black girl blogs · Movie Reviews · reviews

The Forty Year Old Version: A Delightful, Emotional, Much Needed Film

When you’re a creative, you always feel like you’re running out of time to make it. You feel like you have to make it by a certain age or else you’re a failure. It’s an immense amount of pressure that we not only put upon ourselves but that others do too. And it sucks, especially for Black women who have to fight twice as hard to get anywhere in life. In Radha Blank’s debut film “The Forty Year Old Version” she grabs hold of the stigma of being “too old”, wrestles it to the ground and proves that when you believe in yourself you can do anything.

At 39 years old, our protagonist Radha feels lost in her life as she struggles to stay afloat. She has dreams and they’re always dangling right out of her reach. When she was younger, she had potential and was a rising star in the playwright world. But she fell off and hasn’t been able to correctly get back on since. It happens. Radha isn’t ready to give up though. While teaching a group of rowdy teens as a way to pay bills, she and her best friend, since high school, Archie try to get her career back on track and help her find a way to a place that makes her feel good.

After a less than stellar attempt at networking to get her play produced, Radha shifts her gaze from theater to music and decides that she wants to make a mixtape. Absolutely no one is supportive of her, which isn’t surprising but still, Radha finds herself someone willing to produce beats for her to rap over and she sets off on her newest adventure: becoming a rapper. She even finds someone to not only understand her on a romantic level, but on a level of grief as well. D may seem like just another rapping nigga but after hanging out a few times he proves to be the most solid person she could have in her life.

While it could be assumed that The Forty Year Old Version is a story about making your dreams come true later in life, it’s really more about coming to know who are and not settling for anything less than what you deserve. Radha Blank took her own experiences, shaped them a bit to fit the narrative of the film, and used them to shine some light on just how hard it is for Black women to gain any kind of traction in the world. We have to bend and stretch and compromise ourselves to be even given chances, while others are able to simply float into a space and be accepted right away.

My favorite thing about this film is the way it allows a Black woman to be a whole person. Radha is not perfect, sometimes she’s not even nice. But she’s allowed to experience her emotions, dwell on her failures and stew in her anger. She makes mistakes and she’s a bit of a chaotic mess but she’s trying. Underneath everything she’s got going on in her life, Radha is still that little mommy’s girl who looked up to everything her mom did. She just wants to make her mother proud, even if it’s in spirit only. And that’s valid. It’s beautiful to be able to watch a Black woman unpack her own story without the threat of unnecessary violence or death lurking in the shadows as “plot”.

One of the best thing about The Forty Year Old Version is the way that seamlessly blends its comedy into the serious tone the film takes by being in black and white. By all accounts, it is a serious movie. Radha is struggling, in some aspects she’s failing. Teaching just to not be homeless while drowning in the theater world. Her play is good but to get it on the stage to be seen she has to comprise it to the point she hates her own work. Honestly, this movie should enrage everyone who has ever had a dream taken and twisted into a shadow of what it is to be; but instead when the credits roll the audience is left with a sense of understanding and comfort. Radha isn’t the huge successful star she dreams of being but she’s not so restlessly unhappy that it hurts. And that’s all I can ever want for Black women, to be in a place where they don’t have settle.

9.5/10

The Forty Year Old Version is now available on Netflix.

-Danyi

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black girl blogs · reviews

The Chi: That’s Someone’s Child

Not often is a program on tv able to make me both anxious to the point of tears and overwhelmed to the point of actually yelling at the screen. Episode four of The Chi managed to do both in one episode, making it probably the wildest ride the show has had yet. As Douda takes leaps and strides to gain votes in the race for Chicago mayor, Ronnie stumbles upon clues that get him closer to Kiesha than anyone else has so far. Kevin attempts to get closer to Jemma by trying to do things that she likes and Emmett nearly ruins the shaky structure that he and Tiffany have worked so hard to build.

The latest hour of The Chi takes a moment to dive into the smaller details of its characters, which turns out to be more important than one would think. At the top of the episode, Dre dreams of one of the last arguments she and Kiesha had, where she discovered the younger girl has a back tattoo. Nina isn’t aware of this and Dre, despite Kiesha’s cold attitude towards her, doesn’t snitch to her. When Ronnie comes with evidence that the white man who attended Kiesha’s vigil is a child predator, he and Dre confront the man but he gets away before they can get anything out of him. But Ronnie isn’t willing to give up so easily. There will be more opportunities to corner him.

Meanwhile Kevin, in an attempt to find some normalcy, asks Jemma on a date to the museum which is featuring an exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement. He’s not as into it as she is but her bravery to stand up for what she believes in, even something small like the museum’s choice to feature a calmer Nina Simone over a more radical one impresses him. And makes him want to be better himself. However, she may cause a rift between Kevin and Jake, the latter feeling like Jemma is stuck up. But Jake has bigger issues, like trying to find where he fits in Douda’s life. On the outside, Douda is a present, doting mentor but behind the scenes, he remains cold towards the younger man. The reasoning becomes slightly clearer when Douda’s wife Rosalyn makes a surprise visit. She’s gotten word that her gangster husband is running for Mayor and she wants in on it.

As the seconds, minutes, and hours tick by Nina finds herself at her wits ends. And when Ronnie and Dre finally force answers out of the creepy white man, Nina gets a call that the body of a young black girl has been found. Terrified she races to the location and is led up a hill on the beach to identify the body. However, because of the small detail Dre knew about Kiesha they’re able to confirm that girl isn’t her. Someone has lost their daughter but it isn’t Nina, not yet.

The Chi hasn’t even hit the halfway mark on it’s third season yet but it is hitting major talking points in each and every episode. The undeniable problem of missing Black women and girls gets almost no spotlight in the real world. We barely see their faces on the news and we’re lucky if they ever get Amber Alerts. The Chi is zeroing in on that and giving us a blueprint of what it’s like for the community to have to come together to find our missing girls. It’s frustrating but extremely needed in this time. And the focus isn’t solely on its bigger problems, Kiesha is missing but the world still spins for other characters that aren’t directly involved with her. Emmett, though has come a long way, is still struggling in his relationship with Tiff. Like most men he takes offense at the fact they haven’t had sex in a month and it’s all he can think about. It leads him to seek advice from his father because these are desparate times, but he ignores the fact that his father has yet to have a truly successful relationship. So during Emmett and Tiff’s next couple therapies session all his insecurities about the possiblity of Tiff cheating come spilling out. I don’t often relate to Emmett and Tiff’s situation but watching them during therapy was probably my favorite scene of the night. Therapy is still a taboo subject in the Black community, we’re getting better at viewing it as a real resource but it’s not often that a Black couple as young as Tiff and Emmett actually attend sessions. For them to be allowed the space to work out their problems with healthly communication is something Black people are so rarely afforded.

Another moment that was really interesting to watch was after newcomer Camille Hallaway, Douda’s competition for Mayor, gives her speech at Rev Jackson’s sermon. As she and the pastor talk, Papa watches from around a corner and is upset by the fact that Camille pays Rev Jackson for letting her speak. He doesn’t understand why she’s giving them money if Rev has already said she has his vote. Papa gets told to stay out of grown folks business but the awkwardness and truth of his question still hangs in the air. We’ve only gotten a small look at Camille as a character but I’m already worried that Douda will take extreme measures against her the moment it’s even hinted that she could win the race.

As always, I’m always pleased when Ronnie moves closer to finding inner peace. The last two seasons haven’t been kind to Ronnie at all and seeing him finally walking towards the right kind of redemption has been refreshing. His determination to find Keisha has given him a new purpose and I’m hopeful that this time it’ll be for real. My attachment to Ronnie stems from the fact that in tv land when a Black man does something bad or makes a mistake he usually never recovers from it. His character is always labelled the bad guy and offered no chance to do better. Meanwhile white characters, especially white women characters, are given as many redemption arcs as the show can hold to prove that they aren’t all bad. Black men are never offered the same. So I’m always going to be rooting for Ronnie because The Chi allows him space to improve and be better.

The best thing about The Chi still remains the fact we’re seeing so many different hues of Black people and they’re all being given real storylines with real consequences. The Chi hasn’t lost it’s feeling of reliability, if anything it’s been enhanced by shifting the focus from one main character to a main ensemble. I find myself excited each week to see which character is going through what whereas before I couldn’t get as invested in the supporting characters because they weren’t given as much to do in the previous seasons. This time around The Chi brings exctiment to idea of getting to know Black people in the variations that we come.

The Chi airs Sunday nights on Showtime.

-Danyi

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black girl blogs · reviews · tv reviews

The Chi: No Rest Until We Find Her

As The Chi slides into its third episode, the race to find Kiesha is on and the frustrations climb higher as the only people who really seem to care about finding her are the ones who know her. The neighborhood isn’t concerned with another Black girl missing no matter how much the community claims to be for everyone. Which has left Nina an emotional wreck, until a small sliver of hope emerges and she’s offered help from someone unexpected. While Dre, Kevin, and Nina scramble to look for Kiesha they aren’t the only ones going through it.

In order to get his catering business off the ground Emmett needs to move back in with his mother, and he brings Tiff and EJ along with him. Jada isn’t too thrilled about it but she’s not going to let her grandson be without a home. She isn’t ready to be thrown back into the moderator of all Emmett’s problems, and by extension of him Tiff’s issues as well. Meanwhile, Trig who wants to get back on Jake’s good side, storms the trap house that Kevin thinks Kiesha is being held hostage at. And Ronnie finds himself being reminded that while he might find some kind of peace being homeless it is not the kind of peace he needs right now. The neighborhood is slowly crumbling under everyone’s feet, but not everyone wants to care or needs to care like they should.

One thing that really stuck out to this episode was watching the little tit for tats that Black folks have with each other. When Coogie’s mom Tracy offers Nina help from her support group, the latter is excited and hopeful. At least until she gets to the meeting and two mothers aren’t as opening and willing to put time into Kiesha’s disappearance. They don’t want the support groups’ reputation ruined because Kiesha wasn’t a perfect angel in their eyes. To them, she isn’t as important as their dead children even though she could still be alive and be saved. They would rather care about what people think of the group than doing actual good work for the group and the community. The scene isn’t long but it’s one of the best of the episode, to me it shows how hard it is for Black people as a community to come together. We say we’re united, and we pretend we are for the internet and when white people are watching us but the truth is many Black people don’t give a damn about the caring and well being of other Black folks. Indualivism has been so ingrained in us that even when we can help, we just don’t or we moan and complain the entire time we do. It’s an ever-growing problem.

Another scene that was really enjoyable was a small moment between Trug and Imani. After searching the trap house for Kiesha, Imani is really torn up about the girls she came across being kept against their will there. She wants to help them but has no real plan or resources to do so. In an attempt to comfort her Trig sings her a song and they dance together in their small apartment. My enjoyment with this scene comes from the fact this is the first time we’ve seen a Trans woman be so openly loved and cared for in this Black of a show. Imani might be a supporting character but just her being there is important. Her existence on this show is means we’re taking a step in the right direction for representation. It’s not a huge step, but it’s progress nonetheless.

What I’m most excited about is Ronnie’s journey this season. His character is a personal favorite of mine and I seem to be the only one. But I find the development of Ronnie fascinating and a true look into an actual character arc. He has been through hell from the very first episode but he hasn’t been killed off and he hasn’t been reduced to just the bum. He’s a Black man that is being given a chance to grow and learn from his mistakes, which doesn’t happen very often. In this episode, he was saved from a violent group of boys by Papa’s preacher father, who we’ve only got a glimpse of before. He offers Ronnie a different perspective on Christianity and it wouldn’t surprise me if Ronnie ends up taking this new outlook to heart and using it to better himself. That’s my hope for him, at least.

The third season of The Chi is doing its best to tackle real, serious problems and it’s not cutting any corners. Season one and season two were littered with cops and the idea that their side of things and their stories were just as important as the rest of the neighborhood. It’s been refreshing to not see any officers at all, but it’s depressing that the truth of the matter is Black women are so far down on the list of priorities for them that there is no real need for them this season. Kiesha’s disappearance, in a perfect world, would have opened the flood gates and cops would be swarming the neighborhood. But they aren’t. It’s up to the community to find her, it’s up to Black people to look out for one of their own. As long as the neighborhood can get over the speedbump of inner community fighting, then they stand a real chance of finding her. Kiesha doesn’t deserve to be given up, not now and not ever.

The Chi airs Sunday nights on Showtime.

-Danyi

Thanks for reading y’all, if you can donate some rent and food money to my Cashapp or Venmo, please! Cashapp: @danyi13 || Venmo: @itsjustdanyi

 

black girl blogs · reviews · tv reviews

The Chi: Where Is Kiesha?

Now that The Chi has its feet back on the ground it’s running full speed ahead into the new season. It’s been two days since Kiesha has gone missing, fearing his mother’s anger Kevin opts not to tell her that he isn’t sure where she’s at and enlists the help of his friends to try and find her. As Nina and Dre search everywhere for her, Nina’s maternal instincts tell her that something bad has happened but everyone they go for help brushes them off. Meanwhile, Emmett continues to sink as he tries to keep his food business floating and Jada tries to jump back into the dating scene. Plus, Jake finds himself in the middle of what promises to be a nasty battle between Douda and his oldest, back from the dead, brother Trig. It’s only the second episode but The Chi isn’t pulling any punches this year.

It can be a bit jarring to suddenly have to care for characters that seemed to only drift by in the background but it’s in those supporting characters that The Chi finds new life. Emmett’s mother Jada was criminally underused in the first two seasons, now it’s her scenes that bring forth a fresh take. She’s trying to find herself again, after spending all her time caring for her son he doesn’t need her anymore and she finds herself at a bit of a loss of what to do. There’s too much animosity between her and Darnell at the moment for anything to work out between them so with a little nudge from Tiff she attends a speed dating session. The only problem with that is she overshares personal things and feels too old for the entire crowd. She can’t get into the groove of being aloof enough to master the concept. Luckily, Tiff has another option for her to try. Meanwhile, her son tries to convince local cook Dom to come work for him. Her food is the talk of the neighborhood and she does it all out of the kitchen in her home, she even has a small restaurant in her own dining room. Emmett’s come a very long way since last season alone but Dom is already proving to be a new challenge he might not be ready for. The older woman oozes confidence and sex appeal from the moment she appears on screen and knowing Emmett’s past, it’ll be a very big win for him if he manages to control himself while they try to build a late night food business.

Another factor of the episode that many didn’t see coming was Ronnie ending up homeless. After an eviction noticed is placed on the house that his grandma lived in, Ronnie is forced to find shelter elsewhere. Which just so happens to be with the homeless community under one of the bridges on the south side. But Ronnie isn’t too upset by it, he even tells his drinking friends that he finally feels like he’s a part of something; like he’s got a place where he belongs. Ronnie is personally my favorite character and though it hurts to see him have fallen so far, I can’t help but think this season will be the one where Ronnie is finally able to gain redemption. Especially after his confrontation with a desperate Dre who has tracked Keisha phone’s to the community under the bridge. He isn’t destined to live the rest of his life in a tipsy daze, there are greater things waiting for Ronnie. He just needs to be ready to accept them.

Finally, we were given a closer look into Trig and Imani’s relationship. Which on the outside seems almost perfect, but throughout the episode, we learn that they have their own struggles. Imani is trans, which means her people are the fellow trans community. However, Trig is still struggling with the implications of what his relationship with her means for him and how he’s perceived by others. He’s very firm in his stance that he isn’t gay, he sees a woman when he looks at Imani. He loves her as a woman. But he still hasn’t accepted that she was born a man, he doesn’t want to accept it because it means confronting the fact that he will be considered gay by others. This is an all too common issue for the trans community, they struggle to find someone who accepts and loves every part of them and not just what’s visible on the outside. But this argument is put on the back burner for now because Trig is more focused on trying to get Jake away Douda.

One thing is very clear about this season of The Chi, it’s no longer just about one person. It is truly a community show now, no one’s personal problems outweigh anyone else’s personal issue. There are different degrees of each situation, sure, but the pacing and time management this time around is much smoother than it was in the previous two seasons. There’s a lot more ground to cover and The Chi is tackling it all with such stunning cinematographer, excellent writing and superb acting included.

The Chi airs Sundays on Showtime.

-Danyi

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black girl blogs · reviews · tv reviews

The Chi: A Rebirth Worth The Wait

When it was announced that The Chi would have a third season after behind the scenes allegations tainted its image, I wasn’t too sure if I’d be tuning in. It’s been a long journey for this show and as much representation as it gives Black people, it still stumbles along the way occasionally. Or at least it did for the first two seasons. However, season three seems almost like a completely different show in the way it’s gone into hyperdrive to change the narrative from being focused around one person to the focus being the entire community of Chicago. Which is what I think many people have been wanting.

The first episode of the new season has a lot of heavy lifting to do, but somehow it manages in less than sixty minutes to set a new pace and give us new interesting characters to be invested in. As Kevin and Kiesha’s mom Nina gets married to her girlfriend Dre, Brandon’s funeral brings out uncurable bitterness in his mother and Ronnie struggles to come to terms with the fact the neighborhood will always judge him for what he’s done. Meanwhile, Douda, who is running for Mayor is confronted by Jake and Reg’s oldest brother Trig; someone he was told was dead. And Emmett struggles to take Brandon’s place in both the food business and as Kevin’s mentor, although even he is unsure if he’s the right person for the job. As life tries to keep spinning on a broken wheel, the south side community is unaware of a threat that will undoubtedly tear them all apart.

Since all the odds were stacked against this first episode, it’s a pleasant surprise to see the way the change in narrative has been handled so smoothly. To start things off with a beautiful wedding between Black lesbians was a great decision, it’s not often that we get to see pure joy between dark-skinned same sex couples. Nina and Dre make one of the most handsome couples I’ve ever seen and to watch the small group of people at their wedding be able to have uninterrupted fun made me feel content. Of course, there were small issues, as all weddings have, like the aunties ganging up on Keisha and slathering her in backhanded compliments and Emmett’s disappointment that no one enjoyed his food and pizza had to be ordered. But it was very nice to have that moment when everything outside of it seems to be bleak and dreary.

On the other side of things Douda, also known as Otis Perry, is gaining momentum in his mayor campaign all the while still being the kingpin of the streets. After Reg’s death, he has taken Jake under his wing; literally buying the child from his mother under the guise of trying to be a good samaritan. What he wasn’t counting on, however, was the oldest brother of the Taylor clan making an appearance and demanding his little brother back. Trig is a new character in the show that at first may seem like just another gangster, but I don’t think that’s the case with him. It’s through Trig that we’re introduced to the most revolutionary character The Chi has had yet; his girlfriend Imani. We don’t get much information about her in this first episode other than the fact she’s clearly down to ride for Trig until the end but that’s not what makes her revolutionary. It’s the fact that she’s the shows first Trans character, which is really great to see on a show that has been doing so much already for Black representation. Black Trans lives are currently under attack in the real world and not many people want to acknowledge it, hopefully, The Chi is prepared to give her a proper storyline and shed some light on why her life is just as important as any other Black person.

I’m very pleased with the turn around that The Chi is attempting to give us. Part of me hopes that we get a little more background on what exactly happened to Brandon, whether he was killed by Douda or the police he was going to snitch for, but at the same time, I understand the need to want to completely leave Brandon in the past. I applaud Lena Waithe and her team for not simply letting the show fall victim to outside forces that would have wanted to see it canceled. Personally, I’m very excited to see what this season has in store for its audience.

The Chi airs Sunday nights on Showtime

-Danyi

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