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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Watch 4 New Clips from the Jesse Owens Film, RACE

Is it just me or have there been, like, no commercials about RACE, the upcoming film that tells the story of Olympic track and field star Jesse Owens? Seriously, what's up with that? I was just telling a group of friends that this movie is coming out this month (February 19, to be exact), and they hadn't even heard about it. But yet, I've seen about a trillion Zoolander 2 commercials. I see you, Hollywood, and I ain't feeling it.

Thankfully, Focus Features has just released three new clips from the film to whet your appetite. Check 'em out:

Look out for my review on this film prior to its release later this month. To read the synopsis of the film, see my previous post

Monday, February 8, 2016

Natasha Parks: What It's Really Like to be a WoC Film Critic (Blog Series)

One day, probably five years ago, I decided to start an experiment. I go to the movies pretty often, so I started to pay attention to notice the people around me in the theater. I wanted to see how many people like the same movies I like, how old these people were, what ethnicity they were. And I was shocked at what I concluded. Most of the time, I share a theater with middle-aged white men. They are the people I run into most at the movies. Mind you, I tend to like superhero movies, crime/suspense movies, science fiction movies, and romcoms (romantic comedies, they are my favorite), so that probably would be considered normal. But it still surprises me that on several occasions, it has been me… and several other middle aged-white men.

I decided to look at reviews of movies I liked. The one thing I kept running into was that none of the critics I found looked like me. All of the reviews I saw were written by white men. Occasionally, I would run across a woman writing but that too was rare. I didn’t get it. Is their opinion the only one anybody cares about? I knew that was not true. Because I cared.

You see, when I decide to see a film, I don’t care whether it’s a “black” film, a “white” film or a “whatever color” film-- or whatever label people choose to put on it. I care about the story. That’s it. This, in my opinion, would make me a better person to give a review of a film. Most of the time, the critics I see (mainly white) will see a “black” film and they will let some of their biases seep through the whole review. And think it’s okay to stereotype the film as “urban” or “street” because they feel like they can’t connect with the story. I think minority film critics are able to connect to the real heart of a story better, because most of the time, they are not biased. They already know they won’t see a minority in the film so they can pay attention to the story.

Trying to break into film criticism is a large task, because of all the reasons above. There has been no color for so long; it’s hard to change the mindset. But I don’t think that should stop efforts for more diversity. If anything, it should make it more necessary. But as we have seen from the uproar these past few weeks about this year's Oscar nominations, we have a long way to go.

Here is a prime example of how long of a way we have to go. I get approached from various online publications to write reviews. I welcome them, and am so appreciative to get approached. On more than one occasion, online publications with a lack of color in their writers have approached me to review a film with a majority black cast. Mind you, just because the film's cast is predominantly black does not mean that I will want to see it. But I saw the films for them and reviewed them. On every occasion, my review never got published. Why? As a writer, you know I am thinking my writing is horrible, that I am the worst writer in the world, that I should have just said no to them (life of a writer). But I decided to submit the reviews to other publications, with a little more color in their writers. They got published. Now what, you may ask, was the difference? The reviews I wrote weren’t glowing, but they weren’t bad either, because the films were good films. I went back to check the “no color” publications to see if the reviews that got picked over mine were good. They were all scathing reviews of the same black films. Not one good review. Even though, all these films had gotten glorious reviews everywhere else. I was speechless for probably a week, meaning I couldn’t write anything for that whole week. But when I got back to writing, my mission was clearer.

Natasha Parks
After that day, I decided my opinions are out there and will stay out there. Maybe nobody cares to read it, but it’s at least there. And I will support any and all that join me. Because we have to. If we don’t make a sound, they don’t know we’re here.

Natasha Parks is an entertainment blogger who loves all things television, film, and books. And cupcakes. Can’t forget those. You can follow her on twitter @mwishesbdreams and on her website

For more information on this blog series, click here.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Let's Look at Some Big Movie Trailers During the Super Bowl, Shall We?

I know, I know. I'm sure many of you may be watching the Super Bowl to actually catch the football game. But us film nerds are tuning in to watch the commercials and--let's face it--the exclusive film spots. I've got my hands on a few them coming your way in 3...2....

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (in theaters and IMAX March 11):

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2 (in theaters June 3):

DEADPOOL (in theaters February 12):


X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (in theaters May 27):

Saturday, February 6, 2016

"We Don't Need to Seek Acceptance From Anyone"

With the possibility of Straight Outta Compton getting nominated for a Best Picture Oscar now null and void, it was great to see the film receive top honors at Friday night's NAACP Image Award ceremony. The win capped off a beautiful evening that was not only about awarding excellence on the big and small screens; it also underscored the importance of recognizing people of color in Hollywood.

But the Image Awards aren't "the response to #OscarsSoWhite," and they're not a trending topic (to borrow Viola Davis's analogy) that merely contributes to the ongoing conversation about diversity and inclusion in Hollywood. The Image Awards, like the Alma Awards and the Asian Film Awards, have not been around for years to pick up the Oscars' slack. They exist to honor their own. Period. And if the Oscars ever decide to honor non-white actors on a permanent basis, these awards will still be around. Because, as Taraji P. Henson, winner of Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series (Empire), stated: "We don’t need to ask for acceptance from anyone. We are enough, we’ve been enough and we always will be enough."

Stanley Nelson's The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, took home the trophy for best documentary (sadly beating out my pick, What Happened, Miss Simone?), while Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Sanaa Lathan (The Perfect Guy), O’Shea Jackson, Jr., (Straight Outta Compton) and Phylicia Rashad (Creed) took home awards for their performances.

To see the complete list of winners, visit the NAACP Image Awards website.

Friday, February 5, 2016

On Indie Romcoms, The Duvernay Test, and ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG

It was Viola Davis who commented about the lack of substantial roles as love interests for women of color on the big screen. They're often prostitutes, sexual victims, or practically asexual (meaning, their characters help the protagonist--a white woman--with her romantic dilemmas with no sexual desires of her own). It's preposterous.

That said, I love that Jamie Chung plays the romantic lead in ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG, a film she also co-executive produced with her real-life hubby and co-star, Bryan Greenberg. I also love that Davis, Chung and other WoC in Hollywood are taking matters into their own hands by creating their own films and narratives (Davis even has a film production company). Chung partnered with writer/director Emily Ting on a story that lends itself pretty closely to Richard Linklater's Before series in that it focuses on the dialogue between two strangers flirting with ideals on love, companionship, and ambition.

We see that familiar and very white narrative unfold between an interracial pair in ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG, except this time it's infused with cultural nuances that, while they don't reinvent the wheel, offer a fresh perspective. Take for instance, the fact that Ruby (Chung) is the fish-out-of-water American visiting Hong Kong for the first time, and Josh (Greenberg) is the white American living in Hong Kong for the past decade, who shows her around town. Too often it's been the other way around where the Asian woman who lives in the non-American city, doesn't speak any English, and falls for the mysterious (and culturally tone deaf) white American (this is is, of course, if the Asian female character isn't playing a sex worker).

Another intriguing aspect of the film is that Ting is unafraid to approach dialogue that doesn't avoid the fact that the two have different ethnicities and are enveloped in an open conversation where comments like "Oh, you have an Asian girl fetish?" aren't out of place. In fact, they're completely appropriate given the narrative.

But it takes a lot more than diverse romantic leads and authentic dialogue to make a great film. PoC characters don't automatically legitimize a film. Though the conversation around "The Duvernay Test" (named after filmmaker Ava Duvernay), which challenges Hollywood to cast actors of color in substantive roles, is an important one to have, we must still advocate for characters that are interesting and three-dimensional. Sadly, ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG is just not enough--even with its commitment to depicting society as it really is: diverse. Both Ruby and Josh are underdeveloped and we don't feel invested in their characters outside of the conversation that's driving the plot. For a romantic comedy starring a real-life couple, it remarkably left me quite cold.

I want to see more of Jamie Chung on the big screen, and I am intrigued enough by Ting's passion for the project to be interested to see what she does next. But I'm all set with this project. 

ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG opens in theaters and On Demand February 12.

Rating: C

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Everyone is Infected in the New Trailer for CABIN FEVER

So, as it turns out, horror comedy CABIN FEVER doesn't look like it's going to be all that funny. Judging by the new trailer, there's nary a joke in sight. Twenty-something-year-old nitwits populate a cabin in the middle of nowhere and start coming down with the heebie-jeebies. And s**t hits the fan from then on.

Check it out:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ashlee Blackwell: What It's Really Like to be a WoC Film Critic (Blog Series)

Jada Pinkett Smith in a scene from Scream 2

Ashlee Blackwell, founder of Graveyard Shift Sisters, shares her experience covering black women representation in the horror genre:

I had spent my lifetime thinking very intensely about films I was passionate about. I commonly kept those thoughts inside my vessel because when I exercised this nerdy endeavor in front of others, it was commonly met with odd looks of disdain. What I understood early on in my most fragile of formative years was that horror was the stepchild you only brought out of the basement when company left your home. The exuberance it gave me did nothing for my social IQ, and without any desire to “fit in,” I kept my love of the genre confined to my head and television on the weekends.

This intensity helped me produce some of my best papers in college and not long after, check out the virtual activity of blogging. In the beginning, I knew I had a lot to say about the horror films I loved, and realized that my approach to film criticism was slightly different. Looking back, I saw my written work as both intimate explorations and assertions for a particular film’s merits. This was done with much fervor. Because horror films, although numerous books, articles, and essays were written about the genre and have great fans doing the same, weren’t taken seriously. It was comments from acquaintances and random people who told me my approach was something special that propelled me to do more. I was channeling all of the energy that I had built up since a child with no social outlet for my horror fandom and using this as a space for its release.

It wasn’t until I began Graveyard Shift Sisters that my voice as a film critic became a bit more refined. This was the natural next step in my evolution because as a black woman, I was starting to become discontent with the lack of dialogue on or visual representation of women of color in horror and wanted to do more than focus on our victimhood in these narratives. I imagined that there was more of a variety of our history in the genre and the importance of highlighting characters and stories that moved beyond stereotypes, addressed them, or mirrored them with alternative perspectives.

As a black woman film critic, it was even more imperative for me to do a lot of research if I was going to challenge popular notions of black representation in horror cinema. I also wanted to add my personal touch; what scares me and who were the characters and their traits that I vulnerably and confidently saw in myself. It was how films had always resonated with me, but I could now add how, when, and why the image of a black woman in these narratives was important to examine within the spectrum of history.

Initially, I wanted to connect with Zena from The Real Queen of Horror and Penna of Pixie’s Horror Galore, being as they are the only two black women horror film bloggers out there I was aware of when Graveyard Shift Sisters was birthed in October 2013. Their enthusiasm for the genre was exciting and gave me the extra push to niche out my own little corner of horror film criticism. With their work in mind, I cannot stress how important Twitter has been to my perception of film and influence. It is my daily interaction with and observation of other women of color who genuinely love horror that hold nothing back with their critiques and praises. I’m so thankful for their presence and their voices because they help me understand that I was never alone and expand the perceptions of horror film criticism.

I never wanted to be, and still don’t think I am, “the voice of” or “authority” on anything necessarily as I more so see my work as a film critic like the dissertation that’ll never get me a Ph.D. (because I’m still very much an academic at heart). I offer a portion of horror film criticism that celebrates the overlooked roles of black women for far too long. With many more independent women of color filmmakers creating speculative films, this is an exciting time to be in a film critic division where race and gender are interlocked, embraced, and addressed on multiple levels. I am thrilled about the possibilities of looking at more film projects where their creativity brings something fresh to the horror genre and hopefully, are given the recognition they richly deserve.

Ashlee Blackwell is the creator, head writer, and managing editor of Graveyard Shift Sisters, a
Ashlee Blackwell
blog dedicated to highlighting women of color in the horror and science fiction genres. She’s a BA/MLA graduate of Temple University and has written for Shock Til You Drop, Paracinema, Shadow And Act, and Black Girl Nerds. Additionally, she serves as an Associate Editor of Ax Wound magazine and works closely with the international movement, Women in Horror Month.

Follow Ashlee on social media: Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram.

For more information on this blog series, click here.

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