Author's posts

Cloud Atlas in the Time of Coronavirus

Released in October 2012, “Cloud Atlas” was a box office bomb that was derided by critics—Newsday wrote that “the quasi-profound message of cosmic connectedness isn’t worth all the trouble,” while the New Yorker questioned, “Even as we applaud the dramatic machinery, are we being kept emotionally at bay?” But the timeline fusion epic, directed by Lana and …

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No Solutions: A Personal Examination of Online Anger About Guns Akimbo

“While young critics dream of being pull-quoted, I asked for mine not to be used. Here’s why.” Like some critics, I’ve thought about the feeling of seeing my name attached to a film I loved. It was an unspoken daydream, caught between idealized professionalism and nascent wonder. For Black writers, the chances of being pull-quoted …

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​They’ve Gotta Have Us Charts Black Experience in Cinema

Over the last seven years, from the Best Picture win for “12 Years a Slave” to the box-office dominance of “Black Panther,” Black cinema has exploded with expanded stories and roles for actors and creatives. While individual voices have tried to approximate the importance of this era, never have those perspectives been joined together nor …

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Sundance 2020: Eight Highlights of the Shorts Programs

Whenever a festival like Sundance appears on the calendar, the major features and documentaries take up much of the oxygen. And for good reason. However, short films are often skimmed past on the way to other brighter and shinier titles with either established or soon-to-be big Hollywood names.  It’s a difficult habit to break, one …

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We Are Made to Feel Ashamed of Ourselves: Justin Simien on Bad Hair

Six years ago, Justin Simien arrived to Sundance with “Dear White People,” a comedy set on a college campus which questioned identity and the parameters of Blackness. The film won the festival’s dramatic prize and spawned a long-running streaming series on Netflix. Nevertheless, 2020 marked the return of Simien to the festival, this time with …

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Watchmen and My Family Tree

Though I knew my mother’s genealogy, I knew nothing of my father’s. All I had were lost memories and tiny paper trails. It took a television series, HBO’s “Watchmen,” to inspire me to solve that half of my mystery.  My great grandmother left Chaney, France in 1946 as Odette Cotillion and arrived at Ellis Island …

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Humanizing These People: Phillip Youmans on Burning Cane

Films mentioning Southern and Black usually engender assumptions of slavery or racism, as though the Black experience ended in 1865. But those elements do not define Phillip Youmans’ incredible dark feature debut “Burning Cane,” which grapples with issues of toxic masculinity, addiction, faith, and religion in a Southern Black Baptist church community. This expansive yet compact …

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Heart of Darkness, Paradise Lost and Beyond: The Literary Influences of The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” chronicles the tribulations of two 1890s lighthouse keepers, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), stranded on a New England island and driven to explosive conflict. The 35mm black and white mystery relies upon a compendium of work imbued by deep literary traditions. Understanding the hypnotic and testy atmosphere of “The …

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TIFF 2019: Harriet, Wasp Network, Guns Akimbo

Every year a film arrives about a famous white figure: Marie Curie, Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II—yet there’s never been one about Harriet Tubman. In the eyes of white producers, the worth of Black heroes not in spandex lacks equal measure with their white counterparts. Until now. More superhero origin story than pure biopic, Kasi …

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TIFF 2019: Coming Home Again, Hope Gap, Simple Women

“The meat needs to be connected to the bone to borrow its richness,” explains the son at the center of Wayne Wang’s “Coming Home Again”— based upon Chang-rae Lee’s eponymous short story. Set in San Francisco, the film opens to Chang-rae (Justin Chon) preparing a Korean beef dish for his mother for New Year’s—meticulously following …

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Toni Morrison: 1931-2019

Toni Morrison filled her words with lightning, and eviscerated the white male-dominated literary canon by writing stories about the Black experience. She reimagined the white conception of African American women such as Topsy (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and replaced such destructive imagery with courageous inspirations like Sethe and Pecola. Morrison’s personal story stretches from the steel …

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The Fairy-tale of Homeownership in The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Two young Black men, Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and his best friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), warmly tend to Jimmie’s former family home in San Francisco: the proverbial sanctuary, a white-tiled Victorian house surrounded by an ivy-covered gate, containing an organ, topped with a witch-hat roof. They return to the now white-owned house every two weeks for …

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