Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Forward to 2014

I came into 2013 realizing that I needed to prove myself -- especially when it came to this blog. In 2012 I didn't post frequently and by the summer of that year, between being swamped with work and a hectic schedule overall, this blog kind of fell by the wayside. There were entire months without a single post. If you want to get better at something you have to work at it on a continual basis. In 2013, I set out to do that.

Since then there have been a lot more posts on FilmSwag and I can honestly say I've gotten better at being more consistent. I've also learned from a lot of blogs and contributors alike from this thing we call the internet. Whether it was current events, movie reviews, or focusing in on particular issues, I tried to do my best in covering them and going beyond what you might see on just a typical news site. Along with that, I think it's important to look under a variety of stones per say when it comes to topic ideas. These could be news sites, fellow blogs, twitter streams, Facebook posts, or good old fashion television.

As we step toward 2014, collaboration is a goal that I'll be focusing on. I'm looking forward to working in conjunction with other blogs/bloggers and possibly doing some interviews as well. I'm still working out the concept of FilmSwag Features which would be short videos of people doing artistic works and talking about their passions. Don't know when that'll start, but I'll keep y'all posted. Once again, as always, THANK YOU to all of you who have read this blog or shared it with someone. I definitely do appreciate it. Oh yeah, if you dig this blog, feel free to like our Facebook page which is just to the bottom right of this article. Peace & Blessings in 2014 folks.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

When the Guy On the Poster Isn't the Star of the Film

Interesting news out of Italy these last few weeks in reference to the premiere of "12 Years A Slave" and how the film is being marketed. According to a woman who lives in Italy and planned on seeing the film, the "12 Years" poster barely featured lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but instead prominently displayed white supporting actors Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. Here's the photo.

While the act of downplaying black actors/actresses in the marketing of a film is not a new one, it certainly is striking when the main character of said film is black and is barely shown in the poster. It's even more jarring when the film is about slavery. According to multiple reports, the posters have since been taken down and were not officially supported by the film's distribution company. Thoughts?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My 2013 Movie of the Year

2013 was quite a year for black film. There were more movies featuring black folks in prominent roles then I can remember in quite sometime. Who knows if that continues going into 2014, but we'll see. With that said, here are my picks:

Movie of the Year: Fruitvale Station

Excellent job by actor-director duo Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler. I remember when the murder of Oscar Grant took place in January 2009 and it affected me deeply. I felt Coogler and Jordan did a damn good job of depicting Grant not as a saint, but as a human being with triumphs and flaws just like everyone else. Though you know the ending going in, it still tugs at your heart to see it all play out in the film

Runner-up: 12 Years A Slave & Lincoln

"12 Years A Slave" is not an easy movie to watch, but it is certainly one that is worth watching. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar worthy perfromance as Solomon and Lupita Nyong'o deserves consideration as well for her role as Patsey. As for "Lincoln," Daniel Day-Leiws is just that good. Though "Lincoln" technically came out last year, I wound up seeing it to a packed theater last February.

Good Job, Good Effort: The Butler

Listen, I appreciated "The Butler" and I enjoyed the performances of Forest Whitaker, Oprah, David Oyelowo and even the cameos by David Banner and Mariah Carey. The cinematography was very good and the story wasn't bad; but I still left "The Butler" feeling somewhat disappointed. Certain scenes seemed completely unrealistic - even for film - such as when David Oyelowo's character, Louis Gaines, goes from marching with Dr. King one moment to sitting at a home in Oakland lounging with the Black Panthers the next. I left feeling that the movie, while good, could have been more.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Men Who Would Play Mandela

On December 5th, the world said goodbye to Nelson Mandela, one of the truly great leaders of the 20th century.

The freedom fighter who fought tirelessly against a racist government regime, only to be imprisoned for 27 years on a barren island, and to be elected president just four years after being released, is the stuff of fairy tales -- but all of it incredibly true. Not only was Mandela's journey the stuff of legends, but it made for good theater as well. So it should come as no surprise that Nelson Mandela's rise from prisoner to president has been adopted numerous times on the big screen and Mandela himself portrayed by a variety of actors. Here's a list of a few of them starting with the most recent.

"Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom" (2013)
 Mandela portrayed by Idris Elba

Friday, December 20, 2013

When A Producer Has Had Enough

After 25 years of producing films, Ted Hope is moving in a new direction.

On his website, Hope outlines some of the reasons for leaving the field of producing. Chief among them is the increasingly shrinking profit margins and having to do less quality work just to stay afloat. Hope admits that he will continue to produce and develop films, but only those that lift the conversation above the fray.

Hope's story is not that different than many people I've encountered in my now almost 5 years working in and out of the film industry. Many people do get disillusioned. The long hours, tight deadlines and not always knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, is not for the faint of heart. Even worse can be reformatting an idea because the 'studio' wants changes or wants to appeal to a larger audience.

Despite all this, people are still making films. You can continue to bang your head against the wall, or find a way to scale it. If the studio says no, find another venue. Whether it be webisodes, blogs, film festivals, or six second videos, people in 2013 are finding a way. Like Hope himself admitted, though he's leaving the system he will continue to make films, but on his own accord. Many people work day jobs to finance their passions and in this industry, you always got to have a steady source of income from somewhere (the student loan people don't care about your dreams, just that you pay your bill on time). I don't find Ted Hope's commentary deflating, but rather, inspiring. This man is quitting so that he can do what he wants to do without comprising his soul. We should all be so lucky.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Akilah Hughes Provides Tips For Your First Black Girlfriend

Blogger and comedian Akilah Hughes provides a humorous look on some tips and suggestions while dating your first black girlfriend.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Importance & Significance of 12 Years A Slave

When it comes to the film "12 Years A Slave," which hit theaters a few weeks ago, my recommendation is to see it while it's still playing. This article isn't so much a film review as it is a look at some of the themes at play in "12 Years A Slave" and its larger significance on society beyond the realm of cinema.

I went to see "12 Years A Slave" about a month ago with a lady friend, and at $14 a ticket (Manhattan prices) I was hoping that this film would live up to the all the praise it had been receiving up to its theatrical launch. It certainly did that for me and more as it left me intrigued and analyzing a number of topics upon leaving the theater.

"12 Years A Slave" tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, and the harrowing 12 years of his existence in America's 'Peculiar Institution.' Through his eyes we see the horrors of slavery up close: a mother having her children sold from her arms, brutal beatings, working on the plantation, and a sense of despair festering throughout the film like rotting meat on a summer afternoon. Though "12 Years A Slave" is the story of Solomon Northup, it really could be the story of any enslaved black person at that time. But because the story is specific to Solomon and based on true events, it simply can not be dismissed as an over-dramatization or the imagination of a director like last year's "Django Unchained." "12 Years A Slave" gives an unflinching and very hard look at American slavery and quite frankly, it's a story that needed to be told.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ava DuVernay on Work

"The only thing that moves you forward is your work."

                                                      - AVA DuVERNAY, October 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Best Man Holiday Beats Expectations As A Win for 'Race Themed' Films

I found it funny how there were so many people who were "surprised" and "shocked" that the film "The Best Man Holiday" had done so well at the box office last weekend. It's as if the national media was shocked that so many black people came out to support a film where the main characters looked like them for a change. Then there was the USA Today article on "race-themed movies."

The article seemed innocuous enough, but the headline "'Holiday' nearly beats 'Thor' as race themed films soar," left me shaking my head. "Best Man Holiday" made over $30 million in its opening weekend, just behind "Thor" at $34 million, but where USA Today is wrong is labeling "Best Man Holiday" a race-themed film. Just because it's a film that features a predominately black cast doesn't make it anymore about race than the gluttony of films made up of all white casts that are never viewed as being about race.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sy Stokes and Black Male UCLA Bruins Take A Stand

College admissions have always been a tenuous process. When that process involves race and ethnicity, people become divided, temperatures rise and questions are raised.

In the case of UCLA (University of California - Los Angeles), Sy Stokes has brought national attention to the dearth of black males on campus. He brings up the statistic that black males make up only 3.3 percent of the male population at UCLA, of whom 65 percent are athletes. Stokes also addresses the fact that UCLA has made cuts to financial aid in recent years, but that hasn't stopped the university from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on flights and hotel suites.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Andrea Lewis Debuts in "Black Actress" Web Series

If we learned anything so far this year, it's that the rise of the web series is here to stay. I catch a few webisodes every now and then and recently came across "Black Actress" last week and enjoyed the debut.

Photo from blackgirllonghair
"Black Actress" stars Andrea Lewis as a struggling actress trying to make it in the industry. Andrea has spoken openly about the paucity of opportunities for black actresses within the entertainment industry, and through the first episode we follow her character on an audition. Some of you may recognize Andrea from her time on the hit Canadian show "Degrassi," where she played 'Hazel,' who was the girlfriend of some guy who has since made a name for himself in the rap game.

The series has the backing of web star Issa Rae and features appearances from some other well known black actresses like Tatyana Ali and Naturi Naughton. You can check out the first episode below.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

More Diversity for a Better Bottom Line?

According to a UCLA study released last month, television programs with more diversity tended to get higher ratings than those with more homogeneous casts and writers. Diversity is apparently good business.

Among some of the findings in the study was that shows in which minorities made up 31 to 40 percent of the cast members tended to do better with viewers, and shows with a higher percentage of minority writers benefited from increased ratings as well. Ultimately what does this mean? In essence I think studies like this show not only how we as a society are becoming more diverse, but that people want to see characters who look like them and share similar experiences as themselves. Considering the lack of diversity in television, it would behoove the producers and network honchos who greenlight these shows to really take a look at the members of their casts and the talent writing for these shows. You can check out the article here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Taking Off The Coat of Desperation

In a beautiful speech last week at the 2013 Film Independent Forum, filmmaker Ava DuVernay spoke to making do with what you have and being your own catalyst when it comes to making films. Replacing desperation with passion and putting in the work is what moves your forward. Check it out below.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Eddie Murphy on Creativity and Art

"It's not the public that inspired an artist to create. An artist feels the need to create even if there is no public. If there were no one on the planet I'd still do funny things. I'd just be laughing by myself."

                                                                    - Eddie Murphy, Playboy, February 1990

Monday, October 21, 2013

Grantland Looks at the Portland vs. Seattle Rivalry

Basketball is big just about everywhere nowadays with the NBA, FIBA, NCAA Tournament and even AAU leagues popping up across the country. With that expansion has come some intense rivalries. In this video from Grantland we see just how intense those rivalries between cities can be when we get an introduction to the Portland vs. Seattle I-5 tussle.

In this short video we see reps from both cities speak on the ballers from their hoods and local tournaments over the years between the two northwestern neighbors. Definitely worth a look.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Actors Discuss Legacy of Roots

With the film "12 Years A Slave" debuting this week, I figured it was a good time to revisit a panel discussion I shot earlier this year revolving around one of the most prominent depictions of slavery in media.

From left to right: Levar Burton, Louis Gosset Jr., Leslie Uggams, and Ben Vereeen

The panel featured actors who played pivotal roles in the TV mini-series "Roots" that premiered in 1977 and was shown on BET last winter. "Roots" was really the first program to explore the challenges, horrors, and triumphs within the realm of American slavery. It was an eye opening experience for millions of people and really helped shed a light on America's 'original sin.' Actors Lou Gosset Jr., Ben Vereen, Leslie Uggams and Levar Burton, spoke on the significance of "Roots," their roles in it, and how "Roots" continues to educate more than 30 years later.

The panel was a part of a larger series called 'Changing the Picture' at the Museum of the Moving Image this past February, which highlighted the works of people of color in the film and television industry.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Cuz He's Black" - By Javon L. Johnson, Ph.D.

A very moving spoken word piece by Javon L. Johnson on a conversation he had with his 4-year-old nephew in regards to being a black man and dealing with the police. For more on the poem, check out this article from The Root.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Actress Tired of Hollywood's Stereotypes Decides To Do Something About It

Iyin Landre is an actress. She's determined. She also happens to be Asian.

Iyin points out how she believes her race may be a hindrance in Hollywood when it comes to getting cast in films. As she demonstrates through her video, it seems casting directors only view her through a stereotypical lens. Whether it's been the woman who provides manicures at the nail salon, or the buttoned up scientist in a lab, Iyin believes she's more than just an ancillary character in somebody's picture. She aspires to be the leading lady one day.

Thanks to KickStarter, that day has come sooner then she probably realized. Iyin successfully raised more than $75K for her independent feature entitled "Me + You." Instead of lamenting the fact that she wasn't getting consistent work and sitting by the phone, Iyin took action and is now making the films and characters that she wants to see. Gotta respect the hustle. Here's the Kickstarter link.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Looking Back at K-Ville 6 Years Later

When "Sleepy Hollow" premiered three weeks ago, it was the highest rated debut on Fox in six years. The last show to debut that well on Fox? "K-Ville."

"K-Ville" was one of my favorite TV shows of the last decade. It premiered in September 2007 and revolved around the duties of NOPD officers Marlon Boulet (Anthony Anderson) and his partner Trevor Cobb (Cole Hauser). The two men are an unlikely pairing in post Katrina New Orleans, as they and the city are fighting to regain their footing.

At first glance, "K-Ville" could be mistaken for the classic buddy-cop cliche. A black guy and white guy team up to fight crime, kick ass and take names. I never viewed K-Ville in that light however. Anthony Anderson's character, Boulet, is a native New Orleanian who's still dealing with ghosts of Katrina some two years later. In the pilot episode we watch as he tries to assist people in the immediate aftermath of Katrina only to watch his partner go AWOL and drive off in a police cruiser. Later, Boulet's partner returns to the unit and Boulet is forced to reconcile with the man who once deserted him.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

2 Years Running

Time sure does fly. In the two years since starting this blog, I've definitely enjoyed writing about a number of topics connected to film and media. Whether it's been profiling specific films or TV shows, or controversies within the media, or even just showcasing a music video, I believe at the very least these things can add something to the broader discussion. Acknowledgement, analysis and discussion on topics not heavily covered in mainstream media, I believe, is part of the journey of greater enlightenment about things that may not be familiar to oneself.

In the coming months I plan to debut a new series of articles highlighting local artists/poets/musicians/change agents, under the title of FilmSwag Features. FilmSwag Features will most likely include a small article and a short video on somebody in the art world (doesn't necessarily have to be film) who is either just starting out or has a message they want to tell. It's part of a process of highlighting real people doing exemplary things that for whatever reason go unnoticed by many. So definitely look out for that. Also, if anyone has any ideas or topics they would like to see covered, feel free to hit me up at filmswag11@gmail.com. While I can't promise that I'll be able to cover every topic somebody leaves in my inbox, I will certainly look into each one.

Finally, I just once again want to say THANK YOU to anyone and everyone who has read my articles, shared my work or commented on this site. It is definitely appreciated. Hell, even if you hate the articles but just come here for the music videos, I appreciate that too. As always, lets continue to keep getting educated together.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

After A 20 Year Hiatus Arsenio Hall is Back

Arsenio Hall made his triumphant return back to late night television this month and the initial results have been promising.

In its first full week on the air, "The Arsenio Hall Show" won the coveted 18-49 TV demographic, which is certainly a good sign. Arsenio has had on a number of well known entertainers and musical guests ranging the gamut from Chris Tucker, to Magic Johnson, to Angela Basset and Kendrick Lamar. I only got see the first show, but I enjoyed it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Russell Simmons, Harriet Tubman, and the Continued Degradation of Black Women

Harriet Tubman is considered an American hero freeing hundreds of black folks from the horrors of slavery during her time. Last month a video was released that desecrated her legacy and made her appear anything but heroic.

The video was the creation of Russell Simmons' All Def Digital company which released the parody and subsequently has had some serious questions to answer. First, a little back story on Russell Simmons. This is a man who is considered one of the original hip-hop moguls (he co-founded the record label Def Jam), a man who launched the clothing line Phat Farm and a man who used his own name to promote the 'Rush Card.'

So Russell has been in the music/media/entertainment industry for awhile now. Online video has exploded in recent years and Russell has decided to put his hat in the ring. This was not the way to make a first impression however.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Program 20 Years Later

This is probably one of the most underrated sports films of the last 20-25 years. I loved it when I first saw it 10 years ago and it continues to be one of my favorites.

"The Program" is a film about a fictional college football team and the challenges and obstacles they must overcome during the course of a season. That's really just the icing on the cake however. Over the course of the film we get a view to varying degrees of the men who makeup the squad. There's the alcoholic quarterback. The freshman running-back trying to supplant the senior in the starting lineup. The fierce linebacker who trash talks the opponent to psych himself up during the game before it eventually costs him. And finally, there's the coach played by James Caan who is fighting to keep it all together.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff Making History at PBS

Though it may come as a surprise to some, nightly news broadcasts across the major networks in the United States are still largely a man's world. That's why it's refreshing and good to see Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff becoming the first women co-anchors for a nightly news show when they make their debut tonight on PBS.

Ifill and Woodruff will become the regular co-hosts of the PBS program "NewsHour." They are both veteran journalists who have definitely paid their dues over the years. For more, you can check out this Associated Press article.

Photo by The Associated Press

Friday, September 6, 2013

Barry Jenkins on Being A Black Filmmaker

"I’m a black filmmaker. I must be. When I think of characters, or rather, when characters come to me — as the best ones do, outside of conscious thought — overwhelmingly they are black. And when I introduce these characters and films into the production framework of this industry, the funding and distribution “restrictions” I’m met with as a result of those characters’ blackness would remind me, if it weren't clear already, that I am indeed black."

The above quote comes from the NY Times piece 20 Directors to Watch in which the Times profiled 20 filmmakers who are making their voices heard. Barry Jenkins directed the 2008 film "Medicine for Melancholy," which centers around a young couple who spend a day with each other in San Francisco. It's a film that I highly recommend. The piece also features Dee Rees, who directed the 2011 highly regarded film "Pariah."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ryan Coogler Speaks On His Sundance Institute Journey

Writer and director Ryan Coogler, who directed the critically acclaimed "Fruitvale Station," speaks on the impact that attending the Sundance Film Insititute Labs had not only on his career, but his life.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

50 Years Later Following the March On Washington

This past week was a big anniversary when it came to the fight for justice here in the United States. For it was 50 years ago on August 28, 1963, that the Civil Rights March on Washington took place.

 Photo from Hulton Archive
The March on Washington represented a crescendo in the movement for racial equality in America. It wasn't just that people were marching either. They were voicing their opinions, participating in sit-ins and boycotts, being beaten and even killed for challenging the law of the land in which they were not merely seen as unequal, but forever subjugated to a second class existence.

Martin Luther King typically gets most of the credit and acclaim when we look back on the March on Washington, but there were a bevy of people who also made the moment so special. People such as: Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Height, Rosa Parks, and countless other young people as well who took part in the movement. Their sacrifices are ultimately what lead the groundwork for the U.S. finally beginning to live up to its creed nearly 200 years after the signing of the Constitution. As great and symbolic as the March on Washington was in 1963, we can't stop there. We must keep moving forward everyday.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Remembering Lee Thompson Young

It was very sad to hear about the passing of former Disney star Lee Thompson Young earlier this week.

According to multiple news sources, Young took his own life this past Monday. Some have speculated that he may have been suffering from depression.

Most will probably remember Lee Thompson Young from his time as the star of the Disney Channel show, "The Famous Jett Jackson." The show aired from 1998-2001 and was actually a show-within-a-show. The concept was framed around Jett Jackson playing the action hero 'Silvertone,' while also adjusting to growing up as a teenager in the fictional town of Wilstead, North Carolina.

I remember watching "The Famous Jett Jackson" more than a decade ago and generally enjoyed it. We saw things from Jett Jackson's perspective and the interactions he had with his friends, family, and the crew for the 'Silverstone' show. I thought Lee Thompson Young did a very good job as the lead, considering the fact he was actually playing two characters each episode.

Following the end of "The Famous Jett Jackson," Young went on to play roles in 2004 film "Friday Night Lights," and "Akeelah and the B" in 2006. At the time of his death, he was working on the TNT drama "Rizzoli and Isles."

R.I.P. Lee Thompson Young.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Thoughts on Fruitvale Station

After a month delay and several months of being intrigued by the premise of the film, I finally saw "Fruitvale Station" last week. It left me feeling a number of emotions upon exiting the theater.

"Fruitvale Station" is the story of Oscar Grant and the 24 hours leading up to his death at the Fruitvale subway stop in Oakland, California, on New Year's Day 2009. But it's really so much more than that. It's a story that truly does explore the human condition through Oscar's eyes and makes the viewer see a troubled man who was trying to turn his life around.

What makes "Fruitvale Station" different than most movies is that you have some idea going in how the story will end. Anyone who has heard about the film or done any research on the case, knows ultimately that Oscar Grant will be killed. Similar much in the same way as a movie like "Titanic," where (spoiler alert) the ship sinks, with a film like "Fruitvale Station" character development becomes all the more crucial when the audience knows the final result.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ebony Commemorates Trayvon Martin

With the Trayvon Martin verdict still fresh in the minds of many, Ebony Magazine released four covers showing the unity and concern expressed in the We Are Trayvon movement. The covers feature well known black celebrities like Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, Boris Kodjoe and Spike Lee from the entertainment world, and Trayvon's parents along with his surviving brother. Ebony Magazine Editor-In-Chief, Amy DuBois Barnett, recently spoke to the HuffingtonPost on why Ebony chose the covers they did.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cheryl Boone Isaacs Makes History

Last month Cheryl Boone Isaacs made history by becoming the first black president of the The Academy. Yes, the same Academy who votes on Oscar winners every year.

Considering the dearth of diversity in Hollywood and the lack of recognition black actors and actresses have received in regards to Oscar recognition, this news is significant indeed. Boone Isaacs has been working in the entertainment industry for a number of years now and has certainly paid her dues. Kudos to her. For more info about Cheryl Boone Isaacs you can check out this Entertianment Weekly article.

Friday, August 9, 2013

He's Gotta Have It: Spike Lee, Kickstarter and An Emerging New Trend

It seems Kickstarter is quickly becoming the SOS of many a filmmaker in 2013.

A few weeks ago Spike Lee was the latest filmmaker to enter the fray as he announced he was raising money to fund his current project, a vampire themed flick that he so far has been hesitant to go into much detail about. Spike isn't the first well known member of the film community to make his pitch for funds on Kickstarter, but the latest in what is an interesting trend.

Earlier this year it came out that Kristen Bell had made a pitch on Kickstarter for a Veronica Mars movie. She ended up raising $5 million. What was most interesting to me at least is that the Veronica Mars movie is being backed by Warner Brothers, who are one of the major players in Hollywood. Ultimately this begs the question of why go to a site like Kickstarter for funding if a major studio is going to be backing the project anyway? Zach Braff (from NBC "Scrubs" fame) also took to Kickstarter and raised more than $3 million for his own project.

I'm assuming Spike Lee heard about the success of these two projects and decided that it was time to throw his hat in the ring. Spike Lee is a very decorated director and his work has often made me think about cinema, specifically as it relates to people of color. "Do The Right Thing" is a classic in my book. "School Daze" was informative and "Malcolm X" was not only educational, but illuminating. "He Got Game" and "25th Hour" with Ed Norton, are also among my favorites.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

So A Panhandler Walks Onto The Subway...

If you live or work in New York City, you know the deal. Without fail, as soon as you walk through the subway doors to take your seat, you'll inevitably hear a plea from somebody who needs your money. Just in my own experiences, I've seen people get rather creative in asking for your cash. Occasionally a group of kids will dance, some will sing, and there will always be somebody who needs money for their basketball team. Well, here we have a guy who looks as if he may be asking for money initially, but instead it's the passengers who are caught off guard.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Remembering a Literary Giant

James Baldwin is remembered not only as a literary giant, but a man whose words helped advance the cause for social justice within the United States. Baldwin -- who would've been 89 this past Friday -- was remembered by a number of people for being one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His literature continues to live on however, and his life, memory, and influence, will not soon be forgotten.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Looking Back at "To Sir, With Love 2"

When I think back to some of the more inspiring and intriguing movies that I've seen these last 10-15 years, they've all left me wondering to some degree. It could be about the characters, plot development, scene structure, or any other particular overarching themes. "To Sir, With Love 2" left me thinking about not only the importance of teaching, but the type of person depicted to lead a classroom.

"To Sir, With Love 2" was a former Movie of the Month of mine back in July 2003. It stars one of the legendary names in Hollywood cinema, one Sidney Poitier. Poitier was also the star of the original "To Sir, With Love," which took place in an inner-city London school in the mid-1960s. While the first "To Sir, With Love" was released in 1967, the sequel would not come out until 1996. I can't recall another series of movies where the sequel came out nearly 30 years following the original. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What Happens When the Cameras and Attention Goes Away

"I knew something was wrong when I saw a pretty little white girl jump into a black man's arms."

"Ain't nobody got time for that."

"Hide your wife, hide your kids, hide your husbands, cause they raping everybody out here."

In the last couple of years these phrases have spread across the vast corners of the internet and into Hall-of-Fame of memes. They're the words Charles Ramsey, Sweet Brown and Antoine Dodson.

Photo by Lucian Perkins of the Washington Post

Saturday, July 20, 2013

President Obama Speaks on Race and Trayvon Martin

Last Saturday a Florida jury determined that George Zimmerman was not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin. For those of you reading this who may not be aware, in February of 2012, Trayvon Martin was walking home from the store when he was approached by Mr. Zimmerman. A fight ensues and Trayvon is left dead. It turns out George Zimmerman had been following Trayvon in his vehicle, and when he asked a 911 operator whether or not he should go after Trayvon, he was told, "we don't need you to do that." Despite this, he ignored the operator and pursued him anyway. So what exactly was that suspicious looking man in the neighborhood armed with that Zimmerman decided to pursue? A pack of Skittles and an Arizona Ice Tea. I gave my thoughts about this case last year.

In the following days across the United States there were protests in cities from New York to L.A. In New York's Time Square, protesters halted traffic dead in its tracks with the streets swelling with thousands of hurt, angry and disappointed people. It wasn't just the fact that George Zimmerman was found not guilty, but that he wasn't even initially arrested until people started protesting. Many talking heads on the news networks stated their opinions on the verdict, but it seemed everyone (well, many black folks at least) was waiting on the thoughts of one man in particular.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fannie Lou Hamer Speaks Out on Voting Rights and Police Brutality

Fannie Lou Hamer is often one of the forgotten names of the Civil Rights Movement.

Mrs. Hamer was from the small community of Ruleville, Mississippi, where she spent most of her early life working as a sharecropper. It was at the the age of 37 that she joined SNCC (the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee). Seeing that the only way people of color were ever going to have a voice was through politics, she became an organizer and lead voter registration drives for the people of her community. For this, Fannie Lou Hamer caught hell. Her life was threatened, she was the target of multiple murder attempts, and she suffered brutal beatings at the hands of the local Mississippi police. In the following 7 minute audio clip recorded on June 9th, 1963, Mrs. Hamer speaks of the struggle for the right to vote and the horrific consequences that followed.

This clip is courtesy of the Black Media Archive Podcast

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Best Man is Back

"The Best Man" is definitely one of my favorite movies of the 1990s. It revolves around a group of college friends who get together one weekend to celebrate one of their own getting married. What ensues are some long held college secrets, drama, laughs and romance. A film that I definitely recommend viewing.

Photo by Jet Magazine

Coming to theaters this November is the followup to "The Best Man," entitled "The Best Man Holiday." So far, I'm really digging this trailer. Check it out below.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

University of Kentucky Investing in Oral History

We all have a story. Storytelling has been an essential element throughout human history and has allowed us to entertain, educate, inspire and enlighten.

Last week it was announced that the University of Kentucky is investing in its oral history program as a way to make sure that stories, interviews and experiences of the past, continue to have a voice for years to come. The project is part of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at UK.

So far there have been more than 9,000 interviews logged, with features ranging from black farmers, to WWII veterans, to Kentucky legislators.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Remembering Jim Kelly

I'll be real honest. I didn't know much about Jim Kelly until very recently, but his work will continue to leave an impact long after his passing.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sinbad Reflects on His Parents

"My mother and father taught me everything: integrity, honesty, being responsible. My father said you can't be anything unless you accept responsibility for all your failures. My mother wanted me to have a tough hide but a tender heart."

                                                          - Sinbad, Parade, September 1994

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Amerie - Why Don't We Fall In Love (2002)

Happy Summer everyone.

From Full-Time to Freelance: Saying Goodbye to the American Photojournalist

It's somewhat ironic that as cameras become more ubiquitous within our society, the role of the photojournalist is becoming more rare throughout newsrooms every year.

On May 30th the Chicago Sun-Times laid off their entire photography staff, including distinguished photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner, John H. White. Yes, a Pulitzer Prize winner laid off. That's like you being recognized nationally within your industry as 'Employee of the Year,' and being let go the following year. Chances are you'd be stunned. So too were the photography staff at the Sun-Times when they were given their pink-slips less then three weeks ago.

John H. White had been with the Sun-Times for more then 40 years before he was relieved of his duty last month. Neither his tenure nor his work was enough to save his job, and his firing -- along with that of the entire photo department -- is an ominous sign for photojournalists across America.

The rise of iPhones and DSLR cameras have given way to the perception that photojournalists aren't all that important and that anyone can do it. Add in all the tools you can use in any standard Photoshop Suite and all the sudden you have a belief that photography is rather simple. This belief has sadly and seemingly seeped into the newsroom culture where more and more photojournalists are having to resort to freelance type work.

I think of photography much in the same way I do poetry. Both are easy to dabble in, but hard to truly master. There's a certain nuance that a photojournalist possess about their craft that can really only be developed through time, skill and the capturing of countless photos. Let us hope that newsrooms across this country come to their senses and once again see the importance of photography as the lens through which we see the world. For the actual article and a collage of John H. White's photography of 1970s Chicago, click here.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Son Makes Dad Proud on Father's Day

A father talks about how proud he is of the education his son is getting and the man he is becoming.

You can read the article at TheGrio.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Little Girl, A Bowl of Cheerios, and A Whole Lot of Hate

It's somewhat ironic that a 30 second Cheerios commercial could show just how far America has to go when it comes to race and media.

The Cheerios commercial that has ignited a racist backlash is rather simple in its premise. A young girl - who happens to be biracial - asks her mother if Cheerios are good for your heart. Her mother responds that they are indeed healthy for your heart. The commercial then cuts to her sleeping father on the couch who awakens to see an avalanche of Cheerios on his chest. Here's how it all plays out:

Friday, May 31, 2013

Filmmakers of Color Speak at Tribecca Film Festival

Last month the Tribecca Film Festival hosted a panel of filmmakers of color called "Look Who's Talking." The panel consisted of Nelson George, Tambay Obenson, Frida Torresblanco, and Terrence Nance. It was moderated by Beth Jansen. The members speak on diversity in film, opportunities for people of color within the industry and their own experiences in making and distributing their work.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

42: Right Movie, Wrong Perspective

There are some advantages in life when it comes to procrastination. One of those advantages extends to seeing movies long after they've been released. Seeing a movie in theaters six weeks after it opened guarantees you two things: 1) there's a good chance there won't be many people in the theater 2) you have about a 95% chance of getting a good seat.

So after taking my time seeing the movie "42" I finally watched it a week ago, and while there were certainly enjoyable parts of the film, it left me wanting more. It's like going to a restaurant and only having money to buy a couple of appetizers, but you really wanted the steak entree. At the end of your meal, you may be full, but not necessarily satisfied. I felt the same way towards "42." Good attempt, but it wasn't the entree I was hoping for.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Shooting Breaks Out, But National Coverage Is Slow To Follow

Imagine being at a parade on Mother's Day in your neighborhood enjoying yourself. People are dancing and singing and just having a good time. Now imagine a shooting breaks out and people in your vicinity are shot and wounded. Sounds like a pretty frightful experience. This scenario needs no imagination for it's exactly what happened at a second line celebration in New Orleans last weekend.

Violence has been a problem in New Orleans for a few years now since the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Still, it's disheartening to hear 19 people wounded in a shooting when their only crime was enjoying a parade on Mother's Day of all days. Perhaps even more troubling however, is the lack of national media attention this shooting received.

I remember seeing the word 'New Orleans' trending on Twitter that following Sunday evening, and CNN did mention the shooting in their nightly newscast, but within a couple of days it seemed to blow over. At a time when guns and gun ownership is a hotly debated topic in our nation, you would think a shooting at such a public event would warrant more attention. But it didn't. Sadly, this lack of attention about the causes and circumstances behind these crimes has too often been missing in dealing with communities of color.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Projecting Beyond The Wall

There was an interesting article a couple weeks back by the NY Times talking about the powerful impact that film was having on a group of female students. The twist? All of the students were inmates.

The article profiles one former inmate, 20-year-old Amirah Harris, and the impact that Tribecca Teaches had on her. Tribecca Teaches is a film program run by the Tribecca Film Institute that teaches students in New York City and Los Angeles the craft of filmmaking. The NY Times article speaks with one of the teachers in the program who taught at Rikers Island (a prison facility) and noted the positive impact it had on the women in her class. She also notes that she didn't fear for her safety at all during the time she was teaching.

I remember hearing of a similar story on NPR radio host Michele Martin's "Tell Me More" program, where a woman in Indiana who is a public school teacher, volunteers her time teaching inmates Shakespeare. She said that the inmates brought their own experiences into their analysis of the work, raising questions and positions that she as a teacher had never even considered before. She too stated that she had no fear for her own safety in the classroom, and that many of the inmates were just happy that someone was willing to take time out of their day to work with them.

In both these cases we see the power that art can have on a population deemed 'undesirable' by society. If art - whether it be film, Shakespeare, or poetry - can have these dramatic effects on prisoners, maybe we ought to rethink about arts being the first thing cut when school budgets get tight. Just a thought.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Remembering Chris Kelly and Kris Kross

There are some songs that you recognize immediately when they're played over the airwaves. "Jump" by the rap duo Kris Kross was one of those songs.

That's why it's sad to hear of the passing of Chris Kelly last week who was Mac Daddy to partner Chris Smith's Daddy Mac. The two of them combined to form Kriss Kross and in 1992 their single "Jump" appeared No 1. on the Billboard Top 100 for 8 weeks. More than 20 years later that single is still being played. R.I.P. Chris Kelly.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Was 1993 A Banner Year for Black Cinema?

There was an interesting article posted last month on The Grio that looked at the year 1993 and the amount of 'black' films that were released during those 12 months. Could there be another renaissance coming 20 years later?

When we talk about films starring, directed, or produced by people of color being released in theaters, it usually revolves around the dearth of such films. This is in large part due to a lack of financing many filmmakers of color simply don't have access to. Although in recent years that has changed a bit with crowdfunding, it is still a rather large hurdle to overcome.

What makes 1993 so unique was the plethora of 'black' films that hit the screen that year. It was as if someone parted the seas and gave these films passage to the big screen instead of taking the all to common straight to video route.

There were biographies like "What's Love Got To Do With It," starring Angela Bassett as Tina Turner. There were comedies such as "Cool Runnings" and "Sister Act 2," which starred Whoopi Goldberg. And then there were the inner-city dramas like "Menace II Society," and "Poetic Justice," starring Janet Jackson and the late Tupac Shakur.

Many look at the early 90s and 1993 in particular as a time when 'black' films had a higher chance of getting major distribution deals then at any point before or since. Do you agree? Here's the original article.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Earth Raps Back

Today is Earth Day, and since environmental friendliness and conservation is a big part of it, why not a rap song about it? Also, who put Quincy Jones up to this?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Richard Pryor on Race, Education and Success

"I live in racist America and I'm uneducated, yet a lot of people love me and like what I do, and I can make a living from it.You can't do much better than that."

                                                            - Richard Pryor

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Melissa Harris-Perry and Co. Speak on "Scandal"

So I caught the Melissa Harris-Perry show last week on MSNBC and really enjoyed many of the segments that were featured. She and her panelists spoke on voter disfranchisement in North Carolina, the women's NCAA Tournament, and the use of language in regards to the immigration debate here in the U.S, among other things.

It was the discussion on the ABC hit show "Scandal" that really caught my attention. Not so much that I'm a regular viewer (I haven't watched "Scandal" in more than a year) but the makeup of MHP's panel was striking in that it was entirely made up of black women. The panel consisted of Janet Mock, Andrea Plaid, Heather McGhee, and Joy-Ann Reid. In more than 20 years of watching TV on a fairly regular basis, I don't ever recall seeing a panel featuring just black women on a major news network. Hat tip to Melissa Harris-Perry and MSNBC.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Remembering Roger Ebert

Last week the world -- not just the film world -- lost an icon in Roger Ebert.

Though Ebert's official title was that of film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, he was much more than that to the movie going American public. "Two thumbs up" was a phrase that originated with Ebert and his former film critic Gene Siskel, that became synonymous with a positive review of a new film. How esteemed was Roger Ebert in the movie industry? He's the only film critic with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

When it came to race and the social dynamics of the Hollywood studio system, Ebert didn't shy away from those subjects either. During the 1990s, two of his choices for movie of the year centered around protagonists of color: "Malcolm X" in 1992 and "Hoop Dreams" in 1994. Lauren Williams of The Root does an excellent job of compiling Ebert's reviews on some well known black films at the time. Ebert goes beyond the characters and main story of the films and asks larger hard hitting questions about the impact of these films within cinema.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King and His Enduring Legacy 45 Years Later

April 4th, 1968, is a day that many people of an older generation will never forget. Neither should any of us.

For that was the day of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis,Tennessee. Following his assassination, President Lyndon Johnson announced a day of mourning for the man who was instrumental in the struggle for racial equality in the United States. In the aftermath of King's death, there was grief, despair, anger, rage, and sadly, riots. Despite this however, King's legacy in the 45 years proceeding his death, has only become more emblazoned in our national consciousness.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

18 Months of FilmSwaggin'

I'm always amazed at how fast time moves. 18 months has come out of nowhere just like that. Through it all, I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who reads/tweets/comments/recommends this site.

FilmSwag has continued to grow at an incredible pace and I have YOU the readers to thank for that. Also, big shoutout to those tuning in from Poland, Australia, Latvia, and Germany. I definitely appreciate it. Let's keep getting educated together.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Saturday, March 23, 2013

2012: Difficult Year at Best for Black Media

A new article by the Pew Research Center indicates that 2012 was not exactly the best of times for black media, but not all is doom and gloom.

Covering the realm of black media from newspapers to TV, magazines, and the internet, The State of News Media 2013 highlights some downward trends that are being felt in media beyond that just geared towards African Americans.

State of Newspapers and Circulation

Newspapers around the country have seemingly been threatened by lower circulation, decreasing advertisement revenue, and staff cutbacks for the better part of a decade now. The same holds true for many black newspapers as well. The SNM 2013 chart shows 4 out of 5 major black publications saw circulation declines during a six-month period in 2012.

It should come as no surprise that when your circulation begins to dip, so too does the money from advertisers. This in turn often leads to cutbacks/firings affecting the publication's ability to cover stories in a particular community. The fewer stories that are covered, may mean less people pick up your paper, hence continuing a vicious cycle.

I witnessed firsthand the effects that cutbacks can have on a newsroom. In 2004 and 2006 I had interned at my local newspaper in New Jersey and found out a few years later that they had moved out of the building where they were located because they could no longer afford the costs.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Debbie Allen on Work and Perseverance

"I pounded pavements and went to every audition. That was my spirit. Work at whatever you do, whether you get paid or not."

                                                    - Debbie Allen, Parade, November 17, 1991