Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Great Debate


The new movie starring and directed by Denzel Washington, The Great Debaters, is a stirring, heartfelt depiction of the struggles of the esteemed poet Melvin Tolson and his students (the ones at his college's debate team) at Wiley College during the mid-1930s. In lesser hands, this fictionalized account of the trials of the teacher and his charges could have been boring, but the fine performances of veterans like Washington and (Forest) Whitaker are as affecting as the stellar turns by the younger actors Denzel Whitaker (no relation to either Mr. Washington or the other Mr. Whitaker), Jurnee Smollett (best known for her work in Eve's Bayou), and Nate Parker.

Three of the younger actors were at a (packed!) screening of the film at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC this past Sunday, answering questions from the audience after the screening. Applause broke out several times during the movie, as well as after (most often after one of Ms. Smollett's scenes). The youngest actor, Denzel Whitaker, portrayed a young James Farmer, Jr., a few years before he founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the other debaters portrayed were composites of other people. While there were a few liberties taken to make it based on a true story, and the mention of the anachronistic Willie Lynch (hoax) could have been left out, it was otherwise a fine rendering of conditions during the Great Depression, and how it afflicted the nation, especially black Americans.

Although the screening was free, I intend to pay to see it a second time! The Great Debaters opens on Christmas day.

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Although I was intrigued by Denzel Washington's performance as Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas in American Gangster, I prefer his performance in The Great Debaters; however, I would not be surprised to see him nominated for either movie.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Washington's Local Flavor...

Not only are we Washingtonians fortunate to have excellent restaurants and farmer's markets, but other excellent local food purveyors and providers, a fact which can save your bacon this holiday season, when you can't, or don't have the energy, to prepare food.

Henry's Sweet Potato Pie (from Henry's Soul Cafe in Oxon Hill) is a fantastic, homemade tasting dessert. (Persnickety alert: Like my mother's sweet potato pie, Henry's is properly flavored, with nutmeg, not overpowered with cinnamon as most other pies are. The same is true of the heavenly nutmeg-scented peach cobbler from Gist Family Caterers in Washington, another local soul food provider.)

The gluttony regarding Henry's pies followed another glutton extravaganza, a (free!) year-end tasting at Biagio Chocolate on 18th Street. Sweet! Attending such an event (which was primarily attended by the fit and trim, who were served by the even more fit and trim) was possibly an example of a flash mob in action, as there were only a handful of folk in the choco-boutique before 6:30 pm, and near pandemonium only ten minutes later. The occasion? The introduction of new flavors from local chocolate-maker extraordinaire, Christopher's Confections. While the vanilla rum was fine, the margarita packed a wallop, and the peanut butter caramel was delightful, the almond chocolates were swoon-worthy--possibly the best chocolate I've ever had. (Next to Christopher's own citrus caramel chocolates, of course.) Unfortunately, I haven't yet had the pleasure of tasting food from the catering company, Basikneads, whose commercial kitchen Christopher uses to create his chocolate masterpieces, so I must attempt to rectify that situation!

Even mom-and-pop businesses like Scrumptious Entrees Catering and Cakes help in the important work of making life sweeter, especially with the party favor cakes made by Maria Smith, which resemble large petit fours (if such a thing could exist). Not only are they moist, but the fresh citrus used in the fondant pops out at you, giving a refreshing tang to the treats.

A relatively new, but already famous, food purveyor that I haven't yet had the pleasure of visiting is Uncle Brutha's Hot Sauce Emporium. Samples of some of his sauces were recently offered at the Whole Foods Market on P Street, and were remarkably thick and rich, as well as providing the necessary heat. The green sauce was almost chunky, and had a wonderfully complex flavor. Can't wait to head to Capitol Hill to try and buy a few of his bottled heat treats!