Review: We Can’t Breathe- Eight Minutes and Forty-Six Seconds

By Merecedes J. Williams, Movie Scene Queen

Eight minutes and forty-six seconds is how long Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed against George Floyd’s neck on the concrete outside of Cups Food on Chicago Street in Minneapolis, MN. We later find out that one of the most gruesome videos of the 21st century lasted even longer than expected— 9 minutes, 29 seconds to be exact.


But eight minutes and forty-six seconds is more than a time stamp, it now represents a global push for change in police brutality, police reform, and police recruitment and training.


George Floyd’s death was avoidable.


In a short film that is 8 minutes and 46 seconds exactly, “We Can’t Breathe” portrays glimpses into the protests in Los Angeles following George Floyd’s death. Directors Miranda Winters and Rocky Romano make a striking comparison between LA protests in the 1960s to current demonstrations. Spilt screens in the short film only confirm one thing—the cries of Watts residents in 1965 are echoed in 2020 as a nation begs for the end of suffering at the hands of police brutality.


Fifty-six years later, we are still on a rugged journey to ask the sworn officials who are supposed to protect and serve us to not to kill us or use excessive force.

Courtesy of Film Pittsburgh


George Floyd’s death was avoidable.


“We Can’t Breathe” follows photographer, producer, and engineer Rayna Zemel as she covers dozens of LA protests. We watch her literally strap on her boots and prepare for capturing LA’s most vulnerable moments. It is evident that her creative eyes and social justice efforts have intertwined to create American history.


One hundred years from now when Civics and American History educators are creating lesson plans about the death of George Floyd and worldwide protests, Zemel’s images will surface and this short film with be revered.


George Floyd’s death was avoidable.


The film is all about the time. The time it took for George Floyd to release his last breath. The time protesters staged die-ins all over the world. The time required to make this film. “We Can’t Breathe”, as cliché as it sounds, reminds us that time is precious.


“We Can’t Breathe” was awarded Best Music Video and Audience Award at the 2021 San Luis Obispo Film Festival, and has been selected for numerous film festivals, including the Pittsburgh Shorts Film Festival.


The 2021 Pittsburgh Shorts Film Festival will be held November 18-21 at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, presenting the best contemporary short films from around the globe, highlighting films that promote innovative visual storytelling and cultural tolerance.

This short film is part of the Opening Night- Be The Change block. The block also includes short films including Dawn, Graceland, Like the Ones I Used to Know, Migrants, Refrigerate After Opening, The Kittle Tea Shop, and I Can Change.


This year’s festival will also include a Filmmaker Conference, Q&As with visiting filmmakers, and live readings of scripts for the Script Competition. For more information, visit filmpittsburgh.org.

Review: Riding with Sugar Makes an Appearance at the Three Rivers Film Festival; A Foreign Film for the Black Community about Identity and Self-Perseverance

by Merecedes J. Williams, Movie Scene Queen™

Sunu Gonera, a film director from Zimbabwe, crosses country lines with the 2020 drama “Riding with Sugar.” The movie is about a young refugee, Joshua (Charles Mnene), whose escape from the life of a child soldier lands him on the streets of South Africa’s Cape Town. A talented bike-rider, he dreams of winning a cycling championship as a way out of poverty. He finds more than shelter after a terrible accident derails his BMX racing career. Under the wings of a trusted advisor, Joshua is forced to balance education, love, health, and trauma to meet his goals.

According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, more than 32 million Africans are either internally displaced, refugees, or asylum seekers. Imagine being young with no family, no formal education, and nowhere to go. Gonera paints this picture so vividly through his cinematic release.

He shows us the few impoverished options for young Joshua and the other millions of African who seek the same safety and relief. 

The turbulent struggles and murky waters the main character navigates through is a creative glimpse into Gonera’s film making process. The final product is colorful yet dark, making every life turn that much more relatable for the audience.

The beauty of “Riding with Sugar” lies within its adaptability and how even in a different country, on a different continent, the troubles of young Joshua are the same troubles Black youth face here in America. The journey to find oneself and not succumb to gangs, drugs, and other illicit behavior is boundless, impacting both Africans and African Americans.

The cast, which includes Mnene, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Simona Brown, and Hlayani Junior Mabasa, was phenomenal. The only woman to grace the main slate is Simona Brown, who plays Joshua’s beau, Olivia.

Brown is effortlessly radiant. But that’s to be expected. She brings a calm yet complex demeanor to all of her roles. Most recently, she starred in the Netflix thriller, “Behind Her Eyes.” The British actress is racy, delicate, gentle—pretty much the ideal love interest for every flick. 

She breaks up the male-dominated film with her quirks of legitimate care and concern. Brown also debunks all the stereotypes that foreigners hold about African women. She’s smart, capable, healthy, and wealthy. 

“Riding with Sugar” takes you on a journey. It is more than a coming-of-age story. There’s a piece of Joshua in all of us; an inner child who battles with identity, self-sufficiency, and belonging. 

Both Black and African films, such as “Riding with Sugar”, are vital to the fabric of telling stories of the untold and bringing awareness to the vulnerable population of refugees.

“Riding with Sugar,” the winner of six South African Film and  Television Awards including Best Picture, is available for in-person and virtual screenings at the 2021 Three Rivers Film Festival. 

Schedule:

Friday, November 12, 7:15 PM at the Waterworks Cinemas  

Saturday, November 13, 4:45 PM at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater 

The film is available for virtual viewing November 11-17 in PA, WV, and OH only.

Please check theaters COVID-19 safety policies.

Need tickets? Film Pittsburgh is teaming up with Motor Mouth Multimedia to increase diversity and access to both the Three Rivers Film Festival and the Pittsburgh Shorts and Script Competition, which feature nearly 40 Black films shown in-person and online. Enter the discount code LOCMM50 for 50% off the All Festival passes, and LOCMM2OFF for $2 off all individual tickets.  Visit filmpgh.secure.force.com/ticket to purchase tickets.

Netflix’s ‘Dear White People’ returns for its final season, adds a twist

The Black students at Winchester University are back for their senior year in the final season of “Dear White People.” Starring Logan Browning and DeRon Horton, the Netflix series brings the tumultuous life of undergraduate studies at an Ivy League school to an end for Sam White and her friends.

The highlight of Sam White’s studies is her controversial student radio show, “Dear White People,” and her hopes to one day become a film director.

Logan Browning, who plays Sam White, has consistently portrayed a beautifully flawed college student. Her character’s wisdom and wit strokes even the nerdiest egos, while her sass and spunk create the Black Girl Magic we all fell in love with freshman year.

Sam White, who’s typically a pitbull in a skirt, is soft and vulnerable in this season as she meets her match with new student, Iesha Vital (Joi Liaye). The unlikely pair builds friction causing the gang to resolve some unspoken issues and fight to produce an all-Black variety show on a predominantly White campus.

Lionsgate Delays Production On 'Dear White People' & 'Blindspotting' Amid  Covid-19 Surge In Los Angeles – Deadline

The topics tackled in this season were on point, per usual. The most relevant one is the continuous division amongst Black people. The public divide amongst Black people, especially in an academic or professional setting, is devastating.

As my mom would say, “What happens in this house, stays in this house.” So, when Black folks have a public disagreement, it almost lets White people pick out the weaknesses to capitalize on our dispute. These types of conflicts also take attention away from the true matter, delaying the work in progress.

The claim that some Black people are not Black enough or do not do enough for “the cause” is also a nasty setback to moving the needle forward. The Black student caucus at Winchester University faces all those things as Sam White and Iesha Vital rise as leaders of two different packs.

Read more at he New Pittsburgh Courier, Netflix’s ‘Dear White People’ returns for its final season, adds a twist

Sweet Girl Passes

Movie Scene Queen and Netflix would love to invite you to attend the virtual premiere of SWEET GIRL. Filmed in Pittsburgh and starring Jason Momoa and Isabela Merced, Sweet Girl will premiere virtually on Wednesday, August 18, 2021. You will have the opportunity to watch the film for two days prior to it’s premiere on Netflix on August 20th.

Sign up below and tell them Movie Scene Queen sent you! https://bit.ly/SWEETGIRLPAPremiere

Much Love,

Movie Scene Queen

Summer of Soul Passes

Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was never seen and largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Ray Baretto, Abbey Lincoln, and Max Roach.

Movie Scene Queen is hosting a special screening of Summer of Soul on Monday, June 28, 2021 at 7 PM in the Waterfront. Please comment below with your favorite song. I’ll start. One of my favorite songs is “A Song for You” by Donny Hathaway (1971). I know the song is before my time, but it’s such a s beautiful, timeless piece.

Much Love,

Movie Scene Queen™

Without Remorse Passes

An elite Navy SEAL uncovers an international conspiracy while seeking justice for the murder of his pregnant wife in Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, the explosive origin story of action hero John Clark – one of the most popular characters in author Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan universe. When a squad of Russian soldiers kills his family in retaliation for his role in a top-secret op, Sr. Chief John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) pursues the assassins at all costs. Joining forces with a fellow SEAL (Jodie Turner-Smith) and a shadowy CIA agent (Jamie Bell), Kelly’s mission unwittingly exposes a covert plot that threatens to engulf the U.S. and Russia in an all-out war. Torn between personal honor and loyalty to his country, Kelly must fight his enemies without remorse if he hopes to avert disaster and reveal the powerful figures behind the conspiracy.

Movie Scene Queen is hosting a virtual screening on Thursday, April 29 at 7 PM. Email us for tickets- merecedes@moviescenequeen.com

Much Love,

Movie Scene Queen

The Mauritanian Passes

Captured by the U.S. Government, Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) languishes in prison for years without charge or trial. Losing all hope, Slahi finds allies in defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley). Together they face countless obstacles in a desperate pursuit for justice. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by formidable military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), eventually reveals a shocking and far reaching conspiracy. Based on the New York Times best-selling memoir, this is the explosive true story of a fight for survival against all odds.

Movie Scene Queen is hosting a virtual screening for The Mauritanian on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 7:30 PM. Please visit the following link for tickets:

http://stxtickets.com/gzqbh70579

When visiting the link, you’ll register, claim your passes for the virtual screening, and then, you will receive an email confirmation. About one hour before the screening, you’ll get an email to check-in and reserve your spot. Please “arrive” early as “seating” is technically first come, first serve and it may sell out!

Much Love,

Review: Four beautiful, talented Black men portray four beautiful, talented Black men in ‘One Night in Miami’

On Feb. 25, 1964, Civil Rights icon Malcolm X, pro football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, singer Sam Cooke, and boxing legend Muhammad Ali spent an infamous night in a Miami motel room just simply talking. In Regina King’s directorial debut, “One Night in Miami,” the film follows four icons after Ali, who was still known as Cassius Clay, beat Sonny Liston. The quartet met in Malcolm X’s room to discuss life, civil rights, its impact, religion, and the Nation of Islam, especially since Ali was on the verge on converting.
One might think this is just a conversation amongst friendly celebrity buddies, but in a screenplay composed by Kemp Powers, we find out that this particular night is a turning point for all four men.

In a recent discussion facilitated by Amazon Studios, I told the “One Night in Miami” leading actors that they are “four beautiful, talented Black men portraying four beautiful, talented Black men.”
All four actors, Leslie Odom Jr. (Cooke), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Eli Goree (Ali), and Aldis Hodge (Brown), blushed in the compliment.

But it is true. It is difficult to play a non-fictional character, especially for Hodge, who played Jim Brown, the film’s only living historical figure. Hodge admits that he was nervous, but he’s already hearing great reviews from Jim Brown about “One Night in Miami.”


Odom, Ben-Adir, Goree and Hodge are an ensemble of strength and flair. It was a pleasure to witness so many phenoms at work simultaneously. Without hesitation, I have never seen four Black men in a historical context playing their hearts out. In movies such as “Selma,” “42,” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” there’s a focus on one or two historical figures.

In “One Night in Miami,” there were four, and every man shined just as bright as the next.

Read more at the New Pittsburgh Courier, Four beautiful, talented Black men portray four beautiful, talented Black men in ‘One Night in Miami’

Herself Passes

When Sandra (Clare Dunne) escapes her abusive partner with her two young children, finding a home to call their own seems impossible. After months of struggling, she draws inspiration from one of her daughter’s bedtime stories and hits upon the idea of self-building an affordable home. She finds an architect who provides her with plans and is offered land by Peggy (Harriet Walter), a woman she cleans for. Aido (Conleth Hill), a building contractor, appears willing to help, too. But as her past rears its head in the form of Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), her possessive ex, and as bureaucrats fight back against her independent spirit, will Sandra be able to rebuild her life from the ground up?

Movie Scene Queen is hosting an advance screening of Amazon Studios’ Herself on Wednesday, January 6, 2020 at 7 PM. Please join us! To secure your tickets, please visit: http://amazonscreenings.com/HerselfPitts

Much Love,

Movie Scene Queen

Jamie Foxx delivers in ‘Soul’; Film Evokes The Importance of Purpose and Passion

Death is a raw, touchy subject, especially now more than ever.

There are zero degrees of separation when identifying someone you know or love who has been affected by the coronavirus.

Death is also typically a conversation had amongst adults, so when Kemp Powers, Mike Jones and Pete Docter decided to create an animation film about life’s finale, I was more than skeptical.

But after 100 minutes of tear-jerking, feet-tapping, life-thinking reactions, I can proclaim that “Soul” is one of the best things this crazy year has produced.

Ironically, with the many people we have lost during this global pandemic, the movie is a sweet reminder about the true meaning of life, love and finding your purpose.

Pixar finally presents its first feature film with an African American leading role. Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx lends his voice talents for Joe Gardner, a jazz enthusiast and music teacher whose soul gets separated from his body right before the biggest gig of his life.

“Soul,” like jazz music, is beautiful, smooth and a delightful keepsake of both time and life.

“You already have a pretty fantastic life and sometimes that’s hard to see,” said “Soul” writer and director Pete Docter in a roundtable discussion hosted by the African American Film Critics Association.

Docter told me that when he’s on his death bed, he’s not going to be thinking about finishing the film on time or making sure it’s under budget, but Docter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, wants to reflect upon “family friends, and…everyday moments that I could easily take for granted.”

“I hope that people will have a gratitude for what they have.”

Out of all the undertones that resonated in “Soul,” the idea of purpose lingered at the top of the list. As Joe Gardner seeks to live for his love of jazz, we, too, crave to fulfill our destiny and walk in our purpose even though at times we seem to live aimlessly. If anything, life’s true purpose is the fuel to taking full advantage of your time here on Earth.

That is some deep stuff for a kids movie.

For the full review, please visit The New Pittsburgh Courier, Jamie Foxx delivers in ‘Soul’

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