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S&A’s 2015 Black Cinema Outlook – New Films Scheduled for Release This New Year

S&A's 2015 Black Cinema Outlook - New Films Scheduled for Release This New Year

And we’re off – another year in black cinema on Shadow & Act begins. What does the year look like for us? What films will we be talking about most? What new and exciting filmmakers will we learn about? What will be this year’s “Selma” (likely last year’s most discussed and praised “black film,” even though many of you haven’t been able to see it yet, because its nationwide theatrical expansion doesn’t happen until a week from today; a film that will surely contend for Oscar nominations this year)? Who will be 2015’s Justin Simien (a breakthrough black director with a buzzy, very timely and topical indie film that captures the country’s attention, after a launch at a premiere film festival, followed by a distributor pickup, en route to a healthy theatrical box office take). What film will be this year’s “Timbuktu”? A film by an internationally-acclaimed non-American filmmaker of African descent in Abderrahmane Sissako – his 5th solo directorial effort – that premieres at a top-tier international film festival like Cannes, is received with an extended standing ovation and much critical acclaim, and draws Stateside distributor interest, etc, etc, etc…

The unfortunate reality of all this is that, each year, as suggested above, there tends to be just one film contending for each of those slots (and others not mentioned here). The “volume and variety” problem in black cinema, talked about ad naseam on this blog, continues to plague us, and so each film that demands our attention is met with a kind of undeserved scrutiny that “white films” (for lack of a better term) aren’t at all subject to, if only because the “volume and variety” problem isn’t one that those films (and the filmmakers who make them), have to contend with. 

Eventually, some day, I’m sure, we will see something that looks like parity when it comes to Cinema Americana. Some day… but with emails like those sent between Sony chief Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin (which were leaked in last year’s expansive Sony hack), confirming what I’ve always believed Hollywood executives think of black cinema, and black audiences in general, I’m not holding my breath. It’s not even so much that I felt the content of those emails was racist, as much as how much they tell us about our insignificance and inferiority to them (from their POV). We’re essentially the help, granted an occasional seat at the table – a decision that’s ultimately theirs to make, since we obviously have virtually no influence, no power within their golden gates.

What 2015 will bring, is anyone’s guess, really. I compiled a list of “black films” (specifically, films that tell stories centered primarily around black characters) scheduled for release this year, and, as you’d probably expect, it’s very thin and rather inadequate. But we’ve come to get used to that sad fact. Deja vu… all over again… again… and again… I won’t be surprised if I’m saying the exact same thing a year from now.

I should note that, not included below, are those films that we don’t know much about yet – those films that will premiere on the global film festival circuit (starting with Sundance in a couple weeks); those projects that will be announced early this year, for release later in the year; and those that, frankly, we just don’t know about, that will surprise us as the year progresses (there’s always at least one of those). 

Also, there are films that we’ve known about for many years, that are believed to be complete, but have yet to be released – like Zoe Saldana’s Nina Simone biopic, which, as of today, is still in limbo, in terms of where and when it’ll make its premiere, given that it’s a film that was completed a year ago (or more). 

There are also those projects, like the Morris Chestnut/Reginal Hall thriller, “When The Bough Breaks,” which were announced last year, and will likely be released in 2014, but don’t yet have dates scheduled, so I didn’t include those either.

What I will do is, as the year progresses, and we learn about new films and new release dates, I’ll update this list accordingly, and republish to keep you all informed.

Again, the list only includes films that tell stories centered specifically around characters of African descent. In other words, black characters have to be at the center of each narrative. So, a film like Michael Mann’s “Blackhats,” which Viola Davis is featured in, isn’t included, because she’s not central to the plot. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’d know that it’s Chris Hemsworth’s movie. The same goes for ensemble projects lie “Fast & Furious 7,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Black or White,” and a few others.

I did include a couple of “interracial buddy” comedies, both with Kevin Hart in starring roles. Yes, he shares starring credit with a white co-star, but, ultimately, he is starring in both films, and, as far as we know anyway, his character will be 3 dimensional and will actually have a story of his own, separate from his white co-star, and he’s not there solely to advance the coming-of-age of the white character sharing screen time with him. Of course, we’ll know much more, as the release dates for both films draw near, but, for the time being, we have to assume the best case scenario, until given reasons to believe otherwise. 

I’d say the same thing for Will Smith in “Focus,” which he costars in with Margot Robbie; as well as Danny Glover in “Supremacy.”

Finally, I should note that “Selma” is not on the list, even though it’s scheduled to expand nationwide next week. It opened in 2014, so I’m considering it a 2014 film. 

This year in black cinema kicks of on January 16, 2015, with “The Wedding Ringer” – just one of a handful of projects on Kevin Hart’s slate, with highlights that include co-starring with Will Ferrell in a comedy titled “Get Hard,” a sequel to the immensely successful “Ride Along,” his plans to launch a new 24-hour comedy network later this year, and more.

Hart is maybe one of the busiest, and most in-demand actors/comedians working right now. I’ve lost count of the number of projects he’s been attached to since the break-out success his stand-up comedy concert “Laugh At My Pain” 3 years ago, which did some impressive damage at the box office, for a film of its ilk, and was followed by a successful sequel.

Last year, he starred alongside veterans Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone in a film called “Grudge Match;” a remake of the 1986 rom-com “About Last Night” starring with Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant and Regina Hall; the aforementioned “Ride Along,” with Ice Cube; and, on the small screen, in BET’s hit series “Real Husbands Of Hollywood.”

And this is likely only just the beginning of what’s to come. He’s in that rare position that makes him a bankable actor, as studios want to be in the Kevin Hart business. 

In “The Wedding Ringer” he co-stars with Josh Gad; it’s a comedy from Screen Gems/Miramax, and first-time helmer Jeremy Garelick, and produced by Will Packer.

In the comedy, Hart plays a charismatic guy who provides best man services for socially-challenged guys, who can’t get anyone to stand by them on their wedding days. 

Gad plays a groom-to-be, who finds himself in need of Hart’s services. Of course, all doesn’t work out exactly as planned, as hijinx and hilarity ensue.

I can’t help but be reminded of Will Smith in “Hitch.”

Supporting cast includes Affion Crockett, Jenifer Lewis, Corey Holcomb, Kaley Cuoco, Jorge Garcia, Dan Gill, Corey Holcomb, Ken Howard, Colin Kane, Cloris Leachman, Alan Ritchson, Mimi Rogers, Ignacio Serricchio, Aaron Takahashi, Olivia Thirlby and Nicky Whelan. 

Jeremy Garelick directed from a screenplay he penned with Jay Lavender.

Miramax’s Adam Fields is co-producer along with Will Packer. Screen Gems’ President, Clint Culpepper, is overseeing the project on behalf of Screen Gems.

Here’s a clip:

January 28, 2015 will see the opening of Abderrahmane Sissako’s 5th solo directorial effort, “Timbuktu” – a film that made its world premiere at the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where it reportedly received a 10-minute-long standing ovation, after its first public screening. It was then picked up for USA distribution by Cohen Media Group.

The film is also Mauritania’s submission to the Academy for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar competition. This will be the first time that the country has elected to participate in the Academy Awards, so it’s one for the history books.

“Timbuktu” was inspired by the real-life story of the 2012 stoning of a young unmarried couple, by Islamists, in a Northern Mali town called Aguelhok. Their crime? They weren’t officially married, and thus, in the eyes of their executioners, were committing a crime against divine law. That summer, the couple was brought to the center of the town, placed in holes in the ground, and stoned to death in front of hundreds of watchers – a horribly tragic incident that drew international media attention, and motivated at least one filmmaker to address on film.

“Aguelhok is neither Damascus nor Teheran,” Sissako said in a pre-production statement over a year ago, adding that, “and in no way am I looking to over-emotionalize these events for the purposes of a moving film. What I do want to do is bear witness as a filmmaker. Because I will never be able to say I didn’t know. And because of what I know now, I must tell this story – in the hope that no child may ever have to learn this same lesson in the future. That their parents could die, simply because they love each other.”

The film stars Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri and Fatoumata Diawara.

Wendy saw the film at the London Film Festival last week, and reviewed it positively, here.

An English-subtitled full trailer for the film is embedded below:

January 30, 2015 will see the release of 2 films.

First… announced a couple of months ago, Karidja Touré and Assa Sylla – stars of one of the most buzzed about films this year, French filmmaker Céline Sciamma’s coming-of-age drama “Bande de filles” (“Girlhood”) – were selected by the French Academy to be honored with its Révélations des César (essentially a breakthrough award for newcomers; or performers to watch). The César, of course, is the French equivalent of the Oscars here in the USA, so this is a top honor for both of them.

“Girlhood” follows Marieme, a high schooler who feels oppressed by her family environment, dead-end future prospects, and the rowdy boys in her neighborhood, whose life gets a much-desired lift when she meets a group of 3 free-spirited girls. She changes her name, her dress code, and quits school to be accepted by her new friends, hoping that becoming a part of their clique will provide her with the escape she’s long wanted.

The film, which made its world premiere as a 2014 Directors’ Fortnight selection – a Cannes sidebar which is distinguished by its independent-mindedness, and its non-competitive nature, striving to be eclectic and receptive to unlikely forms of cinematic expression – was eventually picked up by Strand Releasing for USA distribution.

It’ll premiere on January 30, 2015, starting in New York.

Both Zeba and Wendy reviewed the film (at TIFF and LFF respectively), and both praised it! Read their thoughts here and here.

Trailer below::

Also to be released on January 30, 2015…

Well Go USA Entertainment will premiere Deon Taylor’s racially-charged psychological thriller “Supremacy,” which made its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, last year, to critical acclaim. 

Starring Danny Glover and Joe Anderson, the film tells the story of a white supremacist (Joe Anderson) who shoots a cop on his first day of parole, driving he and his girlfriend to take an entire family hostage. Now, the father of that family (Danny Glover) must use his understanding of the racist mind to keep his family alive.

Dawn Olivieri, Derek Luke, Evan Ross, Lela Rochon, Mahershala Ali and Anson Mount, round out the film’s key cast.

“Supremacy is a very powerful film that deals with racism and family,” says director Taylor, adding, “As a filmmaker, the film was often at times very hard to work on for the simple fact that you are dealing with very powerful issues and beliefs that are not often spoke about. They are in fact taboo! I truly believe that Supremacy is one of the most powerful films that has been made in the last few years that speaks directly to racism.”

“Deon calls Supremacy a ‘real-life horror story,’ and he’s absolutely right,” said Doris Pfardrescher, CEO of Well Go USA. “It’s intense, it’s going to shock, but it’s also this complex, gripping story that’s going to challenge people. Those stories make the best kinds of movies, and we’re very proud to bring it to North America.”

“Supremacy” is produced by Vincent Cirrincione and Roxanne Avent of Taylor’s Hidden Empire Film Group. Robert Smith and Shannon McIntosh are executive producers along with Aaron L. Gilbert of Media House Capital. Margot Hand and Patrick Murray of Media House Capital serve as co-executive producers.

After its screening at the LAFF, Nijla reviewed the film (here), and interviewed the filmmaker (here).

A trailer for the film is embedded below:

February 27, 2015

In case you’ve forgotten, Will Smith is still an actor. It seems like Mister Box Office has been absent from action in front of the camera for a little while, giving way for his son, Jaden Smith, to develop, while also producing for both film and TV.

The actor will next be seen in the Warner Bros’ con-man/romance “Focus,” which centers on an inexperienced female con artist who teams up with a more seasoned male con artist, and sparks fly between them as they go about their con-artist ways.

Aussie actress Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), co-stars alongside Smith, playing the inexperienced female con artist who rocks his boat.

Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”), the project is one that the filmmakers had been trying to get off the ground for a couple of years, when their original idea was to re-team their “Crazy, Stupid, Love” co-stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, for the lead roles. Scheduling conflicts with Gosling got in the way of that happening. 

Other top-tier actors had been courted for the part, including Brad Pitt. Pitt apparently wasn’t interested; but Ben Affleck was. However, he was pulled away by other commitments.

An interesting choice for Will Smith here, especially when you consider that, looking over his IMDBPro page, there are at least 20 different projects he could’ve tackled next, over this one.

But maybe it’s a great script, and/or it provides him with the opportunity to do something different – assuming that it is.

Here’s a second trailer for the film, showing more footage than the first one did, suggestive of something sexy, slick and scintillating. 

“Focus” opens in theaters on February 27, 2015.

March 27, 2015

Another upcoming Kevin Hart project – the Warner Bros interracial buddy-comedy co-starring Will Ferrell, titled “Get Hard” (the other being “The Wedding Ringer,” which I mentioned above).

In “Get Hard,” Ferrell plays a rich, effete investment banker named James King, who is sentenced to a maximum security prison for stealing millions of dollars from clients. 30 days before he begins his sentence, he hires a “streetwise guy” named Darnell (played by Hart), to prep him and toughen him up for the time he’ll do in prison – hence the title of the film.

Apparently, there’s some kind of a twist; maybe one or both men isn’t exactly who the other believes them to be. Is James King really guilty of stealing millions? Is Darnell really streetwise, or just pretending to be something he’s not for one reason or another?

Find out when the movie, directed by first-timer Etan Cohen, from a script penned by Ian Roberts & Jay Martel, opens on March 27.

Trailer below (poster underneath):

Also on March 27, 2015…

DreamWorks Animation’s “Home” – a 3D computer-animated feature film set in the future, which is based on Adam Rex’s children’s book “The True Meaning of Smekday,” and stars Rihanna (providing the voice for the starring character – an enterprising girl named Tip), Jennifer Lopez, Jim Parsons, and Steve Martin.

Tim Johnson is director of the film which is described as a post-apocalyptic-alien-invasion-buddy-comedy, with a synopsis that reads: “When Earth is taken over by the overly-confident Boov, an alien race in search of a new place to call home, all humans are promptly relocated, while the Boov get busy efficiently reorganizing the planet. But when one resourceful girl, Tip, (Rihanna) manages to avoid capture, she finds herself the accidental accomplice of a banished Boov by the name of Oh (Jim Parsons). Equally stubborn and set in their ways, these two fugitives realize there’s a lot more at stake than intergalactic relations as they embark on the road trip of a lifetime. Good thing they have a flying car.”
Jennifer Lopez voices Tip’s mother and Steve Martin does the same for Captain Smek, the leader of the Boov race.

In addition to her starring voice role, Rihanna will also record a concept album featuring original songs from the film.

A trailer for the highly anticipated film, as well as a video of stars Rihanna and Jim Parsons interviewing each other in an exclusive cast chat, are both embedded below.

A release date has been sent for March 27, 2015. 

August 14, 2015 

The upcoming N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” from Universal Pictures, directed by F. Gary Gray, with O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, respectively.

Carra Patterson and Paul Giamatti are also in the cast, playing Tomica Woods, Eazy-E’s widow (who inherited his share of N.W.A. song rights, and is also a producer on the film), and Jerry Heller, manager of the group.

Keith Stanfield plays Snoop Dogg. 

The film, which follows the group as they emerge from the streets of Compton, California in the mid-1980s, to go onto revolutionize pop culture with their music, is produced by original N.W.A. members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who are joined by fellow producers Matt Alvarez and Tomica Woods-Wright.

Will Packer serves as executive producer of the film, alongside Gray. 

Originally set up at New Line, Universal picked up the project in turnaround. John Singleton was, at one time, interested in the directing job.

I’m sure the official trailer will be released online soon enough, in all its crisp, HD glory; but in the meantime, here’s a not-so clean version of what’s coming:

And finally, set for release on October 9, 2015, the next project in line for actress Halle Berry – another kidnapping thriller (see her last feature film, “The Call”), titled, simply, “Kidnap.”

We first alerted you to the project when it was announced at the Cannes Film Market (Marche du Film) earlier last year, where it was being shopped, repped by Lotus Entertainment.

Eventually, distribution rights to the film were acquired by Relativity Studios – the company that also released Gina Prince Bythewood’s “Beyond the Lights.”

Described as a heart-stopping action thriller, “Kidnap” will follow a mother (Berry) who will stop at nothing to rescue her kidnapped son (unlike in “The call” in which she played a 911 operator who takes it upon herself to track down a kidnapped girl).

Berry will executive produce the project with her producing partner, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, via their 606 Films production banner, which she launched earlier this year to produce “socially conscious” work, in the spirit of the company’s name (after the anti-paparazzi bill that Berry pushed, which California Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law last fall).

Spanish filmmaker Luis Prieto (“Pusher”) is attached to direct, from a script penned by Knate Gwaltney. 

Principal photography was set to begin last fall, with Di Bonaventura Pictures producing, and Lotus Entertainment and Gold Star Films financing the film, as well as exec producing.

No trailer yet.

So that’s it… what we know of with certainty. 

As I said at the start of this post… not included here, are those films that we don’t know much about yet – those films that will premiere on the global film festival circuit; those that will be announced early this year, for release later in the year; and those that, frankly, we just don’t know about that will surprise us as the year progresses. 

Also, there are films that we’ve known about for many years, that are believed to be complete, but have yet to be released – like Zoe Saldana’s Nina Simone biopic.

There are also those projects, like the Morris Chestnut/Reginal Hall thriller, “When The Bough Breaks,” which were announced last year, and will likely be released in 2014, but don’t yet have dates scheduled, so I didn’t include those either. 

As the year progresses, and we learn about new films and new release dates, I’ll update this list accordingly, and republish to keep you all informed.

it’s also worth noting that filmmakers who would typically be moving on to new feature films (like a Steve McQueen or Ava DuVernay), are increasingly looking to television for future projects, although there’s always the possibility that we’ll hear of some new feature film from those filmmakers during the course of the year.

If I missed anything with a release date already set, I’m sure I’ll be notified one way or another.

Happy new year!

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