Tag Archives: Nicole Beharie

Far Away Eyes

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

by Hope Madden

Honk. It’s such an inelegant word. Not that beep or toot are much more graceful, but honk?

That’s what makes it such a perfect choice for writer/director Adamma Ebo’s look at commercial spirituality, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

First Lady Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall, amazing as always) is launching a comeback. Her husband, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (the incomparable Sterling K. Brown), had a little run in with morality and scandal five years ago. Since then, their mega church, Wander to Greater Paths—which once boasted more than 10,000 congregants—has been shuttered.

Well, no more! That scandal is almost behind them (there’s the issue of one hold out in the settlement…) and this dynamic duo is ready. And they want people to know, which is why Lee-Curtis agreed to let a documentary crew follow them as they prepare for their upcoming Easter Sunday resurrection.

What follows is a mockumentary of sorts, although Ebo’s point of view is not exclusively that of the documentarian (that elusive Anita). And while the world seems most interested in the pastor and his past transgressions, that sly Anita seems more drawn to the first lady.

To call this a satire, or really even a mockumentary, is to be a bit off the mark. Though it’s often funny, it’s not exactly a comedy, either. Brown’s damaged, shamed pastor is so pathologically single-minded as to be villainous outright. But Brown seems incapable of creating a character whose flaws don’t make him all the more human, and therefore tender, however irredeemable.

Likewise, Hall, whose performance is more decidedly comedic, mines Trinitie for deep conflict between submission to spirituality or to patriarchal bullshit. Her profound unhappiness partnered with her pride make the character a preaching contradiction in a church hat.

Solid support work bolsters the comedy (Nicole Beharie, in particular) and the tragedy (the late introduction of Austin Crute’s Khalil is powerful).

What starts off as a bit of fun at commodified religion’s expense turns into a surprisingly layered and cynical investigation into the damage organized religion of any kind can have, especially on those who believe.

Falling Down


by Hope Madden

John Boyega is here to remind us that he is more than Finn.

He has been, of course. He burned right through the screen in the raucous Attack the Block. He simmered with contempt and resignation in Detroit. And he charmed as the well-meaning hero in some light galactic fluff.

He explores something entirely different in Abi Demaris Corbin’s heartbreaking true story, Breaking. The filmmaker delivers a bleak look at bureaucracy and the plight of the Black American veteran without fanfare or sentimentality. Instead, her film aches with compassion.

Boyega is Brian Brown-Easley, a retired Marine on the verge of homelessness due to a clerical error made by the VA. He is about to do something very rash.

The set-up is pure high drama, a tension-fueled action flick waiting to happen. And it can wait, because Demaris Corbin and her cast take a profoundly dramatic situation, one exploited for its tension for as long as we’ve made films, and drain it of hyperbole, finding something not mundane but intimate.

Films like this are loud, but Breaking is quiet. Demaris Corbin builds relentless tension with very little volume, the silences only emphasizing the fear felt by a small group of characters inside an uncomfortably intimate situation.

Boyega disarms and devastates with clarity, tenderness, and touches of paranoia. You never know exactly what to make of Brown-Easley, but any tendency to underestimate him is met with rejection.

Nicole Beharie (Miss Juneteenth) meets that performance with fierce but terrified honesty. Her fiery performance demands that the film never resign itself to Brown-Easley’s fate, and reminds us clearly that the plight of the Black veteran looks different than that of a white one.

Michael Kenneth Williams, in one of his final performances, joins mid-film, playing against-type as a thoughtful hostage negotiator. He carries a sense of optimism with him that only deepens the tragedy the film tells.

Please prepare to be heartbroken, particularly when Brown-Easley’s daughter Kiah (London Covington – oh, that little face!) reminds her panicking father to breathe, imitating the proper way to do it as if it’s a ritual the two have. Covington is wonderful, heartbreakingly natural, and the scene offers a gorgeous piece of realistic tragedy, or day-to-day struggle and resilience.

Demaris Corbin uses visuals to move seamlessly from present tense to flashback, and one particular image of a blood trail across worn bank carpet is particularly effective. For a film trapped primarily in a single space, Breaking creates something tragically universal, but it never betrays its hard-won intimacy.

Phenomenal Woman

Miss Juneteenth

by Rachel Willis

When Turquoise (Nicole Beharie of TV’s Sleepy Hollow) enters her teenage daughter, Kai (newcomer Alexis Chikaeze), in the Miss Juneteenth pageant, she is optimistic Kai will win. Turquoise herself was a Miss Juneteenth winner fifteen years previously.

For those unfamiliar with the Juneteenth holiday, writer/director Channing Godfrey Peoples weaves an explanation and short history into the film at relevant moments. You’ll quickly understand the importance of this holiday, not only in the film’s setting of Ft. Worth, Texas, but in the greater black community.

If you are anticipating a film about the ins and outs of pageants, you won’t find it. Yes, there is some focus on the pageant, but mostly, this is a film about mothers and daughters.

Turquoise is the focus. Beharie and Peoples create a lot of empathy for a black, single mother trying to make it work.

There are numerous layers to Turquoise’s life. She’s separated from her husband, Kai’s father Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson), although he’s still around. It’s clear Turquoise loves Ronnie, but he’s disappointed her in the past.

The film’s strength is the way it lets this story unfold organically. As the plot takes us forward, we learn more about the connections between characters—small, intimate moments conveying vast amounts of information.

And the film’s main relationship, the one between Turquoise and Kai, is one of the most tender mother-daughter relationships you’ll find. Beharie and Chikaeze have a winning chemistry that completely roots the audiences in Turquoise and Kai’s relationship.

Of course the characters butt heads, but the conflict is secondary to the loving bond the two women share. Turquoise maintains a hard line with her daughter because she wants Kai to do better in life than she did. Though Kai at times resents this, she seems to understand her mother’s intentions. When Kai finds ways to push back against her authoritarian mother, you are never in doubt of Kai’s love for Turquoise, she simply wants to be her own woman.

The film also delivers a realistic view of poverty. Whenever Turquoise gains financial ground, something happens to pull the rug out from under her, leaving her with questions like whether to pay her late electric bill or the registration fee for the Miss Juneteenth pageant. Turquoise will always invest in her daughter’s future.

Turquoise has a supportive community around her, a cast of characters who round out the story nicely, and when life tries to knock her down, she will get back up with the help of those around her.

As we approach the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, this is a film worth seeing.