DAR Films: Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight

By @TrueGodImmortal & @KingVaughnJr720 

As the Oscars get closer, we remember how last year, there was no representation of black people at the awards. Well, as it stands now, this is probably the most representation of black people at the Oscars that we've seen for this year's ceremony. With multiple black actresses in their respective categories and multiple black actors/films nominated this year, the film industry has finally begun to recognize pure black excellence in the cinematic form. Today, we wanted to talk about 3 of the films making Oscar waves, Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight. Three very solid films, all making headlines and drawing attention. How do these movies hold up? How do the performances hold up? Which is the best of the three? The worst of the three. That's what we are here to discuss. Let's get into it.

(By @TrueGodImmortal)

-There was once a time where I was inclined to go see every movie that Denzel Washington was in. To be fair, I'm still living in that time. After watching The Magnificent Seven, which was more so fun entertainment than cinematic beauty, I remember seeing the preview for Fences, and instantly felt captivated. The emotional depth displayed in just that 2 minute trailer spoke volumes to me as a viewer and a person. Viola Davis standing across from Denzel with tears in her eyes proclaiming that she's been standing there in the same spot as him is nothing short of griping and there's much to say about her performance in the film (more on that a little later). I wasn't too aware of the play that inspired the movie, but I went back and did my research as the release date of the film got closer.

Directed and produced by Denzel along with help from Todd Black and Scott Rudin, this August Wilson written gem is probably the best movie I've seen in a few years. It's storytelling is immaculate, but done in a manner that will let you know clearly that this is based on a play. Though August Wilson would pass before he got to witness this film actually release, the screenplay he finished in 2005 before his death comes to life courtesy of Denzel. Sitting at the 2 hour and 20 minute mark in terms of length, Fences is a movie about parenthood, love, the struggle within growing old and maintaining commitment, loyalty, family, but most of all, living life despite your flaws. Denzel stars as the incomparable Troy Maxson, a former Negro League Baseball player, who could have made the Major Leagues if they would have given him a chance (Troy tells this story eloquently in one of the formative scenes of this movie). Next to Troy is his loving wife Rose (played by Viola Davis), his son Cory (played in a breakout role by Jovan Adepo), and in a way, his disabled brother Gabe (played by Mykelti Williamson), who would suffer a massive injury during World War II and never be the same again physically or mentally. With these pieces and characters in place, the film takes us on quite the ride throughout its runtime, and though Troy is every bit the hard worker and loving family man, his best friend Bono (played by Stephen Henderson) seems to know him all too well. There's skeletons in the closet for Troy and one by one, they begin to fall out.

Now if you've not seen the movie, I won't spoil anything for you, I'll just say this much: for any man who's even felt stuck in the same spot, lost, hurt, despondent, or even been through a midlife crisis, Troy's story will resonate with you in just about every way possible. He speaks a lot about  death, talking directly to the "grim reaper" when recalling a story of near-death in his youth. How this would play out through the movie is rather interesting and a great metaphor in itself. Though Troy is flawed, he's a fighter and one who doesn't seem to let life take him down at any cost. He makes the best out of the circumstances he has either been given or created, and we see this when we meet his estranged son from a previous relationship, Lyons (played by Russell Hornsby, who is very underrated). Lyons has a tendency to keep his love and appreciation for his father to a minimal, but has no issue coming to this father to ask for money or financial help. It's a very interesting relationship they have, but there is an unspoken love between the two, and though it may seem like during the movie Troy was coming down hard on Lyons, the fact remains that Troy was doing what he felt was in his best interest for the long run.

The emotional complexities in these characters are further addressed as we progress in this riveting story, and when Troy and Cory clash over working and playing football, we see the issue at hand. Cory is a teenager, ready to do the things he wants and likes, while Troy is still the father who wants to keep him within a certain aspect. Is Troy wrong? No. Is Cory wrong? No. It is a fundamental difference in their beliefs, one that stands as experienced father and adult, while the other belief is rooted in a youthful will to play sports and do great things. Rose would liken it to Cory just wanting to follow in his father's footsteps and Troy would respond that he doesn't want his son to follow in his footsteps. It is once again, a fundamental difference that causes the initial rift and an eventual long standing problem, but through it all, Troy stands his ground as the breadwinner and the father. Many opinions I've seen on this film have said that Troy was wrong or that Troy wasn't a good father, but I dispel that notion completely. There is no such thing as a perfect person, let alone a perfect parent, and in reality, the depiction of Troy shows a man who might have been a little bit naive at times in logic, but he's never wrong in his belief or unwavering. He's the man he believes was needed to raise his family and take care of them, and how could you fault someone for being selfless and doing for those he feels a responsibility to do for?

As the movie progresses, we see things change in ways that you can probably see coming slightly throughout the film, but also in a few ways you might not expect. Eventually we see a big rift between Troy and Rose, and I will say this, the poise with which Rose handles this is nothing short of strength. Viola Davis deserves all the Oscars and awards for her performance here, as her emotional bouts during the movie, whether it was her facial expressions, her angry resolve, or even her half hearted smiles during troubled times, she owns this role. However, the performance that carries this movie is Denzel. He is the engine of the film, the life of the film, and his character is one of my all time favorite characters to watch already. Full of quotes and bullshit stories to engage you in conversation, but also real enough to tell you like it is, even when it isn't what you want to hear. He's a man that will own his transgressions, but only when he's ready to. It's that flawed mentality and perception that makes Troy Maxson such an engaging character and such fun to watch, even in the darkest times. Is Fences' the best Denzel role or film ever? I can't say yes as of yet, but it has already worked its way into my top 5 for him. If you've not seen this movie, it's imperative that you do so as soon as possible. It isn't a perfect film, but the beauty of that is that it doesn't has to be. None of the characters, none of the relationships, none of the interactions, and none of the moments in this movie are perfect and as far as I'm concerned, that's exactly what is needed in this day and time: reality with a hint of optimism buried within it during the dark times.

Rating: 5/5 

*Hidden Figures 
(By @KingVaughnJr720)

-I had the privilege to start my year off right by watching a movie about three trailblazing women in the world of Science and Technology. This movie is called "Hidden Figures".

The movie tells the story of three African-American Women who worked for NASA during the 1960's. These women were Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan. Johnson was the Mathematician, Jackson was the Engineer and Vaughan was the informal supervisor.

These women were the brains behind one of the greatest and most crucial operations in NASA history: the launch of John Glenn into orbit. This mission helped to restore the nation's confidence as it changed the world of AeroSpace Technology while also changing the world.

After the successful launch of Sputnik I, Al Harrison, the director of the Space Task Group, is pressured by his superiors to put more effort into sending Americans into space. Katherine is assigned to assist them by her supervisor Vivian Mitchell, becoming the first African-American woman on the team. Initially, Vivian is hesitant as most were at that time. After all, we are talking 1961-62, the time before the Civil Rights Act was officially signed.

The tone of segregation was very strong within NASA. When Katherine first walked in, everyone stared at her like she was an alien. If you were black, you were treated like you were from another planet anyway. Even though I know my history, those things are still painful to remember.

Katherine's presence is initially dismissed as she is forced to work under the belligerent head engineer Paul Stafford. In another scene, Dorothy's promotion request was denied by Vivian. Meanwhile, Mary finds a flaw in the space capsule's heat shields, which causes her to become even more assertive in pursuing her degree as an engineer.

Harrison invites his subordinates to solve a complex mathematical equation. Katherine steps forward to solve the equation, as it leaves him impressed. When the Mercury 7 astronauts visit Langley, astronaut John Glenn was very cordial as he greeted the NASA employees of the West Area, who happen to be African-American. Glenn specifically shakes the hands of Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy. I had a deeper level of respect for him after seeing that.

At a barbecue, Katherine meets United States Army officer Jim Johnson. They are initially attracted to each other, but Katherine is disappointed when Johnson is skeptical about the mathematics of women. Katherine proves him wrong.

As Katherine becomes more familiar with her coworkers, Harrison is upset that she is constantly away from her desk. Katherine explains to him in front of the entire office that she has to run nearly a mile to the West Building to use the restroom because of the "Colored" restrictions.

Remember, Colored signs were everywhere at the time. Harrison goes to the West Building and removes the Colored sign from the restroom. That was a significant moment for me in the movie because Katherine's supervisor finally woke up and realized what kind of impact this had among the staff.

Meanwhile, Dorothy learns of the impending IBM 7090 computer that could replace her and her co-workers. She visits the computer room to see the new machine and finds a way to successfully start it. Later, she visits the library, where a librarian scolds her for reading in the whites-only section. As Dorothy leaves, she picks up a book by Fortran. After learning about Fortran, Dorothy trains her co-workers and receives a promotion to become the Supervisor of the Programming Department. Along with the promotion, Dorothy is allowed to make an arrangement to bring her co-workers with her. While congratulating Dorothy for her work, Vivian tries to assure her that she never treated her differently because of the color of her skin. However, Dorothy is unconvinced. Meanwhile, Johnson apologizes to Katherine, which leads to them getting married.

As the final arrangements are made for John Glenn's first launch into space, Katherine is informed that she is no longer needed at the Space Task Group and is being reassigned to the West Area Computers. As a farewell gift, her colleagues buy her a pearl necklace (a landmark moment in a way).

However, prior to the launch, there were discrepancies within the IBM 7090 calculations for the capsule's landing coordinates. Glenn requests for Katherine to be called back in to check the calculations. Katherine quickly does so and hurries to deliver the results only to have the door slammed in her face. However, Harrison brings her into the control room so they can relay the results to Glenn together.

After the successful launch, there is a warning light indicating a heat shield problem with the capsule. Katherine understands the problem and suggests to leave the retro-rocket attached to the heat shield for reentry. Her instructions were correct and Friendship 7 successfully lands in the ocean as the world celebrates.

After the mission, Katherine is reassigned to the Analysis and Computation Division of NASA. Dorothy continues to supervise the Programming Department and Mary obtains her Engineering Degree.

In 2015, Katherine received a Presidential Medal of Freedom. A new 40,000 square foot Computational Research Facility at the Langley Research Center was named in honor of Katherine G. Johnson the following year.

Hidden Figures is both a critical and box office success receiving acclaim all across the board from the Oscars, Golden Globes to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). This movie told a great story about three trailblazing women that changed the world of Science with their behind the scenes contributions to the first and most critical space launch in history. Black Excellence at its finest.

Rating: 5/5  

(By @TrueGodImmortal)

-In a bit of a shock personally, I found myself watching this movie very recently in preparation for this article. This article came about very very quickly, so though I've only had about 24-48 hours to digest this film, I think I have a good understanding of what the story really is, and how each performance works very well within the story. In the Awards season, this movie seems to be getting the most acclaim, and though I personally don't think it's as good as the other two films discussed here, the performances from the actors are absolutely top notch, much like the other films. Based on a drama school project titled "In The Moonlight Black Boys Turn Blue" from Tarell Alvin McCraney, it was turned into a film by screenplay writer and director Barry Jenkins.

For me, the best performances come from the supporting cast and not the main character, but the plight of the main character is somewhat enthralling. A coming of age story essentially, the film follows Chiron (played by three different actors) through three phases of his life. Early on in the film, we see Chiron is dubbed as "Little" (the first phase of his life is titled as "little") and picked on by bullies in school due to his small size. He's soon protected and mentored by a drug dealer named Juan (played by the on the rise Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (played by Janelle Monae). He is not close at all to his abusive and very imperfect drug addicted  mother Paula (played amazingly by Naomie Harris). Chiron doesn't have many friends either, aside from a young guy named Kevin. The dichotomy between Kevin and Chiron is a bit odd when the movie starts and though it's obvious where the story is headed, the transition feels a bit forced for the sake of the story. Regardless, in the first phase of his life, Chiron has three people on his side, and that's Juan, Teresa, and Kevin. However, things change when Juan confronts Paula about her drug use and this eventually leads to Chiron finding out that not only is Juan a drug dealer, but he's probably selling the drugs that his mother uses.

Unfortunately, this first phase of Chiron's life is the best part of the film, as the death of Juan (which is not shown but just mentioned) comes fairly early and arrives before the 2nd phase really gets underway. The 2nd phase of this movie is titled "Chiron", and this is where the story slowly loses its way. Yes, this film is about a man coming to grips with his own sexuality and learning to love himself, but the way the pacing is done here is a bit off. There is a dream that Chiron has about Kevin having sex with a woman that really is bothersome, but it is weaved quickly into the story to make it make more sense. There's a bit of separation  between the two friends and that dream is a solidifying means of that. I don't get why they felt the need to go this route, but regardless it fit into the scheme of things.

Chiron and Kevin travel in separate circles from time to time in school (the 2nd phase is set in the teenage years), but that doesn't stop their personal friendship, which becomes intimate in one particular scene. This leads into their separate circles causing a rift between the two as one of Chiron's bullies orders Kevin to beat him up. Kevin obliges and Chiron gets beat down by the bully and his friends afterwards. Kevin and Chiron seemingly go their separate ways and friends and fed up with the bullies and issues he faces, Chiron fights back and ends up arrested as Kevin looks on, bringing an end to the "Chiron" chapter and phase.

The third and final phase is dubbed "Black", named after the nickname Kevin gave Chiron. Now an adult, this is where we get the most emotional complexity out of the story of Chiron. Following in the footsteps of the only male influence he really had, Juan, Chiron is a hardened thug on the outside, but still dealing with pressures and problems internally that shaped him coming up. His mother has attempted to get off drugs and try and beg for forgiveness, and Chiron finds it in his heart to forgive her in a tear inducing moment, if you've ever experienced something similar.

However, the main issue in this film to me about Chiron is his weakness in moving on with his life and lack of betterment. He still harbors the old feelings towards Kevin and that eventually leads to Kevin reaching out and contacting Chiron to come and see him in Miami. Chiron and Kevin haven't really spoken much since the teenage days, and in a way that makes this scene when they reconcile a bit disingenuous. Chiron, emotionally broken from his tough upbringing, hasn't been able to be intimate with another person since the one intimate encounter with Kevin years ago. The film ends with a tender embrace between Kevin and Chiron and I realize that many fans of this movie appreciate that moment, but there's many unanswered questions in this movie. What's kept Chiron from facing his fears and moving on from that chapter of his life? Is it the emotional connection to Kevin? Was it the loss of Juan? Was it a mix of those things and his estranged relationship with his mother? I'm sure it's a bit of all of the above, but the movie never delves into the private mental strain this puts on Chiron, which is more than necessary considering the different phases and chapters. It leaves the viewer guessing, which is honestly a slick tactic for the filmmakers, as it honestly coasts on the story and you probably won't notice the missing pieces within it. The most griping scene in the movie comes near the end with Chiron forgiving his mother and that credit must go to Naomie Harris for playing such a strong and amazingly flawed role. The actors that play Chiron in the three different phases do a decent job, but surprisingly enough, the most engaging character in this one is none other than Juan, a man only really present for one phase of the movie. The beauty in this is that even as flawed as Juan is, he had the most lasting effect on Chiron in reality, and he is a model for Chiron on how to live his life, whether right or wrong. As Chiron remarks near the end, he's content with the way his life turned out, even if it is not how he envisioned it. In what was supposed to be a coming of age story and one that people have championed for being about a gay black man, the best thing within this film is that it is subtle in its approach of those themes. Chiron and his sexuality isn't made the full focus, and neither is his mistakes or lessons throughout the phases of his life. This film has a few holes and missteps in it, which makes it a bit confusing why it's been called the film of the year, but the performances from the adult Chiron (in phase 3), Juan (the best character in the film), and Paula (the best performance here) is what puts this film in such regard. The story is decent, and the phases blend well enough, but the acclaim for this film truly rests within the performances from the lead and supporting cast.

Rating: 3.5/5

When considering these three films, the best of them all would have to be Fences. Denzel and Viola make a great team in this film, and the story is perfectly arranged to showcase the ups and downs in life. Hidden Figures is honestly an amazing look at three vital women to our history and while Moonlight isn't as good to me as it might have been to the Academy, it is a very solid film and a great look at a different story of black life from the other two. All three films are vital watches for those interested in three different heavily black films with one central message: live your life.



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