Amara La Negra’s Star Power Continues to Illuminate: Undeterred by the Pandemic Lockdown, ‘The Love and Hip Hop: Miami’ Personality Pursues Bigger Aspirations

Amara La Negra, Photo: Tag Media Group

Diana Danelys De los Santos, otherwise known as Amara La Negra, ascent into fame didn’t happen overnight. The singer/songwriter/author and TV host has been in the limelight since age 4 as part of “Sábado Gigante’s” el Clan Infantil (children clan), hosted by Don Francisco. “Sábado Gigante” was the holy grail of entertainment for Latino households across the U.S. – a variety show filled wild performances, comedy skits, games, and lots of models. On for 53 years and acknowledged by the Guinness World Record as the longest-running variety show, it shaped Latino television as we know it.  As a teen, if I dared to change the channel – I’d be punished by my parents or encounter a flying chancleta. I remember watching Amara dancing with other little girls – the only Afro-Latina in the group with energy to spare.

I’ve hummed her songs (Ayy and Se Que Soy) and seen her on “Love and Hip Hop: Miami”, but recently watched her on HBO’s “Habla Now” documentary discussing colorism in the Latin community. Out of the 14 celebrities that spoke on Latinidad and their experiences in the U.S., Amara’s words resonated with me: “Colorism and racial issues happen among Latinos as well. We can be very racist amongst Latinos with one aonther. And that’s the truth!” Amara went on to say, “We consistently are trying to see what nationality is better than the other. What race is better? We create this division amongst ourselves. If we don’t see each other as equals we’re never going to be able to grow and feel empowered.”  Quite the statement, calling out the hypocrisy in our own cultures, I was drawn to her candor. And reached out for an interview. We chatted about everything from her experience on reality TV, to reinventing herself during the pandemic, to building generational wealth among Latinos.

You’ve accomplished so much before the age of 30. Singer/Author/Actress/TV Host. That’s Quadruple Threat Status. What are you most passionate about and can’t live without doing?

Yes, I guess I am a quadruple-threat (laughs). Being on stage, that’s it. I love performing. I love getting dressed up. I love my dancers and rehearsing with them. I’m a showgirl. I grew up admiring Tina Turner, Janet Jackson. People that put on a show. I love being in contact, in touch with the audience. Feeling that we have a connection. That’s why I appreciate my fans so much.

“Love and Hip Hop: Miami” is in its 3rd season and you are one of the breakout stars that has gained popularity. Has production resumed and do the producers coerce or suggest that you engage in certain situations that are scripted?

Love and Hip Hop: Miami” isn’t scripted. I would never bad mouth my producers, no matter what my thoughts are, out of respect and gratitude. But I will say some scenarios are not the ones that exist in my day-to-day life. When you’re on a reality TV show, you have to confront certain situations. Me, away from the camera, I don’t have time for these exchanges and I leave. I’m not a fan of the drama. People place artists, celebrities on a pedestal. Thinking it’s impossible for them to get upset. In real life, people have real personalities – no matter how much you admire them, they have good and bad days. Sometimes you might get them on bad day.

Do you find at this point in your career you still have to explain your Afro-Latina heritage to new members on the show or anyone else you encounter?

When it comes to the show, I’ve made my stance known and everybody knows I’m Afro-Latina. I don’t think I’m the most famous Afro-Latina and everyone should know who I am. I don’t see myself that way. Will I continue to answer questions about my ethnicity and background, if people have questions and don’t know? Definitely. As long as it comes from an educational place, not a disrespectful place and they want to learn.

Amara La Negra in Tu Cara Me Suena, Photo: Amara La Negra’s Instagram

You’ve recently been co-hosting “Tú Cara Me Suena” on Univision. What has that experience been like?

I’ve been with Univision with a long time. I basically grew up in Univision. I never thought as an adult I’d see myself hosting with the network. I’m lying. I’m lying. When I was younger that was my dream. When I used to See Lili Estefan on “El Gordo y La Flaca” I said: One day I want to be a host and do what she’s doing. It’s surreal that I’ve been doing it for the last 2 years. I hosted” Premios Juventud,” “Mira Quién Baila” backstage, and “Sal y Pimienta.”I’m doing another awards show in November, legally, I can’t mention it. But it’s big for Latinos. It’s a blessing. Feels good. I’m able to break barriers for others to come. I’m giving young girls and young men that come from the Afro-Latino community, like me, visibility. It wasn’t easy. I’ve been very vocal about it, but I was able to get a spot. And thanks to this spot, I’m able to open doors for others.

Do you feel Afro-Latina celebrities are scrutinized more as opposed to non Afro-Latina celebrities?

It’s really hard. I’m just speaking for myself. I have only but the best intentions. I’ve never wanted to make anyone feel uncomfortable or offend anyone’s culture or religion, etc. A lot of times, people have these really high standards for me because I’ve become one of the most recognizable faces for the Afro-Latino community, not just as an artist, as an activist too. It’s A LOT of pressure because you have to be so careful with what you say, because you may come across as offensive, even if what you say is true to you. I have to think about my career – something I’ve worked so on hard my whole life. A lot of things can be ruined in a second based on my opinions. It’s hard to be real and be yourself, express how you feel, how people view me without jeopardizing my job.

What do you think about cancel culture? Especially if in the past, you’ve made a controversial statement.

People have become very judgmental. It’s very easy to point fingers at everybody else’s mistakes, without pointing fingers at themselves first. I feel we have to give people opportunities, because we’re human. There’s no guidebook to how to live in this world. We learn as we go. In that process, we make mistakes, and we grow. A lot of people make mistakes – that doesn’t mean we should disregard all the hard work they’ve done, their accomplishments, or impact they’ve made for their culture and communities, up until that moment they said something deemed wrong. I don’t think it’s fair.

Photo: Amara La Negra’s Instagram

What are your thoughts on the anti-Black sentiment expressed by certain Dominican communities in Washington Heights, New York?

I’m not 100% informed on the subject, but I heard something. I don’t want to call out Dominicans specifically. Colorism and racism exist all over the world in every single Latin community. The lack of education, the lack of knowledge brings a lot of ignorance to the forefront. The way people react is based off of ignorance. Everyone is trying to find his or her niche. Everyone is trying to find a spot where they belong. It’s also a system that has brainwashed us for hundreds of years – a brainwashed mentality that has been passed down from one generation to the next and so forth, dividing us instead of uniting us. If we united forces, we’d be unstoppable. It’d be crazy. They wouldn’t know how to handle us as a community. Through education, we can press the reset button in our minds and break that cycle for the next generation to come.

Amara La Negra has kept busy during the pandemic, apart from TV hosting, leading on-air radio shows, and partaking in our interview, she’s been buying real estate. The multi-faceted star bought her first home for her mother, Ana Maria Oleaga, last year. Amara said, “She worked so hard for me to become successful. I wanted to give her something in return.” Amara wants to make smart investments as the pandemic has shut down entertainment production across the globe, she, and all of us, have come to realize: you can’t rely solely on just one source of income – a true test in reinvention. She preaches to her fans about generational wealth and leaving future generations with tools and the foundation to becoming successful. She plans on owning 5 properties by the end of 2020; an empowering Latina female artist realizing her potential and leading by example.

Review: ‘Undocumented Lawyer’ – Against All Odds, Protagonist Risks Everything For Immigration Rights – Relentlessly Moving

Lizbeth Mateo, Photo: Emily Topper

We are on the brink of fascism. To sugarcoat and soften the blow of the current state of affairs in this country is a disservice to the truth. We are facing the most important elections of our lives to save our democracy. It’s not alarmist; it’s reality. There is so much at stake: the repealing The Affordable Care Act. Intrusive policies on women’s reproductive rights, and the war on immigrants by the far-right. And at the center of the immigration topic and championing undocumented immigrants like her, is Lizbeth Mateo; the subject of the award-winning documentary, Undocumented Lawyer, by directors Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci and producer Jenna Kelly.

Lizbeth Mateo crossed the border with her family at age 14. They fled cartel violence and poverty from Oaxaca, Mexico to seek a better life: a common thread for many immigrants leaving their homeland behind. But what makes Lizbeth’s story so remarkable is even after 20 years of being in this country, Lizbeth remains undocumented. Undeterred by her circumstances, and living in California, which is a sanctuary state, provided her the opportunity to attend college and law school, and pass the bar exam. Nothing short of exceptional, really. In 2018, she was appointed to a state post as an advisory committee member by senate president, Kevin de leon. The California Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee, (CAL-SOAP) – the committee’s mission is to assist students in underserved communities attend college. This drew criticism in the form of vitriol: death threats to de leon and nasty statements directed to Mateo, calling for her deportation; scrutinizing Mateo and catapulting her into the spotlight. Unfazed by all the attention, Mateo tweeted: “undocumented and unafraid.”

Edith Espinal, Photo: Zach Ingrasci

Dissuaded by efforts to have her deported, as the documentary illustrates, Mateo did more than accomplish the impossible without citizenship or even legal status. She set up a legal practice and hired 4 employees in L.A. to fight for immigration rights. Determined to take on immigration cases that are challenging such as: Edith Espinal’s, a woman avoiding deportation by taking sanctuary in a church in Ohio since 2017. The case has received national attention, including support from former presidential nominee and Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren urging Congress to help to support a bill to protect asylum seekers. With the critical elections looming, there is hope voters are incentivized to vote Democrat across the ballots, and the attack on asylum seekers cease with a new administration at the helm come January 2021.

Top: Lizbeth Mateo, Bottom: Kate del Castillo

Mateo’s fight for equitable immigration law through activism and advocacy is inspirational and she persists in her quest, in spite of a recent deportation case that has been brought against her. Recently, actress Kate del Castillo and Latinx House, hosted an Instagram Live Q&A with Lizbeth Mateo to bring national awareness and fundraising initiatives to Mateo’s own immigration case and that of her clients. An impassioned Kate del Castillo is an ardent supporter of Mateo and said “she will do everything in her power to keep her in the U.S.” – a great moment of solidarity for viewers to witness and get involved in. To stream Undocumented Lawyer now and donate to Lizbeth’s cause, click here. HBO Latino acquired the documentary and will begin airing it early 2021. Undocumented Lawyer has a 20 minute run time.

Amy Poehler’s Grassroots Biden Funded Event Gave Viewers Much Needed Comedic Relief

From Top Left: Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee, Kamala Harrris, Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Bottom Left, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph

If you’re like me, you may be experiencing Zoom fatigue.  Whether it’s for your job, activism, or getting together with friends and business associates via virtual chat – the novelty of this communication method seems to be waning for many. And with the pandemic, thriving in many states across the U.S. – Zoom or other virtual conferencing platforms seem likely to stay. Yet, the virtual Grassroots Event hosted by Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph with guest speakers Democratic Vice President nominee, Kamala Harris and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, this week, made me less sour about the medium and restored some of my faith on its benefits.

There were some hiccups, as there always is on Zoom meetings. Someone’s muted; they keep talking, don’t know they are muted, go off to the side, come back and start speaking again and everyone can hear them. In this case, it happened to Amy Poehler: the host. She carried on with her funny animated gestures while Maya Rudolph stepped in. Rudolph attributed to the glitch to a conspiracy plot, while Hillary Clinton blamed the Russians. It was all done in good fun and the mood was light. These two comediennes, who are known to impersonate their guests, knew how to ask pressing questions without the rigidity of typical political discourse and also make us laugh. We found out some interesting facts about the panelists. Hillary likes to nap during quarantine, Kamala has been cooking the same three meals on rotation, Amy has been teaching her kids sign language and Maya has been immersed in playing new games with her children.  The hosts did pose serious questions to Harris and Clinton.

Kamala Harris

They discussed the lack of leadership in the White House, the admission made by Trump on tape, recorded by journalist, Bob Woodward, about how deadly the Coronavirus is, it’s impact, and the near 200,000 Americans left to die because of Trump’s inaction. How Trump projects hostility and can’t take a joke, or make a joke for that matter; a sign, all the speakers agreed is telling of a flawed character.  Kamala Harris spoke about Biden’s plans to address climate change with the devastating fires pummeling the West Coast. Joe Biden’s commitment to unite the country. Both Harris and Clinton couldn’t praise the other enough and Clinton assured conference attendees to watch Kamala Harris emerge as the victor during Kamala Harris and Mike Pence’s debate, scheduled in a few weeks. To learn more about future grassroots events and to get Joe Biden and Kamala elected, click here. Also to learn whether you are registered to vote, click here.

Review: ‘Mr. Soul!’- A Black Cultural Experience To Be Treasured – Hypnotic and Poignant

Photo: Ivan Cury, Courtesy of Shoes in the Bed Productions

Not long ago, when life had some semblance of normalcy, I had covered the Urbanworld Film Festival in person and was tasked with writing about the festival’s anticipated blockbusters. While waiting for one of these films to begin, I snuck into an adjacent theater to watch the documentary, Mr. Soul! by director and producer, Melissa Haizlip.  I was intrigued by the film’s poster; it read: Before Oprah, Before Arsenio…There was: Mr. Soul! As a longtime fan of late-night talk shows, I was irritated and frustrated at myself for not knowing whom this revolutionary pioneer of Black entertainment and culture was. His name: Ellis Haizlip. The producer and host of the PBS variety show: Soul! changed the national scope and existing perceptions of Blacks in a volatile 1960s backdrop – forever! No surprise it won Urbanworld Film Festival’s Best Documentary category and received a standing ovation the Sundance Film Festival.  So what was so extraordinary about Ellis Haizlip and this entertainment show he launched in 1968?

Ellis Haizlip Surrounded by Members of the J.C. White Choir, Photo: Alex Harsley, Courtesy of Shoes in the Bed Productions

Ellis Haizlip was a visionary and determined to shatter contrived media perception of Blacks at the time, as victims subjected to abject poverty or lawless citizens in the United States. Raised in Washington in a middle-class family and setting his sights on New York to form his production company, his aim was to push Black Arts forward, as it was evident to Haizlip that there was a huge void to fill. Blair Underwood, executive produced and narrates Ellis Haizlip’s thoughts in the film so eloquently and powerfully states: “Before we can educate and entertain, we need to share the Black experience.” And that Ellis did. In its inception, Soul! aired only in New York and managed to go national in 1969. The once local program set forth the careers of the most prominent artists in Black history: Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and his Wonderlove band, Al Green, Cicely Tyson, Sidney Poitier, and Toni Morrison to name a few. Haizlip was fearless in giving a visual platform to outspoken Black poets like The Last Poets – including 6 female poets, such as Sonia Sanchez, and pushed boundaries by interviewing Minister Louis Farrakhan and Kathleen Cleaver (wife of exiled Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver).

Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin in 1971, Film Still Courtesy of: Shoes in the Bed Productions.

In his quest to unleash artists’ natural talents via the television medium, he often prompted poets and singers to take the stage unfiltered and unencumbered. He employed females on his set and advocated for an interview conducted by renowned poet and activist, Nikki Giovanni and literary legend, James Baldwin in England. The footage of the animated and captivating Baldwin and inquisitive Giovanni is unprecedented – a Black female interviewer engaging in a fiery conservation with one of America’s beloved writers is quite impressionable to see in 1971, shortly after, Soul! aired until 1973, defunded and shut down by nefarious forces, as detailed in the documentary.

(L to R) – AMANDA SEALES; TOP – MELISSA HAIZLIP/BLAIR UNDERWOOD; MIDDLE – STAN LATHAN/NIKKI GIOVANNI; BOTTOM – SONIA SANCHEZ/ROBERT GLASPER/THE LAST POETS/BLACK IVORY – Courtesy of Shoes in the Bed Productions

So where are we now? It’s 2020 and social justice continues to be a pressing urgent issue in the United States as police brutality continues to plague Black Americans, exacerbated by the tragic loss of our Black icons this year. Mr. Soul’s recent Kickback premiere reminded us of the past, present, and future Black Excellence represents and the need to cultivate and preserve its existence. Host and comedienne, Amanda Seales led the conversation with guests, Melissa Haizlip (Ellis Haizlip’s niece & creative engine behind Mr. Soul!) Actor Blair Underwood, acclaimed director, Stan Lathan (former director of Soul!) Activist and poet Felipe Luciano who guest-hosted the popular “Shades of Soul” episode, featuring Tito Puente and his orchestra, Haizlip exposed television audiences to Latin music and multi-cultural Afro-Latino bands. To say the Soul! television show was groundbreaking doesn’t suffice; it was one of a kind until this day. The legacy Ellis Haizlip left behind cemented the foundation for Black culture never before seen on a national scale – fusing poetry, activism, theatre, dance, and music for the world to experience and solidify the richness of Black arts. Mr. Soul! is available in more than 70 virtual cinemas worldwide through September 10th. To buy tickets and learn more about Mr. Soul! click here.

Review: ‘Ovid and the Art of Love’ – Resoundingly Mirrors Modern Times

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Corbin Bleu as Ovid, Photo: Brian Geldin PR

Esmé von Hoffman’s latest film to hit the streaming platforms, Ovid and the Art of Love, couldn’t have come at a better time amidst a global pandemic and the ensuing chaos the current administration is wittingly encouraging in our nation. Its social and political commentary will resonate with audiences. As millions of Americans affected with the repercussions of the novel coronavirus (over 76K+ deaths domestically, an unemployment surge of 14.7%, a statistic unseen since the Great Depression) continues to wreak havoc in our daily lives.

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John Savage as Augustus, Kimberly Cruchon Brooks as Livia, Photo: Brian Geldin PR

Parallels of our stark reality compounded by the film’s theme are spot on. Writer/Director Esmé von Hoffman’s version of the old tale of beloved poet, Ovid, otherwise known as Publius Ovidius Naso, who was exiled by Roman emperor, Augustus in 8 AD, “allegedly” because of his exotic and provocative books of poetry. Corbin Bleu (“High School Musical,” “Dancing with the Stars”) is charming as he breathes life into modern-day Ovid, and finds his purpose in the urban streets of Detroit. He’s summoned by Augustus, the inept and hypocritical emperor, played by the talented John Savage, (“Deer Hunter”) to pursue a career in law but his interests lie elsewhere: poetry. Determined to follow his passion, Ovid attempts to read his poems at open mic clubs, failing at first and ridiculed by patrons, later finds his rhythm in verse and love as he follows a woman he thought would fulfill his life. As Ovid’s poetry career and romantic conquests flourish, the citizens of Rome, A.K.A. Detroit, are in an upheaval; jobs are lacking, health insurance is scarce, and people are protesting inadequate leadership. Ring a bell? It’s 2020 on screen, minus the fancy togas, and elegant headpieces.

 

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Director Esmé von Hoffman, Photo: Brian Geldin PR

Ovid and The Art Love is a tale as old as humanity – depicting average citizens standing up to power with truths and freedom of expression to affect change and the dire consequences that result, in this case, Ovid, regarded as the canonical poet of Latin literature, is exiled and sent to Romania, but his beautiful poetry and popularity lives on. In 2017, Ovid’s birthplace of Sulmona formerly Sulmo in Italy, acquitted the poet of any wrongdoing, Florence followed suit.

Check out this wonderful adaptation of Ovid and the Art of Love by director, Esmé von Hoffman, when it’s released on May 19th by Level 33 Entertainment via major streaming and VOD platforms including Amazon, iTunes, Comcast, XFinity, Dish, Sling, Microsoft, Google Play, YouTube and many more.

 

 

‘Hurdle’ Review: Palestinian Youth Combat Political Strife With Inspiring Creative Outlets

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Photo: Courtesy of Hurdle Film

The world is in political turmoil domestically and internationally as evidenced by the ongoing deadly protests in Hong Kong, Venezuela, Chile and Bolivia. Reaching its 50th year of Israeli military occupation, Palestinians have mastered the virtue of resiliency in fighting for their rights to exist and living with the oppression that brings social injustice; they’ve taken to the streets for half a century, and attempting to reclaim their land is nothing new. But what has emerged, and shed light on this age-old Middle Eastern conflict, is a fresh perspective by documentary filmmaker, editor, cinematographer, producer: Michael Rowley. In his film Hurdle, audiences can judge for themselves what Palestinians are fighting for.

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Photo: Courtesy of Hurdle Film, Mohammed by Wall In Occupied Palestine

Hurdle begins with Mohammed, a Palestinian photographer examining a wall built to confine Palestinians to their “territory” by the Israeli military. Mohammed is clearly anxious and frustrated by his and his family’s current situation, but uses his photography business to enlist the youth in his community to find what’s beautiful and intriguing in the midst of all the violent attacks on their people. It’s gut-wrenching yet hopeful to see this community persevere and strive for a better life and brighter future.

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Photo: Courtesy of Hurdle Film, Parkour Team Member Jumping

The film then follows Sami, a parkour instructor who teaches young men to jump and flip over rooftops and structures with measured form. Apart from the mental and physical demands the sport requires – it invokes the spirit of these young men to persevere, to attain the unattainable and overcome obstacles in currently occupied Palestine, even with all the violence and bloodshed simultaneously consuming their daily lives.

Rowley’s Hurdle film is candid. It shows daily Palestinian life: the celebrations, familial moments, triumphs and tribulations that connect us on human level. There are devastating violent attacks that can strike at a moment’s notice. On one side, we see people (Palestinians) fighting for their very existence, and on the other, Jews waving their flags rejoicing as they claim victory over their enemies. It’s an eye-opening experience to see basic freedoms we are all entitled to, squashed, but in succession, witness a movement of self-preservation and determination. Rowley documents the breathtaking landscapes and energy of Jerusalem with captivating cinematography and music. Winner of the Best Documentary Feature Film from the 2019 Tulsa American Film Festival, Hurdle is destined for more accolades and world-wide recognition. To learn more and check out future screenings of the Hurdle documentary, click here.

Review: ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ Edward Norton Resurges Dynamic Film Noir Storytelling

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20 years in the making and the film adaption of Motherless Brooklyn is finally here. Triple threat Ed Norton serves as writer, director, and star of this highly stylized film noir rendition of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel of the same name. Unlike its printed predecessor, Norton’s film takes place in the 1950s, whereas Lethem’s crime novel describes a 1990s Big Apple. Some resistance from the author could have been expected, but according to Lethem, when Norton asked for his input, he said: “Just run with it.

And Edward Norton did just that. For two decades the artist researched the New York City of the 1950s and its place in history with politics, race, community displacement and power struggles interwoven – the major components that make up this crime drama. Edward Norton plays Lionel Esrogg, a junior detective with Tourette’s syndrome that is determined to find the truth about his mentor’s (played by Bruce Willis) murder, all while uncovering unsavory truths about New York City’s powerful and disenfranchised. Joining Norton in this dramatic ensemble are acclaimed actors: Alec Baldwin, as the powerful, money-hungry and bigoted developer, Moses Randolph intent on bamboozling anyone and any institutions that get in his way of seeing his projects through (loosely based on actual New York developer, Robert Moses). Baldwin’s casting and interpretation of Randolph is quite apropos and authentic as his portrayal of Trump has been well received by the public and condemned by the president; and well, extremely timely.

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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. L to R, Alec Baldwin and Edward Norton

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Laura Rose, a mixed-race lawyer and activist intertwined in this crime story is fantastic. Mbatha-Raw and Norton have great chemistry on-screen and there’s a beautiful connection their characters convey with an unspoken recognition of the struggle each has endured within a less-than accepting society. Rounding out the cast with electrifying performances are Willem Dafoe as Paul, Moses Randolph’s more humane, and less corrupt brother and Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) as the trumpet man with keen situational awareness.

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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. L to R, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Edward Norton

Edward Norton has a gift for portraying dimensional characters. He can go from 0 – 100 instantaneously, from self-deprecating to exuding complete confidence without hesitation; his Academy Award nominations for Primal Fear and American History X speaks to this. It’s a given. The audience will root for underdog, Lionel Essrog, to defeat the villains in Motherless Brooklyn but what is most compelling about Norton’s brilliant portrayal of Lionel’s disability is the way he outsmarts those who believe he’s no match for them with grace, humility and humor. And as the audience, we buy it.

The cinematography (Dick Pope) and set design (Kara Zeigon) conjures ups a romanticized nostalgia moviegoers crave. Manhattan and Brooklyn streets littered with 1950s Cadillacs and Chevys in an array of models and colors is a sight to behold. At first glance, you might think you’re in a tourist attraction in present day Cuba, but no, it’s the extraordinary production team that made this era come life with beautiful visuals. The film is lengthy but worth sitting through and witnessing wonderful storytelling. Motherless Brooklyn comes out tomorrow, November 1st. Click here for showtimes.

Female Filmmakers Rule The Spotlight At The 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival

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Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino

If you’ve had enough of the quintessential Hollywood hyped films that have been – and will continue to be – splashed all over TV stations and streaming services with overly saturated ads (after all it’s only the beginning of June), then check out the roster of films at the 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival to embrace global innovation and creativity. I’ve seen a few films thus far, in the narrative and documentary features and shorts, and experimental and animation categories, and wow! have they made an impact on me. And, we still have 6 more days of film festival-ing to revel in and see more fascinating films.

It all began with the presentation of The Gathering on BFF’s opening night and this year’s festival theme of empowering women to tell their stories and call out Hollywood for their inaction towards predatory powerful men. The Gathering, directed by Emily Elizabeth Thomas, showcases actresses dressed in character (the nun, elf queen, spy) all sharing personal accounts of sexual assaults within the film industry. The film and director’s message: “NYC…Brooklyn is a space for the other, the weird, the disruptors. And, that a better Hollywood is possible.” Following this powerful short film was the world premiere of Above The Shadows by Claudia Myers starring Olivia Thirlby, Alan Ritchson, Jim Gaffigan, and Megan Fox.

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Olivia Thirlby and Alan Ritchson, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Above The Shadows is a supernatural action romance between a tabloid photographer (Holly) and a disgraced MMA fighter (Shayne). Holly has been invisible to her family and society for more than a decade. After discovering that one of her tabloid photos resulted in Shane’s downfall, she tracks him down to make things right and realizes he can see her and has the potential to restore her existence in the world. Director Claudia Myers brings a softer perspective to the sport of MMA and reverses the age-old boy-saves-girl paradigm with Thirlby as a believable heroine and savior of the day.

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Elephant in Africa’s Congo Basin Region, Photo: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Film Festival

Regardless if you love elephants or whether you just love all animals, the documentary, Silent Forests, is worth seeing. Taking place in Africa’s Congo Basin region, the film follows Cameroon’s first female eco-guard conversationalist, a Congolese biologist studying elephant behavior, an anti-poaching sniffer dogs team leader led by a Czech conservationist all tackling the unbelievable corruption, lack of funding and weapons, as they deal with the huge crisis of the decreasing population of forest elephants. The film is eye-opening and sentimental in the depths these activists undertake to examine the problem head-on,  from poaching to conversation and vice-versa. Check out director Mariah Wilson’s documentary feature on June 4th at 10pm at the Wythe Hotel.

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Numa Perrier as Susan (Center), Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

A recent film that had me immersed in thought long after it ended was: Una Great Movie by Director Jennifer Sharp. The story begins with an African-American woman (Susan) traveling back to Mexico to rekindle a romance with a former lover; then it cleverly switches to the film’s screenwriter second-guessing her characters and their actions in the film and the all-too-familiar producers, “screen therapists,” agents, and movie insiders injecting their formulaic and over-used anchors to drive the film to “sell” and have a mass appeal. This film will speak volumes to all, but is especially poignant for any creative who has dreamt, tried-but-failed, or succeeded in making their vision come to life. It’s funny, full of heart, and entertaining for the entirety of its 96 minutes. Check it out and buy tickets to the world premiere on June 7th at the Wythe Hotel at 8pm.

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Mollie Cowen as Casey, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The documentary short, 3 Sleeps, by painter-turned-director, Christopher Holt is based on the true story of a 9-year-old girl (Casey) left to take care of her younger siblings for a whole weekend in a tough London neighborhood. After her mother leaves young Casey with little money to watch over herself and sisters, her youngest sister, aged 5, becomes ill. While Casey is forced to make the harrowing decision to either protect her mom or save her sister’s life, the audience is at standstill – grappling and sympathizing with Casey’s predicament. Fine acting by actresses Mollie Cowen, Keira Thompson, and Emily Haigh. 3 Sleeps has its U.S. premiere tonight at the Wythe Hotel at 6pm and encore on June 7th.

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Bernard in Bristled, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The animation short Bristled is a gem of a film that captures the idiosyncrasies of dating perceptions in the modern world. After countless failed blind dates, Bernard believes he may have found “the one,” only to find yet another fault in the person and is quickly consumed with his perceived “fault” she possesses, only to discover he’s not perfect either. The narration’s comedic dialogue and timing is superb. Bristled, by Scott Farrell has been selected by the Beverly Hills Film Festival, Chicago Comedy Film Festival, and Canadian International Comedy film Festival to name a few. Go see this quirky film on June 5th at the NY Media Center.

This year The Brooklyn Festival’s programmers are committed to advocating for filmmakers who are working in critical systems, taking risks and challenging themselves to tell stories that are breaking barriers. Please check out these amazing films and support these extraordinary and talented artists. To see Brooklyn Film Festival’s full schedule, click here. Plus, don’t miss my festival wrap-up piece next week. The Brooklyn film festival will be running through, June 9th.

Review: ‘What Is Democracy?’-Thought-Provoking And Essential

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What Is Democracy? Film Poster, Photo: Courtesy Of Zeitgeist Films

While half of the population is debating whether to see Netflix’s BirdBox, here’s an option you won’t regret: What Is Democracy? by filmmaker Astra Taylor. Not only will it get you thinking, as most documentaries set out to do, but long after it’s over the ideas will linger in your brain for the better good. The film forces the viewer to examine what this concept of democracy means to them personally, which makes the film that much more compelling and timely in our current chaotic political state. Taylor begins the film with a roundtable discussion in Greece with political theorists and activists discussing the origins of the democracy: the rule by the people. The term is derived from the Greek word dēmokratiā; the combined words dēmos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”) in the middle of the 5th century, notably Athens

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Cornel West, Photo: Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

One of the most refreshing elements about What Is Democracy; is the diverse opinions Astra Taylor interjects throughout the film. We hear from Cornel West – a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual and Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University describing and citing historical moments with democracy and the African-American experience to first-hand accounts of factory workers forming a collective to work for themselves to a student activist coming face-to-face with gun violence during a peaceful protest to spending time with Silvia Federici, a researcher, activist, and educator and Emerita Professor at Hofstra University in Siena, Italy as she dissects the rise of capitalism, financial institutions and the inequality that emerged – illustrated by a medieval painting: The Allegory of Good and Bad Government; Siena is considered to be one of the first centers where banking originated.

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L to R, Silvia Federici and Astra Taylor in Siena, Italy, Photo: Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

The film weaves each subject’s viewpoint without the expectation to take a side; it presents ideas for analysis that beget a slew of questions for a democracy to be successful. Taylor is careful to let each subject tell their story organically and allows the audience to form their own opinions on the continued existence or demise of a democracy. Taylor is no stranger to filmmaking – her filmography includes Examined Life (Toronto International Film Festival Premiere, 2008) and Zizek! (Toronto International Film Festival Premiere, 2005). Her political and activism engagement is still prevalent. Her new book by Metropolitan Books: Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, will be released in early 2019. What Is Democracy?: A Zeitgeist Films Release in association with Kino Lorber theatrical release begins January 16, 2019 at IFC Center in New York followed by theatrical engagements nationwide. To learn more about What Is Democracy?, click here.

TOMS’ Gun Violence Call-To-Action Campaign Unites Activists and Community Leaders in Brooklyn

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Photo Credit: Youtube, L to R: TOMS Founder, Blake Mycoskie and Jimmy Fallon

As of mid December there have been 338 mass shootings in the United States, not the most in one given year, 2017 saw 346 shootings and this year may surpass that number, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that collects data and provides public information on mass shootings – a crisis that has gained significant recognition after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida and the March For Our Lives Movement started by the students-turned-activists affected. Recently, TOMS shoe founder, Blake Mycoskie announced on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that he would be forming partnerships and financially back organizations committed to changing legislation on gun laws addressing the mass shooting epidemic with 5 million dollars. Mycoskie believes this can be accomplished “through various tactics including programming in communities of color, mental health, research and policy, suicide prevention and more.” Mycoskie felt compelled to act after the November 7th college-bar mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, which killed 13 people. The Borderline Bar & Grill is close to Mycoskie’s home and near TOMS’ corporate campus.

 

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Photo Credit: TOMS, L to R: Moderator, Kim Hoyos, Panelists: Sara Mora, Shira Erlichman, Angel Nafis, Glory Edim

TOMS is up for the challenge and recently hosted an event at their Williamsburg store and café with local Brooklyn community activists and tastemakers. The evening was moderated by Kim Hoyos, Digital Strategy Coodinator at MTV Social Impact and founder of Light Leaks – Hoyos founded the Light Leaks website (empowers GNC filmmakers and diverse storytelling) as a college junior from her dorm room in 2017. Accompanying Hoyos in the discussion, were panelists Shira Erlichman, author, visual artist, and musician. Erlichman tours the country promoting her electronic-pop album, Subtle Creatures, and teaches personalized online workshops. Angel Nafis, author and poet of the well-received book, BlackGirl Mansion and Cave Canem Fellow was on hand to discuss the power of self-expression through poetry. Glory Edim, author of the popular book, Well-Read Black Girl and founder of the Well-Read Black Girl festival began her brand with a T-shirt gifted by her boyfriend. Gun reform activist/organizer and DACA recipient, Sara Mora is an advocate and speaker for immigrant rights around the country. Apart from being social influencers, what do all these women have in common? They are using their art, voice, and activism to impact change and shed light on gun reform.

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Despite all the hardships TOMS and fellow retailers are currently facing; one thing is certain; TOMS is not backing down from their social responsibility endeavors they were built upon. TOMS is urging other corporations, their customers, and the public to follow suit and make a difference. To learn more about how you can get involved with ending gun violence, click here and get the latest news on TOMS’ programs and product offerings.