July 11, 2013
By Dwight Brown
NNPA Film Critic
If you don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might only know the rudiments of this tragic event and subsequent upheaval: Black man, in handcuffs, shot in back by White police officer in Bay Area Rapid Transit train station. Protests. Riots. Unrest. This thoughtful, methodical and contemporary allegory, which is based on a true story, carries the weight of a Greek Tragedy. The film reveals as much about the incident as it does about our complex attitudes towards race.
Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), an aimless 22-year-old, lives in the East Bay. He has not lived a perfect life. Done a little time for a little crime. Fathered a daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal), out of wedlock with his Latina girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz). Lost his job because he couldn’t show up on time. He’s dabbled in drug dealing and has a hair-trigger temper he’s learning to control.
On the other hand, he loves his daughter. Has a strong relationship with his tough-love mom Wanda (Octavia Spencer). Is buoyed by his extended family. His sister wants to borrow money, and though he is dead broke, he tries to help. And his heart is in the right place the day a stray dog is hit by a car and he carries it to the side of road as if it was his own.
It’s 2008. December 31st, New Year’s Eve. Seems like Oscar is finally focusing on finding a job, being faithful to Sophina and leaving his drug life behind. He’s got a new attitude and great expectations for 2009. Just one more night on the town, what could it hurt? He, his buddies and Sophina plan to head into San Francisco for the festivities.
It’s been said that nothing good ever happens after midnight. It’s the reason moms keep their sons home at night. Wanda, afraid her son and his friends will drive drunk, insists they take the train. BART. It’s a good idea that only fate could make regrettable. Mom, “I told him to take the train. I told him to take the BART I didn’t know they would hurt my baby.”
Oakland born writer/director Ryan Coogler, whose previous credits include short films, takes a big step into the feature film world with this ambitious, well-realized urban drama. His script lays the blueprint. It’s perfectly detailed. With deftness he sets Oscar’s persona in cement. You know he’s an imperfect human being. Neither a saint nor a sinner. He’s a son without a father, an adolescent struggling with direction. Think Tupac. Think of the kid down the street. He’s surrounded by love (mom, Sophina, Tatiana, various uncles). He’s equally courted by crime, drugs and gang violence. His choices are crucial; the difference between life and death.
The other character Coogler develops with great success is Wanda; a mom who doles out her love and acceptance balanced with strict parental discipline. One of the film’s strongest moments is a prison visiting room scene when Oscar gets in a tiff with a fellow con who rankles him. The two young bulls paw the ground and are ready to ram heads when mom takes control. She gets up and leaves, “I’m not coming here again. If you want to put yourself through this…Not me.” And she doesn’t return.
Coogler’s direction is steeped in realism. No New Jack City swing. No Boyz ‘n The Hood melodrama. It feels like you’re wandering the streets of Oakland, aimless, searching for a clue to life. The interactions between the characters seem like everyday occurrences. Fights and make-ups with Sophina are normal as rain. Civil communications with White, Black and Latino people are routine. The death of Oscar Grant is unique because fellow passengers captured it on cell phones. Wisely, Coogler starts the film with some of that haunting footage. As the director leads you up to the film’s climax, you are hopeful, even though you know the inevitable.
The filmmaking does have flaws: Sometimes the dialogue seems overly prophetic. On New Year’s Eve, Tatiana tells Oscar, “Don’t go, I’m scared for you.” If those words were actually said that night, so be it. In this film, they sound too contrived. Also the film ends abruptly, like it only gets to Act II. What happens after the incident is surly as significant and worthy of unveiling as what comes before it. How the subsequent protests, riots and demonstrations lead specifically to justice of any kind is the missing coda.
Michael B. Jordon honed his talent on series like The Wire and Friday Night Lights. His performance seems natural but that doesn’t mean it was easy to achieve. It’s subtle, deep and fiery. Octavia Spencer is up to the challenge of playing mom. Her expressive eyes and amiable manner mix eloquently with a tough undercurrent. This brilliant, performance is the antithesis of her clownish, over-the-top portrayal in The Help. This should be her signature role.
Under the guidance of cinematographer Rachel Morrison, the BART trains look like urban snakes, vipers speeding along tracks and devouring humans at each station. The costumes are unnoticeable (Aggie Guerard Rodgers) and that’s a compliment. The music doesn’t interfere (Ludwig Goransson). The production design (Hanna Beachler) exhibits low-income apartments and prisons with stark visuals.
At that moment when words are said and irrevocable mistakes are made it’s a shocking, immensely disturbing experience. You will leave the theater emotionally devastated. Grief-stricken. Angry. It’s the mark of a very strong piece of filmmaking and a very sobering reminder that life can vanish in an instant.
Visit film critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.
You can expect a message from a distance to arrive this week and you’ll be happy to hear it. The spirit is easily lifted if you remember that you only have to imagine your world the way you want it to be. Create a happy reality tonight! Soul Affirmation: I let worry fly away.
You’re likely to be efficient and productive this week. Even if you work hard you’ll get satisfaction from a job well done! Use your talents to create some free time for yourself. Soul Affirmation: With spirit I co-create my week.
Educate those around you in the area of personal growth. Their improvement will bring benefits to you. Humor in communication is the key. Humor in introspection is a must. Soul Affirmation: Success that has been following me is trying to catch up.
This week romance begins to percolate. Enjoy your feelings and let your brain relax. Suspend all judgments of others. Being stern won’t work for you this week. Soul Affirmation: I go along to get along.
Romance will find you this week. Don’t be looking the other way. Your “rap” is especially strong. Make as many of those important phone calls as possible. Soul Affirmation: Friendships are shock absorbers on the bumpy roads of life.
Don’t take any big gambles this week, the time is not right for a flight into the unknown. A newfound harmony is in store for you and your mate. Your mate will understand your fears. Soul Affirmation: New insights create new directions and a new cast of characters.
The air can be cleared easily. Admit your need for help. Seek understanding. You’ll help another by seeking help from them. Communication problems will smooth themselves out. Soul Affirmation: Moving slowly might be the fastest way.
This week should bring an opportunity to further your education, don’t pass it up. Pay special attention to details at work. A friend needs your support. Find joy in giving it. Soul Affirmation: All things work together for good.
You and your mate should increase your saving for the future this week. Future plans should be spotlighted. A relationship is likely to take a serious turn. Be open to making an unusual purchase. Soul Affirmation: I can see clearly now the rain is gone. There are no obstacles in my way.
You and your partner are on the same wavelength. If you are presented with a contract this week, it’s an ideal week to reach an agreement. Make the important phone call to set things up. Soul Affirmation: What I’ve been waiting for has been here all along.
Beware of financial pitfalls that you’ve set for yourself. Strengthen all your relationships by understanding motivations of others. Spend time at home. Enjoy what you already have. Soul Affirmation: Often it’s not what I say but the way I say it that gets the message across.
Don’t expect to win every battle, especially with your lover. This week winning is losing. Backing down is winning. Shyness produces a bold result. It’s easy to collect that long-standing debt. Soul Affirmation: I keep money on my mind this week.
After months of development, ReTake Artist and Music Listing and Promotion Service just unveiled its new website — a dedicated listing service for bands, singers, songwriters and musicians. While announcing the company’s commitment to signing former television talent show contestants of shows like American Idol and The Voice, president Kenneth Schwartz emphasized that the company also handles established talent — as evidenced by the endorsement of Michael Jackson’s beautiful niece, Tanay Jackson!
ReTake provides innovative marketing solutions to help artists promote and grow their business. “The website offers far more exposure than other popular platforms that typically handle millions of participants and whose artists tend to get lost in the confusion,” says Schwartz. “Instead, ReTake understands it is fans that drive popularity and success, so fans are free on our platform. As the fans discover new music or find out more about favorite artists, this will increase the popularity of the artist’s profile.” The company has made it easier for fans to follow their favorite artist and have likewise simplified the process for artists to keep fans informed about new music, releases, promotions, concerts and shows.
ReTake will be bringing in talent from all corners of the world. They offer unique features and their packages will be customized to the individual artist to have the maximum affect on their marketing and promotional success.
Tanesha Jonelle ‘Tanay’ Rodney-Jackson is the only daughter of Tito Jackson. The new up and coming Pop R&B artist and niece of world famous Michael Jackson started off as a Theatrical Dancer and accredited Songwriter and is now the new delight springing out on her own. Her sound is fun, emotional, and sexy.
By Truth Minista Paul Scott
Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Weekly
‘There’s a chain of command/I’m the missing link” – God Bless Amerika – Lil Wayne
Back in 1969, Jimi Hendrix outraged some folks when he pulled out his guitar and rocked out on The Star Spangled Banner, during Woodstock. Forty -some years later, the drama continues as Lil Wayne is in the center of a storm of controversy for wipin’ his Spectre sneakers on the American flag at a video shot. From Woodstock to Hood -stock, the game remains the same…
When Lil Weezy shot the video for his new song , “God Bless Amerika , recently and stepped on Old Glory, immediately, there were calls for the rapper’s dread-locked head to be served on a platter. Even though he came back less than 24 hours later and claimed that he didn’t mean to diss the flag, the damage had already been done. Also the fact that the event happened while the artist was gettin’ his Rev. Jeremiah Wright on, did not escape millions of outraged ultra-patriots. But just like when Jimi Hendrix pulled out his six string in the 60’s, the question remains, what was Weezy, exactly trying to say ? And more importantly what song best represents the true mentality of the real Boyz in the Hood in 2013, Karate Chop or God Bless Amerika.
For most of his career, Dwayne Carter has been the poster boy for political apathy. Besides brief moments of social sobriety , such as his guest verse on Nas and Damian Marley ‘s song ,My Generation, his motto seems to have been “when life throws you a lemon throw some codeine in a cup and make Sizzurp.” But times are changing fast and like Bob Dylan said “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
For the last few years, commercial Hip Hop artists have been fightin’ a losing battle to prove that they can stay, artistically, relevant ,yet, totally detached from what is going on politically across the planet. Even though rap music was being used as a soundtrack for rebellions in other countries, in the USA, the art form was still trapped in a netherworld of bottle poppin’ and booty shakin’.
But since Occupy Wall Street captured the imaginations of millions of suffering Americans about to lose their unemployment checks and scared the hell outta the fat cat exploiters of the poor who began to believe that the world wide revolution against global gluttony was gonna come knockin’ at the their front doors, Hip Hop has found it difficult to ignore the two ton ragin’ elephant in the room.
And Lil Wayne is not the only one feelin’ the heat.
While Jay Z’s “Open Letter” response to his trip to Cuba was definitely not the most politically charged song ever recorded, it is ,undoubtedly, his most politically charged recording.
Also, Jay’s homie, Kanye West’s, admission in a recent New York Times article that he was influenced by the political rap group ,Dead Prez, has to be seen as a sign of the times. Because if DP influenced Kanye West, the question is , who influenced Dead Prez? That is when names like Fred Hampton Jr. and Omali Yeshitela come into the picture. So, by inference, Kanye West admitted to the world that he is being influenced by the teachings of “ Black militants” whom they fear more than the most gangsta-est gangsta rappers.
“We need a cultural awakening,” says Hip Hop artist and Militant Minded Mess-Age Music affiliate, Extra Midwest. “We need something that hits us and makes us recognize… like a “Rodney King moment.”
Hollywood is also reading the writing on the wall as the commercial breaks during the customary, weekly TV airings of Juice and Menace II Society are now featuring clips from the upcoming film, “Fruitvale Station,” about the murder of Oscar Grant at the hands of a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop back in 2009.
Is it a coincidence that all of this is happening while America is bracing itself for the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin ? Of course not.
The entertainment industry execs ain’t stupid. They know that race and violence are going to be “the” hot topics of the summer. And since they pledge allegiance to nuthin’ but the almighty dollar, they are not beyond making a little bit of change from some rapper steppin’ on a flag or even civil unrest.
They have done it before.
In his book, “There’s a Riot Going On,” Peter Doggett wrote of a meeting of advertising agencies and entertainment conglomerates that was held in October of 1968 called “Selling the American Youth Market,” which was followed two months later by a Columbia Records marketing campaign called, “The Revolutionaries are on Columbia.” Thus, the revolutionary energy of the time was quickly co-opted and transformed into a capitalist marketing scheme.
Perhaps, Hip Hop artists are just overcoming their fears that if they speak truth to power they are gonna wind up floatin’ face down in a river.
While this may be true of Civil Rights leaders and members of the Black Power Movement, this really has never applied to rappers with large fan bases. Too many people are watching.
When was the last time that you heard of a political rapper being assassinated? However, there are frequent stories of non-political gangsta rappers being shot dead in the streets over some hood stuff.
Even though numerous conspiracy theories surround the death of Tupac Shakur, it wasn’t the revolutionary “Holla If Ya Hear Me” 2 Pac that was shot on the Las Vegas strip but the “Hit em Up“ Tupac.
Thus, turning a potential legendary act of musical martyrdom into just another case of perceived justifiable homicide.
I predict that if George Zimmerman walks, “God Bless Amerika” will become the official hood anthem of the summer.
Now, whether all this furor will result in a permanent change in the consciousness of Hip Hop remains to be seen.
But as of right now, one thing is certain.
Like Lil Wayne would say “the block is hot…”
By Courtney Jacobs
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
A Utah substance abuse treatment center has reportedly refused to accept Paris Jackson, the 15-year-old daughter of pop music icon Michael Jackson, for treatment of behavior disorders, according to news reports.
According the website TMZ, a rehabilitation center in Utah that has not been identified, rejected the request of the Jackson girl’s mother for admission, citing the prospects of disruptive attention from media, especially paparazzi, on the treatment facility.
Jackson has been hospitalized since June 5 after what California first responders described as an apparent suicide attempt. She was treated for what appeared to be self-inflicted cuts on her wrists and for ingestion of a possible hazardous amount of pain-killers at UCLA Medical Center, the same place where her father was pronounced dead four years ago.
Jackson’s mother Debbie Rowe, in a Twitter post, said, “My daughter has asked that I extend a huge thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers and support. She is strong like her father.”
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