Review: ‘Falling for Figaro,’ starring Danielle Macdonald, Hugh Skinner and Joanna Lumley

October 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hugh Skinner and Danielle Macdonald in “Falling for Figaro” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Falling for Figaro” 

Directed by Ben Lewin

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Scotland and briefly in England, the romantic comedy/drama “Falling for Figaro” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with two people of Indian heritage and one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A successful fund manager, who is bored with her job and with her life, goes on a leave of absence to train as an opera singer, but she has conflicts with her singing instructor and the instructor’s longtime protégé.

Culture Audience: “Falling for Figaro” will appeal primarily to fans of co-star Joanna Lumley and to people who like lightweight but appealing romantic dramedies.

Joanna Lumley and Danielle Macdonald in “Falling for Figaro” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Falling for Figaro” hits all the predictable beats of a romantic comedy/drama about a woman who goes outside her comfort zone and ends up finding true love. Thanks to a charming performance from Danielle Macdonald, the movie is slightly better than the usual schmaltz. “Absolutely Fabulous” co-star Joanne Lumley, who has been typecast as portraying cranky battle-axes with an acerbic wit, does more of the same type of performance in “Falling for Figaro.” However, Lumley’s fans should enjoy how she embodies the role with such comedic commitment that viewers will wonder what foul and mean-spirited things will come out next from this character’s mouth.

Ben Lewin directed “Falling for Figaro” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Allen Palmer. The movie has the added benefit of being set in the world of opera competitions, which is a unique context for a romantic comedy/drama. But make no mistake: “Falling for Figaro” is utterly formulaic in its story arc and structure. A talented cast makes this movie mostly enjoyable to watch, because most viewers will know how this movie is going to end.

In “Falling for Figaro,” Macdonald portrays Millie Cantwell, an American living in an unnamed big city in England. She works at a corporate job as a fund manager. (Macdonald is actually Australian in real life, but her American accent is flawless.) Millie is a rising star at the company. And it’s not just because her boss happens to be her live-in boyfriend.

His name is Charlie (played by Shazad Latif), and he’s proud of Millie’s success as a fund manager and wants to promote her to a higher position. Millie (who’s in her early 30s) and Charlie (who’s in his mid-to-late 30s)—met when he interviewed her to work at the company. There are no flashbacks in this movie. The story begins when Millie and Charlie have already been living together for an unspecified period of time.

It’s kind of a tricky situation in this #MeToo era for a boss to be dating an employee. But somehow, Millie and Charlie have worked it out and are open about their personal relationship while keeping things professional at work. Early on in the movie, she jokingly says to him in private: “I’m going to make more money than you. You’re going to rue the day that you hired me.”

Even though Millie is on the fast track to a big promotion at her job, she’s actually bored and frustrated with her career choice. The first scene in the movie shows Millie and Charlie on a date together at an opera performance. Millie is enthralled and has a fantasy that she’s the one who’s up on stage as the star of the show. Meanwhile, Charlie could care less about opera. He falls asleep during the performance. You know where this is going, of course.

It doesn’t take long for Millie to confess to Charlie that she’s going to take a big risk in her life to pursue a longtime dream of hers: She wants to become a professional opera singer. And in order to do that, Millie is going to take a year off from her job to go through opera training. When she tells Charlie this surprising news that she wants to be an opera singer, his incredulous response is, “Like, in the shower?”

Once the shock wears off, Charlie sees that Millie is entirely serious and determined to achieve this goal. Millie gets some advice from an older co-worker named Patricia Hartley, who tells her that the fastest way to be discovered as an aspiring opera singer is to go on the TV talent contest called “Singer of Renown.”

Millie says to Patricia, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life as a fund manager … Why shouldn’t I follow my heart?” Patricia doesn’t want to discourage Millie, but she expresses some skepticism about Millie trying to become an opera singer when many people start training in their childhood or teen years. Millie says defiantly in response to this skepticism, “Patricia, I’m not that old, and it is not too late. I’m willing to do this, with or without your help.”

Patricia recommends that Millie get her training from an opera instructor whom Patricia knows named Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (played by Lumley), who is based in the Scottish Highlands small town of Drumbuie. Meghan is at an age when most people are retired, but she refuses to think of herself as too old to work. Patricia warns Millie about Meghan: “She’s a little unorthodox.” A more accurate description of Meghan is, “She’s a little crazy and very rude.”

Charlie thinks that Millie is making a mistake to pursue a career as an opera singer. However, Millie has already made up her mind. And so, off Millie goes to Scotland with big dreams, a lot of hope and the expected amount of fear that she might end up failing.

Drumbuie is the type of small town where the local pub/restaurant (The Filthy Pig) is the center of the townspeople’s social lives. The Filthy Pig’s bartender Ramsay Macfadyen (played by Gary Lewis), who’s about the same age as Meghan, is the type of friendly person who knows regular customers by their names. He’s attuned to what’s going on in most of the customers’ personal lives. (In other words, he’s nosy.) And in a case of “opposites attract,” it turns out that Ramsay and Meghan have a little bit of a romance going on, but they’re trying to keep it low-key.

One of the waiters at the Filthy Pig is named Max (played by Hugh Skinner), an occasionally sullen introvert in his mid-30. Max works at the Filthy Pig to supplement his income as he trains to become a professional opera singer. Up until Millie comes along, Max was the only student of Meghan, who is very choosy about which people she wants to train. Meghan is also like a mother figure to Max, whose background isn’t really explained except for a mention that his parents are no longer alive and he has no other family members.

Meghan acts like such a domineering mother to Max that viewers might think that at some point there might be a reveal in the story that she really is Max’s mother, but that doesn’t happen. Max is a live-in handyman on Meghan’s property, so she often treats him like a lowly servant too. It seems like the main reason why Max puts up with Meghan’s shoddy treatment is because he respects her as a vocal instructor and he has an emotional attachment to her because she’s the closest thing he’s got to having a family.

Millie’s audition for Meghan is an outright disaster. For her audition piece, Millie sings “Voi Che Sapete” from “The Marriage of Figaro.” She’s nervous and stumbles in her her vocal delivery because during the audition, Max has been working on some plumbing nearby, and the loud noise is very distracting. Not surprisingly, Meghan rips into Millie not just for her performance but also to personally insult Millie.

Meghan goes on a rant that includes saying haughtily to Millie, “I haven’t finished telling you how worthless you are!” Meghan warns Millie that if Millie becomes Meghan’s student, Meghan will make Millie’s life miserable. Millie is undeterred. And because Millie has no other immediate options, she practically begs Meghan to be her vocal instructor. Meghan is secretly impressed by Millie’s determination and reluctantly agrees to train Millie.

Meanwhile, Max is feeling a little jealous that Meghan has accepted a new student, when he was used to having Meghan all to himself. Max tries to make Millie feel inferior by telling her that he’s been training with Meghan for so long, he can help Millie with some vocal techniques. Millie declines his offer and seems a little insulted because she thinks Max is being condescending to her.

The way that Max takes the rejection indicates that he might be interested in Millie for more than professional reasons. He doesn’t seem too pleased when he finds out that Millie has a boyfriend back home. Millie describes Charlie as her “significant other.” Max’s response: “It doesn’t exactly sound like a love match.” Meanwhile, Meghan sees that there’s some friction between Max and Millie. And what does Meghan do? She suggests that Max and Millie work on a duet together.

Viewers can easily predict how the rest of the story is going to go from there. Max and Millie have their share of disagreements, but they also learn to respect each other’s talent. Charlie arrives for the inevitable surprise visit, as Max and Millie’s attraction to each other grows. Max and Millie end up competing against each other in the “Singer of Renown” contest. Thankfully, the outcome of that contest isn’t as predictable as most people might think it is.

There’s a “Singer of Renown” contestant named Rosa Patullo (played by Rebecca Benson), who might be the most talented singer, but she has confidence issues. Kind-hearted Millie befriends Rosa and helps her deal with these insecurities. Millie isn’t a complete angel in this story, because there are some infidelity issues that she gets herself into during the inevitable love triangle between herself, Charlie and Max.

The opera singing in the movie should delight opera fans and even people who aren’t opera fans but appreciate musical artistry. What isn’t so creative is how many of the supporting characters end up being unremarkable clichés. There’s a gaggle of Filthy Pig regulars who are entirely forgettable. And the movie skimps on a backstory for Millie. Viewers will learn nothing about how and why she ended up living in the United Kingdom and what kind of family background she has.

Max as a love interest is a little bit on the bland side, while Meghan can be a little too over-the-top with her cruel comments. Skinner and Lumley play those roles accordingly. And that’s why the main appeal of “Falling for Figaro” is with Millie’s character, thanks to Macdonald’s relatable and grounded performance in a movie that largely follows a fairytale formula. The direction of this movie is breezy and light, which is an interesting contrast to the heavy bombast of opera. “Falling for Figaro” is far from a groundbreaking romantic movie, but it’s a pleasant-enough diversion for people who want the cinematic equivalent of comfort food.

IFC Films released “Falling for Figaro” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 1, 2021.

2020 BET Hip-Hop Awards: Cardi B, Megan The Stallion are the top winners

October 5, 2021

Tyler, the Creator at the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta on October 1, 2021 (Photo by Leon Bennett/2021 BET Hip Hop Awards/Getty Images)

The following is a press release from BET:

The 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards brought the hottest names in Hip Hop back to Atlanta, for the annual taping. Comedy supergroup 85 South (Karlous Miller, DC Young Fly, and Chico Bean) hosted this year’s awards from The Cobb Energy Centre which premiered on Tuesday, October 5 on BET, BET Her, MTV2 and VH1. Watch an encore airing of the award show Tuesday, October 7 at 9 PM ET/PT on BET. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion ruled the night by jointly snagging three wins each including Song of the Year, Best Hip Hop Video and Best Collaboration for their smash hit “WAP.” [Editor’s note: Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion did not attend the ceremony.] Tyler, The Creator took home two wins for Hip Hop Album of the Year and Best Live Performer in addition to his Rock the Bells Cultural Influence Award  presented by LL Cool J.  Jay Z scored double wins in the Sweet 16: Best Featured Verse and Impact Track [cagtegories] for his Nipsey Hussle collaboration “What It Feels Like.” Newcomer Yung Bleu was crowned Best New Hip Hop Artist while rap sensation Saweetie took home Hustler of the Year. Music icon Missy Elliott was voted Video Director of the Year and Lyricist of the Year went to J. Cole. UK rapper Little Simz took home the Best International Flow award. 

Young Thug kicked off the night with an explosive performance of “Tick Tock” followed by Gunna with “Too Easy” before coming together with their hit collaboration “Ski.” Hot new rapper Bia performed her smash single “Whole Lotta Money,” then brought out Atlanta icon Lil Jon for “Bia Bia” to close it out. Baby Keem made his award show debut with “Family Ties.” Hip Hop sensation Latto brought the house down with a sparkling, high energy performance of “SoufSide” and new song “Big Energy” while Tobe Nwigwe made it a family affair with Fat and Nell on their song “Fye Fye.” Isaiah Rashad performed alongside Doechii and Kal Banx for “Wat U Sed” before ending the set with his solo single “From the Garden.” The hotly anticipated cyphers were hosted by DJ Hed and featured a bevy of emcees dropping hot sixteens including Grip, D Smoke, Smino, Tierra Whack, Rico Nasty, Sleepy Hallow, Erica Banks, Fivio Foreign, Toosii, Lakeyah, Kidd Kenn and Symba. Presenters for the evening included a trio of Hip Hop powerhouses Trina, Remy Ma, and Rapsody. “I Am Hip Hop Award” recipient Nelly closed out the show with a performance of his greatest hits including “Country Grammar,” “Hot In Herre,” “Air Force Ones,” “Dilemma,” “Grillz” with an appearance by Paul Wall and more.  

The following is the complete list of nominees and winners of the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards:

*=winner

HIP HOP ALBUM OF THE YEAR

A GANGSTA’S PAIN                                    MONEYBAGG YO

CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST                     TYLER, THE CREATOR*

CULTURE III                                                MIGOS

GOOD NEWS                                               MEGAN THEE STALLION

KHALED KHALED                                       DJ KHALED

SAVAGE MODE II                                       21 SAVAGE & METRO BOOMIN

THE OFF-SEASON                                       J. COLE

SONG OF THE YEAR

BACK IN BLOOD                                          PRODUCED BY YC (POOH SHIESTY FEAT. LIL DURK)

LATE AT NIGHT                                          PRODUCED BY MUSTARD (RODDY RICCH)

LAUGH NOW CRY LATER.                        PRODUCED BY G. RY, CARDOGOTWINGS, ROGET CHAHAYED & YUNG EXCLUSIVE (DRAKE FEAT. LIL DURK)          

UP                                                                   PRODUCED BY YUNG DZA, SEAN ISLAND, DJ SWANQO (CARDI B)

WAP                                                               PRODUCED BY AYO & KEYZ (CARDI B FEAT. MEGAN THEE STALLION)*       

WHOLE LOTTA MONEY (REMIX)            PRODUCED BY LONDON JAE, BEATGODZ, TEE ROMANO (BIA FEAT. NICKI MINAJ)     

HIP HOP ARTIST OF THE YEAR

CARDI B

DRAKE

J. COLE

LIL BABY*

MEGAN THEE STALLION

TYLER, THE CREATOR

BEST HIP HOP VIDEO

CARDI B                                                                                     UP

CARDI B FEAT. MEGAN THEE STALLION                          WAP*

CHRIS BROWN & YOUNG THUG                                         GO CRAZY

DRAKE FEAT. LIL DURK                                                        LAUGH NOW CRY LATER

LIL NAS X                                                                                  MONTERO (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME)

SAWEETIE FEAT. DOJA CAT                                                 BEST FRIEND

BEST NEW HIP HOP ARTIST

BLXST

COI LERAY

DON TOLIVER

MORRAY

POOH SHIESTY

YUNG BLEU*

BEST COLLABORATION

21 SAVAGE & METRO BOOMIN FEAT. DRAKE   MR. RIGHT NOW

BIA FEAT. NICKI MINAJ                                                         WHOLE LOTTA MONEY (REMIX)

CARDI B FEAT. MEGAN THEE STALLION                           WAP*

DJ KHALED FEAT. LIL BABY & LIL DURK                           EVERY CHANCE I GET

DRAKE FEAT. LIL DURK                                                         LAUGH NOW CRY LATER

POOH SHIESTY FEAT. LIL DURK                                          BACK IN BLOOD

BEST DUO OR GROUP

21 SAVAGE & METRO BOOMIN

CHRIS BROWN & YOUNG THUG

CITY GIRLS

FUTURE & LIL UZI VERT

LIL BABY & LIL DURK*

MIGOS

BEST LIVE PERFORMER

BUSTA RHYMES

CARDI B

DABABY

DOJA CAT

MEGAN THEE STALLION

TYLER, THE CREATOR*

LYRICIST OF THE YEAR

BENNY THE BUTCHER

DRAKE

J. COLE*

LIL BABY

MEGAN THEE STALLION

NAS

BEST INTERNATIONAL FLOW

LADIPOE (NIGERIA)

NASTY C (SOUTH AFRICA)

XAMÃ (BRAZIL)

LAYLOW (FRANCE)

GAZO (FRANCE)

LITTLE SIMZ (UK)*

DAVE (UK)

VIDEO DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR

COLE BENNETT

COLIN TILLEY

DAVE MEYERS

DIRECTOR X

HYPE WILLIAMS

MISSY ELLIOTT*

DJ OF THE YEAR

CHASE B

D NICE

DJ CASSIDY

DJ DRAMA

DJ ENVY

DJ JAZZY JEFF

DJ SCHEME*

KAYTRANADA

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR

DJ KHALED

HIT-BOY*

METRO BOOMIN

MUSTARD

THE ALCHEMIST

TYLER, THE CREATOR

HUSTLER OF THE YEAR

CARDI B

DRAKE

LIL BABY

MEGAN THEE STALLION

SAWEETIE*

YUNG BLEU

BEST HIP HOP PLATFORM

COMPLEX

GENIUS*

HIP HOP DX

HOT NEW HIPHOP

THE BREAKFAST CLUB

THE SHADE ROOM

WORLDSTAR HIPHOP

XXL                    

SWEET 16: BEST FEATURED VERSE

CARDI B                                                        TYPE SHIT (MIGOS FEAT. CARDI B)

DRAKE                                                          HAVIN’ OUR WAY (MIGOS FEAT. DRAKE)

JAY-Z                                                            WHAT IT FEELS LIKE (NIPSEY HUSSLE FEAT. JAY-Z)*

LIL DURK                                                      BACK IN BLOOD (POOH SHIESTY FT. LIL DURK)

MEGAN THE STALLION                            ON ME (REMIX) (LIL BABY FT. MEGAN THEE STALLION)

RODDY RICCH                                             LEMONADE (REMIX) (INTERNET MONEY FEAT. DON TOLIVER & RODDY RICCH)

IMPACT TRACK

BLACK THOUGHT                                       THOUGHT VS EVERYBODY

LIL NAS X                                                      MONTERO (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME)

LIL BABY & KIRK FRANKLIN                   WE WIN

MEEK MILL FEAT. LIL DURK                    PAIN AWAY

NIPSEY HUSSLE FEAT. JAY-Z                   WHAT IT FEELS LIKE*

RAPSODY                                                     12 PROBLEMS

Relive the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards digital red carpet livestream powered by Bulldog DM, at https://twitter.com/i/broadcasts/1lDGLLvMqpbGm.

For more information about the BET Hip Hop Awards, including the digital red carpet livestream powered by Bulldog DM, the latest news and updates, visit bet.com/hiphopawards and follow the conversation @BETAwards 

Connie Orlando, EVP Specials, Music Programming & Music Strategy will oversee the annual show, with Jamal Noisette, VP Specials, Music Programming & Music Strategy serving as Co-Executive Producer for BET. Jesse Collins, CEO of Jesse Collins Entertainment, to serve as Executive Producer of the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards along with Jesse Collins Entertainment’s Jeannae Rouzan–Clay and Dionne Harmon.

Review: ‘The Nowhere Inn,’ starring St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein

October 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein in “The Nowhere Inn” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Nowhere Inn”

Directed by Bill Benz

Culture Representation: Taking place in various U.S. cities, the comedy/drama mockumentary “The Nowhere Inn” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Experimental pop singer St. Vincent has conflicts with her best friend Carrie Brownstein, who has been hired to direct a documentary about St. Vincent. 

Culture Audience: “The Nowhere Inn” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars St. Vincent and Brownstein, as well as to people who enjoy unusual mockumentaries.

St. Vincent in “The Nowhere Inn” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Nowhere Inn” rambles, falters, and sometimes gets too meta for its own good. But it’s got enough quirky satire of celebrity documentaries to bring some laughs. You don’t have to be a fan of stars St. Vincent or Carrie Brownstein to enjoy “The Nowhere Inn,” but it might help during the parts of the movie where the pace tends to drag. Mostly, “The Nowhere Inn” is commendable for its attempt to be an original mockumentary, even if some of the comedy doesn’t serve the story very well.

In “The Nowhere Inn,” experimental pop singer St. Vincent (whose real name is Annie Clark) and Brownstein (a former star of the 2011-2018 comedy series “Portlandia”) portray versions of themselves and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay. Many parts of the movie look semi-improvised. “The Nowhere Inn” is the feature-film directorial debut of Bill Benz, a former editor, director and co-producer of “Portlandia.” People who are familiar with “Portlandia” should expect a similar tone to “The Nowhere Inn,” which brings an absurdist and deadpan spin to realistic situations.

“The Nowhere Inn” is a mockumentary within a mockumentary. On one level, it’s about the character of Carrie being convinced by her best friend St. Vincent to direct a tour documentary about St. Vincent. Footage from the documentary takes up most of the movie. But on another level, parts of the movie includes hindsight commentary from Carrie and St. Vincent about the documentary, whose production went through a lot of turmoil when the two pals became at odds with each other.

Interspersed with the off-stage footage is a lot of concert footage of St. Vincent. And so, the vast majority of the music in the movie is St. Vincent’s music. St. Vincent songs that are featured in “The Nowhere Inn” are “Year of the Tiger,” “Smoking Section,” “Pills,” “New York,” “Savior,” “Palm Desert,” “Los Ageless” and “Hang on Me.”

Because the experimental/alternative musical style of St. Vincent is so intertwined with the movie, “The Nowhere Inn” is not going to appeal to large masses of people, especially people who prefer more conventional films. However, people who know about the stereotypes of authorized celebrity tour documentaries will find parts of the movie amusing in how “The Nowhere Inn” makes a mockery of these clichés.

The movie opens with St. Vincent as a passenger in the back of limo, where an unnamed middle-aged driver (played by Ezra Buzzington) tells her that he knows that she’s famous for something, but he isn’t shy about telling her that he’s not sure what her claim to fame is: “I drive a lot of famous people,” he says. “I’ve never heard you before.”

While he’s driving, the limo driver calls his son, who’s an aspiring musician in a band, and talks to his son on speaker phone. He asks his son if he’s heard of St. Vincent. The son says no, but he mentions that he’s in a band and wonders out loud if St. Vincent could possibly help him in his music career. During this awkward conversation, she is gracious and humble and doesn’t expect to be treated like a star.

The limo driver then asks St. Vincent to sing one of her songs, to see if his son will recognize the song. St. Vincent sings “New York,” and when she gets to the part of the song where the line is “you’re the only motherfucker in the city,” the driver’s son sounds offended and asks, “Whoa! Did she just say ‘MF’?” The driver then abruptly ends the call and tells St. Vincent, “Don’t worry. We’ll find out who you are.”

The driver doesn’t really get a chance though because the limo stops shortly afterward. When St. Vincent gets out of the limo to see what’s going on, she finds that the driver’s door is open and he’s nowhere in sight. What happened to the driver and where did he go? Don’t expect any answers because it’s an example of some of the random weirdness in the movie.

St. Vincent is then seen on screen talking about the unfinished documentary that she made with Carrie as the director. St. Vincent comments, “All I can say is that things went terribly wrong.” The majority of “The Nowhere Inn” shows flashbacks to the making of the untitled documentary. Viewers are supposed to get a sense that what they are seeing is previously unreleased footage.

At first, filming of the documentary goes very well, as Carrie is given almost complete creative control. Carrie’s only request for St. Vincent is “Just be yourself” because the documentary is supposed to be a “fly on the wall experience.” St. Vincent’s shows are well-attended and she has plenty of adoring fans.

In the “hindsight” footage, St. Vincent says, “It was supposed to be a music documentary … I guess I wanted people to know who I am. I don’t want it to be a random fantasy. I wanted it to be intimate and revealing.”

But how intimate and how revealing? And more importantly to Carrie: How truthful? Over time, St. Vincent’s ego takes over, and she wants to turn the documentary into a series of staged scenes that fabricate aspects of her life. How much of a dictator does St. Vincent become during the making of the documentary? At one point in the movie, she tells Carrie: “From now on, I need more say in how other people are going to act.”

When did St. Vincent go from being a down-to-earth singer to a bossy diva? The turning point comes when a print journalist named Holly (played by Rya Kihlstedt) interviews St. Vincent while the documentary cameras are rolling. During the interview, Holly becomes distracted because her live-in girlfriend has broken up with Holly by text during the interview.

Holly is so distraught that she drags St. Vincent into this breakup mess by asking St. Vincent to call her now-ex-girlfriend and leave a voice mail to try convince the ex that Holly is not only a good person but the best thing that ever happened to the ex. It puts St. Vincent in a very awkward position, but she obliges, in order to be polite.

After manipulating St. Vincent to get involved in her personal life, Holly then cuts the interview short, as if she’s done using St. Vincent for the day. Before this annoying journalist leaves, Holly complains to St. Vincent that Holly wasn’t given a “plus one” (to get an extra ticket) when Holly was put on the guest list for the St. Vincent concert happening later that evening.

Holly says that her cousin Sarah is a fan of St. Vincent and tells St. Vincent that she’d like Sarah to be her “plus one.” St. Vincent tries not to act offended by the disrespectful way that Holly has been acting, but this entire uncomfortable interaction was caught on the documentary’s cameras. Later, when St. Vincent sees Holly and Sarah (played by Cass Buggé) at a concert after-party, the shift in St. Vincent’s attitude becomes very clear.

St. Vincent suddenly wants to do a documentary that will make her look more interesting. In one of the funnier scenes in the movie, St. Vincent introduces Carrie to her lover Dakota Johnson (playing a version of herself), while St. Vincent and Dakota are clad in lingerie and lounging on a bed together. (St. Vincent is openly queer in real life.) And the next thing you know, St. Vincent wants Carrie to film a sex video of Dakota and St. Vincent, right then and there.

An embarrassed Carrie tries to stall and suggests that they get an intimacy coordinator before filming the scene. However, St. Vincent says it’s not necessary because she and Dakota won’t be faking it. There’s no actual sex or nudity in “The Nowhere Inn,” because the movie wants what isn’t shown in this sex scene to be more amusing than what could be shown.

Another hilarious scene in the movie is when Carrie decides to go over to some St. Vincent fans who are standing in line outside the concert venue and randomly invites a young adult fan to go back with her to St. Vincent’s dressing room. The fan, whose name is Kim (played by Gabriela Flores), is overwhelmed by this surprise and bursts into tears when she sees St. Vincent in person. Kim predictably fawns over St. Vincent and tells St. Vincent that her music saved Kim’s life.

Kim tells St. Vincent that Kim’s boyfriend from high school gave St. Vincent’s 2011 album “Strange Mercy” to Kim as a birthday present. The boyfriend tragically died in a car accident two nights before their graduation. Kim says that St. Vincent’s music has helped Kim through tough times when she was feeling depressed and didn’t want to live anymore.

This sad story makes St. Vincent cry too. And she cries so much about how much the story affected her that Kim ends up comforting St. Vincent in the dressing room. It’s an amusing parody of how narcissistic celebrities can somehow make a fan’s personal tragedy all about the celebrity.

During the course of the documentary, St. Vincent becomes obsessed with wanting to appear humble and relatable in front of the cameras. But behind the scenes, she becomes a egomaniacal tyrant and almost starts acting like the documentary’s director. St. Vincent goes as far as fabricating a backstory for herself. She pretends that she grew up on a Texas ranch with a big family, and she hires actors to play these roles.

As Carrie says early on in the movie, St. Vincent is really an only child whose father is in prison. This is a plot hole in “The Nowhere Inn,” because in this Internet age, it would be hard for a celebrity such as St. Vincent to hide her family background and get away with hiring a cast of actors to portray her family in what’s supposed to be documentary. That’s why “The Nowhere Inn” takes a misstep toward the end of the movie when St. Vincent goes through an entire charade of trying to look like a Texas cowgirl from a large family.

Not surprisingly, Carrie is increasingly put off by St. Vincent trying to make a phony documentary. Carrie finds herself sidelined as a director and not being consulted on important decisions. Carrie quits the documentary at least once, which isn’t spoiler information, since St. Vincent says in the beginning of the movie that the documentary hasn’t been completed.

During all of this friendship turmoil, Carrie is also dealing with the fact that her unnamed father (played by Michael Bofshever) is dying of cancer. He’s very proud that she’s directing this documentary, and she feels obligated to finish the film so that he won’t be disappointed in her. Meanwhile, St. Vincent seems oblivious and insensitive to Carrie’s stress over her father’s health condition.

“The Nowhere Inn” includes some footage of the people in St. Vincent’s entourage, including her band members: eccentric Japanese bass player Toko (played by Toko Yasuda); “nice guy” Australian guitarist Neil (played by Chris Aquilino); and party-loving American drummer Robert (played by Drew Connick). St. Vincent’s easygoing tour manager Brian (played by Kash Abdulmalik) also gets some screen time.

However, these supporting characters don’t add much the story. “The Nowhere Inn” is really about how Carrie and St. Vincent’s once-solid friendship becomes turbulent because of disagreements over the documentary. In the production notes for “The Nowhere Inn,” it’s mentioned that Brownstein and Clark were both influenced by two movies about jaded pop stars: directors Nicolas Roeg’s and Donald Cammell’s 1970 drama “Performance” (starring Mick Jagger) and director Peter Watkins’ 1967 mockumentary “Privilege,” starring Paul Jones.

Taking cues from both of those movies, “The Nowhere Inn” has some psychedelic-looking surrealistic sequences that aren’t quite hallucinations, but they’re nevertheless part of the line blurring of reality and fiction that this mockumentary intends to spoof. “The Nowhere Inn” is at its most potent in its satire when it pokes fun at the image-obsessed trap that many celebrities fall into when they achieve a certain level of fame.

What’s less effective are the aforementioned fake Texas family scenes and the movie’s tendency to over-rely on making Carrie look like a forlorn doormat who’s shocked by what goes on during St. Vincent’s concert tour. By making Carrie so naïve in this movie, it just leads viewers to wonder how well Carrie really knows her “best friend” St. Vincent. And the subplot about Carrie’s father having cancer is a clumsy fit for this story.

Brownstein has her own real-life experiences as a music artist (she’s a singer/guitarist in the rock band Sleater-Kinney), but that background is completely erased in the movie. It would’ve been more interesting if the Carrie character had been written as someone who has experience being in a semi-famous band and is therefore better-equipped to handle St. Vincent’s egotistical shenanigans during the tour. Their arguments would’ve been more entertaining to watch.

“The Nowhere Inn” is a flawed but unique film that is going to interest some people and turn off other people. People who know what showbiz is like behind the scenes will find at least something to laugh at in “The Nowhere Inn,” even if those laughs might be occasional for some viewers. The movie is not meant to have a joke in every scene. “The Nowhere Inn” won’t be considered a classic mockumentary, but it’s worth a watch if viewers are willing to go on a sometimes bizarre but very original ride in an alternate reality created by Brownstein and St. Vincent.

IFC Films released “The Nowhere Inn” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on September 17, 2021.

2021 MTV Video Music Awards: Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo, BTS are the top winners

September 12, 2021

With three awards each, Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo and BTS were the top winners at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), which were held at Barclays Center in New York City on September 12. Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” won the prize for Video of the Year. Foo Fighters received the Global Icon Award, which is a non-competitive prize. The show, which was hosted by Doja Cat, was also simulcast other ViacomCBS-owned channels CMT, Comedy Central, Logo, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, Pop, TV Land, VH1 and The CW Network. The MTV VMAs are voted for online by the public.

Here is the list of artists and songs performed on the show.

  • The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber, “Stay”
  • Justin Bieber, “Ghost”
  • Olivia Rodrigo “Good 4 U”
  • Kacey Musgraves “Star-Crossed”
  • Twenty One Pilots “Saturday”
  • Saint Jhn “Sucks To Be You,” “Trap”
  • Ed Sheeran “Shivers”
  • Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow “Industry Baby”
  • “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” (Lil Nas X only)
  • Camila Cabello, “Don’t Go Yet”
  • Shawn Mendes and Tainy, “Summer of Love”
  • Anitta, “Girl from Rio”
  • Latto, “Big Energy,” “Muwop,” “Bitch from da Souf”
  • Doja Cat, “Been like This,” “You Right”
  • Chlöe, “Have Mercy”
  • Normani, “Wild Side”
  • Ozuna, “La Funka”
  • Foo Fighters medley: “Learn to Fly,” “Shame Shame,” “Everlong”
  • Alicia Keys and Swae Lee “Lala (Unlocked)”
  • Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”
  • Busta Rhymes, “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” “Ante Up,” “Scenario,” “Touch It,” “Look at Me Now,” “Pass the Courvoisier”
  • Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker, “Papercuts”

Presenters were Doja Cat, Tinashe, Bretman Rock, Jennifer Lopez, Cyndi Lauper, Saint Jhn, Rita Ora, Billy Porter, Avril Lavigne, Charli XCX, Leslie Grace, Conor McGregor, Halle Bailey, Wyclef Jean, Ciara, Fat Joe, Ashanti, Ja Rule, AJ McLean, Lance Bass, Nick Lachey, Billie Eilish, SZA, Tommy Lee, Swizz Beatz, David Lee Roth, Megan Fox and Kourtney Kardashian.

Bruce Gillmer and Den of Thieves co-founder Jesse Ignjatovic were Executive Producers for the 2021 MTV VMAs. Barb Bialkowski was Co-Executive Producer. Alicia Portugal and Jackie Barba serve as Executives in Charge of Production. Wendy Plaut was Executive in Charge of Celebrity Talent. Lisa Lauricella was Music Talent Executive.

Here is the complete list of nominees and winners:

*=winner

VIDEO OF THE YEAR 

Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP” – Atlantic Records

DJ Khaled featuring Drake – “POPSTAR” (Starring Justin Bieber) – OVO / We The Best / Epic Records

Doja Cat featuring SZA – “Kiss Me More” – Kemosabe Records / RCA Records

Ed Sheeran – “Bad Habits” – Atlantic Records

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records*

The Weeknd – “Save Your Tears” – XO / Republic Records

ARTIST OF THE YEAR 

Ariana Grande – Republic Records

Doja Cat – Kemosabe Records / RCA Records

Justin Bieber – Def Jam*

Megan Thee Stallion – 300 Entertainment

Olivia Rodrigo – Geffen Records

Taylor Swift – Republic Records

SONG OF THE YEAR 

24kGoldn featuring iann dior – “Mood” – Records LLC / Columbia Records

Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic – “Leave The Door Open” – Aftermath Entertainment / Atlantic Records

BTS – “Dynamite” – BIGHIT Music

Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP” – Atlantic Records

Dua Lipa – “Levitating” – Warner Records

Olivia Rodrigo – “Drivers License” – Geffen Records*

BEST NEW ARTIST, Presented by Facebook 

24kGoldn – Records LLC / Columbia Records

Giveon – Epic Records / Not So Fast

The Kid Laroi – Columbia Records

Olivia Rodrigo – Geffen Records*

Polo G – Columbia Records

Saweetie – Warner Records

PUSH PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

September 2020: Wallows – “Are You Bored Yet?” – Atlantic Records

October 2020: Ashnikko – “Daisy” – Warner Records

November 2020: Saint Jhn – “Gorgeous” – Godd Complexx / HITCO

December 2020: 24kGoldn – “Coco” – Records LLC / Columbia Records

January 2021: JC Stewart – “Break My Heart” – Elektra Music Group

February 2021: Latto – “Sex Lies” – RCA Records

March 2021: Madison Beer – “Selfish” – Epic Records / Sing It Loud

April 2021: The Kid Laroi – “Without You” – Columbia Records

May 2021: Olivia Rodrigo – “Drivers License” – Geffen Records*

June 2021: Girl in Red “Serotonin” – World in Red / AWAL

July 2021: Fousheé – “My Slime” – RCA Records

August 2021: jxdn – “Think About Me” – DTA Records / Elektra Music Group

BEST COLLABORATION

24kGoldn featuring Iann Dior – “Mood” – Records LLC / Columbia Records

Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP” – Atlantic Records

Doja Cat featuring SZA – “Kiss Me More” – Kemosabe Records / RCA Records*

Drake featuring Lil Durk – “Laugh Now Cry Later” – OVO / Republic Records

Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar, Giveon – “Peaches” – Def Jam

Miley Cyrus featuring Dua Lipa – “Prisoner” – RCA Records

BEST POP

Ariana Grande – “Positions” – Republic Records

Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am” – Darkroom / Interscope Records

BTS – “Butter” – BIGHIT Music

Harry Styles – “Treat People With Kindness” – Columbia Records

Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar, Giveon – “Peaches” – Def Jam*

Olivia Rodrigo – “Good 4 U” – Geffen Records

Shawn Mendes – “Wonder” – Island Records

Taylor Swift – “Willow” – Republic Records

BEST HIP-HOP

Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP” – Atlantic Records

Drake featuring Lil Durk – “Laugh Now Cry Later” – OVO / Republic Records

Lil Baby featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “On Me (remix)” – Quality Control / Motown

Moneybagg Yo – “Said Sum” – N-Less Entertainment / Interscope Records

Polo G – “Rapstar” – Columbia Records

Travis Scott featuring Young Thug & M.I.A. – “Franchise” – Cactus Jack / Epic Records*

BEST ROCK

Evanescence – “Use My Voice” – BMG

Foo Fighters – “Shame Shame” – Roswell Records / RCA Records

John Mayer – “Last Train Home” – Columbia Records*

The Killers – “My Own Soul’s Warning” – Island

Kings Of Leon – “The Bandit” – RCA Records

Lenny Kravitz – “Raise Vibration” – Roxie Records / BMG

BEST ALTERNATIVE

Bleachers – “Stop Making This Hurt” – RCA Records

Glass Animals – “Heat Waves” – Republic Records

Imagine Dragons – “Follow You” – KidinaKorner / Interscope Records

Machine Gun Kelly featuring blackbear – “My Ex’s Best Friend” – Bad Boy / Interscope Records*

Twenty One Pilots – “Shy Away” – Fueled By Ramen

Willow featuring Travis Barker – “Transparentsoul” – MSFTSMusic / Roc Nation

BEST LATIN

Bad Bunny x Jhay Cortez – “Dákiti” – The Orchard

Billie Eilish & ROSALÍA – “Lo Vas A Olvidar” – Darkroom / Interscope Records*

Black Eyed Peas and Shakira – “Girl Like Me” – Epic Records

Balvin, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, Tainy – “Un Dia (One Day)” – Universal Music Latino / NEON16 

Karol G – “Bichota” – Universal Music Latino

Maluma – “Hawái” – Sony Music US Latin

BEST R&B

Beyoncé, Blue Ivy, Saint Jhn WizKid – “Brown Skin Girl – Parkwood Entertainment / Columbia Records

Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic – “Leave The Door Open” – Aftermath Entertainment / Atlantic Records*

Chris Brown and Young Thug – “Go Crazy” – Chris Brown Entertainment/RCA Records

Giveon – “Heartbreak Anniversary” – Epic Records / Not So Fast

H.E.R. featuring Chris Brown – “Come Through” – MBK Entertainment / RCA Records

SZA – “Good Days” – Top Dawg Entertainment / RCA Records

BEST K-POP

(G)I-DLE – “Dumbdi Dumbdi” – Republic Records

Blacpink and Selena Gomez – “Ice Cream” – YG Entertainment / Interscope Records

BTS – “Butter” – BIGHIT Music Monsta X – “Gambler” – Starship Entertainment*

Seventeen – “Ready to Love” – Pledis Entertainment

Twice– “Alcohol-Free” – JYP Entertainment Company

VIDEO FOR GOOD 

Billie Eilish – “Your Power” – Darkroom / Interscope Records*

Demi Lovato – “Dancing With The Devil” – Island

H.E.R. – “Fight For You” – MBK Entertainment / RCA Records

Kane Brown – “Worldwide Beautiful” – Sony Music Nashville / RCA Records

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records

Pharrell Williams featuring JAY-Z – “Entrepreneur” – Columbia Records

BEST DIRECTION

Billie Eilish – “Your Power” – Darkroom / Interscope Records – Directed by: Billie Eilish

DJ Khaled featuring Drake – “Popstar (Starring Justin Bieber)” – OVO / We The Best / Epic Records – Directed by: Julien Christian Lutz aka Director X

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records – Directed by: Lil Nas X and Tanu Muino*

Taylor Swift – “Willow” – Republic Records – Directed by: Taylor Swift

Travis Scott featuring Young Thug & M.I.A – “Franchise” – Cactus Jack / Epic Records – Directed by: Travis Scott

Tyler, The Creator – “Lumberjack” – Columbia Records – Directed by: Wolf Haley

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Beyoncé, Blue Ivy, Saint Jhn, WizKid – “Brown Skin Girl” – Parkwood Entertainment / Columbia Records – Cinematography by: Benoit Soler, Malik H. Sayeed, Mohammaed Atta Ahmed, Santiago Gonzalez, Ryan Helfant*

Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am” – Darkroom / Interscope Records – Cinematography by: Rob Witt

Foo Fighters – “Shame Shame” – Roswell Records / RCA Records – Cinematography by: Santiago Gonzalez

Justin Bieber featuring Chance The Rapper – “Holy” – RBMG/Def Jam – Cinematography by: Elias Talbot

Lady Gaga – “911” – Interscope Records – Cinematography by: Jeff Cronenweth

Lorde – “Solar Power” – Republic Records – Cinematography by: Andrew Stroud

BEST ART DIRECTION

Beyoncé, Shatta Wale, Major Lazer – “Already” – Parkwood Entertainment / Columbia Records – Art Direction by: Susan Linns, Gerard Santos

Ed Sheeran – “Bad Habits” – Atlantic Records – Art Direction by: Alison Dominitz

Lady Gaga – “911” – Interscope Records – Art Direction by: Tom Foden, Peter Andrus

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records – Art Direction by: John Richoux

Saweetie featuring Doja Cat – “Best Friend” – Warner Records – Art Direction by: Alec Contestabile*

Taylor Swift – “willow” – Republic Records – Art Direction by: Ethan Tobman, Regina Fernandez

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Bella Poarch – “Build a Bitch” – Warner Records – Visual Effects by: Andrew Donoho, Denhov Visuals, Denis Strahhov, Rein Jakobson, Vahur Kuusk, Tatjana Pavlik, Yekaterina Vetrova

Coldplay – “Higher Power” – Atlantic Records – Visual Effects by: Mathematic

Doja Cat & The Weeknd – “You Right” – Kemosabe Records / RCA Records – Visual Effects by: La Pac, Anthony Lestremau, Julien Missaire, Petr Shkolniy, Alexi Bailla, Micha Sher, Antoine Hache, Mikros MPC, Nicolas Huget, Guillaume Ho Tsong Fang, Benjamin Lenfant, Stephane Pivron, MPC Bangalore, Chanakya Chander, Raju Ganesh, David Rouxel

Glass Animals – “Tangerine” – Republic Records – Visual Effects by: Ronan Fourreau

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records – Visual Effects by: Mathematic*

Pink – “All I Know So Far” – RCA Records – Visual Effects by: BUF, VFX Supervisors: Dominique Vidal & Geoffrey Niquet, VFX Producers: Annabelle Zoellin & Camille Gibrat

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

Ariana Grande – “34+35” – Republic Records – Choreography by: Brian Nicholson & Scott Nicholson

BTS – “Butter” – BIGHIT Music – Choreography by: Son Sung Deuk With BHM Performance Directing Team

Ed Sheeran – “Bad Habits” – Atlantic Records – Choreography by: Natricia Bernard

Foo Fighters – “Shame Shame” – Roswell Records / RCA Records – Choreography by: Nina McNeely

Harry Styles – “Treat People With Kindness” – Columbia Records – Choreography by: Paul Roberts*

Marshmello & Halsey – “Be Kind” – Astralwerks / Capitol Records – Choreography by: Dani Vitale

BEST EDITING

Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic – “Leave The Door Open” – Aftermath Entertainment/Atlantic Records – Editing by: Troy Charbonnet*

BTS – “Butter” – BIGHIT Music– Editing by: Yong Seok Choi from Lumpens

Drake – “What’s Next” – OVO/Republic Records – Editing by: Noah Kendal

Harry Styles – “Treat People With Kindness” – Columbia Records  –  Editing by: Claudia Wass

Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar, Giveon – “Peaches” – Def Jam  –  Editing by: Mark Mayr, Vinnie Hobbs

Miley Cyrus featuring Dua Lipa – “Prisoner” – RCA Records

2021 BET Hip Hop Awards: Cardi B, Lil Durk, Megan Thee Stallion are the top nominees

September 9, 2021

The following is a press release from BET:

BET announces the nominees for the 16th annual BET Hip-Hop Awards honoring the past year in hip hop music across 17 categories, selected by a voting academy of esteemed music industry insiders. With the theme of unity as expressed by its tagline In Hip Hop We Stand, the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards will tape from the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, GA, on Friday, October 1 and will premiere Tuesday, October 5, 2021, at 9 PM ET/PT on BET, and simulcast internationally on BET Africa on Wednesday, October 6 AT 3 AM CAT. BETwill work closely with Fulton County to support community vaccination efforts and ensure adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

Cardi B, Lil Durk, and Megan Thee Stallion lead this year’s nominations with an impressive nine nods each. Cardi B’s nods include Song of The Year, Hip Hop Artist of The Year, Best Hip Hop Video, Best Collaboration, Best Live Performer, Hustler of The Year, and Sweet 16: Best featured Verse. Lil Durk’s nods include Song of the Year, Best Hip Hop Video, Best Collaboration, Best Duo or Group, and Sweet 16: Best featured Verse. Megan Thee Stallion’s nods include Hip Hop Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Hip Hop Artist of the Year, Best Hip Hop Video, Best Collaboration, Best Live Performer, Lyricist of the Year, Hustler of the Year, and Sweet 16: Best featured Verse. Drake takes second place with an impressive eight nods. Tyler, The Creator and Metro Boomin tied for third-most nominations securing four nods each.

Other notable nominations include 21 Savage, DJ Khaled, J. Cole, and Pooh Shiesty, who received three nominations each. Bia, Chris Brown, Doja Cat, Jay Z, Lil Nas X, Migos, Nicki Minaj, Roddy Ricch, Saweetie, Young Thug, and Yung Bleu received two nominations each.

Additionally, the Best New Hip Hop Artist Award nominees include Blxst, Coi Leray, Don Toliver, Morray, Pooh Shiesty, and Yung Bleu.

“Our 2021 ‘BET Hip Hop Awards’ nominees span generations and are a representation of the talented individuals who elevate hip hop culture in creative and diverse ways. We congratulate each of them on these sought-after accolades,” said Connie Orlando, EVP Specials, Music Programming & Music Strategy for BET. “We can’t wait to join forces with the best in hip hop and deliver a one-of-a-kind show in Atlanta.”

Voting for the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards DJ of the Year and Best Hip Hop Platform is now open:  https://www.votehiphopawards.com

Connie Orlando, EVP Specials, Music Programming & Music Strategy will oversee the annual show, with Jamal Noisette, VP Specials, Music Programming & Music Strategy serving as Co-Executive Producer. Jesse Collins, CEO of Jesse Collins Entertainment, to serve as Executive Producer of the 2021 “BET HIP HOP AWARDS” along with Jesse Collins Entertainment’s Jeannae Rouzan–Clay and Dionne Harmon.

For more information about the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards including the latest news and updates, visit bet.com/hiphopawards.

See below for the complete list of 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards Official Nominees:

HIP HOP ALBUM OF THE YEAR

A GANGSTA’S PAIN                                    MONEYBAGG YO

CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST                     TYLER, THE CREATOR

CULTURE III                                                MIGOS

GOOD NEWS                                               MEGAN THEE STALLION

KHALED KHALED                                       DJ KHALED

SAVAGE MODE II                                       21 SAVAGE & METRO BOOMIN

THE OFF-SEASON                                       J. COLE

SONG OF THE YEAR

BACK IN BLOOD                                          PRODUCED BY YC (POOH SHIESTY FEAT. LIL DURK)

LATE AT NIGHT                                          PRODUCED BY MUSTARD (RODDY RICCH)

LAUGH NOW CRY LATER.                        PRODUCED BY G. RY, CARDOGOTWINGS, ROGET CHAHAYED & YUNG EXCLUSIVE (DRAKE FEAT. LIL DURK)          

UP                                                                   PRODUCED BY YUNG DZA, SEAN ISLAND, DJ SWANQO (CARDI B)

WAP                                                               PRODUCED BY AYO & KEYZ (CARDI B FEAT. MEGAN THEE STALLION)       

WHOLE LOTTA MONEY (REMIX)            PRODUCED BY LONDON JAE, BEATGODZ, TEE ROMANO (BIA FEAT. NICKI MINAJ)     

HIP HOP ARTIST OF THE YEAR

CARDI B

DRAKE

J. COLE

LIL BABY

MEGAN THEE STALLION

TYLER, THE CREATOR

BEST HIP HOP VIDEO

CARDI B                                                                                     UP

CARDI B FEAT. MEGAN THEE STALLION                          WAP

CHRIS BROWN & YOUNG THUG                                         GO CRAZY

DRAKE FEAT. LIL DURK                                                        LAUGH NOW CRY LATER

LIL NAS X                                                                                  MONTERO (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME)

SAWEETIE FEAT. DOJA CAT                                                 BEST FRIEND

BEST NEW HIP HOP ARTIST

BLXST

COI LERAY

DON TOLIVER

MORRAY

POOH SHIESTY

YUNG BLEU

BEST COLLABORATION

21 SAVAGE & METRO BOOMIN FEAT. DRAKE   MR. RIGHT NOW

BIA FEAT. NICKI MINAJ                                                         WHOLE LOTTA MONEY (REMIX)

CARDI B FEAT. MEGAN THEE STALLION                           WAP

DJ KHALED FEAT. LIL BABY & LIL DURK                           EVERY CHANCE I GET

DRAKE FEAT. LIL DURK                                                         LAUGH NOW CRY LATER

POOH SHIESTY FEAT. LIL DURK                                          BACK IN BLOOD

BEST DUO OR GROUP

21 SAVAGE & METRO BOOMIN

CHRIS BROWN & YOUNG THUG

CITY GIRLS

FUTURE & LIL UZI VERT

LIL BABY & LIL DURKMIGOS

BEST LIVE PERFORMER

BUSTA RHYMES

CARDI B

DABABY

DOJA CAT

MEGAN THEE STALLIONTYLER, THE CREATOR

LYRICIST OF THE YEAR

BENNY THE BUTCHER

DRAKE

J. COLE

LIL BABY

MEGAN THEE STALLION

NAS

BEST INTERNATIONAL FLOW

LADIPOE (NIGERIA)

NASTY C (SOUTH AFRICA)

XAMÃ (BRAZIL)

LAYLOW (FRANCE)

GAZO (FRANCE)

LITTLE SIMZ (UK)

DAVE (UK)

VIDEO DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR

COLE BENNETT

COLIN TILLEY

DAVE MEYERS

DIRECTOR X

HYPE WILLIAMS

MISSY ELLIOTT

DJ OF THE YEAR

CHASE B

D NICE

DJ CASSIDY

DJ DRAMA

DJ ENVY

DJ JAZZY JEFF

DJ SCHEME

KAYTRANADA

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR

DJ KHALED

HIT-BOY

METRO BOOMIN

MUSTARD

THE ALCHEMIST

TYLER, THE CREATOR

HUSTLER OF THE YEAR

CARDI B

DRAKE

LIL BABY

MEGAN THEE STALLION

SAWEETIE

YUNG BLEU

BEST HIP HOP PLATFORM

COMPLEX

GENIUS

HIP HOP DX

HOT NEW HIPHOP

THE BREAKFAST CLUB

THE SHADE ROOM

WORLDSTAR HIPHOP

XXL                    

SWEET 16: BEST FEATURED VERSE

CARDI B                                                        TYPE SHIT (MIGOS FEAT. CARDI B)

DRAKE                                                          HAVIN’ OUR WAY (MIGOS FEAT. DRAKE)

JAY-Z                                                            WHAT IT FEELS LIKE (NIPSEY HUSSLE FEAT. JAY-Z)

LIL DURK                                                      BACK IN BLOOD (POOH SHIESTY FT. LIL DURK)

MEGAN THE STALLION                            ON ME (REMIX) (LIL BABY FT. MEGAN THEE STALLION)

RODDY RICCH                                             LEMONADE (REMIX) (INTERNET MONEY FEAT. DON TOLIVER & RODDY RICCH)

IMPACT TRACK

BLACK THOUGHT                                       THOUGHT VS EVERYBODY

LIL NAS X                                                      MONTERO (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME)

LIL BABY & KIRK FRANKLIN                   WE WIN

MEEK MILL FEAT. LIL DURK                    PAIN AWAY

NIPSEY HUSSLE FEAT. JAY-Z                   WHAT IT FEELS LIKE

RAPSODY                                                     12 PROBLEMS

Join the conversation on social media by logging on to multiple BET social media platforms: On Twitter by using the hashtag: #HipHopAwards; follow @HipHopAwards and @BET On Facebook by liking the fan page at facebook.com/HipHopAwards.

ABOUT BET

BET, a subsidiary of ViacomCBS Inc. (NASDAQ: VIACA, VIAC), is the nation’s leading provider of quality entertainment, music, news and public affairs television programming for the African American audience. The primary BET channel is in 125 million households and can be seen in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, sub-Saharan Africa and France. BET is the dominant African-American consumer brand with a diverse group of business extensions including BET+, the preeminent streaming service for the Black audience; BET.com, a leading Internet destination for Black entertainment, music, culture, and news; BET HER, a 24-hour entertainment network targeting the African-American Woman; BET Music Networks – BET Jams, BET Soul and BET Gospel; BET Home Entertainment; BET Live, BET’s growing festival business; BET Mobile, which provides ringtones, games and video content for wireless devices; and BET International, which operates BET around the globe.

ABOUT BET HIP HOP AWARDS

BET Hip Hop Awards is an annual celebration that pays homage to a culture that changed the world while highlighting the best in hip hop music. Year after year, BET delivers the best in hip-hop for an unforgettable night of performances, cyphers and tributes honoring hip-hop legends that have and continue to make hip-hop culture a global force.

ABOUT JESSE COLLINS ENTERTAINMENT

Jesse Collins Entertainment (JCE) is a full-service television and film production company and has played an integral role in producing many of television’s most memorable moments in music entertainment. The Emmy® nominated company has a multi-year overall agreement with ViacomCBS Cable Networks. On the theatrical film side, the company also has a first look on JCE’s film development projects which could include Viacom’s film entities such as Paramount Players. The award-winning and critically acclaimed television that JCE has produced includes miniseries—”The New Edition Story” and “The Bobby Brown Story;” scripted series—”American Soul” and “Real Husbands of Hollywood;” unscripted series – “Cardi Tries;” children’s series—”Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices;” award shows—”BET Awards,” “Black Girls Rock!,” “BET Honors,” “UNCF’s An Evening of Stars,” “BET Hip Hop Awards,” “ABFF Honors” and “Soul Train Awards;” specials—”John Lewis: Celebrating A Hero,” “Love & Happiness: An Obama Celebration,” “Change Together: From The March On Washington To Today,” “Stand Up for Heroes,” “Dear Mama,” “Amanda Seales: I Be Knowin’,” “Def Comedy Jam 25” and “Leslie Jones: Time Machine;” as well as competition/game shows—”Sunday Best,” “Hip Hop Squares,” “Nashville Squares” and “Rhythm & Flow.” Jesse Collins, founder and CEO of the company, is the executive producer of all programming. He is also a co-executive producer for the iconic Grammy Awards. Most recently, he was executive producer of The 2021 Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show and produced The 2021 Academy Awards. He will next executive produce the 2021 American Music Awards. Go to jessecollinsent.com for more information on the company.

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dead at 80

August 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones’ drummer who was one of the band’s original members, died at the age of 80 in his native London on August 24, 2021. His cause of death has not yet been disclosed. However, the Associated Press has reported that Watts’ publicist Bernard Doherty released a statement saying that Watts “passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family … Charlie was a cherished husband, father and grandfather and also as a member of the Rolling Stones one of the greatest drummers of his generation.”

The Rolling Stones formed in 1962. In 1963, Watts was the last member to join the band’s lineup that would go on to sign a record contract and become one of the most influential rock bands of all time. The Rolling Stones had some lineup changes over the decades, but only Watts, Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards remained constant members of the band during their phenomenal success.

Born in London on June 2, 1941, Watts was the son of a truck driver and a homemaker. He knew from an early age that he wanted to become a drummer. One of the first professional bands that he joined was Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Korner was the person who recommended to Watts that he join the Rolling Stones.

Watts differed from the rest of the Rolling Stones because of his low-key lifestyle when he wasn’t on tour. When he wasn’t working with the Rolling Stones, he indulged in his passions for playing jazz and collecting cars. Unlike other members of the Stones who went through divorces and other tabloid headlines about their personal lives, Watts remained a stable family man who was only married once and kept his personal life very private. He and his wife Seraphina had been married since 1964.

Although he was not known as a flashy drummer, Watts was one of the most beloved drummers in music because of his no-nonsense and elegant yet down-to-earth style, on and off stage. While his band mates often wore “rock star” clothing during Rolling Stones concerts, Watts would often be dressed in a suit. He was known for his dry wit and distaste for living an attention-hungry and pretentious celebrity lifestyle.

On August 4, 2021, the Rolling Stones announced that Watts would not be going on the band’s rescheduled No Filter tour of the United States, due to an undisclosed health issue. Steve Jordan, a drummer who has been a musical collaborator for Richards’ solo music, was announced as the substitute drummer for the tour, which had been set to launch in St. Louis on September 26, 2021. The tour was postponed in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watts’ last public statement was about bowing out of the tour: “For once, my timing has been a little off. I am working hard to get fully fit but I have today accepted on the advice of the experts that this will take a while.”

In 2004, it was announced that Watts had throat cancer, which at the time he was able to beat back into remission. In the mid-1980s he was addicted to heroin, but he was able to overcome the addiction by the end of the 1980s. He didn’t go public about his recovery from heroin addiction until several years later.

Jagger and RIchards have said in many interviews over the years that Watts is the backbone of the Rolling Stones. He is simply irreplaceable.

Watts is survived by his wife Shirley, sister Linda, daughter Seraphina and granddaughter Charlotte.

Review: ‘Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World,’ starring Chance the Rapper

August 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Chance the Rapper in “Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World” (Photo courtesy of House of Kicks and Park Pictures)

“Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World”

Directed by Jake Schreier 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chicago on April 8, 2017, the concert documentary “Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World” features a racially diverse group of performers and about 1,500 audience members (mostly white and black, with some Latinos and Asians), who are mostly young people, gathered for a concert by Chance the Rapper.

Culture Clash: Whimsical and carefree childhood themes are on stage, while the song lyrics sometimes address social unrest and drug use. 

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of Chance the Rapper fans and people who like hip-hop, “Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World” will appeal to people who enjoy high-energy concert films that are creative without being too extravagant and over-the-top.

Chance the Rapper in “Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World” (Photo courtesy of House of Kicks and Park Pictures)

On April 18, 2017, Grammy-winning hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper held a secret concert in his hometown of Chicago. About 1,500 people were invited to watch him perform songs off of his breakthrough 2016 mixtape album “Coloring Book,” plus other notable tunes. (Based on who’s in the audience, most attendees were under the age of 30.) The result is this concert documentary that doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in its production and staging, but it’s a lively showcase for Chance the Rapper and his charismatic showmanship.

At 64 minutes long, it’s a briskly paced film that’s perfect for people who want a fairly quick dose of Chance the Rapper performing live. However, if the documentary had been 90 minutes or longer, it would have benefited from more behind-the-scenes footage of how this show’s production elements were put together. According to what Chance the Rapper says in the movie, the basic elements of the production happened in just a few weeks. It took a lot longer than a few weeks to plan it though.

In an interview shown before the movie gets to the concert footage, Chance the Rapper says that he had a vision for years to do a show like this—steeped in childhood nostalgia but reflective of who he is as an artist who expresses adult experiences. In keeping with the “Coloring Book”/childhood theme, fans who were invited to the show were transported to the venue in yellow school buses. One of the stage props is a Sunday Candy store.

Before getting to the concert footage, the movie begins with some grainy, archival footage in black and white of Chance the Rapper (whose real name is Chancellor Jonathan Bennett) at age 8 or 9, performing at a talent contest by singing and doing some Michael Jackson-inspired dance moves (including the moonwalk) and being elated when he won the contest. Then there’s a standard montage of people who work with Chance the Rapper talking about how great and visionary he is. It’s fairly predictable commentary that you would expect from people on a celebrity’s payroll.

Tour manager Colleen Mares says that Chance the Rapper becoming a husband and father affected his spirituality in a positive way. Choir director Rachel Robinson echoes those thoughts, by saying, “His musical journey is parallel to his spiritual journey.” Other people who weigh in with their praise include film director Jake Schreier, production designer Michael Apostolos, drummer Greg “Stix” Landfair, sound engineer Jabari “Jack Red” Rayford and choreographers Pause Eddie and Ian Eastwood.

In all, there were about 100 people in the crew who worked on the show, according to what Chance Rapper says in the documentary interview. He says his first thought in deciding to do the concert was: “How do we mic the audience?” He adds that he didn’t want it to be the type of concert film where the audio from the audience was toned down. He wanted the concert to feel fully immersive. “I like creating experiences,” he says.

As an example of how important sound is in enhancing the visual experience, he demonstrates in a kitchen how hearing a running faucet before you walk into a room can affect your anticipation of what to see in the room. And then, the movie shows how perspectives change when you see faucet with running water, but you don’t hear the water. Chance the Rapper is obviously fascinated with the technical aspects of filmmaking, which is why if this documentary has been longer, it definitely needed more behind-the-scenes insight into his decisions for how this concert was staged and filmed. (He’s one of the documentary’s producers.)

Not much in this concert will be surprising to people who saw Chance the Rapper on his “Coloring Book” tour, since this concert was filmed during the tour. At times, there’s a choir on stage. There’s also a string orchestra led by a conductor. For “Same Drugs,” he sings and plays the piano while sitting next to someone dressed as a bird wearing a hippie-like headband. Even though Chance the Rapper has collaborated with many artists, there are no surprise guest apperances in this concert documentary.

Some of the concert highlights include his rousing renditions of “Blessings Part 1” and “Blessings Part 2” with the choir and getting the audience to sing along like it’s a church revival. A more contemplative moment comes with “Summer Friends,” where it’s just Chance the Rapper on stage accompanied by a keyboardist using a vocal effects processor, as they’re bathed in a soft white lighting glow. Other songs performed in the film include “D.R.A.M. Sings Special,” “Everybody’s Something,” “Windows,” “Angels,” “All Night,” “We Go High” and “All We Got.”

The show features high-energy hip-hop backup dancers. And there’s some theatrical acting on stage too, with a set piece constructed like the outside of a nightclub and a bouncer who won’t let hopeful patrons past the security rope. It’s a little corny and better-suited for a Broadway show, but at least it does not take up too much of the concert.

Chance the Rapper is not a highly accomplished dancer (he lets his backup dancers do the flashy dance moves), but he’s very good at commanding the stage. He also excels at connecting with his audience. One of the highlights of the film is toward the end, when he goes down to the audience level in the front row to touch people hands and give them high-fives. He also namechecks Chicago multiple times, and says at one point, “Chicago, thanks so much for all you’ve done for me!”

“Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World” is self-distributed through Chance the Rapper’s House of Kicks company, exclusively at AMC Theatres for a limited time. It’s reportedly the first time that a music artist has self-distributed a film with AMC Theatres. Considering that Chance the Rapper is not touring in 2021 (he’s only scheduled to perform at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in 2021), seeing this documentary in a movie theater will be the closest that most of his fans will have to experiencing a full Chance the Rapper concert with some late 2010s nostalgia of how his shows were back then.

This documentary is not the type of giant concert spectacle that people will be talking about for years. Nor is it extraordinary when it comes to the concert’s production theme, set designs, costume design or choreography. However, it’s very enjoyable to watch, especially for people who are inclined to like hip-hop or at least have an appreciation for music with catchy beats. And it’s a good way for people unfamiliar with Chance the Rapper to get a sense of who he is as an artist on stage.

House of Kicks and Park Pictures released “Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World” in U.S. cinemas (exclusively in AMC Theatres) on August 13, 2021.

2021 MTV Video Music Awards: Justin Bieber is the top nominee

August 11, 2021

Justin Bieber (Photo courtesy of ABC/CMA)

The following is a press release from MTV:

MTV today unveiled the nominations for the 2021 “VMAs,” featuring artists whose cultural impact and work over the past year has transformed the music industry and created global conversation. Justin Bieber (9), Megan Thee Stallion, BTS and Giveon (7 each) lead this year’s nominations, closely followed by Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo and Cardi B (6 each) and Drake and Dua Lipa (5 each).

The 2021 “VMAs” return to New York City airing LIVE from Barclays Center on Sunday, September 12 at 8PM ET/PT, airing across MTV’s global footprint of linear and digital platforms in 180 countries and territories, reaching nearly 400 million households in nearly 30 different languages. The show will simulcast across CMT, Comedy Central, Logo, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, Pop, TV Land, VH1 and The CW Network, making the show available to an expanded broadcast audience for the second consecutive year.

Beginning today, fans can vote for their favorites across 14 gender-neutral categories, including “Video of the Year,” “Artist of the Year,” “Best Collaboration” and more by visiting vma.mtv.com through Friday, September 3, 2021 – thanks to Burger King®, the presenter of this year’s award voting. Voting for “Best New Artist,” Presented by Facebook, will remain active into the show on Sunday, September 12, 2021. Nominations for social categories including “Best Group” and “Song of Summer” will be announced at a later date.

Today, MTV partnered with Marlene Marmolejos (@motionmami), Aja Walton (@ajackdannie), and Fred Sands IV (@IVormerlyknownas) to announce marquee show categories including “Video of the Year,” “Song of the Year” and “Artist of the Year” through each of their diverse mediums; from digital art to nail art.

The “VMAs” are set to be one of the first fan-filled awards shows in NYC since the city’s reopening. The health and safety of artists, fans, staff and partners remain the number one priority, and MTV and Barclays Center are working closely with state and local officials to implement best practices in order to safely bring together music fans from around the globe. Barclays Center’s current health and safety protocols can be found here. Any additional protocols will be announced closer to the event.

COMPLETE LIST OF 2021 NOMINEES:

VIDEO OF THE YEAR 

Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP” – Atlantic Records

DJ Khaled featuring Drake – “POPSTAR” (Starring Justin Bieber) – OVO / We The Best / Epic Records

Doja Cat featuring SZA – “Kiss Me More” – Kemosabe Records / RCA Records

Ed Sheeran – “Bad Habits” – Atlantic Records

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records

The Weeknd – “Save Your Tears” – XO / Republic Records

ARTIST OF THE YEAR 

Ariana Grande – Republic Records

Doja Cat – Kemosabe Records / RCA Records

Justin Bieber – Def Jam

Megan Thee Stallion – 300 Entertainment

Olivia Rodrigo – Geffen Records

Taylor Swift – Republic Records

SONG OF THE YEAR 

24kGoldn featuring iann dior – “Mood” – Records LLC / Columbia Records

Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic – “Leave The Door Open” – Aftermath Entertainment / Atlantic Records

BTS – “Dynamite” – BIGHIT Music

Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP” – Atlantic Records

Dua Lipa – “Levitating” – Warner Records

Olivia Rodrigo – “Drivers License” – Geffen Records

BEST NEW ARTIST, Presented by Facebook 

24kGoldn – Records LLC / Columbia Records

Giveon – Epic Records / Not So Fast

The Kid Laroi – Columbia Records

Olivia Rodrigo – Geffen Records

Polo G – Columbia Records

Saweetie – Warner Records

PUSH PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

September 2020: Wallows – “Are You Bored Yet?” – Atlantic Records

October 2020: Ashnikko – “Daisy” – Warner Records

November 2020: Saint Jhn – “Gorgeous” – Godd Complexx / HITCO

December 2020: 24kGoldn – “Coco” – Records LLC / Columbia Records

January 2021: JC Stewart – “Break My Heart” – Elektra Music Group

February 2021: Latto – “Sex Lies” – RCA Records

March 2021: Madison Beer – “Selfish” – Epic Records / Sing It Loud

April 2021: The Kid Laroi – “Without You” – Columbia Records

May 2021: Olivia Rodrigo – “Drivers License” – Geffen Records

June 2021: Girl in Red “Serotonin” – World in Red / AWAL

July 2021: Fousheé – “My Slime” – RCA Records

August 2021: jxdn – “Think About Me” – DTA Records / Elektra Music Group

BEST COLLABORATION

24kGoldn featuring Iann Dior – “Mood” – Records LLC / Columbia Records

Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP” – Atlantic Records

Doja Cat featuring SZA – “Kiss Me More” – Kemosabe Records / RCA Records

Drake featuring Lil Durk – “Laugh Now Cry Later” – OVO / Republic Records

Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar, Giveon – “Peaches” – Def Jam

Miley Cyrus featuring Dua Lipa – “Prisoner” – RCA Records

BEST POP

Ariana Grande – “Positions” – Republic Records

Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am” – Darkroom / Interscope Records

BTS – “Butter” – BIGHIT Music

Harry Styles – “Treat People With Kindness” – Columbia Records

Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar, Giveon – “Peaches” – Def Jam

Olivia Rodrigo – “Good 4 U” – Geffen Records

Shawn Mendes – “Wonder” – Island Records

Taylor Swift – “Willow” – Republic Records

BEST HIP-HOP

Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP” – Atlantic Records

Drake featuring Lil Durk – “Laugh Now Cry Later” – OVO / Republic Records

Lil Baby featuring Megan Thee Stallion – “On Me (remix)” – Quality Control / Motown

Moneybagg Yo – “Said Sum” – N-Less Entertainment / Interscope Records

Polo G – “Rapstar” – Columbia Records

Travis Scott featuring Young Thug & M.I.A. – “Franchise” – Cactus Jack / Epic Records

BEST ROCK

Evanescence – “Use My Voice” – BMG

Foo Fighters – “Shame Shame” – Roswell Records / RCA Records

John Mayer – “Last Train Home” – Columbia Records

The Killers – “My Own Soul’s Warning” – Island

Kings Of Leon – “The Bandit” – RCA Records

Lenny Kravitz – “Raise Vibration” – Roxie Records / BMG

BEST ALTERNATIVE

Bleachers – “Stop Making This Hurt” – RCA Records

Glass Animals – “Heat Waves” – Republic Records

Imagine Dragons – “Follow You” – KidinaKorner / Interscope Records

Machine Gun Kelly featuring blackbear – “My Ex’s Best Friend” – Bad Boy / Interscope Records

Twenty One Pilots – “Shy Away” – Fueled By Ramen

Willow featuring Travis Barker – “Transparentsoul” – MSFTSMusic / Roc Nation

BEST LATIN

Bad Bunny x Jhay Cortez – “Dákiti” – The Orchard

Billie Eilish & ROSALÍA – “Lo Vas A Olvidar” – Darkroom / Interscope Records

Black Eyed Peas and Shakira – “Girl Like Me” – Epic Records

Balvin, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, Tainy – “Un Dia (One Day)” – Universal Music Latino / NEON16 

Karol G – “Bichota” – Universal Music Latino

Maluma – “Hawái” – Sony Music US Latin

BEST R&B

Beyoncé, Blue Ivy, Saint Jhn WizKid – “Brown Skin Girl – Parkwood Entertainment / Columbia Records

Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic – “Leave The Door Open” – Aftermath Entertainment / Atlantic Records

Chris Brown and Young Thug – “Go Crazy” – Chris Brown Entertainment/RCA Records

Giveon – “Heartbreak Anniversary” – Epic Records / Not So Fast

H.E.R. featuring Chris Brown – “Come Through” – MBK Entertainment / RCA Records

SZA – “Good Days” – Top Dawg Entertainment / RCA Records

BEST K-POP

(G)I-DLE – “Dumbdi Dumbdi” – Republic Records

Blacpink and Selena Gomez – “Ice Cream” – YG Entertainment / Interscope Records

BTS – “Butter” – BIGHIT Music Monsta X – “Gambler” – Starship Entertainment

Seventeen – “Ready to Love” – Pledis Entertainment

Twice– “Alcohol-Free” – JYP Entertainment Company

VIDEO FOR GOOD 

Billie Eilish – “Your Power” – Darkroom / Interscope Records

Demi Lovato – “Dancing With The Devil” – Island

H.E.R. – “Fight For You” – MBK Entertainment / RCA Records

Kane Brown – “Worldwide Beautiful” – Sony Music Nashville / RCA Records

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records

Pharrell Williams featuring JAY-Z – “Entrepreneur” – Columbia Records

BEST DIRECTION

Billie Eilish – “Your Power” – Darkroom / Interscope Records – Directed by: Billie Eilish

DJ Khaled featuring Drake – “Popstar (Starring Justin Bieber)” – OVO / We The Best / Epic Records – Directed by: Julien Christian Lutz aka Director X

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records – Directed by: Lil Nas X and Tanu Muino

Taylor Swift – “Willow” – Republic Records – Directed by: Taylor Swift

Travis Scott featuring Young Thug & M.I.A – “Franchise” – Cactus Jack / Epic Records – Directed by: Travis Scott

Tyler, The Creator – “Lumberjack” – Columbia Records – Directed by: Wolf Haley

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Beyoncé, Blue Ivy, Saint Jhn, WizKid – “Brown Skin Girl” – Parkwood Entertainment / Columbia Records – Cinematography by: Benoit Soler, Malik H. Sayeed, Mohammaed Atta Ahmed, Santiago Gonzalez, Ryan Helfant

Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am” – Darkroom / Interscope Records – Cinematography by: Rob Witt

Foo Fighters – “Shame Shame” – Roswell Records / RCA Records – Cinematography by: Santiago Gonzalez

Justin Bieber featuring Chance The Rapper – “Holy” – RBMG/Def Jam – Cinematography by: Elias Talbot

Lady Gaga – “911” – Interscope Records – Cinematography by: Jeff Cronenweth

Lorde – “Solar Power” – Republic Records – Cinematography by: Andrew Stroud

BEST ART DIRECTION

Beyoncé, Shatta Wale, Major Lazer – “Already” – Parkwood Entertainment / Columbia Records – Art Direction by: Susan Linns, Gerard Santos

Ed Sheeran – “Bad Habits” – Atlantic Records – Art Direction by: Alison Dominitz

Lady Gaga – “911” – Interscope Records – Art Direction by: Tom Foden, Peter Andrus

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records – Art Direction by: John Richoux

Saweetie featuring Doja Cat – “Best Friend” – Warner Records – Art Direction by: Alec Contestabile

Taylor Swift – “willow” – Republic Records – Art Direction by: Ethan Tobman, Regina Fernandez

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Bella Poarch – “Build a Bitch” – Warner Records – Visual Effects by: Andrew Donoho, Denhov Visuals, Denis Strahhov, Rein Jakobson, Vahur Kuusk, Tatjana Pavlik, Yekaterina Vetrova

Coldplay – “Higher Power” – Atlantic Records – Visual Effects by: Mathematic

Doja Cat & The Weeknd – “You Right” – Kemosabe Records / RCA Records – Visual Effects by: La Pac, Anthony Lestremau, Julien Missaire, Petr Shkolniy, Alexi Bailla, Micha Sher, Antoine Hache, Mikros MPC, Nicolas Huget, Guillaume Ho Tsong Fang, Benjamin Lenfant, Stephane Pivron, MPC Bangalore, Chanakya Chander, Raju Ganesh, David Rouxel

Glass Animals – “Tangerine” – Republic Records – Visual Effects by: Ronan Fourreau

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” – Columbia Records – Visual Effects by: Mathematic

Pink – “All I Know So Far” – RCA Records – Visual Effects by: BUF, VFX Supervisors: Dominique Vidal & Geoffrey Niquet, VFX Producers: Annabelle Zoellin & Camille Gibrat

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

Ariana Grande – “34+35” – Republic Records – Choreography by: Brian Nicholson & Scott Nicholson

BTS – “Butter” – BIGHIT Music – Choreography by: Son Sung Deuk With BHM Performance Directing Team

Ed Sheeran – “Bad Habits” – Atlantic Records – Choreography by: Natricia Bernard

Foo Fighters – “Shame Shame” – Roswell Records / RCA Records – Choreography by: Nina McNeely

Harry Styles – “Treat People With Kindness” – Columbia Records – Choreography by: Paul Roberts

Marshmello & Halsey – “Be Kind” – Astralwerks / Capitol Records – Choreography by: Dani Vitale

BEST EDITING

Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic – “Leave The Door Open” – Aftermath Entertainment/Atlantic Records – Editing by: Troy Charbonnet

BTS – “Butter” – BIGHIT Music– Editing by: Yong Seok Choi from Lumpens

Drake – “What’s Next” – OVO/Republic Records – Editing by: Noah Kendal

Harry Styles – “Treat People With Kindness” – Columbia Records  –  Editing by: Claudia Wass

Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar, Giveon – “Peaches” – Def Jam  –  Editing by: Mark Mayr, Vinnie Hobbs

Miley Cyrus featuring Dua Lipa – “Prisoner” – RCA Records

LIST OF NOMINATIONS BY ARTIST 

Justin Bieber – 9 Nominations

Video of the Year: “POPSTAR” (Starring Justin Bieber)

Artist of the Year

Best Pop: “Peaches”

Best Collaboration: “Peaches”

Best Direction: “POPSTAR” (Starring Justin Bieber)

Best Cinematography: “Holy”

Best Editing: “Peaches”

Song of Summer: “Peaches”

Song of Summer: “Stay”

Megan Thee Stallion – 7 Nominations 

Video of the Year: “WAP”

Artist of the Year

Song of the Year: “WAP”

Best Collaboration: “WAP”

Best Hip-Hop: “WAP”

Best Hip-Hop: “On Me (The Remix)”

Song Of Summer: “Thot Shit”

BTS – 7 Nominations 

Song of the Year: “Dynamite”

Best Pop: “Butter”

Best K-Pop: “Butter”

Best Choreography: “Butter”

Best Editing: “Butter”

Group Of The Year

Song Of Summer: “Butter”

Giveon – 7 Nominations 

Best New Artist

Best Collaboration: “Peaches”

Best Pop: “Peaches”

Best R&B: “HEARTBREAK ANNIVERSARY”

Best Editing: “Peaches”

Song Of Summer: “Peaches”

Song of Summer: “HEARTBREAK ANNIVERSARY”

Billie Eilish – 6 Nominations

Best Pop: “Therefore I Am”

Best Latin: “Lo Vas A Olvidar”

Video For Good: “Your Power”

Best Direction: “Your Power”

Best Cinematography: “Therefore I Am”

Song of Summer: “Happier Than Ever”

Doja Cat – 6 Nominations 

Video of the Year: “Kiss Me More”

Artist of the Year

Best Collaboration: “Kiss Me More”

Best Art Direction: “Best Friend”

Best Visual Effects: “Best Friend”

Song of Summer: “Need to Know”

Lil Nas X – 6 Nominations 

Video of the Year: “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”

Video For Good: “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”

Best Direction: “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”

Best Art Direction: “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”

Best Visual Effects: “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”

Song of Summer: “Industry Baby”

Olivia Rodrigo – 6 Nominations 

Artist of the Year

Song of the Year: “drivers license”

Best New Artist Push

Performance of the Year: “drivers license”

Best Pop: “good 4 u”

Song of Summer: “good 4 u”

Cardi B – 6 Nominations

Video of the Year: “WAP”

Song of the Year: “WAP”

Best Collaboration: “WAP”

Best Hip-Hop: “WAP”

Song of Summer: “Rumors”

Song of Summer: “Wild Side”

Drake – 5 Nominations

Video of the Year – “POPSTAR” (Starring Justin Bieber)

Best Collaboration – “Laugh Now Cry Later”

Best Hip-Hop: “Laugh Now Cry Later”

Best Direction: “POPSTAR (Starring Justin Bieber)”

Best Editing: “What’s Next”

Dua Lipa – 5 Nominations 

Song of the Year: “Levitating”

Best Collaboration: “Prisoner”

Best Latin: Una Dia

Best Editing: “Prisoner”

Song of Summer: “Levitating”

24kGoldn – 4 Nominations 

Song of the Year: “Mood”

Best New Artist: “Mood”

Push Performance of the Year: “Coco”

Best Collaboration: “Mood”

Taylor Swift – 4 Nominations 

Artist of the Year

Best Pop: “willow”

Best Direction: “willow”

Best Art Direction: “willow”

Anderson .Paak – 4 Nominations 

Song of the Year: “Leave The Door Open”

Best R&B: “Leave The Door Open”

Best Editing: “Leave The Door Open”

Group of The Year: Silk Sonic

Bruno Mars – 4 Nominations 

Song of the Year: “Leave The Door Open”

Best R&B: “Leave The Door Open”

Best Editing: “Leave The Door Open”

Group of The Year: Silk Sonic

Ed Sheeran – 4 Nominations 

Video of the Year: “Bad Habits”

Best Art Direction: “Bad Habits”

Best Choreography: “Bad Habits”

Song of Summer: “Bad Habits”

Foo Fighters – 4 Nominations 

Best Rock: “Shame Shame”

Best Choreography: “Shame Shame”

Best Cinematography: “Shame Shame”

Best Group

Ariana Grande – 3 Nominations

Artist of the Year

Best Pop: “positions”

Best Choreography: “34+35”

Beyoncé – 3 Nominations 

Best R&B: “BROWN SKIN GIRL”

Best Cinematography: “BROWN SKIN GIRL”

Best Art Direction: “ALREADY”

SZA – 3 Nominations 

Video of the Year: “Kiss Me More”

Best Collaboration: “Kiss Me More”

Best R&B: “Good Days”

As previously announced, MTV is collaborating with 9/11 Day, the nonprofit that began and leads the federally recognized September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, for a series of service-oriented activities during the week leading up to the VMAs, promoting awareness and positive action in observance of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Additional details to be announced.

Official sponsors of the 2021 MTV VMAs include: Burger King®, Clearblue® Pregnancy Tests, Coors Light, Doritos®, EXTRA® Gum, Facebook and Toyota Motor North America.

Bruce Gillmer and Den of Thieves co-founder Jesse Ignjatovic are Executive Producers for the 2021 “VMAs.” Barb Bialkowski is Co-Executive Producer. Alicia Portugal and Jackie Barba serve as Executives in Charge of Production. Wendy Plaut is Executive in Charge of Celebrity Talent. Lisa Lauricella is Music Talent Executive.

Follow @MTV and @VMAs on social to keep up with all-things #VMAs.

Review: ‘Respect’ (2021), starring Jennifer Hudson

August 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Marc Maron, Marlon Wayans and Jennifer Hudson in “Respect” (Photo by Quantrell D. Colbert/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Respect”

Directed by Liesl Tommy

Culture Representation: Taking place from the 1950s to 1970s, in various cities in the U.S. and Europe, the dramatic film “Respect” about music legend Aretha Franklin features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people) portraying people who were connected to Franklin in some way.

Culture Clash: Franklin soared to the greatest heights in show business, but her personal life was troubled with alcoholism, abusive relationships and being haunted by childhood traumas. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Aretha Franklin fans, “Respect” will appeal primarily to people interested in formulaic celebrity biopics and don’t mind if the pacing and story are disappointingly uneven.

Skye Dakota Turner and Audra McDonald in “Respect” (Photo by Quantrell D. Colbert/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

It’s indisputable that Aretha Franklin is one of the greatest music legends of all time. She won every possible major award for singing. She influenced millions of people and had numerous iconic hits. She was celebrated for other areas of her life, such as her civil rights activism and charitable work. And she rightfully holds the title of Queen of Soul. Franklin (who was 76 when she died of pancreatic cancer in 2018) deserves a biopic that does justice to her extraordinary life. Unfortunately, the woefully muddled “Respect” is not that movie.

Simply put: In this movie, the music soars, while the drama often bores. At 144 minutes long, “Respect” is an uneven biopic that makes a number of baffling and terrible choices in how to present Franklin’s life. “Respect” is the feature-film directorial debut of Liesl Tommy, who has extensive directorial experience on Broadway and in television. Tracey Scott Wilson, who’s been a playwright and a TV writer, also makes her feature-film debut as a screenwriter in “Respect.” Their lack of feature-film experience might have hurt the movie.

“Respect” has the benefit of a very talented cast, including two cast members (Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker) who have won Oscars for their acting. Hudson, who portrays Aretha Franklin in the movie, is an excellent, Grammy-winning singer in her own right. She has standout moments in “Respect” when she sings Franklin’s songs with a fiery passion that’s admirable. But it’s hard to go wrong with the movie’s musical numbers when an outstanding singer like Hudson gets to belt out Aretha Franklin classics that Hudson was singing years before she got cast in this movie.

Where the movie stumbles is how it drags down too many scenes with sluggish pacing, mediocre acting and uninspired dialogue. In addition, “Respect” is often tone-deaf and borderline irresponsible when it comes to depicting racial inequalities and racism in a movie that mostly takes place in the U.S. during the era of legal racial segregation and the civil rights movement that helped make this segregation illegal. It’s as if this movie was made by people who want to forget the racism experienced by Aretha Franklin and other black people in America, and would rather have scene after scene of Aretha Franklin getting abused by her African American husband.

One of the biggest mistakes is that the movie—which is mostly told in chronological order from the 1950s to 1970s (with some flashbacks)—spends the first 20 to 25 minutes focusing only on Aretha as a pre-teen, beginning in 1952 when she was 10 years old. As important as it is to depict Franklin’s childhood, it didn’t need to take up this much screen time in a feature-length movie. This lapse in judgment in spending too much time on Aretha’s childhood seems to be because the filmmakers wanted to showcase the impressive singing talent of Skye Dakota Turner, who is fantasic in her role as a young Aretha.

However, the childhood scenes are very repetitive in showing that Aretha as a child was trotted out like a show pony by her domineering minister father, Rev. Clarence LaVaughn “C.L.” Franklin (played by Whitaker), to sing for audiences whenever he told her to sing. The audiences could be in places as varied as a church, a nightclub or a house party. He knew from an early age that Aretha was going to be a star, and he was going to do everything possible to make it happen.

The movie also shows how Aretha was affected by her parents’ separation when she was a child. By the time the movie begins in 1952, the couple had been separated for four years. Her mother Barbara (played by Audra McDonald) moved out of the family home, which can be intepreted as either abandonment or as a woman who didn’t have the money and resources to fight for child custody against a more powerful spouse.

Aretha’s father had custody of Aretha and her siblings from this marriage. These siblings included older sister Erma, older brother Cecil and younger sister Carolyn. The actors portraying these siblings are Kennedy Chanel as young Erma, Saycon Sengbloh as adult Erma, Peyton Jackson as young Cecil, LeRoy McClain as adult Cecil, Nevaeh Moore as young Carolyn and Hailey Kilgore as adult Carolyn.

C.L.’s mother (played by Kimberly Scott), who has the name Mama Franklin in the movie’s credits, helps raise the children. She is a kind and loving authority figure in the children’s lives, but not as warm and welcoming to the kids’ mother. Barbara is a mysterious and intermittent presence who’s treated like a pariah by C.L. and his mother. There’s a lot of tension when Barbara comes to visit the children.

The reason for the breakdown in the marriage is stated only as C.L. spending too much time away from home as a traveling minister. His alleged infidelities are not mentioned in the film, nor is it mentioned that he fathered a daughter named Carl Ellan (born in 1940) with a 12-year-old girl from his congregation named Mildred Jennings. (It’s a widely reported story that has not been disputed by the Franklin family.)

It is mentioned during an argument scene that C.L. abandoned his first wife and family and then moved on to Barbara, who was his second wife. Barbara and C.L. were never legally divorced. While still legally married but separated from Barbara, C.L. began an on-again/off-again relationship in 1949, with a gospel singer named Clara Ward (played by Heather Headley), who was his longtime companion until her death in 1973. Although she and C.L. were never married, they were known as the reigning couple of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where C.L. was a very influential member of the community.

Even though C.L. was the more dominant parent in Aretha’s life, the movie shows that her mother Barbara had a huge influence on Aretha as a singer and as a musician. The movie depicts this mother and daughter spending happy times singing together, often while Barbara played the piano. Aretha also became a skilled pianist.

Tragically, Barbara died of a heart attack at the age of 34 in 1952. The movie shows how Aretha was devastated by her mother’s death, but the movie doesn’t mention how Barbara died. When C.L. reluctantly tells Aretha the news about Barbara’s passing, Aretha doesn’t even ask what caused her mother’s death. It’s an example of how this movie sloppily leaves out realistic details and how it treats some of Aretha’s family members more like plot devices than real human beings.

Aside from having a messy and fractured family life, Aretha was also profoundly affected by childhood sexual abuse. It’s depicted in a non-explicit way in the movie as Aretha, at 10 or 11 years old, being the victim of statutory rape by a guy in his late teens or early 20s who was a guest in the Franklin home during a house party. Later, there’s a brief flashback to Aretha as a 12-year-old, pregnant with her first child: a boy named Clarence (named after her father), who was born in 1955.

For years, Aretha refused to publicly say who was the father of her son Clarence. In 1957, she gave birth out of wedlock to a second son named Edward, whose father was Edward Jordan. According to several reports, Aretha wrote in her will that Jordan was also the father of Clarence.

She went on to have two more sons: Ted White Jr. (born in 1964, from her first marriage to her manager Ted White), and Kecalf Cunningham (born in 1970, from a relationship she had with her tour manager Ken Cunningham). In the movie, Joel Xavier Alston and William J. Simmons portray Clarence; Christopher Daniel and Chase Burgess portray Edward; and Malaki Sample portrays Ted White Jr.

Aretha was a high-profile supporter of the U.S civil rights movement, and the movie correctly shows that she and her father C.L. were allies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (played by Gilbert Glenn Brown), the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. However, the movie makes it look like Aretha never experienced racism from white people. It’s really insulting to viewers’ intelligence that the filmmakers of “Respect” make a big deal out of Aretha’s support of the civil rights movement and yet refused to show why the civil rights movement existed in the first place.

Aretha was born in Memphis and grew up in Detroit. She spent years touring in the U.S. during the ugly period in American history when racial segregation was legal. Black people and other people of color who traveled in certain parts of the U.S. experienced human rights violations, especially in places where people were segregated by race. Anyone who wasn’t white in a “whites only” area could be subjected to hateful abuse or worse. And yet, the movie completely erases these racist experiences from her life.

It wouldn’t have been so hard to have something as simple as a scene of Aretha traveling somewhere while on tour and seeing signs that said “Whites Only” or “Coloreds Only,” which were prevalent in these racially segregated areas. It’s grossly inaccurate for any movie about an African American entertainer who toured the U.S. during the segregation era to not show this despicable part of American history. And the fact that “Respect” was written and directed by black women makes it even more mind-boggling that they would leave out this truthful part of Aretha’s life. Aretha might have been a superstar, but she still experienced racism, just like any black person in America.

In fact, the movie makes it look like all the white people whom Aretha ever encountered in her life went of their way to be nice to her. And that might have been true on a business level when she had some type of fame and people were making money off of her, but not in her everyday life as an African American female, especially before she became famous. A large part of this movie is about before Aretha was a celebrity. That doesn’t mean this movie had to make all white people she encountered look like racists, because that would be inaccurate. But it’s also very wrong and insulting to the civil rights movement to depict Aretha Franklin’s life as being some kind of concocted fantasy where she was immune to racism.

The biggest racist and the biggest villain in the movie is Aretha’s first husband Ted White (played by Marlon Wayans), whom she married in 1961, at age 18, and who became her manager right around the time that she signed her first record deal. He is written as the worst possible stereotype of an angry black man. He’s abusive, violent and misogynistic. In case it isn’t clear that Ted is also a racist, he frequently spews derogatory racist names for white people and black people whenever he wants to feel important.

Ted flies into a rage when he sees other men, especially white men, admiring Aretha. There’s a scene in a hotel room where Ted verbally and physically attacks one of Aretha’s recording session musicians (a white man), who tries to talk Ted out of canceling a recording session that is going well. Ted wants to cut short the recording session, all because Ted didn’t like the way one of the musicians was touching Aretha.

Of course, you don’t have to be a psychiatrist to see (because the movie shows it) that Aretha’s attraction to Ted was partly to due to rebelling against her father (who greatly disapproved of Ted) and partly because she wanted a husband who was controlling like her father. Like many abusive partners, Ted has a charming side that he uses to keep his partner hooked on the relationship. Aretha is depicted as someone who was very insecure with low self-esteem, except when it came to showing her talent.

Although not as toxic as Ted, Aretha’s father C.L. is also portrayed as having an unhealthy relationship with Aretha. For example, in a scene where Aretha was a Columbia Records artist, she tells C.L. that she doesn’t have hit songs because “you don’t make good songs for me.” In response, C.L. slaps her in the face. The movie is filled with hokey lines, such as when Aretha’s father C.L. says to her when she fires him as her manager and replaces him with Ted: “You’re going to beg to take me back, but I won’t!”

Whitaker isn’t in the movie as much as Wayans, but both C.L. and Ted are depicted as two-dimensional control freaks. Ted manipulates Aretha to stay with him, by saying that they both have personal demons and only she can help him control his demons. It’s made very clear throughout the story, because the movie shows viewers through flashbacks, that Aretha’s alcoholism and her relationship problems are the result of her dysfunctional childhood and her trauma from sexual abuse.

The movie accurately shows that Aretha wasn’t an overnight sensation. During the early years of her career, when Aretha was signed to Columbia Records, she had trouble finding her identity as a singer. She sang mostly R&B music, but she couldn’t get any mainstream crossover hits from any of the albums that she released on Columbia. Columbia Records chief John Hammond (played by Tate Donovan) is depicted as friendly but not very attuned to Aretha on an artistic level.

In addition to her mother’s musical influence, Aretha had early musical guidance from Reverend Dr. James Cleveland (played by Tituss Burgess), who has a small role in the film, mostly playing the piano while Aretha sings. It’s such a small role that many viewers who don’t know Aretha’s history might forget that this character is in the movie. The character is written so generically that it’s a waste of Burgess’ talent.

Mary J. Blige has a brief supporting role as singer Dinah Washington, a friend and inspiration to a young Aretha. In one of the movie’s several melodramatic scenes, Aretha as a young adult in 1963 (before she was famous) is singing at New York City’s Villlage Vanguard nightclub, where Dinah is in the audience. Just as Aretha begins singing one of Dinah’s songs as a tribute, Dinah loses her temper and flips over the table where Dinah is sitting.

Dinah yells at Aretha in front of the crowd: “Bitch! Don’t you ever sing the queen’s songs when the queen is in front of you!” It’s the kind of scene that you might see in a Tyler Perry movie. Later, in the dressing room, Dinah has calmed down, and she offers this advice to Aretha: “Find the songs that suit you. Until you do that, you ain’t going nowhere.”

Aretha’s career vastly improved after she signed to Atlantic Records in 1966. Under the musical mentorship of Atlantic Records co-founder Jerry Wexler (played by Marc Maron), she found the songs that suited her. These hits included “Respect” (a cover version of an Otis Redding song), “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Think,” all of which Hudson performs in the movie.

And for the first time in her career, Aretha’s session musicians were all white, which initially didn’t sit well at all with her racist husband/manager Ted. There are mutliple scenes where Ted and Jerry clash over the race of Aretha’s backup musicians. Ted wanted to stick with the black musicians Aretha had been working with for quite some time, while Jerry says these musicians are inferior to the white musicians whom Jerry wanted to have for Aretha’s backup band.

However, Ted couldn’t argue with the success that came when Aretha started getting big hits and became a major star. They moved to New York City and led a celebrity lifestyle that hid from the public a lot of abuse that Ted inflicted on her behind the scenes. The movie shows that after Ted brutally assaulted Aretha during a vicious fight, she left him to go back to her family in Detroit on at least one occasion. But he sweet talked her way back into her life and took a lot of credit for her success. The couple eventually divorced in 1969.

Jerry Wexler is portrayed as a shrewd wheeler dealer who was skilled with artists not just on an artistic level but also on a business level. He’s credited with bringing Aretha to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in 1967, to record one of her most well-known songs: “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” the title track of her album released that year.

For a movie about this music legend, there’s the expected number of hits, but they’re presented in a very superficial, jukebox style. One minute, Aretha is at home singing along with some family members to Redding’s “Respect” and saying how she wanted to record a version of the song, even though Ted and some other people were skeptical. The next minute, she’s recorded the song, and it’s a big hit.

There is some screen time (but not enough) showing how Aretha crafted the songs in the recording studio. Most of her hits were written by other songwriters, but she played piano and helped arrange many of her song melodies. The movie gives most of the credit for Aretha’s transformation in the recording studio to Jerry and the white musicians he hired to be her backup band. Jerry and these musicians are depicted as showing Aretha a different way of approaching music than what she was previously doing in a recording studio.

Aretha had the talent all along, but the movie has somewhat of a “white savior” narrative that Jerry and these musicians took her career to hitmaking levels. Eventually, she had a racially integrated band, but the movie presents any of her male co-workers as problematic for bullying Ted, who was paranoid that other men would try to seduce Aretha or try to undermine Ted’s control over her. Meanwhile, the movie shows that Ted was cheating on Aretha.

“Think” was one of the hits that Aretha wrote, but the behind-the-scenes story about the song is reduced to it being inspired by her abusive relationship with Ted, who got a co-songwriting credit. Later in the movie, when they have an argument, Aretha expresses regret about giving him that songwriting credit because she says he hardly worked on the song. Overall, the movie does a disservice in telling the stories behind Aretha’s biggest hits.

The story behind “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”—written by Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Wexler—is left completely out of the movie, even though the song is unquestionably one of Aretha’s greatest anthems. The closest that the movie comes to acknowledging who wrote “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” is during the end credits: There’s a clip showing the real Aretha performing the song during the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, where Carole King was an honoree and rapturously reacting in the audience. It just serves as a reminder that no scripted project with actors can truly capture the musical genius of the real Aretha.

“Aint No Way,” written by Aretha’s younger sister Carolyn, is performed in the movie, which leaves out the story behind that song too. Carolyn was an “out of the closet” lesbian to her friends and family, and the song was about the secret love she had for another woman. The “Respect” movie does not discuss the personal lives of Carolyn and Erma, who were longtime backup singers for Aretha. And their personal lives didn’t have to be in this movie, but the movie erases a lot of the LGBTQ presence in Aretha’s life.

According to author David Ritz’s comprehensive 2014 biography “Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin,” gay and lesbian couples and hookups were very common among the performers and employees of the gospel tours that Aretha did in her youth, and they were among her earliest exposures to LGBTQ people. The closest that the movie comes to acknowledging the LGBTQ community that was part of Aretha’s life is during the movie’s 1952 opening scene at a Franklin house party, where two men are very briefly seen flirting with each other and giving each other an amorous embrace.

It’s as if the “Respect” filmmakers went so far out of their way to erase certain truthful aspects of Aretha’s life, in order to not to offend certain people who want to pretend that these facts of her life did not exist. Instead, the “African American diva with the abusive husband” narrative is one they obviously felt comfortable pounding into the story repeatedly. Aretha Franklin was married to Ted White for only eight years. She experienced racism for a lot longer than that, but you’d never know it by what the filmmakers chose to put or not put in this movie.

After Aretha and Ted broke up, Aretha’s older brother Cecil eventually took over her business affairs, but that’s barely acknowledged in the movie. Her siblings are just treated as side characters who are there to serve Aretha or get yelled at when Aretha is angry and/or drunk. More than once in the film, Aretha accuses her sisters of being jealous that she’s a more successful singer than they are. If you’re looking for any insightful Franklin family scenes in this movie, forget it. Her biological family members are shamelessly and unfairly written as supporting characters in a soap opera.

Aretha’s affair with her tour manager Ken Cunningham (played by Albert Jones) is portrayed as partly getting revenge on Ted for his infidelities and partly because Aretha turned to Ken out of loneliness. Unlike Ted, Ken is portrayed as a good guy. However, Ken got involved with Aretha during the worst of her alcoholism, so the relationship was doomed, even though the movie rushes in an “Aretha gets sober” redemption arc toward the end. The movie doesn’t show Aretha and Ken’s breakup, because the film ends in 1972, when Aretha recorded her “Amazing Grace” live gospel album, which remains the best-selling album of her career. (“Respect” also mentions the “Amazing Grace” documentary film that was made about recording this album.)

Hudson’s portrayal of Aretha is not horrible, but it’s far from an award-worthy performance. She excels during the musical numbers, but her dramatic scenes with some of the actors (especially with Wayans) are often mired in stilted, awkward pauses. Hudson sometimes has the real Aretha’s vocal cadence when she speaks, but other times she drops it and talks like Jennifer Hudson.

The scenes about Ted’s jealousy and abusiveness wallow in tacky melodrama. There’s a scene at an Aretha concert where Ted gets angry backstage when he sees that some of Aretha’s overzealous fans are trying to climb on stage. Instead of letting the professional security team handle it, Ted storms out on stage in the middle of the performance and acts like he’s about to body slam anyone who gets close to Aretha. And when Ted sees the way Aretha and Ken look at each other when they first meet, he’s ready to pick a fight with Ken.

One of the worst scenes in the movie is when a drunk Aretha falls off of the stage during a 1967 concert in Columbus, Georgia. This happened in real life, and she broke her arm in this incident. In the movie, no broken bones are mentioned, but she’s shown unconscious on the floor, like a rag doll. The entire scene is so clumsily filmed and melodramatic, that it comes across as an unintentional bad parody.

As for her civil rights activism, because this movie inaccurately makes it look like Aretha never experienced racism first-hand, she’s portrayed as somewhat of a bystander in the civil rights movement. There’s a scene where Aretha, as a grown woman, asks her father for permission to march in civil rights protests, but he says no. There’s a scene where Aretha is shown getting the news about Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder and later singing at his funeral. And there’s a scene that’s set in 1970, with Aretha giving a press conference where she talks about how imprisoned activist Angela Davis needs to be set free. There are no scenes of Aretha or anyone in her family actually experiencing racism directly, even though everyone knows it happened in real life.

Those are just some examples of how this movie disrespectfully chopped up and/or tossed aside aspects of Aretha’s life, in service of a warped narrative that Aretha never experienced racism, and the only people who ever hurt her were black men. In portraying Aretha’s illustrious and complicated life, this very misguided biopic took the tabloid route and made approximately half of the screen time be about Aretha in an abusive relationship with a man she was married to for eight of the 76 years that she lived.

Was she flawed? Did she make a lot of mistakes? Of course. But she deserved much better than a movie called “Respect” was willing to give her. Fortunately, there are several well-written Aretha Franklin biographies, interviews that she gave over the years, and (of course) her timeless music that give a more meaningful and more accurate picture of who she really was.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release “Respect” in U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021. A one-night-only sneak preview of the movie was held in U.S. cinemas on August 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Ailey,’ starring Alvin Ailey

July 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Alvin Ailey in “Ailey” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Ailey”

Directed by Jamila Wignot

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City, the biographical documentary “Ailey” features a group of white and African American people (and one Asian person) discussing the life and career of pioneering dance troupe founder/choreographer Alvin Ailey, who became one of the first African Americans to launch a world-renowned dance troupe and dance school.

Culture Clash: Ailey, who died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 58, struggled with the idea of going public about his HIV diagnosis, and he experienced problems throughout his life, due to racism, homophobia and his issues with mental illness.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of Alvin Ailey fans, “Ailey” will appeal primarily to people who interested in the art of fusion dance and stories about entrepreneurial artists who succeeded despite obstacles being put in their way.

Alvin Ailey in “Ailey” (Photo by Jack Mitchell)

The documentary “Ailey” is a very traditionally made biography of a very non-traditional artist. Although the movie can be at times be slow-paced and dry, it’s greatly boosted by having modern dance pioneer Alvin Ailey as a very fascinating subject. Ardent fans of Ailey will get further insight into his inner thoughts, thanks to the documentary’s previously unreleased audio recordings that he made as a personal journal. The movie also does a very good job at putting into context how Ailey’s influence can be seen in many of today’s dancers and choreographers.

Directed by Jamila Wignot, “Ailey” had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and its New York premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. New York City was Ailey’s last hometown, where he found fame as one of the first prominent dancers/choreographers to blend jazz, ballet, theater and Afro-centric culture. His work broke racial barriers in an industry where U.S.-based touring dance troupes were almost exclusively owned and staffed by white people.

Born in the rural town of Rogers, Texas, in 1931, Ailey says in audio recordings that his earliest memories were “being glued to my mother’s hips … while she worked in the fields.” Ailey’s father abandoned the family when Ailey was a baby, so Ailey was raised by his single mother Lula, who was a domestic worker. She supported him in his dream to become a professional dancer.

Ailey’s childhood experiences were shaped by growing up poor in the racially segregated South. In the documentary, he mentions through audio recordings that some of his fondest childhood memories were being at house parties with dancing people and going to the Dew Drop Inn, a famous hotel chain that welcomed people who weren’t allowed in “whites only” hotels and other racially segregated places. Another formative experience in his childhood was being saved from drowning by his good friend Chauncey Green.

By 1942, Ailey and his mother were living in Los Angeles, where she hoped to find better job opportunities in a less racially segregated state. It was in Los Angeles that Ailey first discovered his love of dance and theater, when he became involved in school productions. A life-changing moment happened for him happened at age 15, in 1946, when he saw the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo perform at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. It sparked a passion to make dance his career. And that passion never went away, despite all the ups and downs that he encountered.

In the documentary, Ailey has this to say about watching the Katherine Dunham Dance Company for the first time: “I was taken into another realm … And the male dancers were just superb. The jumps, the agility, the sensuality of what they did blew me away … Dance had started to pull at me.”

But his interest in becoming a dancer was considered somewhat dangerous at the time, because ballet dancing was something that boys could be and still are viciously bullied over as something that’s considered “too effeminate.” Carmen de Lavallade, a longtime friend of Ailey’s, comments in the documentary on what she remembers of a young Ailey before he found fame: “He was beautiful! He didn’t dare let anyone know he wanted to be a dancer, because he would be teased or humiliated.”

But at this pivotal moment in Ailey’s life, it just so happened that Lester Horton opened the Lester Horton Dance Theater in Los Angeles in 1946. Don Martin, a longtime dancer and Ailey friend, says in the documentary that their mutual love of dance prompted Ailey to join Horton’s dance school, where Ailey thrived. Horton became an early mentor to Ailey.

The documentary doesn’t go into great detail over Ailey’s experiences as a student at the University of California at Los Angeles or when he briefly lived in San Francisco, where he worked with then-unknown poet Maya Angelou in a nightclub act called Al and Rita. Instead, the “Ailey” documentary skips right to the 1954, when Ailey moved to New York City to pursue being a professional dancer. In 1958, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), which also has an affiliated school.

George Faison, an AAADT dancer/choreographer from 1966 to 1970, comments: “Alvin entertained thoughts and dreams that a black boy could actually dance” in a prominent dance troupe. Ailey shares his thoughts in his personal audio recordings: “It was a universe I could escape into, so that it would allow me to do anything I wanted to do.”

Ailey’s breakthrough work was 1960’s “Revelations,” which was a then-unprecedented modern ballet about uniquely African American experiences steeped in church traditions. The piece was revolutionary not just because it had a majority-black group of dancers and touched on sensitive racial issues but also because it used blues, jazz and gospel instead of traditional classical music. “Revelations” remains Ailey’s most famous performance work.

Mary Barnett, an AAADT rehearsal director from 1975 to 1979, remembers the impact that “Revelations” had on her: “I was moved to tears seeing ‘Revelations’ … I was studying ballet, I was studying dance. This was more of a re-enactment of life.”

Judith Jamsion—an AAADT dancer from 1964 to 1988 and AAADT artistic director from 1989 to 2011—has this to say about what “Revelations” means to her: “What took me away was the prowess and the technique and the fluidity and the excellence in the dance.” Jamison is often credited with being the person who was perhaps the most instrumental in keeping AAADT alive after Ailey’s death.

A turning point for “Revelations” was when the production went on a U.S.-government sponsored tour of Southeast Asia. It’s one thing to be a privately funded dance troupe. But getting the U.S. government’s seal of approval, especially for a tour that could be viewed as a cultural ambassador for American dance, gave AAADT an extra layer of prestige.

However, “Ailey” does not gloss over the some of the racism that Ailey encountered, including tokenism and cultural appropriation. Bill T. Jones, a choreographer who co-founded the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, has this to say about what it’s like to be an African American in an industry that is dominated by white people: “Oftentimes, black creators are used. Everybody used him [Ailey] as, ‘See, this is the progress we’re making. And see, we’re not racist, we have Alvin Ailey.'”

AAADT movement choreographer Rennie Harris (who created 2019’s “Lazarus” for AAADT) comments on Ailey’s mindset in wanting an African American social consciousness to be intrinsic to his work: “You came here to be entertained, but I have to tell my truth.” Harris adds that this way of thinkng influences his own work: “I’m still feeling the same way, as anyone would feel if you’re feeling unwanted by the [dominant] culture.”

Throughout the documentary, Harris and AAADT artistic director Robert Battle can be seen in rehearsals with AAADT dancers to show how Ailey’s legacy currently lives on with other generations of dancers. This back and forth between telling Ailey’s life story and showing present-day AAADT dancers could have been distracting, but it works well for the most part because of the seamless film editing by Annukka Lilja and Cory Jordan Wayne. The documentary has expected archival footage of Ailey interviews and past AAADT performances of Ailey’s work, such as 1969’s “Maskela Language,” 1970’s “The River”; 1971’s “Cry” and “Mary Lou’s Mass”; 1972’s “Love Songs” and 1975’s “Night Creature.”

The “Ailey” documentary includes analysis of some of Ailey’s biggest influences. It’s mentioned that “Cry” was a tribute to hard-working and supportive black women, such as his mother Lula. “Maskela Language” was inspired by the death of Ailey’s early mentor Hampton. Santa Allen, who was an AAADT dancer from 1973 to 1983, comments: “Choreography really was his catharsis.” As for his genre-defying work, Ailey says in archival footage, “I don’t like pinning myself down.”

The documentary has some commentary, but not a lot, on Ailey’s love life. He was openly gay to his close friends, family members and many of colleagues, but he avoided talking about his love life to the media. Ailey was apparently so secretive about his love life that the only serious boyfriend who’s mentioned in the documentary is a man named Abdullah (no last name mentioned), whom Ailey met in Paris and brought to New York City to live with him.

According to what’s said in the documentary, Abdullah left Ailey by climbing out of the apartment’s fire escape. The movie doesn’t mention why they broke up, but Ailey seems to have channeled his heartbreak into his work. Another aspect of Ailey’s personal life that he didn’t easily share with others was his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts. Only people in his inner circle knew about these struggles, according to what some people in the documentary say.

AAADT stage manager Bill Hammond says that by the 1970s, Ailey was a full-blown workaholic. “I think he took on too much,” Hammond comments. Other people interviewed in the “Ailey” documentary include “Lazarus” composer Darrin Ross; Linda Kent, an AAADT dancer from 1968 to 1974; Hope Clark, an AAADT dancer from 1965 to 1966; and Masazumi Chaya, an AAADT dancer from 1972 to 1966 and AAADT associate director from 1991 to 2019.

Ailey’s determination to keep his personal life as private as possible also extended to when he found out that he was HIV-positive. Several people in “Ailey” claimed that even when it was obvious that he was looking very unhealthy, he denied having AIDS to many of his closest friends, out of fear of being shunned. It was not uncommon for many people with AIDS to try to hide that they had the disease, especially back in the 1980s, when it was mistakenly labeled as a “gay disease,” and the U.S. government was slow to respond to this public health crisis.

Because dance requires a certain athleticism, having a physically degenerative disease such as AIDS was not something that Ailey wanted to be part of his legacy. According to Jones, many gay men at the time wanted to edit themselves out of the AIDS narrative. “He was part of the editing,” Jones says of Ailey.

And that shame caused Ailey to isolate himself from many of his loved ones. “He was alone,” adds Jones of Ailey not sharing much of his suffering with several people he knew. (On a side note, Jones is the subject of his own documentary: “Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters,” which was released in the U.S. a week before the “Ailey” documentary.)

But toward the end of Ailey’s life, it was impossible for him to continue to hide the truth, even though he refused to go public with having AIDS. One of the most emotionally moving parts of the documentary is when Jamison describes being with Ailey on his death bed at the moment that he died: “He breathed in, and he never breathed out. We [the people he left behind] are his breath out.”

“Ailey” is an example of documentary that’s a touching reminder that how someone lives is more important than how someone dies. The storytelling style of this documentary doesn’t really break any new ground. However, people who have an appreciation for highly creative artists will find “Ailey” a worthy portrait of someone whose life might have been cut short, but he has an influential legacy that will continue for generations.

Neon released “Ailey” in New York City on July 23, 2021, and in Los Angeles on July 30, 2021, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on August 6, 2021.