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FILM REVIEW: The Rhythm Section

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Two-hundred thirty-nine passengers perish during a plane crash. An investigative journalist, Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey, Homeland), tracks down a member of one of the families who died on flight NE027. Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively, The Town), a drug addict and a prostitute, is shocked to learn that the tragic incident was the result of a bomb. Proctor knows who’s responsible. He knows the players. Stephanie: “Why did you come for me?” Proctor: “You’re another victim. You’re just not dead yet.”

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By Dwight Brown NNPA Newswire Film Critic

They tried to conjure the spirits of La Femme Nikita and Atomic Blonde. They didn’t try hard enough.

Tangier, Marseilles, New York, Madrid… Blood is spilled and bodies are found in apartments, houses and buses on several continents in this revenge mystery/thriller. What’s all the commotion?

Two-hundred thirty-nine passengers perish during a plane crash. An investigative journalist, Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey, Homeland), tracks down a member of one of the families who died on flight NE027. Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively, The Town), a drug addict and a prostitute, is shocked to learn that the tragic incident was the result of a bomb. Proctor knows who’s responsible. He knows the players. Stephanie: “Why did you come for me?” Proctor: “You’re another victim. You’re just not dead yet.”

Blake Lively and Sterling K. Brown star in Paramount Pictures’ “The Rhythm Section.”

Before anyone can, say, “Where is my Glock 19?” the lady of the night is training with a mysterious ex-MI6 agent Boyd (Jude Law) to become familiar with the fine arts of espionage, weapons and assassination. Memories of her mom, dad and siblings haunt her. She’s seeks vengeance. Unfortunately, her skills and killer instincts don’t match up with her will. Is she even capable?

Novelist Mark Burnell turned his bestselling book into a screenplay. Not much is lost in the screen adaptation. Stephanie, as the unlikely protagonist, does just enough to pull you into her plight. You’ll want to see if she can step up and do the unconscionable to the deplorables.

Blake Lively stars in Paramount Pictures’ “The Rhythm Section.”

Pity her transformation from hooker to slayer in a 30-day window doesn’t add up. It’s an unlikely transformation, implausible, improbable at best. If she had started out as a former spy, soldier, markswoman, decathlete—something—you might believe she could turn herself into a fight machine. There is nothing on view that shows she can do the job. The film embraces her ineptness, making it part of her persona. But her bumbling executions wear thin fast. It’s a device that might have worked in the novel. On screen, she just looks feeble.

Raza Jaffrey stars in Paramount Pictures’ “The Rhythm Section.”

Guiding the actors and tech crew through the process is Reed Morano, the Emmy-winning director of the very evocative Prime Video series The Handsmaid’s Tale and Starz’s show Power. She made a name for herself as a cinematographer with TV projects (Beyoncé Lemonade). Evidence of her visual flare is in the film’s look and footage.

Shots of international cities and landscapes (cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years A Slave) look spectacular. The camera loves close-ups of characters, chest and up. Jittery, arty camerawork follows Stephanie as she runs down streets. Overall color choices (art director Didac Bono), costumes (Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, The Fall), production design (Tom Conroy) and set decoration (Crispian Sallis) are unquestionable and fit the locations and genre.

Jude Law and Blake Lively star in Paramount Pictures’ “The Rhythm Section.”

If this film wanted to be included in the same breath as top espionage movies (e.g. Bourne Identity, Carlos) or impress action/thriller fans, it needed intriguing action scenes with dazzling choreography. Fights, gun battles, car chases—those are the staples of these types of films, and unless you get them right, or climb to new heights, they become liabilities. Stephanie’s exploits are never amazing, uncanny. The exception may be the climax of the film, which upon afterthought is ironic and cathartic.

Blake Lively is a strong actress, which she evidenced in the movie The Town. However, she never rises to this occasion, or brings her menacing up to a level that would threaten anybody. Anne Parillaud did in Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita. She blazed a trail. The other actress who bitch-slapped the genre is Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde. Her interpretation of Lorraine Broughton, an undercover MI6 agent, is classic. That character is a badass killer who can take a bullet with the best of them, then gun you down. Since Lively never takes her role to that edge, the entire film suffers.

Raza Jaffrey fairs well as the brave journalist. Jude Law has been better in other films and does little to leave his mark on the rogue agent. There is a scary calmness to Tawfeek Barhom’s (Mary Magdalene) portrayal as the suspect Reza. Sterling K. Brown, as an information go-between tied to terrorists and spy agencies, doesn’t make his character stand out. This is the kind of role actors like Denzel Washington, with his acting bravura, would make unforgettable.

It should be noted that the film’s basic theme of terrorist bombings has an anti-Arab overtone that is hard to shake. Even if a lot of the most evil players are non-Muslim, still, something doesn’t feel right.

As the film careens towards its ending, 1h 49 min rolls by pretty quickly (editor Joan Sobel, Nocturnal Animals). Were it not for an incessant series of flashbacks of the Patrick family to remind audiences of Stephanie’s torment, when really Lively’s pained facial expressions are adequate, the film’s pacing would be just about right. You stay engaged for the most part. Waiting and waiting for those scenes that will separate this movie from the next. They never arrive.

It’s said that the difference between modern dance and ballet is that one is all about the movement and the other is about position and image. Reed Morano is accustomed to shooting series that are all about the lasting visual impression. Thrillers tend to be more about actions and mindboggling incidents. If Morano can make that adjustment, with her strong sense of design and affinity for drama, her future films in this genre would be more fun to watch.

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

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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