Black Girls in Paris

Black Girl in Paris filmKiandra Parks’ film Black Girl in Paris, based on Shay Youngblood’s novel of the same title, airs on HBO this February and March. The 20-minute short was Parks’ grad thesis project at NYU. Parks’ film follows an alternate path mapped out in Youngblood’s novel and focuses on the relationship formed between the protagonist Eden (played by Medicine for Melancholy‘s Tracy Heggins) and Luce (the brilliant Zaraah Abrahams), a fellow black girl in Paris surviving on luck and hustle. In this way, the beautifully shot film is for Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room what Looking for Langston is for … well, for Langston. At the same time, the film pays homage to “black girls” like Josephine Baker, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Marpessa Dawn and others who looked for the city to transform them in savvy cosmopolites and erotic subjects. That transformation, especially for black girls, is not always easy or glamorous, the film reminds us. But the experience of adventure is usually worth the price of the ticket.

 

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High on Love

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Forest Whitaker stretched his acting chops in The Butler and am looking forward to seeing Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave. I think all facets of American history and black people’s central place in it deserve to be represented. It’s especially important to remember those things that many would choose to forget.

And yet, the recent slate of black films about black trauma and servitude has made me slightly war weary. “Somebody, anybody make a film about middle class black folks doing ordinary things!” I even find myself counting down the days to the premier of The Best Man Holiday.

This past week, the film gods finally intervened. Shaka King’s feature debut Newlyweeds was showing at The Charles. I hadn’t heard about the film and even if I had, I’m not sure I would’ve paid money to see a “stoner dramedy,” not even one praised by Sundance. The promise of a Wire reunion whet my curiosity though: the film’s executive producer is Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Wire’s “Chris Partlow”) and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (“Senator Clay ‘sheeeeet’ Davis”) and Hassan Johnson (“Wee-Bey”) have parts in the film. Plus, it’s shot in Bed-Stuy!

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But even more than my desire to nostalgize over Brooklyn, my need to see something black and clever and funny drove me to the theater. And I’m glad it did. Newlyweeds is much more than a stoner film. And while it’s hilarious, it also has an undercurrent of melancholy. Amari Cheatom (“Lyle”) and lovely newcomer Trae Harris (“Nina”) are high on love and weed. Eventually their enjoyment of the latter threatens their relationship and their futures. It manages to be a cautionary tale without turning into an afterschool special. But most of all, it’s refreshing. It’s not a typical “black film,” a stagey romance, or your usual stoner comedy. The combination of King’s keen imagination and dark sense of humor; Harris and Cheatom’s unaffected performances; and Daniel Patterson’s gorgeous cinematography make it a must-see, especially for black indie lovers.