Tag Archive: sanaa lathan


 

hiphopheads

A solemn day for my tribe today. Marek Jacobs, one of the young brothers who brought me into Alpha at the University of Kansas, passed away after a fight with stomach cancer.

I can’t tell you the specific first time I met Brother Jacobs, but I imagine it was something along the lines of the picture you see above.  He was one of the brothers who was DJ’ing the Burge parties when I was a freshman, and I was one of the young brothers who would post up every Saturday night in front of or right behind the DJ table.  When I crossed the burning sands, I was one of the brothers who he passed the torch of the KU radio show, ‘The Hip Hop Hype’, to.  The very first documentary I did in Lawrence, which I can’t tell you the title anymore, but the subject was young black men adjusting to living/going to a school on a predominantly white campus; Marek was there.

When word got to me he was in a hospice, I sent a card to him, just to reiterate my appreciation for him.  He didn’t live to see it, but I hope he’s at peace now.  One of my last, best memories of him was after one of my shorts showed up on BET, and Sanaa Lathan read my biography afterward.  He loved that.  He saw something I did on TV.  He saw a movie star name check KU on TV.  He saw a return on his investment in me.  That makes me happy.

Tomorrow is promised to none of us.  Appreciate your people while they’re here.  And appreciate your own gifts.

 

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‘Beyond the Lights’

 

beyond

Let’s start with something I retweeted this morning…

Yes…yes it is.

Beyond the Lights brings Gina Prince-Bythewood back to the writer/director chair and it was well worth the wait in my opinion.  The pitch is a classic Hollywood story: a star is surrounded by yes men and falls for the one ‘real’ person who finds their way into their circle.  It’s the execution of the story and the performances make Beyond one of the better black films in recent memory.  The soundtrack is pitch perfect, it’s my favorite Minnie Driver performance in a REALLY long time, there’s some nice cameos that add to the ‘realism’ of the film (Roland Martin, the BET Awards, your boy Don Lemon).  On an ‘issue’ level, the film makes a really clear statement about how young and ruthlessly we sexualize girls and profit from it. (I don’t see the Machine changing that, but that doesn’t make it right.)

Now before I say this next part…we all know the Prince of Gotham has an established weakness for beautiful women with exotic/English accents right?  That’s public record, yes?  OK…

Hollywood, you dropped the ball once when you wouldn’t back this film because Gugu Mbatha-Raw wasn’t a big enough name.  What’s done is done though, moving forward, you have to give this young lady more ‘shots’.

You know how Sanaa was ‘there’ before Love and Basketball but Gina built a whole movie around her, and then we had ‘Sanaa Lathan, leading lady’?  I think if she wants that type of career, Gugu can do that and more.  She’s fine, yeah, I covered that.  But the girl can act.  My favorite parts of Beyond aren’t the Hollywood/music stuff, but these intimate scenes she has with Nate Parker and Minnie where she gets to be vulnerable and defiant, and over the course of the film you watch that character grow.  Minor spoiler alert, but there’s this whole symbolic subtext that’s established in the very first scene with black hair.  I’ll let you see it.

And I kind of thought that was her, but I stayed through the credits to be absolutely sure: it’s really Gugu singing Blackbird and a few of the other songs you hear.  I went into my queue and moved Belle back to the top of the list when I got home so I can get a better grasp of her range, but off one film?  Man…

So yeah, see this film.  It has been a good year for black filmmakers.  And I don’t believe I’ve seen the ‘home run swing’ yet…

 

 

A couple weeks into 2010, the last film I wrote and directed was being introduced to a national audience by a movie star.  With a couple of weeks to go in 2010, I got to host a show where I gave an up and coming rapper/producer his first television experience.  I love the harmony of that; it’s symbolic of the type of year this has been – harmonious.

Internally, I don’t feel like I’ve changed much in the past 12 months to be perfectly honest.  Maybe it was the film, maybe it was the personal life, maybe it was all of us just being a year older.  The saying is, you get back from the world what you put into it, so maybe it was me just being set in my ways.  Whatever it is, it feels like this was the year that people seemed to take me as I am.  The people who dig me take my imperfections as part of the package, the people who don’t like me seem to get that my insecurities have nothing to do with whether they like me or not. At this point, I am who I am, flaws and all as Beyonce would say.

Along those lines, I want to say it was Jay who said that no matter what he’s done since, in his mind he’s still the crack dealer from Marcy.  My mentality has a similar vibe: I will always be this quiet, black Muslim kid from Wyandotte County.  The Hollywood stuff and the European girlfriend, to my friends it’s like, ‘Who ELSE but Malik would be doing that?’ (and to those friends I say, ‘You’re absolutely right!  Nobody but me!’)  In all seriousness though, it’s all part of the natural direction of me following My Calling and my life’s journey. To me, there is no ‘either/or’, it’s all inclusive.  I’ve come to realize one of my pet peeves is when people try to erase their past.  There is no reset button in this game; things happen, you deal with them, you move forward.  Everything that happens is important, even when we don’t understand the reason at the time.

Part of being a student of the game of life is knowing at some point you will be pushed to your limits.  I’ve certainly gone through the emotional ringer the past 12 months. On a superficial level this has been a fantastic year, but those who know me best will tell you I’ve spent the greater part of 2010 severely depressed. (I’m good now though.)  Keeping things in perspective was something I had to remind myself often.  I’m a romantic, I’m an eternal optimist, I believe for the most part the good and the bad balance each other out.  When I look at my own life, I see love, I see loyal friends, I have a supportive family.  I’m in my early 30s and I can focus on being a capitalist for the rest of my days.  This year was brutal, but I have inner peace and I sadly know way too many people who don’t have it and don’t know how to get it.

So what one thing will I take with me from 2010?  Well, after half of a lifetime with a relationship best described as ‘standoffish’, fate has decided it was time for me to start reconnecting with my bloodline.  You can’t repair a decade and a half of distance in a few months of course, but as in all things, the intention to change things is the first (and most important) step.

For us Batman fanatics, the big thing in 2010 was the comics storyline, ‘The Return of Bruce Wayne.’  Bruce was shot back in time by Superman foe Darkseid, and had to fight his way back to the present day (which he did of course).  The major lesson learned in that arc (SPOILER ALERT) is that while the mythology of the Batman is a boy left alone after the murder of his parents and his childhood, the reality of Batman is that he’s never been ‘alone’.  He’s had allies every step of the way.  I was reminded in 2010 that while I certainly enjoy being ‘the Prince of Gotham’, I’ve never really been alone either.  This year more than all the others combined I think, I’ve been held up, encouraged, cheered for and supported by those I’ve always known I could count on, some who have genuinely surprised me, and some of you who I will probably never meet in this life.  I have been taking notes so I’ll try to name as many of you as I can (since this is already absurdly long…)

Katy – you stuck with me through my personal hell, and I’ve tried to reciprocate; thank you for holding down the BB team when it was sorely needed; ART – a lot of people told me to be ‘Michael’ when everything in my heart said it was time for a ‘Sonny’ move, but your voice stood out the most.  Thanks for being such a great friend. Marie – I love doing the show – LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!  Hope to get a chance to do it again next year. Nathan – in a parallel universe, I would be living your life, but My Calling has evolved in an exciting direction, and I’m excited to ‘play my part’.  Looking forward to hearing about Jordan.  DaFellas – I’d call you my Jackson 5, but even if I was being sarcastic that would be WAY too condescending.  I think of us now as the Beatles after they broke up – everyone is following their ‘solo’ interests and we get together when we can and talk about how much fun we had.  You’ll always be my guys.

If you’re still reading a few more folks but I promise this is it: the Fradieus, the Franks, the Harrises, the Sheffields, the Thomases, Conway and Jabari for your advice (invaluable), BeatSmith (great show), Michael Zanuck, Daphne Kirby, Amanda Max, Doug Miro (best blogpost of the year), Through a Glass, Black Entertainment Television, Pasadena Community Network, Ralph Scott, the Black Hollywood Education & Resource Center, the Pigskin League, the Jayhawk friends, the Trojan friends, the Sumner friends, the Frat, everyone who has helped the past 12 months in the Return of Bruce Wayne.

The Dark Knight is rising in 2011.  Happy New Year!

TV and film-wise, there was good work as always but I wasn’t as overwhelmed by things as I have been in years past.  There’s going to be a lot of ‘Top 10’ lists the next couple weeks; here are 5 films and TV shows that caught my eye the past 12 months:

5. Toy Story 3

Pixar doesn’t need any more superlatives said about how consistent they produce quality work from film to film.  On its own merit, Toy Story 3 is a good film.  For (the vast majority of) us who have seen all three films, the ending was especially well done.  Whether you’re 13, 23, or 33, at some point you’ve had to say good-bye to your childhood, and ‘home’ and move into adulthood.  The ending of TS3 is right behind the beginning of UP to me in terms of sequences that could be great short films on its own.

4. Waiting for Superman

Staying on the theme of the innocence of childhood is my favorite documentary this year.  There are never any easy answers when it comes to the public education system (I know when one of the ‘heroes’ from this film has already been fired for rattling the cages in DC), but as opposed to other political issues, this would seem to be a problem that we all agree is fixable.

3. Mad Men – “The Suitcase”

Yes, I’m one of those who have been converted into a Mad Men fan over the past few years.  This is the episode to watch to decide if you’re interested in the show or not.  Set on the night of the first Clay-Liston fight, Don and Peggy pull an all nighter at Sterling Cooper Draper Price, and learn more about themselves and each other personally than they would expect.  Stylish, well written, and well acted by Hamm and Moss, it’s a better hour of entertainment than most of the films I’ve seen this year.  That, of course, doesn’t include…

2. Inception

A film.  And when I say a film, I mean “meant to be enjoyed in a dark theatre with surround sound, and preferably with an audience of people who are watching it for the first time along with you.”  I don’t really have more to add that wasn’t in my review when I first saw the film (search it).  All I will add is that if anyone at Warner Brothers is reading this, I will gladly pay my own way to Chicago just to be an extra in The Dark Knight Rises. Batman jokes aside, that’s how much respect I have Chris Nolan at this point.  And if you thought that was shameless self-promotion…

1. Lady In My Life on BET

Yes my ego wins this round, so what?  It was a very big deal for myself, my family, my friends, the people who go back with me, the way me and films go way back.  When Sanaa Lathan reads your life story on national television, get back to me.

Personal Year in Review later…

If you’re a regular reader of mine, you know I look at (my) life through three prisms: spiritual happiness, professional growth, and personal relationships.  As I look at where I am now, compared even to 12 months ago, I’m incredibly humbled.

At 33, I’ve written and directed a professional short.  I still can’t say enough about the professionalism and overall comfort I felt working with the guys from Through a Glass.  The end result of course was national exposure.  I lost track of the number of times I was teased about Sanaa Lathan ‘saying my name’ on television.  I plan to direct again at some point.  I haven’t determined when yet.  Last week I was in this acting workshop, and I did a cold read of this comedic scene that played very well.  The casting director gave me a note that was like an epiphany: do more comedy.  I was trained in drama, and I was (at least) technically proficient enough in ‘Lady’ to prove I could act.  But my individual charm, my personality, my ‘shine’ is much more obvious when I’m being silly or a smartass.  I’ve had comic relief in every project I’ve ever done, but I’ve never led with it as my primary focus.  I’m inspired to write again, for the first time in almost a year.  I’m taking on more schooling, focusing more on the comedy training I already have.  I’m enjoying myself.  We’ll see where I’m at 12 months from now (God willing).

At 33, I’m starting my second decade as a West Coast resident.  And I still feel like I just moved here. There’s so much I still haven’t seen or done in this city.  And that doesn’t include San Fran, Hearst Castle, Torrey Pines, and a lot of other parts of the Golden State.  USC, the Lakers, the Dodgers, these are my teams now (can’t imagine cheering for anyone but the Chiefs).  I’m loving the return of sunny days, and I got pissy as all hell when it wouldn’t stop raining. I’m beyond spoiled!  This city, its energy, its diversity, its liberalism (and quiet conservatism); I feel like I’ve lived here my whole life already.  And you notice I haven’t talked the Biz when I talk about the city?  In retrospect, it seems amazing I never really planned to come this way.  Everything truly happens for a reason, and God truly has a plan.

If normal at this moment in time is defined as not being as tight lipped as Tiger Woods, but not being as open as John Mayer, there’s no harm in me admitting at 33, there is a She.  Our relationship is very young, but She is amazing.  Silly, sexy, sensitive,sarcastic, political, charming, affectionate, giving.  I’m looking at Her birthday gifts to me as I write this, in awe of it all. I’m Michael Jackson, I’m John Lennon, I’m Bruce Wayne: I’m this black, Muslim, ‘Hollywood’, noncomformist geek, and she ‘gets it’.  I guess we’ll see if He and She become a We now that I’m 33.  (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, that wasn’t me being smitten, that was me needing to get my behind into bed.)

At this moment, as I move past my last professional milestone, I see the next one coming up quickly.  (Not jinxing it.)  At this moment, I’m waking up in a city I love to live in, enjoying another sunny day.  At this moment, I have a Pretty Young Thang saying those three words to me every morning when I wake up, and every night before I go to sleep (and several times in between).

On my 33rd birthday, I’m essentially living the life I dreamed of having.  My spiritual, professional and personal happiness are all good and looking to become great.  I’ve never been more aware I’m in the 1% of people on this planet who can say that.  I’m having my (birthday) cake and eating it too.  I’m beyond blessed and incredibly humbled.  God is good.

So you came by today because you want to know how I went 7 for 10 in my Golden Globe predictions right?  No?  Oh yeah, that ‘other thing’…

I’ll try to knock this out quickly and in chronological order, frequently asked question format…

Woke up, went for my Sunday run, came home, my stomach was in knots.  I’ve never understood the idea of being nervous over something you did months ago until today.  A lot of people were blowing me up, which was fantastic, but none of them saw the piece, so they really couldn’t tell you if the film was, you know, entertaining or good. 

Midwest and East Coast saw the show first, so the emails and texts started coming in a little after 9-ish my time.  Many congrats and good jobs sent my way.  I was going to send out a sarcastic post saying “I only hope Sanaa says my name correctly,’ so my curiosity definitely peaked when I got a few ‘Man she was putting you on blast!’ type, sarcastic comments. 

The Minnesota game was more or less over so I was able to start flipping into the show before I left the house.  Saw the introduction (nice), and I have to admit, when I saw my logo with the little BET logo in the corner, that was hype time (and I told the brother who designed that logo as much).  I flipped in and out the next 5 minutes (you have no idea how many times I’ve seen the short by this point), and came back in for the credits.

Definitely wasn’t expecting the split screen, so sorry to my crew that they didn’t get the ups they also deserved.  As far as Sanaa doing my bio, I’m being pragmatic when I say my film was 5 minutes in an hour long show, i.e., they had a little time to burn around my film.  I honestly wouldn’t read any more into that, but regardless that’s on permanent DVR status for yours truly. 

Favorite anecdote: one of my close friends put the show on when he came from church, and asked his 2 year old if she recognized the man on TV, and she said, ‘That’s Uncle Mister Malik!”  That tickled me good; my goal of making/working on projects I can show to my entire family without feeling embarrassed is in full swing.

Film geek time: yeah I did throw a lot of information at you for a 5 minute story, but judging by your response the story works.  Everyone seems to like the ‘Until the End of Time’ reference; do people get every beat of that joke (he has a habit of running late so she buys him a watch?), or is that too cerebral?  Hell, I wish a woman would buy me a nice watch, and I’m big on punctuality. I’m digressing…

A few people have mentioned that Lens on Talent is a contest; this is true.  In all sincerity though, my ‘goal’ was to have this national showcase for this project; I wasn’t thinking about it as a competition today or at any point in time in dealing with BET. 

That said…IF Lady in My Life is selected as one of the finalists, THEN I will go into full on ‘competitive’ mode.  If any of my people at BET are reading this, rest assured we have another short story we’ve wanted to do for YEARS waiting in the wings, just give us the opportunity to make it.  I’m just saying…

Finally and most importantly, I’m not remotely an old man, but over the past few days I’ve been reminded by how many paths I’ve crossed over my time on this Earth so far.  I’m the ‘star of the show’ so to speak, but if you read my first L.A. piece you know Magic was my sports hero growing up.  Meaning I love being a ‘point guard’ in life.  I do enjoy taking the big shots, but my past, present and future are directly tied to my ‘team’, and staying in the game long enough just to have an opportunity to take those shots.  While I know these people are around on the regular, now is as good a time as any to say:

Thank you Sumner Academy of Arts & Sciences

Thank you Fradieu Family, Washington Family and all my blood relatives

Thank you Black Entertainment Television

Thank you University of Kansas, McNair Scholars Program, and my Jayhawk Family

Thank you University of Southern California, Peter Stark Program and my Trojan Family

Thank you Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., especially Upsilon Chapter

Thank you to my Ummah

Thank you to HNTB, THQ, and the numerous gigs I’ve held over the years

And of course thank you to my beautiful cast and crew on this project and all the past projects.  I learn something new every time.

Last word then I’m out: one of my heroes growing up was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  A lot of you have the day off to celebrate his birthday.  While it’s not my place (or anyone else’s really) to tell you what Dr. King ‘would have’ done if he were around, it’s pretty easy to figure with his history he would have been involved in the Haiti situation trying to help out.  A whole country with an infrastructure in ruins, it’s still hard to imagine.  If giving cash is not your thing, trust in this situation there’s probably another way to help.  Give blood, donate clothes, do a little volunteer work.  A lot of you took the time on email, Twitter, Facebook or what have you to tell your people a friend of yours had a short film that was going to be on TV this weekend (and trust me I’m eternally grateful).  At the end of the day though, I’m just a guy making movies.  Now if you put that same call out to your people, except this time you said “Send me one dollar so I can send it to Haiti,” how many dollars could we put together? 

And on that note, those of you still on vacation, enjoy your MLK Day.  Peace!