Friday, June 02, 2006

Issue 21: Director Nnegest Likke

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Issue 21...and legal!


CUTTING EDGE...FX has just announced that Sanaa Lathan will join the cast of "Nip/Tuck" for the hit show's fourth season. Lathan will play a young woman married to a wealthy, much older man, and the two buy McNamara/Troy, Dr. Sean McNamara and Dr. Christian Troy's practice. Hmm. Lathan's signing comes just as the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports that more African Americans are having plastic surgery than ever before. Guess the producers are gearing up for a slew of new black viewers.

MOVIES IN MICHIGAN...Filmmaker Michael Moore decided to make a sequel, to his film festival that is. His camp just announced a second go-round for the fest he founded in Michigan, Traverse City Film Festival ( The fest will take place July 31-Aug. 6 and feature about 45 films. Also planned is a tribute to Stanley Kubrick on the 50th anniversary of his first film. It will include screenings of all 11 of his movies as well as A Clockwork Orange, Lolita, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. And, Moore will host daily panel discussions with such filmmakers as directors Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) and David O. Russell (Three Kings). Between Moore, DeNiro and Redford, some of the hottest film festivals just may be created by those who have mastered it.

TUCKER MANIA 2...For a while there Chris Tucker seemed to have gone almost underground. Guess he got a major rest in because now homeboy is back with a vengance. As if the ensuing hype for Rush Hour 3 weren't enough, he is now set to star in a Hollywood remake of a Bollywood hit about a gangster who goes to medical school, according to Mumbai Mirror newspaper. Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, Mississippi Masala, Salaam Bombay) will direct. And here we thought Tucker had found another calling. When a good script comes along...

FARM AID, GLOVER STYLE ...Danny Glover has joined in the fight to save an inner-city farm in Los Angeles. It seems, hundreds of small city farmers are trying to hold onto a 14-acre patch of land despite an eviction notice. Glover, actress Daryl Hannah, and veteran environmental activists John Quigley and Julia Butterfly Hill are trying to help the farmers keep the land where they grow beans, tomatoes, squash, watermelon, and other fruits and vegetables to feed a reported 350 families. The land's owner has offered to sell it for $16.3 million. Hopefully, Glover's star power can help raise enough funds to keep the farm running.


According to the company, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has expanded its Voices of Color (VOC) Film Series on Tour, the retailer's sponsorship of television programming and events that highlight African-American life in film. As a part of the VOC Film Series on Tour, Wal-Mart will sponsor and participate in three film festivals: the American Black Film Festival (ABFF); the Urbanworld Vibe Film Festival; and the African-American Women in Cinema International Film Festival (AAWIC).

Besides supporting the film festivals, there are several productions the company has financed. The VOC documentary film, The Will to Survive--The Story of the Gullah/
Geechee Nation was underwritten by Wal-Mart earlier this year. The film, which explores the past, present, and future of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, gives viewers a chance to learn more about the Sapelo Island and the Gullah/Geechee people. It will be screened during the VOC tour.


Director Nnegest Likke Sees If Phat Girlz Makes
The Weight Overseas

One of the arguments often cited as to why African-American filmmakers obtain lower budgets than their mainstream counterparts and minimal marketing is that Urban-themed films do not sell overseas. Well, here's yet another example of why this myth may have to be re-written. While Phat Girlz was received with very mixed reviews in the U.S.--and harsh criticism from some in the black community--the writer/director, Nnegest Likke, and studio, Fox Searchlight, are looking for an international run to boost the film's box office, which currently is $6.9 million plus $92,201 in foreign theatres without any promotion at all in markets supposedly anti-urban flicks. This has now encouraged Fox to ramp up for a promotional campaign in order to truly drive sales.

"When we first sat down with Fox Searchlight we talked about an international marketing plan," says first-time director Likke, who worked in television for several seasons as a segment producer and staff writer for the reality show "Blind Date." "I never understood the argument that black films lacked global appeal. Take hip hop. It would not be the global phenomenon it is if someone didn't decide to test the international markets to see if it would sell overseas. The same has to be done with African-American films."

And dong it, she is. On June 22, Phat Girlz will have a full-out premiere in Nigeria. South Africa, Spain, Jamaica, London are also on the tour abroad. "The film has an African theme running through it and one of the actors (Godfrey) is of Nigerian descent, and we wanted to capitalize on that," says Likke. "Plus, Mo'nique is very well known in all of these countries from 'The Parkers.'"

The international marketing and openings will give Phat Girlz a new life. But the film almost didn't have its first. After writing the screenplay, Likke was hired as the director for the $2.5-million film, and countless struggles happened along the way. Monique's stand-in died of a heart attack. The producer, Bobby Newmyer of Outlaw Productions (Sex, Lies & Videotape, Training Day) who mortgaged his home for financing, ran out of money and the film was shut down for six months. But the cast and crew persevered. "We were the like the little engine that could," says Likke. Then Fox Searchlight stepped in. "They purchased the film for twice the budget," says Likke. "And set up a marketing plan." Unfortunately, Newmyer, too, later died of a heart attack. "It was unbelievable," says Likke of his untimely death.

Of course, there are things she'd change about Phat Girlz. "For one thing I would tell more people about all the obstacles we had. It's hard to do
a film on a $2.5-million budget," she says. "And it actually wasn't film. We shot with a HD camera, which I think is great for people on a shoestring budget and it will allow more people to get their films made. Plus in just a short time, the cameras available today are 100 times better than what we used."

In an ideal world by the time Likke's new projects hit theatres, international marketing of black films will be standard. And Likke is already banking on it. The next two screenplays she is currently working on, one of which she may direct, have international and multicultural threads that she plans on capitalizing on. "It's a large, global world," says Likee, who has one more film to do for Fox Searchlight, "why not show it on film."


Just in from the East Coast, one of your beloved A-List reporters in back on the scene in L.A. and already hitting all the hot spots.

No sooner did I touch down, did I have to rush to The House of Hype
! (see last issue for explanation). High atop one of the many exclusive Hills in L.A., this event beckoned. But like most events in the Hills, parking was dramatic and the unwanted "guests" of the LAPD and LAFD always seem to make things stickier than need be. (God help those poor staff members of Valet of the Dolls--cute name, huh?--who are still probably letting Calgon take them away as they rushed up and down the multitude of serpentine canyons trying to work it out with all these cars.) But alas, like seeing Mecca in the distance, the curious but slightly stressed attendees began to perk up as the shuttle golf carts brought the large shape of the mansion site into view.

Sweeping views, bikini-clad girls, expensive cars, hip guys, Hypnotiq bars and cool new items turned out to be what was in store. With music
pumping from the tennis courts, trendsetters and tastemakers buzzed around to check out everything hot for guys from rims to shaving products, and more. Bank of America's private banking division even supported with some signage. But while this was touted to be a tech toy paradise for men--and it did include the new Vtech i5871 phone (left), a beautifully designed, expandable system selling for about $149, and the new Coby combo DVD/CD/Mp3 unit, which looks kinda hot--it also included clothing by some of the hottest new lines on the scene.

The real standout in the gear offerings was this little gem called Chopshop, which is simple hoodies and tees but with elegant, metallic style designs reminiscent of the owner's own tattoos. The brilliance when these items hit the light is not to be dismissed. Definitely check for this at H. Lorenzo in L.A. or Atrium in NYC, while we'll be rocking our T-shirt swag from the event complimentary style. Ne-yo and Tyson Beckford have already been seen out and about in this gear, so need we say it's definitely on the radar.

Okay, so what else?

Another standout participant was Delta's Air Elite service, which is celebrating its year anniversary of the
"Perfect 10" program offering a 10-hour jet membership card (with that of 25 hours and 50 hours being offered since 2003). It's the only way to floss and the company's director of marketing, Brandon Greene, definitely sees it as a wave of the future. The only commercial airline to date offering such private jet service (no, of course it doesn't say Delta on the body of the airplane), this luxury is something you future and current ballers might want to check into (see inclusion on this in a future exec toys story).

But what would all this product be without celebs to get it for free and hawk it, right? Well, while none were in the House of Hype at the exact same two-hour period we were there, we were told that cutie Simon Rex had just left and that notables such as Ludacris, The Game, and Hilary Duff were to hit day two.

So there you have it. You've been informed. Young Hollywood setting the pace.

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