Movie club

Houston’s MNC Movie Club watches movies from a black woman’s perspective

Mekdese Haile and Chloe Gray, the two women who run MNC MovieClub, a Houston-based film noir group, pose for a photo outside the closed River Oaks Theater in Houston on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Photo: Karen Warren / Staff Photographer

When the remix album “If Beale Street Was Chopped” – featuring “chopped and smashed” versions of songs from the movie “If Beale Street Could Talk” – was discussed on December 26 on the Clubhouse social media app, the Hosts of the event had no idea that an Oscar winner would show up. But he did. Barry Jenkins – the film’s director / writer and honorary member of the Houston DJ / producer collective the ChopStars – made his Clubhouse debut that day. The subject: the influence of Houston’s musical culture on his films. And there was a lot to say.

The live event was hosted by MNC Movie Club, a media platform run by two Houston moviegoers – Chloe Gray, 33, and Mekdese Haile, 30 – who use social media to build a film community that uplifts films for and by blacks. To this end, they organize and celebrate films featuring black talent.

Gray and Haile, who met in 2009 when they were students at the University of Houston, are avid moviegoers. They would watch a movie with friends and engage in in-depth discussions about the themes and ways the films relate to black lives. Their talks ranged from colorism and black male and female roles in Hollywood movies to why there aren’t more black love movies. And so MNC Movie Club (“MNC” is the acronym of their first names) was born last June. Their first playlist, “30 Days of Celebrating Black Cinema”, was dropped on June 5.

In Barry Jenkins? • “If Beale Street could talk?” Tish (Kiki Layne) struggles to prove the innocence of her accused future husband, Alonzo (Stephan James). Photo: MVFF

Photo: MVFF

Gray, a paralegal and day trader, and Haile, a youth worker, now have nearly 1,000 followers across all of their social media platforms, including Clubhouse, Twitter and Instagram. They share movie recommendations via hashtags such as # 25DaysofBlackChristmas, an initiative that started on November 30 and ended with the “Dissect This Christmas” audio chat, co-hosted by that movie’s director, Preston A. Whitmore II.

About 50 people showed up for the chat, and it was upon hearing some of the comments from people that Gray and Haile realized how much the movies that resonated with them resonated with others.

“We had a Q&A and trivia, and during the Q&A, a lot of people were thanking him for making the movie or acknowledging the different memories they had of it,” Haile says.

“There is a difference between a story about black love and a story about romance,” says Gray. “(Last year) ‘Sylvie’s Love’ (with Tessa Thompson) was the first time I saw the kind of romance you see in a movie like (Nicolas Spark) ‘The Notebook.'”

Nnamdi Asomugha and Tessa Thompson in “Sylvie’s Love”

Photo: Nicola Goode / Amazon Studios / Courtesy Amazon Studios

Listening to friends talking makes their dynamics clear, even during a Zoom call. Haile, the filmmaker with the pragmatic speech in her speech, watches the films with professional seriousness but also with an eye on how the film relates to her as a black woman. With movies such as Haifaa Al-Mansour’s 2018 “Nappily Ever After” starring Sanaa Lathan, she’ll tell you why it’s not a true love story or black love story in her book: “She Doesn’t Get man at the end! “

Gray dives just as deeply into the movies and has a lively way of talking about those she loves. “Sylvie’s Love” left her almost speechless, stumbling over her words. Collecting only a “hmph”, she made the sign of an X with her arms.

They are expressive and vulnerable, which their audiences love. Last summer, Gray tweeted live alongside his mother as they watched “The Photograph,” the 2020 film starring Issa Rae and movie club favorite Lakeith Stanfield. And yes, a “Black love” movie of the romantic drama variety.

“When I started to look at my mother as a woman, I was able to forgive her and work for a better relationship. I never thought that the day would come when I would want her to live with me as an adult, but after my father died, I wanted her near me, ”Gray tweeted.

LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in “The Photograph”. (Universal images / TNS)

Photo: Universal Pictures, HO / TNS

Regarding the Oscars coming up on Sunday, Haile said, “’Sound of Metal’ was amazing. I loved this one. But “Judas and the Black Messiah” changed my life… One thing I love about MNC is that joy is an act of resistance for black people, and we can share that in our storytelling. “

“Love what pages like @mncmovieclub and my friends at @blkcinephile are doing in the curatorial space,” says Ben Frank, 31, a New York-based writer and marketer who started the movies page Instagram @Canibereel. “It’s no secret that Hollywood would be years ahead, both creatively and technologically, if black filmmakers had always had the space and the means to create.”

Granted, there are other ways to promote and support black films such as Netflix’s Strong Black Lead, Shadow and Act, and Blackfilm.com.

But MNC Movie Club does it with a Houston flavor. Returning to the Clubhouse reunion with Jenkins, the director compared the choppy and fucked up music to the classical music of Beethoven and Bach. He also professed a deep and lasting love for the musical lineage of H-town.

“People sharing their love and appreciation for this sound – and that’s what we were happy to make – it was about the infusion of the film and the sound,” Haile said.

The evening took place thanks to mutual relations in town. The movie club team had a friend in DJ Candlestick, the original guest, who also became friends with Jenkins.

By the way, they don’t consider the movie “Beale Street” to be a romance either. “You have to end up with the person in love or together; you have to have romantic elements, ”says Haile. “And then at the end there is love.”

Camilo Hannibal Smith is a Houston-based writer.