“Moonlight” is a film without any big stars. It’s a drama about a shy, gay kid growing up in the inner city, made by a director (Barry Jenkins) whose last credit (“Medicine for Melancholy”)was so long ago many cinephiles feared he’d hung up the camera and retired. It’s the kind of challenging, deeply personal, fiercely urgent look at black life in America that would be lucky to score a video-on-demand berth, let alone a major theatrical release.
And yet, the no-budget film isn’t just a hit with critics, it is poised to be the breakout indie film of the year. This weekend, “Moonlight” scored the highest per-screen average of 2016, debuting to a sizzling $414,740 in just four New York and Los Angeles theaters. There were sellouts and standing ovations, just as there had been when the film announced itself as a serious awards contender at festivals in Toronto and Telluride.
“This puts it on the Oscar map, big time,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “They’ve got something really special here.”
The film’s per-screen average of $103,685 is one of the strongest of the decade. “Moonlight” marks Jenkins’ return behind the camera after an eight-year absence. His previous effort, “Medicine for Melancholy,” earned Independent Spirit Award nominations and was a hit with reviewers when it came out in 2008, but in the ensuing years, Jenkins struggled to find the right vehicle for his talents. A film about Stevie Wonderfailed to get off the ground, and Jenkins dabbled in advertising, carpentry, and had an artistically frustrating stint as a writer on HBO’s “The Leftovers.” His years in the Hollywood wilderness appeared to have come to an end.”
In “Moonlight,” an adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” Jenkins appears to have found the perfect material for his humanistic approach to filmmaking. The picture unfolds in three acts, as it examines Chiron’s troubled childhood in a drug-addled section of Miami, and uses his coming-of-age to illuminate issues of addiction and urban violence. It’s a movie that is of the moment. Jenkins’ film hits theaters as the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to gain momentum, fueled by a series of shootings of people of color by law enforcement officials. Continue reading “Barry Jenkins’ Film “Moonlight”, an Adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Play, Could Be This Year’s Indie Box Office Breakout”→
Spike Lee’s 1986 film “She’s Gotta Have It” is headed to Netflix as a 10-episode series with all new actors.
The streaming service has ordered a remake of the film, which will also center on Nola Darling, a Brooklyn-based artist in her late twenties struggling to define herself and divide her time amongst her friends, her job and her three lovers: The Cultured Model, Greer Childs; The Protective Investment Banker, Jamie Overstreet; and Da Original B-Boy Sneakerhead, Mars Blackmon.
According to Variety, Lee will direct each half-hour installment and serve as executive producer on the project with his wife and producing partner Tonya Lewis Lee.
Lee released the following statement on the series pickup:
“SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT Has A Very Special Place In My Heart. We Shot This Film In 12 Days (2 Six Day Weeks) Way Back In The Back Back Of The Hot Summer Of 1985 For A Mere Total of $175,000. Funds That We Begged, Borrowed and Whatnot To Get That Money. This Is The 1st Official Spike Lee Feature Film Joint And Everything That We Have Been Blessed With In This Tough Business Of Film All Have Been Due To SGHI.
Now With The Passing (August 8th) Of The 30th Anniversary, It’s A Gift That Keeps On Giving. We Are Getting An Opportunity To Revisit These Memorable Characters Who Will Still Be Relevant And Avant Garde 3 Decades Later. With All That Said It Was My Wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, Producer In Her Own Right, Who Had The Vision To Take My Film From The Big Screen And Turn It Into An Episodic Series. It Had Not Occurred To Me At All. Tonya Saw It Plain As Day. I Didn’t.
We Are Hyped That NETFLIX Is Onboard With This Vision As Nola Darling, Mars Blackmon, Jamie Overstreet And Greer Childs DO DA DAMN THANG Now, Today In Da Republic Of Brooklyn, New York.”
Under Fields-Cruz, NBPC has expanded its mission to serve not only documentary filmmakers but media-makers of all types in a new media environment, from broadcast to Web to mobile. Launched in October 2014, NBPC 360, the organization’s incubator and fund, identified and selected both broadcast and Web documentary series and a short narrative Web series. Producers were awarded between $50,000 and $100,000 to develop their pilots. The group is launching year two of its 360 Incubator and Fund as they are looking for the next innovative stories about black people. The deadline is March 28 and the 360 guidelines and applications are available at www.bit.ly/NBPC360-2016. NBPC also produces the television documentary series AfroPop,hosted this year by FOX’s Empire breakout star Jussie Smollett.
Fields-Cruz is working to expand the organization’s mission to serve artists in all types of media from traditional broadcast to Web to mobile platforms.For the first time last year, NBC hosted ahackathon focusing on gamification in partnership with Silicon Harlem. Teams of student coders were paired up with eight producers from NBPC 360, bringing together storytellers from the program with technologists over 48 hours to create games around content from their TV and Web series. NBPC also conducted Webinar Wednesdays where they train new producers on key aspects of pulling together a film or Web series and developing an outreach campaign beyond just having screenings around the country.
Also in the works is a succession of new funding priorities. Over the next two years, NBPC will primarily fund documentary and Web content exploring issues of race and around social justice, with an emphasis on black male achievement, the international black woman, blacks and the environment and economic inequity. The group will award productions with seed money as well as finishing funds.
With current headlines turning the spotlight on the perception of and plight of blacks in this country, the role our media-makers play in providing the American public with stories of the varied black experience is as important as ever.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up Fields-Cruz to discuss her role in stewarding black content to public television and beyond.
BlackEnterprise.com: How did the NBPC 360 incubator and fund come about, what was the catalyst?
Fields-Cruz: In 2013, the board and staff embarked on a strategic planning session. We needed to re-evaluate our mission and look at the programs we are offering black filmmakers. We needed think innovatively about what we can offer. We thought that an incubator would be a great opportunity. We have always done professional development but let’s figure out a way we can combine that with substantial rewards so that producers can walk away with money and a much stronger support system. We wanted to help them get the funding or financing to be closer to completion of their projects.
What type of artists or filmmakers do you seek to participate in the incubator?
We had about 160 applications last year and that was whittled down to 25 after the first round and out of that group we selected eight projects for the incubator. Usually we have 10 but last year we chose eight. We are not looking for those filmmakers who have just finished school and who don’t have too many credits to their name. [Rather], we are looking for the emerging producer or mid-career producer who has completed a film and it has had a broadcast or has had a very successful festival run. And they are looking to expand and build upon their career; they need additional support and to expand their network in the industry. We always had independent producers contacting NBPC and seeking funding. But we had not had an open call for about five years. So a lot of this year was me meeting and speaking to independent producers and letting them know what was coming down the pike. We are actively trying to bring new talent to work in the PBS system. We know that public television is very interested in [hiring] the next generation of talent and producing content that reflects the changing demographics.
The organization is seeking programs that explore issues of race and around social justice. Does that include such movements as Black Lives Matter and black transgender women’s rights?
That is one of the beauties of the work that we do at NBPC. We have a broad category in terms of race and social justice. There are independent producers out there who are making all types of programming, whether it is for broadcast or the Web, documentaries or narrative shorts. We are seeking all of those stories under the banner of race and social justice. It could be a piece focusing on events in Ferguson [Missouri] or what is happening in Alabama around voter rights and DMVs being closed in black neighborhoods. Those broad categories allow us to navigate through a wealth of stories to identify the ones that we think work best for us.
Shortly after Menace II Society was released in the summer of 1993, the Los Angeles Times profiled the film’s screenwriter, Tyger Williams. A 24-year-old wunderkind living his dream, Williams was no longer mooching off his parents. His film was the toast of Hollywood. The future was bright. Still, he remained pragmatic. “I do my art,” he told the paper, “but I understand the realities of the business I work in.”
The article stated that Williams and Menace directors Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes had already started working on their next project, “an urban action thriller” titled Public Enemez. The film never went into production, and the Hughes brothers soon moved on to Dead Presidents, their 1995 heist film. Williams, however, struggled to land a follow-up to his harrowing debut.
“After Menace I did the usual writing, pitching, rewriting, the whole development treadmill,” Williams tells me. “For one reason or another — regime changes, actors not being available, a changing climate — nothing got made.”
Spike Lee, Gena Rowlands and Debbie Reynolds will be honored Nov. 14 at the seventh annual Governors Awards. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voted the awards at their Aug. 25 meeting. Following tradition, AMPAS representatives withheld the announcement until they could notify the recipients.
In 2009, the Academy broke out the Governors Awards into a separate, untelevised ceremony; the Oscarcast time constraints limited the number of honorees and the time devoted to each. So the separate ceremony was an experiment, but an immediate success. There was no pressure to select ratings-friendly individuals, and the board has often gone for people who are well-known in the industry but unfamiliar to the public.
The Academy can salute up to six people each year: four honorary Oscars, and one apiece for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and the Thalberg Award, which goes to a film producer for their body of work. It’s generally been four honorees, except for 2011, when there were three.
Presenting 52 short films, youth films, documentaries and animated shorts, featuring over 45 Filmmakers from all over the country, Q&A after selected blocks of films, and an evening with famed director Michael Schultz and special surprise guest filmmakers.
On Friday, January 16, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. at the Opening Night Reception, BHERC will host a conversation with Schultz as it presents the best BHERC independent short filmmakers of 2014.
Schultz, an alumni of Princeton University, the Negro Ensemble Company, and an inductee into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, is best known for his direction of “Cooley High,” “Car Wash” and “Which Way Is Up?”, and most recently “Woman Thou Art Loosed.” Some of his episodic television direction includes “Arrow,” “Single Ladies” and “Black-ish” to name a few.
Gina Prince-Bythewood(Writer/Producer/Director) wrote and directed the widely-acclaimed feature film “Love & Basketball,” which premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. Prince-Bythewood won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay and a Humanitas Prize for her work on the film.
She followed that success with the HBO film “Disappearing Acts.” In 2008, she wrote and directed the celebrated adaptation of the best-selling novel, “The Secret Life of Bees.” The all-star cast included Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Paul Bettany, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys. The film won two People’s Choice Awards and two NAACP Image Awards.
Her third feature, “Beyond the Lights,” was released on Nov. 14, 2014. The love story set in the music world, stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver and Danny Glover. It received rave reviews and landed on a number of top critics Best of 2014 lists.
Prince-Bythewood studied at UCLA Film School, where she received the Gene Reynolds Scholarship for Directing and the Ray Stark Memorial Scholarship for Outstanding Undergraduate. Upon her graduation, she was hired as a writer on the television series “A Different World.” She continued to write and produce for network television on series such as “Felicity,” “South Central,” and “Sweet Justice” before making the transition to directing.
After the first preview audience screening of “Love & Basketball” a 17 year-old Black boy said, “The movie taught me how to love.” Fourteen years later, after the first preview audience screening of “beyond the lights,” a 17 year-old Black boy said, “I didn’t really believe in hope and love before, but this movie changed me.” That is why I make movies. Movies have power. Power to impact society and the choices we make. I want to entertain, but I also want to say something to the world.
I love movies. And I dig a great love story; the kind that wrecks me, then builds me back up and leaves me inspired. I write what I want to see. I wanted to make a love story with two people of color in the lead. Not a romantic comedy. A love story. “Beyond the Lights” took incredible fight to get made. Four years of writing, and two years of overcoming “no.” Every studio balked. Twice. But I kept fighting. What gave me the courage was “Love & Basketball.” Every studio turned down that film, too. But I never gave up because I believed in it with my whole heart and soul.
I had the same passion for this story. People ask me all the time if I feel discriminated against as a black female director and I actually don’t. I get offered a ton of stuff. But I like to direct what I’ve written. I feel what’s discriminated against are my choices, which is to focus on people of color as real people. Those are the films that rarely get made and those are the films that take a lot more fight. But I’m up for the fight, because if we don’t fight for this we stay invisible. I want us to look up on the screen and see ourselves reflected beautifully. I want us to look up on screen and learn how to love the right way. I want us to look up on screen and see a black man who is strong, sexy, complicated, and real. I want us to look up on screen and see a black woman fighting to find her voice, find her authentic self and be brave enough to live an authentic life. I want us to look up on screen and be inspired to want more for ourselves, to want to love, and to love ourselves.
There is a perception within our community and the world that black people don’t love each other. That we don’t fight for each other. That perception is so dangerous. We need positive images to counter the negative portrayals we see every day. And positive doesn’t mean perfect. Perfect is boring. I want real. But more than anything, “beyond the lights” is a really good movie experience that I don’t want you to miss. It is the kind of movie that should be shared. That collective explosive reaction to character, story, and music is fun. The advanced screenings have been like revivals. Audiences break into applause during the movie. Phenomenal performances. Insane chemistry between Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker. Dope music. Beautifully complex mother/daughter and father/son relationships that are rarely explored with people of color. You will laugh. You may cry. You will feel. And you may be changed. I hope you check out the film over this holiday weekend. It is a time to be grateful. It is time to be inspired. It is a time to fight.
For decades, the seven reels from 1913 lay unexamined in the film archives of the Museum of Modern Art. Now, after years of research, a historic find has emerged: what MoMA curators say is the earliest surviving footage for a feature film with a black cast. It is a rare visual depiction of middle-class black characters from an era when lynchings and stereotyped black images were commonplace. What’s more, the material features Bert Williams, the first black superstar on Broadway. Williams appears in blackface in the untitled silent film along with a roster of actors from the sparsely documented community of black performers in Harlem on the cusp of the Harlem Renaissance. Remarkably, the reels also capture behind-the-scenes interactions between these performers and the directors.
MoMA plans an exhibition around the work called “100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History,” which is to open on Oct. 24 and showcase excerpts and still frames. Sixty minutes of restored footage will be shown on Nov. 8 in the museum’s annual To Save and Project festival dedicated to film preservation.
“There are so many things about it that are amazing,” said Jacqueline Stewart, a film scholar at the University of Chicago. “It’s the first time I’ve seen footage from an unreleased film that really gives us insights into the production process.”
She added: “It’s an interracial production, but not in the way scholars have talked about early film history, in which black filmmakers had to rely on the expertise and money of white filmmakers. Here, we see a negotiation between performers and filmmakers.” Of the three directors of the film, one was black and two were white.