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My Students, the Movie Stars: an Interview with the Kids behind “Moonlight”

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When I ditched my New York City desk job to become a middle school teacher at an under-resourced school in Miami, I had a variety of expectations.  Based on my own haunting middle school experience, I braced myself for everything from questionable school lunches and paper airplanes to red pen markings and the smell of Axe body spray. However, watching my own students become Hollywood celebrities in the feature film “Moonlight” (this year’s Best Picture) was certainly not on my list.

I can distinctly remember when Jaden Piner (who plays the role of Kevin) came to me in the beginning of the 2015 school year to tell me that he would be missing school the following week to begin shooting a small local film.  “What kind of excuse is that?”  I thought, “He’d better finish all of his make-up work.” Fast forward one year later and that small “local film” has just won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

After getting permission from their agents (you remember your agent from 7th grade, right?) I met with Alex (who plays the role of Chiron) and Jaden (Kevin) to ask them a few questions about their experience filming Moonlight and their journey into the Hollywood spotlight. Here’s what they had to say:

Thanks so much for joining me guys. To start off, what experiences have you had that inspired you to start acting?

Jaden: My first experience happened two or three weeks before 6th grade, I performed in a skit for my grandma’s sermon since she’s a preacher. I had never acted before but I decided to just be myself and act natural. People were laughing and crying in the crowd and I realized how much I loved it so I decided to apply for the drama program at Norland Middle.

Alex: I never really had any experiences with acting, I kind of just picked it up. Ever since I was in elementary school my mom always said I was too hyper, so we thought it was a good way to express myself.

How would your friends describe you? Natural born Hollywood actor?

Jaden: My friends would describe me as the funny light skinned one or the short one. They definitely don’t frame me as a movie star, they keep me regular and keep me humble. They would say I’m funny, always willing to try new things and hopefully that I’ve always been a good friend.

Alex: My friends would say I’m small, cool and funny. My friends have all treated me the same since all of this started, and to be honest, they have kept me grounded. It doesn’t matter where I’m at, an Oscar awards party, or sitting in class, they treat me the same no matter what.

Describe what it has been like to balance your role as a student and an up-and-coming actor?

Jaden: Balancing acting and school has been kind of hard: tons of late nights, auditions all of the time etc. Sometimes I stay up at night practicing for an upcoming role.  Some of my school is now online it’s much easier to balance now.

Alex: It was very hard at the beginning as we spent so much time filming and traveling. I felt like when ever I would come back to school with all of my make-up work, I would have to leave again and the cycle would start all over. Over time I learned how to balance things out, and I am very thankful for the role of my friends in supporting me.

Moonlight captures a Miami that is unfamiliar to an audience who expects the typical star-studded, glamorous perception of the city. Considering the Miami that you grew up in and what is portrayed in the film, what do you think is most special about Miami?

Jaden: The thing that is most special about Miami is the beauty and uniqueness of the neighborhoods. You can drive through any area and get a totally different kind of people and culture that you’re not going to find if you limit yourself to just thinking about the beach.

Alex: The people of Miami are the most special. The beaches and city are nice but without the people it wouldn’t truly be Miami. In Miami people are so expressive, just walk through Wynwood and look at the graffiti. In Miami they speak up for themselves and make their voices heard.

What would you want people to know about your community that other people might not know?

Jaden: I want people to know that Miami Gardens is not a bad neighborhood even though it could be seen that way. You see things on the news, shootings, robberies, fights but they don’t like to show the good things. There’s actually a lot of talent here and I’m glad that I can be proof of that and inspire others. When Moonlight came out people were asking me how they can start acting.

Alex: I want people to know that Miami Gardens is not just bad stuff just like Miami isn’t all about the beach and big buildings. Miami is actually very inspiring and full of leaders. I think that is why Moonlight is popular, because it makes the unseen, seen.

How can you relate to your on-screen character being that you’re both kids growing up in Miami?

Jaden: Kevin and I are both athletic. We both want to help other kids overcome their fears and feel comfortable, to be their true selves and not be shy.

Alex: I actually didn’t really grow up in Miami, I’m from New York City originally but Chiron is a lot quieter than me. There’s a lot of people getting bullied out there, luckily I haven’t experienced that too much but if I could say anything it’s that it’s got to stop.

What scene from the film impacted you the most?

Jaden: The scene where teenage Chiron hits the bully with the chair.  It shows that you can overcome your fears. 

Alex: The scene where Chiron is learning to swim impacted me the most because it showed that no matter what job you have or where you come from you can still help somebody. Juan (Mahershala Ali) taught me how to swim in the scene and even though he was a drug dealer he was still a good person. That scene proved to me that people are complicated.

What does your role in this film make you think about what you want to do next?

Jaden: I want to keep acting, I really want it to be my career. My dream role would be to act in an action/superhero movie, those are my favorite.

Alex: For my next acting role, I am working on this new project called “The Chi” on Showtime. Next year I am hoping to work on a project in Africa. I plan to be an actor as my career. My dream role would be to act in  “The Walking Dead.”

Thanks for speaking with us here guys. Finally I’m wondering, to whom do you credit your success?

Jaden: I credit my success to my drama teacher Mrs. Cidel and my mom and my teachers. I talk to them what about what’s happening next, and they help me to stay a step ahead and support my dreams.

*(cough, cough)… any specific teachers?*

You know I’ve got you Mr. Syros.  

Alex: I credit my success to my mom and dad. My dad taught me how to be strong and mom and Mrs. Cidel kept pushing me to do what I had to do. They helped me along the way and set me up for success.

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Lifestyle

How To Spot Financial Influencer Red Flags

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Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to gather all types of information from the internet. One click and you can learn about almost anything online. That includes personal finance. And if people want to learn about personal finance, they look up to personal finance influencers. 

Since personal finance is a serious and important issue, finding legitimate personal finance influencers is crucial so you don’t fall prey to fake ones. So it’s best to look out for financial influencer red flags. 

In this article, we’ll dig deeper into what financial influencers do and the red flags to keep an eye on. 

What do financial influencers do?

Financial influencers provide strategies and tips about how to handle money, investing, and other monetary-related topics. A financial influencer doesn’t have to undertake official courses to become one. More often than not, they share tips and strategies based on the experiences they gain throughout the years of investing, trading, or dealing with finances. 

A financial influencer may even share their personal experience in terms of growing their financial assets. As long as you have a proven track record of how you grew your finances, you can be classified as a financial influencer.

Financial influencers earn money in various ways. But to become an influencer, you have to earn considerable followership to attain trustworthiness. Moreover, credibility is also an essential aspect of being a financial influencer. So one has to accumulate social proof such as testimonials from the people they’ve helped, ratings from authoritative sites, and reviews from followers. 

These influencers create a website where they can typically distribute content on anything finance. In most cases, influencers earn money from ads on their sites, sponsors, or affiliate marketing. Furthermore, financial influencers also offer their services by conducting one-on-one consultation sessions with clients for a fee. 

Do financial influencers give tips for free?

Yes. Financial influencers start out by giving tips and strategies to grow your money for free. This way, they can gain followers, listeners, or subscribers. They distribute finance-related content such as blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, guides, whitepapers, PDF files, or even hold webinars. 

The most common platforms to distribute financial-related content are:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Reddit
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

You may also find financial influencers in their element in various groups and forum websites such as Quora. And you can gain many tips and strategies from other people who pitch into the conversation. 

5 Financial Influencer Red Flags to Watch Out For

As mentioned, it’s essential to find legitimate financial influencers to learn valuable insight about money. So here are the top financial influencer red flags to watch out for.

1. Unproportioned number of followers and engagement

Buying Instagram followers is a huge thing on the platform nowadays. So before following a financial influencer, check out if there is an imbalance between the number of followers and quantitative amount of engagement. If the influencer has a million followers with only 1,000 or fewer likes on every post, that’s a red flag.

2. No social proof

You should always consider credibility when selecting which financial influencers to follow. If you can’t find social proof on any of their platforms, then it means the influencer hasn’t lifted a finger to help anyone.

3. Hard selling

If you find that the influencer is always pushing for selling services or merch, consider it a red flag. A passionate financial influencer will prioritize helping others grow their money first before theirs. 

4. Asking for upfront fees

As mentioned, when they’re hard selling their services and asking for fees upfront, get one foot out the door immediately. These people want money from you above anything else.

5. Too-good-to-be-true promises

Sometimes, we fall prey to fake or too-good-to-be-true promises. Because of this, terms such as “guaranteed,” “get rich quick,” or “no fail” tend to spike up interest. However, there is no guarantee in the world of finance, so keep on searching for a legit influencer if you read terms like these. 

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Financial Guru Says Asking This One Question Will Help You Make Smart Financial Choices

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Financial guru Ramit Sethi explains doing this one essential thing before anything else to get your finances in check. He says you’re not going anywhere if you don’t map out and plan your journey. He teaches how to make smart financial choices that will keep your financial house in order. 

The era of technology has paved the way for fintech companies to help users transfer money conveniently and budget money properly. These days, there is no shortage of budgeting apps that range from free to premium services. Budgeting apps such as Mint, YNAB, PocketGuard, or Zeta could keep your finances in order. 

Moreover, you can also find many resources about achieving long-term financial success and security. However, the author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Ramit Sethi, says that all these budget and financial apps won’t work if you don’t do one essential step. 

I Will Teach You to Be Rich explores the principles to manage your finances properly and gain control of your future. It details a six-week program that encourages people in their 20s and 30s to live a more fulfilling life with financial security

Getting your financial goals straight

The Cut’s Charlotte Cowes interviews Ramit Sethi about financial planning. Sethi claims that people can get too confused about making money-related decisions. He says he gets more than 2,000 messages from people of various socioeconomic backgrounds and ages per day. 

Most of these messages are queries about finances and how to gain control of it to live a comfortable life. Sethi says that most people don’t know the definition of financial success. For example, when he asks clients what financial success is, they respond vaguely with no satisfying answers.

His clients’ definition of financial success would often relate to being able to do whatever they want, getting out of debt, or having a million dollars. However, when pressed for reasons of how they came up with these, his clients couldn’t answer. 

More often than not, people think about taking control of their money after graduating from college, getting married, getting divorced, having children, or getting a new job. Sethi claims that this reckoning is due to external factors and never internal ones. 

For instance, not many people wake up one day and say, “I want to regain control of my finances.” Instead, it’s always about these external events in one’s life that pushes people to think about managing their money. 

When this epiphany happens, most people who complain about personal finances probably have never read a book on personal finances. According to Sethi, the secret ingredient to achieving financial success is competence. You have to learn the ins and outs of the language of money. Unfortunately, money is talked about restrictively and unappealingly. 

The ONLY one question to ask to improve personal finance

Sethi says that these vague answers might be for fear of not living a comfortable life or a sense of obligation. These answers don’t motivate anyone from start to finish. But it’s how you plan a creative vision that allows you to make smart financial choices. 

Let your dreams push you towards better money management. So before tackling the basics of financial planning, ask yourself this one question:

“What does the rich life look like to me?”

Sethi advises being more specific on your visions in life. The more detailed and sensory your responses are, the more precise the path to financial success.

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Lifestyle

Five Lessons Learned From A Financial Reporter

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jason stauffer and wife

There is plenty of great personal advice out there. But how do you figure out whether or not it applies to you? Jason Stauffer, a NextAdvisor reporter, shares that there’s no single tip or money hack that will instantly turn your life around. However, some principles can guide you towards achieving your goals. You will need to find a way to apply them to your unique status or situation. So, here are the best personal finance tips to use.

Five Best Personal Finance Tips By Jason Stauffer

1. Budgeting Is More Than Just Managing Money

Stauffer said that his budget was a personalized spreadsheet he constantly updated for many years. It was part of his dream of becoming a young Warren Buffet. However, that budget rarely helped him feel less stressed about money.

During his early stint at NextAdvisor, Stauffer discovered zero-based budgeting or ZBB. Once he and his wife started to apply the method, they started saving more and feeling less anxious about money. A reasonable budget should manage your expenses and your emotional relationship with money. 

With ZBB, every money that comes in is assigned to a specific purpose. They allocated funds to pay for rent, cellphone, and other expenses. Aside from that, they also allot money for more than their current bills. This strategy helped them pay off student loans sooner than scheduled. 

ZBB also helped the couple build an emergency fund. For example, when their cat needed a $2,000 emergency surgery, they already have that amount available. Without sufficient emergency funds, it would have been a hindrance to their goals. 

The zero-based budgeting app called You Need a Budget (YNAB) has effectively turned credit cards into debit cards.

If you want to explore ZBB, YNAB is a great place to start. But take note, the app is not free. There are lots of free or cheap ZBB templates available. And ZBB isn’t the only budgeting approach that works. As you explore different budgeting methods, focus on why you want a budget. 

2. Prioritize Income Over Expenses

Some people have paid off their mortgage in less than six years and settled six-figure sums of debt. One common factor for these success stories is they constantly find ways to make more money. They engage in side hustle businesses or find better-paying jobs. Still, having a budget that works is the first step towards achieving goals. 

Stauffer also shared that they are expecting their first child, and it is as vital as ever to increase household income. His wife is considering a transition from freelance to a full-time world, which would provide a more stable income. From there, they might also explore other side hustle opportunities. 

Starting a freelance or side hustle might not be as challenging as you perceive. Chances are you already have hobbies and talents you could utilize or develop to augment your income. 

3. Learn To Negotiate

The idea of negotiating has always been overwhelming, but it’s one of the best personal finance tips to use. In reality, dealing is usually as simple as asking for what you want. Thinking about a good offer sometimes includes offering something of value in return. 

Any method of negotiation is better than no negotiation at all. Find an approach that could assist you in doing it and become more comfortable. You could try making an indirect request and evaluate if it is easier for you. 

4. Be Patient and Consistent

Transforming the status of your finances takes time. Almost all financial success stories are prefaced by a long learning period and establishing momentum. Whether learning to code before becoming a tech entrepreneur or saving up for a downpayment on a house or property, significant changes take time. 

If you can only take small steps, focus on taking small steps. It can be not easy seeing how fast everyone else moves or progresses. What’s not seen is how much time it took them to develop the speed you’re seeing. 

5. Future Homeowners: Ask About a Zero Mortgage

The most overlooked strategy Stauffer encountered for reducing your mortgage cost is to ask for lender credits instead of a higher interest rate. The credits would be used to settle the loan fee portion of your closing costs in this situation. With a zero-cost mortgage, you’d be paying a reduced amount every time you buy a home or refinance.

When researching lenders, always ask if they have a zero-cost loan option. Then, compare your options and see which one applies to you.

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