2021 Academy Awards: presenters and performers announced

April 23, 2021

The following is a combination of press releases from ABC:

Oscar® nominee Steven Yeun will join the ensemble cast slated to present at the 93rd Oscars®, show producers Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher and Steven Soderbergh announced today. “The Oscars” will air live on Sunday, April 25, 2021, on ABC.

“Surprise! We’re so excited to welcome Steven to the crew, and he completes our Oscars cast. No, really, this is it,” said Collins, Sher and Soderbergh.

The previously announced lineup includes Riz Ahmed, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Laura Dern, Harrison Ford, Bong Joon Ho, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya.

Celeste, H.E.R., Leslie Odom Jr., Laura Pausini, Daniel Pemberton, Molly Sandén and Diane Warren will perform the five nominated original songs in their entirety for “Oscars: Into the Spotlight,” the lead-in to the 93rd Oscars. One performance will be recorded in Húsavík, Iceland, and four at the Dolby Family Terrace of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Hosted by actors Ariana DeBose (“Hamilton”) and Lil Rel Howery (“Bad Trip”), the 90-minute “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will highlight the nominees’ journey to Hollywood’s biggest night, give fans around the world the ultimate insiders’ sneak peek to the party and, for the first time, bring Oscar music to the festivities. The show will feature a special appearance by DJ Tara. “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will air Oscar Sunday, April 25, at 6:30 p.m. EDT/3:30 p.m. PDT.  

The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby® Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and international locations via satellite.  “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will air live on ABC at 6:30 p.m. EDT/3:30 p.m. PDT. “The Oscars” will be televised live on ABC at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT and in more than 200 territories worldwide.  “Oscars: After Dark” will immediately follow the Oscars show.

ABOUT THE ACADEMY
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a global community of more than 10,000 of the most accomplished artists, filmmakers and executives working in film. In addition to celebrating and recognizing excellence in filmmaking through the Oscars, the Academy supports a wide range of initiatives to promote the art and science of the movies, including public programming, educational outreach and the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Review: ‘Tom and Jerry,’ starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Colin Jost, Rob Delaney and Ken Jeong

March 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jerry and Tom in “Tom and Jerry” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Tom and Jerry”

Directed by Tim Story

Culture Representation: Set in New York City, the live-action/animated film “Tom and Jerry” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Longtime “frenemies” Tom (a stray cat) and Jerry (a pesky mouse) find themselves causing mischief at an upscale hotel, which will be the site of a major celebrity wedding.

Culture Audience: “Tom and Jerry” will appeal primarily to fans of the original “Tom and Jerry” cartoon series or people who want something for their young children to watch, but this clumsily made and boring film can’t come close to the exuberant spirit of the original “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.

Goldie, Jerry, Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña and Rob Delaney in “Tom and Jerry” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Animation technology has come a long way since the “Tom and Jerry” franchise was created in 1940 with a series of short films by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. But having better technology still can’t replace good storytelling. And in that respect, the live-action/animated film “Tom and Jerry” (directed by Tim Story) is vastly inferior to all the “Tom and Jerry” films that came before it. Even if the movie might have been “dumbed down” with the intent of making it easier for very young children to understand, it’s still an insult to children’s intelligence to make this such a dull and awkward film.

Written by Kevin Costello, “Tom and Jerry” is a movie that looks like a haphazard collection of short sketches that were forced into a flimsy overall plot. In the movie, main characters Tom (an animated cat) and Jerry (an animated mouse) wreak havoc at an upscale New York City hotel that’s the venue for a high-profile celebrity wedding. Tom and Jerry are famously mute, while other animated animal characters in their world can talk. It’s too bad that no one muted this lazy and unimaginative movie by not making the movie at all.

What’s supposed to pass as comedy in this film is very stale. The action sequences are forgettable. And there’s no suspense in this story because everyone, except for people who’ve never seen cartoons before, will know exactly how this movie is going to end. The live-action actors all look like they did this movie for their paychecks, not because their hearts are in it.

“Tom and Jerry” takes place in New York City, where Tom and Jerry have known each other for an undetermined period of time and have crossed paths on the streets of New York City, where they live. Jerry is the “brattier” one of the two. In an early scene in the movie, a marquee sign at Madison Square Garden shows that Tom is a keyboardist who’s supposed to be appearing as an opening act for John Legend.

But, as an example of how poorly written this movie is, Tom is then shown playing his keyboard in a park, busking for change to a small group of people and pretending to be a blind musician. It doesn’t make sense that an artist who’s reached the level of playing Madison Square Garden, even as an opening act, would have to stoop to the level of doing these small-time con games. The marquee could have been Tom’s fantasy but it’s presented in the movie as real.

Jerry knows that Tom isn’t really blind, so it isn’t long before he causes some mischief and exposes Tom for being a fraud. It’s one of many “back and forth” acts of revenge that the cat and mouse play on each other throughout the story. None of these acts is particularly inventive or exciting in this movie. Tom has two imaginary alter egos that can talk and represent his inner thoughts: an “angel” that represents Tom’s “good side” and a “devil” that represents Tom’s bad side. Both characters are voiced by Lil Rel Howery.

As Tom chases Jerry for ruining Tom’s “blind keyboardist” act, they both crash into Mackayla “Kayla” Forester, a temp worker in her 20s who was on her way from picking up dry cleaning in her work as a personal assistant. Of course, the clothes go flying in different directions and get dirty.

The next thing you know, Kayla is on the phone with her boss (played by Craig Stein) at the employment agency, and he tells her that she’s suspended. She begs for another chance and offers to be his personal assistant. He refuses and says she might not be suited for this type of work. She agrees and quits on the spot.

Kayla is apparently having financial problems because she’s been going to the Royal Gale Hotel by pretending to be a guest and getting free meals at the buffet-styled dining area. The hotel’s main doorman Gavin (played by Daniel Adegboyega) knows that she’s been doing this freeloading. The next time he sees Kayla arrive at the hotel one morning, he asks if she’s back for the free food.

After getting some free breakfast, Kayla is in the lobby when she sees a prim and proper woman who looks like she might be able to afford a personal assistant. The woman is seated by herself in the lobby. Kayla sits down next to the woman, who is a Brit named Linda Perrybottom (played by Camilla Arfwedson), and strikes up a conversation.

Kayla is wearing a black leather jacket and tight black jeans, so she’s not as well-dressed as most of the hotel’s usual clientele. Linda notices it immediately, and she’s a little standoffish when Kayla tries to figure out if she can finagle her way into this stranger’s life for some money. Kayla asks Linda if she needs a personal assistant, and the answer is no.

It turns out that Linda is not a guest at the hotel, but she’s applying for a temp job in the hotel’s events department. Linda tells Kayla that she wants the job so that she can work on the upcoming wedding ceremony of a celebrity couple named Preeta Mehta (played by Pallavi Sharda) and Ben Jacobson (played by Colin Jost), who are famous enough to be on the cover of a gossip magazine that Linda shows to Kayla. It’s implied that Preeta and Ben are in the entertainment business, probably as actors.

Although Linda seems wary of Kayla, Linda ends up talking too much and giving away too much information about herself. Kayla sees an opportunity to steal Linda’s identity by first lying to Linda and saying that she’s an undercover supervisor who works for the hotel and was testing Linda to see how she treats strangers at the hotel. Kayla tells Linda that she failed the test because Linda was rude and indiscreet about Preeta and Ben’s wedding.

Kayla then asks Linda to see her résumé and tells Linda that she didn’t get the job. And just like that, Kayla takes Linda’s résumé, goes to a copy center to replace Linda’s name with her own. The résumé is so impressive that Kayla is hired on the spot for the job that Linda wanted. Needless to say, Kayla has no experience in hotel hospitality work or in event planning.

Kayla’s immediate boss is Terence Mendoza (played by Michael Peña), the hotel’s events manager. Terence reports to Henry Dubros (played by Rob Delaney), the hotel’s general manager. They both meet Kayla for the interview and put her immediately to work.

Terence is a smarmy character who becomes suspicious of Kayla’s qualifications early on, so she has to always keep one step ahead of him to prevent him from finding out that she’s a fraud. Terence is more likely to dismiss Kayla’s ideas, while Henry is more open-minded and willing to give Kayla a chance. Terence is desperate for Henry’s approval, so he’s often two-faced in how he deals with employees, depending on how well he thinks it will help further his career and impress Henry.

During Kayla’s first day on the job, she’s introduced to some of the other hotel employees who are featured in the movie. Chef Jackie (played by Ken Jeong) is a cranky taskmaster who likes to yell at his subordinates. Joy (played Patsy Ferran) is a nervous and socially awkward bellhop. Cameron (played by Jordan Bolger) is a laid-back and friendly bartender, who ends up giving Kayla some pep talks when certain things start to go wrong for her.

The first problem that Kayla encounters is finding out there’s a mouse loose in the hotel. The mouse is first spotted in one of the worst places to find a mouse: in the kitchen. And we all know who the mouse is. Tom the cat is lurking around too, so Kayla decides to “hire” Tom to capture Jerry. There’s a scene where Tom is literally wearing a bellhop cap, as if that is automatically supposed to be funny.

The rest of the movie is just more run-arounds, mishaps and sight gags, leading up to the big wedding. There’s a very dull subplot about how Ben ignores that Preeta wants a simple ceremony, and he becomes caught up in the idea of making the wedding more and more elaborate. It’s supposed to be a traditional Indian wedding, but Ben has taken over the wedding planning, as if he wants it to be a big movie production.

Ben is also very nervous about getting the approval of Preeta’s stern father (played by Ajay Chhabra), who acts like he can barely tolerate Ben. There are some humorless scenes where Ben and Mr. Mehta interact with each uncomfortably. Preeta’s mother (played by Somi De Souza) and Ben’s parents (played by Patrick Poletti and Janis Ahern) are also there, but their characters are written as very non-descript and unremarkable.

Ben’s obsession with wanting a lavish wedding reaches a point where he gets two elephants and a tiger for the ceremony. The idea is to have Ben and Preeta ride in on the two elephants, whose names are Cecil and Malcolm. All of the wild animals in the movie are animated characters. So too are the movie’s many domesticated animals, including Ben and Preeta’s pets: a bulldog named Spike (voiced by Bobby Cannavale) and a pampered cat named Toots.

The other animal characters in “Tom and Jerry” are three alley cats that are members of a gang that sometimes menace Tom: gang leader Butch (voiced by Nicky Jam), red-haired Lightning (voiced by Joey Wells) and diminutive Topsy (voiced by Harry Ratchford). There’s also Goldie, a goldfish that lives in Henry’s office and becomes a hunting target for Tom. And there’s a rapping bird named Pigeon (voiced by “Tom and Jerry” director Story) that acts as a narrator.

Because “Tom and Jerry” is a live-action/animation hybrid, the movie relies heavily on how convincing the actors look next to these animated characters. Moretz fares the best in putting the most effort in expressing different emotions with these imaginary animals. Peña at times looks uncomfortable, while Jeong dials up his angry and sarcastic persona to the highest and campiest notches.

There are some very predictable hijinks that ensue that often happen in movies with a wedding as the center of the action. A ring goes missing, a cake is in danger of being destroyed, and certain characters will inevitably have a big fight. It’s nothing that hasn’t already been done in other movies.

In addition to the formulaic plot developments, the dialogue and gags are often cringeworthy. When Kayla first meets Preeta and Ben, she gushes over them and tells them what a cute couple they are. Kayla also compliments Preeta on Preeta’s enormous engagement ring: “That rock! You can see it from outer space!” Ben smugly replies, “You can see our love from outer space.”

And it should come as no surprise that Spike the bulldog character is used for the inevitable fart and defecation jokes that every kids-oriented animal film seems to have these days. Spike eats a burrito that doesn’t agree with his intestinal system. And there’s a scene where Terence has to walk the dog after the dog ate the burrito. Enough said.

The direction and tone of “Tom and Jerry” are best described as a movie that doesn’t have any clever ideas and jumps around too much from antic to antic, in order to distract people from the very weak plot. The alley cat gang, which could have been used for more comedy, is very under-used in the film. Tom and Jerry do their expected slapstick shenanigans, but they’re surrounded by human characters that are just too bland.

And the movie’s visual effects aren’t very impressive, since some of the animation looks really out-of-place with the live actors. An example of a live-action/animation hybrid that did everything right is 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which didn’t have a lot of the animation technology that exists today. “Tom and Jerry” isn’t the worst animated film ever. But considering that people have so many better options, this movie is not essential viewing. It’s just not worth watching if you’re interested in engaging entertainment that’s truly fun to experience.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Tom and Jerry” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on February 26, 2021.

Review: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah,’ starring Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield

February 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

LaKeith Stanfield (in front) and Daniel Kaluuya (in back) in “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Photo by Glenn Wilson/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Judas and the Black Messiah”

Directed by Shaka King

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Chicago in 1968 and 1969, the drama “Judas and the Black Messiah” features a predominately African American cast (with some white people and Latinos) representing people involved in the civil rights movement and law enforcement.

Culture Clash: The Black Panther Party, including Illinois chapter chairman Fred Hampton, was the target of FBI investigations that included hiring an African American paid informant named Bill O’Neal to infiltrate the Black Panther Party to help the FBI bring down Hampton and his colleagues.

Culture Audience: “Judas and the Black Messiah” will appeal primarily to people interested in movies about the civil rights movement for African Americans.

LaKeith Stanfield and Jesse Plemons in “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Photo by Glenn Wilson/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” which is based on true events, mostly succeeds as presenting a rousing and riveting depiction of a troubling side of the U.S. civil rights movement that is rarely seen as the central plot of a movie: How African Americans were used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to betray African American civil rights leaders who were labeled as “troublemakers” by the FBI. It’s a necessary and sometimes uncomfortable examination of specific people in the late 1960s history of the civil rights movement, even though “Judas and the Black Messiah” has some awards-bait dramatics that were obviously manufactured for the movie.

Directed by Shaka King (who co-wrote the screenplay with Will Berson), “Judas and the Black Messiah” shows two very different sides of the African American experience with the civil rights movement. On the one side is the urgent activism embodied by Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. On the other side, is the passive political apathy of William “Bill” O’Neal, a car thief who was lured into betraying the Black Panthers by being a paid confidential informant for the FBI, in exchange for the FBI keeping O’Neal out of prison for his past crimes, such as car theft and impersonating a FBI agent.

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” which takes place primarily in Chicago, is told from perspective of O’Neal (played by LaKeith Stanfield), but Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya) is most definitely portrayed as the heroic soul of the movie. In real life, Hampton and O’Neal were in their early 20s when this movie takes place from late 1968 to late 1969. Thankfully, the filmmakers chose “Judas and the Black Messiah” as the movie’s title, instead of the movie’s original and very misleading title “Jesus Was My Homeboy.” Jesus is not a major theme in this movie at all.

The term “black messiah” refers to then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s fear that the civil rights movement would gain momentum under a powerful and charismatic leader. For a while, that leader was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), until he was brutally assassinated on April 4, 1968. “Judas and the Black Messiah” starts off in late 1968, when the civil rights movement became increasingly fractured by ideological divides between those who wanted to follow MLK’s non-violence philosophy and those such as the Black Panthers, who wanted to follow a more left-wing-leaning “any means necessary” philosophy, even if those means included violence.

Hoover has been depicted in various ways in movies and television, but in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” there’s no doubt that Hoover (played by Martin Sheen, in prosthetic makeup) is the movie’s chief villain. In an early scene in the movie, Hoover is presumably at FBI headquarters as he addresses an auditorium full of FBI agents (all white men, as Hoover reportedly preferred), with an oversized projection screen that looks a little too ahead of its time, as if he’s giving a TED Talk. This is supposed to be 1968, not 2018. It’s one of a few details that don’t ring true in the movie.

During this FBI assembly, Hoover sneers, “The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to our national security. Our counterintelligence program must prevent the rise of a black messiah among their midst, one with the potential to unite Communists, the anti-war and the new left movements.” A photo of Hampton then appears on the giant projection screen, to make it clear that Hampton is now one of the FBI’s main targets.

Meanwhile, O’Neal is shown being a small-time car thief with an unusual method of operation: He impersonates a FBI agent (including having a fake badge) and pretends to arrest someone for having a stolen car. He looks for potential victims, by at least finding out their names and what kind of car they have, so the fake arrest can look real. And he chooses people who are probably into illegal activities and aren’t likely to go to the police when the theft victims find out they’ve been tricked. It’s implied that all of O’Neal’s theft victims are black, since he knows he’d have very little chance of getting away with this FBi impersonation stunt if he tried it on white people.

What usually happens during this fake FBI arrest is that O’Neal gets the handcuffed person’s car keys and steals that person’s car. Except when viewers first see O’Neal in this movie, that plan backfires in a bad way. O’Neal walks into a bar while some men are playing pool and tries to arrest one of them, but this stranger resists being handcuffed. The “arrestee” has a few friends who also try to stop the detainment. They’re all immediately suspicious of this “arrest” and chase after O’Neal in the car.

One of the friends jumps on the car roof with a knife and starts stabbing through the roof and ends up stabbing O’Neal. The injuries aren’t serious, but they’re enough for this car theft to be completely botched. O’Neal barely manages to get away from the angry group when he’s pulled over by police.

The movie then fast-forwards to O’Neal in a meeting with the FBI special agent who will be the one to lure O’Neal into the FBI sting: Roy Mitchell (played by Jesse Plemons), an ambitious smooth talker who asks O’Neal why he impersonated a FBI agent for a car theft. O’Neal replies, “A badge is scarier than a gun.”

Mitchell then asks O’Neal how he felt about the assassinations of MLK and Malcolm X. O’Neal replies that he was a “little bit” upset over MLK’s murder and he didn’t give much thought to Malcolm X’s murder. It’s at this point that Mitchell knows that O’Neal doesn’t care much about politics or the civil rights movement, and therefore O’Neal can be easily manipulated into being an informant.

First, Mitchell says that the only way that O’Neal can avoid prison is to work as an informant for the FBI. Whenever O’Neal starts to express doubts about being an informant (and this happens several times throughout the story), Mitchell tells O’Neal that the Black Panthers aren’t much different from the Ku Klux Klan, because Mitchell says both are radical, unpatriotic groups that want to divide people by their races and overthrow the U.S. government.

It doesn’t take long for O’Neal to infiltrate the Black Panther Party in Chicago and gain the trust of Hampton, who makes O’Neal the head of security. Hampton is a smart and magnetic leader who is respected by other party members because he often shows through words and deeds that the cause he’s fighting for isn’t about his ego but is about the people and future generations. Unlike other Black Power leaders, who wanted to keep black people separate from people of other races, Hampton embraced alliances with like-minded people of other races.

Hampton is credited with creating the Rainbow Coalition in 1969, which aimed to unite other anti-establishment groups for shared causes. It was a concept that was met with some resistance from the separatist Black Panthers, but because this is a movie, the Rainbow Coalition’s origins are a little too oversimplified and streamlined. One minute, Hampton and some other Black Panthers are showing up uninvited to meetings by the Young Patriots (a group of working-class white people) and the Young Lords (a group of Puerto Ricans) and making themselves known as unexpected allies. The next minute, Hampton is leading a Rainbow Coalition rally with members of the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots and the Young Lords in attendance.

The movie also shows how Hampton spearheaded the alignment of the Black Panthers with a Chicago-based African American gang called the Crowns, in order for the Black Panthers to have access to weapons and armed security backup. And what do you know, one of the Crowns just happens to be someone who was in that group that chased after O’Neal in that botched car theft. There’s a very “movie moment” when O’Neal is sure this guy is going to remember him, thereby making O’Neal more paranoid that his cover will be blown.

Some of the other Black Panther Party members who are featured in the movie include Jimmy Palmer (played by Ashton Sanders), Jake Winters (played by Algee Smith), Judy Harmon (played by Dominique Thorn) and Deborah Johnson (played by Dominique Fishback), a wide-eyed student who is in awe of Hampton and ends up becoming his girlfriend. In real life, Johnson is now known as Akua Njeri, and she gave birth to Fred Hampton Jr. in December 1969. Njeri and Hampton Jr. both were consultants on “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

Of course, in any movie that involves spying, there are double crosses and constant questions about loyalty, honesty and who can be trusted. The movie ramps up the tension not only outside the Black Panther Party but also within it. “Judas and the Black Messiah” also raises thought-provoking questions that will make people wonder about the prices that people pay for freedom, however freedom might be defined by individuals. And when there are informants or spies who are paid to betray, to what extent should they be branded as the “enemy”?

“Judas and the Black Messiah” has undoubtedly powerful performances by Kaluuya as Hampton and Stanfield as O’Neal. Kaluuya has the flashier role that will get more attention, mainly because there’s no ambiguity about his purpose in the film: depicting Hampton as a civil rights hero. In the few times Hampton was depicted in scripted projects before “Judas and the Black Messiah” was made, Hampton was usually a marginal character who didn’t have much depth, such as in the Netflix 2020 movie “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

In “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Hampton is a larger-than-life personality who gets the big speeches, the leadership position at rallies, and the martyrdom when he lands in prison at the height of his power. Hampton’s biggest showcase speech scene comes after he’s released from prison and gets a hero’s welcome during a Black Panther rally in Chicago. After leading the crowd to chant, “I am a revolutionary!” several times in the speech, he declares poetically: “You can murder a liberator, but you can’t murder liberation! You can murder a revolutionary, but you can’t murder a revolution! You can murder a freedom fighter, but you can’t murder freedom!”

Stanfield has the more difficult and nuanced role as the conflicted and duplicitous O’Neal. On the one hand, O’Neal knows he’s a traitor. On the other hand, O’Neal is portrayed as someone who genuinely became friends with many people in the Black Panther Party, but he felt powerless to stop the informant deal that he made with the FBI. There are times when O’Neal shows so much loyalty to the Black Panthers that FBI agent Mitchell doubts whose side O’Neal is really on.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” doesn’t let O’Neal completely off the hook for his betrayal, but the movie gives the impression that his decisions were not about the money but about his fear of going to prison if he didn’t comply with what the FBI wanted. In real life, O’Neal gave only one TV interview about his Black Panther/FBI informant experience. It was in 1989, in an interview for the PBS show “Eyes on the Prize 2,” which aired the interview on January 15, 1990. Clips of this interview are recreated in the movie.

The performances in “Judas and the Black Messiah” are impactful and deserving of high praise. Where the movie falters is in some of the scenarios depicting the interactions between O’Neal and his FBI contact Mitchell. In the movie, Mitchell deliberately kept O’Neal’s identity a secret from most his FBI colleagues. (Hoover knew though.) Therefore, it doesn’t make sense that the movie shows O’Neal and Mitchell openly meeting several times in upscale restaurants, where O’Neal is obviously the only black person there as a dining patron. It wouldn’t have been hard for the movie’s screenwriters to keep all of the meetings between O’Neal and Mitchell in less public places.

O’Neal’s wardrobe gets a little more stylish as he starts to make more money from the FBI. But in the beginning, O’Neal definitely stands out in these restaurants because he’s dressed inappropriately (too casual) for these kinds of dining establishments. If you were to believe this movie, in 1969 Chicago, a black man in “street clothes” can walk into an upscale restaurant where all the other patrons are white, sit down, have dinner with a white man in a suit, and no one notices, stares or questions why this inappropriately dressed black man is there. Things like that would’ve definitely gotten noticed in the real world. And this scenario is not exactly O’Neal and Mitchell keeping their relationship undercover or incognito.

Another “only in a movie” contrivance is in a scene where a despondent O’Neal ends up in a bar, where a woman shows a romantic interest in him after she rejects a fur-coat-wearing motormouth at a nearby barstool. The rejected man (played by Lil Rel Howery), who is identified only as Wayne in the movie’s end credits, is a stranger to O’Neal, but Wayne drops hints that he knows that O’Neal is working for the FBI.

O’Neal, who is already feeling very uneasy, follows Wayne out to Wayne’s car and demands to know who he is. The movie, with anxiety-filled music building to a crescendo, then has Wayne reveal something that’s meant to shock O’Neal and the audience. It’s highly doubtful this confrontation ever happened in real life, but fans of the Oscar-winning 2017 horror movie “Get Out” will be happy to see “Get Out” co-stars Kaluuya, Stanfield and Howery reunited as cast members for “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

As the only women with significant speaking roles in the movie, Fishback (as Hampton’s girlfriend Johnson) and Thorne (as Black Panther member Harmon) show considerable talent, although this is definitely a male-dominated film. Johnson’s character evolves from being a star-stuck fangirl of Hampton to being a loyal romantic partner to being a strong-willed expectant mother, who can’t help but feel impending heartbreak and doom when she hears Hampton give a speech saying that he will probably die for his people. Thorne’s Harmon is a badass who can get down and dirty in fight scenes just like the men do, such as in a tension-filled shootout between the Chicago Police Department and the Black Panthers.

The flaws in the movie’s screenplay are outweighed by the significant talent of the cast members and the ability of director King to maintain a suspenseful edge. Even though many people watching this movie might already know what happened to Hampton and O’Neal in real life, “Judas and the Black Messiah” triumphs in capturing the essence of this era of the civil rights movement in America. There might be fabricated “only in a movie” moments, but the film authentically conveys the passion and necessity for civil rights.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Judas and the Black Messiah” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on February 12, 2021.

Review: ‘The Photograph,’ starring Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield

February 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in “The Photograph” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“The Photograph”

Directed by Stella Meghie 

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in New York City and Louisiana, the romantic drama “Photograph” has a primarily African American cast of characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Career ambitions and the fear of commitment have affected the love lives of a museum curator and her late mother, who left behind her humble roots in Louisiana to become a famous photographer in New York City.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to audiences looking for nuanced and emotional romantic dramas that don’t fall into the trap of melodramatic clichés.

Y’lan Noel and Chanté Adams in “The Photograph” (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/Universal Pictures)

It’s about time. “The Photograph” is a rare treasure of a romantic drama that doesn’t pander to negative stereotypes of African Americans. The people aren’t constantly cursing, the men are gainfully employed and aren’t criminals, and the women aren’t mad at the men for being cheaters, abusers or deadbeat baby daddies. There used to be a time when there were dramatic films that showed a better and more realistic variety of African Americans instead of the embarrassing caricatures that unfortunately are written for many of today’s movies that have predominantly African American casts.

For people who want to see more African American films like “Love Jones” or “Brown Sugar,” fortunately “The Photograph” is a return to these types of movies where black people aren’t all poor, uneducated and/or living in crime-infested areas. “The Photograph” might be considered “boring” for people who like to see black folks yelling at each other non-stop. But for other people who can appreciate classier and more emotionally mature adult relationships, “The Photograph” is the type of movie that will be a welcome treat.

Written and directed by Stella Meghie, “The Photograph” goes back and forth in telling two different love stories from two different eras. The contemporary love story takes place in New York City, and it involves assistant museum curator Mae Morton (played by Issa Rae) and news journalist Michael Block (played by LaKeith Stanfield). They meet because Michael, who works for a news/lifestyle magazine called The Republic, is doing a story on Mae’s mother, Christina Eames, a famous photographer who has recently passed away.

The other love story takes place in late 1980s Louisiana, and it involves Christina (played by Chanté Adams) as a young, aspiring photographer and Isaac Jefferson (played by Y’Lan Noel), a local fisherman who was Christina’s boyfriend at the time. In the beginning of the film, Michael is seen interviewing a middle-aged Isaac (played by Rob Morgan), who basically says that even though he and Christina lost touch with each other when she moved to New York City in the late 1980s, she was the love of his life and he never really got over their relationship ending. Isaac shows Michael a self-portrait photograph that Christina took, and Michael takes a photo of it on his phone, which he later shows to Mae after he meets her in New York.

When Mae and Michael first meet each other at her Queens Museum job, they both think it’s going to be a work-related conversation, but they feel some romantic sparks when they first set eyes on each other. Michael is there to interview Mae (who was estranged from her mother for most of her life) and to see if Mae has any of Christina’s personal mementos that she would feel comfortable showing him. Mae has some letters from Christina that were supposed to be read after Christina died, but Mae has difficulty bringing herself to read all the letters in their entirety.

That’s because Christina abandoned her husband Louis Morton (played by Courtney B. Vance) and Mae when Mae was a very young girl. The reason that Christina gave for leaving them was that she was too devoted to her career to be a good wife and mother. Those emotional wounds never really healed for Mae. And although she feels some level of grief over the death of her mother, she didn’t really know her, and Mae has conflicting feelings about how much sadness she should feel about her mother’s death.

The movie shows flashbacks of what went wrong in the relationship between Christina and Isaac. Although they loved each other deeply, Christina was feeling too restless in Louisiana, and she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a well-known and respected professional photographer. Meanwhile, Isaac was comfortable staying in Louisiana to become a fisherman. The couple parted ways over their different goals and lifestyle ambitions. But the way Christina left was abrupt, and Isaac never really got closure for it.

A few years later after she had married and become a mother in New York City, Christina once again, in a single-minded pursuit of her career, left behind loved ones to focus on her work ambitions. As Mae and Michael start to date and open up to each other, Mae confesses that she’s afraid of becoming just like her mother.

Meanwhile, Michael also has issues with commitment since he has a “grass is always greener” attitude about a lot of his romantic relationships. Before he met Christina, he had a long-distance romance with a woman in Louisiana, but that relationship ended around the time he interviewed Isaac. Mae finds out about the ex-girlfriend and is mildly jealous, but she gets over it when she realizes that she and Michael have something special.

Mae and Michael are a great match for each other. They’re both smart and likable. Mae is funny in a sarcastic kind of way, while Michael is self-deprecating and endearing. They both have similar interests, but not so similar that they’re boring clones of each other. Over their first dinner date, they debate the merits of rappers such as Drake, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. Mae confesses that Lamar “makes me feel guilty” because she isn’t always engaged in African American empowerment the way Lamar preaches about it in his songs. That confession is later referenced in a very touching moment near the end of the movie.

Here’s what’s so refreshing about “The Photograph” and the love story between Mae and Michael: They deal with their personal issues in a respectful way with each other. There’s no craziness, no abusive language, no negative clichés such as addictions, infidelity or criminal activity that threaten to tear apart their relationship. If you think about how often these stereotypes are all over movies with predominately African American casts, it’s cause for celebration that “The Photograph” didn’t sink to these levels and does it in a beautiful way.

Another healthy and positive African American romance in the story is between Michael’s older brother Kyle (played by Lil Rel Howery) and Kyle’s wife, Asia (played by Teyonah Parris), who are parents to two young girls. Kyle and Asia offer a lot of emotional support and advice to Michael, and they aren’t afraid to keep it real with him when they think he’s making mistakes. Kyle and Asia have some of the best scenes in the movie when they’re around Michael and Mae. Their dynamic (one longtime couple, one new couple) has an authentic banter that’s great to watch.

But before you get all gooey inside from all this lovey-dovey wonderfulness, it wouldn’t be a romantic drama if the couple didn’t have a big obstacle to overcome. For Mae and Michael, just like with Christina and Isaac, their relationship might have to reach a crossroads because of a career decision. Before he met Mae, Michael applied for a London-based job at the Associated Press.

When Michael and Mae start dating, he doesn’t know if he got the job, but he tells Mae about the possibility that he might move to another country, and that revelation affects her feelings of how seriously she wants to get involved with Michael. But they can’t deny their passionate feelings for each other. And one night, when during a rainstorm that hits New York City, Michael and Mae end up consummating their relationship and they really start to fall in love.

As for the secret that’s revealed in Christina’s letters, it’s pretty obvious from the flashbacks to Christina and Isaac’s love story what that secret is. You’ll have to see the movie to find out Mae’s reaction. And as for that Associated Press job in London, it’s also revealed whether or not Michael got the job, because that also affects his relationship with Mae.

“The Photograph” is by no means a masterpiece. It’s got some pacing issues, and some viewers might want to see Michael and Mae have more people in their lives besides immediate family members and co-workers. But “The Photograph” shows how some people just don’t need a large social circle to be happy. They don’t need messy drama to validate their love relationships. Just like a grape harvester for fine wine, “The Photograph” weeds out a lot of nasty ingredients that could pollute a story like this, and celebrates love that is reaffirming and uplifting.

Universal Pictures released “The Photograph” in U.S. cinemas on February 14, 2020.