Spike Lee’s Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads

Spike Lee’s first film Joe’s Bed Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads serves as a reminder that regardless of where you start in filmmaking, you can always be great. Now, I’m not saying that this film was a total loss, but the film showcases humble beginnings for such a promising career.

BAMcinématek exhibited a wonderful 16mm print of the film as part of their Spike Lee retrospective (with some more great films playing through July 10!).

Joe’s Bed Stuy Barbershop tells the story of Zack, a barber who takes over after the owner Joe is killed by local gangsters. As he tries to keep the barbershop legitimate, the same gangsters who took out Joe try to run the numbers game out of the shop again. I believe they filmed near Franklin Ave, a much different place than it was 30 years ago.

We see a young Spike (behind not in front of the camera) and I can almost hear the dialogue he has with such a fragile apparatus. I kept looking for clues of future Spike’s touches and I seem them in curious camera angles and close-ups. He knows what he’s doing with the camera and he knows what he wants to accomplish.

Spike has a knack for telling the stories of black folk that no one else would dare to touch at the time.  That was his appeal when he first stepped on the scene. And this is why he’s so respected and so often copied.

After watching this film, I look forward to his latest film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus!

 

Lupita Nyong’o talks hair

More the reason to love her! I also “do hair” and I learned on mine and my sisters’ heads. I haven’t had a relaxer since 2000 and I learned how to do all the styles she mentions in the video myself. It’s rewarding and liberating to be able to do your own hair and others. And while I do hair, I always watch movies :) Enjoy the video!

[h/t Shadow and Act]

Revisiting The Lion King 20 years later

The Lion King came out in theaters 20 years ago today. Let’s see if it still holds up… just kidding, of course it does! 

I just so happen to watch The Lion King last night and had no idea that it came out in theaters exactly 20 years ago to the day! In 1994, my church took me and a group of kids to see the film. It was the first film I remember sitting and pondering about as a nine year old. I exercised my film criticism muscle early folks! Plus I was an bit of an outcast and none of the other kids wanted to talk to me. But I digress…

I always thought of the film as a Christian metaphor: “He lives in you” Lion of Judah, etc. but it’s a great movie for children dealing with grief. Or, how to deal with your past, regardless of how ugly it is perceived to be. I appreciate the message. I feel like kids movies these days focus too much on the ordinary white kid, male of course, who has to do something extraordinary, with the help of his “ethnic” friends. (Lego Movie satires this trope beautifully). I’m sorry not sorry that you are not a special snowflake in the sky.

Simba’s not ordinary: he’s a prince, dammit! He may be voiced by JTT (if you don’t know this acronym then leave. Just go away right now!) but Mufasa and Sarabi are both voiced by black actors, James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair, respectively. Plus his singing voice is black: Jason Weaver who played a young Michael Jackson in the TV movie. And not to mention the film is based in AFRICA. So yeah, I consider Simba black.

The film is also a metaphor for the loss of innocence. According to Buzzfeed, young adults between the ages of 21 and 35 had the BEST! CHILDHOOD! EVER! But we were all collectively traumatized by the death of Mufasa. As an adult I was proud that I did not cry…this time. But this was a powerful cinematic moment. We lived in a pre-9/11, pre-Columbine world where everything was awesome (see what I did there!) and perfect. The worst thing we dealt with was parents divorcing. I know that parents died, pedophiles and murderers existed in the 1990s but we lived in a sugar coated world. Mufasa dying challenged our innocence and how we perceived death. It was some pretty heavy stuff!

On a lighter note, it’s been at least 10 years since I’ve seen the film and I could still remember all the lines, songs, etc. Though I must say that the Broadway soundtrack is WAAAAYYYY better!

Jeremy Irons is a revelation in this film. Watching as an adult I have a whole new appreciation for Scar and his quest for power. He was an excellent villain. They say that the story is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I like this little easter egg that I didn’t catch as a kid:

There’s so many crazy facts about the film (See the Daily Beast’s article!), too many to re-hash here.

Either way, The Lion King is the best children’s movie ever, even 20 years later.

I feel old all of a sudden.

 

What to see at ABFF June 19-22, 2014 NYC

The American Black Film Festival has a new home in New York City (Yay!). I’m kicking myself for not applying for a press pass sooner but the least I can do is tell everyone the top three films to check out at the festival. Enjoy!

BLACKBIRD (NEW YORK PREMIERE)

Blackbird, Directed by Patrik-Ian Polk
This has been on many people’s buzz list and I look forward to seeing it, if not this weekend, soon in a theatrical release. It’s sold out but there may be rush tickets available.

Here’s the synopsis:
A young singer struggles with his sexuality and the treatment of others while coming of age in a small Southern Baptist community.

 

DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS (WORLD PREMIERE)

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Directed by Spike Lee
This is the super secret Kickstarter project by Spike Lee. There may be some tickets available at the 9:45pm screening. I’m curious how this film will turn out.

No synopsis is available…hmmm…

RISE UP (NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE)

Rise Up, Directed by Jeta Amata
I know the festival says “American Black” but I’m glad they included some international titles including this film that almost flew under my radar. There are definitely tickets available at this screening so check it out!

Here’s the synopsis:
Rise Up is a full-length fictionalized account of true events and tells the story of an educated Nigerian girl’s return to her rural community to become the leader of a local movement fighting against the polluting oil company.

The ABCs of Orange is the New Black Season 2! SPOILERS AHEAD

*** SPOILERS BELOW *** SPOILERS BELOW *** SPOILERS BELOW *** SPOILERS BELOW ***

Wow…so that 13 hours flew by fast. And I breezed right through it, though I tried to pace myself. I couldn’t help myself. It was a good season of television (can I call it television??!!) So here’s my recap of the season, from A to Z:

AGAIN, SPOILERS BELOW…

A is for Alex Vause

You are a horrible person Alex Vause! Simply because you keep Piper on a yo-yo-though I think Piper willingly gets pulled back in.  No one watches this show for Alex or Piper. But I will say that this season was decidedly less about these two and more about other characters. I have no complaints. But I have a feeling we’ll get more of Alex and Piper in season 3.

B is for Big Boo

Man, why you gotta sell out your team like that, Boo?! We still don’t have a backstory on Boo (Season 3?) but there is more than meets the eye on this one. Her friendship with Pennsatucky is going to be interesting in the next season.

C is for Cancer

Miss Rosa is my hero! The scenes with her at chemo provide a nice break from Litchfield (and not as many Piper flashbacks-YAY!) From her teaching the kid how to rob someone to her driving over Vee (“Always rude, that one.”), she shines. At some points I thought she was going to succumb to her illness. I’m glad they kept her alive to escape and die away from the prison (good call Morello!) However her accent is off. I thought she was Eastern European, not Spanish (from Spain)

D is for Daya

I love her character! Now that the cat’s out of the bag, we got a chance to see all the mood swings of Daya-some stereotypical, some not. I appreciate her not being a caricature. I wish her and Bennett can actually end up together! They make such a cute couple.

E is for Exes

Ok I guess we can talk a little about Chapman. She has good taste in bad people Her ex-fiance hooks up with her best friend Polly and her ex Alex sells her out…again. But Larry and Polly are my least favorite characters in the series so they actually seem like a good match. Mazel!

F is for Fig

Last season Figueroa-the assistant warden-was a one note character. Now we have a juicy backstory for her as her down-low husband run for Governor! It was like a nod to House of Cards, but way more realistic. I’m curious how her and her husband will work things out next season. Maybe a baby?

G is for Garden RoseVee on being a strong, confident woman:

H is for Healy

I like that Healy is not that easy to figure out. He’s conflicted on whether he should be (and remain) the good guy who helps others but there’s a deep, dark side of Healy. I expect his storyline to get more complicated in season 3. I wouldn’t be surprised if Healy runs against Fig’s husband as a Tea Party candidate in season 3…

I is for Ingalls

Sister Ingalls FTW for that hunger strike!! You better show Soso how the old school rolls!! I liked Sister’s background story. Season 1 had her very compassionate and little too good. I love this radical side of her!!

J is for Jimmy

“Compassionate Release” Sigh… I really hope this is not a real thing where mentally-ill old inmates are released to fend for themselves. I liked Jimmy and her crazy self. How do you break out of jail and walk into a bar with all the CO’s?

K is for Karma

Karma’s a bitch! What goes around comes around full circle at Litchfield. Too many examples to cite here…

L is for Litchfield

This jail can be messed up sometimes-it’s already drumming up comparisons to OZ. This season we get more of a behind the scenes look at how it’s run. And things aren’t looking good. Will we ever meet the warden? Caputo’s put in charge for one day and two inmates escape. I’m curious how things will play out in Season 3.

M is for Mendoza

I’m glad we’re getting a little more in-depth look at the Latina sisters this season! Mendoza’s-the head of the kitchen-story is an all too realistic story of abuse. When she first took over the kitchen in Season 1 from Red, I was pissed! I have way more sympathy for this woman now. This goes to show that you never really can judge a book by its cover.

N is for Nuns

Run Nuns Run!! lol Officer O’Neill’s interaction with the nuns is hilarious. He really hates nuns! I love how we see that Ingalls still has support from the nun community. I see this developing more next season. Will Litchfield be run by nuns??!!!

O is for Orange

It doesn’t hurt that orange is my favorite color ;)

P is for Poussey

Taystee girl you trippin! I’m straight and if I were in your shoes, I don’t think I could have refused Poussey’s advances. Besides being absolutely GORGEOUS, Poussey is an amazing friend.

Her backstory is amazing, though we really don’t know exactly what landed her in jail. Her speaking German SWOON. Do I have a girl crush on Pouseey? Yes I do have a girl crush on Poussey!

And when she READ Vee for filth….YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSS!!!

Q is for Quotas

Fuck those shot quotas! The parts that made me the most squeamish were when the COs where harsh on the inmates, especially on Watson. It’s like they’re trying to break her. Don’t break Watson!! I liked how they showed a more personal side to the guards and I didn’t want to vilify them but it’s so hard when they are being so mean! But one of the sweetest moments was when Daya was having a panic attack and one of the guards told her to do jumping jacks to help her.

R is for Red

Oh Red. We thought we lost you for a minute there! I liked how they showed a more complex side of Red and her story. Red should have killed Vee when she had the chance.

S is for Sideboob

Caputo plays bass in a band called Sideboob. I really have no more words about this.

T is for Taystee

Now we know where Tasha got her nickname. And we see how intelligent she is. My heart goes out to her-what wasted potential! But I feel that she has learned a lot in the short amount of time in prison and will accomplish a lot in her life. Her character is just too realistic and mirrors too many other black females.

U is fr Uzo Aduba

Uzo is the real breakout star of this show. Her character Crazy Eyes Suzanne challenges our perception on misunderstood black girls. Her back story touched a nerve with me: I’ve been the only “weird” black girl in many settings growing up and you feel as those you are not in the same universe and eventually become the butt of everyone’s joke. No one really understands you. But then a seemingly strong woman takes interest in you and tells you that you are a garden rose. No one’s every told you that. And then you find yourself doing anything you can for this woman who made you keep your head high. Suzanne, I get it and my heart goes out to you. And thank GOD for the rest of the black girls standing up for you and not taking the blame for attacking Red.

Vee is for Vicious

Vee is awful and happens to be the perfect villain. She is a complete psychopath (definition: “a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior.” Yep, sounds about right!) But she was too perfect as a villain. She was conniving, preyed on young people and never let anyone onto her twisted antics. Did anyone really mess her up in life or was she just born this way? I do want to know her back story, just out of curiosity.

Her getting run over by Miss Rosa at the end was too clean. Too tidy. I don’t think she’s really dead…Though I wish she was!

W is for Women

Not only do we have most races represented in this series, we also have different body types. Orange is the New Black takes a painstaking truthful view on the treatment of women not only in the prison system but also in the world. And especially for women of color-who we get excluded from these feminist shows. I like the shift from the show being mostly about how Piper interacts with the inmates to being about all the inmates themselves.

X is for Xenophobia

Fear of strange people. Litchfield is very territorial especially with people. Vee single-handly almost causes a race war and we learned that the real war is commerce. (I know, I know, X was a stretch…)

Y is for Yael Stone

Geez Morello! I would have never thought for a second that she was a stalker for Christofah until he took the stand to testify against her in the flashback. Yael is brilliant as the slightly neurotic Morello. I love how this season just went really deep into all the characters’ (minus Piper) backstory this season.

Z is for Zingers

“Fuck diamonds. I have spinach!”

“You know who made up that never snitch bullshit? People who probably deserved to be snitched on.”

“YOU’RE Federal property!”

“How does the “agenda” work? / I got a lot of those. Specify.”

“You don’t go Jessica Simpson when you have Rhianna.”

“Men being in charge has never done me any good.”

“It’s a metaphor you potato with eyes”

“I am a sexual Steve Jobs.”

“The bathrooms may be segregated, but the market be free.”

“Another layer of icing on a shit cake doesn’t make it taste good.”

“You’re like a pedophile without the sex.”

 

 

 

Support the short film Lazarus on Indiegogo

I’m happy to announce that I am an associate producer for the new short film Lazarus! It’s about a kid whose life is changed after a visit to an underground record store in Bed Stuy. It’s a film about community, music, and connecting generations.

The project is directed and written by Kate Cortesi and produced by Jessica Lee-a dynamic filmmaking duo who also happen to be fellow Columbia grads.

Today we are officially launching our fundraising campaign!

We need your help to make this short film possible.

If you wanna know why we are making this film, go onto Fulton Street near the corner of Franklin Ave in Brooklyn and look for a Knight holding a sign that says “RECORDS”. Walk downstairs, through the beaded curtain and ask for Israel and you will see why we created this Brooklyn tale.

Israel_2

We’re not the only ones who feel the Israel love. Humans of New York did a feature on him and, a few years back, a Japanese guide book blurbed his place, which resulted in teems of Japanese visitors taking the C to Franklin Ave, scavenging Bed Stuy for records and that special feeling his store inspires.

Contribute today to be a part of the Lazarus story. You can receive some pretty awesome perks: Discount at the record store! Be an extra in the film! Rice Krispie treats!!!! I will keep you informed of any updates on the project. It’s going to be an amazing film so contribute today and be a part of all the awesomeness!!

Great interview with Spike Lee on Deadline Hollywood

I came across this article today while living vicariously through the critics at Cannes right now and thought I should share. I’m glad that Spike chose the platform of the American Black Film Festival to host the 25th anniversary screening of Do the Right Thing (which will also be playing as part of BAMcinemaFest. I wonder if these screenings are linked…) Interview is done by Mike Fleming Jr. Click on the picture below for a link to the written interview.

spi

[h/t Deadline Hollywood]

What to watch at BAMcinemaFest 2014

Cinemafest is almost a month away and I’m excited to be able to watch some films. There are sooooo many great movies in this year’s line-up for BAMcinemaFest, it’s so hard to just pick 10! But here they are, my top ten to check out, in no particular order. Click on the links for more information and synopsis.

 

 

NY African Film Festival Review

As usual, this year’s edition of the African Film Festival did not disappoint. This is a festival I look forward to every year as an alternative to all the sad documentaries about the plight of Africa directed by philanthropic white filmmakers (there’s so many…). It’s a festival that offers a look at the diverse stories from all over the continent. Although I missed the tentpoles (Confusion Na Wa and Half a Yellow Sun), I had the chance to see two really great gems of the festival.

I saw Ni Sisi (which translates to “It Is Us”), a Kenyan feature directed by Nick Reding and based on a play that makes its rounds around the country. Its aim is to eradicate tribal warfare due to ridiculous reasons. It feels preachy at times but overall the acting and well-written script saved this film. Ni Sisi had some moments that were very difficult to watch but was intercut with a  live, staged performance which eased the tension. Also it had some very funny moments. I recommend seeing this film if it comes your way!

I also had the chance to check out Mahamat Saleh Haroun’s Grigris. I really liked Haroun’s previous feature A Screaming Man (saw the premiere at Cannes). I really liked Grigris. The film was beautifully shot and told the story of  Grigris-a dancer with a paralyzed leg. His uncle falls ill and he has to help pay the medical bills. I must say it was nice to see Grigris’ disability not be the center of the story-he is-and that is revolutionary. I highly recommend seeing this film.

If you missed the screenings at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, don’t fret! The festivities continue until the end of May at other venues: Maysles Institute and BAMcinematek with an expansive list of films and events to check out. Click HERE for a full schedule.