Archive for "History"

This Day in Film: “Imitation of Life”

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 8:30 am.

(Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

Exactly 54 years ago today, Imitation of Life, the legendary film about racial identity, was released in theatres nationwide. The film was adapted from Fannie Hurst’s novel and a remake of the 1934 original.

Imitation of Life told the story of Sarah Jane, a light-skinned Black girl (both of her parents were Black), who could pass for White, played by Susan Kohner. She dealt with extreme emotional turmoil, eventually rejecting her mother, played by Juanita Moore. The film also starred Hollywood legends Lana Turner and Sandra Dee.

In the 1934 original Sarah Jane was played by a light-skinned Black actress named Fredi Washington. In 1959, the Sarah Jane character was Susan Kohner, who was Mexican and Jewish. Both actresses in the 1959 version, Kohner and Moore, received Oscar nods for best supporting actress and Kohner won the Golden Globe.

Imitation of Life was a huge success for its time, garnering $6.4 million and being the ninth most successful film in 1959.  The film’s handling of race and the “tragic mulatto” character is a slice of American history for its era.

There have been talks for years about an Imitation of Life remake, but no word on who or when.  In 2010, a behind the scenes book was released on the movie, Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of Life by Sam Staggs.

The most memorable scene from the movie was Annie dying and the iconic Mahalia Jackson singing at her funeral. Grab a tissue and check out the clip below!

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This Day in Film: “Rosewood”

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 8:00 am.

Exactly 16 years ago today, John Singleton’s Rosewood opened nationwide. The Warner Bros. film was Singleton’s fourth movie, and his most political. Previously he earned big hits with urban classics like Poetic Justice and Boyz n the Hood, but Rosewood was far from urban—it was set in the Jim Crow South. The cast included Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, and Esther Rolle in her last role before she passed.

Rosewood is based on the true story of the January 1923 massacre in Rosewood, Florida. Poor whites in nearby towns were jealous that Rosewood, a primarily Black town, was so prosperous. After word spread of an unsupported allegation that a Black man raped a white woman, angry mobs of whites gathered to destroy Rosewood—and they did. In real life, numerous lynchings occurred (including the cutting off of pieces of dead Black bodies as “souvenirs”), and Rosewood was burned to the ground.

Over 60 years later, CNN reported on the history of Rosewood, which inspired Singleton to turn the Rosewood story into a film.

Unfortunately, Rosewood did not perform well at the box office. The flick only grossed a little over $13 million. Nonetheless, it was an educational and emotional movie that highlighted a piece of ignored history: life in the Jim Crow South.

Check out the vintage trailer below!

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This Day in Film: Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled”

Published by Clay Cane on Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Courtesy New Line Cinema)

Twelve years ago this week, my favorite Spike Lee film opened in theaters — Bamboozled. With little to no promotion, the movie barely got a run at theaters, but created a huge buzz due to screenings on various college campuses.  I first heard about Bamboozled from students at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I saw the artsy Spike Lee Joint at a theater in Manhattan — instead of a movie poster, which is usually posted for every film, Bamboozled had a 8 x 10 computer print out.  The sheet of paper was taped to the door of the theater. Bamboozled was getting bamboozled in every direction.

Bamboozled was the story of the Mantan Show, the new millennium minstrel show that became a television sensation. The flick starred Jada Pinkett Smith, Tommy Davidson, Michael Rapaport, Mos Def, Savion Glover and Damon Wayans as the lead, Pierre Delacroix. Bamboozled received mixed reviews and wasn’t a box office hit, but in many ways Lee’s vision of a resurgence of minstrel shows has come to life in the form of reality television.

Bamboozled is an underrated classic.  If you haven’t seen it, Nextflix it right away.

Check out the vintage trailer below!

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This Day in Film: “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar”

Published by Smriti Mundhra on Monday, September 10, 2012 at 8:35 am.

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

Before Heath Ledger put playing against A sexual orientation stereotype on the to-do list for every actor chasing an Oscar nomination, Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo took a chance on a little film called To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. In the long-titled film, Snipes, Swayze and Lequizamo played New York City drag queens who embark on a cross-country journey that lands them in small-town Nebraska, where they bring some color, and life lessons, to the locals.  Saturday marked the 17th anniversary of the film.

Unlike its cinematic predecessors Some Like it Hot and Tootsie, in which the cross-dressing characters donned dresses as a campy disguise and much of the humor derives from their discomfort, in To Wong Foo, the three leading ladies put on panty hose, earrings and sequins as a way of staying true to themselves. As Snipes’ ultra-fabulous Noxeema Jackson points out, “When a gay man has way too much fashion sense for one gender, he’s a drag queen.”

The film was mostly panned by critics for being a safe version of it’s Australian predecessor Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but still proved far ahead of it’s time. Even with the LGBT rights movement in full swing, it’s hard to picture more than a handful of A-list actors, as all three leads of To Wong Foo were at the time of it’s release, risking their macho images to play a drag queen.

While neither Snipes, Leguizamo or Swayze were recognized by the Academy Awards (John Leguizamo and the late Patrick Swayze received Golden Globe nods) for their commitment to the challenging roles, the film did receive a GLAAD Award nomination for Outstanding Film.

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This Day in Film: “Fresh”

Published by Michael Arceneaux on Friday, August 24, 2012 at 9:42 am.

(Photo: Miramax Films)

Though the themes of drug and violence had already been depicted in several different movies before its release, the 1994 drama Fresh was praised as a film that told the same story in much more interesting way.

The film, written and directed by Boaz Yakin, follows 12-year-old Fresh, an urban teen who works as a runner for a drug dealer in order to support himself and his troubled sister. Fresh lives in a crowded housing project with his cousins and aunts. His sister is junkie while his father, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is an alcoholic who supports himself via chess game scams.

Fresh finds himself with the respect of local drug dealers because of his intelligence and honesty. Ultimately, the young child witnesses the murder of a classmate and ends up a target in his own right. He then has to use derive a way to protect his life.

The film was criticized for its depiction of urban life, but overall was widely praised. In his review, Roger Ebert wrote, “Here’s a movie filled with drama and excitement, unfolding a plot of brilliant complexity, in which the central character is solemn and silent, saying only what he has to say, revealing himself only strategically.”

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This Day in Film: “Mo’ Better Blues”

Published by Marcus Reeves on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 10:30 am.

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

On this date, 22 years ago, Spike Lee released his fourth feature film, Mo’ Better Blues. The sultry, jazz-centered story was a drastic turn for the confrontational director who, just the year before, unleashed the racially-explosive film Do the Right Thing, which some critics predicted would start riots in the hot summer of 1989.

For Mo’ Better Blues, Lee used his penchant for creating cinematic tension to tell the tale of star jazz musician Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) who, along with leading a star-studded band, juggles two girlfriends (played by Cynda Williams and Spike’s sister Joie Lee).  Moreover, within his band, he must temper the ambitions of his hotheaded virtuoso sax player Shadow Henderson, played by Wesley Snipes. The cast also included Dick Anthony Williams, John Turturro, Robin Harris and Samuel L. Jackson.

While the film wasn’t as big a hit as Lee’s first three projects, Mo’ Better can be credited for turning both Denzel and Wesley into Hollywood leading men and sex symbols.  Who could forget Shadow’s steamy balcony scene?

Yes, Mo’ Better Blues marked Lee departure from focusing on the provocative issue on race. But, in true Spike fashion, the film did manage to rub one group — Jews — the wrong way. Several Jewish organizations, including the Anti Defamation League, complained about the director’s depiction of two Jewish jazz club owners, saying they were stereotypical.

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This Day in Film: “Boyz n the Hood”

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 9:30 am.

(Photo: Columbia Pictures)

Today marks the anniversary of the groundbreaking urban-drama Boyz n the Hood.  While Matty Rich’s Straight Out of Brooklyn was released only a month before and dealt with many of the same issues, Boyz n the Hood captured the nation.

Directed and written by John Singleton, the story was based in South Central, Los Angeles and dealt with themes of drug abuse, violence, Black masculinity and fatherhood. The powerhouse cast included Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne and Ice Cube. The movie was also a big break for a flock of new actors — Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Regina King and Cuba Gooding, Jr., who eventually won an Oscar for 1996’s Jerry Maguire.

Boyz N the Hood received two Oscar nominations — Best Director and Original Screenplay. Singleton was the youngest person to be nominated for Best Director and the first African-American.

What is your favorite moment from Boyz n the Hood?

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This Day In Film: “What’s Love Got to Do with It”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, June 8, 2012 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Touchstone Pictures)

This weekend, marks the anniversary of the biopic on the legendary Tina Turner, which was based on her autobiography I, Tina.

Everyone in Hollywood knew playing the role of Anna Mae Bullock also known as Tina Turner would be award-worthy.  By the early 1990’s Tina was already a legend, respected in every musical circle across the world — one could only dream to play her life story. So, nearly every Black actress sought out the role: Jenifer Lewis, Robin Givens, Janet Jackson, Pam Grier, Halle Berry and Whitney Houston.  The role was offered to Whitney, who had huge box office success with The Bodyguard, but she turned down the part due to pregnancy.

Eventually, the role was given to Angela BassettLaurence Fishburne rejected the role of Ike Turner five times until he learned Bassett was the lead. Cinematic history was made…

Met with controversy and criticism, What’s Love Got to Do with It was a box office smash.  The movie grossed nearly 40 million domestically, won Angela Bassett a Golden Globe and received two Oscar nods.  In addition, the film helped to invigorate Tina Turner’s career, which was already pretty hot.  What’s Love Got to Do with It is one of the greatest biopics made and considered a true classic.

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This Day in Film: “Foxy Brown”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, April 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm.

(Photo: American International Pictures)

Pull out your bell-bottoms, platform shoes and afro picks, this week is the 38th anniversary of Pam Grier’s legendary flick Foxy Brown.  On this day back in 1974, Foxy Brown, directed and written by Jack Hill and starring the Halle Berry of the ’70s, debuted in theaters.

The luscious Pam Grier played a nurse who wanted to get revenge on a powerful drug ring. She ferociously fought back against the government, racism and sexism.

The film was a sequel to 1973’s Coffy and was supposed to be titled Burn, Coffy, Burn! But at the last minute the film studio decided they didn’t want a sequel and slapped on the title Foxy Brown.

Although panned by critics, Foxy Brown was a huge hit for a Blaxploitation film and still has a cult following.

While promoting her book, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, Pam Grier said to theGrio, “Here I am, this ‘icon,’ if you will, but someone humanized the iconic title and humanized Foxy Brown, Sheba, Jackie Brown, and all the female imagery that I projected so that it was never one-dimensional. I want others to realize that I get my power from them, I didn’t invent it, I get my ‘foxiness’ from all women.”

Fists in the air to Miss Grier. That’s one bad mama jama!

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This Day in Film: “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge”

Published by Michael Arceneaux on Friday, August 19, 2011 at 8:48 am.

(Photo: HBO)

For a while many wondered if a film about the life of the iconic and pioneering actress Dorothy Dandridge would ever be made. Certainly multiple high profile entertainers made the effort through the years. Model-actress Jayne Kennedy, television star Jasmine Guy, model-actress-singer Vanessa Williams, along with pop megastars Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston, all expressed interest in portraying the first Black woman to receive an Academy award nomination for Best Actress.

Ultimately, it was film star Halle Berry who achieved this feat by way of a made for TV biographical drama she dubbed a labor of love. Filmed over a span of a few weeks in early 1998, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge depicted the life of the now legendary starlet – examining her humbling beginnings as a roadhouse circuit performer in the South and going on to become one of the biggest actresses of her time.

Promoted with the tag line, “Right woman. Right place. Wrong time.” the HBO movie also shed light on her personal life, which was filled with much tragedy and heartache. Dandridge died of an overdose of pills in 1965, at the age of 41.

For her efforts, producer and starring actress Halle Berry won an Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award.

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