Black Reel Awards Nominations 2014

Posted on December 17, 2014 at 9:14 am

One of the great pleasures of this time of year is voting for so many of my favorite filmmakers as a part of the Black Reel Awards. Thanks, as ever, to Tim Gordon for allowing me to participate. I think it is fair to say we had more and better choices this year than we ever have before. Here are our nominees:


Copyright 2104 Relativity Media
Copyright 2104 Relativity Media
Outstanding Motion Picture

Belle | Damian Jones (Fox Searchlight)
Beyond the Lights | Stephanie Allain, Amar’e Stoudamire, Reggie Rock Bythewood & Ryan Kavanaugh (Relativity Media)
Dear White People | Justin Simien, Angel Lopez, Lena Waithe, Ann Le, Effie Brown & Julia Lebedev (Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions)
Selma | Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner & Christian Colson (Paramount)
Top Five | Scott Rudin & Eli Bush (Paramount)

Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture

Chadwick Boseman | Get on Up (Universal Pictures)
David Oyelowo | Selma (Paramount)
Nate Parker | Beyond the Lights (Relativity Media)
Chris Rock | Top Five (Paramount)
Denzel Washington | The Equalizer (Columbia Pictures)

Outstanding Actress, Motion Picture

Rosario Dawson | Top Five (Paramount)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw | Belle (Fox Searchlight)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw | Beyond the Lights (Relativity Media)
Tessa Thompson | Dear White People (Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions)
Quvenzhane Wallis | Annie (Columbia Pictures)

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Motion Picture

Nelsan Ellis | Get On Up (Universal)
David Oyelowo | A Most Violent Year (A24)
Tyler Perry | Gone Girl (20th Century Fox)
Wendell Pierce | Selma (Paramount)
Michael K. Williams | The Gambler (Paramount)

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture

Viola Davis | The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (The Weinstein Company)
Carmen Ejogo | Selma (Paramount)
Teyonah Parris | Dear White People (Lionsgate / Roadside Attractions)
Zoe Saldana | Guardians of the Galaxy (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Octavia Spencer | Snowpiercer (The Weinstein Company)

Outstanding Director, Motion Picturetop five

Amma Asante | Belle (Fox Searchlight)
Gina Prince-Bythewood | Beyond the Lights (Relativity Media)
Ava DuVernay | Selma (Paramount)
Chris Rock | Top Five (Paramount)
Justin Simien | Dear White People (Lionsgate / Roadside Attractions)

Outstanding Screenplay (Original or Adapted), Motion Picture

Gina Prince-Bythewood | Beyond the Lights (Relativity Media)
John Ridley | Jimi: All is by My Side (XLrator Media/ Open Road Films)
Chris Rock | Top Five (Paramount)
Misan Sagay | Belle (Fox Searchlight)
Justin Simien | Dear White People (Lionsgate / Roadside Attractions)

Outstanding Documentary

Anita: Speaking Truth to the Power | Freida Lee Mock (Samuel Goldwyn)
I Am Ali | Clare Lewins (Focus World)
Keep on Keepin’ On | Alan Hicks (Radius-TWC)
Time is Illmatic | One9 (Tribeca Film)
Virunga | Orlando von Einsiedel (Netflix)

Outstanding Ensemble (Awarded to Casting Directors)

Belle | Toby Whale (Fox Searchlight)
Dear White People | Kim Coleman (Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions)
Get On Up | Kerry Barden & Paul Schnee (Universal)
Selma | Aisha Coley (Paramount)
Top Five | Victoria Thomas (Paramount)

Outstanding Foreign Film

Difret (Ethiopia)| Zeresenay Mehari (Moving Turtle)
The Double! (U.K.) | Richard Ayoade (Magnolia Films)
Fishing Without Nets (Kenya) | Cutter Hodierne (Drafthouse Films)
Freedom Road (South Africa) | Shane Vermooten (Media Village Productions)
Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria) | Biyi Bandele (Monterey Media)

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male

Brandon Bell | Dear White People (Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions)
David Gyasi | Interstellar (Paramount)
Andre Holland | Selma (Paramount)
Stephan James | Selma (Paramount)
Tyler James Williams | Dear White People (Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female

Jillian Estell| Black or White (Relativity Media)
Patina Miller | The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1 (Lionsgate)
Teyonah Parris | Dear White People (Lionsgate / Roadside Attractions)
Amber Stevens | 22 Jump Street (Columbia/ MGM)
Kuoth Wiel | The Good Lie (Warner Bros.)

Outstanding Voice Performance

Vin Diesel | Guardians of the Galaxy (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Morgan Freeman | The LEGO Movie (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Maya Rudolph | Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Zoe Saldana | The Book of Life (20th Century Fox)
Damon Wayans Jr. | Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)


Outstanding Score

Terence Blanchard | Black or White (Relativity Media)
Kathryn Bostic | Dear White People (Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions)
Danny Bramson & Waddy Wachtel | Jimi: All is by My Side (XLrator Media/ Open Road Films)
Mask Isham | Beyond the Lights (Relativity Media)
Jason Moran | Selma (Paramount)

Outstanding Original Song

“It Ain’t Easy” from Top Five | Written & Performed by: Questlove & Elza Colby (Paramount)
“It’s On Again” from The Amazing Spider-Man 2| Performed by: Alicia Keys & Kendrick Lamar; Written by: Alicia Keys, Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer & Kendrick Lamar (Sony Pictures)
“Glory” from Selma | Performed by: John Legend & Common; Written by: John Legend, Common & Che Smith (Paramount)
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights | Performed by: Rita Ora; Written by: Diane Warren (Relativity Media)
“What is Love” from Rio 2 | Performed by: Janelle Monae; Written by: Janelle Monae, Nathaniel Irvin III and Roman Irvin (20th Century Fox)


Outstanding Independent Feature

1982 | Tommy Oliver
Christmas Wedding Baby | Kiara C. Jones
CRU | Alton Glass
The Retrieval | Chris Eska (Variance Films)
Una Vida: A Fable of Music and the Mind | Richie Adams

Outstanding Independent Documentary

25 to Life | Mike Brown (AAFRM)
Evolution of a Criminal | Darius Clark Monroe
Let the Fire Burn | Jason Osder
Oscar Micheaux: The Czar of Black Hollywood | Bayer Mack
Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People | Thomas Allen Harris

Outstanding Independent Short

#AmeriCan | Nate Parker
Muted | Rachel Goldberg
The Voodoo | Steven Alexander


Outstanding Television Documentary or Special

Finding the Funk | Nelson George (VH1)
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown | Alex Gibney (HBO)
On the Run Tour: Jay-Z & Beyonce | Jonas Akerlund (HBO)
The Tanning of America: One Nation Under Hip-Hop | Billy Corben & Alfred Spellman (VH1)
Terror at the Mall | Dan Reed (HBO)

Outstanding TV Movie or Mini-Series

A Day Late and a Dollar Short | Tom Leonardis, Jeffrey M. Hayes, Bill Haber & Whoopi Goldberg (Lifetime)
Gun Hill | Daniel Hank (BET)
Rosemary’s Baby | Zoe Saldana, Cisely Saldana, Mariel Saldana, Tom Patricia & Robert Bernacchi (NBC)
Seasons of Love | Joshua A. Green, Asger Hussain & Yaron Schwartzman (Lifetime)
The Trip to Bountiful | Bill Haber, Cicely Tyson, Hallie Foote & Jeff Hayes (Lifetime)

Outstanding Actor, TV Movie or Mini-Series

Charles S. Dutton | Comeback Dad (UP)
David Alan Grier | An En Vogue Christmas (Lifetime)
Ving Rhames | A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)
Keith Robinson | Lyfe’s Journey (UP)
Larenz Tate | Gun Hill (BET)

Outstanding Actress, TV Movie or Mini-Series

Whoopi Goldberg | A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)
Imani Hakim | The Gabby Douglas Story (Lifetime)
Letoya Luckett | Seasons of Love (Lifetime)
Zoe Saldana | “Rosemary’s Baby” (NBC)
Cicely Tyson | The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actor, TV Movie or Mini-Series

Richard T. Jones | Lyfe’s Journey (UP)
Harry Lennix | The Fright Night Files (TVOne)
Mekhi Phifer | A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)
Blair Underwood | The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)
Bokeem Woodbine | The Fright Night Files (TVOne)

Outstanding Supporting Actress, TV Movie or Mini-Series

Tichina Arnold | A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)
Kimberly Elise | A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)
Aisha Hinds | Gun Hill (BET)
Anika Noni Rose | A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)
Vanessa L. Williams | The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)

Outstanding Director, TV Movie or Mini-Series

Reggie Rock Bythewood | Gun Hill (BET)
Stan Foster | My Other Mother (UP)
Princess Monique | Seasons of Love (Lifetime)
Russ Parr & R.L. Scott | The Fright Night Files (TVOne)
Ryan Richmond | Lyfe’s Journey (UP)

Outstanding Writing, TV Movie or Mini-Series

Reggie Rock Bythewood | Gun Hill (BET)
Shernold Edwards | A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)
Dayna Lynne North | An En Vogue Christmas (Lifetime)
Peres Owino & Sharon Brathwaite-Sanders | Seasons of Love (Lifetime)
Kimberly Walker | Comeback Dad (UP)

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Interview: Nate Parker of “Beyond the Lights”

Posted on November 15, 2014 at 8:00 am

I first interviewed Nate Parker seven years ago about “The Great Debaters.” It was a great pleasure to catch up with him to discuss his performance in “Beyond the Lights,” one of the year’s best romantic dramas, with sizzling chemistry between the stars and some thoughtful insights into the pressures of celebrity to be hypersexualized.

Copyright 2104 Relativity Media
Copyright 2104 Relativity Media

Your film got a very enthusiastic response at the screening last night!

It seemed as though people enjoyed it. It’s exciting, it’s good when you make something that you are proud of and the response is positive across the board. Gina ‘s scripts and her concise and visionary way of telling stories is something I appreciate, so I was very happy that people responded in a positive way.

We need to take about the karaoke scene.

I think I want to talk to a few record companies on this, you know. I want to do some work together.

I know that it takes a lot of talent to come across as untalented as you did in that scene. So tell me a little bit about how you selected the song and about how you prepared for that scene.

The section of the movie set in Mexico was its own movie in a way.  Our characters get away to really find ourselves and to study each other in our relationship.  Gina wanted it to be very laid back, very down to earth with the personal side of each of us us, the inner kid in us. And so when she brought the karaoke thing to me she asked me if I can sing. I said, “I can sing a little bit.” And she was like “Ok, well we are going to do something a little bit different.” And she made some suggestions on songs. I am a huge New Edition fan. So we came to that song and she said, “OK, I’m going to have her sing this after,” and I said, “OK, well I’m going to do a terrible job!”  And I had fun. I had fun just kind of just playing with it. People are always asking me, “Can you sing in real life?” I think can sing a little bit, I think I do a little bit better than what you see in the film. It was a really good set up as well to be so terrible and then to hear the beauty in her voice, and the song. I think it works, it works in a reverse way.  It puts people in very open and vulnerable place to see someone kind of make a fool of himself and kind of sets them up to receive this incredible moment from Gugu’s character.

I think it also is a character moment for your character because anybody that has got that kind of confidence and charm, I think that’s great. We get a very explicit view of what your character teaches her character but tell me a little bit about what you think your character learns from her.

First I learned the dangers of living for someone else because in the film with Danny Glover as my father he also has plans for my life, like her mother has for her. And the implications of following down my father’s path are little less severe but nonetheless it still living someone else’s life. And I think in seeing the way she deals with her mother and seeing that she has no say in her life kind of reminds me of what is happening in my life. And it gives me the courage to stand up to my father, to say that there are things for my life that I think I want to pursue. And being a great father he’s open to allowing this character to explore himself and explore the things that make them happy. So a lot of people asked me if I think that I saved her and I think the real answer is we saved each other. We came into each other’s lives at very pivotal moments and because we leaned on each other for strength we were able to find our own voices in our lives and ultimately make decisions that we were proud of in the end.

 I love the fact that your character has those quotes that he likes. And I wondered did you play a role in selecting any of those and are there any quotes that are really important in your life?

Yes, it’s funny you asked. I’m also big on quotes. Gina brought it to me without knowing that about me. And so some of those quotes she pulled, some of them I pulled. I recently read a quote by Dante that given the climate of our country kind of resonates, and has resonated with me.  He says, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral conflict.”  And I’m an activist first, I am very forthright in that. Where there is injustice I try to make a presence and deal with it. Martin Luther King also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. I think that those things are really, really a focus in my life. I try my very best to select projects that will deal with social issues in a way that can also be entertaining. When you watch this film you see how a woman who is so desperately hyperexualized and so removed from any sense of who she is as a person and even thinking of committing suicide and how it is important for young girls for them to see that you should be careful before they wish someone else’s life on their own. And that they should understand that to love someone else you love yourself first. And to love yourself you have got to know yourself. So these are themes that I think are not only important because they highlight an interesting story but it also sends a message to young people out there. As the father of four daughters, that means even more to me.

Gina mentioned how much she loves working with you.  What makes your partnership so successful?

One is that she is an activist as well. She’s is very big on perpetuating positivity on in the female space. And having daughters I am also big on that. Also she is a visionary, she’s very clear on what she wants to protect into the world that she does it without compromise and I’ve always admired her for that as a filmmaker. And now as an aspiring filmmaker and going into directing my feature, I very much pull on her and draw on her ideology when it comes to absolute solidarity and collaboration and never compromising on her vision. So she makes it easy to say yes.

What are some of the causes that you are most passionate about?

Oh man, there so many. A lot of what I do revolves around young black man. We started a project in Brooklyn called Leadership and Literacy through Debate where we use this debate platform to inspire young men that don’t know how to read to become literate. We started that with “The Great Debaters” and it continued on over the years.  I do a lot of work with Amnesty and the Boys and Girls Club. There’s a project called Peace4Kids that’s been going on for the last 15 years in South Los Angeles. So there are a lot of things that I’m involved with. I always say that where ever there are young people in need you’ll find me there trying to stand in the gap for them.

How do you guide and protect your daughters in a world where there are so many hyper sexualized role models for them?

Number one is history. They have to know their legacy where they came from because from that they will draw their identity. They will know all the moving parts that made them who they are and then through that they will understand that they have a high expectation of achievement moving forward based on what they know of himself. And I think far too often we don’t set the bar high enough for our children. We kind of allow them to be raised by their circumstances and environment. Instead of being intentional in the things that we teach them and the boundaries we set for their lives.

So for me and my girls, I’m big on history. Just teaching them about their ancestry, teaching them about the diaspora, teaching them about the many ancestors that came before them and sacrificed and thrived before them. And I read an article not too long ago, I don’t remember the name of the article but it talked about the three keys to success when it came to parenting and it was something that’s really stuck with me. And one is the superiority complex, believing that you’re here for something, for something greater. The second is, having a chip on your shoulder. Saying that there are people who will come before you, there are people you can make proud. That was big for me, understanding that I could create a life for my family for my mother and my sisters. I have four younger sisters and I have four daughters so it was huge for me knowing that I had the responsibility for creating a life for them. So I’ve always walked around life feeling like I needed to do more, I had something to prove. And the third was impulse control. And that was big for me when I was in school and understanding that if you would take a beat before you reacted in any situation. You would give yourself a better chance of choosing the right solution to that moment. So impulse control was a really, really big one especially in my movement with the young black males. Your instinct is not always the best decision and how to take a moment in that I let that sleep before you move into what you think is the right answer the right choice for your life.  And what are the consequences? I guess that’s the thing, that we don’t really understand that everything comes with consequences. Whether it be something as huge as addiction and gateway drugs but or something as small as sleeping in every day. These things all have consequences and once we learn to attach those to everything we do I think that we become a lot more intentional about the way we live our lives and there will be personal or image of success.


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Actors Interview

Interview: Gina Prince-Bythewood of “Beyond the Lights”

Posted on November 14, 2014 at 9:28 am

It was an honor to speak to one of my favorite filmmakers, Gina Prince-Bythewood, writer/director of one of this year’s best romantic dramas, “Beyond the Lights.” As I spoke to her, she had just received word that Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who stars as Noni in the film, had been nominated for a Gotham award.

Copyright 2014 Relativity Media
Copyright 2014 Relativity Media

You must be so proud of this great recognition for Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

It was a pretty phenomenal morning to wake up to that.  Gugu started working on the character really for two years but really hard-core for six months in terms of being in the dance studio for hours, a couple of days a week and then the vocal studio with the vocal coach and the amount of work she put into this character knowing that this character is a hundred and eighty degrees from who Gugu is.  You know how bold and brave she had to be to put this out there and to go there and we knew we had to go there given what is happening in the industry now and needing to compete with that and having the knowledge that you have to lead an audience into a world before you can lead them out. So, the fact that she bought into the vision of the piece and really went there — it is just a beautiful thing that she is being recognized and not only for the incredible work she did but in terms of just the preparation. But she gives a really phenomenal performances. I love that it is being recognized.

As a woman who writes and directs, you did a particularly good job of addressing the objectifying elements of what goes on in show business today. Was that an important theme for you to address?

Absolutely. first as a woman who is seeing what happens especially in the music industry and the blueprints that the young artists have to follow to make any sort of noise when they first come out, it really is hypersexualized. But also as a mother of two boys in seeing the trickle-down effect that is happening, the hyper sexualization becoming normal and teen girls and teen boys – and the things that they are doing now are very frightening to me as a mother. And we really are hoping that the film can change the conversation.

I like what you said a moment ago by taking people into the world before you can take them out of it. Tell me a little bit about what that means to you.

Copyright 2014 Relativity Media
Copyright 2014 Relativity Media

For me to put this out there, I mean it was hard shooting the music video as at the beginning of the film and putting that out there in the world and telling an actor to put that energy out. We went there because it was necessary. This is the character that five minutes later is on the edge of a balcony about to jump and we really needed to show the psychological effects on a 10-year-old girl who just wants to sing, who’s probably in front of a mirror singing into a hairbrush and no one dreams about being in an artist and putting that kind of energy out but to make this dramatic jump to that music video and I want the immediate question of how did that happen, how did that little girl become this and what is the psychological effects of that film. So we had to push it and we had to go there because it was important to the story that we were telling.

You have said that you were very glad to be working with Nate Parker again on this film.  What makes him one of your favorite actors?

I love Nate as an actor because he has no inhibitions and he would just go for it and that karaoke was a scene that he had to do that. Obviously he is not a singer and he just wanted to do it live and whatever came out of his mouth came out of his mouth. There was a real crowd out there but he just threw himself into it and it is so great the reactions that the audience get when they see it because this character has been so reserved and serious. It was really important to see them thrive in Mexico, both of them letting go and finding their voice and falling in love. And that was a really important aspect to see his character see what Noni brings out in him as well as what he brings out in Noni.

What is next for you?

The next one I am going to write, I’m very excited about it but I can’t talk about it too much. It does deal with female friendships.  All my films have a personal aspect and this one is no different, so I’m very excited. And it will be a little more comedic in tone.

You create some of the best love stories that I’ve seen on screen and it is a compliment to say they remind me of the classic romances of the ‘40s with actresses like Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck. Are you a fan of that era of movies?

That is a tremendous compliment, thank you. I have to say the great things about film school is being exposed to films that you normally would never see and you get to seei them on the big screen, films like “The Apartment,” which is I think is such a great film influenced on me, “The Rose” is a fantastic film that came out in the ‘70s, “Lady Sings the Blues,” I love that type of romance, to wrecked by movie emotionally and then be built back up and leave inspired.  Those are the kinds of films I love to watch and so for me it is writing what I want to see.

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Directors Gender and Diversity Interview Race and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture Writers

Beyond the Lights

Posted on November 13, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Copyright 2104 Relativity Media
Copyright 2104 Relativity Media

“Beyond the Lights” is a welcome return to the grand traditions of movie romance, with sizzling chemistry between gorgeous, fabulously charismatic stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker. And it also has some very astute insights about family, ambition, and the pressure put on young women, especially those in the performing arts, to present themselves as sexually provocative and available.

Minnie Driver plays Macy Jean, a ruthlessly ambitious stage mother who sees her talented young daughter, Noni, as her ticket out of poverty and powerlessness. We first see them at a singing competition when Noni is a little girl (India Jean-Jacques). Her performance of Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” gets her a trophy that her mother smashes to the ground because she did not come in first. Then Noni is grown up (Mbatha-Raw), singing and dancing in a steamy music video, featuring a successful rapper named Kid Culprit (Richard Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly). Macy Jean is pushing Noni hard to do whatever it takes to become a star, and she is on the brink of a breakthrough, with an upcoming television appearance that should launch her into superstardom.
But in the midst of all of this sound and fury, Noni feels lost.  The image her mother has created for her is so overpowering that she does not know who she is anymore.  She is a singer with a million-dollar voice, but she is also a person who feels that it belongs to someone else, that she is lost somewhere beneath the glitter and fakery.  Alone in her hotel room, she goes out the window and sits on the ledge, contemplating allowing herself to just fall off.

She is rescued by a cop assigned to her security detail.  His name is Kaz (Parker) and he grabs her hand and looks into her eyes.  He says “I see you.”  And she believes he does.

Of course, the incident is spun for the press.  “We’re selling fantasy here, and suicide ain’t sexy.”  Noni jokes about the risks of combining champagne and stilettos and poses with her handsome savior.  But Kaz did see Noni.  He saw her the way she wanted to be seen.  And she saw him, too.

Kaz has a demanding parent, too, a father (Danny Glover) who wants him to run for office, and knows that Noni is not first lady material.

Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love and Basketball”) keeps the love story glamorous but never soapy, through the subtle, moving performances by Mbatha Raw and Parker, and a script that respects the characters, with thoughtful details and easy humor.  In the very beginning, Macy Jean is frantic because she does not know how to handle her biracial child’s hair.  Later, Noni is wearing a purple-streaked weave for her music video.  And when she begins to be happy again, she frees her hair as she finds her true voice.  Prince-Bythewood’s confidence in her own voice as much a pleasure of this film as the love story and the star power, which add up to the best date movie of the year.

Parents should know that this film includes very provocative sexual imagery and musical performances with very skimpy clothing, sexual references and situations, strong and crude language, attempted suicide, and tense family confrontations.

Family discussion:  What does it mean to “do small things in a great way?”  How did Noni and Kaz help each other? Why did being on the brink of great success was Noni in despair?  What can we do to protect girls from the overwhelming focus on appearance?

If you like this, try: “The Rose,” “The Bodyguard,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Dreamgirls,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Gypsy,” and “Mahogany”

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Date movie Drama Gender and Diversity Race and Diversity Romance