“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”→
Oxygen Media’sempowering docu-series “The Prancing Elites Project” returns for a second season with an expanded hour-long format beginning tonight, Tuesday, January 19 at 8PM ET/PT. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the Prancing Elites in action – set your DVRs for an experience that will not disappoint. The Elites are five African American, gay and gender non-conformists who are an award-winning J-Setting dance team from Mobile, AL – Adrian Clemons, Kentrell Collins, Kareem Davis, Jerel Maddox and Tim Smith.
As a fan, I watched season 1 in its entirety – it’s funny and outrageous as well as tender and heart-warming, all in the face of very real prejudice and adversity – and I could not wait to see more. “The Prancing Elites Project” was Oxygen’s highest-rated new series of 2015, and as a result, the Elites have begun to defy the odds and find success and acceptance in the South as well as other parts of the U.S. And if the second season is as promising as its premiere (I saw an advance screening), Oxygen might as well dust off the green light for Season 3.
Good Black News had the chance to chat with the Elites about the second season and what it has in store (and like any good entertainers, they left us wanting more):
Good Black News: Kentrell, this season we see you’re in a relationship and it’s teased that you still want to have children. You had fun with that last season – caring for the doll as the baby -but what steps this season are you taking towards fulfilling your dream of becoming a parent?
Kentrell: I can’t really say what steps I’ve taken [we have to watch!], but I actually still want to, because everybody in my family has kids except me now.
You also seem to focus a lot on trying to move the team to the next level. What would be the ultimate fantasy goal for you as the team leader for the Prancing Elites?
Honestly… the sky is the limit. We could tour… we can act, we can sing… we can put on these big, lavish shows. But it all comes with hard work – nothing in this life comes easy and that’s one of the things that I’m always stressing. If we want to get to the next level we’ve got to constantly keep working… If we were ever to perform during Super Bowl halftime, that would be the best of the best. And we would love to perform with Beyoncé, obviously…
We’ve also talked about performing on big award shows like Grammys, the Oscars and entertaining there.
Tim, it’s teased this season that you’ll be dealing with issues around your identity. Can you talk about that if it doesn’t spoil anything?
Tim: I’m basically an easygoing person… whatever floats your boat, if I could sum it up. I know what I want to be called, but my sisters just think you shouldn’t let a person call you something you’re not comfortable being called… so it’s about owning up about who I really want to be… and not letting a person walk over me and do what they want to do. It’s about having confidence.
Which ultimately is an issue we all can relate to… The show is mainly shot in your hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Are you celebrities there now?
Yeah. Because every time a person sees us, they always scream, “Oh my God, it’s y’all!” and they want to take a picture. I love it… I like that people like us.
Jerel, it sets up in the premiere that you have a deep interest in make-up artistry. Is it something you are interested in pursuing professionally?
Jerel: I love the beauty that you can get from make up. I never feel like make-up makes someone beautiful – I only feel like make-up enhances a person’s beauty… I see myself possibly one day having my own make-up line and working for celebrities all around the world, and also making YouTube tutorials and things of that nature. I love my hometown, but in order to pursue my passion which is make up… I would have to be in a bigger environment like New York, LA or Atlanta.
How do you stay dedicated to the team and balance your individual interests?
There’s a line – you just have to find the balance. I don’t even know how to explain it – you can’t spend more time on one to another. You’ve got to find an equal balance.
Adrian, some of the highlights from the first episode are when you are mentoring the young women’s dance team, especially the moments with Amber, who is plus-sized. What do you hope to accomplish with those girls and that team?
Adrian: I wanted to mentor young women because a lot of them look up to the way I dance. So I thought it would be nice if I could, you know, give some of my tips and some of my movements to them and share it with them.
Did you sense or know it would lead into helping them with deeper issues like self-esteem?
That was really unexpected. I didn’t know it was going to lead to that. But me working with them, I’m growing more and I’m finding out more about myself. I take myself more serious now, because I have my little ones that look up to me and I want to lead them toward the right path.
So you’ve become a role model… unexpectedly.
Most definitely apparent.
Did you growing up have any mentors in dance? Was there anybody to help you when you were trying to pursue your interest at a younger age?
No, not really, because when I first started doing it, I kind of kept it secret because I didn’t know how people around me would take it. So I kind of did it on my own behind closed doors. The older I got, then I didn’t care about what people think.
Are you still living with Tim and her boyfriend?
[Hesitates] Yes… I still live with Tim.
Hmm… interesting. Okay, that’s fine, I’ll leave it there. Kareem, it’s so great to see you smiling and so much happier this season after dealing with all you were dealing with last season [Kareem revealed he is HIV-positive].
Kareem: Thank you.
Are you still active in the HIV awareness campaign?
Yes, but it’s more education than anything else. Whenever I learn something, in an intimate setting I educate others. I need to speak to my manager about making [more] appearances at events. It’s not happening now but it will eventually.
What can you tell me about the situation where you chose to coach your boyfriend on a competing dance team? I’m wondering what kind of internal conflict did you have over making that decision?
The main conflict was trying to regain the connection with the Prancing Elites. Because going through everything I went through [last season], I disconnected from a lot of different aspects of my life. But I’m no longer going through that and I’m coming back full circle and now we have all these issues as a group, so I’m having to focus on mentoring a team and reconnecting with the rest of the team that I’m on. In the beginning the balance was a bit shaky because there was so much going on with the Prancing Elites… and I hadn’t planned to be that intensely involved right then [with the competing team]. So… I didn’t go crazy but when I was asked to, but I thought I would probably go crazy. But you’ll see how everything works out throughout the different situations in the season. I don’t think I gained any grey hair from it…
We can’t wait to watch. In the meantime, anything coming up that people can know about?
Adrian: We’re still pretty.
We know that, Adrian.
Kentrell: We’re doing Mardi Gras parades on February 1st and the 6th in Mobile, AL.
Prancing Elites: It’s a party!!!!!!
The Prancing Elites are also scheduled to do some international appearances in the coming months. For more information and dates, go to their Facebook page or their Twitter @PrancingElites.
For more of “The Prancing Elites Project,” fans can visit the official show site to see exclusive videos, dance footage, GIFs, photos, interactive polls, interviews and bios. Viewers can also create and share memes after each episode. Check out the official Facebook page, and join the conversation on Twitter or Instagram using hashtag #PrancingElites.
Vanessa, a teacher in Washington DC, and her husband Ron are experts now in how trans kids should be treated. But they had to learn fast, when they realized their four-year-old daughter, Ellie, is transgender.
They are a family rooted in strong values. Vanessa’s parents lived the ultimate love story – meeting young, falling in love and spending their whole lives together. Ron’s parents were also in love, but the family had to deal with tragedy. When Ron was 10, his dad died of brain cancer.
‘The emotional scars were still deep, knowing my dad was no longer living. So, when I met Vanessa and thought about raising a family, I really wanted to ensure she and our kids were what I focused on – my role as a husband and dad. They came first,’ he told me.
Their son, Ronnie, was born first. Ellie was due 18 months later.
‘We had an amniocentesis and found out the “sex,” but at the time we really didn’t think about sex and gender being different. We pretty immediately formed a family identity as “Vanessa and Ron with two small boys.”’
The amnio did not tell the truth about Ellie, however. The packaging was misleading. As soon as she was able to speak, Ellie set about clarifying who she was to her parents. ‘I’m not a boy. I am a girl. I’m a girl in my heart and my brain. My penis is my only boy part. The whole rest of me is girl,’ she would explain to them out of the blue, without prompting.
Vanessa was disturbed when she witnessed Ellie trying to fight her own inner truth. Ellie would lie in bed at night, unable to sleep, poking her chest and attempting to convince herself of something she was told but did not believe: ‘Boy, boy, boy! I have to be a boy! I have to like Power Rangers!’
Witnessing this struggle, Vanessa and Ron knew it was time for them to transition. Their daughter had spoken, and they had to listen.
Ellie had already rejected the name she had been given at birth. She had been okay with it until she realized people would see her as a boy if she used it. So she informed her parents that she was ‘Ellie.’
The results of Vanessa and Ron’s full acceptance of Ellie was dramatic. ‘She blossomed, became happier and just seemed more herself,’ Vanessa says. ‘We have a happy, silly, strong-willed, outgoing daughter. Before her transition, she was mostly quiet, shy, sometimes angry and certainly not outgoing.
‘At the forefront of parenting is ensuring the happiness and safety of your children. It was clear that by not listening to her, we’d be putting her at risk, and that is not something we were willing to do.’
Ron and Vanessa then did the incredible; not only did they not hide what was going on in their family, they built a new community consciousness around their child.
The Black church has, for years, been known for not being the biggest supporter of the LGBT community, but today, Kirk Franklin, a respected force in the religious community, has come forward to apologize on their behalf.
“I want to apologize for all of the hurtful and painful things that have been said about people in the church that have been talented and gifted and musical, that we’ve used and we’ve embarrassed… and all this other horrible crap that we’ve done,” he told The Grio. “We have not treated them like people. We’re talking about human beings, men and women that God has created.”
The “I Smile” crooner explained the Bible was not written as an anti-gay work, but rather, the opposite: “The Bible is not a book that’s an attack on gay people,” he said. “It’s not a book written to attack gay people. It is horrible that we have made it where the Bible is a homophobic manual.”
Bringing it all together, Franklin said that he just wants all LGBT-identifying people to know that God is in their corner. “I mean, you want to talk about things that God gets at… pride and jealousy and envy and arrogance,” he said. “But what we also see is God sending his son to save us all, because we were all… straight, gay or whatever, lost and in need of a savior, and there’s room at the cross for all of us.”
In one of the sharpest scenes in “Bootycandy,” Robert O’Hara’s searing and sensationally funny comedy about the sometimes poisonous attitude toward homosexuality in black culture, an adolescent boy hesitantly tells his mother and stepfather that a man tried to follow him home from the library.
The reaction isn’t the concern and outrage we expect, to say the least.
“What was you doing?” his mother suspiciously demands.
Reading a book, comes the meek answer.
“You was just sitting up in a library reading a book, and some man got up and decided to try to follow you home?” she says scornfully.
His stepfather, vaguely hearing this conversation, barely looks up from his paper to mutter his own comment: “You need to take up some sports.”
The scene grows only more bracing and hilarious as the interrogation continues. When the boy, Sutter (Phillip James Brannon), who’s decked out in full Michael Jackson regalia, complete with one sequined glove, reminds his mother that this same man has approached him before, she and his stepfather continue to view his experience as proof of his own wayward behavior.
Why the hell is he reading the likes of Jackie Collins anyway? Why does he play so many Whitney Houston albums? The ultimate solution to this problem of men following him around, proposed by this dismissive mother: “This school year: no musicals.”
“Bootycandy,” which Mr. O’Hara has directed as well, kicks off the season at Playwrights Horizons in New York, where it opened on Wednesday night, with a big, bold bang, underscoring this theater’s reputation as one of the city’s more adventurous incubators of daring playwriting. As raw in its language and raucous in spirit as it is smart and provocative, the play depicts the life of a black gay man in a series of scenes that range widely in style. Many fly wildly into the realm of the absurd, while others are naturalistic pictures of Sutter’s life as he comes to terms with his sexuality and the damage his culture’s attitude toward it may have inflicted on his psyche.
Mr. Brannon plays the central character throughout. Convincing as boy, teenager and man, he modulates his performance with wonderful grace as the tone shifts from scene to scene. Four other terrific actors — Jessica Frances Dukes, Benja Kay Thomas, Lance Coadie Williams and Jesse Pennington — each play several roles, many outrageously comic.
Passages from Sutter’s life alternate with scenes that play upon similar themes. In one, a minister, embodied by Mr. Williams in roof-raising hyper-evangelical mode, admonishes his flock for paying heed to salacious rumors about “sexually perverted” members of the church choir, only to rip off his clerical robes and reveal something rather startling underneath.
Blake Brockington, who was born a girl but identifies as a male, made history at his high school in North Carolina when he became the first transgender teen to be crowned homecoming king. According to WCNC, Brockington was nominated by students at East Meck High School and there were 13 other students in the running. In order to win the honor, Brockington had to participate in a fundraiser for Mothering Across Continents, an international non-profit working to build schools in South Sudan. Brockington raised $2,335.55 with the help from Time Out Youth, a local LGBT youth services agency.
Brockington is no stranger to adversity. He says he is living with foster parents because his father is unable to accept his gender identity.
His foster parent, Donald Smith, told NBC Charlotte Brockington has the perseverance to overcome the challenges he faces. “He really is hoping that it helps those behind him going through the same challenges and struggles,” he said.
Teacher Bill Allen is the student advisor for the Gay-Straight Alliance on campus. He says East Meck is known as a school of diversity. He says Brockington’s achievement is the first step in representing what many of the students believe.
“Our young people understand we are all different. We have all races, genders and religious backgrounds. We have kids representing 30-40 languages in this school and people learn to accept each other as they are, and I think this is an example of what is going to be happening in North Carolina,” he said.
Brockington plans to attend University of North Carolina-Charlotte in the fall.