Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Film Shows Life After Infidelity and Same-Sex Attraction

by Maniko Barthelemy

Love and Marriage Unravel in "I Thought It Was Forever"

Whether you go to a chapel, courthouse or seal your love with a kiss at a lavish ceremony, marriage has at its core the expectation of lifelong happiness. What happens when your spouse reveals an unnerving truth that interrupts joy and peace in your life? In "I Thought It Was Forever" couples boldly and candidly remove all stereotypes and rumors about life after a spouse comes out. Visit the film's social media page at

As soon as the page reaches 500 likes, Southern Belle Productions will release it online for free. See the trailer, meet the cast and crew at Leave a comment on the page about the film, the issue or your personal experience.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Film Boldly Examines Life Hours After Ex-Offender Leaves Prison

Photo courtesy: Jeff Ray for Southern Belle Productions

How do ex-offenders meet or defy expectations?
by Maniko Barthelemy|

Prison undoubtedly changes people. When you hear the word Reentry, what comes to mind? Between reality TV shows, misconceptions and expectations, the actual determining factor that defines someone's life after prison has a lot to do with the first 24 hours of freedom. 

What makes coming home from prison a fresh start or a setback? Southern Belle Productions, LLC​ is in the pre-production phase of a documentary unapologetically showing the reality of attitudes and expectations when someone is released from prison in Louisiana. 

E-mail Southern Belle Productions at for details.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

by Maniko Barthelemy

Jefferson Parish Celebrates Alternative Drug Sentencing Program

For a brief moment, judges, ex-offenders, parole officers and politicians were all smiles, happy to be around each other. “This is about saving people’s lives, about making sure no one gets left behind and everyone has an opportunity to be a productive member of society,” said Jefferson Parish President, John Young.

Young and nearly 60 people enjoyed a Drug Court Rally, May 15, outside of the Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court Center. The program was one of many around the country celebrating “National Drug Court Month.”
With the emotional testimonies from graduates of the parish’s program and praise from politicians it felt like a joyful church service. One Gretna teenager ecstatic about being included in the festivities and determined to continue his clean and sober road got a standing ovation. “I turned to God and begged him to show me the way, said Philip Long.”

Long, 17, landed in front of a judge in 2013, after his addiction to painkillers spiraled out of control. Instead of being sentenced to time behind bars, Long got a break and slowly regained control of his life. He credits the 12-month court ordered strict intervention with his renewed sense of self-respect and ambition. “I’ve written songs and I think I want to be a journalist,’ said Long.

Court mandated drug treatment is rigorous. It includes frequent drug testing, sobriety meetings, unannounced visits from probation officers and family therapy. For adults, the intervention program is 18 months.

A Gretna woman told the crowd the drug court sentence scared her straight. “I wasn’t fit for jail and I knew I wouldn’t last,” said 39-year-old Natalie Parfait. For nearly 10 years, Parfait bounced between marijuana and heroin, neglecting her family. In 2011, her fast world and drug addiction collided, with tough love from a judge. “I was facing two to 28 years in prison and I was pregnant,” said Parfait. “I was standing there praying for a chance.” Today, she is healthy and happy to spend her days as a personal fitness trainer and her nights being a mother to her children.

Parfait and Long are two of the 500 Jefferson Parish Drug Court success stories over the parish’s 17 years of alternatively dealing with people who commit nonviolent crimes to support their habits. The adult system was put in place in 1997, followed by the juvenile program in 1998. Initially, grants and private donations kept the system afloat. Today, the Louisiana Supreme Court funds the program through earmarked revenue.

The rally marked the 25th anniversary of National Drug Court Month. The concept of drug courts was launched in Miami in 1989 to ease crowded criminal courtrooms and prisons. Every state has a drug court program. Experts point to the cost savings and success as reasons why it’s a viable solution. Critics see it as going soft on crime. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Festival Hits High Note with Entertainers and Entrepreneurs

by Maniko Barthelemy

It's the one place in the world where you'll always find peculiar entertainment. New Orleans is always festive, hot, humid and full of high notes from musicians imitated but never duplicated. In Louis Armstrong Park, named in honor of one of the city’s most beloved musicians, it’s time again for a festival unlike most in the city.

“Jazz in the Park,” a free music festival offering a gumbo of artists that are popular local favorites and who have traveled the world shining an international microscope on their talents, kicked off its fifth season, April 17. Every Thursday, 4 p.m. – 7 p.m., until June 2, the hypnotic sound of great free concerts, affordable, unforgettable food, and unique handcrafted souvenirs will welcome thousands.  “A lot of people forgot about this park,” said ????, referring to the years the park set abandoned, following Hurricane Katrina.

On this cool and perfectly calm day, there was no hint of sadness. A New Orleans second-line parade set the tone. High-steppers from the Sudan Social Aid and Pleasure Club, wearing red and yellow flashy costumes, jubilantly danced around the park, to hypnotic tunes blaring from a brass band’s horns complimented by thunderous beats from the drum, and of course people smiled, took photos and joined in on the fun.  “We don’t practice our dance moves because it’s just in our blood,” said Wendell Carter, a member of the Sudan Social Aid & Pleasure Club.

5th Ward Weebie Works the Crowd with his song "Let Me Find Out."
The dancing moved from the park’s entrance to center stage when local rapper, 5th Ward Weebie took the microphone. Weebie seemed like a choir director with his call-and-response style. He barely got a word out before the crowd began clapping their hands, dancing and shouting the hook to “Let Me Find Out,” the artist’s latest hit song. The lyrics are laced with crass criticism, jokes at the expense of others, and quite honestly will cause you to move your hips and chuckle a few times. “It’s a self-check song for people who love to talk about other people but know they have their own issues,” said Weebie. To see 5th Ward Weebie’s video of “Let Me Find Out,” visit YouTube,

The next artist who electrified fans with his testimony, raspy voice, and bold declarations was Glen David Andrews. He’s a member of the almost uniquely unbelievably talented and gifted Andrews family. The Andrews clan is as respected and adored musically as the Jacksons. Andrews joyfully entertained everyone with highlights from “Redemption,” his newest CD. It’s a rousing candid lyrical road trip into his life, giving fans all of the ups, downs and turnarounds that have landed his album on the top 40 jazz charts within the last week.  

Andrews launched onto the stage clapping his hands, dancing and bobbing his head easing into  “Movin' Up.” The song reconfirms his renewed love of self, appreciation of his family, fans, and celebration of his career’s rebirth. Here’s a glimpse of Andrews performing “Movin Up,”

Robert Piazza, owner of Bayou Leather and Jewelry, stands near his special hand-designed beer holsters
Musicians aren’t the only ones who welcome the invitation to be part of Jazz in the Park. Robert Piazza owns Bayou Leather and Jewelry. He’s one of more than a dozen vendors at the festival. “We sell a lot of our merchandise but the best thing about this is it's unlike other festivals because it’s two seasons, lasts about eight weeks in the spring and again in the fall, so we meet people from around the world,” said Piazza.

Maniko Barthelemy grabs a strawberry snowball at Jazz in the Park
People from around the world looking to get their hands on something cool, like crushed ice drowned in sweet syrup, stop by and visit the festival's unofficial cooling station. “I have the best snowballs in the state,” said Aquanette (Ackie) Singleton, owner of Mrs. Ackie & Keimika Snoballs, Food and Catering Service. Singleton sells hundreds of the cold cups but another big hit is her twist on cheesy nachos, topping them off with jalapeƱo peppers and spicy crawfish. Give her a call for your next event, (504) 250-4996.
Crawfish Nachos by Mrs. Ackie & Keimika Snoballs, Food and  Catering Service
Jazz in the Park is every Thursday until June 5. Here’s a look at the festival’s schedule, Every week you'll see at least two live bands with a little lagniappe sliced in as a special treat. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Professionals Party with an Impact

Non-profit New Orleans Group Rewards Community and Business Owners

by Maniko Barthelemy

Hundreds of children who learn to swim in New Orleans show up wearing shorts and an old T-shirt. When they're lessons are over, the children use grocery store bags instead of waterproof bags to store their wet clothes. You have the power to bring a smile to a child's face and paint a different picture.

Getty Images Internet Photo

Maniko Barthelemy and all of her friends who own businesses in New Orleans invite you to join them for a special poolside event that blends networking and philanthropy. Take a look at the flyer and make sure you register for the free party directly via Eventbrite, ,by the April 17 deadline.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Orleans Man Stars in "12 Years a Slave"

by Maniko Barthelemy

Parker, Rob Steinberg's Character Confronts Slave Owner in "12 Years a Slave"
It’s Hollywood’s Cinderella story from conception to cast and completion. “12 Years a Slave” may have shocked the world by winning three Oscars; Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, (Lupita Nyong'o) and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley).  After months of chatter, controversy and comparisons to “Roots” the ‘70s television miniseries based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel and films like “The Butler” and “DJango Unchained,” “12 Years” is in a distinguished league of films. It is indeed a Hollywood script but because you know it’s based on a true story, it undeniably leaves a mark on your heart and mind.

You empathize with a man whose life unravels from a treasured American dream to a terrifying American horror story.  “A lot of my friends can’t watch it because it’s a difficult subject matter and they don’t want to relive the subject matter,” says Rob Steinberg.

Steinberg plays Parker, a shopkeeper, in the film. Parker is a friend and savior of sorts for the main character, Solomon Northrup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Northrup, a free man and respected New York musician is scammed, kidnapped, sold to plantations over 12 years and renamed Platt Hamilton. From New York to Washington, D.C., Georgia and finally Louisiana, Solomon’s hell seems never-ending. “My agent called me about the audition. I didn’t do a lot of discovery but we put it on tape and got a call to read for the director,” says Steinberg.
Steinberg is used to lights, camera and action. The Tulane University graduate hit the entertainment business during the late ‘80s. “I started out in the music business as a manager,” says Steinberg. His transition from one entertainment career to another came in 1989. “I started taking classes in LA, got a few parts in stage plays and then my career starting picking up when I moved to New Orleans four years ago,” said Steinberg.
His most recent role is likely the most unforgettable. After seeing Steinberg’s taped audition, executives wanted him to audition live for the director, Steve McQueen. To project the best passionate connection to Parker, Steinberg read the book, which chronicles the true story of Northrup’s turbulent and cruel life as a slave. Despite despair, Northrup worked, waited and prayed the truth would come out. “I knew a lot about slavery but I didn’t know there were bands of men around the country kidnapping free people into slavery,” says Steinberg. To understand the director’s style, Steinberg watched several of McQueen’s previous films.
He got the part. The first day onset Steinberg got a jolt of emotions he didn’t expect. “Walking on-set and seeing people in the period costumes, does something to you. You’re certainly not just acting and you definitely want to get it right,” says Steinberg.
The Louisiana-shot film went from creation to completion in 30 days. It will make you cringe, cry and cheer by the time the rollercoaster ends. After years of failed attempts at regaining his freedom by detailing his captivity in letters but being betrayed by people he thought sincerely wanted to help right a wrong, Northup gets a break. While working on a Louisiana plantation he meets Canadian abolitionist Samuel Bass, played by Brad Pitt. Bass doesn’t like slavery, believes Northrup’s heartbreaking story and takes a chance. He secretly carries letters from Northup to his friends and family in New York.
Parker gets one of the letters and goes to New Orleans to bring Northup home. “There’s that powerful scene at the end where he (Solomon) returns to his family in New York tearfully apologizes for his appearance. We shot four or five takes with me in the room but they were so powerful my character in the scene seemed odd, so we cut it out,” says Steinberg.
On the heels of the success “12 Years,” Steinberg says his work is growing in an impressive direction. He has roles in several independent movies set for release this year and is sharing the small screen on the soap opera “The Young & The Restless.”

“12 Years” released in October 2013 cost $20 million to make and has so far earned $158 million in box office ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.  

Share your thoughts on “12 Years” by leaving us a comment or e-mailing Maniko Barthelemy at

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mardi Gras Krewe Has Tradition of BYOF & BYOD

by Maniko Barthelemy

It's a Mardi Gras Krewe rich in tradition, at many events members wear elaborate costumes and give back to the community sporadically. The New Orleans Zulu Krewe started in 1909 as the only African-American Mardi Gras Krewe. Today it's more diverse but remains unique in its approach to celebrating the biggest free party in the world. Tickets to this year's highly anticipated ball, which dubs as a fundraiser for the Krewe cost $100 each. While the headlining entertainment is as impressive as the venue, the sold out 2014 Krewe ball is the only Mardi Gras ball in New Orleans where you pay for a seat at a table and two things are missing, if you don't bring your own food and drinks, you won't get either as part of your experience.

What are your thoughts? Are you attending the ball? Would you be willing to pay more for you ticket with food and drinks included in the price?