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Are Black Filmmakers Allowed To Shoegaze?

The idea of quiet opening scenes, moments where actors have "shoegaze" type silences where there is space for a character to simply breathe in the weight of their existence. Films like Ava DuVernay's I Will Follow and Barry Jenkins' Medicine For Melancholy give us Subtle Core in that realm. Matthew A. Cherry's The Last Fall is a film that centers on a Black man and is plentiful of sensitive shoegaze moments, something we rarely see on screen, especially with a Black actor as the lead.

I liken the feeling of shoegazing to the music genre where performers are allowed (and expected) to come on stage, quietly perform their set, embracing lo-fi vibes. Where the audience and performer are joined in a marriage of quiet appreciation. The music reaches out and connects with the audience without the expectation of an exaggerated performance. As someone who has attended several of these type of concerts (usually held in smaller venues) there is an unspoken communion between performer and audience that we are both here to cherish the subtle flow of artistic expression.  A slow cadence of swaying back and forth. This kind of communion exists in shoegaze, dream-pop and post-rock. Translating these vibes, theses aesthetics into cinema-- White filmmakers are easily afforded the opportunity to create quiet films, and often celebrated for it. It's a privilege. I hope we can cultivate more spaces, and film fans who celebrate the Subtle Core moments of Black filmmaking.

Which brings me to Miss Juneteenth. It was just released on VOD and is a solid addition to this cinematic space. Channing Godfrey Peoples directs Nicole Beharie in an Oscar-worthy performance as a woman who's biggest dream is for daughter to win a Juneteenth pageant. The subtle core of this film is very specific, we enter a vibrant world of Black Texan traditions-- one that has never been depicted on this level before. Peoples and Beharie did the thing were musicians close their eyes, and completely immerse themselves into the sonic waves of their artistry-- it was epic in its quietness.

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Same Difference (2019)

Watching Essence Atkins in a quiet, character-driven drama is a cinematic revelation, an experience that I never knew I needed. Her performance in Same Difference shook me in an unexpectedly powerful and pleasant way.

Atkins is known for her comedic work in film and television, (Half & Half is one of my favorite sitcoms), but up until this point, in this emotionally tender film-- I don't think I've ever truly seen her, at least not in this light. Same Difference explores the idea of connection, with one's self, and the unique bond between sisters. The last time I remember being this blown away by a comedic actor turned dramatic lead, was perhaps, Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. That film opened my eyes to his range, and depth. Same Difference does that for Essence Atkins-- there's a deep reservoir in which she drew from to give this very subtle performance.

After recently watching Atkins in Ambitions, I was captivated by her performance in the opening scene of that series. I saw something that took my breath away, and made me pause in awe-- her face, her body, became an instrument of beautiful nuances, the weathered look in her eyes, the way she conveyed rejection and shame, it made me stop and do a double take. After that, I made it my mission to see if Atkins had any dramas on her resume, which lead me to viewing Same Difference. And what a lovely rabbit role to fall into... Seeing that indeed, Atkins had this wonderfully layered dramatic lead role in her pocket. This indie film gem waiting to be discovered. Who is this version Essence Atkins, and how can I have more of her?

It should be noted that Atkins won an award for her role in Same Difference at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) for Best Performance by An Actor. And rightly so.

I'd love to see Atkins lean into her dramatic side more-- For her to take on projects that give her the space to shine in this realm. Atkins does comedy well, but she is equally talented in this lane.

Same Difference was written and directed by Derege Harding. Kudos to him for crafting a heartfelt piece of "Subtle Core." I'll definitely be on the lookout for his upcoming works.

You can watch Same Difference on BET+




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The Subtle Core of Little Fires Everywhere

In an episode centered on the genius portrayal of two very different women, we see the remarkable layers of how exquisitely written, cast, acted and directed is the Hulu Original show Little Fires Everywhere. Episode 106, titled "The Uncanny," is explosive-- the big reveals, the dancing nuances, the subtle and dynamic nature in which every scene and every glance artfully pull back layers and unearth a striking new clarity about each character - we're holding our collective breaths, and getting everything we hoped for and more.


Little Fires Everywhere is decadent in all the right ways. Like a glass of good bourbon-- strong and smooth, we feel and taste the seismic magnitude of each performance, our palettes pleasantly get the taste of Tiffany Boone, who gives us a performance so stirring-- she has us in awe, second guessing our eyes,  and our ears, hypnotizing us with a persona so dazzling we question the space-time continuum where Tiffany Boone's Mia ends and Kerry Washington's Mia begins. We're drunk in love by the electric introduction of Professor Pauline (Anika Noni Rose)-- and the chemistry that Rose and  Boone share onscreen.

By the time Nicole Beharie's character comes on screen, we are wonderstruck by everything that could possibly go right in a TV series.  AnnaSophia Robb and Tiffany Boone give us the best cast younger versions of any characters in  recent TV history. We simultaneously want more screen time of the past and the present in Little Fires Everywhere, this show is that good!

To get to the heart, and "Subtle Core" of the show's dazzling display-- It is hugely worth noting that this episode was expertly written by Shannon M. Houston, and directed by Nzingha Stewart, two black women creatives who I'm sure will be on everyone's must-watch list after this episode. The shot where the camera hovers above Mia and Pauline in the tub will go down in television history as one the best black queer women scenes of all-time. It was spell-binding, doing exactly what it needed to do: make us fall deeper in love with the artistry of Little Fires Everywhere.

Ans lastly, kudos go to the the showrunner, Liz Tigelaar, who put together an incredible cast, crew and adaptation of Celeste Ng's novel. Tigelaar is great at weaving together ensemble casts and content that tugs at your heart-strings. Life, Unexpected was one of my faves.

You can watch new episodes of Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu, released on Wednesdays.

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Let The Wind Carry Me (2009)

If you want to soak up some filmmaking cinematography gems from one of cinema's greats then give Let The Wind Carry Me a watch. This documentary moves slow, but it's a real treat for those who appreciate little insights from the creative collaboration of Mark Lee Ping-Bing and Kar-Wai Wong on their breath-taking film In The Mood for Love. Lee talks about the "taste of light" in a room, and how he goes about capturing the essence of space through his cinematic approach. This documentary isn't for everyone, but for certain film nerds, you'll find yourself taking notes and rewinding to certain parts-- it's the kind of documentary you'll want to add to your collection.

Let The Wind Carry Me is available on Amazon Prime.

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The Curious Case of Meagan Tandy

Can I wish this pairing into existence? Meagan Tandy and British director R.M. Moses need to collaboration on a project. Please indulge me; I'm about to do some Subtle Core match making...

Tandy plays Sophie Moore on The CW's Batwoman.  The show is... Fun, in a proudly queer way. Its presence on TV is definitely needed, because LGBTQ representation matters, and not every show that features lesbian characters has to be some Emmy-winning juggernaut. When it comes to the case of Meagan Tandy and her character, I wish that she had more-- more layers, more screen time, more material and depth to uncover. But only so much can fit into a superhero show (at times). Which is exactly why I want Tandy to be paired with the kind of indie film director that can give her room to blossom, and perform, where her acting takes center stage in a stripped back poetically raw way.

Tandy's best work on Batwoman comes when she pauses, it's in those split-seconds, these bite size moments where I see glimmers of possible greatness, where she lets her character's dialogue linger, leaving emotion in the air, in a subtle yet tangible way. An indie filmmaker like Moses, whose work is deeply entrenched in those rhythmic pauses that illuminate authentic moments of connection-- would be a splendid cinematic match.

You can file Moses' style in the realm of "mood-drenched introspective drama" alongside filmmakers like Hsiao-Hsien Hou i.e. Daughter of The Nile. Take a look at Moses' directing reel, and you'll see that he is very much indeed Subtle Core, an emerging talent who could easily join the ranks of auteurs like Barry Jenkins and Andrew Dosunmu.


After my post on Dijon Talton, I went to Twitter to plead my case on why Moses and Talton could make magic together. That resulted in the dynamic short film Before We Crash.


And so, to wrap things up... May the universe be kind enough to bring these two talents: Meagan Tandy and R.M. Moses together in some cinematic endeavor in a world beyond COVID-19. In times like these we can only hope production picks up again, and the filmmaking community gives us more opportunities to witness the beauty of storytelling on our screens.

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Subtle Core's New Frontier: Deaf Talent

Deaf Culture need the Queen Sugar treatment, meaning... Complex, layered, portrayals of black deaf life. Mothers, daughters, aunts, brothers, sons, friends, enemies, co-workers-- that and everything in between. TV shows, and films that feature a bulk of the screen time with subtitles, fully immersed in the beauty of ASL.  It's 2020, and at this point, anything is possible. Now is the time to get these stories into development and pre-production. Because...

When's the last time you saw a high quality Hollywood film or TV show that centered on a black deaf character? Specifically material written or directed by deaf filmmakers. Can you name one black deaf cinematographer? This lens, this gateway needs to be open, and widely so. We need to see and feel, and have this reality become a norm, because it is.

Deaf filmmaker, Jade Bryan, is one of the creatives at the forefront advocating for more narratives centered on the Deaf Culture experience on the big screen and television. But she alone cannot lead the charge. In order for Deaf Subtle Core stories to become a reality producers must proactively seek out skilled upcoming deaf talent.

You can check out some previous articles where I talk further in detail about what Subtle Core is here and here.

There are several online streaming networks, and TV channels, that could cultivate, and nourish the careers of aspiring and proven Deaf creatives. OWN is often the go-to for all things Subtle Core on the TV landscape courtesy of Oprah, Ava DuVernay & the ground-breaking amount of women directors who got their TV directorial debuts there- (shout out to So Yong Kim, it was OWN's genius idea to make space for her talent on the small screen. Treeless Mountain is one of my long-time most suggested and beloved indie films). It would be a great addition for an upcoming season of the romantic anthology Cherish The Day to center on a heartfelt journey of a black deaf woman. But OWN can't be the only possible home for Deaf Culture. Black Hollywood (and Hollywood in general) needs to make space for Deaf Talent to rise and flourish.

Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet your #DeafTalent comments to @SubtleCore on Twitter. I'd love to spotlight more Black Deaf Creatives & content.

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