Coffee Rhetoric: Black films
Showing posts with label Black films. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black films. Show all posts

March 27, 2013

Ava DuVernay's Short Film, "The Door"

Filmmaker Ava Duvernay's most recent short-film, a collaboration with Italian luxury fashion house Miu Miu, is the fifth-installment in their series, "The Women's Tales"; which feature shorts by filmmakers celebrating women's affinity for the high-fashion brand, coupled with legitimate themes and filmed with a decidedly female point-of-view.

Ava DuVernay, who became the first black woman to win the Best Director award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for Middle of Nowhere and who helps spearhead AFFRM- a film movement that distributes and works to put black themed films in commercial theaters- has gathered together a cast of some of the industry's most notable and talented black actresses- including Gabrielle Union, Adepero Oduye, and Alfre Woodard- and conceived a compelling, visually stunning short-story.

Just over 9 minutes, The Door includes a stellar soundtrack and conveys a narrative about the power of female friendships and connections, particularly when a friend is in need.

The official word on the film ...
The Door is a celebration of the transformative power of feminine bonds, and a symbolic story of life change.   The symbolic center of The Door is the front entrace of the protagonist's home.  As she opens it to greet a friend in the powerfully framed opening scenes, she is shrouded in an oblique sadness.  
[DuVernay explains] "In the film, characters arrive at the door of a friend in need, bringing something of themselves.  Eventually, we witness our heroine ready to walk through the door on her own. The door in the film represents a pathway to who we are." 
Clothing is also a symbol of renewal, each change of costume charting our heroine's emergence from a chrysalis of sadness. 

Check out The Door ...

March 23, 2013

Film Review: Owen 'Alik Shahadah's '500 Years Later'

Looking for something interesting to watch this weekend or during the month of February? 

Filmmaker Owen 'Alik Shahadah's 2005 documentary 500 Years Later is a valuable exploration and dissection of racial politics, as it affects those of the African Diaspora. Written by MK Asante and directed by Shahadah, this documentary presents a global perspective on the effects of colonialism, slavery, and the need for proper education on and agency over African and Black history and dialogue.

According to the official synopsis... 
"500 Years Later explores the tragic legacy of the forced migration of untold thousands of Africans from their homeland and the unique c0 challenges that have resulted from this displacement. Through penetrating interviews with scholars and laypeople alike — and ranging from the United States to London to Barbados — this unflinching documentary sheds new light on the problems of racial inequalities, poverty and oppression."

February 05, 2013

History of The Black Pinup: Nina Mae McKinney

 'The Black Greta Garbo'

When reading about the history of starlets in the Hollywood of yore, we often learn about the meteoric rise of actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Elizabeth Taylor or Rita Hayworth. When charting the film careers of classic Black actresses, stories are often confined to Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, and yes, even Hattie McDaniel, who broke barriers by becoming the first Black actress to be nominated for and win an academy award for her role as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind”; and who’s success wasn't without some measure of controversy, as critics argued that many of her roles acceded to the sensibilities of white audiences and pandered to racial stereotypes and tropes about Black pathology, and took McDaniel to task for seeming to cow to being relegated to those roles.

For better or worse, the narratives we often hear about, very rarely include actress Nina Mae McKinney. Referred to as “The Black Greta Garbo”, McKinney is reportedly the first Black film actress to grace the silver screen in small but notable parts, and has the distinction of also being the first Black actress to appear on British television.

Born Nannie Mayme McKinney in Lancaster, South Carolina, Nina got her start as a 16-year-old dancer in the chorus line on Broadway, in Lew Leslie’s production Blackbirds of 1928; a performance that resulted in her snagging the part of ‘Chick’ in King Vidor’s first all-Black 1929 talking picture Hallelujahas a last minute replacement for Ethel Waters or Honey Brown, who were both being considered for the role. While Hallelujah wasn't a massive commercial success, it still garnered enough attention to put Nina Mae McKinney on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's (MGM) radar; the film studio signed her to a 5 year contract. But as was par for the course for most Black actresses, her career fell prey to the contentious racial politics in the U.S. during that time. Despite contracting McKinney, MGM was reluctant to cast the beautiful starlet in feature films, placing most of her scenes on the cutting room floor while using her singing voice to dub over Jean Harlowe’s.  

Much to her dismay, the actress could only get roles in bit (stereotypical) parts through other studio productions, so moved to and toured throughout Europe, most notably to France and the UK, where she found success as a sought after cabaret singer and starred in the British based movie Sanders of the River, alongside Paul Robeson- (who later condemned the film after discovering it’d been re-edited during post-production, to the favor of white imperialism).

Nina Mae McKinney returned to the U.S. briefly, in 1939, to tour with Pancho Diggs and his orchestra, and married jazz musician Jimmy Monroe in 1940- they divorced a year later and Monroe married Billie Holiday. The actress still found difficulty navigating Hollywood’s racially biased film infrastructure, continuing to be overlooked for plum roles in favor of her white contemporaries. The rise of independently made race films provided Mckinney with the opportunities that seemed to elude her in Hollywood studio pictures, so she starred in several all-Black productions.

McKinney’s last known significant part was a supporting role in Elia Kazan’s 1949 film Pinky, where she played a prostitute named Rozelia. Little else is known about the actress’s later life, save for her reportedly expatriating to Greece for most of the 1950s and 1960s, before dying in New York to little or no fanfare in 1967, at the age of 54. According to the book “African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility 1900-1960”, McKinney’s death certificate listed her as having been ‘widowed’ and having worked as a ‘domestic’ for ‘private families’… the very image she tried to avoid inhabiting as an actress.
While one is loath to find her film career documented in the mainstream press, Nina Mae McKinney has been commemorated in her hometown of Lancaster, where her portrait hangs among other local notables. In 1978 the actress was also inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of fame, and was memorialized on a 2008 postage stamp honoring “vintage Black cinema”.  
Nina’s career was largely unsung, but the stunning actress and singer still managed to carve out a niche for herself, while helping pave the way for those notable Black actresses who came shortly after her, enabling them to continue knocking down doors in an industry that often didn't (and doesn't ) value or consider Black film actresses palatable enough for mainstream audiences, or viable enough to be placed in starring roles.   

December 07, 2012

"Not I", Said The Fly: I Don't Create Online Petitions

This will be brief...

Dear Armond White,

I know that being an incendiary contrarian of sorts is your thing, but I wasn't the person at the helm of circulating the petition opposing the upcoming film starring actress Zoe Saldana. I did express some valid thoughts on what I found problematic about the casting and mentioned some things about Colorism and the marginalization of a specific segment of Black women, as often perpetrated by the film industry and media. Dismissing a very relevant issue amongst women and young girls in my community as a case of jealousy and "crabs-in-the-barrel" mentality is a bit myopic, non? Particularly since in the same breath, you offered a critique suggesting that Tyler Perry's films simply aren't "good enough".

Anyway, a quick Google search- (and perhaps a thorough perusal of the post I wrote in August for context)- would've provided the name of the woman who actually created and circulated the petition for that upcoming movie. I did link it in my post to provide a source but once again, I didn't start or circulate any petitions demanding the dismissal of Black actresses from film projects.

In the grand scheme of things it's a minor flub, but it's very important to me since it was called-out on a very public platform.


Tiff J, Coffee Rhetoric

Check out episode 126 of BET late-night talk show, Don't Sleep, to see what provoked this open-letter.