What can I say about Black Panther that hasn’t already been said? This film was a movement and has changed Hollywood forever. Industry producers and filmmakers have long leaned on the racist notion that “black films don’t travel“. We were told that “black films don’t make money with foreign audiences”. Not only did the movie go on to make $1.3+ Billion. It has passed every other film in American history to become the highest grossing domestic superhero film EVER. Let that settle in.
While that marinates, let’s also remember that growing up, we were told that we couldn’t be superheroes. “You can’t be Superman, Superman is white. You can’t be Batman, Batman is white.” Pick any action-adventure, fantasy, or superhero movie in the last 50 years and throw a dart at the list of films. I can almost guarantee you that the main characters are white. Black Panther is important to American society not only because it shows us as kings, geniuses, and leaders. It also shows black children of the world that they too can also be heroes. Black Panther isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Ain’t you hear? It ain’t Wakanda 2018. It’s, Wakanda. FOREVER.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Thank you, Donald Glover. “Why?” On the NBC show ‘Community’ (season 2 episode “Anthropology 101)”. Actor/Singer/Rapper/Director/Comedian Donald Glover wore a Spider-Man t-shirt during the episode’s opening. Some of the show’s fans went online and expressed their excitement! “Donald Glover should be the next Spider-Man!” Then came the comments: “Donald Glover can’t be Spider-Man. Spider-Man is white”. You see a pattern here? Spider-Man comic writer Brian Michael Bendis took notice and made a decision that would change comics and entertainment forever. 1 year later, Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli gave birth to new character Miles Morales. An Afro-Latino teen from Brooklyn, NY. Miles would become Spider-Man in his own alternate universe and would go on to join the regular Marvel Comics continuity.
An animated feature film (based on writer Dan Slott’s Spider-Verse comic and Bendis and Pichelli’s Spider-Men) was released in December 2018 to critical acclaim (97% Positive Reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and a 95% Audience score). For the movie, the creators implemented a new style of animation to bring Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends to life. Watching the movie is like walking inside an actual comic book. It implements everything from words bubbles to the ‘Ben-Day’ comic print look of comic pages from the early ’60s and ’70s. The critical consensus is that the film is the best animated movie of the year (and maybe of all time), is beautiful, funny, heart-warming, diverse, progressive, and expertly written.
Wrapping up our theme of black children finally getting representation as heroes on screen, spoiler alert; “Anyone can wear the mask“. Anyone can be a hero. Even a black kid from Brooklyn.
Avengers: Infinity War
In the early 2000s, Marvel comics licensed many of their characters to several movie studios (Fantastic Four, and the X-men to Fox & Spider-Man to Sony) in hopes of generating some revenue in order to keep their comics division going and to put some of their world-renowned characters on the big screen. (We’ll get to Infinity War, I promise) They kept many of their most popular heroes and in 2007 formed Marvel Studios, their own in-house movie studio.
They started with an idea, to create a movie franchise that linked all of their characters and stories together, just like the comics. The goal would be to introduce each character in their own respective movies individually and then bring them all together (The Avengers – 2012).
Not only was this a lofty goal, it had never been done before. In order for this to work, the majority of the movies would have to be accepted by audiences all over the world, perform well financially, and speak to critics and fans alike…The plan worked.
The Marvel films have been a critical and commercial success. Infinity War (told you we’d get to it) knocked fans sideways. Not only was the movie another critical and commercial success, but Marvel also gave fans what so many filmmakers have tried to emulate; the feeling that fans felt back in 1980 when they walked out of The Empire Strikes Back. Being the penultimate chapter in Marvel’s 12-year long, interconnected story arc, fans were expecting big things. What they did not expect was to see the characters and heroes that they’d spent over a decade building relationships with decimated, left dangling over a cliff until the final chapter (Avengers: Endgame) hits theaters in April of 2019. Many fans still have trouble hearing someone ‘snap’ their fingers together without having emotional PTSD of sorts. If nothing else, we’ve learned a valuable lesson. The good guys don’t always win. Sometimes negativity and evil overcome the best of us….but only temporarily. The best of us will pick ourselves up, step forward and fight back. We’ll look to each other for strength and when we utter that rally cry: “Avengers Assemble”.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
I know what most of you are thinking….”Tom Cruise? Really?”. So let’s get into it. I get it. Many people don’t like this dude, and rightfully so. Mormonism is weird….
“What’s that? He’s a Scientologist?” Oh shit, my bad.
Scientology is weird, allegedly abusive, and reportedly dangerous. But since movie critics (I’m not one) judge actors and filmmakers on their abilities, and since the dude hasn’t killed anyone (that we know of) or committed any atrocities (See: Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Harvey Weinstein) let’s talk about how fucking awesome this movie was.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (or Mission Impossible 6) was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year. Reviewers called it “one of the best action movies ever made”. I usually don’t deal in superlatives, but I’m inclined to agree. Objectively, Tom Cruise can act. As a 56-year-old man that does his own stunts, rides motorcycles with no double and also flies his own planes and helicopters, you can’t help but be impressed by his dedication to the craft. While Marvel Studios is wow’ing you with CG feats of superheroism, Thomas Cruise Mapother the Fourth is jumping out of a goddamned cargo plane with his film crew for a Halo Jump at 25,000 fucking feet to impress you. He brings a level of authenticity that makes the movie look and feel more legitimate. There are no weird cuts and pauses in the action because the actor doesn’t to be pulled from the scene and replaced with a stunt or digital double. If you haven’t seen many of these films, the Mission: Impossible series has always relied heavily on misdirection and fakeouts to keep the viewer entertained. While that’s true to an extent with Fallout, even if you can see some of the twists coming, it doesn’t matter as much to you because you don’t have time to process all the changes. The movie moves from action scene to action scene at such a seamless and fast pace that by the time the movie is over you feel like you’ve just run a marathon. The movie feels expertly executed from beginning to end and you’d be hard pressed to find a better action film.
Michelle Obama: Becoming
I’m going to put it out there. For me, talking about the Obamas without becoming an absolute fanboy is an arduous task. Being objective, I still believe that First Lady Michelle Obama’s memoir is a must read. It’s almost like the life story and perspectives of the first African American First Lady of the United States of America is required reading. Who would have thought?
This is a woman who held black people’s hopes and dreams on her shoulders for 8 years going with style, grace, and humility. Michelle and Barack are the closest to actual royalty that black folks have (not counting Hov and B & George and Weezy). Need I remind you that this is a woman who grew up from humble beginnings on the South Side of Chicago, got herself admitted to a Princeton education, and then went on to graduate from a little institution called Harvard Law? Small potatoes, right?
‘Becoming’ is a relaxing read and fleshes out the upbringing, perspectives, temperaments, and philosophies of one of the most important figures of the 21st Century. Michelle Obama does not suffer fools and we could all learn a thing or two from her intellect. The book is written with such grace and witticism that you’ll wonder why Barack ever hired a speechwriter in the first place. For someone who has been in the public eye for so long and has played such an important role in shaping young people’s lives, you can’t help but agree that Ms. Obama deserves some time to rest and recuperate. After all, how much was asked of her? The Obamas didn’t get 2nd chances. They didn’t get to have embarrassing scandal after embarrassing scandal. Had Michelle or Barack committed even one of the current national embarrassments (tax returns, helping a foreign government hack a national election, payment to adult actresses as payment for silence, travel bans for foreigners, family separations at the border, children in internment camps, etc.) that the current bum has, they’d have been dragged out of the white house and shown as the reason that “you can’t give them a chance”. To be perfect? Yeah, we asked that of them. Ms. Obama has inspired an entire generation of children to not only stay active and work hard but not to take shortcuts. She’s inspired them to give back to a world that may not always love you in return. That said, we’re happy to see her back in the public eye. It’s quite clear that we’ll need her intellect and leadership in the near future.
James Clear: Atomic Habits
Many people make excuses for why they can’t achieve the goals that they want in life. We’ve all read self-improvement books. I’m looking at 3 such books on my shelf right now. With James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’, the author spells out some very simple and effective strategies that can be employed in order to attain incremental change. Building good habits and breaking bad ones. That’s all it is.
Without giving away too much, the strategy is to get 1% better every day. The author tells us that bad habits repeat over and over “not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change and that habits are essentially the compound interest of self-improvement.” Change can go either way, in the direction you want, or in the direction you don’t. Change your mechanism and change your approach, otherwise, you’ll be stuck on that hamster wheel forever.
Atlanta: Robbin’ Season
Atlanta is still the best show on TV. Creators Donald and Stephen Glover continue their focus on writing a black show from the black experience with an all-black writing staff; something that until now was unheard-of in Hollywood.
Season 2 of Atlanta is dubbed Robbin’ Season after a period of time (typically before Christmas and after New Years) where lower-income neighborhoods will commit more crime to provide their families for the holidays. Its meant to be a metaphor for the main characters of the show and give the viewers a sense of the changes that each is going through. The title gives you an understanding of how desperate they have become to change their individual situations. Some highlights:
- Van begins to grow sick of Earn’s fuckboy bullshit.
- Al comes to terms with either being a good person OR leaning into his rapper persona ‘Paperboy.
- Earn learns that if he wants to manage a rapper or a family member, he’s going to have to do whatever it takes to succeed.
- Darius goes through hell to get a rainbow keyed piano.
Atlanta’s episode and narrative variety shines to give us more spontaneity. I’ve heard the show called “Black Seinfeld mixed with Twin Peaks”, and that actually may be fairly accurate. In this season we meet:
- ‘The Alligator Man’ (Played by comedian Katt Williams, who won an Emmy for his performance),
- Teddy Perkins (Donald Glover in a haunting Michael Jackson-esque whiteface performance, and my personal favorite episode of TV of the year).
- Paperboi’s barber, ‘Bibby’.
- Clark County, (who may be the embodiment of many current rappers in the music industry)
Can’t wait to see where these characters go in season 3. I’d try to figure out where the show is headed next, but with Atlanta, that would just be foolish.
Black Panther: The Album
When was the last time you purchased or listened to a movie soundtrack? I’ll wait… Probably middle school, right? Suicide Squad? You can miss me with that bullshit. When TDE announced in 2017 that Pulitzer and Grammy-winning King Kendrick Lamar was commissioned to curate and EP the sounds for Black Panther, fans collectively lost their minds. Not only was the album amazing, it undoubtedly helped push the film’s financial performance to new heights. Kendrick called on some of the best artists in the game to help give the soundtrack an authentic and multicultural feel. Aside from TDE labelmates Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q, the album includes The Weeknd, James Blake, SZA, Jorja Smith, Future, Khalid, Swae Lee, and Travis Scott to name a few.
Album standouts include:
“ALL THE STARS” (performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA)
REDEMPTION” (performed by Zacari and Babes Wodumo)
No Maroon 5 here. Sorry.
The album not only cemented Lamar’s musical artistry across different styles of Hip-Hop and R&B, but he’s also shown that he can curate and draw quality art from some of the best artists in the game. Up and coming stars SZA, Swae Lee, and Khalid are becoming household names and I for one am excited for their futures as young black artists.
The Carters: Everything is Love
Black royalty, Homecoming King and Queen. Whatever you wanna call them, in the summer of 2018, Beyoncé and Jay Z released the first joint album in their tenured careers. We’ve all heard many of their joint tracks, but this album couldn’t have come at a better time. With all of the gossip and rumors circling their partnership over the last several years, you’d think they’d want to take control of the narrative right? With rumors of infidelity swirling, it’s almost like Beyoncé and Jay Z released solo albums baring their own individual emotions and then finally culminated in a joint album to confess their dedication to one another… It’s almost like it was all coincidence.
Anyway, I’m on board. After listening to Beyoncé bare her soul on Lemonade, and after listening to Jay Z man up on ‘4:44’ and apologize to his family for the embarrassment he’d caused and for the mistakes he’d made, on Everything is Love The Carters haven’t missed a step.
The project was introduced to us with the video for Apeshit. A project that notoriously shut down the entire Louvre in Paris. The juxtaposition and subtle symbolism of Beyoncé next to the Mona Lisa is too beautiful for words.
Everything they do together is intelligently planned out. Hov releases a song, and Beyoncé has writing credits. Money. B releases a song and Jay is featured. Money. She releases another song and Blue has vocal credits. Money. This family is a billion dollar business and if people want to know every detail of their personal life, they’ve made damn sure that they’ll profit from it.
The Carters don’t hold back and give you all the details you were clamoring for over the last 4 years. Yes, Hov cheated. Yes, Beyoncé almost left him. And Yes, they got back together and made it work not only for their family but for their business. Here are some of my favorite lines from the album:
APESHIT “I said no to the Super Bowl: You need me, I don’t need you/Every night we in the endzone, tell the NFL we in stadiums, too/Last night was a fuckin’ zoo, stagedivin’ in a pool of people/Ran through Liverpool like a fuckin’ Beatle/Smoke gorilla glue like it’s fuckin’ legal/Tell the Grammy’s fuck that 0-for-eight shit/Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apeshit?” —Jay Z
BOSS “100 million crib, 3 million watch, all facts/No cap, false, nigga, you not a boss, you got a boss/Niggas getting jerked, that shit hurts, I take it personally/Niggas rather work for the man than to work with me/Just so they can pretend they on my level, that shit is irkin’ to me/Pride always goeth before the fall, almost certainly” —Jay Z
BOSS “Ain’t nothing to it, I boss so I bought my momma a whip/My great-great-grandchildren already rich/That’s a lot of brown chi’r’en on your Forbes list/Probably looking around my compound on my fortress/I be ridin’ around with my seat reclining/Droppin’ my daughter off at school every morning/We slammin’ car doors/I be true balling on these bum whores” —Beyoncé
NICE “Yeah, fuck your subpoenas/And your misdemeanors/Was too busy touring out all your arenas/My passport is tatted, it look like it’s active/I play on these planes, y’all catch me in traffic/Y’all drag me in court for that shit, y’all backwards/After all these years of drug trafficking, huh/Time to remind me I’m Black again, huh?/All this talking back, I’m too arrogant, huh?” —Jay Z
NICE “Patiently waiting for my demise/’Cause my success can’t be quantified/If I gave two fucks—two fucks about streaming numbers/Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify/Fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, fuck you, I’m out/I ain’t never seen a ceiling in my whole life, that’s word to Blue/Freestyling live, blueprint from my Jigga who never bribes” —Beyoncé
713 “Cash, hit deposit, 24-carat faucets/Louis V and Goyard trunks all in the closet/Ain’t shit change, the streets is still watchin’/And my little baby Blue is like, ‘Who gon’ stop us, huh?'” – Jay Z
BLACK EFFECT “I’m good any way I go, any way I go/I pull up like the Freedom Riders, hop out on Rodeo/Stunt with your curls, your lips, Sarah Baartman hips/Gotta hop into my jeans, like I hop into my whip/Mobbin’ in a hoodie like Melo/Come up out that pretty motherfucker like ‘Hello, hello’/I will never let you shoot the nose off my pharaoh” —Beyoncé
LOVEHAPPY “Y’all know how I met her/We broke up and got back together/To get her back, I had to sweat her/Y’all could make up with a bag, I had to change the weather/Move the whole family West, but it’s whatever/In a glass house still throwing stones/Hova, Beysus, watch the thrones” —Beyoncé and Jay Z
There are levels to this shit, Y’all. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to the next Carter Trilogy. The theme of black excellence continues and 2019 couldn’t come and faster. If they can make it through all this bullshit and still find some peace can’t we all?
Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
Janelle Monae has been taking folks to Wakanda since before many even knew it existed. Black Girl Magic has been the mantra for for little black girls everywhere since they realized they could be Mae Jemison’s or Michelle Obama’s.
In a year that saw the confirmation of Monae’s long-term partnership with actress Tessa Thompson (sorry fellas, y’all never stood a chance), we listen to this amazing woman talk about her life experience and what she calls her womanhood: “remember when they used to say I looked too mannish”?
Aside from also standing out in critically acclaimed films like Moonlight and Hidden Figures, Ms. Monae is finally being recognized by the recording academy via an Album of the Year nomination. She’s at her absolute best here with Dirty Computer. Even though this is primarily an R&B album, I had to throw Django Jane on my best of 2018 Hip-Hop playlist. Her flow would put even some of the dopest male MCs to shame. She lets the listeners know about her experiences in life, as a member of the LGBTQ community, and also about her experiences in the recording industry where (surprise) they don’t celebrate and appreciate Black Girl Magic like we do. Continuing 2018’s theme of honesty, Ms. Monale sets a new precedent for the genre. She’s not going back and hopefully neither are we.
Album standouts include:
I LIKE THAT “Uh, I remember when you laughed when I cut my perm off/And you rated me a six/I was like, “Damn”/But even back then with the tears in my eyes/I always knew I was the shit.
“I GOT THE JUICE”
DJANGO JANE “Yeah this is my palace/champagne in my chalice
I got it all covered like a wedding band/Wondaland, so my alias is Alice
And we gon’ start a motherfuckin’ pussy riot/Or we gon’ have to put ’em on a pussy diet. Look at that, I guarantee I got ’em quiet/Look at that, I guarantee they all inspired.