Alice (Keke Palmer) has caught the eye of tyrant plantation owner Paul Bennet (Johnny Lee Miller). He teaches her to read and favors her but will not allow her to marry a fellow slave. When her love Joseph (Gaius Charles) tries to escape, Alice lashes out. After enduring a brutal punishment, she escapes through a secret portal in the woods traveling from antebellum Georgia to the early 1970s. She’s found by the side of the road by truck driver Frank (Common) who takes her in and shields her from potential internment at a sanitarium. Alice discovers what the world is like decades later, an improvement from her previous life but with progress still needing to be made. She must find the courage in herself to help her family back home and to inspire Frank to rediscover his activist roots.
Directed by debut filmmaker Krystin Ver Linden, Alice is a highly rewarding time-travel drama. Keke Palmer is superb in the title role. Time travel elements are tricky but I found that Palmer did great job conveying the fish-out-of-water experience while also demonstrating her characters inner strength. Excellent performance by Johnny Lee Miller is truly terrifying in his role. This is sure to be a crowd pleaser especially when through Alice’s POV we get to fight back with her. There are several references in the film to Pam Grier and her character Coffy. The film is set and shot in Georgia which gives the film a great southern Gothic vibe. The soundtrack features some wonderful 1970s jams.
Alice premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
The presence of three black women at a predominantly white New England college unleashes a dark and mysterious force in the new horror movie Master. Written and directed by Mariama Diallo in her feature debut, the film stars Regina Hall as Gail Bishop, the new “Master”, aka dean of students, for the fictional Ancaster College. As Bishop tries to settle into her new role at Ancaster, she’s tasked with guiding the board of directors in deciding whether the only black professor on campus, Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), deserves tenure. One of Beckman’s students, freshman Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), is struggling to acclimate to Ancaster as she’s constantly confronted with subtle but potent forms of racism from faculty, staff, and fellow students. Ancaster is known to be haunted by a former student and Jasmine happens to have been assigned the same room where the student had committed suicide decades before. As the holidays approach, the deeply rooted racism that has been part of Ancaster’s history from the very beginning manifests itself into an evil force that is hellbent on destroying the women.
Master tackles one of the horrors of our everyday world. In the film, racism haunts its victims like a ghost. It’s a mysterious force that takes many forms and is passed down through generations. It persists no matter how much the characters struggle against it or how much they’re gaslit to believe that progress has been made. Diallo effectively demonstrates the power of racism in pretty much every aspect of this film. The message is there: racism will never truly go away. And that is a horrifying reality.
A must-watch, especially for the performances by Regina Hall and Zoe Renee.
Master premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and will be available on Amazon Prime March 18th.
Directed by Rex Miller and Sam Pollard, Citizen Ashe is a thoroughly engrossing documentary about the professional and personal life of tennis pro and activist Arthur Ashe. The film follows his journey from his humble beginnings in Richmond, Virginia, to his rise in a sport dominated by white men, to the Civil Rights era and to his unfortunate early demise due to AIDS related pneumonia. Ashe bridged the divide between the white and black communities with his entrance into the world of professional tennis. He broke barriers as a black man in the sport but knew that ruffling feathers would keep him being accepted. However, the calling to activism grew within him and he took strides to be more outspoken about the plight of his community. He used his platform to speak out about civil rights and the AIDS epidemic and to encourage the next generation of tennis players. The documentary was made with the blessing of his widow Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and includes interviews with his brother, his mentee John McEnroe and more.
Citizen Ashe recently premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of the Documentaries programming. The film hits theaters in early December followed by a broadcast premiere on CNN and streaming on HBO Max.
“Reparations for slavery hasn’t happened yet, but if it were to happen, are we ready to make demands that include systematic change?”
Director Symone Baptiste
Director Symone Baptiste’s short film Sixteen Thousand Dollars imagines an America in which black people have been paid reparations for slavery. $16,000 in fact. Brother and sister Brodie (Brodie Reed) and Ellington (Ellington Wells) have received their checks in the mail. Ellington has big plans for her $8,000 check (a half payment because she’s only half black) including quitting her job and starting a new business. Brodie contemplates the significance of the reparation and whether the payment is a replacement for real long-lasting change.
Sixteen Thousand Dollars is an introspective film about race, class and the power of money, done to great comedic effect. Audiences will laugh at the chaos that comes with a windfall of cash and pause to think about its serious subject matter. I would love to see Sixteen Thousand Dollars developed into a full-length feature film!
Sixteen Thousand Dollars was screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.
Max (Arnstar) is a Brooklyn DJ who dreams of making it big. But for now, he’s working at the local grocery store and relegated to playing music at kids’ birthday parties. When he’s not working, Max is taking care of his grandma (Dorothi Fox) and trying to keep out of trouble. The latter is difficult to do when his brother Terry (Joshua Boone), fresh out of prison, gets caught up with a local gang. Max meets Liza (Shyrley Rodriguez), a dance teacher, and the two are drawn to each other. They both have the talent and the drive to make things happen but something is holding Max back.
Directed by Paul Starkman, Wheels is a sensitive portrayal of an artist’s struggle to survive and thrive despite his circumstances. The film has a decidedly classic sensibility with its black and white cinematography and ’70s TV style intro. It has a great sense of place with many beautiful shots of Brooklyn’s urban landscape. The music in the film is infectious and hooks you in. Arnstar and Rodriguez have playful chemistry on screen and Boone and Arnstar play well off each other as brothers who don’t see eye-to-eye but care for each other deeply. DJ Max is sincere and earnest and Arnstar brings an authenticity to the character that makes these elements shine through.
Wheels is available on iTunes, Vudu, Tubi, Amazon Prime and other streaming/rental services. Find out more information about the film on the official website.