*Mystical. Whimsical. Magical. Those three words may describe David E. Talbert’s newest sensation, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.” However, four words should be added-: A Cinematic Christmas Masterpiece. And lucky for you it’s in now select theaters (during November) and it’s currently streaming worldwide on Netflix.
Talbert, a brilliant writer, playwright, director and theater maker, has produced 14 national tours, including for his first play “Tellin’ it Like it Tiz,” which toured for two years, establishing him as one of the most successful directors, writers and producers in American theater. He has written and produced 14 national tours, has earned 24 NAACP nominations, winning Best Playwright of the Year for “The Fabric of a Man,” and is also a best-selling author, having written three novels “Baggage Claim” (2003), “Love on the Dotted Line” (2005) and “Love Don’t Live Here No More: Book One of Doggy Tales” (2006), which he wrote with Snoop Dogg. In 2008, he made his film directorial debut with the Sony Pictures comedy “First Sunday,” which starred Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan and Katt Williams. Among his impressive film credits are Fox Searchlight’s “Baggage Claim,” an adaptation of his own novel and “Almost Christmas,” for Universal Pictures, with Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union and Academy Award winner Mo’Nique, which was the highest grossing theatrical release of his career. His recent national tours include the widely successful “What My Husband Doesn’t Know,” which starred Morris Chestnut.
“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey,” a mystical journey of fantasy, magic and wonder, follows an eccentric toymaker (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker), his tenacious granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills), and a magical invention with the power to reunite their family and change their lives forever.
“EURweb founder Lee Bailey spoke with Talbert earlier this week to find out about the interesting journey the playwright, now film director took to bring “Jingle Jangle” to the screen.
“It was 22 years in the making,” said David E. Talbert, who started writing the play in 1997. He wrote the film many years ago, but one major life event set the film on its course to success.
“When finally, our son was born, it kind of reawakened the kid in me,” said David about the birth of his son (Elias David Talbert) with wife Lyn Sisson-Talbert, who has produced all of Talbert’s plays and films.
“Looking at life through his eyes and I said ‘okay, well, it’s time to do it.’” He sat with his son and watched one of his favorite kid movies “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” His son was four, but didn’t quite have the reaction he was looking for.
“I was just singing all the songs and he was staring at the screen and he finally said, ‘Daddy can I play with my Legos?’” he laughed. “And he walked away. I realized he couldn’t get into the movie like I could when I was young- we had no other option but to see movies that didn’t have people that look like us. There was no other option. From ‘Willy Wonka’ to ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,’ to the original ‘Dr. Doolittle’ to ‘Mary Poppins’ there was just no option.”
David set to change the status quo, to make a holiday blockbuster that featured people of color, a film that not only is a holiday masterpiece, but a film in which people of color, including children of color, could see themselves in a huge blockbuster extravaganza.
“There was ‘The Wiz,’ but then again ‘The Wiz’ didn’t have any children in it. So that didn’t give you a chance to see yourself as a child. I realized on (Elias’) wall was ‘Miles Morales’ (A Spider Man character) and he rocked with Miles Morales because he looked like him. And that’s when it hit me that it’s time to do this, and that the world needed, my son needed, our community needed, our world needed to see people of color in this world in this holiday genre of films. And that’s when it took traction.”
Netflix took an interest in David’s “Jangle” concept after he worked with them on a small independent production, “El Camino Christmas,” which featured Vincent D’ Onofrio, Jessica Alba and Tim Allen. A meeting was arranged with the streamer’s head of original programming Scott Stuber and Nick Nesbitt, one of Netflix’s head creative executives.
“They really liked the way the movie I did for them, the smaller budget movie turned out,” said David. “I told them I wanted to do a big event movie. They asked ‘what kind?’ I told them about my son and my family and how families like me around the country and around the world have nothing to look at during the holiday season with anybody of color. And he said, ‘we need to do something about that.’ And he asked if I could come back and pitch it next week and they bought it with me in the room. It felt really good. I’ve never worked with a company like Netflix before who understands. Netflix is a global brand, so they’re in 192 countries in 32 languages around the world. They understand that they need to make content for the world and the world is filled with more people of color than not.”
Filmed in London, David wanted an international feel for the film.
“All the movies I loved growing up all had a European backdrop,” he said. “There’s something magical about the accents- it’s been around centuries. We shot in a house that was built in the 1300s. There’s a certain sense for me, a classic feel. When you shoot something in Europe it’s classic because you’re talking about a country that’s one of the oldest in the world.”
Talbert says he sought out to make a film with international appeal, one that seeks to normalize people of color in fantasy films.
“We cast people from all different cultures with accents and we mixed it up,” he explained. “I wanted to normalize Black people in the 1800s with images that didn’t have a whip on our backs. I wanted the Victorian era- that era to show scientists and inventors and thinkers and alchemists and kind of give a different visual for Black people in this era.”
Making a cinematic marvel can contain a lot of moving parts. One of the moving parts for this film was working with an Oscar-nominated Black British cinematographer, Remi Adefarasin, one of the top British cinematographers.
“He and I talked about scope and scale, and that was a big thing for us, we wanted to make sure the film had scope and scale,” he explained. “So, my question was ‘how high could that camera go on that crane?’ And he said ‘we can go 100 feet.’ I asked ‘well can you make it go 200 feet? I wanted to show scope and scale on a grand spectacle. I knew this was a big undertaking and it was important for this film to succeed, to have this kind of scope, so that people that want to do films like this with people of color after me people will be more open to it because of the success of this one.”
Working on a huge blockbuster film like “Jangle” had its challenges for David E. Talbert.
“It was really for me, it was like going back to graduate school,” he reflected. “I had done musical plays, but I had never shot a musical. I had never done choreography in my plays. I had never done digital effects, special effects, two CGI characters and animated sequences, and people flying. I had never done that in a film before. I give a lot of credit to Scott Stuber and Nick Nesbitt for believing in me. I’m used to, in my career, people saying ‘you’ve got $2 to make this movie. If it goes to $2.50 cents, that 25 cents is coming out of your money. I had never had an executive says to me ‘don’t write the budget, write your imagination and we’ll figure out the budget later.’ And that’s what Nick Nesbitt told me. It changed my life.”
Netflix pulled out all the stops for this production, bringing him some of the best personnel in the entertainment industry.
“They knew the importance of this film and surrounded me with the best visual effects team, the best music, Phil Lawrence and John Legend, the best production designer, who did all the ‘Star Wars’ latest movies, the best costume designer, a two-time Oscar nominee and proudly I say, I brought the best producer, my wife, who is the lead producer in the film. So, I was bullet proof. I had a Black woman by my side every step of the way.”
Casting Forest Whitaker as Jeronicus Jangle proved to be a stroke of genius. Whitaker provided a depth to the role that few actors are able to do.
“He was always my first choice,” said David of Forest Whitaker, who attended USC’s Conservatory of Music on a scholarship for Voice and also directed “Waiting to Exhale.” Talbert added: “I’ve known Forest for about 10 years, we had always flirted with doing a project together. The brilliance of Forest is that he does his homework. He understands nuance and backstory and making sure the character is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. I needed someone in front of the camera that could ground this character and make sure he’s a character and not a caricature., someone with those chops in front of the camera but equally as important, I need a big brother behind the camera.”
The breakout star in “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is Madalen Mills, who illuminates every scene she’s in.
“I think the heavens just dropped that little angel in my lap for this film,” Talbert gushed. “She has so much light in her. We did a worldwide search and we narrowed it down to five actresses from around the world. I flew into New York for the audition. As soon as I walked in, I knew it was hers. The other young ladies were talented, but she just had this thing where she wasn’t coming to audition for the role, she was coming to claim what was hers.”
Audiences will love the music which features songwriter Philip Lawrence, who has worked with Beyonce and Adele, and singer/songwriter John Legend. Luckily for viewers Lawrence also appears in the film alongside actress Lisa Davina Phillip, (Mrs. Johnston) as one of her background singers/dancers.
“When Phil wrote that song, we kept clowning in the studio adding more background parts, because I love the background parts and they were so funny, I said ‘Phil we got to have them on screen. You’ve got to fly into London, and with two other actors I had met there, Toge and Gabe and I said you all got to be Pips. She’s got to be Gladys Knight and you guys will be the Pips.”
“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is simply a flawless movie. With sensational performances from Forest Whitaker, newcomer Madelen Mills, Phylicia Rashad and a monstrous performance by Keegan-Michael Key as the villain Gustafson. The film allows him the opportunity to show the great range he has as an actor. Mills is a young superstar with a voice that captures the screen. In addition, the choreography is flawless and the production design and costuming, simply otherworldly (do we hear Oscar?).
Although this film features actors and actresses of color, this film will appeal to audiences of all ethnicities. In this time of isolation and strife, the world needs an inspirational story that inspires and encourages. “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” may be a Christmas movie, but it will live as a testimonial of triumph from the belief in human accomplishment. One line in the movie sums up its inspirational prowess- “If You Believe, It’s All Possible.” Simply, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is a masterpiece, a holiday Christmas classic that all families should view and have in their collections.
Follow David on Instagram @DavidETalbert.
Ianthe Jones: Producer of ‘STEVE on Watch’ Talks Joy of Working with Harvey / EUR Exclusive (Watch)
*From “Dr. Phil” to BET and more, Ianthe (I-Ann-Thee) Jones is a seasoned producer as far as reality/talk shows are concerned.
She has now taken her talents to an OG King of Comedy to produce the hit internet show on Facebook Watch, “STEVE on Watch!” hosted by Steve Harvey.
EUR Correspondent Briana Wright had the chance to talk to her about how she has adapted to this new form of reality TV that is very much virtual and what fans can expect from “STEVE on Watch!”
Ianthe describes how she went from casting to producing reality television.
“I fell in love with storytelling. It wasn’t so much the booking of the person; it was the story that came with the person.”
Jones then went on to work at the “Dr. Phil” show for 10 years, which provided her with enough experience to move on to produce reality shows featuring guests such as Queen Latifah, Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker and more!
Now, she is working as the executive producer and showrunner for “STEVE on Watch!” which she describes as “real life stories from real people.” She says their goal is to give a voice to people who wouldn’t normally be heard, not only because it’s relatable, but because of Steve’s eagerness to help.
“The man has a big heart. He is extremely generous…and it’s like he hears something about someone and then he automatically wants to help,” says Ianthe about Steve.
She says this contributes a lot to the intention of the show among other things like highlighting issues in Black community.
Check out their Facebook page, facebook.com/SteveHarveytv for the latest of “STEVE on Watch!”
Tina Mabry, Gina Prince-Bythewood to Adapt Novel ‘The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat’ (Video)
’12 Years a Slave’ Screenwriter John Ridley Exposes ‘The Other History of the DC Universe’ with Black Lightning
*Step into the DC Universe and history awaits. So much history. So many iconic heroes and villains. Yet only one side of the story.
Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley is opening a new door into the familiar backdrop with his new comic book offering, “The Other History of the DC Universe.” As the name implies, Ridley shines a light on different perspectives of the iconic moments of DC history, from the eyes of heroes of color.
‘The Other History of the DC Universe” kicks off with Jefferson Pierce, a.k.a. Black Lightning for its first issue. The inclusion of Black Lightning was a no brainer to Ridley, whose view of comics changed with seeing the hero on the cover of Justice League #173. The sight of Black Lightning talking to members of the legendary Justice League proved to Ridley that someone like him could exist in the same world as the superhero elite.
“I love comics. I read comics, but I remember the first time I saw Black Lightning as a hero. When I went to the comic book shop, this was mid-’70’s and I was young. But I had to pull back,” Ridley, a longtime comic book fan, recalled while speaking at a media roundtable to promote “The Other History of the DC Universe” about his fateful trip to purchase comics the week he was introduced to Black Lightning. “And I remember getting that bag that week and honestly, I remember like it was yesterday, and spilling the bag out and going through them and seeing Black Lightning and seeing a hero who looked like me, was a teacher like my mother was. That was really, really impactful for me.”
Anchored by Ridley, “The Other History of the DCU Universe,” features artists Giuseppe “Cammo” Camuncoli, Andrea Cucchi, and colorist José Villarrubia. Covers for the five-issue bimonthly DC Black Label miniseries were constructed by Camuncoli (with Marco Mastrazzo) and Jamal Campbell. “The Other History of the DC Universe” marks Ridley’s latest venture into the world of comics after finding success outside the genre as a screenwriter with critically-acclaimed and award-winning work in film (“12 Years a Slave”), television (ABC’s “American Crime,” Showtime’s “Guerilla”).
Despite his good fortune in other areas, Ridley’s love of comics and Black Lightning remained as the country transitioned into its current state of strained race relations, a divided political climate and efforts for more diversity. Coupled with frequent protests, the arrival of “The Other History of the DC Universe” couldn’t come at a better time. For the project, Ridley played it close to his heart by selecting heroes “that meant something to me when I was growing up,” while paying respect to DC’s history and readers.
“I didn’t want to do a made-up history of the DC universe. I didn’t want to go through and say, ‘I don’t care about what happened before. This is John Ridley’s version of it.,’ said Ridley. “Honestly, I wanted a reaction…where a fan will look at moments and go, ‘Omigosh, I remember that.’ Here’s some different context.’ It wasn’t about saying the past doesn’t equal the moment that we live in. It was saying we’re here for a reason. We’re here because we’re fans.”
Ridley’s inspiration for “The Other History of the DC Universe” is more personal as each issue reflects the essence of storytelling, with someone telling their version of what happened while relaying their thoughts on how events affected them. With Black Lightning, readers experience his interaction with the Justice League and the world’s view of those with superpowers he felt focused more on worldwide threats than what was going on in his hometown.
“Here’s Black Lightning giving a version of an oral history, saying ‘Yeah, I remember that moment too,’ But it may be a little bit different than an individual would contextualize it, different readers,” Ridley stated. “But also what’s interesting about the series for me is that we also revisit moments from other characters that have a shared moment and may remember it completely differently than Jefferson Pierce did or feel differently about it or feel differently about Jeff Pierce. About, you know, why are you always this way. So for me, more than anything, it was trying to treat these stories as an oral history and getting the reaction that you have.”
Reflecting on stories he heard from his parents, Ridley recounted how moments shared were “were real heartbreak.”
“My dad was in the Air Force. They were all about service. And yet, there were moments where they were treated as just black people. But when we hear stories from people, when people share stories, if you have an ounce of empathy in you, you can hear that pain, that joy, that heartache, heartbreak. The inspiration that comes from an individual. Those stories, again, if you have the slightest ounce of empathy in you, the slightest capacity to see yourself in others, those stories mean much more,” Ridley added. “We definitely could’ve done the other history of the DC universe where it was just about big action moment and here’s Black Lightning just being a hero. Those are great stories because all of these folks are heroes in these stories. But I wanted to try to treat them as though you were listening to your uncle, your brother, your aunt, your sister, your cousin tell these stories in their own voices with their own perspectives and make them in some ways oral histories and so that it wasn’t just about these, a series of giant moments. But these were lives that were being shared. These were perspectives that were being shared.”
Black Lightning’s oral history isn’t the only one readers will be privy to. “Other heroes giving their side of “The Other History of the DC Universe” include Mal Duncan a.k.a. Herald and his wife, Karen Beecher (Bumblebee), Renee Montoya (the Question), Tatsu Yamashiro (Katana) and Black Lightning’s daughter Anissa, a.k.a Thunder.
“There were many characters that I wanted to try to include. For example, in the first issue, Mari McCabe, Vixen, I did not see the story as having her own story. But there was no way that you could not have Vixen in this series, that her appearances were not just a one and done. There was an arc to it. That is Jefferson Pierce being myopic and underestimating her. I thought that was really important that it wasn’t just characters of color railing against the prevailing culture all the time. Jefferson is a black man of a certain age, with a certain concept of Mari, what she could do and what she couldn’t do. And the next thing, she’s working with Superman. She’s big-time,” Ridley said while highlighting notable appearances from Vixen and John Stewart, one of the most popular Green Lanterns in the comics.
“So his [Black Lightning’s] relationship with John Stewart. A lot of people were like, ‘How could you not have John Stewart?’ John Stewart was always gonna be a part of it. but again, Jefferson’s relation to John and their reconciliation. I wanted to have a very human end.”
The views of black heroes only scratch the surface of “The Other History of the DC Universe.” As much attention is paid to Renee Montoya, a Latinx police officer, as well as Tatsu Yamashiro, a Japanese national living in America during the ‘80s, Ridley made sure these characters’ stories were given their due, adding another layer to his latest opus.
“With Tatsu Yamashiro (Katana), I remember in the ’80s, when America was at its height of anti-Japanese xenophobia. What’s it like for a Japanese national coming to America in the ’80s,” Ridley explained about Yamashiro. “And on the one hand, there are other people who look at her as a hero when she is in costume. There are other people who look at her as a menace when she’s just walking around.
“Renee had to be in it. You want to talk about a character who just started as a minor character in ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ and is now one of the most durable characters in the DC Universe? And played The Question at one point, my all-time favorite character, The Question. So she was gonna be in it. Always,” he continued about his reasons for including Montoya. But also Latinx, a police officer. You know, this series started before our current reckoning on race and police. To tell a story from a police officer’s point of view, who’s Latinx, who’s closeted, who believes in law and order but is also commenting on things like the LA uprising and what that means to her as a police officer.”
Coming back to Black Lightning,” Ridley examined another side of the hero with his daughter Anissa. The young heroine’s point of view is one that differs at times from her father’s, which is shown in the first issue.
“I just thought it was really important to try to bookend this series with a father and daughter. And there are things that you will see in Anissa’s story that goes back in common with what you have seen or read in the very first issue. And again, Jefferson pierce as a human being and things that she has missed, things that he deals with as a man of a certain age. And some of them positive, some of them, I wouldn’t say slightly negative, but certainly representative of a myopia that we see in the black community,” Ridley told the round table. “So it was not just again trying to pick up the characters from column A and column B. the characters that I felt a connection to because I felt like I had seen them grow up over a certain space and time. They had been part of my life. And wanting to be very honorific with the work the creators had done in the past having them arrive in this space.”
Furthering the diversity, Ridley included Duncan and Beecher in to the mix, knowing a couple with different views of the same happening would be a fun aspect to play with.
“It was very important that in this story, we were going to have at least one that was a black couple who were in love, who were sharing their story together. Also, because I thought it would be fun for a couple to…it was kind of ‘The Newlywed Game.’ ‘Wait. What? How do you remember that? No, that wasn’t how it happened.”
As the series examines unique views from its roster of heroes, it’s worth noting each issue takes place around the time the heroes were created by DC. According to Ridley, the time frame ranges from the ’70s to the early 2000s, a period that supports Ridley’s intent to create a real timeline and add weight to each character’s story.
“It was really important to me because I did think it added to the verisimilitude, it added to the reality to say that Jefferson Pierce is only gonna live in a certain amount of time. When the story ends or wherever he be found, he’d be roughly my age,” he said about placing Black Lightning in the ‘’70s. ”The stories begin essentially and I think you see in the issues, they all have timelines on them. I think roughly ‘77 to ’90-something. Technically, it’s a little bit earlier because he is in the Olympics in 1972. But if he was a decathlete, he would’ve been in the ’72 games. He would’ve been around the Munich massacre. What does that mean for him as a person? What does that mean for a guy who wanted to be better because he lost his father and at the games where was going to show what an amazing human specimen he is. it means nothing, compared to the loss of those Israeli athletes.
The Munich massacre was an attack during the 1972 Olympics, involving members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. The incident resulted in the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, who were taken hostage by Black September.
“So I wanted those true timelines. Tatsu for example, coming around in the ’80s. What would that mean for a Japanese national? What would it mean for Renée to be a cop in the ’90s,” he added. “We treat it as a timeline. It was important to me because it helps makes these characters and their stories as real
Speaking to EURweb’s Lee Bailey, a humble Ridley welcomed the possibility of ‘The Other History of the DC Universe” crossing over into film as a way for his story to be seen by more people.
“I will say this. I have been very, very fortunate. Obviously, I work in film and I work in television and I continue to do so. So for me, writing a graphic novel was the endgame. It was so special and its’ such precious real estate. I mean I can’t lie. Even if somebody came back and this was successful enough and they said, ‘Hey, we would like to try and make it into a movie or a series or something like that…who doesn’t want to try to reach as many people as humanly possible, said Ridley. “But for me, because I am lucky enough to work in other spaces, it wasn’t about, ‘Oh this only is going to be fun or enjoyable or impactful for me if they make it into a movie. No, I mean the fact that this is going to be out, people are going to, within the confines of the Covid world we live in, go somewhere, purchase it, get it to read it, talk about it, love it, hate it. You know, embrace it. And whatever those things that people do with any issue, I get to be part of that. That is so special, in and of itself. If that is all that happens to it. I could not be more fortunate.”
The first issue of John Ridley’s “The Other History of the DC Universe” is on sale now. The second issue of the miniseries will be available on January 26, 2021.
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