Earlier this year, British actor Idris Elba starred in the four-part Discovery UK series Idris Elba No Limits, where he took on rally driving, street racing, aerobatics and power boating in an effort to master the discipline of racing. His partnership with Discovery UK will continue with a new limited series titled Idris Elba: Fighter – a three-part documentary that will see Elba train to become a professional kickboxer.
Elba is producing the series through his company, Green Door Pictures. The series, which is filming in the UK, Cuba, Japan, South Africa and Thailand, has a potential early 2017 air-date in the United States and the UK.
“It has been a lifelong ambition of mine to fight professionally. Entering the ring to further test myself as a human being is a challenge I have been looking to take on for quite some time,” Elba says in a press statement.
In Elba's quest to become a professional kickboxer, he will be receive mentoring from former world champions, trainers and coaches. His travels across the world will incorporate unorthodox training methods and regimens in preparation for the ultimate fight, which will take place in October 2016.
“I’m taking on the toughest… challenges of my life for this new Discovery TV series. The extreme challenges take me right out of my comfort zone as I compete against the best,” Elba said.
Will you be tuning in for Elba's journey? Let us know in the comments below!
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All the Difference is a documentary following the paths of two teens from the South Side of Chicago who overcome societal obstacles and dare to dream of graduating from college.
Robert Henderson and Krishaun Branch are the first in their families to graduate from college. They both got their foundation at the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, where they had mentors and teachers to encourag them to get through high school and beyond. Krishaun chooses to attend Fisk University (HBCU) in Nashville, while Robert goes on to Lake Forest College (PWI) approximately 30 miles north of Chicago.
Both Henderson and Branch endure obstacles on their path to success, but they overcome all of them in the end and decide to pursue careers that give back to their community.
“It only takes one generation to dramatically change the destiny of a family, and when families change, communities change,” said award-winning producer/director Tod Lending. “Robert and Krishaun exemplify that change. It’s important to remember that they made it to college not because they were academically exceptional. They made it because their mentors, teachers, academic advisers, family members and pastors believed in them and taught them to believe in themselves…"
"If this type of very affordable support is made available to all young men growing up in the chaos and despair of poverty, we will see a whole new generation bring an end to that cycle of poverty. I think our country desperately needs to make this happen," he added.
Catch the national broadcast premiere on PBS on Monday, Sept. 12 at 10 p.m. Be sure and check your local listings to watch.
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James Arthur Baldwin was a man who wasn't afraid to shake up the system. His work and his words continue to uplift, inspire, and reckon with the systemic oppression of black folks across the globe. It's a shame that his life and legacy hasn't been developed for the silver screen – but this may soon change.
According to Shadow & Act, Haitian filmmaker and political activist, Raoul Peck has not only been developing a feature length documentary about Baldwin, but has been working on the project for the last six years and for good reason.
See, Peck is more than just a devoted fan of James Baldwin. He credits Baldwin's literary work for some of the ideologies he's valued as an adult and has even said that "Baldwin is my life."
With the rights to all of Baldwin's writings and the full cooperation of the Baldwin estate, Peck has been carefully taking his time to create what he calls "a very creative documentary." The film will center around the idea of a book that Baldwin never wrote but, began developing before his death. The lives of the late Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were to be the main focus of the book. At the time Baldwin believed comprising the novel would be difficult but, Peck has decided to take on that challenge and adapt it for the feature film that Baldwin so rightly deserves.
“The starting point of the film is to say – yes, he wrote it. He just didn’t bind it together, but if you go through his work, the film is there.”
With only 30 pages of notes from Baldwin's estate regarding the unwritten book to work with, Peck has unquestionably been putting in overtime to flesh out the pieces of Baldwin's story that we may not know. Hopefully, we don't have to wait until Baldwin's next birthday to finally see the revealing of this documentary project.
What are some of your favorite works from James Baldwin? Share your selections in the comments.
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Ava DuVernay's upcoming Netflix documentary, "The 13th" will open the 2016 New York Film Festival. Notably, the award-winning director's documentary will be first nonfiction film to open the NYFF in its 54-year run.
"The 13th" explores the high rate of incarceration of blacks in America, drawing its name from the 13th amendment of the United States Constitution which declares "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
In an interview with The New York Times, DuVernay, who directed Selma and the upcoming OWN series Queen Sugar, spoke about what motivated her to create "The 13th."
"A certain part of our population has been demonized for the benefit of private industry and politicians, and a lot of forces that have nothing to do with, quote, 'keeping people safe'," she said. "Once you know why we’re here and how we got here, we’re on more solid footing to walk ourselves out of this deep valley that we found ourselves in. That’s the hope."
She also took to Twitter to discuss how the United States' current prison system mirrors slavery so closely.
Frederick Douglass in 1846 about slavery. He could have also said it in 2016 about prisons. #The13th pic.twitter.com/wC420il4Fv— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) July 19, 2016
Kent Jones, the NYFF's Director, told the NYT about why DuVernay's film was chosen to open the festival.
"There’s no other answer besides the fact that it’s a great film,” he said. "While I was watching The 13th, the distinction between documentary and fiction gave way and I felt like I was experiencing something so rare: direct contact between the artist and right now, this very moment. In fact, Ava is actually trying to redefine the terms on which we discuss where we’re at, how we got here, and where we’re going. The 13th is a great film. It’s also an act of true patriotism."
The New York Film Festival will run from September 30th through October 18th. "The 13th" will be released by Netflix on October 7th, 2016.
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You don't have to be a fan of football or even Snoop Dogg to appreciate AOL's nine-episode documentary, Coach Snoop, which follows the legendary rapper as he mentors athletes and helps them to succeed not only in football but in life.
The series follows the Snoop Youth Football League (SYFL) as Snoop serves as the coach that inspires and motivates the 12-year-olds he works with. In the first episode, he even explains that rap was just a means to an end for him and coaching is his one true calling in life.
Highlights in the documentary include Snoop helping a kid with bullying and self-esteem, helping others find a way off of the streets, police interactions, injuries and more. So many real issues are confronted through the lens of mentoring and athletics.
If you're looking to get inspired (or to learn more about the real Snoop Dogg), check out the series. All nine episodes are available here.
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The Maze is a documentary that explores a side of the Ferguson narrative that you're unlikely to see being told by mainstream media. A year after Mike Brown's death, filmmakers Anthony Orendorff (AO) and Quameiha Raymond-Ducheine (Maya) went to Ferguson with a burning passion to SERVE the Ferguson community the only way they knew how – through their art. Their passion to tell Ferguson's story sparked from an encounter that the pair had with a police officer in the city of Syracuse, where they both attended school.
"We had an incident on campus where police officers were acting aggressive," Anthony recalls. "Maya calmed me down from getting into it with them. She said things to me that my mother would say." It was then that their shared passion about social issues erupted and Maya and AO became family.
The protagonist of the film is Thomas Moore (Tommy Kool), a young black man living in Ferguson. His perspective as a black man is one that perhaps is of the upmost importance. The duo carefully chronicled his life for a year through death and growth in a Ferguson that we have never seen. "It's visible why people who not from here, don't understand the people who are from here," says Tommy in the trailer.
In an effort to learn more about the film, I sat down with Maya and AO to talk about their experience making The Maze.
Blavity: Tell us about your first time in Ferguson.
AO: The first time was the one-year anniversary of Mike Brown's death. That night was pretty crazy. Fresh off the plane, we went right into the streets, into a protest on Ferguson Avenue, and we automatically felt an odd vibe. You could tell something was going to happen and you weren’t sure what. We were trying to be respectful of the people and what happened to them. We didn't go to sleep because someone got shot and killed there.
Maya: Protestors yelled out their emotions in an effort to the make the police understand their side. It was obvious the people just wanted to be heard. As soon as a mother said "I do feel safe, I don't expect them to gun us down out here," gunshots went off. The police had shot and killed another young man. I remember thinking, "I feel like I'm in the 1960s." I was like, "is this really worth dying for?" Anthony was really good at sensitivity in a moment like that. We had to be respectful and put our cameras down and just experience it first-hand.
I got there earlier during the day and it was a different experience. The community welcomed us. People performed. I listened to people sing and dance. We got to hear from people across the country who lost their family to police brutality. It was a true sense of community there. Later on, there was another peaceful protest that was very diverse.
B: Who does the story follow?
M: The story follows a young man named Thomas Moore – "Tommy Kool." We met him one of our first nights in Ferguson. I just walked up to him and his crew and just started talking to them. Tommy is very charismatic, he’s like a big teddy bear. It follows his life, post-experience in Ferguson, after the death of Mike Brown. We go into his home and a couple months later his younger brother accidentally shot himself, and we watch Tommy mourn his brother. An entrepreneurial spirit emerges during his healing. At the same time, there are supporting characters such as his cousins, navigating their lives as you black men and women.
B: How has being in Ferguson changed your perspective on your own, respective hometowns, if at all?
M: Filming in Ferguson has made me realize there is no difference between black people in Atlanta, LA, NYC or St. Louis. We experience the same struggles, but somewhere along the line, we forgot that we don't have to go through those struggles alone.
A: What’s happening in Ferguson is not much different in my community. There is high tension between the people and LAPD. Although St. Louis had beautiful differences, it brought me hope when three people from different cities were able to relate, empathize and think about new ideas on how we can handle issues. Growing up Latino in L.A., there was tension between blacks and Latinos. The thought of us unifying instead of fighting each other has always given me goosebumps. I think through this film, no matter what neighborhood you represent, there is a piece of your home that is in here. I hope one day we bridge our communities together while still representing and embracing our own.
B: What's so special about The Maze? Why should people watch it?
M: Thomas Moore and his family make the film special. Their vulnerability, courage and sense of humor take the film to another level. One hears "a documentary about Ferguson, Missouri," and there are certain images that come to mind. This film is special because it goes beyond those standard images. We were lucky to get such great access into Tommy's life. I promise you, you will not see this type of material on CNN or MSNBC. It's just too real, and that is exactly why people should watch it.
A: Worldwide attention was brought to Ferguson because of the death of Michael Brown. Almost every major and local media camera was in Ferguson for the anniversary and protest, but shortly after the cameras left. How many times do we witness a tragedy and wonder what happened? We didn't want this issue to be a trend, we wanted to go to Ferguson when the cameras left. We wanted to give the community of Ferguson and the people a true story about the people in the city and what is going on in daily life in St. Louis, even after the tragic death of Michael Brown. Trends are quick and healing takes time. Healing also takes patience and care.
B: How has telling Tommy's story changed you?
M: My mother passed away a year ago. Since then, my family became my top priority. Observing Tommy and his family and how they care for and support one another has made me cherish my family even more. Making this film has broadened my definition of family. I think black people need to start seeing each other as family. Only then can we care for and support one another the way we need to.
A: This film taught me how powerful it is when people from different parts of the world can have a conversation. The power of communication is so underrated and we are not using it to its full potential. This film serves as an eye to an important piece of America that people who are not from there have an opinion. This short piece will allow you to understand rather than judge.
Ultimately, the film is "about humanity," says the filmmaker duo. "It's about holding on to the things that matter in this chaotic world."
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The documentary has been approved by the Whitney Houston estate.
The first officially authorized movie will be filmed by Oscar-winning director, Kevin Macdonald and will include an interview with Clive Davis, founder and president of Arista Records, who is acknowledged for bringing Houston to prominence.
Macdonald said, "The story that is never told about Whitney is just how brilliant she was as an artist; by many measures, she had the greatest voice of the last 50 years. She changed the way pop music was sung — bringing it back full circle to its blues and gospel roots. She was also completely unique in being a black pop star who sold in countries where black artists don't traditionally sell."
However, Macdonald's film is not the only film in the works about Houston's life. Back in March, BBC Two announced a Whitney Houston documentary called Whitney, which will be directed by Nick Broomfield (the filmmaker behind Kurt and Courtney).
Macdonald also added: “We have access to never-before-seen footage of Whitney that charts her whole life from her beginnings singing in her Church’s gospel choir to the day of her tragic death at the age of 48, and three decades of her music including exclusive demo recordings, rare performances and audio archive. Although we won’t shy away from the darker parts of Whitney’s life — her descent into addiction — I want audiences to walk out of the cinema and feel positive about Whitney and her music. I want to reveal a woman that even her most die-hard fans never knew; and a woman those new to her life and music will never forget.”
The documentary film is also set to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this month, and if it's as good as expected, we'll be dancing with somebody when we finally see it.
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Here's a scenario – It's a Monday night, you just come home from work and you want to unwind. Everybody on your Twitter timeline is raging about a new reality TV show, so you turn on your television (or your illegal live-stream) and start watching it. But something's different about this. The women aren't fighting, screaming at or belittling each other.
Admit it, you probably laughed out loud at this scenario because seeing positive images of ourselves on TV is out of the ordinary. It's 2016 and we're still fighting to see a diverse representation of black men and women in both television and film.
This is a cause that Brooklyn-native and Agnes Scott-alumna Asha Boston is trying to aid. Her documentary series The Dinner Table creates a new perspective of black women that doesn't "condemn their character," but celebrates both "their tapped and untapped potential." It doesn't end there. She's taking her documentary into classrooms with the "Let's Do Dinner" series, and it's changing the lives of black girls around the country.
We spoke with Asha to learn more about how she's building this platform to reach young women.
Blavity: Can you tell us about the dinner?
Asha Boston: “Let’s Do Dinner” is the documentary in event form. We rent out a space and create an intimate dinner experience for high school students, college students and professionals to network and empower each other.
The dinner provides a safe space (not just for young black women but anyone who attends) to be your most vulnerable and authentic self while networking and engaging in through provoking conversations about identity and success. Where else can you sit across the table from a C-Suite executive or celebrity publicist and trade stories about the moment you realized that it was okay to be black, and then be both black and successful?
B: What kind of impact have you seen?
AB: It’s a powerful exchange. We don’t seat our professional VIP guests separate from everyone else; we actually mix them in with the crowd by placing a few at each table. In our house, everyone is VIP. You deserve quality not just in terms of your meal but also in conversation and dinner experience. Everyone comes in expecting to grab a few inspirational quotes for Twitter and a picture with someone influential for Instagram, but at the end of the night, everyone leaves feeling empowered, powerful and full.
B: Why is this work important?
AB: The work is not only important, it’s integral – it must be done. "The Dinner Table" is a light bulb and a bridge. For young women (especially young black women) who don’t have access or opportunity and resources, it sets off a lightbulb and allows them to explore all that the world has to offer. It motivates them to reach their fullest potential and explore careers they didn’t even know existed. For those who have it figured out, it provides an extra boost of confidence and a new opportunity for networking.
The Dinner Table is even using social media to fight for this cause.
Check out their #blackgirlmagic appreciation thread on Twitter that went viral. Here are some of the tweets:
1) Taraji P Henson fan girling over Viola Davis. Such a heart warming moment 😍 pic.twitter.com/lUxIZ4RNSc
— The Dinner Table Doc (@dinnertabledoc) April 8, 2016
6) When Zendaya and Rihanna met for the 1st time and slayed each other while slaying us all pic.twitter.com/ZG4du5RFP2
— The Dinner Table Doc (@dinnertabledoc) April 8, 2016
15) Winnie Harlow and April Star are in such awe of each other. One of the best moments on The Real pic.twitter.com/QQ1LQEt59m
— The Dinner Table Doc (@dinnertabledoc) April 8, 2016
They're not done yet —a second documentary is on the way.
The Dinner Table, Part 2 features "Arnelle Nonon, an African-American Korean Pop singer and Ingrid Silva, a company dancer for the Dance Theatre of Harlem," alongside young black women from Brown’s United League of Black Women. The women share "their honest truth about their black experience," which will surely make for a nice celebration of #blackgirlmagic.
Asha premiered the documentary at L’Oreal’s headquarters on April 27th for their NY Coalition of One Hundred Black Women Role Model Week.
Asha and her work epitomize #blackgirlmagic in so many ways. What do you think about the work that she's doing? Share with us below.
For more information about The Dinner Table documentary, and to get involved visit their website, thedinnertabledoc.com.
On Saturday, May 21st, we’re hosting our inaugural conference about how creativity and technology are changing our daily lives, from our hobbies to our work. Will you be joining us? Tickets here.
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“There's two things you can do. You can be more and get your fucking life together and do what you gotta do to get better. Or be safe cause you out here doing shit, you ain’t supposed to be doing and you around some hectic ass shit. So be safe cause niggas is dying.”
That quote is from King Maddox, a Baltimore rapper in the upcoming documentary called B-More. Created by photographer and filmmaker, Diamond Dixon, B-More follows six black men who are changing the world’s perspective of their hometown through music.
B-More explores topics such as gentrification, music culture, history and brotherhood.
Although the full documentary isn’t coming out until early next year, you can check out the prequel series out now.
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Now that Zoe Saldana has been thoroughly read, we can focus on another important element of Nina Simone's remembrance: Giving her a film that actually authentically depicts her life in its complexity, struggle and brilliance.
I saw the Netflix documentary, What Happened, Miss Nina Simone?, which I found demoralizing in its title and horrifying to watch. Once I learned that Simone's daughter actually had a lot to do with the production of that documentary, my horror grew. If you haven't seen it yet, I won't go into much detail. However, giving Ms. Simone's abusive husband a platform — which he used to mostly berate Nina — was an egregious error on the filmmaker's part. I left that documentary feeling like I knew her less than before I'd begun watching it. The Hollywood production can only be summed up as a circus, sensationalizing her life in ways that are just downright false.
But did any of you know that there is another documentary, and it's actually fantastic?! Jeff L. Lieberman's The Amazing Nina Simone was so thorough, thoughtful and precise that I reached out to Jeff after seeing it to gain more insight into his thoughts surrounding the film. I found him to be as thoughtful and honest as his film. Check out our chat below:
Blavity: Who is Nina Simone to you?
Jeff Lieberman: Nina Simone is an artist like none other. She is fierce and unapologetic. She is unique and unfiltered, giving listeners a true authenticity often unfound in our music universe. She is a freedom fighter, a woman of brave choices, bolds stands, a style icon, a serious risk-taker and uncompromising in her vision of black freedom and equality. She is also a brilliant musician who could take a song and totally make it her own, adding piano flourishes and unique vocal stylings that can induce utter joy or complete sadness. She is an overlooked musical genius, beloved around the world by devoted fans, and someone who has been saying Black Lives Matter since the 1940s, starting in her small Southern town at age 11, to Carnegie Hall when she proclaimed "Mississippi Goddam" at 31 years old and throughout the entire course of her life. As a fierce believer in social justice, she is truly my hero.
B: What has her music meant to you?
JL: Her music has had a special place in my heart. It's introduced me to a time and era that I find especially captivating, and given a counter-narrative to the Civil Rights Movement that is hard to find anywhere else. I've danced to her music, sang her music, been consoled, been uplifted, and listened in awe to some of the ways Nina brings life to a song. It's hard to describe exactly why her music touches me, whether it's her sound, tone, lyrics, piano interludes, the deep androgynous lusciousness of her voice or her choice of song, but it's been a big part of my life for the last 20 years.
B: What do you hope people take away from your documentary?
JL: My intention with this film was to help tell Nina Simone's phenomenal story, and help bring more context to her music, life and incredible accomplishments. When I discovered Nina's classical music background, her politicization among friends such as Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin, and her tremendous unrecognized musical role in the Civil Rights Movement, I felt that her fans would gain an even greater appreciation for Nina and her music. One could watch the film and then go home and listen to her music again with new context and knowledge to the meaning of her iconic songs. I also felt that many of her fans often wondered about Nina's behavior and that too often Nina was dismissed as crazy. I felt speaking about Nina's mental illness could perhaps bring compassion and a new understanding to Nina's life, and at the same time, I wanted the film to show that it wasn't just mental illness that drove Nina's bold and controversial choices. I wanted people to understand her bravery and brilliance, and what it takes to truly be an artist that fights for the causes near to one's heart. In 1963, people were not used to a black woman demanding equality and respect, and they certainly weren't used to hearing someone like Nina voice outrage at segregation, racial violence, and economic inequality. It's easy to dismiss Nina as "crazy" or "violent" as often people like to do when they don't know her story or when certain films choose to focus on the most sensational elements of her life. When you see The Amazing Nina Simone, I challenge anyone to not realize that her defining characteristics were brilliant and brave.
B: What was the most difficult part about creating the film? How did you overcome that challenge?
JL: Making a documentary is tough work, and even more difficult when producing it independently, without the strings of corporate or investor interests. Taking on a subject as complex as Nina Simone adds another level. I also wondered if not being from Nina's era or culture would affect my ability to truly understand the nuances of her experience. I also feared that others would have the same question. To add to this, once I began the project, another VERY well-funded production began a competing documentary on the same subject, which posed a whole new set of challenges. Carving a place for the film has been a challenge, but out of the 3 Nina Simone films, I am most proud that I overcame all these challenges, completed the film, and been on the right side of history. The film has been embraced by audiences in over 65 cities, and Nina's fans have heard the TRUE story of Nina's life, career, challenges, ups and downs, as told by over 50 of her friends, family, band members, lovers and fellow activists. That has been no easy task, but every audience member that sees the film and gasps, laughs or sheds a tear has given me a tremendous confidence that we are truly honoring Nina.
B: If you could have cast someone to play Nina Simone in the Hollywood depiction, who would it be and why?
JL: Impersonating Nina Simone is a job that I wish on nobody. Nina is a powerful figure, and more complex than any of us will ever understand. Even those who I've interviewed speak about all these different sides and personalities that I'm not sure anyone could ever capture completely. I think it would take an actress of tremendous experience and acting chops to even begin to take on that role. My best suggestion would be Alfre Woodard, who has proven herself throughout many decades as an extremely strong actor. I would also suggest Viola Davis or Lorraine Toussaint. No prosthetics or dark-skinned makeup would be needed for any of these actors — elements that are a distraction and make a caricature of Nina Simone. It goes without saying that Hollywood has a history of casting lighter-skin actors, and Nina even felt that her dark skin and wider nose were obstacles throughout much of her life, including the reason she was never featured on the cover of a magazine, like Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross, her lighter-skinned contemporaries.
There are also plenty of young women who I feel truly "get" Nina (like India Arie) and could potentially capture Nina's height of artistry in the 1960s. However, I think it's important to recognize that this biopic chose to portray Nina in the 1990s, the final decade of her life when Nina was in her 60s. In the controversy over the black-face makeup, prosthetics and casting choice, this is scarcely being mentioned in the press, and this is my larger issue with the film. While I believe Clifton Henderson (whose story "Nina" is loosely based upon) had good intentions when he first began caring for Nina, he ended up isolating her from friends and family, over-medicating her, and taking large percentages of her payments. This is not an uncommon ending for many celebrities of a certain era, and perhaps an interesting story if Nina had not had six other decades of phenomenal musical accomplishments, civil rights stands, and been a symbol for so many people of freedom, pride and artistry. To overlook these moments in favor of sensational drama like Nina brandishing a gun and throwing champagne bottles is not only an insult to her very rich and complex life, but is a blatant white-washing of her achievements as a black woman in 20th century America. It exposes the deep ignorance of the cast, director and production team. Having read the script for the film four years ago, I can say that anyone involved in the production was deeply aware of the choices they were making with this production and should be held responsible.
I love narrative films and have seen great films that portray real people. However, I think the only person who should be playing Nina is Nina. Her story is not fit for the condensing and sensationalizing that are part of the formulaic approach to conventional Hollywood biopics. Nina's story and genius lives on in her performance clips, and anyone who truly wants to know the real Nina should see the real person as told by over 50 of her friends, family, band members, lovers and fellow activists in The Amazing Nina Simone. I say this not as the director of the film, but as a fan.
For More Information About Jeff's Documentary Visit www.amazingnina.com
What are your thoughts about how Nina Simone is portrayed? How would you like to see her story told?
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On Saturday, director Spike Lee attended the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, MO for the screening of "Concerned Student 1950", a 30-minute documentary on the organization with the same name.
Two days later, Lee was on Mizzou's campus filming the student organization as they protested from Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center to Traditions Plaza. The footage will be used in Lee's ESPN digital short film titled "2 Fists Up." This short film branches off of ESPN's widely known Emmy-nominated 30 for 30 documentary series. According to ESPN, the film details the Black Lives Matter movement, and how it not only caused Mizzou's students and football team to join in solidarity, but America at large.
Kendrick Washington, Concerned Student 1950 member says of Lee, “first of all, Spike is an educator. This is something that he follows. He’s not new to understanding institutionalized oppression, racism, any of that. So, his questions and his approach was more a reflection from his work and our drive behind the movement, so it was a dialogue. We were discussing oppression on various settings.”
Look out for Lee's digital short, premiering in May.
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This past Monday, Nelson George's documentary 'A Ballerina's Tale' made its TV premiere on PBS' Independent Lens film series. The film follows the rise of Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be named a principal in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre.
'A Ballerina's Tale' mainly focuses on Misty's cultural impact and begins by drawing attention to the fact that only one percent of all ballerinas make it into elite companies each year, and an even smaller fraction of those ballerinas are Black women. This just goes to show what a big deal Misty's accomplishment really is.
In the early portion of the film, we see video footage of a young Misty taking dance classes and performing on stage. As one of six kids, Misty was very shy, and when she discovered ballet at the age of 13 (years after most ballerinas begin their training), she felt that she belonged and finally found her voice. By age 15, Misty was one of the top ballet prospects in California and placed first in the prestigious Spotlight Awards.
Once she moved to New York to join ABT's Studio Company, she made it her mission to become a principal dancer.
In the film, we see Misty's emotional journey as she deals with injuries, feelings of isolation due to being the only African American woman out of 80 dancers, being told by the Company to lose weight, and having a more muscular body type and different aesthetic than the other dancers. Misty's struggle comes full circle when author Brenda Dixon-Gottschild points out that ballet is about assimilation and uniformity, not necessarily individual expression. Historically, this has made it more difficult for Black dancers to fit into the mold.
From the very beginning, the executives at ABT felt that Misty had promise but knew her self doubt was getting in her own way, so they asked Susan Fales-Hill (former ABT Board Chair) to mentor her. Susan took Misty under her wing and introduced her to a "a kitchen cabinet" of Black female trailblazers to help Misty understand her potential and build her confidence, proving just how powerful having a true mentor can be.
We should all be so lucky to have a Susan Fales-Hill as mentor/fairy godmother. #ABallerinasTalePBS #BlackBallerina
— TriniPrincess (@TriniPrincess) February 9, 2016
Thank goodness for mentors...they are the motivation when it feels like nobody understands #BlackBallerina
— Kd BHeart (@LTkd_PRO) February 9, 2016
This documentary is yet another testament to the importance of black women mentoring and upholding black women. #ABallerinasTalePBS
— stacia l. brown (@slb79) February 9, 2016
And Misty's confidence hasn't gone unnoticed.
Misty Copeland = SLAYAGE. #ABallerinasTalePBS #BlackBallerina pic.twitter.com/nClfBqynD2
— Nerdy Wonka (@NerdyWonka) February 9, 2016
Guys, Misty Copeland really is a vision.
Her presence is demanding without having to shout at you.#BlackBallerina #ABallerinasTalePBS
— Cynthia F. (@cynfinite) February 9, 2016
The community of black women that was built around Misty in her role as Firebird is simply breathtaking. #ABallerinasTalePBS
— Chasity S. Cooper (@chasityscooper) February 9, 2016
Misty Copeland's cultural influence has been significant, not just because of the Black Girl Magic that she exemplifies, but also because of her ability to draw a new audience to the art of ballet, to challenge stereotypes, and for giving us the message we all need: I will what I want.
If you missed the premiere on PBS, don't worry, the film is also on Netflix!
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