5 musicals to see in London, if you haven’t already


The UK has seen record breaking temperatures this summer, which inevitably encouraged people to make the most of their weekends. Summer also brings about nostalgia vibes and al fresco experiences. We all love a sing-a-long, so bring on award winning and critically acclaimed musicals to keep us entertained for the rest of the summer:

1.     The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre – Award winning adaptation of the Disney’s animated film of the same name, has been going strong since 1999.

2.     TINA – The Tina Turner Musical at Aldwych Theatre – One of the most highly anticipated musicals in years, showcases the extraordinary life of a music industry heavyweight.

3.     Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre – Inspired by the Oscar-award winning film that brought us the sounds of black America in the 1960s and led to Jennifer Hudson wining the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. If you don’t want to see this one indoors, Block Party Cinema will be screening the original 2006 film, al fresco style on 18th August –  tickets available via http://www.blockpartycinema.co.uk/

4.     Hamilton: An American Musical at Victoria Palace Theatre – The critically acclaimed ‘story of America’ drew praise and controversy after casting non-white actors as the founding fathers. The production infuses the sounds of hip-hop, pop and R&B; in 2016 it won 11 Tony awards including Best Musical.

5.     The Greatest Love of All Show – A Tribute to Whitney Houston, reminds us of one of the greatest singers of all time, that we lost too soon. This is on tour across the UK.

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Angela Davis was right when she said “we needed a Donald Trump”


Before Donald Trump bulldozed into the UK last week, everyone knew there would be drama. Waves of protests in support of and against the US president were seen in England and Scotland.

Donald Trump was only in the UK for a few days, but his presence led to an estimated 250,000 protesters marching through London, along with the famous inflatable ‘Donald Trump baby’.  A far-right protest was also happening in the capital and some of those protesters were singing Donald Trump’s praises (of course). Wherever he goes, the Trump effect is palpable.

After criticising UK Prime Minister Theresa May, then sitting down to dinner with her and having tea with the Queen, Trump went to his luxury resort in Scotland for some downtime. However, Scottish protesters made it clear that Trump was ‘not welcome’ in their country because of his views, interpreted as racist and misogynistic.

As the leader of what is said to be the most powerful nation on earth, I get why Trump is constantly served to us on a platter by the media. Usually upon hearing his name I do the classic eye roll and sigh. Sometimes I actually laugh in moments of disbelief at what comes out of his mouth. Trump’s comedic value is up there with the best of them. All jokes aside, I am aware of how dangerous Trump is.

It was a quote from one of the most candid political activists of our time, Angela Davis, that made me think Donald Trump does serve a purpose. While many are repulsed by his views, there is no doubt that Trump has awoken the social consciousness of everyone.

Last year during a speech at Florida Atlantic University, while condemning Trump, Angela Davis stated, “maybe we need a Donald Trump to wake us up”.

Davis has been a political activist for decades and played a key role in the civil rights movement in America. However, it was in the early 1970s that she became infamous after being linked to the ‘Soledad Brothers’ case and listed as a fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list. Davis was imprisoned, but during one of the most captivating trials of its time (hence inspiring a documentary), was exonerated by an all-white jury.

Angela Davis, Donald Trump, documentary, film, cinema
The documentary inspired by Angela Davis’ unique life story

In addition to affiliation with the Black Panther movement and more recently Black Lives Matter, Davis has also been described as a feminist. As a staunch adversary of Trump, at the age of 74, Davis shows no sign of her political activism abating.

There’s no doubt Trump’s presence on the global political landscape has inspired many. Trump inspires his supporters, who claimed they didn’t have a voice before him and everyone else who was wrapped up in apathy but now forced to stand against oppressive ideologies.

 

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Important quotes from I Am Not Your Negro documentary


We still live in a world where racial narratives are clearly defined and blurred at the same time. Despite some progress in racial equality policy, some of the issues around race that were acute decades ago, are still poignant now.

Many black story tellers have pointed out the similarities and nuances between racial narratives past and present, but when I watched the documentary, I Am Not Your Negro at Block Party Cinema’s Film Club series, it remined me of how racism is driven by mindset. It’s these ideologies that drive the social structures built to oppress the powerless.

james baldwin
The Oscar nominated (2017), BATFA award winning (2018) documentary, based on James Baldwin’s last unfinished manuscript – Remember This House. Photo credit: Block Party Cinema

I was quite lucky to find The Film Club showing of this award-winning documentary, released in 2016. Upon arrival, there was a DJ’s, street food and the signature beanbags, and just before the film started a brief synopsis was given by the Block Party team. Some of the quotes from the documentary that will stay with me are below, if you’ve seen the documentary which quotes resonate with you? Comment below.

1.

“I was not a Black Muslim, for the same vein, though for different reasons that I did not become a Black Panther, because I did not believe that white people were devils and I did not want the young Black people to believe that.

2.

“If we were white, our heroes would be your heroes too. Malcolm X would still be alive…when the Israelis or the Poles pick up guns and say ‘give me liberty or give me death,’ the entire white world applauds. When a Black man says exactly the same thing, he is judged a criminal and treated like one. Everything is done to make an example of this bad n**ga so there won’t be anymore like him.”

3.

“All of the Western nations have been caught in a lie: a lie of their pretended humanism. History has no moral justification and the west has no moral authority.

4.

“History is not the past, “It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”

5.

The world is not white. It can’t be, whiteness is just a metaphor for power“.

6.

What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.

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Will Danny Rose’s Depression Admission Impact Mental Health Care for Black People?


When English footballer Danny Rose revealed his depression battle, his bravery was celebrated by everyone, from the NHS to Prince William. In recent years, there has been a growing number of prominent black voices sharing their mental health struggles, which is no doubt a good thing. However, the experiences of everyday black people within the mental health system are quite the opposite, as research has shown.

Like many who suffer with mental health challenges, Rose stated that there was no singular cause of his depression. Dealing with long term football injuries, his uncle committing suicide, his mother suffering racial abuse and someone attempting to shoot his brother at their home, all contributed to his depression.

Rose’s candour will help improve the way depression is perceived and he is keen to help other sufferers when back from the Word Cup in Russia. However, the everyday black person in Great Britain facing similar battles finds themselves caught up in a mental health system which currently, isn’t set up to meet the needs of black people or fully understand how racism and cultural barriers can have an impact on mental health.

danny rose desprssion admission

According to NHS England, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which began in 2008 has “transformed treatment of adult depression in England.” However, a briefing paper by the House of Commons published in April, stated that of people completing an IAPT treatment course during 2016-7, black people were less likely to ‘move to recovery and to see an improvement in their condition’ compared to white people.

This followed a report from the mental health charity Mind in 2010 which stated, “People from BME communities have long been underserved in primary mental health services and are much less likely than other groups to be referred to psychological therapies”. Marcel Vige, head of equality improvement at Mind, believes black people are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues.  Vige recounted anecdotes from black women describing how social situations can have impacted their mental health:

“Why do I have to change who I am so that people don’t find me intimidating or aggressive?” – Teacher

“I have to prove that I can do the same thing as a white person,” – Marketing Executive

“I can’t embrace who I am, fully….I need to make sure people are always comfortable with me.” – Personal Assistant

I spoke with a mental health social worker, (who wanted to remain anonymous) who gave some insight into the racial and gender dynamics black people are still dealing. While various factors affect the experiences of black people navigating the mental health system, race also plays a major role.

MH word cloud. PNG

How long have you been in your role and what does it involve?
I’ve been a mental health social worker for 4 years in a diverse London borough, and will complete my training to become an Approved Mental Health Practitioner very soon. I support a lot of black women suffering from a range of mental health illnesses including, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. This involves monitoring their journey, while accessing therapy and taking medication.

How can the mental health system support black people properly?
There are so many factors involved, but it’s also important to have more black therapists (in all capacities) – this can have a big impact. I’ve had some patients say, they feel misunderstood because the therapist can’t identify with the black experience and how racism contributes to the way they feel.

In your professional opinion do you think there are any additional barriers of gender inequality black women face?
Some of my patients who have suffered trauma (involving a man), naturally do not want a male therapist, but in some teams the most relevant therapist available is a man. This extends the waiting time for these vulnerable women.

According to 2016-7 figures published by NHS Digital, the number of black people detained under the Mental Health Act (272 out of 100,000) is four times more, compared with white people (67 out of 100,000). Are you surprised by this?
No. Before someone is detained, the level of risk they present is documented during a Mental Health Act risk assessment. This makes note of various things; their appearance (including hairstyle e.g. if they have dreadlocks), their ability to make eye contact and how they communicate. In general, as black people we tend to be quite expressive in the way we speak; for someone undergoing assessment this is sometimes deemed as being aggressive.  

Addressing mental health service inequalities

In 2016, the Mental Health Taskforce produced the “Five Year Forward View for mental Health” plan, focussing on tackling the inferior care provided to black and other ethnic groups; many of whom usually interact with mental health services after being arrested by police.

“The 5-year Delivering Race Equality programme concluded in 2010 that there had been no improvement in the experience of people from minority ethnic communities receiving mental health care. Data since shows little change. These inequalities must be prioritised for action….In particular, there are questions about the over-representation of black people in mental health settings and the use of force that features in some of their deaths.The taskforce went on to state that NHS England should provide funding to improve mental health inequalities; with an update due in 2019-2020.

Mental health issues can arise from a myriad of personal experiences, but the impact of racism and discrimination should not be ignored. The NHS Digital report admitted that figures of detention rates for black people, “may be underestimated”, and black Caribbean  people in particular, are still detained at significantly higher rates than other ethnic groups. Within all the recommendations made for improving the care given to black people, a system that understands the black experience is key for improving outcomes to levels experienced by white patients. This includes having more black professionals working in the system and more comprehensive research to fully understand the gravity of the problem.

 

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James Baldwin’s unfinished business


Few writers’ words still resonate thirty years after their death, but James Baldwin was no ordinary writer. It’s believed that Baldwin died of cancer on 1 December 1987 aged 63 while starting, what is now his final manuscript – Remember This House. Comprising only 30 pages at the time of his death, the focus of this manuscript were personal recollections of the lives and assassinations of 3 juggernauts of the civil rights movement in America – Martin Luther King Jr,. Malcom X and Medgar Evers.

james baldwin
The Oscar nominated (2017), BATFA award winning (2018) documentary, based on James Baldwin’s last unfinished manuscript – Remember This House.                                           Photo credit: Block Party Cinema

The lives of the former two have been compared throughout history. The ideologies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X even came up during the commentary surrounding Marvel’s Black Panther movie, directed by Ryan Coogler. The ideologies of Black Panther (T’Challa – played by Chadwick Boseman) and Erik Kilmonger (played by Michael B Jordan) were likened to the two civil rights activists. Some thought Kilmonger’s desire to arm all oppressed people so they could protect themselves reflected Malcom X’s rhetoric. While T’Challa’s (what some would deem) measured approach was like that of Martin Luther King Jr.

I watched two men, coming from unimaginably different backgrounds, whose positions, originally, were poles apart, driven closer and closer together. By the time each died, their positions had become virtually the same position. It can be said, indeed, that Martin picked up Malcolm’s burden, articulated the vision which Malcolm had begun to see, and for which he paid with his life – James Baldwin in a 1963 TV interview

Medgar Evers died on 12th June 1963; a World War II veteran and university graduate, Medgar Evers was instrumental in overturning segregation laws at the University of Mississippi, public facilities and collating evidence from witnesses in the Emmitt Till murder case. Malcom X died on 21st February 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. died on 4th April 1968. All three of these civil rights activists were killed within a 5 year period and none of them lived to see their 40th birthdays.   

In his array of writings and novels where he documents the civil rights movement, Baldwin’s words are still pertinent today. Events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement and similar situations, played out over social media is testament to this. When the civil rights movement started there was no social media, now we all have front row seats to witness injustice and oppression. While there has been progress, there is still some way to go for black lives to be seen as equal to others of the human race. There’s still unfinished business to handle…

Clip from 1963 where James Baldwin is asked about his view on the future of America.

“The future of the Negro in this country, is precisely as bright or dark as the future of the country. James Baldwin 

 

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 Featured image credit: Screenshot from ‘I am not your Negro’ trailer YouTube

Why it’s important for all creatives to tell ‘niche’ stories


The ‘blogosphere’ can be all-consuming; as bloggers we’re told that consistency is key but sometimes I don’t have time to reflect on how my blog has evolved. A recent Twitter thread forced me to think of why I started blogging in the first place and the importance of so-called ‘niche’ stories.

why started blogging tweet

Many bloggers/vloggers/content creators want to develop content that will be consumed by the masses. There is a perception that black and ethnic minority stories can’t resonate in the mainstream, wth Western audiences. Black Panther shut down that theory, but a few years earlier in 2013, Fruitvale Station made a significant dent in this theory too (along with other films).

The film recounts the murder of Oscar Grant (a 22-year-old unarmed African-American man) by police. Michael B Jordan starred as the lead character, in director Ryan Coogler’s first, critically acclaimed film. The poignant portrayal of the events leading up to Oscar Grant’s death, were preceded by Coogler showing Oscar Grant’s life and struggles. Dealing with life after prison, looking for a job, balancing his relationship with his girlfriend and daughter.

Following a fight on a train, Oscar Grant was killed by police on New Year’s Day 2009. He was shot at point blank range in the back. The officers used an unnecessary amount of force, which I don’t think would have been used if Oscar Grant was white.

But Oscar Grant was not white; if he was, even with the same socio-economic status and lifestyle, he probably would have lived to tell the tale.

On a small budget, the cinematography of the film contributed to gripping viewing. All the accolades the film received were well deserved, especially on a debut directing role for Coogler.

fruit vale pic
Ryan Coogler’s first film, is part of the Block Party Cinema Film Club series (photo credit)

‘Justice’ is not a word I would use to describe the verdict on the murder of Oscar Grant. If anyone else killed Oscar Grant in the same manner, I think the verdict would have been different.

Whether you love or hate social media, its presence allows us to consume and share stories which would have been marginalised or erased. Oscar Grant’s murder was captured on mobile phones by various witnesses. In the moments leading up to when Oscar was shot, the film showed the witnesses who, regardless of race were all united in their emotions at what unfolded before their eyes.

When we share ‘niche’ stories we think may not directly relate to us, we humanise these stories. What we may think is un-relatable, can resonate with us on a human level. We may come from different backgrounds and cultures, but we have one thing in common – we are all human and can relate to each other emotionally on that and understand each other through that gaze.  When you authentically explore your own narrative and execute it intelligently, as Ryan Coolger did in Fruitvale Station, it can have global appeal.

I started blogging because I wanted to share the stories that are important to me but often marginalised by the mainstream media. We all benefit from telling and sharing ‘niche’ stories and that’s why it important for all creatives to tell them. Content creators are doing so through various outlets, including Block Party Cinema who hosted the screening of Fruitvale Station that I watched on a sunny May Bank Holiday weekend.

“As cinema loving Londoners, we’d grown disenchanted with the lack of access to black and multicultural films either through mainstream or pop up cinemas. Our ambition with Block Party Cinema is to help rejuvenate, and make these films even more accessible, whilst adding our own special ingredients to the mix. Community spirit has always been the soul of the best block parties and that’s the feeling we’ve harnessed to create this unique cinema experience.” – Block Party Cinema

 

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Will Ryan Coogler direct Black Panther 2?


The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) machine roars on, with its latest release – Avengers: Infinity War, expected to be the biggest Marvel film ever. Many people (who are not Marvel fans per se), including myself would not have much interest in the latest release if it wasn’t for Black Panther. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last three months, you’re aware of its global impact.

Ryan Coogler, on the Black Panther promotional trail in South Korea

The MCU is one of the most successful film franchises in the world, but the success of Black Panther put it in front of a new audience, taking it to a different level. Although not a Marvel fan, I’ve seen Thor, Captain America: Civil War Civil and Guardians of the Galaxy on TV because I watched it with people who are fans. I didn’t watch any of them with bated breath as I did Black Panther, after waiting a year for it’s release. The concept of an African country unaffected by slavery and colonisation was epic!

Black Panther introduced a whole new audience to the MCU franchise and succeeded as a stand-alone film – you didn’t have to know the back story for it to resonate. Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler (who adapted the screenplay from the original 1966 Marvel comic) was able to infuse his authentic voice throughout the whole film without depleting the traditional superhero narrative. References to black culture, history and emotion were simultaneously subtle and blatant. In a time when the validity of black (African) existence in the diaspora is constantly questioned, the positive portrayal of Africans came at a point when everyone needed a reminder of the richness of African culture.

In the midst of a superhero story, the allure of Africa encouraged Ryan Coogler to visit the continent before embarking on his Black Panther journey.

“I was very honest about the idea I wanted to explore in this film, which is what it means to be African. That was one of the first things I talked about. And they [Marvel] were completely interested.”Ryan Coogler, Rolling Stone interview

Coogler just finished directing his second film, Creed, when Marvel come knocking at the door. For any director, working with the Marvel franchise is big, but for a young filmmaker with only 2 films in his portfolio, Creed (2015, estimated budget $40 million) and Fruitvale Station (2013, estimated budget $900,000) shows it pays off when you are authentic. This is not always easy in Hollywood, but Coogler does it with a discreet defiance.

fruit vale pic
Ryan Coogler’s first film, is part of the Block Party Cinema Film Club series (photo credit)

“I wanted to tell epic stories, stories that felt big and fantastic. I liked that feeling as an audience member when it felt like I went on a flight and felt out of breath and I couldn’t stop thinking about it days later. I wanted to make stuff that gave people that feeling – but I wanted to do it for people who look like me and people I grew up with.”Ryan Coogler, Rolling Stone interview

While directing Black Panther, Cooger admitted he hadn’t directed two white men (Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis) in the same scene before. When I heard this, I immediately thought he was being restricted by the establishment, but Coogler’s apt response changed my perspective. This isn’t really an issue if you are portraying the stories you want to see.

“It’s not a situation where people are denying me that opportunity”. The stories [I’m telling] just haven’t lent themselves to me doing a scene with only white people in it. I’m making the movies that I want to make.”Ryan Coogler, Rolling Stone interview

After its release in mid-February, according to Forbes, Black Panther is STILL showing in 1,650 cinemas and is the second highest grossing (tickets sold) superhero movie in the US. When Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, was asked if Coogler will be directing the Black Panther sequel (#BlackPanther2), he was optimistic.

“We definitely want Ryan to come back and that’s actively being worked out right now. When will it be? A lot of it will be when Ryan wants to and not rushing anything, but I think we have an idea of when it will be… “The success of Panther is so amazing and makes us happy for so many reasons, and it certainly exceeded our lofty expectations. Kevin Feige interview with Collider

coogler letter
Coogler admitted he was overwhelmed by the response to Black Panther, in a letter to fans.

I’ve seen 2 out of 3 Coogler films (Black Panther and Creed). I’m all here for keeping the cultural finger on the pulse of the African diaspora narrative (the reason I started blogging), so I’ll be going back to the very beginning, to watch Coogler’s first film (no, I haven’t seen it before and yes, I’m late to the party lol). Fruitvale Station won awards at Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals and was produced through Forest Whitaker’s (played the character Zuri in Black Panther) production company, so I’m sure it’s going to be a good watch!

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Featured image: You Tube screenshot from The Van Jones show CNN