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‘American Son’ Sheds Light on Being Black in America

by Kimberly Jones

American Son, originally a Broadway play turned short film, debuted on Netflix this past
weekend. The film stars Emmy Award-nominated actress Kerry Washington as Kendra Ellis-Connor searching for information about her son while dealing with a failed interracial marriage. Washington stars opposite Steven Pasquale who plays her estranged husband Scott Connor, an FBI agent and a member of a military family with the utmost respect for all members of law enforcement.

The entire film takes place in a waiting area of the Miami police precinct when the couple’s
eighteen-year-old son goes missing after an incident with a police officer. Although the identity of Connors’s son Jamal was never revealed, the dialogue through the entire film gave a good back story into who Jamal was. A young man with a good head on his shoulders in search of his identity trying to navigate through young adulthood.

American Son told the story of being black in America from different perspectives while also dissecting many layers of issues people of color experience daily. The fact that the Connors were in an interracial marriage added to the complexity of the issues the couple was facing. Kendra (Washington) could relate to Jamal more because she understands the relationship between black men and cops, and how one wrong move can be fatal and life-changing. Her husband Scott (Pasquale), on the other hand, is arrogant and ignorant when it comes to race relations. Both parents agree that they did what was best for their son and provided him with the tools to survive in the real world. The breakdown is that the couple had two very different versions of survival, Scott worries that his son’s friends are having a negative effect on him and doesn’t want Jamal to represent himself as“too urban”.

courtesy of Netflix

Perhaps the most stand out moment of the film is when Scott reveals that he doesn’t even like his son’s name. He is blinded by his ignorance. ‘Jamal’ is a black name and he never liked it but went along with Kendra’s decision. This further confirms some of the mother’s concerns about her son and how his own father can judge him just from his name alone. During a conversation Kendra has an epiphany about her marriage and asks Scott, why did he approach her when they first met? She questioned his reasoning for wanting to pursue a relationship with a black woman at all, especially since Scott’s new girlfriend is white. He quickly reassures Kendra that he sincerely cared for her and that the new girlfriend did not mean much to him. The situation with Jamal led them to have this difficult yet necessary conversation.

The overall message in the film is that no matter where a child is raised or what fancy schools he or she may attend – when that child is out in the world, the only thing that matters is skin color. There is basically no way to prepare for discrimination and life-threatening situations that may arise at any time for a black person in America. It can also be difficult for white people to understand how severe police brutality is. It is not something that is blown out of proportion, it is a very real problem.

The film left audiences with a somber tone and feeling defeated. Perfectly titled American Son, this is a very familiar tragic story that we see in headlines all the time. This is a reminder that there is no such thing as equal justice in our country.

American Son is now available for streaming. You can watch the trailer below.

Reviews

Review: ‘Antebellum’ – a Racial Horror That Misses The Mark

written by Kimberly Jones

Based on the previews, many viewers, myself included, expected Antebellum to be a mix between Jordan Peele’s Get Out and HBO’s latest hit series Lovecraft Country. With this concept and Janelle Monae leading the cast what could go wrong? A lot. Although Monae did a good job bringing her character to life, ultimately, the horror film missed the mark.

Antebellum is Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz‘s directorial debut. Its opening scene takes place on a Louisiana plantation where a woman named Eden (played by Monae) is captured after an escape attempt and is strapped to the back of a horse. On the other side of the plantation, a couple is being tortured – a man is in shackles, and a woman is hunted down and noosed. These images are used for shock value – it is hard to watch but at the same time, it keeps the viewer intrigued.

In this storyline, prior to being kidnapped, enslaved, and renamed, Eden is a successful scholar Veronica Henley. She is also a mother and a brilliant public speaker. Veronica is an intelligent, powerful woman who speaks out against injustices and unapologetically owns her blackness. She has a very public platform and acts as a commentator and activist which makes her a target for her abductors.

While in Louisiana on her latest book tour, Veronica goes out with her girlfriends Dawn (Empire’s Gabourey Sidibe) and Sarah (Lily Cowles, Roswell New Mexico). The three catch up and indulge in girl talk. Sidibe is a much needed addition to the story with her quick wit and one-liners. After the night out, on her Uber ride back, Veronica is kidnapped by the rideshare driver, a woman named Elizabeth (Jena Malone, Hunger Games).

Eden eventually finds herself in a group of others who suffered the same fate. Now enslaved, she is looked upon as the strong one because of her accomplishments and her platform. She, however, is hesitant to take on the role of a leader. A desperate young woman named Julia (Kiersey Clemons, Lady and the Tramp) approaches Eden in hopes that she can save them all. Eden is mentally worn down, and after a failed first attempt to escape, she is just terrified to try it again.

Directors Bush and Renz fail to connect with the audience through Black trauma. Certainly, there have been plenty of movies that portrayed slavery. The scenes in Antebellum, however, are too graphic. In one of them, for instance, Eden is being branded by one of her masters. It is hard to watch, and, as some expressed, unnecessary.

In the end, Veronica manages to flee the horror of Antebellum, which, we learn in the last scene, is a Civil War reenactment park located in Louisiana. Although her escape was meant to bring this story to a conclusion, we were left with many unanswered questions. Despite that, Monae did a great job carrying the film. Although I found the storyline to be weak and lacking character development, she was able to deliver an overall good performance.

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Film

Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ Review: A Rare Look at Black American Heroes

written by Kimberly Jones

Spike Lee’s newest joint Da 5 Bloods tells the story of four Black vets who return to Vietnam years after they served to collect the remains of their dear friend and former commander Norman (Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman), and to recover the gold they buried there years ago.

The cinematography in the opening scene alone leaves the audience instantly intrigued and at the same time overwhelmed. A compilation of images and clips of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, protests in the streets of the US and injured children in Vietnam are all eerily similar to the images we are still looking at today.

Paul, the self-professed “leader” of the group, played by Delroy Lindo (known from his iconic roles in Crooklyn and Malcolm X) returns to work with Lee for the fourth time. Otis (Clarke Peters from HBO’s The Wire), Eddie (Norm Lewis, Scandal), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr., The Wire) are having a long-overdue reunion with their bond and brotherhood still intact. Paul, the wild card of the group, commands the screen in every scene. He has several irrational outbursts throughout the film, as he suffers from PTSD but still is in denial about the severity of the situation. Paul is confrontational the majority of the film but he is also comical – him playing a Black Trump supporter wearing the MAGA hat and campaigning for “the wall” is pure comedy. His personality comes off as a little cold and selfish because he only cares about himself and about getting his hands on the buried gold that he feels he is entitled to. Paul has been hardened by life and it shows in his attitude and actions towards his “brothers”.

Da 5 Bloods is unique in the way that it takes viewers on an emotional roller coaster through the raw emotions of Black men dealing with grief and family struggles, and their difficult journey to find closure. Paul’s estranged son David (Jonathan Majors from HBO’s Lovecraft Country) unexpectedly shows up and adds to his father’s stress – the two have a strained relationship. David grew up feeling like an orphan, his mother died in childbirth and he always felt that his father blamed him for her death. Otis returned to a major surprise – he had a daughter that he had never met. Because she was biracial, his daughter was disowned by her family and her community. Sadly, racism and the war had robbed Otis of the precious time with his now adult daughter.

The buried gold in the movie represents what was owed to these soldiers for serving a country that never honored them. Not only were they not honored as veterans but as black men in America. They fought a war in Vietnam and returned only to fight a war at home. Eddie even brought up the idea that the gold should be used as reparations for Black Americans. Lee used this as a reference to the 40 acres and a mule, a post-Civil War promise that was made to Black Americans but never fulfilled. Paul quickly shuts this idea down, however. This is something that is owed to him personally, and he does not have the slightest intention of sharing it with anybody.

Some scenes included flashbacks to the Vietnam war. Lee did not use younger actors for these scenes, which is somewhat confusing and very unrealistic. Watching these older actors active in war scenes is awkward and takes away from the authenticity of the scene because it is distracting. Lee may have chosen this route because he wanted to portray these men as present-day heroes. Unfortunately, this may not have been the best choice for the audience.

Da 5 Bloods is a complex story that explores the effects of war on Black soldiers. This was long overdue since war blockbusters in Hollywood do not usually focus on these types of stories. This tale of brotherhood is a balanced mix of politics, humor, heroism, patriotism and sorrow. Lee brought his vision to life successfully with great visuals, performances and, of course, with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? as the soundtrack. Although the album came out in 1971, the lyrics are relevant to our world today.

Spike Lee always has a unique way of telling black stories and giving voices to the voiceless. This film is no different. Da 5 Bloods could not have come at a better time. With the current climate in our country, this story can get the attention that Black servicemen deserve.

Da 5 Bloods is now streaming on Netflix.

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Reviews

Film Review: “All Day and a Night”: A Tragic Tale of Generational Curses

by KIMBERLY JONES

All Day and a Night is the directorial debut for Joe Robert Cole best known for co-writing the Marvel box office hit Black Panther. The film centers around a young man Jahkor (Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders) and his transition into adulthood growing up in Oakland. Jahkor was raised in an unstable household. His father James “JD” (played by Emmy winner Jeffrey Wright) was abusive and constantly in and out of jail for his drug and gang activity. He was now serving life in prison. As a young boy Jahkor even witnessed his father murder a young man in broad daylight. His mother Delanda (Kelly Jenrette) was verbally abused by JD repeatedly. She tried to protect young Jahkor from his father’s violent outbursts but was often unsuccessful.

Ashton Sanders & Kelly Jenrette/ All Day and a Night, Netflix

From the beginning of his life, Jahkor seemed to be on an inevitable path of self-destruction which, ultimately, led him behind bars. Sanders does a great job bringing to life the raw emotions of a misguided, broken, and frustrated young man. Like in the car scene, for example, Jahkor’s breakdown reveals that everything he’s been carrying is wearing him down.

In one of the most outstanding scenes of the film Jahkor says, “slavery taught black people how to survive but not live. And that’s what we pass on to each other. My father taught me how to take my fucked-up life out on everyone else.” Cole uses a powerful choice of words to draw a connection between slavery and the survival mentality that was passed down to Jahkor, which is a generational curse. All his life, he did whatever he could to survive but was never taught how to live. Jahkor never got the chance to see the world beyond his Oakland neighborhood. He could not even make plans for the future.

As a result of his traumatic upbringing, Jahkor struggles with anger issues. The film opens with him violently killing a couple. By doing so, he falls into the fate he so desperately wanted to escape. Jahkor never wanted to follow his father’s footsteps. Like many young men in his neighborhood, he had dreams of becoming a rapper and making an honest living. Unfortunately, he was now repeating the cycle. We clearly see a parallel between JD and Jahkor – both struggling with anger, lacking communication skills, and operating in survival mode.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Big Stunna / All Day and a Night, Netflix

In need of fast cash, Jahkor turns to the neighborhood drug dealer Big Stunna (Watchmen’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and agrees to eliminate one of his enemies, Malcolm (Stephen Barrington). The assignment is also personal for Jahkor – Malcolm sold drugs to his father and he resented him for it. And so he goes through with it (the murdered couple at the beginning of the film is Malcolm and his girlfriend) and lands in jail. Now in prison, Jahkor has time to reflect on his life and relationship with his father JD who is locked up in the same facility.

After they reunite, however, we rarely see a genuine connection between JD and Jahkor. It would have been great to see a breakthrough between the two at the end. Despite this, one thing is certain – JD has regrets about how his son’s life turned out. He wanted the best for Jakhor but did not know how to provide that.

Cole does a good job of telling a familiar story with an added spin – having the father and son in prison together. Showing them build a stronger bond in bondage, which is also a reflection of modern-day slavery. Sadly, the cycle is likely to be repeated. While in prison, Jahkor and his girlfriend Shantaye’s (Shakira Ja-nai Paye) son is born. Another young boy will grow up in an unstable home and an absent father.

Ashton Sanders & Shakira Ja-nai Paye as Shantaye / All Day and a Night, Netflix

All Day and a Night is a cautionary tale that is too often a reality for people who grow up in poverty and dysfunction. In one of the last scenes we see a flashback to younger JD, holding his infant son and saying, “Watch. He gon’ rise above all the bullshit we struggle with out here.” Then, Cole takes us to the final shot of adult Jahkor and his father, sitting together in the prison yard. Sadly, sometimes there is really no way of escaping a generational curse.

You can stream All Day and a Night on Netflix.

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