Tag Archives: Uzo Aduba

Miss Virginia

Virginia (Uzo Aduba) is a single mother who is watching her son James slips away. School is a place where trying only flags the attention of bullies, so flying under the radar is necessary for survival. The streets and their easy money call to James (Niles Fitch) while his school turns its back on him, unwilling and unable to teach. Virginia knows the only way to keep him safe is to get him an education, and despite his failing grades, James is quite bright, but tuition at a private school is out of reach.

Virginia takes a second job scrubbing toilets for her local representative but still has to pull James out of private school when two low-paying jobs still don’t pay the bills. She’s disillusioned to find that her representative (Aunjanue Ellis) only pays lip service to education, but it spurs her to find someone who will actually help, and after some prodding and some golf-shaming, she finds it in congressman Cliff Williams (Matthew Modine) who takes up her cause and helps her get a bill before congress.

Based on a true story, Miss Virginia is superficially a testament to iron will and persistence, but it’s also a reminder of just how dismally many people in so-called democracies are actually represented by elected and appointed officials. You shouldn’t have to fight this hard to get your government to do what’s right. It shouldn’t take children riddled with bullets to understand that something’s not right. And the moment schools stop teaching should obviously be a huge red flag. And yet there are still lots of students who are underserved and left behind, and it’s all but impossible for anyone to escape the clutches of poverty without a solid education.

As a movie, Miss Virginia is a little pat, a little paint by numbers. It tells its story in a straight-forward, unexciting manner. The beats, by now, are familiar. Since the actual elected officials don’t give a flying fuck, and are very much content to cash generous paycheques in exchange for sitting on their asses and letting lobbyists pay for lunches or luxury vacations to buy their votes, it takes a concerned and devoted citizen to dedicate their lives to a cause. And even then it’s an uphill battle: government isn’t exactly friendly to outsiders. We’ve seen it countless times because that’s the only way things ever change. Politicians do jack shit and single mothers with two minimum wage jobs have to carve out spare time they don’t have to be congressional super heroes.

Movies love women who take on the man: Erin Brockovich, Loving, The Long Walk Home, The Whistleblower, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Best of Enemies, North Country, Silkwood, Norma Rae. I get it. They’re inspiring. And since we owe these women (and certainly many men: see Philadelphia, Michael Clayton, Selma) a debt of gratitude, their stories are worth remembering and recounting. But it’s also depressing to know that it takes a citizen turned super hero – someone not only willing to stick their neck out, but to literally risk it at times – to get issues noticed let alone fixed. That ordinary people have to do a politician’s job for them – and fight the politician who’s against anyone doing anything! Maybe we need to be making more movies about how democracy works so voters know what they SHOULD be able to expect from their representatives, and then hold our officials to these standards. If we keep voting for the status quo, that’s exactly what we’re going to get. We shouldn’t need the Virginias of the world to sacrifice their lives to have the government take care of its people when we pay politicians to do that very thing.


August (Khalil Everage) hasn’t left the house in 18 months, not since his sister was gunned down in front of him. Now he’s suffering from crippling PTSD, living the hermit life, which his mother (Uzo Aduba) isn’t too mad about. They clearly love and care for each other, but they’re both so broken they can’t heal each other. August retreats into his music, creating beats, safe under his world-cancelling headphones.

But then one day his school’s security guard Romello (Anthony Anderson) comes looking for him. Coincidentally (or not), he’s a washed up manager with one big ex-client and a whole lot of baggage, including an estranged wife for a current boss, who expects him to bring back truant students so her school’s funding doesn’t get cut. But instead of bringing August back to school, Romello wants to bring him into a studio. He hears gold records, and a chance to get back on top. But that’s going to be extra challenging when your 17 year old prodigy producer is a recluse with mental health problems.

In Chicago, hip hop and gun violence intermingle, but in Chris Robinson’s movie about both, it’s fear that reigns the day. It feels trite to talk about the ‘healing power of music’ but it’s clear that for August, his music is a retreat, and a balm. But as good as his beats are (and they do hold up thanks to some authentic Chicago talent), it’s going to take more than that to get August back on his feet, and to make this movie better than average.

So is it? Better than average? I’m going to say yes. It’s not super profound but for all its simplicity, it does really speak to a particular brand of tragedy. It’s a painful testimony to all the victims in Chicago’s south side and beyond. August’s story isn’t particularly noteworthy in his community. Everyone has suffered loss. Everyone risks their lives just walking home at night. We really understand how something so horrific can come to feel normal to people who live it every day. It’s only through August’s mother’s eyes that we remember how crazy this is. She is willing to sacrifice everything, to keep her son locked up at home, if that’s what it takes for him to live to his 18th birthday. Uzo Aduba is of course wonderful, her presence strong. And Khalil Everage also makes a strong impression on his first time out.

Netflix dropped Beats today, perhaps in honour of Juneteenth. Also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, it’s a national day of observance that commemorates the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and in fact the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the confederate states. The Emancipation Proclamation was of course enacted as of January 1, 1863, but Texas was quite remote, and the proclamation was not enforced until after the confederacy collapsed.

While it’s certainly worth celebrating, this movie is perhaps a good way to think about the modern manifestations of slavery, and the ways we may be withholding true liberation, inadvertently or not.

Beats has a strong sound and a good message. It’s not solving the gun violence in America, but it shows us how to have courage even when things look hopeless.