Finally saw #GetOut…a white woman was choked…

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I went to see the movie Get Out with my bestie last night and I think the internet hyped the revolutionary nature of this film more than it warranted. I have to admit that I am not a horror movie fan in general. Suspense I can do, but thrillers and purposefully scary movies just don’t do it for me. But, when I went to see Get Out I was expecting a movie that was a side step from the norm of the horror/thriller genre, but instead I got a film that fit in its box of predictable plots and contrived characters perfectly. It’s not that Get Out is not a good movie– it is and Jordan Peele has mastered the balance of creepy and comedic. However, this movie does not tackle any “-ism” in a unique way. Peele borrowed techniques and plot devices from a lot of movies before him to give us  Get Out, which he himself has said in a number of TV interviews. A lot of people compare the movie to Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, but with twists added by the sadistic use of hypnosis by white women.

In the movie, photographer Chris (Daniel Akaluuya) goes to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for what seems to be a relaxing weekend upstate. Rose has not told her parents that Chris is black, but insists that everything will be fine, because her dad would have voted for Obama a third time. But, when they arrive, Rose is forced to confront the fact that her liberal parents are not as open-minded as she thought. Or, so we think…Turns out, this family has actually been kidnapping and hypnotizing black artists and transplanting their brains and brawn onto white people who wish they could be like them. Still with me?

That said, I will give the director/writer and cast accolades on the utter mind-boggle of one particular scene. Toward the end of the movie, when Chris is escaping from the Armitage compound in a vintage white Porsche, there is a scene where his girlfriend-turned-assailant is shooting at him with a rifle. The black groundskeeper, who is in the “sunken place” comes to her aid to capture Chris, until through the miracle of “snapping out of it” (invoked by the flash of a cell phone camera), the black groundskeeper manages to come to his senses. He wrestles the gun away from Rose and shoots her before taking his own life. However, the shot does not kill her, and soon Chris and Rose find themselves in a fight over who gets the gun.

Chris starts choking Rose to death and that’s where the mind-boggle happened to me. This black man who is bigger and stronger than this  “Becky with the Good Hair” has his hands around her neck and is cutting off her airways, and every stereotype I had ever been shown and told about black men as aggressors welled up inside of me. Somebody save Rose! He’s going to kill her! But wait, she lured him to a plantation, took his phone, had him drugged and hypnotized, and submitted his body to psycho medicine, right? So why then is it so uncomfortable to see him in an act of self defense against her? In it’s last 15 minutes the movie shoves in our faces how we see who and how detrimental that misinformed vision can be, especially when gender and race are involved. I still haven’t processed that feeling of “she’s in danger” even though I knew he was the victim– I’ll report back when I have had time with my therapist on this one.

This was the highlight of the movie for me and I can see professors pulling that last 10-15 minutes as a demonstration in future lectures. Academia seems to love to apply pop culture to idea whirling these days. I would be remiss to not mention that comedian Lil Rel, who plays Chris’ friend Rod, a TSA agent with all of the qualifications of a detective, really makes the movie. I have been a fan of his for years and if you haven’t seen him and comedienne Tiffany Haddish as husband and wife on NBC’s The Carmichael Show, you are missing out.

Overall though, the acting was fine and the chemistry among the cast was definitely there, but if the Academy is searching for their next black movie darling, I hope they wait until a little later in the year before they launch this one into the stratosphere.

My Top 5 Favorite Oscars 2017 Moments

Let’s just jump right in.

  1. Gary from Chicago. Chris Jones at the Chicago Tribune once said something to me I will never forget. He said when you invite the public you get the  public. Jimmy Kimmel hosted the 2017 Academy Awards and surprised a group of tourists with entry to the Academy Awards on their bus tour. One of those tourists was a man named Gary from Chicago who was on vacation with his fiancee. He proceeded to kiss Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman’s hands, wave to Meryl Streep, hold Mahershala Ali’s Oscar while taking a selfie with him, and get a picture and fake wedding ceremony with Denzel Washington, all while holding his fiancee’s overflowing purse. We are all Gary from Chicago.
  2. Moonlight wins…sort of! Unless you live under a rock, you have probably heard that the wrong movie was announced for Best Picture and mid thank you speech the cast of La La Land had to give back the Oscars and get off stage to make room for the cast of Moonlight to accept their award. Yes, it was as awkward and unbelievable as it sounds. I saw Moonlight and La La Land and liked both movies, but what I found most impressive about Moonlight is that with a small cast and very few visual effects it managed to keep me hooked and wanting more. La La Land has some beautiful cinematography and an even more beautiful message about art and the people who make it, but the last 15 minutes are the best 15 minutes of that movie. It’s not that La La Land wasn’t Oscar-worthy, because it definitely was, it’s just that Moonlight managed to move me just as much with less stage business. Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins deserve their rounds of applause and whoever gave Warren Beatty the wrong envelope is probably out of a job. I have never felt so overjoyed for one group of people and devastated for another group of people so much in my life. Kudos to the cast of La La Land for being gracious in spite of the flub– they would have had to pry that Oscar out of my cold dead hands.
  3. Whoever is responsible for the Twitter account @HallesWig. I’m not sure what was going on with Halle Berry’s hair at this year’s awards ceremony. Halle has been giving us a perfect short cut for decades, but this year she went Frankie & Alice on us. The curls were pretty but the wig was lopsided and it seemed like the hair got bigger over the course of the evening. However, Halle’s beautiful dress more than made up for the wig fiasco.
  4. The musical performances. Everyone knows that the Oscars are best when they go Tonys. Performances by Lin Manuel Miranda, John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Auli’i Cravahlo,  the star of Moana, made this year’s show especially delightful.
  5. Parachutes of snacks. Chris Rock delivered Girl Scout cookies. Ellen delivered pizza. Jimmy Kimmel sent little parachutes of Junior Mints, doughnuts, cookies, popcorn to the hungry celebs. Cutting those Spanx off was probably pure hell for some folks this morning.

Sundance Film Festival recap and reflections

One of the most satisfying things in life is to dream of doing something and actually getting to do it. I am still on a high from such an experience, since I just came back from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. When I was 16 years old I decided that I wanted to go to the Sundance Film Festival, and a little over a decade later I made it as credentialed media. The experience was enchanted and the setting of picturesque, ice sickle covered buildings nestled in the snow-capped Rocky Mountains didn’t hurt. Here’s a day-by-day play-by-play.

Day 1: We landed in Salt Lake City am checked into the hotel. Then, we headed up to Park City for dinner in Deer Valley at the Royal Street Cafe. The grilled ciabatta bread was tasty. After dinner, I went to a screening of a new documentary called Whose Streets, which follows the conflict in St. Louis and Ferguson after the shooting of Mike Brown. The cinematographer was incredibly brave and never put the camera down, even as grenades flew and tear gas covered the crowds.

Day 2: The day started with a visit to the festival headquarters to pick up my media credentials and then a shuttle ride into Main Street. After exploring Main Street, we ate lunch at The Eating Establishment (the BLT with garlic aioli was delicious). Then, we stopped by the AT&T lounge and took photos of an Acura model made from ice before heading to a Diversity Reception at The Blackhouse Foundation. We ended the night at the Waldorf-Astoria at a party hosted by BET and sponsored by Patron. The hot chocolate and brownie pops were divine.

Day 3: On Saturday morning, we headed to Midway, Utah to the Homestead Resort to experience the ice castles. They are giant formations made from ice sickles, complete with a slide made from ice. An unexpected treat was the sight of white horses galloping in the snow. Then, we had lunch at Bandits Grill & Bar before checking out the ASCAP Cafe and attending a talk with the cast of Underground hosted by The Blackhouse Foundation. The day didn’t stop there. We continued on to a screening of a docuseries called Rise about modern day injustices against Native American communities in the United States, including the recent Dakota Access Pipeline. This was by far my favorite screening and the men and women who are fighting for Native American rights are truly admirable.

Day 4: For the final day of the festival, we did some souvenir shopping and explored Salt Lake City. What an awesome city! It is easily navigable, with sidewalks, bike lanes, and public transit. I also loved that there are so many locally-owned boutiques and restaurants, and not a ton of chains.

More than the parties, celebrity sightings, and movies, I walked away rejuvenated and with a renewed commitment to my creativity. I met so many kind and generous people and had enriching conversations with them. Seeing so many up-and-coming actors and budding filmmakers made me commit to stepping up my game and living bigger. Forget shoes and clothes– I’m investing all of my resources into becoming the woman and author that has always inside of me to be. I ordered new business cards, re-did my website, and locked in some new stories all within 24 hours of coming back to town. I once heard life coach Lisa Nichols say “Energy grows where energy goes,” and she was definitely right. At the top of the mountains I started to believe that I too could reach my peak.

“Who killed Jimmy Lee Jackson?”

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

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I went to see the movie SELMA last night, and it excelled at  serving as an agent of empathy, an educational resource, a reminder of the struggle for Civil Rights, and it put a soul to the names that history has memorialized. Much praise has been given to David Oyelowo, whose best moment is in his rendering of King’s speech in Montgomery. However, other stand-out performances for me are Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott-King and Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson. King’s interactions with these two built so much tension and suspense in a historical narrative where we already know the outcome.

In terms of cinematography, editing, and artistic merit, the movie was just okay. It could have used another round on the cutting room floor, the ending is messy, the framing of the shots is amateur at times, and a lot of the shots were blurry. It probably won’t get any Oscars, unless the Academy is trying to make a statement, but it is no less worthy of being named one of the best films of 2014.

However, I’m pretty sure that Ava DuVernay has made history, not only as the director of the first  major motion picture about Martin Luther King, Jr or as the first black woman nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe. I’m pretty sure she is the first director in history to show a group of girls get blown up by a bomb and have their bodies engulfed by flames until their body parts were in pieces scattered across the rubble of what once was a church in Birmingham. She did it beautifully. In a time where violence in film and television has ceased to be jarring, Ava DuVernay shocked me.

Then, beyond the shock, she moved me to tears. There is a scene where Dr. King is preaching the funeral of a young marcher named Jimmy Lee Jackson, and he later talks to Jackson’s grandfather who could not be more devastated by his grandson’s murder. I wish I could find the text to that funeral speech where he repeatedly asks “Who killed Jimmy Lee Jackson?” It was exquisite. In that moment, you feel and see on screen how Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Kendrick Johnson, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, and Oscar Grant’s families felt. This age-old tale of racism and brutality against black men was too timely.

Today, Selma, Alabama is very much a place that time has forgotten. But, I hope that the stories of the people who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge will continue to have life. I’m not sure if people today are willing to march 50 miles and work tirelessly for 15, 20, or 30 years for their own freedom, but I hope that people of color will make more of an effort to vote after seeing what their ancestors went through for them to be able to have a say in how they are governed.

Review: “Dear White People”

It’s rare that I go to see a movie based on title alone, only having watched the trailer once. It is also rare that I see a movie that portrays my experience in such a way that I feel as if I am watching a documentary, and not a feature film. Dear White People is revolutionary, and even though this is a movie, it drives home the sentiment that the revolution will not be televised.

The premise of the film is that Ivy League Winchester University has recently placed a sanction in order to diversify its residence halls, but this sanction only seems to affect Armstrong/Parker Hall, aka the residence hall where the black people live. One of the Black Student Union’s most vocal students, Sam White (Tessa Thompson), has taken to the airwaves on her campus radio show “Dear White People” to express her opinion about the issue. However, not all of the students– black or white–share her “separate but equal is better” sentiment.

There’s privileged Troy (Brandon P. Bell) who wants to appease his father, who is the Dean of Students; Coco (Teyonah Parris) who wants to be famous, even if it means overdrafting her bank account for a weave; and Lionel (Tyler James Williams) who is searching for his place somewhere between afros, Mumford & Sons, and his Man Crush Monday editor at the student paper.

This is not a movie to expect Tarantino or Scorsese type cinematography, or even Judd Apatow or Diablo Cody’s level of finesse in their wicked, humorous screenwriting. However, Dear White People gets its message across and is entertaining. There is humor coming from Justin Simien’s pulpit, that clearly shows he either lived the events in the film or did a lot of research. I won’t compare him to Spike Lee, as I’m sure many have and will, but he is on to something Spike Lee a la School Daze-ish. He challenges many of the predominant millennial views of racism (we’re post-racial), activism (I’ll tweet using #Ferguson), social change (let’s rally!), sexuality (I just love people; I don’t like labels), and communication (text, sext, whatever).

Where Dear White People is at its best is in its portrayal of intraracial and interracial conflict on predominantly white college campuses. As someone who graduated from a PWI where white sororities and fraternities held “pimps & hoes” and “plantation” parties where they hired local black homeless people to dress up as slaves and pick cotton and serve drinks (for real), the events in Dear White People deeply resonated with me. It also succeeds in portraying the students’ resistance to acknowledge the privilege they inherently have by attending a university, but in doing this it does not take a side. This is not a white people are wrong and everyone else is right, or vice versa, film. It is also not a  movie that makes the college educated seem better than everyone else. This is a thought provoking film that challenges perceptions of what it means to be white or other– and it’s funny as hell.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Dear White People, knowing all of the lyrics to Lil Wayne’s songs doesn’t make you down. It just reminds me of how many times you say the N word when there are no black people around.”

“Did you have the Cosby dream again?”

“I woke up in a really big sweater with straight hair”

“Dear White People, dating a black person to piss off your parents is a form of racism.”

“They want to be like us. I’m not going to go protest over a party.” 

“Can I touch your hair?”

“The only people concerned about racism are Mexicans, maybe.”

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I saw the film in Atlanta in a theatre filled with all black people. Dear White People is a movie that I fear will be total insider baseball– only seen by those whose experience it depicts, and not by those who need to see it most. I hope that every college and university in this country brings this movie to its campus, and has deep discussions among students and faculty about how we view race in this country, the ways in which people within a race view themselves on an individual level and the ways in which racism is perpetuated on college campuses.