Tag Archive: nia long


 

roxanneroxanne

Even for someone like me who’s more or less the same age as hip hop, it’s hard now to imagine the early days, when even people who saw money couldn’t imagine millions of dollars.  When it was a neighborhood thing and not a worldwide culture.  ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ does an excellent job of reminding you of the origins and a lot more.

If you don’t know the story of one of the first women of hip hop, this movie is a nice introduction.  Aided by performances from Nia Long and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (I’ll never get tired of saying that), ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ shines most as it reminds of the additional hurdles a female MC had to (has to?) overcome on top of trying to get ahead in a male dominated industry.  Need muscle when someone tries to screw you out of money?  Have a baby?  Just to name two.  The hip hop lover in me also loved the fairly organic way some other names of hip hop were integrated into the story without taking it over (Marley Marl, UTFO of course, Biz Markie, and another young kid from Queensbridge by the name of Nasir…)

Definitely worth seeing if you’re a hip hop historian.  Now streaming on Netflix.

 

Mooz-lum

 

Out now on video (and Netflix, where I got a hold of it) is one of the first films to give a perspective on being an (African-American) Muslim in the post 9/11 age.  Mooz-lum stars Evan Ross as a young man going into his freshmen year of college, trying to find the right balance of respecting the values of his childhood while taking advantage of the freedom of being out from under his suffocating parents.  (I realize looking at that sentence that more or less describes every freshmen going to college doesn’t it?  Let’s move on…)

I’ve heard various opinions on this film from Muslims and non-Muslims, film geeks and casual interested parties.  Personally, I liked it.  It reminded me alot of Spike’s earliest films, where you knew walking in you were getting a message, and the plot points of the story moved you in that direction.  The college setting also gave me some ‘Higher Learning’ flashbacks, but that may be because movies set in college are rarely this serious.

Saying that I want to be clear on this: Mooz-lum is not a ‘Tyler Perry film, but with Muslims in it.’  And I don’t mean that in a way to be disrespectful to what Mr. Perry does, but this film is not a gospel film.  You get insight into the story of one Muslim family, (and I’m not familiar enough with the director to know how autobiographical it was), but the ‘I was lost and now I’m found’ element of this story is more…subdued.

Last comment is for 2 of the lead actors.  Nia Long, Hall of Fame gorgeous as any brotha will tell you, but in this film she plays the mother of the family.  Her sex appeal isn’t an asset for this character, but she still nailed the part.  She’s an actress.

And Evan Ross…who knew?  I have this conversation with some of my black film geek friends, but it bears repeating: we have a nice group of 20 something black actors and actresses who can all pull their weight.  If we ever get another ‘Golden Age of Black Cinema’, we should be more than covered with people who can give us quality performances if put in the right roles.

Until next time…

boyz-n-the-hood

Boyz N The Hood was the debut film by writer/director John Singleton.  The semi-autobiographical tale revolves around three young black men, Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy, and their daily lives growing up in South Central Los Angeles.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While the phrase ‘black film’ can take on many different meanings (as this countdown hopefully illustrates), Boyz N The Hood is the type of film that is universally agreed to represent the ultimate prototype.  Black director, black writer, black cast, black soundtrack, black setting, black story.  Spike had already proven there was a modern audience for black film; in mimicking the rise of West Coast hip hop, John opened America’s eyes to a very real ‘street’ sensibility that was getting louder and prouder.

Legacy:     So many careers and trends can be traced to this film.  John Singleton obviously, but also Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, and Cuba Gooding Jr. started their rise with this film.  The good and bad ‘hood’ films (Menace II Society, and countless others) wouldn’t have gotten made without Boyz.  While Spike was the clear pioneer, John’s success told both Hollywood and future filmmakers that there was room for more than one black storyteller at a time.  That might be the greatest legacy.

Craft:  Rewatching it years later, there are points where the film is undeniably ‘preachy’.  (And the Wayans absolutely slaughtered this point to death in their parody, Don’t Be a Menace).  That aside, the film’s structure is fairly classical.  Three brothers, one undeniably good (Tre), one undeniably bad (Doughboy), and one good who has some ties to the bad (Ricky).  The presence of the father figure (Furious) is somewhat on the nose, but no one can take away from the great performance of Laurence Fishburne.

Crossover:  Without a doubt.  Boyz N The Hood was on its own regard a crossover phenomenon.  John Singleton became the first African-American, and the youngest person of any color to be nominated for Best Director.  As referenced in the Legacy section, Ice Cube has gone from Doughboy to the star of Are We There Yet?  Anyone who saw that coming is a bold faced liar.

Apollo:  Ricky’s slow motion demise is still incredibly powerful.  If I may, I’d like to use this space for something more personal.  I was still a kid when this film came out.  Spike’s films had already planted the seed in my head, and I heard about all this new black kid out of USC doing it, so of course I wanted to see the film.  Now I might be slightly off with this number, but the number of times I personally remember my father going out to the movie theater has to be around…5?  He has movies he likes now, but they’re not his thing, they’re my thing.  So there we were one Saturday afternoon (in Oak Park Mall for you Kansas City people) watching Boyz.  My Pops taking me to something I was interested in wasn’t a big deal to me; it’s what I’ve always known.  So when Furious made his speech to Tre about listening to him (and watching what happens to Ricky and Doughboy who didn’t have that male influence), it was just part of the movie to me.

Anyway, now that I’m on the other side of the table, I have so much appreciation for what I had.  Obviously having a man in the house doesn’t mean automatically mean a boy grows up into a good brotha, not having a man doesn’t mean a boy won’t turn out well.  But it’s a conversation I’ve had over and over again with some of my closest friends: having a good man involved in the life of a boy can go a long, long way in creating a good man.  (I’m deliberately avoiding the father-daughter influence; go listen to some old John Mayer for that.)  As a wrap I’ll say for its various flaws, Boyz N The Hood is one of the better, three-dimensional black films ever made.

The countdown will continue with another landmark film.  Until next time…

the-fresh-prince-of-bel-air_324x218

One of the most popular sitcoms of its era, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air told the story of West Philly teenager Will Smith as he brought his street-wise hip hop sensibilities to the Banks household, moving in with his aunt and uncle in Bel Air, California.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  In the middle of a new golden age for black sitcoms, The Fresh Prince, in addition to having a black star and an all black cast, would over its six year run have guest appearances by numerous black stars making their own moves on the career ladder (Tyra Banks, Don Cheadle, and Tevin Campbell immediately come to mind).  How many sitcoms in history have had their theme song rapped by its star?  The defense rests.

Legacy:  Very, very easy to forget with all that’s happened since, but Will Smith was damn near done before this project got greenlit.  Like a lot of young brothers who get money young, he spent freely and the IRS was on him.  The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air gave Will a second career as an actor, and to his credit he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity.

Craft:  With all due respect to TBS, this show was truly very, very funny.  Well cast, well written, and very well performed, the show consistently brought the laughs, which (should be) the goal for any sitcom.

Crossover:  And let’s pass some of that praise on to NBC and its various station managers across the country.  When the show was for all intents and purposes cancelled after three seasons, both fans and affiliates let the powers that be know how popular the show was in spite of it not ever being the number one show in America.  Three more seasons later, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air more than earned its place as a syndication favorite.

Apollo:  Another show where you could pick from many choices.  I’ll go with the running joke that we all know: Jazz (Jazzy Jeff) getting thrown out of the mansion repeatedly for either a) hitting on Hilary, b) pissing off Uncle Phil, or c) usually a combination of both.

Next time on the TV show countdown, something much more serious.  Until then…