'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' Episode 7 Recap
The Diggs family moves on in different directions. Shotgun (Dave East) and Bobby (Ashton Sanders) pictured.
Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

'Wu-Tang: An American Sage' Episode 7 Recap: On Another Level of Plannin’

This episode of An America Saga is about growth and transition. Oh, and about Clifford Smith (rubs hands like Birdman). But before we get to Shot Gun, let’s talk about the Diggs.

Jerome was playing no games; the majority of the Diggs family is packing up and moving on up to the East Side Ohio. That includes young boo’d up Shurrie (Zolee Griggs), and she’s big mad. Long-distance relationships hit different back in the day before cell phones and the Internet. This story is set about 3 years before phone card scams got hot in the streets, so Dennis’ only option is to give his girl a half-hearted “Have fun in Ohio.” He can’t even hug her and kiss her goodbye in front of the family, but he did slip a secret note in her favorite book. (You know how hard it used to be to get a hood dude to write a note?! He’s in love foreal.)

We admit it, we had Jerome (Bokeem Woodbine) all wrong. He’s holding down the patriarch role, packing up the truck, giving Linda (Erika Alexander) some lovin’, and doling out advice. In the flash-forward scene at the end of the episode, he’s tossing the football with Randy on a lush green lawn. This is the promised land Florida and James Evans dreamed of (and that Florida worked every episode to ensure they would never reach).

After putting everybody in the house to work on the move, including poor crippled Shot Gun (typical Black mama steez), Ms. Linda gives the “men” she’s leaving behind — Divine (Julian Elijah Martinez), Bobby (Ashton Sanders), Dennis (Siddiq Saunderson) and Shot Gun (Dave East) — an assignment: to make something of themselves.

For Divine, that involves getting a job as a condition of his parole. With a record, his best options are limited to general labor. Jerome, having been through this himself, gives Divine some tips, and it was surprising to see Divine genuinely listening. His close call with the cops and witnessing Haze get killed seems to have tempered his notions of getting back in the hustle. Even though it hurts his pride to be looked at as “another statistic,” he’s accepting that he can’t be a boss. Not right now, anyway.

Divine lands a gig with a janitorial crew at the World Trade Center, and while he’s out of his comfort zone, he’s not shirking his duties. (Well, he can’t, since his supervisor was clearly headed to one of the grown-and-sexy nights at NYC’s Shadow Lounge or Bentleys Nightclub to get his groove on.) At one point in his shift, he collapses behind a desk chair, perhaps more exhausted by his current reality than the work itself. As he looks out of the corner office view at the New Jersey skyline, we can see the boss Divine will become again, as the business arm of the Wu empire.

As the Diggs are loading the moving truck, cousin Gary, who’s now finally started going by  “Genius,” is meeting with talent manager Andre D Andre (The Wire’s Jamie Hector), who also runs a furrier out of his office (that is some real old school NY entertainment ish, right there.) Dazzled at the site of Big Daddy Kane and Roxanne Shante, Genius is ready to hear whatever Andre has to say, and the manager tells him he’s impressed with what he heard on the demo, including Bobby. Gary gives Andre Bobby’s demo, which also features Shot Gun.

With his mom and younger siblings gone and Divine at the half-way house overnights, Bobby has the run of the house. When Andre reaches out and tells him he wants Bobby and Shot Gun to perform at a showcase for label executives, Bobby reverts back to the singular music focus he had at the beginning of the series. He ain’t even feeding the poor dog! Dennis is heated because, well, he’s Dennis and that’s basically his resting state. But also with Divine trying to keep his nose clean and Bobby’s attention elsewhere, that leaves Dennis holding down an operation that is technically Bobby’s family business. He’s also mad because “That chess playing nigga keep trying to get me to sit down” in the park. The old man might have given you some game about Shurrie, Dennis! Bobby promises his boy that when he gets on, he’ll bring Dennis with him.

Bobby and Shot Gun prepare for their big night by figuring out their official stage names. Bobby decides he’s going to go with Prince Rakeem, and Shot Gun is weighing a few options, including Johnny Blaze. They both kill their performances, and afterward, Andre introduces Bobby to Tommy Boy executive Monica Lynch (Jill Flint), and the president of Spring Records (home of Millie Jackson), Jules Rifkin (Mark Lotito), plus Jules’ young son, Steve. Yes, future founder of LOUD Records, the eventual home of the Wu-Tang Clan, Steve Rifkind (Jack Hoffman).

Later at the house, Divine expresses frustration with Bobby because he’s busting his ass to get back on his feet and he feels like Bobby isn’t taking real-world responsibilities seriously, leading Divine to question whether he coddled his younger brother too much. However, when Bobby updates him on the manager and the upcoming meeting at Tommy Boy, for the first time, Divine listens and bigs Bobby up instead of blowing his music off.

The night of the showcase was a come up for Bobby, but it may have been a set back for Shot Gun. While Bobby was meeting both of his future label executives, across the room Shot Gun was entertaining a slick label executive who asks him if his cane is a prop for a pimp persona, and tells him he could be as big as Father MC (who’s probably at home somewhere right now wondering why Rza pulled him into this narrative). When Shot Gun tells the suit he’s not down for “pretty boy rap,” the slickster retorts that it’s better than slingin’ on the corner. And Shot Gun - who hasn’t sold drugs, hasn’t done time and has seen too many opportunities taken from him, goes off.

Now, let’s talk about Shot Gun. Flashbacks throughout the episode show us young Shot Gun (Therell Spires) as a promising lacrosse player on Long Island goaded into fighting by his hatin’ ass cousin, thrown out by his aunt and sent back to his grandmother (who had already thrown him out at least once). We understand his grandmother’s reservations when his uncle - who we assume is in and out of both jail and sobriety - comes home. Black mamas can only take so much. Shot Gun watches his Uncle Anthony (Jason Kelly) work to get back on stable ground — not unlike Divine — only to have his pride hurt and return to using. A decision young Clifford ultimately pays a cost for, as he has to leave his championship lacrosse game to get his uncle off the field so he isn’t arrested. Uncle Anthony’s arrested anyway, and when cops threaten to call child services, his grandmother (Adriene Lenox) tells them Shot Gun lives with his mom in Staten Island. So Shot Gun grabs his lacrosse stick and his clothes and heads to Park Hill, where a young Haze defends him from getting clowned before he even makes it to his mom’s door.

Shot Gun recalls all of this as he mourns Haze’s death and the theft of “big opportunities.” Times that either fate or his self-defense has cost him something: shelter, a game, and possible scouting opportunity, and now, a deal. When Andre sees Shot Gun blow up at the executive, he decides he doesn’t want to represent him. And doesn’t want Bobby to bring him into his studio sessions — or, possibly, any of the other guys: “I’m not trying to have half of Staten Island in the sessions.” This is disheartening for Bobby, who’s already been thinking about a crew, asking the Tommy Boy team if they’ve ever put all of Mark the 45 King and Queen Latifah’s Flava Unit on one record. When Monica scoffs at trying to wrangle all that talent for one project, Bobby argues, “It’d be like the Avengers.” (Tommy Boy eventually did it.)

Andre pushes Bobby towards a commercially viable single to seal the deal with Tommy Boy. They dig through vinyl, with Andre suggesting James Brown samples and other typical early ‘90s fare. Bobby wants to go in a different direction and produce for himself, but Andre wants him to focus on being a rapper because “rappers don’t produce they own shit.” With an additional promise to Shot Gun that he’ll figure out a way to get him on, Bobby gets in the studio as Prince Rakeem and records his first Tommy Boy single; a little bop about how much the ladies love him. Later, Sha (why does he always look so menacing?) and Shot Gun are shocked to find the 12” vinyl with an illustrated, sambo-esque cover in the record store bin.

--

What This Episode Got Right:  Dave East as Shot Gun is just...perfection. We forgot at times that we weren’t actually watching young Meth. And “We Love You Rakeem” was indeed Rza’s debut single from Tommy Boy.

What This Episode Got Wrong: So… Kane and Roxanne were just in the fur vault chillin’ the whole time Gary was meeting with Andre?

What We Could Have Done Without: Mama Linda’s goodbye speech was a little too preachy, but we didn’t mind that much.

What We Have Questions About: Where is Ason? He’s Bobby’s cousin. He should have at least been around to tell Linda, Shurrie and Randy goodbye.

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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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