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Muhammad Ali, Mexican Culture and Murder Mysteries Headline Urbanworld's 2015 Film Slate

"Carmín Tropical" is among the movies playing in the Narrative Feature Film competition at Urbanworld 2015.Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ, a biographical tribute to the former heavyweight boxing champion will serve as the opening night film at the 19th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival, presented by BET Networks (BET) with founding sponsor HBO.

Directed and executive produced by Clarence “Coodie” Simmons and Chike Ozah, this documentary features exclusive interviews with a who’s who of the sports and entertainment world including Muhammad Ali’s daughter Laila Ali, Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard. “We are excited to launch BET's original news documentary series with the film,” says Constance Orlando, Senior Vice President of Music, Specials and News for BET Networks. Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ connects the fighter’s boxing prowess as well as his social media activism, to the millennial audience to reveal Ali’s meaning in the world today. It also headlines a fierce program lineup as Urbanworld, the nation’s largest competitive multicultural film festival, announces its 2015 slate.

The festival will screen over 80 films September 23-27, 2015 at Manhattan's AMC Empire 25 on 234 West 42nd Street in New York. An underlying quest for victory is the name of the game, as Urbanworld showcases stories about people fighting for redemption in one way or another. In the psychological drama Carmín Tropical, a transgender woman named Mabel returns to her hometown to investigate the murder of her friend Daniela. Directed by Mexican filmmaker Rigoberto Perezcano, this narrative feature explores gender and culture while taking the main character on a journey of revisiting the life she left behind in a town plagued with senseless violence, homophobia and intolerance.

"In Football We Trust" is among the select documentaries in the 2015 Urbanworld lineup.Urbanworld’s documentary lineup features the New York Premiere of In Football We Trust, about four young Polynesian athletes struggling to overcome gang violence, family pressures and near poverty as they enter the high stakes world of college recruiting and the promise of professional sports. Directed by first-time filmmakers Tony Vainuku and Erika Cohn, the movie explores how professional sports play a role in the “American Dream” phenomenon that fascinates our society.

“I believe In Football We Trust will illuminate how our country’s infatuation with chasing the ‘American Dream’ can often leave people entrenched in the very conditions they are striving to overcome,” says Cohn. Famed wrestler and Hollywood actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson mentioned the film is close to his heart and also helped produce it.

The documentary 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets is among the Spotlight selections at Urbanworld. Directed by Marc Silver, it follows the journey of unraveling the truth behind Michael Dunn’s claim of self-defense in a shooting that led to the death of 17 year-old Jordan Davis. In what IndieWire calls “A harrowing exploration of criminal justice gone awry,” 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets reconstructs the night of the incident and reveals how hidden racial prejudice can result in tragedy. Forgiving Chris Brown joins the narrative short films that are in abundance at this year’s Urbanworld film festival. Directed by Marquette Jones, this dark comedy about a group of heartbroken friends who unite over plans to get revenge on their boyfriends, is set in the hot desert.

Performing arts also takes center stage as A Ballerina’s Tale, a documentary focusing on a crucial period in the career of principal dancer Misty Copeland, is slated to close the festival. Directed by Nelson George, the movie examines issues of race and body image in the elite ballet.

Following Misty’s triumphant lead performance in Igor Stravinsky's Firebird at New York's Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, through her painful injury and recovery that followed, to her return to ABT and subsequent pop star status, A Ballerina's Tale  is the story of how great talent and a powerful will combined can open doors within a very cloistered world.

What are YOU watching this weekend?


Sunday Synopsis: Why Straight Outta Compton is the Movie that Saved My Summer

I rarely ever go see a mainstream movie in theaters on opening weekend. Yet Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about the rise and fall of rap group N.W.A (comprised of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, DJ Yella and MC Ren) somehow managed to get me out to the cinema.

Of all the reasons to see this film, I was mainly hoping that it would afford me a two-hour vacation from a challenging summer. In a few different ways, the summer of 2015 has been harsh on several members of my family, as well as that of one of my childhood friends. Then in late July I had a bit of an accident that put me out of commission at an inconvenient time. Suddenly, there were injuries to tend to and I was not able to work as often and as well as I planned. Since then I’ve done what I could where able but updating this blog was among the things that fell by the wayside during these last few weeks despite my attempts to finish writing drafts of a blog post for the Popcorn & Paninis series, here and there.

As you can imagine, not being able to operate at 100% in even the most basic of activities is no fun. If you take one thing away from today’s post, remember to always take good care of your body, never take it for granted, protect it in every way you can and pay attention to the things you’re doing, everyday, when you are doing them. The human body is such a magical machine; its amazing the kind of things it can do and I’m grateful that it has all sorts of superpowers to repair itself like other things in nature such as crops in a garden, forests, land, etc. Still its also worth keeping in mind that just because something can be reborn anew doesn’t always mean it will return in the same way.

Often I’ve gone to bed these last few months thinking this year sucks. The thing about life, however, is that if you keep moving, you will also have experiences that remind you it’s not so bad after all. I can think of maybe 7-9 days I’ve had this summer so far where things seem to be looking up and one of them is when I went to see Straight Outta Compton over the weekend. Ever since watching the movie trailer months ago, I’ve anticipated its release because I’ve been an Eazy-E fan for a long time. Funny enough, I was not introduced to his music by N.W.A but rather from the work he did with my favorite rap group of all time….Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

My familiarity with N.W.A came from vinyl record covers my mom had in the house, urban radio stations, MTV -- back when they were actually a music television channel -- and rap magazines sold at pharmacies like CVS, but I didn’t pay much attention to their songs.

Growing up, I knew more about the music of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from their solo careers than any of the content chronicled in the movie about their early, and rocky, journey to putting the West Coast on the map, as far as the music industry is concerned. The fast paced Straight Outta Compton plays like a visual timeline of events that shaped music history while bringing our country’s political and social matters to center stage....

One day, a group of friends are uniting to make music and earn money through legitimate means during a time when the LAPD’s war on gangs made the future very uncertain for minorities regardless of their innocence. The next day, these same friends incite a nation of activists fighting to exercise (and maintain) their freedoms against censorship, violation of civil liberties, racial profiling and police brutality.

The biggest takeaway I gleaned from this movie is how important it is for disadvantaged youth around the world to have access to quality education and opportunities. There is a scene in Straight Outta Compton where Eazy-E (played by Jason Mitchell) bails Dr. Dre (played by Corey Hawkins) out of jail after Dre, who was working as a local nightclub DJ, was arrested without cause. In this scene, Dre convinces Eazy-E to leave his days of selling drugs behind to build a record label. Both of these young men are motivated by money and believe in their dreams enough to recognize an opportunity in the combined skills of their friends -- namely the writing abilities of Ice Cube (played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and record spinning talent of DJ Yella (played by Neil Brown, Jr.).

All five members of N.W.A may not have looked like your average college graduate but they were still smart where it counted....channeling their own individual knowledge and talent into a more promising future for themselves; one that stretches beyond the most dangerous streets of Los Angeles. Straight Outta Compton depicts the lives of young men who speak up for the voiceless, marginalized members of society; people like them who are struggling to rise against a culture – be that in law enforcement, government, media and/or communities outside of their own -- that is intent on stereotyping everyone as criminals and people undeserving of respect, based on zip codes or appearances.

Chris, an L.A. native who also came to see Straight Outta Compton told me this is the “best hip hop movie” he’s ever seen. Chris just happened to be in town visiting and is probably on his way back to California right now as I write this, so having never been anywhere on the West Coast myself, it was nice to be surrounded by that L.A. life both onscreen and off-screen even for a short moment.

Although I have not watched many hip-hop movies in total, this film is definitely the best summer movie I’ve seen lately thanks to F. Gary Gray’s strategic assembly of a story that is bigger than hip-hop. That is where Straight Outta Compton shines for me.

For example, I vaguely remember watching news reports about the Rodney King beating and subsequent court verdict on television. I was just a kid then and didn’t think much of it except for the remarks I overheard from conversations between my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other elders. Straight Outta Compton helped put some things in perspective in terms of the significance of that incident and what it meant for the state of affairs between citizens, government and law enforcement.

Historical factors aside, this was a very entertaining film that made me laugh, cheer inside with excitement and jam out to classic tunes more times than it made me angry, nervous or want to cry. All despite the woman and her accompanying group of theater goers whose rude and ignorant outbursts were unwelcome by the rest of us who came to actually watch (and hear) the movie. It was a joy to learn more about how some of the biggest names in music known today got their start. So although this summer brought me some unexpected setbacks and painful times, the day I saw Straight Outta Compton was indeed...a good day.

R.I.P. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright.

Straight Outta Compton is now playing.

Find showtimes for movies in your area!


Monday Movie Meme: Bar Hopping!

In giving credit to the sponsors who made it possible for this year's qFLIX film festival to bring an excellent program of international stories to Philadelphia's LGBT community, including Tavern on Camac, U bar and The Tavern restaurant, this week's Monday Movie Meme is about leading ladies and leading men congregating at watering holes: Bar Hopping!

Share on your blog or in the comments section, movies featuring scenes that take place in a bar. Here are my selections for this week's Bar Hopping theme, consisting mostly of bar scenes that come to mind when I think of some of the films that premiered at the festival.

Love Jones

An aspiring photographer named Nina orders a glass of white wine at the bar inside of a Chicago jazz lounge, in this romantic drama starring Nia Long, Larenz Tate and Isaiah Washington.

Those People

A painter encounters his first love while hanging with friends at a New York dive bar in this romantic drama about the ability to connect with people, and its contrasting side of the human condition -- never finding that perfect someone to experience true love.

LUV Don't Live Here No More

Longtime friends discuss a public lover's spat, over drinks at a Philly bar in this dramatic narrative about a man who is reluctant to part with the way his life and relationships were before he became severely ill.

Beautiful Something

A published writer interrupts his casual lover's plans to hook up with someone else at a bar in this romantic drama about eternal questions concerning sex, art, love and identity.

All Yours

Co-workers share drinks at a bar during a night out on the town in this romantic comedy drama about the love triangle between an Argentine hustler, a portly Belgian baker and a single mom.

Fourth Man Out

A drunken woman vomits on a car mechanic who’s celebrating his birthday at a bar, in this dramatic comedy about a fun loving group of blue-collar workers in a small town who try to play matchmaker when their buddy comes out of the closet.

What movies have YOU watched that feature bar scenes?

Where was the last bar YOU visited?