Here in the United States, people were obsessing about an eclipse that could be viewed by millions throughout the country. Apparently this was possible for the first time since the 1970s. The eclipse was treated with a lighthearted celebratory fare, with the only concern being people not look directly into the sun for fear of damaging their eyes. Not everyone got the message however. It was on this day though, 186 years ago, that an eclipse proved to be a harbinger of one of the most storied rebellions in American history.
In 2004 I was an intern at my local newspaper The Record, based out of northern New Jersey. Those were challenging days for newspapers, as many people were getting used to the fact that they could get the same information in the daily paper online for free.
Newspapers weren’t getting the same advertising rates digitally that they were getting in print. Needless to say, the more people that got their news online, the more it hurt the bottom lines of papers like The Record. Fast forward 13 years later and television companies, notably ESPN in this case, are finding out what newspapers saw coming more than a decade ago: Just as the internet changed print media, it is now changing television in ways thought unimaginable just a few years ago.
It was a Wednesday morning in April and my timeline was buzzing. ESPN was the topic of the hour because they were in the process of laying off roughly 100 people, many of them on-air talent. This was shocking to a number of people as we are not accustomed to seeing faces we recognize on television suddenly being gone in an instant. Though it should be noted this isn’t the first time layoffs of this kind took place at the sports network. ESPN laid off 300 people in a cost cutting move mostly behind the camera in 2015.
25 years ago this week, Los Angeles was up in flames over the acquittal of four police officers who were caught beating up Rodney King on videotape. Now filmmakers are using their craft to reflect on what was, and what has become of Los Angeles since that day.
NPR has a list of films commemorating the 25th anniversary of the riots, and one film of particular interest to me is “Gook.”
Directed by Justin Chon, “Gook” tells the story of two Korean-American brothers and their friendship with an African-American girl during the outset of the riots. Chon actually lived through the riots himself, witnessing his father’s shoe store get looted as a child. Chon felt it was important to tell the riots from the perspective of two Korean brothers rather than immigrants, as he points out that too often recent immigrants and those who had been living in L.A. for sometime were just lumped together as Koreans without much context.
Some films just grab you. They wrestle with your emotions, force you to consider other perspectives, and leave you uncomfortable at moments. ‘Moonlight’ did all this to me and for that, it is my Film of the Year.
‘Moonlight’ is directed by Barry Jenkins and it takes place in Liberty City, a suburb of Miami. It is here where we meet our protagonist, Chiron, as a young boy constantly being picked on and bullied. It is also at this point that we meet Chiron’s best friend, Kevin. The two strike up a quick rapport and their friendship continues into high school.
It’s here where the film really picks up as Chiron begins to come more into himself and his sexuality while also dealing with the accompanying drama that comes with adolescence. The friendship between Kevin and Chiron deepens and the two even share a moment on an abandoned beach. The bullying however, doesn’t stop, and Chiron responds in a way that is both frightening and cathartic. In the last third of the film, both Chiron and Kevin are grown men with separate lives and their relationship has evolved too with the years.
This is a very basic synopsis of ‘Moonlight’ and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention young Chiron’s relationship with the neighborhood drug dealer Juan (played by Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (played by Janelle Monae). There’s also Chrion’s deteriorating relationship with his drug induced mother, who just so happens to be a client of Juan’s.
Watching ‘Moonlight’, I was moved by the story and the cinematography held
my attention, in particular the various close up shots of Chrion and Kevin through the years. We literally see boys become men dealing with a cornucopia of emotions in ways we rarely see by men in American cinema – much less so by black men at that. What also is refreshing about ‘Moonlight’ is that the characters aren’t one dimensional representations of certain beliefs or stereotypes. For instance, Juan, though he may be the neighborhood drug dealer, he takes in a young Chiron and accepts him in ways Chiron’s own mother refuses to.
For its depth, character development, story cohesion and cinematography, ‘Moonlight’ earns my 2016 Film of the Year nod. Nobody should miss the picture regardless of their background, for I believe everyone can take something away from it.
The Fall of 2011 doesn’t feel all that long ago, but at the same time feels like ages ago if that makes any sense.
Yesterday September 26th, marked 5 years to the day that this blog was founded. 5 years in the books and I’m still learning about this blogging thing if we’re being honest. I don’t post nearly as much as I used to, but nevertheless, FilmSwag remains near and dear to my heart and a platform I view as important as ever in these trying times.
I started this blog out of a need to say something about people of color (specifically black people) and how it related to film and media in general. It was an interesting time as media was also evolving. In 2011 the word ‘web series’ was still just coming into the public lexicon. Now we have people who have used the platform to make the jump into the more traditional world film and television including one awkward black girl who’s come a long way from her Youtube debut in 2012.
Over the last 5 years video has gone from a nice thing to have to a must-have for many media companies. With the rise of HD video and the proliferation of smartphones, video is as ubiquitous as its ever been. Even Instagram, known more for its photo filters at first, now in features 1 minute videos up from 15 seconds earlier this year.
With as much video has increased over the last 5 years, not all of it has been for the better. People of color are still underrepresented in the major Hollywood studios and media outlets alike. Also, as more people have cellphones with video capabilities, we’ve seen a number of black men end up dead at the hands of the police, just within the last few months alone. Police brutality and mistrust among the community it serves are not new problems, just newly exposed problems with rise of new technology.
I’ve covered a number of topics beyond film and cinema on this blog, and intend to keep doing so. I think it’s important to touch on issues that may make some folks uncomfortable for it is there where the fight for real solutions begin. Let’s continue to keep getting educated together.
Sunday night I was playing NBA 2K16 and realized I had messed up.
I switched off my Xbox and turned on my TV only to realize I had missed the Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar performance. And with that, the BET Awards show kicked off and the disparate parts Black Twitter came together to laugh, criticize, throw shade, rejoice, and all in all just enjoy the moment.
The BET Awards got off to a bit a rough start 15 years ago as it had to -like most brand new programs- find its sea legs of sort and figure out what it wanted to be. Was it going to be primarily focused on the awards? Was it going to be more about the performances? Was it going to be more about who showed up and shown out on the red carpet? In reality, it’s all of these things under the umbrella of celebrating black excellence in music and film. The rise of social media – in particular, Twitter – has only helped fuel this growth but allowing the viewer at home to become an active participant.
The most stirring performance of the evening belonged not to a musical act, but an actor during a speech – Jesse Williams. Williams, known primarily for his work on Grey’s Anatomy, gave a speech that was so poignant and powerful, that people rose from their seats and clapped. He addressed issues regarding police brutality, black lives matter, and the freedom that black people are still seeking some 397 years after our arrival.
It’s moments like this that keep the BET Awards fresh, hip, and relevant in an ever changing media landscape. I look forward to next year’s version.
This has certainly been a long time coming. For those of you who may be new to FilmSwag, this is a blog I started almost 5 years ago to discuss film, television and media, as it related to people of color within society. So that could encompass everything from movie reviews to how the media is covering the Black Lives Matter movement. Being that I’m a one man bad, these things are told from my perspective but I do try to get a number of different voices on an issue. I think it helps foster different ways at looking things and perhaps solutions to problems that we might not have considered.
My own background in film began 14 years ago when my mother subscribed to a movie package with our local cable company that introduced me to the channel Starz in Black. For the first time in my life I saw people who looked like me in film on a regular basis 24/7. At the time, there were no other channels on television quite like Starz in Black. Seeing these images gave me an idea. “There should be more of this,” I said to myself at the time. And ever since then, I have been working to tell more stories of people of color who too often have their voices silenced or simply ignored by mainstream society. This site is a continuation of that work.
In moving to WordPress, I hope to not only reach a larger audience, but also change some things up in terms of layout and presentation for the site. As it stands, the site is a work in progress and I kind of equate this first day as a step in its continued improvement. So to those of you who started reading FilmSwag way back in 2011 and have followed me onto this new platform, I certainly do appreciate. And for those of you new readers, hopefully you enjoy the content, and if not, your page-view was appreciated anyway. Let’s continue to keep getting educated together.