Monthly Archives: February 2016

Some Diverse Views From Academy Members On #OscarsSoWhite


For the second year in a row, all of the Oscars' acting nominees are white.i

For the second year in a row, all of the Oscars’ acting nominees are white.

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For the second year in a row, all of the Oscars' acting nominees are white.

For the second year in a row, all of the Oscars’ acting nominees are white.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

In 1988, when Eddie Murphy presented the nominees for Best Picture at the 60th Academy Awards, he told the audience that when he’d been invited to present the award, his initial reaction was, “I’m not going, because they haven’t recognized black people in the motion picture industry.”

Almost 30 years later, the 88th Academy awards will be presented under a similar cloud. For the second year in a row, all the acting nominees are white.

After public outcry, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed its membership rules to try to diversify its ranks.

It used to be that if you were invited to join the Academy, you could count yourself as a member with voting rights until you died. Now, a voting-level membership is limited to 10 years and can only be renewed if you’ve been active in the movie industry during that decade.

In this week’s For The Record: three views on #OscarsSoWhite.

Academy member and filmmaker Roger Ross Williams agrees with changes.

Director Roger Ross Williams attends the CNN Films Cocktail Reception during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival on April 20, 2015 in New York City.i

Director Roger Ross Williams attends the CNN Films Cocktail Reception during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival on April 20, 2015 in New York City.

Cindy Ord/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival


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Cindy Ord/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

Director Roger Ross Williams attends the CNN Films Cocktail Reception during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival on April 20, 2015 in New York City.

Director Roger Ross Williams attends the CNN Films Cocktail Reception during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival on April 20, 2015 in New York City.

Cindy Ord/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

“The academy needs to make room for what America really looks like,” he says.

In 2011, Williams became the first African-American filmmaker to win an Oscar for his first documentary film, Music By Prudence.

But the win didn’t catapult his career like he thought it would.

“Even now, there [are] no agents beating down my door, there’s no one calling me to do any commercials or branded content or even the sort of big commercial documentary films,” he says.

He says he’s not getting called because, as a black, gay man, he doesn’t look like the people who make those decisions.

“The gatekeepers, the studio heads, the agents … they look for people that they can relate to, their stories their experiences, they can relate to,” Williams says.

As former president of Paramount Motion Pictures Group, Academy member David Kirkpatrick was a gatekeeper.

He’s white and has been a member of the Academy since the mid-80s. He says he supports the Academy’s goal to diversify its membership.

“What I’m against is the Academy’s hasty decision to sort of obliterate the old folks inside the Academy as if it was some kind of white man’s cabal who voted these people in, and by the way, I guess I would be part of that,” Kirkpatrick says.

“I just think from the standpoint of people who have earned their stripes over the years, who have contributed significantly to the industry, that they be sort of thrown to the sides from the standpoint of their voting ,” he adds.

And Kirkpatrick’s not the only Academy member who feels this way.

Patricia Resnick (L) and singer/actress Dolly Parton attend the "9 to 5: The Musical" press conference in 2008.i

Patricia Resnick (L) and singer/actress Dolly Parton attend the “9 to 5: The Musical” press conference in 2008.

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Patricia Resnick (L) and singer/actress Dolly Parton attend the "9 to 5: The Musical" press conference in 2008.

Patricia Resnick (L) and singer/actress Dolly Parton attend the “9 to 5: The Musical” press conference in 2008.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

“The academy isn’t meant to reflect the diversity of America. The academy is meant to be a reflection of the best of the business. The business is too white and too male,” says screenwriter and producer Patricia Resnick, known for writing the 1980 hit film 9 to 5.

Resnick, a gay woman in her early 60s, will lose her Oscar voting privileges under the new rules because she’s been working mostly in television.

“As an older female, there’s not a lot of work for me. So basically to say to people … the movie business isn’t going to hire you anymore, so we’re going to take away your voting privileges, I think is really wrong,” Resnick adds. “If you made enough of a contribution to become an Academy [voting] member, I think that’s lifetime. And I don’t think people should be punished for aging out.”

David Kirkpatrick has a suggestion: expand the membership pool.

“You can absolutely change the way a membership is decided,” he says. “You can go from 6,000 members … to 8,000 members overnight if you change certain rules that will allow for that to happen.”

David Kirkpatrick in 2008.i

David Kirkpatrick in 2008.

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David Kirkpatrick in 2008.

David Kirkpatrick in 2008.

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The fundamental difference in the views of these three people is how they view the role of the Academy.

Both Patricia Resnick and David Kirkpatrick say the Academy is just a mirror, a reflection of the industry, and that’s where the responsibility should lie — on studio executives and casting agents, not on the Academy.

“The business itself is so white and so male and such a boys club, and I think that’s really the part of it that has to change,” Patricia Resnick says. “I don’t believe when you say older, white males, and you’re talking about the people in the Academy, it’s an extremely liberal group of people. I honestly don’t believe Academy members vote on race or gender. If they did, I would go through every nomination in every craft and I would vote for women. I don’t vote that way, I try to vote for what I think is best. And I have to say that the older members that I’m friendly with, take it very seriously.”

Roger Ross Williams says when it comes to diversity, the business of Hollywood is broken. But he believes the Academy should set an example by representing the change he wants to see in the broader industry.

Even though Williams’ own Oscar win didn’t give him as many opportunities as he thought it would, he says being a member of the Academy matters.

“It’s an organization of my peers and that means a lot, to get that acknowledgement,” he says. “It gives you the strength and power to keep going on and keep making films and you need a sense of community and I think it’s important that we use that community to lift others up in the field.”

Why An Ebola Body Collector Will Be Watching The Oscars Tonight


Tonight, Garmai Sumo will be holding an Oscar-watching party in her home in Monrovia, Liberia. The 29-year-old nurse is featured in Body Team 12, which is up for Best Short Documentary (and considered a likely winner by some critics).

The 13-minute film, by David Darg and Bryn Mooser, follows the team members as they collect the bodies of Ebola victims at the height of the outbreak, carrying the shrouded victims through narrow alleyways while family members wail in sorrow.

In this intense documentary, everyone is transformed. The body collectors look as if they’ve stepped out of a sci-fi movie in their protective garb, but they also become unsung heroes because of the dangerous and critical job they take on. The faces of the survivors are distorted by grief, stained by tears. Amid the chaos of Ebola, Sumo is a voice of hope and faith. “The smoke [from the cremation of victims] rises up to the heavens along with the souls of the dead,” she says in the film, sounding as matter-of-fact as if she were discussing the weather.

We spoke with Darg and Mooser about the documentary and the riveting Sumo — who, they say, “screamed with joy on the phone” at the news of the nomination. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Did you get to pick which team you filmed?

Darg: I was randomly assigned to Team 12. The Liberian Red Cross was coordinating the body teams. They just said, “Go out with those guys.”

So it was a stroke of luck that you came to meet Sumo?

Darg: I didn’t know what to expect. I was blown away by all of their bravery but particularly by Garmai Sumo, the only female member.

Were there women on other teams as well?

Darg: It was the policy of the Red Cross to have a female member on all teams. They found that the female members made the best negotiators when it came to negotiating the release of [deceased] family members.

That’s something Sumo discusses in the film: “The [family members] don’t know where you’re taking the body, they don’t know what you’re going to do with the body, they just don’t know. We don’t blame them. The only thing we do is to counsel them, talk to them.” Her courage makes me wonder: How would I respond in a similar situation?

Mooser: Friends back home would say, ‘I don’t know what I’d do” [in a crisis]. But when you see the worst conditions, you see the best parts of humanity. Time and time again, as a journalist in [places of disaster] I see people stepping up, being resilient, coming together as a community to help each other.

The patriotism of the body collectors is also impressive.

Darg: Having gone through a brutal civil war not that long ago, Liberia is really a shell of a nation. To see the level of deep love by the team members for their nation and their countrymen, willing to risk themselves to stand on the front lines, was moving and beautiful — and surprising.

I can only imagine how much footage must have been cut to get the film down to 13 minutes.

Mooser: There was a scene we had of a coffin maker in Monrovia, on the side of the road making coffins. We thought business was probably booming. But he was so mad — he wasn’t getting any business because people were getting cremated. But in the end he took away from Garmai’s story.

Was everyone on the team okay — did anyone catch the Ebola?

Darg: Miraculously, none of them contracted Ebola.

And what is Sumo doing now?

Darg: She’s running a program for children who lost both parents to the disease. She was there with many of these children in her capacity as a body team worker, carrying their parents away. For her to be able to go back and be with those children, to provide joy and hope, is not only great for the kids but also a catharsis for her [as she] deals with the emotional aftermath of what she went through.

Brazilian Singer Seu Jorge: On Music, Race, And Luck Versus Hard Work


Seu Jorgei

Seu Jorge

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Seu Jorge

Seu Jorge

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Seu Jorge is an internationally acclaimed Brazilian actor and musician. As he wraps up a series of New York City performances and prepares to go off to Europe, he sat down with Jasmine Garsd, from NPR’s Alt.Latino.

There’s this scene in the seminal Brazilian film City of God: It’s night time, and pulsating strobe lights illuminate glistening bodies and shiny Afros swaying to the sounds of disco and funk. We’re at a massive block party in a favela, one of Brazil’s notorious ghettos.

In one corner, Mané Galinha, a handsome busdriver played by singer Seu Jorge (his character is called Knockout Ned in the film’s English subtitles), is playfully dancing with his girlfriend to the tune of “Kung Fu Fighting.” It’s a scene that might go unnoticed amidst so many stunning moments in the film. But it’s a pretty informative snapshot of race and culture in 1970’s Brazil.

Seu Jorge says disco and funk had a huge impact on him growing up at that time. In fact, he says funk changed the way black Brazil saw itself. “There’s a lot of African soul in Brazil. When James Brown arrived, it’s like a door opened for us.”

The funk was heating up in Rio de Janeiro, but so was the violence. At the dance in City Of God, the beautiful girlfriend catches the eye of a young drug dealer. A few nights later, he rapes her and goes after her boyfriend, Jorge’s character.

Seu Jorge says he recognized himself in the character of Mané Galinha. Before he became an internationally acclaimed Brazilian music star, he was a kid growing up in a very similar favela to the one portrayed in the film, right outside Rio de Janeiro. His own brother was killed in the ongoing violent confrontations with the police. “I lost my brother . . . My life was really hard,” Seu Jorge reminisces. “I didn’t have a job over there . . . Education was very, very poor. And it’s still like that. The only thing that is different is my choice . . . I think I was a product of luck and hard work.”

While the character of Mané Galinha turned to a life of revenge and crime, Seu Jorge chose music and acting. It nonetheless cost him dearly — by his early 20’s, he was homeless. But he was also acting a university play house, and playing at a bar in northern Rio. And playing in bands — his big break came when rapper Marcelo D2 invited him to play drums with the band Planet Hemp. “Marcelo D2, he saved my life,” says Seu Jorge.

Seu Jorge became a household name in Brazil in 2001 with the sophomore album Samba Esporte Fino. It also his first international album, in which he mixed the funk he’d fallen in love with as a kid, and traditional Brazilian sounds.

But then, in 2004, came the role that pushed him into cult-classic status around the world. “One day I’m at my home, and someone calls me. I grab the telephone, but I don’t understand any words the guy says to me.”

He handed the phone to his wife. It was director Wes Anderson. He was putting together this movie, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. He wanted to know if Seu Jorge could do covers of a handful of David Bowie songs. Seu Jorge said yes, and moved to Italy to start working on the film. He plays Pele Dos Santos, a musician who travels with the oceanographic expedition.

He changed the lyrics in translation: “There are so many things of the heart that I cannot understand,” he laments. The covers are filled with saudade, a form of Brazilian melancholy and homesickness. Seu Jorge says the hostility towards black men he was confronted with in Italy gave his work its sad tone.

“I suffered a lot of racists in Italy,” he says. “When I would go out, and go to my home…I’d need to go to the pharmacy, buy stuff for my kids…get a cab. Normal things. And people don’t look at me like a good person, because I’m black.”

The result, however, was stunning. Bowie himself said, “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese, I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”

Several years later, Seu Jorge is no longer melancholy. He says he’s looking forward instead. “I’m trying to follow the same steps as these beautiful icons, Brazilian icons, Caetano [Veloso], Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento’s careers.”

He’s well on his way.

You can hear the entire interview with Seu Jorge this Thursday on Alt.Latino.

A Bridge To Hollywood Legend: Saying Farewell To The Sixth Street Viaduct


The crumbling Sixth Street Viaduct, which has appeared in scores of Hollywood productions, is being demolished due to safety concerns.i

The crumbling Sixth Street Viaduct, which has appeared in scores of Hollywood productions, is being demolished due to safety concerns.

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The crumbling Sixth Street Viaduct, which has appeared in scores of Hollywood productions, is being demolished due to safety concerns.

The crumbling Sixth Street Viaduct, which has appeared in scores of Hollywood productions, is being demolished due to safety concerns.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

It’s not often that Hollywood loses one of its great icons — an icon whose career spans decades and runs a gamut of some of America’s best-known films. From Grease to Terminator 2, from Roadblock to Gone in 60 Seconds, the unlikely star never became a legend despite never really getting top billing.

“It’s not the lead character,” says Dan Koeppel, a Los Angeles-based author who writes about transportation. “It plays a supporting role, and that’s what it should be doing.”

The icon, of course, is not an actor at all. It’s a bridge: the Sixth Street Bridge, also known as the Sixth Street Viaduct, in LA.

And it’s getting torn down, thanks to a kind of concrete cancer called alkali-silica, which is causing too many cracks and crumbles. The bridge was one moderate earthquake away from collapse, according to the California Department of Transportation. Its demolition, which is slated to occur in stages, began on Feb. 5.

With its swooping metal arches, and its concrete art deco base it’s hard to forget it once you’ve seen it. Built in 1932, the Sixth Street Bridge really owes its story to the early 1900s. The Los Angeles River would occasionally flood, and when it did, it would wash away homes and lives. After wooden bridges failed, city fathers decided to build 12 concrete bridges all connecting to downtown.

“Those are all beautiful art deco bridges, different themes,” Koeppel says, “and the Sixth Street Bridge is the jewel of them all.”

The river bed underneath the bridge was eventually paved to control flooding. That concrete also beckoned Hollywood, making the bridge much easier for film crews to access. No one really knows the first film that made the bridge famous, but one that comes to mind is the 1951 film noir Roadblock.

“That scene has an amazing ending,” Koeppel recalls. “If you look at the still frame, there’s a body in the river, two police cars, and the silhouette — the extremely hourglass silhouette — of the femme fatale is walking off into the distance.”

Even the mayor of Los Angeles has some personal memories tied to the bridge.

“I can remember walking underneath the bridge as a kid with my sister and my father and just kind of looking up amazed,” Mayor Eric Garcetti says.

He says change is hard for any city.

“People are letting go little by little, and I think the real feeling is one of nostalgia, sadness,” he says. “But there’s legitimately simultaneity a tremendous amount of excitement.”

The new Sixth Street Viaduct is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

Not My Job: Singer Trisha Yearwood Gets Quizzed On Unhappy Couples


Trisha Yearwood performs at the Encore Theater on Dec. 2, 2015, in Las Vegas.i
Trisha Yearwood performs at the Encore Theater on Dec. 2, 2015, in Las Vegas.

As a 5-year-old growing up in Monticello, Ga., Trisha Yearwood wrote Elvis Presley a letter, asking him to marry her. Elvis never responded. So instead, Yearwood became a record-setting country music superstar, a best-selling cookbook author and lifestyle guru, and ultimately, settled for marrying Garth Brooks. So, not the worst Plan B.

Yearwood had a hit song called “How Do I Live Without You,” so we’ve invited her to play game called “How Do I Live With You?” Three questions about unhappily married couples.

Fresh Air Weekend: ‘Hap And Leonard'; ‘All My Yesterdays'; Maggie Smith


Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

‘Hap And Leonard’ Creator Needed To ‘Burn Bridges’ To Make It As A Writer: Joe R. Lansdale grew up poor in east Texas and worked as a janitor and in a potato field before finding success as a writer. Honky Tonk Samurai is the latest book in his mystery series.

‘All My Yesterdays’ Captures The Beginning Of A 50-Year Engagement: Music from Thad Jones and Mel Lewis’ first and seventh Mondays at the Village Vanguard is out on a new two-CD set. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says All My Yesterdays explodes with creative energy.

Maggie Smith On The Pressures Of Acting: ‘You Want So Much To Get It Right': Known for her recent work in Downton Abbey and the Harry Potter films, the Oscar-winning actress now stars in The Lady in the Van, a film about an elderly woman who lived in a van for 15 years.

You can listen to the original interviews here:

‘Hap And Leonard’ Creator Needed To ‘Burn Bridges’ To Make It As A Writer

‘All My Yesterdays’ Captures The Beginning Of A 50-Year Engagement

Maggie Smith On The Pressures Of Acting: ‘You Want So Much To Get It Right’