Crazy Rich Asians: An Important Story and A Box Office Winner

They say the third time’s the charm and that just might be true for Crazy Rich Asians.

The surprise hit of the summer just won its third weekend in a row following its Labor Day haul. This is significant not just from a financial standpoint, but a cultural one as well. It shows that people are hungry for not only well told stories, but diverse ones too.

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I saw Crazy Rich Asians a few weeks ago and I admit, as a person who is not usually a fan of rom-coms, I really enjoyed this one. In some ways, it’s a 2018 reboot of Cinderella. Only in this case, the ‘poor girl’ is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an NYU professor who finds out her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) is not just some average guy playing pick-up basketball at the YMCA. For Nick, unbeknownst to Rachel, comes from a very wealthy family in Singapore whom she is just beginning to know.

Over the course of the film, we see Rachel interact with Nick’s extended family, while grappling with her own identity and how she fits in with everything. There’s an interesting twist towards the end that brings the past and present into focus and gives the film a strong emotional punch. I definitely recommend those of you reading this who have not seen it yet, to give it a look.

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Constance Wu in her own words

As many have stated elsewhere, this really is the first Hollywood studio film to be released featuring an Asian American cast in 25 years, since the Joy Luck Club. 25 years is a really long time. I’m just old enough to vaguely remember 1993 and I can’t imagine going to the movies for over two decades and not seeing people who look like me on the big screen. While there have been other films released by Asian American filmmakers during that gap (2002’s Better Luck Tomorrow comes to mind) the paucity of roles available to them within the Hollywood system is deafening.

Will the successful release of Crazy Rich Asians change any of this? Only time will tell, but the truth is, one film shouldn’t have to bear the burden of representation for an entire community. Hopefully, Crazy Rich Asians is the start of more doors being opened for Asian filmmakers and various other groups as well. For no one should feel that seeing themselves onscreen, is little more than a fairy tale dream.

Sorry 2 Bother You: A Trojan Horse on Cash, Capitalism and Consumerism

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I saw Sorry To Bother You a few weeks ago and it still resonates with me.

The film stars Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green (as in cash-is-green) and Tessa Thompson as Detroit, who is Cassius’ girlfriend. We see the two of them in the beginning living in the garage of Cassius’ uncle played by Terry Crews.

Cassius gets a job as a telemarketer and we quickly see the role that his newfound job plays in his life and his relationship with Detroit. After struggling initially in his new role as a telemarketer, Cassius gets a tip from a co-worker to use his ‘white voice’ and his career takes off from there. He goes from the new guy at his job to breaking records and eventually gets promoted to the secretive Power Caller club upstairs. That’s where we see things begin to take a turn for Cassius.

Sorry To Bother You comes out at an interesting time in America. At a time when corporate profits are increasing, but middle class incomes are stagnating, the film provides an interesting take on what it means to move up the corporate ladder. Directed by Oakland native Boots Riley, S2BY definitely has a pro worker/man against the machine type of vibe.

We see Cassius’ co-workers attempt to unionize while he himself is experiencing personal success; meanwhile his relationship with his girlfriend Detroit, becomes somewhat strained in the process. Detroit herself is an artist who uses her art in a very interesting manner to bring attention to the serious issue of the mineral coltan and the Democractic Republic of Congo later on in the film. We witness Cassius struggle with his new found wealth and appeal up until he finds out what his company is really selling.

Sorry To Bother You is a witty and engaging film with some serious themes just below the surface. It is definitely worth your money (even in New York, where seeing a movie these days is by no means cheap) and I think most people will enjoy it. Whether it’s by car, train, or on horseback, go see this film.

Netflix Bets on Black

One of most enduring images of last Sunday’s BET Awards had nothing to do with the award show itself, but of the commercials that ran during it.

Netflix seems to be expanding every year with new shows and new programs for just about any audience. Its also made a concerted effort to invest in one group that had been mostly ignored for much of television’s history: black actors. The ad was simple, yet empowering. Take a look for yourself.

 

Now with that being said, Netflix still has some work to do in the boardroom considering black folks make up only 4% of the people who actually work there, but this is a good start.

Filling the Void: Black Fathers Impact Felt Far Beyond the Screen

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Black fathers have gotten a pretty bad rap lately. Usually portrayed as deadbeats or simply not as loving or caring as fathers of other groups, that perception has begun to change recently, even if it was never backed up by statistics.

T.V. and film have helped in recent years to bring black dads from outside the margins of media, and into the presence of American’s homes. Films and shows like South Central, He Got Game, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, showed the nuances of black dads (or uncles) and the relationships with their children at various stages of their lives. Each portrayal left an impact well beyond the medium it was broadcast in.

In the 1992 film South Central, we meet Bobby (played by Glenn Plummer) who is a small time dope pusher and gang member who just had a baby. He winds up doing time for his crimes and watches as his son not only grows up without him, but starts making the same bad decisions that he did just a few years earlier. We watch as Bobby eventually leaves prison as a changed man, and risks his own life to rescue his son from the streets.

 

With the film He Got Game, Denzel Washington also plays a formerly incarcerated father to a son living in the hood, though the circumstances are far different than South Central.

Here we see Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by NBA hall-of-famer Ray Allen) become a top prospect while playing ball during his senior year of high school. We witness him have to deal with all the trials and tribulations of his new found fame. Between the influencers, coaches, and his girlfriend tugging at him, there’s his father, Jake Shuttlesworth, currently rotting away in prison who’s just been freed temporarily. The catch is that his son must sign with the alma mater of the warden or Jake goes back to jail. We see the two fates of these men become intertwined with literally everything hinging on the outcome of a game of one-on-one.

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Ray Allen and Denzel Washington in He Got Game

Finally, there’s everyone favorite dad: Uncle Phil. Uncle Phil, played by James Avery, who sadly passed away recently, was a staple on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Uncle Phil was the stern, but fair patriarch of the Banks household, who always seemed to get into it with Will.

It was one scene however that truly showed Avery’s emotional touch, not only as an actor, but as a person. When Will’s father has to leave suddenly, Will gives a speech about how he doesn’t need him and he’ll be just fine. The thing this, it just wasn’t true. Will begins to break down and Uncle Phil rushes to  console him.

What’s amazing about this scene is that up until Will’s father leaves, everything else after that is unscripted. Will Smith, the person, actually broke down and started crying, not the character he was portraying. James Avery realized this immediately and doesn’t hesitate to hug him. For Avery, being a father meant stepping in, even when the cameras stopped rolling.

If your reading this and you’re a father, Happy Father’s Day to you. I’m curious, who were some of your favorite T.V./film dads? Feel free to comment below.

It’s ABFF Week on South Beach

The American Black Film Festival kicks off this week in its 22nd year and the festival really does give black filmmakers a chance to laugh, celebrate, and fellowship around film and cinema.

The festival is back to its original home of Miami after taken a two-year hiatus up north in New York a few years back. ABFF brings industry insiders and newcomers together for a chance to really talk about what projects are going on and how to break into the industry.

I actually had the privilege of attending the festival in 2015, one of the two years it was held in New York (2014 being the other) and had a really good time. In addition to meeting people like Andrea Lewis (you may remember her from her role on Degrassi) and Sali Richardson-Whitfield (she played ‘Angela’ in A Low Down Dirty Shame), I got to meet people like Pete Chatmon, an up and coming director who actually directed an episode of the hit series Insecure for season 3. Seeing these people in the industry and being able to speak with them made the dream of working full-time in the entertainment field feel more real.

In addition to networking opportunities, there were informative panels, the comedy show and plenty of vendors as well. It was at one of the vendor stations that I got to interact with former NFL running back turned actor Thomas Jones. I remember him telling me that acting was always something he felt he could do and once his football career ended, it seemed only logical to pursue it full-time.

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Me at ABFF in 2015

There was a panel with Kenya Barris and Tracy Ellis-Ross emceed by Larry Wilmore that talked about the behind the scenes work that went in to making Blackish a hit sitcom. It got a lil awkward though when during the question and answer session someone from the audience asked Kenya if he was hiring.

For any reading this who has even an inkling of wanting to attend an event where they’ll get a chance to learn about film and interact with people doing the work they envision themselves doing, I definitely recommend going to ABFF. I definitely hope to be back next year.

It Doesn’t Take A Hero To Make an Impact

This superhero possess the uncanny ability to make people smile while lending a helping hand. And he’s all of 4-years-old.

Austin Perine is a young kid making a huge impact in his community of Birmingham, Alabama. About once a week he puts on his cape and delivers sandwiches to homeless men and women in and around town. This has turned him into a local celebrity of sorts.

He doesn’t do it for the attention of course, but because it’s the right thing to do. After each sandwich he hands out, he says his trademark slogan: “Don’t forget to show love.” Sometimes love and a warm meal are all one needs. Much respect to President Austin.