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Entertainment

Breakthrough year for black-themed films get mixed reception from Oscars

oscars1 600Hollywood honored black performers that lit up the silver screen in 2013 with this morning's Academy Award nominations, although some beloved African-American themed films were largely overlooked.

"12 Years a Slave," the acclaimed drama which retells the story of Solomon Northup, an educated, Northern black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, had the strongest showing of any "black" film scoring 9 nominations including the top categories of best picture, director (Steve McQueen), actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and supporting actress (Lupita Nyong'o).

African-American writer John Ridley, who hasn't received as much publicity as he deserves for his stellar screenplay adapted from Northup's memoir, was also nominated. If he were to win on Oscar night he'd only be the second black writer to take home an award. If McQueen were to be victorious he would be the first black director to ever take home an Academy Award (outside of the documentary category).

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‘Speed: Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster – and Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down’

speed 600There's a lot more to life than accelerating its pace, but you wouldn't know it judging by the everyday behavior of most folks lately. People have become so hopelessly dependent on smart phones, computer tablets and the like, that they can't go for more than a few minutes without texting, checking their messages or looking something up online, however trivial.

I first recognized this phenomenon a few years ago when I was invited to a friend's house for Passover. During the Seder, while his family and friends were taking turns reading from the holy Haggadah, he was secretly texting away under the table. Despite being contrite and embarrassed when I pointed out to everybody that our host was ignoring the sacred ritual, he was right back at it less than five minutes later.

Back then, I had no words for such behavior besides rudeness, but thanks to Dr. Stephanie Brown we now have a diagnosis of addiction to speed. In her groundbreaking book, "Speed: Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster – and Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down," she bemoans the fact that the culture has morphed into a ramped-up dystopia where machines lead and humans follow.

 

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Beyoncé sharpens her feminist voice in new essay

beyonceletter 600Beyoncé has sharpened her feminist voice in a new essay she contributed to The Shriver Report, a new, multimedia initiative gaining attention created by journalist and former first lady of California Maria Shriver.

The 2014 report, A Woman's Nation Pushes Back From The Brink, is comprised of data, analysis and essays that aim to change the way American society relates to women, improving their outcomes in various sectors leading to social empowerment.

Perhaps as an extension of the discussion of feminism in a song from her latest album, "***Flawless," Beyoncé has contributed an essay to the report that enumerates the ways in which American women lag behind in terms of equal pay.

 

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‘12 Years a Slave Won,’ but Black Hollywood was snubbed at Golden Globes

goldengllobe 600Last night's Golden Globes may be considered a big night for the slavery epic "12 Years a Slave," which took home the award for best motion picture, drama. But it was not a big night for the film's stars, director or frankly anyone else who happened to be black and in the room that evening.

Despite nominations in a number of major categories, black artists were shut out through the awards show. Making it particularly disappointing for many viewers is the fact that thanks to the box office and critical success of films like "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and "12 Years a Slave," many were heralding 2013 as a banner year for black cinema.

Actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba were both nominated in the best actor category for their lead roles in "12 Years a Slave" and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." Lupita Nyong'o was nominated in the best supporting actress category for her role in "12 Years a Slave," and Barkhad Abdi was nominated in the best supporting actor category for his performance in "Captain Phillips." Kerry Washington was nominated for her role as Olivia Pope in "Scandal," while Don Cheadle was nominated for his role in the series "House of Lies." Steve McQueen was nominated for best director for "12 Years a Slave," while John Ridley, who penned the film's screenplay, also received a nomination.

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This week’s DVD releases

thebutler 600Top Ten DVD List for January 14, 2014

"The Butler"

"You're Next"

"Fruitvale Station"

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2014’s Golden Globes spotlight the spectrum of black films

goldenglobe 600The critically lauded "12 Years a Slave" has been nominated in several prestigious categories in this Sunday's Golden Globe Awards – and the conspicuous presence of black directors, actors and films this awards season offers a chance to reflect on Hollywood's tortured racial past and hopeful future.

The Golden Globes, which are dominated by the more liberal foreign press, unofficially begin an awards season that will formally conclude at the Academy Awards ceremony on March 2.

While in past years African Americans have rightfully complained about the lack of recognition in major awards categories, 2014 promises to be different. In addition to "12 Years a Slave," other major black films in the running for awards include the independently made "Fruitvale Station," "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." Black men directed all except "Mandela," and black screenwriter John Ridley penned the screenplay for "12 Years a Slave."

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Kam’s Kapsules

kamkap 600BIG BUDGET FILMS

"Her" (R for profanity, sexuality and brief nudity) Oscar-nominee Spike Jonze (for Being John Malkovich) directed this romance drama revolving around a lonely letter writer (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with the voice (Scarlett Johansson) on his computer's operating system. With Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Bill Hader and Olivia Wilde.

"The Legend of Hercules" (PG-13 for sensuality and intense violence) Mythological saga, set in ancient Greece, revolving around a demigod (Kellan Lutz) torn between pursuing true love and fulfilling his destiny by toppling a tyrannical king (Scott Adkins). With Gaia Weiss, Roxanne McKee, Liam Garrigan and Luke Newberry.

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Sasheer Zamata: ‘Saturday Night Live’ adds first black female cast member in 6 years

snl 600After receiving considerable backlash for not having a black female cast member for several years, NBC's "Saturday Night Live" has hired Sasheer Zamata as a featured player.

Zamata will make her SNL debut January 18 alongside Drake who will be pulling double duty as the show's host and musical guest.

The actress, who has been featured in The New York Times, Time Out New York, Jezebel, and Vulture represents the first African-American female to be a part of SNL's regular cast since Maya Rudolph left the show in November 2007.

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Gabrielle Union would have been Olivia Pope. Instead she’s ‘Being Mary Jane’

gabriellunion 600Gabrielle Union might as well be a unicorn or a leprechaun or some other mythical creature. She is stunning and petite and warm and kind—all things that actresses of her stature and beauty aren't supposed to be. And get this: She likes bacon.

Not all things bacon, but a quiche-looking thing that sits in rows on a square plate in front of her. She didn't order it so much as it just appeared, all neat and prepared, like magic.

She looks at the food and wonders aloud whether it has bacon in it. She picks it up, inspects it a bit and then, throwing caution to the wind, dives in. Two bites in, she closes her eyes, and it is confirmed: bacon.

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Yo Gotti, Juicy J, and Drake named in list of ‘The 25 Best Albums Of 2013’

memphisrap 600Yo Gotti, Juicy J and Drake all have one thing in common, or ties to it, and it's Memphis. Now, they also have something else in common, they all were named in XXL's list of "The Best Albums of 2013." These three rappers have had a good year and not just with music but also mental growth. However, this is about the impression they have made upon others with their latest music projects.

Rapper Yo Gotti, self-proclaimed King of Memphis, managed to make his way on XXL's "The Best Albums of 2013" list for his album "I AM" on Epic Records.

Outside of XXL's editorial list, "I AM" managed to rank in at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B and Hip-Hop album chart.

 

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Uncle Phil was a fresh take on black fatherhood

unclephil 600When James Avery died on New Year's Day, he had not only amassed an enviable career of television and stage appearances, including a performance as the legendary Howard University Law Professor Charles Hamilton Houston in a 1993 PBS dramatization of the Brown vs. the Board of Education case. His lasting legacy though is as one on the most endearing black father figures in American television history. Twenty-three years after Avery introduced audiences to Judge Phillip Banks, the character still resonates as a counter to the myths of the absentee and irresponsible black father.

Debuting in January of 1990, the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" revolved around a working class cousin Will (Will Smith), who was being taken in by his wealthy kin. The series, which ran six seasons, was based on the real life experience of producer Benny Medina. Avery quickly established himself as the typical television patriarch, but as the character developed many folk began to think of "Uncle Phil," as Avery will forever be remembered, along the lines of classic father figures such as James Evans Sr. (John Amos), Heathcliffe Huxtable (Bill Cosby). And indeed, as the traditional black family has largely disappeared from network television, Uncle Phil's characters resonates even more.

Though Uncle Phil was often uptight and overly formal – echoing Avery's own desire to see more well-spoken, middle-class black men on television – Uncle Phil's backstory was that of a 1960s-era black activist, who entered the legal profession to continue the good fight.

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Let’s hope hip-hop steps up in 2014

hiphopjb 600Around the family dinner table over Christmas, the conversation turned to the recently announced Outkast performance at Coachella 2014 – the event that pretty much all hip-hop heads are looking forward to – and the overall state of hip-hop going into 2014, which has decidedly more mixed reviews.

Was 2013 a good year for the music we love, or does it need a new blueprint? Will 2014 bring an as-yet-undiscovered breakthrough artist or album, or will hip-hop continue to be a marginalized art form consumed by many and controlled by a few?

Expect the same group of regulars to put out more of the same material: Rick Ross will still rap about cars, clothes and hos. Weezy will figure out new metaphors for oral sex. Future will kill us with Auto-Tuned hood raps and Drake will keep "srapping" (singing-rapping). He did say on "All Me" that he's "the light-skinned Keith Sweat" and he "gon' make it last forever." I believe him.

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