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Farewell to Darnell’s

As a symptom of changing times and a reminder that nothing beautiful lasts forever, Darnell’s closed its doors this weekend. Darnell’s Bar is a small but comfy bar/lounge just off of U street, so discrete you might not even notice it if you weren’t looking. It was a reliable home for good music and great jerk wings and mac & cheese.

Darnell’s was a bubbling black hub: it was cozy, refined and consistent. Every Friday night was good for a fun night whether with friends or on a date; the dimly lit, homey vibe and mix of the best music from the 80s to today was perfect for any mood.

The results of  D.C. changing while trying to “broaden” its horizons, seems to affect the black mainstays; they always seem to be the first to go. When black businesses come and go, it hits harder than the closing of a store branch or corporate entity. Black businesses can easily become a proto-home with enough time and when they leave you they take a part of you with them. It may be business as usual but for the people who spent time there it’s a somber fact of life. So farewell to Darnell’s, your last night was like every night before it: a fun time with a good meal as a bonus.


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Almost Christmas: An Instant Holiday Classic

Almost Christmas follows the story of a retired automotive engineer who decides on inviting his four grown children and the rest of their family to his house for a traditional holiday celebration after losing the love of his life a year earlier. It’s a big ensemble, Black holiday film from David Talbert, that’s spirited and lively enough to become a holiday staple. DC Weekly sat down with both David and one of the stars of the film, Keri Hilson, to discuss the movie, Washington D.C. and the creative Black resurgence.



First, how did this movie come about? What was the genesis of the script?

David Talbert: “Well I’m a fan of Holiday movies and we hadn’t had one in almost a decade–not since This Christmas–so it’s been a little over 8 years. So I said, you know, it’s overdue so I wrote the script on spec and then my agent sent it over to Will Packer and he called me up and said let’s do it.

It’s also a big ensemble film as well, which allows a lot of different actors to bounce off each other.

DT: Well there was a movie that I saw called This Is Where I Leave You. It’s a great ensemble film and so I wanted to do an ensemble movie that more mirrored families that I knew growing up and populate it with singers like Keri [Hilson] and comedians and young comedians like DC Young Fly dcyoung

Keri, you act opposite JB Smoove. A really talented and funny comedian. How was it to be saddled with such an eclectic character in a film?

Keri Hilson: Someone like him, you gotta really find the balance between staying present and letting him have the shine. People like him, you never know what they’re going to say –he’s constantly improvising so I have to stay present and allow him to go. Same with Monique: you’re not gonna talk over them or win that competition. You just gotta stay present and be ready to react.


David, as a DC native, what are your go to spots whenever you come back in the city?

DT: It’s usually my mother’s house (laughs) but it used to be my great grandmother’s house: first stop, last stop and every stop in-between. When she passed, coming here didn’t feel the same because I would go to hers first. That was destination central for me and I don’t really know what it is now and it feels strange coming here because her spirit looms so large in D.C. and I didn’t realize it as much until she passed, like wow, that was pretty much what was driving me here.


To make this film during a time of a seeming “Black Creative Renaissance” how does it feel to be a contributor to this and what is your feeling about the Black art being made right now?

DT: It’s like Star Trek: “to boldly go where no one has gone before”. I think this is a bold time for storytellers, songwriters, for people that have the opportunity to reshape perspective or reposition images –I think it’s a bold time. I think that’s why all races are gravitating to certain stories like Atlanta and Issa Rae’s Insecure and Luke Cage and Shonda Rhimes’ shows. I think it’s just a bold time and I think filmmakers have a responsibility to push the envelope forward.

KH: I wish I could see more of it in music to be honest. You have other genres dabbling in soul and doing R&B music and receiving higher praise for it and more accolades for something that I feel belongs to us. I could see that happening more. I’m hoping that what is happening in films and TV will allow for a wider spectrum of creativity musically. I’d love for storytelling to come back over, it’s all really party and fun right now. I’d love the stories to come back and what’s happening in this society be reflected in our music. I praise Kendrick Lamar and J Cole for their socially conscious music.

Do you see yourself moving into that direction with your music?

KH: Absolutely, and I’ve done a couple records that my heart just lead me to do. Waking up and hearing about the things happening in Nigeria forced me into the studio, you know, there’s been a number of records I’ve made from my heart and I can’t wait for people to hear them.

Almost Christmas is playing nationwide. Check your local movie theaters for dates and showtimes.



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Activism Through Art: Filmmaker Shayla Racquel

From a young age, Shayla Racquel explored various artistic avenues. It wasn’t until the tender age of twelve after suffering from a stroke onset by her Sickle Cell Anemia that she found comfort in this new form of expression, film and storytelling. “I got into writing and making music videos with my family but I never really thought of it as film-making, just fun.” During her high school years, her drama teacher convinced her to pursue script writing, ironically during a time when she was focused on acting. Shortly after, she wrote her first script, later performed by her fellow classmates in front of a packed auditorium. Watching the audience react so fondly to the words she’d written made her feel a slew of emotions; a feeling she continues chase. Years later, after keeping up with her home movies and working as a freelance filmmaker for multiple organizations and college events, she went on to create the web series, Quarter Century.

Quarter Century was born in the Summer of 2013. The web series spotlights post-graduation malaise, HBCU connections, and fear of the future. It was her first self-funded production that went on to be a big success, and more importantly, get her into grad school where she would later work on her latest project, Riverment. Riverment is a short film about the evolution of the fight for Black Civil Rights in America and its effects on a family through different generations.

DCWKLY recently sat down with Shayla to talk Riverment, Quarter Century, her hopes for her new film, influences, and her own personal quarter life crisis.

On the Creation of Her Web Series, Quarter Century

Shayla Racquel: Quarter Century came about in 2013 when I was feeling stupid for myself because I was 23 years old and I felt like, you know, I haven’t accomplished anything in life. I was hyperventilating about turning 25 and where things were going. During this time, I went to brunch with a few friends, and we were talking and expressing these same things that I was feeling, and then someone at the table said, “Hey, we should make a web series about this!” I thought, “damn, that would be a great idea”. I told my friend Asia (McFarland; Production Manager for the series) and another friend about it and they took this idea and just ran with it completely. In fact, it wasn’t until the auditions that I realized “Oh, this is really happening”.

On What Led Her to Film School

SR: Another reason why I wanted to do Quarter Century was to have a reel for getting into film school. So when we did that first season, I had used parts of it as my application and I ended up getting into my program at American University. At the time, I didn’t have any other real classroom film-making experience; Quarter Century was my learning process.

On Her First Major Project

SR: In film school, I took a class called “Directing For Camera” and in the class the teacher told us we could take another person’s script and direct our version of their script, or you could challenge yourself and make a new full production: write a script, get it approved, and film it. I wanted to make something. I was in my second year and I didn’t have anything other than Quarter Century that was truly substantial and showed my skill as a writer and director. So I took the challenge, not caring how hard it was and Life’s Checklist was an idea I had brewing a couple months prior. The idea came from conversations with friends about the influx of marriage announcements from people we knew and curiosity over how much these marriages were about the thrill of getting married and the wedding or a genuine desire to be part of this institution.

On How Riverment Came to Fruition

SR: Riverment came about because of my grandmother who was born and raised in South Carolina. Between her and my grandfather, they’d seen so much and came with this wealth of knowledge and wisdom about racism, racial awareness, and civil rights in America. I used to enjoy listening to them talk when I was a kid and this instilled in me my own racial awareness and desire to do something, you know? My grandfather was very militant and started an all black golf club because the golf courses in South Carolina wouldn’t let them play there. My grandmother had her own business and dealt with people throwing bricks through the windows, so hearing that affected me. They took me to marches with them as a kid over the confederate flag; that’s why when it finally came down, it was so inspiring. They’d been fighting for that flag to come down for years! Having that background and having a recent conversation with them about Black Lives Matter and this new level of awareness and social media, where suddenly it went from them wanting us to be aware about racial injustice and our history, to not being bitter or angry at the world and saying things like “we had this fight so that you wouldn’t have to, you shouldn’t be doing this” and it just made me so angry.

I felt like they didn’t understand, but when I took a step back, I realized that they were really traumatized about those experiences and they genuinely feel like because laws were passed, things were better–which they are slightly but we still have a long way to go.



On the Plot of Riverment

SR: Riverment is about the evolution of the fight for Black Rights in America and the generational toll it takes on a family. It explores the differences between the baby boomers of the Civil Rights Movement and the millennials of Black Lives Matter; as well as the traumatic effects of protest, racism, and the murder of black people that affect both of these groups. I mean this is really some traumatic shit we have to go through on a daily basis of being black and I want to really show the trauma we go through on film.

On What She Hopes the Film Can Accomplish

SR: I hate the phrase “spark dialogue”, but I do hope that the film can spark dialogue between the two generations and not make such black and white declarations about either of these movements. I don’t want to condemn the older generation or act like the younger one has the best answers. Ultimately, we’re continuing the work laid out for us by the generation before in the hopes that one day a new generation won’t have to do it.

On the Journey to Film-making

SR: It’s been really stressful, but making any major piece of art comes with so many  trials and tribulations. The blood, sweat, and tears that goes behind it is what makes it so beautiful. So yes, I’m having sleepless nights and I’m exhausted but I know it’s going to be a great work of art when it’s finally done because of all this stress. We’re still fundraising and trying to meet our goal; we have a long way to go but I’m confident.  We’re currently trying to find a cast and fill a few more roles within the production crew as well; we start shooting late September and when it’s done and it’s approved by the Thesis Board we will shop it around film festivals.

On What She Hopes to Achieve after Film School

SR: I hope Asia’s and my media group [that we’re building for creatives of color] can establish an audience and create strong, engaging content. We want to stay independent and hopefully create a portfolio that gets us enough recognition to be able to work on major films.

On What Inspired This Film

SR: I took African American cinema at Howard which further fueled me into making Riverment. We watched these amazing films like Daughters Of The Dust which uses color so effectively. You can’t really make a black film or protest film without having some Spike Lee influence. Ava DuVernay, of course, was a big influence – we watched Middle Of Nowhere in our class. I’ve been using screenshots from Selma in my storybook for my film as well. Dee Rees’ Pariah was really affecting to me–also she’s a FAMU grad like myself. I love John Singleton and the photos of Gordon Parks, I look at them for inspiration as well.

On Her Style at Large

SR: I’m not sure I have a style yet, not in the way that makes you immediately think that this is film made by me but there’s still plenty of time to find it.


Interested in donating to Riverment? Visit the Kickstarter Campaign, and follow the film’s official Twitter and Instagram!

Want to keep up with Shayla? Be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

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7 Reasons to Go See the Cherry Blossoms


It’s officially Spring in the DMV! With Spring comes erratic weather, allergies, antsiness for Summer, and the return of the Cherry Blossoms! Cherry Blossom season is an important one in this area, and definitely one worth partaking in! There’s a reason traffic turns into armageddon and despite the inconvenience, we’ve provided 7 reasons of why you should check out the Cherry Blossoms for yourself!

  1. It’s a Spring Tradition

As I mentioned, Cherry Blossom season is an important one! This is one of the rare times it’s okay to be apart of the crowd. A popular attraction, most people do their best to witness the bloom of the blossoms, don’t miss out!

  1. An Excuse To Spend Time Outside

You can’t sit on your computer or at the bar blowing hookah forever. Go outside and soak up the fresh air! The shift in energy will make you much happier than your computer ever will, even if it’s just a little.

  1. It’s the Perfect Date

Thinking of asking out the girl you’ve been texting? Take her to see the Cherry Blossoms! It’s a romantic setting; you can bring a picnic, walk and talk, and get to know each other better. Bonus, if you’re low on funds, you appear to be thoughtful and creative without spending money.

  1. Photo Ops

Let’s face it, we’re in the era of taking advantage of a good photo op. The Blossoms provide the perfect scenery that allows for easy, elegant, and artistic pictures. Provides the perfect opportunity for likes. Speaking of likes…

  1. Social Media Stunting

Prove to your followers that you’re more than selfies and lip-syncing Bryson Tiller songs. The Cherry Blossoms provide a wonderful backdrop for your next great photo or even better, they work purely as a landscape.

  1. Relaxing

Life is stressful! Walking amongst flowers and inhaling the fresh smell of nature is the ultimate measure of self care.

  1. The Blossoms Are Beautiful

Seriously. They are absolutely lovely.

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