Review: ‘Emancipation’ (2022), starring Will Smith

December 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Will Smith and Ben Foster in “Emancipation” (Photo courtesy of Apple Studios)

“Emancipation” (2022)

Directed by Antonie Fuqua

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Louisiana in 1863, the dramatic film “Emancipation” features a cast of African American and white characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After the Emancipation Proclamation frees enslaved people in the United States, a formerly enslaved African American man goes on a harrowing journey trying to escape from enslavers who still want to keep him and other people in captivity. 

Culture Audience: “Emancipation” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Will Smith and anyone interested in watching an intense Civil War drama inspired by a real person.

Imani Pullum, Will Smith, Jeremiah Friedlander, Landon Chase Dubois, Charmaine Bingwa and Jordyn McIntosh in “Emancipation” (Photo courtesy of Apple Studios)

Will Smith gives one of the most emotionally raw performances of his career in “Emancipation,” an intense drama that shows the abuse endured by a formerly enslaved man fighting for freedom and his family during the U.S. Civil War. Most people who see “Emancipation” will know in advance that it’s a movie that depicts human enslavement and the brutality that comes with this crime. And many people watching “Emancipation” might have seen other films or TV shows covering the same subject matter in detailed ways. However, even with that prior knowledge, viewers will feel the potent impact of “Emancipation,” not just as a movie about the Civil War era but also as an inspirational survival story in the midst of cruel human-rights violations.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, “Emancipation” is inspired by a formerly enslaved African American man only known as Gordon, who was photographed for the media in 1863, while he was undergoing a medical exam as a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. A photo of a shirtless Gordon showing his back covered with massive whip scars (that are so large, they look like tree branches) garnered him the nickname “Whipped Peter,” when the photos were published in Harper’s Weekly. The “scourged back” photo is credited with spreading more awareness about the atrocities of slavery and increasing the movement for the Union Army to defeat the pro-slavery Confederate Army in the U.S. Civil War.

Gordon’s life story is only known in bits and pieces. Therefore, much of “Emancipation” (whose screenplay was written by Bill Collage) is fictional but inspired by Gordon’s real story and real events that happened during the Civil War. He is given the name Peter in the movie “Emancipation,” which takes place in 1863 in Louisiana, and begins shortly after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This federal decree banned slavery in the U.S. and legally declared that all enslaved people in the U.S. were automatically free.

Of course, the people who depended on enslavement for their businesses did not want enslaved people to know about the Emancipation Proclamation. “Emancipation” depicts this societal problem where parts of the U.S. that sided with the Confederate Army and wanted to secede from the U.S. also refused to abide by the Emancipation Proclamation because they did not consider it a valid government decree. “Emancipation” shows in often-disturbing details how formerly enslaved people were caught in this crossfire.

The opening scene of “Emancipation” shows Peter (played by Smith) in a seemingly tranquil family setting. He’s washing the feet of his beloved wife Dodienne (played by Charmaine Bingwa), while their four children are nearby in the room. Their children’s ages range from about 5 years old to 14 years old. The children are daughter Betsy (played by Imani Pullum), who’s the eldest child; son Scipion (played by Jeremiah Friedlander); son Peter (played by Landon Chase Dubois), nicknamed Little Peter; and daughter Laurette (played by Jordyn McIntosh).

Peter and Dodienne are originally from Haiti, so they know what it was like to be free people before being unwillingly brought to the U.S. as enslaved people. They are very religious and believe in the power of prayer. In the opening scene where Peter is with his family, he says, “What can a mere man do to me? The Lord is with me. He is my strength and my defense. He has become my salvation.”

The family will soon have their inner strength severely tested when Peter is forced to relocate to another plantation in Clinton, Louisiana. He tries to fight back in self-defense, but he’s outnumbered and assaulted for defending himself. Peter’s wife and kids are helpless and sobbing as Peter is taken away.

During the ride to the labor camp, Peter and the other men who are with him see the heads of other African American men gruesomely displayed on tree sticks that line the road. It’s an ominous indication of what can happen to “runners” (people running from enslavement) or any black person who is murdered for whatever reason by a white supremacist racist. Fair warning to sensitive viewers: “Emancipation” has a lot of graphic violence that isn’t exploitative, but it might be too disturbing for some viewers.

One of the criticisms that “Emancipation” might get is that it portrays Peter as “too saintly,” perhaps because Peter is so vocal about his religious beliefs. But anyone with that criticism didn’t pay attention enough to the movie, because Peter actually is no pious pushover, since he doesn’t hesitate to dole out some violence when he absolutely has to do so in self-defense. The movie also shows how Peter’s experiences change him over time: He doesn’t lose his humanity, but he becomes hardened and reaches low points of utter despair.

Peter has been taken to a plantation owned by the cold-hearted Jim Fassell (played by Ben Foster), who inherited the property from his widowed father. One of the men who arrived in the same group as Peter is named Tomas (played by Jabbar Lewis), who is forcibly branded on his face with the letter “J” (for Jim), as Peter and the other enslaved men nearby watch in horror. Jim is described by one of the men as “one of the biggest hunters, day or night.” And the prey that Jim hunts is human.

At first, Peter tries to be as religiously optimistic as possible, even when the captured men around him have lost faith in a higher power and think Peter is being too naïve or downright delusional. When Peter finds out from Tomas that Tomas doesn’t have any family members or friends to think of in rough times, Peter gives this over-simplistic advice: “Then remember, this is just work. God is with us.”

One day, Peter overhears one of Jim’s sadistic employees named Howard (played by Steven Ogg) tell another employee that Abraham Lincoln has freed the enslaved people of America. Peter then sets a plan in motion to escape with some other formerly enslaved men to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he knows there are Union Army troops. It isn’t long before the word gets out about the Emancipation Proclamation, leading to formerly enslaved people on Jim’s plantation to engage in a massive uprising and escape.

Peter runs into the swampy woods with three younger men in their 20s: Tomas, John (played by Michael Luwoye) and Gordon (played by Gilbert Owuor). Jim and two sidekicks are in pursuit on horseback with two attack dogs. Jim’s lackeys are a sleazebag named Harrington (played by Ronnie Gene Blevins) and a traitorous African American named Knowls (played by Aaron Moten). The rest of “Emancipation” shows what happens during this terrifying journey.

Robert Richardson’s sweeping cinematography of “Emancipation” has all the markings of an epic war film, but the hues are often awash in gray and brown, as a reflection of this very grim and bleak story. Fuqua’s direction does not let the tension let up as soon as Peter escapes and faces life-or-death situations from humans and wild animals. Smith’s performance as Peter is riveting in expressing heartbreak and hope. It’s not a dialogue-heavy film, because Peter is not very talkative, and while he’s hiding out, he often spends a lot of time alone. However, Smith is able to poignantly express much of the anguish, fear, bravery and faith that define his “Emancipation” character.

As chief antagonist Jim in “Emancipation,” Foster has the most conspicuous of the movie’s supporting roles. Foster does a skillful version of the “evil slave master” villain that’s been seen in many other movies and TV shows about enslavement. There’s a standout scene where Jim describes a childhood memory of his enslaved nanny, and his coldly hateful monologue encapsulates the fear and loathing that white supremacists have about people of other races being treated as equals to white people.

“Emancipation” is not an easy film to watch for a lot of viewers. Some people might also give criticism because they think there are already too many movies and TV shows about the trauma of racist enslavement. However, “Emancipation” is respectful of this serious issue without glossing over the harsh realities, even though some viewers will inevitably complain that this movie from Hollywood filmmakers has Hollywood movie characteristics. It’s not a documentary, but “Emancipation” is a necessary history lesson that gives people an idea of what many other formerly enslaved people in America had to do to survive in a nation coming to terms with its shameful involvement in slavery.

Apple Studios will release “Emancipation” in select U.S. cinemas on December 2, 2022. The movie will premiere on Apple TV+ on December 9, 2022.

Review: ‘Blue Bayou’ (2021), starring Justin Chon and Alicia Vikander

September 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Alicia Vikander, Sydney Kowalske and Justin Chon in “Blue Bayou” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“Blue Bayou” (2021)

Directed by Justin Chon

Culture Representation: Taking place in St. Francisville, Louisiana, the dramatic film “Blue Bayou” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, white, African American and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 37-year-old husband/father, who was adopted as a child from Korea by Americans—but he never officially became a U.S. citizen—faces legal problems and police brutality while his American wife is due to give birth to another child. 

Culture Audience: “Blue Bayou” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies that tackle issues of parenthood, immigration, national/ethnic identity, racism, police brutality and health problems.

Sydney Kowalske, Justin Chon and Alicia Vikander in “Blue Bayou” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“Blue Bayou” is filled with so many heavy issues, the movie occasionally veers into melodrama territory. However, the cast members embody their characters with such an emotional authenticity that they transcend the movie’s minor flaws. “Blue Bayou” ultimately gives a searing and heartbreaking portrayal of lives damaged by bad decisions and an often-unforgiving government system.

Justin Chon is the writer, director and protagonist of “Blue Bayou,” which tells the story of what happens when a Korean American’s life is turned upside down when his past catches up to him at a time when he’s trying to get his life back on track. In the movie, Chon portrays Antonio LeBlanc, a tattoo artist who lives and works in the Baton Rouge suburb of St. Francisville, Louisiana. Antonio, who is 37, is happily married to feisty and fearless Kathy LeBlanc (played by Alicia Vikander), who is pregnant with her and Antonio’s first biological child together. They already know that the child will be a girl.

Kathy has a precocious 7-year-old daughter named Jessie (played by Sydney Kowalske) from a previous relationship. Antonio has adopted Jessie, who has a very close and loving relationship with both Antonio and Kathy. However, Jessie has a special bond with Antonio, who is a lot like a kid at heart. Kathy is the parent who is more likely to be the family disciplinarian and planner.

For example, an early scene in the movie shows that Antonio, who’s supposed to drive Jessie to school, impulsively lets Jessie skip school one day to spend the day with him. One of the things that Antonio does on this day is take Jessie to his favorite meditative hangout—a secluded swamp area—to show her where he likes to spend some alone time. (This swamp area ends up becoming a pivotal location in the story.) And the movie’s opening scene shows that Antonio has brought Jessie with him to a job interview.

Antonio is the only father whom Jessie really knows. Jessie’s biological father is a St. Francisville police officer named Ace (played by Mark O’Brien), an ex-lover of Kathy’s who abandoned Kathy when she was pregnant with Jessie. For years, Ace didn’t want anything to do with Jessie and Kathy. But recently, Ace has had a change of heart and is trying to get more visitation time with Jessie.

Kathy is very bitter and angry about Ace being a deadbeat dad. She’s extremely reluctant to let Ace spend time with Jessie because Kathy believes that Ace will break Jessie’s heart. Jessie also doesn’t seem very interested in spending time with Ace, who is essentially a stranger to her. Ace has offered to start paying child support, but Kathy doesn’t want his money. She’s a hospital worker but is currently on maternity leave.

Kathy uses Jessie’s apathy toward Ace as a reason to try to limit the time that Ace can spend with Jessie. When Kathy tells Ace that Jessie doesn’t want to spend more time with Ace, he doesn’t believe Kathy. He is growing increasingly impatient with Kathy stonewalling him. Ace has been hinting that he’ll take this matter to family court if he doesn’t get to spend more time with Jessie. In other words, things could get ugly.

Kathy’s widowed mother Dawn (played by Geraldine Singer), who lives near Kathy and Antonio, is often available to help with raising Jessie. Antonio has told Kathy that his adoptive parents are deceased, and he knows nothing about his biological parents. Dawn has reluctantly accepted Antonio as her son-in-law, because he treats his family with love and respect. However, Dawn gives the impression that she would have preferred that Kathy’s husband be a more “respectable” member of society.

With another child about to be born into his family, Antonio has been looking for a new job that pays more than his current salary as a tattoo artist in a small tattoo shop. It’s later revealed that he’s gotten behind on payments for his tattoo station fees, and his boss Ms. Jacci (played by real-life New Orleans tattoo artist Jacci Gresham) will not advance him any part of his salary. Antonio gets along well with his boss and co-workers, but job at the tattoo shop won’t be enough to support a family of four people.

Antonio’s job interview that opens the movie realistically depicts a lot of the obstacles that Antonio faces when he’s looking for work. He’s an undocumented immigrant. He has a prison record, having been incarcerated for stealing motorcycles, but he hasn’t gotten into trouble since he got out of prison. Antonio is also illiterate, which is something that he doesn’t tell a lot of people unless they need to know. In addition, Antonio has very large tattoos on his neck and arms, thereby automatically disqualifying him for jobs that won’t hire people with noticeable tattoos.

The male interviewer (who is not shown on screen, but is presumably white) is immediately confused by Antonio’s very French last name, which doesn’t match with the type of last name that a lot of people would expect Asians to have. Antonio’s speaking accent is very much from Louisiana, but the interviewer still asks Antonio if Antonio is American. The interviewer’s attitude could be inferred as being racist, because it’s unlikely that Antonio would be asked if he’s American if he were white. Antonio explains that he was born in Korea and was adopted as a toddler by American parents, who raised him in Louisiana.

A bigger issue for Antonio in this interview is explaining his prison record. Although he was in prison for a non-violent crime, he’s still a convicted felon, which is a stigma that makes it hard to find a job with many employers. Antonio says that he’s turned his life around, but the interviewer isn’t willing to take a risk on hiring a convicted felon. When the interviewer finds out that Antonio currently has a job at a tattoo shop, the interviewer tells Antonio that Antonio is better off staying at his current job.

Getting rejected by this interviewer becomes the least of Antonio’s problems. Not long after this interview, Antonio and Kathy are with Jessie in a grocery store when Antonio and Kathy start arguing about Ace having more time with Jessie. Antonio thinks that Ace should be given a chance to redeem himself, while Kathy is against the idea. She’s also upset with Antonio when she finds out that he let Jessie skip school.

It just so happens that Ace and his racist, bullying cop partner Denny (played by Emory Cohen) are in the grocery store too while they’re on patrol duty. Ace and Denny see Antonio and Kathy arguing. Denny, who knows about Ace’s personal problems with Kathy, immediately recognizes Kathy and Antonio. Denny gets very aggressive with Antonio. Because Antonio didn’t break any laws, he starts to walk away with Kathy.

But that isn’t good enough for Denny, who is hell-bent on arresting Antonio. Things quickly spiral out of control, a scuffle ensues, and the next thing you know, Antonio is arrested. This arrest sets off a chain of events that forever alters the lives of Antonio and his family. Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that Denny finds out that Antonio is an undocumented immigrant. Antonio and Kathy end up hiring a lawyer named Barry Boucher (played by Vondie Curtis Hall), who is sympathetic but doesn’t gloss over the harsh realities of what could happen to Antonio.

Antonio is bailed out of jail, but he faces mounting legal fees and overwhelming financial pressures, while Kathy is due to give birth in the near future. One day, while Antonio is in a hospital waiting room while Kathy is having an obstetric exam, he randomly meets a woman who’s about the same age named Parker Nguyen (played by Linh Dan Pham) near a vending machine, which is malfunctioning by not dispensing an item after receiving the payment. Parker and Antonio figure out how to get the item from the machine, and then they go their separate ways.

However, it won’t be the last time that Parker and Antonio see each other. In the midst of Antonio’s turmoil, Parker and Antonio become friends with each other. Parker is also an immigrant (she’s originally from Vietnam), and she has a secret that she eventually reveals to Antonio. Her secret gives him a different perspective on the problems that he’s experiencing.

“Blue Bayou” has ebbs and flows and can be messy—just like life. Therefore, some viewers might lose patience with the way that the movie has a tendency to wander and then get snapped back into suspenseful melodrama. For the most part, the movie depicts people and situations as realistically as possible. The family dynamics between Antonio, Kathy and Jessie are among the highlights of the “Blue Bayou.” The unexpected friendship between Antonio and Parker is also one of the best things about the movie.

However, the movie stumbles somewhat in the last 15 minutes, which crams in plot twists and a “race against time” cliché that might be too contrived for some viewers to take. Despite these plot manipulations, “Blue Bayou” remains authentic in portraying an American immigrant experience that is often not depicted in a narrative feature film: What happens in the U.S. to people who were adopted as children from other countries, and their adoptive parents didn’t take the necessary steps to make these children U.S. citizens?

When Antonio married Kathy, who is a U.S. citizen, the couple did not file the required paperwork to make him a legal resident alien by marriage. A U.S. law passed in 2000 allowed people adopted from other countries as children to become U.S. citizens. However, the law doesn’t apply to people, such as Antonio, who were adopted before the year 2000. “Blue Bayou” has some emotional scenes showing Antonio’s turmoil over wondering what circumstances led to his adoption and why his adoptive parents never bothered to make him a U.S. citizen.

“Blue Bayou” gets its title from a poignant scene in the film where Antonio, Kathy and Jessie have been invited to a backyard barbecue held by Parker’s family. During the get-together, Kathy gets up and sings a karaoke version of Linda Ronstadt’s 1977 hit “Blue Bayou.” The song’s lyrics have added meaning, considering what Antonio and his family are going through at the time this event takes place. (And yes, Vikander does her own singing in the movie. She’s a very good singer with a smoky tone to her voice.)

Because “Blue Bayou” is a story of a family that’s overwhelmed with several big problems within a short period of time, the movie can come across as one big pile-on of drama. But within the context of all of these troubles and agitations are a lot of uncomfortable truths that are faced by many people in real life. What “Blue Bayou” demonstrates so beautifully is that amid all the trauma and stresses, the love of family can provide a resilience that no law can break.

Focus Features will release “Blue Bayou” in select U.S. cinemas on September 17, 2021.

Review: ‘Time’ (2020), starring Fox Rich

October 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Fox Rich and Rob Rich in “Time” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Time” (2020)

Directed by Garrett Bradley

Culture Representation: Taking place from the 1990s to the 2010s, the documentary “Time” features a predominantly African American group of working-class and middle-class people discussing Louisiana woman Fox Rich’s quest to get her husband Rob released from prison and reunited with his family.

Culture Clash: Rob Rich was sentenced to 60 years in prison without the possibility of parole for a botched armed robbery, which is a sentence that Fox Rich and others in the documentary say is a punishment that is too harsh for the crime and rooted in racism.

Culture Audience: “Time” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries about people who battle against systemic racism in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Fox Rich in the 1990s (above) and Fox Rich in the 2010s (below) in “Time” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The gripping and emotionally moving documentary “Time” doesn’t follow the usual formula in a movie about someone on an against-all-odds quest to get someone else released from prison. The convict in this case isn’t someone who proclaims to be innocent of the crime. Nor is there a crusading lawyer who is the hero of the story. Instead, this movie takes a raw and intimate look at the journey of a convict’s wife named Fox Rich, who fights to get her husband Rob G. Rich freed from prison while he’s serving a 60-year sentence without the possibility of parole. It’s a story that’s a true example of extraordinary persistence, love and hope.

“Time,” directed by Garrett Bradley, consists of a great deal of video footage that Fox Rich filmed herself during the family’s ordeal that began in the late 1990s and continued through 2018. In the movie, she also has the names Sibil Verdette Fox (which is her birth name) and Sibil Richardson. Fox (who was born in 1971) does most of the voiceover narration in “Time,” but most of the six sons she had with Rob also narrate the film.

There are no “talking head” legal experts, journalists or other pundits who are interviewed in this documentary. “Time” is essentially a family video album that chronicles the ups and downs of Fox’s determination to emancipate her husband over the course of 21 years. Although the original footage from the early years was filmed in color, everything in “Time” is entirely in black and white. There’s also some footage of the family in happier times before Rob was incarcerated.

The movie is not shown in chronological order, and the year that footage was taken is not shown on screen, although the year is sometimes mentioned by the people in the footage. Viewers can also tell the periods of time that the footage was filmed by how Fox looks and the ages of the children. In the 1990s and early 2000s footage, Fox’s is wavy-haired and more idealistic. In the later footage, her hair is straight and she’s more realistic but still hopeful. She’s also become a businesswoman at a car dealership, as well as a passionate public speaker about reforms in the criminal justice system. In her public speaking, Fox shares her personal stories about how Rob’s incarceration has affected the family.

What happened to cause this prison sentence to devastate the family? In 1997, Fox and Rob were a married couple in their mid-20s who met when they were in high school. They were on their way to living the American Dream, with three sons, their first purchased home and a plan to open the first hip-hop clothing store in Shreveport, Louisiana.

But, as Fox tells it in the documentary, they ran into financial problems in trying to launch the business. And they got desperate. On September 16, 1997, their lives changed forever when they committed this crime: Rob, Fox and Rob’s nephew robbed the Grambling Credit Union in Grambling, Louisiana. Fox says she remembers that her motivation for committing the crime was she didn’t want the business to fail and she was going to do what it took to get the money that they wanted.

Fox was the getaway driver, while Rob and his nephew committed the botched armed robbery in the bank. They ended up with about $5,000 from the robbery, but they were quickly apprehended and pleaded guilty. While Fox pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison (she was released from prison after serving three-and-a-half years of that sentence), Rob lost out on a plea bargain where he would be sentenced to 12 years in prison if he pleaded guilty. Instead, through some bad luck and bad legal advice that are not detailed in the movie, he ended up facing trial and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. By any standard, it’s a very harsh sentence, considering that there are many people who get lesser sentences for murder or rape.

Just like many other people who think the U.S. criminal justice system is corrupt and flawed, Fox believes that the system is very racist, because people of color are more likely to get worse punishments than white people who commit the same crimes. She comments in the documentary: “Our prison system is nothing more than slavery. And I see myself as an abolitionist.”

Fox’s mother, a retired educator who’s not identified by her name in the movie, also says that prisons are another form of slavery. She doesn’t excuse the crime that Rob and Fox committed that landed the spouses in prison, but she believes that Rob’s punishment should have fit the crime. She says, “I’ve always been a firm believer: Right don’t come to you doing wrong.”

Fox’s mother also adds that she always thought her daughter would marry “a doctor or a lawyer or an Indian chief.” She comments, “I’ve got nothing against Rob. I just don’t know him.” Viewers also don’t really get to know Rob either, since Fox doesn’t really describe what her husband’s personality is like, and the movie only shows brief snippets of her talking to him on the phone while he’s in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola.

However, “Life” does have a lot of footage over the years of Fox with her and Rob’s six children, who are all sons: Mahlik, Remington (also known as Remi), Laurence, Justus, Freedom and Rob II. Justus and Freedom (who are identical twins) and Rob II were born while Rob Sr. was in prison. The most heartbreaking parts of the movie have to do with the children not being able to grow up with their father in the home.

But the movie also has plenty of inspirational moments. Defying the negative stereotype that children of prison inmates are doomed to become uneducated criminals, Mahlik, Remi and Laurence (the three oldest sons) are all college-educated and thriving. Remi is shown graduating from dental school. Laurence graduated from high school two years earlier than his classmates and is shown to be an aspiring law student who wants to become a public advocate for criminal justice reform.

Remi comments in the documentary: “My family has a strong image, but hiding behind it is a lot of pain … Time is influenced by a lot of our emotions. It’s influenced by our actions.”

And Fox is the most inspirational of all, with her steely determination to never give up on her goal to get Rob out of prison and reunited with his family. There are moments of despair, hope, defeat and triumph. “Time” shows how Fox evolved into a charismatic public speaker, whether she gives speeches at places like Tulane University or stands up in front of a church audience and asks for forgiveness for the crime she committed.

In one of these speeches, Fox also mentions that she made amends with some of the bank robbery victims when she met with them personally to ask for their forgiveness. In private, she gives pep talks to Rob, their kids and to herself. And she’s often seen on the phone doing what she has to do to get Rob back home with the family.

One thing that might surprise people who watch this movie is that there is very little footage of any lawyers. There’s a brief scene of Fox in a meeting with attorneys in an office, but that’s about it. There are hints that Fox has become disillusioned with lawyers and the legal system in general, because she does as much as she can on her own. Fox says at one point in the movie that she paid a previous lawyer (whose name is not mentioned) about $15,000 in cash for his services, and he ended up telling the family that there was nothing he could do for Rob.

Besides being entirely in black and white, “Time” isn’t a conventional documentary about the U.S. criminal justice system because of director Bradley’s musical choices for the movie. There is no cliché musical score with rousing orchestral music, no traditional gospel songs that chime in at emotionally charged moments, no stereotypical hip-hop music with angry anthems. Instead, the jazzy score by Edwin Montgomery and Jamieson Shaw (taken mainly from 1960s piano compositions by Ethiopian nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou) is a lot like the frequently meandering tone of this film: “Time” flows along with no distinct “acts” or “chapters” because of the non-chronological order of the film.

However, there is a “crescendo” to the film that is an absolute must-see. People who know the Rich family’s story might already know how this film ends, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of seeing certain defining moments captured in this film. As Fox says at one point in the movie, “I came from a people who had a strong desire to have something, to make something of ourselves.” Her unshakeable loyalty to her husband and family in the face of overwhelming obstacles can be an unforgettable inspiration to people who believe in the power of love and the human spirit.

Amazon Studios released “Time” in select U.S. cinemas on October 9, 2020. Prime Video will premiere the movie on October 16, 2020.

Review: ‘Cane River,’ starring Tommye Myrick and Richard Romain

February 4, 2020

by Carla Hay

Richard Romain and Tommye Myrick in “Cane River” (Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

“Cane River”

Directed by Horace B. Jenkins

Culture Representation: Set in 1981 Louisiana, the romantic drama “Cane River” has a predominantly African American cast of working-class and middle-class characters.

Culture Clash: Creoles and darker-skinned African Americans have conflicts that stem from issues of colorism and classism within the community.

Culture Audience: “Cane River” will appeal primarily to people who want to seek out vintage African American independent films or independent films about Louisiana culture.

Tommye Myrick and Richard Romain in “Cane River” (Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

“Cane River” is a throwback to a time when a romantic movie drama starring African Americans didn’t keep repeating negative stereotypes, such as excessive cursing, someone facing prison time (or someone who just got out of prison) and someone who’s been caught cheating on a partner. “Cane River” was written, directed and produced by Horace B. Jenkins, who passed away of a heart attack at the age of 42 in 1982, before the movie could be released. “Cane River” has received a new 4K restoration from IndieCollect, in association with Academy Film Archive, and it’s being released for the first time in 2020.

The movie is very much a snapshot of African American independent cinema in the early 1980s. Don’t expect to see anything that could be called masterful filmmaking, but just go along for the retro ride for this simple story that portrays a very complex issue that’s rarely discussed in movies: colorism among African Americans and how it can divide black people for generations.

At the beginning of the movie, it’s May 1981, and tall and good-looking Peter Metoyer (played by Richard Romain) is traveling by bus to go back to his rural hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana. Based on the warm welcome he gets when he arrives ( a crowd has gathered and there’s a “welcome home” banner in the center of the town), he seems to be somewhat of a local hero. Peter is known in the area because he was a superb athlete in high school, with football the sport he excelled in the most. He was so talented that he spent some time away from home being courted by professional football teams, including the New York Jets.

But Peter is far from a typical athlete. He turned down all the offers, and instead decided to move back to his small town to become a farmer and a poet. His Creole family owns farming land that he plans to live on and harvest for a living while pursuing his writing career.

While getting himself re-acquainted with his hometown, he visits the Melrose Plantation, where he meets a tour guide named Maria Mathis (played by Tommye Myrick), a sassy and intelligent woman who has ambitions to go to college. Peter and Maria, who are both in their early 20s, hit it off immediately, and Peter offers her a ride home—by horseback. (There just happens to be two horses nearby that he can use.)

Of course, it wouldn’t be a romantic drama without the central couple having some obstacles. As soon as Peter meets Maria, it’s obvious that their lives are going in different directions. She’s tired of living in a small town and is looking forward to moving to the big city of New Orleans, where she’ll start attending Xavier University of Louisiana in the fall. Meanwhile, Peter has already experienced living in a big city, and he wants to go back to living on his family farm.

Despite knowing that they have limited time to spend with each other before Maria has to leave for college, Peter and Maria start dating each other. They go horseback riding, swimming and have other romantic meet-ups near Cane River. Peter and Maria start to fall in love, even though they both know that the circumstances are less than ideal for them.

And there’s another problem: Maria’s domineering, widowed mother Mrs. Mathis (played by Carol Sutton) and her surly, slacker brother (who doesn’t have a name in the movie and is played by Ilunga Adell) disapprove of the relationship from the beginning because the Metoyer family has a Creole image of being prejudiced against darker-skinned African Americans who are poor or working-class. As a reference for their beliefs, Maria’s mother and brother cite the findings of the 1977 non-fiction book “The Forgotten People: Cane River’s Creoles of Color Book,” by Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills. The book’s historical account of Creoles in the area lists an ancestor of Peter’s as being a free woman of color who married a white man who owned slaves.

Maria’s mother and brother believe that their family members are descendants of people who used to be slaves of the Metoyer family. It’s one of the main reasons why Maria’s mother and brother are vehemently against Maria having a romance with Peter. They also believe that Maria will never truly be accepted by the Metoyers since she’s not a light-skinned Creole. Maria angrily brushes off their orders to stop seeing Peter, because she thinks that he and the current Metoyer family shouldn’t be held responsible for what happened hundreds of years ago.

In defiance of her family’s disapproval, Maria continues to see Peter and eventually meets his family—including his father (played by Lloyd LaCour) and his sister Dominique (played by Barbara Tasker), who mostly approve of the relationship. However, Peter’s family members have concerns that Peter’s relationship won’t last since Maria will be going away to New Orleans for college, and they don’t want Peter’s heart to get broken.

As Maria and Peter fall deeper in love, they impulsively take a trip to New Orleans, but the trip further amplifies their contrasting goals and interests. While Maria is fascinated by the big city and can’t wait to go back, Peter is reminded of why he wants to live on a  farm instead of a big city. However, his whirlwind romance with Maria has become very serious because he’s thinking about proposing to her and asking her to stay in Natchitoches with him. He starts to drop hints to Maria that maybe she should think twice about going to Xavier University and maybe attend a college that’s closer to Natchitoches. When Maria starts to doubt her decision to go to Xavier, her mother is infuriated, and Maria eventually has to make a decision once and for all about what she’s going to do.

For all of its charm and sincerity, “Cane River” does have some noticeable flaws, especially with its choppy editing (there are some really cringeworthy jump cuts) and uneven sound mixing. Myrick and Romain, who made their film debuts in “Cane River,” make a believable on-screen couple but their performances would have been better if they had more acting experience. And quite a few of supporting actors are also a little too stiff in their performances.

The movie is very low-tech, but it has a lot of heart that shines through in the story. The cinematography by Gideon Manasseh captures some great shots of the Cane River landscape. And for people who like old-school R&B, the movie’s soundtrack by LeRoy Glover will be a nostalgic treat.

Amid the romantic plot, there’s also a message in the movie about the repercussions of colorism and how it still affects people, generations after slavery was abolished in the United States. Even among African Americans and other black people, lighter-skinned black people can get preference over darker-skinned black people, which can cause deep-seated resentments that are difficult to overcome. There’s also a scene in “Cane River” where Peter visits a bank, and he gets a lesson in how black people’s disenfranchisement is directly proportional to how much property black people own in their communities.

Considering how rare it was for African American independent filmmakers in the 1980s to be able to write, produce and direct their own films with a predominantly black cast, “Cane River” is a time capsule of what types of films could be made under obstacles and barriers in the movie industry—keeping in mind that it was much more expensive in 1980s money to make an independent movie than it is now, because digital technology for independent filmmakers did not exist back then. (The legacy of “Cane River” director Horace B. Jenkins lives on through his son Sacha Jenkins, a journalist and independent filmmaker whose credits include the documentaries “Fresh Dressed” and “Word Is Bond.”)

If people get a chance to see “Cane River,” they might be intrigued to experience some 1980s nostalgia, but they should also appreciate the larger context of how difficult it must have been to make this movie and how long it’s taken for the public to get a chance to see it.

Oscilloscope Laboratories will release “Cane River” in New York City and New Orleans on February 7, 2020. The movie’s U.S. release expands to more cities, as of February 14, 2020.

American Humane donates $100,000 to 7 Louisiana animal shelters affected by 2016 floods

April 11, 2017

American Humane
Dr. Lesa Staubus (far left) presents the first of seven critically important grants totaling $100,000 to shelters affected by the devastating floods in Louisiana. The presentation took place at St. Landry Parish Animal Control in Opelousas, Louisiana on March 10, 2017. (Photo courtesy of American Humane)

The following is a press release from American Humane:

Months after floodwaters from the devastating, record-breaking August 2016 flood have subsided, local animal shelters and rescue organizations in Louisiana are still struggling to repair damaged facilities and replenish diminishing funds that were stretched thin while ensuring the safety of animals under their care during the flood. To throw a critical lifeline to Louisiana’s shelters, American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization that has been rescuing animals in disasters and cruelty cases for more than 100 years, is awarding $100,000 in emergency grants over the course of this week to seven remarkable local shelters that did lifesaving work for so many animals during the disaster.

The grant money is being presented to each shelter at events spanning each of the five days this week. The schedule of events is as follows:

(All times listed are Central Time)

Monday, April 10, 2017:

  • Location of Event: St. Landry Parish Animal Control, 255 Hangar Road, Opelousas, Louisiana
    Time of Event: 11:00 AM
    Shelter Receiving Grant: St. Landry Parish Animal Control
    Grant Check Amount from American Humane: $20,000
    The $20,000 grant will allow for the repair of crumbling insulation and harmful drainage issues that caused the shelter to temporarily shutter its doors. The repairs needed are crucial for the safety of animal residents at the shelter—insulation from the damaged ceiling drops onto dog beds and in their food bowls, and drainage issues have caused a backwash of spills within the shelter kennels.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017:

  • Location of Event: City of Walker Animal Control, 13740 Ball Park Rd., Walker, Louisiana
    Time of Event: 11:00 AM
    Shelters Receiving Grants: City of Walker Animal Control and Dog People of Livingston
    Grant Check Amounts from American Humane:

    • City of Walker Animal Control: $16,000
    • Dog People of Livingston: $13,000

Dog People of Livingston plans to use the $13,000 grant to host multiple free microchipping clinics, supply free collars and identification tags to pet owners, and lease digital billboard space on the highway to post pictures and information on pets lost in the parish.

City of Walker Animal Control shelter suffered water damage from the floods and other damages related to animal overcapacity. They plan to use the $16,000 grant from American Humane to repair water-damaged walls and treat for mold, replace damaged A/C units, and acquire additional caging to house more displaced and lost pets in the area.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

  • Location of Event: CATNIP Foundation at Big Sky Ranch, 15442 Jack Fork Rd, Folsom, Louisiana
    Time of Event: 11:00 AM
    Shelter Receiving Grant: CATNIP Foundation at Big Sky Ranch
    Grant Check Amount from American Humane: $18,000
    The $18,000 grant will go directly toward the purchase of a Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) trailer, which will help prevent animal overpopulation and in turn, reduce euthanasia and suffering. The trailer will be used to safely transport large numbers of animals for spay and neuter services, as well for pet adoption in less populated areas of Louisiana.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

  • Location of Event: CARA’s House, 9894 Airline Hwy., Sorrento, Louisiana
    Time of Event: 11:00 AM
    Shelter Receiving Grant: Companion Animal Rescue of Ascension (CARA)’s House
    Grant Check Amount from American Humane: $7,000
    The $7,000 grant will allow for the replacement of the shelter’s raised dog beds and cat housing, repairs to damaged storage buildings, and installation of new dog run fencing.

Friday, April 14, 2017

  • Location of Event: Jefferson Feed and Seed, 4421 Jefferson Highway, Jefferson, Louisiana
    Time of Event: 11:00 AM
    Shelter Receiving Grant: Humane Society of Louisiana
    Grant Check Amount from American Humane: $23,000
    The $23,000 grant will be used to create a “Disaster Response Staging Ground” at their 47-acre property in Washington parish. A portion of the large property will be made “incident ready” for short-term relief in large-scale cruelty investigations and disasters. When not in use for such purposes, the area will be used for temporary volunteer housing, special events, adoption days, and dog exercise yards.

Following the devastating flooding in Louisiana, American Humane sent its animal rescue team and two giant rescue vehicles to help pets in hard-hit Livingston Parish. They also worked with Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food to deliver 80,000 pounds of nutritious, free food to shelter animals in Louisiana. Now, to help support and rebuild these vital institutions, American Humane is providing $100,000 in grants this week.

“We are pleased that we can continue to aid the animals of Louisiana and help those who did so much to help thousands of dogs, cats, horses, and other vulnerable animals during the disastrous floods,” said American Humane President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert. “We have been first to serve animals in disasters for 100 years and hope that these grants will serve to help many more in the future.”

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