Film Reviews

Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae Are That Annoying Couple in "The Lovebirds"

They can always find a reason to fight—but that's part of their charm

The opening sequence of Netflix's new romcom mystery, The Lovebirds, gives us glimpses of the first sparks of romance.

After a magical first date Jibran (Silicon Valley's Kumail Najiani) and Leilani (Insecure's Issa Rae) can't stop smiling, and they can't seem to leave each other's sides. But after a few moments of that early relationship bliss, we are transported four years into the future, when they are living together and have officially become that couple.

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Universal Pictures

The Photograph, starring Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield, is the date movie of choice for this holiday.

The Photograph follows Stanfield's Michael and Rae's Mae as they cross paths and look into the past of Mae's deceased mother. The affection grows between them while they unlock the mysteries of Mae's mother's life. It's not often you see two black leads in a romantic comedy, especially one with such an intriguing plot. So considering it's also Black History Month, what better time to look back at some of the best films that celebrate black love?

Love & Basketball

Love and Basketball New Line Cinema

Starring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps, Love & Basketball puts...well, basketball at the center of a love story. The plot tracks Monica and Quincy from the time when they're rowdy childhood friends all the way up until they're married with kids. The only thing they love more than the sport is each other, and their chemistry comes through on-screen. One of the great things about Love and Basketball is that it focuses on both characters' perspectives instead of just one, which is especially awesome considering black women rarely get the spotlight in mainstream media. It also introduced "I Want to Be Your Man" by Zapp to a new generation.

Poetic Justice

Poetic Justice Columbia Pictures

This film has become iconic because it features one of the greatest rappers and activists of all time––Tupac Shakur. Poetic Justice also came out at the height of Janet Jackson's popularity, so it's easy to understand why it's amassed such a cult following. The story sees Shakur and Jackson set out on a road trip of self-discovery with their friends in Southern California. The movie features poems written by the late Maya Angelou, performed by Jackson herself. Written and directed by John Singleton, Poetic Justice offers a softer, more romantic view into the lives of black people in the '90s, especially compared to Singleton's biggest classic, Boyz in the Hood. Kendrick Lamar even wrote a song about it!

The Best Man

The Best Man Universal Pictures

The Best Man stands out for putting some of the best African American actors of the late '90s on-screen together––Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Monica Calhoun, and Regina Hall, to name a few. All in one movie, all black royalty. The movie was released in 1999 and received nine nominations at the 2000 NAACP Image Awards. The plot follows Digg's character, Harper, as he travels to New York for one of his college friend's wedding. Romance, comedy, and drama ensue once the college friends reunite. There's even a sequel, The Best Man Holiday, that was released in 2013 with all of the original cast returning.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

How Stella Got Her Groove Back 20th Century Fox

In 1998, How Stella Got Her Groove Back took the world by storm. Featuring the incredibly suave Taye Diggs attempting to woo everyone's favorite voodoo queen, Angela Bassett, no one had seen its stars together before, but their chemistry was electric. The story follows Bassett as she takes a break from her career as a successful stockbroker and goes on a vacation to Jamaica. There she meets Diggs as a mysterious but handsome native, who just so happens to be 20 years her junior. But if anyone could be capable of pulling someone that young, it would be Angela Bassett. How Stella Got Her Groove Back is a fun, sexy romp set on a beautiful island.

What are some of your favorite movies to watch to get in the Valentine's Day spirit?

CULTURE

Natalie Portman Had the Perfect Response to Rose McGowan's Criticism

Rose McGowan had harsh words for Natalie Portman this week, but Portman channeled the drama into a message of solidarity

Rose McGowan came at Natalie Portman hard on Wednesday, saying that her Oscar's dress was "deeply offensive."

The dress in question featured a Dior cape that had been specially embroidered with the names of prominent female directors who didn't receive nominations that many people feel they deserve. The names included Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim), and Lulu Wang (The Farewell).

Calling out the Academy for overlooking female talent has been a popular theme this year, from Issa Rae's "Congratulations to those men," while announcing the nominations, to Chris Rock and Steve Martin's onstage joke that there's something missing—va*inas. All of which could be seen as callbacks to Natalie Portman's 2018 comments at the Golden Globes, when she introduced the directing category by saying, "here are the all-male nominees."

Natalie Portman at the Golden Globes

But apparently this sort of "activism" does not exactly impress Rose McGowan—at least not on its own. It's understandable that McGowan—whose 2018 memoir Brave detailed her experiences of sexual assault at the hands of Harvey Weinstein and others—would have some strong opinions on how to fight back. She attributes the decline of her acting career to her efforts to resist Weinstein's attacks—after he (allegedly) raped her in a hotel room in 1997.

She also names several other women whom she claims were similarly punished and is working on a follow-up memoir, Trust, about learning to move forward. She has championed the #MeToo movement and made it her mission to change the toxic misogyny within Hollywood—that uses and abuses and discards talented young women. In that light, her problem with Portman's fashion choice was not so much with the cape itself, but with Portman failing to back up the sentiment in her professional life.

In a post on Facebook, McGowan made her point clear, accusing Portman of being "an actress acting the part of someone who cares." She decried the idea that members of the media would refer to such a superficial expression of solidarity as "bravery" and addressed Natalie directly, saying, "Natalie, you have worked with two female directors in your very long career-one of them was you. You have a production company that has hired exactly one female director- you… You are the problem. Lip service is the problem. Fake support of other women is the problem."

Rose McGowan Rankin

While McGowan's claim overlooked some shorts and anthology movies, others have noted that of the seven feature-length films that Portman's production company, Handsomecharlie, has been involved in, only Portman's own directorial debut, 2015's A Tale of Love and Darkness, was directed solely by a woman. That paints a pretty clear picture of a problem, and it would obviously be hard for Portman to deny it. Fortunately, she didn't. She didn't go on the attack or get defensive. She came out with a statement on Thursday striking a tone of hope and solidarity.

She started out by agreeing with much of McGowan's criticism, saying, "I agree with Ms. McGowan that it is inaccurate to call me 'brave' for wearing a garment with women's names on it. Brave is a term I more strongly associate with actions like those of the women who have been testifying against Harvey Weinstein the last few weeks, under incredible pressure." She then went on to acknowledge that she hasn't worked with as many female directors as she would like, while also calling out systemic issues that prevent female-helmed projects from getting made and taking the opportunity to name check a host of talented female directors who deserve more work:

"In my long career, I've only gotten the chance to work with female directors a few times—I've made shorts, commercials, music videos and features with Marya Cohen, Mira Nair, Rebecca Zlotowski, Anna Rose Holmer, Sofia Coppola, Shirin Neshat and myself. Unfortunately, the unmade films I have tried to make are a ghost history… I have had the experience a few times of helping get female directors hired on projects which they were then forced out of because of the conditions they faced at work… So I want to say, I have tried, and I will keep trying. While I have not yet been successful, I am hopeful that we are stepping into a new day."

Natalie Portman We Should All Be Feminists A pregnant Natalie Portman speaking at the Women's March 2017

While McGowan's anger is understandable, Portman handled the situation perfectly. She took the energy of that discontent and the criticism and channeled it toward opening the conversation to the larger issues that prevent female directors from getting work—issues that one small production company can only do so much to address. With luck maybe this conversation will begin to push Hollywood institutions to rethink the sexist calculus that robs so many talented women of work.