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Sundance: TikTok, Boom.

“On TikTok, anything can happen.”

Directed by Shalini Kantayya, TikTok, Boom. explores the history of one of the great disruptors of the social media landscape and how it threatens privacy and affects the young people who use it. TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform and poses a threat to giants like Facebook. Its innovation not only transformed vertical video but also the way we communicate with each other. Everyday people have amassed huge followings with their viral videos.  And its algorithm is unlike anything we’ve seen before tailoring content specifically to the users behaviors with scary accuracy. Simply put, TikTok is changing the way we view celebrity, information, and entertainment.

TikTok, Boom. focuses specifically on Gen Z as a generation of “digital natives” (people who don’t know a world without the internet) and ignores the vast array of other people who use the app. There are users/creators in their 30s, 40s, 50s and older who are thriving on the app and building a platform of hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers. There are several docs out there on social media as both a tool and a threat to young people and this is just another in the bunch.

The doc offers critical analysis on TikTok as a company, it’s Chinese origins, and its famous algorithm but ignores the many nuances of the app.  TikTok, Boom. is underwhelming.  However, it may be a good primer for those TikTok naysayers who want justification for not using the app.

TikTok, Boom. premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul

After controversy drove away all but a handful of congregants from the Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church, pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) dreams of a new beginning. With his wife Trinitie (Regina Hall), AKA “The First Lady”, by his side he gets to work relaunching the church just in time for Easter. In his time, Lee-Curtis  shared a prosperity gospel from a gold throne, sold worship DVDs, has laser shoes and did “praise miming.” All spectacle for what ended up being false righteousness when he was accused of sexual misconduct. As the story unfolds, we learn more about the details of both his controversy and his crumbling marriage. The couple and their church are the focus of a documentary series with a camera crew following their every move. And the person taking center stage is Trinitie/The First Lady, who feels forced to keep up appearances and support her husband despite all signs warning her to escape.

By filmmaking duo Adamma and Adanne Ebo, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is a satisfyingly funny satire that features two wonderful performances from its stars Brown and Hall. Regina Hall especially shines in her portrayal of a woman falling apart on the inside but trying to hold it together for everyone else. The story loses steam in the last half and I wish the filmmakers had stuck to a strictly mockumentary style format rather than shifting back and forth from it.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: We Need To Talk About Cosby

We need to be willing to have the difficult conversations about uncomfortable topics if we want things to change. Director W. Kamau Bell does just this with his 4-part documentary series We Need to Talk About Cosby.

Many of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s were part of the “Cosby generation.” We were raised on television programs like Fat Albert and The Cosby Show. Dr. Huxtable was a household name. Cosby was an inescapable fixture in popular entertainment. He was funny, likable, and confident. He projected this vision of Bill Cosby that we all grew to know and love. And that vision was shattered when the many allegations against Cosby came to light. As of today, over 60 women have come forward to tell their stories of being drugged and raped by Cosby. While some in the public rejected the notion that  he committed these crimes, the rest of us had to grapple with a new reality: America’s dad was a monster this whole time.

W. Kamau Bell’s docuseries is a series of conversations with many individuals about Bill Cosby as an entertainer and a man in order to come to terms with all that’s been revealed about him. Interview subjects include writers, hosts, entertainers, professors, actors, critics, editors, producers, etc. Some knew or worked with Bill Cosby in real life, some are experts in subject matter relevant to the topic and others were his victims. 

The docuseries does a superb job disseminating how Cosby came to be as an entertainer and a cultural icon. Cosby broke ground for black comedians while also being deemed “safe” by white audiences. In his early comedic career, he avoided jokes about racial strife and by doing so he cast his net to a much larger audience. Tressie McMillan Cottom PhD describes this in the documentary as “incrementalism” in which a black performer will become popular, gain wealth and help their community when they can all while “being the safe, compromised choice.” Bell’s docuseries tackles the history of black representation in entertainment, Cosby’s growth as an entertainer and his meteoric rise with his popular TV shows.  It also reveals his downfall in recent years with his erratic behavior and controversial public statements. Through conversation we also learn about early red flags in which Cosby that we missed and how one black comic from Philadelphia, where Cosby was also from, whose viral stand-up act put the concept of Cosby-as-rapist into the public discourse. The most powerful and distressing moments of the documentary are the conversations with Cosby victims who bravely tell their own stories of sexual assault.

There’s a lot to unpack here and We Need to Talk About Cosby does so brilliantly. You can tell that Bell really focuses on representation with his selection of interview subjects. Some will call this docuseries a “hit job” which I think will be an unfair assessment. We Need to Talk About Cosby is an opportunity for us to really grapple with these two versions of a cultural icon that we have in our heads and come to the brutal understanding that they are one in the same.

Note to add: Cosby, family members, main cast members from The Cosby Show and Cosby representatives do not appear in the series.

We Need to Talk About Cosby premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Showtime will release the docuseries on January 30th.

Sundance: Brainwashed: Sex – Camera – Power

We need women filmmakers. Desperately. The male dominated film industry has been shaping how we view women over time by objectifying them in a way that skews the power dynamic over to the men and away from the women. And according to filmmaker Nina Menkes, this has lasting effects on how women are treated in the workplace, in public and at home. One way to balance this is to bring women filmmakers to the forefront, give them a platform where they can not only thrive but where they can share differing perspectives and points-of-view.

Based on her lecture Sex & Power, The Visual Language of Cinema, Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power is an illuminating study on the history of the male gaze in film. The documentary includes footage of Menkes’ lecture, interviews with theorists, directors and actresses and 175 film clips that demonstrate the male gaze. The clips run the gamut from Metropolis (1927) to Titane (2021). Menkes analyzes the majority of them and also includes women directed films to demonstrate the difference between not only the male gaze and the female gaze but also the female gaze with internalized misogyny. Menkes breaks down the analysis of the male gaze into five categories: Subject, Framing, Camera Movement, Lighting and Narrative Position. This documentary serves as the feminist film course that anyone interested in the history of film and the future of the industry should take. Menkes doesn’t make any direct correlations to the male gaze in film and real life consequences however it is suggested throughout the film. Brainwashed can be a tough pill to swallow but when we learn we grow.

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: La Guerra Civil

When Oscar de la Hoya and Julio César Chávez went head-to-head in the boxing ring, it was an event. Referred to as the “Ultimate Glory”, this 1996 match not only pitted two of the most talented boxers against each other, it also started a cultural war. Julio César Chávez was the pride and joy of Mexico. He holds the record of the longest undefeated streak which began with his very first professional match. He was a champ that Mexicans could get behind. Oscar de la Hoya represented the expats. The Mexicans who left their home country years ago to seek opportunities in the States. De la Hoya showed promise at an early age and admired the great Chávez. But the Mexicans scored de la Hoya. Despite his 100% Mexican heritage and being fluent in Spanish, they felt he wasn’t Mexican enough. Not like Chávez. So when it came to that fateful day in 1996, Chávez stood with his country rallying behind him. But de la Hoya came armed with youthful vigor and a secret weapon: a brilliant coach who taught him how to take Chávez down.

Directed by Eva Longoria Bastón, La Guerra Civil expertly demonstrates not only the importance of the Chávez vs de la Hoya fight but also how the careers of these two boxing champions were intrinsically tied to their cultural identities. Both Chávez and de la Hoya were interviewed for the documentary along with sports journalists, latinx celebrities, family members and various experts. There is an air of familiarity in the film. Perhaps the friendly vibe prevented the documentary from going more in-depth into serious matters involving the two subjects including their drug addictions and various tragedies. These are briefly mentioned but not discussed at length.

The documentary is bilingual with interviewees speaking English and Spanish. 

La Guerra Civil premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

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