Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series sheds light on the horrors of wrongful incarceration

“The time that we lost, we can’t get that back,” Kevin Richardson told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview along with the group. “We lost our youth, our youthful years.”Their stories are profiled in the upcoming Netflix series “When They See Us,” a four-episode drama which was directed and co-written by Ava DuVernay. The limited series chronicles the journeys of the five men over the course of 25 years through their trials to their release from prison.“I always go back to whose story am I telling and is this choice helping to tell their story, in the most dynamic way, the most truthful way, for them,”

DuVernay told Holt.DuVernay, known for directing social justice films like “Selma” and big budget movies like “A Wrinkle in Time,” felt it was critical to tell the story of how false confessions landed the five teenagers in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Source: Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series sheds light on the horrors of wrongful incarceration

‘When They See Us’ Shows a Case’s Impact on U.S. Policy – The Atlantic

When They See Us is primarily focused on the racist logic of the policing, court, and prison systems that cost the five defendants their childhood. The series also profoundly illuminates some inherent problems in American criminal justice from a range of perspectives. Viewers get an intimate glimpse of mothers, fathers, and siblings fighting for the freedom of their loved ones; law-enforcement authorities classifying these same boys as “animals”; and protesters on both sides holding signs, declaring “it’s not open season on women” or the real rapist in court today is the New York police and the D.A.

Ultimately, the hysteria surrounding the Central Park Jogger case gave rise to new language about black-youth crime, and to new laws that caused more children to stand trial as adults than at any other time in American history.

When They See Us gets the audience closer to understanding why juvenile and adult prison populations exploded through the 1990s, and how the United States became home to the largest incarceration system in the world.

Source: ‘When They See Us’ Shows a Case’s Impact on U.S. Policy – The Atlantic

Read: Ava DuVernay does true crime differently in ‘When They See Us’

“A Film Called Blacks Can’t Swim”

“A Film Called Blacks Can’t Swim” continues with the new music video to the soundtrack of the same name as part of a national project to encourage Black people to learn how and enjoy swimming. 
 
With the aim of encouraging as many people in the community to swim by addressing the stereotypes and dispelling the myths, the project highlights Black competitive swimmers and some of their achievements in this music video. Why is this important ? It is a safety consideration for all children. Ensure that your children learn to swim.
 
We need Swimming Role Models to highlight the importance of swimming in our community. Hopefully the 45+ Black competitive swimmers featured in this extended music video will do just that.
swimming2In 2015, three  African American swimmers, Simone Manuel, LIA NEAL & Natalie Hinds made history by taking the 3 top places (coming respectively 1-2-3) in the 100-yard freestyle at NCAA championships.

If you don’t swim why? If you never learned, why? Many Black children during Jim Crow all through the South had no access to either a pool, beach, lake or river for recreational swimming.

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham is proud to be part of this project.
The national project is led by Ed Accura @ed_accura. Contact him if you would like to get involved in your community.

How the dream of cheap streaming television became a pricey, complicated mess – The Washington Post

“But there is no real debate about the outcome: The dreams of cord cutters are largely unfulfilled. A transition that some hoped would provide more choice, lower prices and more simplicity instead has delivered frustrating levels of complexity. There still may be more choice, but each choice comes with price tags that, taken together, may well approach the cable bills of old.“It’s not going to come for free,” said Michael Powell, president of trade group NCTA, representing pay television and broadband providers. “People want to watch their ‘True Detective,’ ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Mad Men,’ and that stuff costs a fortune.”

Source: How the dream of cheap streaming television became a pricey, complicated mess – The Washington Post

The Psalm of Howard Thurman

ABOUT ABOUT THE FILM

The Psalm of Howard Thurman is the first feature-length documentary film on the life and wisdom of one of the world’s greatest spiritual treasures, Howard Thurman (1899-1981).

The film introduces audiences to Thurman’s uplifting story, his transcendent  yet grounded presence, and his important voice for our times. The film aspires to be a psalm,a lyrical work of beauty and truth, and a creative utterance that moves, touches and inspires.

ABOUT HOWARD THURMAN

A JOURNEY OF HEART, MIND AND SOUL

Thurman attended high school in Jacksonville, Florida. He later completed studies at Morehouse College, Atlanta in 1923 and the Rochester Theological Seminary, New York in 1926. In 1929, after serving his first pastorship in Oberlin, Ohio, Thurman returned to Atlanta to serve as Professor of Religion and Philosophy and Director of Religious Life at Morehouse and Spelman Colleges. Thurman felt that it was his immediate responsibility to inspire and encourage students in their individual quests for the truth.”

In 1935,  while a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Thurman and his wife, Sue Bailey Thurman, led a pilgrimage of African Americans to Ceylon, Burma and India and met with Mahatma Gandhi. As a result of this trip, he formulated, a generation before Martin Luther King Jr., a non-violent approach to social change in America. This “love-ethic” informed one of Thurman’s best known works, Jesus and the Disinherited, a book which later influenced King and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

 At the close of the 1935 pilgrimage, looking down into Afghanistan at the Khyber Pass, Thurman experienced a vision of a church that would be open to “seekers of all colors and creeds.” He was compelled to see if “experiences of spiritual unity among peoples could be more compelling than the experiences which divide them.”

Hoard and Sue Bailey Thurman

India, 1935

Howard Thurman Birth Home, Daytona, Florida, USA

HOWARD THURMAN was born in Daytona, Florida in 1899. Early on, he developed a kinship with nature and a “hunger of the heart”–a curiosity into the meaning of life. He found refuge during times of loneliness and trepidation in an old oak tree in his back yard. It was while young Howard stood with his back placed firmly against the tree that he first felt the unity of all living things and engaged in what he would later call, “the religious experience.”

 As a young boy Thurman was raised by a strong and affirming grandmother. She was a former slave who had a profound influence on what would become an essential part of Thurman’s thought–that if theology is to have any validity, it must justly deal with one’s life situation and must affirm one’s worth as a child of God.

FILMMAKERS

MEET THE ARTISTS BEHIND THE FILM

“Arleigh Prelow is the right person to create a documentary about Dr. Thurman. She has the spiritual sensibility to understand his life and convey who he was in a truthful and meaningful way.”

 

– Sue Bailey Thurman (before her death in 1996)

ARLEIGH PRELOW, PRODUCER/ DIRECTOR

 Emmy winning composer Joel Goodman has scored over 100 films and television programs that have received 4 Oscar nominations, 15 Emmy awards and over 25 Emmy nominations.

JOEL GOODMAN

COMPOSER

BIO

BIO

GALLERY

INTERVIEWS WITH ARLEIGH PRELOW, PRODUCER/DIRECTOR

 THE SPIRIT AND WORK OF HOWARD THURMAN LIVES ON

PEDRO CESCA FALCI

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, HOWARD THURMAN CENTER BOSTON UNIVERSITY

THE HOWARD THURMAN CENTER FOR COMMON GROUND

BOSTON UNIVERSITY

KATHERINE KENNEDY

DIRECTOR, HOWARD THURMAN CENTER

BOSTON UNIVERSITY

 

Source: The Psalm of Howard Thurman

We Shall Overcome: Ava DuVernay on Making ‘Selma’ φ Rollingstone Magazine

We Shall Overcome: Ava DuVernay on Making ‘Selma’

The groundbreaking director talks about downplaying LBJ, honoring MLK’s legacy and why you should always have Oprah on your film sets

Ava DuVernay
Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount
Ava DuVernay on the set of ‘Selma.’

BY | January 5, 2015

As a filmmaker, you put the film out there, and you just want it to be okay,” says director Ava DuVernay. “You don’t want to let people down; you don’t want to embarrass yourself.” She’s done much better than that with Selma, a dramatization of the 1965 protests in Alabama led by Martin Luther King, Jr.; the movie, considered to be a leading Oscar contender, has already received four Golden Globe nominations. Peter Travers said in his rave review in Rolling Stone that DuVernay “blows the dust off history to find its beating heart.”

DuVernay, 42 years old, grew up in Compton, but spent summers in Alabama. A film publicist before she shifted careers to directing, she had actually signed up to do publicity for an earlier version of Selma. The screenplay had bounced around for over five years, attached to directors such as Lee Daniels. “It was looked at as an unmakeable movie,” says executive producer Paul Garnes. But British actor David Oyelowo — who had appeared in DuVernay’s Sundance award-winner Middle of Nowhere — very much wanted to play King, and unbeknownst to DuVernay, was lobbying for her with an international team of producers. Despite a resumé that was limited to two microbudget features, a half-dozen documentaries, and an episode of Scandal, she got the job, and a $20 million budget.

Ava

Ava on the set of ‘Selma.’ (Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount)

Our conversation with DuVernay in a vegan Mexican restaurant in Hollywood happened three days before Joseph A. Califano, Jr., a former Lyndon B. Johnson aide, wrote a Washington Post op-ed complaining not only that Selma gave Johnson (played by Tom Wilkinson) short shrift, but that the president had come up with the idea for the protests himself. As it happens, earlier versions of the script focused on the relationship between King and the commander-in-chief, and how their joint efforts led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She discussed why she had chosen to place less emphasis on Johnson, her casting philosophy and why it helps to have Oprah on your film set.

Let’s talk about reducing LBJ’s role in the events you depict in the film.
Every filmmaker imbues a movie with their own point of view. The script was the LBJ/King thing, but originally, it was much more slanted to Johnson. I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie; I was interested in making a movie centered on the people of Selma. You have to bring in some context for what it was like to live in the racial terrorism that was going on in the deep south at that time. The four little girls have to be there, and then you have to bring in the women. So I started adding women.

This is a dramatization of the events. But what’s important for me as a student of this time in history is to not deify what the president did. Johnson has been hailed as a hero of that time, and he was, but we’re talking about a reluctant hero. He was cajoled and pushed, he was protective of a legacy — he was not doing things out of the goodness of his heart. Does it make it any worse or any better? I don’t think so. History is history and he did do it eventually. But there was some process to it that was important to show.

Many presidents couldn’t have done it.
Absolutely. Or wouldn’t have even if they could.

I thought Tim Roth’s performance as George Wallace was very nuanced, when it would have been easy to play him as Snidely Whiplash.
I wanted to try to make everyone as human as possible. That trap that I see so many non-black filmmakers do with black characters, where everything is surface and stereotypical…I didn’t want to be the black filmmaker that does that with the white characters. Tim has talked about every actor has to love the character that they’re playing in some way, and in the time that we’re talking about, there’s not a lot to love in Wallace if you believe in justice and dignity. But he found a videotape or an article of his son talking about him, and so he was able to tap into the father doing what he thought was right.

I WASN’T INTERESTED IN MAKING A WHITE-SAVIOR MOVIE; I WAS INTERESTED IN MAKING A MOVIE CENTERED ON THE PEOPLE OF SELMA.

Whether it was Roth or Tom Wilkinson — or Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Root and Alessandro Nivola — all these characters represented a real diversity of thought about this issue from the white perspective, from the dominant culture. I wanted to create an array of folks who all thought about it in a different way because white thought wasn’t a monolith at that time, just as black thought wasn’t a monolith.

What was your philosophy when you were casting?
To work with people who fascinate me. Oprah being in the cast allowed me to have flexibility because she is such a big name. Her fame and her power created space for me to be able to hire Stephan James, a 19-year-old from Canada, for John Lewis instead of the hot young guy who was just in The Fast and the Furious,or whatever. I was able to pick and choose cool people.

What was it like having Oprah on the set?
Her first day of shooting was the day that Maya Angelou died. I had just driven up to the set in Marietta when I got a call on my cell phone from Andrew Young, the real Andrew Young: “Sister Maya has passed on.” And all I could think of was Oprah was on her way to the set. I immediately called her and said don’t come, we’ll do it another day. Tight schedule, a 32-day shoot, not a lot of room to move things around — but we’ll figure it out. She said, “No, I can do this, it’s okay.” She had the same trailer as everyone else. I spoke with her briefly, and I should’ve stayed, but I had to go out back to the set: I had 200 extras out there. So I called Tyler Perry, he sneaked onto the set, they had their moment, and she came out ready to go. I’m grateful to him; most people see us as very different filmmakers, but in that moment we were united around Oprah.

Ava DuVernay

Ava and Oprah on the set of ‘Selma.’ (Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount)

How did your old job as a publicist prepare you to do this?
To make a film?

As opposed to eating guacamole, yes.
[Laughs] Just being able to talk to people. I used to coordinate and develop and execute really big campaigns for studios with a lot of moving parts. But the main thing is just articulating what’s in your head, which we overestimate that people can do — how do you get that out in a way that’s clear and un-muddled with the intention of producing a result?

What was the hardest scene to shoot, emotionally?
When Jimmy Lee Jackson was murdered in the cafe. At that time there was no Mike Brown murder, there was no Eric Garner murder — but there were so many others that are just ambient. It’s part of the atmosphere as a black person growing up in this country: You know that’s it’s happening somewhere on that very day. And a month later Mike Brown was killed. [Cinematographer] Bradford Young, [editor] Spencer Averick, and I, we designed that scene in a really specific way. It was really important that we have all that stuff worked out in advance because I knew it was going to be a rough, emotional day. This wasn’t a day for improvisation.

King’s tactics imply that his supporters are going to have to get hurt: Nonviolence doesn’t work unless the other side overreacts.
Being passive doesn’t mean sitting there and getting hit for the sake of getting hit. And it wasn’t all faith-based, either. There were some very practical reasons why it was used. You talk to most people about King now and they only know “I Have a Dream,” and that he believed in peace and then he died. Really? That’swhat he’s been reduced to? And we’ve allowed it to happen. And if there is anything that Selma does, it reinvigorates the narrative around him to be more full-bodied and more truthful about what his tactics were.

Are you religious yourself?
No, not religious. But I love God.

Can you talk about the aesthetics of violence of Selma? When the church blows up and kills those four little girls, it’s harrowing, but it’s also filmed in a beautiful way. How do those two things work together?
I don’t know if my intention was to make it beautiful. How do you film four little girls being blown apart? There’s a way to do it with a certain reverence and respect for who they were. That’s why it was important for me that you hear their voices before it happens.

There’s a sinking feeling in that scene — I counted five little girls, so I was hoping maybe it wasn’t going to happen.
There were five girls and one lived. And I put in a boy, to misdirect you on purpose. The violence throughout the film follows the same pattern. I resisted the idea of just it being a physical blow. That spectacle has been done: All we do in this industry is blow people up. But how does the hit feel and what does the face do after? What happens to that broken body and what happens to the people that have to tend to that broken body? It’s important to have the morgue scene after Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death, to show the mother and slow down on her face, to slow down the girls, to slow down Annie Lee Cooper when the men put their hands on her and take her down. It was about having a reverence for that was the idea behind it instead of, say, making it beautiful. You’re saying: This is worth taking a closer look at. Everybody stop and pay your respects to this.

Can you pinpoint a moment of joy that happened while you were making this movie?
So many things come to mind, but there was a day that we were filming in Richie Jean Jackson’s house, doing that scene when they all walk into the kitchen. We’re at this house in Atlanta, we had shut down the street. That was the day that Tim Roth and Giovanni Ribisi were coming for their hair and makeup tests. They have to come to see me, ’cause I can’t get away. So they come to the set, and I thought, “Look at all my guys, they’re all together — the White House guys, Wallace, the black guys.” Those characters never cross, right? The chance to see them all together was so fun. Then a black SUV starts coming up the street, going around cones. Our assistant directors and our production assistants are running down, saying, don’t go, they’re shooting. The door opens and out comes Oprah. She’s not supposed to be there; we thought she wasn’t even in the state that day! She starts walking towards me and I just run up to her and give her a big old hug. It was like a house party in the street.

Ava

A surprise visit from Oprah on the set of ‘Selma.’ (Photo: Instagram/@directher)

How was it having people like the actual Andrew Young on the set?
So cool. And it easily could not have been if they were grouchy curmudgeons. But there’s still a spark about them. These are our greatest minds, our greatest radicals. Time has not done them in. If you look John Lewis in the eye and he’s talkin’ to you about something, you’re like “Uh huh, let’s go do it!” When I sat down with them, I was really clear that we weren’t asking for anybody’s permission.

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But this [film] is not called “King”; this is Selma. This was as much the story about the band of brothers and sisters that were around him as it was King’s story. There haven’t been great pains taken to show that he was a leader among leaders — all of them could’ve probably done it. Why him? He could talk the best. He was an orator who was able to synthesize all these ideas in a way that spoke to the masses and also that spoke to people in power. But they were there and they were the masterminds behind it. I tried to show the strategy, the tactics, the arguments. That’s how history is made, not by consensus, but by people freakin’ battling it out, right? That’s how change happens.


Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/features/ava-duvernay-on-making-selma-20150105#ixzz3OLB5tbyP
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Michael K. Williams ‘Goes Down the Rabbit Hole’ on ‘Boardwalk Empire’

Michael K. Williams ‘Goes Down the Rabbit Hole’ on ‘Boardwalk Empire’

‘Wire’ actor also starring in ’12 Years a Slave,’ MGMT video

 
 
 
 
Michael K. Williams as Chalky White on ‘Boardwalk Empire’
 
Macall B. Polay/HBO
September 27, 2013 2:40 PM ET

Michael K. Williams won us over with The Wire, playing the indefatigable stick-em-up-boy Omar, the Robin Hood of the streets. On Boardwalk Empirenow in its fourth season, he’s Chalky White, the voice and bootlegger of the black community in the Nucky Thompson’s (Steve Buscemi) Atlantic City. Rolling Stone spoke with Williams about going down the rabbit hole with Chalky this season, appearing in MGMT’s latest video for “Cool Song No. 2” as a witch doctor with a sweet ride and stalking Steve McQueen in New Orleans to get a part in 12 Years a Slave. 

This feels like a big season for Chalky White on Boardwalk. It sort of feels like a big season for African-Americans in general on the show.

It’s definitely a huge season for Chalky White. It’s a huge season for me personally. I’ve never been this involved in a big storyline in anything that I’ve done. 

You say you’re more involved with the season. How so?
There are things that were promised to Chalky from Nucky Thompson that came through. Nucky told him that he would grant him his wish and give him his club on the boardwalk, so that happened. So you have a black man in 1924 with a major club on the boardwalk of Atlantic City – that’s huge. And most of the storyline this year takes place from that club. All of the problems that occur happen from that club opening up and how Chalky deals with it. He makes a lot of bad choices, primarily over a woman. And we just pretty much watch him go down the rabbit hole. 

How do you understand the struggle between Chalky White and Valentin Narcisse? 
The relationship between Dr. Narcisse and Chalky is a very intense, very real relationship in the black community. You have the educated, fair-skinned Negro, you know, going up against the dark-skinned, un-academically educated Negro, and the friction of the light skin and dark skin, educated versus the non-educated. There’s a friction there, you know, on many different levels. The house Negro versus the field Negro.

What was really important to you in creating this character? 
The main thing I wanted to do was I wanted him not to feel like Omar. That was number one. The second thing I wanted to do was to not make him appear as just an angry black man. There are things that Chalky experienced that I have no understanding of. I don’t know what it’s like to see my father hang from a tree, or to be illiterate in America. I don’t know what that feels like. So I wanted to bring dignity to him, in spite of all his flaws, and I wanted people to understand why he does the things that he does. And last but not least, I wanted to pay homage to my ancestors, to anybody who’s alive today, any black men that are alive today.

I was just watching your MGMT video, “Cool Song No. 2.” What sort of direction did you get for that? 
The character I play, his best friend, is dying from the very thing that he sells. So it’s a take on addiction. What they used was this plant, and apparently there’s somewhere – I believe in the Philippines – where people get this rare disorder where their skin turns into tree bark and ultimately takes over their body. The character I play in this video was the cultivator of a particular tree that was killing one of his best friends. When he realized there was nothing else to do, he figured that he would let his friend die with dignity, and he took him to that house where they manufactured the stuff and just let him live out the rest of his days in happiness and bliss. And in doing so, he contracted the disease also. So it’s like a take on addiction and things of that nature.

Did you know the band’s music going into it?

I’m a huge fan of MGMT, and I love this director, Isaiah Seret. I’d never met him before, but I love the work he did on a Raphael Saadiq video called “Good Man,” which starred Chad Coleman, who is one of my Wire brothers. 

You hang out with your other Wire brothers? 
Absolutely. We’re very close. I consider us a family. Everybody from Sonja Sohn to Felicia Pearson to Jamie Hector to Andre Royo . . . Wendell Pierce, Domenick Lombardozzi, you know, we’re a very close-knit family.

You’re also in 12 Years a Slave. What was that set like? 
That was another huge experience for me. Something along the lines of what it felt like for Boardwalk. That’s another period piece dealing with my ancestral energy, once again, during the time when I have no idea what it must’ve been like to live in America, to be alive in that time. So it was a huge time-travel, and I got to really get a glimpse of what my ancestors would’ve gone through so that I could be here today. It was very humbling.

Did you know Steve McQueen before you made the film?
I knew of him. I was a huge fan of his work from Hunger and Shame, but I had never met prior to this film.

Did you audition for it in the traditional way?
It wasn’t quite the traditional path. I guess you could say I stalked him a bit? I waited outside of his casting office in New Orleans in the pouring rain for, like, an hour, because I heard he was in town, and I ran up on him, kind of Omar style, and I think he was a little taken aback. I was afraid I’d actually screwed up my chance of being in the project with that stuff that I pulled. But then about 45 minutes or so later, his assistant gave me a call and said “Steve McQueen wants to take you to dinner,” and I sat down with him and Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o. We sat all down and had dinner, and he pretty much made me the offer right there at the dinner table. 

What made you really want the part?
Any opportunity to tell a story like that – any opportunity to tell African-American history, something of that nature, of that caliber, I will jump through leaps and bounds to get. Because it’s based on a true story, it’s American history, it’s about my culture and my ancestors, and it’s not just a typical film. It’s a story that I can get in my heart as something to take seriously. I think 12 Years a Slave is that caliber. Any actor would’ve been proud to be in Schindler’s List, and I feel the same way about our film. This actually happened, and it’s going to teach people how far we’ve come as a nation. 

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/michael-k-williams-goes-down-the-rabbit-hole-on-boardwalk-empire-20130927#ixzz2gOsdiWYt 
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“Living Legendz” Telling OUR STORY, RECORDING OUR PATH” l Filmmaker, Nicholle La Vann

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

WITNESSES FROM THE BRIDGE Series

 

      Filmmaker, Nicholle La Vann

 “Living Legendz” Telling OUR STORY, RECORDING OUR PATH”

 March 30, 2013      10pm ET  LIVE and CALL-In

    “WITNESSES FROM THE BRIDGE”

                      “They came to Change a Nation and Lift Up A People”

                                   The Women of the Black Power Movement

 ABOUT ” Living Legendz” and Award-Winning Filmmaker, Nicholle La Vann

 FREEDOM and JUSTICE WARRIOR

“Living Legendz” is documentary that highlights the lives of Abiodun Oyewole, Dr. Leonard Jeffries and Jamal Joseph and their contributions to their community and culture.

“Living Legendz”  The documentary series explores the lives of African and Latino American icons. So much of Black and Latino history has been lost or not documented leaving others to tell our stories.

The filmmaker, Nicholle La Vann, says, ” It is my responsibility to be that keeper of our history and provide a platform where their lives and accomplishments can be heard.”

La Vann is a an award winning filmmaker with a Master of Fine Arts from the City University of New York in Media Arts Production. As an artist of visual culture, Nicholle is interested in the intersection between the digital environment and media social issues. As a video artist, she focuses on the impact of injustice and youth development while integrating related factors such as poverty. Nicholle’s interest continues to be in the area of facilitating dialogues between people. Which mean challenging existing assumptions as well as searching for new ways of addressing current issues.  La Vann continues to give back through teaching documentary workshops in New York City and Toronto and screenings that provide feedback discussions with audiences.

She is a warrior storyteller with a modern day weapon. Recording the best of our aspirations in the 21st Century.

She notes that, “Too much emphasis has been put on our appearance and not enough on our mindset.  It is my goal to inspire audiences of all races with a special interest on my own. The amount of knowledge that children learn in school is not always accurate nor true, depending on where the source comes from.”

Living Legendz is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of Living Legendz must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Your contributions in support of this project are appreciated.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/living-legendz

about Filmdress Filmz

 Filmstress Filmz is a creative multimedia production company specializing in social marketing.  We work with an array of agencies, corporations and non-profit organizations, and government agencies to build and educate cause marketing campaigns through a wide range of video productions. Our  work includes Public Service Announcements (PSAs), documentary shorts, music videos and internet streaming video.  Our projects address social issues rarely heard in mainstream media. We offer broadcast quality media for television, community screenings, fundraisers, presentations, conferences, film festivals and workshops. 

Join us in this conversation with Filmmater, Nicholle La Van about  this important recording of our history and storyteller, a  contemporary warrior in Black History.

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Three Ways to Consider Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” l Amy Alexander

SUNDAY, JANUARY 6, 2013

Three Ways to Consider Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”

Two weeks after it opened,  “Django Unchained”continues kicking up a windstorm of commentary, critiques and rants.  It has also earned more than$100 million at the domestic box office, not exactly small change for a spectacularly complicated film that opened at the height of the Christmas season.

I’d read the reviews in The New York Times and other outlets and sat it out, opting for a Christmas holiday free of blood-splatters.  During the film’s first week, I followed and sometimes chimed in on the discussions that clogged my social media channels. Many of the writers, academics and media folks who are the core of my network expressed — sometimes in heated language — widely diverging opinions about the movie.  Insummary:

— Tarantino foolishly makes light of the horrors of slavery. (Susan Fales Hill.)
— Tarantino delivered a liberating revenge fantasy, disturbing but legitimate (TaRessa Stovall.)
— Tarantino wrongly suggests that an eye-for-an-eye philosophy would have been an acceptable antidote to slavery, i.e., slaves or former slaves killing whites in retribution. (William Jelani Cobb)
— Tarantino is talented but woefully immature. (Me.)

Now that I’ve watched it, here are two points on the film, brief analysis on the buzz surrounding the film, and observations on the filmmaker’s comments about how and why he made it.

1) Story
“Django Unchained” is a love story wrapped in an action-packed revenge fantasy set against the backdrop of slavery in the Deep South and in the Southwest.

Or is it?

As a postmodern, edgy action movie, it is wildly successful. As a love story it is weakened by excesses that Tarantino either didn’t notice, failed to reign in, or willfully created. As a revenge fantasy-cum-commentary on racism, it succeeds moderately.   There are strained metaphors and over-long scenes that hamper the action  (Fales Hill, for example, quite astutely noted the ‘hamfisted’ inclusion a reference to Wagner’s “The Ring Cycle,”  within the plot).  But the  biggest story deficit is that the film’s spine — it’s core meaning — isn’t clear. Is it foremost a love story? A revenge fantasy? A buddy film? Tarantino’s reputation as an enfant terrible of modern film auteurs springs from his ability to produce jarring, swift acts of violence, unexpected moments of tenderness, and black humor laced with creative explosions of colorfully profane language.

All are present here, but given the incendiary frame (slavery, the ultimate third-rail in American cultural politics), identifying the genuine point of the story is difficult. Tarantino’s biggest weakness as a filmmaker (in my book) has long been his inability or unwillingness to honor the tradition of linear cinematic storytelling, i.e., plots that have clearly defined beginnings, mid-sections, and endings. His elliptical style, in which flashbacks and future developments pop up randomly, swing around and double back on each other, sometimes at a dizzying pace (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction”) is used, I believe, as something of a dodge: He may indeed be capable of writing a linear narrative and simply elects not to. But as I view his catalog, Tarantino is more interested in encouraging incipient ADHD in the audience than in steadily building our investment in the characters, in cultivating a gradual, creeping tension as plot developments logically unfold. (No, I am neither inflexible or inherently opposed to ‘non-traditional’ storytelling tactics, I merely prefer the former method and Tarantino has yet to produce a film that  has this flow.)  The story within “Django Unchained” is obscured; it takes a back seat to the main theme that Tarantino is promoting — blacks avenging the cruelties of slavery. That is not a ‘story,’ it is a political statement.

2) Artistry

Other reviewers — film scholars and smart movie-goers alike — have correctly identified the film’s obvious homage to the “Spaghetti Westerns” of Sergio Leone.  Unmentioned, though, is its liberal borrowing of motifs from a host of other films and filmmakers, including Hitchcock, John Ford,  Gordon Parks, Mel Brooks, and in a fleeting reference, David O. Selznick. Taken individually, the references to Leone, Hitchcock, Parks, and to Brooks are not problematic.  Collectively though, they diminish the opportunity for a truly original film that might have been enhanced by deploying fewer (or by a more subtle deployment) of references to past films or other genres. As it is, the driving artistic feature of “Django’ is that it is a mash-up, however slick, visceral and humorously drawn the total sum of its parts.

There are liberal doses of Peckinpah in the grisly images of spurting blood and rending limbs; reminders of Parks in the many shots of  Django’s quick-draw skills and bad-ass lines of dialog; hints of Ford in the back-lit, sillhouettes or heroic shots of Jamie Foxx’s Django swaggering away from the camera framed by looming mountain ranges;  big splashes of Hitchock in Django’s intense, tunnel vision focus on rescuing Kerry Washington’s Brunhilda, a character who serves as the proverbial ‘McGuffin’ — that item or person identified by the Master of Suspense as the driving momentum of a plot (really, Brunhilda in “Django’ may as well have been a mysterious uranium formula, a la Cary Grant’s and Ingrid Bergman’s ‘McGuffin’ in ‘Notorious”). The scene in which the Klansmen — led by Don Johnson’s character —  disagree over their hoods is an updating of the bandit’s ‘beans for dinner’ scene in “Blazing Saddles” — unexpected, hilarious and decidedly un-PC.

And the appearance, mid-way through the second reel, of the word “Mississippi” in all-caps, slowly crawling (or is it ‘wiping?’) majestically across the screen from right-frame to left-frame, indicatingthe protagonist’s traveling into the Deep South is clearly a reference to Selznick’s “Gone With the Wind.” Much has been made of the possibility that Tarantino is attempting with “Django’ to reap a kind of cinematic payback upon that epic film and presumably other ‘Golden Age of Hollywood”  tales of the Old South in which blacks were portrayed as simpletons and victims. This may be the case and Tarantino and modern directors are of course welcome to update that hoary genre at will. Yet, while “Django” is indeed a ‘fun,’ moderately cathartic revenge fantasy-take on slavery, it is also ultimately a fairly cold-hearted film, unlike “Gone with the Wind.” Tarantino istremendously talented, and I enjoy his films — within limits. I do though eagerly await the moment when his output begins to show signs of genuine maturity, artistically and in the ability to explore the human condition with a stronger emphasis on compassion rather than cynicism. At least in “Django,’ Tarantino has improved on a basic skill of mainstream film auteurs — constructing mis en scene that is visually arresting, if ultimately in need of editing.

3) Buzz, Criticism, Tarantino’s Comments

As I said up top, lots of very smart people are chattering about “Django Unchained,” with most of the heat apparently arising from Tarantino’s decision to take on slavery. Part of the challenge — and I say this with all due respect to my peers! — is that academic experts in black studies are not necessarily experts on film, while film scholars are not usually known for their expertise on black American history. Thus, we’ve had a huge amount of teeth-gnashing in the media ecosystem about “Django Unchained,” but not very much in the way of genuinely useful analysis.

Even so, a common  point of contention is the violence and surfeit of images showing Washington’s character being whipped and of another slave character being ripped apart by dogs after attempting to escape.  These scenes are upsetting, although, yes, they are meant to be and they should be.  What is objectionable is Tarantino’s decision to return to them gratuitously in the second and in the final reel.  The fact that the characters use the word ‘nigger’ with abandon does not bother me — it is, after all, a story that unfolds in a era when that word was widely used.  What does rankle me is what appears to be the author’s insistence that he deserves a pass on his continued appropriation on black pain (as we have endured it throughout the brutal physical abuse of the antebellum era and in the deep psychological and emotional scarring that has accumulated in the decades since thanks to Jim Crow laws, and more recently, persistent, low-grade racism that permeates American institutions including corporations, the law, and education.) Also, Tarantino does not get a ‘ghetto-pass,’ just because he grew up among blacks in Southern California, or because his mom ‘dated Wilt Chamberlain,” as he recently disclosed in an interview. I don’t abide anyone using the word ‘nigger’ in conversation in my presence; and while Tarantino’s film characters are obviously fictional, it is not acceptable that he apparently believes that he has earned a license to continuously deploy that word and that he seems to have the impression that by doing so he is diminishing its power.  I argued nearly a decade ago that there was something sick about the proliferation of the phrase ‘ghetto-fabulous’ in popular media and culture and this appropriation of the word ‘nigger’ by Tarantino or other artists — black and white, truth be told — is in the same category of outsized entitlement and general Dumb Assery.

Moreover, I find Tarantino’s insistence that the gleeful depictions of over the top violence that he often highlights in his film are ‘fun’ to be terribly ill-considered.  Even Clint Eastwood — who rightly caught lots of hell for the splatter-fests that distinguished his “Dirty Harry’ films of the ’70s and ’80s — eventually gave up the argument that such violence didn’t have any negative impact on our national consciousness.  Eastwood grew out of such displays, likely in no small part because as he matured to fatherhood and grandfather-hood he could no longer justify producing films with the potential to negatively inform the behavior of individuals within his off-spring’s cohort.

On January 2, Terry Gross, the veteran host of  NPR’s “Fresh Air” published a riveting interview with Tarantino.  I am always rooting for artists, even those who produce high profile work that garners lots of press, generates high heat but which is often stubbornly flawed.  Tarantino, as I’ve said, is genuinely talented, and I root for his success. Yet his response to one of Gross’s questions was very troubling: Gross asked if Tarantino ever considers the the possibility that the violence and brutality in his films may have any connection to or influence over the mass shootings that have increased in the U.S. in the past decade, in particular, the recent horror of 20 dead children and six dead teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. Tarantino replies that he is ‘annoyed’ by such a question, and that even asking it is, ‘insulting to the memory’ of those who died at Sandy Hook Elementary.

If I were writing a script about a public figure who produces mass media designed to resonate with millions of viewers…..but who also denies that his product has lasting influence on any audience members, I would include a version of this interview.  It would take place in the beginning of the third reel, at the crucial moment when the protagonist finally receives profound enlightenment, matures, and finds the strength and maturity needed to infuse his mission with clarity of vision, the bright light of hope, and the beauty of compassion.

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Django Unchained & Tarantino’s Quest for the “N-word” Pass

January 2, 2013 | Filed under: African Americans,Culture,Featured,Pop culture | Posted by: Guest Author

By @Robtheidealist, Carleton College Law Student,

Originally posted on Orchestrated Pulse

The following is a two part series that examines Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Part 1 explores Tarantino’s approach to the film, while part 2 will explore the content. I’m writing these articles because media plays a pivotal role in cultural production. Django Unchained has real-world implications.

Both the racial representations in the film and the racialized audience receiving them are mutually constitutive. That is, audiences make active meaning of movies while movies are produced to engender what audiences desire and find relevant. Mathew Hughley “The White Savior Film and Reviewers’ Reception” 478

Legends are stories passed along and accepted as historical. Legends often serve as “myths” because in addition to being historical, these stories also function as a repository of cultural imaginings and practices.

A usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon- Webster

The cultural space of myth-making is a contested landscape. Historically, oppressive regimes have used violence to secure their power, and they like to tell their history as the myth of massacre and domination of powerless (read: inferior) foes. Even today, these same power interests work diligently to erase resistance practiced by marginalized groups, whether in the past or present. Through myths, revolutionary violence becomes an archetype of resistance alongside noncooperation and other nonviolent tactics. As with all archetypes, there is a spiritual significance in resistance myths. There is a sense of kinship and connection to the past as the myth informs marginalized people not just of who they were, but of who they are and who they may become. Each time these myths are told they not only erase the dominant narrative that marginalized people passively accepted subjugation, but the myth also arouses the contemporary revolutionary imagination, thus threatening existing power relations.

Unfortunately, I believe that Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” is a myth that does more harm than good. First, I want to make a few things clear. I have no problem with myths of revolutionary violence, and I don’t automatically object to White people telling and/or experimenting with those stories. In fact, I was very excited about Tarantino’s film until I saw the trailer this past summer.

via Race-Talk | A Kirwan Institute Project.