Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Legacy of Old Glory & Boston Latin School

Joseph Rake swings a flag at attorney Ted Landsmark
As a young African-American boy growing up in the mostly white suburbs of Bethesda, Maryland in the 1970's I was light years away from the turmoil that gripped the city of Boston in 1975 and 1976 in the wake of the court-ordered desegregation of the city's public schools.

But I vividly recall the unsettling sense of fear I felt when I first saw the iconic photo (pictured left) taken on April 5, 1976 by Stanley Forman, a photographer for the Boston Herald American.

The picture, known as 'The Soiling of Old Glory' was a shocking snapshot of the state of race in America in the 1970's that offered a glimpse of the level of anger felt by many whites in Boston over the issue of students being bused to schools far outside their neighborhoods in order to comply with the court's order to desegregate the city's public school system.

For those too young to remember, 1976 was the nation's Bicentennial year and the American flag was everywhere that year, not just on July 4th, but year round. On buildings, vehicles, logos, houses, clothes, billboards, planes, trains, television - so seeing the flag used in an act of such blatant racial hostility and violence made it even more disturbing.

And April 5th when the incident happened was just a day after the 8th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee.

Like millions of other people around the world, this image was seared into my mind for years as a symbol of the tense racial climate in Boston, but as we approach the 40th anniversary of Forman's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, it's important to remember that pictures don't always tell the whole story.

Photographer Stanley Forman
The picture appears to show white teenager Joseph Rake preparing to stab prominent African-American civil rights attorney Ted Landsmark with a pole with an American flag attached to it, but that's not what was happening.

In actuality, Forman (pictured left) snapped the famous photo as Rake as was attempting to swing the flag at Landsmark and hit him with the pole, but he missed because of the man who appears to be gripping Landsmark's arms to hold him still to be struck.

That man is Jim Kelly, and on that day back in 1976 he was one of the many anti-busing protesters gathered outside the courthouse.

Kelly actually came to Landsmark's aid when he saw the attorney being attacked by Rake and others who'd punched and kicked Landsmark to the ground right before Forman snapped the photograph.

In truth, Kelly was actually pulling Landsmark up to his feet in order to help get him out of the way of Rake striking him again with the flagpole; to me those facts change the composition and meaning of the photograph.

In 2008, Louis Masur, the author of "The Soiling of Old Glory: The Photo That Shocked America",
a book about Forman's photo, discussed how the image illustrated the contrast between how far the nation had come since the famous photo of the Marines raising the American flag over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in World War II.

In an interview with Alex Kingsbury, Masur told US News, "There are connections to the images of the Boston Massacre, and that connection was made at the time. The notion of visual memory gives it power. There's also the element of the flag and the desecration of the flag, which was quite powerful in 1976. There was a powerful sense in the country of how far things had fallen from the image of the Marines planting the flag at Iwo Jima."
Sadly, as we approach the 40th anniversary of Stanley Forman's photograph, a grass roots social media effort by two African-American students from Boston serves as a reminder of how far we as a nation have to go. 
BLS students Kylie Webster-Cazeau (L) & Meggie Noel (r)
As has been widely reported in the press over the past week or so, students Kylie Webster-Cazeau and Meggie Noel (pictured left) are both students at the prestigious Boston Latin School; widely recognized as the oldest public school in the United States, it consistently ranks as one of the top high schools in the nation.
Founded in 1635 as a school to educate the male children of Boston's elite, it was eventually desegregated to include both blacks and women.

While the first African-American to graduate from BLS was Parker Bailey in 1877, the school's efforts to desegregate its student body have made it the subject of controversy over the years, but more recently the school has come under scrutiny for not doing more to address an atmosphere that has become increasingly hostile to students of color.

Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau began to draw national attention to the issue after bringing copies of racist Twitter messages to the headmaster headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta which had been posted by other BLS students in the wake of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

Noel and Webster-Cazeau claim the headmaster did nothing to address the issue and so they began posting a series of videos on Youtube announcing their social media message that also called for current BLS students and alumnus to us social media (including their Twitter hashtag #BlackAtBLS) which has prompted national media coverage, including a Boston Globe story three days ago that called attention to the fact that black and Hispanic enrollment at Boston Latin that has dropped from 23% in 1996 to 9% today.

While I certainly admire these two high school students for having the courage to use their creativity and utilize social media to address the racial intolerance and cultural insensitivity taking place in the hallowed halls of one of the nations most prestigious schools, it's also troubling that the students, rather than administrators or faculty are the ones taking the lead to address these issues.

Remarkably, almost 40 years since Stanley Forman took his iconic photo of Joseph Rake trying to strike a civil rights lawyer with an American flag (pole) in front of a courthouse, the underlying issues related to the 1976 court-ordered desegregation of public schools in Boston are still dividing students in the 21st century.

In some ways, it makes 'The Soiling of Old Glory' even scarier.


Monday, February 01, 2016

1000 Black Girl Books

11-year-old Marley Dias created  #1000BlackGirlBooks
After months of political posturing, televised debates, town hall-style Q&A's, political commercials, lengthy robo-calls and snarky video soundbites, caucus night has finally arrived in Iowa for the presidential hopefuls of both parties.

After tonight the shape of the 2016 presidential race will come into much sharper focus, and there will be plenty of time to to dive into the harsh reality that some of the Republican hopefuls will be facing over breakfast tomorrow.

But before I settle in to binge on live caucus updates from WNYC, as we kick off Black History Month it seems appropriate to give props to an impressive grassroots literary movement started by a young African-American girl who used a mix of social media and moxie to confront racial bias in children's literature.

As you may have heard, a gifted 11-year-old student from West Orange, New Jersey named Marley Dias (pictured above) has been making headlines after launching a book drive last November with the catchy title, "1000 Black Girl Books".

As Amy Kuperinsky reported on NJ.com last Friday, this sixth-grader who skipped a grade and reads on an eighth grade level grew frustrated with reading books at Thomas A. Edison Middle School that didn't have any girls as characters who looked like her.

As Marley famously observed, the majority of the books she read in her classes were about "white boys and their dogs" and she found it troubling to her sense of self esteem that she never found any characters who looked like her in the pages she was reading.

So rather than become embittered or angry, she decided to do something about it.

With the help and encouragement of her mother Janice Johnson Dias, a social worker and community activist, Marley started a book drive with the ambitious goal of collecting 1,000 books with girls of color as the lead character.

Her book drive was started as a project under the umbrella of her mother's community organization known as Grass Roots Community Foundation (GCF); which seeks to improve the lives of women and young girls whose lives are impacted by poverty.

She also started a Twitter hashtag, #1000BlackGirlBooks that's made national headlines and her collection of books will be donated to the rural Jamaican school where her mother and grandmother were educated.

She's already received more than 850 from people of all races from around the nation who hear about her efforts; and many more are expected to be donated.

It's a great story about literature, the thirst for knowledge and the human condition.

Last Friday morning The Brian Lehrer Show also did an interesting segment on the book drive in which the topic of diversity in children's publishing was also discussed; give it a listen it runs about 15 minutes.

Brian had Brooklyn author Zetta Elliot on the segment shared a few of the African-American-themed children's books that she's written including "The Girl Who Swallowed the Sun".

Listeners also called in with a variety of interesting suggestions for Marley's book list including the Newbery Medal winning book "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred D. Taylor.

The segment also examined the how and why Marley Dias faced such a challenge finding children's books with diverse characters and story lines by looking deeper at the disparities inside the world of children's book publishing.

Brian's conversation with publisher Jason Low of  Lee and Low Books, the largest independent publisher of children's books in the United States, offered some interesting insight; including the fact that while people of color (African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans etc.) make up about 37% of the American population, over the course of the past 21 years, only 10% of the children's books published in the U.S. contained multicultural content.

Marley Dias' story struck a chord with me as I was raised with a love of books and reading and spent many hours as a child doing just that.

While I was content to loose myself in fictional worlds with a variety of characters and settings, I never really spent a lot of time thinking about myself in relation to the racial identity of the protagonists in the pages I read.

Up until the third grade I mostly read for pleasure, but it was in the fourth grade when I read white journalist John Howard Griffin's searing non-fiction portrait of the racial climate in the southern U.S. in the late 1950's "Black Like Me" that I began to start to seek out books about the African-American experience.

After seeing the 1972 movie Sounder in the late 70's when it was rebroadcast on ABC, I remember being deeply moved by the injustices portrayed in the story and feeling a connection with the young protagonist.

That feeling of seeing someone who looked like me in a film sparked me to read the book by William H. Armstrong (which won the Newbery Award in 1970) in about fifth or sixth grade.

Not long after that I read The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks in seventh grade.

Those were the first books I recall reading with young African-American men as protagonists.

I suppose children of all races or ethnic backgrounds who are inclined to read are eventually drawn to literary experiences that help lead them along the path of the universal question "Who Am I?" in their own time.

But I'm impressed with the fact that 11 year-old Marley Dias had the presence of mind, maturity and awareness of self to step back and question why she so rarely saw herself in the pages of the books she read in school.

In doing so, she sparked a national conversation about race, children's publishing and diversity in the American educational curriculum.

I can't recall a more widespread grass roots national discussion on the issue of diversity within children's publishing, and as far as it being sparked by an 11-year-old from West Orange, NJ, the old adage taken from the Biblical verse of Isaiah, "And the children shall lead" certainly applies here.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

B.o.B - 'Flat Out' Nuts?

Holocaust denial? Flat-Earth theory advocate B.o.B
With the hyper-conservative libertarian tycoons Charles and David Koch spending tens of millions of dollars a year to debunk climate change science, we've come to expect the willful embrace of ignorance and dismissal of scientific facts from any number of Republican politicians.

But the recent media dust-up over rapper B.o.B's promoting ridiculous Flat-Earth theory and Holocaust deniers is a reminder that ignorance is an equal opportunity player.

As you may have heard, the kerfuffle arose after B.o.B began sending Tweets to his two million-plus Twitter followers promoting his belief that the world is flat and that there's been a conspiracy to keep the rest of us in the dark. Really.

Last Sunday evening January 24th, B.o.B sent the following Tweet: "A lot of people are turned off by the phrase "flat earth"...but there's no way U can see all the evidence and not know...grow up." 

Yeah exactly. Wow.

Neil deGrasse Tyson slams B.o.B on The Nightly Show
It got really interesting when popular physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted back to B.o.B the following day accusing the rapper of "being five centuries repressed in reasoning".

That exchange prompted the delusional artist to post a recording of a rap song called "Flatline" on Soundcloud - which among other things accused Tyson of being a Freemason and (wait for it...) encouraged listeners to check out the writings of author and anti-Semitic Holocaust denier David Irving.

Tyson blew up social media when he made an appearance on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and promptly took apart B.o.B's delusional flat-Earth beliefs by schooling the rapper on why the Earth appears to be flat to the naked eye by referencing Euclidean geometry and calculus.

Tyson also warned of the danger of  "Growing anti-intellectual strain in this country" which he's warned of before with regards to politicians who deny that human activity has accelerated climate change on the planet; and politicians who seek to replace the Theory of Evolution in schools with teachings from the Bible from the chapter of Genesis.  

If you really want to get down into the nitty gritty of the depth of B.o.B's embrace of delusional quasi-fascist beliefs, Ben Norton wrote a pretty concise summary on Salon.com on Wednesday last week - Norton rightfully takes the press to task for not calling B.o.B to account for espousing the beliefs of David Irving.

Who is David Irving?

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) devotes an informative Webpage to Irving, a British author who has written several books on the history of World War II.

According to the SPLC Website Irving spent time in an Austrian prison in 2006 for denying the existence of the gas chambers at the German concentration camp Auschwitz where at least 1.1 million people (90 % of them Jews) were killed by the Nazis from May 1940, until it was liberated by lead elements of the Soviet Army in January, 1945.

Holocaust denier David Irving
Irving is on record as denying that the Nazi genocide of European Jews ever took place.

We have to wonder why a rapper like B.o.B would be encouraging his listeners to read Irving's writings

Is B.o.B simply intrigued and infatuated with the idea of conspiracy theories, or is he genuinely revealing himself to be an anti-Semite?

Let's be clear, Irving is a Hitler apologist.

The author's numerous quotes on the subject of Holocaust denial make his beliefs quite clear.

For example, according to the SPLC Website Irving is quoted as saying in 1989:

"Until the end of this tragic century there will always be incorrigible historians, statesmen and publicists who are content to believe, that the Nazis used 'gas chambers' at Auschwitz to kill human beings. But it is now up to them to explain to me as an intelligent and critical student of modern history why there is no significant trace of any cyanide compound in the building which they have always identified as the former gas chambers." 

So there's nothing cool or edgy about dropping the name of a man who denies the existence of one of the most heinous acts of barbarity in modern history.

Now there's no question that the Georgia-born B.o.B is a genuinely talented musical performer.

He's scored legit Billboard hits with his catchy, up-tempo radio-friendly singles 'Nothin on You' (featuring Bruno Mars doing the chorus), and 'Airplane' (featuring Haley Williams singing the chorus) - click the links above and give those a quick listen, clearly the guy has some talent.

But it's his recent use of his new found fame as a platform to espouse what are in essence, fringe, right-wing conspiracy theories that's really troubling.

Now it's quite possible the whole episode is simply some kind of bizarre publicity stunt designed to get B.o.B's name in the press, rank his name higher in Goggle searches and expose more people to his music.

But clearly his label has already weighed in on the controversy as his bizarre rap song "Flat Line" was promptly removed from Soundcloud.

B.o.B. wouldn't be the first musical artist to say or do strange things that attracted publicity; and obviously he has a right to his own beliefs.

But I have to agree with Neil deGrasse Tyson that one's personal beliefs, whatever they might be, are one thing.

When those beliefs are then broadcast to the millions of young people who might confuse the rapper's musical talent with a mature grasp of history, culture, education and science - there's a real potential danger of influencing impressionable young minds with toxic beliefs that are repulsive to an informed society.

B.o.B's being young and relatively new to the power of his influence doesn't excuse promoting a false belief about science that was disproved in the 17th century - and it certainly doesn't excuse his spreading the degenerate theories of a Holocaust denier like David Irving.

I don't know if this guy is eccentric, eclectic, stupid, or just 'flat out' nuts.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Left Untouched - Oscar Boycott Blowback & Straight Outta Compton

UK actress Charlotte Rampling 
Over the course of this first month of 2016 I've already used this blog as a platform to vent about the film industry's ongoing struggle with diversity epitomized by the blowback over the Academy choosing not to nominate a single person of color for any of the 20 acting awards categories.

But with the 2016 SAG Awards coming up this Saturday, I wanted to circle back and take a quick look at some of the fallout from the Oscar nomination controversy since I blogged about it last Tuesday.

First let me say that I was quite impressed with the quality of former model-turned actress and 60's "It Girl" Charlotte Rampling's work on Showtime's series Dexter during the 2013 season, and more recently on the second season of the BBC series Broadchurch.

But given the litany of complaints from actresses about the lack of quality film roles for women "of a certain age", it struck me as more than a bit ironic that that the 69-year-old Rampling (who received a 2016 Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work in 45 Years) caused a stir during an interview last Friday morning with the French radio network Europe 1 when she announced that the protests over the Oscar nominations were "racist to whites."

Obviously Rampling is entitled to her opinion, but I felt that was a bit much.

To me, the reactionary tone of her comments made it seem as if she completely misread the widespread controversy over the Oscar nominations flap.

Hollywood executive DeVon Franklin
Most of the informed opinions and comments I've read from African-American and white Hollywood industry folks who were upset about the 2016 Oscar nomination seem more focused on the need of the Academy (and the film industry) to make inclusion and diversity in front of and behind the camera more of an industry priority.

With all due respect to Ms. Rampling, it's much more complex than some simplistic sweeping judgement that every one of the thousands of white Academy members are all "racists".

Cheryl Boone Issacs, the Academy's president,  is African-American and there are a number of African-American, Hispanic and Asian Academy members.

I think DeVon Franklin summed it up nicely in a short op-ed he wrote in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Franklin is the African-American producer and chairman of Franklin Entertainment and a former senior VP of production at Sony's Columbia Pictures and MGM executive who produced such films as the remake of The Karate Kid, The Pursuit of Happyness and Jumping the Broom. In the THR article he wrote (in part):

"What we have seen in the Oscar nominations is only a symptom of the larger problem. It's not like the Academy and Hollywood system are two independent entities; this is an issue of Hollywood not having enough systems in place to deal with the problems that have been generational in terms of embracing all things that are different. Part of the problem is that, historically, the issue of diversity ends up falling on the shoulders of the human resource departments at the majority of studios and agencies. And unfortunately, the creative initiatives that actually produce change get left untouched. " 

But to be fair, Rampling wasn't the only high-profile actress to react a bit defensively to the Oscar nominations boycott protests and the explosion of the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. 

Penelope Ann Miller as Eve in ABC's American Crime
As Scott Feinberg reported in the January 29th issue of The Hollywood Reporter, actress Penelope Ann Miller (whose resume includes roles in films like Chaplin, Carlito's Way, The Freshman, and Awakenings) was one of the Academy members from the actors branch who took issue with being associated with what she felt were sweeping charges of racism leveled against the Academy. 

As Miller told Feinberg in the THR interview, she herself cast votes for African-American performers in the 2016 Oscar nominations, "But to imply that this is because all of us (Academy members) are racists is extremely offensive. I don't want to be lumped into a category of being a racist because I'm certainly not and because I support and benefit form the talent of black people in this business." 

As Feinberg noted, Miller had a meaty role in African-American writer John Ridley's critically acclaimed ABC series American Crime; Ridley won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2013 for Twelve Years a Slave and is the author of seven novels.

Miller will also appear in the upcoming film about the true story of Virginia slave Nat Turner's 1831 slave rebellion The Birth of a Nation, which recently garnered a record $17.5 million bid for distribution rights by Fox Searchlight at the Sundance Film Festival - a clear sign that the film industry is already actively seeking out films and performances by African-American filmmakers and actors that will qualify for the 2017 Oscar race.

So clearly she's not a racist ( and I don't think anyone suggested she was) but I respect her coming out and setting the record straight.

Actress Whoopi Goldberg
Obviously the reactions from Hollywood actors/actresses and executives has been varied.

On the other side of the coin there were the high-profile decisions to boycott the Oscars altogether by director Spike Lee, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and later, her husband Will Smith.

Talk show host, comedienne and Oscar-winning actress Whoppi Goldberg was predictably blunt about her feelings about calls for other African-American actors to boycott the Oscar Awards ceremony in February.

As Goldberg, herself  a voting member of  the Academy was quoted as saying:

"Boycotting doesn't work, and it's also a slap in the face to [host] Chris Rock. So I'm not going to boycott, but I'm going to continue to bitch."

While it is important to remember that there were no Hispanic or Asian faces on the 2016 Oscar nominations either, Whoppi is not the only African-American who disagreed with the Smith's and Lee's decision to skip the 2016 Oscars.

Luther Campbell
On Tuesday, the Miami fixture and popular former Two Live Crew frontman / rapper Luther Campbell penned an op-ed in The Miami New Times titled, "Boycott Will Smith, Not the Oscars, Until He Does More For Black Actors".

In his op-ed, Campbell, a long-time community activist who's been giving of his time and money to inner city Miami youth for years, suggested that Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith's reasons for boycotting the Oscars were more selfish as he (Will Smith) was upset about being overlooked for his role in the film 'Concussion'. 

I don't know Will Smith personally and he's notoriously guarded about his private life, but whatever specifically motivated his decision, I still think it took some cojones for him to publicly announce he was boycotting an industry event like the Oscars.

Regardless, Campbell took Smith to task for not using the millions he's made over the course of his career to do more to promote diversity in the industry.

Last year, after the Academy failed to nominate a single actor / actress for the 2015 Oscars, the African-American former attorney and writer April Reign coined the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, which blew up on social media as thousands of Twitter messages used the hashtag to voice the outrage that millions of people of all races felt.

#OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign
Her hashtag creation has exploded once again, and in the wake of the second consecutive year of the Academy nominating no performers of color, Reign offered a more practical solution to the problem, saying:

"I wonder if it makes sense to review how people become members and the requirements with respect to voting. For instance, it is not required that members actually view the movies before they vote."

Reign raises an important question that many have brought up; that some Academy members may have failed to nominate some performances simply because they didn't see them.

Or, in the case of a film like Straight Outta Compton directed by F. Gary Gray, the Academy membership (which is over 70% white with an average age of 63-years old) might simply not have felt connected enough with the story material to bother to see it - or be interested to.

As I've mentioned, as a member of the Screen Actors Guild, I make it a point to see as many of the nominated films as possible before I cast my vote for the SAG Awards.

I wanted to conclude this blog by saying that I've seen The Big Short, Spotlight and Straight Outta Compton. All of which are excellent films based on real-life experiences-stories.

Each of these films is vying for the SAG Award that recognizes an entire cast as an ensemble; a category the Oscars doesn't recognize (as if the Oscars telecast isn't long enough without adding a category where the whole cast has to come up on the stage...).

Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell & O'Shea Jackson, Jr.
The SAG ensemble award is quite prestigious and coveted by actors, and I have to say that having seen all three films, my vote is going to Straight Outta Compton.

I think it's possible a number of Academy members made the mistake of assuming that this film was simply about rap music.

It traces the career arc of the gangsta rap super group NWA and chronicles their rise from young kids living in the notorious Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles aspiring to create their own brand of hip-hop music, to their rise to global fame, and the eventual departure of stars Dr. Dre and Ice Cube onto huge solo careers.

This is one of the best films I've seen all year. It's a classic American story that traces the lives of characters that everyone can identify with; regardless of whether you like rap music or not.

The three main characters (pictured above), are played by Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre), Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E) and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. (Ice Cube), and they deliver nuanced performances that evolve and change over the course of the film.

These young actors breathe life, humanity and depth into musical icons who, for most people, have only really been known from the millions of albums they've sold since the late-80's.

Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller
Paul Giamatti's role as record producer Jerry Heller helps to anchor these character performances in ways that are profound and offer relevant commentary and insight into the American music industry.

This film is filled with universal themes that resonate with film audiences like family, friendship, forgiveness, the burning desire to "escape and make something of oneself" - and the perils and pitfalls of fame and fortune.

Some members of the Academy's writers branch, like Jeremy Larner, have said publicly that they felt this film was not worthy of a Best Picture nomination because, in his words, it's "not a great film for reasons of structure and substance."

As a writer I happen to disagree with him. A film does not have to be edited in a complex, non-linear fashion (like The Imitation Game for example) that jumps back and forth in time in order to have solid story structure.

And I'd challenge you to watch the film and say it doesn't have substance. Straight Outta Compton chronicles seismic changes in the music industry in the late 80's and 90's as hip-hop moved into the mainstream and literally altered the definition of pop music and entertainment.

Original members of NWA
In a nod to it's cultural relevance to issues that affect our society today, it also does an excellent job of showing how the outrageous conduct of the police who's presence in Compton and abusive treatment of some of it's black residents inspired NWA to write their classic controversial hit, 'Fuck Tha Police', which was vilified by politicians, conservatives, parent's groups and members of law enforcement in the 90's.

Even as it became an anthem for a young generation that learned how to protest the abuse of police power through the music of NWA.

The acting ensembles in The Big Short and Spotlight were excellent, and the actors in those films are all top notch veterans, but I have to say that the chemistry between the cast of Straight Outta Compton delivered a raw emotion that touched me on profound levels in ways the other two films did not.

Some might reasonably argue that the heavy subject matter of The Big Short (the sub-prime mortgage crisis) and Spotlight (the sex abuse scandal of the Catholic church in Boston) might have had a more widespread impact on the lives of Americans; but the subject matter of Straight Outta Compton is no less relevant to American culture - and it's impact on society just as lasting.

As film executive Devon Franklin noted, there's a lot that the American film industry has "left untouched".

Universal Pictures Donna Langley
But the decision by Universal Studios chairman Donna Langley to greenlight Straight Outta Compton, believe in the story, and make the film with the full backing of the studio paid off.

The film had grossed over $200 million worldwide back in November and was a box office and critical success and is the highest grossing Hollywood musical bio-pic in history.

No simple feat for a film with an R-rating either.

It shatters the Hollywood myth that films centered around African-American stories and characters won't appeal to white audiences, or make money at the box office.

It also helps to remind the film industry that there is reward in taking risk.

While the members of the Academy did nominate the (white) screenwriters of Straight Outta Compton, I think they may have overlooked the performances in this film; particularly Jason Mitchell's outstanding performance as Eric "Eazy-E" Wright.

But critics and audiences did not.

And when I cast my votes for the 2016 SAG Awards later tonight, I certainly won't leave Straight Outta Compton "left untouched."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Republican Now Or Never

The Circus co-hosts Halperin, McKinnin &Heilemann
The reviews for The Circus, Showtime's new weekly documentary-style analysis of the 2016 presidential campaign trail produced in cooperation with Bloomberg Media, have been somewhat mixed.

But I don't think it's really fair to make a final judgement about any TV or cable show after only a couple episodes.

Like a good stew, the contents of a show need time to blend together and simmer and I don't think The Circus is quite done cooking yet; and I mean that in a good way.

In a recent review of the show, Salon.com's Steve Almond called it "straight pundit porn"

And to a degree it is.

But while Almond uses wit and sharp eye to sum up the show nicely, his well-written review of the show stuck me as a bit harsh given that they're only two episodes in.

As a political junkie, I'm not looking for 60 Minutes or Frontline when I tune into The Circus; I'm hungry for an interesting and entertaining take on the 2016 presidential campaign trail that I don't get from CNN, MSNBC or network news - and for me it delivers a nice Sunday night snack.

The Circus is ably hosted by seasoned Beltway observers John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, who both co-wrote the searing expose of the 2008 presidential race, "Game Change", and the perpetual hat-wearing ex-Democrat-turned-conservative political adviser and former George W. Bush confidant, Mark McKinnon - all three share good chemistry.

It runs a breezy 28 minutes as the constantly-moving cameras move back and forth between the three hosts meeting to dish on various aspects of the presidential race, and, more interestingly, following some of the leading presidential candidates around from week to week as they traverse the American terrain of the campaign trail.

It offers a refreshing glimpse of the candidates themselves, not just at the podium delivering the usual mix of predictable sound bites and political shtick - but up close and personal where they are bot more vulnerable and open than we usually get to see them in carefully edited 10-second video clips, or on stage in debates.

If a quick inside glimpse of the 2016 presidential campaign trail is your thing and you have access to Showtime, I suggest you check out a couple episodes.

Obama being interviewed by Glenn Thrush on Monday
With the critical Iowa and New Hampshire primaries just around the corner, influential mainstream and moderate conservatives are gearing up their efforts to try and stitch together the tattered pieces of a Republican party fragmented by months of being driven by an extremist faction.

In an interview with Politico's Glenn Thrush on Monday, President Obama, contrasting the tone of the Republican party during his 2008 race against Senator John McCain with today's Republican party, the president said the GOP in 2016 has moved so far to the right of the political spectrum that it's now "unrecognizable".

It's nice to hear him say that but it's not like the President really needed to point that out to us; or to Republicans for that matter.

As the approaching Iowa and New Hampshire primaries bring the 2016 presidential race closer to reality, it's not just Democrats, liberals or centrist voters of both parties who find the idea of a right-wing extremist like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz getting the 2016 Republican nomination for president repugnant.

The staunchly conservative editors of The National Review made headlines (and irked some of the Tea Party Republicans) when they came out against Donald Trump last Thursday.

Conservative author Charles Krauthammer
Even conservative author and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer questioned the wisdom of the Republican party nominating Donald Trump during an interview with Bill O'Reilly on Monday.

The large block of moderate Republicans who sat back and remained relatively quiet over the course of Obama's two terms as the far right Tea Party-Libertarian wing became the mouthpiece of the party and hoisted the flag of it's divisive ideology over the GOP have only now really begun to stir.

From the very start of Barack Obama's presidency, Republican lawmakers made it crystal clear that their legislative strategy for the duration of his term in office would be a simple one.

To use their position in office to oppose any initiative he proposed.

Regardless of what motivated this unprecedented partisan opposition, one thing history will be clear on is that this Congress chose not to act on major issues that impact the American people when it had the chance to do so.

Just last March, Republican Senators stymied the president's calls for massive (and critical) infrastructure spending by blocking a $478 billion spending bill that was proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
The lead poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan was a result of Republican Governor Rick Snyder's circumventing the democratic process in cities like Detroit and Flint by appointing "emergency managers" to oversee large urban areas suffering from decades of neglect by the state and federal government - then run them like businesses.

Those decisions, so en vogue in 2010 as the wave of Tea Party hysteria broke over the nation and swept conservative businessmen into political office with no political experience.

These men (and women) shared an irrational hatred of government, a fervent belief in anti-labor union "Right to Work" laws and a "starve the beast" philosophy of slashing government spending to finance lavish tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens - what they unleashed upon the country in the name of "conservative values"epitomizes the glaring philosophical failures of the 21st century Republican party.

Just look at the state of the economies of states with similar-minded Republican governors; Louisiana, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Jersey....the list goes on.

The moderate Republicans who stood by and allowed their party to be hijacked by these wing-nuts  find themselves in an awkward position.

They realize Donald Trump and Ted Cruz may poll well among conservative primary voters, but pitted in a national election, their right-wing extremism and open tolerance of racism and anti-immigrant hysteria is going to be a huge turnoff for the majority of Americans.

The smart Republicans realize the White House won't be won by systematic voter suppression and vilifying Mexican immigrants and Muslims - conservatives just don't have the numbers.

Especially not with candidates like Trump and Cruz who skew so far right on the political spectrum they scare the centrist voters needed to win enough electoral college votes to win the White House.

As was widely reported this summer, in 2014, the majority of American births were racial and ethnic minorities, a Republican party governed by the racist ideals of Donald Trump isn't going near the White House in 2016 - and could lead to an unmitigated disaster for the GOP in the Senate, House and in state houses across the nation.

That's where the fear and anxiety that Trump deals in comes from - the massive gerrymandering and voter suppression by Republicans across the country is a futile attempt to avoid that reality.

The smart Republicans, the ones who face reality, understand this.

Governor John Kasich
Hence the recent endorsement of moderate Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich for the crucial February 9th New Hampshire primary on Monday by The Boston Globe.

The demographics of this nation are changing much faster than Republicans can enact laws to legalize discrimination, suppress votes and block non-white foreign nationals from entering the United States.

Watch in the coming weeks as more and more resources begin to quietly flow to more moderate candidates like John Kasich and Jeb Bush; remember the Koch Brothers and the conglomerate of shadowy conservative libertarian billionaires described by author Jane Mayer in her book "Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right" want a candidate they can control - someone who needs their billions.

Donald Trump doesn't need their billions, he is a billionaire.

That enough is sufficient to seal his fate in the 21st century Republican party.

For Republicans who are content to continue trying to rely on the votes of a single demographic in this country, and want to retake the White House 2016, it's really basically now or never.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Death of "Hollywood", Man v. Cheetah & Speciesism

Hollywood the friendly Elk, beheaded by a hunter
It's doubtful that the gruesome and senseless death of a remarkably friendly and peaceful elk from Cherokee County, Oklahoma named Hollywood will kick up much of a fuss in the mainstream American press.

There are any number of "top" stories, including the current snowstorm gripping the east coast of the United States, or the lead poisoning of the public water supply in Flint, Michigan that are understandably occupying the minds of most American citizens.

So why should people care about an elk?

For starters, Hollywood was no ordinary elk.

Almost nine-years-old, this charismatic creature got his name because of his unusual willingness to approach and even trust humans; and what many claim was an enjoyment of being photographed on the grounds of his home on the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve located in eastern Oklahoma in Cherokee County.

As the director of the preserve Jeremy Tubbs observed in an interview with KFOR.com, "He was not just any elk, he was an elk that people looked for when visiting the preserve. He was commonly photographed by visitors, earning him the nickname Hollywood."

It was through an online petition addressed to the Talequah, Oklahoma police chief Nate King circulated through an email from ForceChange.org that I first heard about Hollywood; and I hope you'll take a few moments to click the link above and sign it.

Obviously licensed hunters have a right to hunt elk or deer in season where it is legal to do so.

Responsible hunters, particularly those who properly butcher the animal's remains to use as food rather than just taking it for a trophy kill, actually help to cull herds in some areas where overgrazing and overpopulation might lead to some animals starving in the winter - or getting hit by cars or trucks while searching for food.

But Hollywood and his herd of fellow elk were intentionally placed on the sprawling 17,000 acre preserve in the Ozark mountain range as part of an effort to reintroduce elk to an area of the Ozarks where over-hunting had wiped out elk populations more than 150 years ago.

Hollywood was a bull elk placed there as part of a carefully planned process to reintroduce a viable elk population into a natural environment where they belong; and hunting on the preserve where he lived with his herd is expressly forbidden - so his death at the hands of the still-unknown cowardly hunter is a crime on a number of levels.

Cecil the lion in Hwange National Park, 2010
Like millions of people around the globe, I felt the same sense of outrage about the death of Cecil the lion back in the summer of 2015.

After Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, paid a tracker named Theo Bronkhorst $50,000 to lure a well-known 13-year-old male lion named Cecil off of the protective sanctuary of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa, he shot this father of numerous lion cubs with an arrow, then tracked him for 40 hours before finally killing and beheading him for a trophy.

Palmer and Bronkhorst left Cecil's headless carcass on the ground and had the nerve to also take the GPS tracking collar that the Wildlife Conservation Unit of Oxford University had used to track and monitor Cecil since 2008.

Sadly, Cecil's horrific death was not an anomaly.

As a Wikipedia article about Cecil's death reports, of the 62 different lions that Oxford's WCU tagged, tracked and monitored in Hwange National Park since 1999, a staggering 24 of them were killed by hunters who killed them for sport.

According to Wikipedia, "Of adult male lions that were tagged inside the park, 72% were killed through sport hunting on areas near the park."

Donald Trump's sons after one of their many kills
Why is it that some people seem obsessed with the need to brutally slaughter animals that are rare, endangered or completely harmless to humans?

Take, for example, Donald Trump's two sons, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump (pictured left). 

The Republican presidential candidate's male offspring have used their sense of entitlement and inherited wealth to live out a truly psychologically twisted macho-big-game-hunter fantasy by traveling the world killing among other things, a cheetah, a leopard, an African elephant and a cape buffalo.

Considering the fact that their openly racist, anti-immigrant fuhrer father is running for the highest office in the land, it's relevant to note that it's well established by scores of psychological experts, sociologists and members of law enforcement that "Animal Abuse Indicates High Risk of Psychopathic Disorder."

In the case of both Hollywood the elk and Cecil the lion, these animals were mature adults who lived on protected nature preserves, were very well known locally as being tolerant of humans and willing to let themselves be approached for photos or be observed - these were clearly emotionally intelligent sentient beings.

So what is going on inside the minds of people like the Trump spawn and dentist Walter Palmer who pay tens of thousands of dollars to use weapons to take the lives of innocent animals in order to pose for photographs with the carcasses then take parts of the bodies home as gruesome trophies to mount on a wall to document the horror?

An email I received from Dr. Emily Plec back on December 16, 2015 offers some valuable insight.

Dr. Plec is a professor of communication studies at Western Oregon University who teaches rhetoric, media, intercultural and environmental communication, and is the former director of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education.

She's also an activist and scholar in areas that include prison sentencing reform, racism, gender equity, animal rights and interspecies communication.

National Geographic Channel's "Man v Cheetah"
Dr. Plec contacted me through my blog email to let me know that she had cited a quote from a blog I published back on January 1, 2013 in an academic article she published entitled:

"(Black) Man v Cheetah: Perpetuations and transformations of the rhetoric of racism"

I wrote the blog in 2013 after hearing college football TV commentator and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden use the word "beast" to compliment former University of South Carolina All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney during a live telecast on ABC of a New Years Day bowl game against Michigan.

She came upon my Gruden blog while searching for a particular quote and discovered that I'd used a quote of hers (which I of course attributed to her) that was taken from a paper she'd written entitled, "The Great White Hype: Rhetoric and Racial Biology In the Coverage of the 1968 Olympic Protest".

The conclusion of my blog on Gruden used a quote from her paper to summarize a point I was attempting to make about how the differences in the choice of words that some television sports announcers use to describe black versus white athletes has the unintended consequence of reinforcing what she described as "dehumanizing animal metaphors" that reinforce distorted racial myths that have been used in American popular culture for decades.  

Dr. Plec in turn used a quote from my blog in her paper "(Black) Man v Cheetah", her paper is included in a book that was published in November 2015 entitled, "Critical Animal and Media Studies: Communication For Non-Human Animal Advocacy".        

The book, as Taylor and Francis.com describes, "aims to put the speciesism debate and the treatment of non-human animals on the agenda of critical media studies and to put media studies on the agenda of animal ethics researchers. Contributors examine the convergence of media and animal ethics from theoretical, philosophical, discursive, social constructionist, and political and economic perspectives."

This 296-page book also outlines "the different disciplinary approaches' application to media studies and covering how non-human animals, and the relationship between humans and non-humans, are represented by the mass media, concluding with suggestions for how the media, as a producer of major cultural norms and values related to non-human animals and how we treat them, might improve such representations."

I am admittedly quite flattered that a brief quote from my blog was deemed worthy of being included in such an academic publication.

But I am much more intrigued by the concept of speciesism (which I'd never heard of until Dr. Plec emailed me a copy of her paper "(Black) Man v Cheetah" to review) and it's relation to racism and sexism.

The term Speciesism was first used by Richard D. Ryder and later popularized by Princeton University professor and moral philosopher Peter Singer.

Speciesism is loosely defined as "the idea that being human is a good enough reason for human animals to have greater moral rights than non-human animals...a prejudice or bias in favor of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species."

In the introduction of her essay, Dr. Plec juxtaposes the image of Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens returning to America after the 1936 Olympiad in Berlin and, for a time, earning money by being matched in exhibition races against horses and dogs, to her watching NFL player Devin Hester being matched against a cheetah on the National Geographic Channel show, Man v Cheetah.

As she observes "These events are stitched together in my mind, as bookends to a cultural narrative preoccupied with the juxtaposition of black male athletes and nonhuman animals, obsessed with racing black men against other animals for the amusement of predominantly white spectators and to determine the hierarchy of physical ability for these representatives of systematically oppressed groups" 

Dr. Plec's fascinating article offers a complex analysis that ranges over a lot of intellectual territory and it's intended for an academic audience.

So rather than attempt to review or even summarize her essay (which I'm not qualified to do), I will say this.

Walter Palmer, killer of Cecil the lion
Her focus "on two faces of the fractal complexity of injustice and inequality, racism and speciesism" and her intent to delve deeper into "these interconnections between racism and speciesism, looking at how a contemporary mass media text, "Man v. Cheetah," participates in the (re)construction of a relationship that has, historically, been a strategy for dehumanizing people of color." helped me to gain insight. 

Specifically into what might possess people like the unknown hunter in Oklahoma who killed Hollywood the elk, or Walter Palmer who killed Cecil the lion, or Donald Trump's son's who travel the globe to pay money to kill endangered animals then proudly photograph themselves standing over the carcasses, to engage in such behavior.

It also prompted me to look differently at football analyst Jon Gruden's tendency to favor animal metaphors to describe the characteristics of football players; like calling someone a "beast", or saying that someone "comes from good stock."

In my 2013 blog, I viewed Gruden's comments in the context of race, but Dr. Plec views such comments from a much broader perspective that's based on how the issues of racism, sexism and speciesism are all interrelated - even if mainstream media, like most people, don't view them that way. 
As she notes of Lisa A. Kemmerer's 2011 examination of the interconnectedness of sexism, racism, homophobia and speciesism entitled "Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice" :

"Kemmer;s collection 'Sister Species takes up a fundamental premise of this project: that "animal liberation is inextricably linked with other social causes. Or, as the Combahee River Collective concluded, "the major systems of oppression are interlocking." Put differently, Loyd-Paige writes in "Sister Vegan": "All social inequalities are linked...no one is on the sidelines."

In short, Dr. Plec's writings have prompted me to reexamine my own perspective in terms of some of the things I blog about. 

The word marginalize (according to the handy Merriam-Webster app on my iPhone) is defined as
 "to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group."

Whether it be racism, sexism, ageism, or classism, the intentional marginalization of people based on their race, gender, age or social class, "isms"are a frequent topic of this blog not just because they are issues I care about deeply, but because of the impact they have on this country and the larger human condition.

As someone who was raised to respect animals by parents who grew up with them, I've always been an animal rights guy.

Over the course of my adulthood I've adopted four different rescue cats (at different times) not just because I like cats, but because I also firmly believe humans have a responsibility as caretakers and friends of animals and the planet.

But Dr. Plec's writings have helped me understand that the "isms" I blog about so frequently must also include non-humans as well.

I need to look closer at how the poisoning of the water supply in the predominantly African-American city of Flint, Michigan, the rate of sexual assault of young women in college or the military, a swastika being spray painted on the door of a synagogue, or the killing of an unarmed, innocent African-American by a police officer are all related to the senseless killing of a friendly elk named Hollywood.

Or a lion named Cecil, or someone who intentionally physically abuses a dog or cat; or keeps a Killer Whale in captivity to make it do tricks to entertain people.

As Dr. Plec quotes from "Sistah Vegan" "All  Social inequalities are linked...no one is on the sidelines."

So when I read the story about Donald Trump having gone onto Twitter on Friday to retweet a message from a white supremacist who goes by the Twitter name @WhiteGenocideTM who believes (among other things) that "Hitler saved Europe", it makes his two son's obsession with killing endangered animals make a little more sense.

In the same way their father sees himself as being inherently superior to other people who don't have white skin, don't agree with what he thinks, or are not from America, his two son's belief that their being human entitles them to senselessly kill animals are related.

Related not just to how they see themselves, but how they see other living beings; both human and non-human.

Perhaps if Donald, Jr., Eric Trump, Walter Palmer and the unknown person who brutally took the life of Hollywood the elk had been raised to view other living things with more respect and a basic sense of compassion, then a few more animals might be walking the earth right now.

As is their right to do.

On a final note, in light of the topic of this blog, I was happy to read The New York Times story about a resourceful cow named Freddie who'd been scheduled to die in a slaughterhouse in Queens on Thursday, but instead escaped into the streets and made a leisurely run for freedom before being rounded up by NYPD officers from the 103rd precinct. 

As the Times article reported, Mike Stura, the founder of Skylands Animal Sanctuary and Rescue in Wantage, New Jersey picked up the cow and transported it back to his animal sanctuary where he said the lucky cow
"would enjoy 'a life of leisure' being cared for alongside 'cow friends'."

I think Hollywood and Cecil would approve, too bad they couldn't make it there too.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hollywood Status Quo: Oscar Nomination Snubs & 'The Celluloid Ceiling'

2016 Oscar acting nominees
As the 88 the Academy Awards edge closer and the studios, agencies and PR firms responsible for promoting films, directors and actors for the film industry's most prestigious honors kick into high gear ahead of the upcoming SAG Awards on Saturday January 30th, Hollywood once again finds itself in the spotlight - for all the wrong reasons.

For the second year in a row, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) failed to nominate a single actor of color,

Actor David Oyelowo (who was famously snubbed for his role as Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma last year) was both unsparing and eloquent on the issue when he spoke up about it at the King Legacy Awards on Monday night, as eOnline reported, Oyelowo told the audience:

"For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color to be missed last year is one thing: for that to happen again this year is unforgivable."

Even critically well-received films with majority African-American (or African) casts, or actors of color in leading roles were all but snubbed in the major categories.

The only exceptions being the box office hit Straight Outta Compton as writers Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff and S. Leigh Savidge were nominated for Best Original Screenplay for the NWA biopic - and African-American director Ryan Coogler's Creed, which earned Sylvester Stallone a Best Supporting Actor nomination and a Golden Globe win for the same category.

As Cara Buckley reported in The New York Times yesterday, director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith have already publicly announced plans to boycott the 2016 Oscar Awards.

Now that's really awkward for AMPAS - especially if it gains momentum and overshadows the fact that Chris Rock is hosting the awards this year; what a year for him to host right?

Spike Lee & Jada P Smith: sitting the 2016 Oscars out
Lee received an honorary Oscar at a ceremony back in November; at which the director wryly noted during his acceptance speech that the only other black guy he'd seen was the security man at the door checking credentials.

Pinkett Smith has a leading role on the hit Fox show Gotham and she's the wife of Will Smith; the popular perennial A-List actor who's films have grossed over $2.7 billion for Hollywood since 1992 and whose presence at the awards is highly coveted.

Smith's performance as real-life Nigerian-born doctor Bennet Omalu (who fought to prove his theory that ex-NFL players were dying because of concussion-related head trauma) in Peter Landesman's film Concussion earned rave reviews from The Hollywood Reporter back in November - which speculated that Smith would receive his third Best Actor nomination after being nominated for Ali in 2001 and The Pursuit of Happyness in 2006.

But the film has only grossed about $34.2 million since it was released, so not a lot of people have seen it and his work was snubbed by the Academy.

Actor Idris Elba 
As was British actor Idris Elba for his captivating role as an African warlord in director Cary Joji Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation.

Elba's powerful screen presence and acting chops on hit shows like The Wire and Luther have earned him a slew of Emmy, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations; and rumors continue to circulate that he's on the shortlist to take over the role of 007 Agent James Bond once Daniel Craig hands in his Walther PPK.

But while he's had a number of meaty supporting roles in major releases, apart from the 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, his role in Beasts of No Nation is the first time Elba has taken on a widely-seen leading role; and the Academy can be choosy about nominating an actor who doesn't have a huge leading-man film resume.

There was industry buzz that the Academy gave a cool reception to the film because it was released on Netflix rather than in nation-wide theaters. There was also talk that the violent subject matter of Beasts of No Nation (African warlord, child soldiers...) turned off some Academy voters.

But Leo DiCaprio gets savagely mauled by a bear, rides a horse off a cliff to it's death then cuts the carcass open to climb inside and stay warm in The Revenant and they nominated him; granted Leo has proven his acting chops in several big releases that made bank at the box office but still...multiple media sources including the LA Times reported that the graphic nature of The Revenant had some audience members retching or walking out of early screenings of the film.

But in Elba's case I think it's more than that.

The Oscars class of 2014
As Derek Thompson reported in an article in The Atlantic back in March of 2014, a survey conducted by The Los Angeles Times found that the members of the Academy who vote for the Oscar nominations were 94% white, 76% men, 2% black, 2% Latino and 0.5% Asian, Native-American combined.

The average age? 63.

Take a few seconds to look over the photo of the 2014 Oscar nominees to the left.

Do the math, it won't take long.

Would it be fair to say it's reflective of the 2014 Academy membership numbers shown above?

Let's contrast the demographic breakdown of the 2014 Academy membership and the 2014 Oscar nominees shown above to the film audience who shell out their hard-earned dollars and passion to go see these movies.

If you take a look at MPAA statistics for 2014 showing film audiences broken down by demographics (see page 12) although Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians represent a smaller share of the overall audience, when viewed relative to their proportion of the U.S. population, they're actually more likely to pay money to go to see films in the theater.

So why aren't the casts of major Hollywood films more representative of those numbers?

Image from SDSU's CFSWIF&T homepage
A recent industry report known as 'The Celluloid Ceiling' that is conducted by the Center For the Study of Women In Film and Television at San Diego State University released on January 12th offers some insight.

As reported in 'the Report' section of the January 22nd issue of The Hollywood Reporter by Greg Kilday, the representation of women working behind the camera in 2015 didn't make a whole lot of progress from the previous year.

The report reveals that women made up 17% of the producers, directors, writers, editors and cinematographers in the industry in 2014 - that number edged up slightly to 19% in 2015.

On paper 2% in Hollywood is progress, but as Kilday's THR article reports, 19% representation is the exact same number as 2001,

As THR's summary of the report shows, out of the top-grossing movies of 2015:

  • 91% had no women directors
  • 82% had no women writers 
  • 52% had no women executive producers 
  • 32% had no women producers 
  • 74% had no women editors 
  • 94% had no women cinematographers
Those kinds of numbers offer insight into the lack of racial and gender diversity in Hollywood; and they help make the 2016 Oscar nominations make a little more sense.

It's not my intent to simply trash the industry, I'm passionate about film and I care that the industry is reflective of both the shifting demographics of our nation and the film audience who pay money to see movies. 

Dr. Martha M. Lauzen
I think the simmering issue of the 2016 Oscar snubs is best summed up by a quote from Dr. Martha Lauzen, (pictured left)

As Greg Kilday reports, she's the person responsible for overseeing 'The Celluloid Ceiling' report.

As she told Kilday in his THR article:

"There's been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about unconscious bias, but I don't like that term. It should be subconscious bias. People tend to prefer to work with others who look like they do."

That's a problem that's not confined to the Hollywood film industry - it's an American problem.

So as we move forward into the 21st century, to me the larger question is less about which actors are nominated for which awards.

The questions is will the American film industry make a choice to lead, or will it remain ensconced in the comfortable bubble of the Hollywood status quo and timidly follow along?