Pomfret native finds a voice

Web site allows love of pop culture a steady outlet

Friday, Nov. 7, 2008

Zuberi Williams, founder of Poptimal, a popular culture Web site and podcast, fondly remembers what it was like growing up in Pomfret.

"Growing up in Pomfret in the '90s, we were very family-oriented," Williams said. "Every Friday night, our dad would pick up a different genre of movie for the family to watch. We would have romance, horror or comedy movies from either the Blockbuster or Blair's. My mom would pick up pizza or seafood from the old Fin and Claw in La Plata, and the whole family would sit around and watch and discuss the movies.

"We would talk over the movies and after the movies," he said. "I guess that would be one of the reasons I became a movie buff."

To become part of the Williams family, you have to love movies, too.

Williams' wife, Samantha, had to pass a test before he would consider marrying her.

"One of the stages of our courtship was to have her watch the movie ‘Vision Quest,' which is like ‘Rocky' except that it is about wrestlers," Williams said.

Samantha passed the test, and the two have been married since November.

Williams has watched "Vision Quest" hundreds of times. Williams, who was on the La Plata High School wrestling team, turned watching "Vision Quest" into a pregame ritual.

"We would watch it before wrestling matches as a team," he said.

Williams was also on the soccer, baseball and track teams while at La Plata High School. His father, Richard Williams, is the track coach for the high school. Williams is the only one in his family who is not involved in education. His mom teaches at Matthew Henson Middle School, and he has two sisters who also are involved in teaching.

Zainabu Williams, Zuberi's sister, always knew her brother would achieve his goals.

"From the time he was in elementary school, Zu would tell everyone quite seriously that he wanted to be a lawyer," Zainabu said.

Zainabu thinks Zuberi will be able to do great thing with his new Web site.

"Zu never stops pursuing his goals," Zainabu said. "Being driven to do well is within his nature."

When he is not reviewing movies, Williams is a trial lawyer, involved with civil litigation, who works in Washington, D.C.

He revealed how the idea for Poptimal came about.

While studying for his MBA and his law degree from American University, Williams met his future wife.

One of the rituals every dating couple performs is asking the question, "What movie do you want to see?" Williams said.

"I would read a movie review, and wonder who the people were that reviewed the movie," Williams said. "I would look up the reviewers, and I would have nothing in common with any of them. They weren't from a small town, and didn't go out on the weekends and eat crabs."

"I wanted to match the reviewer's viewpoint with the people that were reading the reviews," Williams said.

Poptimal started in July, and the site registered 200 unique hits.

"For September, we are on the way to having 3,000 unique hits," Williams said. "We are averaging 280 hits a day. We have grown exponentially. We are getting people from across the USA checking us out."

If you do check out Poptimal, you will see a site for free stuff.

"We give people passes to advance screenings of movies," Williams said. "The movie studios like to get an advance buzz about how people like the movie, and they will try to pick different cities and different cross- sections of people to view their films."

Williams himself watches three to four movies a week, and he and Samantha admit to watching a lot of television.

"Some shows are sacred to both of us," Williams said. "We won't watch ‘Weeds' or ‘Mad Men' without the other one."

Williams, who graduated from La Plata High School in 1996, remembers when the St. Charles Towne Center mall was new, and playing clarinet at the mall for the Milton M. Somers Middle School band during opening day.

"I remember when they had the dollar movies in Waldorf," Williams said. "I would see a lot of movies for just a dollar, and go hang out with my friends."

Williams never gets bored with Poptimal. He never feels stress working full time as a lawyer, keeping a newlywed wife happy and starting up Poptimal.

"Sleep is for the weak," Williams said laughing.

"When I get off the phone with you, I need to return a call to Warner Brothers in California," Williams said. "It is really exciting to see the 818 area code pop up on your calls."