Review: Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’ is daring and essential

Review: Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’ is daring and essential

Video Courtesy of NBC News


In 1979, a man named Ron Stallworth who was the first African-American police officer and detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department also became a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan and the leader of the local chapter. He would send a white co-worker to play him for in-person meetings as part of the wild undercover operation, but Stallworth was the one on the phone, insisting his hatred for non-white races with everyone from the local chapter members to the KKK’s “grand wizard” David Duke himself.

It’s Stallworth’s story that provides the framework for Spike Lee’s blistering new film, “BlacKkKlansman ,” but hardly the full picture. Deceptively epic in scope, in “BlacKkKlansman” Lee has made an immensely entertaining film about everything — love, friendship, ambition, civil rights, the power of words and images to uplift and destroy and the various shades and ideologies of racism and revolution that will leave you craving another viewing.

John David Washington (Denzel Washington’s son) plays Ron Stallworth, a composed and deliberate man who isn’t afraid to ask for what he wants, whether it’s a job or a quick promotion out of the dreaded records room and into undercover work.

Many around him are quick to throw labels and make assumptions about what he can and can’t do. His co-worker calls him a toad, because of his race. His black student union girlfriend, Patrice, asks if he’s a pig (i.e. a cop). At work, he seems extreme — a rookie suggesting a dangerous undercover operation to infiltrate the KKK. In life, he seems compliant. As Patrice (a brilliant Laura Harrier) tells him, meaningful change is impossible when working within the structures of a racist system.

But Ron has a plan to infiltrate The Organization, and a few around him like the police chief (Robert John Burke), and two detectives, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi) are at least willing to go along with it for a while. Flip draws the card to be in-person Ron, which turns out to be a headache of its own when one of The Organization’s members, Felix (Jasper Paakkonen), starts to suspect that he might actually be Jewish.

These scenes are riveting to watch, infused with a perfectly executed tension as Flip carefully navigates his way through meetings and interactions with the group, including the docile chapter leader Walter (Ryan Eggold), the maniacally sinister Felix and the perpetually drunk and dumb Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser). They are, on the whole, dopes used for comedic effect, but there is something else going on below the surface. You’re always keenly aware that these shadowy, back bar racists could with the right leader become the mainstream.

The acting is expert throughout with standout performances by Washington and Driver, especially, who gets a powerful arc. The supporting cast is also notably strong, including Harrier and Topher Grace as David Duke, who is attempting to take The Organization into the mainstream with a gentlemanly demeanor, polished suits and a politician’s smile.

Mind you, “BlacKkKlansman” is not a subtle film and is often repetitive where it least needs it. Stallworth’s “white voice” and racist musings over the phone are perfectly used a few times, until the effect eventually begins to dull.

But it is an exhilarating, distressing, funny and profound film, with one of the more memorable film scores in years, from composer Terence Blanchard. Every frame is packed with meaning and metaphor from the opening, the famous crane shot from Victor Fleming’s “Gone With the Wind,” onward to the sins of the present day. It’s a Spike Lee joint that is not to be missed.

“BlacKklansman,” a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references.” Running time: 135 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Photo credit: Union Theological Seminary

The Rev. James Cone, founder of black liberation theology, died Saturday morning, according to Union Theological Seminary.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Cone, an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Seminary in New York City. His groundbreaking 1969 book, Black Theology and Black Power, revolutionized the way the public understood the unique qualities of the black church.

Cone was a native of Fordyce, Ark., and received master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.

We would like to hear how Cone influenced you. We invite you to share 200- to 250-word tributes on UrbanFaith.com. Send your tribute with your first and last names, city, state, and church affiliation (if desired) to [email protected]

 

 

Faith and [email protected] by Southwest (SXSW)

Faith and [email protected] by Southwest (SXSW)

By Sederia Gray  [email protected]

AUSTIN, Texas–South by Southwest, known for its music festival and hailed as one of the most well-attended gatherings in the world, has introduced the topic of faith into its social impact series.

Through 10 faith-based sessions held on March 12-13, topics at the mass meetup in Austin, Texas, included faith in film, faith in the workplace, pride in interfaith communities, sacred activists: spirituality and resistance, and finding faith in digital games.

Also new this year — #OHUBHouse, part of the three-year-old Opportunity Hub initiative to bring black and Latino HBCU students to SXSW through a program called [email protected] The inclusion-focused #OHUBHouse system organized four days of programming for students of color from more than 60 colleges and universities to network with top leaders in the tech industry.

The conference, which took place March 9-17, typically draws more than 300,000 attendees and creates opportunity for participants to exchange diverse thoughts. Advocates and adversaries express their opinions on issues such as inclusivity, diversity and innovation. The faith-related sessions were no different.

The focus of the new sessions was the “intersection and impact of faith in culture, technology, and entertainment,” according to SXSW materials.

Hip-hop artist Jasiri X, who spoke on a panel about spirituality and resistance, focused on advocacy that is driven by faith. He and other panelists shared how their faith influences their community activism.

NASA scientist Dr. Jennifer Wiseman and the Rev. Dr. Lucas Mix, a theologian and biologist, explored biblical interpretations of life in an ancient, evolving universe in a session about life emerging in an ancient universe. They also discussed how faith and science can be incorporated into understandings about the origins of life.

Mia Parton, a panelist at a session on pride and interfaith communities, said SXSW is good at integrating society and communities.

Mia Parton Community Activist, President & CEO, Aeparmia Engineering

“I think SXSW is the best conference in the world because of its diversity, because of its inclusivity,” Parton said. “What SXSW did with incorporating faith sessions is what makes it wonderful.”

The importance of creating a space where people can have open conversations is important in today’s society, participants said.

“I think SXSW is the best conference in the world because of its diversity, because of its inclusivity,” Parton said. “What SXSW did with incorporating faith sessions is what makes it wonderful.”

The importance of creating a space where people can have open conversations is important in today’s society, participants said.

They added they were excited to experience faith at SXSW as they learned through a diverse group of experts and advocates. Conference organizers touted the new track as a way to remind people that faith and spirituality can be part of all aspects of people’s lives.

“I love that SXSW gave me the opportunity to speak and to a lot of other people as well,” Parton said. “I don’t know how SXSW does it, but I do know that they did an amazing job.”

 

‘A Spiritual B-12 Shot’: Why Churches Are Buying Out Black Panther Screenings

‘A Spiritual B-12 Shot’: Why Churches Are Buying Out Black Panther Screenings

By Adrienne Samuels Gibbs  [email protected]

Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ did it. Virginia’s Alfred Street Baptist Church did it too. And even in Memphis at New Direction Christian Church and in Los Angeles at Hill City Church, the pastors approved of it. 

What is “it”? Buying out theaters for screenings of Black Panther, the first superhero movie in recent memory that features an all-Black cast, a Black director, Black stylists and makeup artists, a Black soundtrack, and a big budget, pro-Black piece of the Marvel universe. No, it does not carry the overt religious message of The Passion of the Christ, but church leaders say a culturally positive superhero story can be a boon for the faithful.

 “This is mind-altering,” says Pastor Otis Moss III, the senior pastor of Trinity, a church that embraces spiritual discussions after major movie events. Moss’ church purchased 1,200 tickets to the movie – the equivalent of about seven theaters. “It’s important for the ‘family’ to see it together,” he says. He even is working on a study guide for Black Panther.

“People are truly excited to witness Africa viewed not as a struggling, destructive, painful continent, but to see Africa through the lens of African-centered eyes,” Moss says.

The moment is historic, and to hear the actors tell it, spiritual too.

By all measures, Black Panther is on track to exceed most advance ticket sales for big-budget films opening on President’s Day weekend as city after city sells out multiple theaters well in advance. Early estimates from Imax and Fandango placed opening ticket sales around $165 million before a single theater even showed the Ryan Coogler-directed film.

Churches play a big part in this economic engine. With congregations large and small buying out one to 10 theaters and watching the film with the “family,” sales are skyrocketing. The trend is clear. By encouraging members to watch the film in their finest African dress, and by also creating study guides and film talks to engage members, the body of Christ is embracing and anchoring the largest cultural moment of 2018.

This is the stuff a progressive Black church can get behind.

Moss, who has collected comic books since he was 10, can spout out the history of Black Panther and is fascinated with how the spirit of the king in this tale can transfer from person to person, but can only live within a person who has lived a life worthy of the spiritual possession. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. From a purely artistic standpoint, Moss shares this admiration of comic book storytelling and illustration with his children and encourages his congregation to use movies such as this one to help envision a just future and a world where Black power is embraced.

“I had decided (about the screening) when I saw the trailer months ago,” says Moss, who is uniquely positioned to discuss movies and spirituality because he studied cinematography in college and very nearly went to grad school for it. He points out that Superman was originally a superhero for Jews, and the X-Men were originally created to embrace the differing ideas of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Black Panther gives historians and spiritualists a lot to decipher.

 “Our study guide will talk about the real Wakanda: ancient Egypt and ancient Ethiopia, Timbuktu, great Zimbabwe,” Moss explains. “All these incredible African nations we were not taught about in school and the African origins of Christianity and Judaism and its connection to Islam. The Black Panther gives us a springboard to lift off the lid about racism and colonization.”

Trinity bought out eight theaters in a predominantly Black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. When members arrive, they will be greeted by drummers, photographers, and a festive, celebratory atmosphere.

Leaders at Alfred Street Baptist bought out 885 seats–or around six screenings–at a theater near the church with three staggered start times.

Like Trinity, this is not Alfred Street’s first movie rodeo. But unlike Trinity, Black Panther is intensely personal to the congregation, Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley says. That’s because member Jesse Holland was the writer commissioned to pen the Marvel accompanying book, “Who Is The Black Panther?”

“If there is anything worth, as a family of faith, us to go and watchwe purchase the theater,” Wesley explains. “Jesse Holland is a member of our church … That made it even easier for us to support it. He will be there to give commentary. He’ll be leading our Faith and Film series. We thought this was a great way [to support] given the magnitude of the film.”

 Alfred Street plans to gather in small groups for discussion afterward. And the pastor, who has a 10-year-old who will attend the screening, also is using it as a way to further connect with the kids. “It keeps church relevant,” he adds and laughs when describing his outfit for the event. He will definitely be “daishiki’d up,” he says.

“If the church only deals with stuff that was in the Bible, we would have no relevance in the world,” Wesley says. “Our mission is not to sit around and have prayer meetings and read the Bible. Members are going to see it and why don’t we see it as a family together.”

Many other churches would seem to agree judging from the large number of Black Panther screening Facebook invites swarming social media. Everyone is going to see it.

At New Direction Church, church leader Dr. Stacy L. Spencer hopes the men get some uplift from it, as a way to counter the effect of Black men being killed by police.

“Young men are inundated day in and day out with negative images and it’s emotionally castrating to them,” says Spencer, whose four-campus ministry has helped more than 25,000 people. “There has been a desert as it relates to a cultural icon, a superhero that young Black kids can rally around… To take young people to a movie and to imagine us as strong, to imagine us as heroic is a spiritual B-12 shot, a cultural B-12 shot… They can be heroes as well.”

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a Chicago-based writer whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Forbes and Essence. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two young sons who, sadly, are a wee bit too young for Wakanda part one. But for part two, they’ll be ready.

Jekalyn Carr: A Force To Be Reckoned WIth

Jekalyn Carr: A Force To Be Reckoned WIth

Jekalyn Carr is a force to be reckoned with.

Known for her chart-topping single Greater Is Coming, Carr is also a Grammy-nominated and Stellar Award-winning gospel artist, minister, and songwriter who unapologetically proclaims her love for Christ. She walks boldly and proudly in her calling and encourages others to do the same.

Carr began singing at the tender age of 5 and was called to preach at 13. In a short amount of time, Carr has garnered both national and international reach: a Billboard No. 1 Top Gospel Album (The Life Project) and No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel Airplay chart and No. 1 on the Gospel Digital Song chart for You’re Bigger. The song also peaked at No. 33 on the Adult R&B Radio Airplay chart. Her audience rapidly grew, landing her collaborations with gospel legends Shirley Caesar and Dorothy Norwood and performances on BET’s Joyful Noise and TV One’s Triumph Awards. Recognized by Jet magazine as “One of the Top Ten Faces You Need to Know” and included in Ebony’s Power 100 of the most influential people, she is well beyond her years and a true inspiration for today’s youth.

Her new single, You Will Win, is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. Her words of wisdom remind us that with God and positive people in our life all things are truly possible.

Urban Faith: How is your upcoming album different from your other projects?

Jekalyn Carr: With each assignment God gives us we should go from faith to faith and glory to glory, and this album is full of inspiration. I’m excited for the people of God to be changed and inspired.

Urban Faith: How have your parents inspired your career?

Jekalyn Carr: My ministry is built on my relationship with Jesus and my parents made sure that they protected my gift. They made sure to surround me with people who instill me with values that push me into my destiny.

Urban Faith: Adding author and actress to your already amazing accomplishments, at 20 years old are you excited to share your forthcoming book You Will Win and new album One Nation Under God? When will your book and album be released?

Jekalyn Carr: In January 2018, my book and album will be released. I share tips on how to win. At the end of the day, we are declaring it and speaking it but we must also be thinking like a winner, talking like a winner, and connected to winners. You can’t say you want to win and you are connected to people who look defeated or are defeated. You have to make sure you connect to people who have overcome. Whatever giant you face in your life, this book will help you. It is time for the people of God to take our victory title back. It’s time for us to declare our true identity and that’s a champion.

Urban Faith: Can you talk about your involvement in the OWN TV show Greenleaf?

Jekalyn Carr: Yes, I had a lot of fun and was blessed for the opportunity. My episode premiered on September 6. My Dad also produced a song entitled Hold Me Close and it is now available on the Greenleaf soundtrack.

Urban Faith: When you think of the word “success,” what comes to mind?

Jekalyn Carr: When I think of the word “success,” I do not simply minister because I have the skillset to, but I want to see people prosper and see the fruit behind my labor by hearing how blessed people are through testimonies. That is my definition of success.

Urban Faith: How do you prepare for your day with having a busy schedule?

Jeklayn Carr: With a busy schedule, I start my morning by prayer and declaring positivity over my day.

Urban Faith: In the pursuit of our calling, sometimes we find ourselves drained because we lack balance. How do you find time to find time to take care of yourself and what do you like to do for fun?

Jekalyn Carr: I take time to have fun and relax. I enjoy going to the movies, hanging out with family, getting my hair and nails done.

Urban Faith: What advice would you give to anyone who hasn’t discovered their purpose or is afraid to step out on faith?

Jekalyn Carr: There is a reason God has equipped you with your gift. There are people who are in need of your gift. That’s why it important to step out and do what God has designed you to do. You will find that as long as you are operating outside of your purpose, you are just functioning. When you operate in purpose, you will prosper and want people to be transformed because of your gift. Whether your gift is a preacher, a doctor, a teacher or athlete, you can’t afford to sit down on what God has placed on the inside of you. Ask God for the strength to allow your gift to be activated but also ask for boldness so you can walk into it and be successful in it.

To learn more about Jekalyn Carr, visit her website www.myjekalyncarr.net or connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.