Category: Movies

Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ Returns to Theaters to Celebrate 30th Anniversary on June 28

According to deadline.comUniversal Pictures plans to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Spike Lee’s groundbreaking and still-topical film Do the Right Thing with a re-mastered 4K restoration that will hit theaters June 28.

In partnership with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and the Criterion Collection, the re-release will include one-week engagements as well as single-day showtimes June 30 at select AMC, Regal Cinemas, Cinemark, and Alamo Drafthouse theaters. There also will be 35mm screenings at select theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin and Brookline, MA.

“When Spike Lee’s revolutionary Do the Right Thing was released by Universal Pictures 30 years ago this June, it ignited a national conversation on race and race relations in America that challenged our assumptions about ourselves and our country and heralded the arrival of a generation-defining filmmaker,” said Jim Orr, Universal’s President of Domestic Theatrical Distribution.

Set during one sweltering summer day on a block of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, the film follows the interactions among neighborhood characters Mookie (Lee), Sal (Danny Aiello), Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson), Tina (Rosie Perez), Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito), Jade (Joie Lee), Pino (John Turturro) and Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn). Tensions rise as demands for a black person’s photo be added to the Italians-only Wall of Fame at Sal’s Pizzeria create heated confrontations that ultimately explode into police-instigated violence.

Public Enemy recorded the film’s anthem “Fight The Power,” which remains an influential hip-hop classic to this day (see video below). Lee earned an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for the film, and Aiello earned a Supporting Actor nod.  On July 23, the Criterion Collection also will celebrate the 30th anniversary with a Blu-ray/DVD release of a director-approved definitive edition featuring the new 4K restoration.

DOCUMENTARY: “Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project” Tells Story of Marion Stokes, Activist and Archivist Who Single-Handedly Preserved Over 30 Years of TV History

Marion Stokes privately recorded television twenty-four hours a day for over thirty years.

Stokes is the subject of Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, a new documentary that highlights her work as an archivist, but paints a complex picture of a woman who was brushed off as an eccentric for most of her life. For thirty-plus years, multiple tapes (sometimes as many as eight) would record concurrently across multiple televisions as Stokes personally watched two monitors at once.

Former librarian Stokes, who became independently wealthy through technology and real estate investments, began casually recording television in 1977 and taped a variety of programs, but thought news was especially important.

In 1979 during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which coincided with the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle, Stokes began recording MSNBC, Fox, CNN, CNBC, and CSPAN around the clock by running as many as eight television recorders at a time. Marion single-handedly built an archive of network, local, and cable news from her Philadelphia home, one tape at a time, recording every major (and trivial) news event until the day she died.

The taping ended on December 14, 2012 while the Sandy Hook massacre played on television as Stokes passed away from lung disease at the age of 83. In between, she recorded on 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, and commercials that tell us who we were, and show how television shaped the world of today.

“She was interested in access to information, documenting media, making sure people had the information they needed to make good decisions,” says the film’s director, Matt Wolf.

Stokes was no stranger to television and its role in molding public opinion. An activist archivist, she had been a librarian with the Free Library of Philadelphia for nearly 20 years before being fired in the early 1960s, likely for her work as a Communist party organizer.

From 1968 to 1971, she had co-produced Input, (which itself was recently recovered and digitized) a Sunday-morning talk show airing on the local Philadelphia CBS affiliate, with John S. Stokes Jr., who would later become her husband.

Input brought together academics, community and religious leaders, activists, scientists, and artists to openly discuss social justice issues and other topics of the day. Marion also was engaged in civil rights issues, helping organize buses to the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, among other efforts.

“Our vision is really aligned with Marion’s,” says Roger Macdonald, director of the television archives at the Internet Archive. “It’s really bold and ambitious: universal access to all knowledge.” Marion’s son had contacted the Internet Archive when he was trying to find a home for her tapes in 2013.

Macdonald immediately seized the opportunity. Those tapes were soon donated to the Internet Archive and are still in the process of being organized and digitized.

To read more about Marion Stokes and Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project (https://recorderfilm.com):

https://www.fastcompany.com/3022022/the-incredible-story-of-marion-stokes-who-single-handedly-taped-35-years-of-tv-news

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/marion-stokes-television-news-archive

https://theoutline.com/post/7370/recorder-documentary-marion-stokes-interview-matt-wolf?fbclid=IwAR3eFB6ld4rxYoKnFfEgR19qbBk76OAD1P_Ok2NcgQQeYylgacCKyoIBm0M&zd=3&zi=g25ve4g2

Upcoming screenings of Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project:

Montclair Film Festival
May 8, 12

Maryland Film Festival
May 9, 10

SF DocFest
June 8, 10

MCA Chicago
June 21

Interview with Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project director Matt Wolf, which includes clip from film at 6min mark:

Viola Davis Narrates “A Touch of Sugar” Documentary Film to Bring Awareness to Type 2 Diabetes

Viola Davis (photo: flickr.com); A Touch of Sugar ( via ATouchOfSugarFilm.com)

Viola Davis has teamed up with pharmaceutical company Merck on A Touch of Sugar, a documentary film which addresses the health epidemic surrounding Type 2 diabetes, particularly among African-Americans.

According to PR Newswire, the film will debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival today. Davis narrates the project, which is personal to her, as several members of her family have been diagnosed with the disease.

“Type 2 diabetes has taken a toll on my family. My great-aunt suffered from complications of the disease, two of my sisters are currently living with it, and a few years ago, I was diagnosed with prediabetes,” Davis said. “I’m one of the 84 million American adults living with prediabetes and I’m sharing my story for the first time in an effort to inspire others to take action against the type 2 diabetes epidemic.”

“It’s not something I talk about because it’s a disease a lot of us simply accept – growing up my family just called it ‘sugar.’ But, this must change. I want people to know that type 2 diabetes can have consequences. It’s not something to be taken lightly – we need to take it seriously if we’re going to get it under control.”

A Touch of Sugar is an honest depiction of life with type 2 diabetes that puts a much-needed spotlight on the real people affected by it firsthand,” said Conrod Kelly, Executive Director, Diabetes Franchise at Merck. “Although the disease is a result of a combination of genetics, lifestyle, and environment, there are steps we can take together to help reduce its impact on individuals and their families. With this documentary, Merck is dedicated to increasing awareness and inspiring action to ultimately confront America’s type 2 diabetes epidemic head on – one community and one patient at a time.”

Merck spearheads a program, America’s Diabetes Challenge: Get to Your Goals to promote living a healthier lifestyle.

People can learn more about A Touch of Sugar and how to make a difference in their communities by visiting ATouchOfSugarFilm.com. On the website, they can watch the trailer, start the conversation by downloading a discussion guide, and find educational resources to help improve diabetes management.

Intersection in Harlem Renamed in Honor of Acting Legends and Activists Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (photo via Facebook)

According to New York Amsterdam News, on Saturday the northeast corner of 123rd Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue in Harlem was renamed in honor of famed acting and civil rights couple Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (Purlie Victorious, Countdown At Kusini, Do The Right Thing, Jungle Fever).

The Dwyer Cultural Center hosted the ceremonial unveiling of ‘Ruby Dee Place’ and ‘Ossie Davis Way’. Dee and Davis’ children, Nora Day Hasna Muhammad and Guy Davis, attended the event, as did the Rev. Al Sharpton, former New York City mayor David Dinkins, Assemblywoman Inez Dickens and State Sen. Brian Benjamin.

The Dwyer opened its gallery to the public to view an exhibit dedicated to Dee and Davis with numerous storyboards displayed related to the work of the couple and Cliff Frazier. The public also participated in a community mosaic mural.

To learn more about Dee and Davis’ lives, work, philanthropy and scholarships, go to: https://ossieandruby.com or follow @EverythingOssieandRuby

Or check out their story in their own words:

To see video of the street re-naming, watch below:

Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY to Open Independent Movie Theater, Offer Grants For Film Festivals

Ava Duvernay (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

According to Tambay Obenson‘s article on indiewire.com, filmmaker Ava DuVernay‘s distribution company ARRAY is building a state-of-the-art, 50-set movie theater, which will be able to screen independent movies as well as be available for rental. To quote the article:

“Located west of downtown Los Angeles — a part of the city that doesn’t house many media moguls — it’s also the area’s only independent theater. And it comes at a time when exhibitors are apoplectic over the impact of Netflix and other major streaming companies.

ARRAY VP Tilane Jones said that’s one reason they chose to open it. “It’s really a labor of love, which is all driven by a desire to be in service of people,” Jones said. “Our filmmakers and our audience.”

The ARRAY library is an eclectic selection of independent films, many of which were directed by women and/or people of color, united by singular visions and themes of social justice — a template that mainstream distributors often dismiss out of hand. For DuVernay, who worked as a movie marketer and publicist for more than 14 years, this represented an opportunity.”

ARRAY is also working to create opportunities for filmmakers of color. Last year, ARRAY teamed up with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and producer Dan Lin to launch the Evolve Entertainment Fund, which provides promotion, grants, and gap financing for communities historically excluded from the entertainment industry.

ARRAY Alliance, which is the company’s non-profit division, plans to create grants for African American, Latino and Asian American film festivals, societies and clubs, as well as support the screenings, curriculum, and teacher training that will help young audiences learn the value of art, independent film, and social justice.

To read more, go to: https://www.indiewire.com/2019/04/ava-duvernay-array-affrm-burial-of-kojo-1202053860/

WATCH TRAILER: Charleston Church Shooting Documentary “Emanuel,” Executive Produced by Viola Davis, Steph Curry and Mariska Hartigay, to Hit Theaters June 17 and 19

June 2019 marks the fourth anniversary of the Charleston, South Carolina tragedy at Emanuel A.M.E. Church. The feature-length documentary “EMANUEL,” opens in movie theaters nationwide as a limited release event with Fathom Events on June 17 and 19 only.

The new trailer, released today, gives a glimpse into the emotional documentary that recalls the events of June 17, 2015 and examines how faith, hope and forgiveness healed a devastated community after the heinous church shooting, carried out by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

The film is executive produced by Stephen Curry for Unanimous Media, Viola Davis and Julius Tennon for JuVee Productions, Arbella Studios and Mariska Hargitay, and is directed by Brian Ivie (The Drop Box) and presented by SDG and Fiction Pictures.

For more information on EMANUEL, visit www.emanuelmovie.com. You can also follow the film on social media:

Facebook and Instagram – @emanuelmovie and #emanuelmovie

Jordan Peele’s “Us” Earns Weekend Top Spot at Box Office with $70M Debut

Filmmaker Jordan Peele is two for two with his horror-film offerings: “Us,” starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss, generated $70 million from 3,741 North American locations to top the box office charts in its debut weekend.

According to Variety.com, that haul is enough to give “Us” the second-best opening weekend of the year behind Disney’s “Captain Marvel” ($153 million). The psychological thriller about a family confronted by a band of doppelgangers now has the largest weekend for an original horror movie, surpassing “A Quiet Place,” as well as the biggest launch for an original R-rated film behind “Ted.” “Us” has also surpassed the benchmark set by Peele’s first horror film “Get Out,” which opened with $33.3 million in 2017 and went on to earn over $255 million worldwide.

Universal and Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions spent $20 million to make “Us,” not including marking and distribution fees, which means the movie has almost quadrupled its production cost in less than a week.

Watch the trailer below:

Spike Lee, Regina King, “Black Panther” and More Win at 91st Academy Awards

Best Supporting Actress nominee for ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ Regina King accepts her Oscar during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. (Credit: Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

2019 is arguably the year of #OscarsSoBlack. According to the Los Angeles Times, this year set the record for the most individual Black winners of Academy Awards, with seven victors in six categories.

Regina King kicked it all off by winning first award of the evening for Best Supporting Actress for her work in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Already a recipient of a Golden Globe for the same role, King gave an emotional, touching acceptance speech.

“To be standing here, representing one of the greatest artists of our time, James Baldwin, is a little surreal,” King said. “James Baldwin birthed this baby, and Barry [Jenkins, the director], you nurtured her, you surrounded her with so much love and support. So it’s appropriate for me to be standing here because I am an example of what happens when support and love is poured into someone.”

“Black Panther” collaborators Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler made history with their wins, becoming the first African Americans to take home Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design, respectively.

“Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but through costume design, we made him an African king,” Carter said. Among those she thanked was director Ryan Coogler, whom she called “a guiding force.”

Beachler also acknowledged Coogler in her acceptance speech. “I stand here with agency and self-worth because of [director] Ryan Coogler, who not only made me a better designer, a better storyteller, a better person. When you think things are impossible, remember ‘I did my best, and my best is good enough.’”

Spike Lee accepts the Oscar for adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman.” (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Spike Lee, along with writers Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott (who is black), won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Black KkKlansman.”

After full-body hugging presenter (and “Jungle Fever” alum) Samuel L. Jackson, in his acceptance speech Lee paid tribute to his grandmother, whose mother was a slave, who lived to be 100 years old and put him through Morehouse College and New York University film school.

Lee also made the first direct political comments of the night: “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize, let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate,” he said.

“Let’s do the right thing!” Lee added. “You know I had to get that in there.”

Additionally, Peter Ramsey, co-director of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” won for Best Animated Feature.

Mahershala Ali won the Best Supporting Actor award for the second time in his career for his portrayal of pianist Don Shirley in “Green Book.” That movie also went on later in the evening to win the Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture categories.

Below is the full list of winners:

Best Picture

“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book” (WINNER)
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

Director

Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” (WINNER)
Adam McKay, “Vice”

Lead Actress

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite” (WINNER)
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Lead Actor

Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (WINNER)
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Original Song

“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG” by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice (WINNER)
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

Original Score

“BlacKkKlansman,” Terence Blanchard
“Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson (WINNER)
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Nicholas Britell
“Isle of Dogs,” Alexandre Desplat
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman

Adapted Screenplay

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee (WINNER)
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters Continue reading “Spike Lee, Regina King, “Black Panther” and More Win at 91st Academy Awards”

REVIEW: Aretha Franklin’s Soul-Stirring “Amazing Grace” Documentary Soars Into the Divine

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Before reading, please understand the deep degree to which I am an Aretha Franklin fan. I have been in rapture since I was a teen grooving to “Jump To It,”  “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” “Think,” and, of course, “Respect.” My devotion to her voice and musicianship only intensified when I gained full access to her catalog when I DJ’d for my college radio station. I went all the way in, past her Arista recordings, back and through her Chess, Columbia and Atlantic LPs, and never came back out.

I played her records over and over, never singing along, so as not to disrespect or sully the divinity I was taking in. Back then, during this time of discovery of the breadth of Aretha’s genius, it would have been as rude as chatting during a sermon. I could go on – there is so much more Aretha stanning in my history including the full day spent watching every hour, minute and second of her funeral – but it’s enough to get the picture.

I am in, down, and for all things Aretha.

So a few years ago when I heard about film footage existing of Aretha recording her 1972 gospel masterpiece “Amazing Grace” in Los Angeles at Reverend James Cleveland‘s New Temple Missionary Baptist Church with the Southern California Community Choir, shot over two nights by Sydney Pollack (“Tootsie,” “The Way We Were,” “The Firm”), I was ecstatic.

It didn’t get released in conjunction with the album’s 1972 release as originally planned by Warner Bros. because the film’s recording was mishandled. Pollack, who died in 2008, did not use clapper boards, a crucial tool in matching sound with filmed images in the pre-digital era. There were 20 hours of raw footage shot by five 16-millimeter cameras to sync, so the project got shelved, until the footage was re-discovered over three decades later.

The movie was then set to screen at several prominent film festivals, but Franklin herself sued to stop it from being released. So I checked my thirst out of loyalty and stood by the Queen’s side, even if it meant never seeing what I was sure would be a Technicolor feast of mind-blowing artistry.

I brightened when I heard Aretha’s beef with the project was not about its content – she reportedly loved the content – it was about the money. Okay, cool – Aretha wanted her coins as well as her respect. I hoped it would all settle quickly, because as much as a person can be in love with her recordings, watching Aretha live, doing her thing, has always been where it’s at.

Not long after her passing, producer Alan Elliott screened “Amazing Grace” for Franklin’s family and got the family’s approval for release. It was picked up by NEON Studios for North American distribution and is slated to be in theaters in the early part of this year. But when I got a chance to see the film Thursday in Los Angeles on Opening Night of the 27th Annual Pan African Film Festival (#PAFF), I jumped to it.

Even though I saw it with an audience so fully there for it, and even with my freely admitted pre-disposition towards loving it, viewing “Amazing Grace” is a sensorial experience that exceeds all expectations. This “making of” documentary is a pure, raw American musical treasure that should go down, like Aretha, as the greatest of its ilk.

In case you’ve never heard the “Amazing Grace” double album or perhaps only know Aretha from Inaugural Hat or “Great Gowns, Beautiful Gowns” Taylor Swift memes, in 1972, Aretha Franklin is 29 and at the absolute height of her recording success, fame and vocal prowess.

As Tirrell D. Whittley, another of the film’s producers, put it during the Q&A that followed its #PAFF screening, Aretha was “it” back then, the Beyoncé of her time. And while at that height, Aretha decided to honor and commune with the roots from which her unparalleled artistry grew – church music.

Listening to the “Amazing Grace” LP (still the best-selling gospel album of all time), I always imagined it was a packed Sunday morning service where Aretha was singing with a fully-robed choir joyfully bouncing in step behind her. But what the film shows you instead is nighttime, a handful of white guys with mics, wires and cameras running around, and maybe 80-90 audience members, several of them likely not even New Temple congregants (Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones are there one night, as are gospel great Clara Ward and her mother, Mother Ward).

Aretha Franklin from the film “Amazing Grace”

The backing choir, directed with great aptitude and verve by the lively Alexander Hamilton, does not wear church robes but all-black clothing underneath Vegas-style sparkly silver vests. They look more like they are at a local talent competition than a service, and they stay seated during most of the recording. Aretha alone is robed – the first night in a long, white, bejeweled caftan and the second in a beautiful chartreuse paisley one.

It is clear from her commanding sashays down the church aisle as she enters upon introduction from Rev. Cleveland, that Aretha is not only in church, but there to put in work. On the second night Aretha enters in one of her signature fur coats. Her walk, steps, bearing are those of a queen, unashamedly in charge and full of femininity. She touches outreached hands but intentionally keeps moving at her own pace.

While Cleveland plays host with avuncular affability as he encourages the crowd from the pulpit and piano, and Aretha’s father Rev. C.L. Franklin is solicited to offer remarks, Aretha herself barely talks during either session – seemingly conserving her voice between songs. When she does talk it’s brief and at whisper level.

I think it’s both the truth of what happened those nights as well as a great dramatic device – Aretha’s singing literally speaks for her. She has such sharp focus on what she is doing and trying to achieve – Aretha comes across not as a guileless prodigy, but as a hard-working, brilliant young woman who fully knows what she is capable of and what it takes to tap into and employ her superlative gift. She is also connected enough to know when to give in to it and allow a higher power work through her.

Aretha Franklin in “Amazing Grace”

Seeing the process with your own eyes makes it all the more impactful and palpable. When Aretha sits down at the piano and starts in on “Wholy Holy,” there is nothing to do but watch in awe. And at a certain point, song after great song, it hits you – as you take in the old-school microphones, the physical dynamics of the space and people in it, that the sound is, in a word, superb. I don’t know if it’s from remastering with present-day technology or because that audio was recorded so well back in 1972, but the depth and clarity of the music and the vocal responses to it are an aural delicacy.

The prosaic nature of the church space itself sits in humble, human contrast to the sublimeness occurring inside it. The church is not so much majestic as it is makeshift – and in the best way. The mural of Jesus on the wall behind the pulpit – let’s just say it’s barely a notch above paint-by-numbers. But looking at that amateur effort behind the woman who is evocatively singing “How I Got Over” and “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” in His name – it’s almost as if Mural Jesus sags in admission that no one could have painted an image to match the artistry and meditation of Aretha.

This is most evident during Aretha’s performance of the title track “Amazing Grace” – as she reaches higher and higher, the shouting and clapping from the audience rises and rises – people literally stand, fall, cry, and scream. Rev. Cleveland himself is so overcome by the power and beauty of what Aretha is delivering that he stops playing the piano so he can collect himself.

It’s such an incredible moment to watch – even the man running the show, a seasoned church pro – is overwhelmed and touched, all his pomp crumbling down under literal amazing grace. Many of us know that moment – when you witness something so superlative and divine, you can do nothing more than be in its presence and be thankful you exist to receive it.

The other indelible highlight in the film is Aretha’s delivery/deliverance of/during “Never Grow Old.” I have watched countless clips of Aretha performing live, at all ages and stages of her career. She is always professional and on point, but when she herself catches the spirit? There! Is! Nothing! Like! It!

Aretha is at the piano during “Never Grow Old” as you see it happening. She is so channelled and so in it that the spirit takes over the tempo, the piano, the choir, and several people in the audience. There is spirit dancing – Mother Ward falls out – an actual white towel is thrown in!

And as the towel comes towards camera, the audience watching the movie burst into laughter as did I, because it is perfect punctuation to what we were all feeling at that moment. We were in thrall and surrender to the power, the genius, the spirit, the joy that is flowing through Aretha Louise Franklin.

Even as you feel the heat, the light, the literal sweat on her brow coming at you through the screen, Aretha’s voice makes you shiver down to your bones.

“Amazing Grace” LP cover

The only song that doesn’t come across as powerful on film as it does on the record is “Mary Don’t You Weep.” According to producer Elliott, they did not have full visual coverage of “Mary” in the church, so they could not match it to the audio from the LP. What we do hear of “Mary” is still worthy of our time, suffering mainly from comparison to the oomph and punch so many of the other visually-realized songs have, including lesser-known songs such as “Climbing Higher Mountains” and “Precious Memories.”

But all in all, after dwelling for over 45 years in obscurity, the fact that the general public will finally get to see the best singer in the world recording the best gospel album of all time while communing in the most prolific and sustaining pillar of African-American society – the church – is the real blessing that needs to be recognized.

Even if you don’t know or revere Franklin’s work like I do but love any powerhouse singer from last 50 years, or just love music, you should see this film. For it proves without a doubt that since the sixties, all roads to enthralling, singular vocal ability, agility, facility and feeling lead back to one root, one person, one singer – Aretha. And her preternatural gift is never in finer form and potency than it is in “Amazing Grace.”

BHM: Let’s Honor Oprah! Entrepreneur, Media Maven, Philanthropist, Actor, Influencer… Genius

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Not many people on Earth have their names become synonymous with genius in their profession, let alone genius in general. Einstein, Shakespeare, Mozart, even Spielberg and Prince easily come to mind. Notably, they are all men, mostly White, and only one is known by his first name. But when you say, “Hey, where are the women? What women do you think of when someone says ‘Who are the geniuses?,'” an immediate response would (or should) be… Oprah.

It may seem like opinion, but I want to go on record that saying “Oprah Winfrey is a genius” is a fact, and one that should be touted widely. Oprah’s status as a cultural icon, media mogul and inspirational leader is taken as a given, but when you look back and reflect on her journey from rural poverty in Mississippi to global icon, you too will recognize how much intelligence, excellence and genius it took to get there and what’s more – stay there.

What follows below in regards to recognizable achievement, vision and success rightfully will only add credence to the “Oprah Winfrey is a genius” fact, but I submit that the secret sauce of Oprah’s claim to that title has been best articulated (and realized) by Oprah herself:

Everybody has a calling. And your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is, who you were meant to be, and to begin to honor that in the best way possible for yourself. – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Gail Winfrey, originally named “Orpah” after the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth but had it misspelled and mispronounced so much that “Oprah”  stuck, recently celebrated her 65th birthday on January 29, 1954. Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Vernita Lee, an unmarried teenage mother and housemaid, and Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner turned barber turned city councilman who had been in the Armed Forces when Oprah was born.

According to wikipedia.org, Winfrey spent her first six years living with her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, and the local children made fun of her. Her grandmother, ever in Oprah’s corner, taught her to read before the age of three and took her to church, where she was nicknamed “The Preacher” for her preternatural ability to recite Bible verses and command the stage.

Despite parental neglect from her mother, sexual abuse by family members from the age of nine, and the stillbirth of a son at age 14, Oprah’s intellect and ability to speak powerfully in public earned her a full ride to HBCU Tennessee State University on an Oratory Scholarship.

As Oprah honed her skills through education and experience, she became the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV. Oprah then became an anchor in the larger market of Baltimore, MD before taking over the hosting position of low-rated AM Chicago in 1984.

Oprah aligned her talents, smarts, professionalism and relatability to catapult her over Phil Donahue’s long-venerated talk show Donahue for the top-rated slot. Oprah then wisely took advice from movie critic Roger Ebert to make a syndication deal with King World Media and have ownership in her program – the beginning of the Oprah brand.

The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted September 8, 1986 and topped daytime talk show ratings for 25 years until she retired from the show. Oprah really hit her stride and pinpointed her brand when she followed her instincts in the 1990s to shift away from “tabloid-style” shows to ones with a focus on literature, self-improvement, mindfulness and spirituality. Even though she briefly took a ratings dip during the change, she soared to the top again and outlasted several popular talk show hosts of the time such as Sally Jesse Raphael, Ricki Lake, Montel Williams, Donahue, Jenny Jones, and Jerry Springer. Continue reading “BHM: Let’s Honor Oprah! Entrepreneur, Media Maven, Philanthropist, Actor, Influencer… Genius”