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FILM REVIEW: What Men Want

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Twenty minutes into it, the outrageous sight-gag sex scenes, flippant dialogue and over-the-top performances yank the old premise firmly into the 21st century with a brand of humor fans of Bridesmaids will enjoy. There isn’t one subtle comic turn in this entire film. That gives Henson a chance to show her Tiffany Haddish side, which is more than willing to do anything to make viewers laugh.

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By Dwight Brown, NNPA News Wire Film Critic

Taraji P. Henson in What Men Want from Paramount Pictures and Paramount Players.

It’s about time Taraji P. Henson, after a string of B-movies (Proud Mary, Acrimony), rocked a bonafide comedy. On talk shows her innate sense of humor is evident. On the big screen (Hidden Figures, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and small one (Empire) she’s built a solid, award-winning rep in drama. Now she’s digging into ribald humor and has surrounded herself with the right producers (Girls Trip), director (Adam Shankman, The Wedding Planner, Hairspray), screenwriters (Tina Gordon, ATL; Peter Huyck, Veep) cast and crew. If most of the ingredients are right, the cake will turn out just fine.

The source material for this flagrant, shameless comedy is What Women Want (2000), directed by Nancy Meyers and starring Mel Gibson. (Remember the days when he was loved?). He played a chauvinistic advertising executive who, after a freak head injury, could hear what women thought. He used that advantage to rally against a female exec who got a promotion he wanted. In the process he learned life lessons. Hold that thought.

Fast forward 19 years. Ali Davis (Henson) is a top agent at an elite sports management firm. She drives a Porsche (leased), has an overly-attentive assistant (Josh Brener, The Front Runner), whom she treats like a dog and a bevy of girlfriends (Tamala Jones, Wendi McLendon-Convey, Phoebe Robinson) she counts on for moral support. Ali needs all those trappings if she is to survive the constant stream of disappointments and derision she encounters with her male peers at Summit Worldwide Management.

Josh Brener and Taraji P. Henson in What Men Want from Paramount Pictures and Paramount Players.

The source of Ali’s biggest frustration is that she can’t make partner and is constantly over-looked by her boss Nick (Brain Bosworth, former Seattle Seahawk), who stifles her: “You don’t connect well with men. You do well in your lane. Stay in your own lane.” Even though she handles top star athletes like Lisa Leslie and Serena Williams, her achievements are marginalized by her colleagues.

The agency is trying to land the next big basketball draft pick, a skinny talented young player named Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie). That’s the easy part. He’s managed by his pushy, stage-dad, health-freak father Joe “Dolla” Barry (Tracy Morgan), who is a pain in the ass. That’s the difficulty. The agent who signs Barry will be the next hot shot at Summit. Can Ali take the crown?

What Women Want, was a genteel, safe romantic comedy. What Men Want, is not. Twenty minutes into it, the outrageous sight-gag sex scenes, flippant dialogue and over-the-top performances yank the old premise firmly into the 21st century with a brand of humor fans of Bridesmaids will enjoy. There isn’t one subtle comic turn in this entire film. That gives Henson a chance to show her Tiffany Haddish side, which is more than willing to do anything to make viewers laugh.

Tucked into the debauchery are moral-to-the-story subplots that are somewhat touching. Ali’s romance with the hunky bartender Will (Aldis Hodge, Straight Outta Compton) involves his young son Ben (Auston John Moore) and Ali’s selfish deceit. Her egocentric antics test her friendship with her girlfriends. And, the way she treats her assistant Brandon, who is gay, goes from patronizing and vile to dehumanizing. Ali’s got issues. Lots. And when she’s being introspective, she admits it: “Winning doesn’t matter if you’re a horrible person.”

Erykah Badu and Taraji P. Henson in What Men Want from Paramount Pictures and Paramount Players.

The inciting incident that changes her trajectory comes when she meets a weird psychic named Sister (Erykah Badu) who gives her a cup of a magical, drug-laden tea. The mysterious potion, along with a head injury, makes Ali hear what men are thinking. As she hones this new talent, she picks up the hidden feelings of her fellow workers (no wonder they never invite her to their weekly poker game), her assistant (he really wants a promotion) and even her supportive dad (Richard Roundtree).

The script was developed by writers whose wheelhouse is sitcoms, so this modern tale is told in broad strokes. If you’re looking for a demented and sophisticated comedy (The Favourites), look elsewhere. Every situation here is meant to make the targets (urban and female audiences) laugh until they lose bladder control.

Initial scenes lack the kind of dazzling cinematography (Jim Denault) audiences expect from a motion picture, making sets and exterior scenes look like they belong on a TV show. Certainly, Shankman’s unimaginative direction (too many scenes are shot in rooms, offices, cars) lacks the style and creativity top feature film directors display.

The better tech elements belong to: Sekinah Brown’s (Ride Along) costume design; Emma E. Hickox’s (Kinky Boots) judicious editing, which after a few initial slow scenes, makes the footage breeze by in 1hr and 57min; Brian Tyler’s (Iron Man 3) fun musical score is aided greatly by a hip playlist with vibrant songs like Jill Scott’s very upbeat and cool tune “Golden.”

Tracy Morgan is clearly in his element as the dodo-brain dad. Can’t tell how much of his dialogue is based on the script or improvised, but fair to say he’s never been funnier. The girlfriend trio is quite humorous. SNL’s Pete Davidson milks laughs as a lecherous officer worker. Hodge may be the new Morris Chestnut. And it is a gift whenever Richard Roundtree appears in a film.

Taraji P. Henson, Auston Moore and Aldis Hodge in What Men Want from Paramount Pictures and Paramount Players.

Back to Henson. Given the chance, in a decently thought-out and developed comedy, she ups her game. Her Ali is manic and bossy with her assistant (bordering on distasteful), deceitful with her paramour, insensitive to her gal pals and able to stand up to the brutal, self-entitled co-workers who play her for a wuss. The scattered string of emotions and feelings don’t stump Henson. She towers over all the other cast members with her bravura performance.

Except, the scenes in which she deals with the very enigmatic Sister. Somewhere hidden under a gigantic wig that would even embarrass Diana Ross, lurks the very shrewd and hysterical Erykah Badu, who portrays the psychic who launches Ali’s outer and inner trek to salvation. Smug, ethereal, dizzy and flaky as a pothead, the “Tyrone” singer displays an astute comic nature that equals Henson’s.

Girls Trip is the alpha raunchy female comedy. What Men Want is not as strong. But it grazes that high standard thanks to Taraji P. Henson’s over-the-top performance.

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

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Activism

African American Sports & Entertainment Group (AASEG) helps support 25th annual turkey drive in East Oakland

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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The African American Sports & Entertainment Group came out to support the 25th annual Community Giving Foundation Turkey drive at Verdese Carter Park in East Oakland.

Hosted by founder and organizer Marlon McWilson, the turkey drive that started in 1997 has now donated over 35,000 Turkey’s through McWilson’s foundation. In attendance were Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, Oakland PAL, California Assembly Member Mia Bonta (AD-18) along with husband and Attorney General for the State of California Rob Bonta. Assembly Member Bonta also congratulated the AASEG on their recent unanimous 8-0 approval to enter negotiations with the City of Oakland on an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) to purchase the city’s half interest of the coliseum land, and looks forward to working with the team.

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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Activism

New California “Strike Force” Gives Teeth to State Housing Laws

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

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The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.
The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

To advance housing access, affordability and equity, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced earlier this month the creation of a Housing Strike Force.

The team, housed within the California Department of Justice (Cal DOJ) has been tasked with enforcing California housing laws that cities across the state have been evading or ignoring.

The strike force will conduct a series of roundtables across the state to educate and involve tenants and homeowners as the state puts pressure on municipalities failing to follow housing rules and falling short of housing production goals set by the state.

“California is facing a housing shortage and affordability crisis of epic proportion,” Bonta said. “Every day, millions of Californians worry about keeping a roof over their heads, and there are too many across this state who lack housing altogether.

“This is a top priority and a fight we won’t back down from. As Attorney General, I am committed to using all the tools my office has available to advance Californians’ fundamental right to housing.”

The Housing Strike Force will take “an innovative and intersectional approach” to addressing the housing crisis, focusing on tenant protections, housing availability and environmental sustainability, housing affordability, and equitable and fair housing opportunity for tenants and owners.

Bonta also launched a Housing Portal on the Cal DOJ’s web site with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants.

The strike force will enlist the expertise of attorneys from the Cal DOJ’s Land Use and Conservation Section, the Consumer Protection Section, the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, and the Environment Section’s Bureau of Environmental Justice in its enforcement efforts.

“California has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address its housing crisis, thanks to the historic $22 billion housing and homelessness investments in this year’s budget. But it’ll only work if local governments do their part to zone and permit new housing,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “The attorney general’s emphasis on holding cities and counties accountable for fair housing, equity, and housing production is an important component to the state’s efforts to tackle the affordability crisis and create greater opportunities for all Californians to have an affordable place to call home.”

According to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the level of Black ownership nationally has decreased below levels achieved during the decades when housing discrimination was legal.

The 2020 census reports that there was a 29.6% gap between homeownership rates for African Americans and whites. Homeowners accounted for 44.6% of the Black population as compared to 74.2% for whites.

“Blacks have made little, if any, strides at closing the homeownership gap. Systemic discriminatory regulations and policies continue to thwart any meaningful effort at increasing Black homeownership,” Lydia Pope, NAREB’s president, said.

In California, the DOJ reports that over the last four decades, housing needs have outpaced housing production. It has caused a crisis that stretches from homelessness to unaffordable homes.

Despite significant effort, the DOJ stated that California continues to host a disproportionate share of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, with an estimated 150,000 Californians sleeping in shelters, in their cars, or on the street.

Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

Due to decades of systemic racism, these challenges have continuously and disproportionately impacted communities of color. For example, Bonta said, almost half of Black households in California spend more than 30% of their income on housing, compared with only a third of White families.

In addition, less than one in five Black California households could afford to purchase the $659,380 statewide median-priced home in 2020, compared to two in five white California households that could afford to purchase the same median-priced home, the California Association Realtors (CAR) said in a February 2021 statement.

The percentage of Black home buyers who could afford to purchase a median-priced, existing single-family home in California in 2020 was 19%, compared to 38% for white households, CAR stated.

“Just as the price for a single-median home reaches a new record of more than $800,000 in California, everywhere you look, we are in a housing crisis,” Bonta said during the virtual news conference on Nov. 3.

“Among all households, one in four renters pays more than half of their income on rent.”

The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

Earlier this year, Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 215, enhancing the attorney general’s concurrent role in enforcing state housing laws.

AB 215 was designed for reforms, facilitating housing development and combating the current housing crisis.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill (SB) 9 and SB 10 in September, legislation designed to help increase the supply of affordable housing and speed up the production of multi-family housing units statewide.

Authored by Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 9 allows a homeowner to subdivide an existing single-family residential lot to create a duplex, triplex, or fourplex.

In response to SB 9, homeowner groups have formed across the state to oppose it. The groups are citing challenges they anticipate the law will bring to their communities, from garbage collection to increased risk of fires.

Livable California, a San Francisco-based non-profit that focuses on housing, is one of the groups that opposes the new laws.

“Senate Bill 9 ends single-family zoning to allow four homes where one now stands. It was signed by Gov. Newsom, backed by 73 of 120 legislators and praised by many media. Yet a respected pollster found 71% of California voters oppose SB 9,” the Livable California website reads.

“It opens 1.12 million homes in severe fire zones to unmanaged density — one-sixth of single-family homes in California,” the message continues. “SB 9 could reshape, in unwanted ways, hundreds of high-risk fire zones that sprawl across California’s urban and rural areas.”

But Newsom says the laws are urgent and overdue.

“The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” Newsom said in a Sept. 16 statement.

SB 10 was designed for jurisdictions that want to opt-in and up-zone urbanized areas close to transit, allowing up to 10 units per parcel without the oversight of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Passing strong housing laws is only the first step. To tackle our severe housing shortage, those laws must be consistently and vigorously enforced,” said California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), chair of the Senate Housing Committee. “I applaud Attorney General Bonta’s commitment to strong enforcement of California’s housing laws.”

The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to housing@doj.ca.gov. Information on legal aid in your area is available at https://lawhelpca.org.

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Activism

Facebook’s “We the Culture” Panel Discusses Black Portrayals in Mainstream News

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American. In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

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A 2019 Pew Research Center analysis revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

By McKenzie Jackson, California Black Media

When Erica Cobb, co-host of the Daily Blast Live, first stepped into the world of mainstream news over two decades ago, she overheard a conversation in which an industry person considered Cobb the perfect minority for a particular role because, although she is Black, to them she “didn’t come across like a Black person” based on stereotypes in their head.

“Those convos now are few and far between because we have more seats at the table,” said Cobb, who is also a podcaster with a background in radio. She was referring to the growing numbers of Black faces appearing regularly in the news media. “The pipeline has opened for more people of color.”

However, Cobb said, the news industry still needs more African Americans.

Independent journalist Georgia Fort, the founder of BLCK Press, said the lack of Black professionals in newsrooms across the U.S. contributes to African Americans being portrayed in a negative way.

“The media industry since its inception has capitalized on exploiting our stories and disproportionately portraying us in a negative light,” said Cobb, who identifies as biracial.

“You can go back to blackface; even modern-day newscasts are saturated with Black mug shots,” she said.

The current state of Black representation in the mainstream media was the subject of a recent online discussion hosted by Facebook’s “We The Culture,” a content initiative created and managed by a team of Black Facebook employees focused on amplifying content from Black creators.

The social networking giant launched the platform in February with an inaugural class of over 120 creators specializing in news and social media content.

Cobb and Fort were panelists on We The Culture’s video chat on how Blacks are depicted in mainstream media.

The third panelist was Zyahna Bryant, a student activist, community organizer, and online content creator who is known for spearheading the movement to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in in Charlottesville, Va.

The 53-minute discussion was moderated by Rushadd Hayard, a freelance web producer.

The quartet’s webcast happened a year after the murder of George Floyd, an African American man who died after Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Video of Floyd’s death shined a light on the aggressive tactics law enforcement officers sometimes employ when engaging Black Americans. The horror of his violent murder sparked national conversations on racial inequity, motivating many businesses and organizations in the U.S. to support African American causes and take steps to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations.

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American.

In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

“A privileged woman like Nichols,” Fort said, “refusing to support — or even accept — the advancement of a person from a disenfranchised community like Taylor is a problem.”

“You have people like Rachel, she wants something to be done as long as it doesn’t require her to make a sacrifice,” Fort continued. “In order for our nation to be more equitable, it is going to require all the Rachels to step aside and make space. Performative ally-ship is the best way I can describe her.”

Cobb noted that Nichols, who has since been pulled from appearing on the sporting network but continues to be paid, put herself in the forefront of a perception in the industry that ESPN had a diversity issue.

Bryant said media groups’ desires to increase the number of Blacks as employees are empty gestures if they don’t come with institutional change.

“I noticed we needed more Black voices after the George Floyd incident,” she said. “After the entire summer of organizing and moving into the election cycle, I felt that there was a disconnect. Not just with white people talking about Black issues, but the media altogether not having their ear to the ground.”

Hayard cited a 2019 Pew Research Center analysis that revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

Cobb said she first realized more Black representation was needed in the media when former President Barack Obama, began his initial run for the country’s highest office and a controversy ignited around him attending the church of controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

“I was the only one speaking out in defense of Obama,” she said. “I remember my co-host turning off my mic and people calling in saying I was racist. I left in the middle of the show. A Black reporter from the Chicago Tribune called me and first asked if I was OK and secondly, what happened and how it went down, and if I thought it was racist.”

The same realization came to Fort when she was assigned to cover the shooting of a Black man by a police officer for a news station. She was directed to pull up the criminal history of the man, but Fort also investigated the officer and found he had a litany of complaints against him, including racial-profiling ones.

“This was omitted from the five o’clock news because my white superiors didn’t feel it was relevant to the story,” she said. “I found myself being characterized in the newsroom as the angry Black woman.”

Cobb said for more African Americans to be present in front of news cameras, more Blacks need to be in positions of power behind the camera, beyond just the editor and producer roles.

Fort said a change in culture could also be helpful.

“The industry standard is AP-Style English and a certain image,” she said. “Not all Black people or people of color use AP English as their natural dialect, and we need to stop expecting people to conform to that. Allow people to be their authentic selves. Why are we saying we want diversity, but we want people to conform? To me that’s not diversity.”

When Bryant began her drive to get the Confederate statue removed, a Black reporter interviewed her. She said talking with a person from the same race, from possibly a similar background, and who was empathetic helped the interview go smoother

“I’m looking forward to seeing more journalists with their Blackness on display,” Bryant said.

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