All Articles Tagged "African-American films"
by Marissa Ellis
Can you believe it’s been 15 years since Love Jones was released and raised the bar for Black filmmaking? The romantic drama starring Larenz Tate and Nia Long raised the bar so high that very few Black films have managed to get close to the superb storytelling quality and on-screen chemistry delivered by the Chicago-based film. In other words, that’s why Love Jones lives on as an iconic film in the Black cannon.
Part of the reason why Love Jones continues to mark such a rarity is the fact the screenwriter and director of the film, Theodore Witcher, virtually disappeared afterwards. He was only 24 at the time of making the movie, marking his first job directing a feature film.
Based on the explosive success of Love Jones, it was easily assumed and expected that Witcher would continue to infuse Hollywood with authentic and beautiful Black narratives. This was the man who should’ve been just as prolific as Tyler Perry (before Tyler Perry) if you will. Unfortunately, the young director departed just as fast as he arrived.
In an interview with The Root, Witcher explained why he disappeared:
I intended to have a long list of credits, but I couldn’t get another movie. There has to be something that you want to do that a studio wants to pay for. I was never able to sync that up. I wanted to do ambitious films with more black people. You don’t get to do that.
Witcher’s reasoning is deep and speaks volumes about the discord between Hollywood economics and the push for quality filmmaking; however, I wonder about the nature of support within the African-American artistic community. It’s hard to believe that Witcher didn’t have enough of a strong fan base in the Black Hollywood community to leverage power or, at least, raise funds for another film. This is Love Jones we’re talking about – not a small critically acclaimed movie which was only lauded on the film festival circuit. Did Oprah, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee and John Singleton not offer producing partnership?
These days, when we see a small film cross over like Pariah, it often has the support of other Black Hollywood producers. In this case, Pariah had the public support of Spike Lee. Hollywood is a small eco-system and the survival and prosperity of new filmmakers is interdependent on the endorsements and support of the more established guards.
It’s difficult not to wonder about Witcher and his career. As someone who appreciates films about the African-American experience and who appreciates quality filmmaking period, I can’t understand why the Witchers of the world are not fostered. Watching Love Jones occasionally, I marvel at its authenticity and wish that half of the films that come out each year could even muster half of that authenticity and flair. And obviously, when I see Tyler Perry’s films, it creates the opposite effect on me. I don’t want to go on and on about the Perry factor, but the fact that we can have him bust out two consistently sub-par films a year while a proven filmmaker is sitting on the sidelines, waiting for a chance to wow us again with quality…there’s just something wrong with that.
But who knows what the more detailed story is behind Witcher’s struggles in Hollywood. I can only hope that he can further share his experience to inspire a more cooperative spirit in Black Hollywood, because at the end of the day, we are the ones responsible for getting our stories told.
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Skyfall, the James Bond flick scheduled to release in 2012, has black entertainment abuzz after naming UK-born Naomie Harris, as part of the cast. You’ll remember this actress from the sizzling sex scene opposite Jamie Foxx in Miami Vice. I sure do.
While not an official “Bond girl” i.e. willing conquest of 007′s infamous powers of seduction, Harris makes history as the first black woman to ever be cast as Jane Moneypenny, Second Officer and secretary to M, Bond’s boss. Over the years the Moneypenny character has secretly lusted for 007, but unlike actual Bond girls, her relationship with the spy is strictly professional.
I may be forced to take offense if that dynamic suddenly up and changes now that Naomie Harris fills in as Miss Moneypenny. Yet I digress. The franchise is no stranger to African-American Bond girls, though they have come few and far in between over the decades. That also rings true for black actors across the board. So it’s always exciting news when an actress like Naomie is cast in a major role in a classically white franchise like Bond and definitely re-ignites my interest in the never-ending 007 sequels.
It also got us thinking about the 007 world as a whole and how black people have graced Bond films in years past.
While we wait over a year for the release of Skyfall, enjoy this little trip down memory lane for a look at the best black Bond characters and the milestones the actors achieved:
I remember earlier this year a firestorm had erupted over a rumor that Tyler Perry would be directing a straight to DVD remake of the romance classic Love Jones. Man, were people pissed. No, actually they were more than just pissed. They were fighting mad, sending threatening messages and warning Perry through his twitter page and starting online petitions. Luckily for him the rumor turned out to be false or else someone might have officially put a hit out on Perry. Certain things just should be left alone and at one of those things is Love Jones.
Black folks love that movie. I love that movie. In fact, I am watching it right now as I’m writing this post. For those who slept on this gem, the story goes like this: set in Chicago, the film follows the romantic complications between a young black poet named Darius Lovehall (played by Larenz Tate) and photographer Nina Mosley (Nia Long). And that is pretty much it. It truly is a simple story of two young black folks wavering back and forth about if what they feel is love or just lust.
For many fans of the film, Love Jones provided a rare glimpse into ways in which we make love so complicated within the Black community. The film did not seek to exaggerate versions of real life situations or even present an idealization of how we want relationships to work. Instead what we saw between Darius and Nina was a real representation of the confusion and obstacles we create for ourselves when trying to love our other halfs. In short, the film illustrated just how true the sentiment that love, at least for black folks, is such a revolutionary act. And we all know what the Last Poets once said about Black folks relationship with revolution?
Love Jones was a trailblazer for what would be the contemporary golden era of black love cinema. During that time, black pictures were consumed with stories featuring young people engaging in street violence. Films like Menace II Society, New Jersey Drive, Juice and Boyz in the Hood, while all good films, mostly centered on themes of violence and death. When Love Jones came on the scene, it established a new precedent in the images of black folks. Not only did we get to see educated and artsy black folks conversing over jazz and poetry on screen but for the first time in the era, we were seen contemplating love without the dangers of a bullet. Likewise it was entertaining and profitable, helping to usher in a wave of other contemporary black love stories like Love and Basketball, Brown Sugar, The Brothers and The Best Man, some of which seem like the same movie.
To this day, Hollywood has consistently produced one or two black romance films a year although the dynamic of what constitutes black love in these films has changed. What we have now are love stories without the chemistry or cultural connections, which in essences means that white folks could just as easily play the characters. Likewise, we see stories in which Black males and females are at bitter oppositions and are not permitted to show affection to each other without severe penalty. Because Black folks really can’t love each other, right? I mean, it was painful and grueling to watch Angela and Marcus fight like rabid dogs in Why Did I Get Married. And it was even more painful to debate with our folks about why Tyler Perry was wrong to blame Patricia for Gavin getting hit by the truck and dying in Why Did I Get Married 2. It doesn’t make for an exciting first date, I tell ya.
Which is why I love Love Jones. The film did not seek to ascribe blame or fault to one gender or the other. It did not portray Black men or Black women as the enemy. The inability to want to love and understand each other is the only thing holding us back and keeping us apart. In fact, had Darius and Nina been honest and acknowledged that they had sincere feelings for one another; had they not tried to play into certain games, usually found in relationship books, to ensure a “perfect” relationship; had Darius not been so ego-driven and told Nina to not go to New York and Nina had not stubbornly waited to call Darius upon her return, perhaps they could have forgone the complications of their relationship. But then again, there would not have been a movie, right?
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
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(The Independent) — Well, it’s a pretty fair exchange: in exchange for not being able to walk around in the mall, you can buy everything in it.” Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, is fairly relaxed about the price of fame. Nor does he have to worry about heeding the mantra of his first album Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Album sales galore, a burgeoning film and writing career and several sound investments – including a multi-million dollar payday when the vitamin water company he had shares in sold to Coca-Cola – have seen the latest estimates of his wealth hit half a billion dollars. Eight years after his debut album turned the former New York drugs-runner into an international superstar, the 36-year old proffers the following assessment of his wealth and success: “I see money as a facilitator,” he elaborates. “If airlines don’t have a plane that goes to where you want to go, a private jet will. If a studio doesn’t go after a project and think it’s the right project for right now, I can go and get it made. I think that to some people I may appear a little off, but they’re just not on the same page as me.”
(Eurweb) — The movie, “Mooz-Lum,” hit selected theaters across the country this past February and since then has taken on a life of its own, enjoying a huge following on social media sites like Facebook. The film, directed by neophyte Qasim Basir, stars Evan Ross, Nia Long, Roger Guenveur Smith, Dorian Missick and Danny Glover. It was released on DVD June 14. Pulled between his strict Muslim upbringing by his father (Roger Guenever Smith) and the normal social life he’s never had, Tariq Mahdi (Evan Ross) enters college in a state of confusion. New relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims alike challenges his already shaken ideals, and the estrangement with his mother (Nia Long) and sister troubles him. Slowly, he begins to find himself with the help of new friends, family and mentors, but when the attacks of 9/11 happen without warning, he is forced to face the past and make the biggest decisions of his life.
(Uptown Magazine) — When Spike Lee released Jungle Fever in 1991, he single-handedly addressed an issue that had been raising eyebrows for years: interracial dating. Even though at the time of filming, interracial couples represented only 1.9 percent of the population, according to U.S. Census Bureau, there seemed to be a fascination, and for some, a disgust over interracial dating, specifically between African-American men and white women. Set in New York City, Flipper (Wesley Snipes), a married architect began an affair with his assistant, Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra), an Italian-American. The affair seemed to stem from both characters’ deep curiosity about each other’s race, more so than mere physical attraction, from the contrast in their skin colors–his dark complexion to her pale, “lily-white” skin to their upbringings, which were worlds apart. After disclosing his secret affair to his best friend, Flipper confessed, “I have to admit I’ve always been curious about Caucasian women.” The friend declared that he had “the fever, Jungle Fever,” described as an attraction between two different races.
Looking to watch a Black film and in the mood for something other than Tyler Perry? There are many Black independent directors, writers and actors who are making quality, complex films that will make you laugh and touch your heart. Some of these works are by artists who have worked hard to make these films without big studio bankrolls. Due to lack of promotion and distribution, many folks have no idea that these great films even exist. There are also some brilliant classic Black films that many of us have not been exposed to. These poignant works deserve some shine and we need to demand that they receive adequate marketing and are made widely available. However, that’s a topic for another post. For now, please load up your Netflix queue with these flicks or support them in the theaters. Here is a list of great independent or lesser-known Black films past and present.
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Read the rest of this entry »
I have a confession Mesdames. One of my favorite movies is Menace II Society. Before you begin to judge me for my hostile taste, let me explain why. First I should begin saying that I don’t condone the actions of Caine nor O-Dog (if you haven’t seen the movie, these are the two young and reckless main characters). But what this movie, among the others that came out during this time symbolized, was ‘our’ presence in film and media, a presence that unfortunately reflected a lot of the negative that was plaguing our communities, but also highlighted the positive and relevant. Yet and still, it was entertaining, and for some, a glimpse into another world that they didn’t even know existed.