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FILM REVIEW: Us

NNPA NEWSWIRE — For easy-to-please horror genre fans, who don’t ask much from creepy movies, there are enough frights and shocks to satiate: Mirror-image intruders (aka The Tethered), scissors stabbing bodies, blunt force trauma, bodies falling off balconies, boating accidents, heads getting whacked with golf clubs… There are an abundance of thrills.

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By Dwight Brown NNPA Newswire Film Critic

It’s not ordinary. But certainly not extraordinary. Jordan Peele’s follow-up to the box-office-smash Get Out doesn’t expand the boundaries of the horror genre like its predecessor or A Quiet Place did. It’s almost a retreat into norms that bring to mind humorous horror flicks like Scary Movie, zombie thrillers akin to Dawn of the Dead and over-produced shockers like The Shining. Remember the small, indie feel of Get Out? It’s gone. Vanished like a ghost.

Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson in "Us," written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.

Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson in “Us,” written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.

The Wilsons, an upper-middle-class family in Northern California, have just settled into their lakeside vacation home. They have arrived, physically and symbolically. Thirtysomething-year-old dad, Gabe (Winston Duke, Black Panther), his tween daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and young son Jason (Evan Alex) all want to go to Santa Cruz Beach. It’s got sand, sea, a boardwalk and an amusement park. What’s not to like?

Mom, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, Twelve Years a Slave), is dead set against the visit. The thought brings back debilitating PTSD. Back in 1986, when she was a kid (Madison Curry) her parents (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Anna Diop) brought her to that same amusement park. She wandered off, got lost in an arcade called Vision Quest, and by the time they found her she was traumatized. So distressed, she couldn’t speak and the couple sought therapy for her. A trip to Santa Cruz puts Adelaide in a cold sweat.  But her family talks her into it and life is never the same afterwards.

For easy-to-please horror genre fans, who don’t ask much from creepy movies, there are enough frights and shocks to satiate: Mirror-image intruders (aka The Tethered), scissors stabbing bodies, blunt force trauma, bodies falling off balconies, boating accidents, heads getting whacked with golf clubs… There are an abundance of thrills. The Wilson family is likable, modern, hip, African American and unapologetically class-conscious. The setting of Northern California and especially the beaches of Santa Cruz are quite inviting.

For discerning fans with a more sophisticated palate, Peele’s script is using the doppelganger monsters as a metaphor. They represent the people left behind in the shadows, those who don’t get a chance at the good life. The eerie folks from the netherworld who look like the protagonists become a weird head game that is an effective device, initially.  Credit Peele for a very creative and three-dimensional premise. The problem with his ambitious blueprint is that some viewers won’t understand what he’s after.

Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and Zora Wilson (Shahadi Wright Joseph) in "Us," written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.

Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and Zora Wilson (Shahadi Wright Joseph) in “Us,” written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.

The dialogue is cool, especially Gabe’s funny asides, but none of it is memorable. The main characters are likable, but not all that exceptional. Neither are their close friends the Tyler family, who act like empty-headed millennials. There is an initial shock when the Wilsons meet the family that trespasses on their property. The astonishment of them seeing themselves is icky at first, but that weird feeling subsides. Soon after, the footage drifts into very standard thriller aspects. Chase scenes, people handcuffed to furniture, combat on boats—none of it stretches the imagination.

As action occurs, the cutting back-and-forth between scenes seems a bit clumsy. Sometimes it feels like you’re watching a bunch of set pieces and not a group of bone-chilling kinetic sequences that flow with an electric energy. Peele’s direction should get tighter, more desperate and exciting as the film progresses. Instead, it remains at a moderate tempo.

Editor Nicholas Monsour has experience with humorous movies (Keanu) and comic TV shows (Cobra Kai). His lack of a background in the horror or thriller genres is evidenced by his non-rhythmic pacing. Even as the film builds to its conclusion, the speed of action and length of scenes stays the same. No sense of real urgency arrives. Nada.

There are some plot holes: If Adelaide was so traumatized by Santa Cruz Beach, why does she go back?  And if she’s going to return, and is really scared, why would she let her young son out of her sight? When you get to the end of the movie and figure out the game that is being played, her actions make even less sense. Sometimes the characters make irrational decisions and do stupid stuff.

The slow pacing leaves some dead time when the camera (Michael Gioulakis, Glass) languishes on the countryside and the musical score (Michael Abels, Get Out) blares with loud string music. That’s when the film feels like the over-stuffed The Shining, heavy on the big buildup and shoddy on the action. The real people wear contemporary costumes that are fitting (costume design by Kym Barrett, The Matrix). The faux folks are stuck in dull red jumpsuits.

The Wilson family doppelgängers (from left), Pluto (Evan

The Wilson family doppelgängers (from left), Pluto (Evan Alex), Abraham (Winston Duke), Umbrae (Shahadi Wright Jospeh) and Red (Lupita Nyong’o) in “Us,” written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.

The film’s prologue mentions thousands of tunnels that run underground in the U.S., like there is a dingy underworld. At the hands and imagination of production designer Ruth De Jong (Manchester by the Sea) the tunnels look like porcelain bathroom walls in a spa lobby. The spaces off the halls look like poorly lit high school classrooms. Audiences expecting something dark and sinister like a decayed subway tunnel (e.g. the “L” line in New York City) won’t find one.

The Wilsons are as all-American as the family on TV’s Blackish, minus the biting humor. Racial issues are not brought up, it’s not that kind of party. Lupita Nyong’o is a vision as the two moms. Smooth skin, gorgeous lips. She’s is earnest in a very complicated role, especially as Red the demon shadow. Winston Duke is amicable as the dad who has trouble defending his family. Duke plays the father like he’s Jordan Peele’s alter ego. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as the heads of the Tyler household don’t get a real chance to fly. The extras who play zombie-types in the tunnel couldn’t frighten a flea.

A beach bum in Santa Cruz holds a sign that reads: Jeremiah 11:11. The verse proclaims: “Therefore, this is what the LORD says: I am going to bring calamity upon them, and they will not escape. Though they beg for mercy, I will not listen to their cries.”

Us never reaches that over-the-edge crescendo into total mayhem that scares you to death and makes a good horror film a great one.

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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