Tag Archives: Race

Wheel Good People, Part Deux

23 Oct

More wheel good people: Bicyclist help goes on, including an Oct. 24 Halloween party in The Port

By Tom MeekThursday, October 14, 2021

Lonnell Wells in his CambridgeSide mall Bike Give Back space with an organization intern. (Photo: Tom Meek )

A year ago we cast the spotlight on efforts by bicyclists to help those at risk from Covid-19 and to confront racism. Those ills persist, but so does the work by the Bike Delivery Program and the tight-knit team behind the Cambridge Bike Give Back initiative. Each mission has been sustained by the toil and generosity of volunteers, but now could use a lending hand.

The Cambridge Bike Give Back initiative, which takes old and unwanted bikes and retools them for those in need, was launched in August 2020 by Lonnell Wells and friends in reaction to the murder of George Floyd. It gives bicycles to kids who might not otherwise have one to ride with friends, or a person just out of prison needing an inexpensive way to get around in their reentry to society, Wells said. The program now has a storefront in the Cambridgeside mall parking garage. Vice mayor Alanna Mallon and former mayor Anthony Galluccio helped broker the arrangement, Wells said, and his sources for steel steeds has grown too. He’s reached out to municipal and collegiate police forces for unclaimed bikes and forged a partnership with Bikes Not Bombs, the original bike-driven social activist group down in Jamaica Plain. 

The Give Back program has provided more than 350 bikes since its founding last year, Wells said, in addition to hosting community barbecues and sponsoring a Black Lives Matter ride around Cambridge.

The program plans a family-themed Halloween party from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Greene-Rose Heritage Park in The Port neighborhood. There will be a costume contest, games and candy for kids, free food for all and a raffle; bikes will be given away, and bike tuneups offered. (Organizers are looking for able bike mechanics to help on Sunday. If you have a bike you want to unload, they could use that, too. Email cambridgikegiveback@gmail.com.)

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Zola

2 Jul

‘Zola’: Stripper showdown in the Sunshine state, increasing in tension with every raunchy tweet

By Tom Meek Thursday, July 1, 2021

Well, here we are, people, the first movie adapted from a tweetstorm. Not an incoherent, three-in-the-morning political shaming from @realdonaldtrump (account suspended) but one from a 19-year-old Detroit server and exotic dancer named A’Ziah “Zola” King, who chronicled her 2015 shitshow of a road trip to Florida after being enticed along by a fellow dancer under false premises. The 148-tweet thread that plays out like “Hustlers” (2019) on steroids, even garnered King an exchange with “Selma” (2014) director Ava DuVernay: “There’s so much untapped talent in the hood,” DuVernay said. Zola’s response: “I’m not from the hood tho Ava. Ima suburban bitch. Still love you tho.”

The real-life King worked at a Hooters. In this stylish, day-glo rendering by Janicza Bravo (episodes of “Dear White People” and “Them”), Zola, played by Taylour Paige, works in a diner and pole dances at night. One day when waiting on an interracial couple, the trashy girlfriend (known as “the white bitch” in the tweet blasts, tagged here as Stefani and animated effusively by Riley Keough) chums up to Zola. “Wanna dance?” she asks casually. Even though we’re in Zola’s head, with her tweets and thoughts coming to us in voice-over, we don’t get much of an inkling as to what the conversation is really about until we land at a male entertainment club.

There’s an immediate bond between the two, as well as a distinct unease that hangs in the air and helps drive the film. For a bigger payday, the two pile into a luxe van with Stefani’s hapless boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and roommate X (Colman Domingo, finding his niche) to go dancing in the Sunshine State. Turns out that doesn’t pay so much either, and X is really Stefani’s pimp; this all unbeknownst to Zola and Derrek, who’s left in a raunchy motel to stew.

Zola’s got a beau back home and has boundaries, and even though X menacingly forces her into a call, the film lets Zola steer her way to just helping garner Stefani better johns on certain blacklisted social media sites, upping the dollar value. Stefani’s all too happy to please and seemingly has no boundaries and limitless energy. Her justification, when pushed, is that she has to support a child back home. She also has masterful control over Derrek, who spends the night frantically calling and texting.

Things get increasingly dicey as another pimp circles, X seems ready to explode into violence and Derrek declines emotionally as he wakes to the harsh reality about Stefani he’s buried through denial, puppy dog love and doofus gullibility. Stefani knows just when to throw the dog a bone, though, and Zola is always there to reluctantly watch the carnal play. It’s also here in the middle of the film that the arc really has nowhere else to go. Guns and group sex don’t raise the stakes; the action has crested, and it feels like the filmmaker and writer Jeremy O. Harris (“Slave Play”) – working off King’s tweets – are happy enough to hang it all on the frenemy chemistry of their two leads. I get the why, but it’s not a very satisfying choice in the end.

That said, the two actresses do play off each other brilliantly. Paige (“White Boy Rick”) is the anchor and holds it all well, but the film is really Keough’s. It’s not a big surprise, as the granddaughter of Elvis has landed in similar roles before in Andrea Arnold’s envelope-pushing “American Honey” (2016) and the streaming series “The Girlfriend Experience,” with those notable turns feeling akin to research for this culmination. Looking like one of the robotic beauties from the “Neon Demon” (2016), Keough nails the white-wannabe-from-the-hood vernacular (think a subtler form of Gary Oldman in “True Romance”) and the race differential between the women only adds to the tension.

The important thing to bear in mind is that this is all this based on King’s tweets; in follow-up stories, the “white bitch” known as Jess has said she turned no tricks, and it was Zola who was down for it. Ostensibly trying to give a nod to that, Bravo and Harris switch perspectives to let Stefani share some thoughts with us, but in the end what happened in those bedrooms happened. Since it doesn’t rescript the facts, this comes off as awkward and distracting, though the leads and Bravo’s stylish eye push the film above its narrative deficiencies with 16mm camera work by Ari Wegner – remember the name – that is vibrant and mood setting. “Zola” begins with all the dark, captivating allure of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Neon Demon” and Harmony Korine’s wicked descent into Floridian fun-time hell, “Spring Breakers” (2013). It just doesn’t know how to finish, and simply ends when you think the big turn is just around the next bend. 

Empowerment Mural Coming to the Square

25 Jun

Thaxton’s ‘Beauty of Everyday Living’ mural brightens Harvard Square kiosk construction

By Tom Meek Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Patricia Thaxton’s “The Beauty of Everyday Living” mural sections will beautify a Harvard Square construction site. (Photo: Greg Cook)

The ongoing construction around the old Out of Town News kiosk in Harvard Square will be brightened this week, with unsightly fencing and Jersey barriers wrapped in a vinyl scrim of artist Patricia Thaxton’s “The Beauty of Everyday Living,” a mural imbued with themes of Black joy and empowerment. The design honors Black Harvard students, is peppered with Harvard Square “Easter eggs” and weaves in nods to Cambridge community festivals and recent Black Lives Matter protests.

The mural, commissioned by the city, will expand as work by WES Construction expands in the fall. When the expected two years of construction ends, the renovated public space will have a community focus and is open to use by city-sponsored operators. Requests for proposals are ongoing throughout the rebuild.

A public event introducing the art awaits a clearer schedule from the construction contractor and coordination with the city’s reopening plans, Cambridge Arts’ Greg Cook said.

This is the first public art project for Thaxton, a Stoughton resident who grew up in Dorchester and taught home economics in Boston Public Schools until retiring in 2009. In her art career since, she has focused on mixed media works in which she said “no material is off limits.”

“I love the freedom I have with mixed media collage. Along my journey, I discovered the elements that fascinate me: texture, color and depth connect each work of art in my collection. Several pieces were inspired by images I’ve collected from newspapers, ads, magazines and photos that I’ve taken through the ages. I enjoy capturing the culture within and around our daily lives,” she said.

Racism hits local restaurant

23 Nov

Urban Hearth’s outdoor John Lewis mural vandalized Monday in ‘obvious hate crime’

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

It’s been tough for restaurants recently with shortened hours, colder temperatures and perhaps another shutdown looming. Adding to the woes for Urban Hearth, the young nouvelle can-do north of Porter Square on Massachusetts Avenue, was an act of vandalism Monday that owner and chef Erin Miller described as “an obvious hate crime.”

“I’m absolutely gutted,” Miller said. The eatery’s cozy sidewalk pavilion, which I visited for a meal in August, had been since adorned by a mural enshrining recently passed civil rights icon and longtime Georgian lawmaker John Lewis, the subject of the 2020 documentary “Good Trouble.” The full-length alfresco design by local artist Rocky Cotard, commissioned by Miller and finished in early October, was marred by black spray paint in the middle of the night. To get to the images, the vandals had to get past dense pilings of furniture.

“Do not turn away from this … It is a violation of all that is decent, good and hopeful in our world,”Miller said online.

Miller said the police were beginning an investigation; it was unclear if there were cameras nearby that might have video helpful in the matter.

On Wednesday, police said several businesses in the 2200-2300 block of Massachusetts Avenue had been vandalized late Monday or early Tuesday, suggesting the vandalism was not exclusively targeted at the mural. Detectives are following up and looking for video evidence, said Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police.

While the Hearth has shut down the patio temporarily, the restaurant remains open for takeout.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

22 Oct

‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’: Updated antics Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of America

By Tom Meek
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

People thinking back to Sacha Baron Cohen’s gonzo 2006 mock-doc “Borat” will certainly remember that pud-padded, shoulder-looped green G-string, but may have forgotten how the bold and experimental film pulled the mask off bigotry and entitlement in the United States. With “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” Baron Cohen’s back with more of the same, but this one’s more targeted, loaded and timely. It doesn’t pack quite the same zany eye-pop – that bud’s bloomed – but it is the first film in my mind to tackle both Donald Trump’s divisive presidency and the Covid pandemic.

The setup is fairly simple, though the execution is not: In Borat’s native Kazakhstan, just out of a gulag, the overly zealous (and clueless) journalist is tasked by authorities with delivering a gift to the Trump administration so Kazakhstan can gain favor among other strongman countries of the world – Russia, Syria and so on. The film’s extended title is: “Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” The bribe? National treasure Jonny the Monkey is to be delivered to “No. 1 ladies’ man” Michael Pence – aka “the vice pussy grabber.” Jonny, a well dressed chimp, doesn’t quite make it to America, so Borat rolls with Plan B, which is to offer up his 15-year-old daughter Tutar (relative newcomer Maria Bakalova) as a child bride.

If you’re somehow not familiar with Baron Cohen’s “Borat” schtick, the major growl in his irreverence engine is the punking of everyday people – whom you’d think would see it coming a mile away, but 14 years is a long time and most targets are xenophobic types south of the Mason-Dixon Line where the name “Borat” might suggest cured meat or a cold soup from an enigmatic and heretical religious sect. In a bakery, Borat asks the counterperson to put the inscription “Jews will not replace us,” on a newly purchased confection. Later, at a debutant ball (how did he even get in there?) Borat and his daughter perform something of an Eastern Bloc jig with the daughter’s dress unfurling for a visible jaw dropper among the well-heeled upper crust. Getting closer to his mark, Borat takes the stage at a right wing rally, crashes a Pence speech and dons Klan robes and a Trump costume. The real grabber is Tutar, dressed up and looking eerily like Ivanka Trump, interviewing Rudy Giuliani and ultimately coaxing him into a compromising situation that not only raises eyebrows and questions of ethnics, but likely will fry what’s left of the former New York City mayor’s reputation.

The film was shot during the spring and summer as Covid raged across the country – Giuliani at one point says Trump saved a million lives because the Democrats would never have acted. Throughout the course of the film, use of masks increase and the disease quietly and slowly becomes a key player. The reveals of a divided America hopefully are nothing new to viewers, but the comic reframing is a healthy reminder with the election on tap. The real revelation here is Bakalova as Borat’s daughter, seamless in her audacious pranking. With Baron Cohen there’s always a puckish nod and wink in his eye; with Bakalova, it’s smooth and natural, with nothing contrived. As a result, the darkness of the candid camera moments is deeper and more visceral. “Subsequent Moviefilm” pokes us all in the eyes and exposes us to a new talent.

Wheel Good People

3 Sep

Wheel good people: Riders can see solutions from astride bicycle seats, and really deliver

By Tom Meek

The Agassiz Baldwin Community’s Phoebe Sinclair talks Friday with volunteer riders in the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program. (Photo: Raina Fox)

Efforts to address challenges such as Covid-19 and racial division and to better the community are zooming along on two wheels, undeterred by the death of bicyclist Darryl Willis in Harvard Square on Aug. 18. One effort, the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program, was set up at the onset of the pandemic to address the needs of at-risk elders and others with limited means; another, the Cambridge Bike Give Back Program, was launched in response to George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on Memorial Day and subsequent Black Lives Matter activities.

The Cambridge Bike Delivery concept grew organically among members of the Cambridge Bike Safety Group – an amalgam of local cyclists without any real hierarchy, assembled with the mission of advocating for safe streets in Cambridge – to make home deliveries of meds and groceries to seniors from Skenderian Apothecary, Inman Pharmacy, Pemberton Farms Marketplace and other stores without a delivery services. The logistics “proved to be tougher than anticipated,” organizer Rebecca Neuman said. “We had over 300 cyclists, but it was hard to line people up on dates and times.” Outreach to the elderly became something of a challenge as well, and the effort waned. But Neuman struck up conversations with staff at the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center and Margaret Fuller House, in The Port neighborhood. The Margaret Fuller House runs its own food pantry program, while the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center has just become an outpost for the Cambridge Community Center food pantry. Both programs needed volunteers to deliver food to the vulnerable, so Neuman set up a signup portal to coordinate riders with deliveries on the days the food pantries got shipments.

A rider sets out Aug. 25 with a delivery for the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program. (Photo: Tom Meek)

For each provider there are a dozen to several dozen deliveries on any given pantry day, coming three to four times a week. Neuman, who puts in a few hours each week to keep it all flowing, tries to keep the matches surgical and lean. The loads for the Margaret Fuller House are about 10 to 20 pounds of vegetables per delivery, bulky and heavy loads for which most riders employ a tagalong trailer or large food delivery bag, coordinator and director of finance and operations Cory Haynes said. The hauls from Cambridge Community Services range from frozen foods to baby diapers; one delivery rider recalled having to deliver an ice cream cake during high, humid 80-degree weather.

For the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center and Margaret Fuller House, the venture has been a natural and helpful fit that should carry on post-coronavirus, and Neuman is looking for other ways to use the volunteer army of riders – possibly reenabling curbside composting, which was suspended by the city during the coronavirus lockdown. (Though the mention of odor and stench trailing behind a hard-pedaling cyclist had Neuman and Haynes scrunching up their noses over a Zoom call.)

Bike Give Back

Lonnell Wells, right, put together his Cambridge Bike Give Back program after consulting with friends in the community. (Photo: Lonnell Wells)

The Cambridge Bike Give Back program was started just over a month ago by Lonnell Wells and a collection of friends he calls his “community.” Wells, distraught after Floyd’s murder, looked inward and talked deeply with them about what could be done to fix the country. The giveback program is “Plan B,” Wells said – “something to do for the kid who doesn’t have the bike to ride with their friends, the ex-con who just got a job who doesn’t have the money to ride the T, and a way for people to exercise when you can’t go to the gym.” The process is simple: Wells has taken to social media to ask for “broken old bikes” that he and his team piece together and give to those in need; jubilant photos from pickups and drop-offs are easy to find on social media. At the time of our sit-down, Wells estimated the program had collected more than 30 broken bikes and given back 17.

Wells grew up in The Port – “Area 4,” as he still fondly calls it – and graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, but now lives in Chelsea, has a 10-year-old son and works as a chef at Boston University. He refers to his post-work scavenging expeditions to gather bike carcasses as “demon time.” For the bike assemblies, Wells host parties, for which he does what he does: cooks. Partial to Southern food, Wells likes to make collard greens and sticky chicken, which is thrown back in the skillet with hot sauce just before serving.

Wells did not go into details about Plan A. “Not enough time,” he said at our meeting. But he expressed gratitude to the bike community at large, which he described as supportive of his project. Bike groups are also active in Black Lives Matter organizing: There have been three 800-person Ride for Black Lives through Greater Boston, organized in part by Crimson BikesBoston Bike PartyBikes Not Bombs and Spoke House, at a time organizers would not risk more casual rides. U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley kicked off the ride this past Sunday; there are also weekly MIT-to-Arlington Black Lives Matter rides on Sundays.

The project and scope of the Give Back venture is sure to grow. On Sunday, the program hosts a barbecue at Greene-Rose Heritage Park on Harvard Street near the Fletcher Maynard School. The flyer lists family-friendly scavenger hunts, voter registration and free food.

Represent

14 Aug

‘Represent’: Embedded with three campaigns, women from all over the hard-to-navigate map

By Tom Meek


Another politically themed doc this week (along with “Boys State”), “Represent” looks at women running for political office in the Midwest. Under the observance of Hillary Bachelder’s lens, Myya Jones, a 22-year-old, tries to spark a youth movement by running for mayor of Detroit; Bryn Bird, a farmer and working mother in small town Ohio, seeks a township trustee post; while Julie Cho, a Korean immigrant, runs as a Republican candidate for state representative in a liberal Chicago suburb. The timelines aren’t all that linear, but most interesting is Cho, who, ostensibly because she is not a typical GOP candidate (“rich, white male”) is abandoned by the party during her campaign but also takes veiled racial pokes (she’s in an interracial marriage) from the liberal opposition – “Why don’t you go run in the Korean neighborhood?” To which she notes to the camera that only the left gets away with that kind of racism these days. Her idealism to embed and change the party feels like the right quest, but lack of support and the attacks she faces on the trail take their toll. Her frustration and weariness are palpable, and yet she remarkably soldiers on. We catch up with Bird already in office and making policy, some of which is not popular, and in one telling scene she remarks on how one of her jobs affects the other when formerly loyal customers, rankled by her policies and communal decisions, walk by her stand at a farmers market without a hello. What’s remarkable about Bachelder’s doc is the degree of access and trust she gains from her subjects. You could call it “Girls State: The Real World Edition.”

“Represent” shows as part of the the Brattle Theatre’s Virtual Screening Room.

Boys State

14 Aug

‘Boys State’: Re-creating America in miniature, dominated by right whites (then comes a twist)

By Tom Meek

Directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’ immersion into the Girls and Boys State mock political programs, which have for decades turned out leaders of tomorrow such as Bill Clinton, Ann Richards and Dick Cheney, is both an eye-opener and a reason for pause. For “Boys State” the documentarians embedded in 2017 with the Texas chapter, where 1,100 17-year-olds assemble for a fortnight in the capital, divide into two parties (Nationalist and Federalists), develop platforms and elect a governor – the highest official rank to be reached, and the final act of the educational event sponsored by the American Legion.

Sounds pretty wholesome and promising, right? And it is, on one hand (the passion for politics and democracy, a clear win), but at times the hooting, testosterone-amped crowd of mostly white lads (“I’ve never seen so many white people ever,” one African American attendee reflects) eerily calls to mind the tiki torch marchers in Charlottesville. The agendas too feel skewed to the right – pro-gun, pro-life (“if there’s a rape, we don’t punish the child, we find the rapist and castrate him!”) and “back the blue.” Given the lack of color, it’s refreshing to see a son of undocumented parents rise to run for governor, bolstered by a somber, reflective approach rather than shouted platitudes such as “freedom!” and “a vote for me is a vote for all!” The use of Instagram and other social media is impressive, though it’s often mean, personal and racist. Drinking in “Boys State” instills a sense of hope, and dread. It’s a slice of America if lived on a landlocked “Lord of the Flies” isle, where you know boys will be boys.

A Most Beautiful Thing

29 Jul

Pulling together: Boston filmmaker tells story of first Black rowing team

Boston filmmaker Mary Mazzio’s documentary “A Most Beautiful Thing,” which recounts the travails of the first Black high school crew team in the country, was supposed to open in theaters back in March but the COVID-19 swell altered that and still holds a lingering effect on the film’s release. AMC, the theater chain that Mazzio has an arrangement with, has yet to get back up and running and so Mazzio, with her finger on the pulse of social issues and more topographically, in light of the George Floyd slaying and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, is pushing ahead with the film’s release on Xfinity Friday, July 31, and releasing on other major streaming platforms at staggered future dates — Sept. 1 on Peacock and Oct. 14 on Amazon Prime.

Mazzio, a former Olympic rower, notched her unique arrangement with AMC when the theater was exploring means to address complaints that most films exhibited carried unflattering stereotypes of people of color and underrepresented communities, and as a result was actively seeking more positive and aspirational material. “Positively diverse,” is how Mazzio said (then) CEO Gerry Lopez described it. It was a natural fit as AMC snapped up several of Mazzio projects like “Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon” (2009) that detailed a business plan competition with teen entrants from high-crime, inner city communities like Harlem, Compton, Chicago and Baltimore, and “Underwater Dreams” (2014), which chronicled teens of undocumented parents who come together and go head-to-head against MIT in an underwater robotics competition.

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Da 5 Bloods

12 Jun
blood

 

Spike Lee’s latest, “Da 5 Bloods,” was supposed to get a theatrical release, but Covid-19 has changed the rulebook. Lee was also supposed to be a jury member at the Cannes Film Festival last month, but that’s postponed to 2021.

The gorgeously composed film, something of a Vietnam War reconciliation project, is a hot hodgepodge of socially conscious branding wrapped around a treasure quest thriller adorned with reappropriated cultural icons – namely Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” which crops up from time to time, most obviously in the form of a disco four of the five titular “bloods” visit upon their return to the country where they fought some 40 years earlier. “Da 5 Bloods” starts out with some archival imagery of the poetically loquacious Muhammad Ali, politically active blacks taking to the street and iconic clips of savagery from the Vietnam War with voiceover telling us that African Americans make up 11 percent of the population but made up 33 percent of the fighting force, posing the question: “Will history stop repeating itself?”

The “bloods” in question were part of an Army squad, and have reunited to return to ’Nam to gather the remains of a fifth blood (Chadwick Boseman, “Black Panther”) who was killed in action. They know loosely where his body is, as well as a hefty stash of gold bricks. Of the returning four, Delroy Lindo’s Paul stands out the most: He’s a Trump supporter (Lee and Lindo vociferously oppose Trump and his policies, but that’s kind of the point), wears a red MAGA cap throughout and has a prickly relationship with his son David (Jonathan Majors), who’s in tow. What ensues is a strange olio of “Grumpy Old Men” gone up river “Apocalypse Now” style before straying into “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” territory as the loot is also sought by a French opportunist (Jean Reno, “Le Femme Nikita” and “The Professional”) and a faction of Vietnamese nationalists who want to settle an old score with the “bloods.” It’s a lot to unpack as Lee continues to stir in revisionist history and social barbs. It’s a compelling mess that’s almost too rich for its own good, and a better war film (postwar film?) than Lee’s 2008 “Miracle at St. Anna.” Somehow too, Paul Walter Hauser (Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and “Richard Jewell”) makes his way on scene and that MAGA hat, for better or worse, takes on its own persona.

It’s amazing to realize that Lee won his first Oscar only last year, for the “BlacKkKlansman” screenplay. He’s made a lot of films in his time, and not all have stuck their landing; but as a filmmaker, Lee’s always been a risk taker, and one with something to say. At the end of “BlacKkKlansman” Lee stitched in footage of the violent Proud Boy tiki march in Charlottesville; here there’s a “Black Lives Matter” chant with a hopeful flourish. (Lee also just completed the short “3 Brothers: Radio Raheem, Eric Garner and George Floyd,” which should require no explanation.) “Da 5 Bloods” may not be Lee’s finest film, but it comes at the right time.