Remembering John Singleton

Life really comes at you fast sometimes. That’s how I felt when hearing about the passing of John Singleton a few weeks ago. John left behind a legacy that extended far beyond the movie screens where his films resonated.

John Singleton was part of a new wave of black creators in the late 80’s and early 90’s that were really changing how black people were depicted in cinema. This is a man who was nominated for an academy award for best director at just 24-years-old — barely a year removed from film school. This is someone who through various projects worked with such luminaries in entertainment from Tupac, to Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Maya Angelou, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ving Rhames. His films really resonated with a number of black people who up until that point, rarely saw themselves or their stories depicted on the big screen.IMG_20190429_193226.jpg

I first became aware of John Singleton’s work through the 1997 movie Rosewood. Based on a true story, the film depicts the terror that white residents inflicted against their black neighbors in 1920’s Florida when a white woman falsely accused a black man of raping her. Had it not been for this film, I probably would have never even heard of this story. Sadly, what happened in Rosewood, Florida, was not an isolated incident.

As I got a little older I gained a greater appreciation for Singleton’s work. Boyz N’ the Hood was his landmark film that put him on the map. Having grown up in Compton, California, Singleton told a story that was familiar to him. That film had a lot of nuggets in it, including a very prescient speech on the nature of gentrification.

 

Some of Singleton’s other work also left an indelible mark on me. Poetic Justice, Shaft, and Higher Learning (which in light of recent events, is definitely worth another look). Even some of Singleton’s later work that may not have been as well received, such as 2 Fast 2 Furious, nevertheless proved to be vitally important years later. It was that film that introduced audiences to Tyrese and a young and up and coming rapper named Ludacris. Both of these characters would become solid cogs in the series in later iterations throughout the ensuing years.

More recently, Singleton was involved in a series on FX that I rally enjoyed called Snowfall. Snowfall centered on the rise of crack cocaine in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. It’s one of those shows where the viewer knows more than the characters in terms of how things play out, but it’s still interesting to see how things come together. Sadly, Snowfall would turn out to be John Singleton’s last project. R.I.P. to John Singleton.

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Some of the projects John Singleton directed/produced

 

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.

When Shirley Temple Met Bojangles

from the columnists.com

America lost perhaps its most famous child star in cinematic history when Shirley Temple Black passed away last week. Shirley Temple rose to fame in the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression and entertained audiences with her charm and smile. But it was her relationship with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson that was unique to not only Hollywood, but America at that time as well.

Bill Robinson, better known by his stage name of ‘Bojangles,’ was a well known tap dancer in the early 20th Century. He played before white and black audiences alike, while making a living literally on his feet. When he first began working with Shirley Temple, ‘Bojangles’ was already in his 50s and had been a legendary tap dancer at that point. The pairing between ‘Bojangles’ and Shirley Temple would not be without its critics however.

Though ‘Bojangles’ and Shirley Temple shined well together on the big screen, their roles were anything but equal. ‘Bojangles’ — true to the form of how Hollywood viewed blacks at the time — often got stuck playing Shirley Temple’s butler. His singing and dancing may invoke some unkind parallels to the stereotypical roles another famous black actor at the time, Stepin’ Fetchit, had to play, but it’s worth remembering that these guys were at least getting work. In 2001, Gregory Hines would go on to portray ‘Bojangles’ in a movie by the same name. Below is the famous stairwell dance scene between Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and Shirley Temple.  R.I.P. to both.

When A Producer Has Had Enough

After 25 years of producing films, Ted Hope is moving in a new direction.

On his website, Hope outlines some of the reasons for leaving the field of producing. Chief among them is the increasingly shrinking profit margins and having to do less quality work just to stay afloat. Hope admits that he will continue to produce and develop films, but only those that lift the conversation above the fray.

Hope’s story is not that different than many people I’ve encountered in my now almost 5 years working in and out of the film industry. Many people do get disillusioned. The long hours, tight deadlines and not always knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, is not for the faint of heart. Even worse can be reformatting an idea because the ‘studio’ wants changes or wants to appeal to a larger audience.

Despite all this, people are still making films. You can continue to bang your head against the wall, or find a way to scale it. If the studio says no, find another venue. Whether it be webisodes, blogs, film festivals, or six second videos, people in 2013 are finding a way. Like Hope himself admitted, though he’s leaving the system he will continue to make films, but on his own accord. Many people work day jobs to finance their passions and in this industry, you always got to have a steady source of income from somewhere (the student loan people don’t care about your dreams, just that you pay your bill on time). I don’t find Ted Hope’s commentary deflating, but rather, inspiring. This man is quitting so that he can do what he wants to do without comprising his soul. We should all be so lucky.