Entertainment // October 13, 2014

Usually when we think of women in nightclubs, we think of body glitter, Cosmopolitans and that awkward dance circle in the center of the floor that forms when Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ comes on (what is that, by the way?). Jayne Coffee is in a nightclub most nights but she’s nothing like the stereotypical “club girl”. She’s actually in charge of running one of the hottest and longest running clubs in the ATL right now, Tongue & Groove.

As the tatted up, bad-ass Director of Operations at Tongue & Groove, does more in a day than most and does it all to ensure that the nightlife of Atlanta never stops. This isn't a typical career path for a woman and I was intrigued to see what it takes to help make a nightclub successful. I had the chance to chat with Jayne about managing an ATL hotspot, how it feels to work in a male dominated industry and what it’s like to spend  your work days up in the club.

Jasmin Martin: First thing’s first. Explain the name “Tongue & Groove”.

Jayne Coffee: It’s a nod to the wood flooring used on a dance floor.

JM: Okay, now that we cleared that up, I’d love to know what it’s like to have a 9 am to 5 pm in a place that typically operates from 9 pm to  5 am. What are your day-to-day responsibilities with the club?

JC: I work directly with all department managers on a daily basis to ensure an exciting experience for our customers. I’m also responsible for driving sales and controlling costs.

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JM: Creating an exciting club experience is a crucial part of nightclubs and some clubs don’t do the best job of trying to meet their customer’s needs and consequently, they go out of business.Tongue & Groove has been around for 20 years. What’s the club’s secret to all these years of happy party people?

JC: We put a major focus on ‘southern hospitality’. We create relationships and try to ‘touch’ every guest. We try to be ‘inclusive’ and not ‘exclusive’. We want everyone to feel like a VIP. We go out of our way to make every customer feel special and create lasting memories. We are also constantly evolving and staying at the forefront of trends. Tongue & Groove now is very different than Tongue & Groove 20 years ago.

JM: Speaking of T&G then and now, the club is coming up on their 20 year anniversary, which is practically unheard of in the hospitality industry (Congrats!). What will the club do to celebrate?

JC: We’re filming a documentary titled 20 Years Behind The Velvet Rope and we will debut the trailer the night of our anniversary party November 13th. This will be one birthday party that you won’t want to miss!

JM: The nightlife/hospitality industry is typically a male dominated arena. As the director of operations, have you ever experienced sexism in the workplace? Do you think people don’t take you as seriously because you’re a woman?

JC: I have worked very hard to create a good reputation for myself and earn respect in the industry. Hard work and a great work ethic goes far when trying to establish a name in a male dominated industry. That being said, I firmly believe that a lot of times men are hired on their potential and women are hired on their accomplishments.

JM: Atlanta is known for it’s over-the-top nightlife. In 20 years of operation, I’m sure some big names have walked through the doors. Who can you name? Any regulars?

JC: Mick Jagger, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, Kidd Rock, P Diddy, Jamie Foxx, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez. People who regularly attend the club are locals like  Charles Barkley, Dallas Austin, Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, Freddy Freeman, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Jonathan Massaquoi.

JM: If could give one piece of advice to young women aspiring to work in nightlife, what would you tell them?

JC: Go for it! In my opinion, the hospitality industry is one of the best businesses to be in!

Published in Lifestyle

Entertainment // October 13, 2014

Filmmaker Justin Simien has a message for white people and his new film is not holding anything back. Dear White People is a satire created with the intent of waking people up and starting a real conversation about the new generation of racism in America. The story takes place at a fictional Ivy League college amid a heated racial uproar. The film’s lead character, Samantha White (Tess Thompson) hosts a radio show called “Dear White People,” her tongue in cheek way of shedding light on the racially divided culture on campus. She says on air, “Dear white people, the number of black friends required of a white student to not seem racist has been raised to two. (Weed dealers don't count.)”

Incendiary at best, racist in its own right? Maybe. Nothing is off limits in this film and black or white, it takes aim. But don’t be fooled by the title. The message is for everybody.

The film took an incredible route to creation, starting off with a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, getting picked up by a production studio and winning prizes at Sundance and San Francisco film festivals. It was also selected for the New Directors/New Films program in New York City. Now, it’s opening week and the stage is set for Dear White People to make the splash it seems destined to. I chatted with one of the films stars and my good friend Marque Richardson, who plays Reggie in the movie, and talked to him about his experience working on the project.

Serena Watson: Can you sum up the film’s plot for me in your own words?

Marque Richardson: It’s basically this sly, satire that follows four black students at an Ivy League college campus and each character explores a stereotype of the African-American race. So a race riot breaks out when this white fraternity throws a blackface, African-American themed party. You hear about this happening across the country, white students in college are throwing blackface parties. Which has always happened.... But now that we have the internet and social media people are more aware of it.

SW: How long did it take to film Dear White People and where did you shoot?

MR: It took about a month. We shot from August to September in Minneapolis, Minnesota at various locations out in Minneapolis. A couple scenes were shot at the University of Minnesota. There was a women’s college that we did a lot of interior shots at and we shot all the exterior stuff on University of Minnesota’s campus.

SW: So this film had a smaller budget and was a smaller project but you guys are winning awards and getting people talking. You even won an award at Sundance. What was that experience like?

MR: For me anyway, it’s like a numbing sensation. In the sense that, we were all friends before we shot this thing. So [when we were filming] it felt like we were at summer camp. We had a good time, we went to camp and then we came home. We knew there that it was something special. Especially because of the following it had from the Indiegogo campaign and social media. It was a grassroots movement. And we wanted to do it justice. Everyone went there and we did our best work. We just left it on the field. And just seeing the response that it has gotten from Sundance to… all of them. It’s been amazing. In the sense that, to have your work be appreciated is a great feeling. It just feels like a dream.

SW: That’s really dope. How did people start hearing about this film? How did the movement spread?

MR: It raised a lot of money during the Indiegogo campaign and that garnered a lot of attention. Justin, the director, went on CNN and that video went viral and drew more attention. It showed that there was an audience for this conscious type of movie. So from there that’s where it drew the interest of other studios. Another small production company called Code Red decided to help produce Dear White People.

SW: Speaking of the audience, of course you have a very strong following from African-Americans. But in terms of other races, why should they see this film?

MR: Other races should see this film because it’s actually a story for everyone. And it’s funny, and it’s fun, and it’s smart. The film itself has a mirror effect. That’s been the most interesting response that I’ve experienced just from being at the different screenings of the film. Especially at Sundance where the audience is so diverse. When we had our showing, there were like 1200 or 1300 people and it was sold out. But the majority of the people were white people. We had people of all different races, all different ages, all different backgrounds, coming up and telling us that they identified with one of the characters. You see yourself in these characters. It’s a universal story. The title “Dear White People” is just to be controversial and get people talking; to start a conversation. But its not like it’s a black film. It’s a controversial film, or title anyway. But it’s a different experience than the title or what you think it’s going to be.

SW: You talked about the film being a mirror. How close to the film was your own college experience, if at all?

MR: I didn’t realize that I lived this until I was Sundance getting ready to do an interview with Democracy Now. And I was sitting there with Justin and then it was like an “Ah ha” moment that hit me out of nowhere. And I was like “Wait a minute… I lived this!” I’ve had an entrepreneurship professor tell me “I’m so glad you made it out of the hood.” [Laughs] What are you talking about? But how much of the film did I experience at USC? All of it. My character is more of a black militant. I wasn’t a black militant. I had a lot of different friends. But yeah, it was pretty dead on.

SW: Got you. So why do you feel the themes and messages in Dear White People are important and need to be heard?

MR: Some people think that we’re in a post racial America…We’re not. I think the most important thing that people should take away from the film is that it’s okay to be themselves and to be unique and to be comfortable with that. Not to feel the need to be confined to the norm or what society expects you to be.

SW: Of course such a strong message and strong characters are going to create a reaction. Have you, the filmmakers or any other cast members experienced any negativity as a result of the film?

MR: Oh, I mean… people have thrown negativity. I haven’t received any of it. People talk shit all the time, especially on YouTube and the message boards. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. But that’s what it was meant to do. It was meant to spark a reaction. It was created to make the audience to feel some type of way. So yes, there was tons of negativity. There’s also tons of positivity. But it’s all a conversation. And that’s the point of film, to create a conversation. And the negativity hasn’t affected my career or any of the other cast members.

SW: Right, people are talking. I know that Common tweeted about the film. What were the most memorable reactions that you’ve gotten from famous or non-famous people?

MR: For me, it was P. Diddy, he’s one of my idols. So, when he tweeted about it I was like “ohhh! That’s dope!”

SW: What’s next for Marque? What other projects do you have coming up?

MR: I’m working on this indie film called “Dating Daisy.” And a couple things that I’m producing myself. One project in particular called “The Come Up” -- it’s a mockumentary.

Published in Current
Monday, 01 September 2014 23:08

Entertainment | Why We Love Reality TV

Entertainment // September 2, 2014

If watching television has surpassed baseball in becoming America’s favorite past time, watching reality TV has our become our hot dog and peanuts. Just think about it; every time you turn the TV on you’re likely to catch a reality TV program. Dance Moms, The Voice, Dating Naked, Love and Hip Hop. Since it hit our TV screens in the early 2000’s, reality TV has changed how and what we enjoy watching on TV.  

As with anything popular, this genre of TV doesn’t come without it’s fair share of criticism. Some shun reality TV for it’s glorification of ill manners, dysfunctional relationships or hyper-sexuality. Others enjoy taking a look into how people on the other side of religion, the poverty line or the world live. Like it or not reality TV is here to stay. Whether it’s watching the wives, fiances, girlfriends and er…jump-offs of NBA stars,  brawl at brunch on Basketball Wives or watching women fight over one man and one rose on the Bachelor, we are tuned in to watch reality TV shows every week to catch every episode and we’ll be damned if we miss any parts of it.


Why do we love reality television so much? You know it’s just a collection of all that is wrong, wild and drunken in the world. Is it like driving past a car wreck on the street --- you just HAVE to peep it out? Whether we choose to attribute our attraction to FOMO ( fear of missing out, as the kids say) or not, I believe that our obsessions with reality TV run much deeper than a casual glance at the disaster unfolding in front of us.

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At the most basic of understandings, we love reality TV because it’s an opportunity to admire the lives we don’t live. It’s a fantasy --- for 47 minutes we can be enthralled in the scandal, romance or comedy of someone else’s situation before going back to the regularly scheduled programming of our own lives. Reality TV is safe. There’s no repercussions to watching what happens to other people from afar, right? Wrong.

Going beyond the ground-level understanding of why we love reality TV is the belief that it feeds into not only our voyeuristic nature of peering into other people’s lives, but it drives our jealous nature of coveting what we don’t have. Our own insecurities about the songs we can’t sing, the recipes we can’t make, the jobs we don’t have or the cars we don’t drive are what keep us tuning in every week, wishing it was us with that talent, that car or that opportunity. However, that “keeping up with the Jones’ “ (or Kardashians) mentality is what makes reality TV unhealthy. The constant comparison between what we see on TV and our lives off screen shifts the standard of what is considered “normal.” These reality stars are not “just like us”. The typical American family does not have expendable income to blow on a month long vacation overseas nor can they afford to throw their 16 year old child a birthday party to rival their wedding, so why make it our guideline for what’s acceptable for our reality? There’s no need to base our self worth on what’s happening on TV.

And this isn’t just me talking in my “mom” voice. Research has shown that watching reality TV begins to shape one’s perceptions about the world around them. In fact a study by the American Psychological foundation found that heavy viewers were more prone to think women really do engage in arguing, gossiping, being verbally aggressive and other bad behaviors more than men. Heavy viewer also overestimated the prevalence of discord in relationships (meaning affairs and divorces) and the emphasis of sex in relationships.

But what about the reality TV shows that AREN’T all about flashing your wealth, physical challenge or serial dating? Not all reality television is condoning bad behavior or narcissism. Truth be told, some programming can actually have a positive impact. MTV’s 16 & Pregnant made us all hang our heads in disbelief when it first debuted in 2009. Season after season we’ve watched young mothers struggle with the perils of raising a baby while still being babies themselves. Although the show may appear to just be reality TV garbage that exploits teenaged girls into documenting their unplanned pregnancies, 16 & Pregnant and it’s spin offs Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, may have actually done some good. According to a study conducted earlier this year by the CDC, statistics show that teen births (all births with females under 20) have shown a constant decline. Insight into the day-to-day struggles of these young mothers may help deter young women from wanting that same experience. MTV’s pregnant programming is a cautionary tale and a warning to young women about the consequences of their youthful actions.

Fact is, reality TV is as real as you make it. As TV lovers, we need to be able to differentiate between the fiction of reality TV and the facts of our personal lives. If we aren’t applying the principles and standards we see on TV to our principles and standards of living, reality TV has no power over our self esteem, bank account or social network. The reality TV culture of overindulgence and overachievement would have no affect on us if it stayed right where it is - on our screens.

Published in Entertainment
Friday, 30 May 2014 07:11

Made Movies | Maleficent Review

Made Movies // June 2, 2014

People went out in droves this weekend and even stood in line for hours to see the reincarnation of one of Disney’s darkest and most feared villains, Maleficent. The film raked in over $170.6 million during it’s opening, proving that its star, Angelina Jolie, still retains her global appeal despite having been absent from the silver screen since 2010’s The Tourist. The film seeks to tell the recycled untold story of the classic fable Sleeping Beauty and its antagonist, Maleficent -- a miscreant so wicked she curses newborn baby Aurora at her christening. Directed by Avatar’s production designer Robert Stromberg, the film seeks to immerse you so deep into the fairy tale that you forget that it’s live action and begin to think that the world of magic and pixies is real. But does it succeed?

I checked out the film over the weekend hoping to see a modern and mature version (a la Ever After – which I loved) of a movie that scared the crap out of me when I was little. Disney is known for their candy coated narratives for kids but the pure evil antihero, dark undertones and haunting melodies of the original Sleeping Beauty were more in line with the stories of The Brothers Grimm and their Little Briar Rose which the film was based on. I predicted from all of the marketing (heavy on the Angelia, with no explanation of why we needed a new version of this classic) that the movie was going to be 97 minutes of her perfectly arched eyebrow and cold sneer but wondered if she could really carry it. The final verdict? She didn’t need to. The wonderland created by Stomberg steals the show in the first half of the film as Jolie slowly gets her bearings (maybe she was rusty?). We are introduced to the fairyland of “the moors” where all the magical creatures live and are left wondering, “how did they do that?” The marriage between live action and the artistry of CGI suck you in and the story is well on its way before you realize that… “hey, there are other people in this movie besides Angelia Jolie?!”

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Yes, yes there were… but just barely. Elle Fanning plays Aurora, more pawn in the battle between Maleficent and King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) than a real player in the story. Copley as the King was a little over the top, and the storyline didn’t do much to save him. After spending his childhood with her, and seemingly falling in love, young Stefan betrays Maleficent by drugging her and cutting off her wings in order to become king. When Maleficent retaliates by delivering her deadly curse on his newborn daughter, Aurora, King Stefan descends into a ridiculous obsessive state of vengefulness. So much so, that he can’t even go to his dying wife’s bedside because he must sit and have imaginary conversations with Maleficent. He sends his daughter away to be cared for by three pixies (Fittle, Thistlewit and Knotgrass—fun right?) until her sixteenth birthday, hoping that his nemesis will never find her. But no one is more cunning than Angelina… I mean Maleficent and she immediately goes to the cottage where young Aurora lives in hiding.


In act two, we see something that was definitely not in the cartoon version of Sleeping Beauty. What starts out as the fairy queen spying on Aurora turns into Maleficent looking over her.  Maleficent’s merciless demeanor and spine tingling cackle are slowly melted away by Aurora’s burgeoning charm. The cutest scene is when toddler Aurora (played by Jolie’s daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt) waddles up to Maleficient who says, “I don’t like children.” Some irony there coming from Jolie, mother of seven.  Maleficent picks up Aurora and holds her for a second before she sends her back to the cottage. Still holding on to her hatred of King Stefan, Maleficent almost sends 8-year-old Aurora over a cliff. But the once lighthearted fairy queen can’t go through with it. And when Aurora finally visits the moors, the merciless Maleficent is completely won over by her wide-eyed wonder. “I have a plan,” Aurora says. “When I get a little older, I’ll come and live here with you. We can take care of each other.” “Why don’t you live here now?” Maleficent says.

The evil queen and the young princess chillin’ together? This isn’t the sleeping beauty I remember! The story seems even more unfamiliar as Aurora pricks her finger as foretold in the curse and falls into a death-like sleep but the kiss from cute Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) doesn’t wake her up. Say what? Isn’t this true love’s kiss? The story ends and we find that true love isn’t always romantic. Aurora and Maleficent have to team up to help each other defeat the crazed King Stefan and the story is suddenly more Thelma and Louise than the romantic Disney fairy tale we all remember. Overall, I thought the story was a bit choppy and the performances could have been stronger but I wasn’t mad at the effort. Really though, what was disappointing was the lack of maturity in the story. This may be a modern retelling but it’s still one for the kiddies. Should you see it? Sure, but bring your little cousins too.

Published in Entertainment

Start-up Spotlight // May 19, 2014

Sisters Kimberly and Wendy Willming finish each other’s sentences. Like a lot of other sisters, they have cultivated a short-hand language over a lifetime together. But even considering their 26 years together, these sisters have an uncanny understanding of one another. They’re twins, and though they’re technically fraternal, they look so much alike that it’s unsettling upon first meeting them. The Willming sisters not only grew up together, but they were college roommates. Today, the two currently live together in Los Angeles and have recently embarked on a creative and strategic adventure together. After a handful of years spent behind-the-scenes at some of the city’s major studios, Kimberly and Wendy have launched Duplicity Studios. A new media one-stop shop.

These ambitious and entertainment savvy twins are developing their own productions, but more than that, Duplicity is art house new media studio. The duo are crafting strategic partnerships and original content for hungry, entrepreneurial brands. With an entertainment industry so deeply cemented in traditional milieus, these two are carving out a new path by bridging classic aesthetics with new ideas.

Kimberly and Wendy are the human manifestation of yin and yang: Wendy’s business and strategic tendencies compliment Kimberly’s creative concepts and acumen. It is this prolific and dynamic style that has carried through to Duplicity’s latest short film (having just wrapped production as of this writing). Alongside that, they are currently collaborating with a multi-faceted local Los Angeles art gallery and think-tank iam8bit for whom they are honing brand strategy and developing content. Wendy notes, “[iam8bit] fully respects our use of mixed media and cinematic flair. Our work with them has been about capturing their daily routine. We wanted to capture how owners Jon Gibson and Amanda White work together in this labor of love.” With iam8bit, Duplicity Studios is helping shepherd the journey of a company whose roots are in the video game industry (hence the name) to that of a full-fledged creative studio that spans across creative marketing, production, products, and events.

MW: How long has Duplicity Studios been incubating?

Wendy Willming: It’s been in the works for a while. Ever since we moved out here, we’ve been wanting to do this but we really needed the studio experience first.

Kimberly Willming: A lot of it is learning the industry and, between both of us, we feel like we can do just as well with all the knowledge we’ve gained to start doing our own thing.

MW: How would you describe Duplicity?

WW: What we want is our platform to display our own works, but it’s also a creative way for us to explore the city and—

KW: And work with other artists around town. We’re going to produce content for others and it’s also a way for us to expose the elements of the entertainment industry that we’re passionate about. We’re starting with this short film we just wrote, directed, and produced. For our clients though, they have a history and it’s all about how they want that to be seen.

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MW: Can you tell me about your short film?

KW: It’s a three-and-a-half-minute Sci-Fi short. It has a very stylistic approach in the vein of Jean Pierre Jeunet in feel and tone. It’s about a female android who, one night, explores something about herself that she didn’t previously realize she could do. It’s a kind of a slice of life, if you will.

WW: It was magical the way everything came together for us on the shoot. We shot at Ray’s Diner near Santa Monica.

MW: Who is an ideal client for Duplicity?

KW: What ultimately we’re looking to evoke [for any of our clients] is that old Hollywood feel but with a modern spin. Streamlining the old and the new.

WW: Definitely brands with that entrepreneurial spirit.

MW: How are you finding the life-work balance of start-up life?

KW: Late nights. Early mornings. But it’s so fun!

WW: Working the nine to five can be so draining emotionally and creatively, so then to know that you have something that you’re managing and you’re passionate about more than anything...it really helps the day to day.

MW: What is unique about your clients?

WW: They work in different mediums. They show prints in their galleries, they make tangibles, they do events. We’re always able to learn from them while at the same time helping them to figure out what and who they are as a company.

KM: They’re niche.

MW: What differentiates you from other studios or media agencies?

KW: We have a very clean style. And the fact that we also will produce and shoot on film in addition to digital. Everyone has a nostalgic feel lately.

WW: That classic Hollywood look never gets old.

KW: Everyone has predicted the demise of film, but really it’s just about having the knowledge. Digital is great, but I don’t think film has gone away completely—and shouldn’t. And by combining the two [digital and film] you can create a unique experience.

MW: Where will you be in a year from now?

KW: In a year, I would like to have our feature done (script-wise) and start financing it. And also as far as clients go, a trust of brands within the city—

WW: Just having great creative collaborations.

Published in Entrepreneurship

Entertainment // March 24, 2014

Hollywood is much like playing the tables in Las Vegas. Success takes a touch of good fortune and a great deal of skill. Lena Waithe has both. A Chicago native, this Writer/Producer has taken the LA scene by storm. Just this past year, her film “Dear White People” graced Sundance audiences, her web-series “Hello Cupid" charmed small screen viewers, and she dropped a preview of her upcoming series “Twenties”– on which she’s partnered with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Productions. And just this past weekend “Dear White People” was acquired by Lionsgate and Roadside Pictures. Waithe’s future is bright and she’s been sure to bring fellow creatives and close friends along on the journey. After returning from Sundance’s whirlwind, which she self-described as “life changing,” Waithe took a few moments to chat with me about her creative vision.

MW: At what point did you realize you were a writer?

LW: I knew I wanted to be a television writer when I was 7. I saw a different world and I thought, whatever this is, I want to be a part of it. I was a child with a vision – always a big reader. I loved writing and television. So, this combined my favorite things.

I studied all the greats and great television can transcend time. It’s one of the reasons I take such pride in what I do.

MW: Is there a common thread in the stories you tell?

LW: Honestly, I think I’m really good at writing female relationships. Whether they be familial, romantic, platonic, or messy. I like writing about the relationships that women have with each other.

MW: If you could accomplish one thing with your voice, what would it be?

LW: To do what A Different World did for me, for someone else - allow people to see a better version of themselves and help them realize that the world is bigger than their backyard. A big thing too, is that I’d like to hold up a mirror to reflect the faces that are looking at it. I really want people to feel a connection to the characters that I write.

MW: Where do you think current programming is lacking in that regard?

LW: I think there’s a lot of aspirational stuff, which is fine. There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t require characters to look inward. Usually, when you see a show that’s well done – it has a great impact because it’s really about flawed characters that are self-aware and are really trying to improve themselves. It’s about them trying to be better people. And I think that’s every human being’s journey. That’s why people hook into these characters more than these glossy characters with these fabulous lives.

MW: What creatives have helped influence your process?

LW: A person who really is my all-time hero is Susan Fales-Hill. She started out as an intern on The Cosby Show and Dr. Cosby thought she’d be a great fit for A Different World. I got a chance to sit down and have coffee with her. She’s very classy, and played a huge role in setting the stage for Mara Brock Akil and Shonda Rhimes. She has influenced my whole career. When we finally met, it was full-circle moment for me.

MW: What has been the most difficult part of your career and how did you overcome it?

LW: The difficult part is writing and rewriting bad scripts when you first start. That’s the hardest part. Everything you do isn’t going to be as great as you want it to be – it’s just not. That process of learning how to take notes and trying to find your voice – that’s hard. All this stuff about the industry, everyone is going to have a tough time. This is a hard business period. But to me the hard part is the internal journey to continue to go on and become the artist you want to be.

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LW:Be great in whatever it is that you do. If you aren’t great at it, then everything you’re doing now should be working towards becoming great.  When you’re great, good things will happen.

To those of you who jumped ahead to find out what’s next for Ms. Waithe, she kept things close to the chest. Good news: she says that great things are “brewing,” "Twenties" has found a home and Justin Semien ("Dear White People") will be involved, and there’s a secret project in the works with Issa Rae. It’s nice to know that the house doesn’t always win.

Follow Lena on Twitter: @hillmangrad

Published in Entertainment
Friday, 28 February 2014 22:07

Entertainment | Oscar Night Recap

Entertainment // March 10, 2014

I don’t know about you but I found last night’s Oscars immensely entertaining. Host Ellen DeGeneres eased the audience with her unique brand of humor, interacting with them, even serving A-listers delivery pizza and tweeting selfies with the likes of Meryl Streep and Bradley Cooper. As you can imagine, the resulting frenzy broke Twitter for a few minutes.

But the big winners of the night were arguably some of the most hard-hitting and memorable nominees of last year. Taking home the most coveted spot of the night was 12 Years A Slave, the amazing story of free African-American man, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery and had to fight to regain his freedom in a pre-Civil War America. The film won the award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay as well as earning newcomer Lupita Nyong’o the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film.

12 Years A Slave wasn’t the only film that swept multiple award categories last night. Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey, who plays an HIV positive man working to find proper medical care and acceptance in the heart of Texas, earned he and co-star Jared Leto, Oscars for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.

The film also scored the award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Award winners Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews said they only had a $250 budget and had to showcase the transformation from sick to healthy with only makeup.

Another film that won multiple awards was Gravity, the space adventure drama starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, where the stars face their own demons as well as the fight for survival. The film won the awards for Best Directing, -- making director Alfonso Cuarón the first Latin-American director to win this honor-- Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Score. Basically, if you want to experience a movie that is going to push the boundaries on visual effects and sound, this is the movie to see.

Following the accolades of critics, frontrunner Cate Blanchett won the award for Best Actress for her role in Woody Allen’s film Blue Jasmine, adding to her Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards for the role as well.

Disney fans can also rest easy, as fan and critic favorite film Frozen, won the awards for Best Animated Feature as well as Best Original Song for “Let It Go.”

Other notable awards included Spike Jonze’s modern story of love and technology Her, which took home the award for Best Original Screenplay, Italian film The Great Beauty, which took home the award for Best Foreign Language Film, and 20 Feet From Stardom, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Noticeably absent from the awards was fan-favorite 70's era American Hustle, as well as the greed and debauchery themed Wolf of Wall Street, which both had nominations in a number of categories, but did not take home any Oscar wins.

Which were your favorite films this year? Did you agree with the award selections? Tell us your thoughts in the comments or tweet us at @MadeWomanMag!

Published in Entertainment

Entertainment // January 27, 2014

At Made Woman, we’re always on the lookout for artists that make us sit up and take notice. Great music is made only by those of equally great stature and initiative. As the calendar turns over another year, our eyes and ears are refreshed. We eagerly anticipate those who will define the musical landscape of 2014.  We’re betting these five ladies below will be making this year their own. These are the Top 5 Female Artists to look out for in 2014:

Artist: Yuna

Why she’s Made: Yuna is a Los Angeles-based artist with Malaysian roots bringing a sultry and emotive quality to today’s pop music. Her sound fits into the music annals alongside others like Sia and Corinne Bailey Rae. She can sometimes be as sweet as sunshine, and at others, pull at your heart with the sweet aching nature of her crystalline voice. Yuna began her career with the help of MySpace in 2006, catching the ear of US music labels. Undeterred by the lack of instant mainstream success, Yuna has continued to push forward in the music scene the last nine years, both releasing LPs and EPs and working with music mavens like Pharrell, along the way.  She spent the later half of 2013 finally making waves with the release of her latest Nocturnal album, so look for Yuna to take over the music scene in 2014.  

Artist: Birdy

Why she’s Made: You might not know her by name, but chances are you (and 54MM other people) have heard her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”. Birdy, also known as Jasmine van den Bogaerde, can make you feel bad about yourself without even really trying. At just 17 years old this Brit made a splash with her beautifully epic record of covers, and this year she is back to enchant with an entirely original album including a track from The Hunger Games soundtrack. She was recently featured on the star-turning Morning Becomes Eclectic program on Los Angeles’ taste-making KCRW radio station.

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Artist: Angel Haze

Why she’s Made:  Angel Haze is the benefactor of so many musical talents you’d be inclined to think she had multiple personalities. She has innate abilities as a hard-driving rapper and lyricist and is an equally pure vocalist. It is a duality which makes me, of course, think of another phenom: the talented Ms. Lauryn Hill. At 22, Detroit-native Haze looks no more than 15 because -- you guessed it -- she has the face of an angel. An embattled childhood, an independent mind and an unflinching desire for the world to hear her music are what fuel Angel Haze. She recently leaked her own studio debut Dirty Gold ahead of its release. You’ll be thanking her that she did.

Artist: Angel Olsen

Why she’s Made: Another “Angel” tops our list for 2014. Though she, too, often uses music to exorcise some of life’s most tormenting demons, this Angel finds her home in the singer-songwriter genre. There is no pretense about Chicago-based singer-songwriter Angel Olsen. Her style moves counter to the trends of today’s soundscape -- raw, stripped-down and beautifully underproduced. I had the pleasure of seeing her live last year, and Olsen’s performance was beautifully understated belying her grand voice. A voice that is both staggering and unique; and untrained in the best way possible. It sits somewhere comfortably between an operatic belt and the country call of a yodel. Witnessing her natural display, the range and fluidity of her swoons and croons, is spiritual. Her presence will be in no shortage this year as her sophomore LP Burn Your Fire For No Witness is out February 18th.

Artist: Elli Ingram

Why she’s Made: The second Brit on our list occupies the space between AlunaGeorge and Amy Winehouse. Her cadence is playful and her sound is jazzy ala Winehouse on her freshman effort Frank; but Ingram additionally introduces buoyant elements of early 90’s R&B. Last year after covering Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice” and releasing a take-notice EP, Sober, Ingram signed to Island Records (also home to the late, great Ms. Winehouse). In 2014 the sky's the limit for this import.

Published in Entertainment

Entertainment // January 13, 2014

The veteran songstress and songwriter was well into her 90-minute set at Yoshi’s Jazz Club last night when she unexpectedly announced to the crowd that she was considering a career change. “I’ve been reading about music as a healing modality and I’m hoping that that is the next step that I can take a foray into and make part of my profession.”

The announcement was quite appropriate.  Last October, Amel Larrieux released “Ice Cream Everyday,” the long-awaited and oft-delayed studio LP.  It had been six years since her last studio album, Lovely Standards (jazz), and seven years since she’d released an album comprised of her own original material.  Her fans were long overdue for some of her “music therapy” and rushed to the iTunes store on the release day to download Larrieux’s latest installment.  So far, the album’s first single, “Afraid,” reached number 16 on the Adult R&B Songs chart.

Throughout her set on Sunday night, Larrieux seamlessly weaved through material from all six of her albums.  She eased into the performance with one of her new songs from Ice Cream, “A Million Sapphires,” establishing a deep and focused tone, followed by “Magic” and “We Can Be New.”  

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But the energy of the show ascended to new heights with the song “You Don’t See Me,”  as the music seemed to transform Larrieux from R&B crooner into a Hip-Hop lyricist.  While even throwing in a couple freestyle lyrics about her ‘drink and her two-step,’ Larrieux prowled and sashayed across the stage with a swag that would’ve made Biggie pass her the mic.

And in classic Larrieux fashion, she showed her range and repertoire by performing a cover of Madonna’s “What it Feels Like For a Girl.”  With only her daughter, Sky Larrieux, accompanying her on keyboards, the deconstructed version of “Girl” became exceedingly thoughtful and introspective.

She followed with two favorites from the Morning album, “Unanswered Questions,” and “Gills and Tails.”  But the show elevated once again as she performed the hypnotic new song, “Danger,” a lesson in unlearning the culturally-driven ideas that create fear, hate, and devaluing of self.  Larrieux fans have always enjoyed Larrieux’s ability to infuse refreshing social commentary in her disarming music.  “Danger” is the latest of such works and does not disappoint.

For the final stretch, Amel brought back a couple of her classics, “Infinite Possibilities” and “INI.”  But the crowd came alive with the ballad, “I Do Take,” which will undoubtedly become the new wedding song for 2014.  

She followed that with the cherished “For Real,” and the show was rounded out with the iconic Groove Theory hit “Tell Me,” with the entire audience singing and dancing along.  

The show was perfectly imperfect, with minor hiccups here and there.  But members of the Amel faithful who have been patiently waiting for her return to the stage felt like it was well worth the wait.  One concert-goer told me, “It’s amazing and I don’t know what it is about her, but now I feel totally inspired and ready to tackle my own challenges and goals.  I have a big interview this week and this is just what I needed.”

We also got a chance to catch up with the singer after the show for an exclusive Made Woman Mag interview, so make sure to check out Part Two of this article later this week.  But in the meantime,  to get your own dose of music therapy, pick up Ice Cream Everyday.  And if you’re in the Seattle or Washington D.C. area, make sure to check out one of her upcoming shows this month

Published in Entertainment

Entertainment // November 18, 2013

I hate trends. Trends in music, fashion, beauty, TV … it’s just not my thing. I learned my lesson with trends years ago (remember velour Juicy sweatsuits and Sidekicks? Terrible.) and now I’ve found that I’m better off remaining true to my individuality and not following behind something because it’s popular. More than my dislike of trends, is my disdain for the avalanche effect they cause. Often times, people rally behind a trend uninformed, dragging other ignorant supporters with them. Before you know it, the crazy train is so long and out of control it’s hard to tell where or how it even originated. Example? Hollywood’s obsession with telling the “Black Story.”

Within the past couple of years, Hollywood has had a resurgence in the trend of telling African American history through slavery or Jim Crow inspired struggle films and casting Black actors in self-deprecating roles. I started to notice the trend with 2011’s ever-popular “The Help.” “The Help” captivated audiences with it’s telling of life in the Jim Crow South.  The film’s success included Oscar nominations for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, followed by ample magazine covers, interviews and media coverage; thus, starting the snowball effect of Hollywood’s interest in African American history with Black actors and actresses portraying the less than glamorous side of their heritage. Since “The Help,” Hollywood continues to capitalize on that specific culture with studios releasing “Django,” “The Butler,” and most recently “12 Years a Slave.”

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Most of the aforementioned films have received rave reviews, but when you have to emotionally prepare yourself for the language, visuals and subject matter of a film, I think it’s time to dial back on the period pieces. We get it - African Americans have a rough history, but for many Black people having to hear depictions or see reenactments of their background over and over again, it becomes insensitive. Hollywood has OD’d on slavery/struggle films and should spark a new trend du jour in telling Black history. Black people were more than maids and field slaves; they also have made a wealth of advancements and achievements not only for their culture, but for American culture as a whole. But I guess those stories are not trendy enough for Hollywood.

I never thought I’d say this but the 1990’s fashion brand FUBU had it right ... with it’s focus on creating things “For Us, By Us.” If history is going to be told, no one can tell a story better than the person who lived it. When it comes to Black history, Black people should be the ones telling the story - the WHOLE story. Thanks to innovators like director Spike Lee or Howard Johnson, who’s publishing house highlights the achievements of Black people through their publications Ebony and Jet, is the true Black story told. Past and present, African Americans are a forward -moving people and that cannot be ignored. Recently, cable network BET (Black Entertainment Television) had a presentation honoring not just the achievements of Black people, but specifically of Black women titled, “Black Girls ROCK!” The showcase was a whirlwind of positivity displaying just how multi-dimensional Black culture truly is.

It’s high time Hollywood takes an interest in the constructive side of Black history  - for heaven’s sake, the leader of the free world is a Black man. There is a whole spectrum of colorful, rich stories from African American history. If the accurate and real portrayal of Black heritage is to be told by Hollywood, the least they can do is their research.

How do you feel about the trend in Jim Crow/slavery themed movies? Tell us in the comments below.

Published in Entertainment
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