Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

Sundance Dispatch #3 - A Black Man's Identity Search In "North Starr"

This one hasn't been as lucky in the distribution department as the last film I mentioned (The Black List). But based on the review below from The Hollywood Reporter, it looks just as promising. The film is called North Starr. Let's hope someone picks it up and we get to see it eventually.

From The Hollywood Reporter...

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, PARK CITY, UTAH... The story of a young black man's search for identity, it is more vibrant and affecting than many movies with 10 times the budget. What it lacks in polish, it almost makes up for in heart and soul. The film could attract a modest crossover audience before finding a home on cable.

First-time producer-director-writer-actor Matthew Stanton clearly is working more from inspiration than experience. Blending the poetic with the prosaic and originality with the formulaic, he has put together an old-fashioned, socially conscious picture with a contemporary beat. Music of all kinds -- rap, blues, country, tribal drums -- is pulsating throughout the film.

"North Starr" operates on a literal and allegorical level. It opens in the Houston hood where Demetrius (Jerome Hawkins) is reluctantly pressed into doing some nefarious job with his pal Justice (David Haley). When Justice is killed in action, Demetrius starts out on his life journey, winding up as if blown by the wind in the tiny West Texas town of Trublin.

Befriended by Darring (Stanton), Demetrius soon encounters the remnants of the old South. The sheriff and his two racist sidekicks are so venal as to be almost cartoonish. As in most places like this, they are harboring an awful secret that somehow starts to show up in Demetrius' dreams. Haunted by his past and uncertain of his future, he is nurtured by Darring, his foul-mouthed friend Wayne (Wayne Campbell) and the hospitality of an elderly white couple at the North Starr ranch.

It's the feeling and sentiment that counts here more than logic, as changes in tone between the mystical and real world are occasionally jarring. The young cast, often awkward in front of the camera, doesn't help the cause. Yet the film has a great energy and means what it says. The poetry and songs Demetrius writes in his journal are used as a voice-over and a way to show his inner self. As a city kid lost in the Texas wilderness, it's hard not to root for him...

Highest Paid Actors & Actresses Lists + My $.02

Forbes Magazine's list of the 10 highest paid actors and actresses in the business, for the year from June 2006 to June 2007. I believe they do this annually, so their next list, to be released later this year, will cover June 2007 to June 2008.

Some interesting points I notice about both lists:

1. The obvious lack of non-white faces, except for Will Smith on the actor's list. No surprise there, I guess. But, at least there's representation on the actor's side. I wonder who the highest paid non-white actress was for that time period... Halle Berry? Jennifer Lopez? Jessica Alba doesn't really count, I don't think.
2. It's still very much a man's world. There's still quite a gap between what the women are getting paid, compared to the men. The average earnings for women is roughly $12.5 Million, while the average for the men adds up to approximately $40.5 Million! WOW! An obviously significant difference. The lowest paid man, Matt Damon, at $24 Million, made more than every woman on the top actress list, except for one - Nicole Kidman, at $28 Million.
3. What the hell did Vince Vaughn do in 2007 that generated $25 Million in earnings for him???
4. In reading the full article on Forbes's website, the reason for this discrepancy between men and women became clear to me. The men tend to be more aggressive on the back-end side - meaning, their contracts with studios for films that they starred in, included a percentage of the films' profits, on top of their already gargantuan salaries. For example, in Johnny Depp's case, the $92 Million he made for the year came mostly from one single film - the 2nd installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest series. I believe his usual salary hovers in the $20 to $25 Million range, so, he pocketed at least $60 Million in back-end profits from a film which went on to become the 3rd highest grossing film in history, raking in over $1.1 Billion worldwide. So, what does this mean for the women? Simply, they need to be aggressive with their contracts and demand some, or more back-end participation.
5. What the hell are all these people doing with all this freaking money anyway? The cumulative 2007 earnings total for both actors and actresses is $530 Million!! That's a lot of money, and possibly the GDP of some small countries. How about spreading the wealth around a little bit.
6. It's actually good to see that most of the names on either list are what we could call Actors and Actresses (note the capital "A"). These are people who are popular not because of their off-screen shenanigans, but rather because they take their work seriously and they're mostly good at what they do... although, the Jessica Alba inclusion on the actress side, is a little discombobulating... as are Sandra Bullock and Adam Sandler :o) But for the most part, these are usually reliable, solid performers.

Alright, nothing else stands out to me at the moment, so I'll end it here. But feel free to add your $.02 where necessary.

Here are both lists:


Nicole Kidman $28 mil
Angelina Jolie $20 mil
Jennifer Aniston $14 mil
Cate Blanchett $13 mil
Sandra Bullock $10 mil
Keira Knightley $9 mil
Julia Roberts $9 mil
Jessica Alba $9 mil
Scarlett Johansson $5 mil
Reese Witherspoon $7 mil


Johnny Depp $92 mil
Tom Hanks $74 mil
Ben Stiller $38 mil
Brad Pitt $35 mil
Tom Cruise $31 mil
Will Smith $31 mil
Adam Sandler $30 mil
George Clooney $25 mil
Vince Vaughn $25 mil
Matt Damon $24 mil

Did You Know #1 - What "The Matrix" Could Have Been, Big Willy Style

Did You Know...

Will Smith was the preferred choice to play the role of Neo in the 1999 blockbuster surprise, The Matrix, which went on to birth two par sequels? Apparently, Mr. Smith turned the role down, which was later offered to Keanu Reeves.

I just can't picture Big Willy as Neo - it would've been a slightly different film altogether, as I think his performance would have made it such.

For all his faults as an actor, I think Keanu was actually the better choice for the role. Obviously, my perspective is tainted somewhat because I've seen Keanu thrice already as Neo, so it would indeed be a little difficult to imagine someone else in it, regardless of who that person might be. Keanu's seemingly natural vacuous, deer-caught-in-headlights look, actually turned out to be more of a compliment to the film than a detriment, as Neo's struggle towards self-awareness practically called for that kind of a performer or performance.

Interestingly, Will turned down the role to make Wild Wild West, which ended up a critical and slightly commercial flop.

So, indulge me here for a minute folks... we can only imagine what The Matrix could have been with Will Smith (a black actor) in the lead role, flanked by Laurence Fishburne (also a black actor), and one could assume that Trinity, Neo's love interest, would have been a black woman (maybe). The original Matrix, by the way, was allegedly influenced by a manuscript called The Third Eye, created by a black woman, (Google Sophia Stewart if you have heard nothing of this), although the producers and Warner Brothers, the studio responsible for distributing the film, have done their best to minimize the propagation of this knowledge, as well as the damage that this wonderful piece of news could do to their reputations). So, again, indulge me here... with all that in mind - a starring black cast notably - imagine what The Matrix could have been, or what it could have meant to cinema (specifically black cinema), given just how influential it became. Would it have been as successful? Would we have seen 2 sequels - sequels that introduced even more black characters?

To his credit, Will Smith later stated that, if given the role at that time, he "would have messed it up." I agree :o)

Keke Palmer & Ice Cube "Comeback" - White Control/Black Images (A Question)

Hmmm... this looks somewhat promising - thanks in part to the fact that it tells a young black girl's story, something which we rarely experience on screen. Although the choice of director, Limp Bizkit's frontman-turned-director, Fred Durst, is a curious one. This is his second directorial effort. His first was a film released last year titled, The Education of Charlie Banks, which I didn't see, and don't know much about.

This raises a worthwhile question - one that I've discussed previously on my podcast - the question being, whether a film like this, about a young black girl, is one that should be helmed by a black woman/man director, as opposed to a white man (Fred Durst) in this case.

I should also point out that the screenplay was written by a pair of white men as well.

So, once again, we have a film that tells the story of black people written and directed by white men - as we've seen numerous times previously - most recently, in the case of Robert Johnson's Our Stories Films Inc, and it's 2 releases thus far, Who's Your Caddy? and the upcoming, Mission Intolerable. Granted those 2 films aren't exactly notable, worthwhile productions that would call for black talent behind the cameras, but what can't be dismissed so readily is the obvious lack of blacks in those off-camera positions. So one would expect that when an opportunity arises to produce films that tell the stories of black people, regardless of how inconsequential or fluffy the pieces might be, the producers of those films will go out of their way to hire available black talent to place at the helm of each production.

Obviously, I'm not saying that choices like this must be solely race-dependent. Whites have and can direct films about non-whites, as can blacks write/direct films about non-blacks - as well as Latinos, Asians, etc... In an utopian world, none of this would matter. But, alas, we don't live in a utopia, so color does unfortunately matter, and can't be wholly ignored. One has to consider what the overall lasting effects of some of these choices are. On the surface, it might seem somewhat trivial to even have this discussion, but any thinking person (and we are all capable, thinking people) should be able to see what might lurk beneath the covers.

Granted fictional films like some I mentioned aren't necessarily race-dependent, meaning the characters could be played by actors of any color or ethnicity, making that the only difference in what the audience sees in the final product. However, one could argue that having people of color on screen is itself a powerful, political move, regardless of the story being told, and any opportunity given to tell stories about people of color should indeed be handled with a certain sensitivity that might only be innate in a writer/director specific to the race of people in front of the camera.

I should also point out that the Fred Durst directed film in question is based on a true story.

Regardless, I can only hope that the end product in this case is a well-made, interesting, complex, entertaining film.

This is an ongoing discussion, and I'm sure it will come up again from time to time, possibly with no real eventual solution... if a solution is even necessary.

Your thoughts are welcome.

Read on...

Palmer joins Ice Cube’s pic

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) has joined Ice Cube in his untitled inspirational sports drama for Dimension Films.

Palmer will play Jasmine Plummer, the first female quarterback in Pop Warner history, who with her teammates draws support from her uncle (Ice Cube) and members of their Illinois town when the team plays in the Pop Warner Super Bowl.

Tasha Smith (Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?), Jill Marie Jones (The Perfect Holiday), Dash Mihok (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), Matt Craven (The Clearing) and Garrett Morris (Jackpot) also have joined the cast. Comedians Earthquake (Clerks II) and Michael Colyar (Norbit) also will appear in the film, which had been titled "Comeback."

Limp Bizkit frontman-turned-director Fred Durst is directing from a script by Doug Atchison.

Nick Santora, who wrote the original screenplay, is producing with Ice Cube and Matt Alvarez (Are We There Yet?) through their production company Cube Vision.

Production began in December in Shreveport, La.

Palmer, whose credits include Akeelah and Madea's Family Reunion, next appears in the crime drama Cleaner, which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Ed Harris.

Sundance Dispatch #2 - 50 Cent Launches Film Production Company

Hmmm... I love it when my fellow brothas and sistahs take control in order to create further opportunities for themselves and others who look like them; but, for various reasons, this bit of news doesn't inspire much hope within me. If the films that come out of this venture are anything like the music he's produced throughout his career, then I dread what's to come. Good luck to him though.

50 Cent announced at the Sundance Film Festival that he is forming a production company with longtime manager Chris Lighty and producer Randell Emmett (Shottas, Home Of The Brave, Righteous Kill) to produce indie films. He made the announcement during a news conference over the weekend.

Of this new venture, the rapper-turned-actor told MTV: "It means I'll have creative control of some of the projects I commit to and I can choose things to develop. I won't be on camera for everything I'll be producing, but now I'll be producing films too."

Sundance Dispatch #1 - HBO Likes "The Black List"

As I've mentioned previously on my podcast, this year marks a record for the number of "black films" screening at the prestigious (although, questionably relevant) Sundance film festival, currently ongoing, in cold and snowy Park City, Utah. I'll be recapping the festival on the next episode of my podcast, next week Monday, the 28th. But I decided to post any relevant news that comes my way before then.

According to the good folks at Black Talent News, one of those "black films" playing at the festival, a documentary called The Black List, by photographer-filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, starring former New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell, was picked up for distribution by HBO.

The Black List interviews 20 contemporary African-American leaders and icons about their personal experiences and the larger societal repercussions of race. Interviewees range from Sean Combs and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Chris Rock and Colin Powell. Terms of the deal were not announced.

An exhibit, book and other projects will accompany the film, with HBO executives saying the project could well include a second installment. No airdate has been set.

Sounds intriguing enough that I'll likely watch it whenever it airs on HBO, probably later on this year.

Films I'm interested in seeing in 2008 - #1

With the New Year in motion, I thought it would be a good idea to list those few films that I'll probably pay to see as the year progresses. Here's the first:

Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation - Charles Burnett’s next film, the writer/director of Killer of Sheep, a film I love and have talked about several times on my podcast. Namibia will be the opening night film at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival in Los Angeles next month, so I certainly encourage anyone in the L.A. area to be there opening night to see the film, and possibly return to share their thoughts on it. As far as I know, it doesn’t have a distributor yet, which certainly doesn’t surprise me. But I hope that someone, somewhere will give the epic film the theatrical release that it apparently deserves. It doesn't have the proverbial "big name celebrity stars" in it (I think Danny Glover is the biggest name starring, and given his recent relations with Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, he might actually prove to be more of a risk than a reward for the film); but it’s a Charles Burnett film, and hopefully that will be enough to generate some interest from distributors. Not that his name alone will sell the film, but I think his name does carry some weight, and he's well respected amongst his colleagues.

The film tells the story of Sam Nujoma, the first president of Namibia, from his political awakening, to his part in the country’s fight for freedom from occupation by South Africa. The film covers 60 years of history and was financed entirely by the Namibian government. Go to for more info on the film – not a lot, but there’s enough there to whet your appetite.

Here's the only trailer that I believe exists for the film...

Heath Ledger found dead in NYC

Not a black performer, but still a shocker... I was looking forward to seeing his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight this summer. What a shame...

NEW YORK - Heath Ledger was found dead Tuesday at a downtown Manhattan residence, and police said drugs may have been a factor. He was 28.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Ledger had an appointment for a massage at the Manhattan apartment believed to be his home. The housekeeper who went to let him know the masseuse had arrived found him dead at 3:26 p.m.

The Australian-born actor was nominated for an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, where he met his wife, actress Michelle Williams, in 2005. Ledger and Williams had lived in Brooklyn and had a daughter, Matilda, until they split up last year.

Ledger was to appear as the Joker this year in "The Dark Night," a sequel to 2005's Batman Begins. He's had starring roles in A Knight's Tale and The Patriot, and played the suicidal son of Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball.

Jeffrey Wright and Cedric The Entertainer In Period Piece

Jeffrey Wright and Cedric The Entertainer together in a period piece directed by one of the diminutive number of black female directors working today, Darnell Martin.

One is a thespian whose abilities, persona and career choices I champion (Wright); the other is most remembered for his roles as Cedric Jackie Robinson and Grandma Puddin' on the syndicated Steve Harvey Show.

Ok, so maybe Cedric has shown glimpses of some potentially real acting ability in a few screen moments here and there, but he still has yet to make up for the abomination that was Code Name - The Cleaner.

Maybe this will be his chance...

Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright will star in the Darnell Martin-directed biopic "Cadillac Records" for Sony BMG Film.

Brody will play Leonard Chess, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who started the Chicago blues label Chess Records and scoured the South, checking out the blues scenes and selling records from the back of his Cadillac.

Matt Dillon had been attached to play Chess but had to pass on the role because of a scheduling conflict.

Wright is set to play Muddy Waters in the period piece. Also newly cast in the film are Columbus Short, Cedric the Entertainer, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Tammy Blanchard.

Martin (Their Eyes Were Watching God) penned the script for the film, a tale of sex, violence, race and rock 'n' roll in 1950s Chicago that follows the turbulent lives of musical legends Waters, Chess, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf and Elvis Presley. Filming starts in early March in New Jersey and Mississippi.

The Earliest Clips Of Black People On Film On Record

The Earliest Clips Of Black People On Film On Record
Courtesy Of The Black Film Center/Archive At Indiana University

Watermelon Contest 1896

3 Men Dance 1894

Women Washing Clothes at St. Vincent, B.W.I. 1903

A Woman Bathes Her Child 1896

Little Boy Dancing 1897

Episode 32 - The Obenson Report Podcast On Black Film / Cinema

Episode 32 - The Obenson Report on Black Film / Cinema
Sponsored in part by ActNow Foundation

Recorded Monday, January 21, 2008, 9PM
TRT 60 Minutes


- Joanna De'Shay of the Arizona Black Film Showcase talked about their upcoming event - go to for more info.
Filmmaker Brandon Wilson (THE MAN WHO COULDN'T) joined me as we talked about the writers' strike, as well as some films we are looking forward to seeing in 2008.
African American Literature Professor Danielle Elliott of Smith College discussed her critical essay on Spike Lee's documentary, 4 LITTLE GIRLS.

Got something to say? Call the show's voicemail hotline at 1-800-765-7249 and leave a message there; and if it's worthwhile, I'll play your message on the show. OR, email me you comments at

How She Move? Really?

A free copy of my film BEAUTIFUL THINGS for anyone who can name a previously released film that the upcoming Paramount release HOW SHE MOVE resembles. I've already come up with 3: