Boycott The Oscars: Celebrate Cocktails, Cinema & Revolution!

Revolution_Awards_Honorees.jpgWhen Jada Pinkett-Smith took to social media with her controversial video vowing to boycott The 2016 Oscars, it went viral!! Even sparking a new hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite. Yeah yeah that’s cute, but long before Black Hollywood got pissed and decided to speak out about the black out at this years Oscars, ImageNation Cinema Foundation, has been hosting Cocktails, Cinema & Revolution: An award ceremony that kicks off Black History Month, celebrating black excellence, artistry, activism and independent film. It’s off the chain!! This years Honorees included Oscar-nominated director for Selma, Ava DuVernay; author/actor/activist and star of Limitless and CSI NY, Hill Harper; professor/author/journalist and host on MSNBC, Melissa Harris-Perry; actor/writer and star of AMC’s The Walking Dead, Danai Gurira; and Nakisha M. Lewis of BlackLivesMatter.

Media sponsor’s, 103.9FM’s on-air personality Terry Bellow, hosted the event and he killed it!! His jokes and lively commentary was the comic relief that made the celebration pop!! The sold out soiree held at the SVA Theater in Chelsea, was packed with a list of who’s who in black entertainment: actress Susan Kelechi Watson, Emmy award winning hair stylist Lavette Slayer and Marvet Britto, to name a few. The evening jumped off with stellar performances by vocalists Jeremy James and Candice Hoyes.

AvaDuVernay_Headshot.jpgBecause Ava DuVernay is in production on ‘Queen Sugar,’ a drama for The OWN Network, she wasn’t able to attend, however, she sent a heart felt video message accepting her Revolution Award for Trailblazing Achievements and in celebration of her fellow honorees saying about Danai, “I feel fortunate to live in a world where a voice like that not only exists but is being amplified and is shining so beautifully. And sharing her love for Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC show saying, “She is a triumph sitting there on that show every week, a triumph for women, a triumph for people for color, a triumph for people who live in justice and dignity, a triumph for nerds.”  

Acclaimed director and activist Warrington Hudlin, founder of the Black Filmmaker Foundation, and Black Girls Rock! founder Beverly Bond, presented The Ida B. Wells Revolution Award for Excellence in Journalism to Melissa Harris-Perry. Film Director and producer Tommy Oliver presented actor, author and activist Hill Harper with The Revolution Award for Art & Activism. Actress Zainab Jah of the upcoming Broadway play, Eclipsed presented the Revolution Award for Artistic Excellenceto actress playwright Danai Guriraand Yasmeen Sutton, a former member of The Black Panther Party celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary, presented the Revolution Award for Freedom to Black Lives Matter member Nakisha M. Lewis who accepted the award on behalf of founders Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

Revolution_Awards_Me_interviewing_Actor_Hill_Harper.jpgI hit the red carpet real hard for exclusive interviews with the honorees and they didn’t disappoint!! Hill Harper had this to say about #OscarsSoWhite, “With Hollywood and what films they decide to promote and put marketing dollars behind, to deem them quote unquote Oscar worthy, may not be the films that folks wanna see! As you can see, this is a packed house today because this is a special event!” I can’t agree with Hill more. Although I love all film and I pay my $10 bucks at the box office to watch movies from a diverse genre, it’s sad that I’m still saying what my grandmother said in the era of silent movies, “Hey black people are on the big screen.” That shouldn’t be a surprise in 2016, it should be a given!!  

Revolution_Awards_Me_interviewing_Journalist_Melissa_Harris_Perry.jpgI felt compelled to ask Melissa Harris-Perry about her recent scare from some crazy man that had stalked her and maybe even wanted to kill her as she watched the caucus returns with her students in a hotel lobby, “Part of what I was gonna talk about tonight was about Ida B. Wells, what they did to her, the fact that they burned her house down, they ran her out, there was a possibility for death for her and her family. This is actually very much in a long tradition on what it means to be a journalist, particularly a journalist who speaks on matters of race and gender.” WOW!! My mouth dropped. Deep!! And scary!! Because I too am a journalist who speaks out against racial inequality as a contributor on Fox’s The Kelly File and American Now with Meghan McCain and I get such hate snail mail, email, tweets and comments on my fan page but I never entertained the idea that someone would hate a person’s views some much that they would stalk them and attempt to kill them. This is eye opening!! 

Danai Gurira’s words were very apropos, “The thing that keeps coming to my mind as I thought about this award today, and as I was so touched and honored to be involved, to be a part of this, to be amongst these amazing other people as a scripture that say, ‘to whom much is given much is expected.’ No one can operate in a vacuum. That sort of collaboration is at the core of what I was asked about tonight, about black excellence, seeing each others light and affirming each other and then our own light shines,” she said tearfully. “I would love to see more and more women of African decent shine! It’s my artistic mandate to do that! To put stories on the page! Then I have no excuse! It’s my job! It’s my calling! It’s my purpose! And I’m thankful that you’ve given me this award. I’m thankful for the affirmation. It’s so important to me to focus on where my energy needs to go. I do think that the revolution should be happening!”

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Revolution_Awards_Honoree_BLM_Nakisha_Lewis.JPGNakisha M. Lewis kept it 100, “First of all, thank you so much for the honor in receiving the freedom award, it’s something not only to us as a people. People have to be out in the streets whether they’re in classroom or in community, disrupting the narrative about black people and creating a new narrative; one that means that we are people worthy of respect, worthy of dignity and freedom is ours!!” She cleared up the fact the Black Lives Matter is not just a hashtag nor is it a hate group, “Black Lives Matter is the digital footprint that sparked a movement!! We live in the legacy of freedom fighters! We don’t come as this new anti-white hate group, we come as proud black people seeking freedom in the spirit of Ida B. Wells and Fannie Lou Hamer. 

Immediately following the awards, we screened Sway Calloway’s short film, The Cycle, about policing and racial profiling and director Tommy Oliver’s very personal feature film, 1982 about his mother’s addiction to Crack, which stars Hill Harper, Sharon Leal, La La Anthony, Wayne Brady and the late great Ruby Dee.   The evening closed with a very powerful, thought provoking panel with Hill Harper, director Tommy Oliver, the renowned psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere, Troi Zee and moderated by image activist Michaela Angela Davis.  The after party turn up was held at the trendy Meridian 23 in Chelsea. 

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Additional partners and collaborators like The National Black Programming Consortium and The Newark International Film Festival, who were in support of ImageNation’s Revolution Awards, helped to make it a great success! I was also proud to be the producer of this years Revolution Awards. "We are so thankful for everyone who supported this truly stellar show of solidarity through Black art and activism. The energy was electric and we look forward to a magnificent 2016 packed with great programs and the opening of our ImageNation Sol Cinema in Harlem, later this year," expressed Imagenation founder, Moikgantsi Kgama.

For more information about ImageNation Cinema Foundation log onto www.Imagenation.us

Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee’ Appeared On Centric In Honor Of MLK Day

For more than a half century, audiences have been mesmerized by the love story between Hollywood legends Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee. After a highly successful Kickstarter campaign and the race against time, now, their grandson Muta’Ali unearths the foundation of this unbreakable bond in the documentary ‘Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee,’ which premiered on Centric TV Sunday, January 17,2016 at 3:00pm EST, in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

 As I watched ‘Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee,’  it blew me away!! The film is stylistically beautiful and packed with exclusive video footage, family photos and memorabilia. In addition, a host of celebrity friends like Angela Bassett, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Hill Harper, Samuel Jackson, Spike Lee, S. Epatha Merkerson, Phylicia Rashad, Glynn Turman, Dr. Cornel West, Sonia Sanchez and Malik Yoba, share eyewitness accounts of this American legacy. What a treat!!

To give you a little back story,’I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Director, Muta’Ali and Producer Jevon “NJ” Frank, for an exclusive interview.

Muta’Ali, you narrative and appeared in the film, was that pressure??

 It was very difficult because I was doing it while knowing her mortality. To include a conversation between a grandchild and a grandson was a love story. To have had another person do it, the intimacy would have been lost.

Muta’Ali, what is Life’s Essentials about??

It’s about the passing down our values and principals. It’s really an inside look on how Gram Ruby passes down Love Art & Activism. As her grandchild, you will see what I want you to learn. What I wanted you to know about them and not just on a superficial level. This documentary forces the viewer to juxtapose where they stand, against the people that they admire stand.

Muta’Ali, did you ask Gram Ruby all that you should have??

I did get to ask her all that I needed to ask in 2014. When we were doing the audio mix to premiere at ABFF, Gram Ruby passed away. When I look at the old footage I feel a sense of calm. That heart aching regret is nowhere to be found. It was one of the best journeys I’ve gone on.

Muta’Ali, why did you call her Gram Ruby instead of grandma??

It’s a funny story and there are different accounts of how it came about. As I recal, Gram Ruby, was not quite getting comfortable with us calling her grandma when she was on the red carpet. We definitely weren’t calling her Ruby either, so we mixed the two together and it stuck.

Muta’Ali, was having a famous all that we imagined it would be??

It was a really a blessing and an eye opener. It never struck me as abnormal until reflecting on it. It was wonderful to meet the people we got to meet and watching them interact with others. I felt that I was a witness to how people treated them. It was exciting. There were so many fun things that we got to do.

Muta’Ali, was Gram Ruby a cookies and milk grandmother??

She was very fond of discipline. She was raised in a very strict household. Out of love, her mother was very much on top of Gram Ruby’s life to make sure she stayed on the straight and narrow. She lectured me growing up and even when I was grown. She will set you straight!!

Muta’Ali, the rumored open marriage thing came up, how was it discussing that??

It was not an open marriage. Gram Ruby never called it an open marriage. However, I did need to talk to her about that because they still had an understanding that was an exciting possibility that would allow me to have sexual partners without destroying love in my life; that is more important to me. I needed to do it because I needed to know. My grandparents are speakers of the truth when it comes to promoting justice and their love life. So to them, cheating on someone is contradictory to their truth. They wanted to always be truthful. I enjoyed learning how to handle that possibility.

Jevon NJ FrankJevon “NJ” Frank, Stylistically the film was beautiful!! Talk about that??

Early on in the development stage, we had a plan that the archival would be a character in the film; to see the rich content we had. It narrows your focus on what Muta’Ali is discussing.

Jevon “NJ” Frank we must talk about funding??

Early on, we started with our own equipment then we went to Kickstarter and ran a campaign in 2015. We set out to raise 50,000 to do Ms. Ruby Dee’s 90th birthday celebration. We fundraised throughout the production of the film. It was an ongoing struggle every day. Luckily most of the content was owned by the family, so we didn’t have to pay for rights to most of the archival materials.

I know some seasoned filmmakers that take nine years to complete a documentary but it took us two years from the point of the Kickstarter campaign. The pace was at a record pace because we were racing against time to get this done before Gram Ruby passed away. We want to shout out Jasmine McCullough, our associate producer and Sonya Denise, our co-producer, who were also instrumental in helping make the film a success.

Jevon “NJ” Frank, what challenges did you face during the production of the film?

Most of the film was produced by myself and Muta’Ali, because of the lack of funds in the beginning of filming. It took a little over three years to complete, which was frustrating, but looking back on it, it was completed at the right time.

Muta’Ali, what do you hope audiences take away from this film??

I’d like people to smile as they think about Ruby Dee. I want them to be inspired by a grandparent who sits down with their grandchild. And where they stand in having a voice in their community.

The film will also be available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play February 1st in time for Black History Month. For info. visit http://rubydee.lifesessentialsdocs.com/

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