Review: ‘The Harder They Fall’ (2021), starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, LaKeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler and Danielle Deadwyler

December 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Danielle Deadwyler, Jonathan Majors and Zazie Beetz in “The Harder They Fall” (Photo by David Lee/Netflix)

“The Harder They Fall” (2021)

Directed by Jeymes Samuel

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas in the mid-1880s, the Western action drama “The Harder They Fall” has a predominantly black cast of characters (with some white people, Latinos and Native Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: When cowboy Nat Love finds out that his arch-enemy Rufus Buck has escaped from prison, Nat assembles a posse that battles against Rufus’ gang.

Culture Audience: “The Harder They Fall” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted, action-oriented Western dramas about the underrepresented African American cowboy culture of the 1880s, but viewers of the movie should have a high tolerance for over-the-top violence.

Regina King, Idris Elba and LaKeith Stanfield in “The Harder They Fall” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

With grisly violence that is almost cartoonish, “The Harder They Fall” puts a well-acted spotlight on real-life African American cowboys of the 1880s. The movie’s excessive violence might be a turnoff to some viewers. But for viewers who can tolerate all the blood and gore, “The Harder They Fall” is a bumpy and thrilling ride with a top-notch cast.

“The Harder They Fall” is the second feature film of director Jeymes Samuel, who co-wrote “The Harder They Fall” screenplay with Boaz Yakin. Samuel, also composed the movie’s score, has said in interviews that the title of the movie was inspired by the 1972 movie “The Harder They Come,” starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliffnot the 1956 Humphrey Bogart/Rod Steiger movie “The Harder They Fall.” Samuel is a British filmmaker (he’s the younger brother of pop star Seal) who grew up adoring Western movies. However, Samuel eventually found out that these Westerns often gave inaccurate demographic depictions of what post-Civil War life was like the Old West of the 19th century.

In reality, people of color and women had much more agency and independence in Old West culture than what’s shown in most old-time Western movies, which usually portray only white men as leaders of cowboy posses. “The Harder They Fall” aims to course-correct these historical exclusions by doing a fictional portrayal of real-life African American posse members from the 19th century. In case it wasn’t clear enough, a caption in the movie’s introduction states in big and bold letters: “While the events are fictional, the people are real.” (At least the movie’s main characters are based on real people.)

“The Harder They Fall” also doesn’t sugarcoat the reality that there were good and bad cowboy posses. Black people are no exception. The African Americans in the movie are not portrayed as subservient stereotypes, but they aren’t exactly saintly either. Most are just trying to get by and live good lives, while there are some hardened criminals who create chaos for people who have the misfortune of crossing their paths. “The Harder They Fall” takes place in various parts of Texas, but the movie was actually filmed in New Mexico.

“The Harder They Fall” opens with a 10-year-old boy named Nat Love (played by Chase Dillon) witnessing the brutal murder of his parents—Reverend Love (played by Michael Beach) and wife Eleanor Love (played by DeWanda Wise)—during a home invasion. The gangsters shoot Nat’s parents, but they spare Nat’s life. The leader of this gang uses a knife to carve a cross on Nat’s forehead.

About 20 years later, Nat (played by Jonathan Majors) still has the scar on his forehead. And he’s had a lifelong obsession with getting revenge on the gangsters who killed his parents. Nat knows that Rufus Buck (played by Idris Elba) is the gang leader who is the main culprit for the murders. Rufus has recently been in prison for armed robbery and murder.

However, Nat finds out that Rufus has made a prison escape. Two of Rufus’ loyal cronies—ruthless Trudy Smith (played by Regina King) and smooth-talking Cherokee Bill (played by LaKeith Stanfield)—have hijacked the train where prisoner Rufus was being transported, and they broke Rufus out of the cell where he was being kept.

After Nat discovers that Rufus is now a free man (but still wanted by law enforcement), Nat assembles his own posse to get revenge. The other members of the Nat Love Gang are Mary Fields (played by Zazie Beetz), who is Nat’s feisty love interest; Bill Pickett (played by Edi Gathegi), who is a loyal and logical; Jim Beckwourth (played by RJ Cyler), who is a cocky young cowboy; and Cuffee (played by Danielle Deadwyler), who lives as a transgender man.

Nat makes a living by finding “wanted dead or alive” criminals for reward money. Nat has no qualms about killing these criminals if he thinks they deserve it. That’s what happens in an early scene in the movie when Nat shoots and kills a wanted criminal who shows up at a Catholic church with the intention of robbing the church. Nat’s reward is $5,000.

It turns out that Nat and his gang are outlaws too, because they make money by stealing from robbers. Therefore, one of their least-favorite people is Bass Reeves (played by Delroy Lindo), a U.S. marshal who’s determined to put a stop to all this criminal activity. In addition to seeking revenge on Rufus, the Nat Love Gang also wants to avoid capture by Reeves and his law enforcement team. The posse members on both sides are also mistrustful of Wiley Esco (played by Deon Cole), the Redwood City mayor whose allegiances can be murky.

It should be noted that in real life, Bass Reeves is the inspiration for the Lone Ranger character, which has been played by white actors in movies and television. Reeves was considered a pioneer for African Americans in law enforcement, because he did a lot to change American viewpoints that white people aren’t the only race who can become U.S. marshals. In real life, Reeves worked closely with Native American leaders. It’s an alliance that’s depicted in the movie too.

In many ways, “The Harder They Fall” follows a lot of the traditions of typical Westerns, with gun shootouts and chases on horseback. There’s also some romance, as Mary and Nat have an on-again, off-again relationship. Mary, who works as a saloon singer, has a hard time trusting Nat because he’s cheated on her in the past. Nat is an emotionally wounded rebel who’s trying to win back Mary’s heart, but first he has to learn how to heal his own broken heart.

And there’s inevitable fighting among posse members. Most of the friction in Nat’s gang comes from Jim and Bill having personality clashes with each other. Bill thinks Jim is arrogant and reckless, while Jim thinks that Bill is uptight and too cautious. It’s the classic older cowboy/younger cowboy conflict that’s often seen in Westerns.

There are also some gender issues with Cuffee, who wants to live life as a man, but some people think that Cuffee is a woman just doing a drag act. There are parts of the movie where people aren’t sure whether to call Cuffee a “he” or a “she,” since the word “transgender” did not exist at the time. And when Cuffee has to wear a dress (for reasons what won’t be revealed in this review), it makes Cuffee very uncomfortable. After seeing Cuffee in a dress, Jim blurts out that he now knows why was kind of attracted to Cuffee.

Damon Wayans Jr. has a small role in the movie as Monroe Grimes, someone who is captured by Nat’s posse members to get information about Rufus. As for Rufus, he’s a cold-blooded killer who has enough of a twinkle in his eye and swagger in his walk to indicate why his posse subordinates find him so magnetic. Mary can give Rufus a run for his money, in terms of being fearless in battle. Cherokee Bill is violent too, but he’s more likely to use psychology to try to outwit an opponent.

“The Harder They Fall” isn’t particularly innovative in the story structure and dialogue, but there are some impressive camera shots from cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., and the movie delivers when it comes to adrenaline-filled action scenes. A standout camera shot is in a scene where the camera zooms in with a bullet-like trajectory at a group of posse members to then reveal that there are others standing behind them. Also adding to the striking visuals of “The Harder They Fall” is the first-rate costume design by Antoinette Messam, who brought a practical yet fashionable look to many of these Old West characters.

All of the actors perform well in their roles, with the best scene-stealing moments coming from Majors, King, Elba, Beetz, Stanfield and Deadwyler. Where the movie falters a bit is in how it abandons its mostly gritty realism for some stunts that are so heavily choreographed, it takes you out of the realism and just becomes a reminder that this movie’s fight scenes can sometimes look like ultra-violent parodies of fight scenes in Westerns.

What doesn’t come across as a parody is how credibly the cast members portray their characters. These engaging characters bring real heart and soul to “The Harder They Fall.” (There’s also a poignant plot twist/reveal at the end of the movie that might or might not be surprising to some viewers.) Even though not everyone makes it out alive by the end of the movie, it’s clear by the movie’s last shot that there’s room for a sequel for a spinoff.

Netflix released “The Harder They Fall” in select U.S. cinemas on October 22, 2021. The movie’s Netflix premiere was on November 3, 2021.

Review: ‘Flag Day,’ starring Dylan Penn and Sean Penn

August 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Sean Penn and Dylan Penn in “Flag Day” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)

“Flag Day”

Directed by Sean Penn

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Minnesota, the dramatic film “Flag Day” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman reflects on the troubled relationship that she’s had with her con-man father, who has been in and out of her life. 

Culture Audience: “Flag Day” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of director/star Sean Penn, but this movie is an erratic mix of monotony and melodrama, adding up to disappointing filmmaking.

Dylan Penn in “Flag Day” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)

“Flag Day” should’ve been titled “Daddy Issues in a Self-Indulgent Movie.” That should save people the trouble of wasting their time if they don’t want to see this rambling, uneven mess. Everything about this movie—from the acting to the screenwriting to the directing—could have been so much better, given the level of talent involved. Sadly, “Flag Day” is an example of what can happen when people capable of award-winning work just seem to be coasting off of those past glories instead of delivering a truly outstanding project.

Directed by Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn, “Flag Day” is the sixth feature film that he’s directed but the first in which he’s both the director and a star. “The Flag Day” screenplay, written by brothers Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, is based on journalist Jennifer Vogel’s memoir “Flim-Flam Man.” In real life, Jennifer’s father John Vogel was a notorious con man who was responsible for counterfeiting millions of dollars.

In “Flag Day,” Jennifer (played by Dylan Penn, the real-life daughter of Sean Penn and his second ex-wife Robin Wright) is the narrator and is supposed to be the story’s main character. However, she’s overshadowed by her father John (played by Sean Penn), even when he isn’t on screen, because the filmmakers make the Jennifer character someone who’s constantly thinking about and reacting to whatever her father does. It very off-putting because it’s yet another movie where toxic masculinity is given more importance and more forgiveness than the woman at the center of the story while she’s supposed to be finding her own identity.

There’s a half-hearted attempt at a “female empowerment” message during the last five minutes of the film. But it smacks of insincerity because she only arrives at this breakthrough not through her own choice but because she’s been forced to do so under some very disturbing circumstances where she has no other option. And the way she finds out that she has no choice is one of the worst scenes in the movie.

“Flag Day” gets its title because John was born on Flag Day. It’s another sign that this movie wants to be more about John than about Jennifer. As Jennifer says in her voiceover narration, because John was born on Flag Day, he likes to believe that any Flag Day parades and celebrations are really for him. Get ready for more narcissism and delusions of grandeur, because John is the epitome of these obnoxious personality traits.

The movie shows Jennifer at various stages in her life, from childhood to adulthood, in chronological order. The exception is the opening scene, which takes place in a police station when Jennifer is an adult in her 20s. She’s meeting with someone named U.S. Marshal Blake (played by Regina King), who shows Jennifer some of the evidence that law enforcement has against John for his counterfeiting activities. According to U.S. Marshal Blake, John passed more than $50,000 in counterfeit U.S. bills and had printed about $2 million worth of more counterfeit bills. For his forgeries, John was facing a maximum of 75 years in prison.

U.S. Marshal Blake seems sympathetic to Jennifer and confides in her that her own father “poked so many holes in his arm” (in order words, he was a needle-using drug addict) “that it was like a rehearsal for the ultimate rejection.” U.S. Marshal Blake adds, “We get used to it, don’t we?” The movie circles back to this scene with U.S. Marshal Blake toward the end of the film, as viewers find out what happened to John after he was caught for his forgery.

But in between, the rest of the story is about how John held Jennifer as an emotional hostage for much of her life—even when she didn’t know it. Because the movie is supposed to be told from Jennifer’s perspective, her childhood memories of John tend to be rosier than what he deserved. There are obvious clues that things were not as wonderful as Jennifer remembers.

The movie’s flashback timeline begins in the early 1970s, when a 6-year-old Jennifer (played by Addison Tymec), who grew up in Minnesota, has memories of her parents being free spirits who liked to party and go on road trips. Jennifer remembers her father as the more fun-loving parent. John and his wife Patty Vogel (played by Katheryn Winnick) moved around a lot with Jennifer and her introverted brother Nick (played by Cole Flynn), who is two years younger than Jennifer. As Jennifer tells it, she began to think that if her life were a fairytale, her father would definitely be a prince.

In reality, John had trouble making an honest living. He jumped around from one “get rich quick” scheme to the next, always with the promise that the latest one would be the one to make their dreams come true. And he also got involved with shady people, often owing large sums of money. If John showed up at home looking like he was in a fight, chances are it was because of his debts.

The movie shows that as a child, Jennifer also witnessed John verbally and physically abuse Patty. But as many children in abusive homes tend to do, they block out the worst memories. Jennifer still thought of her father as her hero. There’s a scene of reckless John teaching Jennifer at around 11 or 12 years old (played by Jadyn Rylee) how to drive, by having her sit on his lap to operate the car, even though she could barely reach the gas pedal and brake pedal. Tymec and Rylee are quite good in their roles as childhood Jennifer.

John’s con games and irresponsible lifestyle eventually took a toll on his marriage to Patty, who became an alcoholic. Patty left John around the time that Jennifer was 13 years old and Nick (played by Beckam Crawford) was about 11 years old. The couple eventually divorced. Because of Patty’s alcoholism, there’s a brief period of time when Jennifer and Nick live with John and his girlfriend Debbie (played by Bailey Noble), who treats the kids well. The children get a first-hand look at John’s outlaw lifestyle.

Because Jennifer idolizes her father, she blames Patty for the couple’s divorce. When Patty tries to warn Jennifer about how much John can be hurtful, Jennifer always dismisses these warnings. More than once, Patty tells Jennifer that she “knows things” about John that she can’t tell Jennifer. Those secrets are never revealed in the movie, but they don’t really have to be disclosed because enough is shown about John to prove what a lousy person he is.

The only other Vogel family members who are shown in the movie are John’s brother Beck (played by Josh Brolin) and their mother Margaret (played by Dale Dickey). Beck is sympathetic to Patty and helps her and the kids get settled into a new place when she decides to leave John. Beck is an intermittent presence in their lives, and he candidly tells Patty how sorry he is that John couldn’t be a better husband and father.

Margaret is a crabby racist who has one scene in the movie, where she complains that John (who is clearly her favorite child) had a great business years ago until it was burned down. Margaret says that she and John think jealous black people were the ones who caused the fire, even though there’s no proof of who committed the arson. Considering John’s history as a con man and his constant money problems, it’s easy to speculate that John was the one who committed the arson for the insurance money.

The movie than fast-forwards to 1981. Jennifer is now a rebellious, drug-abusing teenager in high school. Her natural blonde hair is dyed black and styled to look like she’s a Joan Jett wannabe. (It’s an obvious wig though. This movie needed a better hairstyling team.) Jennifer and Nick live with Patty and her boyfriend Doc (played by Norbert Leo Butz), who tries to come across as a respectable, upstanding person. In reality, Doc is a drunk and a sleazeball, who tries to sexually assault Jennifer one night in her bedroom while Patty is asleep.

Jennifer screams and manages to fight him off. The commotion is loud enough to wake up Patty, who goes in the room to find out what all the noise is about. Patty sees how distraught Jennifer is and sees that Doc is on the floor in his underwear. It’s easy to figure out what happened, even though Jennifer is too shocked and/or ashamed to say it out loud. Patty takes Doc’s side and makes the excuse that he was drunk and probably thought he was in the wrong bedroom.

Jennifer’s relationship with her mother is never really the same after that. They have some very angry arguments, where Jennifer expresses outrage that her mother failed to protect her from Doc. It isn’t long before Jennifer runs away from home. Jennifer barely says goodbye to Nick (played by Hopper Jack Penn, Dylan Penn’s real-life brother), who just kind of fades into the background for the rest of the movie. After Jennifer experiences the harshness of living on the streets (the movie doesn’t say for how long), Jennifer decides to show up unannounced at her father John’s place, where he lives alone, and she asks if she can stay with him.

John is reluctant at first, but he eventually agrees. Jennifer also tries to get him to turn his life around. John actually gets a straight-laced sales job in an office. But viewers can easily predict that John, who’s spent most of his adult life as a con man, is eventually going back to his criminal ways. The movie telegraphs it in the opening scene, where Jennifer has the meeting with U.S Marshal Blake about John’s counterfeiting.

After a while, it becomes tiresome to see the same patterns over and over again: Jennifer loves her father, but she can’t really trust him because he’s a pathological liar. They are in and out of each other’s lives. She struggles with deciding whether to give him yet another chance or to completely cut herself off from him.

But here’s the biggest problem with how Jennifer’s story is told in this movie: Even when Jennifer reaches adulthood, John is still portrayed as her unhealthy focus in life. Not once do viewers see if Jennifer had any significant friendships or fell in love—in other words, the movie makes it look like she never established any deep emotional connections or meaningful relationships with anyone besides her father. Jennifer and her brother Nick were close as children, but after she ran away from home, it seems like they were never that close again.

There are montages of Jennifer being a drifter and partying with various people whose names and personalities are never shown in the movie. Eventually, Jennifer decides to get her life together, and she enrolls in the University of Minnesota in 1985. But even that scene looks rushed and phony. She has a meeting with an admissions officer named Dr. Halstead (played by Nigel Fisher), who scolds her for lying on her application about being a high school dropout. At first Jennifer denies it, but then she admits she lied and that she never graduated from high school.

Dr. Halstead takes pity on her and says that if she lied about something like that, then it must mean that she really wants a college education. And just like that, he says that Jennifer can enroll in the university. In reality, university admissions are much more complicated and have more people involved in making the decisions than what’s portrayed in this movie. And telling a big lie on a college application would be automatic grounds for disqualification, unless someone can squeak by because of exceptional intelligence or because the applicant’s family is rich. Jennifer doesn’t fit either description.

“Flag Day” doesn’t know if it wants to be a gritty drama or a hokey soap opera. Jennifer says corny lines in her narration, such as when she makes this comment about her rogue father: “He left a trail of broken glass and broken hearts.” What is this? A Hallmark Channel movie? No, because there’s cursing, drug use and violence.

Sean Penn’s direction tends to be overwrought with close-ups of Dylan Penn’s face, as if Jennifer is a tragic ingenue heroine who has to bear the burdens of her father’s sins. She does an adequate job in her role overall, except in the melodramatic scenes which just look like over-acting. Sean Penn tries to depict John as a lovably messed-up outlaw. But it’s all so unconvincing and too contrived, in order to gloss over the reality of John being an abuser and a racist. Sean Penn does a lot of annoying mugging for the camera in this movie.

While the filmmakers clearly want viewers to feel sympathy for Jennifer, nowhere is it adequately addressed how she did some emotional damage of her own too, when she abandoned her younger brother Nick. The movie doesn’t care to explore how Nick was affected by all of his family trauma. And because “Flag Day” never shows Jennifer having any real friends or lovers, the movie leaves a big question mark about how her dysfunctional childhood affected her personal relationships as an adult.

There’s something very wrong with a movie that’s supposed to be about a young woman’s journey to form her own identity, and yet viewers learn more about who her father hangs out with and dates than they learn about her personal life. It’s a sloppily told story where the filmmakers use a woman’s pain as a “bait and switch” gimmick, when the movie is really a showcase about a man behaving badly.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Flag Day” in select U.S. cinemas on August 20, 2021.

2021 Academy Awards: presenters and performers announced

April 23, 2021

The following is a combination of press releases from ABC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

BET partners with Vaseline for Equitable Skincare for All video series

March 18, 2021

Tai Beauchamp (Photo courtesy of Vaseline)

On March 24, 2021 at 3 pm EST, BET (a subsidiary of ViacomCBS Inc., NASDAQ: VIACA, VIAC), the nation’s leading provider of quality content for African American audiences, and Vaseline® are partnering to host a powerful Zoom discussion for consumers featuring award-winning director and actress Regina King around skincare equity for skin of color.   

“Over the past year, we’ve seen the challenges that people of color face in achieving equitable health outcomes and unfortunately, the dermatology practice is no different,” said Louis Carr, President of Media Sales at BET. “Through our partnership with Vaseline®, we’re committed to increasing awareness of the importance of health through skincare. We’re honored to have the opportunity to partner with and lend our platform to amplify Vaseline’s Equitable Skincare for All campaign.”

The Equitable Skincare for All discussion will highlight the healthcare and skincare inequities that negatively impact Black and Brown communities, the importance of bringing true equality to care for skin of color and how individuals can make a difference.

Skin health needs for Black and Brown communities continue to be underserved and without access to proper care comes the likelihood of misdiagnosis or no diagnosis leaving them at risk for long-term consequences.This is in part the case as nearly half of dermatologists say they were not adequately trained to treat skin of color. Representation is also an issue in dermatological care with only 3% of practicing dermatologists identified as Black and 4.2% identified as Latinx.1

For over 150 years, Vaseline® has been committed to helping heal dry skin everywhere, but this goal can’t be achieved if part of the Vaseline® community doesn’t have access to equitable care. That’s why Vaseline® has teamed up with BET to bring awareness, education and drive meaningful discussions around healthcare and skincare inequities that negatively impact Black and Brown communities.

Hosted by veteran beauty expert Tai Beauchamp, Vaseline® spokesperson Regina King along with other guests such as prominent doctors, experts and skincare enthusiasts, will share their experiences with inequity, current inequities Black and Brown people face, the consequences of these disparities and the importance of properly treating Black and Brown skin.

“As a heritage brand, our goal is to achieve equitable skincare for all,” says Kevin Tolson, Senior Brand Manager for Vaseline. “As part of that larger commitment, this event not only seeks to highlight the problem, but also arm Black and Brown communities with effective tools and immediate solutions to work toward skin equity now and for the next generation.”

To expand this important conversation, BET and Vaseline® have worked together to create a video content series to further educate people around the issues of skincare inequity in addition to the Zoom event. The first video of the Equitable Skincare for All series will air on BET.com, and across BET’s social handles on March 18, 2021.

BET seeks to leverage its position as a leading provider of entertaining, engaging and empowering content and its partnership with Vaseline® to contribute meaningfully to the current conversation about racial equity in healthcare, while equipping our audiences with tools and resources to take control of their own health.

To register, consumers can visit BET.com and submit their questions ahead of the event using the #Skincareforall hashtag. 

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.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 Unilever North America

Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of Beauty & Personal Care, Home Care, and Foods & Refreshment products, with sales in over 190 countries and products used by 2.5 billion people every day. We have 149,000 employees and generated sales of €50.7 billion in 2020. Over half of our footprint is in developing and emerging markets. We have around 400 brands found in homes all over the world. In the United States and Canada, the portfolio includes iconic brand such as: Dove, Knorr, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Magnum, Axe, Ben & Jerry’s, Degree, Dollar Shave Club, Q-tips, Seventh Generation, St. Ives, Suave, TRESemmé, and Vaseline.

Our vision is to be the global leader in sustainable business and to demonstrate how our purpose-led, future-fit business model drives superior performance. We have a long tradition of being a progressive, responsible business. It goes back to the days of our founder William Lever, who launched the world’s first purposeful brand, Sunlight Soap, more than 100 years ago, and it’s at the heart of how we run our company today.

The Unilever Compass, our sustainable business strategy, is set out to help us deliver superior performance and drive sustainable and responsible growth, while:

  • improving the health of the planet; 
  • improving people’s health, confidence and wellbeing; and 
  • contributing to a fairer and more socially inclusive world.

While there is still more to do, we are proud to have been recognized in 2020 as a sector leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and – for the tenth-consecutive year – as the top ranked company in the 2020 GlobeScan/SustainAbility Sustainability Leaders survey.

For more information on Unilever U.S. and its brands visit: www.unileverusa.com

For more information on Unilever Canada and its brands visit: www.unilever.ca

Review: ‘One Night in Miami…,’ starring Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree

January 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr. in “One Night in Miami” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“One Night in Miami…”

Directed by Regina King

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Miami on February 25, 1964, the dramatic film “One Night in Miami…” has a predominantly African American cast (with some white people) portraying celebrities, the middle-class and the working class.

Culture Clash: A social gathering of Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown leads to ego conflicts and differing opinions on race relations.

Culture Audience: “One Night in Miami…” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a dramatic interpretation of what it would be like for four of the biggest African American heroes of the 1960s to spend time together as friends and sometimes adversaries.

Kingsley Ben-Adir (with camera), Aldis Hodge (in brown tie), Eli Goree (in tuxedo) and Leslie Odom Jr. (raising glass) in “One Night in Miami” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

It’s always tricky to do an entire story about hypothetical conversations between famous people who are well-respected and admired. If handled incorrectly, this portrayal could be considered very insincere or offensive. Imagine doing an entire story about four African American celebrities who, in their own different ways, weren’t just famous but were also inspirations to millions of people. And then you put all of four of them together (Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown) and have them hang out as if they’re old friends.

It happened in real life one night in Miami in 1964, but this story imagines what these four famous men talked about when they spent time together that night. The actors portraying these four friends are Eli Goree as Ali (then known as Cassius Clay), Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke, Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X (whose real name was Malcolm Little) and Aldis Hodge as Brown. “One Night in Miami…,” the feature-film directorial debut of Oscar-winning actress Regina King, mostly succeeds in depicting this compelling story, but it takes a while to get there, since the second half of the movie is much better than the first half.

The movie is based on the play “One Night in Miami…,” which was written by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay. In many ways, the movie still looks like a play, since the second (and more intense) half of the film is mostly set in a hotel. However, the cinematic version of this story does a very good job of bringing a broader scope of locations that can’t be done in a stage play.

The audience is briefly taken into the lives of each of the four central characters to get a glimpse of what they’re like in public before their private selves are revealed later in ways that leave an impact on the characters as well as the audience. It’s a movie where the social cancer of racism is never far from the story, and it’s felt, seen and heard in various ways throughout the movie. “One Night in Miami…” skillfully shows the uncomfortable reality that how to deal with racism can divide African Americans and other people who are targets of racism, because the reality is that not everyone agrees with what it means to have “black power” and how to use it.

The beginning of the movie is essentially a montage of scenes showing why each man is famous and how their race impacts their life’s work. The boastful and charismatic boxing champ known as Cassius Clay (who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali after he became a Muslim) is shown in 1963 at a boxing match at London’s Wembley Stadium, where he soundly defeats his opponent Henry “The Hammer” Cooper. However triumphant this victory is for Cassius, it’s still shown in the movie that white people are the ones who control boxing and make the most money from it, while the boxers are just pawns in the game.

R&B singer Sam Cooke is shown on stage at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City, where he’s getting a chilly reception from an all-white audience who don’t seem to want a black person to be entertaining them. Some of the audience members leave in disgust while Sam is on stage. Sam performs the Debbie Reynolds song “Tammy” to try to appeal to the crowd, but deep down, he’s fuming at being booked at a place filled with racists.

Backstage in the dressing room after the show, Sam’s white manager tells him, “Boy, you really did bomb tonight, Sam.” Sam explodes in anger and yells, “Have you ever made a million dollars singing? Well, I have! So, until you do, keep your fucking mouth shut!” One of Sam’s backup musicians witnessing this tantrum then says somewhat jokingly about the manager’s comment: “He ain’t wrong though.” Later in the movie, there are cameos from singer Jackie Wilson (played by Jeremy Pope), “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson (played by Christopher Gorham) and “Tonight Show” sidekick Ed McMahon (played by Alan Wells) in the depiction of Sam’s life.

Cleveland Browns star Jim Brown is shown visiting a wealthy football benefactor named Mr. Carlton (played by Beau Bridges) at Carlton’s mansion on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia. The two men chat amiably on the mansion’s front porch, while Mr. Carlton’s star-struck daughter Emily (played by Emily Bridges) gushes over Jim, as if she can’t believe her luck that this major NFL star is at her home. Mr. Carlton tells Jim that if he never needs anything, don’t hesitate to ask. As Jim starts to follow Mr. Carlton into the house, Mr. Carlton turns to him with a smile and says to Jim that he can’t come in because black people (he uses the “n” word) aren’t allowed in his house.

Malcolm X’s fiery brand of racial ideology made him controversial in the U.S. civil rights movement because of his belief that all white people are the “enemy.” In the beginning of the movie, he’s shown coming home late and telling his wife Betty (played by Joaquina Kalukango) some news that he’s not happy about at all: Louis Farrakhan, a prominent influencer in the Nation of Islam who was likely to become the group’s leader, did not approve Malcolm’s request to leave the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad (played by Jerome Wilson), who was the Nation of Islam’s leader at the time, was like a mentor to Malcolm, who felt some trepidation of being perceived as a traitor.

It’s shown throughout the movie that this story takes place during a time when Malcolm wanted to start his own civil rights group and was grappling with insecurity and anger over how he was being treated by the Nation of Islam. He was feeling doubts about how much loyalty he owed to the Nation of Islam and also concerned about leaving the group because some of his allies could turn into enemies. The movie shows that Malcolm was worried enough that he traveled with security personnel, not just for protection against white supremacists but also for protection against anyone in the Nation of Islam who might come after him for wanting to leave the group.

The rest of the movie is then primarily set in Miami on February 25, 1964. Cassius, who was just 22 years old and soon to be known as Muhammad Ali, wins the world heavyweight boxing champ title against Sonny Liston (played by Aaron D. Alexander), who’s knocked out and gives up in the fight. Sam, Malcolm and Jim (who are in the audience) meet up with Cassius later, and they all go to the Hampton House Motel in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. It’s a motel that allowed African Americans because Miami was still segregated.

The four friends are all in a jovial mood and ready to party. Malcolm has brought a Rolleiflex 3.5 German twin lens reflex (TLR) camera, and he enjoys taking pictures with it. They horse around, almost like fraternity guys, and take turns using the camera. But the mood eventually turns more serious, as insecurities and differences of opinion rise to the surface.

At first, the disagreements are fairly superficial. Sam is disappointed that they can’t stay at a more upscale establishment, and he complains to the others about it. Jim and Cassius, who are bachelors, want to go looking for women to party with, while the married men in the group (Sam and Malcolm) are more hesitant. And as the night wears on, it becomes apparent that each man is at a crossroads in his life.

Jim has plans to retire from football and wants to become a movie star. He already has a Western film lined up, but Cassius scolds Jim for wanting to quit football. Cassius tells Jim that portraying a “sacrificial Negro” in a Western isn’t the same as being paid by the NFL. Sam is more encouraging of Jim’s showbiz ambitions and tells Jim that Los Angeles is like the Promised Land. Malcolm, who lives in New York City, vehemently disagrees with that belief.

Cassius has become close to Malcolm, who has influenced Cassius to convert to Islam and to be more outspoken about civil rights for African Americans. However, Cassius’ manager Angelo Dundee (played by Michael Imperioli) has been pressuring Cassius to distance himself from Malcolm, who is considered to be too radical for mainstream society. Angelo tells Cassius that white investors and sponsors are very nervous about Cassius’ association with Malcolm. It should come as no surprise what decision Cassius makes, because it started a new chapter in his life as Muhammad Ali.

While Cassius looks up to Malcolm as a pillar of strength, Malcolm isn’t feeling very secure about his life because he suspects that he could be in real danger. Malcolm is paranoid that he’s being followed. He frequently looks out the window, and his suspicions are confirmed when he sees strange men lurking about who could be government spies. Malcolm has a trusted bodyguard with him named Brother Kareem also known as Kareem X (played by Lance Reddick), a stoic employee who is accompanied by a younger assistant bodyguard named Cliff White (played by Kipori Woods), who is in awe of Malcolm.

Sam is a successful music entrepreneur (he owns his own music publishing and record label) in addition to being a famous singer. However, Sam is grappling with what it means to “cross over” to a mainstream (mostly white) audience. Will he be perceived as “selling out” and leaving behind his African American fan base? Or is he just making a good business decision to reach as wide of an audience as possible?

It’s this issue of racial integration that sparks a heated and extended argument between Sam and Malcolm. This arguing leads to the movie’s most memorable scenes and impressive performances from Odom and Ben-Adir, while Hodge and Goree sort of fade into the background. Jim and Cassius mostly just stand by and watch Sam and Malcolm verbally rip each other apart, but Cassius and Jim occasionally interject and try to make the peace when things get too problematic.

Malcolm’s choice words for Sam include: “You bourgeois Negroes are too happy with your scraps to really understand what’s at stake here … You will never be loved by the people you’re trying so hard to win over … You’re a monkey dancing for an organ grinder to them!”

Sam then criticizes Malcolm for kowtowing too much to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. The R&B crooner also makes a verbal jab at Malcolm by telling him that Malcolm is the only one of the four friends who isn’t as financially successful as the others, thereby implying that Malcolm doesn’t have a real career. It’s a criticism that stings Malcolm because he knows that by leaving the Nation of Islam, he will be leaving behind much of his livelihood for an uncertain future.

Sam also points out that, unlike many black artists, he owns his own work, he invested in buying other artist’s music publishing, and he has the power to hire black people for jobs. “Everybody always talks about how they want a piece of the pie,” Sam declares defiantly. “Well, I don’t. I want the goddamn recipe!”

Jim is more inclined to side with Sam, who believes there’s nothing wrong with racial integration and working with white people. Jim comments on Malcolm’s views that black people need to think like militants: “We’re not anyone’s weapons, Malcolm.” Malcolm replies to Jim, “You need to be, for us to win.”

The issue of colorism is also brought up, as Jim confronts Malcolm about being light-skinned and using his lighter skin tone to his advantage. Jim essentially says that it’s easy for Malcolm to be so militant when his light skin gives him more privileges than darker-skinned black people. Malcolm responds by reiterating that black people’s authenticity should be judged by how black people help other black people, not by skin tone.

Because the characters of Sam and Malcolm have the most emotionally charged dialogue in the movie, Odom and Ben-Adir stand out the most in the film. Odom has the additional talent of doing his own singing in the movie, and his portrayal of Cooke is that of a man with a strong sense of self who’s unapologetic for how he wants to live his life. Ben-Adir’s portrayal of Malcolm X is of a more tortured soul, and the performance comes closer to showing a more human side to the real person. Both performances are outstanding in their own ways, but most people watching this movie, just like in real life, will probably feel more comfortable watching a smooth entertainer like Cooke instead of a restless firebrand like Malcolm X.

The character of Jim Brown is written as a fairly bland and passive person, so Hodge can’t really do much but react to what’s going on around him. However, since Jim is the one who’s the mostly like to be the “peacemaker” in the group, his character is crucial in the moments where the four friends find common ground and have positive interactions with each other. Jim is the “nice guy” of the group, but unfortunately his character also seems two-dimensional. There’s very little indication of what Jim is passionate about, since he wants to leave football behind to become an actor, not for the love of the craft but just so he can become a movie star.

People who know Muhammad Ali as a larger-than-life personality will be surprised to see that he’s not really written as the character who outshines everyone in this movie. Malcolm and Sam definitely upstage everyone else. And that’s because it’s made pretty clear that this boxing champ wasn’t known yet as outspoken activist Muhammad Ali. He was Cassius Clay, a guy in his early 20s who was still finding his identity. Goree’s portrayal of Cassius sometimes veers into a try-hard impersonation that could have devolved into a terrible parody, but he shows enough restraint not to turn the character into an embarrassing caricature.

King’s direction of the movie is solid and gives viewers a clear sense of each location’s atmosphere in each scene. The production design and costume design are well-done, while the cinematography makes the scenes feel observational yet intimate. Although adapting this stage play into a movie results in some extra thrills for the singing and boxing scenes, the movie’s most powerful moments are inside a simple hotel room with just the four main characters. Everything else just seems like frosting on the cake. “One Night in Miami…” is by no means a completely insightful portrait of the four men at the center of the story, but the movie serves as an effective snapshot of what their interpersonal dynamics might have been like in their leisure time together.

Amazon Studios released “One Night in Miami…” in Miami on December 25, 2020, and expanded the release to more U.S. cinemas on January 8, 2021. Amazon Prime Video premiered the movie on January 15, 2021.

2019 Tony Awards: performers and presenters announced

June 3, 2019

The following is a press release from the Tony Awards:

Some of the world’s biggest stars from stage and screen will appear at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards. The list of names announced includes Darren Criss, Tina Fey, Sutton Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, Regina King, Laura Linney, Audra McDonald, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Michael Shannon. More presenters will be announced soon.

The Tony Awards telecast will feature an incredible line up of celebrity presenters and musical performances for Broadway’s biggest night.
James Corden will return to host the American Theatre Wing’s 2019 Tony Awards, which will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City on CBS. The three-hour program will air on Sunday, June 9th 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT time delay). The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

You can also watch the Tony Awards online with CBS All Access. More info at cbs.com/all-access.

June 5, 2019 UPDATE: A second round of artists has been added to appear at THE 73rd ANNUAL TONY AWARDS(R), live from the historic Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Sunday, June 9 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. The star-studded lineup includes Sara Bareilles, Laura Benanti, Abigail Breslin, Danny Burstein, Kristin Chenoweth, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Josh Groban, Danai Gurira, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Jackson, Shirley Jones, Jane Krakowski, Judith Light, Lucy Liu, Aasif Mandvi, Sienna Miller, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Catherine O’Hara, Kelli O’Hara, Karen Olivo, Anthony Ramos, Marisa Tomei, Aaron Tveit, Samira Wiley and BeBe Winans.

Emmy and Tony Award winner James Corden will host the 2019 Tony Awards for the second time. As previously announced, Darren Criss, Tina Fey, Sutton Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Regina King, Laura Linney, Audra McDonald, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells and Michael Shannon will also take part in Broadway’s biggest night.

The TONY Awards, which honors theater professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, has been broadcast on CBS since 1978. This year marks the 73rd anniversary of the TONY Awards, which were first held on April 6, 1947 at the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom. The ceremony is presented by Tony Award Productions, which is a joint venture of the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, which founded the Tonys.

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment will return as executive producers. Weiss will also serve as director for the 20th consecutive year. Ben Winston is a producer.

June 6, 2019 UPDATE:

Cynthia Erivo (Photo by Barry Brecheisen)

The Tony Awards telecast will feature performances by the casts of “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations”; “Beetlejuice”; “The Cher Show”; “Choir Boy”; “Hadestown”; “Kiss Me, Kate”; “Oklahoma!”; “The Prom” and “Tootsie.” The evening will also feature a special performance by Tony Award winning-actress Cynthia Erivo.

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