“Roma” (2018)

If you stopped halfway into Roma on Netflix, go back to finish watching the movie. I get it. It got compelling at the 96 minute mark.

The movie is slow. “Slow as molasses” like my mama used to say. Slow like it used-to-take-forever-to-get-on-the-internet-in-the-early-1990s-because-we-only-had-dial-up-modems slow. If the movie was in English, I would have been doing chores while half-watching. Since it’s in Spanish and has subtitles, I had to pay attention. I’m glad I did. Even the slow building beginning is a piece of art. From minute 96 to the end, Roma is cinematic genius.

The movie premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in August 2018 and opened in theaters in November ahead of its Netflix debut in December. Roma has already earned multiple awards and nominations, including three Golden Globe awards, and Best Picture and Best Director at the British Academy Film Awards. Roma is also nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron.

Cleo surrounded by the family she serves. The moment leading up to this group hug is gold.
(Carlos Somonte / Netflix)

Roma tells the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), an indigenous Oaxacan live-in maid for a middle-class Mexican family in Mexico City. Cleo is particularly close to the four children. Their bond is key to the movie’s climactic ending. Roma is set in 1970 and 1971 against Mexico’s political strife. Political and domestic tensions rise together in this movie. There were moments where I couldn’t breathe.

Cleo struggles through an unplanned pregnancy at the same time her employer Senora Sofia (Marina de Tavira) is grieving the loss of her marriage to Senor Antonio (Fernando Grediaga). Protests against the government are also coming to a head. The movie comes to a crescendo while a pregnant Cleo and the children’s grandmother, Senora Teresa (Veronica Garcia), are crib shopping for Cleo’s baby. They are caught in the middle of an anti-government protest and have a gun pointed directly at them by the unlikeliest person.

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Senora Teresa (Verónica García) walking amid student protesters in Roma. (Carlos Somonte / Netflix)

You don’t have to know anything about Mexican politics to understand the film. Watch the movie first, then go here to learn more: http://time.com/5478382/roma-movie-mexican-history/

This movie is director Alfonso Cuaron’s love letter to his childhood maid, Libo. I was happy to see a movie about an indigenous woman and it’s HER STORY told from HER point of view. Yalitza Aparicio is the first indigenous woman to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (and this is her first acting role ever). I think Glenn Close will win that category, but Arparicio deserves her nomination. I know for sure this movie will at least win Best Director at the Academy Awards. It’s a beautiful film.

Nine out of Ten Mocha Angels.

Roma is rated “R” for graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language.

Up next: My Oscar predictions. Who should win and who will win.

#metoo on a million little things (ABC)

The body is the crime scene.

That is why recovering from sexual assault is so difficult. Perpetrators can walk away. The victim can never get away. Victims are also told, “It’s your fault.” Bullshit. Gaslighting at it’s finest.

ABC’s rookie drama a million little things addressed sexual assault this past Thursday. Episode 14 “someday” finally gave us the answer as to why Regina (Christina Moses) and her mother Shelly (Romy Rosemont) have such a difficult relationship. Shelly is a passive-aggressive and overbearing mother in the same vein as Marie Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Emily Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), minus the humor.

Rome (Romany Malco, Jr) and Regina (Christina Moses) (ABC/Jack Rowand)

This mother-daughter relationship comes to a head the night before Executive Chef Regina is to open her new restaurant. Regina gets a text from her mother’s brother Neil which reads, “Glad it all worked out.” Regina hasn’t spoke to her uncle in decades. When Regina asks her mother not only why she gave Neil her phone number and address, she also asks, “What does ‘glad it all worked out’ mean?” Shelly admits that she wasn’t the one who helped finance Regina’s restaurant, it was Neil. Regina flips out on her mom and then she tells her business partner Delilah (Stephanie Szostak), “This restaurant will never open. Not with me involved.” With that, Regina is out.

Shelly (Romy Rosemont)

At home, Regina is inconsolable. Her husband Rome (Romany Malco, Jr) asks Maggie (Allison Miller) to help Regina. (FYI: Maggie is a therapist. Her dual role as friend/therapist with Rome and now Regina is pushing serious ethical boundaries, but I’m going to let that go.) That’s when Regina tells the story of her uncle’s sexual assault of her at age 12. She said that when she tried to tell Shelly the day after, her mother’s response was, “You must have misunderstood. He was just trying to comfort you.”

Take the needle off the record. Bae said what? A misunderstanding? 😦 😦 😦 Girl….. 😦 My twists were on fire!

Regina is blaming herself. Rome is hearing all of this for the first time. Maggie is telling her, “You were a 12 year old girl. You did nothing wrong.” That whole scene had me in my feelings. It was hard to watch.

The next morning Regina, Rome, and Maggie (along for emotional support) head to the hospital where Neil is being treated for a never revealed illness. Regina intends to give him the money back and she wants Neil to apologize. Maggie warns her: don’t expect an apology.

In a touch of magical realism, Regina walks past her 12-year-old self on the way to her uncle’s room. She gets to his room only to find his hospital bed empty. “Your uncle died a couple of hours ago,” a doctor tells her. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye.” Regina is beyond angry and frustrated that she never got to confront her uncle and she’s mad at her mother for not believing her. Maggie gently says, “Maybe your mom couldn’t hear you because your uncle hurt her too. If she acknowledges your truth, she’s have to admit her own.”

Shelly is walking up to the hospital at that moment. Regina runs to her mother to ask: “What did he do to you?” And with that, mother and daughter have their #metoo moment.

At the end of the episode, Regina does return to a very successful opening night of the restaurant, aptly titled “someday.” (John had told her the night before his death that you can ‘someday’ yourself out of a life.) Regina tells her mom that she’s donating all of Neil’s money to a women’s shelter. Shelly say’s she very proud of her daughter, and Regina cooks her scallops for dinner.

Maggie, Delilah, and Regina (ABC/Jack Rowand)

a million little things deals with the aftermath of suicide, male and female breast cancer, infidelity, divorce, depression, secrets and lies. This story line cannot be dropped. And I’m a bit worried that the show may gloss over this topic. And it’s because Uncle Neil is dead.

As Maggie told Regina, “It’s not about him.” Yes and no. It’s not about him because Regina and Shelly’s healing does not rest on Neil’s apology, acknowledgement, nor validation of his heinous, criminal acts. It is about him in the sense that these women need to vent their rage at him as a part of their healing. Anger and rage are a natural reaction to sexual assault. I want to see these women go through all of their stages of grief so they can heal themselves as well as their relationship. I will be watching.

ABC’s a million little things airs Thursdays at 9:00pm EST.

Up next: a review of Best Picture nominee Roma.

Kristoff St. John (1966-2019): An Appreciation

Kristoff St. John winning his second Emmy award for the role of Neil Winters on The Young and the Restless during the 35th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on June 20, 2008 in Hollywood, California.

I grew up watching daytime soap operas, aka “stories” as black folk call them. My mom watched all the stories on ABC: Ryan’s Hope, General Hospital, One Life to Live, and All My Children.

As a kid, when I stayed over my Aunt Lonnie Mae and Uncle Tillman’s house, they watched all the CBS stories: As The World Turns, Guiding Light, The Bold and the Beautiful, and of course, The Young and the Restless.

There weren’t a lot of black characters on soap operas, daytime or nighttime, when I was a child. When one showed up, black folk paid attention. NBC’s Generations (1989-1991) was the first daytime soap to feature a wealthy black family. Kristoff St. John played “Adam” a young, rich playboy. I didn’t watch Generations, but I did watch The Young and the Restless. When St. John’s character “Neil Winters” showed up to Jabot Cosmetics in 1991 looking for a job, I was like, “Who is that fine-ass brother?”

I said, “Oh, that’s the brother from The Cosby Show! He was Denise’s boyfriend!” Kristoff St. John had been acting since the age of eight. I’m sure I’d seen him before on television, but that one-time role of Denise Huxtable’s boyfriend was memorable because he gave Cliff (Bill Cosby) such a hard time.

On Y&R, Neil was THE MAN. He was beautiful, sexy, smart, charismatic, masculine, and he represented the best of us. Neil was everything. Back in the day, Neil and Drucilla were #relationshipgoals.  In the early to mid-90s, Neil, Drucilla, Malcolm, and Olivia were just the jam. I loved everything about them.

From L to R: Neil (Kristoff St. John), Drucilla (Victoria Rowell), Malcolm (Shemar Moore), and Olivia (Tonya Lee Williams). The Young & The Restless League of Beautiful Black People.

I drifted away from soap operas once I started working full-time, but I kept up with them from a distance. Kristoff St. John became a legend working on Y&R. He was there for 28 years. He won two Emmys in 1992 and 2008 for his role. He was a leading man in a space that didn’t always represent black folk in the best light. I loved that I could jump back into Y&R and there was Neil Winters.

I was so sorry to hear about his son Julian’s suicide in 2014. I remember seeing St. John and his now-ex-wife Mia St. John on television a few years ago talking about how crushing their son’s death was for them. Losing a child is not something a parent ever recovers from. St. John retweeted a tweet a few weeks before he died that read (I’m paraphrasing): “A parent only recovers from a child’s death by being reunited with him.” St. John’s cause of death is unknown for now, but I pray he is at peace and reunited with his son.

In life, Kristoff St. John made the difficult transition from child actor to successful adult actor. In the soap opera world, he became one of the best actors in the business. Thank you Mr. St. John for coming into our homes every day.

Up next: #metoo on a million little things (Thursdays, 9:00pm EST on ABC)

“Coco” (2017)

Miguel wants to sing and play the guitar like his idol, the late Ernesto de la Cruz, a legendary singer. When his dog Dante accidentally shakes the ofrenda and knocks over a photo of Imelda, Coco, and the great-great grandfather with his head ripped away, Miguel sees his relative holding a guitar belonging to Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel believes de la Cruz is their relative. When Miguel reveals this information and his musical ambition to his family, they do not understand. His Abuelita (grandmother) angrily demands he choose between music and his family. She also destroys Miguel’s own makeshift guitar.

Twelve-year-old Miguel Rivera is the only music-loving person in a multi-generational Mexican family that has banned music from their lives forever. Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned his wife Imelda and daughter Coco for a life on the road as a musician. No more music after that. Ancestors are revered and always remembered. Their photos and food are left on the ofrenda (altar). Imelda and all her descendants became shoe-makers. Such is Miguel’s destiny.

Miguel and his dog Dante in the Land of the Dead

Miguel runs away to enter a talent show. He needs a guitar, so he steals de la Cruz’s from the mausoleum dedicated to him. The marigold petals around Miguel light up and suddenly he sees deceased spirits on this Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). No one alive can see Miguel except his dog Dante. Some of Miguel’s relatives escort him to The Land of the Dead, which is more alive than The Land of the Living in many ways.

Miguel finds his great-great grandmother Imelda angry because she cannot travel back to The Land of the Living on this auspicious day. Her picture was knocked off the ofrenda.  The family learns that Miguel has a curse placed on him for stealing a guitar of the deceased de la Cruz, which has turned him into an incomplete spirit. Miguel must leave The Land of the Dead by sunrise or he will turn into a spirit forever.

Only a blessing from a deceased relative can send Miguel back to The Land of the Living. Imelda gives Miguel her blessing on one condition: give up music. He promises to do so. Miguel is transported back to the mausoleum, then immediately takes the guitar. Three seconds later he is back in The Land of the Dead because he broke his promise. Furious, Imelda demands Miguel do what she says. Miguel refuses and runs off to get the blessing of his great-great grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz.

I’m stopping at the point where Miguel leaves for his quest to find Ernesto de la Cruz. This movie is SPECTACULAR. It has every possible fantastic thing going for it, including stunning, colorful animation, beautiful music, and a near perfect story.

Coco also raises the stakes: Miguel MUST return home by sunrise or he is stuck in the spirit world. Hector, his ally, MUST have Miguel place his photo on the ofrenda ASAP or he will fade into nothingness. By the time Miguel, back in The Land of the Living, runs to his Mama Coco, my tears were already falling. The ending is right up there with all three Toy Story movies, which all ended on the perfect note. (Makes me worried about Toy Story 4, so we’ll see.)

The only thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t see the movie in a theater. “Coco” is a film meant to be seen on a big screen.

An enthusiastic Ten out of Ten Mocha Angels.

Finding My Voice

Advice from 2001 helped me find my way back to me.

I met Tananarive Due at a writers conference in Dallas in 2001. The note reads: “To Althea — Keep on writing what’s in your heart. It was a pleasure to meet you!” She is one of my favorite authors. I was over the moon!!

I inhaled comic books as a kid until my mother put Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in my hands around age eight. My parents were afraid a reading diet of only comics was eating away at my brain. It didn’t help that after I read the book, my mom asked me, “Why did Pecola want blue eyes?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“Because she wanted to be white!” she said to me, obviously frustrated. Now I understand her frustration was really fear because I didn’t comprehend the novel. Toni Morrison was WAY above my pay grade as an eight-year-old. My mom didn’t have to worry because the very next “adult” novel I read (voluntarily) was Langston Hughes’ Not Without Laughter. (Unfortunately, he is not related to me.) Hughes hooked me. Comic books were out, and middle school, young adult, and adult literature was in.

Judy Blume, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Virginia Hamilton, Mildred D. Taylor, J. California Cooper, even Donald Goines (my dad’s books)….I read all of their books and more growing up. The library was my second home. By nine years old, I knew I wanted to write for a living.

 I wrote my first books in fourth and fifth grade as school assignments.

In 11th and 12th grade, I wrote for a local Atlanta newspaper called The Purple Cow. It was distributed to all the high schools in metro Atlanta.

My first cover. I was even writing poetry in high school.

Then I went to the University of Georgia. I let myself get distracted by boys. I lost my voice on Day 1.

College was such a twisted experience that I had to write about it, as fiction, of course. It took seven years, but I got it done. Walking The Line was released in September 2000. I won an award and life was good.



I found out on my birthday that I had won. One of the highlights of my life.

Then I lost my voice again. I wrote a book called Mocha Angels: 365 Days of Angel Messages which is unpublished. I also have an unfinished magical realism novel. I struggled to find my voice through my food blog The Vegan Mocha Angel. Even there, I stopped writing for two years.

Speaking up and speaking clearly in order to be be understood emotionally has been a struggle for me as an adult. I stopped trusting my own ability to make good decisions. I have struggled mightily with depression. I have either learned/studied/received Healing Touch, Reiki, Hatha Yoga, massage, Emotional Freedom Technique, Tantra, Kundalini Yoga, meditation, relationship coaching, and psychotherapy. I have analyzed my entire life from the circumstances around my conception through today. I have learned to forgive others and myself, and to not walk through life fearful. Love is all there really is.

Once I broke through the emotional clutter, I realized all I have ever wanted to do with my life is write.

Minimalism is also one of my interests. Living with less is what I’m striving for. Emotional clutter reflects as physical clutter. So as I was cleaning out my desk drawer a few weeks ago, I found Tananarive’s note, dated June 3, 2001. Keep writing what is in your heart.

I pondered the question, “what exactly is in my heart?” for weeks. The art of story is what’s in my heart. I enjoy studying and analyzing character, motivation, dialog, setting, pace, plot, theme, costume, direction, cinematography. I love doing that because the study of story makes me a better writer.

Life is also a story of our own creation. What we think, how we think, how we treat ourselves, nurture, and nature all shape who we become. The person who analyzes life and story the best is award-wining author Steven Barnes, who is also Tananarive Due’s husband. His analytic Lifewriting approach is not only fascinating, it’s groundbreaking.

https://stevenbarneslife.wordpress.com/

I thank Steve and Tananarive for helping me break through. I thank my guides, angels, and ancestors for raising me up and helping me even when I was totally closed off to their guidance. I thank Love and I’m thankful for Love, always, for guiding me back to my little girl self who only wanted to write.