Southside With You

Unknown Can you imagine being a young, female African-American partner at a law firm whose associate just can't take no for an answer?  Can you imagine that associate turning out to be the leader of the free world?  I'm sure Michelle Robinson didn't either.  Luckily for America, she said yes and we have been fortunate enough to have a front row seat at one of the most romantic love stories in American history between two beautiful, intelligent and culturally stimulated individuals - who just happen to be the President and First Lady.

"Southside With You" chronicles the first date between President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle.  It’s the answer to the age-old question couples often get asked when out in public for the first few dates - How did you meet? What was your first date like?  Who doesn’t relate to love and all the juicy details that go along with it?  I know I do and was totally sucked in by the first moment.

Tika Sumpter in the title role of Michelle Obama is direct, stunning and totally smitten by a young Barack Obama portrayed spot on by Parker Sawyers.  Sawyers effectively captures the sincerity that Americans fell in love with, therefore, electing Barack Obama as the first African-American man to serve as President of the United States.


How did these two virtually unknowns land these roles?  First of all, Tika Sumpter is barely "unknown".  I met her when she was Series Regular on the now defunct ABC-TV Soap "One Life to Live"  in Florida at a "SuperSoap" convention.  Currently, she's wreaking havoc on Tyler Perry's hit nighttime drama "The Have and Have Nots" on OWN.  Tia is one of the film's producers, along with Grammy winner/Producer John Legend.



When the 32-year-old Sawyers, who was born and raised in Indianapolis and now resides in London, sent in his first audition tape, he was doing a pitch-perfect impersonation of the President at 54, rather than at 28.  Luckily for him and for us, casting director, Twinkie Byrd convinced the film’s director, Richard Tanne to watch Sawyers tape again, but turn down the volume and just watch his performance.  Needless to say, the rest is history.

Sundance Q&A with cast & Director Richard Tanne

During a Q&A after the screening, when asked if the Obamas had seen the film, Tanne said "the president and first lady are aware of the film...and a little baffled by its existence.”  Well, I'm not and neither were the hundreds of people in the audience who along with me, gave a hearty round of applause and standing ovation. Two of my favorite moments were Michelle and Barack walking through a museum featuring the artwork of Ernie Barnes.  Barnes' art was featured prominently on the CBS hit sitcom "Good Times".

The soundtrack featuring a mix of hits from 1989 ranging from rap to Stevie Wonder kept my toes tapping while being enthralled by the performances of every actor onscreen and not just the leads.

It came to my attention that the film received mixed reviews during Sundance, which is not a surprise.  The Obamas have received mixed reviews since they crossed the threshold of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  However, what I know for sure is that those who DO see it will love it and walk away with a smile and glow at how beautiful love can be when it happens with "the right one".  It really is a marvelous emotion to experience and my wish is that everyone can find that everlasting type of mutual, love, admiration and respect in a relationship that spans a lifetime.

Thanks Tika for following your gut and your passion in getting this story told....

Southside With You opens in theaters TODAY, August 26th and trust me it is well worth the price of admission.


John Legend Takes us "Underground"

  The two hottest properties at Sundance 2016 were Nate Parker's "Birth of a Nation" and the WGN series  "Underground".


Underground debuts on WGN America TODAY at 10/9c and approaches slavery from a vantage point we have never seen before.  A vantage point that focuses on the white abolitionists who risk their lives and freedom to assist slaves on their way to the "underground railroad".  As opposed to watching an hour over and over again of slaves being beat, women  being pillaged and slaves running through fields.

The story centers around  a slave named Noah (effortlessly played by Aldis Hodge) and boasts a very impressive cast that includes Jurnee Smollett -Bell, Christopher Meloni, Mykellit Williamson, Johnny Ray Gill, Adina Porter, Jessica  de Gout, Alano Miller, Reed Diamond, Theodus Crame, Chris Chalk, Renwick Scott, Marc Blucas and  Guest Star Jessie Smollett, marking the first time in 20 years that he and his sister appear in the same series.


Having watched it at Sundance and again just recently, one of the things that makes this series unique is  the fact the producers and creatives use the music as it's own character to propel the story forward in each episode.  That unique twist was refreshing and very creative in terms of on-screen storytelling.  Without it, the mood would feel very different...almost empty.


Created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, alongside Akiva Goldsmith, Joby Harold, Tory Tunnell, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius and Academy Award, Grammy and Golden Globe winner John Legend, Underground is sure to have tongues wagging at the water cooler for quite some time.