Thoughts on Drake’s Nice for What

It is always hard to know whether intentions are in the right place. Drake’s return to the mainstream after a short break since July 2017 has got me thinking that he attempting to rebrand with his new videos and music. In “God’s Plans,” his first solo hit since his return, he gives away a million dollars to random people on the street. In his most recent video, “Nice for What,” a new bounce record (it even has bounce legend Big Freedia) he highlights women, mostly Black women, from popular culture. The foundation of the song rests on a chipmunk soul Lauryn Hill sample.

The women include:

  • Issa Rae (Insecure)

  • Olivia Wilde (Tron Legacy)

  • Bria Vinaite (Florida Project)

  • Yara Shahidi (Grownish)

  • Tracee Ellis Ross (Most recently Blackish but she’s a legend)

  • Tiffany Haddish (Everything)

  • Rashida Jones (Parks, The Office)

  • Syd (The Internet)

  • Letitia Wright (Black Panther)

  • Zoe Saldana (Guardians)

  • Misty Copeland (first black principal ballerina for the American Ballet Theater)

  • Elizabeth Lejonhjarta & Victoria Lejonhjarta (Models)

  • Michelle Rodriguez (Fast series)

Drake seems to be following in line with Jay Z’s last video “Family Feud,” where notable director Ava Duvernay gave us black futurism helmed by women. There is a trend or at least a concerted effort for Drake to be a more conscious rapper. He is centering women in this new video in a way that feels completely different for Drake. No longer a narrative of his feelings towards women, but rather a celebration. Drake refuses to go away from the spotlight and has proven his versatility. Whether or not his intentions are good is besides the point, because he still holds a huge megaphone. Drake is using his platform to strengthen these women’s moment in culture and shows Drake’s connectivity to culture. Most notable is that BLACK WOMEN have the most screen time. They have the spotlight and they are shown glowing and being carefree.

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Thoughts on Netflix’s On My Block

“Ay you’re a rocker, huh?” A constant refrain I always heard in high school because I wore skinny jeans and band tees. When Wassup Rockers came out I thought I was going to finally get an accurate representation of my experience in high school. But that film was a misstep in so many ways. What I was hoping to see those days of high school was the cracks in the Latino culture and where I fit. On My Block is one of the better representations, although not perfect, of that anxiety of not fitting into hegemonic Latino culture. The premise of the show is an exploration of the albatross the follows Latino narratives, gang culture. But On My Block provides an alternative depiction of that crisis of identity. The main characters in On My Block are not “cool” or “nerds” or “gangstas” they exist in a space somewhere in between. The show accomplishes this middleground through quirky dialogue. This may come off as fabricated or synthetic, and at times it is, but it is a reprieve from the narratives that Latinos get. Now, the issue becomes who is the intended audience for this show because although it centers Latinos, does that mean it is for them? Yes and no. I did not grow up talking like a character from Juno or New Girl but I was into things that were seen as counter culture within Latino culture. And that is what the show gets right. It speaks to that dissonance in a culture. When I was growing up I didn’t identify as Latino because I always felt like I didn’t fit the mold nor did I feel the culture wanted me to be a part of it. But On My Block gives power to those who don’t fit into the strict guidelines but are still part of a culture. A culture that they are raised and cultivated in. So is On My Block a perfect reflection of who I was in high school? No but it speaks to the isolation I felt from the culture and that is a good sign.

I STARTED A PODCAST!

Hey everyone, I haven’t been posting much these last few days and it is mostly because I’ve preoccupied with a podcast I started with my friend. It is called Pilot Boiz. We review and analyze the first episode to TV shows. We have a few episodes out. Check it out. Any feedback is welcome, we’re still trying to figure some things out.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture Review

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a love letter to the comedy stylings of National Lampoon. The story follows Doug Kenney and Henry Beard through college and their careers. David Wain, a comedic director known for his oddball cult classic comedies, makes great use of 4th wall breaks and fantastic scene transitions. For a film about comedy it has all the grace of The Big Short, that almost makes it seem like a mob movie. The fantastic use of a fictional “future” Doug Kenney keeps the narrative concise and on key. We get some unexpectedly great performances from Will Forte and Domhnall Gleeson. This film really shows the impact National Lampoon had on comedy and is told in an interesting and captivating way.

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The film explores the cost success has on personal relationships. Doug and Henry excelled in school but struggled with career choice. Doug convinced Henry to continue with a career in comedy writing; both were in pursuit of fun. The slow rise of National Lampoon meant a difficult path for Doug and Henry. Once they reached success Doug alienated himself from his family, was addicted to drugs, and struggled with producing content. The cost of success also causes a rift in Doug and Henry’s relationship. The film shows that Doug was not only addicted to drugs but also success, so much so that he envied friends. Doug could not be happy for his friends and staff who found success outside of National Lampoon. Success became an unattainable goal because once he attained it he was already worried about finding it again. A junkie looking for his next fix. Doug ignored his personal issues and invested his life into National Lampoon, but realizes that drowning himself in work does fix his problems. The character study of Doug shows the perils of success and the way that it became another addiction.

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Forte and gleeson’s performances shows their range as actors. Forte has been in the game for such a long time and he brings his experience as the lead. Forte wears Doug’s charm exceptionally well and has a fantastic comedic presence. Gleeson, a more dramatic actor, plays Henry like an American briton. Dry, monotone, but with weaponized wit that’s always at the ready. This performance felt subdued compared to Gleeson’s other work but he does what he could with the character.

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A Futile and Stupid Gesture is well-made and funny film. The story is told with a fictional narrator with the amorality of Jordan Belfort and the comedy of The Big Short. The exploration of Doug’s vices makes for a compelling story about addiction. Wain continues to make entertaining comedies. The film has some wonderful performances and explores the perils of success. Netflix continues to surprise with entertaining and fun movies.

3.5/5

Thoughts on Ugly Delicious

Ugly_Delicious_S01E02_51m12s73670f.0.jpgNetflix is at the helm of a new food media renaissance. Their original programming surrounding food like Chef’s Table is more a food documentary than a wholesome reality tv show. This trend continues from Anthony Bourdain’s (see Unknown Parts) deep dive into different cultures around the world. Ugly Delicious seems to be the obvious successor only with a larger cultural-political consciousness (I think Huang’s World would also apply). Ugly Delicious is one of the better shows for Asian representation to come out in recent memory. The Netflix original has celebrity chef David Chang tackle a section of gastronomy and its iterations across the globe. It is the perfect intersection of culture, history, and food, three of my favorite things in the world. But what is most captivating is the way it handles culture and history. It understands the racial connotations of fried chicken, it understands the disregard of non-western foods, it understands how important respect is for something as seemingly insignificant as food. davechoeIn the Fried Chicken episode, there is an in depth investigation of the racial differences and how that relates to the success of a restaurant. In the BBQ episode, Chang wants to know why Korean BBQ or Peking duck is not accepted into the canonical pantheon of American BBQ. There is so much to say about this great show, but what strikes me most is the way that Chang struggles to understand everything surrounding a certain dish. It could be a midlife crisis of an old celebrity grump, but I think Chang is undergoing therapy and trying to understand a world bigger than him, through food. Chang’s major success means he no longer has to give a fuck about the elitism surrounding gastronomy. He no longer has to make food that looks and tastes a certain way. Watch Ugly Delicious for some beautiful food visuals, watch it for quick histories, watch it for crucial dialogues surrounding certain foods, watch it for it’s hilarious moments. Or just watch it because it is better than some other shitty reality tv show about food.

Annihilation Review

Alex Garland is concerned with the way humans connect with each other. In Ex Machina he showed that connection with artificial intelligence can be just as complicated, if not more, than connections with humans. In Annihilation Garland plays with this idea by measuring the strength of human connection. The story follows Lena and a group of women as they explore a mysterious biosphere, known as “The Shimmer,” where soldiers went missing. The mystery of Annihilation is handled with delicate care, almost as if you are journeying into the unknown with the director; Garland being just as clueless as the audience. The hyper violence of the film is striking because there isn’t much but what little there is, is effective. The sound mixing in the film really sells the suspense and mystery of the expedition which leads into the horror elements of the film. Garland’s sophomore directorial effort is suspenseful and well-designed piece of visual science fiction.

annhilationThe horror elements of Annihilation work to both sell fear but also mystery. When the group is attacked by animals the camera lingers. One of the tricks horror films use is only showing the source of horror for a brief moment. Annihilation revels in lingering too long at the source of horror, almost as if the camera can’t look away. The choice to have the camera linger means the audience isn’t just afraid they’re also fascinated. The hyper violence and horror elements of the film accentuate the suspense and mystery of the expedition. The audience never really gets a sense of what “The Shimmer” actually is. There is no exposition about what the mystery is, only visuals, much of which seems ordinary. But as the film unravels we understand that mechanics of “The Shimmer” are nothing like we’ve seen before. Annihilation truly grasps this notion of fascination within the science fiction genre.minutenews.fr-2018-02-15_15-09-04_959691_fhrouyThe characters of Annihilation share a connection caused by wounds. Lena (Natalie Portman) is searching for what happened to her husband after his mysterious return. Kane (Oscar Isaac) prefers to serve in the armed forces than be with his wife. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) suffers from an Illness and is not long for the world. Josie (Tessa Thompson) is dejected and struggles with self harm and suicidal thoughts but finds answers in “The Shimmer.”  Anya (Gina Rodriguez), it’s implied, is a recovering addict. Cass (Tuva Novotny) lost her daughter and is deeply affected by her loss. “The Shimmer” unites the fates of these wounded characters. Though, they have their own respective traumas they share a connection through the “Shimmer.” In many ways, the effects of “The Shimmer” presents the spectrum of wounds or trauma.annihilation-gina-rodriguezAll the performances in Annihilation are spectacular. Gina Rodriguez gives a standout performance as the barely lucid Anya. Her emotional range in the film was a pleasant surprise as she gets to portray a character completely opposite her role in Jane the Virgin. Natalie Portman absolutely knocks it out of the park. Her sad disposition and manic state is perfectly contrasted by her stoic resolve in time of action. Tessa Thompson brings one of her more subtle performances to date. She is calm, removed, and warm. And Oscar Isaac, is Oscar Isaac.Film_Review_Annihilation_95183.jpg-d5898 In recent years, good or even great sci-fi are rare and Annihilation is a treat. It is a film with high concepts and fantastic performances. Moreover, it is a film that has women in the leading roles, in a space that is old guard, sci-fi. Annihilation will alienate some audience members because it does not have a super obvious ending. But the film is fantastic and I encourage everyone to watch it because these are the type of films that Hollywood should be making.

4/5

The Drum

The ring of freedom
Sounds different to every ear
To some it's a horn
To others there's a distant drum

Boom Boom
It sounds
The noise vibrates
Through the special ear

The drum was well-crafted
Nowadays it's old and tattered
From overuse, from generations
The inheritance of supremacy

The horn of freedom
Is never separate from the drum
Together, a sweet but haunting chorus

Boom Boom
It sounds
To special ear
Boom Boom
The sound of racism repeats

Black Panther Review

I was afraid of writing this review because I wanted to love Black Panther just as much as everyone else did. The movie is not bad, in fact it is mostly good, and some aspects are great. But I think my anxiety about wanting to like the movie the way everyone else did is missing the point. Black Panther does not need to be the best film of all time, it just needed to be good enough. The “good” threshold is so subjective and diminishing. By “good enough,” I mean that a movie with this many eyes on it has already accomplished a major part of its goal, representing black people in a positive light to the world at large. In other words, a mainstream black superhero that doesn’t suck.  My issues with the film come from my high expectations, because I hold films by people of color (for people of color) to a higher standard. But again, that’s not the point. The point of Black Panther is that it is a huge moment for black people. Black Panther is a source of strength and positive representation of and for black people like no other film before it.

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The dichotomy of T’Challa and Killmonger mirrors the dichotomy of civil rights activism – nonviolent vs. “militant.” Killmonger challenges T’Challa’s rule, accusing him of not doing enough for the international black diaspora. Killmonger’s worldview is influenced by his harsh upbringing in Oakland. Killmonger wants Wakanda, with its infinite resources and strength, to do more for black people around the world. Killmonger’s ideology of “might is right” mirrors the hierarchical structure of the Black Panthers. In her book, A Taste of Power, Elaine Brown outlines the hierarchical structure of the Black Panthers and the way power was distributed, much of which was linked to masculinity e.g. might is right. This overcompensation of masculine energy was an attempt to exert power as a response to the emasculation of black men during slavery, hence the development of hyper masculinity. Killmonger inherits this idea of masculine power related to the black experience. He wants better for black people around the world “by any means necessary,” violence is a means to an end. He disrupts the existing power structure of Wakanda, of which women were integral. As Killmonger takes the crown he establishes that his rule will be dictated by him alone lessening women’s role in the power structure. This is seen when he disregards Okoye’s advice when she reminds him of Wakanda’s traditions. Nonetheless, Killmonger’s goal of helping the international black diaspora is noble. He took his rough upbringing and decided to be an agent of change, even if it was through toxic channels of masculinity. This complex is an important part of the Black Panthers as they were more “radical” than their nonviolent counterparts but they still fought for similar goals.

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In contrast, T’Challa is a great warrior but does not have the same approach as Killmonger. Though, he is not completely nonviolent, T’Challa’s approach is seen as more acceptable by the end of the film, like MLK. The reason why MLK is seen as a national hero today is because there was something to weigh him against. Especially considering how his activism was seen as “radical” before the Black Panthers came into the picture. Additionally the importance of this dichotomy is seen by the film’s end, when T’Challa accepts, at least in part, the merit of Killmonger’s ideology. This theme is striking for several reasons. It presents a nuanced approach to the black experience in Wakanda and the U.S. and the ways they intersect, while simultaneously paying homage to black history. T’Challa and Killmonger are opposites in their approach yet extremely similar in their fight.

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The depiction of Wakanda coupled with Killmonger’s story shows a Prometheus narrative. Similar to the world of Wonder Woman, Themyscira, Wakanda is a hidden African nation. In spite of being cut off from the world, Wakanda is a highly advanced nation. This is a subversion of the idea that African nations are seens as backwards or underdeveloped countries. Wakanda thrives because it does not interact with the world at large, in particular the west. In other words, Wakanda does not need a Western idea of modernity, for they are doing well, if not better, on their own. Nonetheless, the reclusive nation faces a culture shock as Killmonger challenges their ideology. Killmonger accuses them of not helping other black people around the world. He argues that their negligence is irresponsible. Killmonger’s ideology of social responsibility makes him noble. So much so, that it is hard to know whether or not he is even a villain. Killmonger wants to steal the Promethean flame and share it with suffering black bodies around the world. Though, his rule might be violent and, at times, harsh he still fights for the betterment of all black people. Wakanda focuses on the the mirco – the wellbeing of Wakandans – and Killmonger on the macro – the wellbeing of all black bodies.

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Black Panther truly understands the importance of strong women characters. From the beginning of the film the audience understands that T’Challa’s support system consists of mostly women. Okoye, played exceptionally by Danai Gurira, is his guardian angel and bodyguard. She is a servant to the crown but has a strong allegiance to T’Challa. Okoye shows her strength and restraint during the regime change. She is noble, powerful, and fierce. Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, is T’Challa’s sister and Wakanda’s leading scientist. She is goofy, extremely smart, and eager. Nakia, Lupita Nyong’o, is T’Challa’s old flame but is so much more. She is an independent agent who does not subscribe to the older practices of Wakanda, specifically hiding from the world. On the scale of the dichotomy – T’Challa vs. Killmonger – she falls in the moderate category (something like a James Baldwin, in between MLK and Malcolm X or Huey Newton). In that, she understands why Wakanda hides but still chooses to help other black people outside Wakanda. Black Panther gives voice and agency to black women, an underrepresented group in film, especially the superhero genre.

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Black Panther is one of the most important films of 2018. It wholeheartedly understands the importance of portraying black people in a nuanced way. My biggest issues comes from some of the technical aspects of the film. Some of the CGI looked clunky and obvious. The fights scenes weren’t as engaging as I would have hoped. The comedy in the film fell flat most of the time. Yes, the film has problems, but the story and writing of the film are far more important. The film’s presentation of the dichotomy between T’Challa and Killmonger are powerful. Black Panther shows the benefits of strong women characters. Marvel has had a problem with villains but Black Panther presents a captivating anatongist. Maybe Black Panther was not the greatest film of all time. But that isn’t the point. The point is that it is a huge moment for mainstream black representation.

3.5 or low 4/5

The Middle East as Portrayed in Film [Part 1]

This is a video project I made last year with a friend. It is part 1 of 2 parts. I researched, wrote, and did the voiceover. Its about how films that take place in the Middle East are centered around conflict and the way that impacts the American consciousness. The first part tackles the way torture is used to downplay the unrest the U.S. caused in the Middle East.

We never got around to finishing the 2nd part but I still have the script. Maybe we’ll get around to doing it this year.

We submitted this to a little film festival my town hosted in 2017.

Please let me know what you think.

 

 

The Chi S01E01 Review

Chicago exists in the American collective consciousness in many forms. For some it is a nexus of culture, for others it is “Chi-raq,” and for The Chi its both and everything in between. In this new ambitious series by series creator Lena Waithe, Chicago is both the setting and an ever present character in each story. The show weaves various stories of the inhabitants of Chicago in a tragic meeting point. The strength of the show is characterization and dialogue, both of which boast impressive construction. The Chi’s cast has some of the best and brightest from celebrated films like Jason Mitchell (Mudbound and Straight Outta Compton) and Alex Hibbert, of Moonlight fame. The eye for an eye narrative is apparent and seems to set the foundation for the coming episodes.

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The characters of The Chi are localized and three-dimensional. Waithe being a Chicago native infuses her experience into the characters. From the intro of the episode the audience gets the sense that the stakes of the Chicago of The Chi can be fatal. This fact filters into the way the characters see and move through the world. Emmett (Jacob Latimore) is more concerned with “fucking and getting high” than addressing the issue of his alleged son. Kevin (Hibbert) is scared to talk about the murder he saw because he fears retaliation. Brandon (Mitchell) is hoping to land the position of line chef with hopes of opening his own restaurant. Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) is brought back to a life that he wanted to escape. Every single character seems to be touched by Waithe’s understanding of Chicago, showing the importance of local voices as storytellers and creators.

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The performance by Mitchell and Mwine shine. They both bring a hard resolve after they experience a trauma. Mitchell’s eulogy brought me to tears and showcases his grasp of the emotional depths of the character. Mitchell is a threat coming hot from his excellent performance in Mudbound. Mwine captures the wound of losing a son and the anger that bubbles within. Hibbert continues to astound with his raw acting as an innocent who wants to impress the girl.

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The connection between Brandon and Ronnie is seen in the overall story but also similar in their arcs. Trice is someone who is trying to do better for himself, as is Brandon. Trice returns to the lifestyle of the streets to exact revenge that the justice system likely won’t provide. Brandon, while it was never implied he had any involvement with the streets, is enticed to search of revenge for his family. The similar plotlines show strength in the writing and sets up the character motivations for the rest of the series.

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Overall The Chi is must-watch television, that presents the breadth of Waithe’s relationship with Chicago. The characters are three dimensional and are informed by Chicago. The performances are excellent. The eye for an eye narrative connect Brandon and Ronnie in interesting ways. Most importantly, the show is a huge win for representation as it is one of the very few, unfortunately, of its kind. The Chi is an inspiring exploration of Chicago by a Chicago native. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, stories by people of color for people of color beyond diversity, make for better stories.

4/5