Friday, January 16, 2015

Is Mark Walhlberg's Remorse $incere?

Mark Wahlberg poses at one of his Wahlbergers restaurants
I wanted to share a couple quick follow-ups to my December blog about actor Mark Wahlberg petitioning the state of Massachusetts to pardon him for two separate incidents of racial harassment committed when he was 16 years-old, and another violent racial assault he committed as an adult on a Vietnamese store owner and his co-worker.

By the way, the co-worker who tried to stop Wahlberg was blinded in one eye when he was punched in the face by the actor/producer/aspiring restaurant chain owner.

First, the New York Daily News and other media outlets are reporting that Judith Beals, the former prosecutor who handled the 1986 prosecution of Wahlberg and two of his white friends for chasing and throwing rocks at three young black siblings in Dorchester, Massachusetts (and hurling racial epithets at them while they did) is publicly stating she does not believe Wahlberg should be pardoned for his assaults, which should be classified as a hate crime.

Among other things, Beals insists that Wahlberg never once showed remorse for his violent racial assaults (remember, there are more than one...), which is an essential component of receiving a pardon for a crime. 

There are real questions about whether Wahlberg's motivation reflects a sincere remorse over the acts he committed and the fact he's now a father who's given back to to the community in ways that help at-risk urban youth; or because having a felony on his record is a serious stumbling block in his desire to expand his Wahlburgers restaurant franchise which he co-owns with his brothers Donnie and Paul.

In the December 16th issue of The Hollywood Reporter, Chris Gardner and Gary Baum reported that Wahlburgers announced on December 4th that it plans to open 27 locations in Florida and New York and eventually wants to expand to 300 locations nationally.

The problem: under California law, a restaurant owner cannot have a felony record and obtain a concessionaire's license; which is needed to open a restaurant.

So the lucrative California market is off limits to Wahlburgers as long he has a felony record.

Wahlberg's problem is compounded by the fact that both the former Massachusetts prosecutor who handled his racial harassment case when he was a minor AND representatives of the tight-knit Vietnamese community in Wahlberg's former hometown of Dorchester, MA (where the assaults were committed) have publicly stated that Wahlberg has shown neither remorse for his crimes; or even made an effort to apologize to his victims.

According to The Hollywood Reporter article, a spokesperson for VietAid, a community organization based in Dorchester that advocates on behalf of the local Vietnamese community, as of 2006:
"Mark has not reached out to the Vietnamese community."  

As opposition to Wahlberg's pardon grows (including petitions and op-ed pieces) so do his concerns about his public image.

He's got a reality show about his restaurants and the accompanying family drama on A&E called 'Wahlburgers' that by all accounts is getting decent ratings.

No doubt the uncomfortable controversy over Wahlberg's pardon request has to be of concern to the president and CEO of A&E Networks, Nancy Dubuc; recently ranked # 3 on The Hollywood Reporter's 'Power 100' list of the most powerful female executives, movers and shakers in the entertainment industry.  

But the question remains; is Wahlberg seeking a pardon because of his troubled conscience, or because of the potential impact of his racial assaults on his brand?

I'll leave you with one last interesting personal observation on this issue.

A year or two (or three ?) ago, I saw Mark Wahlberg when he appeared on David Letterman; he was obviously there to promote his latest film; I think it might have been the buddy cop flick 'The Other Guys' with Will Ferrell.

Mark Wahlberg being interviewed by David Letterman
Anyway, if you know David Letterman, he doesn't tolerate phony shtick at all; if he gets even a whiff of a guest being insincere, he'll tear them apart - and he can be brutal because he knows the business and is highly intelligent to say nothing of witty. 

Anyway, Wahlberg is sitting in the chair with his easy smile, comfortably answering softball questions, when out of the blue, Letterman takes a complete left turn and starts asking Wahlberg about the fact that he never graduated high school.

Now to be fair to Wahlberg, that's not totally unusual for someone in the entertainment business, particularly actors or actresses; some of whom were performing at very early ages and simply chose to perform rather than continue with school - Google 'actors who didn't graduate from high school'; there's quite a few well-known stars who never got their HS diploma.

Anyway, the question clearly caught Wahlberg off guard.

You could tell by his body language that he wasn't totally comfortable talking about it. The easy smile vanished from his face and he seemed to squirm a bit, but he did manage to talk candidly about never getting his HS diploma and mentioned not having direction and discipline at that age; that kind of thing.

I recall this because it was almost a little uncomfortable watching it. Have you ever seen something on TV that's so awkward that it literally makes you change the channel? It was like that.

It's almost like Letterman spent all this time talking about his film roles, his popularity his power as a producer etc. Then boom; he starts talking about the guy not having a HS diploma on national TV.

Even after Wahlberg had answered the question, Letterman seemed to keep pressing him on it; and Walhberg was looking really uncomfortable until Letterman finally relented and asked him to introduce the clip from the movie.

Now this was long before I'd heard about the racial assaults, but when I look back on the interview, I feel really strongly that Letterman knew all about the racial assaults and was trying to see if he could get Walhberg to talk publicly about them.

Almost as if Letterman had enough experience in the business to know that it's better to come out and admit something like that and talk candidly about it than it is to have it "leak out" - and he was giving Mark Wahlberg a chance to do that; but Marky Mark didn't do it.

Now I could be off-base. It may well be that Wahlberg's 'handlers' had discussed Letterman bringing up the issue of Wahlberg not having a HS diploma before the interview; perhaps Wahlberg wanted to talk about it to encourage kids to stay in school.

But that wasn't my impression. That's exactly the kind of true-to-life, 'close to the heart' kind of thing Letterman likes to talk about with his guests, but maybe Wahlberg just wasn't comfortable doing it at the time.

Maybe he should have.

Because we're now seeing the media and public reaction to his efforts to quietly erase the incidents from his record by petitioning the state of Massachusetts.

Incidents which come off as insincere and lacking the genuine soul-reaching kind of remorse that would warrant expunging violent racial assaults from someone's legal records permanently.

Particularly when the benefit seems more financial than it does moral, ethical or legal.  

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