By Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The first row of the balcony at an advance screening for “Harriet” at AMC Waterfront 22 in Homestead was filled with high school students from Allderdice, laughing and enjoying the evening out.
The laughter settled down once the movie started and the life of 19th-century abolitionist Harriet Tubman unfurled on the screen. They were absorbing the re-creation of a world they had missed by more than 160 years. Still, there was no denying the parts that resonated.
Merecedes J. Williams, aka Movie Scene Queen, looks forward to that moment of recognition. The social media project assistant for Pittsburgh Public Schools is also the movie critic for The New Pittsburgh Courier.
Photo by Ray Carrington
It was in her capacity as the Courier’s movie critic with access to free advance screenings that it occurred to Ms. Williams to make that opportunity available to Pittsburgh Public School students when it comes to films with educational value.
With the mission of expanding awareness of quality films for young people, Ms. Williams created the Movie Scene Queen entertainment blog seven years ago. Her goal then — as now — is to engage young people in discussions of films and to make free passes available to those in the Pittsburgh Public Schools who want to attend advance screenings.
On evenings when she is supervising a dozen or so students at a screening, Ms. Williams is also thinking about how to approach the movie critically and fairly as a reviewer. She’s both hostess and critic on those occasions, a burden she happily accepts many years into the gig.
The first movie she reviewed for the Courier was “Fruitvale Station,” the 2013 Michael B. Jordan classic about the killing of an unarmed and handcuffed black commuter by cops at a BART Station in Oakland, Calif.
“I thought, ‘Wow, how can I write about this?’” she said, recalling the tears streaming down her face when the movie was over. She fought her way through the sorrow to an evaluation of the film based on its aesthetic merits and social/political implications for African American viewers.
“This is much more than a movie,” she said of the film directed by Ryan Coogler. He would later gain even more fame as the director of “Black Panther,” one of the highest grossing movies of all time. “This is a film about unrepresented people who are being slaughtered by those who are supposed to protect and serve them,” she said.
Just as every superhero movie has an origin story, it was at that moment that Merecedes J. Williams became Movie Scene Queen.
There was so much educational value — painful as it was in a film like “Fruitvale Station” — that she wanted to play a role in exposing young people to that aspect of cinema culture.
“The idea was to stick with black films that predominantly showcase black actors, producers or directors,” she said. Early on, Ms. Williams also decided she had a social responsibility to bring things up in her movie reviews, even though it might cause some people to “look sideways at her” for being too preachy.
“It’s important to me to stay true to myself in every movie review, especially when I’m representing my opinion to a population I’m a part of,” she said of the Courier’s predominantly African American readership. “It’s a burden I’ll live with for the rest of my life as long as I’m black, female and writing.”
Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sweat Equity: Merecedes Williams is ready for her closeup