Black Panther Passes

T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

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We have four prize packs which includes two tickets to a February 12th screening at Pittsburgh Mills, a Black Panther hat, shirt, and mini poster.  Please comment below with your favorite superhero.

Much Love,

Movie Scene Queen

Out of the Furnace

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While the holiday season is typically filled with family-friendly movies about Christmas and miracles, Relativity Media took an entirely different route with Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace. “It’s not an uplifting holiday movie but it wasn’t meant to be,” said Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, 44.

Produced by Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio, Out of the Furnace brings life to the Braddock, Pennsylvania area.

Set in the Pittsburgh suburb, steel mill worker Russell Blaze (Bale) is hit with several personal and domestic setbacks. Russell’s ailing father is on the brink of death and his younger brother, Rodney (Affleck) suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving a tour in Afghanistan. Rodney gets caught up with an illegal ring of bare-knuckles fighting led by rough neck Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson).

Out of the Furnace was Taken (2009) without the fancy trimmings of technology and supreme martial arts skills. Christian Bale’s character takes matters into his own hands to preserve and avenge his depleting family. The movie is authentic and genuine, capitalizing on the life struggles of blue collar working people.

Fetterman said Out of the Furnace is “incredibly powerful and beautifully acted, particularly Casey Affleck. I thought he did an amazing job.”

Woody Harrelson also provides a stellar performance as a tough New Jersey underground fighting ring leader. Nothing like the clean-urban, hip look in White Man Can’t Jump (1992), Harrelson’s character dominates a drug filled, careless life attitude. He masters the role from beginning to end.

Many locals, including my son, Zaire, took on small, extra roles to contribute to the hometown feeling while maximizing on what’s left of the steel mill industry. In the movie, Braddock Avenue, which is Braddock’s Main Street, looks great. As the street runs through the entire city, the movie displays Braddock Avenue as the Mecca, or meeting place, for all Braddock residents.

Similar to Detroit and the automobile industry, Mayor Fetterman sees the “economic set back” due to the de-industrialization process with the area’s steel mills as a relevant topic within the movie. Out of the Furnace makes several references to the dying steel mill industry in Braddock, more specifically, the limited job resources if the steel mills completely shut down and outsource. Fetterman refers to the famous saying about the economically strapped cites, “the rich get socialism and the poor gets capitalism.”

Despite Braddock’s economic drought, abandoned buildings and population decline since the 1920s, its residents, community leaders, politicians, including Mayor Fetterman are rejoicing at the national exposure from the movie.

3.5 STARS: Most of my biased excitement merely sat on the foundation of seeing my only son on the big screen. But, Out of the Furnace, has a semi-gruesome tale of one man’s journey for societal redemption and family-invoked revenge. Ultimately, the movie’s uncovering of Braddock further helps the revitalization efforts to restore the historical city limits of 15104.

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My son, Zaire, on set of Out of the Furnace with Zoe Saldana

Black Nativity

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Fox Searchlight Pictures and Eve’s Bayou Director Kasi Lemmons retells Langston Hughes’s beautiful story, Black Nativity. The remake stars Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Latimore, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, and Tyrese Gibson.

Young Langston (Latimore) is forced to leave his mother, Naima (Hudson) in Baltimore to relocate with his estranged grandparents (Whitaker and Bassett) in New York City. Falling into some bad habits, it is up to Langston to restore his broken family, bring some clarity to his mother’s misfortune, and find out the truth about his biological father. Through spiritual songs and creative movement, Black Nativity celebrates and retells the illuminating birth of Jesus Christ.

I enjoyed the complexity and complicated work of Kasi Lemmons’ previous projects such as Eve’s Bayou. However, Black Nativity lacked general flow and understanding. A very long church scene included distorted points of view. The audience will be confused as the movie transitions from dream scenes to present situations. There was no clear delineations between musical numbers and when the movie switched from fantasy to reality.

Since What’s the 411?, I have been an avid Mary J. Bilge fan. But I questioned her and rapper Nas’ existence in Black Nativity. Both musicians made me question their connection to the overall story-line.

As Christians, we too fall short of the glory of God. Naima’s family was torn as a result of her teenage pregnancy. Furthermore, the parents ostracized her for failing to uphold her preacher’s daughter image. Also, it is not our role as onlookers to past further judgement on others, yet we are to forgive them for their transgressions and empower our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to live righteously (James 4:11).

2.5 STARS: Black Nativity had strong moments. But, overall, the movie did not collectively meet my expectations.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

From the director of Precious, Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a 126-minute chilling depiction of a Black White House butler’s humble life. In the heat of the Civil Rights Movement, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) and his wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), had to use love and dedication to keep their family together. The eldest Gaines’ child, Louis (David Oyelowo), migrates back down South to join civil rights protests, while their younger son, Charlie (Elijah Kelley), is called off to serve in the Vietnam War. In addition to tending to his family, Cecil Gaines also had to take care of the First Family. Serving 34 years and 7 presidents in the White House, he was programmed to not let the heated racial tensions in the country effect his work.

Featuring an all-star line-up with big Hollywood names like Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, John Cusack, Robin Williams, Melissa Leo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jane Fonda, Lenny Kravitz, and Terrance Howard, it’s no wonder why this movie was destined for greatness.

Filled with five Academy Award winners, the two actors that really stole the show only appeared on screen for seconds. Down South rapper David Banner and Pop music legend Mariah Carey played Cecil Gaines’ parents in an opening heart-breaking scene. We’ve seen Nick Cannon’s wife before with the no-makeup role as Precious’ case worker but this character developed more meaning. And David Banner, without saying more than a few words, captured the entire essence of a Black man’s inferiority complex towards a White man. Reminding viewers that although slavery was abolished by 1926, mental captivity, cheap labor and physical dominance were still keeping African Americans bound to former plantations all over the South.

In the movie, prominent historical figures are present like civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Jackson . Also including a handful of presidents, the movie showed the administrations of former United States Presidents Dwight Eisenhower (Williams), John F. Kennedy (James Marsden), Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreiber), Richard Nixon (Cusack), and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman). Highlighting the most momentous events in the mid-1900s, Lee Daniels’ The Butler retells the stories of the lunch sit-ins at Woolworth, the assassinations of JFK and MLK, the Vietnam War, and the election of the first African American United States President, Barack Obama.
One of the biggest takeaways from the movie is a scene where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Nelsan Ellis), shortly before his death, explains to a group of his peers in a motel room why Black domestic help is so important. He declares that Black maids and butlers, from raising White children to cleaning toliets, defy the racial stereotypes that African Americans are lazy and untrustworthy. MLK goes onto say that although other Blacks see the help as subservient and subversive they are actually creating a strong work ethic and dignified character in the minds and hearts of White people.

The real Cecil Gaines, Eugene Allen, inspired the movie derived from a Washington Post’s Wil Haygood article “A Butler Well Served by This Election,” and he too, had real encounters with Dr. Martin Luther King during his tenure at the White House. In 2008, after a nationwide search and 57 phone calls, Wil Haygood, an award-winning biographer and movie associate producer, stumbled across Eugene Allen, an elderly Black man who went from pantry man to head butler at the White House. Haygood called Mr. Allen’s story “biblical.”
After several trips to the Allen residence, Haygood reflects on the impact his article has, “There’s a movie inspired by the story that I wrote and it’s not a movie about any of the presidents that he served, it’s a movie about him,” adding, “it’s a story both epic and intimate because it’s about black love and we don’t get to see enough of that on the big screen.” Similar to Cecil and Gloria Gaines, Eugene and his wife, Helene, were married for 65 years.

Also from the Weinstein Company, Fruitvale Station left a more lasting impression on me than Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Both movies are remarkable and tell a small town story on a global front, exposing the horror to people who might have originally been blinded. Unlike Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Fruitvale Station gave you a clear climatic timeline and made it easier to keep up with the story. On the other hand, Lee Daniels’ The Butler felt like I was watching 75 years of history being crammed into one movie making it a lot to digest one sitting.

4 STARS: It’s as if Oprah can’t make short movies. Despite its length, the movie guides you on a tearful voyage through history from slavery to sharecropping to serving. Inevitably, the movie leads to a more constructive conversation of the advancements of African Americans in this country and it rallies those same individuals to continue the fight for racial equality and justice.

MovieSceneQueen

Fruitvale Station

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New Year’s Day 2009 there was a lot of buzz about the wrongful death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. After a night of New Year’s partying with friends, he was shot by a White Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer on the Fruitvale Station platform in Oakland, California.

Produced by Forest Whitaker, Fruitvale Station, starring Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer, is a poster child story of life and redemption. The movie opens with the cold, chilling cell phone footage of the early morning accounts of what happened at the Fruitvale Station.

The jagged video set the tone for the entire movie because even without prior knowledge of Oscar Grant (Jordan), you knew that after 90 minutes you would be equipped with all you needed to know.
This Sundance Festival favorite sheds light on the reality that an unarmed Black man was gunned down by a White transit police officer in front of dozens of witnesses.

Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson (Spencer) celebrates her New Year’s Eve birthday with her family every year. 2009 was no different. For her birthday in 2008, she had to visit her son in a local state prison but that was all behind her now. Her birthday was spent with loved ones including Oscar, his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), and 4-year-old granddaughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal). Once the birthday party was over, Wanda advised Oscar to take the train that night declaring there would be a lot of New Year’s Eve traffic. Oscar took his mother’s advice and it would be advice she would regret for the rest of her life.

It’s virtually impossible for viewers to take their eyes off of Michael B. Jordan. As he embarks on this powerful role, you can’t help but to feel as if you’re on the subway platform too. It seems as if Jordan studied Oscar Grant to perfect his every move by showcasing his strength to fight for family and the sensitivity of losing his job and kicking old habits. There’s no doubt that Jordan was meant for this role. Beyond physical similarities, Jordan effortlessly takes of the unfortunate narrative of Oscar Grant’s last moments.

Accused of murder BART police officer Johannes Mehserle claims that he thought the weapon he drew was a Taser. Instead, he drew a pistol firing the shot which killed Oscar Grant. Today, after serving less than 2 years for Grant’s death, Mehserle is free on parole.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict, it’s evident that we have to be mindful that race still plays a rampant role in social injustice and equality. Regardless of the shooter’s race, shooting victims cannot be dismissed because of judicial loopholes, accidental claims, racial provocation, or authoritative position.

On a lighter note, there’s always a connection to Pittsburgh. In the movie, before leaving out for his New Year’s celebration, Oscar asks his uncle who he thinks will win the Super Bowl. His uncle replies, “The Steelers!” After family members questioned his loyalty to the Oakland Raiders, Oscar uncle’s rebuttal was simple: The Pittsburgh Steelers were going to win the 2009 Super Bowl because they had black uniforms, with Black players and a Black coach who was married to a Black woman. In 2009, the Pittsburgh Steelers did go on win that year’s Super Bowl by defeating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23. It’s always a warm feeling to know that although Pittsburgh might not be a huge city, we’re still relevant!

5 STARS: The most powerful movie I’ve seen since A Time to Kill. The last day in the life of Oscar Grant is powerful enough to move anyone from solid to pure putty. This movie will leave you doubtful of justice yet optimistic and hopeful about leading a fulfilled life. Oscar Grant III wanted nothing more than to live a better life for his daughter. On a chilly California night on New Year’s Day 2009, fate gave him the exact opposite.

Throwback Movie of the Month- Waiting to Exhale (June 2013)

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Now as an adult, the 1995 classic Waiting to Exhale makes more sense! The unfair rules of the game called love. The awkward dating scene. The struggles of being the other woman. The hectic life of single motherhood. The regretful dark clouds of abortion. The overall uncertainties, unfortunates, and inconsistencies of love would drive any woman insane. In Forest Whitaker’s directing debut, Waiting to Exhale, based off of the Terry McMillan novel, follows four women whose friendship becomes stronger as they battle a rough year.

Savannah- The Settled One
Played by the late Whitney Houston (RIP), Savannah Jackson was the typical successful Black woman; over consumed with her hectic life as a TV producer. Savannah’s love was often put on the back burner making her career superior. She settled for the occasional love of a married man, Kenneth (Dennis Haysbert- you know the Allstate Insurance man “Are you in good hands?”). Kenneth used his sick wife and young daughter as an excuse to remain in his martial commitment. In the end and against her mother’s advice, Savannah left Kenneth while supporting her friends in their own searches for love.

Bernadine- The Hurt One
Played by Angela Bassett, Bernadine Harris had it all until after 11 years of marriage she was confronted with a cheating husband, messy divorce, and single motherhood. Equipped with all the right qualifications to have her own career, Bernie was stuck with no financial resources to care for her home. Her biggest realization was the fact that her former husband was already shacked up with another woman and no longer the sole provider of her family. Bernie had to make a safe balance between caring for her children, reconciling the broken pieces of her heart, and identifying the resources to properly finance her newly constructed family.

My favorite Bernie scene was when she met James Wheeler (Wesley Snipes) in a hotel bar after a day in divorce court. All too many times when I’m traveling on business I find myself being James Wheeler; a person in foreign places meeting complete strangers but relating to them on many different levels. I’ll admit I’ve never (and I mean never) then spent the night wrapped in that stranger’s arms. But how simply sublime would it be to gravitate to someone you’ve never meet before in the matter of minutes.

Robin- The Broken One
Played by Lela Rochon, Robin Stokes, similar to her friend Savannah, was a successful executive who was in love with another woman’s husband, Russell (Leon). Dealing with post-abortion syndrome, Robin yearned for her ideal family and in the movie, you see Robin wasting her time with several men in hopes to snag her own husband. Like most of us women, Robin has a hard time letting Russell go knowing he’s the root of all her relationship problems. In the end, Robin finds the most “peace” with giving up that “piece” of her life.

Gloria- The Reasonable One
Played by Loretta Devine, Gloria Matthews was a beauty shop owner and single mother of a teenaged son, Tarik (Donald Faison). She falls madly in love with her next door neighbor, Marvin (Gregory Hines). Marvin quickly eased Gloria’s fresh wounds after finding out that her ex-husband was gay. Out of the four women, she’s the most reasonable one spewing helpful, realistic advice to her three female friends.

Overall, I love the way African American women were depicted in this film. Sexy & Successful! We’re not all married or all on welfare. Yes, we have our flaws but we create a diverse balanced group of beautiful creatures. The movie was praised for having an all-Black cast and being well received around the world. Well there were two White women in the movie; (1) the little girl who was performing oral sex on Gloria’s son and (2) Bernie’s husband’s mistress who was eventually pimp slapped in the middle of the board room. (But who’s keeping count!)

The Soundtrack
My hope is to eventually expand this blog to cover music as well as movies because Waiting to Exhale was a double pleasure; great movie and an even better soundtrack. I was recently in Boston and I listened to the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack from beginning to end. The soulful soundtrack brings back sweet yet sour memories of the any person you’ve ever loved intimately. What other soundtrack was originally produced and written by legendary music mogul Babyface featuring greats like Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, TLC, Brandy, CeCe Winans, and Toni Braxton? The greatness was all captured on one little CD. It’s a classic!

4.75 STARS: Any woman can relate to the turbulent ride of being with any man. RIP Whitney Houston

This blog post is dedicated to the ONE, who out of all the HIMs, took a piece of me and still kept it!

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