Welcome back, me! I missed y’all last week, which means this list is about to be brolic. But as literally every single moment in 2020 has shown us, we need the escape. Let’s get to it!
First Impressions: My actual first impression of this trailer (which is very relevant, given the topic of protestors) when I saw it is that I was so mesmerized by the fact that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II was so vocally unrecognizable. After having seen the film and interviewing him about it (more on that next month!) I can confidently say the now-2020 Root 100 honoree and Emmy-winner’s portrayal of Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale is exquisite work. The whole world will be watching.
First Impressions: Every person who dreams of venturing into the genre of professional comedy remembers the first time they stepped into the hallowed walls of The Comedy Store in West Hollywood, Calif. I know I do. Granted, I don’t have stand-up dreams, but I do have comedy TV writer dreams—it all intersects. Either way, you study the greats, and all the greats have stepped into this building at one point or another. Featuring interviews and never-before-seen footage from folks like Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Damon Wayans, and more...this doc is a must-watch for me.
First Impressions: In true Larry Wilmore comedic form, the trailer consists of Wilmore sitting down for a typical talk-show chat with...himself. At the time we reported that his show was coming, it was untitled. As we now know, the host of one of Peacock’s newest late-night talk show roundup decided to go the radical route and name it after his surname! *smirk*
First Impressions: Following behind Wilmore (which actually premiered last Friday on the 18th), The Amber Ruffin Show is having its world premiere tonight (Friday). It’s not only a big deal because she is premiering a late-night talk show, but because she’ll currently be the only Black woman to have one of those things. Yikes! No pressure, but all the well wishes to Ruffin on her debut! Looking forward to it.
First Impressions: Directed by Sam Soko, Softie is the first-ever Kenyan film to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and it also won a World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing. The doc is a raw look at the journey of photojournalist and activist Boniface “Softie” Mwangi, who decides to run for political office in hopes of changing a corrupt system in Kenya. It’s a feat that’s not only ambitious but dangerous. Though things may appear different culturally, the overarching conversation of misinformation in politics is definitely deeply relevant to Americans, as well.
The Black Emperor of Broadway (iTunes; Now Streaming)
First Impressions: The history here is a hidden gem for me because I did not know of Charles Gilpin, the first Black leading man on Broadway (1920). Cast in Eugene O’Neill’s “edgy” play Emperor Jones during a time when white men were typically portraying Black men in blackface, the success of the show catapulted both into stardom. However, Gilpin stood in integrity and pushed back on language his character, Brutus Jones used. As with most instances where marginalized voices speak out against the powers that be, it cost him his career. This is largely why he’s mostly unknown today.
First Impressions: Shout-out to the goofy girls, which is why I became of fan of Michelle Buteau after I saw one of her stand-up routines. This is Buteau’s first hourlong comedy special and it makes sense it’s on Netflix because they are handing out big comedy deals like hotcakes! I’ll be tuning in because other than mindless YouTube videos, stand-ups are one of my favorite means of escape.
First Impressions: So apparently Steve, portrayed by Anthony Mackie, and his friend take some psychedelic drugs that lead to a more-than-trippy experience—including being thwarted to this alternative reality where his daughter is missing. This could end up being incredibly intriguing or downright confusing, which is typically the risk with these sorts of “mindbending” sci-fi flicks.
First Impressions: Basically, a veteran fast-food worker passes the torch to a new guy in town, portrayed by Shane Paul McGhie. Given the racist “what kind of name is that?” quip (McGhie’s character name is Jevon) at the beginning of the trailer, I’m expecting some of that “reach across the aisle” narrative between the cranky white guy and the young Black guy, though I’m hoping it delves away from the trope and actually tackles something real. I’m willing to give this one a chance because I’m curious about McGhie’s performance, which could be promising. Plus, I’m always happy to see some Da’Vine Joy Randolph.
First Impressions: I absolutely remember the ‘90s horror anthology Tales From the Hood because my scary-but-curious ass would attempt to watch it and go to bed without nightmare-anxiety (spoiler alert: it didn’t work). Of course, in the world of reboots and sequels, we now have a third installment of the Rusty Cundieff franchise. Rusty Cundieff will be joined by Spike Lee and Darin Scott in the third round starring Tony Todd, Lynn Whitfield, London Brown and Cooper Huckabee. Guess what? I’m still kind of a scary-but-curious ass.
First Impressions: Ah, we’re in the finance world (particularly, at an investment bank)! Given the talk around history-making (and 2019 The Root Young Futurist) Lauren Simmons, I expect this one to be relevant in terms of tackling both race and gender in timely ways. The series stars Myha’la Herrold, Marisa Abela, Harry Lawtey, David Jonsson and Nabhaan Rizwan as “The Graduates” and Conor MacNeill, Freya Mavor, Will Tudor and Ken Leung as “Management.”
First Impressions: The title of this new show is pretty damn intense; let’s start there. It’s actually based on a podcast of the same name and is actually a pretty cool concept for music heads, as each artist thoroughly breaks down their song, down to lyrics, archival footage, raw recordings, and the inspirations that led to it. Alicia Keys, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ty Dolla $ign are among the guests.
First Impressions: This looks to be a comedy industry-heavy roundup and this film is specifically tackling the frightening foray into performing as the opening act—you know, the guy who has the boring job who decides to pursue his dreams, no matter the risk. Stop me if you’ve heard (or lived) this before! The film co-stars Cedric The Entertainer, Jermaine Fowler and more.
First Impressions: Yes, this is basically a couple of white folks whose lives are shattered due to “a chasm [that] opens up their lives: a violent death and a chain of terrible revelations.” But get into the narration of co-star Noma Dumezweni (who portrayed Hermione Granger in Broadway’s Tony Award-winning Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) as her character Haley Fitzgerald explains: “It’s what rich, entitled people do when threatened. They conceal the ugly truths to protect themselves.” Girl...*gestures wildly at America*...say that.
First Impressions: I’m really just here to give a shout-out to the quick yet bad-ass shot of Teyonnah Parris (who will be portraying Monica Rambeau). Next!
First Impressions: Based on Gloria Steinem’s book My Life on the Road, this film is called The Glorias because four different actresses will be portraying the feminist leader throughout her journey. However, we all know we can’t have any credible women’s movement project without involving Black women, so this series also stars Janelle Monáe and Lorraine Toussaint.
First Impressions: We have more social distancing content on our hands! Basically, I expect us to run out of every possible quirky title we can use to express the goings-on of this unprecedented time (is there a coronavirus-era show called “Unprecedented” yet?). Keith Powell, Jill Knox and Preacher Lawson are among the co-stars.
First Impressions: When I initially saw the title and the network it’ll be airing on, I thought this was some crime investigation series, but apparently this is a comedic spin where funny folks add commentary to internet video fodder. Standard stuff! Ron Funches portrays one of the fictional interns who have been tasked with the job to “catalogue all of the pointless security camera footage that passes through the ‘NSA’ servers.” Mindless entertainment certainly has its purpose during these times.
First Impressions: “From the mind of Stephen King...”, the trailer notes. Welp, we’re in for some creepy mess! Basically, a retired detective is tormented by some deranged serial killer and disturbing shenanigans ensue! The series will star Emmy-award winning Jharrel Jerome, Maximiliano Hernández and Scott Lawrence.
First Impressions: Looking at the state of this country, the movers and shakers who have continuously fought for change are not nearly done, as the title suggests. In fact, it often looks like we’ve taken several steps back. The documentary, which was created by a primarily female and non-binary crew will chronicle “the seismic eruption of women’s organizing from the 2016 election through today” and will feature conversations from leaders such as Tarana Burke and Shonda Rhimes.
First Impressions: The return will highlight convos with Jessica Alba, Ashley Graham, and Amber Rose, focused on “raw, honest conversations on of-the-moment topics such as mom-shaming, sexual consent and more.” In the trailer, I see there will be a sit-down with Lauren London and I see there’s more Will Smith, too! Oh, and as I’m writing this blog, I just heard via Facebook that the first guest will be professor, author and podcaster Brené Brown. Speaking of the Smiths...
The Solution Committee (Snapchat; Now Streaming With New Episodes On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays)
First Impressions: In this new series hosted on Snapchat’s Discover page, Jaden Smith will talk with his celebrity friends such as Common, Willow Smith, Janelle Monáe, Phoebe Robinson, Yara Shahidi, and Lena Waithe “to explore and understand what we can do to create change around the most important racial and social justice issues of our time.” This isn’t surprising as Jaden really is trying to change the world out here, one sustainable major product at a time. I haven’t checked it out yet, but I’m just hoping it also includes some wacky wisdom that only Jaden’s third eye understands.
First Impressions: Known as the “Chef of Love,” Food Network star Chef Jernard Wells continues his own cooking show on a Black-ass network, which we love to see! And we love Black-ass season renewals! This season, Chef Jernard welcomes guest culinary influencers Chef Ahki Taylor, Chef Bren Herrera, Chef Essie Bartels, and Chef Resha Purvis. OK, I’m hungry...
First Impressions: Y’all already know we love us some Big Freedia. In this timely documentary (which, I assume the title is a play on Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got A Gun”), Freedia gets vulnerable in the fight against gun violence, having lost her brother and cousin. The New Orleans bounce legend also “shares her personal journey from growing up gay in the projects through Hurricane Katrina and chasing her musical dreams,” so this could be a good watch for new and existing fans alike.
First Impressions: An official selection of the Sundance Film Festival, City So Real promotes itself as “the fascinating and complex portrait of contemporary Chicago [which] delivers a deep, multifaceted look into the soul of a quintessentially American city, set against the backdrop of its history-making 2019 mayoral election.” Obviously, as a Chicago native, I’m intrigued to see this. As I’ve heard this doc described as “a love letter to Chicago,” I’m definitely in.
Whew! Like the beautiful ladies of the Terry McMillan film adaptation, I’ve been Waiting to Exhale. I’m done for the week! See y’all next Friday!