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FILM REVIEW: Rocketman

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The music of Elton John, and lyrics by his writing partner Bernie Taupin, have set music industry records, including the #1 single of all time, “Candle in the Wind.” They’ve sold 250 million records in a streak that has lasted from 1970 to now. This R-rated, bio/musical/fantasy covers John’s innocent youth, personal life, career, drug addiction, sexual dalliances, love life, relationships and rehabilitation—from 1960 to 1990.

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By Dwight Brown, NNPA Newswire Film Critic

Young pianist/songwriter Reginald Dwight (Targon Egerton) gets some good advice from a very wise soul singer (Jason Pennycooke, Mister Lonely): “Kill the person you were born to be, to become the person you want to be.” If that couldn’t goad the very staid Dwight into creating his new flamboyant Elton John persona, nothing could.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

The music of Elton John, and lyrics by his writing partner Bernie Taupin, have set music industry records, including the #1 single of all time, “Candle in the Wind.” They’ve sold 250 million records in a streak that has lasted from 1970 to now. This R-rated, bio/musical/fantasy covers John’s innocent youth, personal life, career, drug addiction, sexual dalliances, love life, relationships and rehabilitation—from 1960 to 1990.

Director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle and co-director of Bohemian Rhapsody) along with screenwriter Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) took a risk when they decided to not only show John singing in studios, clubs or concert halls. Their strategy involved the pop icon and other characters breaking into song at home, in the middle of conversations and in odd places. This gimmick, off-putting at first, takes a while to get used to. But, after you do, it’s fun.

Watch the screen for more than 10 minutes and you get the feeling that you are viewing a midnight-movie cult classic. There are quirky, indelible scenes that will stick in your mind: Elton jumps into a pool, plastered out of his head and at the bottom he sees a younger version of himself playing a piano and looking up at him innocently. The colors are well saturated, the lighting luminescent and the cinematography impeccable (George Richmond, Snow White and the Huntsman).

Whether John is in his family’s modest home, lounging in his palatial L.A. mansion or dancing in a club, his surroundings look larger than life: Credit the set decorators Kimberly Fahey and Judy Farr for the ornateness. Kudos to production designers Peter Francis and Marcus Rowland for the majesty. The colors, textures and attention to detail by art directors Sophie Bridgman, Steve Carter, Emily Norris, Astrid Sieben and Alice Walker are impressive.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

Scenes are pulled together tightly (editor Chris Dickens) and erratically, like you’re flipping through someone’s jumbled scrap book or viewing objects in a kaleidoscope. Yet, the plotline moves forward with a clarity that is astonishing, considering a format in which songs and singing represent thoughts and feelings that would normally be rendered in dialogue. The pacing never lags as you watch John’s life unfurl. You realize his music is a soundtrack to our lives, especially if you’re a baby boomer or an adult.

Early scenes depict Reginald Dwight in the Pinner area of London, with his parents: His very stern and aloof father Stanley (Steve Mackintosh) and partially nurturing/partially dismissive mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World) instilling an ambivalence in their kid that gave him lifelong complexes. His transition from child piano prodigy to fledgling songwriter with lyricist Taupin (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot), to anxious performer and then outrageous pop/rocker seems fated.

If clothes make the man (costume designer Julian Day, Bohemian Rhapsody), sequins, feathers, metallic costumes with matching shoes and gigantic glasses gave John a signature brand. Yet, it also confined him. Depending on his mood swing, he considered his eccentric and very recognizable facade both a blessing and a curse. That, coupled with his fluid sexuality, added to his inner turmoil. It tested him.

As Elton John fleshes out tunes, based on Taupin’s poetic lyrics, it’s an illuminating experience. When he croons the words to “Your Song,” it’s heartwarming: “It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside, I’m not one of those who can easily hide…” So many of his songs are moving, beautiful, enduring and will peak your emotions.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

Unlike Remy Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, Targon Egerton sings all the songs in Rocketman. There are times when he sounds like himself. Times when he sounds like a hybrid of John and him. And then there are those golden moments when you’re looking at Egerton and hearing the purest echoes of Elton’s voice:  e.g. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”  Though his vocals are just close to perfect, his interpretation of John is perfect. Targon looks like him so much, it’s as if he’s stolen John’s aura. His fits of anger, fear, depression, humiliation, self-love and self-hate are as authentic as they can be.

Jamie Bell as John’s rain-or-shine friend Bernie plays the enabler, savior and brother-from-another-mother quite well. The lyricist and the musician had a famous bromance that has to be one of the first straight/gay friendships ever put before the media.

Howard, as John’s mom, strikes the right balance of mentor and homophobe. Sheila says to Elton: “You’re choosing a life of being alone. You’ll never be loved.” The second most interesting performance, next to Egerton’s, is by Richard Madden (TV’s Bodyguard) as John Reid, Elton’s smarmy manager and opportunistic lover. Every drama needs a villain, and Madden is that man.

The potpourri styling in this film will leave you with a barrage of unforgettable images that cover several eras. Keep an eye out for the aforementioned pool scene; also look out for the rockets bursting into space and the “Benny and the Jets” disco scene that looks like it’s straight out of a Pier Paolo Pasolini film.

Rocketman is a fun, trippy hallucinogen. It’s like dropping a tab of LSD and having 1970s flashbacks.

Visit NNPA Newswire 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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