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Black Film Festival Shifts Focus to Web as Options Expand

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In this Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, producer, director and writer Issa Rae, creator of the YouTube series "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl," poses for a photo at her home in Los Angeles.  As scrutiny continues over diversity in film and opportunities for African Americans in Hollywood, some black actors and producers are looking to another avenue where they see growth, the Web. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

In this Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, producer, director and writer Issa Rae, creator of the YouTube series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” poses for a photo at her home in Los Angeles. As scrutiny continues over diversity in film and opportunities for African Americans in Hollywood, some black actors and producers are looking to another avenue where they see growth, the Web. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LUQMAN ADENIYI, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — As scrutiny continues over diversity in film and opportunities for African Americans in Hollywood, some black actors and producers are looking to another avenue where they see growth — the Web.

Success stories like Issa Rae, whose “Awkward Black Girl” Internet comedy series was so successful she received a development deal with HBO, have opened the door for others who may have found more traditional avenues in Hollywood closed. So as the American Black Film Festival opened in New York this week for its 19th year, it has turned its focus to the Web.

“Degrassi” star Andrea Lewis is among those finding more exposure on the Internet. Used to being the only black person on set, when Lewis was not getting the roles she wanted, she decided not going to wait.

“Instead of wondering where the next opportunity can come, I said, ‘I am going to come up with it and do it myself,'” Lewis said.

She took to the Web with her comedy series “Black Actress,” sharing the narrative of black women trying to make it in the industry. The 10- to 20-minute episodes include the storyline of a young women going on auditions, woven in with real-life interviews from actresses such as Tatyana Ali and “Power” Naturi Naughton. They discuss the lack of significant roles offered, and the struggle to live creatively.

Lewis said she created “Black Actress” after she was introduced as the “urban one” by a cast member.

“I was seen as the black one on the set, not as a peer or another actor who is trying to work,” she said. “It was an uncomfortable experience for me and also for the others who were there.”

Now Lewis is writing, producing and acting on her own terms. She is working on three other Web series and a feature film with Jungle Wild Productions.

For her, the Internet offers “creative freedom and there is no gatekeeper on what you can put out with your team.”

Her show is featured as a part of the festival’s “2015 Web Originals” panel. Other events at ABFF, which runs until Sunday, include the New York premiere of “Dope” and a conversation with ABFF ambassador and “Empire” star Taraji P. Henson.

Jeff Friday, co-founder of the ABFF, said using the Internet and social media is an easy way for young actors and producers to get themselves out there and create content.

“You’ve got to try to take your own destiny in your own hands and there is no excuse now,” he said.

Rae, the creator and star of “Awkward Black Girl” and the HBO-ordered pilot “Insecure,” is joining Andrea Lewis and the creators of website BlackandSexy.tv, Numa Perrier and Dennis Dortch, for the panel “How to Create and Monetize a Successful Web Series.”

Rae said events like these are important at ABFF because “a lot of people don’t know how to get started and how to make money.”

Rae’s success comes after creating multiple web series and producing other projects with her company, Color Creative.

“I got into this industry initially as a fan and to be able to use my platform to support other up-and-coming artists that I am a fan of. That’s an ideal situation for me,” she said.

When she created her first Web series in 2007, her main concern was creating more roles for black women and creating content for the type of humor she enjoyed.

“I never thought that anyone would really pay to see my work online,” Rae said.

BuzzFeed actress and comedian Quinta Brunson, known as Quinta B., started with posting funny self-made videos on Vine and Instagram. Now she is making videos for a major media company on topics such as the perks of being short, the struggle to gain weight and the best free bread at restaurants.

She said she is able to express herself as a writer and comedian that she would not be able to do anywhere else.

“The thing I like the most about BuzzFeed is I do the kind of video where it’s just me being a person,” Brunson said, “especially as a black women, I appreciate the freedom to decide who I’ll be rather than being told who I will be.”

Friday said with ABFF’s focus on writing courses and producer panels, they are trying to create a close-knit African-American film and television community, so that successful black artists can share their secrets and make those coming up feel like they can make it.

“Ultimately we just want the people who are working in Hollywood to be more reflective of our audience,” Friday said.

By using the Internet and Web series, “once you have an audience Hollywood will come knocking.” Friday said.

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Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Entertainment

The Mayflower Chorus Presents Spring Show “Higher Ground”

The Mayflower Choral Society is a nonprofit corporation and the parent organization of the Mayflower Chorus, the performing ensemble of the Mayflower Choral Society which supports the educational and cultural benefits of musical performance to its members, the Marin community, and the general public. 

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The Mayflower Chorus will present their spring show “Higher Ground: A Celebration of Music and the Creative Spirit” on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at 6:00 p.m. The free live-streamed celebration can be accessed by clicking on the Events button at www.mayflowerchorus.org/calendar.

 The show will feature songs from diverse genres — rock, jazz, Broadway, and traditional choral. An original composition by David Manley will be presented. Kat Austin, their scholarship recipient, will perform a solo, and Mayflower choristers Kellie Allen and Melissa Muller will lead a sing-along.

Film footage and special effects was added to the spring show to provide the viewer with a full music video experience. 

Choral Director Robert Hazelrigg will conduct The Mayflower Chorus. Music Director David Manley will lead The Mayflower Band. Choreography and costume design is provided by Show Director Cathy Sarkisian. David and Cathy designed and edited the audio/video footage assisted by Gina Chapman.

The Mayflower Choral Society is a nonprofit corporation and the parent organization of the Mayflower Chorus, the performing ensemble of the Mayflower Choral Society which supports the educational and cultural benefits of musical performance to its members, the Marin community, and the general public. 

The Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons culminate in several professional-quality shows with a diverse mix of traditional, contemporary, and original music. In addition to seasonal shows, the Mayflower Chorus also provides vocal entertainment in a variety of musical styles for private, corporate, and community events.

     For more information on the Mayflower Chorus Society, to schedule their small ensembles and/or the full chorus, or to support their educational and cultural programs, go to www.mayflowerchorus.org.

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REVIEW: A Tale of Two Mothers in Radio Play of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”

Mia Lane

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Cathleen Riddley. Photo courtesy of Aurora Theatre Company.

Michael Asberry. Photo courtesy Stuart Locklear Photography

The Aurora Theater is finishing up a run for radio of the stage adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Bluest Eye.” 

Just past Mother’s Day, the tale of two moms, adapted for the stage by Lydia R. Diamond, we meet Mrs. Breedlove and Mama as actor Cathleen Riddley takes on both personas. Perhaps the actor’s success lies in the potential inherent in each of us to do the same if given certain experiences within fixed structural policies or historic mapping.

What does Black geography look like? 

Mrs. Breedlove sees herself as beautiful until she believes the lie. Her melanin too much for a world without color, she frightens her neighbors, even other Black people who are trying to get along and so she stifles her fire; covers her flame until it is little more than a spark, just enough to throw her legs over the side of the bed, put feet into worn, yet comfortably familiar shoes until the weight of her Blackness settles like an anvil upon her once proud shoulders . . . and so, into this world Pecola is born– a beautiful brown baby girl.

     With her marriage to Cholly (Michael J. Asberry), an orphan rescued for a garbage heap, Mrs. Breedlove was so looking forward to this new, sweet life. Leaving behind loved ones — a community reminder to the newlyweds that they mattered —  the newlyweds head north to the bare northern region Lorrain, Ohio, where that sense of self-worth is absent.

All Pecola (Jasmine Milan Williams) wants is for Mrs. Breedlove, her mom, and Cholly, her dad, to love her. Constantly wishing to disappear from the violence and unhappiness furnishing all the rooms in her life, the child notices how in the absent body– her eyes are always left. Her soul refuses to shut its eyes. Perhaps the windows remain open as a witness. Pecola wants to be gone completely– she does not want to take anything forward into the fairy tale captured in films with blonde, blue-eyed heroines or the pretty “light-skinned” girls at school who get all the attention.

Mama, on the other hand, is the mother of Frieda and Darlene (Sam Jackson), two girls who are Pecola’s friends. After a fire, Pecola stays with the girls’ family while their home is being repaired. Pecola has an opportunity to see and perhaps imagine another version of her story. Frieda and Darlene’s mother and father are so different from her own. The story takes place over a season beginning in Autumn.

Dawn Monique Williams, the director, says the Aurora production is for all the Black girls and women who couldn’t find a space to be free, where beauty and liberation were synonymous. 

    “The Bluest Eye” is an adult story, even if the narrator is a child. There is rape, physical violence, and death. It is what one might call a tragedy, so take care of yourself and listen to loved ones. You will want to talk with others afterward. One can feel the love shared among the cast, director, and creative production team. The sound design (Elton Bradman) is marvelous and you will probably never forget this story. We need to be gentle with each other. We literally do not know who is on the other side of the mask, but we can still hold each other in love and light as we recognize their humanity as we look in their eyes as we pass.

    As I spoke to cast members over a week in a series of radio conversations, my suggestion is to listen to all the perspectives. Each is singularly enlightening. It is pretty amazing to watch the actors slip in and out so seamlessly. between personas. There is also laughter and lightness within this story as in life.

    In its 29th Season, it is to its credit that Aurora Theatre allowed Williams, associate director, to take it on a creative journey unlike any before. We hope such excursions continue. Toni Morrison’s work, “The Bluest Eye” is among the classics in the Western canon.

Apply the Family Discount code: BluestCNC50 for half-price tickets: For tickets visit https://www.auroratheatre.org/thebluesteye or call (510) 843-4822

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Bay Area

Residents Celebrate 510 Day, an Oakland Holiday

The holiday started in 2016, when a group of long-term Oakland residents felt that, in the face of Black and Brown native Oaklanders being displaced through the city’s gentrification, a celebration of their cultures was necessary.

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Neptune Jenkins, Tiny Matthews and Zay Coleman at Oakland's 510 Day celebration today near the Lake Merritt Amphitheater. Photo by Zack Haber on May 10.

Demetrius Coats with his legs over his bike’s handlebars as he rides in the bike caravan around Lake Merritt at Oakland’s 510 Day celebration today.
Photo by Zack Haber on May 10.

Over 40 people gathered around Lake Merritt on Monday to celebrate 510 Day, an Oakland-based holiday that honors Black and Brown cultures of the city and their resilience against displacement each year on May 10.

“For us, it’s a protest and a party at the same time,” Leon Skyes, a Black Oakland native who helps organize 501 Day celebrations, told The Oakland Post. “Rather than being targeted, today we’re being celebrated.”

The holiday started in 2016, when a group of long-term Oakland residents felt that, in the face of Black and Brown native Oaklanders being displaced through the city’s gentrification, a celebration of their cultures was necessary. The 415 Day, a San Francisco holiday where residents gather every April 15th in Dolores Park to celebrate against and protest the removal of native SF families, was 510 Day’s inspiration. Both holidays get their name from their city’s respective telephone area codes.

In the years since the first 510 Day, several incidents at or near Lake Merritt have shown the area as a contested place where long-term Black and Brown residents’ acts of celebrating, music making, barbecuing, or simply existing have been under threat.

In the fall of 2016, a woman who lived near the lake called police on Aaron Davis, an 18-year-old Black Oakland native, to file a noise complaint about him playing his drum set. Soon after, Oaklanders rallied behind him with drums of their own to protest the complaint.

In mid-May of 2018, after a viral video showed white Oakland resident Jennifer Schulte calling police on Black Oakland resident Kenzie Smith for barbecuing near the lake, many Black Oakland residents came out to protest the incident by participating in the “BBQ’n While Black” celebration. Later that year, a white jogger threw a Black Oakland resident’s belongings in the lake. The city began evicting many Black and Brown homeless residents from the area and enforcing no camping rules in 2018 as well.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the lake has become a contested site for informal Black and Brown businesses after residents who live nearby have filed complaints against Lake Merritt vendors selling merchandise without permits.

“Gentrification has created a hostile environment for us where we can’t even just exist without getting the cops called on us,” Needa Bee, who helped start 510 Day and organize its Lake Merritt celebrations, told The Oakland Post.

Bee, also known as The Lumpia Lady, has lived in Oakland for about 30 years and has sold lumpia, a traditional Filipino food, for about 10 years at Lake Merritt. She served free lumpia to those who came to the 510 Day celebration.

The celebration included a bike and car caravan that circled the lake about one and a half times. Bikers, many of whom rode fixed gears and did tricks, lead the way. Demetrius Coleman put his legs up on his bike’s handle bars several times as he rode. 

 At one point, Zay Coleman sat entirely on one side of his bike, only using one pedal to move it as he biked down Grand Avenue with both his legs and his face pointing towards the lake. Cars that had signs attached to them supporting defunding the Oakland Police Department and against gentrification followed along, honked their horns loudly, and blared Oakland musicians like Too $hort. Motorcyclists rode along and revved their engines. Two roller skaters also joined the caravan.

After the caravan, participants gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater to eat food and take photos while some of the bikers continued to do tricks. Neptune Jenkins stood on the frame of his bike while grabbing the front wheel, pushing and pulling it back and forth while continuing to balance. Signs honoring historical Oakland events and famous Oaklanders like basketball player Bill Russell, activists Elaine Brown, Bobby Seale, and Fred Korematsu, musician and dancer Kehlani, and rap groups Hieroglyphics and Digital Underground were lined up in a row at the amphitheater.

Nicole Lee, an Oakland native who helped organize the celebration, described 510 Day as a way to “assert joy at the same time that we’re protesting around Oakland natives and Oakland culture being displaced.” 

The politics of 510 Day were present at the amphitheater, as organizers encouraged participants to sign a petition to be sent to City Council, Mayor Libby Schaaf and county and state leaders to support the #WeStillHere Oakland Platform which outlines nine demands including shelter for all and Oakland’s non-cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While people celebrated at the amphitheater with music and some drank alcohol and smoked cannabis, the celebration stayed calm, the crowd was not densely packed, and people left well before dark. Although in years past 510 Day in person celebrations included larger, dense crowds and live DJs spinning loud music, organizers intentionally kept this year’s in person celebrations low key as a precaution against spreading COVID-19. The organizers hosted a party on the internet later in the evening with local DJs Kleptic, AbelDee and DJ Fuze.

“While this isn’t physically the largest [510 Day celebration], this has been one of the best ones, just by the heart of the people, the will of the people, and the vibe,” Skyes told the 510 Day celebrators at the Lake Merritt amphitheater. He looks forward to hopefully returning next year with a larger in person party/protest.

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