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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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42nd Annual American Indian Film Festival Will Run Nov. 3-11 in San Francisco

Native Americans continue to look forward despite the barriers they face, embracing medicine, language, the fortitude to be a distinct nation within a nation, and of course, our history and culture.
We celebrate the challenges our people have overcome, and the unity we feel as a people.

SAN FRANCISCO For thousands of years, Indigenous persons have inhabited North America, before there were borders between the United States and Canada. There are shared histories, reserves, treaties, boarding schools, assimilation, and current issues that they face in the modern world, no matter where they live in the continent. Battling social welfare issues, impoverished urban conditions, homelessness, mineral exploration and exploitation, media apathy, missing and exploited women, and more, the Native people continue to face an unprecedented number of challenges. It is the relationship between tribes in the United States and Canada that thrives. Native Americans continue to look forward despite the barriers they face, embracing medicine, language, the fortitude to be a distinct nation within a nation, and of course, our history and culture. That is what the American Indian Film Festival celebrates every year. We celebrate the challenges our people have overcome, and the unity we feel as a people. And we will continue to do this at the 42nd annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco from Nov. 3-11, 2017.

The public is invited to enjoy film screenings, appearances by filmmakers, actors and directors, Q&A sessions, and memorable entertainment during the nine-day event, capped by the American Indian Motion Picture Awards Show.

“AIFI is proud to launch its 42nd annual American Indian Film Festival. This assembly of new film works of the USA American Indian and Canada First Nations is presented to foster public truth and understanding to the social and economic culture and ways of life of contemporary Indian peoples. Despite a history of genocide and exploitation of our nation’s people and land base, we have persevered… We have maintained and rebuilt our nation’s infrastructure, spirit, culture and language. This is our truth, and we look forward to sharing it with our audiences in the coming days,” said AIFI founder and president, Michael Smith (Sioux). “Film is an important tool that we can use to educate and entertain our audiences, and this is the best of Native cinema in the world.”

The festival will be held at the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco (2781 24th Street). The full program can be found online at http://www.aifisf.com/film-schedule-2017. Tickets can also be purchased on the website, with an intricate look at the captivating and emotional films that will be featured. The awards ceremony will be held on the evening of Nov. 11.

The festival kicks off on Nov. 4 with the film The Road Forward, a musical documentary by Marie Clements, which connects a pivotal moment in Canada’s civil rights history, the beginnings of Indian Nationalism in the 1930s, with the powerful momentum of First Nations activism today. The Road Forward‘s stunningly shot musical sequences, performed by an ensemble of some of Canada’s finest vocalists and musicians, seamlessly connect past and present with soaring vocals, blues, rock, and traditional beats. A rousing tribute to the fighters for First Nations rights, a soul-resounding historical experience, and a visceral call to action. The show begins at 7 p.m.

American Indian Film Institute/Facebook

Other notable moments of AIFF 42 include: Dynamic Women’s Series on Sunday, Nov. 5 from 12-10 p.m., featuring six powerful documentaries displaying the Native American women’s fight for justice.

Nov. 7: Bainbridge’s documentary feature, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, a 103-minute feature film, which dives into Native American influences on music history.

Nov. 9: Wind RiverTaylor Sheridan’s 111-minute feature. The film follows a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) who teams up with a local game tracker with deep community ties and a haunted past (Jeremy Renner) to investigate the murder of a local girl on a remote Native American reservation in the hopes of solving her mysterious death. The film also stars Gil BirminghamGraham GreeneJon BernthalJulia Jones, and Kelsey Asbille.

November 10Directed by Jeremy Torrie and starring Adam BeachEmma Tremblay, and Roseanne Supernault, the film Juliana & The Medicine Fish tells the story of 12-year-old Juliana. The 110-minute feature film looks into a complicated relationship between a father and a daughter, and the power of believing in oneself.

The festival’s formidable artwork was done by Crow Indian artist Del Curfman. The poster “Standing for Justice” is an inspiring piece of art, and perfectly encapsulates the meaning of the festival.

The 42nd annual American Indian Film Festival® is sponsored by: San Francisco Grants for the Arts, The Hewlett Foundation, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Chickasaw Nation, Twin Pine Casino & Hotel, The George Lucas Family Foundation, and CBS.

The American Indian Film Festival® is open to the general public-at-large and invites all communities to celebrate November American Indian Heritage Month.

Advance tickets for the film festival and awards show are available through aifisf.com.

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15 #DarkSkinnedHeroines Who Will Reaffirm Your Worth

At the time Leslie Jones’ Twitter harassment happened, I didn’t know how to write about it. Not because I wasn’t upset by it—I most definitely was. But I was saddened by it to the point where I didn’t want to write about it. But sometimes, not talking about something does just as much damage as intentionally doing the wrong thing. What happened to Leslie Jones didn’t just affect Jones, but it affects every black woman, especially those of a darker hue.

First, let me give a quick rundown of what happened to Jones a few weeks ago. It all started with Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos. He took it upon himself to write a “review” of Ghostbusters with the title “Teenage Boys with Tits.” We’re already on a roll here.

This launched a huge spew of vile, racist, colorism-laden tweets directed directly at Jones. I won’t put them in this article, but you can read their tweets (if you want to) at Fusion.

After facing as much as she could take, Jones left Twitter.

Thankfully (or rather, after much criticism), Twitter finally banned Yiannopoulos, who has been a troll on Twitter for a long time. Twitter denizens rejoiced, but there were still some issues to suss out.

1. None of Jones’ other co-stars came to her defense publicly. I make exclusive note of the word publicly because for all we know, her co-stars could have come to her aid over coffee, or could have called her, or could have visited her at home or something. We don’t know what type of relationship she has with Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Chris Hemsworth. However, no one saw or wrote about any of them saying something in defense of Jones; Jones was seemingly left to fend for herself against hoardes of trolls.

Because of the optics of the situation, regardless if they did comfort her in private, it looked like once again white feminism reared its ugly head. (To understand what white feminism is, read some of these posts.) Instead of showing solidarity with Jones as Ghostbusters sister-in-arms, there were no public tweets of support or public outcry from Jones’ other female co-stars. And let’s all remember that Hemsworth barely escaped controversy with his wife’s Native American themed Halloween party, so maybe it was best he didn’t speak at all. But still, it wouldn’t have hurt if he said something in support of Jones.

The lack of help smells of “Strong Black Woman” Syndrome, in which white individuals don’t recognize the vulnerability and emotional life of their black counterparts (to read more about the plight of the Strong Black Woman, read this post and this one). While white women are routinely shielded and protected over the slightest of infractions, black women are constantly left to fend for themselves. We are constantly faced with the “But you’re so strong!” mindset. This codes into “But you have no feelings!”

2. The type of abuse Jones faced had a specific strain of colorism to it. Excuse me for repeating some of the phrases tweeted out, but the epithets of “big lipped coon,” Yiannopoulos gleefully writing, “rejected by another black dude,” and the constant comparisons to gorillas all reek of colorism directed at darker-skinned women.

The obsession some people have with skin color runs deep in the culture of this nation. The lighter you are, it’s thought, the closer you are to whiteness and acceptability. Whiteness also has erroneous connotations of femininity, gentility, vulnerability and worth. The colonialism of the mind not only affects white Americans, but Americans of all stripes. Within the black community, colorism has a huge history, from the Blue Vein Society of the past, to people claiming other ethnicities (whether it’s true or not) to remove themselves further from their blackness.

Dark skin is not just at the bottom of the colorism ladder; because it’s at the bottom, it’s wrongly associated with lack of femininity, brute strength, and once again, lack of emotion and vulnerability. A dark-skinned woman has had to grow up with verbal and nonverbal abuses about their skintone, which can take a toll on self-esteem; just take a look at the “Paper Bag Test” phenomenon, which tests how light-skinned (and supposedly how acceptable) a person is, as well as the famous doll test performed by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. If you don’t know about the test, the Clarks gave black children white and black baby dolls, then asked the kids which doll they liked the most. The kids ended up liking the white dolls more, while the felt the black dolls—the dolls that looked like them—were worthless. When I was growing up, there were, thankfully, black dolls, and there had been black dolls since the mid-to-late 1960s (particularly after the Civil Rights Movement). But dark-skinned dolls, dolls that look like this:

Barbie-Fashionista

haven’t been around all that long. In fact, these dolls just came out April and June of this year. (I’ve personally seen one other dark-skinned contemporary Barbie doll a few years ago, and this is without counting the South African “World Culture” Barbie doll, which seems to be discontinued on the website.) Darker-skinned girls and women have still had to wait for proper representation in dolls, not to mention in actresses on television and in film.

3. Jones’ non-European features were also the subject of ridicule, and this is based in a European-centric ideology. Black women with more European features, such as thinner noses, lighter skin (again, colorism), and and smaller lips, are often given higher booking over actresses with more pan-African features such as flatter noses, darker skin, and fuller lips. This reflects society at large, which gives precedence to those who have more European features and appearances. This is why Stacey Dash has completely changed herself from this:

Stacey-Dash-Clueless
Movieclips.com/Screengrab

to this:

Stacey-Dash-FOXNews
FOX News/Screengrab

and why Lil’ Kim became unrecognizable.

The Young Turks/Screengrab
The Young Turks/Screengrab

This is also why Viola Davis has been public about combatting colorism and racism in Hollywood. In her interview with The Wrap, she said:

“…[W]hen you do see a woman of color onscreen, the paper-bad test is still very much alive and kicking. That’s the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire. And in the history of television and even in film, I’ve never seen a character like Annalise Keating played by someone who looks like me.”

Society and Hollywood should be ashamed, because Milo Yiannopoulos represents a culmination of societal issues left to fester and, indeed, to make money from. Both should more open to darker-skinned women, because the impact on young girls is humongous. Thankfully, there are darker-skinned girls paving the way for others and showing them that they matter, that they are worthy, and that they are loved and can be loved. In honor of Jones facing the onslaught of the worst of Twitter and coming out on top (not only has Yiannopoulos been banned, but Jones is back on Twitter!), and as a way to say thank you to her for standing up for black women, especially dark-skinned black women, here’s a list of 15 dark-skinned characters who have defined today’s TV and film.

If you have characters you’d like to add to the list, share your post and hashtag it #DarkSkinnedHeroines on Twitter and Instagram!

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#DifferenceMakers: 4 New Racial/Gender Representation Initiatives

The #OscarsSoWhite controversy has shaken up Hollywood in one of the best ways possible. While there’s something that can be said for the lack of focus on other forms of representation in Hollywood (the media has been mostly focusing on the outward racial aspects and not other aspects of representation such as characters with physical or mental disabilities), Hollywood is trying to show that it can change, at least little by little. Four new initiatives tackling gender and racial inclusion have been created since #OscarsSoWhite; these initiatives have a bright future ahead as the pioneers of Hollywood’s new inclusion renaissance.

• We Do It Together: Variety reports that Juliette Binoche, Queen Latifah, and Jessica Chastain have joined together to create We Do It Together. The production company procudes film and television “that boost the empowerment of women.”

“The nonprofit is planning to develop a slate of ‘inspiring’ films by and about women to ensure future opportunities for known and emerging voices within the industry,” wrote Variety. “The first film will be announced in May at the Cannes Film Festival.”

• JJ Abrams’ new Bad Robot diversity quota: Bad Robot founder and film director JJ Abrams told the Hollywood Reporter that he decided, in the midst of #OscarsSoWhite, to create a serious outline of goals to meet when it comes to addressing inclusive casting and hiring practices.

“We’ve been working to improve our internal hiring practices for a while, but the Oscars controversy was a wake-up call to examine our role in expanding internally at Bad Robot and externally with our content and partners,” said Abrams, according to the Guardian. “We’re working to find a rich pool of representative, kick-ass talent and give them the opportunity they deserve and we can all benefit from. It’s good for audiences and it’s good for the bottom line.”

Click to read the latest issue!

• Zoe Kravitz’ collective: Zoe Kravitz has told the Associated Press about how she has had to turn down stereotypical role after stereotypical role, and how she feels a lot of the onus is on the actors themselves when it comes to choosing roles and breaking casting stereotypes. Kravitz has also decided to create a “creative collective,” states Hollywood’s Black Renaissance. Her collective includes “Hollywood filmmakers, actors, writers, and cinematographers and their goal is to meet each week to write a script that reflects the diverse world in which we live.” Kravitz is also going to “write, produce, and direct her own projects.”

Half: TV producer Ryan Murphy has launched Half, an initiative that will start “outreach efforts at colleges and universities,” states Forbes. Murphy “will pair candidates with mentors from his production company.” Murphy’s also creating “a database of names and contact information so other showrunners who want diverse directors can join the movement, as well.”

“I personally can do better,” said Murphy to The Hollywood Reporter. “[Publicist Nanci Ryder] said [at The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment breakfast], ‘People in power, you have a position and responsibility to change the industry,’ and I thought, ‘She’s right.'”

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

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JUST ADD COLOR Now Accepting Guest Posts!

Are you a regular reader of JUST ADD COLOR who would love to put in your opinion about popular issues affecting diversity in America? Are you a new reader who wants a shot at becoming a published writer? JUST ADD COLOR is now accepting guest posts!

JUST ADD COLOR is run by one person (me), and while I do my best to showcase as many issues as possible, I’m also just one person who is sometimes limited by my own worldview. A black cis woman can’t be an Asian disabled bi man or a Middle Eastern trans woman. That’s where you come in.

If there’s an issue pressing on your heart, an issue you feel has been neglected by the media, or TV and film reviews you want published for the world to see, use JUST ADD COLOR as your platform! Send me a pitch at monique@colorwebmag.com with the subject line “JUST ADD COLOR/PITCH:”XX” (with “XX” featuring the title of your post). All guest posts are unpaid, but you can use this opportunity to get your footing in the blogging world and exercise your writing skills to advance your writing career!

If you know someone who would love a chance to publish a guest post, please share this post with them! I can’t wait to read your posts!

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