Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

15 Reasons To Be Down With HRC

July 26, 2016

There will never be a flawless politician. Politicians gonna politic, pander and polarize. It’s what they do. I’m not here to tell you how to vote, so save that for another comment thread. Disclosure: I am a Democrat, but I have supported independent candidates before. I even voted for Sanders in the NY primary. I understand the sting of having your candidate lose. But I also understand what’s at stake as we stare directly at the *very* real prospect of a Trump presidency.


So I am laying out my 15 point case for the Democratic nominee. Yes. Benghazi. I know. All the Clinton policies that were enacted while she was FLOTUS, that she couldn’t vote on–but watched happen at close range. I know. The emails. Careless and horribly managed. I know that too. The Iraq War vote. I knowwww. But remember: 9/11 happened in *her* state, and Bush-Cheney snow-jobbed damn near errybody in its aftermath. People with sense acknowledge this now. And she paid for it dearly when she lost the nomination to then Sen. Obama in 2008. Not excusing any of it. Just letting you know I know before all the “but, what about this-” “and what about that?” starts.

I posted this on journalist Bene’ Viera’s Facebook page when she called for comments on who her friends are voting for and why. It inspired me to make it a blog post, so I can stop repeating myself, and so those who find it useful can share it.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) is

1. Smarter

2. Better educated than her opponent

3. Highly and uniquely experienced as a former Secy. of State, US Senator, and FLOTUS

4. Endorsed by President Obama (and Bernie Sanders)

5. Hailed by GOP leaders with sense–meaning non partisan goals have a shot at not being obstructed

6. She is pro reproductive choice/rights

7. Values inclusion

8. No KKK surrogates (Google Trump’s)

9. Values DIPLOMACY (Trump cannot even spell the word, much less enact it)

10. Has the respect of world leaders

11. The independent candidates in this cycle have NO shot at being nominated or winning against Trump (I’ve voted independent before, so no, it’s not about that)

12. She will likely nominate an even handed SCOTUS replacement for Scalia’s seat

13. She understands the power of the non-white electorate, and engages with them. Trump does neither.

14. Her cabinet will most likely be the most gender balanced one in US History

15. She understands how government works, from the lessons learned on Obamacare and NAFTA–and can use this learning in the role of POTUS.

And as far as bullying goes with respect to voting from your friends and family, it’s nothing compared to the sustained, unrelenting institutional bullying of a womanizing, unscrupulous neo-fascist running the free world as he bleeds the economy and adds back the trillion Obama erased with interest…to line his own pockets.

The Combover is the closest thing to Sarah Palin we’ve seen since…Sarah Palin. And even *she* was a governor. Meanwhile, Trump hasn’t so much as held a City Council seat. But his peen, and the perception of him having money (because we are still waiting to see his tax returns) are the reasons he hasn’t been laughed off the dais. Let that marinate.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is an International Relations major turned entertainment industry veteran. An award-winning creative writer/producer and festival selected filmmaker, she is the author on the definitive business title for and about women in entertainment, Put Your Dreams First, Handle Your [entertainment] Business.

That Time I Wrote Prince’s Bio

April 22, 2016

In 2010, I was tasked with writing a salutatory biography on Prince for the program book that was distributed only to attendees of the 2010 BET Awards in Los Angeles. There was only one problem: no current bio on Prince existed. Because the world knew who Prince was. He had long surpassed the point of needing one. But the award show booklet did. So I opened my journalistic toolbox, and researched 40 years of Prince in all his permutations.

Fortunately, I was a rabid Prince fan. This was borne out of being strictly forbidden to adore him as a young girl because he was usually naked and fiercely provocative. My mother banned him from my poster wall, leaving it to the Jacksons. So by the time I got to college at 16, I was focused on seeing and hearing and studying the artistry of Prince at every opportunity. I summoned all of this fandom and poured it into the mission, which was to wrangle four decades of achievement onto *one* page of a spread, that included a flawless photo of him, resplendent in a white bejeweled pantsuit.


For weeks, I toiled on this bio. I was unable to interview him. The conferring of his award was a secret–even within BET, so the bio assignment was called “Project Lester” by the booklet’s art director, Kundia Wood. I finished the draft and sat on every pin and needle praying he would not rip my attempt at encapsulating his career to shreds. He alone would be the approver. I was freaking. Out. The word came back, with one note to delete a sentence that I cannot discuss. To have this genius approve my writing will be a career milestone for me forever. I can only imagine that Anna Wintour would be more formidable editor than Prince.

Yesterday, Prince Rogers Nelson left the planet; strutting into a spin of purple stardust to assume his ancestral throne. I haven’t fully processed this, and surely won’t for quite some time; he informed so much of my understanding of the power of one’s own ideas. He confirmed that it was natural to embrace the sacred and the profane, and to own one’s personhood on one’s own terms without apology. As a young Black girl growing up in Inglewood, getting these messages from a petite yet larger than life, Black but otherworldly human with glittering eyes and a soul-piercing voice was truly a godsend. Like no other public figure, Prince told me it was okay to be me. To make up words, to conjure new language, to write for hours in journals. So having this same person tell me my writing–about him–had his blessing? Psssh.

I am still in a bit of denial at his passing. I woke up today feeling like the world was off its tilt. As the mourning and the remembering unfurled over the last 24 hours, it occurred to me that only the 1500 or so people who took the booklet home from the 2010 BET Awards had read this bio. Until now. Maybe someone will update Wikipedia.


2010 Lifetime Achievement Award


Few artists have created a body of work as dynamic or as diverse as Prince. No other recoding artist has accomplished what he has in music, film, or new media; he is a one man juggernaut, uniting the genres of funk, rock, soul, jazz, R&B, pop, rap and new wave under one sound: his.

In the 1970s, Prince Rogers Nelson became a central figure of ‘Uptown,’ an underground funk scene in his native Minneapolis. In 1976, the demo he cut with the help of producer Chris Moon and Owen Husney caused a bidding war eventually won by Warner Bros.

The now classic For You, his first recording for Warner Bros., was recorded in 1978 with him listed as sole writer, performer, arranger and producer. His debut was a foreshadowing of the potent sexuality tempered by emotional vulnerability and love for the sacred that would become his hallmark. With a catalog too extensive to list, Prince proved himself to be prolific, consistent and ultimately prophetic on albums like Dirty Mind (1980), Controversy, and 1999 (1983), which garnered global multi-platinum sales. Provocative and political, the album’s title track managed to protest nuclear proliferation and pack dance floors, earning Prince his first global Top 10 hit and Grammy® nod. In 1984, leading his band, The Revolution, Prince took the entertainment world by storm with Purple Rain, the 13-times platinum Oscar®-winning soundtrack to the cult classic film of the same name. $80 million at the box office was unheard of for a film with a Black male artist in the lead. Purple Rain immortalized Prince as one of the most influential artists of the 80s. He closed the decade out with the chart-topping Batman Soundtrack (1989).

The next decade, however, would test both his dominance in the marketplace and his indomitable spirit. His relationship with the label became acrimonious, and the fight went public: he emblazoned the word ‘slave’ on his cheek, changed his name to the unpronounceable love symbol, and became known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Prince’s independence was far ahead of the wave of marquee artists to enjoy success without a major label. He also took to the Internet, wielding it as a means of distribution for NPG Records via the NPG Music Club website and membership driven social network, the first of its kind for an iconic recording star. Prince also challenged companies such as YouTube, eBay, and The Pirate Bay for allegedly encouraging copyright violations, which highlighted the need for protocols to help rights holders protect their property.

The new millennium ushered in the re-emergence of Prince in name and creative output. He was inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He sought out label partnerships for all his subsequent releases: Musicology (Columbia records, 2004); 3121 (Universal Records, 2006); and Planet Earth (Columbia Records, 2007). In 2007, the stars (and clouds) aligned to literally shower him with purple rain the night of his Super Bowl XLI halftime performance before 140 million viewers, followed by a record-breaking run at London’s O2 Arena for the Earth Tour. In 2009, Prince released the triple album set featuring LOtUSFLOW3R, MPLSoUND and Elixer by Bria Valente.

After 100 million albums sold, seven Grammy® awards, a Golden Globe, an Oscar®, and a Webby Award for visionary use of the Internet, the influence of Prince is endless. His chameleon-like image, signature style and constantly evolving sound all echo in the work of two generations of artists across multiple genres. As a songwriter and producer, he has collaborated with legendary artists including Mavis Staples, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Madonna, and Sinead O’Connor. Over the course of his career, Prince helped to launch, propel or extend the careers of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Sheila E., Morris Day & The Time, Wendy & Lisa, Madhouse, Brown Mark, Jesse Johnson, Vanity 6, Appollonia 6, Rosie Gaines, and others. For five decades, Prince has given the world countless musical, entrepreneurial, and spiritual gifts. Love is at the foundation of all he gives: love of God, humanity, and the world. For this and more, BET is proud to confer upon him the 2010 BET Award for Lifetime Achievement.


They say two thousand zero zero/party over/oops/out of time -Prince, “1999”

Thank you, Prince Rogers Nelson, for every single moment.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is a journalist, author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, filmmaker, and award-winning creative campaign writer. During her tenure at Sony Music, she served as the senior copywriter for Prince’s Musicology album. Her first Prince concert was the Lovesexy Tour.

















Beyoncé #Formation: A Don’t Overthink Piece

February 9, 2016

Maaan, listen.

Madonna had a Black Jesus cry blood in “Like A Prayer” as Klan crosses burned on a lawn.

Animated Illustration: Veronica Marché Illustration by Veronica Marché .

Let Beyoncé comment on half a century of police brutality that still goes woefully, criminally unchecked and completely unjustified.

Let Beyoncé pay tribute to her very mixed but clearly Black heritage, one wrought with struggle spun into lace and gold, woven into tracks and braids and thread wraps and crowns, some natural, some that come with receipts.

Let her video be narrated by, punctuated by, and elevated by the voices, gyrations, and signifying of queer Black at its unapologetic flyest.

Let Beyoncé summon her sistren to be themselves, be Black, be beautiful, be critically thinking, be sexual, be gracious, be wealthy. Be regal with fans and parasols in hand. Or be street, careening in low-lows and strutting in combat boots, synchronized swimming through air in a dry pool to preserve their glorious afros…all while being unified in all their gorgeous complexity.

And when the NFL recognizes that she is a ringer for ratings (119M viewers last Sunday, making #SB50 the third most viewed program ever) and invites her to return to the Super Bowl for the second time in under 5 years (who’s ever done that? Oh—Bruno. Anyway.) Let Beyoncé acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers via her dancers’ costume choices. It is after all, a show. I for one am not looking to her as my barometer for the relevance and power of the Black Panther Party. You know who really disrespected the Black Panthers? J. Edgar Hoover, that’s who.

So let Beyoncé live, make her art, and prosper. Or not. Because even if you refuse to “let” her, and try lame “boycotts” on a halftime show that’s been bought and paid for…The King does as she pleases. Y’all should know that by now. And when she does, no one dies, like when the cops shoot unarmed people for any, every, and no reason. And no one gets their ass beat, like the thousands of victims of domestic violence who meet said violence because of the Super Bowl’s outcome for the fiftieth time this year.


Photo: Matt Cowan/Getty Images North America

#KingBey is not igniting a liberation movement. She is inspired by it. She was raised by it. She is a product of it. How she walks the path blazed by her heroes and sheroes is her choice.

That’s how freedom works.

In other words, you’re free to get in #Formation. Or not.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, and can be followed on Twitter @putyrdreams1st or IG @officiallipgame.




5 Reasons @BeyondTheLights = Perfect

November 15, 2014
Go see it. This weekend. Then see it again.

Go see it. This weekend. Then see it again.

1. Woman Led Story by Woman Writer-Director

This combination does not always yield extraordinary results, but with Beyond The Lights, Noni is well served by the words and the actual lens through which these words are supported visually. Noni’s character is flawed, but in the best way possible: the complex, human way that women on film usually have to trade for needy and pathetic, because those attributes are projected onto them by male writers. Noni is suicidal, but not a victim. She is conflicted, but not vapid. She is confined by the trappings of the success she helped design, but only temporarily. And when it comes to love, she is both assertive and vulnerable, just like many successful women in the public eye. This is all deftly written by Gina Prince-Bythewood–and because of the writing, I was riveted to the screen.

Gina Prince-Bythewood, Director. She knew you'd waited 14 years since Love & Basketball--and does not disappoint.

Gina Prince-Bythewood, Director. She knew you’d waited 14 years since Love & Basketball–and does not disappoint.

Well, and also because Gugu Mbatha-Raw turns in a searing, sensual performance and looks damn amazing, be she weaved up in lavender tresses (shouts to hair stylist Kimberly Kimble @KimbleHairCare) or curled up in everyday sweats. Did I mention this film passes the Bechtel test? Watch for it. That could be Reason #6…

YASSSS, Miss Mbatha-Raw!

YASSSS, Miss Mbatha-Raw!

2. Music You Can Believe

So often films where music is integral to the story but not central to it end up with music that sounds or feels like an afterthought. You know, that movie where the musical choices were left to a music supervisor at the post production stage—or concocted to serve one label group’s roster. Beyond The Lights is a dramatic love story about a music star, but this isn’t a music film per se. Fortunately, this was not used as an excuse to infuse the film with subpar music, or the obvious chart-topping songs of the moment. The-Dream (the producer behind “Single Ladies” among other smash hits) and Taura Stinson (lyricist for Black Nativity and Rio 2) were on board for this project, and the original songs are spot on in the urban pop ear candy department. The music supervision is also fantastic. The use of Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” as both foreshadowing and mirror to Noni’s personal struggle (and that of her mother, brought to life fiercely by Minnie Driver) is resonant beyond the capacity of dialogue.


Songwriter Taura Stinson lends her serious lyrical talent to Beyond The Lights.

3. Black On Black Love

American audiences rarely get to experience two gorgeous Black people flirting, courting or riding the waves of the uncertainty of a new relationship without there being some insane level of distrust, violence or dysfunction in the foreground. Thank God for Kaz and Noni, because they represent the tension and the triumph of Black love, free from stereotype and constant mortal danger. Both are gainfully employed; both have strong parental figures. Both have their own goals and dreams, and both are given the freedom to laugh and love on screen. This is rare gold in Hollywood.

Nate. Parker. 'Bout time!

Nate. Parker. ‘Bout time!

4. Nate Parker

This man has had his star turn coming for a long time. After decent sized ensemble roles in The Great Debaters and Red Tails, Beyond The Lights is the role I was waiting to see him in. Nate in a police officer’s uniform? Check. Nate’s upper torso on the beaches of Mexico? Check. Nate’s protective gaze burning into that of his love interest? Chiggy check. Look: generally speaking (and certainly speaking for myself), Black women revel in the protection, in the adoration of the Black man. This makes us no less capable or progressive, mind you. (We’re complex, remember?)To be a sista watching this unfold on screen is to be honored, to be made visible and affirmed as priceless. The man is unequivocally fine. Solid chops. Solid frame. Getchu some here because in real life, he’s married with three kids. Which brings me to…

5. Black Male Vulnerability In Rare Form

Kaz’s father is played by veteran actor Danny Glover. Theirs is a great relationship where they speak to one another openly and honestly. Sure, the elder has a desire to live out his unfulfilled dreams through his son, but the way this subplot gets resolved gives us a chance to see a father and son who respect one another, even as they disagree. No, they aren’t crying together. But that’s not the only way to allow men to be vulnerable on screen, especially with other men. Simply telling the truth without posturing? Yes. More, please!

Stephanie Allain, Producer. Stephanie Allain, Producer.

Honorable Mention

Has to go to producer Stephanie Allain (Dear White People, Hustle & Flow) editor Terilyn A. Shropshire (Prince-Bythewood’s go-to editor for Secret Life of Bees and Love & Basketball), and casting director Aisha Coley (Selma, Akeelah and The Bee)–all African American women whose work on this film bring a level of commitment to excellence, a level of unstoppable perseverance—that if you read credits, follow film, or are an indie filmmaker, you can actually feel as you watch this film. These film veterans are artists and executives who consistently deliver stellar work, despite all the barbs the studio system throws at women and people of color. Diversity in Hollywood is more than seeing diverse people in front of the camera; when you support Beyond The Lights, you support them—and support diversity behind it as well.

Have you seen it at a screening or festival? Or seen it already on its opening weekend? Without spoilers, share your thoughts in the comment section! And post your thoughts directly to me @putyrdreams1st.

Oscar History Pt. III: Margin to Center Stage

March 7, 2014

Oscar night of 2014 was among the most entertaining and well-balanced (for the Oscars, that is) in decades.

This year’s show made history for people of color on several levels:


  • With the Best Picture Academy Award going to 12 Years A Slave, for the first time ever, a film lensed by a Black director won.
  • The Best Picture win for 12 Years represents the first time a majority cast of color is the primary subject of the winning film.
  • Lupita Nyong’o wins Best Supporting Actress for her searing portrayal of Patsey, bringing the total number of Black women to win an acting Oscar to 7 (six for supporting, and one for lead, won by Halle Berry). The Kenyan actor was also was born in Mexico, and speaks Spanish along with three other languages.


  • John Ridley took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay of 12 Years A Slave. This makes him the second Black writer to win the award in Oscar history. The other is Geoffrey Fletcher, screenwriter for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.
  • With a few exceptions, Gravity all but swept the technical and production awards, a first for Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón. They took home statues for Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and the Best Cinematography Academy Awards. Which brings us to Emmanuel Lubezki.
  • Lubezki wins his first Oscar after 6 nominations, which he accepted for his visionary work in Gravity. The only Latino nominated more is 8-time Art Direction nominee Emile Kuri. His winning collaboration with director Cuarón on Gravity is also a first for Latinos.


  • Cuarón  is the first Latino director to win Best Director and Best Film Editing on the same film in the same year.
  • Cuarón  is the first Latino director to take home the Best Director Academy Award.


This is a tremendous amount of Latino history-making in one year, given that only 2% of the Academy voters identify as Latino. Mexico must be over the moon, or at least I would be if I were Mexico—or Mexican, or Mexican American. Because while I don’t see the Oscars as the confirmation of Black excellence, their recognition of it on Sunday night for 12 Years A Slave sent me over the moon. Not because I am starved for Black cinematic images; I seek them out to feed my spirit. I became a filmmaker so I could make the kind of Black images I wanted to see; to be a part of the solution. I was elated for the Best Picture win because on Sunday night, the true story of my ancestors was acknowleged on the world stage. The real, systemic, intractable, unfiltered horrors of slavery went from being on the margin to taking the stage in the pop culture conversation. On Oscar Night, our story was named the year’s best film. Our stories of thriving in the face of genocide matter.  They should be shared and retold—not to reopen the wounds of trauma—though that will happen. But shared and retold so their lessons of resilience and humanity are never forgotten. And so the healing from the trauma can begin, availing real freedom to those it affects generations later.


What the Oscar wins for 12 Years A Slave will do is get more people to read Solomon Northup’s book. It will get more people to the theater to see the film, a must-see in my view. It will also give McQueen, the actors, producers and cast the leverage they need to operate in Hollywierd on terms more amenable to them. Ideally, this means more work for Chiwe, Adepero, Lupita, Alfre, Michael K., and Quvenzhané. It also bodes very well for the next Plan B produced historical drama, Selma—and its director, Ava DuVernay. If nothing else, all eyes are on Plan B, and you’re only as good as your next project once you strike gold on the last. And Selma, by all accounts, sounds like it’s gonna be better than good.

I also took a powerful lesson from the wins of Cuarón and Lubezki: people of color can excel outside of subject matter that pertains to their backgrounds. This should be a universal truth in Hollywood, and I hope their victories get us closer to that. Mexicans should not have to solely explore Latino, Spanish-speaking, or Mexican territory to be deemed authentically worthy of Oscar attention. Same goes for women; they should be able to win for directing war movies, and Katherine Bigelow did in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. Even Cate Blanchett pulled Oscar’s coat on the earning power of woman-led films during her acceptance speech: “The world is round, people”! And she’s 100% right. 

To Cate’s point: it was also not lost on me how fully awesome it is to have a wildly popular and openly gay woman hosting the Oscars–and have that  be totally normal and utterly cool. Twitter-crashing selfies, pizza, and all in gorgeous formalwear. Kudos to Ellen. I’d like to see her keep the job for a few years!


See the full list of winners for the key awards here.

12 Years A Slave: True American Horror Story (Spoiler Alert)

November 7, 2013


My blogs about films usually come long after release because I like to talk about what happens in movies—and I want to give readers ample time to see the film before I go in. So if you have yet to see this film, bookmark this post until you see it. Because everyone should see it. I fully understand excusing oneself from this film if you are African American. Why pay to watch a piece of your people’s genocide unfold? My answer is easy: if our ancestors could live it, you can spend two hours watching it. In fact, it’s the least you can do—in addition to the added benefit of supporting two Black men in roles rarely offered for tentpole historical Hollywood biopics: director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley (respectively shown below).






I cannot recall a major studio film since the new millennium that outlines in sharp, granular detail the casual, yet unrelenting brutality of American slavery. Shout out to Haile Gerima’s independent classic, Sankofa (1993). In 12 Years A Slave, it is almost as if the physical and psychological violence dance a twisted tango, denying you the opportunity to look away. Civility and cruelty are in lock-step from start to finish. Adepero Oduye’s character Eliza watches her children torn away from her in a well-appointed auction house. She is then sold and transported to the plantation where she will serve the same mistress who offers her a chance to clean up and rest herself, after which she quips, “your children will soon be forgotten.” Eliza’s incessant tears and deep depression say otherwise. Her inconsolate heartbreak and human expression of trauma are rewarded with her being sold off the plantation. She’s too much of a wet blanket for the mistress, so she’s gotta go.


Lupita Nyong’o’s character Patsy goes to great lengths to be clean despite a life where she is defiled regularly by her master, who, in a fetishist distortion of affection, defends his property’s ability to pick 500 pounds of cotton each day to his wife. His wife hates Patsy. Patsy is such an economic asset, her value as chattel eclipses the power the mistress relishes as the woman of the plantation. The mistress hates Patsy so much, she even denies her soap. After picking 500 pounds of cotton each day in blistering heat. After being raped while being asphyxiated, and being smacked awake during the assault. After all of this, all Patsy wants (aside from freedom from slavery via her own death) is to bathe and be clean.


For this, the master tears open her back with his whip—but only after ordering Platt (nee’ Solomon) to whip her for him. “I’d rather it be you, Platt” Patsy calls through tears. Now faced with punishing his only ally or facing punishment for not complying, Platt whips her as meekly as he can; the hateful mistress catches on to his strategy and goads the master to end Platt’s “pantomime”. Then, the master takes back his whip and steps in. Bloody mist flies from Patsy’s body with each lash, which go on and on and on. In this scene, all at once, we are made to bear witness to the intersections of race, gender and class dynamics that still echo in modern American society:

The (Black) woman works harder than men and is somehow not only undeserving of basic dignity, but deserving of the cruelest shaming and/or punishment imaginable (today, this goes for all American women)

The Black man is made to sacrifice protecting the Black woman for his own preservation

The white woman castrates the Black man and the white man with impunity and colludes in the destruction of another woman who is poses no direct threat to her

The white man’s conscience is overruled by his ego and insecurity, and people are made to suffer for it

The other occupants of the plantation witness this and the messages of manufactured white superiority and black inferiority are branded into their collective consciousness

And this is just what I was able to pick up on as I watched, and afterward as I processed what I had just seen after the film ended. Understand that this is all from ONE scene.




And know that EVERY scene (save the shots of nature that serve as vitally necessary palate cleansers and spaces for the audience to exhale) is loaded in searing, aching, enraging, surreal fashion.  Slaves are awakened from precious, uncomfortable sleep after toiling just to dance for their master. Platt is literally strung up for hours for speaking up for himself; for defending himself against an overseer after doing as he was instructed. He tiptoes in mud and feces to keep his airway clear until the man who has the right to actually hang and kill him comes to cut him down. (Even the overseer’s whiteness isn’t enough to interfere with the master’s profits—that’s above his pay grade). As Platt’s life hangs in the balance, no one comes to help him for fear of reprisal. Enslaved children play and laundry as laundry is also hung. Right as I wonder if anyone will so much as offer Platt a drink of water, a slave woman rushes in to do just that, quickly enough for the audience to be the only people who see her humane transgression take place. Just another day in Hell on Earth.


In the span of this film’s running time, you see its protagonist, Solomon Northup—played with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s potent mix of raw emotion and undeniable craft—lose his wife and children, his home, his name, the shirt his wife gave him (beaten off him to bloodied shreds), his integrity, as he weaves a tapestry of lies at knifepoint to survive, his creative spirit as a musician, and nearly his faith in God and his very sanity.


It is based on a true story. Very little is embellished from Northup’s own telling in his book of the same name. It is real beyond what the imagination can even conceive. How does a people collectively manage to not go crazy—or postal—during a lifetime of untenable situations? And how do their grandchildren’s children go on to achieve and thrive? This is the capacity, the triumph of the human spirit.


12 Years A Slave is a masterpiece. It is shot as if each frame were its own canvas; McQueen holds on moments of depravity and epiphany so that we do right along with his characters. The editing is generous; even as timelines are usurped, the storyline remains unbroken. The writing is rich, but it also taut: with life or death hanging on each exchange of dialogue. The acting disappears; you become part of this film—and that is to the credit of stunning work by Ejiofor, Nyong’o, Oduye, Fassbender, Benedict, Woodard and Pitt. It is unflinching in its telling of one man’s harrowing story. It is America’s true horror story, one we all keep being made to live in some way or another, because we as a nation have yet to discuss, complete, redress, or heal its universe of injustices in any meaningful way. Until that happens, there is no getting over the socioeconomic ripple effects or the psychic undertow of slavery or institutional racism. No getting over. No overcoming. For Black people or white people. White people are also damaged in the transaction that lasted 400 years, bolstering corporations and setting the stage for genocide, xenophobia and mayhem that echo clear up to today’s headlines about changing the name of the capitol’s football franchise or granting children of undocumented residents full citizenship and access to the American Dream, or seeking justice for the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager by a man who identifies as white despite his mixed heritage and has no authority to patrol his neighborhood with a firearm. Utter American insanity. The only way through is to look it in the face, honor its victims, hold its perpetrators to account, and give its descendants permission to atone and move forward. 12 Years A Slave is a powerful, solid step on a shaky path.


Being Mara Brock Akil

June 26, 2013
Mara talking about what it takes to be a creative warrior.

Mara talking about what it takes to be a creative warrior.

Earlier this month, I attended the New York screening of Being Mary Jane, the latest project from accomplished show creator, screenwriter and producer Mara Brock Akil. You may know her name from the credits of the shows she created: Girlfriends, now a cult classic and a history-making show that ran for 8 seasons; and The Game, another history-making series that garnered 7.7 million viewers on its premiere night when it was reborn on BET—the most viewers for a sitcom premiere in cable history. She also wrote the remake of Sparkle, where Mike Epps delivered his breakout dramatic performance, and was sadly the last film role for the late Whitney Houston.

With the woman behind the film and dramatic series.

With the woman behind the film and dramatic series.

I held on to this piece because I needed time to process everything she shared during the talkback interview she conducted with another Mara, news anchor Mara Schiavocampo. Brock Akil’s remarks were so rich and at times so raw and emotional. Totally understandable given that she has lived with the Mary Jane character since her days of executive producing Girlfriends. To finally have that vision realized and experienced by audiences is clearly moving her deeply. I also waited to pen and post because she was really adamant about leaving those in attendance with the directive to get viewers: “from a production value standpoint, this kind of creativity is expensive. If you want to see more of this [kind of work on TV], you have to show up on premiere night—and not watch on your phone later.” So mark your calendars now to VIEW LIVE—not just DVR the film when it premieres on BET on Tuesday, July 2 at 10:30pm EST, right after the return of her other series, The Game.

Yeah…let that marinate for a sec.

A Black woman show creator/writer/producer has two programs premiering back to back on July 2.

She and Shonda Rimes are the only two African American woman writer/EPs with more than one show on at a time on any network. Brock Akil credited her telecast partner and its Chairman & CEO, Debra Lee on that night. “After we got 7.7 million viewers with The Game, my phone was ringing off the hook with people asking, ‘how’d you do it?’ We did it because BET believed. It goes back to marketing dollars; after 8 years of Girlfriends and 3 years of The Game on the CW, those shows got no marketing campaigns,” she recalled. “I was offering to run off my own fliers to pass out at clubs.”

Marketing matters. And when done well, it works. BMJ goodies on display.

Marketing matters. And when done well, it works. BMJ goodies on display.

It was also at BET that she got what she calls her “dream meeting”: the meeting that she noted “all the white boys get where the executives ask you what your passion project is.”

Brock Akil took that meeting with Original Programming President Loretha Jones, and when asked, Brock Akil’s answer was Being Mary Jane. No network is perfect, but what Brock Akil revealed with this information was how important it is for networks by and about people of color to exist—and thrive. In a Hollywood where she’d had two proven sitcom hits and even sold a screenplay, it was only a network that reflected her identity and understood her vision that presented her with the opportunity routinely afforded her white male counterparts. In this meeting, there was no “Negro 101” to wade through to determine whether the concept was viable or sellable with this network. They got it. And all any creative wants is to be gotten, so the audiences they serve can be seen, heard, known in all their complexity.

Brock Akil connects with author and mental health advocate Terrie Williams at the screening.

Brock Akil connects with author and mental health advocate Terrie Williams at the screening.

“I want to say that Black women and families are HUMAN with Being Mary Jane,” Brock Akil said. “I just want someone to fight for us; to fight for Black women.” Brock Akil is fighting the good fight. With this film, she packs a mean combination. Mary Jane Paul is both hero and nemesis; at work and in love, she alternates between saving the day and getting in her own way. Mary Jane adores her family, but like all of us, can’t stand some of the choices they make or ways they behave. Dynamic roles like these rarely come to women of color, and are written by them even less often. The result is usually some fragmented hologram of a “sista” with canned, tired dialogue, or a character that we only see in one context/environment because her character is peripheral, or a completely stereotypical caricature emerges.

Thankfully, none of the aforementioned can be found in this film. Gabrielle Union is perfectly cast as the woman who has to be “on” at all times in the world, but in her private moments, nothing clicks the way she wants it to. The dialogue is strong, snarky, and decidedly grown; no over-the-top attempts at hipness here. While honest exchange and deep reflection drive this drama, it definitely has moments that are shocking and funny. Thanks to laser-like scripting and nuanced acting from Lisa Vidal, Omari Hardwick, Stephen Bishop and Robinne Lee, there are several standout scenes. Won’t spoil them here. I will say that the ending is completely unexpected and sets things up well for the 2014 premiere of its spinoff series.

Toward the end of the Q&A, Mara went beyond being personable and got intimate. I was intrigued by her answers for how she manages to having a husband, family, and birthing her creative babies. Many of my readers know that in my book I asserted that work-life balance is a myth—long before women were being asked to lean in or lean out. What we need to strive for is work-life function, so we can be fully present in all of life’s moments, without being guilt-riddled or distracted from the business at hand; without compromising on self-care. Brock Akil affirmed my assertion during her talkback session with some incredible comments. She dropped a few jaws with these gems:

Speaking about her husband, Being Mary Jane director Salim Akil:

“I am very fortunate that I get to do what I love with whom I love. It’s also how we manage to see each other (laughs).”

“I have a lot of sex. Because sometimes, you think you need a massage, when really, all you needed was some…you know.”

“Black women need and deserve to be cherished; that is the role of a man.”

On drawing the line for family time:

“On the weekends, I am a mother.”

Hold it–before you go side-eyeing about how she’s only there for her kids two days a week: I take this to mean that she is a mother all the time, but that her work cannot intrude on that role during weekends. Mara Brock Akil is not ‘bout that Always At Work life. She actually does take time off from work each week. She relayed an anecdote about concerning a neighbor as she had a prolonged business conversation from her cell in her driveway, because she literally didn’t want to bring it to the threshold of her home. These boundaries matter, and if you want to be married to something other than a career, or want to raise a human being, the boundaries must be set, even if they change as you grow.

Gabrielle is gorgeous, as usual. Watch it on premiere night...for Mara!

Gabrielle is gorgeous, as usual. Watch it on premiere night…for Mara!

Here’s the takeaway: on BET next Tuesday, July 2nd at 10:30 EST, you have the opportunity to be highly entertained while you make a dream come alive for brilliant, fabulous and hardworking woman. Her dream is actually to create for a vision of Black women who are more fully realized onscreen, without making one Black woman the model for all of us. By taking that opportunity, you make that dream real in a world that has us all pegged. While it may not be a dream you share, this is absolutely a dream worth putting first.

Your feedback is welcome in the comments below or on Twitter directly to me here. Are you a fan of Mara? Are you excited about Being Mary Jane? Talk to me.

Follow Mara Brock Akil here. & ImageNation Join Forces For The Divorce Counselor NYC Premiere

March 17, 2013 & ImageNation Join Forces For The Divorce Counselor NYC Premiere

Mark your calendars and prep your outfits, Tri-State Area! This is the place to see the film on the big screen before its exclusive global premiere APril 13 on No tickets, no cost, just the perfect mix of creativity and a peek behind the scenes. Like the page at

The Divorce Counselor Is A Pan African Film Fest World Premiere

February 7, 2013


I am humbled and extremely excited to announce the world premiere of my first film to receive festival love: The Divorce Counselor! I want to acknowledge my gifted co-writer Tmor of Comic Diversity, my amazing co-producer Jamaal C. Lewis, my crew, and the incredibly talented cast, without whom the film could not have happened. If you are in Los Angeles for the Grammys, my first screening is the night before so do consider joining me! 

From my e-blast:

Thembisa Mshaka can now add filmmaker to her impressive entertainment resume: her short film “The Divorce Counselor”, which she wrote, produced and directed will world premiere Saturday, February 9 at 10:05pm and Thursday, February 14 at 1:25pm as part of the 21st Annual Pan African Film Festival at Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 15 in Los Angeles.

About the film: Mr. & Mrs. Jones are at odds and near the end of their marriage. Or so they think. With wit and heart, The Divorce Counselor examines the power of friendships and importance of therapy. 
This film is first in the block of selections–and only 10 minutes long, so BE EARLY–the film will not be viewable online until it premieres exclusively on April 13, 2013.
Tickets may be purchased in advance and at the box office for SHORTS SERIES 3, the block of shorts in which The Divorce Counselor is featured. There will be a talkback featuring Thembisa after the screenings.
Link to the trailer:
For tickets: Click the date of your choice and select Shorts Series 3 at
For more on the film like the Facebook page:

The Cold Part About Django Unchained *Spoilers*

January 1, 2013


I saw Quentin Tarantino’s new one last night. More like experienced it. I purposely blocked out any reviews so I could watch it with as little chatter in the background as possible. Tarantino makes controversial films. He draws equal praise and ire–just depends on who you ask. Hate him or love him, he’s a bold visionary. I am not one for gore or bloodbaths but when it comes to much of Tarantino’s work, I just can’t look away. See: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, and Inglorious Basterds


So when I learned Tarantino was bringing his pen and eye to a film with a freed slave on a mission of vengeance to rescue his wife from a plantation, I was immediately checking for it. I had no idea what to expect, and was willing to put my squeamishness aside yet again. Then more details unfolded. Jamie Foxx was cast as Django. Check. Supported by Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz. Triple check. Then I saw that “The D Is Silent” trailer using James Brown’s “The Big Payback”. Check. It wasn’t until the cast appeared on BET’s 106 & Park the week of release that I learned longtime Tarantino collaborator Samuel L. Jackson was in the film–as a villainous house slave. Check (now that I had to see). I also found out that Reginald Hudlin (The Boondocks, Black Panther) a producer whose choices and voice I deeply respect was on board. Chiggy check.  It should also be noted that two women producers, Stacey Sher and Pilar Savone join Hudlin on this epic mission. There is also one woman executive producer, Shannon McIntosh. Always a big deal for this blogger when women run the show. CHECK!

Django Unchained is a spaghetti western-inspired love story that takes place during American slavery. It is not about slavery, but slavery is depicted in all its twisted depravity, its horrifying brutality, and its utter insanity–all gnarled like the tree shaped scars on lashed backs throughout the film. Being the period piece that it is, Tarantino gets to let the n-word fly. Being the Tarantino piece that it is, so does the blood. Only this time, the slavers, overseers and profiteers all die at Django’s hand–a hand guided not by brute strength but with intelligence; driven by undying love.

But here’s the cold part about Django Unchained:

No Black director has yet to helm a major motion picture where slaves rebel–and live to tell about it with their soulmate as they ride off into the moonlight. Would this film have gotten the greenlight, the budget, or the marketing support it enjoys with a black director? Hellz no. Even with Tarantino writing and Hudlin producing, I still doubt it. Django Unchained brings into sharp relief just how unenlightened Hollywood continues to be. Now, this is neither Tarantino’s fault nor his problem. His job is to bring his vision to life, which he did to stunning effect here. I’m grateful he did. It opens a new generation of eyes to slavery in a fresh, albeit painful context. And in the absence of a national conversation about the 4-century long slave trade, the Middle Passage (what many call the African holocaust), the genocidal treatment of people of African descent under slavery for profit, and the heroic, at times equally violent efforts of those people to liberate themselves, this film is a damn good conversation piece. Had that conversation been undertaken, slavery in cinema may not be so loaded a subject that we can’t even watch a film in its totality without sweating the obvious. Yes, the n-word is splattered throughout. Yes, it’s hard to hear repeatedly from the mouths of white people. But it was typical of the period.

The flap over this being a “nigger”-filled Tarantino movie that mocks the peculiar institution is getting in the way of substantive critique and discussion. Yes, the film has comedic moments. But real talk, they are necessary–and kept me from crying as human flesh, Black flesh, was whipped, branded, hammered, hog-tied, torn apart by dogs. There is nothing funny about what the enslaved endured–but in my view, they are not the butt of a joke in Django Unchained. In fact, the lynch mob that was ostensibly the ramp-up to the Ku Klux Klan and the bumbling overseers were the ones portrayed as the ignorant criminals they truly were, despite the laws of the day being on their side. Waltz’s character Dr. King Schultz even uncovers Calvin Candie as the ultimate poser using The Three Musketeers. The punchlines aren’t there to coddle white moviegoers. Much of the laughter I heard from them was of the nervous variety. I’m sure they are used to feeling comfortable at the movies since their hero images pervade overwhelmingly. Oh well. Shoe’s on the other foot here. So go ahead, cheer along with the people of color when Django exacts his revenge.

Another cold part about this movie is The Hot Box (just wait). Tarantino literally strips Broomhilda, the character deftly played by Kerry Washington of everything but her dignity and virtue. That’s more than most of American media can say when it comes to portrayals of Black women, from directors both Black and white. She is even acknowledged for being smart because she’s bilingual, a rare quality in slaves, given their mother tongues are cut upon arrival.  I appreciated that for all the harrowing images of Broomhilda being tortured and humiliated, we also saw her radiant, in love, laughing, unspoiled–through her husband’s eyes. Schultz even has a chance to bed her, which would have been customary at this point in history–and doesn’t. Tarantino is putting many an image of Black relationships to shame with this film. The cold part about that? It takes having slavery as the context to get two award-winning, bankable Black lead actors starring as husband and wife in a big budget action film. In 2012. But I digress.

Other cold things about this film:

The complete and total bad-ass that is Jamie Foxx in this role. He lights up the screen with the keen brilliance of the trickster from start to finish. And yet, he gives us glimpses of compassion and vulnerability that are rarely available to Black male characters, who must usually be all funny, all womanizing player, all menace–or some nauseating mix of the three.

The unexpected and wondeful music choices, from the updated Django theme song to original music written by Foxx and performed by Rick Ross and an original song from John Legend. Tarantino is a music head with a great ear and this new approach of using original music along with existing material does not disappoint.

The sweeping panoramas, from the mountains of Yellowstone National Park to the arching trees on the plantation set in Mississippi but shot near New Orleans. Really great to watch Tarantino’s eye work with such scale; with the exception of Basterds and Kill Bill I & II, the film I’ve seen of his are usually focused on close, urbane quarters.

Leonard DiCaprio as Calvin Candie. It could not have been easy to drop into this character, even for one as seasoned as Leo. His big monologue (you’ll know it when you get there) is so raw, so full of molten rage, the hairs on your neck will stand up. So much for the Southern Gentleman. And that’s his own real blood on his hands from an unplanned lasceration during the take Tarantino kept in. WOW.

Thank you Mr. Tarantino for having the courage to make this film and take the heat. Thank you, Mr. Hudlin for lending your perspective and producing chops to this film. And thank you, Django–for giving the Hollywood slave his long overdue and much-needed revolutionary makeover.