Following the breakout success of his racially charged 2017 directorial debut film Get Out, Jordon Peele produced another intriguing piece of work with his latest horror / thriller, Us. Get Out, produced on a $4.5m (approx. £3.4m) budget saw Peel become the first African-American writer-director to earn $100m (approx. £75.8m) with his debut film. Produced with a $20m (approx. £15.1m) budget, Us also exceeded initial estimates since its release on 22 March 2019, reportedly making $87 (approx. £65.9m) worldwide so far.
However, unlike Get Out, Us is not entirely focussed on race and debunks the historic portrayal of African-Americans in horror films. As the focus of the film, the African-American family are notslaughtered in the opening scenes, which generally happens to black charactersin horror films, and their race is not fundamental to the plot. However, in atime where colourism (they ugly cousin of racism) is being discussed more openly,the depiction of a dark-skinned black family is important.
To the back drop of the iconic London skyline, on the grounds of Alexandra Palace, Block Party Cinema hosted a special event which rounded off the Great British summer we had this year.
The weather held out and I joined the crowd of people eating food and ‘cutting shapes’ (as they say,) with my dance moves during the silent ‘diva disco’. It was my first time at a silent disco; a great concept because everyone around me had headphones, so I could sing out of tune freely! @pxssypalace DJ KKINBOO was on the decks and didn’t disappoint.
The Free Angela and All Political Prisoners documentary released in 2012, recounted the extraordinary events that simultaneously made Angela Davis infamous and heroic. I hadn’t watched it until last week; it reminded me of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Focussing on the events surrounding the Soledad Brothers case that led to Davis becoming a murder suspect and fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list, the documentary highlight why unity in activism is important.
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.
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
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.
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.
‘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
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.
“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
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!
The last film I saw at the cinema was Black Panther and before that, it was Girls Trip in July 2017! I am into films, but there just hadn’t been many that resonated enough for me to leave the confines of my house and take a trip to the cinema. Before this I went to the cinema regularly; one of my most memorable cinema experiences was when I saw Titanic, because I cried. My friends still remind of that little fact until this day!
Over time I’ve become more selective about what I watch, because I got tired of the same old faces and narratives. I wanted to see more people who looked like me and stories that I could relate to, such films were not easy to come by.
I hadn’t heard about Block Party Cinema until a few weeks ago and wanted to see their interpretation of the pop up cinematic experience. The 90s RnB chilled out vibes evoked a welcomed nostalgia and was met with contemporary beanbag seating. I was a bit apprehensive about sitting on a beanbag throughout the whole film, but to my surprise, they were comfortable and afforded lots of leg room (well enough for my legs, anyway!)
The film, A Moving Image, was about gentrification in Brixton (a subject I have touched on before). Followed by a panel discussion with Lisa Maffia (of Solid Crew and former Brixton resident), Community Leader Michael Smith and the director of the film, Shola Amoo.
I was a bit conflicted about watching a film about gentrification in Pop Brixton, which some may deem as the epitome of gentrification in the area, but I wanted to see how the film would approach the issue and the setting in POP Brixton was nice, with a bar and free popcorn.
The film touched on some interesting points, including the Reclaim Brixton protest and the protagonist who once lived in Brixton, being conflicted as to whether she was now part of the problem. The film highlighted that gentrification is a class issue and not just about race. This is true, but for a place like Brixton with such a distinctive racial heritage, if the community is depleted of African and Caribbean people regardless of socio-economic status, Brixton as we know it will be no more.
Whether good or bad, which I don’t think the film made a final decision on, gentrification has it merits and drawbacks. Maybe that was the take-home message of the film. By leaving the ending open-ended (in my opinion) provided food for thought on a complex issue affecting many parts of London.