#BlackHERStory Month Spotlight: Madame Sul-Te-Wan

It’s February 1st!! Yall know what that means…It’s Black History Month!!!

While I wholeheartedly believe in amplifying the voices and works of black people every day, Black History Month is the time of year when the world takes note of our achievements.

Here at reelsistas.com, I am celebrating #BlackHERstory month.  This month, I will highlight several women who have paved the way and laid the foundation for the women working in film and television today.

First up is, Madame Sul-Te-Wan.

Born Nellie Crawford on March 7, 1873, in Louisville, Kentucky, the woman who became Madame Sul-Te-Wan was the first black actor to sign a film contract and be a featured performer. The daughter of freed slaves, she worked as a maid for an actress in Louisville. She later moved to Cincinnati and joined the Three Black Cloaks theater company and performed under the name Creole Nell.

Madame married and gave birth to three sons. After the end of her marriage, she approached director D.W. Griffith about appearing in his latest film, BIRTH OF A NATION. The two became friends. It was during this time, she adopted the moniker, Madame Sul-Te-Wan.

Madam worked consistently throughout the 1910s until the 1940s. But as a black woman in a segregated America, she was often relegated to small, uncredited roles. Some speculated that she chose the name ‘Madame’ to demand the respect she knew she deserved. Because of her race and gender, Madame often played the role of a domestic servant. Some of the films she appeared in include:

  • THE CHILDREN PAY (1916)
  • STAGE STRUCK (1917)
  • COLLEGE (1927)
  • QUEEN KELLY (1929
  • KING KONG (1933)

Madame Sul-Te-Wan garnered critical praise for her work in the 1937 film MAID OF SALEM’ In the film, she played the character “Tituba.” In 1954, after over 40 years of playing domestics, Madame Sul-Te-Wan was able to break type when she was cast in ‘CARMEN JONES opposite Dorothy Dandridge, Olga James, and Harry Belafonte. Madame Sul-Te-Wan’s last screen appearance came in 1958. She had a part in the film THE BUCCANEER.

’ On February 1, 1959, Madame Sul-Te-Wan died in Hollywood, CA.  In 1986, Madame Sul-Te-Wan was inducted into The Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame.

I was unfamiliar with Madame Sul-Te-Wan’s story until I read Donald Bogles’s book Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood.  Today, the legacy of Madame Sul-Te-Wan lives on in the careers of the numerous black women who truly love the art of acting, and filmmaking and work hard at their craft. Madame Sul-Te-Wan persevered in Hollywood for over five decades, doing what she loved. Madame Sul-Te-Wan is the inception of Black Hollywood. She is the epitome of black HERstory.

My New Year Movie Resolutions for 2018

Happy New Year!!! Like most of you, I spent the days leading up to the new year reflecting on the past year and the goals I set.  In 2017, I missed the mark on a few goals.  But we realign, readjust, and keep it moving.  This year I am setting my intentions and getting specific with the vision I have for this space. In 2018, I vow to take a simpler approach to my movie resolutions.  It is my hope that these will help keep me focused throughout the year. So, below are my personal movie resolutions for 2018:

  1. Watch 365 New (to me) Films in 365 Days (#TeamNFOTD) – This has been a  yearly goal for me since 2013. I have not accomplished it yet, but I feel like each year I get a little bit closer.  This will be my year. Movie Resolutions, 2017
  2.   Be a more consistent blogger – For my schedule, I think posting bi -weekly is completely doable.   I will post content that focuses on the reason I started this blog: to celebrate women of color in film and television both in front of and behind the camera. This leads me to the next thing on my list…
    reelsistas
  3. I also want to expand #BlackWomenDirect. I want it to be more than a hashtag; I want it to be a resource, a support system, and a movement. Black female directors are killing it right now and I want to highlight their work in film, television, and online. In addition to the names you know, I want to feature the black women directors whose names you don’t know yet. I want to shine a light on some of the amazing filmmakers I’ve me at film festival and via social media.

Movie Resolution 2018

By watching, supporting and sharing more films and other content starring, directed by and/or written by women of color, I hope to expand the conversations surrounding women of color in film  and television.

What are your movie related resolutions for 2018?

#BestOf2017 – Seven Sistas Who Did the DAMN Thing in 2017

2017 has been an interesting year.  Despite the ups and downs, these women have given us some amazing and memorable works of art.  They have changed they way I look at life., given us something to talk about and given us hope for the future of television and film.  So with a few hours to spare, I give you my #BestOf2017 list of seven sistas who did the damn thing in 2017.  Enjoy!

Ava DuVernay, director of Jay-Z’s “Family Feud” videoAva DuVernay ended 2017 on the highest note. She damn near broke the internet when the video she directed for Jay-Z ‘s “Family Feud” dropped.  The video short film features a star-studded lineup and paints an amazing future for America. In 8 minutes Ava built a world where women not only have a seat at the table, they run it. It is EPIC!

Tiffany Haddish as “Dina” in Girls Trip and EVERYWHERE else

2017 belongs to Tiffany Haddish.  From her breakout role in Girls Trip to her historic turn as host of Saturday Night Live, everything she does turns to gold. Additionally, she helmed her first stand-up special, She Ready,  for Showtime and found time to release her book, The Last Black Unicorn.  And she is JUST getting started.  Tiffany’s 2018 is looking bright as well.

Bianca Lawson as “Darla” on Queen SugarSeven Sistas of Television

Bianca Lawson has been killing it onscreen for YEARS.  But playing Darla on Queen Sugar has given her fans a chance to see a different side of her acting talent.  Darla, a  former drug-addicted sex worker is unlike any character we’ve seen on television in the past. Supported by amazing writing, Bianca embodies strength, vulnerability, and hope in her portrayal of Darla.  I can’t wait to see where the story and the character go next.

Stella Meghie, director of Everything, Everything

#BestOf2017

Stella Meghie made #BlackWomenDirect headlines in 2017.  She is the only black female director at the helm of a studio-backed film released in 2017. This statistic is even more impactful  because Everything, Everything is only Stella’s second feature film. Boasting an amazing cast that includes Amandla Stenburg and Anika Noni Rose, the film is a charming and delightful story of young love.

Lena Waithe as “Denise”on Master of None and badass Emmy Winner
Seven Sistas of Television

Master on None was released this year.  The highlight of the season was “Thanksgiving,” an episode co-written by series regular Lena Waithe.  The episode centers around Denise’s coming out story. Hands down, it is one of the most well-written episodes of television this year.  This sentiment was cosigned by the Academy when the Lena and Dev Patel won the Emmy for Comedy Writing, making her the first black woman to receive the honor. If you missed it, you can check out her AMAZING acceptance speech here.

Susan Kelechi Watson as “Beth Pearson” on This Is Us

Seven Sistas of Television
Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Susan Kelechi Watson is a joy to watch onscreen. Let’s keep it real. The show is called This is Us, but the “us” we are MOST interested in are Beth and Randall. And to be realer than real, Beth Pearson, played by Susan is the MVP of the Pearson family.  Beth is the voice of reason, the keeper of clarity, and the one that we can ALWAYS count on to keep it real. And we have come to count on Susan to deliver masterful performances each week.  She is us.

DeWanda Wise as “Nola Darling” on She’s Gotta Have It and “Shameeka Campbell” on Shots Fired

DeWanda Wise had an AMAZING 2017. She starred in two critically acclaimed shows, Shots Fired and She’s Gotta Have It.  These characters could not be more different. One is a single mother navigating the grief of losing a child to police violence and the other is a young, sex-positive single girl navigating life in New York.  DeWanda portrays each masterfully, convincingly, and with haunting sense of presence and truth.  She is simply a pleasure to watch.

#NFOTD2017 – A Year in Review

As 2017 comes to a close and we gear up for 2018, the time has come for my #NFOTD2017 post.  As you all know, I have been participating in #NFOTD (New Film of the Day) for the past five years. For those who don’t know, NFOTD was started by film-lover and director of photography, Cybel Martin. Every day for the last year, #NFOTD2017 participants have watched a film that they have never seen before and tweet (and/or Instagram) about it.

Here are my #NFOTD2017 superlatives:

Favorite Theatrical Release: Everything, Everything#NFOTD2017

Director: Stella Meghie

Screenwriter: J Mills Goodloe

Cinematographer: Igor Jadue-Lillo

Starring:  Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose

 

Favorite Streaming/Online/At  Home: Whitney: Can I Be Me?#NFOTD2017

Director: Nick Broomfield, Rudi Dolezal

Screenwriter: Nick Broomfield, Marc Noeferlin

Cinematographer: Sam Mitchell

Starring: Whitney Houston

 

Favorite Most Obscure: A Hotel Called Memory

Director: Akin Omotoso

 

Favorite Documentary: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

Director: David France

Screenwriter: David France, Mark Blane

Cinematographer: Thomas Bergman, Adam Uhl

Starring: Victoria Cruz, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera

 

Favorite Better Late Than Never: Daughters of the Dust

Director: Julie Dash

Screenwriter: Julie Dash

Cinematographer: Arthur Jafa

Starring: Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbarao, Bahni Turpin

 

Member’s Choice: Mudbound#NFOTD2017Director: Dee Rees

Screenwriter: Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Cinematographer: Rachel Morrison

Starring: Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund

What new to you films did you love this year?  Want to track the films you watch in 2018? Here is the link to the #NFOTDSpreadsheet.  Feel free to save a copy and get to watching!

 

A Look Back at Half & Half

Last weekend, Twitter was ablaze with talk of the 30th anniversary of the premier of the iconic A Different World.  Fans watched and live-tweeted their favorite episodes while reminising about the impact the show had on a generation of TV viewers. The show produced many stars including Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, and Jade Pinkett-Smith.  Another A Different World alum is writer and producer Yvette Lee Bowser.  After A Different World, Bower went on to executive produce another classic black sitcom that also recently celebrated a milestone anniversary.

Half & Half

On September 23, 2002, Half & Half premiered on the now defunct UPN.  The series focuses on a pair of half-sisters who are attempting to build a relationship while living in the apartment building owned by their father. The series stars the ageless Rachel True as Mona, the older, more level-headed sister and  Essence Atkins as Dee Dee, the younger, more sheltered spoiled sister. The cast also includes the mothers, portrayed by television legends Telma Hopkins and Valerie Pettiford as Phyllis and Big Dee Dee and Obba Babtunde as Charles Thorne, Mona and Dee Dee’s father.  Chico Benymon and Alec Mapa round out the cast as Spencer, Mona’s best friend/coworker and Adam, her assistant.

Half & Half

Half & Half was my everything.  My 22-year-old self LOVED the dynamic between the sisters. And as a twenty-something, recent college graduate, I found myself drawn to the show.  I tuned in to experience the sisters’ journey of discovery as they tried to navigate their careers and dating while balancing family/daughter/sister duties. I could relate. My Monday nights were all about Girlfriends and Half & Half.  But whereas Girlfriends was where I wanted to be, Half & Half was my reality.

Half & Half

While I loved all of the characters on the show, Mona Thorne was my favorite.  She was an OG Awkward Black Girl.  Her eclectic taste in music, her boho fashion sense, and her hilarious relationship with her mother reflected my life at the time (sidenote: I am still convinced that Phyllis  Thorne is based on #MyMomBarb). Mona helped me embrace my quirky and awkward self. Mona was also a natural hair, curly girl icon for me.  Her curls were ALWAYS popping!  I didn’t realize it at the time, but seeing Mona’s natural hair helped me embraced my own. She represented a different kind of black girl magic. The kind my younger self desperately needed to see.

At it’s peak, Half & Half was the fourth highest rated on UPN.  However, when UPN transitioned to The CW, the show was axed before the start of the 2006 season.  The untimely demise of Half & Half left a hole in my Monday nights and my soul. For over a decade I have wondered “Who did Mona choose..Chase or Lorenzo?” But alas, that question will remain one of televisions great unanswered questions.

You can catch reruns of Half & Half on BounceTV.  Fifteen years after it’s birth, it remains one of my faves.

Seven Times My #BlackGirlSoul Quickened While Reading the 2017 Emmy Noms

The 69th Primetime Emmy nominations were announced this week. While scrolling through the list of nominees, I has a few WTF! moments.  For example Modern Family is nominated for the 1000th time again this year.  Honestly, I don’t know ANYONE who still watches the show. Yet, there it is, taking the spot of several more deserving comedy series.

But I also had several Oh Hell Yeah! moments.  The super talented  Sterling K. Brown is nominated for his role on one of my favorite show, This is Us, which is also nominated.

Emmy nomination

Also, shout out to Ron Cephas Jones for his Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Alas, there is a lot of Black Girl Magic in this years nomination list.  Previous winners Viola Davis,  Cicely Tyson, and Regina King received nominations for their work on How to Get Away with Murder and American Crime respectively.  Additionally, the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category boasts three female actors of color: Uzo Aduba for Orange is the New Black, Thandie Newton for Westworld, and Samira Wiley for The Handmaid’s Tale.

Below are the seven nominations that made my #BlackGirlSoul jump for joy when I read them:

Tracee Ellis Ross, Best Actress in a Comedy Series

I have loved Tracee from the moment I met Joan Carol Clayton on Girlfriends. She is hilarious and her nomination follows her win at this years Golden Globe Awards. I hope this  is a sign for a win come September.

Leslie Jones, Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Leslie has experienced some serious hate from online troll and outright racists.  I love that she is receiving attention for her immense talent.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Best Television Movie

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This movie tells the story of a black woman whose cells are used to advance medical sciences without the knowledge or consent of her family.  It’s an important story. And did I mention that two of my absolute faves, Renee Goldsberry and Oprah are in the cast? Needless to say, I am THRILLED for this nominations

Lena Waithe, Best Writing for a Comedy Series (w/ Aziz Ansari)#BlackGirlSoul

Hands down, the highlight of this season of Master on None is  the “Thanksgiving” episode. Co-written by Lena Waithe, the episode details Denise’s coming out story. The writing is perfection.  And the casting was pretty epic too.

Which leads me to my next happy #BlackGirlSoul moment…

Angela Bassett, Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

They could not have selected a more perfect person to portray Denise’s mom on Master of None than Angela Bassett.  There really is not need to expound…she’s Ms. Bassett.

Ava DuVurney, Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming (with Spencer Averick)

I adore Ava and The 13th is probably the most important film that I’ve watched this past year.  She deserves every accolade that comes from this important film.

Kira Kelly,  Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming (with Hans Charles)

This last  nomination made my #BlackGirlSoul quicken, my heart flutter, and my smile widen.  Black women are rarely discussed for their behind the scenes contributions to film and television.  I am OVER THE MOON excited that Kira is being recognized.

The 69th Primetime Emmys will air on September 17, 2017.

 

 

Q & A with Gina Prince-Bythewood (Cinema in Noir)

Gina Prince-Bythewood is one of my FAVORITE directors.  On the latest edition of Cinema in Noir, my co-host Candice and I had the opportunity to chat with Gina about her series Shots Fired.  At Cinema in Noir, we have been very vocal about how much we LOVE the limited edition series, so this was a treat.

Gina

During the conversation, Gina spoke about the decision to delve into television, re-teaming with her Love and Basketball star, Sanaa Lathan and what it was like filming in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was an insightful conversation. Although it will be bittersweet, I can not wait to see how the story concludes when the season finale of Shots Fired airs on May 24.

Gina

We kicked the show off with my review of the film Everything, Everything.  Directed by Stella Meghie, the film stars Amandla Stenberg, Anika Noni Rose, and Nick Robinson.  Based on the young adult novel by Nicola Yoon, the film is a coming of age love story about a girl forced into seclusion due to a rare illness and her desire to experience life.

We also chatted about the upcoming Wonder Woman film and the lack of promotion we have seen for the film.

Listen Here:

Tribeca Review, Shots Fired and Dear White People (Cinema in Noir)

On the latest edition of Cinema in Noir, my co-host Candice gave her review on some of the films that debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The one that I am most excited about is The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.

I first heard about the LGBT activist a few years ago and can not wait to see her story on the big screen.  You can check out Candice’s review here.

We also chatted about two shows that people are talking about.  The first is Shots Fired.

Tribeca

The show is created and executive produced by power couple Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood. It stars Sanaa Lathan and centers around a small town that is the scene of racial discord after a black police officer shoots an unarmed white teen.

We also chatted about Dear White People, the new Netflix series that is based on the 2014 film of the same name.

The show hilariously tackles the black experience on an Ivy League campus.

Listen here:

Missed an episode of Cinema in Noir?  You can catch up here, here, and here.

Three More HIDDEN FIGURES we NEED to See on the Big Screen

On the latest edition of Cinema in  Noir, my co-hosts and I discussed women of color in period films. It didn’t take long for the discussion to turn to HIDDEN FIGURES.   As you probably know by now, the film centers around the three brilliant African American women who worked behind the scenes at NASA. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson aided in the successful launch of John Glenn into space. HIDDEN FIGURES is a very important film.

hidden figuresThe  Black Girl Magic in HIDDEN FIGURES runneth over. The cast is superb and the story is historical,  but relevant.  I can’t count how many times during the course of the film I uttered an audible “amen” or nodded my head in silent agreement. No, I have never had to walk a mile to use the restroom at work. But I identified with the struggles of doing a job without the title or pay that aligns with the duties involved or having someone try to minimize your contributions to a project.  HIDDEN FIGURES  is a rallying cry to anyone whose had their contributions trivialized in the workplace.

As Women’s History Herstory Month comes to a close, here are three hidden figures who deserve to have their stories told.

Dr. Alexa Canady
Hidden Figures

HIDDEN FIGURES shows little girls of color that despite what people say, they can succeed in science and math. Alexa Canady attended a summer program focused on health careers and decided to pursue medicine. Although, she originally aspired to be in doctor of internal medicine but later became fascinated by neurosurgery. Despite being discourage from the field, Dr. Canady persisted and became the first black woman neurosurgeon in the United States.

Rose Butler Browne
Hidden Figures Rose

If you know me, you know I LOVE North Carolina Central University.  One of the most distinguished former professors is Rose Butler Browne.  Back when my alma mater was the North Carolina College, Dr. Browne worked tirelessly to educate students of color. Her journey began years before as she fought for her own education. While working full-time as a maid, she earned her bachelors degree in Rhode Island. Ultimately, she became the first woman to receive a doctoral degree in education.  She received it from Harvard.

Alice Allison Dunnigan
HIdden Figures

The recent #BlackWomenAtWork hashtag was partially inspired a condescending and disrespectful remark made to journalist April Ryan by the White House Press Secretary.  It is a reminder of the challenges that black women journalist face daily. Alice Allison Dunnigan is a journalist whose story deserves to be told. As the first African American woman to get White House Credentials and the first black female member of the Senate of House of  Representative press galleries, Dunnigan faced many challenges. Most noteworthy, she had to cover Senator Taft’s funeral from the servant’s quarters.

What other HIDDEN FIGURES do you want see on the big screen?