Plot Summary (Taken from IMDB): A pregnant Colombian teenager becomes a drug mule to make some desperately needed money for her family.
My Review: One of the best things about this film was how universal the story was. There are themes that anyone can relate to, whether you speak the same language or not. These include struggling to provide for your familial love, community, and more. Another aspect that made the story universal is how Maria was able to be in Columbia even when she wasn’t in Colombia. For instance, a snack that she had in Columbia could also be found in New York City’s “Little Columbia” district.
Another great aspect of the film was the characters. Maria starts out as a caring yet innocent young woman who wishes to “go somewhere else”, but becomes street smart and resilient. Don Fernando, the most compelling character of the film, is a compassionate and warm figure who supports his fellow Colombians through hard times.
Lastly, the most compelling aspect of the film is how it put a human face on drug trafficking. The characters and the plot felt like it could have been a chapter in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. It is something that will haunt you and make you root for the characters.
Overall, this was a poignant film. I recommend this for foreign film fans and anyone who is willing to do anything to provide for their family or a loved one.
Author’s Note: I feel like the original spotlight I did on Janelle Monáe last year did not do her justice, so I’m doing another one. Another reason is that I’m tired of reading YouTube comments that say she has no talent.
1. She has created an epic music saga that has science fiction, romance, and sociopolitical commentary.
Beginning with Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase, the story is set in a futuristic world called Metropolis where there is a class system of humans and androids. Humans make up the wealthy while androids make up the working class and poor. The main protagonist of the story is the android Cindi Mayweather, who is sent back in time to free Metropolis from its strife. Cindi’s story begins when she becomes the target of Metropolis’s government for falling in love with a human named Anthony Greendown.
The albums Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase and The ArchAndroid focus on Cindi’s attempts to evade the authorities, becoming aware of what is going on in the world around her, and realizing how she could change things.
The Electric Lady, Monae’s most recent album, is set before The Archandroid album and tells multiple stories. First, there is Cindi’s past before she fell in love with Anthony Greendown. Then, there are the identities Cindi assumes when she is sent back in time, Janelle Monae and The Electric Lady. Finally, there is the daily lives of the androids in Metropolis.
With this much creative storytelling, it is impossible to skip a track on her albums.
2. All the albums of The Metropolis saga feature a variety of genres and influences.
Despite being her shortest work so far, Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase, is a great blend of R&B, funk, soul, and operatic elements. The ArchAndroid is her most eclectic work, featuring classical, pop. rock, jazz, electronica, and funk. Finally, The Electric Lady features different sides to R&B, showing its connection to funk, soul, rock, jazz, and hip-hop.
Collectively, you can hear a variety of musical influences on Monae such as David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Diana Ross, and Betty Davis (the funk singer).
3. Her music videos are just as creative as her albums.
They work together with the songs to tell the story of Cindi Mayweather and Metropolis. It’s a shame more videos weren’t made for The Archandroid.
“Many Moons”- from Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase
“Cold War”- from The ArchAndroid
“Q.U.E.E.N” – from The Electric Lady
4. Her singing and dancing, whether live or studio, is phenomenal.
With her dancing, you can see how Michael Jackson and James Brown influenced her. She channels her own energy into their moves to create fun, exciting performances. When it comes to her voice, it has a great range that goes from soothing low notes to energetic and soulful high notes.
Songs and Performances with notable vocals:
“Cindi” from The Audition (a very rare album released in 2003)
“Come Alive (War of The Roses)” from The Archandroid
“Say You’ll Go” (Live audio from a National Public Radio session)- from The ArchAndroid
“Ba Bop Bye Ya” (Live from Emory University)- from The ArchAndroid
Music Videos and Performances with notable dancing:
“Tightrope” from The Archandroid
“Dance Apocalyptic” (Live from the David Letterman Show)- from The Electric Lady
“Electric Lady” (Live on The Today Show) from The Electric Lady
5. Certain tracks are made to empower or represent specific groups of people.
“Cindi”(see above link)- encourages those who don’t fit in to accept themselves and be themselves
“Q.U.E.E.N.” (see above link)- According to an interview, the song is meant for women and those with different sexual orientations, but is also an acronym for the queer, the untouchables, the excommunicated, the emmigrants, and the negroid.
“Ghetto Woman” from The Electric Lady- for working class women
6. According to an acceptance speech she gave at Black Girls Rock! in 2012, she stated that she wears her signature black and white tuxedo to honor her parents and to stay connected to the community.
7. Janelle Monáe is a brilliant, beautiful, and talented woman who cannot and should not be categorized because she dances to her own beat.
Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Jayd just wants to start her Junior year of high school drama free. But wanting ain’t getting, especially at a place like Drama High, a predominately white high school in a wealthy part of Los Angeles, where Jayd and 30 other Compton kids get bussed to daily. Saying race relations aren’t what they should be would be putting it mildly, and that’s just the beginning of the drama. Jayd’s first day back to school, KJ’s new girlfriend, Trecee, steps to her wanting to fight. Egged on by Misty, Jayd’s former best friend-turned-nemesis, Trecee wants to make Jayd understand that KJ is off-limits–even if she has to do it with her fists. With the fight set for Friday, and the sistah drama at an all time high, Jayd is about to learn who’s really got her back and more importantly, when she’s got to watch it. But at least she can always count on Mama, and her mystical bag of tricks.
My Review: One of the best things about this book is its main character, Jayd Jackson. She’s street smart because she lives in Compton and deals with drive by-shootings and people repeatedly breaking into her mom’s car. Yet, she is also book-smart because she is on the AP track at school, knowledgeable about Black history, and is able to debate about past and present issues affecting black people. One of the best chapters of the book is when she engages in discussion with a guy about the connection between sex and material things and how it impacts young girls and guys.
In addition, the author does a good job with weaving together Jayd’s magical life with her grandmother and her life with her mom and friends. It allows the reader to relate to Jayd’s experiences with boys, friends, and clique drama while hinting that they can be more than they realize. The reader may not have special abilities like Jayd, but they can be someone like Jayd by learning from their elders and their past and being themselves.
Besides the main character, some of the supporting characters are memorable. Surrounding Jayd is a good circle of family and friends. Her mother is a independent woman who is raising Jayd with Jayd’s grandmother, who is known as Mama. Mama is a wise, mystical woman who guides Jayd using Jayd’s connection to Yoruba deities and African culture. Jayd’s uncle Bryan is a DJ who has shown Jayd the musical roots of black people while listening to her problems.
When it comes to Jayd’s friends, they are diverse. Jayd belongs to the Drama club clique and has white friends from there, she also has friends in the black clique called South Central and the Hispanic clique called The Barrio. Although it is the Drama club clique and the South Central clique that is the most prominently featured, the friends that Jayd has from both are loyal and fun.
Another notable aspect of the book is the realistic interactions with Jayd and her classmates. A memorable scene is a flashback to when Jayd was first introduced to South Central and was told “You should sound like us” because they found out she was book smart. Also, the contrast between Jayd and some of her classmates is very striking. While Jayd uses her outspokeness to debate about important issues and stand up for herself, characters like Misty and Trecee use their outspokenness to cause trouble.
The only flaw in the book is Jayd’s magical roots. While it is cool that Jayd has psychic visions with hot flashes and connections to African culture and deities through her grandmother, the author doesn’t explain why. As a result, the reader is forced to go with the flow and make their own assumptions.
Overall, this was a great start to The Drama High series. I recommend it to young black readers looking for something different from the typical inner city teen book. I also recommend it to fans of the television show That’s So Raven.
Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?
In Freakboy‘s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.
My Review: One of the best aspects of this book is the characters. Brendan’s struggle to understand his sexual identity is realistic and raw. Also, the fact that he is also a great big brother to his little sister, put down by his wrestling coach, and doesn’t get along with his stepfather makes him even more sympathetic.
Meanwhile, Angel’s character shows what its like for transgender people who love and accept themselves, but still struggle with their past and everyday prejudice. Like Brendan, her point of view is raw and she has qualities that make her sympathetic. She is caring and motherly to her loved ones.
Finally, Vanessa is a character that urges the reader to discuss gender norms and how they relate to gender identity. Even though she is straight, she is still called a “dyke” because she is the only girl on the wrestling team. Anyone who doesn’t fit the standard for what it means to be male or female can relate to her.
Besides the characters, the author does a great job writing three points-of-view in verse. She uses different poetry styles and creates powerful metaphors in order to convey thoughts and emotions. In addition, the way certain words and poems are structured is very creative.
The only criticism I have of the book is its ending, particularly with Brendan’s point-of-view. The end of Brendan’s story felt too ambiguous. While it is understandable that his story doesn’t have an easy outcome, the author could have shown that it is possible for Brendan to have a good future.
Overall, this book was a poignant glimpse into the lives of gender queer and transgender people and how gender norms affect everyone. I recommend it to everyone who doesn’t fit gender norms. I also recommend it to anyone who works with transgender and gender queer youth and anyone who has enjoyed the work of YA author Ellen Hopkins.
Plot Summary: (Taken from IMDB): A promising hip-hop rhymer from Los Angeles finds herself in a gray area when a record producer offers her a compromising shot at stardom.
My Review: One of the best aspects of this film is the characters. For instance, the main character Filly Brown is not just an aspiring rapper. She is also a protective older sister named Majo who is willing to do anything to free her jailed mother.
Also, Majo doesn’t take crap from anyone who hurts her or her loved ones. Meanwhile, her dad is a single parent and a contractor who puts up with prejudice from his employer to support his daughters. Another sympathetic character in the film is Filly’s younger sister Lupe, a teen on the verge of growing up too fast.
Another notable aspect of the film is the acting. Gina Rodriguez is great as Filly the rapper and Filly the person. Lou Diamond Phillips does a good job displaying the fierce and vulnerable sides to Filly’s dad. Last but not least, the late Jenni Rivera had an excellent film debut as Filly’s mother, playing the manipulative yet caring personality well.
Besides the characters and acting, the portrayal of the music industry was well done. Filly Brown’s experience shows how aspiring musicians of any genre may be forced to sacrifice who they are in order to sell lots of records. It also shows how big an ego musicians and record companies can have when they have lots of money.
Finally, the soundtrack was very good. The best songs in the film are the ones that Filly Brown does because they reflect her character development. Other tracks provide atmosphere to Filly Brown’s neighborhood or her hip-hop lifestyle.
Overall, this was an enjoyable and poignant movie. I recommend this to rap music fans everywhere. I also recommend this to Latino viewers looking to see their experiences in film.
1. During the Civil Rights Movement, she wrote songs that expressed the anger, grief, and hope of black people.
My personal favorites are To Be Young, Gifted and Black and Revolution (Parts 1 and 2). To Be Young Gifted and Black was an anthem of the civil rights movement, but I consider it a personal anthem for myself now. Revolution is a fantastic musical representation of the defiance and chaos going on at the time.
2. “Four Women” is a song that black women of all shades and ages can connect to either personally or emotionally.
When I first heard this song, I was entranced by Simone’s voice and the raw lyrics. The song plays out like a stage performance, with Simone singing different parts. By the end of the song, Simone’s voice had me stunned.
3. She was an eclectic artist that was hard to pin down.
She sang the blues and gospel, fused jazz and pop with classical, and even had one song with reggae influences. One of the first Nina Simone songs that I enjoyed was “Love Me or Leave Me“. Her piano playing was a pleasant surprise, especially when she switched from jazz to classical and then back. Another favorite of mine is “Little Girl Blue“. I love Janis Joplin’s version, but Simone’s version is beautiful and soothing.
4. She had great live performances where she improvised on piano and looked like a queen.
5. She has influenced rap, pop, and R&B musicians such as Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Talib Kweli, and Lauryn Hill.
6. She was a hardworking, outspoken, talented, and resilient spirit.
Very recently, I finished reading Simone’s autobiography I Put A Spell on You. It is a tale of how she endured racism, physical and emotional abuse, alienation, and bi-polar disorder (which she wasn’t diagnosed for until after the events of the book). She endured all this and made music that moved people and inspired them to action. For that, she is amazing.
Not to mention, it pays homage to the blues and rock musicians that became Davis’s influences. It has become my favorite song of hers because I can relate to the lyrics and it is one of her best funk rock songs. My favorite part is when she yells “Chuck Berry!” and his signature chords are played on guitar.
2. She did a fantastic tribute to funk called “F.U.N.K.”
From her growls and yells to the rhythm, this is an amazing song that pays homage to funk and soul musicians. It is a song for funk musicians and funk listeners alike.
3. Her voice (and half of her lyrics) is sex and unbridled passion that is pioneering.
If this isn’t evident already. Her growls, purrs, and yells can be heard in almost every song of hers. You can hear her in current female singers like Janet Jackson and Beyoncé. In my opinion, her voice is best appreciated in slower paced songs like “Anti-Love Song” and “You and I“.
4. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.
When it comes to this, my favorite songs are “Don’t Call Her No Tramp” and “Dedicated to The Press“. During an era when some women were expected to be seen and not heard, she said whatever she wanted and held her own in a genre dominated by men. Other honorable mentions are the songs “Steppin in her I Miller Shoes” and “Stars Starve You Know“, which are cautionary tales for aspiring musicians.
5. She has influenced multiple genres.
Her most notable influence would be with Miles Davis. According to an interview with The Guardian, Betty Davis was featured on the cover of Miles’s album Filles de Kilimanjaro and inspired two tracks. She also introduced him to Jimi Hendrix. Other influences include the hip-hop group Outkast and the independent black rock singer Tamar-Kali.
6. She is the total package: sexy, talented, and bold.
She has become one of my favorite black musicians of the past because she was a pioneer as a person and a musician. She showed women it was okay to express your sexuality and your mind. She showed men that women can do dirty funk just as well as they could (if not better). Her influence can be heard in many mainstream and independent musicians, whether they know it or not. It almost makes up for being so underrated in the 70’s.
7. There is NO FOOTAGE of her on YouTube.
The reason I made this post isn’t just because I really like some of her music and want others to do the same. I want to see some live footage of her on YouTube someday. I imagine her being Madonna before Madonna came on the scene, sensually moving on stage and singing her butt off to entice the crowd. Please, if anybody has any footage of her performing, put it online. The world deserves more than Nicki Manaj’s butt.