‘Uncorked’ Teaches Us to Believe in the Dreams of Young Black Men

@Marie ETCHEGOYEN

I knew I wanted to watch “Uncorked”, but I didn’t know why. Last week, my wife and I binged a few black films and during the week, I went looking for others to add to our trove of “like us” entertainment. Somewhere during the middle of the week, I got a notification about “Uncorked” and even thought I thought it was interesting, I passed on it. Call it FOMO, call it intrigue, call it whatever you’d like to, but once I saw Niecy Nash and Courtney B. Vance were in the film, I knew I had give it a shot on Friday.

The poster for “Uncorked” (written and directed by Prentice Penny) says “some dreams can’t stay bottled up” but presents life lessons for when life’s plans become ‘uncorked’. The brilliance of the starring trio comprised of Nash, Vance and Mamoudou Athie is refreshing and helps deliver one of the most poignant messages I’ve derived from a movie in a short while. I asked myself why it wasn’t in theaters, it’s so good. With much of the country under quarantine, this film is perfect on Netflix because we’re at least a few weeks away from theaters reopening.

The film opens by contrasting ribs to wine. I’m a brother and I’m cultured…wine and ribs aren’t an unlikely pairing for me, at all. Still, I had no idea where this movie was going to take me. After a few scenes, it became clear that the lead (Elijah) was juxtaposed between family and the future he wanted. If all else failed, he could fall in line and take the helm of his family BBQ restaurant. He wasn’t focused on “failure” though, he had big dreams. Eiljah’s were the type that seldom find young black men in Memphis. His dream? To become a master sommelier. Yeah, read that again. He wanted to become a master sommelier, not a smokesman like his father and grandfather. This caused obvious friction in the family and drove a wedge between the father and son, but thank God for mama!

©Nina Robinson

Without his mother’s unwavering support, Elijah may have never mustered up the courage to pursue his dream. Shout out to all the ultra amazing mothers, especially mine! This movie is not saccharin sweet and won’t leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling at its end. Instead, life’s bitterness is as palpable as select wine only a master sommelier can identify on sight. Death and disappointment dissuade the young dreamer and even as the movie ends, if he has nothing else, Elijah has determination. His dreams were bigger than what he’d seen so he went where the dream could be fulfilled; first in a winery, then all the way to Paris (thanks again to his mother’s support).

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

I don’t think Elijah was fighting to escape Memphis. I think he was fighting to separate himself from everything and anyone who wouldn’t let him pursue his dream of becoming a master sommelier. His mother believed he could even though she couldn’t pronounce what he aspired to do. His father however could never see his son doing anything outside of the restaurant business. Louis (his father) meant well but like many parents, he never imagined that his son’s dream would be any different than his. This is not unique and young black men everywhere need to be empowered with the hope that they can pursue greatness beyond what they’ve seen, so far.

©Marie ETCHEGOYEN

Choosing to become a master sommelier bore its own risks for Elijah. He would be the only black man in the classes and one of few in the field. But he weighed that against the familiarity of not only the family business, but the demographic of black BBQ entrepreneurs. He chose the road less-traveled and, don’t we get to do that? Do we ever get to dream, or have we settled into the mundanity of a life that will safely secure a paycheck at the end of the week? In a twist of fate, the head of the class must return home from Paris because his father landed a huge corporate for him at home.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Frederick Douglass

Elijah would never be satisfied as a smokesman…never. He loved his father and his family so much. He wanted to make them proud, but he also wanted them to be genuinely proud of him. I know that feeling all too well! This film presents a great opportunity for us to give our young black men space to be who they are. Not who we are, not who we think they could or should be, but who they are. We should also work to ensure that we are doing all we can to help them become who they were created to be.

Are you living a life of purpose?

Wealth is generational and as Elijah’s father wanted him to understand, so is entrepreneurship. The reality this movie proffers is that not following your dreams can also become generational.

©Nina Robinson

In the process of Elijah following his dream, his father confessed that he didn’t truly follow his. As an owner of two restaurants, his father was clearly a successful man and role model. His resistance was also Elijah’s greatest hindrance. I was Elijah, and I am now a father. I know the pain of pursuing purpose when those you love want you to do something else, even temporarily. As a father, I am also facing the reality that while my sons want to emulate me right now, their minds may change one day, and I have to be alright with that.

©Nina Robinson

One last note I want to share about this film is the dynamic of the women in Elijah’s life. His mother was so supportive, but so was his girlfriend. From what I gathered; she was even faithful while he was in Paris! When he returned home to broken dreams, she was there for him and her support never wavered. In fact, his dream of one day becoming a master sommelier was matched by hers of becoming a nurse. They were both in pursuit of a coveted pin and at the close of the film, they seem determined to get them!

There’s so much more to the film and but I don’t want to spoil its richness for you, here’s a review that should pique your interest. While the whole world is on a sabbatical, let’s take time to pause, reflect and reset. That young black man in your life may be destined to be so much more than what he currently sees, and it’s up to the village surrounding him to ensure that if he’s dreaming about it, he can achieve it.

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