Wu-Tang: An American Saga Episode 4 Recap
Ashton Sanders (L) plays Rza and Siddiq Saunderson (R) plays Ghostface Killah in Hulu's 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga.'
Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' Episode 4 Recap: Dwellin’ In The Past And Flashbacks

As evidenced by the title, this week’s episode of Wu-Tang: An American Saga is centered around Dennis/Ghostface (Siddiq Saunderson). Episode 4 builds on the narrative from one of Ghost’s signature songs, “All That I Got Is You,” the tale of his home life, his relationship with his mom, and how it made him the man he is; and then adds the love story of a young Dennis and Shurrie (Zolee Griggs).

Whether you’re a die-hard Wu fan and know the rappers’ backstories, or you’re just a casual fan who sang along to Mary J. Blige as the clan’s designated storyteller painted the picture of growing up in a crowded Stapleton Houses apartment on “All That I Got…,” you probably know that Ghostface had two brothers with muscular dystrophy (his only siblings for the sake of the series), and a mother with issues - including alcohol addiction. If you saw the Wu-Tang docuseries Of Mics and Men, you also know that as the eldest, he was the man of the house before he was even a teenager. In this week’s episode, we get a closer look at how the pressures of caring for two brothers with disabilities - one who’s nonverbal, plus a mom fighting with the bottle, drove Dennis to be such a go-hard. He’s always dead serious about the business because he has no choice. Bobby/Rza lives in a house - with a basement - has a working, engaged mom, routine, order and stability. Meanwhile, at one point, Dennis is down to the last box of oatmeal in the crib.

The episode follows Dennis and Shurrie back and forth between an undetermined “THEN” that could be one or two years in the past, and “NOW.” The “THEN” is peppered with heavy foreshadowing, starting with a studious and focused Shurrie telling another girl on the bus she’s destined to end up with a locked-up baby daddy before getting distracted by Dennis while trying to study at the house. When Divine gets home, he tells Dennis that he and drug dealer Power (Marcus Callender) are no longer working together and appoints Dennis as his No. 2 man.

In the “NOW,” Dennis wonders out loud if Shurrie should be with someone more suited to a college-bound student...and if they should tell Bobby and Divine about their relationship. Her response? No, and “You crazy?”

Mama Linda (Erika Alexander) visits Divine (with her cream Dooney & Burke bag. Big shout out to costume designer Marci Rodgers; she is killing it.) and convinces him to take a plea deal for the sake of the entire family. Now, Dennis and Bobby have to get serious about coming back from losing all their inventory and cash in the stash house fire. This is no longer a case of holding things down for a minute until Divine comes back; this is a long-term situation. It’s on them. And Christmas is coming.

While cutting through Manhattan’s Battery Park on his way to a job interview, Bobby has the realization that he and Dennis could move weight to all the financial cats there. There’s no heavy police presence and no competing factions. Shotgun’s coworker Erika hooks them up with some rolls of film to sell on the streets for cash (we’re guessing in exchange for a weed connect once they get the product). They get their dough, get a skimpy bag of product, cut it with some tea leaves (figuring the target consumer won’t know the difference), and they’re in business.

At home, Dennis is trying to keep things together as his mom is falling apart. He takes his brothers to the neighborhood babysitter Ms. Gloria (there was always a neighborhood babysitter yelling at kids to “get out of the street” and stuffing money in her bra. Amen), cleans up the house, and even adds some holiday cheer. He gives his mom space for a little pampering, complete with a box of Calgon; something it’s obvious she doesn’t get often. His obvious pride in being able to help her out and give her some joy is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

In another “THEN” flashback, Dennis is itching to get at Power, but Divine orders him to stand down, insisting there’s no beef between the two - just business. The series opened with Power ordering a hit on Dennis and he was later behind the fire at the stash house, so we know there’s more backstory coming to fill in the gap between time periods. Dennis promises he won’t touch Power and robs his parents’ business instead. In the process, he realizes that Power is a college graduate who grew up in a stable family - most importantly, with a father. This stays with him. Meanwhile, while he’s working with Divine, he and Shurrie are building a romance through furtive glances and little moments of tenderness, like Dennis scraping his plate instead of just dropping it in the sink for Shurrie to wash like her brothers. Acts of Service is apparently Dennis’ love language.

In another “NOW” scene, Ms. Linda’s street-savvy, hair-styling, fly girl sister Laurie (Diane Howard) surprises the family with a visit and blesses us with some outstanding lines. Can we form an actual Undependable Ni**a Association of America to officially keep a rating scale? Life would be easier.

Anyway, Aunt Laurie clocks the vibes between Shurrie and Dennis immediately. Later, when Shurrie answers a desperate emergency call from Dennis, Laurie cautions, “Go take care of your man, just make you take care of yourself, too. Alright?”

Working hand-to-hands in Battery Park, Rza takes a moment to sit with the chess elder (Anthony Chilsolm), and complain about the Five Percenters loud and incessant “teaching” messing with his focus (we feel you, Bobby, we feel you). Some of the future Wu members are already Five Percenters (Ason, Allah Justice, Sha), but the elder plants the seed for Bobby’s conversion when he translates the Islamic sect’s message to chess terms: “The world will tell the Black man he’s a pawn, a white man he’s king. But those gentlemen over there, they tell you that you’re the player and that you move the pieces. That you’re a God.” We can see the transformation of thought happening in Bobby’s mind. The convo immediately transitions to Bobby, Dennis, Ason and Gary/Allah Justice watching Shaolin vs Wu Tang for the umpteenth time. But now, Bobby is actually listening to the Shaolin monk’s dialogue (he’s woke!). He hops up, inspired, and starts working on what sounds like an early version of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” Ason jumps on, Bobby talks about arrangements to make it a crew cut, and Dennis decides to break out, “As long as my gun clap, I ain’t gotta rap.”

When Dennis gets home, he discovers that his mom had another Calgon night - and threw in a bottle of booze. He finds her passed out, half-submerged in the tub. He calls Shurrie, the one person he knows he can trust his brothers with while he goes to the hospital. When he finally gets home the next morning, he’s at his breaking point, “I got all of this (material stuff), and I still got nothing.” Shurrie insists that he has her, and Dennis scoffs. As much as he loves his brothers, the idea of having kids with disabilities, and possibly driving another woman to his mother’s fate, is terrifying. Shurrie is bright - folks have been talking about her books and reading the whole episode - and is about to graduate and head to college. Her aunt even called it “parole,” a way out of a life of cooking, washing dishes, and looking after her younger brother while her mom works double shifts. Dennis can’t see a typical domestic future is in his cards, “You think we gonna get married and have kids?!... I thought you was the smart one.” (Spoiler alert: They get married and have kids.). He storms out and finds himself back at Power’s parents’ store. He ends up in a discussion with Power’s dad - unaware that he’s talking to the person who robbed him - about fatherhood. The same way something clicked in Bobby’s mind in Battery Park, we see a change of heart and mind - and perhaps determination? - show up in Dennis.

--

What The Episode Got Right: Let’s just assume fashion is going to always be an answer here, so we’ll skip that. We still think the scenes between Bobby and the old chess playing sage are a bit too down the middle, but the elder’s breakdown of the Five Percenters’ message explains the appeal of the movement to young black men in the early ‘90s, and how the Five Percent Nation’s influence on Wu-Tang is vital to Wu’s story. Also, to answer a question we posed in the last recap: Yes, Ghostface and Rza’s sister (her real-life name is Sophia) were really in a relationship.

What The Episode Got Wrong: Nobody from the boroughs says “Manhattan” like Bobby did when talking to the chess player. It’s “the city.” (We understand that was for you non-New York viewers, but still.)

What We Could Do Without: About three of the references of Shurrie being smart and focused. We got it.

What We Absolutely Don’t Believe: That Shurrie just walked off the bus after that back and forth and that was the end of it. Ol’ girl would have ended up in a fight on the bus after that line. Shurrie actually might have gotten jumped.

What We’d Like To See More Of: Is Aunt Laurie hanging around? Because she’d be good for some good ol’ grown foolishness that we don’t get from Mama Linda.

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Issa Rae And Kumail Nanjiani Talk Their Black And Brown Dynamic In 'The Lovebirds'

As our latest op-ed points out, black romance films are having a moment, and The Lovebirds is adding a comedic twist to the matter. Ahead of the MRC/Paramount Pictures' premiere on streaming platform Netflix, VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle sat down with the film's lead actors Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani to discuss the refreshing black and brown dynamic between their characters.

"I think it was just more exciting to me [to take part in a different romantic dynamic]. It was just that, and I didn't realize until later," said Rae. "Obviously with working with Kumail, it just like 'Oh, I haven't seen an on-screen pairing like this' and [I] was excited to play with him cosmetically. But yes, it's exciting to see a new and fresh dynamic in movies like this."

"When you see a portrayal of Pakistanis in American pop culture, generally, you're seeing certain lanes. You don't see us being light or funny or fun that often," said Nanjiani. "My family is very, very funny. My friends are very funny, so it wasn't even an attempt to try and show that [brown characters can be portrayed differently]. I just wanted to show how the people I know are. My mom and my dad are some of the funniest people I've ever met."

Watch the full interview above. The Lovebirds is streaming on Netflix now.

Interview's music bed provided by Gus.

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Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in 'The Photograph'.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Opinion: Black Romance Films Are Having A Moment

It began with a kiss. Just one decade after the birth of cinema, vaudeville actors and dancers Gertie Brown and Saint Suttle gleefully embraced one another on film. They held hands and locked lips, giving the world its very first image of Black romance and intimacy on-screen. 1898's Something Good-Negro Kiss proved that love and affection was at the center of Black life. More than that, intimacy has always been essential to the survival of our people. Now, some 120 plus years later— cinema has finally reached the point where it has expanded to allow complex images of Black love, across time periods, between same-sex couples, and more recently, without being bogged down in trauma and pain.

Before Good-Negro Kiss was discovered in 2018, one of the earliest versions of Black romance in cinema was 1954's Carmen Jones starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Filmed in sweeping cinemascope, Carmen Jones follows a soldier named Joe (Belafonte) who gets so enamored with Carmen (Dandridge) that he becomes obsessive, even going AWOL to be with her. Though the film is sexy, and the tension between the actors is palpable — the romance in Carmen Jones is stilted to make white audiences comfortable. Hollywood was only willing to see Black intimacy through the lens of a renowned musical, wrapped in what ultimately becomes a tragedy. By the end of the film, Joe murders Carmen out of obsession and jealousy. Despite Belafonte and Dandridge's determination to showcase their sensuality, the material only allowed them to go so far. This sort of restraint would become the blueprint for generations of Black romance films.

Considering the utter chaos of the 1960s, it's a wonder that 1964's Nothing But A Man was ever made. A decade after Carmen Jones, Hollywood felt it was time to roll the dice on something different. Starring Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln as Duff Anderson, a railroad worker, and Josie Dawson, a Birmingham school teacher, respectively, Nothing But A Man isn't packaged for white audiences like the musicals of the previous decades. However, the burdens and pains of the couple's relationship, namely Duff's flakiness about commitment and the rage he feels as a Black man living in the South, fall on Josie's shoulders. Moving into the 1970s with films like Claudine and Mahogany, and certainly, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Black romance on-screen would either be shrouded in comedic relief, or the relationships became the sole burden of the Black woman to bear. Often, both tropes were present.

Still, Black romance stories were always evolving. The 1980s sparked something new for Black sensuality in the movies. Though these were still heteronormative depictions, (aside from 1984's The Color Purple), films made significant steps forward in terms of diverse images of Black people. However, they still held on to sexist ideals. 1986's She's Gotta Have It used a Black woman's rape as a form of character development while 1988's Coming to America — billed as a comedy, rewarded its protagonist for lying to his love interest. This would become the formula for the many Black romance movies that came to fruition in the 1990s. Cheating, lies, abandonment, lack of accountability, and trauma are all very present in some of our most beloved films. Poetic Justice, Love Jones, Jason's Lyric, The Best Man, and Love & Basketball, all have some form of struggle love embedded within the narrative — typically leaving Black women wielding the shorter end of the stick.

Poetic Justice is riddled in misogyny, The Best Man has a serial cheater as a leading man, and in Love Jones, the lack of communication and accountability from both partners is dizzying. Moreover, women are often asked to overlook cheating, lying, manipulation, or being friend-zoned to present themselves as worthy of their male partner by the film's conclusion. Yet, in our quest to connect and see brown bodies sensually and romantically in cinema, we hold these films close to our hearts, overlooking many of the toxic traits of the characters.

Despite the mega success of Black films in the 1990s— following the debut of Gina Prince-Bythewood's Love & Basketball in 2000, Black stories in cinema, aside from a few here and there, were all but erased in Hollywood. Throughout this near decade-long drought, prolific director Tyler Perry was one of the only voices in the game. However, the quality of Perry's storylines, as well as the portrayal of his female characters, have proven to be problematic. These characters are often emotionally broken, angry, and at times unhinged. If and when they do find love in movies like 2005's Diary of An Angry Black Woman, 2008's The Family That Preys and 2009's I Can Do Bad All By Myself, it's after they suffer some dire consequence or horrific punishment. This was particularly jarring during a time when there were hardly any other mainstream film images of Black people on-screen.

Thankfully, as we pressed forward into the second decade of the 21st century, Black filmmakers, writers, and producers were knocking down doors in Hollywood once again. In 2012, Ava DuVernay stepped onto the scene with her stellar film, Middle of Nowhere. The film follows Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) grappling with the choice to leave her incarcerated husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), to follow her dreams and possibly find new love with a bus driver named Brian (David Oyelowo). Though this was a significant shift in the way Black intimacy, sensuality, and romance was depicted in movies, the real transformation happened in 2016, with Barry Jenkins' Academy Award-winning, Moonlight.

Loosely based on screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney's real life, Moonlight puts the Black male coming-of-age story center stage. However, instead of honing in on the violence and despair of the inner city, like the hood homeboy films of the 1990s — Moonlight focuses on Black love between Black men. First, there is the relationship protagonist Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) has with his father-figure, Juan (Mahershala Ali). Later, Chiron explores his queer identity with his classmate Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). The film is a sumptuous duality of hypermasculinity against lush sensuality. With this film, Jenkins effectively shattered our expectations regarding Black intimacy on-screen, while unraveling why Black love in all of its varied prisms deserves a spotlight in cinema.

Moonlight would pave the way for 2019's Queen & Slim and 2020's The Photograph. Two vastly different films, one— a harrowing dramatic thriller, centering Queen (Joe Turner-Smith ) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) who are forced together by circumstance. A dull Tinder date paves the way for a standoff with a racist police officer who eventually lays dead, prompting our leads to run for their lives.

Penned by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas — the film is almost an antithesis of what we've seen before when it comes to Black romance in the movies. Instead of the tried and true formula of a meet-cute, conflict, and resolution, Queen & Slim unites a Black man and a Black woman through Black radicalism. They come to lean on one another, inadvertently building a foundation when there is no one else either of them can trust or turn to. The weight of their relationship rests equally on both of their shoulders, as they become each other’s ride or die.

In contrast to Queen & Slim, writer/director Stella Meghie's The Photograph, is a much-deserved presentation of soft Black romance, without the trauma or brutality. The film follows Mae (Issa Rae), an art curator grappling with the death of her estranged mother, and Michael (Lakeith Stanfield) — a journalist who crosses paths with Mae's late mother's work. The film follows the typical romance formula, but the conflict and resolution aren't gut-wrenching or emotionally tumultuous. Mae and Micheal deal with real-life issues without being battered or broken. Both parties —like the lead characters in Queen & Slim, share the weight of their missteps and miscommunication. The Photograph is a recognition of straight-forward Black sensuality and love without the heaviness of Black pain. Despite all of this, the film has garnered mixed reviews. Since there isn’t any toxicity between the main characters or much comedy in The Photograph, it appears foreign to us. As a community, we’ve been conditioned to only recognize Black Love shrouded in chaos. Presently, Black women in particular, are asking Black people to look beyond archaic examples of love that are rooted in sexism, misogynoir, and rigid gender roles. Instead, Meghie presents two grown people who must hold themselves and each other accountable to have a chance at a loving and modern relationship.

Black women are also getting the opportunity to be seen as romantic leading women, in the broader scope of cinema alongside leading men from different cultures. Following the footsteps of the 2006 film Something New, where Sanaa Lathan's leading man was Australian actor Simon Baker, Issa Rae will become a leading lady once more in Netflix's The Lovebirds. The Insecure actress stars as Leilani, opposite Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani. Rae is a woman who is grappling with her strained relationship with her boyfriend, Jibran (Nanjiani). The couple's commitment to one another is hilariously put to the test when they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a chaotic murder mystery.

Black film, and undoubtedly Black romance film, has come a long way since that very first kiss was captured on-screen in 1898. With more women filmmakers at the helm, diverse projects, and the current wave of Black cinema in Hollywood, Black romance movies have the opportunity to give the next generations more nuanced depictions of connection, sensuality, sex, and intimacy. With films like Queen & Slim, Moonlight, The Photograph, and The Lovebirds — we have witnessed Black people from all walks of life and sexualities dive into romantic relationships with love, accountability, and self-awareness, which are truly the ultimate relationship goals.

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Black Thought And Questlove Secure First-Look Deal With Universal

Amir “Questlove” Thompson and Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter landed a three-year first-look deal with Universal. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the founders of the Legendary Roots Crew will create scripted and unscripted content for Universal Television Alternative Studio and Universal TV under the duo's Two One Five Entertainment imprint.

“This deal is very important to us as we've been content producers and storytellers for our entire career,” Questlove said in a statement on Wednesday (May 13). “A significant investment from Universal Television Alternative Studio and Universal Television in our vision allows us to share these stories on a much larger scale. Tarik and I see this as the next chapter to our careers, and we are very involved in the entire process. I'm directing, Tarik is writing and we both are producing.”

The deal extends the Roots decade-long relationship with NBC, first on Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night talk show in 2009, and serving as the house band for NBC’s Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, which premiered in 2014. Questlove is also music director for the Tonight Show.

“Many of our initial projects have been music-centric content, and one of our goals is to become the premiere hub for music storytelling — a safe space for these stories to be shared across a variety of platforms,” added Black Thought. “Eventually we will expand outside of music with our stories. However, as we all know, every story has a rhythm and Two One Five Entertainment will harness that rhythm and create well-produced, compelling content.”

Two One Five Entertainment's roster of projects include the AMC docuseries, Hip Hop Songs that Shook America, along with Black Woodstock, chronicling the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The company has also had a hand in the Broadway productions, Black No More and Soul Train the Musical.

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