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Filmmaker Stefanie Joshua on Gentrification, and Bushwick Homecomings: The Record

Crime, drugs, and structured dissociation are among topics discussed with filmmaker Stefanie Joshua about her new film, Bushwick Homecomings: The Record [Video Discussion]

Following is an abbreviated transcript from filmmaker and documentarian, Stefanie Joshua’s interview with Luvon Roberson, What’s The 411’s art and culture correspondent.

Luvon: With me tonight is Stefanie Joshua, who's the filmmaker of Bushwick Homecomings: The Record. So, Stefanie, welcome.

Stefanie: Thank you very much.

Luvon: I want to jump right in with the why. Why this film, Bushwick Homecomings: The Record 10 years after your first film (Bushwick Homecomings) which also looked at gentrification in Bushwick?

Stefanie: Well, I would say that gentrification is a theme in the film, but it touches on so much more attention on people's lives specifically a small cohort of people who were in the original film. But the reason why a few different reasons. One, the timing was right. I made the first film in 2006 and the film had a lot of kind of prophecies of what might happen in that 10-year period and so it was natural that at some point that I revisit this to see actually what did happen. Is what was projected to happen did that come to fruition? So that was the first reason, another reason was that there had been some occurrences in the community in Bushwick in terms of changes, you know, it's part of the film the second part of the film opens with the declaration of Vogue for claiming Bushwick as the 7th coolest place in the world. Vogue magazine and some other things that occurred in Bushwick and if you grew up in New York, if you're familiar, if you grew up in Brooklyn, you know. And, most people tell me, my friends who lived in Bed-Stuy and East New York and Brownsville, I kind of consider them the cousins of Brooklyn (Bushwick). They even thought that Bushwick like in the hierarchy of things, you know, they felt like Bushwick, it's kind of at the low end of the totem pole and that says a lot. So to go from that to being the seventh coolest place in the world by Vogue, which they proclaimed I think in 2016 and then the massive, you know changes and shifts in population, which I kind of follow and incorporate into the film. I knew that this was the time to revisit this topic and kind of check back in on what's going on in Bushwick.

Luvon: In that film, that first film which was about what 12 years ago, 2006?

Stefanie: 2006.

Luvon: Okay, you feature five young black men who tell their story of Bushwick in the 1970s 1980s and what was going on. How did they come to be in your first?

Stefanie: Okay. Well at the time that I made the first film I was completing, I was in graduate school and I was completing my master's degree in sociology and social research, specifically. It was at City College, and you know, shout out to City College, they have an amazing sociology program and I was first inspired by a paper I had to write there. It was a pretty famous class. I think it still runs at City College. It's called People of the City of New York, and this class asked each person to study a group and you had to produce a pretty lengthy paper. And, in creating that paper, it sparked my interest in what kind of motivated change within communities. And, I was sociology major. I was doing my research in delinquency and specifically, I was interested in learning about…I had a friend who was, who I guess was superficially successful, had gone to a really good school. We were having a conversation about why he had success versus others who did not have as much success. He really attributed it to the school he went to and some other things and I thought about it. I thought some of it has to do with where you lived and what came across your path. I think that so many people are bright and gifted but when you live in a neighborhood where there are so many obstacles, you know, crime, other things that change your trajectory. It's not the only thing but it does impact your trajectory. So that interested me. And, so I was writing a paper about delinquency and studying what were the causes for young men, because delinquencies, most predominantly involve young men. Crime. Why? What were the triggers for people to, young men to be involved in crime and have these records? You know criminal records. So, in studying that topic, I interviewed a lot more people. But the five in the film, many of them don't have a history with crime, but I wanted to ask them the same questions and develop a pattern of what they all experience and how it may have impacted outcomes, impacted their opportunities. So that was the original paper and studying their experiences, growing up, taking the train to school going through Broadway Junction on the L, J A, C-line in Brooklyn. That's how that paper began and I felt like it would make a good visual narrative, a story. And, in writing my thesis, this is my Master's thesis, I recorded all of the interviews because I knew it would be easier for me to transcribe it if I had recorded them.

Luvon: So, how did these particular five men, I want to cut to the chase because when you see which I know you will What's The 411 viewers, when you see it, it's on the festival circuit now, Bushwick Homecomings: The Record.
But these five black young black men, you talk about some of them being drug dealers. Some of them being drug users. Some of them selling guns. They talk about the crack epidemic. They talked about how violent it was. So how did they come to be publicly sharing all of that?

Stefanie: You know, they all agreed, and I explained the project to them. So, in understanding that this might be a film project and I had taken a film course, a couple of editing courses, I explained that this would potentially be a film not knowing that if I can make it. But, I had recorded it and let them know. What I looked for in who I put, who I chose to participate, up in the final kind of cut was I wanted to ensure that all of the participants had grown up in Bushwick and we're still living there at the time that the film was shot because I wanted to kind of establish a consistency in their story. Some of the men had moved away, you know, some weren't born there. So that was how I came about the selection and also, you know, some of the stories had aspects that really help to support creating that narrative of what was happening in Bushwick at that time.

Luvon: Absolutely, which is how we can be thankful to them that they were willing to share so publicly about having run drugs. Use drugs. Sold drugs. Carried guns. We are very thankful that they shared their story.
Stefanie: Absolutely.

Luvon: And, I just wanted to find out the process by which you went and you told me some of it. And so we'll move off that to something else because you talk about how you retreated in that time. One of the young men says, every night there were gunshots you went to bed hearing those gunshots, every night in Bushwick.

Stefanie: Absolutely.

Luvon: Which sounds like a war zone and I think one of the young men actually use that word, you know that term war zone. You say though, that you retreated. And you became a stay-at-home bookworm. But, you also say for others, especially young black men, that wasn't an option.

Stefanie: Absolutely.

Luvon: So tell me about that.

Stefanie: Okay, and I do want to say I knew everyone that I interviewed in that film, that's how I was connected with them. I grew up in Bushwick. So, I don't, if you didn't grow up in Bushwick, I don't think that you could have made that film because they need to, they need to trust and know who you are. So I knew everyone there.

Luvon: Did your brother know them because later on, you mentioned something about your brother. He called you up and told you about Pooh Bear.

Stefanie: Yeah.

Luvon: Where they your brother's running buddies? Or, were they sort of like you know people around the neighborhood.

Stefanie: Yeah, you know in your area; Bushwick is a community that you didn’t go there unless you lived there. So I knew every…these are people I went to school with my family knew there's a certain trust that that what so when I was making this project and said, hey, will you do this? I think there's a certain amount of trust because holding I live there

Luvon: Props to you. Yeah.

Stefanie: Thank you. So going back to my story and sharing that I kind of retreated. I was, I call myself a nerd. I was a nerd. I like, I did like to study. I did spend a lot of time doing my homework and my mother was fairly strict too. So, we weren't able to hang out late. And, most people, after dark, they were not out in Bushwick. Even if you live there. I do think that as a woman, as a female especially, back then this is an aspect in the first film.

Terra Renee on How She Authored a Chapter in Book About Michelle Obama

Terra Renee shares her thoughts on Michelle Obama, as well as, how African American Women in Cinema is helping black women filmmakers

Interview Transcription:

Kizzy: Black women trying to create their own films often find the doors of opportunity shut to them. But our guest today, Terra Renee, has broken down those doors and created a space for other black women to walk through. Her company African-American Women in Cinema has been around since 1996, and she's here with us today to talk about that and the chapter in a new book called Michelle Obama's Impact on African-American Women and Girls.
Welcome, Terra.

Terra Renee: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate being here.

Kizzy: And, we're honored to have you, so we just want to jump right into the book and how did your chapter in this book come about?

Onika: Yeah, how did that happen?

Terra: Well, here's the story. I received a pass to attend the United Nations; it was actually a three-month pass to attend some events and on the last day, I started not to go. But I went on the last day and there was a program there that caught my attention. So, I went to the program, fabulous program. And, there I met the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells.

Kizzy: Oh my God.

Onika: What was her name?

Terra Renee: Michelle Duster. And so, she was equally excited about meeting me, as I was of her. She told me that she had a deal to write a book about Michelle Obama and her effect and on African American girls and women. And, I was just blown away and she said well, we would love to have your participation.

Kizzy: That's amazing.

Terra Renee: I was shocked and I said, okay, well, I'll try and I wrote something. Several months later, I got an email saying that it was accepted and I was blown away.

Onika: Oh my God.

Terra Renee: And here's the fruit of it.

Onika: So what, what, is her effect on you?

Terra Renee: Mmm, Michelle Obama, her, wow, without giving away too much what I wrote about. First of all, it was an honor to have someone like Michelle Obama as the first lady, her class, or style, as a mother, as a wife, as a woman of who, just I mean, just very intelligent. It was just wonderful to see her on that particular platform and being positive. So, I wrote about some of the unique effects that it had on me as her being in the office, one of which was it appeared that it gave some people permission yo say oh, you're beautiful. Oh, I love the hairstyle you wore, the outfit you have. Because let's face it, Michelle Obama is a fashionista.

Onika: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Terra Renee: So, it was it was an amazing time. Pleasant eight years of just that level of power and confidence being displayed on that level.

Kizzy: right?

Onika: And, being her, just being her, flawed and all.

Kizzy: And, it’s called the Beauty of Michelle Obama, that's what your chapter is called, and you guys gotta pick it up.

Onika: Where can we find the book?

Terra Renee: Right now, it is available online, so you can go to Amazon. And also, if you send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Onika: Say that again slowly for our viewers.

Terra Renee: You can send me an email at info@AAWICdot-org, we will make sure that you can get the link and can purchase your copy.

Onika: Yes. Everyone gets your link.

Kizzy: Right, exactly, exactly. I'm glad you mentioned AAWIC because we got to talk about that too, since 1996, So, we're talking about 22-years.

Terra Renee: Well, actually, 1997. It was an idea and a concept that was birthed out of, supposedly, it was only going to be a one-time event and it came about due to lack of opportunities of women of color in entertainment. And, I wanted to change that. Just so young, and so green, when I got called for an audition that Warner Brothers was shooting a motion picture…

Onika: Because you're an actress.

Terra Renee: Well, I kind of dibbled and dabbled in it. So, they wanted a tall African American woman who was not a size zero for an under-five role and when I got to the audition site, I was blown away to see about a thousand women who fit the bill. And, I said to myself, I got to create jobs.

Onika: That’s what you said to yourself that you got to create jobs? Most people would say, this is too many bitches!!!
Laughter

Kizzy: That would be the exact words.

Laughter

Kizzy: Wow, so you were like thinking in those terms. But didn’t you think about, maybe the obstacles that you would have come up against? Did that ever enter your mind at all?.

Terra Renee: No, no. Just young, ambitious; always had a mindset of wanting to help where there was a need and that's just been in the family line. I had an uncle who marched with Dr. King and was arrested and all that. So, that's always been in the blood. I just see a need and try to fix it. I had no idea what was to come. 

Kizzy: Okay, so you tried to put together that very first film festival, how did that come together?

Terra Renee: Well, actually it was through, well, let me say this and get right to that point. So, in wanting to create jobs for women of color, I wrote a screenplay and that was my way of creating jobs.

Onika: What was it called?

Terra Renee: Oh gosh, it was so long ago.

Laughter

Onika: You remember your first screenplay.

Terra Renee: Actually, it was called Troubled Woman. Yeah, yeah, Troubled Woman. So from there, friends of mine encouraged me to apply for a grant and I didn't want to do it because I did not want to put all that work and effort into it only to be rejected. But, I did it anyway and I ended up getting the grant.

Kizzy: Nice.

Terra Renee: And, there I met a young lady who wanted to be my publicist. When I got the grant, in the letter says we're doing an awards luncheon and you have to come down and pick up your check. So that's their way of making sure everyone come to the luncheon. So when I went there, met the young lady who wanted to be my publicist and out of that meeting, which was only supposed to be a one-time event and I said, okay, I'll call it African-American Women in Cinema. The whole purpose of it was to bring attention and resources so I can fulfill my dream of hiring women in Industry.

Kizzy: Wow.

Terra Renee: But what happened was, women from everywhere came when we launched it, and I said this is a need and I think that this is my calling and what I'm supposed to be doing. And years later, many awards that I didn't even plan or even had the hindsight to see. For example, Woman of the Year from the NAACP.

Onika: That was amazing. Wow.
United States Postal Stamp Hattie McDaniel award and then going to Paris November last year to receive the African Leadership Award in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Institute.

Kizzy: Wow that is amazing.

Onika: What a wonderful journey and such a humble spirit. you come across meek and humble. What a humble spirit.

Kizzy: Very true, you come across very humble.

Onika: We’re sitting with the queen.

Kizzy: Absolutely. In terms of you’re talking about all these awards and all those accolades and stuff like that. Is there, is there something in particular that stands out where you said, oh my God, I cannot believe this is happening right now?

Terra Renee: Well, actually when I went to Paris. I could not believe that I was on a plane, going into this major award ceremony attended by world leaders, was the only woman to receive an award and the award is beautiful. It is like this tall, gold…

Kizzy: And, the name of the award again is?

Terra Renee: The African Leadership Award.

Kizzy: Wow

Terra Renee: For best female manager. That's the title that they gave me really and I was just blown away. But the mission that I set out to do begin slowly, but surely, being accomplished. We were able to offer several years ago filmmakers distribution deals.

Kizzy: Oh, wow, that's a game changer.

Terra Renee: Well it started when the whole, Oscar So White protest jumped off. Yeah, I started getting emails and calls, being contacted by institutions that realize their catalog was not diversified enough and with the name of African American Women in Cinema, we can't get no more diverse than that.

Onika: So how do we partner?

Terra Renee: So that phone call, it was very interesting. So, we end up partnering with the organization called Shorts TV whose founder is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences based in London

Onika: Nice, okay.

Terra Renee: And he offered through his colleague a deal where the filmmakers’ films will be licensed and paid in both Euros as well as US dollars for their film.

Kizzy: Oh, that's amazing. So, you know you're talking about, you know, doing all of these things and you know, seeing a need and filling that need. But the game has changed. It’s changed in the past 20 years or so. How have you seen that kind of change, you know the kinds of films you're getting and how you run your business?

Terra Renee: Well, the whole technical technology really opened up a lot of doors because back when we started, you know even editing was a major and very expensive process.

Onika: Yes, it’s still real tedious right now. Like I'm having issues right now.

Terra Renee: And then at the time, once you splice your film pieces together and the sound, you know, just making sure all that was in sync then it was trying to get a distribution deal.

Onika: Yeah.

Terra Renee: And a lot of the filmmakers that we had at the time, either four-walled a theater or they just had private screenings in different venues like a church, things of that nature. And, then they did the festival circuit and really, you know, tried to drive traffic and promotion around that. But, now since you can upload it and drive traffic to your YouTube channel and things of that nature, that has changed a lot.

Onika: It's still hard though.

Terra Renee: It is hard. You're right because you know, even though the guards were at the door when we started, making sure only a few filmmakers got a major distribution deal, there is a changing of the guard, but it's still a process, it’s still a process. The thing about technology though, if you're able to get a lot of Buzz that can kind of help it a little bit.

Kizzy: Right, exactly.

Onika: But getting the buzz is a thing, especially when you're trying to do stuff, decently, because ratchet sells.

Kizzy: Right!

Onika: Ratchet, naked.

Kizzy: Yeah, it really does.

Terra Renee: The other thing that we do, we’ve been very fortunate to carve out a platform during the Sundance Film Festival.
And so we did that actually a couple years ago. I met up with Leslie Harris, who I love and she said Terra, it's almost my 25th anniversary of Just Another Girl on the IRT and I couldn't believe it was that long right? So we went back to Sundance where she won the Jury, the first African American woman to win a Jury Prize (at Sundance) and we did the screening there and it was so well-received. So, it afforded us a relationship and then this year, we screened our first-ever faith-based film. Oh, it starred Clifton Powell, Traci Braxton Roland Martin.

Onika: Oh nice

Terra Renee: Special cameo of Tasha Cobbs and Lamman Rucker.

Onika: Nice. Oh my goodness.

Terra Renee: And the venue, they loved it so much, we actually ended up winning an award for the best program during the Sundance Film Festival.

Kizzy: Wow. That is so amazing.

Onika: That's big. Oh my God.

Terra Renee: So now we preparing to go next year.

Kizzy: Okay, that's was going to be my next question.

Terra Renee: Yes, okay, and we have a great, great film that we're super excited about, deals with mental health.

Kizzy: Such an important thing right now.

Onika: Yeah, it is.

Terra Renee: Just got off the tour. We launched the anti-gun violence tour.

Kizzy: Yes, yes; I heard about that, you had your final stop here in Brooklyn.

Terra Renee: We are going to do a makeup stop in Chicago next month. But anyway, it was an eye-opener. Very insightful the films that we screen. I think even really encourage the audience to talk even more and what I found so amazing utilizing this medium of bringing or ushering or paving a way to usher in healing. That was one of the biggest things on this tour that I saw. There were people in the audience who were just living in trauma for years, afraid to speak but they felt comfortable in the environment that we created to speak up for the first time what they've been carrying for years.

Kizzy: So, how did you get involved with that big gun violence tour was that something that you said you just wanted to do?

Terra Renee: Well, but this year when we celebrate our 20th anniversary? One or two things that we did that was different and I wanted to intertwine it (social issues) in the festival.
When I went on CNN.com and saw African-American women save democracy, and this was the whole issue that took place in Alabama.

Onika: But that's it now. Yeah, all my white girlfriends say, you know, what's gonna save the world, black women. I said, we already saved it, you keep f*ucking it up. That’s the problem, we already saved it a couple of times. But, okay, we’re the New Black.

Terra Renee: So when I saw that article and was the whole Roy Moore thing. Yeah, and I said, you know, we need to do a keynote panel on the importance of voting so that our young people could understand their power. I don't think it's been really. Really, you know taught to them in that way.

Onika: And, get into local politics and become community organizers and stuff like that. There are so many black women are going into local politics. And, look at Tish James,

Terra Renee: We’re so proud of her.

Onika: Yes, Tish, is my girl; she was at my first event. I had this event, Politics in the City, and she came to speak. She was running for public advocate then. Now, I know the AG, I think somebody needs to bow down. I am so proud.

Terra Renee: Yes, very proud.

Onika: And once we get to the table, like pass the peas. we know what is need it because we've watched and guided for so long. We have ushered so many people to greatness and just sitting there like that is so great, say that, don't say that, that's enough. That’s us, that’s us. Oh, I am so glad that you are here. You have given me some superpower. oh my God. I can do all things in Christ and black ladies.

Terra Renee: Thank you. Thank you. So, we had the keynote panel and what really touched me was the young people that came and showed up. So we had leaders from the NAACP. And different other organizations that really imparted some words to them. And, subsequently during that time, unfortunately, was another mass shooting, the Parkland Park.

Kizzy: Oh my gosh. It's like so many so many, over, and over again.

Onika: Because of mental health.

Terra Renee: Yeah, but when I saw that the young people stood up and fought. I said we have to do something. So we outreached to our connections in a couple cities and said listen, we got to add our voice to this serious issue.

Kizzy: Wow, you're just kind of like that trailblazer, you see a need and then you fill it. That's amazing.

Terra Renee: Thank you. That went really well and it went so well and what really touched me was the level of support from the cities that we went to, the elected officials that came and participated and lent their voices and then we really got to see what was going on behind the scenes if you will. And, so now we're going to gather all that Intel, as we say and now put together a plan to see how we can even be of a greater effect going forward.

Kizzy: Wow. Wow. So, you’re partnering with people moving forward?

Terra Renee: Yes. Yes.

Onika: How do we assist, how do we assist at What’s The 411, let us know.

Terra Renee: Yes, definitely going to be, once we gather all our information and having everything structurized (ed) if you will; will definitely be reaching out. And saying let you know how you can be a part of we’d love to have you.

Kizzy: Oh my, God; there’s so much gun violence in our community that it is such an emergency.

Onika: We try to bring so much joy, but you know these things that are happening we have to talk about them.

Kizzy: Going forward now, 21 years going into 22 years. What can we expect from AAWIC?

Terra Renee: Well there's a lot that we're doing. We are preparing for our 21st annual film festival in March. It's going to be really, really good four days.

Onika: It's going to be in New York?

Terra Renee: It's going to be in New York City prior to that again Sundance. Looks like we're doing a new partnership for the Cannes Film Festival in May so working on that is amazing.

Kizzy: Okay. And so what does that partnership entail?

Terra Renee: Well, we're looking to actually work on the diversity matter out there and bringing forth women of color and their talents and showcasing them.

Kizzy: Right. Yes, important; again, diversity, diversity, diversity that matters. Representation.

Terra Renee: Yes.

Kizzy: Have you get have you got any pushback though? I know it's like you, you know, you're trying to push and you trying to leave the door open? But have you got any pushback from the industry to your efforts?

Terra Renee: Well, yes in a lot of sense, especially when we first started because you know, the industry is click, click, click. Cliquish. And so, when someone doesn't realize your value. And would not take the opportunity to get to know you and see there's an opportunity to partner and look at it as a win-win situation. It makes it a little harder to find those who will right, right?

Kizzy: Okay. So that was the biggest thing you kind of create those Partnerships.

Onika: So, now you have your tribe because you say “we” all the time you've not said “I” not one time, right, right? So now you have your tribe.

Terra Renee: Yeah long time coming, still working on a few things as always but excited.

Kizzy: Okay, so talk to us. Filmmaker, right now, black woman wanting to you know, push forth their film; how would they do that? What would your advice be to them?

Terra Renee: Well, I suggest that they certainly come to the film festival. They can meet and network because a lot of things happen in networking. Quick, quick story.

Onika: Yes, getting the, getting the lighting, getting the sound. It's all about who you started out because people do stuff on the strength. You like, you’re not going to charge me? No, no, no; I believe in the project. You, do? It's not as expensive as you think.

Terra Renee: Quick Story, one year we had Mr. Robert Townsend and he gave his workshop on how'd he made his first feature film. There was an inspiring actress in the audience. And so, after he told his story, she was inspired now to become a filmmaker. The same year, we honored Regina King. So she met Regina and somehow Regina felt comfortable enough to give her, her cell phone number. And, they connected, and; she ended up doing a short film starring Regina King and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Kizzy: What, look at God.

Onika: How much are those tickets?

Terra Renee: Going to these events is worth the while right? Yeah, you see it. Yeah, and you know as a filmmaker because not only do you get to meet people who can help you but also you learn of opportunities that can push what you're doing forward, right?

Kizzy: Exactly. Absolutely. It's all about networking who you know making those Partnerships. Absolutely. So, what is your website? How can they find you? How can they connect to you?

Terra Renee: Sure, it's www.awcwire.com org?

Onika: A-A-W-I-C-dot org, guys.

Terra Renee: You can email us at info at A-A-W-I-C-dot-org as well.

Onika: Okay, perfect. And your social media handles?

Terra Renee: Yeah, Instagram is at A-A-W-I-C-Fest. Twitter is at A-A-W-I-C. And the Facebook is African-American Woman in Cinema International Film Fest…

Onika: Perfect, amazing. Thank you so much. You can come back anytime exactly. This guy's please get your copy.

Terra Renee: Yeah. I'm doing chapter signing December 3rd in Times Square.

Onika: Are you really?

Terra Renee: Yes?

Onika: Okay, December 3rd. What time?

Terra Renee: 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Onika: Where?

Well the address we will if you email us at info at AAWICdot-org

Onika: It will be on your Facebook, right?

Terra Renee: Yes.

Onika: Okay. So just follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and when they put it on their social media handles and you guys can get it on December 3rd.

Onika: So, that'll do it for this week's episode of What's The 411, your smart source for entertainment news. So, since she took my first line. I'm gonna go with the second line. Okay, and hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel, WhatsThe411TV.

Onika: You can listen to our podcast on Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, and Apple Podcast.

Onika: Yes, yes, subscribe, subscribe to our YouTube channel, right? And it's, oh you said that already,…

Kizzy Cox: Yes, I did.

Onika: I’m Onika McLean and on behalf of Kizzy Cox because I just stole her lines, until next week.

Widows is a Film to Both Mourn and Celebrate [MOVIE REVIEW]

They knew their husbands were involved in the unsavory and illegal activity of thievery. And when their spouses were killed pulling off a major heist, they also knew that day might come. But what they didn’t expect was to be threatened with death, if they didn’t repay money stolen by their now deceased partners. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki play the widows who have to delve into a world they know very little about to save their own lives.

The movie, Widows, boasts an exceptional cast and compelling story but is badly tainted by a virtual smorgasbord of negative stereotypes of the African American community.

While any plot involving criminals displays seedy characters; in Widows, this seediness if mainly painted black. There’s the dishonest, self-serving black pastor; thugs parading as legitimate politicians; a ruthless, very dark-skinned enforcer/killer; and African Americans, are referred to as people who kill each other and who can’t stop making babies.

And of the black women characters, one gets made a fool of romantically, and the other is a masculine, athletic man-woman.

As is often the case with these types of troubling portrayals, this script is the product of a black man, Steve McQueen, who co-wrote and directed the film.

Viola Davis is absolutely amazing. A powerful screen presence, coupled with an uncommon ability to display a full range of emotions, each with authenticity and credibility. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of roles for 40ish African American women and they often have to take what is offered to them.

Widows gets a cast diversity rating of “A-”. Set in Chicago, it contains actors of color but not as many Hispanics and Asians as should be, for the highly diverse Windy City.

At two hours and 10 minutes, this movie goes on way too long. As I have said in the past, few films tell a story that takes more than 90 to 100 minutes to tell. It’s rated “R” for violence and language.

The verdict is: See Widows. Despite my criticisms, if this film succeeds we’ll see more of Viola on the screen. And that would be a very good thing!

Green Book Gets the Green Light! [MOVIE REVIEW]

It’s the 1960s and Don Shirley, originally from Jamaica, a renowned classical pianist, is the darling of the east coast wealthy elite. While he’s not the outspoken civil right advocate type, he believes that displaying his talents in the segregated south might help to change the rigidly racist views held in that part of the country. So Shirley (Mahershala Ali), or Dr. Shirley, as he was referred to because of his Ph.D., and his record company hired-bouncer, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) to serve as his driver/bodyguard during the trip south. The odd couple has very little in common. Shirley is highly educated, cultured and lives alone in his Manhattan penthouse. Vallelonga is a family man, not formally educated and steeped in the customs of the Bronx Italian American community where he lives.

Green Book is everything a film should be. It’s amusing, entertaining and educational. The film’s title refers to the real publication, The Negro Motorist Green Book, which guided black travelers as to what hotels and facilities they could stay in, eat at and/or have their vehicles serviced while traveling through segregated states.

The two characters exchanged views and disagreed on about everything from food to music, to driving habits, and even on writing letters. There’s a validity to positions taken by both of them. And Dr. Shirley’s lack of familiarity with black performers such as Chubby Checker and Aretha Franklin shocks Vallelonga.

The fact that the screenplay’s co-written by Nick Vallelonga, and the director, Peter Farrelly results in Vallelonga’s character being a bit more credible and consistent. Dr. Shirley’s character is written where he knows well the rules of the Jim Crow south and seems to accept them but without any explanation tries to reject them. Like when he suddenly insists on eating in the formal dining room at a club where he played. This had not been an issue before or thereafter. So why in that scene?

However, in a very subtle and effective way, the screenwriters capture the doctor’s loneliness as a well-educated and refined single black man who would never be accepted as a part of a community of people he performed for; and did not have much in common with most black Americans at that time.

Based upon a true story set in the early 1960s, the film’s dialogue has some current day phrases like traveling while black. And the often heard rhetorical question about strange behavior: Who does that?

Part of the Green Book’s success is due to the excellent performances of the two lead characters. There has been Oscar buzz about both Ali and Mortensen. The selection of the darker Ali to play lighter hued, Dr. Shirley, raises an issue that black journalists have discussed before: why are famous black people played by actors who look nothing them, i.e. the fair skinned, light eyed, Terrence Howard playing the South African leader, Nelson Mandela. While how much a performer looks like the famed white person he or she will play, is always a factor.

The characters reflect not only the rich diversity of cultures in New York City but how very different communities reside in close proximity. Vallelonga’s folksy Bronx neighborhood was very likely no more than a mile or two from Dr. Shirley’s wealthy Manhattan enclave.

The cast of the film is diverse. However, it’s difficult to grade the diversity of the cast of a true movie. It has to be assumed that the scenes accurately reflect the races of the people at the time the events occurred.

Ultimately, Green Book is more than a movie; it’s an experience. It gets a See It! rating. It’s rated PG-13 for language, smoking, violence, and some suggestive material. Green Book is 130 minutes in length.

China's Alibaba Singles Day Sales Beats Black Friday and Prime Day by a Mile

Alibaba-created Singles Day holiday generates more than $30 billion in sales in one day for the Chinese online platform

You think Black Friday shopping in the U.S. is huge? Yes, it is, but it pales in comparison to China's largest one-day shopping day, Singles Day, a day when single people in China get to celebrate their singleness. And, this year, on November 11, 2018, Singles Day sales reached $30 billion in one day on Alibaba’s platform. Yes, you read that right $30 billion with a “b”. By comparison, in 2017, online sales on the Black Friday weekend, which now starts on Thanksgiving and rolls right into Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, were approximately $20 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. It is important to note that the Black Friday weekend sales were across many retailers and not just one as in the case of Alibaba.

Screenshot Adobe Analytics 2017 Holiday Season Retail Ecommerce Sales

Alibaba, a company based in China, is described by many in the U.S., as the “Amazon” of China. However, Amazon more than likely aspires to have sales like Alibaba, but it’s not there yet. In 2018, Amazon says it had its largest Prime Day ever with Prime members purchasing more than 100 million products.

How does that translate into dollars, you ask? We don’t know exactly, as Amazon has not given that number. In Amazon’s press release announcing its 3Q2018 earnings report the company said, "Amazon's biggest global shopping event ever, welcoming more new Prime members on July 16th than any other previous day in Amazon history."

Although Amazon did not mention “Prime Day” in its 3Q2018 press release, the company did mention various “Prime” products and services at least 25 times in its release.

But Amazon being mum on the Prime Day sales number did not stop market research firms from providing their Amazon Prime Day sales estimates. RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney told Reuters that Amazon probably made between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in revenue from this year’s Prime Day. Internet Retailer estimates sales hit $4.19 billion globally this year during the 36-hour sale July 16-17, up nearly 74% from $2.41 billion during last year’s Prime Day (a 30-hour sales event July 11-12, 2017). While, before Prime Day, the retail think tank Coresight Research predicted sales would reach $3.4 billion, about $1 billion more than last year.

When you think about the reported most popular Prime Day purchases in the United States being Instant Pots, personal water filters and the 23andMe DNA test, and total Prime Day sales being under, well let’s stretch it to $10 billion, and Black Friday Weekend in 2017 registering just under $20 billion, you can begin to see why American businesses have their eye on China.

As Amazon is an international company, its revenue on Prime Day comes from international markets as well. So what were the big categories internationally for Amazon? Well, various market research sources say the big products purchased by Amazon’s international customers on Amazon Prime Day were video games and consoles, smartphones, pans, light bulbs, and laundry detergent.

Now, this article is not meant to bash Amazon, Not in the least, it’s just an opportunity to focus on China’s consumer market and to help people to understand why U.S. businesses big and small want to get their products into China. Additionally, Amazon Prime Day is a big day for many small and mid-sized businesses. Amazon says that sales for its marketplace merchants far exceeded $1 billion, which is a big deal if you’re part of that group.

If you own a small to a mid-sized company selling your products to people and companies in China or, looking to sell into the China where $30 billion was spent with one company in one day, you probably know you can't expect to replicate Alibaba's success, as it is the hometown team. But you’re probably praying that the U.S.-China tariff negotiations are going well. No business wants to be on the outside looking in, particularly when a country has more people in the middle class than the United States has people.

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Congratulations to New York Association of Black Journalists (NYABJ)

NYABJ Named a Finalist for NABJ Professional Chapter of the Year

The NY Chapter of the Association of Black Journalist, representing the nation's largest media market also had a strong year of membership growth and program development.

Michael Feeney, a reporter with New York Daily News and 2010's NABJ Emerging Journalist of the Year, credits the chapter’s networking events as one of the reasons NYABJ's paid memberships has grown to more than 140 members. This includes its hugely successful Late Summer Mixer, at Neely's Barbecue Parlor in Manhattan. The mixers have become such a draw that RSVP is required.

NYABJ remained on the political forefront of the 2012 election season by teaming up with Young Professionals United for Change for a Vice Presidential debate watch party, with remarks from Roland Martin and Keli Goff. Feeney said Actress Lynn Whitfield also attended; and the chapter also hosted a Presidential Election panel, Campaigns through the Lens of the Media on the night before the elections.

NYABJ's signature annual Scholarship & Awards Banquet increased in notoriety and recognition in 2012.

"We honored the work of more than 40 journalists,” said Feeney. “The event also garnered widespread media attention because Beyoncé was among the award winners. She thanked NYABJ in a video posted online."

Beyoncé was honored for Essence article "Eat, Play, Love," about how a nine-month break changed her life.

NYABJ also kept true to its purpose of honoring pioneers in journalism and grooming the next generation.

"We also honored WNBC anchor Sue Simmons in a special awards ceremony," Feeney added.

He also praised NYABJ's FIRST TAKE, a free eight-week high school journalism workshop that meets once a week at Brooklyn's Long Island University campus. It trains some 20 students in reporting and producing stories in multimedia formats under the tutelage of NYC's top journalists.

"We know that the workshop is giving city kids something positive to do and it's helping to mold the next wave of journalists. We're so proud of this program and the kids amaze us every year," Feeney continued.

Chance to Win Two Tickets to See Jay-Z in Concert Sweepstakes!

Your Chance to Win Two Tickets to See Jay-Z in Concert from Your Friends at What's The 411 Networks!

All you need to do is, "Like" What's The 411's Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/WhatsThe411TV) and then complete the entry form.

You will be entered into the sweepstakes to win a pair of concert tickets to see Jay-Z rock the house on Monday, October 1, 2012, at 8:00 p.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY!

Invite your friends to enter! The more your friends register from your link, the more you increase your chances of winning, so share away!

You must be 18 years of age and over to win these tickets. This is a ticket only contest.

Good Luck!!!!

Noel Pointer Court Makes Its Debut

Noel Pointer Court is Not Your Typical Low-Moderate Housing Complex

Today was the ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony for Noel Pointer Court, a newly-constructed residential building with 23 affordable apartments developed by Bridge Street Development Corporation (BSDC).

As you can see from the photos, this is not your typical low-to-moderate income housing. Kudos to BSDC!

The building, named in honor of the late Brooklyn-born jazz violinist Noel Pointer, is located at 790 Lafayette Avenue between Throop and Marcus Garvey Avenues in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Low-and moderate-income tenants for the eight 1-bedroom and fifteen 2-bedroom apartments were selected via a public lottery process conducted in partnership with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

More than 4,000 applications were received.

42: The Story of Jackie Robinson Integrating Major League Baseball [MOVIE REVIEW]

42 is the saga of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier and becoming the first black player in Major League Baseball. Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson.

Veteran actor, Harrison Ford stars as Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager who signed Robinson.

Nicole Beharie is featured as Robinson's biggest fan and wife, Rachel.

42 is a stimulating, historic, well-produced, and directed movie and it gets our highest rating: See It!.

While the cast is strong, Chadwick Boseman lacks the on-screen presence to succeed in the leading role. He's overshadowed by Harrison Ford in every scene they share. Boseman is even minimized by Nicole Beharie when they are on camera together. It's a combination of Boseman's weak persona and stellar performances of Ford and Beharie.

While much praise has been given to Branch Rickey for his courageous move in signing Robinson, 42 touches briefly on one of Rickey's primary motivations: economics. Urban areas where most major league teams played, had large black communities who stayed away from the segregated major leagues. Signing black players was one way to get those communities to come to games.

The movie focuses upon the racism faced by Robinson but also taught subtle lessons on bigotry. In one scene, a father and son sat excited in their anticipation of seeing the Dodgers play their home team. When Robison was introduced, the father along with other adults began calling the Dodger rookie the "N" word. The boy seemed a bit confused at first. But then soon joined in the slurring of Robinson. The kid had just learned to be a racist.

The film also references the fact that some players threatened to leave the league rather play with Robinson.

One final point, the baseball scenes are well staged, so sports fans won't be disappointed.

42 is rated PG-13 and is less than 2 hours. And again it's a See It.

10 Reasons Why Fans Were Disappointed With Hot 97 Summer Jam

Hot 97’s Summer Jam XX Recap

On Sunday, June 2, I witnessed my first HOT 97 Summer Jam and please believe me when I say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Along the 2-mile walk from where the Port Authority bus dropped me off in MetLife Stadium to the press entrance, I walked past a huge parade filled with people from all types of backgrounds.

Hip-hop heads gathered as one in the parking lot, celebrating like it was a major summer holiday--tailgating and barbecuing food; they were really getting ready for a great night.

Summer Jam was too good on paper. It gave us good music and a decent show, but it felt too much like a high school performance—safe, organized and fluent. Don't get me wrong, safety and organization are great attributes for a concert, particularly one the size of Hot 97 Summer Jam. However, we all wanted to see more than the ordinary production; i.e., last-minute surprises and performances outside the box.

It was evident that some fans left Summer Jam XX disappointed and here are 10 reasons why:

1. Joe Budden did a great job kicking off Summer Jam, but bringing out Tank was the highlight of his performance. (Not really a disappointment about Tank, I just love Tank.)

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Joe Budden

2. Miguel performed a relevant performance by bringing out Mariah Carey and J. Cole, but I wanted him to do more like jumping into the crowd to make up for the 2013 Billboard Awards.

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Miguel

J Cole 1 resized 500x333J-Cole

3. Chris Brown's performance was way too long. Although he electrified some of the women in the audience, he shifted the momentum of the crowd starting off his set with Beautiful People. That was a huge mistake! Summer Jam equals Hip Hop, not Pop. We wanted to hear Look At Me Now first. He could've preserved his opening act for the BET Awards coming up in a few weeks. Breezy's vocals were on point though, but he should've just gone before Miguel.

Chris Brown 1 resized 500x333Chris-Brown

4. There was the 'almost' highlight of the night when Fabolous brought Lil Kim onto the stage. At the end of the duo's performance, Fab appeared to have been introducing another female artist, who many rumored to be Foxy Brown, but didn't. Ebro of Hot 97 claimed that Foxy showed up late, while other bloggers said she couldn't find her earpiece. Nonetheless, Foxy should've been on that stage!!!!!

Lil Kim Fabolous 1 resized 500x333Lil-Kim and Fabolous

 

5. Now on to Nicki Minaj. 2 Chainz's performance with Nicki Minaj was way too short. First off, Nicki skipped out on Summer Jam last year, so why not SHUT the stage down this year with a song of your own? Nicki--How can you come out for 1.5 minutes, then just bounce like that?

Nikki Minaj 2 Chainz 1 resized 500x333Nikki-Minaj and 2-Chainz 

 

6. Okay, back to Foxy. All night, Hot 97's DJ's and personalities were teasing who was backstage. Rosenberg alluded to the fact that women were going to dominate Summer Jam, but that never happened. 

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I may have been the only one daydreaming, but I was hoping Foxy, Lil Kim and Nicki would all be on the stage at one time. I'm still dreaming....

 

7. Kendrick Lamar was by far the best performer at Summer Stage, but he should've brought out Jay-Z. When word got around that Beyonce and Jay-Z were in the building, everyone was pretty much convinced that the royal couple was going to hit the stage. Well, that didn't happen either. Seriously, this was the 20th anniversary of Summer Jam, Hov could have rapped his verse to B**** Don't Kill My Vibe?

Kendrick Lamar 1 resized 500x333Kendrick-Lamar

 

8. Everyone seemed to have been upset that Papoose took the stage, but he was actually the highlight of the night. I don't know why he felt the need to say "Free Remy Ma," because no one cared.

 

9. I respect WuTang for their contributions to hip-hop, but for the generation that I witnessed in the crowd, they seemed far less interested. I think they would've been a better closing act.

Wu Tang 1 resized 500x333Wu-Tang 1 resized 500x333

 

10. French Montana, the headliner of Summer Jam closed out the five-hour concert and was probably on stage for less than ten minutes (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but it was brief.) The highlight of his set was when fellow rap artists Rick Ross and Lil Wayne ran out and performed the hit single, Pop That. The crowd went crazy, of course. But moments later, the lights came on and Summer Jam was over, just like that. Fans exited the stadium in a somber mood, and so did I. Personally, I rode the bus home still wishing that Foxy and Jay would've graced the stage. Maybe it's just the Brooklyn sentimentality in me.

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French Montana, Lil-Wayne, and Rick-Ross

But, until next time...

 

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