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‘Beyond the Lights’ Director and Star Discuss New Film

Nate Parker and Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Nate Parker and Gugu Mbatha-Raw

*After seeing the new Gina Prince-Bythewood film Beyond the Lights as it was screened at the 18th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival early in September it is clear to us that the storyline is as original as it is necessary in these times of accelerated pop stardom and the undisclosed hardships that haunt many who chose a life in the spotlight.

The film stars (Belle) and Nate Parker (Secret Life of Bees, Red Tail). Gugu’s character is named Noni Jean, a burgeoning pop star who is on the cusp of super stardom. Parker stars as Kaz, a young Los Angeles police officer who is on the verge of actualizing his dreams of becoming more as well.

Beyond the Lights was written in 2007. It was a story that was in my head and it was a real fight to get this film made,” Bythewood told audience members. “But when you’re passionate about a story it fuels the fight. And, again, this was a fight. But we’re very passionate about excited about the film. They say your challenge is in your choices and I had two tremendous lead actors in this film in Nate Parker and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.”

As mentioned earlier, Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays the lead as Noni Jean. By all visual appearances, Jean’s life is about to make a change for the better. As the film opens, we find that Noni has just won a Grammy Award for a song recorded with rap artist Kid Culprit (played by Machine Gun Kelly) and her album is about to drop as well. However, she’s depressed and suicidal at the thought of living her life under the unblinking eye of public scrutiny.

“When I first read the script I thought that Gina had done such a terrific job in showing kind of the underbelly of the music industry,” said Mbatha-Raw. “Yes, we have that sort of manufactured pop star imagery that we’re used to, but it also shows the psychological effects of fame. For me (it also shows) the idea of mental health and how, if you don’t have a sense of self-worth, it really doesn’t really matter if people are lauding you with all these accolades. For me, I felt like it was a worthwhile story. It was uplifting. The love story was beautiful and fun, and there was an intimacy and a realness to it that I thought was really refreshing.”

Beyond the Lights, originally titled Blackbird after the Nina Simone song of the same name, features an ensemble cast supporting Parker and Mbatha-Raw. Each lead character deals with issues that have been thrust upon them by their parental figures and must overcome them through the course of the film to attain self-actualization.  Minnie Driver’s performance as Macy Jean, mother of Noni, is outstanding as is Danny Glover’s performance as Captain David Nicol.  Beyond the Lights opens in theaters nationwide on November 14 and we’ll be penning an extensive review as the release date draws near. In the meantime, checkout the trailer for Beyond the Lights below.

 

(Beyond the Lights Director and Star Discuss New Film)
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EUR on the Scene: The Best of the Urbanworld Film Festival (Watch)

The Best Of The Urbanworld Film Festival - Urbanworld Film Festival Wrap Up Report

Boris Kodjoe, William Levy, Zane (author/creator of ‘Addicted’) and Tyson Beckford

*From September 17 through the 21 the Urbanworld Film Festival rolled through New York City with some of the highest-quality creative offerings by people whose backgrounds ran the gamut of the American sociological experiment and those wonderful differences were on full display on a nightly basis.

In its 18th year, the Urbanworld Film Festival’s considerably clout continues to expand exponentially as works from such directors as Ava Duvernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Billie Woodruff garnered standing ovations and uproarious adulation from those who were lucky enough to catch a glimpse at their upcoming works.

On Thursday, September 18, director Gina Prince-Bythewood, husband Reggie “Rock” Bythewood took place in a Q&A session moderated by director Malcolm Lee following a screening for the upcoming film Beyond the Lights, starring Nate Parker, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Minnie Driver.  Beyond the Lights is so relevant in this age of hyper-sexualized young pop stars and strikes to the heart of many other issues as well including; self-respect and mental health among young women of color in America and across the globe.

On Friday, September 19, critically-acclaimed novelist Zane screened clips from her steamy cinematic offering Addicted-which is based on her novel “Addict.” Directed by Billie Woodruff, Addicted is rife with beautiful people locked in a struggle against their better instincts. It stars Boris Kodjoe, Sharon Leal, Tyson Beckford, William Levy and Emayatzy Corinealdi. During the uproarious Q&A session the screening of several of the film’s steamier scenes, Kodjoe, Beckford and Levy jokingly took one another to task over whose sex appeal permeated through the audience’s female fan base the most. Zane herself was as naughty as the male cast members in giving naughty little anecdotes regarding her own appetites. Laughter and levity were the primary themes of the evening.

On Saturday, September 20, director Ava Duvernay and actor David Oyewole were on hand to discuss the highly-anticipated film Selma in a Q&A session with Urbanworld Executive Producer Gabrielle Glore. Though director Ava Duvernay dominated the room with her infectious positive energy, David Oyewole cried tears of joy as audience members showered him with applauds after watching two powerful scenes from Selma. Some are calling Oyewole’s appearance Oscar worthy solely on the strength of that clip. He became MLK in diction, dimensions and conviction.

Addicted will be released in October, Beyond the Lights is scheduled to hit theaters in November, while Ava Duvernay’s Selma is slated to hit theaters on December 25th.  

Check out the video recap of the Addicted Q&A session below.

On Sunday, the UWFF announced the best of the best. After all, this is the largest competitive festival of its kind in the nation. Below are this year’s talented winners.

*Best Screenplay – NOOR written by Nijla Baseema Mu’min

*Best Feature Documentary – Lucky directed by Laura Checkoway

*Best Narrative Short – Pitahaya directed by Albert Espinosa

*Best Narrative Feature (U.S. Cinema) – Lake Los Angeles directed by Mike Ott

*Best Narrative Feature (World Cinema) – Los Angeles directed by Damian John Harper

*Audience Award Winner Best Feature – In The Morning directed by Nefertite Nguvu

*Audience Award Winner Best Short – Sketch directed by Stephen T. Barton

 

(The Best Of The Urbanworld Film Festival – Urbanworld Film Festival Wrap Up Report)
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Sheri-Sher Discusses How First Female Rap Group Was Born (VIDEO)

215973_10200114426122429_1112792554_nHistory is a funny thing.   They say we need to study it or else we’re all doomed to repeat it.  It is in that vein that EURweb presents to you video of a conversation Ricardo A. Hazell of The Shadow League recently had with pioneering hip-hop artist turned author Sheri Abernathy, also known as Sheri-Sher of the Mercedes Ladies.

To many in the current generation, women in hip-hop only go back as far as Salt-N-Pepa.  Some are so young that they think Lauryn Hill was the Holy Mother of Rap.  But there were those that paved the way for them all but enjoyed none of the fruits of their labors.  We can go deeper into the 80s with Roxanne Shante and before her it was Lady Dee and even further back we find MC Sha-Rock.

The aforementioned Sha-Rock was rocking the parks of the City as a singular rhyme regular and as a member of the Funky Four Plus One, but the Mercedes Ladies have a place in history as the first all-female hip-hop group ever.

Sheri-Sher is a founding member.  She and Hazell spoke about her book Mercedes Ladies, which is based on real-life events but the names have been changed, as well as her own personal trials and tribulations prior to her career, the hard road traveled during it, and the unique insights that she has for other young ladies who are willing to pick up the cold baton that she and her band mates created history with through their own sweat and tears.

Recently she and her group members were inducted into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame at a ceremony that took place at Studio 48 in NYC.   Mercedes Ladies can be purchased at Amazon.

Check out the video as she drops words of wisdom regarding how it all got started back in 1976.

Hip Hop Hall

EUR on the Scene: ‘Hip Hop Hall of Fame Awards’ at Studio 48 (VIDEO)

Hip Hop Hall

*On May 19 some of the biggest names in the history of hip-hop music were on hand at Stage 48 in New York City to attend the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Awards (HHHOF).”

Many of the nominees walked the red carpet and showed love to one another in truly familial fashion.  The event marked the return of the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Awards after a long hiatus.

On hand for the festivities were Biz Markie, Marley Marl, The Mercedes Ladies and many other inductees and honorees such as Ralph McDaniel, who received a lifetime achievement award, and host Roxanne Shante.  Talib Kweli, Brand Nubian, Nine and DJ Hollywood each performed.

There was also a memorial performance for DJ E-Z Rock that featured his former group mate Rob Base and friends. During a recent interview with The Shadow League, “HHHOF” founder JT Thompson told reporters why the show was gone for so long and of his intentions for the future.

“We did our show that many are familiar with, it was in syndication and on BET. But after our show aired, Tupac was killed within the next four days,” says Thompson.  “That sent shockwaves throughout the whole country.  I went back to the community, along with Russell Simmons, to start initiatives to try to bring the hip hop community back together.  Consequently, we had a new deal on the table in 1997 and I got ready to announce it at the Soul Train Awards. Then you had the unfortunate incident that occurred with the Notorious B.I.G.  After what happened, there was no independently produced hip hop on television for the next four or five years.  We lost a lot of money from our initial investment. We tried to get a new deal with UPN, but The Source got that because they had a magazine.  So I told myself the next time we try to come back it’s not just going to be with the award show. We’re going to come back with the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum.”

Thompson also told reporters that he has raised most of the funds needed to open the permanent location for the Hip Hop Hall of Fame, which he says should open in Times Square, NY in fall of 2016.  Below is the complete list of inductees for the 2014 class as well as video of the red carpet.

Red Carpet Video Coverage:

Complete List of Inductees:

Artist

  • THE MERCEDES LADIES
  • THE SEQUENCE
  • CHIEF ROCKER BUSY BEE
  • SPOONY GEE AND THE TREACHEROUS 3 WITH DJ EASY LEE
  • WONDER MIKE & MASTER GEE VOICES OF RAPPERS DELIGHT

 

DJs:

  • DJ HOLLYWOOD

Radio DJ/Mix Show:

  •  MR. MAGIC

Graffiti Artist:

  •  CORNBREAD
  • STAY HIGH 149

B-Boys:

  • THE N. TWINS

 

Photographer:

  • ERNIE PANICCOLI

Film:

  •  CHARLIE AHEARN AND WILD STYLE

Lifetime Achievement Award:

  •  RALPH MCDANIELS AND VIDEO MUSIC BOX

 

will downing

Will Downing Returns With Smooth New Set: Euphoria Featuring ‘Turn Off The Lights’ (Listen)

will downing

*If you know nothing about vocalist Will Downing then you know nothing about R&B music. Downing’s been a staple of contemporary R&B and jazz for 25 years and his smooth vocal styling has been among the best in the game in that span as well.

In the past he has teamed up with greats such as Rachelle Farrell on “Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This” (1994) and Gerald Albright on “Pleasure of the Night” (1998). Now, Downing speaks with EURweb’s Lee Bailey about his most recent offering and about creating grown and sexy music that all responsible listeners can get their groove on to.  The set of eight songs is appropriately titled Euphoria.

“I’m excited about this new project. It’s slightly different from what I’ve been doing over the years. It’s a little bit more musical. I think I’ve injected a little bit more of the jazz element into it. Quite a bit of it was live in studio,” said Downing. “I’m really proud of it. I’ve taken seven songs. Most of which the average fan wouldn’t know.”

Following a trend that many contemporary R&B greats such as Babyface have taken in recent years, Downing’s new album is comprised mostly of remakes. However, there’s nothing rehashed about these selections. Reimagined would be a better term.

“I’ve done a song by an artist name Ray LaMontagne It’s a song called ‘You Can Bring Me Flowers.’ I heard it one day, I was listening to the radio in L.A. The song came on and basically he ripped off the song All Blues. It’s got this great little hook to it. So I said ‘Well, I’m going to take it back’. So, I did an interpretation of this song ‘You Bring Me Flowers’,” said Downing. “I took that song and ‘Will Downing-ized it’ and I also did one by Lou Rawls. No one seemed to have heard this song. It’s a song called ‘If I Was a Magician.’ This song I heard at jazz station WBGL in New Jersey. It’s a fantastic song by Lou Rawls that I thought I could do something with.”

will downing - euphoria album cover

Recreating a song by Grammy Award-winning artist Ray LaMontagne, is only the tip of a very deep creative iceberg for Will.

“I did Teddy Pendergrass ‘Turn Out the Lights’, I do Stevie Wonder’s ‘Too High,’ Hall and Oates ‘She’s Gone’ and also I did one song in Portuguese, which I had never done. There’s eight songs altogether. Seven remakes and one original. The original is a song called ‘Heaven in Your Eyes’. It’s written by myself and a gentleman named Chris “Big Dog” Davis,” he continued. “I listen to a lot of radio and sometimes I just hear songs and they just hit me. If I sing it to myself for the majority of the day then I’m rearranging it in my mind and I’m hearing myself do it.  I feel like I can bring something new to the song. It’s not that I’m trying to beat them, it’s just my interpretation of the song.  When I hear something and it sticks with me I go with it.  The way I’m hearing it in my mind tells me who I’m going to call to work with.”

will downing

Throughout his illustrious career, Downing’s voice has been compared to that of the late crooner Luther Vandross. Will told EURweb that, while he does agree there are some similarities between the two, they are superficial at best.

“That’s been there for many years. I was a fan and I was a student. I think you’re always going to hear that. You’re always going to hear those sensibilities.  The people that I work with sometimes say ‘Hey man. Why don’t we do it like this? You know, like Luther would do?’ So, automatically, the music starts to take those twists and turns.  I have my own sound at this point.  The similarities tend to stop at slight vocal inflections and slight tone inflections.  Musically, he went more or less R&B pop. Me, I’m R&B and some form of jazz. That’s where the fork in the road kind of splits the two of us.”

Chances are, many reading this piece haven’t heard Will Downing on the radio recently. However, that absence from the airwaves isn’t because of a lack of quality, but of the politics inherent to being a veteran in the game.

“This is project number 17 and I have been doing the same thing, the same way for 25 years. People always say ‘Well, I don’t know whether to put you on this category or that category’ and that’s cool in one regard, but I think radio was starting to get to the point where they were saying ‘Well, we’re not going to play your type of R&B because that age demo is fading away.’ So, I can’t go backwards and chase what these kids are doing out there.  That’s not going to help. So, I said ‘Let’s just do a straight up adult record and make it musical. You know, do what we really enjoy doing.”

You can click on the link below to get a taste of a grown and sexy sound that is 25 years in the making. And, oh yes, Will Downing’s latest and greatest, Euphoria, will be will available for purchase at your favorite music store or online retailer (Amazon, iTunes, eBay and others) tomorrow, Tuesday, March 25.

kelly clarkson & will i am

EUR On The Scene: A Question of Homogeny and the American Music Awards (Watch)

Singer Kelly Clarkson and rapper Will.i.am

Singer Kelly Clarkson and rapper Will.i.am

A while back I was invited down to B.B. King’s in Time Square to cover the American Music Awards annual press conference held to announce the nominees.

The announcements were made by Kelly Clarkson, Will.i.am and Lance Bass. As I scanned the list I was immediately struck by the fact that this year’s rendition has two of the three noms for Favorite Album, Soul/R&B were taken by Caucasian Americans, Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake.

It struck me as odd for a myriad of reasons-the primary reason being this may have been the first time that ever occurred.  The duo can also be found in the Pop/Rock category as well.  I also noticed Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were  nominated for their album “The Heist.” Producer Larry Klein as well as Lance Bass-who will be broadcasting live from the carpet this year-and performer will.i.am were gracious enough to field my question as to what these noms have to say about cultural homegeny in modern music.

As you would expect, there were three different viewpoints. Spoiler alert: will.i.am completely jumps the proverbial shark on this question. Totally danced around it. Perhaps he thought it was a “Gotcha” question?

Watch the video below.

Watch the American Music Awards, hosted by Pitbull, Sunday (Nov. 24) at 8|7c on ABC