Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Empire Debuts on Fox - Is it 'Must See TV'?

Empire, a midseason premiere on Fox, is a Hip Hop family drama centering on the music industry, starring Hustle and Flow costars, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. The show, created by Academy Award nominated Lee Daniels (The Butler), and Emmy Award winner, Danny Strong, chronicles what happens when music mogul, Lucious Lyons, (played by Howard) becomes stricken with an illness that will eventually cripple him. Lyons has to prepare one of his three sons to take over.

The plot gets even thicker when his ex-wife, Cookie (Henson) reappears, freshly released from a nearly two decade long stint in jail to vie for the top spot at Empire Entertainment. Cookie took the fall for Lyons’ dirty thug past, which financed his business early on. And now, she wants payback.

When I first heard about Empire, my initial thought was with Howard and Henson, there’s sure to be some good acting here. And they don’t disappoint. The show on the other hand, is not something I feel compelled to watch every week.

Though there were some great moments in Empire, like Cookie beating her son’s a-- after he called her the b-word, for some reason, I just don’t feel like it’s “Must See TV”. And though Henson does a phenomal job portraying the hood-iest of "hoodrats", smacking while she eats and all, but I'm just not captivated by the series. And there were other moments that were a bit over the top. 

For instance, I know it was to make an impact, but the flashback scene where Lucious puts his young son, Jamal, in the trash can because he exhibits behavior that suggests he’s gay, was disturbing, and not in provocative way. It was just a turn off - though Howard is great in the scene. (I can’t stand Howard’s allegedly abusive, baby wipe using a--….however, he’s a great actor and always, consistently plays a great a-hole.)

Another turn off was that both parents degrade Jamal - Lucious to his face, and Cookie behind his back by calling him a “sissy”. The African American community is continually stereotyped as being homophobic, and this was an opportunity to portray something different. And, there are some things I just don’t get….

WHAT IS GOING ON WITH LUCIOUS’ HAIR??? Why is he wearing a conk??? What year is this show in? I guess it’s set in present day, but it does have a 90s feel to it – something I actually don’t mind. Maybe the show reminds me of the second wave of the black renaissance we experienced back in the day.  And maybe it’s because Malik Yoba is in it? Is Yoba conjuring up the vibe from New York Undercover where the music was an integral part of the show that helped create its iconic feel? And, the show is a bit predictable.

I won’t give spoilers, but someone gets shot and you see it coming.  And another thing…do we CARE about the music industry anymore???? It’s so different now. The whole industry has changed. Artists have no mystic anymore due to social media and tabloids. Being in the music industry used to carry a certain cache back in the 90s. It doesn’t anymore. Do artists even go into the studio anymore????? Doesn’t everyone have a home studio now? I think if this had been set in the 90s it would make more sense. I just don’t sense any gravitas in this show….

I think Empire has good music, compliments of the genius of Timbaland, and guest stars who will be enjoyable, but overall, I didn’t find it compelling. It’s entertaining, but I’m not urgently excited about it. I’ll probably keep watching, with the hopes it becomes one of my favorite shows, but for now, I can take it or leave it.

Did you watch the premiere of Empire? What did you think?

Monday, December 15, 2014

'CRU' - Four Friends Reunite After One Fateful Day

Recently I got a chance to check out the independent film, CRU, by writer/directors Alton Glass and Oliver Ottley. The film is about a group of teenage boys who are in a car crash that would have a significant impact on the rest of their lives. Nearly two decades later, they reunite.

Old wounds are opened, secrets are revealed and pain is exposed. The film stars a notable cast: Keith Robinson, Richard T. Jones, Antwon Tanner, Sammi Rotibi, Harry J. Lennix Alison Eastwood and Melissa De Souza.

I loved seeing black men bond in true friendship. I also loved seeing black men as loving fathers. Glass and Ottley did a great job of demonstrating black men being vulnerable in a way I think is lacking in contemporary black films. There is a great scene where all of the friends reminisce that is thoughtful and funny. The film gives insight into the black male emotional experience.

I asked Glass about the process of making this movie, and in true filmmaker style, he created a video to address my questions. You can view it below.

To purchase Cru, click here. Also, look out for it in the next few months on BET!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Can We Still Enjoy 'The Cosby Show'?

Gee wiz, more than a dozen women have surfaced claiming they’ve been sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby. True or false, this is beyond sad. To think the man who brought us the genius of The Cosby Show, and all its iconic images of a dignified, loving and multigenerational African American family was possibly capable of violating women, is psychologically disruptive. Whether or not these allegations are true, Cosby’s public image has been tarnished. 

NBC has canceled plans to bring Cosby back to television, and TV Land has even canned reruns of The Cosby Show! The situation makes me wonder if we can still enjoy Cosby’s iconic sitcom in syndication the same way ever again.

I liken this to the R-uh Kelly scandal. I can’t hear an R. Kelly song without erupting into a Jimmy Fallon “Ewww!” Gross. And I believe EVERY detail of what was alleged about Kelly – of course it’s easier since there’s actual video….. But with Cosby, my heart just doesn’t want to believe the man who reinvented the image of the black TV family and created unforgettable moments of fun, hilarity and black love can be disgusting!!! Da-yum, Da-yum, Da-yum! My stance with R-uh Kelly is unmovable. But does this situation with Cosby dictate that I can’t enjoy one of the best and most beloved shows ever made????? Can I separate my loyalty to women from my love of a show that served as a fantasy blueprint for the perfect black family? (Not to mention the FIERCE fashion!) Jesus Bill! WTF???? Can over a dozen women be lying? (Sigh…) Yep, a part of my black world is cracked, and my insides feel like a crazy Cosby sweater….confused.

If the allegations are true, can we detach the man from his work? Can we compartmentalize? I don’t know. I won’t know until I watch a rerun. But it’s very sad. I don’t want to be thinking about the possible truths of these allegations while watching Cliff get thrown across the room, trying to break up the fight between Denise and Vanessa over that sweater… I don’t want think of Cosby drugging women and forcing himself on them while watching Cliff and Claire compete to see who can out dress who in the “Smooth Contest”. But if I do decide to enjoy the nostalgia of The Cosby Show, and for that matter, A Different World, does that make me a traitor, or just someone who’s sad about the possible reality, but can still appreciate the value in Cosby’s work?

It’s just hard to fathom that a man who demonstrated such extreme good will by having a transformative vision for a black show, purposefully employing many people of color in television and being a substantial benefactor, might be capable of such heinous acts.

I still “cain’t” stand R-uh Kelly. And the principle here with Cosby is the same. Does it make me hypocritical in my belief in women’s rights if I still watch The Cosby Show? My mental compromise will be to live in La La Land, pretending for a half hour at a time, that I have no knowledge of the allegations. And in my “waking” moments I will hope the fictional Cosby in fact matches up with the real one.

What do you think? With recent developments, can you enjoy The Cosby Show the same way?