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Film & Television

‘The United States Vs. Billie Holiday’ Review

by Betti Halsell

In The United States Vs. Billie Holiday the audience is thrown into a war zone. Viewers stare at the social terrain with world-renowned Jazz legend Billie Holiday, as she climbs through trenches of trauma, addiction, love, betrayal, and corruption, ultimately leaving some of her best men behind.

Holiday, played by Andra Day, encapsulated the current state of events happening to Black Americans with a simple string of verses over a solemn melody. Her song Strange Fruit paints a vivid picture of events that took place during her time – lynchings in the 1930’s that were happening with no reprimand. The melancholic melody still hits home today, as if America is still singing the same song, with a different tune.

Holiday bellowed with her smoldering voice,

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

The recording and performance of Strange Fruit stood out like a thorn protruding from the rosey lens the rest of America looked through, causing a problem for those in “high places”. So they created a suffocating smoke around the singer’s life, following her to her final resting place.

The movie focuses on the unsolicited surveillance from federal and local law enforcement because of the pressure that came with the iconic song. It touches on a reoccurring theme happening in newly released biographic films, uncovering people within the Black community supplying incriminating intel to the federal government.

Andra Day as Billie Holiday|The United States vs Billie Holiday, HULU

This confirms the involvement of federal sources, but also the lack of trust happening within the collective community. The film was as explicit as the song itself, telling an unbiased truth of an Artist caught in a war that went far beyond her talent.

Directed by Lee Daniels and written by Pulitzer prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks and Johann Harri, the movie depicts Holiday as an undeniable force – she was feminine and sensual, yet she held a sense of masculine ownership over her life. Although the 1900s were set in gender roles and confined social placement, Holiday was outspoken and knew she had a level of power. The salute to her self-awareness may have beckoned from her childhood. The film exposed Holiday’s early surroundings, which included the power in sexuality and a sense of liberty for women when she was young.

However, there are two sides to every coin. The trauma in her childhood may have given her the soul that is found in her voice and a sense of empowerment, but it also left her damaged. The movie captured her dependency on strong stimulants, to mange her mental state. The singer’s upbringing left her without a true vision of her reflection. The feature focused on nostalgic transitions and captured an unfiltered story of Holiday’s flaws as a friend and lover.

Andra Day as Billie Holiday and Trevante Rhodes as Jimmy Fletcher |The United States vs Billie Holiday, HULU

In The United States vs Billie Holiday, Day is joined by Trevante Rhodes (Birdbox) who played Jimmy Fletcher, the first Black FBN agent and Garrett Hedlund (Four Brothers) as Harry Aslinger, Chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Rendering the critiques from Rotten Tomatoes, the story was labeled “sloppy” and “over-characterized.” However, most of those inferential opinions came from predominantly White men. This leaves the opportunity that they may have been missed; the concept of struggle in being a Black woman, while fighting multiple layers of internal and external battles and combating different perspectives of self-worth.

America is still singing about the strange fruit that holds a rotten core, the Anti-lynching Bill was passed last year. A back-breaking victory, countless marches, too many lives lost, all for roughly 100 years of “consideration.”

The strange fruit from those times left seeds, a new harvest of injustice is ripening. Thanks to Holiday’s strong will to keep performing the truth, others have joined the choir for change. The nation is still singing about the obscurities found in racism. It’s all the same song, just a different tune. Stream The United States Vs. Billie Holiday on Hulu starting February 26.

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Film & Television

(Exclusive)’David Makes Man’ Star Arlen Escarpeta Talks Joining Season 2, Black Masculinity, and Working with Director Tarell Alvine McCraney

by Betti Halsell

No one could have painted a picture of Black masculinity more accurately than Oprah Winfrey Network’s (OWN)  TV drama David Makes Man. The series encapsulates the quality of life and its aftermath surrounding men in the Black Community.

Narrated through the lens of a brilliant male character, the audience digests a visual dissertation of unspoken experiences that shape young boys into men. Arlen Escarpeta plays JG, the younger brother of the protagonist. The Oath actor breaks down the message behind the series and the strength of silent love that happens within the masculine gender. 

David Makes Man first streamed on HBO max, but OWN has picked up season two. Director Tarell Alvine McCraney (Moonlight) grasped the eerie tones of movies like A Beautiful Mind and Six Sense, and concocted the internal struggle of a caged life as a young minority, raised below the poverty line. The viewers meet David (Kwame Patterson) as a young adult, a silent and solemn adolescent, but his thoughts are amplified enough to take over his reality. 

Jonathan Greg nicknamed J.G. (Escarpeta) has a different level of mental compression and unwavering love for his brother. He is the peaceful flute playing above the overpowering orchestra that is David’s mind. Escarpeta breaks down that love, and the slew of unspoken nuances that are carefully placed throughout the series, to alert the audience: more was said than just words. 

David Makes Man — 201 — “Barrel of Oranges” — Photo Credit: Rod Millington

David Makes Man is a story of a young adult with no visual assurance of making out of his situation alive, coming into the power of his mind, and then aligning himself with success. The audience has a personal view of one’s personal struggle with their gifts and the application of their power after it’s gained. David battles many versions of himself in hopes of finding peace in his internal war. 

JG (Escarpeta) represents another angle of warfare, one that includes him and his projection of life to other people. The local cop is currently at a crossroads in his love life. Catching up with an old flame brings out his organic nature. However, he already created a sanctity with his wife and teenage daughter. Escarpeta’s character is metaphorically facing a three-headed beast that breathes fire. Between his wife, daughter, and the old flame, someone is guaranteed to be burned by his next decision. 

David Makes Man so far has won the Peabody Award of Entertainment. Full episodes are available on OWN’s streaming service, with new episodes out on Tuesdays, 9/8c. 

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Film & Television

Sex and the City revival adds Nicole Ari Parker, Karen Pittman, and Sarita Choudhury

And Just Like That, HBO’s upcoming Sex and The City revival is bringing new characters into the world of Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte. Nicole Ari Parker, Karen Pittman, and Sarita Choudhury have joined the cast.

According to EW, Parker (Empire, Chicago P.D.) will play Lisa Todd Wexley, a Park Avenue mother of three. Choudhury (Mississippi Masala) will play Seema Patel, a single, self-made powerhouse Manhattan real estate broker. And Pittman (The Morning Show) will appear as Dr. Nya Wallace, a brilliant, yet challenging Columbia Law professor.

The decision to add the trio was made by HBO’s chief Casey Bloys, producer/star Sara Jessica Parker and showrunner Michael Patrick King. Bloys told TV Line earlier this year they did not want “to tell a story with all-white writers or an all-white cast,” and the creators “being very, very conscious about understanding that [the show’s] New York has to reflect the way New York looks today.”

The And Just Like That cast also includes Sex and The City‘s Chris Noth, David Eigenberg, Mario Cantone, Willie Garson, and Evan Handler.

The revival is currently in production in New York. HBO Max has not yet set a premiere date.

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Film & Television

Vivica A. Fox, Clifton Powell, and Christina Cooper To Star In Mann Robinson’s New Series ‘On Ten’

Atlanta, GA. – Director and producer Mann Robinson is teaming up with multi-talented actress and TV personality Torrei Hart on a one-of-a-kind drama series titled On Ten.

The series cannot be compared to any other show on television. The audience is introduced to Osaris Warlock, a gifted young man who sees the truest potential of his urban surroundings. He goes to business school to hone his innate ability to grow an empire.

The goal he sets out for himself is to turn his hood into the next Black Wall Street. He enlists his longtime girlfriend, Ebony (played by Christina Cooper), as his right hand and starts to buy the block back. However, The closer the couple gets to the goal, the more challenging it becomes. They both soon find out that you also have to be a killer to be effective.

Warlock’s master plan stems from watching his mother struggle with having a lack of resources, which fell adjacent to him recently learning about the massacre in Tulsa, OK. As a result, the young man is now hellbent on growing a strong financial structure for his community by riding the fine line between illegal and legitimized business practices.

NAACP Image Awards winner Vivica A. Fox was tapped for this project as Mayor Brown. Her schedule has been tightly woven, as she also headlines two FOX SOUL shows – Cocktails With Queens on Mondays and FOX SOUL’s The Screening Room.

Another heavyweight, ABFF winner Clifton Powell, has joined the cast. He will assume the role of Agent Morphan.

Talented newcomer Cooper will portray Ebony, Warlock’s girlfriend. This will mark her first official series as a regular. The actress is taking Hollywood by storm, working in multiple areas of filmmaking. In 2019, the Los Angeles native directed and produced South Central Love, a visual message calling for an end to gun violence – a cause close to her heart, as she pulled from her experiences growing up in South Central LA.

Cooper is also a model and entrepreneur. She owns a women’s wear collection inspired by her Jamaican roots called Island Gal

The cast of On Ten‘s debut season will also include Sean Blakemore (Motives), E. Roger Mitchell (Full Count) and Michael Emory, Reality TV star and attorney Phaedra Parks, Instagram influencer and entrepreneur Jayda Wayda, acting legend Darius McCrary, and many more.

Robinson fortified his talents as a filmmaker and is well known in the Black entertainment circuit for his most recent projects: Super TurntFruits of the Heart, and Troubled Waters (which aired on BET her & BET Plus). The director’s debut film K.A.R.M.A. was released in the early 2000s. Soon after, he dived into producing hit independent films and series. By 2012, Robinson began to put together the strategy to direct On Ten, his TV drama, in multiple locations – Detroit, New York, and Atlanta. 

Director Mann Robinson

The bulk of the upcoming series will be filmed in Atlanta, where Robinson has built a 20,000 square ft space – Mann Robinson Studios – a fully-equipped creative space, a central hub for high-quality projects produced in Georgia.

Robinson’s co-producer, Hart, who will also star in the series, has been building her career as a comedian, writer, producer, and beauty business mogul. She launched her Youtube comedy channel, “PrettyFunnyFish,” in 2012, which had rocket-fueled growth in popularity. 

Hart’s production company is vetted under the same name and captured the attention of business tycoon Russell Simmons. In partnership with Simmons, Hart has contributed creative content for All Def’s digital platform while starring and co-writing in her short films. 

Producer Torrei Hart

Hart also cooperated with Zeus Network to develop the raw and unscripted talk show Talkin Sh%t while simultaneously having a reoccurring chair on Dish Nation.

The upcoming TV series will not be Robinson and Hart’s first collaboration. Both have previously worked on a drama titled TURNT and its sequel, Super Turnt.

On Ten is scheduled to go into production this summer.  The dates of the season one premiere have yet to be disclosed.


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