Tag Archives: Taraji P. Henson

What do critics of color have to say about “Proud Mary”?

(Photo credit: Dana Starbard/CTMG)

I bet you wouldn’t have pegged Proud Mary as the first film of 2018 to spark controversy. The issue isn’t with the film itself; its how the film has been promoted–hardly at all.

Folks on Twitter (both regular users and big folks with blue check marks) voiced their concern and anger of the lack of promotion Sony Pictures/Screen Gems is giving this film. To be honest, I’ve only just started seeing TV spots about a week ago. Compare that to a movie like Red Sparrow, which is coming out in March, but already has a TV spot out this month.

The common thought when films try to suppress a movie is that the film must be horrible. Usually, that’s the case; if a film is embargoed to critics until its release date, that generally means the studio doesn’t have confidence in it. There have only been a few times when a film is so good that the embargo is put in place so critics don’t accidentally spoil it. But this didn’t seem to be the case with Proud Mary. 

After viewing the trailer and artwork for the film last year, I was immediately worried. Something about it told me this film wasn’t going to get the attention it deserved. Maybe it’s because the trailer focused on some heavily worn-down tropes in the female spy genre; the blond wig, the thigh-high boots, the arsenal of weapons in their home, etc. The wig really got me, to be honest. I thought the purpose of a wig was so you can’t be identified; wouldn’t a loud blonde wig like that make the character stand out even more?

Even with that said, though, how bad could Proud Mary be? With stars like Taraji P. Henson and Danny Glover headlining, the film has to at least be moderately enjoyable and profitable enough for Sony to feel like they’ll at least break even. But what do the critics say?

For this post, I’ve specifically cataloged what critics of color have to say about this film. Every blurb you’ll read in this post is from a critic of color. This is not because I don’t trust what white male critics have to say. But I specifically want to know what folks with some skin in this representation game have to say about this film and the promotion scandal surrounding it. People who are tacitly in tune with the battles actors of color face in Hollywood might have a different perspective and frame of reference than someone who doesn’t. Plus, I’d like to highlight what their viewpoints are, since 1) this is a film starring actors of color and 2) signal-boosting some of the few POC critics there is a really important thing to do. So with all of that said, let’s get into it.

Britany Murphy, Geeks of Color

“…[T]he characters of [Danny] Glover and [Billy] Brown are the typical, uninspired head-honcho types and while they provide some foil for Mary, you could have interchanged the pair with any other actors and ended up with similar results. Also, there was hardly enough Mary. I went into the theater believing the film would be something similar to Atomic Blonde or John Wick – with Mary kicking a** and taking names, but I was surprised to see that they focused more on the family drama aspect.

Now, while I did enjoy this and was glad that it delved deeper into a story than just Mary shooting up everyone in her sight, it should not have taken until the third act to get into most of the action. The progression was a bit slow to get to the boiling point and the lackluster secondary characters did not help much. However, the performances of Henson and Winston most certainly make up for the film’s slow points. As does the music – from The Temptations to Tina Turner, the soundtrack will have you dancing in your seat and while the film is set in today’s era, the throwback jams fit the mood of the film perfectly.”

Michael Ordoña, Common Sense Media

“This action film’s lack of originality and cleverness is made worse by a self-defeating visual style and overuse of music. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the main character is an ace killer who wants out of the biz after bonding with a kid. Her bosses “love” her but won’t let her go….The folks behind Proud Mary seem to have decided against character development, so there’s nothing to distinguish one person from another in terms of their behavior…The dialogue is flat and predictable, and the action scenes are uninterestingly executed, with no tension or wow factor.

All this is compounded by hyperactive editing that seems flat-out inappropriate in most scenes, especially the quieter ones. All the excessive cutting prevents the scenes from having any flow. It actually makes the film hard to watch at times — not because of the speed of the edits, but because it feels like someone keeps rhythmically hitting the “previous channel” key on a remote control…Proud Mary is a style-less exercise that wastes some talent.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap

“‘Proud Mary’ did not screen for critics, nor should it have. It’s a copy of a copy of a mediocre original, with the drab aesthetics of a TV movie and the emotional hollowness of an infomercial. Ostensibly about a hired killer (the Halloween wigs and running-in-stilettos kind) who decides to reclaim her femininity, the picture is sunk by its all-male writing and directing team’s narrow conception of womanhood as lipstick and maternal instincts. (“London Has Fallen” helmer Babak Najafi directs; the screenplay is credited to Steve Antin, John Stuart Newman, and Christian Swegal.) Being a mercenary has never looked so cheesy.”

Joi Childs, Black Girl Nerds

“…There are articles out there that have detailed the lack of promotion for this film, which I won’t re-iterate, but I agree with. Layer in the fact that critics, including myself, did not receive screeners for this film. Now add another layer that in the whole five borough city of New York, there were less than five theaters showing evening screenings…[But] for 90 minutes, Proud Mary delivered to me a campy, enthralling and fun movie.

Proud Mary is a solid addition to the female-led action film lexicon. What makes it even more solid is Taraji’s single-minded determination to provide a range of Black women-led roles. Make no mistake: from the characters, to the cadence, the Black mom moments and phenomenal wigs, this is a Black-ass film. While not perfect, the film still shines despite the odds (and A&M budget) stacked against it.

And that’s something to be proud of.”

Travis Hopson, Punch Drunk Critics

“Taraji P. Henson? Badass. We love her as the tough-as-nails Cookie Lyon on Empire, and when she finally received the acclaim she deserved for Hidden Figures, we all saw it as a victory. We’ve been rooting for Henson ever since her character’s transformative arc in Hustle ‘n Flow. So when the trailers for Proud Mary promised Taraji as a John Wick-style killer set to a ’70s Blaxploitation vibe, there was legit reason to get hyped. Taraji’s about to kick some ass, y’all!!!

Well, nah. Proud Mary is a disaster from start to finish, and we see why Sony has quietly dumped the movie in the middle of January with zero buzz. How could that possibly happen? Who could possibly screw up Taraji P. Henson packin’ heat with attitude to match and a soundtrack of Motown’s finest? Blame London has Fallen director Babaj Najafi and a couple of so-called writers who have foisted upon Taraji a bland, boring, and dreary assassin flick the quality of the Bruce Willis/50 Cent stinkers piling up DVD bins at Walmart. Right from the beginning there is something cheap and inartful about it, as trained contract killer Mary Goodwin does her morning workout to the tune of “Poppa was a Rolling Stone” over title credits that may have been lifted from Cleopatra Jones.”

From these reviews, the verdict is that Proud Mary is a movie that had potential, and if you’re down for some campy fun, you might enjoy it. But overall, Proud Mary seems like it’s a film that squanders Henson’s talents for something derivative.

If you’ve seen the film, what did you think about it? Do you have a different opinion? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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Olympic-sized “Rogue One,” “Luke Cage,” “Hidden Figures” trailers promise awesomeness

The Olympics is like the Super Bowl in that lots of big properties reveal their big trailers. Three such trailers were released during the Rio Olympics: Luke CageRogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Hidden Figures. Let’s take a look at each.

Luke Cage

First of all, it looks incredible. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never tuned into a Marvel Netflix production, either because I didn’t know the lore or, quite frankly, I just didn’t care. But the updated ’70s blaxploitation take on Luke Cage is both reminiscent of past awesome crime fighters like Shaft and extremely timely to what’s going on today.

Everyone has mentioned the imagery of the unkillable black man in a shot-up hoodie providing both commentary and relief from the constant deluge of black men and boys being killed by police or overzealous, racist men. But seeing that imagery in motion, just in the trailer, says so much without Luke Cage every saying a word. Also, the story itself seems to be told in such a way that someone like me, who has a hot-cold relationship with keeping up with all comics except for Archie Comics, can come into it fresh. It engages the audience whether you know about Luke Cage from the comics or not. That kind of treatment of comic book lore is gold, since you can’t always assume your audience knows everything about every character, especially if that character hasn’t become part of the collective consciousness in the same way Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have.

Overall, this is a WIN for me. I’ll check out the series once it drops, despite my own squeamishness of hearing/seeing broken bones.

Rogue One

As Marv Albert would say, “Yes!”—this is ticking all of the boxes for me. I think from now on, I’ll lessen my usage of “diversity” and starting using the word “inclusion” more, because the rebooted Star Wars series (yes, rebooted—let’s just admit that the prequels are out of canon now) is showing other movie franchises how inclusion is done. You don’t just hire actors of color to be sidekicks, MARVEL MOVIES. You hire actors of color for substantial roles and treat them just like any white actor. You create characters that actually represent and empower your audience, not just appease them with some paltry offerings. Somehow, Marvel seems to do better at inclusion with their television shows and Netflix series than they do with the actual movies. Even stranger is that Marvel and Lucasfilm are now under the same Disney umbrella, so you’d think some cross-pollination with casting tactics would have happened already. Marvel needs to take some notes from J. J. Abrams, stat.

Anyways, we’ve got talented actors doing talented things in this film. Even cooler is that the central character is a woman. Also cool is that Darth Vader finally looks cool again (once again, proof that this is a completely rebooted series). We also have some disability representation with Donnie Yen’s blind Jedi or Jedi-adjacent character. But will Yen’s character dip too far into the “mystical Asian kung-fu master” trope? Because if there’s one potential issue I see, it’s that. We just have to wait until the movie comes out. The other potential issue: Forrest Whitaker’s odd accent. But on the whole, Rogue One looks like it’ll proudly carry on the awesome legacy that began with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Hidden Figures

The film looks like it’s going to be one along the lines of 42 and Race in the sense that it’s going to be a feel-good film that also manages to teach the audience a historical lesson about overcoming discrimination to achieve excellence. But this film is also a reversal in practice for Hollywood, an industry that has ignored a story like this until now.

This role is something Taraji P. Henson should have played long before now, and its these types of roles Hollywood should have cast her in. What I’m saying is that usually, this type of “feel-good” role featuring a female character from the 1960s usually goes to a white woman, because in the ’60s as in today’s time, whiteness allows a certain privilege, meaning the character won’t have to deal with any sticky issues like race.

However, turning attention away from the history makers and achievers of the time only keeps black movie narratives stuck to the Civil Rights Movement. While that part of the ’60s is wildly important, there is more to the black experience than just misery. We didn’t exist just in the south; we existed all over the country, doing all kinds of things, including sending a man to the moon. Stories like this should have been lauded decades before now, not just now that Hollywood is slowly waking up to what many call in jaded tones the “diversity trend.”

On a much more shallower note: much like Whitaker, I’m unsure of Janelle Monaé’s accent in this film. I’m assuming she’s portraying a southerner; as a southerner, I’m always…disturbed by bad southern accents in films. There is an art to the southern accent not many non-southern actors have mastered. They always want to take it to that Scarlett O’Hara level, and not all southern accents are remotely like that. (I hated writing this paragraph, because I’m a loyal member of Electro Phi Beta…but I can’t lie about the accent.)

What do you think of these trailers? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

WOC Wednesday: Taraji P. Henson

It’s #EmpireWednesday and we’re all gearing up for the 2 HOUR SEASON FINALE of one of the most explosive shows TV has seen in a long time.  I would be a bit remiss if I didn’t highlight one of the biggest stars of the show and the show’s leading lady, Taraji P. Henson, aka Cookie Lyon.

Henson remarked during a screening of the first hour of the finale that during an interview with the Hollywood Foreign Press, no one mentioned that Empire is a black television show. Instead, they talked about human struggles shown on the show.

“Love and hate and loss has no color,” she said, states Variety. “For me, that’s what I was hoping this show would do. Martin Luther King, we made it to the mountaintop!”

I’m glad Henson is finally in a project that allows people to see her immense talent week-in and week-out. Her Academy Award nomination was no fluke; she’s always had the talent, and now everyone gets to see it.

What do you love about Henson’s acting career and Cookie Lyon? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Photo credit: Chuck Hodes

Review: "Empire" is Platinum

Synopsis (Fox): EMPIRE is a sexy and powerful new drama about the head of a music empire whose three sons and ex-wife all battle for his throne.

My opinions: Consider me a fan of Empire. To be honest, I was already sold from the moment I heard it was a show starring Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, and had the soapiness of Dynasty. Just like with Agent Carter, my expectations were exceeded when I finally watched the premiere episode. There’s a reason why it was the highest-rated drama Fox has had in years.