Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy 60th Spike Lee

Today is the 60th birthday of Shelton Jackson Lee, better known as Spike Lee. His early works influenced me to become a filmmaker and I am a huge fan of his overall body of work.

I wrote more about his impact on me personally in the post Why I Donated to Spike Lee’s Fundraising Campaign

Aside from his film work what I think is great about Spike was that he has also made a career out of being a teacher. In 1993 he began to teach at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the Graduate Film Program. It was there that he received his Master of Fine Arts and in 2002 was appointed Artistic Director.

Before then he first started teaching with his books. In many of his early films Spike has written books about them and what it took to make them. I've read several and below are list of the books.

Spike Lee's Gotta Have It: Inside Guerilla Filmmaking by Spike Lee

Spike Lee wrote, directed and starred in She's Gotta Have It, the independent-film success story of 1986. Shot on a shoe-string budget of $175,000 in black-and-white 16mm, the film was made with Spike Lee's persistence and talent plus the help of family and friends. It grossed $8 million at the box office and proved to be a major hit with both critics and audiences. Now Spike Lee reveals how he did it, mapping out the entire creative and production processes-from early notebook jottings to film festival awards. Spike Lee's Gotta Have It is a unique document in film literature - it's funny, absorbing, and fresh as the hit film itself. (Goodreads)

Published October 1, 1987 by Fireside Books. I read this book, but then stopped. Read why via my Goodreads updates below

December 7, 2013 – Finished Reading
November 9, 2013 –
page 82

 22.28% "I think I'm stopping at page 100. This book is a WEALTH of information. I got this copy from the library. Must BUY a copy!"
November 9, 2013 –
page 76

 20.65% "I can't remember where I left off at so I'll start after the survey"
September 14, 2013 –
page 75

 20.38% ""At the beginning of Spike's Journal on 'She's Gotta Have It'. Very intriguing. I've never kept a journal while developing a film, but I do keep extensive notes. This is the page where he shares his Survey for women to flesh out his script and make it as accurate as possible." (page 75 of 231)"
September 1, 2013 –
page 20

 5.43% "After a long Foreword this page starts The Interview: Spike Lee with Nelson George November 21, 1986"

September 1, 2013 – Started Reading

Uplift the Race: The Construction of School Daze by Spike Lee, Lisa Jones

Spike Lee rises again. This time, he and Lisa Jones document his transition from struggling independent to mainstream filmmaker with the making of the Columbia Pictures film, School Daze. No longer working with a small cast and a painfully tight budget, Spike Lee and his crew find themselves working in a swirl of university politics, a cast of thousands, big musical production numbers and the not-insignificant pressures of coming up with a hit in the majors. He "uplifts the race" by demystifying the process of producing an entertaining commercial film that, at the same time, delivers a stinging - yet funny - critique on American culture. (Goodreads)

Published February 15,1988 by Fireside Books 

Do the Right Thing: A Spike Lee Joint
 by Spike Lee

The phenomenon of Spike Lee continues with this revealing and engaging look at his outstanding career, his creative process, and the screenplay for his dynamic movie Do The Right Thing. Spike Lee burst full formed into the screen world with his award-winning, commercially successful independent film She's Gotta Have It. In the few short years following this stellar debut he has established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the film industry and in American popular culture. This book reveals Spike Lee as a Hollywood iconoclast and gifted visionary and takes us though the dramatic sequence of events that brought the movie Do The Right Thing to fruition. It is a testimonial to his developing genius, written in the stingingly funny and informed language of Spike Lee. (Goodreads)

Published 1989 by Fireside Books. I read this book. Read my review below. 
 Do the Right Thing: A Spike Lee JointDo the Right Thing: A Spike Lee Joint by Spike Lee   My rating: 4 of 5 stars
‘Do the Right Thing’ is my FAVORITE “Spike Lee Joint”. Don’t know why it took me so long to get this book, but it did. Probably because I owned, and poured over all of the extras on the 2 Disc DVD. What more could I learn right? Turns out a lot more. Yes the DVD was very detailed, but much insight is to be gained in this book mostly curated from his journals while making DTRT.

For most of all of his early films, Spike Lee published an accompanying book. This was also mostly before DVDs with all of their commentaries and extras. Even back then it seems that Mr. Lee knew that other filmmakers like me were interested not only in his films, but the stories behind them as well.
Mo' Better Blues by Spike Lee, Lisa Jones

Documents the making of the movie Mo' Better Blues, a film that captures the lives and traditions of the great jazz musicians, in a volume that includes the film's script and production notes. (Goodreads)

Published August 15, 1990 by Fireside Books

By Any Means Necessary: Trials And Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X by Spike Lee, Ralph Wiley

The director of Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever describes the troubles he encountered while making Malcolm X, a film based on the life of the slain African-American leader. (Goodreads)

Published December 1,1992 by Hyperion. I read this book, read my review below.

By Any Means Necessary: Trials And Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm XBy Any Means Necessary: Trials And Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X by Spike Lee  My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t even know why I bought this book about the film ‘Malcolm X’ (1992) but if you ever want to know how hard it is to get a film made in Hollywood ESPECIALLY a period piece epic, this is the book you should read. Even if you’re not that interested in how a movie is made, it is STILL an interesting read as a tale of “Trials and Tribulations”.

By Any Means Necessary is not just a means to piggyback on brother Malcolm’s famous phrase, but it crystallizes exactly the mentality Mr. Lee had in mind when making this film. To me the narratives in this book were just as engrossing as the film itself.

PS: For the record the famous quote is-
"We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary. ” — Malcolm X, 1965


Read more of my posts about Spike Lee here

Monday, March 13, 2017

Get Out - Review


Written & Directed by Jordan Peele

Produced by Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr., Sean McKittrick and Jordan Peele

Daniel Kaluuya
Allison Williams
Bradley Whitford
Catherine Keener
Caleb Landry Jones
Marcus Henderson
Betty Gabriel
Stephen Root
LaKeith Stanfield

Cinematography by Toby Oliver

Release date: February 24, 2017 (United States)

Summary:  When Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes home with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), he is apprehensive as she hasn't told her parents that he is black. Once they get there things turn creepy.

Review: The brilliance of this film is that it captures that "black face in a white space" feeling and manages to turn into what it is—a horror show. Ok it might not in reality be a horror show, but as depicted in most of the film, it can get it a bit—odd.

It's not often you get to see black folk at the center of a horror movie that doesn't involve voodoo or something like that, but this film does—while also weaving in issues of race. In other words, Chris' blackness. It just doesn’t deal with it in the way you think. Not in an overt way. Everything is dealt with as it is in life—with subtlety.

Before Chris and Rose even get to the parents house they have to deal with Chris' blackness in a simple incident that deals with it in a very real way.  As soon as the couple gets to her parents house things become creepy as hell, especially as Chris meets the black employees at the parents home.

Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener
The parents are played to perfection by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener (pictured above) as is their creepy ass employees played by Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel (pictured below).

Things continue to descend into creepiness as his girlfriend's brother (Caleb Landry Jones) shows up to the family dinner and seems more fascinated with Chris than her Obama loving father. The whole time there you can feel that there’s something creepy underfoot and none of it good.

After a creepy ass first day and night, things only get creepier at the annual get together Rose’s parents have the next day with their white friends. The party scenes expertly depicts that "black face in a white space" feeling and what's it like to bite your tongue when a white person doesn't say something outright racist, but is definitely culturally insensitive.

The film does a great job at depicting everything in a creepy and surreal way especially through the performances of the cast. Every single one of the cast listed above knock their performances out of the park. Without giving anything away, they played their roles perfectly in accordance with the story. When everything is revealed, and it is, you’re still left guessing what’s going to happen until the end.

Great job by Writer/Director Jordan Peele, (pictured seated below) in his directorial debut, for maintaining the clever ambiguity of the story throughout. What makes this film great is that it is so layered with creepiness and racial undertones you really don't know what's going on—until you do.

I intentionally left a lot of things in my review vague because the mystery of the story is one of the best parts. For those of you who have seen the movie below is a great slideshow. I figured most of these out, but it's still a cool addendum to the film.

UPDATE: MAY 22, 2017
Live tweets of the Director's Feature Commentary by Jordan Peele @ 'Nother Brother on Twitter. Again I intentionally left out a lot of stuff to remain spoiler free and to not give away everything he said on the commentary which was really good.

WARNING: Major Spoilers 12 Revealing Details You May Have Missed In 'Get Out' 

Monday, December 19, 2016

2016: The New Renaissance in Black Television

I explain how 2016 kicked off a brand new era in black television.

2016 saw an unprecedented number of television shows with black creators and I not only break down how that was different than years past, I detail the black creators as well as the huge ratings these new shows are bringing in.

Read it all at Shadow & Act HERE

Friday, August 26, 2016

How Much Everyone Working On a $200 Million Movie Earns [VIDEO]

Great video by Vanity Fair enumerating the salary of EVERYONE on the film set of a blockbuster film makes. As Jay-Z said "Men lie, women lie, the numbers don't!"

Check out the video below via our Facebook page

Monday, May 23, 2016

Actors Talk the Acting Process [VIDEOS]

Found via website Shadow & Act, a series of videos courtesy of “The Off Camera Show” with host Sam Jones – featuring several actors like Don Cheadle, Michael B. Jordan, Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”), Robert Downey Jr., Ethan Hawke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Krysten Ritter (“Jessica Jones”) and Kevin Bacon.

Topics discussed include the auditioning process, building backstory for characters they play, prepping for roles, playing multiple characters simultaneously (in Maslany’s case), working with acting coaches/mentors, and more.

As Shadow & Act said “If you’re an actor (especially if you’re still new to the craft), you may get something out of what they each share about various aspects of the work. And if you’re a filmmaker, you may learn something here as well."

See more videos embedded together at Shadow & Act by clicking the graphic below 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

My 2015 Maryland Film Festival Experience [VIDEOS]

Last year for the Maryland Film Festival was totally surreal. The festival started three days after the curfew was lifted following the Baltimore Riots (also called the Freddie Gray riots, the Baltimore Uprising, the Baltimore Unrest etc). It was a tumultuous time in Baltimore. Baseball games were being played without crowds, people were afraid to come into the city, the police were still dealing with after effects of the unrest. It was a heck of a time to have a film festival, but MFF did and I was a part of it.

In the midst of the turmoil, I wrote what is becoming an annual article for indiewire blog Shadow & Act 2015 Maryland Film Festival Kicks Off This Week (May 6-10) - Black Films to Put on Your To-See List  detailing the films playing at the festival featuring black personnel (cast, subject or crew).

At the festival, one of the first feature films I saw was also a surreal moment. As I said then "Do The Right Thing in Baltimore a week after the Baltimore Riots"

Seeing that classic film that captured racial strife so brilliantly a week after the riots was just wild. It was quite a somber moment in the city at that time and this screening was equally somber.

The next day I attended a great panel, "A Work in Progress: Writing Race". As the Baltimore Sun put it:
In the wake of unrest in Baltimore, a panel discussion [A Work in Progress: Writing Race] at this week's Maryland Film Festival will feature four notable writers whose works touch on Baltimore, race or some combination thereof:  "The Wire" creator David Simon; Pulitzer Prize winner and Baltimore writer Taylor Branch; National Book Award winner James McBride; and essayist and commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates, a National Magazine Award-winning editor at Atlantic magazine.
From Left to Right: Ta-Nehisi Coates & David Simon
All four men are working on the script for the upcoming HBO mini-series, "America in the King Years," which is being produced for HBO by Simon's Blown Deadline Productions. It is based on Branch's three-volume history of the Civil Rights movement.
(You can see video of the "A Work in Progress: Writing Race" panel at the end of this post.)

That next day it was my pleasure to introduce the film Girlhood at the festival.

I really loved that film and it was my pleasure to present it to the MFF audience. You can read my review of Girlhood here )
I was planning on seeing several other films after Girlhood, but I was asked to do this.
CLICK for a bigger view
BREAKING NEWS: MFF announces a discussion about filmmaker responsibility and engagement with the community from 3pm-4pm in the Tent Village!  All Tent Village panels are FREE and open to the public!  Our Tent Village is located in the east lot at the MICA Lazarus Center (131 W North Avenue).

This panel will feature Stanley Nelson, director of MFF 2015's THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION; Steve Hoover, director of MFF 2015's CROCODILE GENNADIY; Ramona Diaz, director of DON'T STOP BELIEVIN': EVERYMAN'S JOURNING; and Chip Dizard, director of OH, BALTIMORE.  The panel will be moderated by Dankwa Brooks, Multi-award winning writer and director of MAKING HISTORY.
I guess it was my turn to be on a panel LOL, but a chance to moderate a panel with a filmmaker I admired–no brainer! 
I had a chance to hang out with Stanley Nelson before the panel at the festival and it was really a great moment. The panel went really great as well as our filmmakers had great answers about filmmaker responsibility and community engagement.
Top left to right: Stanley Nelson and Dankwa Brooks
Bottom left to right: Steve Hoover, Chip Dizard and Ramona Diaz
We covered issues like telling your story without exploitation and more. A really great discussion.
Later on that evening was the Maryland Film Festival premiere of
Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Of course I was right there, it was another great film by Mr. Nelson and I wasn't the only one to think so! Here’s video of the audience reaction from the 'Nother Brother Entertainment Facebook page.

(I wrote more about Mr. Nelson on the 'Nother Brother Entertainment blog here )

So as you can see I had an extremely busy time at the 2015 Maryland Film Festival and even though it was busy it was still a blast!

 You can see all of our posts about the Maryland Film Festival here

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Master Documentarian Stanley Nelson

So I was looking for some films to see at the 2010 Maryland Film Festival decided to see Freedom Summer and WOW! I was really blown away by this film.

As I said back in 2010 "The official website’s description “powerful harrowing and ultimately inspirational story” is absolutely right." I also said "Excellent work by the filmmaker Stanley Nelson and makes me want to check out his other work." And that's what I did! I watched his film Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006) and another excellent work!

When his next film came to the Maryland Film Festival 2014’s Freedom Summer I KNEW I had to see it and meet the man.The below picture is right after I saw Freedom Summer.

Freedom Summer was another excellent film and of course last year when his latest film was coming to the festival The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015) (Poster below)

I actually got a chance to hang out with Mr. Nelson last year, but that’s a story for later. I urge you to check out the works of this “Master Documentarian”.

Here are some of the titles from his filmography (hyperlinks lead to more of what I said about the films here on the blog)

Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (2000)
The Murder of Emmett Till (2003)
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006)
Freedom Riders (2010)
Freedom Summer (2014)
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)

What’s Mr. Nelson’s next films? Let him tell you via the tweets below

It goes without saying that I’m looking forward to BOTH films!

APRIL 2016 

Emmy-winning nonfiction filmmaker Stanley Nelson will be honored at the upcoming 75th Annual Peabody Awards.

The George Foster Peabody Awards (or simply Peabody Awards) program, recognizes distinguished and meritorious public service by American radio and television stations, networks, online media, producing organizations, and individuals.
A prolific documentary filmmaker, a seeker of truth and justice, Stanley Nelson Jr. has examined the history and experience of African-Americans in a powerful, revelatory body of work that includes three Peabody winners–The Murder of Emmet Till, Freedom Summer and Freedom Riders —and ranges from Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple to Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice. A MacArthur Genius Fellow, Nelson is also co-founder of Firelight Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing young documentary filmmakers who advance underrepresented stories.

 Read more about Mr. Nelson in a 2011 New York Times article below.


An Explorer of Black History’s Uncharted Terrain
Stanley Nelson
Mike Hale, New York Times
May 3, 2011

FOR some people, filmmaking is a lifelong dream. For Stanley Nelson, it began as more of a situational thing, a response to time and place. The time was the late 1960s and early ’70s, the place to be avoided was Vietnam, the refuge was film school at the City University of New York. “It was kind of my motive to stay in school no matter what, you know what I’m saying?”

In some ways Mr. Nelson, whose graying hair is the only thing that betrays his 59 years, has been in school ever since. An accomplished director and producer of documentaries, primarily for television — his latest film,“Freedom Riders,” makes its debut on Monday night as part of the PBS series “American Experience” — he has spent his career exploring the byways of black history and culture, and passing along the stories he finds.

“I feel like I’m trying to tell African-American audiences something they haven’t heard,” he said, “because I feel like if I tell African-American audiences something new about their history, then it’s definitely going to be new for white folks too.

“In some ways,” he continued, “I’m trying not to be that guy in ‘Tarzan’ who interprets the drums for Tarzan. I don’t want to be that person.”

“Freedom Riders” is Mr. Nelson’s first film to deal directly with the civil rights movement, and he has stayed away from the “great men” of black history: Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. His subjects, in television terms, have been more everyday or more offbeat, but no less important for that: African-American newspapers, professors and vacation resorts; the black nationalist Marcus Garvey and the murder victim Emmett Till; the suicides at Jonestown; and the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

The breadth and seriousness of his work documenting black life in America, assembled with little fanfare and sometimes less money, place him in a select group of filmmakers that would include his mentor, William Greaves, as well as more famous names like Gordon Parks and Spike Lee. But speaking at the temporary offices of his production company, Firelight Media, on 131st Street in Harlem recently, Mr. Nelson was more the weary traveler than the auteur. He had just returned from trips to China, Houston, St. Louis and Chicago, promoting his new film, about the 1961 Freedom Rides across the South and the violent reaction they inspired.

Taking a break from his producing chores on a Firelight film about Jesse Owens, Mr. Nelson recalled the reactions to “Freedom Riders” in China.

“It was crazy,” he said, settling into a chair and commencing an off-and-on struggle to stay awake. “Some of the questions were the same as here, and some were really very, very different. One that kind of stood out was, one guy asked, ‘Why was there segregation in the U.S.?’ Which was such a beautiful question. You know, it’s so beautiful.”

Mr. Nelson’s word choices sometimes hark back to the days of peace and love, when he was an aspiring director with no interest in nonfiction (“What I knew about documentary films were those terrible documentaries that I saw in school”) and a disdain for the blaxploitation movies that constituted the movie industry’s depiction of African-Americans on-screen.

For his thesis, he made a “kind of crazy” short film about a dead woman. “I was very influenced by foreign films,” he said. “So she wakes up in the middle of a field and she goes to a psychiatrist who gives her some mumbo jumbo, and then she goes to a priest and he gives her some mumbo jumbo, and then she goes to a drug dealer and he gives her some mumbo jumbo. And then she kind of wakes up, and she’s been hit by a car.”

Out in the world, he first apprenticed with Mr. Greaves, a prolific documentary and television director and producer best known for the experimental film “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm,” and then worked for five years for the communications branch of the United Methodist Church, where, he said, he learned how to make films with a message that were still entertaining.

While there he began work on his first feature film, “Two Dollars and a Dream,” about the pioneering black businesswoman Madame C. J. Walker. The church allowed him to use its facilities for his own work one day a week. The idea came from closer to home.

“Well, my grandfather was her business partner,” Mr. Nelson said. “So the story had been circulating around my family for a long time. What’s embarrassing is that it took me so long to think of it as a film.”

It also took him a long time to make it: seven years, much of it spent raising money. The film was finally released in 1989. While conducting research on Walker, he stumbled on the subject for his next movie, “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords.”

“Here were these papers that were owned and operated by black people,” he said. “And the writers were black, and the editors were black, and the photographers were black, and the cartoonists were black. I mean, somebody was making a living as a black cartoonist in 1920 — well, how about that? That’s incredible.”

Mr. Nelson’s second film took as long to make as his first, and he suspects that has had something to do with his determination to avoid familiar topics. “It took me seven years to make Madame C. J. Walker, it took me seven years to make ‘The Black Press,’ ” he said. “So going into a film, it has to be something that is really important to me. You know, because I might be seven, eight years down the line, still working on it.”

Research for “The Black Press” led Mr. Nelson to Garvey (who published the influential newspaper Negro World), and “Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind” initiated his relationship with “American Experience,” for which he has done five projects so far, including “The Murder of Emmett Till” and “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.” Despite the steady collaboration, each film has required a new pitch and a new negotiation. “PBS has been great, but it’s been one film after the other,” he said. “And there’s been no kind of relationship, in some terms. It’s like we meet in a bar by accident.”

“Freedom Riders” is the first film Mr. Nelson has written and directed that was not his own idea — PBS brought the project to him after optioning Raymond Arsenault’s 2006 book, “Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.” Asked if he had any qualms about the work for hire, Mr. Nelson laughed and said, “Well, I think they had raised all the money.”

“And I always kind of wanted to do a film about the civil rights movement, about one piece of the civil rights movement,” he added. “About dissecting a piece of it, because I think ‘Eyes on the Prize’ was a great, great, beautiful series, but it kind of made this whole lump thing of the movement.”

Mr. Nelson’s “American Experience” films can be found on DVD from and other online retailers, but his other films are harder to track down. (“Two Dollars and a Dream” can be bought at, which caters to institutional customers, for $350.) Those with a Netflix subscription, however, have access to a special treat: “A Place of Our Own,” his best and most atypical film, is currently available for streaming.

That 2004 work, conceived as a straightforward documentary about black resort towns around the country, became a poetic and highly personal film about Mr. Nelson’s family summer home at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, his parents and siblings, and a set of issues not often aired in public: the fault lines of class, generation and skin color that exist among African-Americans.

“It was more personal than I ever realized it would be, than I ever wanted it to be, than it will ever be again,” he said of “A Place of Our Own.” He had to be persuaded — “over and over and over again” — to allow the editors to put the focus on his fractured relationship with his father and to record the wistful first-person narration that sets the film’s tone.

Part of the story it tells is of Mr. Nelson’s upper-middle-class upbringing, with a dentist father and librarian mother who sent him to a progressive private school in Manhattan and whisked him off to Martha’s Vineyard every summer. Both “pieces” of his childhood, as he calls them, were cocoonlike (to put it one way) and intensely supportive (to put it another).

They did not remove “the kind of disconnect and disassociation that I think all black people have,” he said, but they did give him “some feeling of comfort in the world.” And they informed the kind of filmmaker he would become.

“I’m just trying to make the best film that I possibly can,” he said. “I’m not carrying a lot of baggage. I’m not thinking about this or that. I’m not bitter. And that’s kind of how I see myself.”

In addition to producing the Jesse Owens film, Mr. Nelson is negotiating with PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to do a connected series of films on topics including the slave trade, historically black colleges and the Black Panther party. He would like to direct a film about the Panthers, a favorite subject, himself. But there’s another topic — another subject of study — about which he seems to be even more excited.

“I’ve always wanted to do a film about James Brown,” he said. “Because I love James Brown, and I think it’s kind of this great story, and great music. I do think there’s something about that music. You know, especially for black people. You say James Brown, people start to smile. Why? Why is it that people start to smile? I’m not there yet.”