The Black Count

The Black County coverStatus:  Script (as of March 7, 2017)
Release Date: TBA
Genre:  Biography/Historical
Rating: Unknown
Studio(s):  Get Lifted Film Co., Parliament of Owls, Sony.
Running Time:  Unknown
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Cast:  TBA

Details:  In April 2014 Deadline announced that John Legend and his Get Lifted Film Co. partner Mike Jackson, will team with Cary Fukunaga to adapt and helm a big-screen version of The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, And The Real Count of Monte Cristo for Sony. Get Lifted have optioned the Pulitzer-winning 2012 biography written by Tom Reiss that chronicles the life and adventures of French Revolution-era General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Jackson and Ty Stiklorius will produce the pic with Fukunaga’s Parliament of Owls. Legend, his manager Troy Carter and Sony’s Josh Bratman will serve as executive producers.

Born to a French nobleman and a slave woman of African descent, Dumas became the highest-ranking person of color to ever serve in any European army. A favorite of Napoleon for a time, Dumas was also the first non-white to become a brigadier general in the French military. Dumas’ exploits were used as the basis for the novels of his son Alexandre Dumas. Better known today than his father, the younger Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count Of Monte Cristo. Source: Deadline.  Photo Source:  NPR.

The Birth of a Nation

Release Date:  10/7/16 (In Theaters)
Genre:  Biography/Historical/Drama
Rating:  R
Studio(s):  Bron Studios, Mandalay Pictures, Phantom Four, Tiny Giant Entertainment
Running Time:  110 mins.
Director:  Nate Parker

Cast:  Nate Parker (Nat Turner), Aunjanue Ellis (Nancy Turner), Armie Hammer (Samuel Turner), Colman Domingo (Hark), Aja Naomi King, Gabrielle Union, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junior, Penelope Ann Miller (Elizabeth Turner), Roger Guenveur Smith (Isaiah), Dwight Henry (Isaac Turner), Chiké Okonkwo.The Birth Of A Nation still

Story:  According to Shadow and Act, the official synopsis reads: Set against the antebellum South, this story follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. After witnessing countless atrocities against fellow slaves, Nat devises a plan to lead his people to freedom. Photo Source:  Shadow and Act.

Trailer:

Teaser Trailer:

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Update:  According to Deadline, on 1/26/16, in a record-breaking deal for the Sundance Film Festival, Fox Searchlight is wrapping up a deal to pay around $17.5 million to acquire world rights for The Birth Of A Nation.  Sony Pictures and The Weinstein Company bid in the mid-eight figures for Birth Of A Nation, and Netflix went all out and bid $20 million, sources said. Aside from the high bid among traditional theatrical distributors, Fox Searchlight is the company that guided 12 Years A Slave to an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2014. Many who saw the film feel that is a realistic goal for The Birth Of A Nation.  Buyers were buzzing immediately after the premiere screening Monday (1/25/16) afternoon where Parker and his cast received a thunderous, sustained standing ovation for a movie that left attendees shaken, and some sobbing.

The Birth of a Nation won both the US dramatic audience award and the grand jury prize at the 32nd Sundance film festival awards.   Source(s):  Deadline, The Guardian.

Details:  On 5/27/15, Variety reported that Jackie Earle Haley and Mark Boone Junior (Sons of Anarchy) will star in Nate Parker’s historical drama The Birth of a Nation, based on the story of the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. The film was first announced in November with Armie Hammer and Parker starring, with Parker also producing and directing from his own script.

Prompted by religious visions, Turner and a band of about 70 rebel slaves killed between 55 and 65 people in Virginia — the most ever killed in a slave uprising. The rebellion was stopped after two days, but Turner survived in hiding for more than two months.

Haley will portray a slave patrol captain who takes pride in controlling the movements of the county’s slaves. Boone Jr. will play a crafty preacher. Aja Naomi King, Aunjanue Ellis, Colman Domingo, Dwight Henry, Roger Guenveur Smith and Gabrielle Union are also starring.

Variety also previously reported that the producers have opted to use the same title as the 1915 American silent drama film directed by D. W. Griffith, which covered the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. The film was controversial due to its portrayal of black men as unintelligent and the Ku Klux Klan as heroes. Source: Variety.

Nat Turner: Story of A Prophet

Prophet-The Story of Nat Turner booka/k/a The Nat Turner Story

Status:  Pre-Production
Release Date:  September 2016
Genre:  Biography/Historical/Drama
Rating:  Unknown
Studio(s):  TMG Entertainment
Running Time: 120 mins.
Director:  Bill Duke

Cast:  Blair Underwood (Nat Turner), Keith David (Nathanial), Eric Roberts (Captain Hunt), Mindy Robinson (Mary Barrows), Mike Epps (Nelson), Kym Whitley (Momma Bridgette), Lester Speight (Hark), Todd Bridges (Jack Waller), LisaRaye McCoy (Esther), Kendrick Lamar (Young Nat Turner).

Details:  On 3/6/15, the Daily Film Forum reported Blair Underwood to star as Nat Turner.  Robinson Squared announces Nat Turner | Story of a Prophet, set to star Blair Underwood as Nat Turner, Lester Speight as Hark, Keith David as Nathanial Turner and Kendrick Lamar as the young Nat Turner.  Bridging generational gaps and historical divides to tell the true story of this man of God that has been perceived by many as a diabolical religious fanatic is written and produced by the award-winning filmmaker Kenya Cagle.

Cagle with his passion for filmmaking and creative literary mind has aligned forces with Bruce L. Turner, one of the descendants of the Nat Turner family to bring the amazing talents of Blair Underwood, Lester Speight, Keith David, Kendrick Lamar and a host of other Black Hollywood stars to feature in the new motion picture Nat Turner | Story of a Prophet based on the best-selling, top-rated screenplay novel written by award-winning filmmaker to highlight the facts that the textbooks seem to omit. This film is about the greatest slave insurrection in United States history and will be directed by Hollywood veteran director Bill Duke.

Nat Turner led an insurrection that changed the course of American History and African American pride. This is not only a story from historical court records and books on the subject matter, but actually features elements from oral family history that Cagle received while interviewing Turner’s descendants.  Source(s):  Daily Film Forum; IMDB.  Book Cover:  Official Facebook Page

Critics’ Connection: Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation still

Beasts of No Nation is the fictional first-hand account of Agu, a creative, intelligent figure who, following a brutal separation from his family, ends up fighting for a squadron of child soldiers as civil war and genocide rage in the unnamed nation around them.
Starring Abraham Attah (Agu), Idris Elba (The Commandant).  Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, Written by Cary Joji Fukunaga (screenplay), Uzodinma Iweala (novel).  Source/Photo Source:  The Film Stage.

What the critics are saying about Beasts of No Nation:

The Verge:  With powerful performances from its cast and surpassingly brilliant direction from Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation makes art out of the kind of real-world brutality Western audiences are accustomed to ignoring.  Beasts, based on author Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 novel of the same name, was very much a labor of love for Fukunaga, whose decisions in writing and shooting the film are a testament to the time and care that went into its production. The end result is a film that gives an intimate look into life in a part of the world where thousands of children serve as armed fighters every day. The cast is mainly composed of local actors, and Attah is far from the white lead most Hollywood films would rely on. That authenticity gives Agu’s fall and eventual salvation an immediacy that’s heartbreaking and powerful all at once.

Agu was a young boy living on the border of a war zone in his unnamed home country before his world fell apart. His narration guides the story, and Attah — an actor with no film experience before this role — imbues Agu with undeniable charisma and goodness. We feel his horror when his father and older brother are killed in front of him. And we feel his thirst for vengeance when, after escaping into the bush, he’s transformed into a child soldier by the Commandant (Idris Elba), the leader of the battalion that becomes Agu’s new family.  Elba’s Commandant comes onto the scene as the most fearsome of warlords, but is more a cypher than the commanding presence his title implies. The character — whose real name we never learn — is a mercenary prophet, leading his band of child warriors into battle in the name of reclaiming what they lost. Elba’s performance is understated here, and unlike his followers, he’s never fully consumed by rage. It’s a powerful contrast that creates a constant feeling of tension around the character.

With its beautiful cinematography and a towering performance from Attah, Beasts of No Nation is a movie that demands attention and consideration — whether it gets any from awards voters remains to be seen.  See full review at The Verge.

Roger Ebert:  The movie immediately puts us in the shoes (and sometimes bare feet) of its hero, eight year old Agu (Abraham Attah) in a country turned upside-down by revolution.  The main story finds Agu being protected and trained by a man known only as The Commandant (Idris Elba).  The Commandant is an unholy combination of a battlefield commander, a drill sergeant, a football coach, a decadent older brother, and the patriarch that a lot of these boys either never had or recently lost to.  The boys adore The Commandant because they think he’s teaching them to be men, specifically warrior-men, but he’s really teaching them to be murderers, thieves, rapists and torturers who wrap their bloodlust and greed in ideology that seems half-understood when it’s comprehensible at all.

The final section of the film, which sees Agu witnessing the limits of The Commandant’s power and starting to see through him, is probably the strongest; Elba, who has a magnificent glowering magnetism throughout “Beasts” but never relies on it exclusively, is never more fascinating than when The Commandant’s seeming omnipotence is whisked away like the curtain which reveals that the great and powerful Oz is just a man.

And from start to finish, the movie is imaginatively made.  The filmmaker makes bold choices.  He thinks about where to put people in the frame, how to light them, and how to move the camera, not merely to tell the story and showcase the dialogue and performances, but to boil a moment down to a single image.  While nobody should expect a film on this topic to be bloodless, there are moments when the movie seems to lose its grip on sense, and shade away from carefully-calibrated violence into imagery that feels less horrific than horror-movie-like—such as the way a child soldier’s machete blade splits an innocent man’s skull open in a close-up as he screams.  Too much of this kind of thing, and you might start to wonder if the filmmaker’s virtuoso inventiveness is overwhelming his commitment to realism.  Once you’ve gone down this skeptical road you keep noticing more and more things about “Beasts” that feel somehow untrustworthy, or at least not immediately defensible. And it’s a short hop from there to the realization that this is the second recent, highly acclaimed film about dark-skinned people not directed by an African or an African-American that has the word “Beasts” in the title. After that, you might realize that the Western commercial cinema almost never tells stories of Africa, except to sentimentalize European colonialism or show the depths of depravity of which Africans are capable.  See the full review at Robert Ebert.

The Atlantic:  Fukunaga’s script follows a West African boy, Agu (Abraham Attah), who’s torn from his family by militants and eventually inducted into a mercenary unit by a charismatic, unnamed Commandant (Idris Elba). This is a film much more concerned with the business of indoctrination than the details of whatever conflict Agu is involved in. That’s where Beasts of No Nation both succeeds and fails: The ambiguity of the plot allows it to tell a more universal story, but the powerful vagueness hurts the film’s ability to do more than straightforwardly depict the brutal life of a child soldier.

Attah is incredible in his film debut, never quite losing Agu’s childish gait but visibly dulling the light in his eyes as he sinks deeper into his new world. Elba exudes his typical magnetism in the film’s first half, playing the Commandant as not a psychotic general barking orders, but a charming, often frightening father figure who sometimes taps Agu on the head, reminding him that he spared his life. As the civil war continues and the Commandant’s grasp on authority slips, that’s where Elba truly comes into form, looking vulnerable and sad without quite shedding his natural charisma.

Fukunaga is a brilliant visual stylist who has always managed to maintain a story’s humanism through the most bravura sequences, and that’s one of the biggest strengths of Beasts of No Nation.  But coupled with that is a frustrating lack of detail on what’s happening or why, placing the audience in the same indoctrinated state as Agu. Beasts tells a broadly traumatic story and tells it well, but lacks the kinds of specifics that could make it a truly memorable film.  See the full review at The Atlantic.

Reversion

a/k/a Sophie

Reversion

Release Date: 10/9/15 (Limited)
Genre: Thriller/Sci-Fi
Rating:  NR
Studio(s):  Angel Valley Productions, Serena Films, Sophie Productions.
Running Time:  84 mins.
Director:  Jose Nestor Marquez
Cast:  Aja Naomi King (Sophie Clé), Colm Feore (Jack Clé), Amanda Plummer (Elizabeth), Lela Rochon (Maya), Gary Dourdan (Ayden), Jeanette Samano (Isa Reyes).

Story:  Sophie Clé is a delighted user of the Oubli, a wisp of high-tech jewelry that wraps behind the ear and uses neuroscience to help its users experience their most joyful memories as if they were happening for the first time. In addition to being the head of marketing for the company that makes this revolutionary memory-enhancing wearable device, she is also the daughter of its inventor, Jack Clé.

Sophie’s most joyful memory is the last day she saw her mother alive, fifteen years earlier. But on the eve of the Oubli’s worldwide launch, a stranger named Isa kidnaps Sophie, setting off a chain of events that remind us all, you can’t escape what you can’t forget.  Source: Big Screen; Official Facebook Page.

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Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart

Toni Braxton Unbreak My Heart PosterRelease Date:  1/23/16; Lifetime
Genre:  Drama/Biography
Rating:  NR
Studio(s):  LINK Entertainment, Lifetime Television
Running Time:  120 mins.
Director:  Vondie Curtis-Hall

Unbreak My Heart still

Cast:  Toni Braxton (Lex Scott), Tiffany Hines (Tamar Braxton), Debbi Morgan (Evelyn Braxton), Gavin Houston (Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmunds), Skye P. Marshall (Towanda Braxton), Cortney Wright (Traci Braxton), LaToya Franklyn (Trina Braxton).

Update:  On 12/17/15 Shadow and Act announced that Lifetime’s next Original Movie, “Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart,” starring newcomer Lex Scott Davis (“The Exes”), will premiere on Saturday, January 23 at 8pm.

“Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart” follows the singer’s journey from her discovery by mega producers L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, to her battle with Lupus. The movie also delves into how she made it through her public divorce all while navigating her son’s autism and family struggles.  Source:  Shadow and Act.  Photo Source:  Blackfilm.

Trailer:

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Details:  Based on Braxton’s 2014 memoir, “Un-Break My Heart” is an authorized biopic chronicling her divorce, financial difficulties and struggles with her son’s autism. The chart-topping singer will serve as executive producer and appear in the film, which begins production later this year. Source(s): The Wrap, IMDB. Photo Source: The Wrap.

Woodlawn

WoodlawnRelease Date 10/16/15 (In Theaters)
Genre:  Drama/Based on Actual Events
Rating:  PG
Running Time:  Unknown
Studios:  Crescent City Pictures, Red Sky Studios.
Directors:  Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin.

Cast:  Nic Bishop (Tandy Gerelds), Sean Astin (Hank), Caleb Castille (Tony Nathan), C. Thomas Howell (Shorty White), Jon Voight (Paul Bryant), Sherri Shepherd (Momma Nathan).

Story:  A gifted high school football player must learn to boldly embrace his talent and his faith as he battles racial tensions on and off the field in WOODLAWN, a moving and inspirational new film based on the true story of how love and unity overcame hate and division in early 1970s Birmingham, Ala.

Tony Nathan lands in a powder keg of anger and violence when he joins fellow African-American students at Woodlawn High School after its government-mandated desegregation in 1973. The Woodlawn Colonels football team is a microcosm of the problems at the school and in the city, which erupts in cross burnings and riots, and Coach Tandy Gerelds is at a loss to solve these unprecedented challenges with his disciplinarian ways.

It’s only when Hank, an outsider who has been radically affected by the message of hope and love he experienced at a Christian revival meeting, convinces Coach Gerelds to let him speak to the team that something truly remarkable begins to happen. More than 40 players, nearly the entire team, black and white, give their lives over to the “better way” Hank tells them is possible through following Jesus, and the change is so profound in them it affects their coach, their school and their community in ways no one could have imagined. Source: woodlawnmovie.com, official site.

Trailer: