The Golden Globes Nominations We Missed This Year

I ain’t mad. Truly I am not.  When the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced their list of nominees for the Golden Globe Awards there was a goodly amount of inclusion.  

”Get Out” the explosive and near perfect film from Jordan Peele was nominated for BEST MOTION PICTURE - MUSICAL OR COMEDY.

Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, and Raphael Saadiq were nominated for BEST ORIGINAL SONG - MOTION PICTURE for “The Star” and “Mighty River” Respectively. 

Denzel Washington pulled a nomination for BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR INA MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA. Daniel Kaluuya grabs a nomination for BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE - MUSICAL OR COMEDY. 

Sterling K. Brown is destined to grab all the wards as he is nominated for BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES - DRAMA. 

Aziz Ansari and Anthony Anderson will battle it out for the BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES - MUSICAL OR COMEDY, for their roles in “Master of None” and “Black.ish”. 

Octavia Spencer and Mary J. Blige go toe to toe with each other and several other powerhouse thespians for the BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE award. 

The wonderful “black-ish” is also nominated for BEST TELEVISION SERIES - MUSICAL OR COMEDY. 

And finally in a beautiful piece of justice for all sisters and basically all fans of extraordinary television, Issa Rae is nominated for BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES - MUSICAL  OR COMEDY.

So yeah I won’t be putting up any hashtags today. However, I do want to whine about some omissions that if they were not mentioned would just be wrong. So here we go.

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QUEEN SUGAR 

I am not saying the show should win, but this show has provided me and many other with great entertainment that is real, thoughtful, reflective of more than just one type of black family.  For the Lost in woods, or cave dweller set, this show is about how a family rallies together after their father, a farmer dies. The Bordelon is a real black family, complicated vexing, beautiful and funny as hell. Each time the show comes one I make bets about who I am going to hate on the show. The season finale was a complicated tear jerker worth at least a nod for BEST TELEVISION SERIES - DRAMA

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BIANCA LAWSON as Darla on QUEEN SUGAR

While we are in the land of sugar, I can not say enough about Bianca Lawson who plays one of the most fully realized characters on television. She is an ex-addict who takes responsibility for every single action she takes. She owns it, and even is she is caught on the carpet later she does not back away from her role in the drama. In many other people’s hands, the role of Darla could just be a stereotype, a silhouette of a real person. But in Miss Lawson’s capable performance you feel empathy and root for the woman. In the final episode of the series when Darla and Ralph Angel face off, and RA asks what she is going to do, Darla says “...try to continue.” It is that steely performance that desires a Golden Globe alone. 

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SPIKE LEE

The director responsible for bringing great cinema about black folks to the movies has dipped his toe in television with a reimagining of Nola Darling and She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix. What a beautiful mess. It is problematic. Yes it is - mainly suffering from old man writing-itis. At times the words out of this Nola’s millennial mouth seem like an elderly man is writing....wait. 

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But what you can’t deny the filmmaker is his artistic vision. There are scenes in that series that just sink into your membrane and stay. The “trump scene” and the “Nola” scenes, are moments in which the director reminds you that he is still funny, intelligent and a genius with the camera. 

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JADA PINKETT SMITH

So if you have not watched GIRLS TRIP you are missing out. The movie was one of those “phenomenons” whereby a black movie with a talented black cast, director, and writers performs at the box office and the mainstream is amazed for the billionith time. GT was also the breakout moment for comedian Tiffany Haddish who wowed critics and audience members alike. I loved her, but I would like us to consider someone else. Ms. Jada Pinkett Smith came on set and reminded us that she was and is an actress and a superstar. Her turn as Lisa Cooper, the former party girl, turned respectable, read boring, nurse who lives with her mother, felt fresh with Smith. She had phrases and lines that were delivered that were not intended to bring laughter but had me rolling. Haddish is the breakout but Ms. Pinkett Smith reminds us that to be a star you turn out hilarious and star performances each and every time. 

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THE REST OF THE BLACK-ISH CAST

Yes, I know it is nominated for best television series, but the reason the show is gold is because literally every single actor on the show could win an award in the acting category. Literally everyone.  

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ANGELA BASSETT 

Like seriously, what must the woman do? Has she not turned in performance after performance of award-worthy roles? And then out of the blue thanks to the genius of Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari we got the infamous “Thanksgiving” on “Masters Of None.” It was one of those performances that you couldn’t get without Ms. Bassett delivering with every line, with every stare, with every side eye. She is my mother, your mother, and yet not anyone's mother at the same time. She is a being that seems to come down to earth deliver a performance and then shoot back off into space. This woman was robbed - pick a role. 

Yes, the GG's did good, but no matter the race someone will lose. Maybe not these people next year.

 

WHAT WENT WRONG WITH WHITE FAMOUS - AND WHY YOU SHOULD STILL WATCH IT

Coleman and Pharoah

Coleman and Pharoah

There are a lot of reasons to skip White Famous. Let’s take the the very premise, the desire to be “white” famous which may have been a fresh industry revealing premise a few years ago, but now automatically seems dated in the “find my tribe” culture we reside in now. 

Right now in a world where very famous white people are watching their careers careen into obscurity, does anyone still want to be white famous? This is a different question than do you want “White famous money” which I am sure most people would happily trade an appendage to be able to own a boat named after them. But “white famous” reads on this show like “white men,” “old white men” “Old white men with power” and that ship at least a social construct of desire, has sailed. 

Okay you still say fuck you I want to be George Clooney. Read on.

The story follows Floyd Mooney, played by Jay Pharoah, a young comic killing it in the black circuit. He is fun charismatic and his people love him. He has a decent apartment and a fly ass ride. You got that in Los Angeles you are doing well. But his agent, Malcolm, played by Utkarsh Ambudkar, is hankering to push Mooney through the mediocrity and have him in “white famous” status. 

It should be noted that this story is loosely based on “white famous” star himself Jamie Foxx. The question is do you lose your soul to achieve this kind of fame. And by “soul” I think the writers of the show mean the love of black folks. In pop culture everyone seems to want the love and approval of black folks. This theory is no less true here. 

A chance encounter with a hit producer who happens to be white and happened to mistake Mooney for a valet driver led to an opportunity for the comic to catapult his career by co-starring in a Jamie Foxx vehicle. This opportunity requires getting the approval of Foxx himself. The levels of Jamie Foxx’s genius can not be understated. The man is hilarious before he says a single word. Foxx presents the imagery of what “white famous” for a black actor might look like. He is having wild sex with an ethnically ambiguous woman of color with long hair and a big butt. She doesn’t say a word just submits to Foxx’s sexual desire. Foxx curses out the white director, literally telling “whitey” off while being the person with the power on the set. All this can be Mooney’s if he is willing to do one thing - wear a dress. 

The wearing a dress thing is a oversimpification of many black men’s theory of Hollywood’s plan to emasculate black men by having them wear dresses. You could dedicate days on YOUTUBE looking up this very subject. It is a valid conversation, but on the show it’s a flimsy argument to sustain a show. 

The show has been called Californication-lite or mini-Entourage, which really insults all three shows. Yes at first glance it seems that Exectuive Producer Tom Kapinos is trying to surgerically graft a black man on a white storyline. 

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Here is where is gets interesting. Because Pharoah is black and is dealing with issues of his family and manhood, and even his masculinity it comes across different. 

At times the Floyd Mooney’s journey is more nuanced and interesting than you’d expect. His family dynamic is complicated and interesting. He is in love with his girl, Sadie, played by Cleopatra Coleman, a woman who is determined to maintain a healthy family dynamic whether everyone lives in the same house or not. Their on-again-off-again romance feels genuine and real. They fight for a better future for their son Trevor, played by Lonnie Chavis. This young actor is like a shining beacon of light. You may remember him making you cry on season one of “This Is Us” where he plays a young Randall. He is equally stellar as Floyd’s intelligent and funny son. 

It’s this father-son journey is the meat of this story. It pulls you in, and pushes the larger narrative along. You want to root for Floyd because you definitely root for his family.  From this baseline it become a funny family drama. The things that the show seems hell bend on articulating, like how crazy white folks are, are diminshed by the powerful love Mooney has for his family and the complications that arise when you are trying to create the best life for said family. 

It should be noted that there are some stand out performanced by Jacob Ming-Trent as Balls, Mooney’s best friend and roommate who is also full of talent, but acts as more of a advisor for his friend. In the real world his wisdom might be relegated to that dude who won’t shut up at the barbershop. But his zen like advice is a nice juxtaposition to Mooney’s grating spoiled attitude. 

Not every show can be seamless like “Atlanta” and “Insecure”. The beauty is we are in a world when so many black lives can be depited on the screen. I am willing to give Mooney and his family another go.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND REVIVAL PROVES TO BE RESILIENT AND RELEVANT

Photos Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Photos Courtesy of Joan Marcus

How important are the stories we tell?

Whether they be true or not, the tales we spin connect us, unite us, sometimes even divide us. Our need to define our truth is evident every day. The news is littered with stories about people who believe one thing, say another, and create something else when we close our eyes. This is particularly true when devastation strikes. When a storm rushes through your world and wipes all your worldly possessions away all you may have left is your story.

In the revival of Once On This Island, weaving and patching your truth together, your history, is as important for survival as finding food or shelter. A storm has ravished the island, leaving little left but songs, stories and hope. The musical follows Ti Moune, a young girl who falls for a boy who lives on the other side of the island. That other side, however, is more than miles away - it is worlds apart. When divine intervention brings these two young people together,  and then separates them, Ti Moune journeys to be with the love of her life.  

In the hands of Tony Award-nominated director Michael Arden, this simple quest becomes a complicated journey that infuses politics, social commentary, classism and good old fashioned love wrapped in warm musical numbers and extraordinary choreography from Camille A. Brown.

It all begins with location. In the macro, the Circle in the Square Theatre is the perfect venue for this production. The chaos and devastation of the storm are in full view. The set is all sand and debris, where the residents have to pick through to make something out of nothing. A goat in a diaper roams across the set both out of place and natural at the same time.

The show really gets going with the beautiful “One Small Girl” the number that explains it all for the audience. A storm, a girl winds up in a tree. An elderly couple who have neither food or any other resources, discover her and have to decide to help her.

Photos Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Photos Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Luckily for Ti Moune, she has the help of four Gods played with fun and fierceness. Tony Award Winner Lea Solanga, (best known for her role in Miss Saigon for which she won the Tony) plays Erzulie. Quentin Earl Darrington (Cats and Ragtime)  plays the Agwe, Glee alum Alex Newell plays Asaka, the mothering Goddess, and Merle Dandridge (of Rent and Greenleaf fame) rounds out the gods as Papa Ge.

The interplay between the Gods and their musical numbers would be enough to satisfy most audience members. “Once On This Island” is really about family at its core. Kenita R. Miller and Phillip Boykin play Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian, adoptive parents with a ferocious love for each other and young Ti Moune. It's that love that fuels Ti Moune when rations are low, or when she sees a young man in need. She can’t help but give. She can’t help but love, it was how she was raised, part of her DNA.

Photos Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Photos Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Hailey Kilgore, who plays Ti Moune, has the weight of the story on her back. She carries the load with ease, able to transcend from young girl to woman, to legend, all while maintaining a relatability on stage. She is the embodiment of love. It is her destiny to give it. Her love is so powerful her parents don’t understand it. The people laugh at it, the gods wonder and marvel at it. Her love, however, carries us through the narrative arc of this story. Her love is constant no matter the consequences.

Of course, to get to that revelation poor Ti Moune must go through a lot. Thankfully for the audience, her trek is couched in brilliant performances, dances numbers, and songs that will have you humming long after the show is over.

Alex Newell offers a stand out performance as the goddess Asaka. The role challenges the idea of gender with Newell playing a role that starred actress Kecia Lewis in the original 1990 Broadway production. This choice proves exciting, modern, and fundamental to the story telling. Mothers, as we see in the musical, aren’t just biological, but the people who care for you. Mama Euralie and Asaka care for Ti Moune as if they carried her in their wombs.

When Newell sings “Mama Will Provide” you feel Ti Moune will be protected. Newell’s voice covers the room, like a thick warm blanket, with a rich tone that makes you want more and more.

Dandridge as Paga Ge. All I can say is “Come through Greenleaf.” The actress does great work as Death, challenging both the perception of that role and the power of it. Her voice grabs at the lower registers of her range and delivers a guttural creepy tone that is chilling and invigorating to watch.

There is a scene in the musical with Daniel, the young boy from the other side of the island, played with heart and innocence by Isaac Powell, that elevates this show from a very good show to a great show. We’ll call it the “car scene.” Once you see it you will understand. Arden knows how to use light and dark, shadow and shape, to expand a scene and make it an experience.

The efficiency and imagination of the set design and staging are breathtaking. Everything on that stage has a purpose. Everything on that stage has meaning. To the dolls in the little girl's hands to the abandoned telephone pole.

“Once On This Island” is a journey about how the stories we pass down have value and meaning and how love is always the greatest story ever told. And I for one, am here for it.


 

MUDBOUND HAS A HARD TIME GETTING OUT OF MURKY MELODRAMA

Get Out is being supplanted as we speak. The film that will most likely usurp Jordan Peele’s satirical masterpiece from its well deserved place at the Oscars is Mudbound.

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First, let me say that I am totally ready to battle the accusations that I am pitting one black director against another. I am because the reality of more than one black film getting equal time during awards season is slim to none. So if there is a battle to be fought I am picking sides.

Let’s unpack your anger and mine.

“Mudbound” is a period drama, adapted from the novel by Hillary Jordan (no relation) about two families that are seemingly thrown together and torn apart by World War II. The story follows Henry McAllan, no wait Laura McAllan, oh no wait now we are on Hap Johnson then Florence Johnson, you dizzy yet?

As the narrative bounces from character to character we glean that a spinster is finally freed from the prospect of living with her parents and marries a quiet unromantic man, Mr. Henry McAllan, who provides a stable home but not much else.

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Laura, played with the expected steel of Carey Mulligan, is happy as a homemaker and mother. She puts her all into ironing and making the meals, mastering the cutting board. Then in bed with the same delivery that someone delivers the prediction of bad weather, Henry, played by Jason Clarke, announces that the family is moving down south to care for his ailing father Pappy McAllan, played with convincing anger and bile by Jonathan Banks, and to start that farm career he has always been talking about to ABSOLUTELY NO ONE. HIs mid-life crisis comes as a shock to both Mulligan’s character and the audience. You almost are waiting for Gary Coleman to pop up from the 1970s and say “What you talkin bout Willis,” the decision is so ludicrous.

One moving truck later we are taken to a beautiful country home in Mississippi. Soon we discover that poor Henry isn’t just unromantic. He’s an idiot. He somehow owns a farm but can’t get a rental lease together.

The McAllan’s are homeless for about five seconds until they decide to move right down the street from the Jacksons, a black family just trying to make it as tenants saving up to one day own a piece land on their own.

Hap Jackson, played by Rob Morgan, is the loving father who is also the area preacher. He quotes the bible word for word even though he is just learning to read….yeah.

Mary J. Blige plays the strong and silent Florence who for some reason in half her scenes is still wearing the same shades she wore in the What’s the 411 music video. It is such a pity about this little prop misstep because when we can actually see Ms. Blige she deliveries a durable and capable performance of a woman beleaguered by bad luck, and random acts of nonsense from white folks.

Because of those same random acts that are both frustrating for the character and predictable for the audience Florence is forced to be the maid for Laura, Henry, and their kids. It’s not all bad though because when the Jackson family undergoes their own bit of bad luck Laura is there to prove what is ultimately the lesson for us all, including the academy, which is: not all white people are bad.

Then we cut to what I guess would be the main story but with six protagonists who can tell. Ronsel Jackson played to brimming angry perfection by Jason Mitchell and Jamie McAllan, played by the equally troubled Garrett Hedlund, must deal with the fall out of the war. They form a friendship due to their shared PTSD and fondness for alcohol to drown the pain. I am not judging, I have made lasting relationships happen with less.

The third act brings three things together which are all problematic in their own right. For the purposes of time, I am going to drill down on the one event that will most likely catapult this film to the annals of Academy glory. There is a scene involving Ronsel, Jamie and the KKK in what can only be described as the kind of random white racism that can be evoked on a black body. It is horrific. It is violent. It is upsetting.

Does it recall the situations of the present as many of my other colleagues have suggested? Probably. My problem is that from the black POV it’s the same old problems we are still facing, From the white POV, however, it feels like that kind of racism is still stuck in the ugly distant past of the south.

The reason “Get Out” was so powerful and faces being snubbed is that it puts racism firmly at the foot of progressive liberals in the north as well as conservatives down south. Racism is the gift that keeps on giving from all different types of people. After November 2016, We ALL know this now. However, the mission statement of “Mudbound” still seems to be to put racism in a very particular time and place which very few connections to the present. Violence against the black body in America is as old as the flag itself. Who takes responsibility for that violence is the ever-moving target. There is still great effort in this film to pull out the “see that isn't us it's them" placard from its dusty shelves.

What makes this movie so sad is that in the film as cake analogy, “Mudbound” has it all. Director Dee Rees made a stellar debut with her first film “Pariah.” Her skills are not wasted on the screen with the south taking a life of its own in this film. Mulligan and Mitchell are mesmerizing as two people who are practically humming with anger and disappointment at the promise and the outcome of their respective lives. Morgan, who has made a sturdy career of nuanced character roles, does justice to the black father trying to find direction in a world in which his control over his family’s lives is laughable. The way he finds joy in his God and his children and even in an honest day's work does not feel trite in his hands. It feels sincere.

As Issa Rae stated this past fall, I am rooting for everybody black. Her unapologetic support of black love was misinterpreted. I get it. She was just happy to see black artists get a chance to have their work critiqued amongst everyone else. All art deserves a chance to rise and fall on its own merit. I just hope “Mudbound’s” rise does not have to mean “Get Out’s” fall.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU CONSUME

I have a theory. What we take in makes us who we are. If you eat pork chop all day, guess what? If beers, Jesus, positivity, negativity, keep going inside of you, it will sooner or later come back out of you. The same is true of culture. You can tell a lot about a person by what they read, what they watch on television what media they digest. 

BOOK.READ.SEE is an attempt to make sense of our culture diet and how it intersects with the rest of our lives. So let's get started.