Review: Season 1 of Queen Sugar

Season 1 of Queen Sugar was outstanding, engaging, enlightening, and demanding. It ended with a cliffhanger that could mean huge changes in season 2. Continue reading “Review: Season 1 of Queen Sugar”

Watch This: Trailer for Queen Sugar

Queen Sugar, coming to OWN, is the first TV series with episodes directed by Ava DuVernay. It’s produced by Oprah Winfrey. Starring in Queen Sugar as the Bordelon sisters are Rutina Wesley and Dawn-Lyen Gardner.  Continue reading “Watch This: Trailer for Queen Sugar”

In the Good News Department: UPDATED with Less Good News

There are some good things happening on our TV sets. I want to point out a few of them I’ve seen talked about in the past week. One is coming up tonight, the others are still in development and require a wait.

UPDATED: See the new information added to the Fresh Off the Boat section below.

Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay Team Up Again

David Oyelowo, Ava Duvernay & Oprah Winfrey on the set of "Selma"
David Oyelowo, Ava Duvernay & Oprah Winfrey on the set of “Selma”

Oprah Winfrey and Ana DuVernay will work together again to create a new series. Winfrey will co-create and co-star in the new series Queen Sugar, which will air on OWN. The drama is based on the book by Natalie Baszile and is set on a sugarcane farm in Louisiana.

DuVernay made the announcement on Twitter.

Jill Soloway and Feminist Comedy

Image via Deadline
Jill Soloway

Ana DuVernay cited Jill Soloway in her tweet. Soloway will create a half-hour feminist comedy for MTV. As yet untitled, the series will be about two young girls who meet at summer camp and bond over their passion for second-wave feminism. Both girls are struck by lightning and their friendship, power and destiny is sealed. Now, 10 years later, they are bent on saving all of womankind.

Another Awesome Woman for A.K.A. Jessica Jones

image via movie pilot
Carrie Anne Moss

I keep seeing announcements for new cast members for A.K.A. Jessica Jones The latest is that Carrie Anne Moss has joined the cast of Marvel’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones. That makes 3 very badass females so far.

Fresh off the Boat

Fresh Off the Boat. Image: ABC
Fresh Off the Boat. Image: ABC

In I’ve Waited 20 Years to Watch Fresh Off the Boat, BlogHer writer Grace Hwang Lynch said,

I’ve waited 20 years to see a show that even vaguely resembles my own [family] on the screen. And now, the sitcom based on celebrity chef and TV personality Eddie Huang’s memoir Fresh Off the Boat features a Taiwanese immigrant family… named the Huangs … in prime time.

Fresh Off the Boat premiers tonight on ABC.

The next step is to take, not an immigrant story, but a story about Americans of Asian origin who have been Americans for generations.

I talked about how representation matters so much to people here and here and here and many other places on this blog. Seeing this story on TV is a step in the right direction. #RepresentationMatters

UPDATE: Some Less than Good News

On February 7, Grace Hwang Lynch posted something about the PR for Fresh Off the Boat on her own blog Hapa Mama: Fresh Off The Boat? How About a Seat on the Bus? She describes the PR outreach to bloggers by ABC. There were no bloggers of Asian descent included in the outreach. Go read the entire article by Grace, but I just want to add my objections to the way ABC is promoting and doing PR for their new comedy series. If #RepresentationMatters, it matters in the way you conduct PR as well as in the way you show people behaving on TV.

Review: Selma

Selma manages to take the microcosm of the marches in 1965 in Selma, Alabama to tell a sweeping saga that remains painfully relevant today. By focusing on this singular moment in a long battle, a vast epic is revealed.

Much that is in the news today shouts unfinished to the battle fought by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his courageous supporters in Selma. For example, several members of the cast appeared on the red carpet for the opening of Selma wearing tee shirts emblazoned “I can’t breathe.”

A large crowd of African Americans attempt to register to vote.
A scene from Selma. David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands in the center.

David Oyelowo stars as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He managed to portray King as very human with doubts and fears and failings while painting a portrait of King as a brilliant organizer, an astute politician, a moving orator, and an inspired showman. It is a stunning performance giving us a very real man who managed to achieve greatness. It’s a portrait both intimate and historic.

The story alternates between quiet moments and horrific moments of violence. The two opening scenes are good examples of this contrast. There’s Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) attempting to register to vote in an act of quiet determination. Then there’s the church explosion that killed 4 young black girls as they scampered down the church stairs discussing their hairdos. Mixed with these types of gut wrenching scenes are strategy sessions and arguments between civil rights movement leaders and meetings between Dr. King and government leaders.

I was impressed by the careful way King picked Selma as the perfect place to stage a massive demonstration for voting rights after President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) refused to take action on the issue with the speed King needed.

There were actually 3 marches in the attempt to go from Selma to Montgomery. The first became known as “Bloody Sunday.” About 600 people arrived for a demonstration march on Sunday March 7, 1965. State troopers met the demonstrators at the edge of Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and chased, clubbed, tear gassed, and terrorized the demonstrators into a retreat.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, by the way, was named for a head of the KKK. It bears the same name today.

The Bloody Sunday demonstration was televised. Thousands of people flocked to Selma in support. The second march was much bigger because of the publicity. When this group walked across the bridge, the state troopers moved aside. King stood looking at the situation for a long moment. He knelt to pray. As one, the marchers behind him did the same. Finally he stood up and turned back. He was waiting for a legal ruling that would protect the marchers and he got it the next day.

The third attempt was the one that made it over the bridge and all the way to Montgomery, where Dr. King gave a speech on the steps of the capitol. Finally, President Johnson was forced to act to remove restrictions on voting such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and other impediments meant to keep black citizens from voting.

The horror was visceral: the bodies of dead children amid the concrete rubble of a bombed church, the thuds of clubs and the screams of pain and terror as white men on horses attacked fleeing black men and women on the bridge.

The hate filled words of men like Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) and Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) were as terrifying as the scenes of chaos and attack. They are the same words we hear today. They are a reminder that for each victory like this one in 1965, there are still white men fighting to deny certain Americans their civil rights.

The music chosen as background in certain scenes was completely apt. The lyrics told the story as the story was being told.

The cast of the film was very large. There are many real people in this story whose names we know: Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, J. Edgar Hoover, John Lewis, Malcolm X. Many other characters whose names are not so famous were also in the story. All were played by actors whose faces I’m sure you recognize. I’m not going to list all the actors in these parts, but I do want to acknowledge those excellent performances.

The film was written by Paul Webb and directed by Ava DuVernay. Cinematography was by Bradford Young. All 3 deserve Oscar nominations, as does the film for Best Picture.

The Trailer

Watch This: Trailer for The Hundred Foot Journey

The Hundred Foot Journey will be released in theaters in August. The film stars Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, and Charlotte Le Bon.

Helen Mirren in The Hundred Foot Journey
Helen Mirren in The Hundred Foot Journey

The plot centers around Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin starred, classical French restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Across the street from this magnificent place an Indian family headed by the father (Om Puri) opens the Maison Mumbai. Young Hassan (Manish Dayal) has the magic touch with food. Maison Mumbai attracts attention and hungry diners. You can imagine the reaction from the icy Madame Mallory. Add a love story, and you’ve got the perfect combination for a great tale.

Here’s the first official trailer.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is based on a novel written by Richard C. Morais. Steven Spielberg will produce the film with Oprah Winfrey and Juliet Blake. Lasse Hallström is the director.

Dreamworks and Harpo Studios are producing the film.
Dreamworks and Harpo Studios are producing the film.

Anything with Helen Mirren involved captures my attention, even goofy films where she’s jumping over cars and shooting machine guns. But this film promises to be warmer and more human, a tale about opening the heart and senses to embrace the unknown.

I’m definitely looking forward to it. What about you? Think it looks good?

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is Powerful

poster for The Butler

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s like watching a newsreel of my own life. It is a newsreel of my own life. It was especially meaningful to watch it on Sunday as the nation remembered the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the “I have a dream speech” by The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But as a white woman living through the events in the years that Cecil Gaines served in The White House, a lot of it was “the news” to me. I wasn’t living it in the way the characters lived it. I wasn’t forced to live with two faces, I wasn’t thrown in jail for expecting to be served in a restaurant, I wasn’t sprayed with fire hoses or screamed at by men in white robes. As I write this review I’m very aware of how different life was for African Americans during this part of our history.

butler-silhouette
Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a man who hid his true self for most of his working life.

Part of the power of this story is the juxtaposition of what Cecil Gaines was going through as a butler working in the rarefied air of The White House while his oldest son was riding buses across the South as a freedom rider.

freedom riders
A bus full of freedom riders under attack.

Cecil Gaines continued to do his job, a job that looked like a miracle of good fortune when he first was hired, while his oldest son was being arrested and beaten in places like Birmingham and Selma. These two things going on simultaneously spoke volumes about the past and the future, about courage and change.

The story begins with young Cecil watching his father shot in cold blood because he dared speak to a white man after the white man raped Cecil’s mother. I don’t remember the date exactly, but I think it was in the 1920s. The story ends with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Between those years, Cecil’s career in The White House spanned presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan. I think it was Eisenhower. Robin Williams definitely played Eisenhower. However, they showed actual TV news footage that was supposed to be Eisenhower, but I thought it was Harry Truman, so I am a bit confused about that part of the time sequence.

Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker
Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker as Gloria and Cecil Gaines looking at smoke from nearby race riots.

The cast is exemplary. Every one of the key parts of characters who get a lot of screen time is perfectly cast. Forest Whitaker as Cecil is flawless. Oprah Winfrey as his wife and mother of their two sons, David Oyelowo as the grown up Louis Gaines, Terrance Howard as a family friend, Cuba Gooding Jr. as another White House Butler – all outstanding.

Major actors and actresses took tiny parts, just to be part of this story. I think anyone who read the script must have known what a powerful film this would be and was ready to be part of it. There will be numerous awards for this film, I’m sure of that.

In addition to the civil right themes throughout there are the human dramas involving father and son relationships, family relationships, friendships, fidelity, alcoholism, pride, and respect.

Perhaps you’re too young to have lived through all of the past 60 or 70 years of U.S. history. Perhaps you will miss some of the moments of recognition as to who the various characters in government and in the civil rights movement were from having known about them first hand during those years. Even more reason to watch this movie. You’ll learn something about the U.S – its failures, and its heroes.

You’ll be moved by The Butler. I urge you to see it.