The Apollo - Documentary

by Kathia Woods

Black Theaters saved lives and preserved our culture. No Theater did that more than the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The Apollo tells the history of this American landmark and the folks that kept the lights on.

Like so many venues The Apollo Theater was white owned but showcased black talent. This documentary chronicles the history of this iconic theater and interviews not only the legends that graced its stage but the people behind the scenes that made it work. In this current age, it’s a staple tourist stop and still a beckon of black culture.

I liked that this documentary not only interviewed stars such as Gladys Night and the Pips, Patty Labelle and Smokey Robinson but folks like Billy Mitchell and Joe Gray. Apollo’s tour director/historian Billy Mitchell is the oracle of the Apollo. He not only gives the tours but banters with tourist making it a memorable visit. Joe Gray, who went from stagehand to warming up the crowd for Amateur night for thirty years, is the embodiment of the Apollo spirit. Anyone can go from an unknown to star.

I am grateful that this film educated us on Ralph Cooper. Mr. Cooper was the creator of Apollo’s famous amateur night. It also showed how black performers had to work twice as hard for half the money. Documentaries like The Apollo are essential because there is a whole generation that isn’t aware of the history of this theater. We often think of discrimination and segregation when it comes to the south. Many are ignorant of the fact that most of the cabarets in Harlem were white owned with black talent in a black neighborhood and that no matter what economic standing blacks could not patronize those clubs. The Apollo was one of the few places that blacks could enjoy.

I am grateful that our point of view informed this movie. Many a time, our history is written from a white perspective; this often creates a revisionist history that is not the case with The Apollo. Director Roger Ross Williams ensured that all voices were present. He even included the historical Hotel Theresa.

Another truth about this documentary is that it showcases all the challenges of owning the venue. Financial struggles of the seventies to the current gentrification of 125th street. I’m glad it was honestly discussed in this film.

It also highlights that the Apollo, unlike any other venue in the world, helps celebrate and uplift our black entertainers. The passing of James Brown, Prince and Aretha Franklin were all commemorated at the Apollo.

Ta-Nehisi Coates author/journalist work Between the World and Me brought his best-selling book and stage play to the Apollo. He knew that the Apollo Theater was the best place to showcase this play. He understood that the community would not only understand this work but support it financially.

The Apollo Theater is more than a place for entertainment but a space of community gathering. The theater provides an atmosphere to have fun but also an environment to have uncomfortable conversations. That is continuously shown in this documentary. In the end, I hope that this movie motivates you to visit The Apollo when you’re in New York.

Scale- This is movie gets a strong 8.



Late Night

by Kathia Woods

The voices of men dominate late Night Tv, so it was delightful to see the new movie Late Night center on the career of Katharine Newbury. The fictional late-night host portrayed brilliantly by Emma Thompson. Late Night is a movie that depicts the competitive world of late-Night television not just in front of the camera but also in the writer’s room.

The other notable takeaway is that although a woman is leading the charge, it doesn't always translate into diversity. Those are some of the topics beautifully tackled by writer and star Mindy Kaling.

Kaling knows a thing or two about being a writer in Hollywood. First on the office and then later her successful sitcom The Mindy Kaling project. This film received a lot of buzz at Sundance, so naturally, I had high expectations about seeing it. I am happy to report it lived up to the hype.

Let's discuss why I enjoyed this movie so much. I was pleased that Kaling chooses to be honest about the challenges that women face when entering a dominant male space. Yes, she uses humor, but the truth is ugly and at times, uncomfortable. Kaling plays Molly Katel an underground comedian that works at a chemical plant. She is hired for one reason she's a woman. There isn't a minority or woman alive that hasn't faced such a hire. Am I here because they think I'm qualified or to round out some quota? Kaling uses humor to demonstrate that just because you're in doesn't mean that you are welcomed. The scene where she first arrives but isn't given a seat nicely shows that challenges her character faces. I also like how Late Night doesn't let Molly off the hook. We sometimes are so focused on getting in the room that we forget that's only half of the battle. Molly at times forgets that she already has the job but now it’s time to do the work.

The supporting cast is equally as charming as Kaling. Reid Scott as head writer Tom Campbell better known to as Dan Egan on Veep is the superstar head writer. He pushes back at the new writer and not because she's a woman, but he feels she hasn't earned her way.

Max Casella as Burditt is also great. He represents the old guard and is the one that assists Molly the most in getting acclimated. Rounding out this band of misfits are Denis O'hare, Paul Walter Hauser, Luke Slattery, Mark Kurdish, and Ike Barinholtz. Each adding to hilarity that is Late Night.

The other great thing about this movie is that Kaling wasn't afraid to make Katharine Newbury flawed. Many times in these movies, we don't allow women to be disliked. Just because we're women doesn't mean that we are friendly and welcoming to other women. Also, Katherine isn't afraid to use her power for herself. These are the things that make the relationship between Molly and Katharine entertaining.

Lastly, this movie is just funny, not in a cheap way but in an intelligent way. We are rooting for Molly because she's imperfect, and allows us to see her fears, isn't afraid to be vulnerable and dares to dream. Late Night also highlights in a subtle way that the landscape of the real late-night television is still predominately male in front of the cameras as well as the writer's room. Let's hope that this movie not only makes you laugh but pushes Hollywood to make some much-needed changes.

Scale- this movie gets an 8.5 for sheer fun.

Diversity- a Strong 7 for having two women leads.