'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' Episode 6 Recap
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'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' Episode 6 Recap: Bird's-Eye View

This week's episode focuses on perspective, point of view, and how they shape realities.

The story of the Wu-Tang Clan is a story of rap as a way out of the hood, but it’s also a story about using talent to break cycles and beat the system. Episode 6 focuses on perspective, point of view, and how they shape realities. What happens as our characters dare to look past Park Hill and Stapleton Houses to the world beyond? And how many visible and invisible barriers are in place to prevent it from happening? Using NYC’s official mascot, the pigeon, as a tour guide, our journey starts and ends at the Coles’ house, where Darren’s (Amyrh Harris) view is usually limited to the world immediately outside their Stapleton window.

At the Diggs’ residence, Randy’s Undependable Ni**a Association of America-certified father, Jerome, has shown up out of the blue (they stay having people show up with no advanced warning). Of course, he’s played by Bokeem Woodbine because would it even be a ‘90s hood narrative without Bokeem Woodbine? He sweeps in, making promises of houses, lawns and clean air in the great state of Ohio… as soon as a deal to sell some land he’s been “sitting on” goes through. Sounds like undependable ni**a rhetoric to us, and to Linda (Erika Alexander), who has more pressing issues on her mind — namely paying the debt to Fat Larry (Vincent Pastore) and associates that her sister left behind. As Linda is counting her savings in the First National Bank of Black Mamas — aka the coffee can — we set a timer for the moment it’s discovered that Jerome took the cash and broke out.

Shurrie (Zolee Griggs) is pissed that Jerome’s visit has disrupted her household schedule — because she does technically run the household, especially where little brother Randy’s concerned. “That’s your problem,” Jerome tells her, “too busy acting grown when you ain’t.” When she complains to Divine, he basically tells her to calm down; he now understands what it’s like to get out of jail and feel like the world’s left you behind. Plus, at least Randy’s dad is coming around, unlike theirs. When Dennis (Siddiq Saunderson) stops by to drop something off for Linda, Shurrie takes the opportunity to confront her boo about his distance.

He’s been funny style since their conversation about a future together. Dennis, who’s been in the middle of solving yet another problem at home, emphasizes to Shurrie again that his family is always going to need him, and he doesn’t want to put that weight on her shoulders. Shurrie tells him that’s not his decision to make, and she’s tired of everyone seeing her as a little girl; she’s almost a grown woman (they could have just inserted a chyron that said “And then, she got pregnant” here, the foreshadowing was so heavy). Shout out to Dennis for being all about the hair scarf lovin’, though. He knows what’s up.

Bobby (Ashton Sanders) is still trying to uphold his responsibilities to the household, which now includes helping his mom pay back the mob. But his business is slowing down for the winter. Over in Park Hill, Rebel (rapper Joey Bada$$) can tell Bobby how many hood spins his single with Shot Gun has every day before the kids head to school and the mailman comes, but he ain’t actually trying to go outside to sell product. He’s content to observe the world of Park Hill from his window until the weather breaks, prompting Bobby to compare him to “that inspector from the Pink Panther.” (Seed for “Inspectah Deck”: planted.)

Bobby’s money coming up short means money for his mama comes up short — Linda owes interest for paying late — which means the family is vulnerable. On top of that, even after solving this week’s payment, next week’s is looming. Bobby gets an idea from the record shop owner to grab Dennis and venture beyond their side of Satan Island to do business at a burger joint literally called “White’s” (I guess they didn’t want smoke with White Castle). They have a great sales night, but Bobby decides he wants the full tourist experience and tries to get at a white girl, spitting game about Blondie’s and New York City’s bastion of punk music, CBGB. He and Dennis subsequently end up in a fight with locals who no doubt grew up to vote for Trump (if you want to know anything about Staten Island outside of Wu’s side of town, know it’s the only NYC borough that went to 45 in the election). They give Bobby a pretty serious gash over his eye and run his and Dennis’ pockets for almost all the money they just made. Bobby dispatches Dennis to give Linda what little money is left while he goes to get stitched up.

Linda heads to work stressed about how she’s going to handle the balance due for the week and is shocked and surprised when Paxti (Antoni Corone) passes her outside the rib joint without incident. She’s even more surprised when she walks inside to discover Jerome paid her debt in full. He figured out her trouble with Fat Larry while questioning Randy about Linda’s love life and decided to step up. Maybe we had you pegged wrong, Jerome. Our bad. He begs Linda to change her outlook and trust him, just one more time. Looks like Ms. Linda is ‘bout to get her groove back.

We spend more time in and around Park Hill this episode than we have previously, and Shot Gun is now a local star. As Rebel reported to Bobby, “Killa Hill” is still being bumped non-stop. Shorties are getting his number, cats want the opportunity to beat him in a rap battle. He’s the only eventual Wu member, aside from Bobby, committed to using his talents to get him out of the hood and tells Haze he’ll bring him along as manager. We also finally get some insight into Haze’s leadership, composure, and code-switching adeptness: he’s former military. He tells Shot Gun how much love he got in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down and that he’d consider going back to stay. Even though young Clifford has his eye on a life beyond Park Hill, Germany ain’t it: “That’s like a lion saying he’s gonna leave his own land, and put himself in a cage at the zoo.” But Haze’s experience in the world has given him a self-confidence that goes beyond street braggadocio, “I’d still be king of the jungle.”

Sha is peepin’ Shot Gun’s shine, and feeling a way. He’s low key annoyed that Bobby gave Shot Gun such a hot beat, but Bobby had been trying to get Sha to lay something down forever. Sha finally gives Shot Gun the freestyle battle Officer Marcus interrupted previously. And Officer Marcus is about to come jack it up, again.

A few feet away, Ms. Burgess, the neighborhood elder, has a cozy slice of comfort inside her well-appointed, well-maintained home. Inside, Nina Simone is the soundtrack and Ms. B carries a running commentary about the good ol’ days with her late husband Curtis. But the civil rights era survivor is plagued by the non-stop noise and profanity of rap battles and drug deals right outside her ground-floor window.

After begging Haze to get the young guns in line, since they listen to him, she tries dealing with them herself. When that goes left, she’s disrespected with a thrown rock, broken china and a destroyed quilt before calling the police. Dammit, Ms. B.

Meanwhile, Divine is still trying to get back in the game, despite the urgings from literally everyone around him. He’s secured a buyer for his product in Park Hill, but when he gets there to complete the transaction, he learns dude was picked up by his parole officer. As he’s heading out, deflated, he sees the police responding to Ms. B’s complaint. Now he might eff around and get sent back to jail himself. His girl won’t let him stash product in her apartment, so he dumps it down the trash shoot. Money gone, but freedom saved, as he bumps into a cop and gets patted down immediately after.

Outside in the courtyard, Haze does what Ms. Burgess initially charged him to do, encouraging the young men to stay calm and cooperate so the incident with the cops doesn’t escalate unnecessarily. Officer Marcus, also from Park Hill, isn’t feeling the street muscle outranking his badge and decides to assert his authority — and escalate. Haze not only refusing to back down but insulting him in front of the hood and his officers, drives Marcus to pull out his taser, which then leads to a scuffle between the two men. As Shot Gun, Sha, and Rebel watch from elevated positions, separated away from the fray; Ms. Burgess watches in horror from her window, realizing what she put in motion; and Divine tries to get to his friend, risking violation of his parole in the process; Officer Marcus chokes Haze to death, insisting “I run the streets!”

Outside of the basketball court, however, life moves forward. Bobby heads home from the hospital; Ms. Linda and Jerome are cozied up, perhaps contemplating life in Ohio, and Dennis and Shurrie are finally moving publicly as a couple. Our friend and guide, the pigeon, comes back to rest outside of Darren’s window.

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What This Episode Got Right: The immediate assumption is probably that the tragic scene with Haze and Officer Marcus is in homage to Eric Garner, the black man killed on Staten Island in 2014 via asphyxiation; the result of a police officer restraining him in a chokehold for a non-violent offense. Unfortunately, the tension between black men and the NYPD long precede #BlackLivesMatter and was especially thick in the early-mid ‘90s. Haze’s death was based on the life of Ernest “Case” Sayon, who grew up with Shot Gun in Park Hill and died following a struggle with a police officer — who put him in a chokehold — over what Method Man has said was a misunderstanding about fireworks. The officer was acquitted.

Oh, and people needing to get your permission to use your phone to call long distance was real. Phone bills were really the biggest scam ever.

What This Episode Got Wrong: Haze bucking up to a police officer as former military felt a bit off, but street code supersedes rank and file. And the police on the other side of Staten Island would probably have arrested Bobby and Dennis instead of just leaving them there. But nothing stood out as a big “nope” for us this episode.

What We Could Have Done Without: The use of the pigeon was overdone, although the various framing shots were fantastic, Ms. Burgess’s speech to the Park Hill kids was also too much; very Mother Sister in Do the Right Thing. We actually exhaled when somebody through a rock, because no way would that have worked in real life.

What We Have Questions About: Where did Jerome get the money to pay off Fat Larry and ‘nem? We still have our eye on him.

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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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