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FILM REVIEW: Black Films Thrive at Sundance Film Festival 2022

NNPA NEWSWIRE — At the last minute, due to Omicron concerns, the 2022 Sundance Film Festival morphed from an in-person and virtual event to a purely digital experience. Thanks to streaming, Black filmmakers and Black films were on center stage all over the world. Check them out…
The post FILM REVIEW: Black Films Thrive at Sundance Film Festival 2022 first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Dwight Brown, NNPA Newswire Film Critic

At the last minute, due to Omicron concerns, the 2022 Sundance Film Festival morphed from an in-person and virtual event to a purely digital experience. Thanks to streaming, Black filmmakers and Black films were on center stage all over the world. Check them out…

Aftershock (***)

According to WHO, the U.S. ranks 60th on the list of countries with the lowest maternal mortality ratio. The Population Reference Bureau cites, “Black women are three times more likely to die in pregnancy postpartum than white women.” Directors Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee’s illuminating documentary breaks down the contributing factors and possible solutions for maternal mortality in the aftermath of two specific women’s deaths. Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac both died after labor and a grassroots movement for birth justice and equity, in their honor, is heroically launched by Omari Maynard and Bruce McIntyre, the fathers of their children. The courageous dads, like shamans, guide you through the perils and needs for a change in obstetric care from pregnancy to births, to aftercare.

Systemic issues (hospitals profit more from risky, fast-buck C-Sections than slow vaginal births), disparities, root causes and communication errors are revealed. Notably a job once done by black slave midwives is now the domain of white male OB-GYNs. Watching the consciousness-raising support groups of widowed Black men is as inspiring as a thousand Million Man Marches. Very solid doc filmmaking instincts reflect an empowering movement born from painful experiences. The revolution in pre- and postnatal care for Black women will be Instagrammed, Twitted, Facebooked…

Descendant (***1/2)

A yearning for a definitive history is the driving force of this heart-warming doc. The Cotilda schooner was the last American slave ship to bring Africans to the U.S. The imprisoned captives from Benin arrived in Mobile Alabama in 1860. The Black descendants of that ship settled in Africatown, which has since been parceled away by public domain highway projects, a lumber yard and other businesses. Still the proud residents keep their history alive, orally, passing on info, names and dates to future generations who become historians and record keepers.

Director Margaret Brown captures the spiritual experiences of these chosen Alabamians. She films their interviews just as a white journalist and white owner of a mechanic’s shop decide to look for the ship that was burned by its owner Timothy Meaher and hidden in neighboring swamps.

Brown’s chronicling of this hunt and what it means to the heirs of the Cotilda’s last passengers is never obtrusive. Her style is reminiscent of the grassroots doc Something in the Water. Culture, history, reckoning and reparations all add a richness that makes the film emotionally compelling. Grainy footage of the ship’s last survivor Cudjo Lewis, as filmed by author Zora Neale Hurston in the 1930s, is as astounding to see as an heir of Meaher’s showing up for a ship discovery ceremony. These stalwart descendants of slavery save their culture and history. Their tenacity and courage prevail in a very illuminating way.

Emergency (**)

In Weekend at Bernie’s, three white guys tooled around with a dead body in a mildly funny one-joke movie. In this similarly premised college life satire, the laughs aren’t as easy. African American director Carey Williams and Mexican American screenwriter KD Davila’s spoof delves into the hazards of Black life at a predominately white school. Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins, The Underground Railroad) is a brilliant pre-med student. His loosely wired, vape-smoking buddy Sean (RJ Cyler, The Harder They Fall) is a devil-may-care pothead. They intend to go on a legendary party circuit bender, but before their first beer pong, they discover a drunk, unconscious white blonde (Maddie Nichols) on their living room floor. A Latino roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) is oblivious. The trio tries get the cataleptic girl to safety, which takes them down a deep rabbit hole of mishaps.

What’s on view is a very shallow attempt at exploring racism that turns into nothing more than a trivial excuse for comic debauchery. The very young black hip-hop influenced dialogue is the film’s strongest element. Stagnant dialogue-heavy scenes thwart most good intentions. Watkins and Cyler exhibit a Harold and Kumar chemistry that would feel better in another movie. There’s just enough story and humor here for a SNL skit. Not much more. Trying to make serious points in a pointless film is a worthless endeavor.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul (**)

“Where’s Tyler Perry when you need him?!” Pastor Lee Curtis Charles (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife Trinitie (Regina Hall) run a Southern megachurch named Wander to Greater Paths. The place is near empty. Why? Evidently a preacher man being caught up in a sex scandal drives congregations away. But the duo is charting a comeback, even if it requires standing at the side of a road with placards begging for parishioners and humiliating themselves while being filmed.

The Ebo twins (writer-director Adamma Ebo, producer Adanne Ebo) start with a promising parody that descends unto a two-character thud. The dearth of solid narrative and consistent comedy leaves Brown and Hall stranded. The twins frame shots well, but don’t know how to milk moments or sustain scenes with biting verbal or physical humor. Brother Brown’s interpretation of a clueless, smarmy minister is glorious (Can I get an amen?!). Sister Hall perfectly finds the nuances of the put-upon wife (Praise be.). Funniest scene is when they drive a Cadillac Esplanade singing to a rap song, cursing and screaming like gangstas. Pity the film runs out of gas. Madea would have known what to do. Looks low budget. Feels low rent. Jesus wept.

jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy (***)

Ten minutes into this lively documentation of 21-year-old Kanye West the unsettling contrasts between this hopeful, humble adolescent and his embittered and inflated persona these days is quite jarring. Chicago public access TV host Coodie chronicled West’s pilgrimage from Chicago to New York in the late ‘90s as he tried to transition from music producer to superstar rapper. Fuzzy-looking footage reveals all. Consider Coodie’s homage to be more like a home movie/travelogue with famous people (Damon Dash, Pharrell) than a typical doc. No video tricks. No gimmicks. No mounds of news footage, interviews etc. Just largely an unfiltered look at West fighting for a record deal at hop-hop’s holy grail, Roc-A-Fella Records.

The most touching scenes are West and his wise, nurturing schoolteacher mother who wants him to remain humble: “You can stand on the ground with your head in the air at the same time.” The most awkward scenes are watching Jay-Z, RR’s CEO, keep Kanye at bay: he wants the milk (West’s “jeen-yuhs” producing) but not the cow (Kanye as a rapper). The fly-on-the-wall filmmaking lets you cavort with family, friends, adversaries, mentors and hangers-on. Discovering West’s middle-class background explains his early brand of rap and its often-spiritual elements, which are evidenced in the making of his classic hit “Jesus Walks.” West, with no gangsta cred whatsoever, was on a mission: “I’m gonna bridge the gap to hip-hop.” And he did, with a verve and naiveté that was reflected on his smiling face. Luckily, Coodie documented the good old days, or no one would believe the 1990’s West and the 2022 Ye were the same people.

Master (*1/2)

If you’re going to examine racism through the prism of a horror movie, and exploit that social ill, you’d better have all your dead bodies lined up just right. This Get Out knockoff does not. Jasmine (Zoe Renee) is a first-year student at the nearly all white Ancaster College. Gail (Regina Hall) is the new dean of students, aka Master. Both experience the slights and mockery whites can put on token Blacks. In addition, Jas’s room is haunted. Cue the ghosts, creaky noises, weird nightmares and freaky images.

Mariama Diallo’s script and direction attempt to bait audiences’ attention with racist tropes (nooses, cross burnings, racial epithets). Cheapening those real-life traumas peaks in a scene when a rap song comes on at a nearly all-white dance party and white kids surround Jas chanting the “N” word lyrics at her. The constant repulsion without any redemption or payoff is an unforgivable buzz kill. Even through the misguidance, Hall’s presence shines like the North Star. Unoriginal. Derivative. Lackluster. If you’re going to mess with the horror movie genre recipe you have to do it with better ingredients. Diallo does not.

Nanny (**1/2)

African immigrant stories often possess an innate appeal. In this instance, Senegalese writer/director Nikyatu Jusu’s odd mixture of horror, thriller, romance and muddled family drama has the opposite effect. Aisha (Anna Diop), a twentysomething from Senegal, leaves her young son behind to find work in New York. A white couple (Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector) hires her to tend to their young daughter Rose (Rose Decker). The wealthy spouses are lax with pay, Aisha loses communication with her son and weird visions of a boy in rain haunt her.

Supernatural aspects and cryptic images have no context for 90 minutes of this 97-minute motion picture. Regardless of the iffy narrative choices, Jusu and cinematographer Rina Yang make a very attractive film that displays their excellent taste in staging, composition, angles, lighting, etc. Scenes look fresh and modern. The director also excels at depicting a love story between Aisha and an understanding doorman (Sinqua Walls, American Soul). Jusu shows great promise as a director. Even a genre-messy film can’t hide her talent.

We Need to Talk About Bill Cosby (***)

Really?! Is there some explosive secret about the shamed comedian that has yet to be revealed? Stand-up comic turned documentarian W. Kamau Bell thinks so. To make his case, he assembles an exhaustive array of talking heads (Roland Martin), comedians (Hannibal Buress), rape crisis counselors and even a journalist who investigates date rape drugs. Cosby’s well-publicized fall from ’60s TV pioneer (I, Spy), to 1980s/’90s quintessential all-American boob tube daddy (The Cosby Show), to convicted, imprisoned felon is meticulously charted. Victim after victim exposes his pattern of drugging, assaults and rapes. The black community’s initial ambivalent feelings are pondered. His hypocritical jabs at young black men while he’s molesting women are documented too.

Two hours of this in-your face negativity is more than enough. Four one-hour segments are overkill. Too many clips of Fat Albert. Too much faux indignation over stupid stuff like Cosby playing an obstetrician on The Cosby Show. The barrage of info will test your patience. Also, watching folks hypothesize as they sit on expensive leather coaches, dressed like fashionistas and lit like they’re in a fashion shoot is off-putting. But credit Bell for his inventive style. Incriminating words dance across the screen and victims are noted on a horizontal calendar that pinpoints Cosby’s crimes from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and 90s. Plus, Bell’s insights into black culture, history and the TV industry are thorough and sometimes profound.

Indicting rapists like Cosby is fair game and newsworthy. But many viewers may wish the second two hours of this doc were spent teaching women how to beware of predatory situations, detect rapists, self-defense, report incidents and find supportive aide (e.g., rape crisis centers). We have talks with our sons about encounters with police. Why don’t we have talks with our daughters about dealing with people like him? Bell and this doc had a chance to be an advocate for rape victims and provide a public service. It’s a missed opportunity that would have given the series some depth.

There wouldn’t be a President Obama without a Bill Cosby. There wouldn’t be 60+ rape victims without a Bill Cosby. It’s an ugly paradox now captured on film.

For more information about the annual Sundance Film Festival go to: https://www.sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/about.

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

The post FILM REVIEW: Black Films Thrive at Sundance Film Festival 2022 first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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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.
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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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