Recognizing The New Crop Of Black Talent From Summer ’15

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Recognizing The New Crop Of Black Talent From Summer ’15
by Wilson Morales

September 7, 2015

Straight Outta Compton The War Room

As Labor Day weekend closes out the summer, and major film festivals (Venice, Telluride and Toronto) jumpstart the Oscar season, I thought it would be nice to recognize the fresh faces that graced the big screen this summer.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Dope Unexpected

Can anyone recall a summer where so many new Black faces had shown up in theaters in the span of a few months, when summer runs from May through Labor Day weekend? Whether a film showcased a individual’s performance or an ensemble, all made their mark in one scene or another.

From blockbusters like Straight Outta Compton to critical favorites like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Dope and War Room, here’s a look at the crop of fresh Black talent that either made their debut in theaters or expanded their visual profile.

RJ Cyler in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

RJ Cyler

One of the critically acclaimed films that came out this summer was director Alphonso Gomez-Rejon’s feature debut, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which featured breakout performances from its cast (Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke). Earlier in the year, the film played at Sundance, where it won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and the Audience Award for U.S. Drama.

As Earl, Jacksonville, Florida, native Ronald Cyler II (nicknamed RJ), is the youngest of three boys but Cyler had always entertained in one way or another.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann, and RJ Cyler

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl tells the story of Greg (Thomas Mann), a high school senior who is trying to blend in anonymously, avoiding deeper relationships as a survival strategy for navigating the social minefield that is teenage life. He even describes his constant companion Earl (RJ Cyler), with whom he makes short film parodies of classic movies, as more of a ‘co-worker’ than a best friend. But when Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) insists he spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke) – a girl in his class who has just been diagnosed with cancer – he slowly discovers how worthwhile the true bonds of friendship can be.

The cast of Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope

dope-cast-director-producers-at-cannes-2015-billboard-650

Another film that played at Sundance was Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope, which won raves and showcased the talents of newcomers Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoe Kravitz, Rakim Mayers aka A$AP Rocky, Chanel Iman, Quincy Brown, Amin Joseph, Allen Maldonado, and rapper Tyga. Tony Revolori, who’s one of the leads of the film was widely praised for his performance in 2014’s Oscar nominated film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Dope cast at Sundance

Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a high school geek with a high-top fade, carefully navigating life in The Bottoms, one of the toughest neighborhoods in Inglewood, California. He and his fellow outcasts share a voracious appreciation for all things ’90s hip-hop, opting to sport Cross-Colours and Z. Cavariccis at the risk of being clowned at school. He dreams of attending Harvard, but first he has to make it home every day. When a drug dealer takes a shine to Malcolm and invites him to his birthday party, Malcolm’s crew (Tony Revolori as Jib and Kiersey Clemons as Diggy) is swirled into a hilarious blender of offbeat characters and bad choices where redemption can only be found in Bitcoin.

Jaz Sinclair and Justice Smith in Paper Towns

Jaz Sinclair and Justice Smith from Paper Towns

Among that cast from Paper Towns, which was adapted from the bestselling novel by author John Green (“The Fault in Our Stars”), were Justice Smith and Jaz Sinclair.

The film is a coming-of-age story centering on Quentin (Nat Wolff) and his enigmatic neighbor Margo (Cara Delevingne), who loved mysteries so much she became one. After taking him on an all-night adventure through their hometown, Margo suddenly disappears–leaving behind cryptic clues for Quentin to decipher. The search leads Quentin and his quick-witted friends (Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, and Jaz Sinclair) on an exhilarating adventure that is equal parts hilarious and moving. Ultimately, to track down Margo, Quentin must find a deeper understanding of true friendship–and true love.

The Cast from Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton 5 cast pic

With the exception of veteran actor Paul Giamatti, practically everyone else in this blockbuster hit from director F. Gary Gray was a fresh face on the big screen. Although the guys who played N.W.A. (O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Jason Mitchell as Easy-E, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella and Aldis Hodge as MC Ren) were the focal point, the supporting cast did a tremendous job as well. Marlon Yates Jr. as DOC, R. Marcus Taylor as Suge Knight, Carra Patterson as Tomica Woods, Eazy-E’s widow, and Alexandra Shipp as Kim Jackson, Ice Cube’s wife.

Straight Outta Compton Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcus Taylor, Carra Patterson, and Alexandra Shipp

Straight Outta Compton tells the story of five young men who translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. Following the meteoric rise and fall of N.W.A., “Straight Outta Compton” tells the astonishing story of how these youngsters revolutionized music and pop culture forever the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war.

Straight Outta Compton is the highest grossing music biopic domestically and in a few weeks will be the highest grossing film for a Black director.

Jasmine Cephas Jones in Mistress America

Jasmine Cephas Jones 2

Jasmine Cephas Jones made her big screen debut in Noah Baumbach’s latest film, Mistress America, a new comedy drama starring Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke,  

Tracy (Kirke) is a lonely college freshman in New York, having neither the exciting university experience nor the glamorous metropolitan lifestyle she envisioned. But when she is taken in by her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Gerwig) – a resident of Times Square and adventurous gal about town – she is rescued from her disappointment and seduced by Brooke’s alluringly mad schemes.

Mistress America - Jasmine Cephas Jones, Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke and Matthew Shear

Jones plays Nicolette, a fellow classmate of Tracy’s. Nicolette is not too fond that her boyfriend Tony (played by Matthew Shear) is spending too much time with Tracy.

Not only is Jones appearing in theaters with this film, but she’s currently featured in the hottest show on Broadway, “Hamilton.” As the daughter of actor Ron Cephas Jones, Jasmine is ready to make her mark in the entertainment world, on the big screen and on stage.

Gail Bean In Unexpected

Gail Bean 2

Chosen as one of The Hollywood Reporter’s top 10 “Festival Breakout” stars from Sundance this year, Gail Bean co-starred with Cobie Smulders in the indie film Unexpected, which former NBA player Chris Webber is an executive producer on the film.

Directed by Kris Swanberg, Samantha Abbott (Smulders) is a dedicated and passionate teacher at an inner-city Chicago high school. Just as she is coming to terms with her school closing, Samantha faces some life-changing and unexpected news: she is pregnant.

Unexpected 4 Cobie Smoulder and Gail Bean

After breaking the news to her live-in boyfriend John and opinionated mother, Samantha learns that one of her most promising students, Jasmine (Bean), has landed in a similar but very different situation. As the women navigate their ambitions for the future, Samantha and Jasmine forge an unlikely friendship that will challenge their perspectives and leave a lasting impact on one another.

T.C. Stallings, Karen Abercrombie, Alena Pitts in War Room

War Room 1

Just when everyone thought the summer would end with Straight Outta Compton taking a  fourth straight week at the box office, here came War Room, this faith-based film that defied the odds and claimed victory on its second weekend.

From the award-winning creators of Fireproof and Courageous comes WAR ROOM, a compelling drama with humor and heart that explores the power that prayer can have on marriages, parenting, careers, friendships, and every other area of our lives.

War Room posterTony and Elizabeth Jordan have it all-great jobs, a beautiful daughter, and their dream house. But appearances can be deceiving. Tony and Elizabeth Jordan’s world is actually crumbling under the strain of a failing marriage. While Tony basks in his professional success and flirts with temptation, Elizabeth resigns herself to increasing bitterness. But their lives take an unexpected turn when Elizabeth meets her newest client, Miss Clara, and is challenged to establish a “war room” and a battle plan of prayer for her family. As Elizabeth tries to fight for her family, Tony’s hidden struggles come to light. Tony must decide if he will make amends to his family and prove Miss Clara’s wisdom that victories don’t come by accident.


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