‘Gook’: Q&A with Ava Duvernay and why Independent Filmmaking and Representation Matters

A post shared by EnClave.LA (@enclave.la) on


by Tom Nguyen

The indie film ‘Gook’ by director/writer/actor Justin Chon (‘Twilight’) opens in LA theaters today, and has been highly talked about, not only for its provocative title. The story of two Korean-American siblings who own a store in a predominantly African American Los Angeles neighborhood, and the consequences of their friendship with a young black child during the first day of the LA riots, won the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT Audience Award and was acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Films for national release — a rarity for an independent film written, produced and directed by and starring folks from a minority community…but I’ll get into Hollywood’s diversity problem and Chon’s astute observations later.

The film shot in black and white follows one day in the life of a street-wise Eli (Justin Chon), intent on keeping his late father’s shoe store afloat, despite daily struggle in Paramount, a suburb next to Compton. His brother Daniel (a very funny David So of Youtube popularity) is more interested in aspirations of being a singer than helping Eli mind a store long past its better days. Kamilla (a brilliant 11-year-old Simone Baker making her debut), a young girl from the neighborhood, is the heart and soul of the movie, as an orphaned girl drawn to the store and the brothers, looking for more parental love and affection, than she receives at home from a sympathetic but absent older sister, Regina (Omono Okojie) and stern older brother, Keith (a very intense performance by Curtiss Cook Jr.).

The film is a humanizing, honest snapshot of complex race relations in a lower income Los Angeles neighborhood that isn’t often portrayed on screen. While the film starts out with what could have been tired cliches, like Eli’s multiple encounters with Latino gangsters or the racist Korean store owner across the street who pulls a gun on Kamilla, there’s a purpose to Chon’s depiction of the simmering racial tensions of this multi-ethnic community — the day happens to be the acquittal of white police officers in the Rodney King beating trial and as the riots start in nearby South Central, those tensions boil to the surface, with moral dilemmas and serious consequences for each character. Continue Reading →

Top Picks for Pan African Film & Arts Festival 2016 Feb. 4-15

paff
by Tom Nguyen

Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF), the largest, most prestigious Black film festival and largest Black History Month event in the US, is one of my most anticipated events of the year! The 24th annual event is February 4-15 at Cinemark/RAVE Cinemas 15 in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and features a staggering lineup of 150 films from around the world on Black life and culture.

PAFF co-founder, actor and activist Danny Glover recently criticized the Oscars and Hollywood for its lack of diversity. In a Variety interview, he remembers growing up in the 60s and 70s and being able to see great films from around the world in cinemas. “It would widen my whole sense of myself and my relationship to the rest of the world. That’s what the movies and art is supposed to be about!” Glover says and that’s been PAFF’s mission for over 2 decades: to showcase films from the Black diaspora from around the world that usually don’t get a chance to be watched by wider audiences.

The other half of this grand event is the large arts & crafts festival, featuring over 100 artists and vendors, showcasing fine art, crafts and fashion from around the world. So give your eyes a rest between films and head over to find great unique gifts and fashion. Support artisans and small businesses like Amaechina Doreen of ByouBnatural, who will be featuring her handcrafted Art Doll artwork and Wamuhu Waweru of Infinite Miss, featuring crafts and fashion from her travels to her native Kenya, South Africa and most recently Indonesia.

There are also special events and programs for everyone, including special screenings for children and seniors, a fashion show, community forums and talks. Don’t miss the special conversation with Nate Parker, whose film Birth of a Nation made recent headlines at its Sundance premiere and got acquired by Fox Searchlight.

So without further ado, here are my film recommendations (and yes I really do make an effort to see 20-30 films every year here!)…let the film marathon begin! Hope to see you there and let us know what you think of this year’s films and festival, using #PAFFNow on Twitter and Instagram!

Dramatic Features

Narrative films including the opening and closing films of PAFF. I’m really impressed with the films from South Africa this year!

America Is Still The Place (LA premiere): PAFF’s opening film is based on the real life story about a giant oil spill on the beaches of northern California and the institutional racism that Charlie Walker has to overcome in order to finally achieve the “American Dream.”

Miles Ahead: The PAFF closing film is about legendary Miles Davis, portrayed, written and directed by Don Cheadle.

Continue Reading →