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FILM REVIEW: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Robbie and her zany character are the soul of this endeavor. If nothing else, she is supremely animated, like she’s on her 10th espresso of the day and it’s only 9am. You can’t take your eyes off of her and her antics. The rest of the cast is pretty juiced too. Perez’s many faithful fans will follow her into any fire. Here, she’s almost as fun to watch as she was in the hilarious Pineapple Express. Smollett, Winstead, Basco and McGregor are fine.

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Rosie Perez, mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Bsco and Jurnee Smollett Bell in Birds of Prey

By Dwight Brown, NNPA Newswire Film Critic

She was the Joker’s ladyfriend. Now she’s on her own. DC comic book fans will want to follow the morally challenged Harley Quinn as she creates new chaos. Will others join them?

Just four years ago, Harley and other incarcerated villains were recruited by a secret government agency to become the Suicide Squad (critically panned film but did $746M at worldwide box office). That task force was created to stop the world from destruction. Now, the very manic and merrily pig-tailed vixen  has gone rogue. Dumped the boyfriend. Blowing up stuff for no reason at all. Cheating folks, starting fights and causing mayhem.

Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey

Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey

Harley refocuses when a substantial bounty is placed on a 13-year-old girl’s (Ella Jay Basco) head. The teenager is in possession of a large, coveted diamond. Save the child or collect the money? She wrestles with what little conscience she has as she figures out what to do.

Meanwhile, Harley is pursued by a cop, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), from the Gotham City Police Department. She hooks up with a singer/chauffeur Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Friday Night Lights) and is aided by a crossbow expert Helena Bertinelli/The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, TV’s Fargo). She and these Birds of Prey are up against the meanest most bloodthirsty man in Gotham, nightclub owner Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting and TV’s Fargo) and his henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina, Argo).

Rosie Perez in Birds of Prey

Rosie Perez in Birds of Prey

Robbie and her zany character are the soul of this endeavor. If nothing else, she is supremely animated, like she’s on her 10th espresso of the day and it’s only 9am. You can’t take your eyes off of her and her antics. The rest of the cast is pretty juiced too. Perez’s many faithful fans will follow her into any fire. Here, she’s almost as fun to watch as she was in the hilarious Pineapple Express. Smollett, Winstead, Basco and McGregor are fine.

The cast’s fate is left in the hands of the director and the screenwriter, who capture a zany comic book feel that is near-perfect for the R-rated superhero genre, but not quite extraordinary. Director Cathy Yan’s approach to the material is completely competent and energetic. Cartoonish letters and subheads appear on the screen, giving footage some visual fun. She knows how to gin up the cast’s performances and gives the film a very jumbled tone that remains consistent throughout.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey

Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey

The clunkyish sets (production design by K.K Barrett, The Goldfinch; set decoration Jennifer Lukehart and Florencia Martin) are comical too, but not supremely dazzling. The cinematography (Matthew Libatique, A Star Is Born) captures everything, including fight scenes in slow motion. You may wish the fisticuffs and gun battles were either more original or ingeniously choreographed, like in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. A stronger stunt coordinator could have lifted the pugilism up a level to the mind boggling category.

Margot Robbie, Chris Messina and Ewan McGregor in Birds of Prey

Margot Robbie, Chris Messina and Ewan McGregor in Birds of Prey

The script by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) puts all the characters into play and gives them some fun things to say, peppered with enough curse words to stir up the target audience of adolescents. Quinn: “…you’re that singer that no one listens to.” Black Canary: “You’re the ass—- no one likes.” The dialogue isn’t bitchy; it’s just that the squad likes to bitch at each other. The screenplay, direction and pacing (editors Jay Cassidy, Evan Schiff) would have benefited greatly if a decision had been made to frontload the beginning intermittently with strong action sequences and less setup. It’s a good 40 minutes before any significant and engaging skirmish appears.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Birds of Prey

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Birds of Prey

Constant flashbacks and retelling of subplots produce a stop and go that fights forward momentum. Car chases look pretty pedestrian compared to most other action movies. A scene when Roman berates a female customer in his nightclub and orders her to stand on a table, dance and strip, seems a bit sadistic, out-of-line and too Harvey Weinstein-ish for the proceedings. Yet, the film builds and builds tension until it crescendos in the finale with a very clever climax.

There is a young and female audience that will crave this kind of pandemonium. The same crowd that adored the Suicide Squad will too. If you’re a fan of the Deadpool series, this film will be right up your alley. But it is much closer to Deadpool 2 in feel and accomplishment than to the first Deadpool, which exhibited incredible visuals, hip style, consistently demented acting, unbelievable stunts, sick dialogue and an over-the-top depravity that could scar you psychologically for life.

Margot Robbie, who also produced the film, Cathy Yan and Christina Hodson are on to something. If they continue to develop the characters, advance their storylines and skim off the best parts of this film as they create the sequel, their future looks bright. In their corner, they’ll have a built-in audience of critic-immune movie fans who like their anti-heroine comic book films dark, with a strong dose of madness.

Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com and BlackPressUSA.com.

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Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.
The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Entertainment and Culture Editor

The documentary She Had A Dream by Tunisian filmmaker Raja Amari premieres on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange series tonight at 8 p.m. EST on WORLD CHANNEL. Season 14 of the acclaimed documentary series captures Black artists and activists shaping and reclaiming culture, advocating for change and mobilizing for brighter futures. She Had A Dream offers an intimate portrayal of one young Black Tunisian woman’s quest for political office and her fight against racism and oppression in a society that often seeks to overlook both.

The documentary follows Ghofrane, a 20-something Black woman from Tunisia as she walks the path of self-discovery of young adulthood while running for political office in a homeland where many still view her as an outsider.

Watch the trailer below:

A dedicated, charismatic activist and a modern, free-speaking woman, Ghofrane in many ways is the embodiment of contemporary Tunisian political hopes still alive years after the Arab Spring. She Had A Dream follows Ghofrane as she works to conquer her own self-doubts while attempting to persuade close friends and complete strangers to vote for her. As audiences follow her campaign, they also follow the dichotomies of her life as a woman striving for a role in politics in the Arab world and as a Black person in a country where racism is prevalent, yet often denied.

“The 14th season of AfroPoP shines a light on the collective power, strength and resilience of Black people and movements around the world,” said Leslie Fields-Cruz, AfroPoP executive producer. “Viewers will see artists use their platforms to push for progress and human rights and see ‘ordinary’ people do the remarkable in the interest of justice.”

Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.

She Had A Dream airs on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Monday, April 11 at 8 p.m. ET on WORLD Channel and begins streaming on worldchannel.org at the same time.

AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange is presented by Black Public Media and WORLD Channel. For more information, visit worldchannel.org or blackpublicmedia.org.

This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena.
The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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BBC Africa is reporting Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is facing a water shortage because of changing weather patterns and aging water facilities. The article reports, “Residents in informal communities like Kibra pay private vendors for water, meaning they now control the supply and access to water in the community.” The privatization of water access has led to an increase in the exploitation of women and girls in exchange for water.

“Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena. Check out the 2018 ANEW documentary short below:

The water crisis and the sexual exploitation of girls and women as a result of the water crisis shows no signs of slowing down.

To read more about this crisis, visit BBC Africa‘s series of articles and videos on Kenya’s water crisis and the Water Integrity Network’s (WIN) study on sextortion.

This news brief was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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#WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright

THE AFRO — Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.
The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Maya Pottiger, Word in Black

It’s no surprise that we’re living through difficult times. After two years, we’re still in a global pandemic, which has predominantly impacted people of color. In addition, Book bans, attacks on critical race theory, and partisan political fights target everything from Black youths’ sexuality, to history, to health.

And we’re seeing the effects.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.

For a variety of reasons — ongoing stigma, lack of insurance, most accessible — Black students often rely on the mental health services offered at school.Outside of a mental health-specific practice, Black students were nearly 600 times as likely to get mental health help in an academic setting compared to other options, according to 2020 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In fact, mental health services in schools have been steadily gaining popularity among students since 2009, before dropping slightly in 2020 when the school year was interrupted, according to the SAMHSA report. As a result, the rate of students receiving mental health care through school decreased by 14 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.

So how are schools changing the way they address and prioritize mental health — and the specific needs of Black students — since 2020?

The Renewed Focus on Mental Health

For school-aged people, the majority of their time is spent in a school building — about eight hours per day, 10 months out of the year. To help address mental health during academic hours, schools are trying to focus on social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills. This includes teaching kids how to be in touch with their emotions and protect against adverse mental health outcomes.

But it’s been difficult.

Though there’s been more conversation, the implementation is challenging, says Dr. Kizzy Albritton, an associate professor of school psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. There was already a shortage of school-based mental health professionals before the pandemic, which has now been exacerbated, as have mental health issues. In addition, though schools clearly recognize the importance of mental health, they aren’t always provided adequate resources.

“Unless there are more resources funneled into the school system, we’re going to see a continued catch-up issue across the board,” Albritton says. “And, unfortunately, our Black students are going to continue to suffer the most.”

In a survey of high school principals and students, Education Week Research Center found discrepancies in how principals and students viewed a school’s mental health services. While 86 percent of the principals said their schools provided services, only about 66 percent of students agreed. The survey did point out it’s possible the school offers these services and students aren’t aware. The survey also found Black and Latinx students were less likely than their peers to say their schools offered services.

Dr. Celeste Malone, the president-elect of the National Association for School Psychologists and a Howard University associate professor, says she hasn’t previously seen this degree of attention to mental health in schools.

“I see that a lot in my role for a school psychology graduate program: the outreach and people contacting me with openings where they didn’t exist previously,” Malone says. “With this increased push in funding to hire more, that’s definitely a very, very positive movement.”

Mental Health Is Not One Size Fits All

Just like with many aspects of health, Black youths need different mental health support from their peers of other races. They need a counselor who understands their lived experiences, like microaggressions and other forms of discrimination or racism, without the student having to explain.

For example, in order to best address the specific mental health needs of Black students, districts need to provide information breaking down mental health stigmas; focus on hiring Black counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals; and fund anti-racist and trauma-informed mental health practices, according to the Center for American Progress.

While she hears a lot of talk, Albritton says she isn’t seeing widespread evidence of these solutions in practice.

“There needs to be a willingness, first of all, to understand that our Black students, their needs look a lot different,” Albritton says. School officials need to understand where Black students are coming from — that their families and households experience systemic and structural racism, which are known to trigger anxiety and depression. The effects of the racial wealth gap also play a role, from the neighborhood kids are living in, to the schools they can attend to the impacts on their health. Students might be bringing worries about these challenges to school, which could be reflected in their behavior. This is why, Albritton says, it’s crucial to also work with students’ families.

The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright appeared first on AFRO American Newspapers .

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