REVIEW: SpringFest

This past week marked the annual SpringFest capstone event hosted by MUSIC Matters. Founded in 2011, MUSIC Matters purpose is to “utilize the power of music to unite the Michigan community and promote educational accessibility.” The organization spends the entire year hosting various events on and off campus to promote music and create cohesion amongst students. SpringFest is their culminating project that attracts an audience of 10,000 people for their daytime and nighttime events.


This year, the Daytime festival took over State St. and North U., hosting over 80 student organizations, 7 food truck vendors, live performances, and various pop-up shops. One of the newest additions to this year’s Daytime festival was hosting Ann Arbor artisans. Traditionally, corporate sponsors were invited to have pop-up shops but this year focused on inviting smaller companies and student sellers. Aside from this addition, the festival included live dance and music performances from student organizations such as Maize Mirchi, the Men’s Glee Club, and FunKtion. Another component of the festival that I personally enjoyed was the presence of various orgs that promote health, wellness, and sustainability. There were interactive events for yoga, sustainable food practices, and CAPS even had representatives from their CAPS In Action student committee. It was really inspiring to see so many talented, ambitious, and creative students showcasing their work and talent to the campus community.


Following the immersive Daytime festivities is (what I believe to be the more known of the two) the Nighttime Concert. Since 2012, MUSIC Matters has hosted artists Common, J. Cole, 2 Chainz, Migos, and Lil Yachty in Hill Auditorium. As a junior who is also a big fan of well-known hip-hop artists, this was surprisingly my first time ever attending. This year’s headliner was A$AP Ferg, otherwise known as a member of A$AP Mob. Amongst some of Ferg’s most popular songs are Plain Jane, Shabba, New Level, and Work REMIX. His opening acts consisted of two DJs and two performance groups.


The first DJ was Jeff Basta. Had it not been for him being the DJ to play as people were still entering the auditorium, I think he could have gotten a lot more energy out of the audience. I really enjoyed his music choice and his energy while playing was admirable considering not many others were entertained/paying attention. The second DJ was Namix who served as a transition for the first opening act — Tracy Money (IG: prodbytracy). “TracyGang #333” is a group of three current and former U-M students who go by the names of $cottie Pimpin’, Fatz, and Tracy D. Although this was not my first time seeing them perform, this was my first time seeing them own the stage in a large auditorium. Their performance got the crowd on their feet and ready for the night.


Following Tracy Money was B Free from Detroit. I could be biased, but my personal preference for style, originality, and overall entertainment purposes would choose Tracy Money over B Free’s performance. Nonetheless, both performances were a well-needed segway into opening for A$AP Ferg.


Ferg was full of energy and was an authentic performer. You could sense his desire to be just as engaged with the audience as we were with him. However, this desire quickly led to some shockingly inappropriate comments on his behalf targeted at several women in the audience. I think it’s reasonable for a performer to want to feel more connected with the audience and interact with them but to single specific women out and express sexual desires in front of everyone, into the microphone, was embarrassing and disgusting. The remainder of the concert left me feeling odd and distraught as I was stuck questioning “Did he really just say that”?? Carrying on, he performed all of my favorite songs and it was a fun concert. I’m certain that this will be remembered as one of my favorite undergraduate experiences, despite the belittling comments that put a damper on my overall impression.

Photos courtesy of IG:

REVIEW: Value the Voice

Hosted by the Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP) and the Department of African American Studies (DAAS), Value the Voice is a storytelling speaker series. This month, the series concluded with its fourth installment of this academic year, being its eighth installment overall since its beginning. The theme of this installment was “The Shoulders of Giants.” Hosted in the UMMA Auditorium, the vibe for the night already felt intimate and welcoming. Before introducing the speakers, there were a few ground rules that the audience was encouraged to recite after the MC: Love, Support, Encouragement. I really appreciated this introduction for the speakers given that for some of them, this is their first time sharing their personal story and for most, this was their first time sharing their story on stage in front of an audience. Each speaker spoke for approximately 10 minutes each, with there being five speakers in total.


The first speaker, Kristin, was a freshman (!) whose “giant” was her mother. Kristin told such a beautiful story of her relationship with her mother, while also alluding to some frustrations, confusion, and anger along the way. What I liked most about Kristin’s story is that it was so thoughtful, mature, and accommodating. Kristin’s story was an exemplary reflection on living life with loved ones who are suffering from mental illness(es). Throughout her story, she was honest in the pain that she must have felt but ultimately, she was so considerate of her mother and her hardships. What I gathered from this story was that it takes a lot of patience and understanding in these situations but most importantly, it’s not always about you. The reality behind having loved ones suffering from mental illness is that no matter how bad you think it affects you and your relationship, often times, it’s hardest on the carrier.


The second speaker, Elizabeth, was a senior whose “giant” was her grandfather. Elizabeth began her story explaining what it’s like to be from a family of immigrants and a 2nd generation American. Elizabeth’s story was especially insightful and gives me the impression that she has a keen attention to details. She told a story about a simple routine of making coffee for her grandfather every day after school and transformed it into a life lesson that she continues to carry with her. The moral of her story was about not losing your focus. As a fellow college student, this really resonated with me. This environment can easily become overwhelming and not just with academics but with your social and personal life as you’re constantly being pulled in so many different directions.


The next speaker, Vivian, is a graduating senior. She spoke about the importance of finding your own niche here on campus. Eventually, she shared that two of her family members had passed within one year of each other. I really enjoyed Vivian’s story because her energy was so genuine and calm. I shared the sentiment of praising God under all circumstances in your life. Vivian concluded her story by ensuring the audience with “Keep going y’all. It gets better eventually.”


Following Vivian was Phancie, who is also a senior. Phancie’s story was a tearjerker, to say the least. She began by introducing four different individuals in her life who she considered to be her “giants.” For each person, she assigned the following words to describe them, respectively: Personality, Generosity, Determination, and Love. My takeaway from her story was that “Love is a choice.”


The last speaker was Ms. James, who is a Program Associate for DAAS. Her story was about a faculty member who looked over her during her time at the University and presumably was her mentor. She shared with us three key points of advice: 1) Treat others the way you want to be treated, 2) Life is easier when you use humor, and 3) Live your life with integrity. However, one of the more impressionable statements was from her mentor who told her “You did not come to this University to win an Olympic Gold Medal. So why are you running around?” That really stuck with me because many times, I have to remind myself to slow down, take my time, and trust that everything will get done someway/somehow without having to exhaust myself at the benefit of others.


Value the Voice is an intimate safe space for students to share their stories and be heard. As an audience member and a fellow CSP Scholar, I felt at home in their welcoming presence. I was able to feel my emotions as I listened and reflected on the stories being told.

REVIEW: Ubuntu

This year was the African Student Association’s 21st Annual Culture Show. Typically held at the Crisler Center, this year’s show was performed in the Michigan Theater. This year’s theme was Ubuntu, which loosely translates to “I am because we are” in the Zulu language of Southern Africa. The program was neatly organized by four different categories beginning with: Society, Community, Family, and Individual.


The first act performed during the Society category was a fashion show. I was a bit shocked that after only twenty minutes of this fashion show, a fifteen-minute intermission followed immediately after. Resuming from intermission was the Community category. This included a short performance by the Michigan Gospel Chorale, a second fashion show, then a performance by Bichini Bia Congo. Bichini Bia Congo is a performance group based in Ann Arbor whose mission is to make audiences aware of the African culture (more specifically, Congolese). Although this was my first time attending ASA’s culture show, it appears that the Bichini Bia Congo group normally performs with them each year. Their performance was by far my favorite act of the show and I wished that it were longer. According to Bichini Bia Congo, “African traditions are communicated through dance, music, song, and drum.” Prior to attending ASA’s show, this is much of what I was expecting — lively dancing, boisterous drumming, native music and songs, immaculate cultural attire. And to be honest, much of the show did not live up to this expectation, with the exception of the small insert done by the Bichini Bia Congo group which was composed of one male drummer and two female dancers.


The third part of the show, Family, was again, another fashion show and Amala. Amala embodied a more lively performance, which I, and the rest of the audience, seemed to be quite excited about. This entailed continuous dance routines while the dancers all wore coordinated outfits. The final part of the show focused on the Individual. There was yet again, another fashion show…followed by a spoken word performance and closed out by two songs performed live by “Mind of Asante.”


Relative to other student cultural shows, I’d say that this show was on a much smaller scale. The audience turnout was slightly underwhelming, the duration of the show was surprisingly short, and the depth of the performances was much less than what I expected. Despite this judgment, student-run culture shows deserve a high level of respect. There is a considerable amount of time spent by full-time students planning, practicing, and preparing to put on a full show for friends and family to see and that is commendable nonetheless.


REVIEW: Green Book

“Traveling while black,” a guide that outlined restaurants, motels, and other establishments that were accepting of black people traveling in the south during the 1960s. In a time of legal discrimination, “Green Book” was a handbook that blacks used for their mere protection and safety due to the color of their skin. Based on a true story, Green Book is a film that takes the audience on a journey as an Italian-American male and African-American male spend two months time together on the road to the deep south and back. Directed by Peter Farrelly, Green Book embarks the true story of a world-class pianist and his personal identity crisis while co-existing in America during an extremely isolating time.


Dr. Don Shirley, played by Moonlight star Mahershala Ali, has set out to go on a two-month tour, performing world-class compositions for wealthy, white Americans. To aid in this tour, Dr. Shirley hires a chauffeur, but more so a personal bodyguard. Word around town is that Tony Vallelonga (played by Viggo Mortensen) is the best man for this job. Currently a laid-off bouncer at The Copacabana Nightclub, Tony is well-known in his hometown in the Bronx as “Tony Lip.” This reputation is something he is proud of — for he is acknowledged for his cunning way of finessing people with his swift words and persuasion. Tony’s character is highly unadmirable and Farrelly makes us aware of this. It’s clear that Tony is racist, a thief, a liar, he’s violent, and ultimately is an ill-mannered mess (countless scenes of him sloppily eating, smoking, or both simultaneously). Despite these characteristics, the film spins these into the attributes of someone who is laid-back, carefree, obedient by any means necessary, and a humorous family man. Because of this angle, the audience is forced to want to support Tony throughout his adventure with Dr. Shirley. Contrastingly enough, Dr. Shirley is presented as the complete opposite in every way imaginable. He has no family, he’s extremely uptight, and lives in a bougie apartment above Carnegie Hall full of authentic and eclectic design. His vernacular is top-notch, his intellect is unmatched, his poise and mannerisms are highly distinguished, and his patience is extremely thin for someone like Tony.


Considering these dynamics, it’s rather easy to predict the elements of the film. Interestingly enough, the majority of conflicts and emotions came from the interactions between these two characters, rather than the political/racial climate while they were traveling. This makes it difficult to fully identify what one may actually be satisfied with after watching the film. In some ways, there could have been much more emphasis on the actual happenings of discrimination. Furthermore, this inevitably presents a huge obstacle from steering away from the typical white savior perspective. In this regard, it’s hard to ignore Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. In many ways, Green Book relates to this film with its Italian-American vs African American conflicts. There is a strong tension led by stereotypes and grossly identified misunderstandings. Another theme that revealed from both of these films was the hierarchy of oppression — both of these races countering each other with respective struggles and biases that they face. However, Green Book introduces the topic of the hierarchical class structure. Tony demands that he’s more black than Dr. Shirley because of his lifetime upbringing in the Bronx, where he is a working-class man for his family and enjoys the typical “black foods,” while frowning upon the luxuries that Dr. Shirley has earned.


Green Book is an emotional journey more than anything. Throughout its bursts of anger, it’s complemented with spouts of joy. Where it may be full of tears, it’s backed by minutes spent laughing hysterically. This film attempts to tackle a challenging topic, so much so that it could have been more aggressive in recognizing that many of these problems still exist as we near the year of 2019. There were scenes of white saviourship orchestrated by Tony as his personal bodyguard but it’s almost unreasonable to have expected anything less. One may leave this film feeling slightly incomplete with the unravelings of Dr. Shirley’s personality and identity crises. Overall, Green Book is a compelling story about friendship and the tenacious mindset that “Genius cannot change people. It takes courage to change people’s hearts.”


REVIEW: Wildlife

From my initial viewing of the Wildlife trailer, I knew there were some major pieces being left out. I felt deprived of having any real sense of what the movie would entail, let alone carry an impression of what to expect. The trailer was rather reserved and too undeserving of what I knew this movie was capable of. I decided to see this film to test my intuition. To my surprise, this film was what I would call “messy.” Messy as in, countless rounds of drama and unexpected events. This film undoubtedly had a punch to it, something that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.


Wildlife is adapted from a novel by Richard Ford and takes place in 1960 in a small, lonely town in Montana. From the beginning, we’re made to believe that they are living in a typical, happy life that is contained within a small town. It seems to be a cheesy story revolving a father who is a pro golfer, a submissive housewife, and a young teenage boy who appears to be naive to family happiness. Though, it did not take Dano (Director) long to submerge this fake sense of family solidarity. Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job, from what he believes is due to him being “too well-liked” and “too personable”. This immediately gives an insight of Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Joe’s (Ed Oxenbould) passive reservations toward their father’s job insecurity leading to multiple reallocations. To make matters worse, Jerry is offered his job back, but he declines, for he “will not work for people like that.” To step up, Jeanette suggests that she go back to work to support the family, but without throwing it in Jerry’s face in such a way that would threaten his manhood. Even little Joe chimed in to suggest picking up a part-time job after school. Despite Jerry’s negativity toward receiving extra help, he decides to take a job for $1.00/hour fighting forest fires up north. Not only is this life-threatening and under-compensating for such, but he would be leaving Jeanette and Joe to fend for themselves back at home.


This news was the snapping point of Jeanette. Throughout her anger and frustration, it seemed like she was being portrayed as an unstable woman unsure of her wants. To emphasize this perspective, the film is actually told by Joe’s point-of-view. This leads to even more confusion of feelings that are expressed by the adults in question. Jeanette puts Joe in countless uncomfortable situations. He’s immediately told that his father must be cheating on his mother. Jeanette’s explanation to Joe is: “Why do you think men do things? They’re either crazy or it’s a woman. Or both.” From Joe’s point-of-view, the audience is indulged into this divided realm between the parents, and where that leaves Joe to figure things out on his own. Out of spite (and for financial security), Jeanette turns to one of her swimming students, Warren Miller, for more reasons that she is able to articulate. To make everything even more complex and uneasy for Joe, Jeanette becomes nothing more than a drunk, submissive woman during dinner at Mr. Miller’s house. All of which was witnessed by Joe, followed by another sensual evening spent in their own home.


For this story to have taken place in 1960, it’s extremely important to note the film’s stance on feminism and coming-of-age. The underlying of this film is simply put: a damaged family falling victim to the failures of the provider, a young teen who is forced to step up and see the undesirable truth, and an (arguably) uncertain woman who doesn’t need a man to complete her. Interestingly enough, in 1963, The Feminine Mystique was published by Betty Friedan. This book is highly credited for its contributions to sparking the second wave of feminism in the United States. Friedan focuses on explaining the way women behave in the US society. She argued that the preconceptions of domestic womanhood consequently led to identity crises for American women, much of what was seen from Jeanette in Wildlife.


REVIEW: Boy Erased

The leaves have fallen, snowfall has commenced, and the best time of the year has finally arrived — the “sweet spot” for Oscar contenders. October through December have proven to be the most influential months to release the greatest Oscar-nominated films. With each year, it seems that more films are becoming more diverse and inclusive whether it be seen through its cast, its creative team, or its storyline. Since Moonlight’s monumental success in 2016, we’ve also seen Call Me by Your Name in 2017 and for 2018, it appears that the next biggest contender will be Boy Erased. Not only does Boy Erased put LGBTQ at the forefront, but it also attempts to address a challenging topic.


Boy Erased is a film based on Garrard Conley’s memoir. It tells the story of a teenage boy whose religious-bearing parents enroll him in a conversion therapy camp. Throughout the film, we see minimal glimpses of Jared Eamon’s past. In a rather typical nature, Jared portrays a generalized heterosexual lifestyle as a high schooler. He plays on the basketball team, has a cheerleader girlfriend, and is encouraged to spend time at his girlfriend’s house to avoid freezing up “when the time actually comes.” In a relatively understated scene, we get the first glimpse into Jared’s uncertainty and battle with his sexuality where he swiftly rejects his girlfriend’s sexual attempts and counters it with his religious morals.


During Jared’s college career, it is apparent of his crush on a peer who he frequently spends time with outside of class. However, this relationship led to a painful and terribly disturbing sexual assault scene. Following Jared’s assault, his assaulter, Henry, falsely claimed to be a school counselor as he called Jared’s mother to inform her of his “behavior.” When confronted of his sexuality by his parents, Jared initially declines then later returns to confess that he is indeed gay. In a firm tone, Jared’s father asks him if he wants to change, which Jared responds with compliance and the desire to change.


Marshall (Jared’s father), a Baptist minister, insists on enrolling Jared in a conversion therapy program. Upon his arrival at the camp, it seemed like he was arriving for a jail sentence. All of his belongings were taken, stored away in a cabinet, and informed that notebooks, phones, etc. would be monitored. In a typical motherly fashion, Nancy expressed some uncertainty and discomfort with dropping her son off. Jared initially accepts the principles of the “Love in Action” program conducted by former LIA participants. The program utilizes Christian principles to define their sexuality as a sin that they willingly chose to make. Through various activities, Jared quickly acknowledges that these exercises are nothing short of psychological and physical abuse.


Aside from the societal (and even political) significance of this film, it suffered most from its cinematic elements or lack thereof. The entire film was centered solely between Jared and his parents, Nancy and Marshall. They were presented as a wholesome, loving family. Throughout the film, it is evident that Jared has had a decent upbringing where he expresses his understanding of moral beliefs. Furthermore, it seems that his parents are presented as fairly innocent throughout — as in, they deeply love their son, but his “choice” is simply against their beliefs and is not to be accepted. My only caveat to this was in what I found to be the most powerful scene throughout the entire film. Following Jared’s dramatic exit from the camp, we watched a raw scene between Jared and his mother. Played by the skillful Nicole Kidman, the dialogue was extremely moving and emotional as she spoke with regret on sending him to the camp and explained her intuitions of a mother.


For this film to have tackled such a sensitive topic, it lacked the power of evoking emotion, especially where it had the most potential. Many scenes that felt important were presented in such a way that you knew they were intended to progress the story but did not punch the audience as it could have. Moreover, the film also failed to capitalize on its supporting characters. Since so much emphasis was placed on Jared and his parents, the purpose of other characters was confusing in retrospect. Consequently, when presented with extremely emotional instances from other characters, the audience could not empathize as much as we should have simply because the other characters weren’t given an adequate chance to be developed.


In conclusion, this film represented an important subject matter and was successful in that regard. However, its quality of filmmaking is what will hold this film back from being amongst the most competitive Oscar contenders that follow. Boy Erased is inevitably a heart-wrenching film to sit through but its relevant purpose should not be ignored.