Review: ‘1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed,’ a documentary directed by W. Kamau Bell about mixed-race children and their family members

May 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Kanani (center) with her mother Pica (pictured at left) and father Anibal (pictured at right) in “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed”

Directed by W. Kamau Bell

Culture Representation: Taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area, the documentary film “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed” features a racially diverse group of middle-class family members discussing what it’s like to be in multiracial families.

Culture Clash: Mixed-race children experience issues such as racism and pressure to identify with one race over another. 

Culture Audience: “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a documentary about multiracial families, although the movie is admittedly limited to the director W. Kamau Bell’s circle of friends and family members.

Interviewees in “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed.” Pictured in top row, from left to right; father Bongo, daughter Samaya and mother Joti; siblings Myles and Georgio; mother Pica, daughter Kanani and father Anibal. Middle row, pictured from left to right: father Bryant, daughter Mila and mother Jidan; uncle Greg and niece Kaylin; paternal grandmother Janet, granddaughter Juno, granddaughter Sami and maternal grandmother Chris. Bottom row, from left to right: father Paolo, daughter Presley and mother Jenn; siblings Khalil, Anisa and Ibrahim; friends Carter and Nola. (Photo collage courtesy of HBO)

The insightful documentary “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed” has wonderfully thoughtful groups of multiracial people and some of their families candidly sharing their stories. “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed” director/executive producer W. Kamau Bell, who has biracial children, briefly narrates the movie and can be heard off-camera asking some of the interview questions. Bell tells viewers up front that he mostly interviewed members of his family and his social circle in the politically liberal San Francisco Bay Area. All of the interviewees, except for Bell’s family members, do not have their last names revealed in the documentary. John Legend, who is also a father of multiracial children, is one of the other executive producers of the documentary, but Legend and his family are not in this movie.

The biggest drawback to this one-hour documentary is that there could have been more variety in the socioeconomic statuses and residencies of the interviewees. The people who are interviewed clearly have the privilege of being educated and living in an area where there are numerous interracial families. However, these advantages don’t mean that their stories are less valid or less meaningful, or that they don’t experience racism and other ignorance that all multiracial families experience at one time or another.

W. Kamau Bell (who is African American) and his wife Melissa (who is white), who have been married since 2009, have three daughters: Sami, Juno and Asha. Their eldest daughter Sami (who was 10 years old when she was interviewed for the documentary) and middle daughter Juno (who was 7 years old) have obviously been taught well about what to say about living life in a multiracial family. Like all of the kids in the documentary, they are intelligent, articulate and empathetic when it comes to race and social issues.

Juno says she wasn’t aware of how many people expect her to identify as only one race until a girl at her school incorrectly told Juno that Juno is white. Juno said she felt sad that one of her races wasn’t acknowledged. It’s a challenge that all the mixed-race interviewees say that they’ve experienced at some point in their lives: people expecting multiracial people to prefer or identify with one race over another. And those expectations don’t always come from outsiders. They often come from within a family or from multiracial people themselves.

The good news for multiracial families that is there is now more awareness and tolerance for people’s mixed-race identities, compared to previous decades, when it comes to checking racial identity boxes on documents. In the past, the box would often just say “other” for multiracial people. Now, the box is more likely to say “mixed-race” or “multiracial.”

Myles, an 11-year-old interviewee whose father is African American and whose mother is Filipina, has a brother named Georgio, who is 22 years older than Myles. Georgio and Myles, who both love to play basketball, are interviewed separately and together in the film. Georgio says that when he was Myles’ age, there weren’t as many resources and information for mixed-race people as there are now. “I’m glad that space is there,” Georgio comments about this cultural shift in American society that makes more room for multiracial people.

Georgio also says that where a mixed-race child goes to school can make a big difference in that person’s self-esteem and views of the world. Georgio remembers that when he was in elementary school, he was one of only a few kids in the school who had being black as part of their racial identities, so he identified more as Filipino, because he felt he would be more accepted that way. Georgio’s middle school had many more black students than his elementary school did, but Georgio says he wasn’t fully accepted by black people at the middle school because the black people thought Georgio wasn’t “black enough.” Georgio says he found acceptance and comfort by being on the school’s basketball team, but the racism he experienced still had an effect on him.

One of the best things about “1000% Me” is that it acknowledges the harsh reality that people of color are often judged in terms of a warped racial hierarchy, where certain non-white races are considered “better” than others. An example is a story told by Kaylin, a 16-year-old girl who identifies as black, white and Korean. Her parents are also mixed-race.

Kaylin’s mother has African American as part of her racial identity. Kaylin confesses that her mother won’t like it that Kaylin is sharing this family secret in the documentary, but she says that when her mother filled out the racial identity part of Kaylin’s school application, her mother only identified Kaylin as white and Asian, not as black. Kaylin’s mother is not interviewed in the documentary, but Kaylin’s guidance counselor uncle Greg is interviewed, because he and Kaylin have a close relationship. Greg says his white mother never liked to talk about race.

Kaylin says she felt very hurt at the time she found out that that her own mother was denying that Kaylin is partially black. But now, Kaylin says she understands why her mother did that: Because of black people’s history of enslavement and other oppression in America, Kaylin thinks her mother wanted to protect Kaylin from the racists who think black people are the lowest of all the races. It’s a pathetically racist mindset to rank one race as better than another, but it’s unfortunately true, if you look at how many people don’t have a problem interacting with any race except black people.

And oftentimes, white supremacy is internalized by people of color who want to look as white as possible in order to be accepted. Paolo (who is a Filipino immigrant) and his white American wife Jenn met through their mutual passion for motorcycle riding. They have a daughter named Presley (named after Elvis Presley), who loves to sing (she rides with her father on his karaoke motorcycle), play bass guitar and play volleyball. All three family members are interviewed in the documentary.

Paolo says that when he was growing up in the Philippines, he was taught not to get too tan because he was told that it was desirable to have the lightest skin tone possible. When he moved to America as a child, he only wanted to be friends with white people, because he thought it would make his life easier. Paolo says that it wasn’t until after Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S. that Paolo started to embrace his Filipino identity. Paolo comments that this awakening was a reaction to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, which disproportionately targeted non-white immigrants.

Speaking of immigrants in America, the documentary also addresses the issues of multiracial children who not only have more than one cultural identity but are also the children of non-English-speaking immigrants and therefore speak more than one language. Such is the case with 11-year-old Kanani. Her father Anibal is a Latino and indigenous immigrant originally from Costa Rica. Kanani’s mother Pica is a white American who was raised in the San Diego area.

Kanani and her parents, who are all interviewed in the documentary, talk about how Kanani is being raised with a strong sense of her Costa Rican heritage. Kanani says she goes to visit her father’s side of the family in Costa Rica at least twice a year, and she participates in traditional Costa Rican customs. Kanani’s parents also made the decision to teach her to speak only Spanish before she was old enough to go to school. Kanani’s parents figured that Kanani could learn English when she reached kindergarten age.

Even though the United States does not have an official language, Pica describes getting a rude awakening about the hostility that people can get in America if they don’t speak English. She said it happened when Kanani was pre-school age, and some kids around the same age got into a dispute with Kanani. One of the other kid’s mothers told Pica that the dispute wouldn’t have happened if Kanani knew how to speak English. Pica gets teary and emotional when she remembers this experience, while admitting that because she grew up as a white person in America, she wasn’t fully aware that kids who aren’t white could experience this type of racism at such an early age.

Some interracial couples give their children names that are combination of both parents’ cultural heritages. A 7-year-old girl named Sumaya and her parents Bongo (who is originally from Guinea) and her mother Joti (who is originally from India) was given a name that is a mixture of these two cultures. Bongo and Joti also have another daughter, and the spouses made the unusual decision to give the two daughters different surnames. Sumaya has Boti’s last name, while the other daughter has Joti’s maiden last name.

Meanwhile, 10-year-old Mila’s full first name is Funmilayo. She was named after Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a Nigerian activist/educator. Mila’s middle name is Chow-Mei Mia’s father Bryant is an African American who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. Mila’s mother Jidan is a Chinese American who grew up in Berkely, California. All three family members are interviewed in the movie.

Three siblings with an African American father and a Pakistani mother are interviewed in the documentary: Anisa (11 years old) and her brothers Ibrahim (13 years old) and Khalil (15 years old). All three siblings are being raised as Muslim. Anisa says she’s proud to be the only Muslim in her school class and that she enjoys wearing traditional Muslim clothing (such as a hijab) in public. Anisa says the only thing that bothers her about her family is that her brothers sometimes pick on her because she’s smaller than she is and because she’s a girl.

Another multiracial kid who’s very confident about her racial identity is Mila, who refuses to choose one race over another. Mila’s mother Jidan gets emotional when remembering how she and Bryant got into a big argument when Jidan was younger because Bryant didn’t want Jidan to go to school with mismatched socks, while Jidean didn’t think it was that big of a deal that the socks were mismatched. Bryant had to explain to Jidan that he didn’t want people at the school to think that Jidan was a black girl who wasn’t getting proper care at home.

It’s a prejudice that Bryant said he learned from experience growing up in the Deep South that could lead to bigger problems for African American kids and their parents. Jidan says it pained her to find out that something as simple as wearing mismatched socks to school could have different repercussions for black kids, compared to kids of other races. Now that Mila is older, Bryant says he’s relaxed his views on what types of socks that Mila can wear.

An interesting part of the documentary is when W. Kamau Bell’s mother Janet and Melissa Bell’s mother Chris are interviewed together about what it was like growing up in racially segregated America and what it’s like to be grandmothers of mixed-race children. A segment in the documentary shows granddaughters Sami and Juno sitting in between their grandmothers on couch. Sami explains to Juno for the first time how in their grandmother’s youth, it was legal for white people to be kept separate from all other races and to have more rights than other races. Juno is shown looking shocked that her grandmothers and other people had to live this way in America.

A mixed-race man named Roy, who says he was born in 1941, also recalls this shameful era in America. He says back then, people didn’t know what to call his racial identity except “mulatto” (which is a word he disliked), or he was simply identified as “black” or “Negro,” since he obviously wasn’t completely white.

“1000% Me” also includes mixed-race people who are adopted by white people. In the case of best friends Carter and Nola (both 13-year-old girls), they were each adopted by white lesbian couples. Carter, who is black and Latina, is W. Kamau Bell’s goddaughter. Nola is white and black. Carter says that there are racial issues that her white mothers might not fully understand, so she’s grateful that she can sometimes get support and advice from her adopted 22-year-old African American sister Olivia, who is briefly shown in the movie with Carter and Nola. As Nola says in the documentary about being a mixed-race person: “Being multiple things doesn’t make you any less of those things.”

Mixed-race people have always existed, but it’s taken a surprisingly long time for there to be a comprehensive documentary film about it. Census data statistics suggest that the numbers of mixed-race people will continue to grow in the United States. “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed” is an admirable start to helping open up the conversation even more about mixed-race people.

Erica, who identifies as black and Japanese, is a therapist interviewed in the documentary. She has this to say about race relations in America: “We have a lot of work to do. We live in a deeply racist society … There’s a lot of danger in not talking about race.” In other words, ignoring the problem will only make it worse. “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed” is a worthy step in the right direction to helping being a solution to the problem.

HBO and HBO Max premiered “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed” on May 2, 2023.

Max debuts culinary unscripted series ‘What Am I Eating? With Zooey Deschanel’

May 4, 2023

Zooey Deschanel discussing salad shopping in “What Am I Eating? With Zooey Deschanel” (Photo courtesy of Max)

The following is a press release from Max (formerly known as HBO Max):

The Max Original six-episode unscripted series WHAT AM I EATING? WITH ZOOEY DESCHANEL debuts TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2023 on Max. The series is produced by ATTN:, a Candle Media company.

Logline: Zooey Deschanel is on a mission to solve everyday food dilemmas by asking the tough questions we all have about what we eat. In the supermarket and in our own kitchens, Zooey explores common food mysteries and reveals the shocking truths big food manufacturers want to hide as she uncovers simple solutions to the question, “What am I eating?”

Episode Descriptions:

Episode 1: “Big, Fat Lies” – Let’s face it. Fat. Is. Delicious. Turns out, it’s also nutritious, and we may have all been lied to for decades. Zooey Deschanel works with correspondents Carlos Parisi and Sophia Roe to give us the skinny on the right fats and oils we should be buying.

Episode 2: “Down To Fruit?” – Fruit can be organic, conventional, fresh or preserved, and the options are overwhelming! Zooey Deschanel joins Dariany Santana and Carlos Parisi to uncover which fruits should be our new BFFs and if non-organic is the friend we never knew we had.

Episode 3: “Cereal Thriller” – From sugar bombs to fruity circles, modern cereal has strayed far from its healthy origins. Zooey Deschanel gets some help from correspondents Carlos Parisi and Kevin Curry to discover new ways to get cereal back on the breakfast table.

Episode 4: “Stop Ghosting Greens” – In a world that thinks greens are gross, tasteless, and boring, Zooey Deschanel gets some pro tips from Dariany Santana and Kevin Curry that uncover the most delicious trends in the “greeniverse” and pinpoint the dream greens we should all be eating.

Episode 5: “No Pain, Eat Your Grain” – With diets avoiding carbs like the plague, grains have gotten a bad rap for years. Zooey Deschanel and correspondent Paola Velez flip the script as they explore ways to help us decide which grains should become our new grocery aisle buddies.

Episode 6: “Is Chocolate The Lover You’ve Been Neglecting?” – Zooey Deschanel considers eating chocolate every day as she decodes the mysteries surrounding one of the world’s most beloved sweets. Plus, correspondent Sophia Roe visits a chocolate farm to prove chocolate should be sliding into your DMs.

Review: ‘Santa Camp,’ starring Dan Greenleaf, Chris Kennedy, Finbar Chiappara and Levi Truax

December 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Santa Camp” (Photo by John Tully/HBO Max)

“Santa Camp”

Directed by Nick Sweeney

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2021, in various parts of the United States, the documentary film “Santa Camp” features a group of predominantly white people (and some African Americans) from the working-class and middle-class who are connected in some way to the annual Santa Camp and the business of dressing up as Santa Claus and his wife.

Culture Clash: While many people embrace more diversity in what Santa Claus can look like, other people are very much against having a Santa Claus who isn’t presented as a white, heterosexual, cisgender man. 

Culture Audience: “Santa Camp” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in getting a behind-the-scenes look at how people are trained to be a professional Santa Claus and how this business is adjusting to having more diversity.

Finbar “Santa Fin” Chiappara and his mother Suki, also known as Mama Claus, in “Santa Camp” (Photo by John Tully/HBO Max)

“Santa Camp” is a delightful and interesting documentary spotlighting diversity issues in the business of being Santa Claus. The movie could have easily ignored these issues and just been a superficial film that focuses only on the lighthearted aspects of performers who dress as Santa Claus or his wife as a way to bring Christmas holiday cheer to the public. Those upbeat characteristics are very much a part of the movie, but “Santa Camp” is also a real-life reflection of larger, serious issues in American society, when it comes to diversity, inclusion and representation.

Directed by Nick Sweeney, “Santa Camp” (which had its world premiere at DOC NYC in 2022) was filmed mostly in 2021, when the New England Santa Society’s annual Santa Camp (held in Greenfield, New Hampshire) had three very different types of newcomers: an African American Santa; a Santa with spina bifida who uses a speech-generating device to talk; and a transgender male Santa. “Santa Camp” also features gender equality issues, as performers who portray Santa Claus’ wife demand equal pay and equal treatment.

“Santa Camp” shows the Santa Claus angle of show business. But on a larger level, “Santa Camp” also shows that how people feel about what Santa Claus should look like is really a microcosm of how many people react to those in top leadership roles who don’t fit the description of being a white, heterosexual, cisgender man, usually someone who is the age of a grandparent. The issues of diversity, inclusion and representation in relation to portraying Santa Claus speak to larger issues of how people feel about diversity, inclusion and representation in American society.

This historical fact is pointed out multiple times in the documentary: St. Nicholas (the third-century saint on which Santa Claus is based), also known as Nicholas of Bari, wasn’t white Anglo Saxon or Aryan but was actually of Greek heritage. St. Nicholas was born and lived in an area of the Middle East that is now known as the country of Turkey. However, by the 1800s, a different version of Santa Claus became popular in Europe and North America: a German character named Kris Kringle, who had distinctive Aryan features and was made to look like a jolly old man.

As Christmas and Santa Claus became more commercial in the United States and other parts of the world, the Kris Kringle version of Santa Claus became the dominant image in the United States. Coca-Cola is mentioned as a company that helped promote this image through TV commercials. And for many people, this is the only image of Santa Claus that they accept, because it’s the only image they know from their childhoods.

“Santa Camp” shows how people are adjusting to and sometimes resisting anything that doesn’t fit this dominant image of Santa Claus. The people in the documentary (and viewers watching the documentary) are faced with questions that, by their very nature, sometimes make people uncomfortable: Who gets to decide if this dominant image of Santa Claus is the only one that should be presented to the public? Who is it really helping or hurting if someone who doesn’t fit that image wants to dress up as Santa Claus? And where do you draw the line in defining what Santa Claus should look like and who has the right to look that way?

Most of the people who are interviewed in the documentary are not identified by their last names, perhaps as a way to give them an air of Claus performer mystique. The movie begins by showing a casual gathering of about six New England Santa Society men, who have decades of experience of being hired to perform as Santa Claus. One of them is Dan Greenleaf, also known as Santa Dan, who founded this group and is the co-founder of Santa Camp. He says early on in the film that the group took the initiative to reach out to more diverse people to portray Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, after he got a request for an African American Santa Claus and realized that all of the members of the New England Santa Society are white.

Another person who’s shown at this meeting is Richard “Dick” Marshall, also known as Santa Dick, who was a member of the New England Santa Society since the beginning. Sadly, Marshall died at the age of 90, during the filming of this documentary, which includes some footage from his memorial service. “Santa Camp” shows that Marshall was a highly respected and beloved member of the group, and he believed that the image of Santa Claus should be more diverse and inclusive.

At first, the men in the group are shown laughing and joking about some of the awkward experiences they’ve had when performing as Santa Claus. Santa Dick mentions meeting a boy who was so excited to meet Santa, the boy defecated in his pants. A retired advertising executive only identified as Santa Jack talks about his standard response when some kids would ask him to guess their names as “proof” he was the real Santa: “I only know the names of children on the ‘nice list.'”

The mood of the conversation becomes more serious when the issue of diversity comes up. Santa Dick has this response: “For my generation, as a group, it was a little more difficult to accept. God created no junk, so [the controversy over having different types of Santas] doesn’t matter.”

Santa Dan adds, “I think the issue we run into is that people just have a specific idea of what Santa should look like. And I think, a lot of times, it’s their childhood Santa, the one they remember as kids.” When a retired communications manager named Santa Dave says that Santa Claus originated in Europe, Santa Jack quickly corrects him and says that Santa Claus was originally based on Saint Nicholas, a Turkish man.

Even with diversity issues over what Santa Claus can look like, people still have certain expectations of what a traditional Santa Claus costume should look like when someone is hired to portray Santa Claus. A suit and hat that are red and white are considered essential elements of a Santa costume. A black belt and boots are also considered requirements for a traditional Santa Claus costume.

To a lesser degree, people also expect Santa Claus to have white hair and a white beard. (According to some of the professional Santas, a long beard is more desirable than a short beard because people like to pull Santa’s beard.) And a Santa Claus who looks chubby or overweight is often expected, even if people have to wear things that make them look like they are of a heavier weight than they really are.

Beyond physical appearances, those who are successful “Santas for hire” usually have to be of a certain personality type. They have to be comfortable meeting a wide variety of strangers and dealing with unexpected or unusual situations. Some of the Santas interviewed in the documentary say that the hardest part of the job often includes how to handle unhappy children or children who make demands for Christmas gifts that they won’t realistically get. The Santas who go to Santa Camp are trained on how to deal with various difficult situations.

The “Santa Camp” documentary could have used more footage of this behind-the-scenes training, but the movie is more focused on showing the experiences of the three “non-traditional” Santas who experience Santa Camp for the first time. In addition to offering the expected workshops and discussion panels, Santa Camp has leisure activities, such as swimming and competitive “Reindeer Games,” where the participants do things like try to assemble gifts without using sight.

The documentary gives some screen time to the movement of treating performers who depict Santa Claus and his wife as equals in public and behind the scenes—and having work contracts reflecting this equal treatment accordingly. These gender equality issues are explored in the documentary as related to overall diversity issues for Claus performers. In real life, Santa Camp has training for people who perform as Santa’s elves or Santa’s helpers, but these Santa assistants are not the focus of the documentary.

The three “non-traditional” Santas whose journeys are chronicled in the “Santa Camp” documentary are in their 30s and are passionate about having the portrayals of Santa Claus (and Santa Claus associates) be more diverse and inclusive, even if they experience a lot of bigotry and rejection. They all have supportive family members who are featured in the documentary. “Santa Camp” shows what happens after all three of these Santa Camp newcomers graduate from the program.

Chris Kennedy, also known as Santa Chris, is an amenities coordinator from North Little Rock, Arkansas. He says he was motivated to get professional training as a Santa Claus for hire because his daughter Emily Kennedy (who was about 7 or 8 years old when this documentary was filmed) didn’t see any African Americans as Santa Claus, and he wanted to be that role model for her and other kids. His wife Iddy Kennedy (who sometimes dresses up as Mrs. Claus) is shown as being completely supportive of what Santa Chris wants to do, with both spouses being proud of their African American heritage as they live in a predominantly white neighborhood.

Santa Chris also talks about being further motivated to go to Santa Camp after receiving a hateful, racist letter in the mail from an anonymous neighbor who objected to the Kennedy family having an inflatable, brown-skinned Santa Claus in the family’s own front yard. At first, Santa Chris doesn’t want to read the letter on camera because he says it’s too upsetting. “It was 100% an attack on me,” he comments on the letter. But then later, he reads the letter out loud during a Santa Camp gathering where the participants share their personal stories. It’s a very powerful moment in the film that moves some people to tears at the gathering.

Finbar “Fin” Chiappara, also known as Santa Fin, is from Barre, Vermont. He has dreamed for years of being a Santa Claus, especially in a parade. He has spina bifida and uses a speech-generating device to talk out loud. His constant companion is his single mother Suki, also known as Mama Claus, who says in the documentary that when Santa Fin was a baby, doctors told her that he would never walk and that he was better-off living in a healthcare facility. She didn’t take their advice and became his caretaker, while Santa Fin defied expectations and can walk. His sister Rose is in the documentary as another person in his support system.

Levi Truax, also known as Trans Santa Levi, is a transgender man from Chicago. His wife Heidi Truax often makes public appearances with Levi as Dr. Claus, and she accompanies Levi to Santa Camp. Out of all the Santa Camp newcomers, Levi and Heidi are the most likely to tell jokes as a way to cope with any discomfort at being perceived as “outsiders.” Levi and Heidi experience the most blatant bigotry shown in the documentary—not from people at Santa Camp but from people who objected to an advertised event where people could meet Trans Santa Levi and Dr. Claus.

One of these events, which is featured in the documentary, had to be moved to another location because of hateful harassment and other threats, but some members of the extremist right-wing Proud Boys still showed up at the new location with protest signs to condemn the event. An unidentified woman is also shown doing a social media livestream of herself in the event’s parking lot, where she says people involved in the event are doing the devil’s work. In the documentary, Heidi says she prefers to be known as Dr. Claus instead of Mrs. Claus because she wants people to know that this Santa spouse has a Ph.D. and is the complete equal of her husband.

Throughout the documentary, it’s very apparent that those who welcome diversity in the Santa Claus community believe that diversity doesn’t mean forcing people not to believe in a Santa who isn’t a straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied man. Rather, the belief in this diversity is that if people want to see a Santa Claus who’s different from the dominant image of Santa Claus, then those options should be available. Problems and controversy usually arise when people insist that Santa Claus can only be presented in one way for everyone.

“Santa Camp” also shows the reality that how people feel about having more diverse types of Santas has a lot to do with how people feel about diverse types of people getting the same socioeconomic opportunities that white, cisgender, able-bodied men often get in preferential treatment. After all, Santa Claus and related matters have become a big business. What does that mean if people other than white, cisgender, able-bodied men get some of these Santa Claus performer jobs?

The documentary shows that Santa Camp will welcome anyone who wants to pay the fee, but Santa Camp isn’t going to guarantee any paying gigs to any of its graduates. The prevailing attitude with the white, cisgender, male Santas is that they don’t feel worried about being replaced anytime soon by a large influx of people who don’t look like them. And because being hired to portray Santa Claus is seasonal work, very few people can really live on their Santa Claus earnings alone. Some of the interviewees in “Santa Camp” include Santa Bob (a retired truck driver), Santa William (an ESL teacher), Santa Daniel (a broadcast engineer), Santa Louis (a retired fire alarm salesperson) and Santa George (a retired mold maker).

A man identified as Santa Tom comments on the idea that Santa Claus always has to be a white cisgender man: “I don’t know if it’s a diversity problem, or just that people have accepted Santa as a certain way.” George McCleary (also known as Santa George), president of the Connecticut Society of Santas, has this point of view: “Over all of the years I’ve done this, I’ve never been asked by a child, ‘How come you’re white? How come Santa isn’t black like me?’ Kids don’t see color.”

While the statement “Kids don’t see color” might not apply to all children, many people of all ages actually do see color—and that’s not a bad thing if people are celebrated and included for their differences, not insulted or excluded because of those differences. As mentioned in the documentary, some people do request Santas that don’t fit the usual mold. “Santa Camp” shows how this event is at least making some attempts to respond to interest in having more diverse Santas.

“Representation is a big thing for our family,” says Santa Chris. He later adds as he arrives at Santa Camp for the first time, “Black Santas are not widely celebrated.” In a later scene, he says, “Being the only person of color here, it’s definitely lonely and awkward, to say the least.” The documentary shows at the end if Santa Chris thinks his Santa Camp experience has been beneficial and positive to him.

Meanwhile, Trans Santa Levi also talks about the importance of representation in portrayals of Santa Claus. He starts to cry a little when he says, “If I saw a trans Santa as a kid, it would be comforting … and empowering.” His wife Heidi adds, “It would’ve made a difference for you.”

People also want more flexibility in how the wife of Santa Claus is perceived. A Mrs. Claus performer identified only as Dianne, who is a retired spacecraft engineer, firmly believes that Mrs. Claus should be treated as an equal, not as a subservient sidekick, to Santa Claus. She says she’s against the rigid idea that Mrs. Claus can only wear dresses, and Mrs. Claus performers should have the option to wear dresses or other types of clothing.

Dianne comments, “I think everybody wants to be treated equally. How pushy do you have to be about it? I’m pushy!” All the Mrs. Claus performers interviewed in “Santa Camp” use Claus as their stage surname. They include holiday performer Bonnie Claus, nurse Mary Beth Claus, retired computer programmer Theresa Claus and box office manager Susan Claus, who says that there shouldn’t be a fantasy that Santa and Mrs. Claus have a perfect marriage: “Santa and Mrs. Claus don’t always get along.”

The documentary shows Levi and Heidi looking uncomfortable when attending a Mrs. Claus discussion panel. Heidi and Levi say that they didn’t like how the panel’s narrative was that Mrs. Claus’ main purpose is to make Santa happy and to be an example of traditional marriage as the “right” way to live. They both say that they wish they could have spoken up with their own viewpoints during this panel dicussioon. Later, during a smaller group discussion, Heidi asserts herself and says why she’s proud to be called Dr. Claus and to have a transgender partner in a relationship where they treat each other as equals. The people in the group applaud in support of what Heidi says, but it’s hard to know how much of their reactions were affected because the people knew they were on camera.

Although the “Santa Camp” documentary doesn’t do go too in depth over age issues, another minority at Santa Camp is anyone under the age of 50 who portrays Santa Claus or Mrs. Claus. It’s another reason why Santa Chris, Santa Fin, Trans Santa Levi and Dr. Claus all stand out from the vast majority of the people at this event. The age issue for Santa performers isn’t as big of a controversy because people can look older through makeup and wigs. When it comes to Santa Claus diversity, issues regarding race and non-cisgender identities seem to be the most controversial.

Regardless of how people feel about diversity in the Santa Claus image, “Santa Camp” does a very good job of showing how these issues aren’t going away anytime soon (especially in America, which has become more racially diverse over time) and that the people in the business of selling Santa Claus have to respond in one way or another to these issues. Many people who attend Santa Camp say that the Santa Claus performer community is like a “family.” As “Santa Camp” shows in endearing and sometimes tension-filled ways, the real test is how people want to define that family, who will be invited to join, and how they will be treated.

HBO Max premiered “Santa Camp” on November 17, 2022.

Review: ‘A Christmas Story Christmas,’ starring Peter Billingsley, Erinn Hayes, River Drosche, Julianna Layne, Julie Hagerty, Scott Schwartz and RD Robb

December 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from upper left: Peter Billingsley, Julie Hagerty, Erinn Hayes, Julianna Lane and River Drosche in “A Christmas Story Christmas” (Photo by Yana Blajeva/Warner Bros. Pictures/HBO Max)

“A Christmas Story Christmas”

Directed by Clay Kaytis

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1973, in Hohman, Indiana, and briefly in Chicago, the comedy film “A Christmas Story Christmas” (a sequel to the 1983 comedy film “A Christmas Story”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Ralph Parker, his wife and their two children go back to his hometown for the Christmas holiday after his father dies, and he feels the pressure of taking over as the family’s Christmas patriarch and fulfilling his dream to become a published writer by the end of the year. 

Culture Audience: “A Christmas Story Christmas” will appeal primarily to fans of “A Christmas Story” and heartwarmng comedies about families during the Christmas season.

Scott Schwartz, Peter Billingsley and RD Robb in “A Christmas Story Christmas” (Photo by Yana Blajeva/Warner Bros. Pictures/HBO Max)

The very thin plot of “A Christmas Story Christmas” gets a considerable boost by its effective use of familiar Christmas movie formulas and relatable characters. It’s a sweet and sentimental sequel that lacks the rebellious spark of 1983’s “A Christmas Story,” but still has enough charm, despite some awkward handling of serious issues. Ralph Parker (formerly known as Ralphie Parker) now has a midlife crisis and grief over the death of his father.

“A Christmas Story” is based on Jean Shepherd’s 1966 semi-autobiographical collection of short stories “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.” “A Christmas Story” was told from the perspective of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (played by Peter Billingsley) in 1940, with hindsight voiceover narration by Shepherd in the role of the adult Ralph. Most movie fans know that “A Christmas Story” has become one of the most beloved American Christmas movies of all time, with its most memorable aspect being Ralphie’s obsession to get a BB gun for Christmas—specifically, a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle—despite his parents’ objections to Ralphie getting this toy rifle as a gift.

A very inferior direct-to-video 2012 sequel called “A Christmas Story 2” featured a teenage Ralphie (played by Braeden Lemasters) and had the same main characters but played by entirely different cast members. “A Christmas Story Christmas” can be considered a true sequel to “A Christmas Story,” since it reunites several of the original cast members, led by Billingsley reprising his role as Ralph. Clay Kaytis directed “A Christmas Story Christmas” and wrote the movie’s screenplay with Nick Schenk.

It’s not necessary to watch or know about “A Christmas Story” before seeing “A Christmas Story Christmas” (which has some brief flashbacks to the first movie), but it does help to bring a deeper understanding of why Ralph has been hit so hard emotionally by the unexpected death of his father. Just like in “A Christmas Story,” adult Ralph (played by Billingsley) provides voiceover narration. But instead of looking back on his childhood, Ralph is commenting on his current life as a 42-year-old aspiring writer in 1973.

“A Christmas Story Christmas” has some simplistic and hokey dialogue that is par for the course for a typical Christmas movie. In the movie’s opening scene, which offers a panoramic view of the inside of Ralph’s modest house in Chicago, he can be heard making this comment in a voiceover: “When you’re a kid, all you want is the perfect Christmas. When you’re a parent, all you want is for Christmas to be perfect. But sometimes, if we’re lucky, the yuletide stars shine full upon us ina rare moment of truth. And how we act in those moments can forever seal our fate.”

Viewers soon find out that Ralph has quit an unnamed day job to spend an unspecified period of time trying to write what he hopes will be his Great American Novel. He’s been working on a science-fiction book called “Neptune’s Oblivion.” Ralph and his supportive wife Sandy (played by Erinn Hayes) came to this agreement: “I had to be published by the end of the year, or I’d pack up my dream and return to the rat race.” When the story begins, it’s mid-way through December 1973, and he still hasn’t been published.

“A Christmas Story Christmas” skimps on details about how Ralph and Sandy are paying their bills during the time that Ralph has been working full-time on his novel. It’s not mentioned if Sandy works outside the home. It’s not mentioned if Ralph and Sandy have been living off of their savings. But what the movie does mention repeatedly is that money is so tight for this couple, they sometimes run out of food and can’t afford to replace the faulty radiator for Ralph’s 1966 Plymouth.

Ralph and Sandy have two children: fun-loving son Mark (played by River Drosche), who’s 10 or 11 years old, and precocious daughter Julie (played by Julianna Layne), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Sandy and Ralph try to hide their money problems from their children, in order not to worry the kids. An early scene in the movie shows that the family has run out of milk, so Ralph tries to convince the children that it will be fun to eat their Cocoa Puffs cereal with orange juice instead of milk. The kids are predictably disgusted.

Ralph has sent his 2,000-page manuscript for “Neptune’s Oblivion” to 16 book publishers. Out of those 16 publishers, 14 have rejected the manuscript so far. Ralph meets an executive (played by Ian Porter) at one of the last two book publishers that haven’t given him a response yet. The executive tells Ralph that his manuscript is rejected because it’s too long and not the kind of book the company is looking for right now.

After getting this bad news, a dejected Ralph goes home and gets a phone call with even worse news: His father has suddenly died. (The cause of death is not mentioned in the story.) Just as he does in “A Christmas Story,” Ralph affectionately calls his father “The Old Man.” n real life, Darren McGavin, who had the role of Ralphie’s father in A” Christmas Story,” died in 2006, at the age of 83.

Ralph’s parents had been planning to go to Chicago for the Christmas holiday to spend time with Ralph and his family. But now, Ralph and his family must go to his hometown of Hohman, Indiana, to spend the Christmas holiday with Ralph’s widowed mother (played by Julie Hagerty), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie. Hagerty replaces Melinda Dillon, who had the role of Ralphie’s mother in “A Christmas Story.”

The rest of “A Christmas Story Christmas” involves subplots that are variations of Ralph trying not to feel like a failure when he goes back to Hohman. His father was the family’s “Mr. Christmas” patriarch, who led the way in the family’s Christmas activities. Now that his father has died, Ralph feels it’s a huge void that Ralph can’t possibly fill.

However, Ralph’s mother makes Ralph promise that he will take over the patriarch role to make sure that the family’s Christmas holidays are as happy as possible, even this year, when the family is grieving over the loss of Ralph’s father. She also asks Ralph to write the obituary for Ralph’s father for the local newspaper. Meanwhile, Ralph is stressed-out over whether or not he and Sandy can afford to get the gifts that their kids want for Christmas. And time is running out on the deadline for him to become a published writer.

“A Christmas Story Christmas” features the return of “A Christmas Story” characters Flick (played by Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (played by RD Robb), who were Ralph’s childhood friends. Flick is now the owner of a pub called Flick’s Tavern, while Schwartz is a barfly who lives with his mother, is frequently unemployed, and has run up a Flick’s Tavern bar tab that no one expects him to pay. A running joke in the movie is that some of the male customers go to Flick’s Tavern to avoid going home to their wives. And when these wives call the tavern to ask if their husbands are there, Flick or someone else always lies and says that these husbands aren’t there.

Most of the characters outside of the Parker Family, Flick and Schwartz don’t have much of an impact on the story. Larry Novack (played by some Henry Miller), a disheveled regular customer at Flick’s Tavern, is described as former classmate from high school, where he used to be a football star. Delbert Bumpus (played by Davis Murphy), who’s about 11 or 12 years old, is described as “the smartest member of the hillbilly family next door” to where Ralph’s mother lives. Delbert is a somewhat bratty kid whose other family members are never seen in the movie.

Zack Ward reprises his Scut Farkus role from “A Christmas Story,” in a cameo that lasts for less than 5 minutes. Scut’s current occupation is revealed. Viewers of “A Christmas Story Christmas” will get to see if Scut is still a bully or not. Also making a quick cameo is returning cast member Ian Petrella, as Ralph’s young brother Randy Parker, who is now a successful businessman who travels around the world.

Speaking of bullies, “A Christmas Story Christmas” has two unnamed adolescents (played by Cailean Galloway and Alistair Galloway) repeatedly wreaking havoc in the snow by driving snowmobiles and plowing into snowmen made by Mark and Julie outside the house of Ralph’s mother. And it wouldn’t be “A Christmas Story” movie if it didn’t have Christmas shopping and a visit to Santa Claus at Higbee’s, the biggest department store in Hohman.

Most of the scenarios in “A Christmas Story Christmas” aren’t suspenseful but they bring some laughs (and some cringes) in how the adult Ralph and his family members handle some of these situations. There are some quirky moments, such as when Ralph and his mother reveal that they have an irrational fear/dislike of Christmas carolers who go door-to-door, but Sandy feels the opposite way. Sandy is also an ice skating enthusiast. You can easily predict what happens when someone goes ice skating in a comedy film.

Some of the acting is a little stiff, but “A Christmas Story Christmas” is so good-natured the weaker elements of the story do not ruin the movie. Billingsley does a perfectly fine job in the lead role of Ralph, while Drosche and Lane have some cute moments as Mark and Julie. None of the cast members is terrible in these roles, but no one truly stands out as a breakout star either.

“A Christmas Story Christmas” is a pleasant movie that hits all the expected beats of a Christmas film that was made to appeal to a family-friendly audience. Because “A Christmas Story Christmas” is told from an adult character’s perspective, Christmas takes on a more serious meaning than just childhood pranks and wanting a certain toy for Christmas. “A Christmas Story Christmas” is still very much a comedy, but it has more maturity in this likable sequel story where its merits outweigh its flaws.

HBO Max premiered “A Christmas Story Christmas” on November 17, 2022.

Review: ‘The Janes,’ starring Heather Booth, Judith Arcana, Marie Leaner, Dorie Barron, Martha Scott, Diane Stevens and Laura Kaplan

June 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

A 1972 photo of Jane members in “The Janes” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“The Janes”

Directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes

Culture Representation: The documentary “The Janes” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few African Americans) discussing the Jane network, a Chicago-based group of mostly women who provided abortion services and counseling before the U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade made abortion legal on a federal level in 1973.

Culture Clash: The Jane network had to be an underground, outlaw group when abortion was illegal, and some members got arrested for homicide in 1972. 

Culture Audience: “The Janes” will appeal primarily to people interested in a fascinating documentary about reproductive rights and people who believe in a woman’s right to choose if or when to have a child.

A 1972 photo of Jane members in “The Janes” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Regardless of how people feel about abortion, “The Janes” documentary is not only a history lesson about what life in America was like before Roe v. Wade but it’s also a compelling reminder of what’s at stake in reproductive rights and family planning. One of the best things about the movie is that it doesn’t give the narrative over to politicians. Instead, the story is told mostly from the perspectives of people who were involved with the Jane network, the Chicago-based underground group that provided abortion services and counseling at a time when abortion was illegal in Illinois and most other states in America.

The Jane network, whose origins began in 1965, disbanded in 1973, when the U.S. Supereme Court case Roe v. Wade made abortion legal on a federal level. The Jane network got its name because people who needed the services were told to ask for someone with the code name Jane when contacting the network, which advertised through flyers and through word of mouth. The outreach began on college campuses but then extended to many other communities in the Chicago area, including low-income and underprivileged communities.

Directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes, “The Janes” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary begins with a harrowing personal story told by Dorie Barron, who got two abortions when abortion was illegal. She got the first abortion at a place that turned out to be disreputable: “I just wanted it over with,” Barron says of the abortion. “I had no other options. I was that desperate.”

Barron also remembers that because of the outlaw nature of this procedure: “It was [like] the mob. You had to talk in code.” “Chevy” meant the abortion cost $500. “Cadillac” meant that the abortion cost $750. “Rolls Royce” mean that the abortion cost $1,000.

Barron vividly recalls that as she was waiting to get her abortion that there were “three men and one woman, who brought another patient. They spoke all of three sentences the entire time: ‘Where’s the money? Lie back and do as I tell you. Get in the bathroom.'”

This cold and uncaring attitude wasn’t the worst of her experience though. After the abortion, she and the other abortion patient were sent to a hotel room. Barron says she was bleeding profusely and decided to get professional medical help for herself, knowing she’d be at risk of being arrested if the medical professional who treated her wanted to report her for having an abortion. “If I had stayed in that hotel room, I’d be dead,” Barron says emphatically.

Barron says she had her second abortion with the Jane network, which she describes as giving her a “total opposite” experience compared to her first abortion. With the Jane network, Barron says: “All I heard were kind words, consideration, concern. When I tell you they changed my life, they changed my life.”

Barron’s story is an example of how the Jane network distinguished itself from the incompetent patient care that other underground abortionists provided. According to “The Janes,” the Jane network is estimated to have performed about 11,000 abortions, with none of the patients dying as a direct result of these abortion procedures. It’s an astounding feat, considering all the horror stories before Roe v. Wade of women and girls who died after getting illegal abortions.

The documentary includes disturbing details of septic wards in Chicago hospitals where women and girls with botched abortions often received improper treatment and sometimes died as a result. Those who didn’t die were at risk of being arrested. Several people in the documentary say that the Jane network was different from other abortion groups because the Jane network was led by women, and the services included empathetic counseling in a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere.

The Jane network’s origins began in 1965, when activist Heather Booth was a student at the University of Chicago. A friend, who was also a University of Chicago student, was raped, and the rape victim was unfairly shamed for being “promiscuous.” In 1965, Booth also became involved in the Freedom Summer Project, an activist event. “And during that summer, I learned you have to stand up to legitimate authority,” Booth says in the documentary. “Sometimes, there are unjust laws that need to be challenged.”

Booth states that the turning point for her to become a reproductive rights activist was when a friend told her that his pregnant sister was suicidal because the pregnancy was unwanted. It motivated Booth to start an underground abortion service that ended up growing into the Jane network, whose official name was Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. Booth says in the documentary that when she launched this service, she was referred to Dr. T.M. Howard, a medical professional who could perform abortions. When she started getting more people to refer to Dr. Howard, she knew there was a demand to have an underground network.

“The Janes” documentary has interviews with several other women who worked in the Jane network, including Judith Arcana (also known as Judy Pildes), Marie Leaner, Martha Scott, Diane Stevens, Eleanor Oliver and Laura Kaplan. The documentary also features interviews with women who used the Jane network’s abortion services (or took a friend to the Jane network) but who only wanted to be identified by a first name in this movie. They include women identified by the names Abby, Eileen, Crystal O., Jeanne, Peaches and Sheila.

After Dr. Howard was arrested for performing illegal abortions, Booth was referred to someone who is interviewed in the documentary and uses the alias Mike. When Mike worked with the Janes, he used the code name Dr. Kaplan, even though he was never a medical doctor, but he received abortion training from a real medical doctor. The Jane network found out that Mike wasn’t a real doctor, but continued to use his services out of necessity until they parted ways with him because of money issues.

Mike says he got involved in doing Jane network abortions because it paid about “four or five times” the amount of money that he could make from doing construction work. He says he didn’t get personally involved with any of the patients’ feelings or problems when doing abortions. “It was a job,” he says nonchalantly in the documentary. By his own admission, Mike eventually had a falling out with the Jane network when he wanted to get paid more money than the network could give him.

Leaner comments on Mike: “I thought he was a blowhard, sort of a con man and a showman and a wise guy. But I also thought that he had a heart.” Mike wasn’t the only person doing abortions for the Jane network. Many women of the Jane network eventually performed abortions, even though they were not medical doctors either. It’s mentioned in the documentary that they did so because licensed medical doctors did not want to get involved or would charge too much money.

Because of the secretive nature of the Jane network, it was standard practice to talk in code. “The Front” was the term used for the waiting room. “The Place” would be the place where the abortions procedures happened. Women and girls who needed the abortion services could use aliases, although they often had to provide the real phone numbers where they could be contacted. In an era before the Internet or burner cell phones, it was a lot harder for people to get temporary contact information that couldn’t be traced back to them.

However, the Jane network had a confidentiality policy not just for their clients’ protection but also for their own protection. It’s mentioned in the documentary that the Chicago Mafia got involved (no doubt through payoffs for protection), which is typical of any illegal operation that attracts the Mafia. At a time when the overwhelming majority of attorneys, doctors and clergy were men, the Jane network also had male allies in these professions who would secretly offer their services to Jane clients.

Speaking of attorneys, Arcana’s lawyer husband (who has a surname that is not Arcana) is also interviewed in “The Janes.” At his request, he is only identified in the documentary by his first name: Michael. He says that he and many of his mostly male attorney peers did not want to get involved in abortion issues at the time, not only because abortion was illegal then but also because civil rights attorneys such as himself were more focused on race relations and had little to no interest in women’s rights.

Still, Arcana says that being a white woman married to an attorney helped a great deal when she and six other Jane network members were arrested in Chicago for homicide on May 3, 1972, because of the abortion services that they provided. The arrestees were Arcana, Scott, Stevens, Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Abby Pariser, Sheila Smith and Madeleine Schwenk. (Ironically, nearly 50 years to the day later—on May 2, 2022—the news website Politico revealed a U.S. Supreme Court leaked draft suggesting that members of the court are preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade.)*

Arcana, who had recently given birth at the time of her 1972 arrest, says in the documentary that she had certain privileges that she knew would work to her advantage when it came to getting out on bail. Arcana comments, “Not only was I a nursing mother, I was a college graduate, a white woman, and married to a lawyer. And all of those things were going to get me out on bail. And boy, did I not disbelieve that.”

Because most of the Janes were privileged white women (many were homemakers, college students and full-time activists), they often came from very different backgrounds from many of the low-income people who needed the Jane network’s services. When New York state made abortion legal in 1970, and certain women in the Chicago area could afford to travel to New York for abortions, the Jane clients’ demographics changed to have more low-income people than ever before. “The Janes” documentary mentions that there were tensions and disagreements in the group about how to interact with underprivileged people. The Jane network eventually agreed to offer discounts or free services to those who couldn’t afford to pay the full price.

Issues of race and social class also came up because women of color were rarely allowed to be Jane network leaders. Leaner (who is African American) comments, “There were more women of color—not necessarily on the team of people, but the people who consumed the service.” Kaplan agrees: “The women who came through the Jane network [for abortion services] were very, very different from the women who were in Jane. We would say to women [of color], ‘You can join us,’ but there weren’t a lot of takers.”

“It was a concern for us,” Kaplan says of the differences in racial and social classes between the most of the Jane network workers and most of the Jane network clients, particularly in the network’s later years. “We were primarily white, middle-class women.” The documentary mentions that efforts were made to be mindful of different races and social classes, but the Jane network wasn’t perfect, and it how to deal with race/class differences was an area that always needed improving.

“The Janes” documentary says that Leaner was instrumental in getting civil rights attorney Jo-Anne Wolfson to represent the Jane network defendants in the homicide case. Wolfson, who was initially reluctant to take the case, had a strategy to delay the trial as much as possible. It turned out to be the correct strategy because the U.S. Supreme court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 made the homicide charges no longer legally viable, so the charges were dropped. The Jane network disbanded not long after the Roe v. Wade decision, since their underground services were no longer needed.

The documentary doesn’t sugarcoat that abortion before Roe v. Wade was risky not just for physical reasons and legal reasons, but also for psychological and emotional reasons. The stress of being involved in illegal abortions took a toll on many of the clients and workers of the Jane network. The documentary mentions that one Jane leader identified only as Jody eventually had to check into a psychiatric facility because she had a breakdown. Jody eventually quit the Jane network.

And how did the Jane network stay underground for as long as it did with no arrests until 1972? Arcana’s husband Michael puts it bluntly by saying that a lot of the Jane network’s abortion clients were the wives, girlfriends and daughters of influential people in law enforcement and politics. Many of these men paid for the abortions.

Other people interviewed in the documentary include former Chicago homicide detective Ted O’Connor, Rev. Patricia Novick-Raby and Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper. In the documentary, Dr. Allan Weiland and former registered nurse Kathleen Kennedy talk about what they witnessed in pre-Roe. v. Wade septic wards at Chicago hospitals. A man who is only identified by the name Wayne says in the documentary that he was married to a woman who worked in the Jane network with his full support. “Our daughters understood not to talk about it, but they understood that it was just part of my life,” Wayne comments.

As a documentary, “The Janes” might not change people’s minds about the abortion issue. But the movie certainly succeeds in showing that abortion is a health issue that can affect anyone. This isn’t an issue that should be considered only in the realm of a select number of elite politicians and other lawmakers. “The Janes” shows in no uncertain terms that people who are directly affected can be family members, friends and other loved ones of people from all walks of life. These human stories and experiences are at the heart of reproductive rights and family planning.

*UPDATE: On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, thereby eliminating the federal law making abortion legal in the U.S., and giving jurisdiction to each U.S. state to decide what the state’s abortion laws will be. This ruling means that abortions in the U.S. can now be illegal or legal, depending on the state.

HBO and HBO Max will premiere “The Janes” on June 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Navalny,’ starring Alexei Navalny

April 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Alexei Navalny in “Navalny” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Navalny”

Directed by Daniel Roher

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from 2018 to 2021, in Russia, Germany and Austria, the documentary film “Navalny” features an all-white group of political workers, journalists, investigators and family members who are connected in some way to Russian activist/politician Alexei Navalny.

Culture Clash: Navalny, who has been an outspoken critic/opponent of Russian president Valdimir Putin, launches an investigation to find out who poisoned Navalny in 2020, and he returns from exile to Russia, knowing that he is certain to be imprisoned. 

Culture Audience: “Navalny” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries about international politics, corruption and charismatic public figures.

Alexei Navalny and Maria Pevchikh in “Navalny” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Although the story of Russian political activist Alexei Navalny has been widely reported in the news, the documentary “Navalny” is a wild and intriguing look at what went on behind the scenes when he tried to find out who poisoned him in 2020. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Daniel Rohrer, “Navalny” (which was filmed from 2018 to 2021) gives an up-close-and-personal view of Navalny and people in his inner circle, through interviews and other candid footage. It’s not only an enthralling story of an aspiring Russian politician but it’s also a gripping exposé of a Russian government’s response to outspoken critics. “Navalny” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Documentary Audience Award and the Festival Favorite Award.

Navalny (who founded the Russian-based group Anti-Corruption Foundation) has no shortage of passion for the causes that he believes in, but he also has no shortage of ego. There are moments when he acts like he’s a rock star of Russian politics. While the Vladimir Putin-led Russian government portrays Navalny as a traitorous villain, and others see Navalny as a heroic martyr, what emerges in this documentary is a portrait of someone is who neither as dastardly nor as noble as some of the labels that have been thrust upon him. He comes across as shrewd, charismatic and hungry for power so that he can carry out what he says is his agenda: bringing true democracy and more equality to the people of Russia, especially the underprivileged.

These platitudes are often given by people who want to be in political leadership roles. But Navalny—an attorney who has never held an elected political office in the Russian federal government—claims that he really is interested in politics for all the right reasons. At the time this documentary was filmed, he was the leader of the Russia of the Future party. Navalny’s past attempts to run for various political offices have been interrupted by his numerous arrests. The documentary briefly mentions the controversy of his past association with anti-immigrant, white Russian national groups, whom Navalny now denounces. He says his past alignment with these bigoted groups was to open a dialogue with them.

As a political opponent to Russian president Putin, Navalny became very popular, as evidenced by his ability to draw huge crowds and by gaining millions of followers on social media. But a plane flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20, 2020, changed all of that momentum, when Navalny was poisoned with Novichok and nearly died while on that plane, which made an emergency landing in Omsk so he could get medical treatment. An investigation determined that Navalny had been poisoned in Novosibirsk, Russia, before he boarded the plane.

In the documentary, Navalny says that before this attempted murder happened to him, he thought that the more famous he became, the safer he would be from any dangerous attack because it would be made more public. “I was wrong,” he deadpans in the movie. In the beginning of the documentary, director Roher can be heard asking Navalny, “If you were killed, what message would you like to leave behind for the Russian people?” Navalny replies, “Oh, come on, Daniel. No way. It’s like a movie for the case of my death. Let it be movie No. 2. Let’s make a thriller out of this movie.”

Indeed, this documentary has many twists and turns into Navalny’s personal investigation into who poisoned him. This attempted murder was a crime that he always suspected was ordered by Putin. What was revealed in this investigation has already been reported, but seeing it unfold in this documentary is nothing short of fascinating.

Along the way, various people are featured in the documentary who are close to Navalny, including Navalny’s loyal wife Yulia Navalnaya and daughter Dasha Navalnaya, who was in her late teens at the time this documentary was filmed. Dasha comments on the poisoning of her father: “It was surreal. It was like [something in] a book.”

Later in the documentary, Dasha says of the burden that her father’s notoriety has placed on the family: “Since I was 13 years old, I’ve thought about what I would do if my dad was killed.” The movie also shows Yulia’s successful efforts to get her husband out of the hospital where he was taken after being poisoned, because the hospital had “more police and government agents than doctors.” He was safely transferred to a hospital in Germany.

“Navalny” gives an insightful look at the employees in Alexei Navalny’s trusted inner circle. Press secretary Kira Yarmysh is often the voice of reason among some of the chaos. Chief of staff Leonid Volkov is the steadfast right-hand man who carries out the leader’s commands but also has to make split-second decisions on his own. Maria Pevchikh, the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s chief investigator, is fiercely protective of her boss and sometimes combative. During the investigation, Pevchikh has to compromise and reluctantly agrees not share certain information with Alexei Navalny, so as not to taint his bias as a victim.

Also crucial to the investigation is a group based in Vienna, Austria, called Bellingcat, led by chief investigator Christo Grozev, who calls Bellingcat a bunch of “data nerds.” It was through Bellingcat’s sleuthing using technology (and some good old-fashioned phone calls) that essential clues were uncovered. The documentary also includes a few journalists (such as CNN’s Tim Lister and Der Spiegel’s Fidelius Schmid) who also investigated the poisoning.

“Navalny” is essential viewing for anyone interested in international politics. Viewers who see this movie can expect to go through a rollercoaster of emotions. And although the investigation does yield answers, “Navalny” is the type of documentary that concludes with a very “to be continued” tone, because events in Alexei Navalny’s life and in Russian politics are still making history.

Warner Bros. Pictures and Fathom Events will release “Navalny” in U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement on April 11 and April 12, 2022. CNN and CNN+ will premiere “Navalny” on April 24, 2022. HBO Max will premiere the movie on May 26, 2022.

UPDATE: “Navalny” will be re-released in select U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement, from February 24 to March 2, 2023.

February 16, 2024 UPDATE: Alexei Navalny died in a Russian prison on February 16, 2024. He was 47. Russian officials claim that he died after losing consciousness from feeling sick. Several of Nalvany’s loved ones and associates have gone on record to say that they think he was murdered.

HBO Max debuts ‘The Beauty of Blackness,’ a documentary about Fashion Fair

March 1, 2022

Kelly Rowland is one of the people featured in the Fashion Fair documentary film “The Beauty of Blackness” (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for VH1)

The following is a press release from HBO Max:

HBO Max has acquired “The Beauty of Blackness,” a documentary film directed by Tiffany Johnson and Kiana Moore. The film is available to stream now on HBO Max. The Beauty of Blackness” chronicles Fashion Fair, the first cosmetics brand created exclusively for Black women created in 1973 by Eunice Johnson, the co-founder of Ebony and Jet Magazines.

The film examines Fashion Fair’s rapid rise to icon status and how the brand surpassed cultural obstacles to overcome beauty standards that previously excluded people of color. Despite revolutionizing the beauty industry and becoming a household name for every Black and Brown woman in the 1970’s, the brand faced a rocky media landscape and encountered challenges due to emerging competitors.

The documentary follows the brand’s journey to present day where, amidst an evolving industry with a new focus on inclusivity, Fashion Fair Cosmetics has been revived under the helm of two entrepreneurs, Desiree Rogers and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack. 

“The Beauty of Blackness” features interviews with renowned experts, models, makeup artists, performers, and other prominent figures who have witnessed firsthand the evolution of the category and who are celebrating and continuing to redefine beauty standards for people of color.

The film was created in partnership with Vox Media, the story hunters at Epic, Sephora – working with its media and content partner, Digitas – and was co-directed by Tiffany Johnson (Black Monday, Dear White People and Twenties), and first-time director, Kiana Moore, VP of Content Production and Head of Vox Media’s Epic Digital.

“The Beauty of Blackness” will be featured as part of the Black Voices and Women’s History Month curated programming on HBO Max.      

Review: ‘8-Bit Christmas,’ starring Winslow Fegley, Neil Patrick Harris, Steve Zahn, June Diane Raphael, Bellaluna Resnick and Sophia Reid-Gantzert

December 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Winslow Fegley in “8-Bit Christmas” (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/New Line Cinema/HBO Max)

“8-Bit Christmas”

Directed by Michael Dowse

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Chicago area in the present day and in 1988, the comedy film “8-Bit Christmas” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A man in his mid-40s tells his 11-year-old daughter the story of his misadventures in 1988, when he was an 11-year-old boy who desperately wanted a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas, even though his parents forbade him from playing video games at the time.

Culture Audience: “8-Bit Christmas” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching lightweight Christmas holiday comedies that are steeped heavily in 1980s nostalgia.

Sophia Reid-Gantzert and Neil Patrick Harris in “8-Bit Christmas” (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/New Line Cinema/HBO Max)

The formulaic family comedy “8-Bit Christmas” is elevated by a watchable and occasionally amusing performance by Winslow Fegley as an 11-year-old boy in 1988 who goes to great lengths to get a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Directed by Michael Dowse, “8 Bit Christmas” is really just a series of slapstick scenarios that culminate in a sentimental “life lesson” that’s expected in a movie with a Christmas theme. Kevin Jakubowski adapted the “8-Bit Christmas” screenplay from his 2013 novel of the same name. The movie is best appreciated by viewers who have some fondness for 1980s nostalgia or who know how big of a deal a Nintendo Entertainment System was to many kids during this decade. (The movie’s title refers to the primitive 8-bit data resolution of 1980s video games.)

“8-Bit Christmas” begins with a man in his mid-40s named Jake Doyle (played by Neil Patrick Harris), who is traveling with his 11-year-old daughter Annie Doyle (played by Sophia Reid-Gantzert) to the home of Jake’s widowed mother for a Christmas holiday visit. Jake grew up in Batavia, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), where his mother still lives. Annie has been pestering Jake to get her a smartphone for Christmas.

Jake adamantly refuses because he thinks Annie is too young to have this type of phone. Annie has to use Jake’s phone, only when he’s with her. It’s embarrassing to Annie that she doesn’t have her own phone, but Jake won’t change his mind.

Instead, Jake tells Annie about the time in 1988, when he was Annie’s age and was obsessed with getting a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Jake says to Annie, “When I was a kid, I wanted a Nintendo worse than you wanted a phone.” Annie replies, “That’s not possible.”

Jake is prompted into telling this story when he and Annie arrive at his mother’s house and they find his old Nintendo Entertainment System in the room that Jake had as a child. Annie knows that there was a time when Jake’s parents didn’t allow him to play video games, so she wants to know how he ended up with a Nintendo Entertainment Sysem . Most of the movie then switches to flashback mode when Jake tells his story in voiceover narration, with occasional scenes that go back to the present-day Jake and Annie.

In 1988, 11-year-old Jake (played by Winslow Fegley) considered himself to be an average boy in an average middle-class American family. His parents John Doyle (played by Steve Zahn) and Kathy Doyle (played by June Diane Raphael) are happily married. Jake has a precocious younger sister named Lizzy (played by Bellaluna Resnick), who is about 6 or 7 years old in 1988. Lizzy is a “goody-two-shoes” child who likes to snitch on Jake to their parents whenever Jake does something wrong.

The kids at Jake’s school are envious of a spoiled rich boy named Timmy Keane (played by Chandler Dean), who’s apparently the only kid for miles who has his own Nintendo Entertainment System. Therefore, small crowds of children gather in front of Timmy’s house on a regular basis because they want to get invited inside Timmy’s home to play Nintendo games with him. However, Timmy will only allow certain kids inside, based on whatever gifts or favors they can offer to him.

Needless to say, Timmy is an obnoxious brat who takes advantage of his social status to make some kids feel bad about themselves if they don’t get invited into his house. Timmy has an elaborate play area in his home that would rival any recreational arcade for children. The first time that Jake plays Nintendo, it’s at Timmy’s house. Jake instantly gets hooked and wants his own Nintendo Entertainment System.

It’s the same wish for many of Jake’s friends too. Jake hangs out with a small group of kids, who eventually make it their mission to get their own Nintendo system. The close-knit pals in Jake’s clique are:

  • Mikey Trotter (played by Che Tafari), whom Jake describes as being allowed to watch R-rated movies, and Mikey has an adult cursing vocabulary and mischievous nature to prove it.
  • Evan Olsen (played by Santino Barnard), who is nervous and neurotic.
  • Tammy Hodges (played by Brielle Rankins), who is smart and confident.
  • Teddy Hodges (played by Braelyn Rankins), who is Tammy’s fun-loving twin brother.

Other kids who are not part of this clique but who factor into the story are:

  • Josh Jagorski (played by Clay Arnold), the school’s large and violent bully, who looks like he’s a teenager, not a pre-teen like all the other students.
  • Jeff Farmer (played by Max Malas), whom Jake describes as a “pathological liar.”
  • Conor Stump (played by Jacob Laval), who is the school’s nerdy social outcast.
  • Katie Sorrentino (played by Sofie Michal Maiuri), a classmate who casually observes some of the shenanigans of Jake and his friends.

Jake knows that his parents are not inclined to want to give him a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Therefore, he comes up with a scheme to trick them into saying yes to his request. With his mother, Jake waits until she’s distracted and asks her for this gift when she’s not really listening to him. She says yes.

With his father, whom an adult Jake describes in a voiceover as a “dyslexic Bob Vila” when it comes to carpentry hobbies, Jake waits until they have some father/son time doing some woodshopping in the garage. Jake compliments his father John on John’s hand strength. Jake says he would like a gift for Christmas that would let him build up his hand strength, so Jake suggests a Nintendo Entertainment System. John says yes to this request too.

But there would be no “8-Bit Christmas” movie if Jake got his wish so easily. Eventually, Jake’s parents (and some of his friends’ parents) become paranoid that video games are bad for children, so the parents are determined to not have anything related to video games in their homes. Undeterred, Jake and his male friends, who are members of the Ranger Scouts, find out about a Ranger Scouts contest where the person who sells the most Christmas wreaths will win the grand prize of a brand-new Nintendo Entertainment System.

A large part of “8-Bit Christmas” is about this race against time to sell the most Christmas wreaths, as friends turn into rivals to win this contest. There’s also some gross-out comedy, such as a scene of a child vomiting profusely and repeatedly, and a joke that goes on for too long about Jake having to clean up defecation from the family dog Ellwood. Not surprisingly, Jake wants avoid cleaning up after the dog as much as possible, so it leads to some minor conflicts with between Jake and his father John.

David Cross has a small role in “8-Bit Christmas” as an unnamed opportunist, who sells toys (probably stolen) out of the trunk of his car. His stash includes a Nintendo Entertainment System and Cabbage Patch dolls. Jake’s sister Lizzy wants a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas, so Jake feels some sibling jealousy when John is more eager to get Lizzy’s most-wanted Christmas gift but is unwilling to get Jake’s most-wanted Christmas gift.

There’s a lot of mediocre slapstick scenarios in “8-Bit Christmas” that clog up the story. For example, a recurring “joke” in the movies is that Jake’s mother Kathy accidentally bought a pair of girls’ Esprit snow boots (purple with flower-print trimming) during a frenzied shopping sale. Kathy never bothered to get Jake any other boots, because apparently she didn’t want to go back to the store to exchange the Esprit boots for boots that Jake actually wants to wear.

Jake is embarrassed because his mother makes him wear these boots to school and other places when there’s snow outside. (Animotion’s 1984 hit “Obsession” plays on the movie’s soundtrack every time Jake puts on these boots.) And predictably, Jake gets harassed by bully Josh when Josh sees Jake wearing these feminine-looking shoes. It’s a not-very-well-written part of the story because this problem would’ve easily been solved by a merchandise exchange at the store.

Jake’s humiliation for wearing these boots (which is an over-used gag in “8-Bit Christmas”) plays into tired movie/TV stereotypes that anything “feminine” associated with a boy is supposed to automatically be a reason for the boy to be ridiculed and bullied. The movie makes a half-hearted attempt at explaining this sexist trope, by having the adult Jake explain to his daughter Annie that in the 1980s, people were less open-minded about gender equality and many other things. But if the filmmakers wanted a recurring joke about Jake being embarrassed about something that his mother makes him do, they could’ve picked a funnier scenario than Jake having to wear feminine-looking boots.

The good news is that “8-Bit Christmas” at least presents the girls in the movie as just as intelligent if not smarter than the boys. It certainly makes up for how this movie gives most of the screen time and the most adventurous parts of the story to the male characters. It’s pretty obvious that the movie’s main target audience is supposed to be anyone who has nostalgic memories of 1980s Nintendo video games, even though there isn’t one particular Nintendo game that gets spotlighted in the movie.

In terms of the “8-Bit Christmas” cast members, Fegley as the young Jake absolutely carries this movie to any level of charm that it might have to audiences. And that helps a lot, because the young Jake gets the vast majority of the screen time in this movie. Fegley has good comedic timing, and his character is relatable to most people who’ve been an 11-year-old child, regardless of gender. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles, with some of the actors continuing to be typecast as characters they’ve played in many other movies. (Zahn as a goofball; Cross as a sarcastic wiseass.)

“8-Bit Christmas,” which clocks in at a breezy 97 minutes, isn’t the type of movie that’s going to be considered a Christmas holiday classic, but it’s an agreeable way for viewers to pass some time if they want to see an entertaining Christmas holiday film for people in various age groups. The last 20 minutes of “8-Bit Christmas,” which are the best parts of the film, make up for much of the silliness that lowers the quality of the rest of the movie. “8-Bit Christmas” is ultimately a film that’s enjoyable without demanding too much intelligence or emotional investment from viewers.

HBO Max premiered “8-Bit Christmas” on November 24, 2021.

Review: ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris and Jada Pinkett Smith

December 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Matrix Resurrections”

Directed by Lana Wachowski

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, Tokyo and various parts of the universe, the sci-fi action flick “The Matrix Resurrections” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Thomas Anderson, also known as universe-saving hero Neo, gets pulled out of his “normal” life and back into the Matrix, as he strives to reunite with his long-lost love Trinity.

Culture Audience: “The Matrix Revolutions” will appeal primarily to people who are die-hard fans of “The Matrix” franchise and star Keanu Reeves, because everyone else will be easily lose interest in the movie’s jumbled and monotonous plot.

Jessica Henwick, Keanu Reeves and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

If you’re not familiar with any of the previous “Matrix” movies, then “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t care about you. The visual effects and stunts are dazzling, but this sci-fi/action movie’s plot is convoluted and duller than it should have been. Many people who’ve seen the previous Matrix movies will get confused or bored. You really need encyclopedic “Matrix” knowledge and an excellent memory to keep track of all the references to the previous “Matrix” movies that “The Matrix Resurrections” keeps dumping in the story without a proper explanation or much context.

Even if you prepare to watch “The Matrix Resurrections” by watching or re-watching the previous “Matrix” movies, you’ll notice that “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t do anything clever or innovative with the story. It’s just a tangled and tedious retelling of a basic adventure concept of a male hero going to a lot of trouble to impress and save the woman he loves.

In “The Matrix Resurrections,” which is the fourth movie in “The Matrix” film series, Lana Wachowski returns as a solo director, after co-directing the previous three “Matrix” films with her younger sister, Lilly Wachowski. The three previous films are 1999’s “The Matrix” (still the best one in the series), 2003’s “The Matrix Reloaded” and 2003’s “The Matrix Revolutions.” The first “Matrix” movie earned four well-deserved Academy Awards: Best Visual Efects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Lana Wachowski co-wrote “The Matrix Resurrections” with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon. These screenwriters have a clear disregard for the possibility that “The Matrix Resurrections” might be the first “Matrix” movie that some people will ever see. There is almost no attempt in “The Matrix Resurrections” to clearly explain what happened in the previous “Matrix” movies. When familiar characters appear in “The Matrix Resurrections,” viewers who are new to the franchise will not have an understanding of how these characters are relevant to the story, unless viewers know what these characters did in the previous “Matrix” movies.

There are some flashback scenes in “The Matrix Resurrections,” but they do little or nothing to explain the purpose of the characters who are shown in the flashbacks. Pity anyone who watches “The Matrix Resurrections” without this basic knowledge: Thomas Anderson, also known as Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), is the chosen hero, who is called The One, in an ongoing battle over control of humans and other beings in the universe. There’s an alternate world called the Matrix, where people are under the delusion that the world they live in is reality, but the Matrix is in fact a simulated reality.

In the first “Matrix” movie, Neo had a mentor named Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), who gave Neo the choice between taking a blue pill or a red pill. The blue pill would ensure that Neo would continue to live a blissful but delusional existence. The red pill would open Neo’s eyes to the truth. Neo took the red pill.

During Neo’s battle to save the universe in the first “Matrix” movie, Neo met another warrior named Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), and they fell in love. Neo and Trinity are soul mates and the biggest love of each other’s life. Their biggest nemesis was Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving), who had the ability to shapeshift and morph into other people or clones of himself. This is an essential detail to have some understanding of “The Matrix Resurrections,” because when Agent Smith’s name is first uttered in the movie and he appears in disguise, viewers need to know why this character is such a big deal.

At the beginning of “The Matrix Reurrections,” which does a lot of time-jumping and traveling between various realities, Neo/Thomas is “retired” from his “saving the universe” legacy. He’s living and working in San Francisco as an award-winning, legendary video game designer at a company he co-founded called Deus Machina, where he works with people who are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Thomas is famous because he designed a blockbuster video game series called “The Matrix” that’s based on his own experiences.

Even though Thomas has achieved the pinnacle of success in this industry, he remains humble and low-key. His ambitious and greedy business partner Smith (played by Jonathan Groff) has coaxed a reluctant Thomas to do a fourth installment of “The Matrix” video game series. Smith mentions that Deus Machina’s parent company is Warner Bros., which is the movie’s way of referencing “The Matrix” movie franchise distributor Warner Bros. Pictures. There’s a self-deprecating “wink wink, nudge nudge” tone to the number of times that “The Matrix Resurrections” refers to this fourth installment (of Thomas’s video game series and this movie) as being a cash grab, until the joke is repeated so many times that it gets very old.

As for business partner Smith, the significance of the name is so obvious, when a big reveal about this character arrives, it’s actually no big surprise. (This reveal is already in one of the movie’s trailers.) He’s slick and has some high-octane fight scenes, but he’s not a particularly interesting adversary when he gets into conflicts with Thomas/Neo. Much like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Smith in this movie is very superficial and flashy with not much substance.

Thomas/Neo has been having nightmares or hallucinations, so he’s in therapy. And if he seems like a heartbroken loner, that’s because he is. He’s still pining for Trinity. But he’ll get his chance to reunite with her, because that’s essentially the main goal in this muddled film that takes too long (two hours and 28 minutes) to tell a story that could’ve been told in two hours or less.

Whenever “The Matrix Resurrections” gets stuck in a plot rut (and it happens a lot), it shows Thomas waking up from a “hallucination,” and he’s in the therapist office of his unnamed analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris), who seems to know everything about Thomas. There’s a scene in the movie where Thomas/Neo looks in a mirror and finds out that his physical appearance is not what he thinks it is: He looks like an elderly man (played by Steven Roy) to many people.

The movie keeps people guessing on what’s reality and what’s not reality for Thomas/Neo, until it reaches a point when a lot of viewers won’t care much anymore. “The Matrix Resurrections” has too many gimmicks that are meant to deliberately confuse viewers. After a while, all these gimmicks are a turnoff. A big reveal toward the end the movie is not surprising because the movie telegraphs it many times.

Thomas’ identity as Neo has long been dormant, because most people think Neo is dead. However, a young computer hacker named Bugs (played by Jessica Henwick) has discovered that Neo is alive and well. In flashbacks, Bugs tells people how she found out: She works as a skyscraper window washer and saw Neo disguised as another man as he was about to jump off a nearby high-rise building. Bugs saw Neo jump off of the building and survive, so Bugs has been on a quest to find Neo ever since.

Of course, in a movie like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Bugs is no ordinary window washer/computer hacker. She has combat skills on the level of a super-soldier in a video game. Bugs has a computer hacking sidekick named Sequoia (played by Toby Onwumere), who’s mostly a virtual reality operator telling her what’s going on in alternate realities. Don’t expect a logical explanation for many of the identities of the new characters introduced in “The Matrix Resurrections.” It just seems like the filmmakers just made up things as they went along.

Bugs finds Neo, of course, and she takes it upon herself to be his “protector” when things go awry. Another person who finds Neo is the young-man version of Morpheus (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who predictably brings out that red pill and blue pill again for Neo to choose which path Neo’s life will take. However, anyone who’s seen any of the previous “Matrix” movies knows that Neo’s life was pre-ordained anyway.

One day, Thomas/Neo is hanging out at a coffee shop with a Deus Machina co-worker named Jude Gallagher (played by Andrew Lewis Caldwell), when Thomas/Neo sees Trinity, and Jude notices that Thomas/Neo seems attracted to her. However, Thomas/Neo pretends to Jude that he’s never met Trinity before. Thomas/Neo is too shy to approach her, so Jude (who tells Thomas/Neo that he thinks she’s a “MILF”) approaches Trinity on behalf of Thomas/Neo and makes the introduction.

Thomas/Neo is dismayed to find out that Trinity’s memory appears to have been blocked or erased, because she doesn’t know him when he starts talking to her. She’s now living as a woman named Tiffany, who builds and repairs motorcycles for a living. She’s also married to a guy named Chad (played by “John Wick” series director Chad Stahelski) and they have three underage kids together. At the coffee shop, Neo briefly meets Chad and two of the kids.

Later in the movie, Thomas/Neo and Trinity/Tiffany meet again at the same coffee shop, where she tells him that she thinks that she looks like Trinity in “The Matrix” video games. Trinity/Tiffany also says that when she mentioned the physical resemblance to her husband, he just laughed at her. It’s the first sign that Trinity/Tiffany might have a glimmer of recognition that maybe she had another life with Neo that has long been buried.

It’s enough to convince Neo to want to save Trinity from her blocked memory and get her back in his life. Along the way, he gets in numerous fights with people, creatures and machines that want to stop him in this quest. Bugs and Morpheus are also in most of these fight scenes with Neo. Also along for the ride to help Neo are young, good-looking combat warriors Lexy (played by Eréndira Ibarra) and Berg (played by Brian J. Smith), who look like they came from a modeling agency assembly line.

If you don’t know the purpose of Agents and Sentinels in the “Matrix” movies, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you have no idea who Niobe (played by Jada Pinkett Smith) and Sati (played as an adult by Priyanka Chopra Jonas) are and why they’re important to “The Matrix” saga, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you don’t care about the differences between the battle ships Nebuchadnezzar, the Hammer, and the Logos, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.”

Simply put: “The Matrix Resurrections” can be extremely alienating to anyone who isn’t a die-hard, obsessive “Matrix” fan. Sometimes, people just want to turn their brain off and watch an action-filled sci-fi movie. But most viewers don’t want to watch a movie sequel where their brains have to work overtime trying to figure out what’s going on and who certain characters are. And some of the characters didn’t need to be in the movie at all, such as Deus Machina executive Gwyn de Vere (played by Christina Ricci), which is a small, inconsequential role that’s a waste of Ricci’s talent.

If viewers get confused over what’s going in “The Matrix Resurrections,” it’s because “The Matrix Resurrections” filmmakers made the arrogant assumption that everyone watching should have seen all the previous “Matrix” movies. Therefore, a lot of “inside jokes” in “The Matrix Resurrections” are not as impactful as they could’ve been if the previous three “Matrix” movies had been better explained in “The Matrix Resurrections.” However, the screenplay and editing still make the movie very difficult to follow for people who’ve seen the previous “Matrix” movies but have hazy memories about them.

In between the action scenes of “The Matrix Resurrections” are characters standing around or sitting in meetings that are quite boring. A great deal of what they discuss is shared history that will be meaningless to viewers who don’t know anything about this shared history because they haven’t seen the previous “Matrix” movies. It’s like going to a class reunion when you never even went to the school.

Although the visual effects and stunts are the best things of “The Matrix Resurrections,” they’re not enough to make the movie feel like a relatable human saga. All of the acting is mediocre or just plain awful. The dialogue isn’t much better.

The movie’s attempts at comedy usually fall flat, including the silly and useless end-credits scene. Throughout the movie, Reeves seems like he’s sleepwalking through some of his lines of dialogue. That’s not what you want for a protagonist in what’s supposed to be a high-energy action flick.

“The Matrix Resurrections” seems so enamored with its parade of sci-fi and technological tricks, it fails to bring enough in the story that will make viewers feel connected to the characters in a relatable way. Unfortunately, “The Matrix Resurrections” leaves new viewers of the franchise in the dark about essential, interpersonal histories about many of the characters. Other viewers who know all about familiar “Matrix” characters before seeing “The Matrix Resurrections” might still end up feeling disconnected and disappointed that they haven’t learned anything fascinating at all.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Matrix Resurrections” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on December 22, 2021.

Review: ‘King Richard,’ starring Will Smith

November 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Aunjanue Ellis, Mikayla Bartholomew, Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton and Daniele Lawson in “King Richard” (Photo by Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“King Richard”

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green

Culture Representation: Taking place in the early-to-mid-1990s, mainly in California and Florida, the dramatic film “King Richard” features a cast of African American and white characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Coming from an underprivileged background, Richard “Richie” Williams becomes the first tennis coach of his daughters Venus and Serena, but his unorthodox methods often clash with the traditions of the elite world of tennis.

Culture Audience: “King Richard” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Will Smith and the real-life Venus Williams and Serena Williams, as well as people who are interested in well-acted sports movies about people who triumph against the odds.

Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Will Smith and Tony Goldwyn in King Richard” (Photo by Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The dramatic film “King Richard” is both a tribute and a feel-good Hollywood version of how Richard “Richie” Williams guided his daughters Venus and Serena to tennis superstardom. The movie is set in the early-to-mid-1990s, at the beginning of Venus’ and Serena’s tennis careers. The tennis matches in the story focus more on Venus’ rise to tennis glory, since her championships came before Serena’s.

In the role of Richard Williams, Will Smith gives a very charismatic performance as a flawed but loving and determined father. The movie shows in abundance how Richard Williams’ stubbornness was both an asset and a liability when he became the person who had the biggest impact on Venus’ and Serena’s respective tennis careers. As it stands, this movie is told from Richard’s male and very domineering perspective.

What saves this movie from being unchecked worship of patriarchy is that it gives credit to Oracene “Brandy” Williams (Venus and Serena’s mother, winningly played by Aunjanue Ellis) as being an underrated, positive force in the family. Oracene (who was a nurse when this story took place) was the one who held the family together in their toughest times. She was also the intelligence behind some of the crucial decisions that were made when Venus and Serena were underage children. If Richard was the “king” of the family, then Oracene was undoubtedly the “queen.”

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and written by Zach Baylin, “King Richard” doesn’t shy away from some of the controversial aspects of Richard Williams’ life, nor does the movie portray him as saintly. But the title of the movie says it all: The intention of “King Richard” is to give Richard Williams the same level of respect as the tennis stars who are treated as sports royalty. It’s a bit of a stretch, considering that Richard wasn’t the only coach that Venus and Serena ever had.

The movie acknowledges that Venus (played by Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (played by Demi Singleton) had plenty of other people who helped them along the way. There are moments when “King Richard” puts Richard Williams a little too much on a pedestal for being a “prophet” who predicted, when Venus and Serena were in elementary school, that Venus and Serena would become phenomenal tennis champs. Much ado is made about his 78-page plan where he made these predictions. The movie also depicts how Richard filmed homemade videos as electronic press kits to promote Venus and Serena.

Lots of parents have grandiose plans for their children, but it helps if those kids have the talent for whatever the parents are motivating them to do. This movie could have had a little more insight into the talent that makes Venus and Serena so special, as well as more information on when they started showing an interest in tennis. “King Richard” starts off with Venus at approximately age 11 and Serena at approximately age 10, with Richard as their “tough love” coach, already practicing on run-down tennis courts in their working-class hometown of Compton, California. At the time, Richard worked the night shift as a security guard.

The movie makes it look like all Richard had to do in the earliest days of their tennis career was to get Venus and Serena to practice a lot, in order to put the two sisters on the path to becoming great tennis players. But did Venus and Serena start with that passion for tennis, or were they pushed into it? The movie never says, because Richard (as the protagonist) is the main focus of the story. (It should be noted that Smith is also one of the producers of “King Richard.”) There are countless tennis parents who do the same things that Richard did to prepare their kids to become professional tennis players, but we don’t hear about them because their tennis kids just aren’t talented.

In the movie, Oracene (who was a widow when she married Richard in 1980) is the one who tells Richard that practicing on inferior tennis courts with substandard tennis rackets would get Venus and Serena nowhere, no matter how much hard work they did. Oracene is the one who motivates Richard to make the right connections in the elite world of tennis, where you need the kind of money that’s required to pay for training and entry fees into top tennis tournaments. However, the Williams family couldn’t afford these fees at the time. It’s at this point in the movie that Richard starts to transform himself into a maverick wheeler dealer in the tennis world.

He’s an unlikely tennis maverick. From the opening scene, the movie makes it clear that Richard’s English grammar skills aren’t very good, and he comes from a rough-and-tumble background. In a voiceover, Richard describes the type of upbringing he had: “Tennis was not a game peoples played. We was too busy running from the [Ku Klux] Klan.” (Richard was born in 1942 in Shreveport, Louisiana.)

Later in the movie, Richard tells his daughters: “When I was your age, I had to fight someone every day,” which is why he says that doesn’t get as fazed by setbacks as other people might be. The issues of racial differences and social-class inequalities are ever-present in the movie because a huge part of Venus’ and Serena’s success story is about how they became champions in a sport that’s been accessible mainly to white people who can afford it.

The Williams family members who are also depicted in the movie are Oracene’s three daughters from her first marriage: Tunde Price (played by Mikayla Bartholomew), Isha Price (played by Daniele Lawson) and Lyndrea Price (played Layla Crawford). (In real life, Venus, Serena and Isha are among the executive producers of “King Richard.”) When this movie takes place, the Williams household consists of Richard, Oracene, Venus, Serena, Tunde, Isha and Lyndrea. The girls are seen being being playful and happy around each other, doing things such as karaoke-type talent shows in their home when they spend time together.

However, “King Richard” has fairly shallow portrayals of Tunde, Isha and Lyndrea as nothing but characters whose main purpose in life is to agree with Richard and cheer on Venus and Serena when needed. In a household of five sisters, the sisters are never seen arguing with each other, or having jealousy issues because a parent seems to favor one child over another. This lack of sibling conflict is very unrealistic. The movie doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge that Richard’s single-minded focus on making Venus and Serena tennis champs surely came at a cost to his relationship with his stepdaughters, who must have felt treated differently by him.

Even in the best of circumstances, “King Richard” makes it look like Richard didn’t think his stepdaughters were worthy of the same type of attention that he was giving to Venus and Serena. Richard briefly mentions that he thinks that his other daughters in the household are “future doctors and lawyers,” but if he spent any time supporting his stepdaughters’ career goals, the movie never shows it and never shows what those goals were. “King Richard” doesn’t make an effort to distinguish the personalities of Tunde, Isha and Lyndrea, because the movie just makes them background characters in the Richard Williams show.

The only time Richard is showing individual “protective dad” attention to one of his stepdaughters is in an early scene in the movie where 16-year-old Tunde is watching Venus and Serena practice on a Compton tennis court. Richard and his other stepdaughters are there too. Some guys in their 20s are nearby. One of them, who’s named Bells (played by Craig Tate), tries to flirtatiously talk to Tunde, who seems uncomfortable with his attention. She quickly walks away from Bells when Richard sees what’s going on and tells her to get away from this leering stranger. Richard steps in and orders Bells to leave Tunde alone because she’s only 16 and not interested in dating him.

In response, Bells turns into a thug and punches Richard hard enough for Richard to fall to the ground. Richard gets up and walks away, but all five of the girls have witnessed this assault while waiting in Richard’s Volkswagen van. When he gets in the van and he’s asked if he’s okay, that’s when Richard says he had to fight someone every day when he was the same ages as his daughters. “And I didn’t have no daddy to stand in the way,” he adds. “They’re going to respect y’all.”

It won’t be the last time Richard takes a beating. He gets beat up physically, emotionally and mentally in various ways during his unstoppable efforts to make Venus and Serena among the greatest tennis players of all time. He gets plenty of rejections, of course. And he’s openly ridiculed for his decision to take Venus and Serena out of junior league tennis tournaments, so that Venus and Serena could focus on their education and go directly to the professional leagues. He often annoys people with his blunt approach, because he can be arrogant.

Richard is not a smooth talker, but the one characteristic that defines Richard in his key to his success is persistence. He’s well-aware that he doesn’t come from an educated, privileged and well-connected background. But that’s exactly why he’s so hungry for the success that he wants for Venus and Serena. He’s also fiercely proud and supportive of Venus and Serena, even if they lose a match. At least that’s how the movie portrays him.

Because of Richard’s persuasive finagling, Venus and Serena sign on with their first professional coach: Paul Cohen (played by Tony Goldwyn), who agrees to coach Venus and Serena for free because he believes in their talent and wants a cut of any prize money they will eventually win. For a while, Oracene helped RIchard with coaching duties for Serena when Cohen initially said he would only coach one of the sisters for free, and Richard decided it would be Venus. Later, Venus and Serena sign on with coach Rick Macci (played by Jon Bernthal), who agrees to relocate the entire Williams household to Macci’s home base in Florida’s Palm Beach County, where he pays for all of their living expenses and buys them the house where they live.

Macci is also motivated by getting a percentage of the millions that he thinks Venus and Serena will eventually earn. At the time, the Rick Macci International Tennis Academy (in Delray Beach, Florida) was best known for training tennis star Jennifer Capriati (played by Jessica Wacnik), who was an idol of Venus and Serena. Macci is shocked and dismayed when the investment he thought he made in Venus and Serena as future junior league champs turns out to be funding for Venus and Serena to not go on the junior league circuit after all.

It’s because Richard didn’t want his future tennis champs to get burned out on the junior league circuit. Richard tells Macci of this plan after Richard got what he wanted in their contract. Richard made the then-controversial and unheard-of decision to take Venus and Serena out of the junior leagues (the traditional route for tennis players to turn pro), so they could go to school like “normal kids” while training to go straight into the professional leagues.

Richard is further convinced he made the right decision when he sees the scandalous downfall of Capriati, beginning with her 1994 arrest for marijuana possession. The arrest exposed many of Capriati’s personal problems, which she has since largely blamed on the pressures and burnout of her junior league tennis career. Many people doubted that Venus and Serena could turn pro in their mid-teens, but Venus and Serena proved the naysayers wrong.

In addition to Capriati, other real-life tennis players are depicted by actors in brief appearances in the movie. They include John McEnroe (played by Christopher Wallinger), Pete Sampras (played by Chase Del Rey) and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario (played by Marcela Zacarias), who is Venus’ opponent in the movie’s big tennis showdown. McEnroe and Sampras are seen training with Cohen during one of Richard’s first meetings with the coach. Don’t expect any of these other tennis stars to have any meaningful lines of dialogue in the movie. Each person only says a few sentences.

In the movie, Richard is depicted as being a proverbial “helicopter dad” who hovers during practice and tries to tell coaches Cohen and Macci how to do their jobs. The movie demonstrates in these scenes that these coaches only tolerated Richard because of Venus’ and Serena’s talent, not because these coaches genuinely liked Richard as a friend or respected him as a business person. Macci, who’s more emotional than Cohen, isn’t afraid to express his anger at feeling deceived or frustrated by Richard. Both coaches are the friendliest to Richard when it’s about how they can make money off of Venus and Serena.

The movie tends to gloss over the fact that for all of Richard’s big talk, what really opened important doors for Venus and Serena were the money and connections of coaches such as Cohen and Macci. Richard was a package deal with Venus and Serena. We’ll never know how differently Richard might have been treated by some of these people if Venus and Serena weren’t his underage children at the start of their tennis careers.

In other words, if Venus and Serena weren’t underage children under Richard’s legal control, would he have been as successful in launching their careers? The movie implies the answer: Probably not, because less people in the tennis industry would’ve tolerated him and his admittedly alienating ways.

However, it’s precisely because Richard was the father of Venus and Serena that he protected them in ways that many coaches or managers probably would not have protected them. The issue of race cannot be underestimated because Venus and Serena got “real talk” from Richard about the racism they would experience in the sport of tennis, which has a reputation for being elitist and catering mainly to white people. As such, one of the movie’s obvious “Oscar bait” clips is a scene where a tearful Richard tells Venus in a pep talk about her groundbreaking role in professional tennis: “You’re not just going to be representing you. You’re going to be representing every little black girl on Earth!”

Venus and Serena are portrayed as polite, hardworking children who have no other interests besides tennis and hanging out with their sisters. In the movie, Richard is shown discouraging Venus and Serena from getting too close to kids outside of their family. When Richard wants a “yes” answer from his daughters, they answer, “Yes, Daddy,” like robotic kids on command. Richard expects Venus and Serena to tell him he’s their best friend when he asks. Venus complies with the answer Richard wants to hear, but Serena says Venus is her best friend first.

It’s all played for laughs and feel-good cheer. But some of this banter just seems a little too phony, giving the impression that a lot of the real story is left out about how Richard would lose his temper and say harmful things to Venus and Serena. It’s hard to believe this movie’s rosy portrayal that Richard never really yelled hurtful things to Venus and Serena, when every hard-driving, tough-talking coach does that one point or another to people whom the coach is training. The perspectives of Venus and Serena are not given much importance in this movie, except when it comes to how they’re going to win tennis matches.

For example, viewers never learn what Venus and Serena liked to study in school or what types of friends they made in school, even if the movie makes it look like Richard was the type of father who didn’t want his underage daughters to invite any friends to visit them in their home. The movie never shows how the family celebrated milestones such as Venus’ and Serena’s birthdays, or when they graduated from middle school to high school. It’s a strange omission, considering that in real life, Richard got a lot of criticism precisely because he wanted Venus and Serena to have “normal” school experiences at that age instead of going on tennis tours.

The movie’s erasure of Venus’ and Serena’s childhood experiences that aren’t related to tennis or family all goes back to the patriarchal purpose of the movie: Showing how Richard programmed Venus and Serena on how to be tennis champs, not how to prepare them for life after tennis. There have been several documentaries about Venus and Serena where the two sisters openly admit that they will have a difficult time dealing with life when they both retire from tennis.

And how hard was Richard on Venus and Serena? The movie hints that people had concerns. There’s a scene where a police officer and a government social worker go to the Williams home in Compton to investigate a complaint that Venus and Serena were being abused because of all the rigorous training that Richard made them do.

Richard and Oracene are naturally insulted and defensive. They deny any abuse, and nothing comes of the complaint. The movie makes it look like a jealous neighbor named Ms. Strickland (played by Erika Ringor) is behind the complaint, but you have to wonder if that neighbor character was created in the movie as a villainous stand-in for well-meaning people in real life who had concerns about Richard’s parenting skills.

Whether or not there was any abuse, the family did have serious problems, which is acknowledged in one of the movie’s best scenes. It’s when Oracene confronts Richard for letting his ego stifle Venus’ wishes to play in the professional leagues at the age of 14. Oracene and Richard have an argument, which leads to Oracene verbally ripping into Richard for abandoning the family he had with his first wife and not seeming to care about having a relationship with the children he left behind in the divorce. (Richard had five biological kids and one stepchild with his first wife Betty Johnson, to whom he was married from 1965 to 1973.)

During this argument, Oracene reminds Richard that he’s had a string of failed businesses because he gave up too quickly when things got a little too hard for him. It’s easy to read between the lines, even though the movie doesn’t come right out and say it: Venus and Serena were Richard’s last-ditch attempt to get rich after he failed at starting his own businesses. He needed their talent because his own skills as an entrepreneur were questionable at best.

In the movie’s zeal to put Richard on a “prophet pedestal” and to make Oracene and Richard look like a loving couple that will stay together “’til death do us part,” the movie’s epilogue leaves out this reality: Richard and Oracene divorced in 2002. In 2010, Richard married his third wife Lakeisha Juanita Graham (who’s young enough to be his daughter), they had a son, and then the marriage ended in divorce in 2017. Maybe the “King Richard” filmmakers think that the public shouldn’t care about these details of Richard being a failure as a husband because Venus and Serena turned out to be rich and famous.

Despite the flaws in the movie’s screenplay, “King Richard” has exemplary acting from Smith, who gives one of his best movie performances as the gruff but compelling Richard. Sidney’s portrayal of Venus gets more of an emotional journey than Singleton’s portrayal of Serena, who is mostly in Venus’ shadow at this point in the sisters’ lives. (In real life, Serena would later emerge has having a more assertive personality than Venus.)

In the movie, Richard explains to Serena that he planned for Venus to become a star first. Richard predicts Venus will be ranked No. 1 in the world before Serena achieves that same goal, but Serena will eventually be considered by many to be the “greatest of all time” in tennis. He tells Serena: “I knew you was rough, you was tough, and you was a fighter.”

Sidney and Singleton both adeptly handle the movie’s tennis-playing scenes. A big highlight of the movie is an emotionally gripping, climactic scene at the 1994 Bank of the West Classic tournament in Oakland, California. One of the movie’s strengths is that it doesn’t fall into the usual clichés of how sports dramas usually end. However, the tropes of a “tough love” father/coach are played to the hilt.

As a sports movie, “King Richard” might disappoint some viewers who are expecting more screen time devoted to tennis matches. But more tennis matches on screen should be expected if Venus and Serena were the central characters. “King Richard” never lets you forget that the central character is someone who was never a pro tennis player: Richard Williams. However, the movie has the grace to admit that Venus and Serena turned out to be extraordinary people because of their mother Oracene too.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “King Richard” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on November 19, 2021.

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