Wednesday, December 18, 2013

John Singleton on Hollywood's 'Slavery Zeitgeist'

GUEST COLUMN by John Singleton
The Hollywood Reporter, December 18, 2013

The acclaimed director on how Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale Station," "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" were made outside the studio system, and what's next for African-American movies: "The chains on what can be made and what can't in Hollywood have been unshackled."

Director John Singleton on how 2013 has changed Hollywood's idea of commercial viability for African American-themed movies.

When Ryan Coogler, a newly minted USC film school grad, took his screenplay about the police killing of Oscar Grant to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in January 2012, he had no idea what the next year would bring. Within six months, the work was in production in his native Oakland with seed money from a Chinese investor and other producers, including co-star Octavia Spencer. A year later, the picture won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance and went on a worldwide tour, garnering kudos at Cannes, Deauville and from the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and the Independent Spirit Awards.

Not bad for a movie that cost less than a million dollars. The plain truth is, Fruitvale Station was made totally outside the Hollywood studio system and every ounce of the picture feels authentic. The lives of the people involved in the movie will never be the same.

This year has seen a number of films helmed by African-American directors that raise the bar and also many questions concerning the industry's historical outlook on what is commercial and what isn't. In a town where many executives hold six-figure positions and are basically hired to say no ad infinitum, several projects have been made outside the system and are finding commercial and critical success.

Legendary producer Laura Ziskin initially developed Lee Daniels' The Butler. The picture eventually found life with a phalanx of producers and financiers that included NBA ballplayer Michael Finley; Sheila Johnson, the ex-wife of BET's Bob Johnson; and producer Cassian Elwes. Golden Globes snubs aside, this picture will be the stuff of legend for all the success it has attained despite industry rules. What are those rules? It's black-themed, a period film and concerns the civil rights movement -- so it can't make money. Yet the $30 million movie has grossed close to $150 million worldwide with room to grow. Whatever the awards season outcome, The Butler will have changed the landscape of the industry in a positive way.

The clear awards frontrunner 12 Years a Slave never could have been made by a major Hollywood film studio. With all respect, it isn't the first to have been attempted on this subject matter. Several filmmakers over time have made slavery-based projects, albeit with fewer resources, to spotty results. What makes Steve McQueen's picture distinctive is its all-encompassing organic feel. Everything came together with this movie: the acting, by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o, among others; writing; McQueen's direction; Hans Zimmer's delicate, haunting score. It will be interesting to see how the "slavery zeitgeist" created by this picture plays out in the next year. One thing is for certain: The chains on what can be made and what can't in Hollywood have been unshackled.

See other John Singleton Guest Columns on Hollywood here

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Monday, November 25, 2013

The Best Man Holiday — Review

The Best Man Holiday 

Written & Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

Produced by Malcolm D. Lee, Sean Daniel and Spike Lee

Taye Diggs
Sanaa Lathan
Nia Long
Morris Chestnut
Monica Calhoun
Harold Perrineau
Regina Hall
Terrence Howard

Cinematography by Rogier Stoffers

Release date: November 15, 2013 (USA)

After fifteen years, college friends reunite over the holidays and learn that not all their lives have gone in the directions they had hope.

The sequel The Best Man Holiday is all about the performances and the performances across the board are fantastic! The actors in the ensemble return and have grown in the fourteen years since the last film, 1999’s The Best Man.

DVD cover for The Best Man (1999)
They were good actors then, but like their characters you can really see how they have matured. It is those actors that elevate the story into what could have been an average story of personal turmoil into a really heart tugging film. This film is more drama than comedy and thus the dramatic moments are really heartbreaking.  Yes the film is a real tear jerker.

Each actor of the ensemble gets their opportunity to shine and it all ties together in the main motifs of the film. What I liked about the film was its motifs of family, friendship, brotherhood and most importantly religion. There have been many other films with a religious component, but they often come off as heavy handed. Holiday dealt with it in a manner that was organic to the story, to the characters and tied into the first picture. A really great balance.

What may have led to the equilibrium of the dramatic and religious components was the comedy! Yes it’s “more drama than comedy”, but the comedy is really great and comes at just the right moments. The writer/director Malcolm D. Lee did a great job at making sure that as down as you may get by the dramatic elements, some comedy is coming to lift your spirits.

The Best Man Holiday is a really good picture that reunites a group of friends that we liked last time, but really grow to love and empathize with this time and perhaps look forward to seeing again.

Monday, November 18, 2013

SYD FIELD, screenwriting guru passes away.

I’m sad to hear about the passing of Syd Field (pictured left) who died yesterday Sunday, November 17th.

Field was one of my first entrees into REAL screenwriting. I was writing “scripts” before, but none lacked the proper screenwriting format.

I first heard about Field while studying screenwriting at Morgan State University. Field wrote eight best selling books on screenwriting and SEVERAL of his books were required text in several of my screenwriting classes.

In fact when anyone asks me about screenwriting I tell them get his book Screenplay, considered the bible of screenwriting.

3rd Edition of Screenplay

Many people think they know how to write a screenplay (for short or feature films) or a teleplay (for television series), but they don’t. It’s kind of a regimented format that should be mastered BEFORE trying to alter it with new storytelling techniques.

Syd Field broke down what it took to make a successful screenplay (in format at least, if not content) and for that I and millions of other screenwriters Thank Him. May he Rest in Peace.

                          DISSOLVE TO:

You can read more about Syd Field's life in The Hollywood Reporter here

November 20, 2013
I took this picture of my bookshelf in honor of Syd Field. You can see my copy of Screenplay amongst my other screenwriting texts.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Al Pacino, Interviews — Book Review

Al Pacino by Lawrence Grobel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As Pacino himself writes in the Foreward “I had not yet said yes to our first interview, but when I read his interview with Marlon Brando on Brando’s island in Tahiti, I was impressed.” Since that day in 1979 when he agreed to the interview, the two have become good friends and over the years they did many casual interviews.

Through these nine interviews, all the way up to 2005, you can see what kind of friendship they have and what kind of love and dedication Pacino has for acting.

I personally became impressed, before reading this book, when I read several bits of trivia* about his role in Dog Day Afternoon.

"Although he had initially agreed to play the part of Sonny [In Dog Day Afternoon], Al Pacino told Sidney Lumet near the start of production that he couldn't play it. Pacino had just completed production on The Godfather: Part II and was physically exhausted and depressed after the shoot. With his reliance on the Method, Pacino didn't relish the thought of working himself up to a state of near hysteria every day."

I’ve seen The Godfather films dozens of times, but had only recently seen Dog Day Afternoon and I could not believe he did what I personally thought were his most phenomenal and disparate acting performances—back to back!

Even though he eventually accepted the role in Dog Day Afternoon "halfway through the production, Al Pacino collapsed from exhaustion and had to be hospitalized for a short time. After production was completed, he decided to stop doing films for a while and return to stage work."

I knew then that the man was acutely dedicated to his craft and that was one of the reasons he was so good at it.

Throughout the interviews in this book you get to witness more about his dedication to the craft and his express love of theater especially “The Bard of Avon” William Shakespeare. You could tell that even though he has made millions off of movie roles he could easily be just as happy touring the country doing theater. A fact his now old friend and writer stated as he wrote in the final chapter of the book. I have only quoted several passages below.
And yet, Pacino is different. He still can’t wrap himself around the idea of doing something strictly for the money…He can’t take the millions and run when the script doesn’t capture his imagination. He’s a throwback to a time when artists did what pleased them, what inspired them, and if anyone liked what they did, fine with them. But if they didn’t, it shouldn’t matter…Because it’s not about money. It’s never been about money, with Pacino. It’s about how he feels inside his body and his head. It’s about his art. And in age of commerce, Al Pacino just may be the last artist standing.
That pretty much sums up what I thought of Alfredo James Pacino after reading his interviews in this book. He is a dedicated an artisan as I ever seen.

I have to state that I WAS NOT looking for a book about Al Pacino, but when I saw this title and read a little more about it I just had to read about whom I think is the world’s greatest actor. I came to that conclusion after reading headlines about an October 2012 Time magazine article naming Daniel Day Lewis the “world’s greatest actor”. After some thought I thought “Did Al Pacino die?”.

Left to Right: Al Pacino in The Godther, Part II (1974)  and Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
I’m sorry, as I stated above his most phenomenal and disparate acting performances (in The Godfather, Part II and Dog Day Afternoon) were just that, phenomenal and disparate—back to back! Never have I seen such acting.    
*Trivia from IMDb, the Internet Movie Database.

View all my BOOK reviews

Thursday, September 19, 2013

August Wilson: I Want A Black Director!

The indiewire blog Shadow & Act reposted an essay by the late African American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson, which was first published in Spin Magazine, the October 1990 issue, and was later reprinted as a New York Times op-ed piece.

That piece is below.

August Wilson
I Want A Black Director!
by August Wilson

“I don’t want to hire nobody just ’cause they’re black.” Eddie Murphy said that to me. We were discussing the possibility of Paramount Pictures purchasing the rights to my play “Fences.” I said I wanted a black director for the film. My response [to his remark] was immediate. “Neither do I,” I said.

What Mr. Murphy meant I am not sure. I meant I wanted to hire somebody talented, who understood the play and saw the possibilities of the film, who would approach my work with the same amount of passion and measure of respect with which I approach it, and who shared the cultural responsibilities of the characters.

That was more than three years ago. I have not talked to Mr. Murphy about the subject since. Paramount did purchase rights to make the film in 1987. What I thought of as a straightforward, logical request has been greeted by blank, vacant stares and the pious shaking of heads as if in response to my unfortunate naiveté.

I usually have had to repeat my request, “I want a black director,” as though it were a complex statement in a foreign tongue. I have often heard the same response: “We don’t want to hire anyone just because they are black.” What is being implied is that the only qualification any black has is the color of his skin.

In the film industry, the prevailing attitude is that a black director couldn’t do the job, and to insist upon one is to make the film “unmakeable,” partly because no one is going to turn a budget of $15 million over to a black director. That this is routinely done for novice white directors is beside the point.

The ideas of ability and qualification are not new to blacks. The skills of black lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants and mechanics are often greeted with skepticism, even from other blacks. “Man, you sure you know what you doing?”

At the time of my last meeting with Paramount, in January 1990, a well-known, highly respected white director wanted very much to direct the film. I don’t know his work, but he is universally praised for sensitive and intelligent direction. I accept that he is a very fine film director. But he is not black. He is not a product of black American culture-a culture that was honed out of the black experience and fired in the kiln of slavery and survival – and he does not share the sensibilities of black Americans.

I have been asked if I am not, by rejecting him on the basis of his race, doing the same thing Paramount is doing by not hiring a black director. That is a fair, if shortsighted, question which deserves a response.

I am not carrying a banner for black directors. I think they should carry their own. I am not trying to get work for black directors. I am trying to get the film of my play made in the best possible way.

As Americans of various races, we share a broad cultural ground, a commonality of society that links its diverse elements into a cohesive whole that can be defined as “American.”

We share certain mythologies. A history. We share political and economic systems and a rapidly developing, if suspect, ethos. Within these commonalities are specifics. Specific ideas and attitudes that are not shared on the common cultural ground. These remain the property and possession of the people who develop them, and on that “field of manners and rituals of intercourse” (to use James Baldwin’s eloquent phrase) lives are played out.

At the point where they intercept and link to the broad commonality of American culture, they influence how that culture is shared and to what purpose.

White American society is made up of various European ethnic groups which share a common history and sensibility. Black Americans are a racial group which do not share the same sensibilities. The specifics of our cultural history are very much different.

We are an African people who have been here since the early 17th century. We have a different way of responding to the world. We have different ideas about religion, different manners of social intercourse. We have different ideas about style, about language. We have different esthetics.

Someone who does not share the specifics of a culture remains an outsider, no matter how astute a student or how well-meaning their intentions.

I declined a white director not on the basis of race but on the basis of culture. White directors are not qualified for the job. The job requires someone who shares the specifics of the culture of black Americans.

Webster’s “Third New International Dictionary” gives the following character definitions listed under black and white.

White: free from blemish, moral stain or impurity: outstandingly righteous; innocent; not marked by malignant influence; notably pleasing or auspicious; fortunate; notably ardent; decent; in a fair upright manner; a sterling man; etc.

Black: outrageously wicked; a villain; dishonorable; expressing or indicating disgrace, discredit or guilt; connected with the devil; expressing menace; sullen; hostile; unqualified; committing a violation of public regulation, illicit, illegal; affected by some undesirable condition; etc.

No wonder I had been greeted with incredulous looks when I suggested a black director for “Fences.” I sat in the offices of Paramount suggesting that someone who was affected by an undesirable condition, who was a violator of public regulations, who was sullen, unqualified and marked by a malignant influence, direct the film.

While they were offering a sterling man, who was free from blemish, notably pleasing, fair and upright; decent and outstandingly righteous with a reputation to boot!

Despite such a linguistic environment, the culture of black Americans has emerged and defined itself in strong and effective vehicles that have become the flag-bearers for self-determination and self-identity.

In the face of such, those who are opposed to the ideas of a “foreign” culture permeating the ideal of an American culture founded on the icons of Europe seek to dilute and control it by setting themselves up as the assayers of its value and the custodians of its offspring.

Therein lies the crux of the matter as it relates to Paramount and the film “Fences” – whether we as blacks are going to have control over our own culture and its products.

Some Americans, black and white, do not see any value to black American lives that do not contribute to the leisure or profit of white America. Some Americans, black and white, would deny that a black American culture even exists. Some Americans, black and white, would say that by insisting on a black director for “Fences” I am doing irreparable harm to the efforts of black directors who have spent the last 15 years trying to get Hollywood to ignore the fact that they are black. The origins of such ideas are so very old and shallow that I am amazed to see them so vividly displayed in 1990.

What to do? Let’s make a rule. Blacks don’t direct Italian films. Italians don’t direct Jewish films. Jews don’t direct black American films. That might account for about 3 percent of the films that are made in this country. The other 97 percent – the action-adventure, horror, comedy, romance, suspense, western or any combination thereof, that the Hollywood and independent mills grind out – let it be every man for himself.

Read more about this piece at Shadow & Act as well links to other similar pieces here


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John Singleton: Can a White Director Make a Great Black Movie?

Chad Boseman in 42 Inset John Singleton
John Singleton: Can a White Director Make a Great Black Movie? (Guest Column)
by John Singleton, The Hollywood Reporter
September 19, 2013

Whenever a black-themed film comes out, I get the call. And even more stops on the street. "Yo, man. What did you think of that flick?" The truth is, I wish folks would ask me what I think of some general releases. (My two favorite movies of the summer were comedies: Seth Rogen's This Is the End and Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.) But, hey, I guess commenting on all things black is my lot in life, being that I'm a recognizable African-American face in an industry that isn't exactly the gold standard when it comes to diversity.

Like everything else in Hollywood, though, black films tend to come in waves, and by some standards 2013 is turning into a banner year. Nearly a dozen black movies will be released before it's over. And with awards season just around the corner, three indie flicks are right in the mix: Ryan Coogler's remarkable and unquestionably authentic debut, Fruitvale Station; my friend Lee Daniels' The Butler, which has drawn a diverse crowd and topped the box office three weeks in a row; and the film everyone is waiting for, Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave.

Hollywood's black film community has always had a one-for-all-and-all-for-one attitude, openly cheering the success of any black-driven movie in the hope its box-office success will translate into more jobs and stories about people of color. But, at the same time, the success of black-themed movies like The Help and this year's 42 points to a troubling trend: the hiring of white filmmakers to tell black stories with few African-Americans involved in the creative process.

The good news first: The Butler, a period drama inspired by a real-life White House butler, has grossed $100 million domestically to date. I'm sure more than a few studio execs checking Labor Day weekend grosses did a Buckwheat double take, like "What wuz dat?" -- and that's not racist, 'cause I'm black and I can say that.

While 12 Years a Slave doesn't open until Oct. 18, I've seen it and can tell you it's a work of art. McQueen, who is black and from the U.K., has created a raw, unflinching look at a black man's descent into one of the darkest chapters of American history. It's as authentic as it gets. And there should be Oscar nods for McQueen; screenwriter John Ridley; lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who gives the performance of a lifetime; and, hopefully, Michael Fassbender, who plays the most compelling big-screen villain this year. (It should be noted 12 Years a Slave would not have seen the light of day if not for Brad Pitt, who produced the film and has a small but crucial role in it. There are few stars as big-hearted as Pitt with an interest in exploring challenging subjects. More should definitely follow his bold example.)

This past spring also saw the release of 42, which was written and directed by Brian Helgeland. I took my whole family to the theater and was happy to see that Jackie Robinson's inspiring story was well told. Newcomer Chadwick Boseman stepped up to the challenge of portraying Jackie, who seemed to carry the weight of an entire race on his shoulders.

And I was delighted to see my childhood hero Harrison Ford in an underrated character performance as Branch Rickey. For me, Helgeland -- with support from Jackie's widow, Rachel Robinson, who served as a consultant, and black producer Darryl Pryor -- hit it out of the park. 42 wasn't overly moralistic and didn't sugarcoat the hardships Robinson endured on and off the field while integrating Major League Baseball.

Yet I couldn't help but wonder how different Spike Lee's version of Jackie's story would've been had he gotten the financing to direct his planned biopic years ago when he had Denzel Washington attached to star. Lee envisioned going beyond Robinson's exploits on the diamond and dramatizing his later years as a businessman, prominent Republican and figurehead for racial equality.

One could argue that Lee couldn't get his film made and Helgeland did, end of the story. But hold up. There's more to it. What if the commercial success of "black films" like 42 and The Help, which also had a white director, are now making it harder rather than easier for African-American writers and directors to find work?

That is exactly what people in certain Hollywood circles are debating. When I brought up the issue with a screenwriter friend, he replied, "It's simple. Hollywood feels like it doesn't need us anymore to tell African-American stories." The thinking goes, "We voted for and gave money to Obama, so [we don't need to] hire any black people."

Just to be clear, there are several white filmmakers who have told black stories and gotten it right. Norman Jewison -- who made In the Heat of the Night, A Soldier's Story and The Hurricane -- is Canadian, with no direct ties to black American culture. But he is a socially conscious renegade who tells stories with great care and sensitivity, and those works, in particular, are phenomenal. And Taylor Hackford did an amazing job with his Ray Charles biopic Ray, which he co-wrote with James L. White. It was a story close to his heart, earning him an Oscar nom for directing and winning a best actor award for Jamie Foxx. Another classic.

I could go on and on about the white directors who got it right and others who missed the mark. But my larger point is that there was a time, albeit very brief, when heroic black figures were the domain of black directors, and when a black director wasn't hired, the people behind the film at least brought on a black producer for his or her creative input and perspective. Spielberg did that on The Color Purple (Quincy Jones) and Amistad (Debbie Allen). [Quentin] Tarantino had Reggie Hudlin on Django Unchained.

But now, that's changing; several black-themed movies are in development with only white filmmakers attached, including a James Brown biopic. That's right, the story of "Soul Brother No. 1, Mr. Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" is being penned by two Brits for Tate Taylor, director of The Help.

A compelling argument can be made that Brian Grazer, the project's primary producer, has had multiple successes with black talent such as Eddie Murphy and Denzel. And Mick Jagger also is involved, and the Brits tend to have a greater appreciation for African-American creative culture than most white Americans.

Still, it gives one pause that someone is making a movie about the icon who laid down the foundation of funk, hip-hop and black economic self-reliance with no African-American involvement behind the scenes. One of Brown's most famous lines was, "I don't want nobody to give me nothing; open up the door and I'll get it myself." How is that possible when the gatekeepers of this business keep the doors mostly locked shut in Hollywood?

In the black film community, the consensus is that we're entering a new era of "Al Jolson movies." Jolson, for the uninitiated, was the star of the first "talkie," The Jazz Singer in 1927, and is best known for donning blackface and singing "Mammy." He is an apt symbol for what slowly is becoming the norm in Hollywood. Even when there are black directors or writers involved, some of the films made today seem like they're sifted of soul. It's as if the studios are saying, "We want it black, just not that black."

Audiences, though, can smell what's real and what isn't. And there is a noticeable difference between pictures that have significant contributions from African-Americans behind the scenes and those that don't. That's why I can fully relate to the disappointment some friends feel upon hearing about producers holding meetings on black-themed movies without even noticing that no one in the room speaks the language or intimately understands that world.

There are cultural nuances and unspoken, but deep-seated emotions that help define the black American experience. The rhythm and cadence in which we carry ourselves among one another is totally alien to most non-blacks, even if it is a constant fascination to them.

Some in the black film community think that Hollywood needs to pass a Rooney Rule like the NFL, which requires teams to interview a minority candidate when looking to fill a head-coaching position. But that'll never fly. In many ways, The Help's $170 million domestic box office set a new paradigm for how Hollywood wants its black pictures: uplifting, sentimental and inoffensive. It's no one individual filmmaker's fault. It reflects the latent racism that influences what gets made and what doesn't in the studio system.

What Hollywood execs need to realize is that black-themed stories appeal to the mainstream because they are uniquely American. Our story reminds audiences of struggles and triumphs, dreams and aspirations we all share. And it is only by conveying the particulars of African-American life that our narrative become universal. But making black movies without real participation by black filmmakers is tantamount to cooking a pot of gumbo without the "roux." And if you don't know offhand what "roux" is, you shouldn't be making a black film.

When he was nominated for the best director Oscar in 1992 for his first feature Boyz n the Hood, Singleton became the youngest person and first African-American nominated in that category. His subsequent films include 2 Fast 2 Furious, Shaft and Four Brothers.

Dankwa Brooks Commentary: I really can't say I disagree with Singleton and I'd go far as to say that 42 was one of the ONLY black themed movies helmed by a white director that ever captured any racial resonance to me. The rest, even the ones he mentioned, seemed empty and vapid to me. As a black man I need to "feel the racism" and from my lifelong experience as a moviegoer the films by white filmmakers hardly ever do that.

Read comments about this column at The Hollywood Reporter here

Right here on the 'Nother Brother Entertainment blog, our reviews of:
The Help
Fruitvale Station

You can CLICK the graphic below to see all of our blog posts about diversity

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why I Donated to Spike Lee’s Fundraising Campaign

As of this writing Spike Lee has met his fundraising goal of $1.25 Million and I still felt compelled to donate.

I started to think I could be a filmmaker because of people like Spike Lee. Spike Lee wasn’t the only black filmmaker to inspire me to study film, but he sure was the most consistently influential. Throughout college I could always count on a Spike Lee Joint to inspire me in some way, not just his films, but his interviews and his books. It was inspiring for a young, black man to see this other black man not only making films, but speaking his mind. Him being from Brooklyn where I was born and raised didn’t hurt none.

Since he announced his campaign a lot of detractors have cited his fame and celebrity as reasons he shouldn’t be asking us for money. His celebrity, fame and work ethic in film was a constant reminder to me while I was toiling away in college that I could attain such. Even after receiving my degree in film that celebrity, fame and work ethic has inspired me to continue to study film as I venture into indie filmmaking.

Ultimately though, I decided to donate to his campaign because Spike’s films speak to this black man’s soul.

Dankwa Brooks

Picture of Spike Lee atop my editing suite posted on Facebook November 5, 2009


August 29, 2013
I found this December 1996 edition of Black Enterprise magazine while cleaning my house last weekend and thought that it is a PERFECT example of what I meant when I said of Spike Lee that “His celebrity, fame and work ethic in film was a constant reminder to me while I was toiling away in college that I could attain such.” I bought this magazine while I was a screenwriting student at Morgan State University and I still have it!

These kind of African American images kept me going and inspired me in college while I studied screenwriting, transferred to another college to study film and even after college—continue to do so.

November 6, 2013

As I was digitizing some of my old papers from college I found the above! This was for a paper for my Business Communications class in my Freshman year at Morgan State. Yet another example of Spike’s influence on me.

Read more of my posts about Spike Lee here

Read more about Spike Lee's online campaign here

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fruitvale Station - Review


Written & Directed by Ryan Coogler

Produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi & Forest Whitaker

Cinematography by Rachel Morrison

Editing by Claudia Castello & Michael P. Shawver

Release date(s): January 19, 2013 (Sundance), July 12, 2013 (United States)

Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant
Octavia Spencer as Wanda
Melonie Diaz as Sophina
Ariana Neal as Tatiana

Summary: The film tells the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old two time convicted felon from Oakland California, and his experiences on the last day of his life, before he was fatally shot by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Police in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009.

This film is a portrait of a young, black man and this portrait closely resembles not myself, but a lot of black men I knew—a lot. For whatever reason they just can't get their life together. Fruitvale Station captures ONE day in a young black man's life, Oscar Grant, yet fully captures what most of the other 364 days of the year must be like.

These young men aren't the scourge of society that the media portrays them to be, but loving, kind individuals. ‘Fruitvale’ doesn’t sugarcoat his character as you get to see that he is a good guy and he has friends and family that loves him. You see the good natured side of Oscar, but you also see the immoral side of Oscar’s personality when he’s threatened or hurt.

Most of the film as such is an intimate portrait. You follow Oscar as he goes about his day and thinks about his life. You see his great interaction with the women in his life, his girlfriend, his daughter and his mother. You see the struggles he has to go through with the other aspects of his life.

Things are not all so reflective as the film builds to its inevitable conclusion as that last part of the's about as heart wrenching as you can get.

The performances are pretty great. From the fresh innocence of Ariana Neal as Oscar’s young daughter Tatiana, to the resilience of his daughter’s mother Sophina played terrifically by Melonie Diaz and a superb performance by Octavia Spencer. Superb! My favorite actor from The Help, Spencer gives another great performance in “Fruitvale’. Some of her scenes could have easily gone over the top, but she plays them with the perfect nuances.

The performance of the film, this film, Fruitvale Station, a story about the late Oscar Grant goes to his portrayer Michael B. Jordan. Jordan gives a complex performance that is often times loving and reflective, but when it’s not—it’s not. It’s almost like Jekyll and Hyde. Like I said earlier, when he is threatened or hurt Jordan’s Oscar is a different person. It is that performance that makes the ending of the film all that more harrowing.

The direction by Ryan Coogler is reflective and nurturing throughout and he does a great job with showing those aspects of Oscar’s character, but again, that ending…Coogler does an amazing job of increasing the tension and then showing the eventual heartbreak of the events. A very impressive feature film debut for Ryan Coogler!

Fruitvale Station is a really good movie that will break your heart by the time it’s finished, but you feel like you know the young man, many like him and what they face in this life.

Additional Links
On Wikipedia you can read more about the real life BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant

Read more news about the film Fruitvale Station at our Sista blog Cool Black Media here

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My 2013 Maryland Film Festival Experience

It's been over a month since the 2013 Maryland Film Festival (May 8-12th) and it was a doozy. LOL. In pictures and words my weekend was:

For the record:
Starting in 1999, the Maryland Film Festival is an annual four-day event that takes place the first weekend of each May, presenting top-notch film and video work from all over the world. Each year the festival screens approximately 50 feature films and 75 short films of all varieties -- narrative, documentary, animation, experimental, and hybrid -- to tens of thousands of audience members.   
 In 2013, for its fifteenth anniversary, the festival expanded to five days. 
Celebrity guest hosts from outside the world of film are also invited to present favorite films, including musicians such as Harry Belafonte, Ian MacKaye, Branford Marsalis, Will Oldham, Jonathan Richman, and Bill Callahan.
This year was the 15th Annual Maryland Film Festival. Usually there are four days of the festival, but this year there was FIVE. That means an extra day to see as many films as I could. LOL.

Because the festival expanded, my weekend started early on Wednesday with the festival’s Opening Night Shorts & Party.

Every year the festival opens with a bunch of short films and then a party. This year I wanted to repeat my full festival experience so I wanted to attend all five days and I DID! In reality the only day I spent the whole day at the festival was the last day, Sunday.

Even though I’ve been going to the MFF for nine years this was the best ever!

It started with my favorite poster design for the festival ever. As an artist I appreciate art in all its forms and I thought this design was fantastic! It really encompasses their "Film for everyone" slogan!

2013 MFF poster design. Graphic by Post Typography
(in collaboration with photographer RaRah and 3-D illustrator Jeremy Martin). 
Then I saw this announcement in one of their emails:
Maryland Film Festival (May 8-12 in downtown Baltimore) is proud to announce that acclaimed cinematographer Bradford Young will co-host our 2013 Closing Night screening, presenting Oscilloscope Laboratories' Mother of George alongside director Andrew Dosunmu.  

So a filmmaker whose work I really idolized was going to be at the festival this year and hopefully I would get a chance to meet him! Did I? I wrote a separate post about that here

Again this year during the festival I also shared my experience with the people who follow ‘Nother Brother on our social networks.

Even though the stuff I tweeted is lost in the thousands of tweets in the “Twitterverse” a lot of what I posted , including pictures, are still on the ‘Nother Brother Facebook page, including ALL of my reviews EXCLUSIVELY. Well all except the BEST film I saw which for the first time was posted on Indiewire’s Shadow & Act! Indiewire is a daily news site for the independent film community and a leading source of information on independent films.

From my review of that “Best Film” from the 2013 Maryland Film Festival, “it wasn’t just the best picture I saw at the MFF this year; it is the best picture I’ve seen this year thus far. Really.” Even though my review of the "Best film" is at Shadow & Act, I did write a special epilogue for this blog and it's linked at the bottom.

Other than that “Best film” all the other reviews, some other really good films, are on the ‘Nother Brother Entertainment Facebook Page EXCLUSIVELY including the great Baltimore shot documentary 12 O’clock Boys.

Still from 12 O'clock Boys
I’ve been attending the Maryland Film Festival since 2005 and between the Best Graphic Ever, the opportunity to meet one of my filmmaking idols, some really good films spread over five days and “the best picture I’ve seen this year” I can definitely say that 15th Annual Maryland Film Festival of 2013 was the indeed the BEST EVER!

All links go to Facebook

Several dramatic short films. More description at the link.(DRAMA)

Several short films of varying genres. More description at the link.

IT FELT LIKE LOVE Fourteen-year-old Lila is experiencing a boring Brooklyn summer when she decides to pursue a tough older boy at the expense that her desperation and posturing will carry her too far into unfamiliar territory and she may be forced to confront reality. (DRAMA) 

16 ACRES The dramatic inside story of the monumental collision of interests at the Ground Zero in the decade after 9/11 (DOCUMENTARY)

A TEACHER When a high school teacher in Texas has an affair with one of her students, her life begins to unravel as the relationship evolves. (DRAMA)

12 O'CLOCK BOYS Pug, a wisecracking 13 year, has one goal in mind: to join The Twelve O’clock Boys; the notorious urban dirt-bike gang of Baltimore. (DOCUMENTARY)

VHS 2 Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his house and find collection of VHS tapes. Viewing the horrific contents of each 
cassette, they realize there may be dark motives behind the student's 
disappearance. (HORROR)

ZERO CHARISMA A gamer geek feels threatened when a neo-nerd hipster joins his group of gamers and he feels like he will lose his identity as the Game Master. (COMEDY)


As stated above here on the 'Nother Brother Entertainment blog you can read more about the...

Click the graphic above to read it!

See more of my photos from the 2013 Maryland Film Festival here 

Related Links
You can see ALL of our posts about the Maryland Film Festival HERE

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cinematographer Bradford Young

Let me tell you about Mr. Young. I’ve been a fan of his for years and in a short amount of time I can see why he has gotten so much acclaim. This is what I said about one of his early works in March 2012.

That project was My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women in Hip Hop (2010) and this is what I said:
A special came on BET about female emcees in hip hop. My Mic Sounds Nice was clearly the BEST production I ever seen on BET. Period. I liked My Mic Sounds Nice so much because like dream hampton said “partly because the thing looked so good”.

I really didn’t know HE shot that until I looked up the resume of one of his frequent collaborators Ava DuVernay. It was soon though that I found out how talented he was.

Since then I have seen the majority of the feature films Mr. Young has shot and they all look FANTASTIC! Most of them I reviewed.

Those films were:
Restless City (2011)
Pariah (2011)
Middle of Nowhere (2012)
Mother of George (2013)

As you can tell I was well versed in Mr. Young’s work so when I read this in the Maryland Film Festival email I was beyond excited! (Click for bigger view)

I knew if I saw him at the festival I would jump at the chance to meet him. I was chilling in the Filmmaker’s Lounge before my next film that last day of the festival and I saw him chilling scrolling on his cell phone. You know I had to go meet the brother and get his autograph!

Bradford Young's autograph in the 2013 Maryland Film Festival Guide
on the page of the film he  worked on Mother  of George
We talked for about 2 minutes and he was a real cool cat. I didn’t want to disturb him so I gave a few parting words and left him alone. 

Bradford Young. Photo by Jason Putsche
As stated in the email above, later that day Mr. Young co-hosted its 2013 Closing Night screening of Mother of George (pictured above). After seeing the film, which was FANTASTIC, at the Closing Night Party I had to shake his hand again and tell him what great work he had done. (More about Mother of George linked below)

This is the thing. I don’t get excited about meeting “celebrities”. I see them at the festival all the time and sometimes at work. I never go out of my way to introduce myself or ask for pictures/autographs. I’m not that guy. 

There are on few occasions where I get hyped and being a black filmmaker of course it’s when I meet other black filmmakers like Mr. Young. It was a pleasure to meet him and I hope to see him again on the festival circuit. 
Left to Right: Dankwa Brooks and Bradford Young
Come on. You know I took a picture too ;-)

Read what I said about Mother of George here

Bradford Young's Official Website

Read the New York Times article about Mr. Young below.

He’s Just a ‘Custodian of the Moment’

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

THERE’S a scene early on in “Middle of Nowhere,” one of this year’s Sundance prize-winning films, when a young married couple bicker briefly in the visiting area of a prison: the room is pallid, even clammy, but the actors’ faces are vibrant and vulnerable, held full-frame. It’s a triumphant, even signature moment for the film’s cinematographer, Bradford Young.
“I’m big on faces,” Mr. Young said, his own collapsing into a sweet, easy grin. “I like to fill the frame with heads. I use faces as landscapes, as architecture. That always feels like the right place to start.”
Mr. Young, 34, a New Yorker, is one of a cadre of emerging black filmmakers — including the “Middle of Nowhere” director, Ava DuVernay, and the filmmakers Dee Rees and Tina Mabry — making visually compelling cinema addressing the outliers at the edges of black culture in America. Working mostly outside the auspices of Hollywood, they’re finding new ways to circumvent traditional channels (like using Ms. DuVernay’s distribution company, Affrm, or African American Film Festival Releasing Movement, which will release “Middle of Nowhere” later this year in concert with Participant Media).
“The word that comes to mind when thinking of Bradford’s visual style is ‘lush,’ ” Ms. DuVernay said in an e-mail. “It is full. When I watch people of color in most films, the image is so often flat or partial. Nothing about what Bradford does is partial. Every frame is full-bodied and potent and robust. It’s so exciting because it’s so rare.”
As a storyteller, Mr. Young is preternaturally drawn to marginalization; in nearly all the movies he shoots, including “Restless City,” now getting a national rollout, an outsider contends with an unkind or indifferent world. That fundamental battle — to be acknowledged, to be loved — animates his work as well as his life. Mr. Young’s grandparents were a formative influence; he left Louisville, Ky., at 15 to live with his father in Chicago (“I was a kid from a small town in the mid-South who knew there was better, you know?”), but not before internalizing his grandparents’ high standards.
“There was an intense push for prestige, for intention, in everything we did,” he recalled over coffee in the East Village. “My grandparents were people of their time. They were fighting their own war in a country they wanted to be a part of and weren’t allowed to be a part of. Growing up, I didn’t have the privilege of forgetting that.”
The product of four generations of Kentucky funeral directors (his family’s funeral home opened in 1907, and is one of the oldest continually operating black-owned funeral parlors in the country), Mr. Young eschewed the family business to study film at Howard University, where he worked with the director Daniel Williams. Mr. Young referred to Mr. Williams’s short “A Thousand Days a Year” (2000), about the desire for spirituality in the midst of chaos, as a masterpiece.
“He’s so prolific and is a true independent filmmaker,” Mr. Young said. “I consider him to be the architect of my photographic sensibilities.”
Mr. Young’s creative choices are mindful without feeling deliberate. Each shot serves the narrative in a specific way: a bit of visual information might be purposefully withheld, a camera angle might suggest a slight shift in power.
His distinctive approach, which won him the excellence in cinematography award at Sundance in 2011 (for Ms. Rees’s “Pariah,” a coming-of-age story about a black lesbian in Brooklyn), is the product of learned restraint. He favors raw light and has a penchant for shooting into it, but said he ultimately focuses on getting out of the way.
“That’s how you get something way more authentic, way more cerebral, way more visceral,” he said. “Just be a custodian of the moment. Step back. Watch.”
In “Restless City,” also distributed by Affrm, Djibril (Sy Alassane), a 21-year-old Senegalese immigrant living in Harlem, grapples with self-identification and the odd, devastating loneliness of his new life in New York. For the film, which was directed by the Nigerian-born photographer Andrew Dosunmu, Mr. Young often positioned his camera behind grimy, scratched windows, providing a point of tension between the meticulously costumed characters and the imperfect world they inhabit.
“The spaces of the African immigrant world in New York, they exist through all these layers of plastic and plexiglass; you can walk up and down 115th Street and there are so many establishments where you have to go through curtains, you have to go through all these things to get in,” he explained. “I know that world by peeking through the window: an African-American peeking through the window at Africans of another sort of diaspora.”
Nevertheless, the tension he establishes can feel universal.
“I’m drawn to these films because those are worlds that I know a lot about,” he said. “I feel comfortable in those spaces because I consider myself a marginalized person. I feel like it’s my duty to be a part of those stories. It doesn’t have to be about something abject, it can be about something enlightened, but I want my work to be focused on that bit of metadata — that life is beautiful, but it’s a struggle.”
Mr. Young has gathered considerable accolades from the indie community (as well as beyond it), but he continues to tussle personally with the insularity of the scene. “How independent are we?” he asked. “It’s not just about being free from Hollywood, but are you freeing your mind? Are you freeing your story?”
He is still working on realizing that freedom. Although he’s completed eight features and he’s reading new scripts and working on his first solo art installation, which he said will combine sculptural and motion picture elements, he’s hesitant to define his aesthetic.
“I feel like I’m still in a great discovery process, trying to figure out what it is, ultimately, that I want to say with the camera,” he said. “I’m exploring. I’m looking forward to the day where I can communicate: ‘This is what the intention was. This is what I do.’ It’s been a really fulfilling couple years, but it’s only been a couple years.”

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Best Film I Saw At The 2013 Maryland Film Festival

This will come as NO surprise to people who follow me or 'Nother Brother Entertainment on social networks, but my favorite film of the 2013 Maryland Film Festival was—Mother of George

My review was even published at indiewire blog Shadow & Act

Mother of George was the 2013 Closing Night Film of the Maryland Film Festival and that was perfect because out of the twelve feature films I saw it was BEST. I said more in my review (linked at the bottom) about how much I liked the film, but for the readers of this blog I included this epilogue.

Why I Loved ‘Mother of George’

Every time I see a detailed film about a specific culture in the back of my mind I think that it would be great if we had a film steeped in black culture.

For instance I’m fan of Italian American filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. When you view their work, where it deals with their culture, it oozes their culture. Not in any overt way, but in an organic way.

There’s a famous story of Martin Scorsese taking his idea for his 1973 film Mean Streets to renegade filmmaker Roger Corman to finance. Corman said he would finance the film if he made all of his characters black to capitalize on the blaxploitation trend at the time. Scorsese said that this is a film about Italian Americans and completed what is now considered a classic film—elsewhere.  I applaud Scorsese for sticking to his guns in order to represent his culture.

In the famous scene that starts off the 1972 classic The Godfather, there is a festive Italian wedding that is also authentic to the culture. The scene showed the poste (the bag the bride holds at the reception to collect gifts), the tarantella (folk dancing) and someone at the buffet table throwing a sandwich to his friend in the back of the crowd, the reason these receptions were sometimes called “football weddings”.

Personally I think it takes someone specific to the culture to emulate that culture. These little nuances mean a lot to the Italian American culture and surely something only an Italian American director could depict with a good degree of accuracy.

In my review for Mother of George I stated “Cinematographer Bradford Young explained in the Q&A after the film that he and the director [Andrew] Dosunmu, fought and poured over every frame of that sequence because it was important, as it represented the culture, the motherland; and all of their work shows.”

I appreciated all of their hard work and hopefully audiences will feel the same.

Read my full review of Mother of George here


See photos from the Closing Night presentation by the Director and Cinematographer of Mother of George below

(Photos by Jason Putsche) 


Well that’s it, the best film I saw at the 2013 Maryland Film Festival. I have posted more reviews and of the many films I saw, including some of my photos from the festival this year EXCLUSIVELY on the ‘Nother Brother Entertainment Facebook Page in the photo album 2013 Maryland Film Festival

Read all industry related news about Mother of George including "How the Film 'Mother of George' Got Made" at our sista blog Cool Black Media here

In my review of Mother of George I said
Stunning is kind of an understatement to explain the opening of the film, as it has one of the most beautiful traditional Yoruba wedding ceremonies ever captured on film. Cinematographer Bradford Young explained in the Q&A after the film that he and the director Dosunmu, fought and poured over every frame of that sequence because it was important, as it represented the culture, the motherland; and all of their work shows.
Below you can get a taste of what I mean as some, and I mean some, of the wedding is shown in the trailer. You really have to see the wedding scene in its entirety when the film opens in theaters on September 13, 2013.

Read more reaction to the trailer at Shadow & Act at here

 UPDATE: AUGUST 13, 2013 



Live tweets from the DVD commentary with Director Andrew Dosunmu, Editor Oriana Soddu and Costume Designer Mobolaji Dawodu.