Review: ‘Skin In The Game’ – Electrifying and Entertaining

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, L to R: Christian Monzon and Erica Ash

An unlikely vigilante duo team up to track the abduction of a 15-year girl destined for human trafficking from a seemingly safe suburb of Los Angeles, California. This is the premise behind new film, Skin in the Game. First-time director, Adisa, tackles this subject of human trafficking and the lure traffickers use to find their victims. Leading actress, Lena (Erica Ash), a former prostitute-turned advocate for young women that have fallen into the sex trade has her hands full providing a safe house for girls looking to start anew and break free from the clutches of their pimps.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, L to R: Elisabeth Harnois and Erica Ash

Lena, played by Erica Ash (Survivor’s Remorse, Uncle Drew), is stoic and resilient. Conflicted with her own past trauma doesn’t deter her from helping others and convincing them there is a way out. When a former high school classmate, Sharon, (Elisabeth Harnois) contacts Lena in a desperate attempt to find her missing daughter Dani (Sammi Hanratty), Lena resists, as the two women are estranged and have a rocky past. We don’t know exactly what transpired between these two women and as the viewer you want to know their history– to understand their motivation to join forces and risk their lives. Skin in the Game’s plot is reminiscent of the Liam Neeson Taken trilogy, minus the CIA training, but with captivating female characters with their own set of survivor skills.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, Sammi Hanratty

Written by Adisa and Steven Palmer Peterson, produced by Oscar-nominated producer, Howard Barish, and founder of Kandoo Films, Skin in the Game explores the dark underworld of human trafficking. The threat it poses – to not just poverty-stricken and drug-addicted individuals with little resources– but also to young, misguided vulnerable girls in American neighborhoods. It’s no longer an international problem – it’s become a domestic problem. Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery with illegal smuggling and trading of people into forced labor and sexual exploitation. The human trafficking business is currently estimated at 150 billion up from $44 billion in 2005, according to The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes’ 2016 Global Report.

Urbanworld Film Festival recently Selected Skin in the Game for their narrative features’ category. To learn more about this suspenseful indie thriller, its’ female-led cast, and their upcoming national release date, click here.

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Urbanworld’s 22nd Film Festival Wrap-up: Controversial, Thought-provoking, and Fearlessly Female

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, L to R: Tiffany Haddsish and Kevin Hart

The Urbanworld Film Festival is the premiere global festival for emerging filmmakers, actors, and musicians to showcase their talent. The nation’s largest competitive multicultural film festival screened 76 selections, featured 4 original screenplay finalists and hosted digital, music, and spotlight events, which included narrative features, documentaries, shorts, animations and music videos this past weekend. Former Miramax executive and MoviePass co-founder, Stacy Spikes, recognized a void present in Hollywood during the 90s – there was a lack of African-American and culturally diverse films for audiences. And, in August of 1997 Urban Film Festival became the catalyst for change and the first internationally competitive black film festival in the U.S.

After perusing the festival’s schedule, I knew I was in store for some amazing films with well-known and not-so-well known talent that was going to leave a lasting impression. The results far exceeded my expectations. This year’s theme: badass and unapologetic. Actresses, female filmmakers, writers and producers brought unconventional and dynamic characters to the screen. On opening night the festival’s Spotlight Screening of Night School, starring funnyman Kevin Hart, comedienne and “actress-of-the-moment” Tiffany Haddish (Girl’s Trip, Keanu) attended the screening. Hart, who co-wrote and co-produced the movie, stars as Teddy Walker, a BBQ grill salesman living well above his means to impress and maintain his girlfriend (Megalyn Echikunwoke) happy. When unfortunate events ensue and Teddy ends up unemployed, he must face reality and go back to school to get his GED and land a better job, alongside a band of misfits and troublemakers. There are lots of laughs in Night School. Hart and Haddish’s comedic timing are impeccable. Although, there are a lot of far-fetched scenes that didn’t make sense, although the story moved at such a steady pace, you don’t mind it. After the screening, the audience was treated to a Q&A with producer, William Packer and director Malcolm D. Lee (Girl’s Trip, Best Man). Lee confessed that he almost passed on the film due to exhaustion from his previous film, the female-led comedy, Girl’s Trip. You’ll be glad he stuck around.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urban Film Festival, Ellis Haizlip

Winner of the Best Documentary Feature this year was Mr. Soul! Billed as the first “black Tonight Show, the revolutionary program, SOUL! was hosted and executive produced by Ellis Haizlip. SOUL! launched as a local, New York broadcast during the Civil Rights Movement in 1968. In 1969 SOUL! began airing nationwide on PBS. Considered a beacon of hope and pioneer of black American entertainment and arts programming, director and niece of Ellis Haizlip, Melissa Haizlip, provides a fascinating history of the show with clips and interviews with unknown then, turned A-list stars, Al Green, Maya Angelou, Ashford and Simpson, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier – to name a few. Radical poets, dancers, and experimental artists filled the broadcast airwaves of this groundbreaking show. Mr. Soul! is delightful, historic, and so timely and replete with parallels to the current political climate.

 

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, Viola Davis

Categorized under the Spotlight Screenings series, the film Widows, starring Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out); director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave); packs a punch with the powerful ensemble of actors. I’ve seen just about every film and TV series actress, Viola Davis has been in, and she is incapable of any wrongdoing or missteps. As the film’s lead, she is tasked with forming an alliance with four women she has nothing in common, except each of their husbands’ past criminal activities, and a debt left behind by Davis’ husband (Liam Neeson). Davis is the mastermind behind a plan to eradicate her husband’s mess and reinvent a new future for her and her newfound friends. The twists and turns in this movie will have you one edge until the end. It’s incredibly refreshing to see Viola Davis and her female counterparts acting in roles typically reserved for male actors. Slated for release in mid October. Do not miss this film!

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival

Awarded the Best Young Creator Award, short film Three in Stride follows the harrowing journey three African-American sisters (Rainn Sheppard, Tai Sheppard, and Brooke Sheppard) endure, from homelessness to becoming track and field stars in Brooklyn and possibly the Olympics. Director Sasha Whittle’s candid interviews with the sisters, their mother, and coaches will melt your heart and leave you rooting for these future sports stars.

The Hate U Give closed the Urbanworld Film Festival. The much-anticipated film, adapted from the book with the same name and written by young-adult novelist, Angie Thomas and #1 New York Times bestseller, is currently trending and all the rage. The lead young star, Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games, Everything, Everything) is the breakout star of the year – by far. Stenberg (Starr) witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil at the hands of a white police officer. Starr resides in two worlds: an unsavory neighborhood with her family and friends and the private, predominately white high school she attends with her brother, and Caucasian boyfriend. Stenberg does an incredible job portraying this multi-dimensional character so seamlessly and genuinely. The rest of the casts’ performances are stellar. Regina Hall and Roger Hornsby as Starr’s parents are smart, stern, funny and practical, attributes rarely seen in a movie with a teen lead. Not surprised if this film is Oscar-bound. The audience enjoyed a Q&A with director, George Tillman Jr. (Fun-fact: Tillman’s film: Soul Food, closed Urbanworld’s first film festival in 1997), actors Amandla Stenberg (Starr), Algee Smith (Khalil) and moderator and filmmaker, Ava DuVernay. The audience’s reaction to this film was so powerful. Mine as well. It validates the term code-switching that so many cultures must participate in to assimilate into society – or really, just American culture. The constant police brutality communities of color endure and how activism will affect change.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, L to R: Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg and Common

The 22nd Urbanworld Film Festival came to a close with bang. The abundance films addressing thought-provoking and risqué subject matter need to be told and distributed and will continue to set a precedent and inspire future filmmakers to share their stories. To check out Urbanworld’s Film Festival’s film schedule, click here.

2018’s Urbanworld Film Festival Promises to Deliver Groundbreaking Films In Every Genre

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Festival, (Center: Ava DuVernay)

Now in it’s 22nd season, The Urbanworld Film Festival’s is kicking off opening night with the premiere of Night School, starring Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. Closing the festival is the highly anticipated film The Hate U Give, directed by George Tillman Jr. During its 5-day run, the independent film festival will showcase documentaries, shorts, and features from filmmakers from around the world.

The Urbanworld Film Festival, founded in 1997 by Stacy Spikes, is one of the largest internationally competitive festivals of its kind. Each year, we curate a slate of films representing the broadest lens of diversity across stories, characters, themes, and cultures. We fight tirelessly to expand the definition of “urban” beyond ethnicity to include sensibility, culture, and proximity. We strive to be “the filmmakers festival” and “the people’s festival,” providing a point of intersection where creators and audiences meet to experience bold and diverse artistic works. Expect no less from Urbanworld on it’s 22nd birthday this September as this year’s program promises even more inclusivity from filmmakers all over the globe.

AMC movie theater will host opening night. The Urbanworld Film Festival is scheduled to run through September, for more info tickets, click here.

Review: ‘Antigone in Ferguson’ Greek Mythology, Modern Times, and Social Justice Parallels

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Photo: Gregg Richards, De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson (center) and choir members 

With so many transgressions of police brutality plaguing African-American communities in our country, daily – it’s quite easy to slip into a path of desensitization. The Harlem Stage in collaboration with Theater of War Productions, the citizens of St. Louis and Ferguson refuse to let that transpire with the production of Antigone in Ferguson. One-part play with gospel chorus inflections; one-part panel discussion and equal parts entertainment, patrons of this unconventional presentation are in store for an eye opening cultural awakening. With scenes from Sophocles’ ancient Greek play, staged readings performed by leading television, film, theater actors and an unusual – yet extraordinarily talented choir – comprised of law enforcement, activists, educators, and counselors – form this experimental show.

At first, I couldn’t fathom staged readings in lieu of customary scenes with verbal and physical components performed against picturesque backdrops to illustrate the highly popularized Sophocles’ play, Antigone – done in past iterations, similar to the Classical Theatre of Harlem Stage production I covered earlier this the summer. The synopis: Antigone, it’s about a young woman who is adamant about burying her brother, Polyneices, whose slain body lays lifeless in the ancient city of Thebes at the end of the civil war, against the wishes of newly crowned King Creon. The courageous Antigone is ready to risk life and limb to honor her deceased brother and seek a proper burial for him even though he was considered an enemy of the state. The parallels, from this more than 2,500-year-old play, couldn’t be timelier, as this rendition focuses on the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014 at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. The subsequent African-American deaths by white police officers that followed in our country, the lack of action this administration demonstrates, and the perseverance of movements such as Black Lives Matter to affect change.

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Photo: Gregg Richards, (L to R) Actors Tamara Tunie and Tate Donovan

What’s fascinating about this production is that the mix of stage readings from acclaimed actors Tate Donovan (King Creon) from the Damages and The O.C. series, Tony award-winning actress Tamara Tunie (Antigone), Chris Myers from the She’s Gotta Have It and Netflix’s Sneaky Pete series (as Creon’s son, Haemon, among other roles) and Chinasa Obguagu from the Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and A Walk Among the Tombstones films (as Ismene, Antigone’s sister, and Eurydice, Creon’s wife) are instrumental in telling the story, yet their performances don’t overshadow the focal point of this production – which is: solutions communities and lawmakers – can and should – come up with to end senseless deaths as a result of police brutality and gun violence across the nation with much needed conversation. Panel discussions with Michael Brown Sr., community members-turned-activists describing first-hand accounts of the night of the Ferguson shooting, members of the Man Up Project, therapists and individuals committed to make an impact and let their voices be heard – moved the audience in the theater that night: including me.

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Photo Credit: Gregg Richards, Panel (L to R): Erica Wright, Lt. Latricia Allen, Michael Brown Sr.

Artistic director and moderator of the Antigone in Ferguson production, Bryan Doerries has presented over 60 performances across all five boroughs. Antigone in Ferguson at Harlem Stage marks a departure from the company’s history of nomadic presentations. Having mounted over 700 events at a range of venues around the world, from Guantanamo Bay to a playground in Brownsville, Brooklyn, this extended run (September 13 – October 13) will be the first time Theater of War Productions will embed itself in one location for an extended period of time. Exclusively supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the 30 free (RSVP required) performances at Harlem Stage will offer expanded opportunities for community participation in this innovative social justice project. Don’t miss upcoming performances by actors: Frankie Faison (Coming to America, The Wire) Chris Noth (Sex and the City franchise, Law & Order), Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black), and Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) to name a few. For more information on Antigone in Ferguson and upcoming schedule, click here.