Gina Prince-Bythewood on Cast, Action and Camera in THE WOMAN KING – Leslie Combemale interviews

With the new historical epic The Woman King, Gina Prince-Bythewood has added yet another winner to her impressive filmography. Based on historical events, the film is centered on a cast of Black women portraying members of the Agojie, a legion of female warriors who protected the Kingdom of Dahomey (now part of Benin) in 1800s Africa. Full of action, the performers in The Woman King do nearly all their own stunts, and every actor portraying a member of the Agojie plays a powerful, fully-formed, three dimensional character. Prince-Bythewood chats about her cast, her collaborators above and below the line, and how The Woman King has changed her as a director.

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Terilyn Shropshire on Gina Prince-Bythewood, Evolutional Editing and THE WOMAN KING – Leslie Combemale interviews

Terilyn Shropshire has been building a career as a film and television editor in Hollywood for over 30 years, working with some of the best directors in the business. Her ongoing collaboration with Gina Prince-Bythewood began in 2000 with the director’s now classic Love and Basketball. Now Shropshire is in the spotlight for her work with Prince-Bythewood on the new and critically acclaimed release The Woman King. AWFJ.org’s Leslie Combems;le spoke with Shropshire about her process, and the joy of a project that highlights powerful Black women in a positive and dynamic way never done before onscreen.

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CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY (TIFF 2022)- Review by Leslie Combemale

Catherine, Called Birdy goes beyond what those who might not have liked Lena Dunham’s other offerings might expect. It stays true to the spirit of Karwn Cushman’s book, what is now a YA classic, and still gives the film a life of its own, allowing the performers to bring each character to life. Sophie Okonedo is a particular standout as an older woman who has found a way to make peace with her lot, while finding independence and a bit of joy for herself. For spirited teen girls and those who love them, Catherine, Called Birdy will be a fascinating look at history as well as a cinematic affirmation of what girls have faced for centuries and continue to face to this day.

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SOMETHING YOU SAID LAST NIGHT (TIFF 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Trans writer/director Luis de Filippis’ Something You Said Last Night stars trans actor Carmen Madonia in her onscreen and feature film debut. The story, which is a very personal one to de Filippis, centers on twenty-something aspiring writer Ren (Madonia). Ren struggles with the balance between embracing comfort from her loving but overbearing parents, and stepping into her own independence and autonomy. It is a film with quiet assurance, filled with kindness, even in its most awkward moments. As such, and as a story devoid of tragedy or high drama around the trans experience, it is a welcome addition to queer cinema.

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THE BOOK OF DELIGHTS – Review by Leslie Combemale

The Book of Delights is based on a 1969 novel by renowned Ukrainian-born Brazilian author Clarice Lispector. It centers on the grief of elementary school teacher Lóri, and her sensual and complex relationship with a philosophy professor. Writer/co-screenwriter Marcela Lordy guides lead actor Simone Spoladore to a truly magnetic performance. Spoladore goes from the darkest place to the most joyful in the span of the film, bringing the audience with her.

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JANE – Review by Leslie Combemale

It’s not news that teenagers eat their own…that’s been the case since way before the internet. Now social media is aiding and abetting the most reptilian, judgmental, fear-mongering parts of all of our minds, and challenging those who’ve come up post-net in new ways we can’t even imagine. Society has yet to determine just how damaging and dangerous it all might be, but the new indie thriller Jane considers it from the perspective of one anxiety-ridden high school senior. If this film is any indication, we’re all in deep trouble.

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BACK TO THE DRIVE-IN – Review by Leslie Combemale

Back to the Drive-In is a love letter, a compassionate gift for a largely dying pastime and the intrepid, often bedraggled proprietors who have stuck with it, through all the ups and downs of the last few years. There are still drive-ins all across the country, and director April Wright goes to a number of them. Some are very successful, some on the verge of collapse, but all absolutely fascinating to see. So are the people that run them.

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BREAKING – Review by Leslie Combemale

Director Abi Damaris Corbin’s feature film Breaking, based on the true story of Marine war veteran Brian Easley and the series of events that left him at the brink of homelessness, leading him to walk into a Wells Fargo Bank in Atlanta, declare he had a bomb, and hold two women hostage for three hours. This tension-filled gut-wrenching tale unfolds with the intimacy of a chamber drama. It is as much an indictment of the Veterans Administration and its failure to support veterans, the lack of services for the mentally ill in this country, and the dangers of being a Black American, as it is a story of one man’s struggle and pain.

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LEARN TO SWIM – Review by Leslie Combemale

Director/co-writer Thyrone Tommy’s debut feature Learn to Swim is just the kind of languid, intense story of love and loss that demands to be watched during sweltering summer days. It follows sax player Dezi as he reflects on his relationship with Latina singer Selma. Questions build up. Why doesn’t Dezi play anymore? Why won’t he get his infected tooth taken care of, instead of worrying it like he deserves the pain it’s giving him? Flashbacks to a year before when he was with Selma allow the viewers to slip into Dezi’s memories with him, experiencing the arc of a love that has left him bereft and hopeless.

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THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON – Review by Leslie Combemale

Purcell’s story takes the Australian romantic myth of frontier freedom and egalitarianism for all, and blows it to smithereens, giving audiences a bleak look into the challenges for indigenous people and women of the time. She is also up to the task as a performer to make Molly, a powerful, stoic survivor, completely believable, and her character someone for whom the audience wishes more than just suffering and survival. Molly is the ultimate mother archetype, and as such arouses our deepest feelings of empathy and compassion.

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