Happy Friday MMT Fam! I remember being a teen and first hearing the story of how the HeLa cells were obtained. I was amazed and angered at the same time, and I really couldn’t imagine how the family and loved ones of Mrs. Henrietta Lacks felt when they became aware of how her cells were unknowingly harvested.
So I was eager to watch the 2017 HBO film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, in which Oprah Winfrey executive produces and stars, when it premiered earlier this year.
Adapted from the critically acclaimed 2010 novel by Rebecca Skloot, the 2017 Emmy-nominated film is told through the eyes of Henrietta Lacks’ daughter, Deborah Lacks (Oprah Winfrey). The film chronicles her search, along with journalist (Rose Byrne as Skloot), to learn about the mother she never knew and understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Lacks’ cancerous cells in 1951 led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever.
With a supporting cast that includes Renée Elise Goldsberry, Reg E. Cathey, Courtney B. Vance, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Leslie Uggams, Reed Birney, Rocky Carroll and John Douglas Thompson, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a story of medical arrogance and triumph, race, poverty, and deep friendship between the unlikeliest of people.
And guess what MMT Fam? Our friends over at HBO Films have provided DVD/Digital HD copies for giveaway to two lucky subscribers, in honor of the upcoming Blu-RayTM and DVD release on September 5!
To put your name in the hat to win, you must be subscribed to this website and send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “HeLa” and your full name and address in the body. Want to double your chances for one of those copies?Tag @MMThoughts on Facebook or @musicfilmdiva on Twitter/Instagram while sharing this post!
Two winners will be selected and notified by Thursday, September 7. You can get additional information about the film at the official site here.
MMT Fam, there are two new shows premiering on Tuesday, September 6 that have been on my radar for a minute, and I can’t wait to view them both. The only downside is they are airing at the same time – so it’s a toss-up as to which watch in real-time and which to view later!
The first series ATLANTA, is filmed on location and stars the multi-talented Donald Glover (Community, Magic Mike XXL) – who not only created the show, but serves as executive producer, writer, director and executive music producer.
“Atlanta” follows two cousins trying to better their, and their families, lives by navigating the Atlanta music scene. The show also stars Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz and airs tomorrow night at 10 pm EST on FX.
The next show, co-created by Oprah Winfrey and co-created/written by show runner, and MMT fave, Ava DuVernay, QUEEN SUGAR has already garnered high praise from critics, advanced viewers and festival goers alike. With a two-night première September 6 and 7 at 10 pm EST on OWN, season one of the series is an all female directed, 13-episode adaptation based on the novel by Natalie Baszile.
Set in the fictional town of Saint Josephine, Louisiana, “Queen Sugar” chronicles the journey of the estranged Bordelon siblings: Nova (Rutina Wesley, True Blood, How She Move), a journalist and activist; Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Unforgettable), the wife and manager of a professional basketball star; and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe, Awkward), a formerly incarcerated young father seeking redemption.
In Ava’s own words, the show is, “something that allows us to see ourselves and see the ways that we interact with our own families.” “So, this family can be stripped of its location, of its race, of its class, and still our hope is that you’re able to see a bit of yourself in it.”
“Queen Sugar” has a solid cast that also includes Dondre Whitfield (Middle of Nowhere) and, one of my favorite actors of all-time, Mr. Glynn Turman (The Obama Effect, Cooley High). Its September 6 première will air as a “commercial-free” director’s cut, so that helps determine the coin toss for me – I’ll personally stream “Atlanta” on Sept 7.
Stop back and share your thoughts if you watch either, or both, shows!
I was so excited to hear that this project is finally coming to fruition – thanks to executive producer and star, Oprah Winfrey. A passion project for Winfrey, on which she has worked for the past six years, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will also be produced by Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood) and written/directed by George C. Wolfe (Lackawanna Blues, Angels in America), according to Deadline.
Based on the bestselling book with the same title, the movie will highlight the story of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cancer cells were harvested after her death in the 1950’s – without her family’s knowledge or permission. Winfrey will portray Lacks’s daughter as she discovers how her mother contributed to medical breakthroughs and the first human cells grown in a lab that were “immortal,” meaning they do not die after multiple cell divisions – known as HeLa cells.
The medical science, to which Lacks contributed, is the focus of a previous documentary – The Way of All Flesh by Adam Curtis – which can be viewed by clicking here.
Oprah Winfrey can next be seen in the upcoming series Greenleaf premiering on her OWN channel this June. It is Winfrey’s first recurring scripted role in two decades.
Merry Christmas MMT Family! I am so excited to this share this review for SELMA, which opens Christmas Day limited release in NY, LA, ATL and D.C. – and nationwide on January 9. I am not exaggerating when I say I believe this film to be the best film of 2014.
For me it is cinematic perfection from start to finish – the story well-written, the acting superb, a wonderful all-star cast, and the film itself visually stunning. The latter adjective courtesy of cinematographer Bradford Young, who also worked with “Selma” director Ava DuVernay on her highly acclaimed film “Middle of Nowhere.” Both DuVernay and Young’s names are in the running as early award season favorites – DuVernay being the first female African-American director to receive the Golden Globe Best Director nomination, with “Selma” receiving three additional Globe nods, and two films Young worked this year “Selma” and “A Most Violent Year” getting AFI Best Film listed and named National Board Review’s Best Picture respectively.
For those not familiar, Selma is the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the historic marches to secure voting rights for African-Americans – a dangerous and terrifying campaign that culminated with the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and led to President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. DuVernay also serves as an uncredited writer, and executive producer along with Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey also appears in the film as civil rights activist Annie Lee Cooper.
Two of the many things I enjoyed very much about Selma were the film’s depiction of the female involvement in the civil rights movement and the nuances displayed in King’s personal relationships. DuVernay does not shy away from the documented extra-marital affairs that plagued King’s marriage to wife Coretta, and chooses instead to show Dr. King in his first big-screen depiction exactly as he was – both a flawed and selfless human being who achieved and sacrificed greatly for the sake of the masses. To read more about DuVernay’s choice to depict King in a nuanced fashion, and what some of the King family members thought about the film, check out my Celebrity Examiner article here.
And with the aforementioned Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Lorraine Toussaint,Tessa Thompson, and a great cameo with actress/comedienne Niecy Nash, the female power in this film was outstanding.
My favorite cameo in film was the vocal powerhouse Ledisi, who depicts gospel great Mahalia Jackson. DuVernay was involved in selecting the entire cast and described to MMT how she came to offer Ledisi the role, “I’m just a huge Ledisi fan! I saw her at a party in LA and asked if she ever acted. She hadn’t, but stated she would be interested. I told her I might have (a role), and about a month later we called her.”
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t take time mention David Oyelowo (pronounced o-yellow-o) in the lead as Dr. King. To say he is mesmerizing would most certainly be an understatement. While she discussed her taking on the challenge of re-writing some of King’s speeches for the script, I shared with DuVernay how powerful I believed the speech in a eulogy scene was – with Oyelowo delivering words that paralleled the calls to action with current civil rights/police protests. Ava quickly responded, “David Oyelowo is 90% why the speeches worked. He is incredible, and people must learn his name – it’s just yellow with two O’s!”
If you live in or near NY, LA, ATL, D.C., I urge you to support this film over the Christmas holiday this weekend. For everyone else, the film will open January 9 – 10 days before the national observed King holiday. Selma’s 2015 release also occurs in the same 50th anniversary year of the 1965 Voting Rights Act – serving as a timely reminder of how far we have and have not come collectively as a nation within the past half of a century.
You can watch the trailer for SELMA below, and checkout the official website here for additional info and ticket sales.
Here’s another Friday giveaway MMT family, but you better be quick (it’s a code) and be prepared – this is going to be a popular one! We’re giving away passes for the hot ticket next week – the advanced screening for the highly anticipated film SELMA, featuring a Q & A after the screening with the film’s history-making, Golden Globe nominated director Ava DuVernay!
Click here to get to Gofobo.com and click on the “Get My Passes” link. If requested, use code MMTSelma. Passes, like theater seating, are first-come, first-served and are not guaranteed. I strongly recommend anyone attending to show up as early as possible – as I’m certain this will be a crowded screening.
Back in July, I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Yaya Alafia, formerly DaCosta, whom faithful reality television viewers may remember as first runner-up from season 3 of America’s Next Top Model (2003). Since then, the talented actress has been seen in various films and projects, from 2006’s Take the Lead to this year’s breakout independent hit Neil Drumming’s Big Words with actor Dorian Missick. Ms. Alafia was in Philadelphia to promote the film Lee Daniels’ The Butler, in which she portrays Carol, a Fisk University student, turned Freedom Rider, turned Black Panther during the tumultuous Civil Rights movement. We discussed everything from her preparation for her role in the film, to her musical preferences. Coincidentally, I’d viewed “Big Words” the day before I screened the Daniels’ film, so there was an unexpected (on my part) question that I needed to ask first:
MMT: One of the things that surprised me watching “Big Words” was that you sing! Is that something you enjoy showcasing or will we see that again on the screen?
YA: It’s not something that I have focused on until this point, so we’ll see.
MMT: Have you trained at all or are you just naturally gifted in that way?
YA: I am not naturally gifted in that way, it just sounded really good in the movie! (laughs)
MMT: Your character in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” goes from peaceful, protesting Freedom Rider to a more militant character. Was there a different level of preparation for each?
YA: I was just with Carol the whole time. I’ve had experiences where there was that transition, from a more innocent to a more fierce outrage. And I make choices everyday, (meaning) there is a situation, there’s something that needs to be checked but how do I do it. And so the earlier Carol was more naïve, maybe more graceful, and the latter was “I’ve had enough” and she was justified. All I had to do was tap into that outrage and there are a lot of opportunities everyday, both in the news and the world, for a person of color (to use).
MMT: This movie has such a large ensemble cast, was it intimidating to share screen time with Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo?
YA: I wouldn’t say intimidating, I would say exciting and inspiring! I’ve been super blessed from the beginning of my professional career. My first job was with Alfre Woodard and Antonio Banderas (Take the Lead), and then I was on a TV show with Vanessa Williams…
MMT: Which I loved you in Ugly Betty, have to mention that!
YA: Thank you (smiles). And I’m not going down this list to brag, but to (acknowledge) I’ve been nurtured, in my young career, in the company of all these amazing people. I did theater with Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Leslie Uggams, so just feeling welcomed and having these stars tell me special things that boost your confidence as a young actor. At the beginning of my career, I didn’t even call myself an actor. I was a young person who finished college and was trying lots of different jobs, but acting was always my passion. To be encouraged to own it and, as one of these (actors) said, “take your seat at our table” was wonderful. So when I was cast, I was like this is huge. Even though I’m not in scenes with Clarence Williams III or Robin Williams, to be in the same film is amazing. It’s humbling, but it was very inspiring.
MMT: Okay, I’m going to switch gears a bit. I always ask something for my music fans, so if you could portray any artist/musician, past or present, who would it be and why?
YA: I don’t know if this is the ultimate answer but the first person that comes to mind because of the timing, and the fact that everybody keeps saying I should because of what I look like, is Whitney Houston. We thought about that before she passed; but after people were anxious wanting to honor her legacy and make a film. I don’t know if anyone’s doing it, but that’s definitely something other people have told me, and it’s now in my head like “yeah, I could do that.”
The beautiful Ms. Alafia also mentioned that she has a love for older music, including standards, and admires singers from the likes of Sarah Vaughn to Chaka Khan. Like her versatility in song, she has been multifaceted in the projects she’s carefully chosen. It is the mark of a woman who stands completely confident in and is aware of her gift, and its social impact. As a fan, I look forward to continuing to watch her light shine.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” opens nationwide this Friday, August 16. Yaya Alafia can also be seen in “Big Words,” currently in limited release (go to official movie website here or AFFRM.com) and in the upcoming film by director Andrew Dosunmu “Mother of George,” which is set to open on September 13.
Check back Wednesday for my interview with director Lee Daniels and star Cuba Gooding Jr. 🙂
MMT Family, you knew I was going to hook you up with this one right? Allied-THA has granted passes to screen The Weinstein Company’s “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” here in Philly, PA next Tuesday night (August 13). I know you’ve seen the trailer and read the synopsis if you follow this site, and trust me you do not want to miss this film! With a magnificent ensemble cast, the movie stars Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr. and the list goes on.
To put your name in the hat, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘The Butler’ and your full name in the body. All winners will be notified by this Saturday. Want to increase you chances of winning? Then make sure you are signed up to follow this site (see sign up on the right) or have liked our sister Facebook page here.
I’ve added the trailer again below, just because I think it’s great, and for your convenience. 🙂 Okay family, good luck!