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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.

Film & Television

“Concrete Cowboy” Movie Review: Taking the Scenic Route Through Netflix’s Newest Addition

written by Betti Halsell

Ricky Staub’s Concrete Cowboy unearths multiple traumas,  both in the broadening range of African-American culture and the complex circumstances of Black men and their perspective within a household setting. 

The film opens up with Cole (Caleb McLaughlin), a 15-year old boy sitting outside the principal’s office. His face bruised and bleeding from a fight he had with another kid – a moment that keeps repeating itself. His mother arrives, looking more discouraged as if she’s been called to the principal’s office one too many times herself.

Cole is a kid unable to see the consequences of his personal choices. He is full of anger and entitlement. Being a child from a broken home, he leads his life with the “right” to act out. His mother, unable to come up with another excuse for her son’s behavior, sees that Cole stays with his father for the summer in Philadelphia. This might sound like a familiar pivot to a teen-angst-driven film, but here is where things get interesting – the 15-year-old finds himself staring at the truth of his reality, coming straight from the horse’s mouth.

His father (played by Idris Elba) takes him in, and the two of them seem to forge an understanding through hardships and repeated history, a not-so-far-off truth between Black fathers and their sons that are looking to become men, Cole comes from a line of Black horse riders that live in the city.

The cinematography captures breathtaking landscapes and frameworks that seem almost otherworldly. Although the movie captivates the audience with its raw truth of reality, many people may know nothing about. Some questions that needed further explanation were left unanswered, for example, how old was Cole when his parents separated and he moved away from Philidelphia? Or when did Cole develop his summer fling when he returned to the city ranch?

Survival is the common denominator in the movie and its message, which spells out how lack of resources affects the living conditions and the quality of a person’s life and their community. 

In Concrete Cowboy, Stranger Things‘ Mclaughlin introduces the viewers to a wider acting range while playing Cole. British chameleon Elba plays Harp, Cole’s father. He also produced the film. Other cast includes Jharrel Jerome as Cole’s childhood best friend Smush, Lorraine Toussaint as the community’s ‘mother,’ Nessie, and rapper Method Man as town sheriff Leroy.

Staub highlights the Black cowboy community through this project. Reports say the director stumbled upon the culture after seeing a man on a horse in Philadelphia. He then researched the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, which led him to Greg Neri’s book, Ghetto Cowboy

The truth behind this movie leaves the audience enamored, and the images of beauty found in the concrete prairie of Philadelphia are masterpieces. The sunsets and the grading of color are painted effortlessly as if the setting was no longer the city but rather the natural breeding ground for a cowboy to lay his hat.

Concrete Cowboy is now available for streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer below.

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Film

Eddie Murphy’s ‘Coming 2 America’- Movie Review

by Betty Halsell

Coming 2 America unearthed bejeweled life lessons, sewn in with the fabrics of true love. It touched on blended families, racism, feminism, and just a touch of true passion and diplomatic change. Paramount Pictures, New Republic Pictures, Eddie Murphy Productions, and  Misher Films carefully groomed this sequel to sit on the throne as the next American classic.

Coming 2 America is the true royal oat to the 1988 narrative. The movie picks up 30 years later, back in Zamunda. The future king Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his beloved wife, Lisa (Shari Headley), arise to their three daughters wishing them a happy anniversary. It is important for there to be a male heir to carry out the patriotic rule of the country in royal families, this was something Prince Akeem assumed he failed at accomplishing. However, to his surprise, a royal oat was sewn, Lavelle Johnson (Jermaine Fowler) sprouted back in the land of Queens.

Prince Akeem soon becomes king, and with the new crown, comes new weight. Coming 2 America presented real scenarios like a blended family, Queen Lisa and Levelle’s mother (Leslie Jones) were vastly different but found common ground.

The movie touched on the rule of tradition that overshadows the change for the future, as Meeka (Kiki Lane) eldest royal daughter, watched her dreams of being Queen fade away as soon as there was talk of a son. Women in Zamunda spoke of owning their own business, but solemnly knew according to Zamunda Law, it was not possible. The sequel presented each problem smoothly – they were serious issues, without political heaviness.

Getting into the design and feel of Zamunda, one could assume the wealth of this country is on the highest scale. They pulled from both African and African-American cultures. The entrances of General Izzy (Wesley Snipes) paralleled ‘stepping’ from Black fraternities/sororities (think stomp the yard every time General Izzy entered the scene.) The costumes were curated by Oscar award-winning Ruth E. Carter, who was the designer behind Wakanda’s sense of fashion.

Although there wasn’t an official breakdown of what African tribes inspired Carter, she is known to pull from South Africa, using African lace, symbols, and their traditional headdress as statement pieces. Each character presented a unique style, Prince Lavelle interpreted the royal stride and attire to fit his personal taste of swag and cadence. All the intricate nuances that make up Black culture were joined with the vivacious origins of African heritage, which was a beautiful marriage of its own. Also, the athletic brand Puma was spotted making their renditions of African-inspired gear in the movie.

The sequel upheld the presence of being over the top like the 1980s original, with a dash of new flavor, giving it a different soulful bite. There were quick peeks into places that made the classic movie the crowned jewel that it is, such as McDowell’s fast food eatery, adding “healthier options.” The ingenious characters Murphy created were peppered throughout the film effortlessly.

Nostalgic cameo appearances throughout the journey were made the singing royal announcer Oha (Paul Bates), Morris and Clarence from the barbershop(Arsenio Hall and Murphy), the womanizing pastor Reverend Brown (Hall), the arranged betrothed Imani Izzy (Vanessa Bell Calloway), and Randy “Sexual Chocolate” Watson (Murphy) all played into the new story of royalty.

Love expanded as the root of the story, planting different seeds where it was needed. The affection between a son and his mother who raised him, the love of tradition and family honor, and how love can also be the seed for change. Throughout the movie, Prince Akeem once again evolves to another version of himself, bringing along his country to a new level of progression.

The credits had a few sparks as well, with much-wanted bloopers and an unexpected musical artist doing the cover of the endearing serenade, ” She’s Your Queen.” Much like the 1988 original, the sequel was light-hearted but tackled some of the most tangible issues that America is facing today, Coming 2 America brought back a much-needed smile and feel-good reality that the nation is looking to get back to.

Available March 5 exclusively on Amazon Prime.

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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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