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Meet the Writers of Black Writers Week 2023

The following article contains all of the bios and headshots for RogerEbert.com's Black Writers Week writers and participants of 2023.—The Editors


EDITOR-In-CHIEF

CHAZ EBERT  

Chaz Ebert is the CEO of Ebert Digital LLC, which publishes the movie review site, Rogerebert.com. She produces television and movies, and co-founded the Ebertfest Film Festival, now in its 23rd year, with her late husband, Pulitzer-prize winner, Roger Ebert. She awards The Golden Thumb and Ebert Humanitarian Awards at Ebertfest to filmmakers who exhibit an unusually compassionate view of the world, and the Ebert Directors Award at the Toronto and Chicago International Film Festivals. 

As president of the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation her civic passions include programs to help break the glass ceiling for women and people of color, and to provide education and arts for women, children and families.  She also supports programs with a global interest in encouraging empathy, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. She has provided grants to support films with strong social justice themes, and also encourages and supports emerging writers, filmmakers, and technologists with her endowment of scholarships, internships or awards at the Sundance Film Festival,  Film Independent Spirit Awards - Project Involve, the University of Illinois Ebert Fellowships,  the Hawaii International Film Festival-Young Critics Program, the Telluride Ebert/TFF University Seminars, the Chicago International Film Festival- Ebert Director Awards, and the Columbia College Links Journalism Awards in conjunction with the Chicago Urban League. 

She is an executive producer of 3 recently acclaimed films: "Passing," directed by Rebecca Hall; "A Most Beautiful Thing," directed by Mary Mazzio; and "Mr. Soul!", directed by Melissa Haizlip. She is also an executive producer of the New Works Virtual Festival to assist in raising funds for The Actors Fund, a charitable organization supporting performers and behind-the-scenes workers in entertainment, helping over 17,000 people each year.

Previously as an attorney she was named Lawyer of the Year by the Constitutional Rights Foundation. She was named the 2019 Beethoven Laureate for being "a humanist who promotes justice and a better world through the arts"; by the International Beethoven Project. She is a life trustee of the Art Institute and serves on the boards of the Lyric Opera, the LA Opera,  Lincoln Presidential Foundation, After School Matters, the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, the Honorary Board of Family Focus, and the Advisory Board of Facets Multimedia. Some of her professional affiliations include the African American Film Critics Association, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Interview: Bijan Bayne on His New Book, Black Trailblazers: 30 Courageous Visionaries Who Broke Boundaries, Made a Difference, and Paved the Way

Features: An Introduction to Black Writers Week 2023, Sweet Home Chicago Series for Juneteenth

Republished Interview: His Life Mattered: Director Nadia Hallgren and Attorney Ben Crump on CIVIL

Republished Features: In Loving Memory of Diahanne Carroll and Jessye NormanThe Most—and Least—Fun I've Had at the Movies All YearTamron Hall's As the Wicked Watch: The First Jordan Manning Novel to Become a TV Series


CONTRIBUTORS

MACK BATES

At the ripe age of 12, award-winning writer and aspiring filmmaker Mack Bates announced that he wanted to be “the black Peter Jennings.” This followed his earlier desire to be an astronaut and a cowboy. He’s sat through SpaceCamp, more times than he cares to share, and thanks to his tenure as a boy scout, has lassoed a steer or two. Journalism indeed beckoned, and Mack has written for a variety of publications and outlets since high school, including JUMP, the Leader, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and ReelTalk Movie Reviews. Mack has won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club in both the collegiate and professional divisions dating back to 1999. 

In 2013, he became the first writer to win the press club’s “best critical review” award in both competitive divisions. Also in 2013, Mack was among a group of adult mentors and teens who took part in the 2012 Milwaukee Summer Entertainment Camp to be honored by the Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (the group behind the Emmy Awards) with a Crystal Pillar Award for excellence in high school television production.

Feature: When Angela Bassett Found Her Inner Tina Turner

AL CHAMBLES

Al Chambles was born and raised during the 1940s and 1950s in the Fellowship Community located on the outskirts of Thomaston, Georgia where he attended its segregated school system. He spent his early years within a loving and nurturing community of former African American tenant farmers and sharecroppers at the foot of Brooks Mountain; was indoctrinated into a culture of superstition, segregation, and Jim Crow of the Deep South where his primary language was the Negro dialect that was typically spoken in the area. He had an early interest in science; however, his interest in chemistry was primarily due to him casually looking through a window into the chemistry laboratory of his high school and seeing a small piece of sodium metal buzzing around on the surface of water like a water bug while giving off what appeared to be steam, and eventually bursting into flames. He was at once and forever fascinated with chemistry.

Regrettably, African-American chemists were not being employed in that region of the South at that time due to racial discrimination. Therefore, many felt that studying science was a terrible waste of time for African Americans. Nevertheless, Al pursued a career in science, receiving a B.S. degree in chemistry from Tuskegee University. He did what countless other African Americans with degrees in science-related fields had done in the South in order to stay in that field – he entered the teaching profession and taught chemistry, physics, and general topics in the segregated Butler-Baker High School in Eatonton, GA for two years. Eventually, due to Affirmative Action and other initiatives during the mid-1960s, employment in fields previously denied to African Americans in the South was slowly being opened to them. In 1967, Al was employed as a chemist at the Union Carbide Y-12 Plant, Oak Ridge, Tennessee - becoming the first African-American chemist to be hired in the Y-12 Plant Laboratory. He completed an M.S. degree in science education from the University of Tennessee via the Academic Year Institute in Physical Sciences at the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies.

His novel, CLIMBING THE COLORED SIDE: A Gifted Colored Child’s Struggles to Understand Science in the Superstitious and Segregated and South of the 1940s, is a dramatization based on the life of the author. Some names were changed; some characters are composite, and certain other characters and events were fictionalized. 

Feature: From Despair to Hope: A Costly Phantom Mercury Contamination Scare in the Scarboro Community

ROBERT DANIELS

Robert Daniels is a freelance film critic based in Chicago with a MA in English. 

He’s the founder of 812filmreviews, and had freelance bylines in The New York Times, in the Los Angeles Times, at RogerEbert.com, at Polygon, and at The Playlist. He has written widely  about Black American pop culture and issues of representation in film and television.

Review: God is a Bullet

TV Review: FX's The Bear Continues to Reach for Greatness

Interviews: Jumanji Meets Saw: DeWayne Perkins on The BlackeningSpeak Up: Lashana Lynch on Ear for Eye

Republished Reviews: DevotionSisuWhite Men Can't Jump

Republished Feature: Dignified Defiance: Sidney Poitier (1927-2022)

SHAWN EDWARDS

Shawn Edwards is a journalist, TV and film producer and marketing and event consultant. As a nationally recognized film critic for Fox 4 News in Kansas City, Missouri he has won numerous national awards including Best TV Film Critic twice by the LA Press Club's National Entertainment Journalism Awards. 

Edwards co-founded the African American Film Critics Association in 2003.  He is also on the Board of the Critics Choice Association. Edwards created and executive produces 'A Celebration of Black Cinema' in conjunction with the Critics Choice Association which premiered in 2014 in Los Angeles at the House of Blues Sunset and aired nationally in 2021. Edwards also created iloveblackmovies in 2008, the popular social media film community. He also published a digital book in 2019 celebrating 100 years of black filmmaking.

Edwards has produced numerous TV shows and documentaries for FGW Productions and BlackTree TV, both based in Los Angeles. Edwards currently works at Hidden Empire Film Group (“Black and Blue,” “The Intruder” and “Fatale”), based in Los Angeles, as a Senior Marketing Specialist. He is a life-long lover of movies who began making his own films in the 7th grade.

Feature: Rise of the Beats: On Hip-Hop and Hollywood

ANDRÉ HAMMEL, ESQ.

André Hammel, Esq., has been a family lawyer for over a decade.  He created Biadvo to provide co-parents with information and cost-effective resources to independently develop or modify co-parenting plans and agreements. 

Feature: Embracing Life With Your Children Abroad

JEWEL IFEGUNI

Jewel Ifeguni is a Producer, Speaker, Writer, Director, and TV Host committed to building an inclusive world through media and tech. In 2021, she was named one of the 50 Women to Watch in Entrepreneurship - Women Doing it Big. Jewel was born in Nigeria and came to America at a very young age. 

Her specific experiences of racism, especially in the tech world, inspired her to create her own Media company, YouMatter Studios at the age of 19. She is currently a Games Producer at Decoy Games, a Black owned Game Studio, with former games production experience at Minecraft and  software engineering experience at Microsoft and Google. With her experiences, she has graced the stages at Revolt Summit, Microsoft, Cannes Film Festival, Minecraft and more.

Feature: Welcome to Decoy Games

RENDY JONES

Rendy Jones (they/he) is a film and television journalist born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. They are the owner of self-published independent outlet Rendy Reviews, a member of the Critics' Choice Association, GALECA, and a part time stand-up comedian. They have been seen in Vanity Fair, Them, Teen Vogue, CBC News, and Paste.

Reviews: Lonely Castle in the MirrorNo Hard Feelings

Feature: Black Animation and Me: Where We Came From and Where We're Going

Republished Review: Lost Ollie

Republished Interview: Answering the Call: J.D. Dillard on Devotion

CHARLES KIRKLAND JR.

Working as a film critic for the last twelve years, Charles Kirkland Jr. got his published start as when he appeared on the radio show Spectrum which aired on WMAL 105.9.  He would appear on the show to promote the activities of the DC Film Society, review movies and discuss the Oscars.  After being pronounced as an “Award Predictor” by a group at the Film Society, he started his podcast, The DC Film Life in September of 2013.  

With co-host Michael Bryant, The DC Film Life, “where real guys talk about real movie stuff,” reviewed movies and movie trends and became the go-to podcast site for filmmakers in the city to promote their projects. While the podcast has temporarily podfaded, currently his reviews and musings can be found on the Facebook site, The DC Film Life the website, Thefilmgordon.com and a show on DC Radio (DCradio.gov) called "Conversations" where he discusses movies and interviews filmmakers.  He is also co-host of the show, "Keeping It Reel with Film Gordon" where they review movies and talk about the entertainment world on a weekly basis.  Keeping it Reel can be found on DC Radio, Youtube, Blogtalk radio and many other outlets.

Charles is a longstanding member of the DC Film Society currently serving on the Publicity committee, a member in good standing of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), a voting member of the Black Reel Awards and a reviewing judge for the DC Shorts Festival.  He serves as the Features Programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival in nearby Columbia, MD

Review: Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy

Feature: Horror Movies and The Fate of the Black Man

CRAIG D. LINDSEY

Craig D. Lindsey is a writer, critic and Dame Helen Mirren fan who has written for Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, The AV Club, Nashville Scene, Village Voice, Vulture, RogerEbert.com and other publications & outlets. He lives in Houston, Texas.

Review: The Last Rider

SERGIO MIMS

Sergio Mims passed away in 2022, but we are proud to reprint his work for this year's Black Writers Week. To read more of his essential essays, interviews, and tributes, click here

Sergio Mims was a film critic and journalist and was the host and producer of the weekly Bad Mutha’ Film Show WHPK-FM (88.5PM Chicago) a screenwriter and appeared every week on the Movie Madness podcast on the Now Playing Network. He was also the co-founder and co-programmer of the Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago which is one of the largest black festivals in the world. 

A former member of the Director's Guild of America as an assistant director both here in Chicago and Los Angeles and Mims was also a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and was also a commentator for Blu-ray DVDs for Vinegar Syndrome, Scorpion Releasing, Imprint Films, Kino Lorber and Arrow Films.

Republished Feature: Considering John Ford's 'Apology Western,' Sergeant Rutledge

SHERIN NICOLE

Sherin Nicole is an author, graphic artist, a film critic, and might be a covert agent. The CIA offered her a college scholarship, but Sherin is too secretive for espionage. After graduating from Howard University she worked in a variety of creative spheres, before continuing to grow the radio upstart she helped to launch. By day, she’s an agent provocateur as a brand and marketing specialist. By night, she writes fiction and produces content for the Geek Girl Riot show and RIOT-US.com, alongside the Black Reel Awards, RogerEbert.com, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ).

As a former paranormal romance author (under her secret identity), Sherin has published three novels and several novellas. One of which is listed on Book Riot’s “100 Must-Read Romantic Comedies”. Her first short story appeared in the Bloody Fabulous anthology (Prime Books). You can also read her words in Fireside Magazine, Cast of Wonders, the Wayward Kindred comics anthology, and Escape Pod. Culturally, Sherin is American + British Caribbean, and very southern—right down to the accent and the love of grits. Government reports show a residence in DC, but Sherin spends most of her time in the worlds she writes, and she hopes to meet you there.

Feature: Feeling Scene: The Magnetism of Black Punks on Screen

REGINALD PONDER

Reggie Ponder, The Reel Critic, can be heard each Friday on WBEW 91.1 FM Chicago/Vocalo.org. He is the resident film critic for The Garfield/Lawndale Voice in Chicago and has several radio/internet segments designed to elevate Black voices in film.

His project The Reel Critic Roundtable, a weekly showcase featuring four African American critics discussing film, TV and industry news can be found  @ reggieponder.com. His work can also be found at various publications - including Variety Magazine. Reggie is member of the African-American Film Critics Association, the Critics Choice Awards, Chicago Indie Critics and Film Independent.

Feature: The Journey of a Black Film Critic: Breaking Barriers, Inspiring Change

CARLA RENATA

Carla Renata aka The Curvy Critic has had reviews and/or op-ed’s published in Variety, The Wrap, The Cherry Picks, Sundance.org, Sotheby’s, Maltin on Movies, RogerEbert.com, IGN Movies and more.

She is a highly sought after host/moderator who had the privilege to host an evening of The Black Experience on Film for Turner Classic Movies sponsored by AAFCA, as well as, a frequent Guest Film Expert for Fox 11 LA , Good Day LA, The ListTV, REELZ Channel, The Stream Team, ITV, BBC and Fox Soul’s The Black Report.

Being a proud member of AAFCA (African American Film Critics Association), (OAFFC) The Online Association of Female Film Critics and Tomatometer approved critic on Rotten Tomatoes and a member of (CCA) Critics Choice Association, where she serves as a Board member and Co-President of the Documentary Branch.

Her award winning podcast – The Curvy Critic with Carla Renata streams LIVE weekly on Sundays via YouTube featuring reviews, news and interviews with talent in front and behind the camera.

Review: Sheroes

Republished Review: I Got a Monster

Republished Feature: Stigmatization of Mental Health for Black Men Permeates Cinematic Landscape

PEYTON ROBINSON

Peyton Robinson is a freelance film writer based in Chicago, IL. Her interest in film began in fourth grade when her older brother showed her "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and kickstarted a fascination with horror. 

Since then her taste has expanded, and her favorite films are not only the scary ones, but any genre-bending personal narratives that examine identity, relationships, and the human condition. 

Some of her favorite films include "The Double," "Inherent Vice," "Crash," and "A Serious Man."

Reviews: I'm a Virgo, Surrounded

Feature: Trust Your Gut: The Role of Conscience in Horror

Republished Reviews: The African DesperateThe Angry Black Girl and Her MonsterThe BlackeningRye Lane

NIANI SCOTT

Niani Scott is a film critic, media strategist, educator and traveler, based in Denver, Colorado. Her expertise in digital and print content have led her to a fond admiring of the entertainment industry.

She is a holistic film critic, that advocates for Black and Brown people to be joyfully embraced on the big screen. 

Features: American Black Film Festival: Black Barbie, Gaining Ground, Higher Power, American Black Film Festival Highlights

Republished Review: Beba

JOURDAIN SEARLES 

Jourdain Searles is a writer, film critic and performer who hails from Georgia and is currently living in New York City. She has written for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, Sight & Sound, Vulture and many other publications. Additionally, she is the co-host of Bad Romance, a weekly film podcast. 

Review: Revoir Paris

Republished Review: Apples

KAIYA SHUNYATA 

Kaiya Shunyata is a freelance pop culture writer and academic based in Canada. They have written for RogerEbert.com, Xtra, Okayplayer, The Daily Beast, AltPress and more.  

TV Review: Marvel’s Secret Invasion Continues the Franchise’s Dull Slate

Feature: Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All and the Inescapable Desire to Belong

SONIA SMITH-EVANS

Sonia is currently SVP of Development and Production for The Ebert Company. She previously served as Supervising Producer on the television show, "Ebert Presents: At the Movies" that aired on PBS stations nationally. Sonia also served as a Producer on the 2017 Whitney Houston documentary, "Whitney: Can I Be Me," and worked as VP of Development and Production for Spicerack Productions, overseeing family-focused content. 

Sonia began her production career as a production associate for ABC Studios in Burbank, California. She received her B.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago and currently serves on the boards of  The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL  and the Black Perspectives committee of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Interview: Sweet Home Chicago Series for Juneteenth: Video Interview with Filmmaker Mark Harris

SHAWN TAYLOR

Shawn is a communications professional and author who started her career in journalism at large-market newspapers in the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Detroit Free Press, the Kansas City Star and Chicago Tribune. Her 15 years with the Tribune afforded her opportunities to grow through several lateral moves across departments and desks, including as a copy editor, crime reporter, business writer/columnist focused on workforce issues, and a feature writer. In 2006, she founded Treetop Consulting, a boutique writing, research and media consultancy, which has allowed her to tap her media prowess to raise her clients’ thought leadership position and programmatic visibility.

Shawn is a prolific writer who has produced Op Eds and speeches for C-suite executives, event and video scripts, newsletters and research and white papers. She uplifts stories from the African American Diaspora through her writing. She is co-author of “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Closing the Deal,” (220 Publishing) with Melody Spann Cooper, president of Midway Broadcasting Corp., owner of the historic WVON Radio, The Talk of Chicago. And she collaborated with Emmy-winning journalist and talk show host Tamron Hall to create the first two books in the Jordan Manning mystery series: “As the Wicked Watch,” (Harper Collins/Morrow/October 2021) and “Watch Where They Hide,” (due out in March 2024).

BRANDON TOWNS

Brandon Towns is a multidisciplinary artist working in still photography, motion picture, and design. His work explores relevant themes within the black community such as cultural identity, gentrification, police brutality, and gun violence. He received his Bachelor of Science in advertising with a minor in photography in 2020 from Bradley University. He is the first Bradley University student to be the recipient of the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program Fellowship or MAIP in 2019. He was also one of three recipients of the Sundance Institute's Roger Ebert Fellowship for Film Criticism in 2018. 

Review: The Stroll

Feature: What Now: The Creative Potential in the End of the Superhero Craze

Republished Review: Kaepernick & America

LANCE R. WILLIAMS

Lance Williams has worked in product development in digital media for over twenty-five years. His credits span some of the biggest video game franchises ever released such as Grand Theft Auto, and Red Dead Redemption, as well as media streaming apps like ESPN+, and the first iteration of HBO’s OTT streaming app, HBO NOW. 

 An avid gamer, comic book collector, and self described “hip-hop archivist”, in his spare time, Lance likes to listen to and digitize the vast collection of cassettes he has of hip-hop radio shows he grew up listening to in New York. He is also producing a documentary about Howard University and the series of hip-hop conferences hosted there in the early 1990’s, that he has video footage which he captured as a student.

Feature: An Origin Story for a Gamer Dad and a Gamer Son

BRANDON WILSON

Brandon Wilson is a filmmaker and lecturer. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he attended UCLA where he took a B.A. in African-American Studies and an M.F.A. from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. 

Brandon has directed two micro-budget features: 2005’s The Man Who Couldn’t… which is on YouTube and Sepulveda from 2016 which is streaming for free on Vimeo. 

Wilson teaches high school film and media literacy classes and has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at UCLA, Los Angeles Valley College, NYU’s Los Angeles Branch, and Long Beach City College. 

His features and reviews have appeared in Shadow and Act, American Cinematographer, RogerEbert.com, and Chron. He has curated film series and moderated talkbacks at American Cinematheque, Japan House Los Angeles, the Pan-African Film Festival, and the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, WA. Wilson was also a juror at the Tallgrass Film Festival’s inaugural Gordon Parks Award for Black Excellence in Filmmaking in Wichita, KS. 

Review: World's Best

Feature: Redacting Racism: Some Thoughts on Race-Blind Casting

Republished Feature: Goodbye to a Legend: Tina Turner (1939-2023)

Chaz Ebert

Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of RogerEbert.com, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 24th year.

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