Wakanda'd Out

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Wakanda'd Out

I wrote this on February 22nd, but I was scared to post it because I didn’t want my friends to get mad at me thereby breaking my own cardinal rule of writing:  Don’t censor yourself.  Corwardly Lion that I was and gaining courage post Oscar Season I’m editing and posting so I can say what I have to say while it’s relevant (eye roll). 

I went to see Black Panther.  I don't get out much so I'll be honest I thought it was a movie about The Movement and was down to see it on the strength of that.  Luckily,  I figured out it was a Marvel Comics thing so I wasn’t that kind of disappointed, but disappointed I was.

Number 1 and 2 had to do with on and off screen business that qualify me as an honorary member of #teamtheatersnob, but I'll briefly indulge. 

1.  The green screen.  I’m tired of seeing it. 
2.  If Vibranium World is that bad ass where’s my Matrix effects?  Where’s my Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?  

In other words,  y'all didn't have any movie magic technology left in the can for the biggest black superhero movie of the millennium? 

The for real though disappointments weren’t even about the movie.  They were about the conversations overheard about the movie.  Black people talking about this being our movie irritated me.  I wanted to say that this is hardly our movie, but you know what?  It is and that irritated me even more. Black Panther put black people’s biggest problems on screen which we typically don’t usually like to air in the public media-sphere, but Wakanda made us do it.

Was it me or did we just watch a movie about tribal wars between hood-niggas and bougie blacks?  This movie is not futuristic at all.  This is very much present tense and apparently a part of our collective future tense.  If this had been a real African/African-American (I slash because we’re never quite sure where we stand on this) Superhero Movie, some spirit would have appeared out of no where in a cloud of smoke and wear Wakandans out because they killed that boy’s father, tried to sweep it under the rug and then went forth and prospered. Unh. And y’all will argue all day at the barber shop about Michael Jordan not giving back?  Just sayin’.  Read some African stories. That’s what Superhuman Africans do.  African-American Superheroes? They in-fight over old beef.  I’m beat.

These fabulously dressed actors (shout out fellow Hamptonian and now Oscar winning designer) remind us how race, class and capitalism were, are and apparently will forever be intertwined in black life that supposedly matters. Wakandans, our fictitious Talented 10th, having acquired the secret to success, kept it for themselves like true gatekeepers, benefited from it financially and did the obvious—got new clothes, cars, attitudes and accents. And that’s just on-screen. I won’t even go into how our movie grossed over a billion dollars for the Marvel brand which is not a black owned business, because then I’d be making it too deep. I heard someone say of those who watched it bootleg, "If you don't give Wakanda your money that's just wrong."  Trust and believe, as good as giving to Wakanda made you feel about yourself, your money didn’t go to Wakanda.  Most of it went to David J. Grant and/or Kevin Feige.   

Fans flocked to the scene to see ourselves as powerful, intelligent and strong dressed and painted for the occasion. Which was a problem. In case you weren’t in a black barber shop or kitchen table at the time, I’ll fill you in. There was lots of sidebars about the costumed audience. Folks were mad because we gave the Marvel twins our money and spent more so we could look cute doing it. The one’s that geared up said that nobody had an issue when people put on R2D2 outfits and dressed up like Chewbaka for Star Wars and that they thought it was cute when their kids had on warlock outfits for Harry Potter.  They were right about that, but we didn’t because back then that was "white folks shit." I’ll let you marinate on that.

Personally, I don't care if you want to dress up.  Dress up, black people, if it makes you feel happy because believe me, you deserve as much happiness as you can muster.  Maybe we do need our own Halloween to live up to.  I didn't dress up to see Black Panther, I went in my Clark Kents. Why stray from my own script?  While sitting there stewing about what I saw, I wondered what the real life Black Panthers would have to say. I already know what will come from all of this.  Things to buy and sell us on. Mattel action figures. Wakandan Barbie. I heard that there's already talk about a Wakanda curriculum so they can "teach this to the children!" 

Four words. Not on my watch.

 

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Most Definitely a High Flying Bird

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Most Definitely a High Flying Bird

Okay, so suffice it to say that I am not sporty. How not sporty am I? The extent of my basketball knowledge is “dunk” and “rebound” and I’m not 100% sure that I’d know the latter if I saw one. I just hear people say the word. I went to the US Open and chatted with my daughter the entire time. I walked backward through the Wyndham. I’m embarrassed, but I do try.

The only other basketball show I’ve watched recently (Ballers) was strictly about the view. So, for me to be drawn to a movie about basketball is an act of God. I thanked Him for this one. Living with men will make you glean sports information. I was crocheting once in a room while an ESPN specials about the NFL was airing. I was taken aback by “the auction” that apparently takes place annually in the league. Men with money and power checking the weight, mass and speed of new bucks alarmed me because I thought I was in the 21st Century, but it is what it is. I thought to myself, no wonder I don’t like sports. It’s against my core beliefs.

Thankfully, I am not alone. Writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney—Chair of Playwriting at Yale, co-writer of Academy Award winning Moonlight, the dossier continues— captured what little bit I know and took it a step further. I’m so glad this brother is writing because he tells you what black life is not what you think it is or what someone else wants you to see it being. I love that shit. High Flying Bird reminds us what’s going on inside and on the black hand side of this sports game and writes smart—no, brilliant— black minds into the scene. Thank you, Professor McCraney. Captain, my Captain.

The movie, so I understand was shot on a iPhone, directed by Steven Soderbergh and was pitched to Soderbergh by Andre Holland the actor that plays one of said brilliant black minds. Gotta be brilliant if you’re going for the pitch. Then there’s the captivating natural, Zazie Beetz, Sonja Sohn who has not cracked and the most indelible mark of perfection, Bill Duke.

I loved it. For the subject, the talent, the bravery and the timing.

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Those Phantom Teeth!

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Those Phantom Teeth!

I'm known to find the finishing touches of an actor's craft.  Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the craftiest and I love to watch him make a scene.  This time, he did it over and over again in Phantom Thread.  I wonder why he decided that it was all about the teeth for Reynolds Woodcock.  Maybe it's about the little human annoyances like scraping burnt toast or eating it inappropriately that sets the teeth on edge, but either way it was abundantly clear.  

In theater, everything from a light to an outfit can speak volumes and are intended to.  What's great and different about film is that subtle expressions get to join the cast.  By moving all Woodcock's uptightness to the tooth and gum, Day-Lewis' brought out the orthodontist in an eccentric fashion expert and once again marked himself a master theater craftsman.

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Mary, Mary, Mary...

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Mary, Mary, Mary...

I don't know if I'm more hyped about Mary J. Blige's performance in Mudbound because she's the Mother-Sister of Hip Hop, because I first remember her hiding behind (but rockin' that hat with) Method Man, because she looked like a beacon on light on Oprah or just because she gave Florence Jackson everything.  I mean everything.

What makes me proud of Mary is that she's slowly worked her show like only a true Capricorn could--quietly and without adding her own fanfare.   She kept a low profile and always, always kept it real.  It's no wonder that with Mary behind her, "Florence" was the realist.  That's also because Dee Ree's directed her and Mary wasn't too much a diva to be directed.  

My favorite scene other than the sweet caress of black love dancing on the front porch was Florence on that horse and buggy after Hap (Rob Morgan) nailed Pappy in that coffin.  Yes, he did and Aaaaaamen!  What Dee and Mary understood and most movie-goers don't is the obligation of black people at that time.  If you were black in America and you didn't want to do something, too bad.  So, here she is with her mutilated son in the bowels of this ship (the wagon) and her man has to stop and bury the guy that was responsible.  No, he's got to stop and pray over him.  Whaaatttt?!! 

Florence, the woman with the womb that carried that baby carried the burden of this moment for everyone.  Ev-er-y-body.  When she semi-snatches that letter from a well-intentioned white man, when she had that look in her eye that we couldn't even see because she was working those shades, I wanted to jump up from my seat and run circles around the theater.  Mary burned down the house in this one and I loved every minute of it.  

I can't wait to see her win her Oscar.  

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Daniel Kaluuya

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Daniel Kaluuya

If you haven't gotten a chance to see Daniel Kaluuya in The Black Mirror, now in its 3rd Season on Netflix, please do.  In the second episode, Kaluuya gives one hell of a performance as a kid trapped in a futuristic Orwellian hell.  After watching, I was eager to find out more about this London born actor with so much to give on screen.  I found him and so did Jordan Peele of Keen and Peele who properly placed him in his new thriller.  Love this guy and can't wait to see what he and Peele do with Get Out, in theaters February 2017.

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Notes for Queen Sugar

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Notes for Queen Sugar

I don't watch television or celebrity news so I hear about new film/tv from my friends. I heard about Queen Sugar twice this week which is about 4 weeks past due so I had to on demand to get up to speed.  Mid episode 1, I started working which is not usually a good sign.  By episode 2, I was pretty clear about the flaws, but I had to watch it all to be fair.

In short, my husband and I called it After School Special.  For those of you too young to know, ABC had a show called After School Specials for young people usually to teach a lesson.  I think it was the network's attempt to address the issue of latchkey kids, but that's beside the point.  We call a show an "After School Special" when the shot's dated, the plot's typical and the writing sits somewhere on the didactic spectrum. 

The writing is okay, but not compelling because of that hint of preachy.  Using dialogue to tell the audience what's important to you (the writer) is a waste of good acting.  Your talents' emotions are all over the place, a direction problem that will probably remedy itself if you work on the timing.  When there's too much lag time in the dialogue, you have no where to go when it's time to take it there.  That's when you get those weird not-so-micro expressions on screen or too much unnecessary emotion like Charley running out of the school like a bat out of Hades screaming for Micah.  Why?  He's going home with you and your driver, not being hauled off the porch by a Mexican drug lord.

The wide empty shots...  It's a nice visual, but what's it for?  What do you want me to feel about a woman whose head is chopped off at the bottom of my screen?  Fear?  Sympathy?  What happens is the space around the actor's head combined with the space between their lines and the space that's filled with music makes me want to get a siphon and suck some of the air out of these scenes.  

One more thing, change the structure of the show.  Break it up, stretch it out and give yourself another season (or two or three) so we're not toggling back and forth on the surface when there are backstories and depth.  Vi and Hollywood have a story.  Charley and David have a story.  Nova is a story all by herself.  I want to stick around for the unveiling of the sociopolitical dynamics of the Bordelon Clan, but the mechanics just won't let me. 

What's works in Queen Sugar?  Rutina Wesley.  I swear the camera loves this woman. Dawn-Lyen Gardner who knows her character and makes sure she shows up in every scene and Ethan Hutchison who gave it for Grandpa (Glynn Turman)!  I love what time has done for Dondre Whitfield and this role really shows his skill and experience.  With just a couple of little tweaks there'll be more reasons to keep our eyes on Kofi Siriboe other than the obvious one. It's because of them, some beautifully shot (not wide) scenes and the sweetness in the soil of Queen Sugar that made me upgrade it from an After School Special to a Post Grad Special after #5.  Potential is always great. 

 

 

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Focused?

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Focused?

Ok.  So, I finally saw Focus, Will Smith's "dramedy" about two con folk trying to get it in. In Will's defense, let me say that I did come in on everything about 20 minutes late.  But, that didn't seem to make that much of a difference.  Come on, Will.  What happened?  It wasn't the story. The story was good.  Was it your girl, Margot that threw you off, or did Glenn Ficarra-up the flow?  Maybe it was because you became and "idea" not an icon (he did say that).

I was having one of those moments when you see your favorite childhood actor all grown up on screen.  Like when Penny became Justice and all I could say was,  "Janet, noooo!"  It was like the day that the Olivia in my mind became Raven Symone and even worse, she was on Disney!  The only difference is it happened slow like when old people fall trying to dance at their grandchild's wedding reception.  Was the goal to just make it through each scene or to play the part?  And, you know I'm saying this in love.  Otherwise, I wouldn't tell you the truth.

So, the movie could have been good if someone was willing to tell the cast that they weren't bringing it.  I could tell and I ain't nobody really.  There was one exception?  Adrian Martinez as Farhad.  He was the one somebody in the film that actually stayed focused.

-KM

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Cut to Cue

Some people's idea of art is tainted with the notion of getting paid.  

I have this argument from time to time with a friend of mine who thinks that ultimately you have to give people the show they'll pay for.  The passion in the play is its ability to transcend the performance space and land in the middle of an argument at Starbucks!

"You can't handle the truth!"

That really happened.

I'm not one of those do-it-all-in-a-day production heroes.  I prefer to take my time and build a script from solid research, reflections and raw material that means something to somebody.  I have to peruse the words and (sometimes) read the archaic meaning and the country of origin so I can make sure it's right.  Even then, I'm prepared to cut it if it clogs the rhythm or rushes the dialogue.  I want every scene to be an honest picture that sticks, not a spectacle that arouses, but leaves the moment hanging.

Recently, I went to two performances based on the same subject.  The first one was at a neighborhood rec center, the actors a motley crew of kids and grown ups.  The second, was at an arena with a performing arts company known throughout the world for their spectrum of of talent.  As good as the latter was (and as expensive), it was missing something that The Motley's managed to capture--the spirit.  Theirs was an indelible work of art and the ticket was 5 bucks.

I'm not against making money.  Figuring out how to make it is my side hustle.  But, here's my pecking order when it comes to "selling out" (seats or souls).  It starts and ends with the intention of the art.  If what's produced compromises the effort that the art proposes it then what value is the money you make in the end?

This inaugural post is brought to you by writer, director, educator Kerri Mubaarak, Scrapmettle's Founding Member and Artistic Director.  You can follow Cut to Cue and other posts on Twitter @scrapplenet

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