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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shawn's Review of I Will Follow

Last week was my Birthday. And for a present I bought myself a copy of I Will Follow.  The movie was so great I had to write a review for it.

Ava DuVernay's I Will Follow is a breath of fresh air in a stale period of African-American cinema. I Will Follow is a beautifully crafted film that features multidimensional characters, beautiful cinematography and a thought-provoking plot. I haven't seen a Black film made with this level of quality in over a decade. This is one of the best films of 2011.

Salli Richardson-Whitfield gives one of her finest performances as Maye, the niece of Amanda, a background drummer for some of the most popular musicians of the70's and 80's. After taking a year off to care for her dying aunt, she has one day to pack up all the belongings in the home she shared with her and we watch as twelve strangers help her pack her belongings into a truck and help her move forward with her life.

I Will Follow is a great movie. It's rare that we get to see these slices of African-American life presented onscreen, a film where we see African-Americans as multidimensional people, expressing themselves as human beings, not like caricatures and stereotypes. This is the kind of story about Black life we hear about all the time, but it's rarely ever shown onscreen in the media. It's very rare that Black actors are given material of this quality and an opportunity to perform playing multidimensional characters like this in today's media. This is the kind of African-American film I want to see made, and if I made films this would be the kind of film I would make.

The screenwriting on this film is top notch. Many say DuVernay's story is slow, but I have no problem with the pacing of this movie. The storyline is very subtle and nuanced showing us those little things in life so many of us take for granted. It's the kind of story that can easily go over people's heads if they’re not paying attention.

I've always enjoyed Salli Richardson Whitfield's work. But she takes her craft to another level with her powerful performance in I Will Follow. Richardson effortlessly carries the film from fade in to fade out in her portrayal of Maye, a woman who has to hold it together in the face of so much. It's the little things in Richardson's performance that are great to watch in I Will Follow, the looks on her face, the way she carries herself with a quiet dignity, the way she conveys kindness and compassion as she handles a stressful situation. Richardson has great chemistry with every actor onscreen and makes us feel a connection to all the people who she interacts with throughout the day.

The supporting cast is also very strong. Beverly Todd gives a dignified and elegant performance as Amanda, a woman who wants to end her life on her own terms. Michole Briana White is very strong as Fran, the Daughter who had a strained relationship with her mother, but is angry about the close relationship Amanda had with Maye. You feel her jealousy and anger at Maye throughout her time onscreen. When she and Richardson are on screen there's intensity and tension. Dijon Halton is solid in his role as Raven, a good kid who sticks around to help Maye. I love the conversation he has with Maye about Nas and Jay-z; it's the kind of conversation people have in real life. Omari Hardwick is solid as a potential love interest for Maye and Blair Underwood gives one of his strongest performances in a small role as Maye’s former lover. There are so many great performances here, like the two Goodwill guys who add some humor and the Cancer Survivor who takes down the satellite dish adds some warmth and humanity. I wish I could mention everyone, because the entire cast does an amazing job of supporting this film.

I really appreciate this film and what it represents historically for Black Cinema. I Will Follow was independently financed and independently produced. More importantly, it was the first Black film independently distributed to theaters by a black distributor. Made for just $50,000 and shot in just six days I Will Follow looks like a film that cost over $40 million minimum. The cinematography on this film is beautiful with serene shots and powerful visuals that tell a strong story the viewer will never forget. DuVernay tells a great story with her camera, and her first film has me eager to see more of her work.
I Will Follow is a Shawn James Five Star Essential Video. I’m urging everyone to pick this DVD up today!

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