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Lupita Nyong’o

In Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Zimbabwean ex-mercenary utters a line that became one of those oft-heard film quotes. As a means of explaining the way things work – or don’t work – on the continent, he tells co-star Jennifer Connelly, “TIA.” When she doesn’t get his homemade-acronym the first time around, he spells it out: “This. Is. Africa.” It may have taken over a decade, but you could say Black Panther is the cinematic blockbuster retort to that. A long-awaited clap-back in the form of a roar. 
This is Africa. Yes, it’s a heightened, idealized version of it — where vibranium, not diamonds — is the major resource. Yes, it’s called Wakanda, and is a place built out of the pages of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comic books. Yes, it exists within the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe. And yes, most of it was filmed in Atlanta in the US. But make no mistake. This. Is. Africa. 
This is Africa – a multifaceted, exhilarating place that hardly gets the kudos it deserves onscreen. Not until now, not until Black Panther. As a South African, I was giddy with little squeals of excitement each time I heard Xhosa being spoken by the characters or recognized an item of clothing. It’s because for so long, when Africa has been represented onscreen, a simplistic view has usually been shown. Poverty over potency. When attempts have been made to change the portrayal of Africa onscreen, more often than not, shortcuts are usually taken. I will love Morgan Freeman forever, but even he battled with pronouncing the Rolihlahla of Nelson Mandela’s name in Invictus. In Black Panther, the clicks and accents of Xhosa are there. The effort to be authentic is there. It’s in the “eish” that Lupita Nyong’o utters when T’Challa interferes in her mission. It’s in the “Nkosi” uttered by the women in moments of hardship. 
It’s in the Basotho blankets that are held up as shields in battle. It’s in the gold and silver Ndebele neckrings the Dora Milaje wear. It’s in the casting of legendary local actors John Kani and Connie Chiume as elders.  
In director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, this is Africa. Where scientists and shamans live side by side; where spiritualism and technology can co-exist.
Where world music’s elder statesman Baaba Maal and the Gqom Queen Babes Wodumo share space on the music credits. Where trap music can play in the background of one scene, and then traditional drum-beating in the foreground of another. Where Kendrick Lamar can curate songs and Ludwig Göransson can compose them.
This is Africa – where women in front of the screen are just as important as any man, but not at the cost of their femininity. From the moment Angela Bassett, as T’Challa’s mother, enters the frame in her regal white headdress, I thought of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, with her stature and formidability. But also her fallibility and devotion. [Side note: why have we never seen Bassett play Madikizela-Mandela?] From the instant we meet Lupita N’yong’o’s spy Nakia, we know she is her own force to be reckoned with, beyond the love she has for Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa. And Danai Gurira’s Okoye fights and wields weapons as deftly as any army general, but she can also throw her wig in combat when the spirit moves her.
This is Africa – where Letitia Wright’s teenage Shuri, with her cheeky sense of humour, can act childish, but still knows how to program the hell out of a suit. A younger, way more stylish Alfred or Q to Boseman, if you will, but for a new generation of young girls to look up to.
This is Africa – where women behind the screen are important too. Debbie Berman, who was born in Johannesburg, edited the film, after working on Spider Man: Homecoming.
It goes without saying that Black Panther has been the most anticipated film of 2018, with pre-sale box office tickets breaking records all over the world. There is a richness to the interviews the cast members and director Coogler have been giving. There’s an electricity flowing through this film that is unlike any other. 
Leaving the cinema after seeing Black Panther at a press screening, I felt the energy coursing through my veins – like I had just taken some of the heart-shaped herb that gives T’Challa his powers. That’s what happens when you see something so exhilarating, fantasy grounded in the real, on the big screen. An experience that leaves you thrilled for what you’ve just seen unfold in front of your eyes – and ears – and for what comes next. An experience that makes you proud to say, “This. Is. Africa.” 


Pic from Entertainment Weekly.

Hello – is it shlock you’re looking for? I enjoyed this New York Mag article while unashamedly turning up Don’t Stop Believin’ on full blast. 

* The image above is what Lupita Nyong’o posted on her Instagram feed to confirm another long-swirling rumour around the Star Wars Episode VII movie – that she is in! Add this to the confirmation last week that the Oscar-winner scooped the rights to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s hit novel Americanah, and Nyong’o’s second half of the year looks to be on solid footing. Let’s hope she plays more of a role in Star Wars than she did in the movie Non Stop though, where she barely spoke a line! Gwendoline Christie, best known for her role as Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones, will be joining Nyong’o on set too.

* Nyong’o was one of the guests at the CFDA Fashion Awards in New York last night. Her outfit, and what everyone else there wore, has been almost entirely overshadowed by Rihanna, who decided to dress, ahem, down for the occasion.

* Oliver Stone has announced his next move. He’ll be directing the film version of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s story, as relayed by journalist Luke Harding. The man behind JFK, Nixon and Platoon, Stone has a name for directing issues of cultural and political importance in American history, so this seems like a natural fit.

* After apologizing for words he says have been taken out of context, Jack White is making his latest album Lazaretto available a week early, streaming on iTunes. The two events are more than likely not related, but seeing as he has a many a tour date ahead of him, it’s a good thing he tried to clear the air a little.

* No stranger to controversy, Sinead O’Connor has a new album coming out too, which she has re-titled: I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss. The new name, she explains on her site, is her show of support for Sheryl Sandberg and co’s #banbossy movement. Love it!

On the day of Shakespeare’s birth, I bid you hello.

* Stephen Colbert dropped by his soon-to-be-predecessor David Letterman’s show on Tuesday night. The two joked heartily, about, among other things, Stephen’s salary for the gig – he revealed he’d once turned down an opportunity to intern at the Late Show because he wasn’t going to be paid. Come 2015, that should be a fond memory for Colbert.

* We’ve loved him as Barney, and before that Doogie Howser, and now Neil Patrick Harris is earning high praise for his role as Hedwig in John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The new version of the production opened on Tuesday night, with The New York Times’ Ben Brantley declaring that Harris now joins “an elite club of musical-comedy male supernovas that has exactly one other member these days, Hugh Jackman.” High praise, indeed.

* Robert Downey Jr is new to Twitter but it looks like he’s got the hang of it quite well – giving us his first pic from the set of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is of him and executive producer Jeremy Latcham in safety vests. Keep ’em comin’, Mr Stark.

* If you’re a Pixies fan, you’ll already know you can stream the band’s first album in over 20 years, right now. Indie Cindy recorded without co-founder Kim Deal, is the 6th album from the Boston group, and no doubt a polarizing one for many.

* Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o has topped People Magazine’s Most Beautiful list. Of course, she’s to be commended for much more than her looks, but it’s still pretty great to see her on the cover.

[Pic: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences]

It’s been threatening to rain for the past few days and then it did – downpours of the torrential kind. Hopefully Mother Nature has got it all out her system by now because no one likes a wet red carpet…

Yesterday in Santa Monica, the annual Independent Spirit Awards were handed out by Film Independent, the organization that aims to promote indie films and actors. In this ceremony, gems like Fruitvale Station and Short Term 12 had the chance to be included among the nods to great films of the past year. The ceremony (which also has a relaxed atmosphere, thanks to the midday drinking that’s encouraged) was hosted by comedian Patton Oswalt (who was fab as Charlize Theron’s Young Adult co-star). Brad and Angie were there, Lupita Nyong’o celebrated her 31st birthday and Jared Leto made sure he thanked almost everyone he could, including the inventor of the zipper and vegan butter.

As The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg notes, it’s looking like all four actors who won Indie Spirit Awards will go on to win at the Oscars, which would make it the first time in the awards’ history that they forecast the Oscars.

The winners then…

Feature – 12 Years A Slave

Male Lead – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Female Lead – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Male Support – Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Female Support – Lupita N’yongo, 12 Years A Slave

Director – Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave

First Feature – Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station

Screenplay – John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave

First Screenplay – Bob Nelson, Nebraska

John Cassavetes Award (film under $50,000) – This is Martin Bonner

Cinematography – Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave

Editing – Nat Sanders, Short Term 12

Documentary – 20 Feet From Stardom

International Film – Blue Is the Warmest Color

Robert Altman Award – Mud 

The night before the Oscars, as always, is filled with soirees and parties celebrating the success of nominees. I spotted 12 Years a Slave‘s Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender leaving the Grey Goose pre-Oscar dinner. Both were in great spirits as they got into their chauffeured cars, chatting to those around them. Apparently Angelina Jolie joined Brad Pitt, a producer on the film, at the dinner too. A friend at Grey Goose told me he found her to be really down to earth, asking about his mother and the rest of his French family. Gotta love Oscar time!

12yearsaslave

12 Years a Slave, beyond the Oscar buzz and nominations, is a film experience worth taking in – even though it is a difficult watch. Steve McQueen brings the true story of Solomon Northup to life in such artistic detail, and with such a measured force, it leaves the audience a little more understanding, a little more kinder – at least that is the deep hope – than when they first went into the cinema.

I was lucky enough to sit down with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyongo’ from the cast of the movie, as well as director Steve McQueen, who spoke about the impact of telling this story, which is based on Northup’s memoir, written just three months after he re-gained his freedom.