*Mystical. Whimsical. Magical. Those three words may describe David E. Talbert’s newest sensation, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.” However, four words should be added-: A Cinematic Christmas Masterpiece. And lucky for you it’s in now select theaters (during November) and it’s currently streaming worldwide on Netflix.
Talbert, a brilliant writer, playwright, director and theater maker, has produced 14 national tours, including for his first play “Tellin’ it Like it Tiz,” which toured for two years, establishing him as one of the most successful directors, writers and producers in American theater. He has written and produced 14 national tours, has earned 24 NAACP nominations, winning Best Playwright of the Year for “The Fabric of a Man,” and is also a best-selling author, having written three novels “Baggage Claim” (2003), “Love on the Dotted Line” (2005) and “Love Don’t Live Here No More: Book One of Doggy Tales” (2006), which he wrote with Snoop Dogg. In 2008, he made his film directorial debut with the Sony Pictures comedy “First Sunday,” which starred Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan and Katt Williams. Among his impressive film credits are Fox Searchlight’s “Baggage Claim,” an adaptation of his own novel and “Almost Christmas,” for Universal Pictures, with Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union and Academy Award winner Mo’Nique, which was the highest grossing theatrical release of his career. His recent national tours include the widely successful “What My Husband Doesn’t Know,” which starred Morris Chestnut.
“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey,” a mystical journey of fantasy, magic and wonder, follows an eccentric toymaker (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker), his tenacious granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills), and a magical invention with the power to reunite their family and change their lives forever.
“EURweb founder Lee Bailey spoke with Talbert earlier this week to find out about the interesting journey the playwright, now film director took to bring “Jingle Jangle” to the screen.
“It was 22 years in the making,” said David E. Talbert, who started writing the play in 1997. He wrote the film many years ago, but one major life event set the film on its course to success.
“When finally, our son was born, it kind of reawakened the kid in me,” said David about the birth of his son (Elias David Talbert) with wife Lyn Sisson-Talbert, who has produced all of Talbert’s plays and films.
“Looking at life through his eyes and I said ‘okay, well, it’s time to do it.’” He sat with his son and watched one of his favorite kid movies “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” His son was four, but didn’t quite have the reaction he was looking for.
“I was just singing all the songs and he was staring at the screen and he finally said, ‘Daddy can I play with my Legos?’” he laughed. “And he walked away. I realized he couldn’t get into the movie like I could when I was young- we had no other option but to see movies that didn’t have people that look like us. There was no other option. From ‘Willy Wonka’ to ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,’ to the original ‘Dr. Doolittle’ to ‘Mary Poppins’ there was just no option.”
David set to change the status quo, to make a holiday blockbuster that featured people of color, a film that not only is a holiday masterpiece, but a film in which people of color, including children of color, could see themselves in a huge blockbuster extravaganza.
“There was ‘The Wiz,’ but then again ‘The Wiz’ didn’t have any children in it. So that didn’t give you a chance to see yourself as a child. I realized on (Elias’) wall was ‘Miles Morales’ (A Spider Man character) and he rocked with Miles Morales because he looked like him. And that’s when it hit me that it’s time to do this, and that the world needed, my son needed, our community needed, our world needed to see people of color in this world in this holiday genre of films. And that’s when it took traction.”
Netflix took an interest in David’s “Jangle” concept after he worked with them on a small independent production, “El Camino Christmas,” which featured Vincent D’ Onofrio, Jessica Alba and Tim Allen. A meeting was arranged with the streamer’s head of original programming Scott Stuber and Nick Nesbitt, one of Netflix’s head creative executives.
“They really liked the way the movie I did for them, the smaller budget movie turned out,” said David. “I told them I wanted to do a big event movie. They asked ‘what kind?’ I told them about my son and my family and how families like me around the country and around the world have nothing to look at during the holiday season with anybody of color. And he said, ‘we need to do something about that.’ And he asked if I could come back and pitch it next week and they bought it with me in the room. It felt really good. I’ve never worked with a company like Netflix before who understands. Netflix is a global brand, so they’re in 192 countries in 32 languages around the world. They understand that they need to make content for the world and the world is filled with more people of color than not.”
Filmed in London, David wanted an international feel for the film.
“All the movies I loved growing up all had a European backdrop,” he said. “There’s something magical about the accents- it’s been around centuries. We shot in a house that was built in the 1300s. There’s a certain sense for me, a classic feel. When you shoot something in Europe it’s classic because you’re talking about a country that’s one of the oldest in the world.”
Talbert says he sought out to make a film with international appeal, one that seeks to normalize people of color in fantasy films.
“We cast people from all different cultures with accents and we mixed it up,” he explained. “I wanted to normalize Black people in the 1800s with images that didn’t have a whip on our backs. I wanted the Victorian era- that era to show scientists and inventors and thinkers and alchemists and kind of give a different visual for Black people in this era.”
Making a cinematic marvel can contain a lot of moving parts. One of the moving parts for this film was working with an Oscar-nominated Black British cinematographer, Remi Adefarasin, one of the top British cinematographers.
“He and I talked about scope and scale, and that was a big thing for us, we wanted to make sure the film had scope and scale,” he explained. “So, my question was ‘how high could that camera go on that crane?’ And he said ‘we can go 100 feet.’ I asked ‘well can you make it go 200 feet? I wanted to show scope and scale on a grand spectacle. I knew this was a big undertaking and it was important for this film to succeed, to have this kind of scope, so that people that want to do films like this with people of color after me people will be more open to it because of the success of this one.”
Working on a huge blockbuster film like “Jangle” had its challenges for David E. Talbert.
“It was really for me, it was like going back to graduate school,” he reflected. “I had done musical plays, but I had never shot a musical. I had never done choreography in my plays. I had never done digital effects, special effects, two CGI characters and animated sequences, and people flying. I had never done that in a film before. I give a lot of credit to Scott Stuber and Nick Nesbitt for believing in me. I’m used to, in my career, people saying ‘you’ve got $2 to make this movie. If it goes to $2.50 cents, that 25 cents is coming out of your money. I had never had an executive says to me ‘don’t write the budget, write your imagination and we’ll figure out the budget later.’ And that’s what Nick Nesbitt told me. It changed my life.”
Netflix pulled out all the stops for this production, bringing him some of the best personnel in the entertainment industry.
“They knew the importance of this film and surrounded me with the best visual effects team, the best music, Phil Lawrence and John Legend, the best production designer, who did all the ‘Star Wars’ latest movies, the best costume designer, a two-time Oscar nominee and proudly I say, I brought the best producer, my wife, who is the lead producer in the film. So, I was bullet proof. I had a Black woman by my side every step of the way.”
Casting Forest Whitaker as Jeronicus Jangle proved to be a stroke of genius. Whitaker provided a depth to the role that few actors are able to do.
“He was always my first choice,” said David of Forest Whitaker, who attended USC’s Conservatory of Music on a scholarship for Voice and also directed “Waiting to Exhale.” Talbert added: “I’ve known Forest for about 10 years, we had always flirted with doing a project together. The brilliance of Forest is that he does his homework. He understands nuance and backstory and making sure the character is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. I needed someone in front of the camera that could ground this character and make sure he’s a character and not a caricature., someone with those chops in front of the camera but equally as important, I need a big brother behind the camera.”
The breakout star in “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is Madalen Mills, who illuminates every scene she’s in.
“I think the heavens just dropped that little angel in my lap for this film,” Talbert gushed. “She has so much light in her. We did a worldwide search and we narrowed it down to five actresses from around the world. I flew into New York for the audition. As soon as I walked in, I knew it was hers. The other young ladies were talented, but she just had this thing where she wasn’t coming to audition for the role, she was coming to claim what was hers.”
Audiences will love the music which features songwriter Philip Lawrence, who has worked with Beyonce and Adele, and singer/songwriter John Legend. Luckily for viewers Lawrence also appears in the film alongside actress Lisa Davina Phillip, (Mrs. Johnston) as one of her background singers/dancers.
“When Phil wrote that song, we kept clowning in the studio adding more background parts, because I love the background parts and they were so funny, I said ‘Phil we got to have them on screen. You’ve got to fly into London, and with two other actors I had met there, Toge and Gabe and I said you all got to be Pips. She’s got to be Gladys Knight and you guys will be the Pips.”
“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is simply a flawless movie. With sensational performances from Forest Whitaker, newcomer Madelen Mills, Phylicia Rashad and a monstrous performance by Keegan-Michael Key as the villain Gustafson. The film allows him the opportunity to show the great range he has as an actor. Mills is a young superstar with a voice that captures the screen. In addition, the choreography is flawless and the production design and costuming, simply otherworldly (do we hear Oscar?).
Although this film features actors and actresses of color, this film will appeal to audiences of all ethnicities. In this time of isolation and strife, the world needs an inspirational story that inspires and encourages. “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” may be a Christmas movie, but it will live as a testimonial of triumph from the belief in human accomplishment. One line in the movie sums up its inspirational prowess- “If You Believe, It’s All Possible.” Simply, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is a masterpiece, a holiday Christmas classic that all families should view and have in their collections.
Follow David on Instagram @DavidETalbert.
Former MLBer Micah Johnson Wants His Paintings to Inspire Black Kids (Watch)
*Micah Johnson, a former second baseman and outfielder for the White Sox, Dodgers, Braves and Rays, has indulged in his longtime passion and is now a professional artist of critically acclaimed and highly sought-after fine art paintings.
His latest work, which opened at Art Angels over the summer, was inspired by an overheard question posed by his nephew: “Mom, can astronauts be Black?”
Per MLB.com’s Michael Clair:
Many of his paintings feature real subjects wearing an astronaut’s helmet, while they paint or draw or learn the cello or simply play hopscotch. The helmet represents the dreams Black kids have and the opportunities that are hopefully open to them. He uses colors and images that children can relate to. He wants Black children to see themselves in a fine art world that is historically dominated by white artists and subjects.
“My whole mission is to inspire children,” Johnson told MLB.com. “But I try to have that looseness to it. And that’s just how I am. I work a lot with just my hands. Sometimes I don’t even have a paintbrush in my studio. I try to do these really bold lines and have that perfect blend of whitespace and also color. That’s how I’d define my style now.”
“If I try to really, really focus on the eyes, make the viewer feel this connection — and if they feel that connection — then maybe it will change their perspective on something,” Johnson said.
“In the beginning, it was all inspired by my nephews because I just wanted to inspire them. And that’s how my approach is — I tried to focus on inspiring one person,” Johnson said. “So, a lot of my subjects are real subjects. And I think that’s a message for everybody else — just focus on impacting one person and you’ll really impact the world. So, for me, it’s my nephews, and they’re young, and maybe when they grow up, and they start looking at this, maybe they’ll feel inspired.”
The theme is present in his most recent work, “sä-v(ə-)rən-tē” (pronounced sovereignty), but the presentation is drastically different from anything Johnson has done before.
This piece is a digital artwork available to view on Apple TV or on a billboard at 901 W. Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles from Dec. 7 through Jan. 10. It features two young children (Jacque, 8, and Rayden, 7), who have experienced tragedy in their lives staring at a closed door in a field, with an astronaut standing on the other side.
Unlike a painting, viewers can watch “sä-v(ə-)rən-tē” change in real time. The light shifts from day to night and with each passing year, the door will swing open a little wider, giving Jacque and Rayden a wider glimpse at the astronaut who awaits them on the other side of the door. A QR code connected to a bitcoin wallet also appears on the children’s birthdays, allowing viewers to donate directly to them.
Watch a trailer for sä-v(ə-)rən-tē below:
Watch a July 2020, CBS Los Angeles report on Johnson below:
‘Tyler Perry’s Ruthless’ on Paley Front Row – Brand New Discussion with the Cast TONIGHT
*New York, NY – The Paley Center for Media today announced the latest selection to its acclaimed Paley Front Row Presented by Citi series: BET+’s Tyler Perry’s Ruthless.
This exciting program will publish just in time for the midseason premiere of the smash-hit series on the Paley Center’s dedicated channel on Verizon Media’s Yahoo Entertainment starting tonight at 8:00 pm EST/5:00 pm PST.
“When Tyler Perry and BET present a television series you know it’s going to be riveting, entertaining and addictive,” said Maureen J. Reidy, the Paley Center’s President & CEO. “Ruthless once again proves why Tyler Perry is continuously recognized and praised for his trailblazing work.”
Ruthless follows the story of Ruth Truesdale who finds herself and her daughter entangled in the dangerous Rakudushis cult. At first an enthusiastic member, Ruth soon sees the cult for what it is, but must continue to play along with ways of Rakudushis until she can find a way to free herself and her daughter from this dire situation. The Paley Center will present a conversation with the cast ahead of the show’s midseason premiere on Thursday, November 26 on BET+. Joining in the conversation will be series stars Melissa L. Williams (Ruth Truesdale), Matt Cedeño (The Highest/Louis Tyrone Luckett), Lenny Thomas (Dikhan), Blue Kimble (Andrew), Yvonne Senat Jones (Tally), and moderator Tonja Renée Stidhum, Staff Entertainment Writer, The Root.
Paley Front Row Presented by Citi brings televisions fans all the best behind-the-scenes stories of today’s top television shows.
For more information, please visit paleycenter.org.
About The Paley Center for Media
The Paley Center for Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with locations in New York and Los Angeles, leads the discussion about the cultural, creative, and social significance of television, radio, and emerging platforms. Drawing upon its curatorial expertise, an international collection, and close relationships with the leaders of the media community, the Paley Center examines the intersections between media and society. The Paley Center’s premier programming sponsored by Verizon can be viewed through Verizon Media’s distribution channels, including being featured on the Yahoo Entertainment channel, as well as [email protected] presented by Citi on the Paley Center’s YouTube channel and the Paley Center’s Facebook page. The general public can access the Paley Center’s permanent media collection, which contains over 160,000 television and radio programs and advertisements, and participate in programs that explore and celebrate the creativity, the innovations, the personalities, and the leaders who are shaping media. Through the global programs of its Media Council and International Council, the Paley Center also serves as a neutral setting where media professionals can engage in discussion and debate about the evolving media landscape. Previously known as The Museum of Television & Radio, the Paley Center was founded in 1975 by William S. Paley, a pioneering innovator in the industry. For more information, please visit paleycenter.org.
The Lippin Group/Los Angeles
U of Kansas Professor’s ‘Groove Theory’ Explores Blues Foundations of Funk
*LAWRENCE. KS — What makes funk different from soul, R&B or rock music? Why is it worthy of academic study? And how do you write about it seriously while still capturing its musical vitality and humor?
Tony Bolden, University of Kansas associate professor of African & African-American studies, answers all those questions and more in his new book, “Groove Theory: The Blues Foundations of Funk” (University Press of Mississippi).
Bolden riffs on the etymology of “funk,” the epistemology of blue funk and examines avatars of what he calls “black organic intellectualism” from Duke Ellington to Gil Scott-Heron to D’Angelo. Funky women like Chaka Khan, Betty Davis and Meshell Ndegeocello finally get their due, too.
While he discusses the musical forms involved — such as James Brown’s groundbreaking rhythmic concept of being “on the one,” i.e., emphasizing the first beat of a measure — for Bolden, funk is a cultural aesthetic as much as a musical style. Contrarianism – obstinate opposition to conventionality, even within the confines of the Black community – is one of its most important characteristics, he asserted. So, too, are honesty and authenticity. And of course, there is the party-hearty “pleasure principle” propounded perhaps most notably by George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic fame.
“Funk is the outlaw among outlaws,” Bolden said.
In “Groove Theory,” the author also places great importance on the physical elements of funk, particularly dances like the Funky Four Corners and Funky Broadway.
“Whereas conventional Western philosophy has normalized the notion that the mind and body are polar opposites … sensuality is intrinsic to the epistemology of funk,” Bolden wrote.
As per the book’s subtitle, Bolden draws a direct line from an early form of African American vernacular music – the blues – to funk.
He writes in the introduction that “my central argument (is) that blues and funk are not just musical forms; they are interrelated concepts. And blues is ‘like the nucleus’ of rock as well as rhythm and blues, which includes soul and funk.”
Bolden said “Groove Theory” needed writing because no one had previously explored the roots of the concept of funk. He credits Rickey Vincent’s 1996 book “Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One” and a couple of others, but he felt more work needed to be done.
“My question is why?” Bolden said. “How do we explain the fact that the music came to be known as funk? And in exploring it from the standpoint of intellectual history, I’m exploring the history of the concept itself. And in the midst of that, I find out … the extent to which the term was controversial and there were real stigmas attached to it.”
Things changed during the Civil Rights Era, said Bolden, who is editor of the KU-based Langston Hughes Review.
“It’s not until the stigma of Blackness gets questioned that the stigma attached to funk is questioned enough,” he said. “The term is embraced by Black youth culture, and it’s the dancers who do it — and the people. It’s a street thing that happens.”
If funk was presaged by jazzers like Horace Silver (“Opus de Funk”) and Donald Byrd (“Pure D. Funk”) in the 1950s and early ’60s, it came into full, glorious flower in the 1970s with Parliament-Funkadelic topping the charts and filling stadium concerts. “Groove Theory” charts funk’s rise, along with the music’s continuing influence on contemporary Black music makers.
Sure, early rap sampled plenty of classic funk recordings. But funk’s ongoing influence is even deeper, Bolden wrote.
“Kendrick Lamar, Esperanza Spalding, Trombone Shorty, Bruno Mars, Janelle Monáe, Childish Gambino, Lizzo, Anderson Paak and other contemporary artists have engaged the concept in recent years,” he said. “This raises the question: Why? Given the precepts of funk — unvarnished truth; contrariety; unabashed pleasure; and implicit predilection for reciprocity—such interest may exemplify, on some level, dialectical responses to troubling conditions.”
KU News Service
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