Tag: Aunjanue Ellis

Filmmaker Nate Parker to Receive Sundance Institute’s Vanguard Award For ‘Birth Of A Nation’

The Birth of a Nation
Filmmaker Nate Parker as Nat Turner in upcoming film “The Birth of a Nation” (photo via deadline.com)

article by Erik Pedersen via deadline.com

The Birth of a Nation was the talk of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and now the nonprofit behind the annual Park City event is celebrating the pic’s director-star. The Sundance Institute said today that Nate Parker will receive its Vanguard Award.

Parker, who also wrote the screenplay, will be honored August 11 at Night Before Next, a summer celebration benefiting the Institute and its artists on the eve of Sundance Next Fest at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

The Birth of a Nation, which Fox Searchlight acquired for a festival-record $17.5M at Sundance, centers on Nat Turner (Parker), a literate, enslaved man and preacher whose financially strapped owner (Armie Hammer) accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves.  As he witnesses countless atrocities — against himself and his fellow slaves — Turner orchestrates an uprising in the hope of leading his people to freedom. The film also stars Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Penelope Ann Miller, Aunjanue Ellis, Mark Boone Junior and Aja Naomi King.

Fox Searchlight opens the films in the awards-season sweet spot of October 7.

REVIEW: BET’s “The Book of Negroes” Miniseries is a Compelling Look at a Slave’s Journey

As a handsome period miniseries, “The Book of Negroes,” which premieres tonight on BET and continues through Wednesday, is a first for a network whose original offerings have often seemed something less than ambitious. That the miniseries is Canadian-made, based on a novel by African Canadian author Lawrence Hill, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jamaican-born Canadian director Clement Virgo, is noteworthy but does not diminish the moment. What would PBS be without the BBC?

The series’ provenance does mean that, as a story of slavery and escape from slavery, it differs in substance and theme from American tellings. The road here, which begins in Mali in 1761 and ends in London in 1807, runs through snowy Nova Scotia (by way of South Carolina, New York and Sierra Leone); in its recounting of the American Revolution, from the black (and Commonwealth) perspective, the British are better than villains and the colonists not quite heroes.

“The Book of Negroes,” which refers to a historical ledger of colonial African Americans granted freedom by the British for their help in the war, is itself a paean to names, words, storytelling and literacy, as containers of the past, organizers of the present and keys to the future. Its heroine is Aminata Diallo (Aunjanue Ellis, “The Help”), the bright, independent child of bright, independent parents; she has been trained as a midwife but dreams of being a jeli, or griot, an oral historian of her people.

The first hour, which follows Aminata from Mali to South Carolina, is the series’ most original and compelling. It’s powered by a deep, serious and at surprising times sweet performance by Shailyn Pierre-Dixon, now 11, who plays the young Aminata. The scenes in which she is captured and hustled on her way, through one strange experience after another, toward American slavery, have a sharp-focus dreaminess to them, a kind of horrible beauty. With little exposition, seen as they are from the point of view of one lacking words or context, they feel less played than lived through.

As the series progresses and history moves more swiftly by, its points are made more explicitly; the ironies float on the surface. (Colonial white Americans describe themselves as “slaves” to the British.) For some characters, the story arcs, whether of sin and redemption or of just desserts finally served, are fairly mathematical — sometimes at the expense of an emotional payoff. The story stays novel enough, nevertheless, and the understated tone of the production and performances keep the drama grounded. Hill and Virgo catch the ordinariness even in the awfulness — the creepy dailiness of the business of slavery, and the capability of those who profit from it to regard themselves just and even tender people. In the same way, to the opposite effects, they allow their protagonists daily lives and love; they are not victims all the time.

At the same time, “The Book of Negroes” is an adventure story, a straight-up classic romance. Lyriq Bent plays Chekura, Aminata’s longtime love interest.

The heroine’s fearless and clever character, the self-knowledge and self-possession her tormentors lack, and her gift for survival are fixed from first to last. She is sometimes thwarted but never altered. If this makes “The Book of Negroes” less psychologically complex than it otherwise might be, there are real pleasures and comforts to be had from it.

“The most capable woman I’ve ever seen,” New York innkeeper Sam Fraunces (Cuba Gooding Jr.), of Fraunces Tavern fame, calls her. (There is an old tradition, without much scholarly support, that Fraunces, who was nicknamed Black Sam, was of African descent; in any case, Hill goes with it.) Aminata holds on to her name; she trades slap for slap; no one can tell her what to do. She asks George Washington (a bit of an officious boob in this rendering), “Do you think the Negro will one day have his freedom like you Americans?”

“I’m afraid the general must be on his way,” his flack responds.

review by Robert Lloyd via latimes.com

SiriusXM Launches ‘African Ancestry Radio’ with Actor Louis Gossett Jr. As Guest

louis gossett jr.

NEW YORK –– SiriusXM announced the launch of “African Ancestry Radio,” a three-week series of live, call-in shows during which the hosts help listeners and celebrities of African descent in their quest to reconnect with their heritage.

Hosted by Gina Paige, co-founder of African Ancestry, and award-winning producer Shirley Neal, “African Ancestry Radio” launched live on Sunday, February 8 at 12:00 pm ET on SiriusXM Urban View channel 126 with Louis Gossett Jr. and Aunjanue Ellis as their first celebrity guests.  EURweb.com’s founder Lee Bailey also joins in each week as special entertainment correspondent.

Scheduled in celebration of Black History Month, the hosts lead conversations on ancestry and heritage and guide SiriusXM listeners who are looking to more accurately and reliably trace their African roots. Themed around music, the February 15 show will feature Grammy award-winners and alternative hip hop group Arrested Development.

In addition, “African Ancestry Radio” will feature discussions on how a person’s roots influence personality, who they are and how they act.  Each show will include at least one celebrity guest who has previously taken the tests and whose African ancestry will be revealed during the broadcast.

“‘African Ancestry Radio’ promises to be enlightening, empowering, and inspirational for SiriusXM listeners across the country,” said Dave Gorab, Vice President and General Manager, Talk Programming, SiriusXM. “We are pleased to present this exclusive series as part of our special programming commemorating Black History Month.”

After the broadcast, “African Ancestry Radio” will be available on SiriusXM On Demand for subscribers listening via the SiriusXM Internet Radio App for smartphones and other mobile devices or online at siriusxm.com.  Visit www.siriusxm.com/ondemand for more information.

Gina Paige is co-founder of African Ancestry, Inc., pioneering a new way of tracing African lineage using genetics.  Paige resides in Washington, D.C. and holds a degree in Economics from Stanford University and an MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

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