’s first significant client. It’s a quieter role than we have seen him in for a while, and his subtle work here is extraordinary, telling us the whole history of a man who has never been able to expect fairness for himself or his family. Rob Morgan plays another prisoner, performed with heartwrenching simplicity and delicacy to bring home to us what brought Stevenson to devote his life to this cause.

Parents should know that this movie concerns men on death row and abuses of the justice system. It includes some strong language, including racist epithets, and references to sexual assault and violent crime an a non-explicit depiction of an execution.

Family discussion: Why was it important for Stevenson to address his clients and their families as Mr. and Mrs.? What kept him from giving up?

If you like this, try: Bryan Stevenson’s book and TED Talk, and documentary

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100 Years of Black Film

Posted on January 2, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Copyright 2020 Soda Pop Graphics

This outstanding new history of black filmmakers is available for free! It includes everything from Hollywood classics (Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier as the first black performers to win Oscars) to the unsung innovators like Oscar Micheaux, who responded to the racism of D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” with “Within Our Gates, the pioneers of the Blaxploitation era, and Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” winning the Best Picture Oscar. The #Oscarssowhite protests, Motown’s Berry Gordy’s films like “Lady Sings the Blues” and “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings,” and Tyler Perry establishing his own (wildly successful) studio. Highly recommended!

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Queen & Slim Leads 2019 Black Reel Awards Nominees

Posted on December 11, 2019 at 5:25 pm

Copyright 2019 Universal Pictures
The gripping story of a couple on the run from the law following a traffic stop gone wrong, Queen and Slim, received 14 nominations and in the process became the third film in Black Reel Awards history to be so honored.

Director Melina Matsoukas’ piercing examination of race and justice tied both Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls and Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, scoring multiple nominations. They included Outstanding Motion Picture, Outstanding Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female (Jodie Turner-Smith), Outstanding Screenplay (Original or Adapted) and Outstanding First Screenplay for Lena Waithe, as well as Outstanding Director and Outstanding Emerging Director for Matsoukas.

In addition, the film received multiple nominations in the Outstanding Song category, for Collide (Tiana Major9 & EARTH GANGO) and Guarding the Gates (Lauryn Hill), Outstanding Score and nods in every technical category, Outstanding Cinematography, Outstanding Costume Design and Outstanding Production Design.

Director Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his Black Reel Award winning film, Get Out, Us thrilled voters as well on the way to 12 nominations. Led by its visionary director, who garnered a record-tying four nominations including Outstanding Director, Outstanding Screenplay, Original or Adapted, and Outstanding Motion Picture. Peele also was recognized for Outstanding Voice Performer for Toy Story 4. Us also secured an Outstanding Motion Picture nomination as well as Outstanding Actress for Black Reel Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, Outstanding Supporting Actress and Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female for newcomer Shahadi Wright Joseph, Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Score, Outstanding Cinematography, Outstanding Costume Design, and Outstanding Production Design.

The story of underground cult comedian Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite Is My Name also scored double-digit nominations with 11. Led by Outstanding Actor nominee Eddie Murphy, the film received multiple nominations for its talented cast including Outstanding Supporting Actress and Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female for newcomer Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Outstanding Supporting Actor for Black Reel Award winner Wesley Snipes, Outstanding Breakthrough Actor, Male for Titus Burgess. The film also garnered noms for Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Score, as well as Outstanding Costume Design for last year’s winner, Ruth E. Carter.

“I’m extremely thrilled with the choices that our Voting Academy made this year,” said Black Reel Awards founder and President, Tim Gordon. ”As we celebrate our 20th Anniversary, it is both humbling to reminisce about the journey, yet refreshing to see and experience so much new talent that graced the screen for the first time.”

Other highlights include Waves receiving nine nominations followed by the indie darling, The Last Black Man in San Francisco that scored eight nominations. Seven nominations went to the prison drama, Clemency, while both Harriet and Luce each took home six nods. In addition, three directors each received four nominations, Chinoye Chukwu, Julius Onah, and Peele.

The 20th Annual Black Reel Awards ceremony will take place on Thursday, February 6, 2020, live streamed on BlogTalkRadio.

20TH ANNUAL BLACK REEL AWARDS NOMINEES
(Digital Nomination Copy)

Outstanding Motion Picture

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Eddie Murphy, John Fox & John Davis

JUST MERCY (Warner Bros.)
Asher Goldstein & Gil Netter

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Pamela Addy, Andrew Coles, James Frey, Michelle Knudsen, Melina Matsoukas, Lena Waithe & Brad Weston

US (Universal Pictures)
Jordan Peele, Jason Blum, Ian Cooper & Sean McKittrick

WAVES (A24)
Trey Edward Schultz, Kevin Turen & James Wilson

Copyright A24 2019

Outstanding Actor

JIMMIE FAILS
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

KELVIN HARRISON JR.
Luce (Neon)

KELVIN HARRISON JR.
Waves (A24)

DANIEL KALUUYA
Queen & Slim (Universal Pictures)

EDDIE MURPHY
Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)

Outstanding Actress

Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

CYNTHIA ERIVO
Harriet (Focus Features)

GUGU MBATHA-RAW
Fast Color (Lionsgate/Codeblack)

LUPITA NYONG’O
Us (Universal Pictures)

JODIE TURNER-SMITH
Queen & Slim (Universal Pictures)

ALFRE WOODARD
Clemency (Neon)

Outstanding Director

MATI DIOP
Atlantics (Netflix)

KASI LEMMONS
Harriet (Focus Features)

MELINA MATSOUKAS
Queen & Slim (Universal Pictures)

JULIUS ONAH
Luce (Neon)

JORDAN PEELE
Us (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Supporting Actor

STERLING K. BROWN
Waves (A24)

ALDIS HODGE
Clemency (Neon)

JAMIE FOXX
Just Mercy (Warner Bros.)

JONATHAN MAJORS
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

WESLEY SNIPES
Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)

Outstanding Supporting Actress

SHAHADI WRIGHT JOSEPH
Us (Universal Pictures)

JANELLE MONAE
Harriet (Focus Features)

DA’VINE JOY RANDOLPH
Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)

TAYLOR RUSSELL
Waves (A24)

OCTAVIA SPENCER
Luce (Neon)

Outstanding Screenplay

CLEMENCY (Neon)
Chinonye Chukwu

LES MISERABLES (Amazon Studios)
Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini & Alexis Manenti

LUCE (Neon)
J.C. Lee & Julius Onah

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Lena Waithe

US (Universal Pictures)
Jordan Peele

Outstanding Documentary Feature

THE APOLLO (HBO Documentary)
Roger Ross Williams, director

THE BLACK GODFATHER (Netflix)
Reginald Hudlin, director

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE (Netflix)
Rachel Lears, director

MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL (Abramorama)
Stanley Nelson, director

TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (Magnolia Pictures)
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, director

Outstanding International Film

ATLANTICS (Netflix)
Senegal

THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND (Netflix)
United Kingdom

FARMING (Momentum Pictures)
United Kingdom

IN FABRIC (A24)
United Kingdom

LES MISERABLES (Amazon Studios)
France

Outstanding Ensemble

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Lindsay Graham & Mary Vernieu, casting directors

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (A24)
Julia Kim, casting director

JUST MERCY (Warner Bros.)
Carmen Cuba, casting director

US (Universal Pictures)
Terri Taylor, casting director

WAVES (A24)
Avy Kaufman, casting director

Outstanding Voice Performance

CHIWETEL EJIOFOR (Scar)
The Lion King (Disney)

DONALD GLOVER (Simba)
The Lion King (Disney)

JAMES EARL JONES (Mufasa)
The Lion King (Disney)

KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY (Ducky)
Toy Story 4 (Disney)

JORDAN PEELE (Bunny)
Toy Story 4 (Disney)

Outstanding Score

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Scott Bomar

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (A24)
Emile Mosseri

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Devonte Hynes

US (Universal Pictures)
Michael Abels

WAVES (A24)
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

Outstanding Original Song

“COLLIDE” (QUEEN & SLIM)
Tiana Major9 & EARTH GANG, performers

“DON’T TURN BACK” (THE APOLLO)
Robert Glasper & Ledisi, performers

“GUARDING THE GATES” (QUEEN & SLIM)
Lauryn Hill, performer

“IT’S NOT OVER” (BRIAN BANKS)
Gizzle & Sam Fisher, performers

“SPIRIT” (THE LION KING)
Beyonce Knowles-Carter, performer

Outstanding Independent Feature – Awarded to the Director & Producers

BURNING CANE (ARRAY)
Phillip Youmans, director
Ojo Akinlana, Wendell Pierce, Mose Mayer, Isaac Webb, Cassandra Youmans Jakob Johnson & Karen Kaia Livers, producers

CLEMENCY (Neon)
Chinonye Chukwu, director
Timur Bekbosunov, Julian Cautherley, Bronwyn Cornelius & Peter Wong, producers

GUAVA ISLAND (Amazon Studios)
Hiro Murai, director
Donald Glover, Carmen Cuba, Jennifer Roth & Fam Udeorji, producers

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (A24)
Joe Talbot, director/producer
Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh & Khaliah Neal, producers

LUCE (Neon)
Julius Onah, director/producer
John Baker & Andrew Yang, producers

Outstanding Short Film

AMERICA
Garrett Bradley, director

HAIR LOVE (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Matthew A. Cherry, director

IT’S NOT ABOUT JIMMY KEENE
Caleb Jaffe, director

SUICIDE BY SUNLIGHT
Nikyatu Jusu, director

ZAHRA AND THE OIL MAN
Yucef Mayes, director

Outstanding Independent Documentary

16 BARS
Sam Bathrick, director

NO LYE: AN AMERICAN BEAUTY STORY
Bayer Mack, director

THE REMIX: HIP HOP X FASHION
Lisa Cortes & Farah Khalid, director

Outstanding Emerging Director

CHINONYE CHUKWU
Clemency (Neon)

NIA DACOSTA
Little Woods (Neon)

MATI DIOP
Atlantics (Netflix)

MELINA MATSOUKAS
Queen & Slim (Universal)

JULIUS ONAH
Luce (Neon)

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male

TITUSS BURGESS
Dolemite Is My Name (Netflix)

JIMMIE FAILS
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

KELVIN HARRISON JR.
Waves (A24)

ALDIS HODGE
Clemency (Neon)

JONATHAN MAJORS
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female

MAME BINETA SANE
Atlantics (Netflix)

SHAHADI WRIGHT JOSEPH
Us (Universal Pictures)

DA’VINE JOY RANDOLPH
Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)

TAYLOR RUSSELL
Waves (A24)

JODIE TURNER-SMITH
Queen & Slim (Universal)

Outstanding First Screenplay

ATLANTICS (Netflix)
Mati Diop & Olivier Demangel

THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND (Netflix)
Chiwetel Ejiofor

BURNING CANE (ARRAY)
Phillip Youmans

CLEMENCY (Neon)
Chinoye Chukwu

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Lena Waithe

Outstanding Cinematography

HARRIET (Focus Features)
John Toll

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (A24)
Adam Newport-Berra

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Tad Radcliffe

US (Universal Pictures)
Mike Gioulakis

WAVES (A24)
Drew Daniels

Outstanding Costume Design

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Ruth E. Carter

HARRIET (Focus Features)
Paul Tazewell

HUSTLERS (STX Entertainment)
Mitchell Travers

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Shiona Turini

US (Universal Pictures)
Kym Barrett

Outstanding Production Design

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Clay A. Griffith

HARRIET (Focus Features)
Warren Alan Young

THE LION KING (Disney)
James Chinlund

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Karen Murphy

US (Universal Pictures)
Ruth De Jong

Nominations Per Film

14 nominations
Queen & Slim

11 nominations
Us

10 nominations
Dolemite is My Name

9 nominations
Waves

8 nominations
The Last Black Man in San Francisco

7 nominations
Clemency

6 nominations
Harriet
Luce

5 nominations
Atlantics
The Lion King

3 nominations
Just Mercy

2 nominations
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Burning Cane
Les Miserables
Toy Story 4

1 nomination
16 Bars
America
The Black Godfather
Brian Banks
Guava Island
Farming
Fast Color
Hair Love
Hustlers
In Fabric
It’s Not About Jimmy Keene
Knock Down the House
Little Woods
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
No Lye: An American Beauty Story
The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion
Suicide by the Sunlight
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Zahra and the Oil Man

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The Best of Enemies

Posted on April 4, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material, racial epithets, some violence and a suggestive reference
Profanity: Strong language including racist epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, cigarettes
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including racist attacks
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, including racial and disability issues
Date Released to Theaters: April 5, 2019
Date Released to DVD: July 1, 2019
Copyright 2018 STX Entertainment

The biggest divide in this big, divided world is not between people of different races or religions or political beliefs; it is between people who have different ideas of who is “us” and who is “them.” “The Best of Enemies” is based on the true story of C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), a white supremacist and the Grand Exalted Cyclops (president) of the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, and Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), a black woman who was a community activist working for civil rights and economic justice.

In 1971, Ellis and Atwater were appointed co-chairs of a charette, a dispute resolution mechanism used to resolve complicated community disagreements. Originally developed for land use debates among parties with multiple and varied interests, it was adapted for other kinds of issues by Bill Riddick, played in this film by Babou Ceesay.

Ellis and Atwater lived in Durham, North Carolina. Seventeen years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court that segregated schools were unconstitutional, the Durham schools were still divided. When the school attended by the black children burned down, the city had to decide whether to let them attend the school the white children were attending. The court did not want to deal with it, so they asked Bill Riddick to see if he could get the community to come to some agreement.

Ann Atwater worked for Operation Breakthrough but it was more than a profession; it was her calling. We first see her arguing on behalf of a young woman whose apartment is uninhabitable. And throughout the film we see that her entire life is one of advocacy and generosity. Everyone she meets is either someone to be protected or someone to help her protect others. Her sense of “us” encompassed the world.

C.P. Ellis ran a gas station. He loved his family, including a disabled son who lived in a residential facility.  The Klan made him feel respected and important. He created an outreach program to bring teenagers into the Klan. And he organized outings like the time they shot up the home of  a young white woman coming home from a date with a black man.

He agrees to co-chair the charette because he believes that anyone else who got the position would cave. And there are those in the town who would never associate with the Klan but who are glad to support them in private.

Rockwell and Henson make Ellis and Atwater into fully-developed, complex characters. There’s a world of history in the way Henson walks as Atwater, shoulders hunched, hitching her hips along.  In one scene where she reprimands young black boys for tearing down a KKK hood on display, and then straightens it herself after shooing them away, the expression in her eyes speaks volumes about what she has seen.  And when we see the patience and tenderness Ellis has for his disabled son, we get a sense of all he thinks has been taken from him and how much it matters to him to hold on to something that makes him feel powerful.

This is a thoughtful, sincere drama, beautifully performed with a touching conclusion, first of the story itself, and the small acts of kindness that make “thems” into “us-es,” and then with the footage of the real-life Atwater and Ellis. When she takes his arm to help him walk out of the room, our own us-es get a little larger, too.

Parents should know that this movie deals frankly with issues of bigotry and racism including attacks by the Klu Klux Klan. It includes some strong language with racist epithets and a sexual reference. Characters drink and smoke and there are violent, racially-motivated attacks.

Family discussion: What did Atwater and Ellis have in common? Why did she help his son? Why did she tell the boys not to take down the KKK hood? Who is the Ann Atwater in your community and what are the issues?

If you like this, try: the book by Osha Gray Davidson and the 2018 Oscar winner for Best Picture, Green Book

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Horror is More than Scares and Carnage

Posted on February 27, 2019 at 10:20 pm

As we see in movies like “Get Out,” “28 Days Later,” and “Dawn of the Dead,” horror can be more than scares and carnage. It can reflect and challenge our assumptions. Two new articles provide some fascinating commentary on these themes.

Copyright 1976 Red Bank Films
Mary Beth McAndrews writes on Reel Honey about “reclaiming female exploitation” in horror. “Recently, female directors have been working to reclaim this exploitation by appropriating these tropes to create empowering horror narratives. These films are still violent, but they do not solely depend on the suffering and abjection of their female characters….These directors and writers are just a few of the women in horror working to change the trajectory of the horror narrative and how we view the female body on-screen. Yes, horror is a genre built on violence and gore. But these women are re-evaluating the use of that exploitative violence into something thoughtful, empowering, and equally gory. The monsters they construct are not so fantastical and the scenarios they portray are much more real, giving their violence more meaning and purpose. It is not just about reveling in women’s bodies in pain; it is about understanding their pain.”

Copyright Universal 2017
And on Medium, Marcus Benjamin writes about a new documentary: “Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror’ Makes The Case For Empathy In A Scary World.” Traditionally, he says, “Outside of dying, tending to the the main character’s need was our number one function. This was all done while doing a disservice to our own lives, which we may or may not have had on screen because no one cared enough to give them one. Or in the case of Rachel True’s character from The Craft, someone decided to cut out portions of the film altogether that explored her family life and other struggles….When you’re not surrounded by people of races other than your own, you don’t develop the empathy gene for them. How can you begin to comprehend how a black person feels about blackface if you don’t have any black people in your circle to tell you? Or if you’ve didn’t grow up with any black friends? Or if you grew up in a racist city or town? Despite all your efforts to learn, you’ll likely have a cultural blindspot or two. Similarly, when the history of cinema is filled with blackface or monsters and gigantic apes as stand-ins for black people, that means entire generations grew up believing black people were always lesser.”

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