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Annie
Film Review by Kam Williams

Little Orphan Annie was a syndicated comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) which debuted in the New York Daily News on August 5, 1924. The cartoon revolved around the misadventures of an adorable 11 year-old with curly red hair who’d exclaim “Leapin’ lizards!” whenever she got excited.

The original strip also featured Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, the millionaire who rescued her from an orphanage; Punjab, his loyal manservant; and Sandy, her adopted stray puppy. The popular serial was first brought to the big screen in 1932, and was adapted to the stage in 1977 as a Broadway musical.

Directed by Will Gluck (Easy A), this fifth film version is very loosely based on that Tony-sweeping production. But the story unfolds in the present at a foster home in Harlem instead of during the Depression at an orphanage located in lower Manhattan. And a few names have been changed, but the roles and motivations basically remain the same.

At the point of departure, we find Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her fellow wards of the state caught in the clutches of cruel Colleen Hannigan, (Cameron Diaz), an abusive alcoholic with a mean streak who takes delight in exploiting the little girls entrusted to her care. This predicament inspires the mistreated waifs to do what else but sing about how “It’s the Hard Knock Life” for them.

Meanwhile, Annie futilely sits in front of the restaurant where she was abandoned long ago, praying for the return of the parents who’d abandoned her, so the sun’ll come out “Tomorrow.” However, a ray of hope arrives when she crosses paths with mobile phone magnate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) who soon invites the grimy street urchin to move into his posh penthouse with a panoramic view and state-of-the-art amenities.

But did the billionaire make the generous overture merely for a photo opportunity to improve his image as a mayoral candidate? Will the cute kid be callously kicked back to the curb once the campaign’s over?

The outcome won’t be much of a mystery to the average adult, though it will probably prove compelling enough to keep tykes and maybe even tweens glued to the edges of their seats for the full two hours. As for the lead performance, Quvenzhane Wallis is quite endearing as the latest incarnation of Annie, right from the opening scene where she ostensibly takes the proverbial baton from a freckle-faced redhead (Taylor Richardson) resembling the other actresses who’d previously played the part.

Still, the film has a glaring Achilles heel, a mediocre soundtrack. Jamie Foxx has the best singing voice here, by far. The rest of the cast members give it their all, but simply fail to deliver any show-stopping renditions of either the familiar or new tunes.

A 21st Century variation on the age-old theme where an insufferable 1%-er finally gets in touch with his sensitive side with the help of an irresistible ragamuffin representing the downtrodden rest of humanity.

Good (2 stars)

Rated PG for mild epithets and rude humor

Running time: 118 minutes

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

To see a trailer for Annie, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nasLuiP-1E0  



Reviews
userpicTop Five (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams

Top Five

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Chris Rock Rolls in Romantic Comedy/Film Industry Satire

            In Birdman, Michael Keaton played a fading star trying to revive a career that had been in decline since he’d become typecast after playing a superhero in a series of blockbusters on the big screen. That plotline wasn’t all that far off from the arc of Keaton’s real-life fate following an outing as Batman back in 1989.

The similarly-themed Top Five features Chris Rock as Andre Allen, a comedian who has become too closely associated with “Hammy the Bear,” the popular protagonist of a humor-driven film franchise. Consequently, he’s been having a hard time making the transition to dramatic roles.

At the point of departure, we find Andre in the midst of promoting his newest movie, Uprize, an historical drama about a slave insurrection on the island of Haiti. He’s allowed New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) to tag along for the day, since she’s been assigned by the paper to prepare a profile on him.

Sparks fly, the two flirt, and it’s pretty obvious right off the bat that the two are attracted to each other. Trouble is, he’s already engaged and about to marry Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), a shallow, self-centered reality show star.

It’s equally clear that Andre and his high maintenance fiancée are ill-matched, so anybody who’s ever seen a romantic comedy can figure out where this one’s headed. And while the plot does everything to prevent Andre from wising up until the very end, it simultaneously affords the acid-tongued funnyman ample opportunities to point out show business’ shortcomings.

Besides being peppered with plenty of inside jokes and pithy comments about Hollywood, Top Five is memorable for boasting the most star-studded cast of the year. The dramatis personae includes J.B. Smoove, Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlie Rose, DMX, Jay Pharoah, Taraji P. Henson, Romany Malco, Gabby Sidibe, Luis Guzman, Sherri Shepherd and Ben Vereen.

As you might imagine, many of the celebs are limited to blink and you missed it cameos, though the production does manage to milk a little magic out of each one’s brief moment in the limelight. Nevertheless, make no mistake, this is a Chris Rock vehicle, and the picture is at its best when the irreverent comic is at his cockiest.

A clever, laff-a-minute adventure worth the investment for the hilarity, even if it telegraphs where the love story might be headed.

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, crude humor, pervasive profanity and drug use

Running time: 101 minutes

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer for Top Five, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jejCmmawzLY    



Interviews
userpicDavid Oyelowo (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams

David Oyelowo
The “Selma” Interview
with Kam Williams

 

Mellow Oyelowo!

David Oyelowo (pronounced – “oh-yellow-oh”) is a classically-trained stage actor who is working successfully and simultaneously in film, television and theater, and has quickly become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after talents. He was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for his stirring performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the highly-anticipated, civil rights drama Selma. Directed by Ava DuVernay and produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt’s Plan B, the film follows the black fight for the right to register to vote culminating in the march from Selma to Montgomery and in President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965.

David can currently be seen in Christopher Nolan’s space travel, sci-fi adventure Interstellar and in A Most Violent Year opposite Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac. He just wrapped production on Captive, a true-life crime thriller, and will soon co-star in Nina, a biographical drama about Nina Simone (played by Zoe Saldana).

A year ago, he co-starred in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, alongside Forest Whitaker, John Cusack, James Marsden and Oprah Winfrey. And in 2012, he was seen in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated drama Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones.

Additionally, David starred in the critically-acclaimed independent drama, Middle of Nowhere, also directed by Ava DuVernay, and in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, opposite Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron. His other screen credits include the George Lucas-produced Red Tails, Rise of The Planet of The Apes, The Help, 96 Minutes, The Last King of Scotland and Who Do You Love.

David first impressed audiences on the stage when he starred in The Suppliants at the Gate Theatre playing King Palasgus. Next, he played the title role of Henry VI, becoming the first black actor to play an English king for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

 

Kam Williams: Hi David, thanks for the interview.

David Oyelowo: My pleasure, Kam. How are you?

 

KW: I’m great! Congratulations on the announcement of Golden Globe nominations for you and Ava DuVernay.

DO: Yes, that was a very, very nice moment for us. I’m particularly proud of her. When you look at that list of directors she’s in the company of, it’s pretty extraordinary to think that she’s only been directing for five years, and that she’s the first black woman to be afforded this honor. So, we’re really, really happy, particularly when it comes to her.

 

KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden says: You have had a very successful and varied career but your role portraying Martin Luther King in Selma must have been an extraordinary experience. I have only seen the trailer online and was deeply moved by your performance. How emotional an experience was portraying Dr. King for you?  

DO: It was a deeply-emotional experience for numerous reasons, not the least of it being that the film had been very hard to get off the ground. So, there were several times when I had to pinch myself about the fact that we were actually getting it made. When you reflect upon the significance of Dr. King to this nation, it’s criminal that he hasn’t had a feature film that was centered around him until now. That, in and of itself, was emotional. But when you’re doing scenes on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, with people still living in Selma and now in their 60s and 70s who had actually marched, who were there that original Bloody Sunday, that’s humbling… that’s deeply moving. You’re no longer acting at that stage, you’re just reacting, because it takes the filmmaking process to another dimension. So, yes it was an intensely emotional shoot, but also an intensely joyful shoot, since we really felt we were paying honor and doing service to these great men and women who had participated.

 

KW: Rel Dowdell, Patricia Turnier and Sangeetha Subramanian all ask: How did you prepare for your definitive performance as the iconic Dr. Martin Luther King?

DO: Even though the journey towards doing it was long and at times frustrating, one of the good by-products of its taking awhile was that I had time to really study King, to study his movements. I also had the God-given opportunity to be in films like Lincoln, The Help, The Butler and Red Tails, films that look at the black experience in this country over the past 150 years. So, I had this historical education going on before stepping into this role. All of those things, combined with talking to Dr. King’s children, and spending a lot of time with Andrew Young who, of course, knew him intimately, were all elements that helped me immeasurably get to where I got.

 

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: How does an actor faithfully embody an historical figure without simply presenting another newsreel portrayal?

DO: Well, I think the way you do that is by focusing on what’s behind the newsreels. If you merely focus on what we already know, then it’s not revelatory. You may as well just go and watch a documentary or a few videos on Youtube, and you’re good. What I had to do was go and find the guy who is the father, the friend, the man who was unsure, the man who needed friends around him in order to be able to keep on going. What does a moment where he’s home alone with his wife feel like? What does a moment where he’s just completely on his own feel like? To show what he’s like when he’s quiet, as opposed to when he’s giving a speech are things that I think are absolutely necessary in order for an audience to feel like they’re seeing a side of this historical figure that they didn’t know before.    

 

KW: David Roth asks: What was it like collaborating with director Ava DuVernay again? Did it make a difference that you’d worked with her before?

DO: Well, in what I do for a living, trust and confidence are key. Inevitably, you can’t make brave choices and do your best work, if you don’t have those, because it’s such a subjective art form, and you don’t have eyes on yourself.   

Having done Middle of Nowhere with Ava, I had found someone I deeply trust, not just as a human being, but in terms of her creative and artistic vision. And in playing a role as exposing as Dr. King, you want someone leading you that you implicitly trust. That was one of the blessings of working with Ava again on this. And not only do I trust her as a person, but I think her ability as a director is world class. She’s as good as anyone I’ve worked with before, and that’s something that instills confidence.

 

KW: Chandra McQueen says: Your performance in Selma was remarkable. We saw the human and iconic side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in your      performance. Was there anything that surprised you, something new that you discovered about Dr. King, while studying for the role? 

DO: I think what a lot of people don’t realize is how much being the leader of this movement weighed upon him. After all, he was only 39 years-old when he was assassinated, and only 36 during the Selma campaign. He always seemed older than he actually was, and I believe part of that had to do with just how much life he had to live in order to lead this movement. He was away from home 28 days of any given month. He was a voice for the voiceless and had so many people relying upon him. As a result, that made for a man who, to be perfectly frank, had lived two lifetimes by the time he was killed. That was something I felt in the playing of it. I don’t think I could have done what he did. That was quite extraordinary.

 

KW: Well, you made history in your own right with your performance as Henry VI when you were the first black actor to play an English king with the Royal Shakespeare Company. How did that accomplishment feel?

DO: It felt great, because I was glad to be the one to break the deadlock. Yet, it was bittersweet because, like Ava says of her Golden Globe nomination, even though I was the first to be afforded the honor, I’m sure I wasn’t the first black person deserving of that honor. So, it’s something to be proud of, but we’re keen to move on from the first and to be an undeniable part of the conversation going forward.  

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, David.

DO: Thanks so much, Kam, and have a good day.

To see a trailer for Selma, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPgs2zshD9Y



Interviews
userpicMark Wahlberg (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams

Mark Wahlberg
The “The Gambler” Interview
with Kam Williams

 

Two-Time Oscar-Nominee Talks about His Latest Film

Mark Wahlberg earned Academy Award nominations for his standout work in both the The Fighter and The Departed. Mark’s breakout role in Boogie Nights established him as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after talents, and he has since played diverse characters for such visionary filmmakers as David O. Russell, Tim Burton and Paul Thomas Anderson.

His remarkable acting career began with Renaissance Man, directed by Penny Marshall, and The Basketball Diaries, with Leonardo DiCaprio, followed by a star turn opposite Reese Witherspoon in the thriller Fear. He later headlined Three Kings and The Perfect Storm, with George Clooney, and The Italian Job, with Charlize Theron.

Mark then starred in the football biopic Invincible, with Greg Kinnear, and Shooter, based on the best-selling novel, “Point of Impact.” He reunited with The Yards director James Gray and co-star Joaquin Phoenix for We Own the Night, which he also produced. Most recently, he collaborated with Pain & Gain director Michael Bay for Transformers: Age Of Extinction. His additional credits include 2 Guns, with Denzel Washington, Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, The Lovely Bones, The Other Guys, Contraband and Ted.

An accomplished film and television producer, Mark produced The Gambler, Lone Survivor, Broken City, Contraband, The Fighter (for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture) and We Own the Night. For television, he executive produced HBO’s “Entourage” through its impressive eight-season run. In addition, he executive produced HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” “How to Make It in America” and “In Treatment,” as well as A&E’s “Wahlburgers.”

A committed philanthropist, he founded The Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation in 2001 to benefit inner-city children and teens. Here, he talks about his latest film, The Gambler, a remake of the 1974 classic starring James Caan.

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Mark, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity.

Mark Wahlberg: Oh, my pleasure, Kam. Thank you.

 

KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I’ll be mixing my questions in with theirs. “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan says: He asks: Was there something about this script which appealed to your East Coast sensibilities that drew you to this project?

MW: Well, when you think about the person responsible for creating the character and the dialogue, Bill Monahan, who’s a Boston guy, obviously, his words roll off my tongue quite nicely. Previously, I’ve worked with him on The Departed, he recently wrote American Desperado for us, and I just acted in a movie he directed called Mojave. So, yes, Jimmy, that goes without saying.  

 

KW: James Cryan was wondering whether your Boston background was of help in making The Departed?

MW: Absolutely! Absolutely! That thing was so in my wheelhouse. I told Marty [director Martin Scorcese] “Watch out, because I’m going after everybody in this one.” Although that’s who the character was. It allowed me to have a real “take no prisoners” attitude.

 

KW: Documentary filmmaker Kevin Williams says: Thank you for being such a good example of how to build a career on your own terms and for making such inspirational films like Invincible and Lone Survivor. Now that you are moving towards producing bigger projects for yourself and other filmmakers, how do you define success and how do you decide what to produce?

MW: You’d be surprised. My taste continues to grow and expand. I define success as being in a position where I can do a picture like The Gambler after making Transformers and other movies that have enjoyed tremendous commercial success. That allowed me to go to a studio and say, “Wow, now take a chance on me with this smaller movie that is not the typical type of film that studios want to greenlight.” It’s a small character piece about a man who’s not the most likable guy in the world that I find fascinating. And hopefully, people will find it interesting enough that the movie will be a success and allow me to keep making more films like it. So, success for me is just having a job and having the studio feel confident that I can go out there and make a movie that people will enjoy.

 

KW: Andrew DeAngelo, who was born and raised in Dorchester, asks: How similar is the show Entourage to your actual rise as a movie star? Were any of your real-life experiences incorporated into the show?

MW: Some of the experiences, definitely, Andrew. The only problem was we couldn’t find four guys from Boston. We originally wanted the characters to all be from Boston, which would have given them a more urban and gritty feel. But the hardest part of the casting was finding a guy who was believable as a movie star who wasn’t already a movie star. So, we then made the compromise of having these guys come from New York. 

 

KW: When’s the screen version coming out?

MW:  June. I’m very excited about it. The movie’s done. And it’s off the charts!

 

KW: Kate Newell asks: When are you finally going to hosting Saturday Night Live?

MW: I’ve been asked to host a few times, but I’ve never done it.

 

KW: Kate also asks: Who do you think does the best impression of you?

MW: Andy Samberg is the only person I’ve ever seen do an impression of me, and I didn’t think it was that accurate. I’d like to see somebody else impersonate me, especially if they can do a good job.

 

KW: David Roth asks: Who would win in a fight between Jim Bennett and Axel Freed, the gambler played by James Caan in 1974?

MW: [Chuckles] Axel Freed, because Jim Bennett does not fight. He will push every button, and infuriate people to the point where they want to beat the crap out of him, but he won’t be bothered by that. He will not fight. 

 

KW: I really enjoyed the film. I loved the gritty dialogue-driven script, the earthy soundtrack, and what a supporting cast! You got great performances from Brie Larson, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, and Michael Kenneth Williams.

MW:  Again, I have to credit Bill Monahan for creating these characters and writing the dialogue that attracted that level of talent. Don’t forget the great George Kennedy who had another scene in the movie that, unfortunately, didn’t make the final cut. We found ourselves in that difficult situation where the movie we wanted to make was three hours, but we had to hand in a film that was about two hours-long. Where do you compromise? How do you make a movie that is going to both best service the story and the main character? It was just one of those things.

 

KW: I thought it was a very powerful way to start the film with that deathbed scene where your character’s grandfather [played by George Kennedy] asks you, “What are you going to do when I leave you with nothing?”  

MW:  It’s funny, because that scene was originally supposed to take place in the middle of the movie. But then, we thought that maybe it would be good to open the movie with that scene, because Jim’s dad wasn’t a part of his life, and his granddad was the only person that he was connected to.  

 

KW: Yeah, I think it worked really well. Sangeetha Subramanian asks: What's your favorite food to eat on set?

MW: If I’m not training then, gosh, anything: donuts… Kentucky Fried Chicken 20-piece hot wings… corned beef hash and eggs… But because I’m training right now, I’m eating very healthily: almond milk… Ezekiel bread… chicken… fish… I’m on a strict diet right now, so I’m not having any fun eating. Normally, our caterer makes these wonderful chocolate chip cookies for lunch. It was my one treat of the day, after getting beat up on the mountain while shooting Lone Survivor. I’d eat a couple cookies and then take a 15-minute nap on the top of the mountain.

 

KW: What movie are you in training for?

MW: Will Ferrell and I are teaming up again on a film called Daddy’s Home. In the movie I play a Special-Ops soldier who has just discovered that Will Ferrell’s character is married to my ex-wife and is my children’s stepfather. So, I have to come home and try to win them back and take him out.

 

KW: I thought you guys were great together in The Other Guys. Wasn’t that film where The Rock and somebody else died in the opening scene?

MW: Samuel L. Jackson.

 

KW: Yeah, that film was hilarious. Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: If—because for over two decades you have been trying to right the wrongs while being a model for youth—you are able to obtain a pardon from the Massachusetts Parole Board, how might your potential pardon be a possible inspiration to others who have committed wrongs in their youth?

MW: Hopefully, it will show them that it isn’t too late to turn their lives around. People are always speculating about what the reason was for my requesting a pardon. The important thing is that ever since I realized all the wrongs that I had done, I have been trying to correct them for the past 27 years. I just focus on my work with inner-city kids, and in my community, and on my philanthropic work. If I am awarded a pardon for my philanthropic work, great; if not, I will continue to be involved in the community and to work just as hard, if not harder, to prevent kids from going down the same road and making the same mistakes. But hopefully, we’re still living in the land of second chances. Even my going back to school was to inspire young people that it’s never too late to get your education. That’s all I can do, and try to be the best father and husband that I can be.

 

KW: I’m sure you’ll get the pardon. You’ve earned it. Good luck! The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

MW: Gosh! It’s of being alone with my dad. He drove a truck for a living. But he had a few free hours in the middle of the day, between the morning shift and the late afternoon shift. Because I was the youngest of nine, I could have him all to myself when they were at school. We’d watch movies at home, or go to the movies, and he introduced me to the guys who still inspire me today. The first movie I can remember ever seeing was Hard Times with Charles Bronson and James Coburn. My dad also introduced me to the likes of Jimmy Cagney… John Garfield… Robert Ryan… Steve McQueen… James Caan… Those are my fondest memories.

 

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

MW: I see a guy getting old. I try to not look in the mirror too much.

 

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

MW: Peace and harmony in the world.

 

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?

MW: Working with talented people and challenging myself as an actor.

 

KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?

MW: Not much. Dad’s just gotta put on a suit and go out there and take some pictures. I do understand that going out and promoting the movie is a big responsibility, and part of the reason they give me the job in the first place. I also like to get out there to promote a positive message about the importance of family and faith and of doing the right thing.

 

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share? 

MW: That “never give up” attitude, not taking “no” for an answer, and working twice as hard as the next guy. Doing it the good, old-fashioned way. Real hard work pays off.

 

KW: What exercise regimen do you follow to stay in such great shape?

MW: It changes. I’m only doing whatever the next role calls for. To give you an idea, I’m at the halfway point of shooting this movie. I woke up at 3 AM today, and had egg whites and Ezekiel bread with almond butter 5 minutes later. At 3:15, I was reading my prayer book and saying my prayers. At 3:30, I was in the gym for an hour, doing jump rope, and all types of high-impact functional movement exercises: kettle bells, dumbbells, step up planks, battle rope, rip cord trainer, etcetera. I came back up here and had a shake. Then I went to the basketball court and played 2-on-2 for an hour. Came back here and had a roasted chicken, tuna salad and a big sweet potato. That was all before 6 AM. Then, I went to do the Today Show and Michael & Kelly. Then I came back here, had two turkey burgers and an avocado. Then I did 90 minutes of phone interviews before having a filet mignon with sautéed spinach. Then I went to a meeting at 1:30, came back here and had another roasted chicken with steamed carrots. And when we finish, I’m going to read my script and start learning my lines for the scenes we’ll be shooting tomorrow. At 6 PM, I’ll take a shower, and wait to get a call from my wife letting me know that she and the kids landed safely. At 7:15, I’ll go to sleep, and wake up at 3 AM again tomorrow.

 

KW: That’s amazing! I remember speaking with Anthony Mackie, for Pain & Gain, and he credited you with helping him sculpt his physique for that film.

MW: There’s nothing better than meeting somebody with a great soul, and a great spirit and a good heart. I took him to the gym the first day we met in Miami. Then we had a nice meal and a big shake. And he and I have remained close. He just called me the other day to ask me how I was doing, since we’re shooting in his hometown, New Orleans. So, I hope to see him and get together with him. He’s a good guy who’s going to have a great career. I told him that he’ll be able to do whatever he wants for as long as he wants, as long as he’s patient. And you have to always be ready. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

 

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

MW: As a great servant of God who tried to give back as much as possible, and as a great father and husband.

 

KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet?

MW: Picture books of all my kids when they were young, a lucky pendant, a few receipts, a couple of credit cards, a spiritual relic and a couple other mementos, and a two-dollar bill I got from a dear friend.  

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Mark, and best of luck with The Gambler.

MW: Thank you, Kam. Bye.

To see a trailer for The Gambler, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiiaoUnkMvQ




The Gambler Movie

The Gambler
Film Review by Kam Williams

By day, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is an English Literature professor whose questionable teaching method involves berating his blasé students by suggesting that none of them will ever amount to anything. He reserves all his praise for the only person in the class exhibiting any promise as a writer, the brilliant and beautiful, but modest, Amy Phillips (Brie Larson).

Amy also works part-time at a gambling casino that her teacher just happens to frequent, since Jim is a high-roller sorely in need of Gambler’s Anonymous. After all, the odds are stacked way in favor of the house where, the longer you play, the more you lose.

But Professor Bennett must have flunked statistics, since he foolishly pushes his luck at Black Jack and Roulette and proceeds to fritter away more than he could ever afford. Consequently, he eventually finds himself in hock to the tune of a quarter-million dollars to Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing), the exploitative casino owner who’d gladly extended a long line of credit to the hopelessly compulsive gambler.

Given seven days to pay off the I.O.U. before having his proverbial kneecaps broken by Lee’s goons, the desperate debtor approaches everyone from his mom (Jessica Lange) to a ghetto loan shark (Michael Kenneth Williams) to a well-heeled mobster (John Goodman) for an emergency loan. Trouble is, rather than clearing his tab with the cash he collects, Jim’s so controlled by his habit that he heads right back to the casino tables.

Thus unfolds The Gambler, a riveting remake loosely based on the 1974 classic starring James Caan. Trim and impassioned, Mark Wahlberg handles the title role in this witty, gritty overhaul of the original relying upon a well-crafted screenplay by Oscar-winner William Monahan (for The Departed).

The cautionary tale basically chronicles the gradual glide into depravity of an unrepentant loser in denial. During that frightening tailspin, Jim is enabled by several of his students, including flattered love interest Amy, basketball All-American Lamar (Anthony Kelley) and promising tennis prodigy Dexter (Emory Cohen). The only question is whether the pathetic prof will be able to pull out of the spiral before crashing and burning.

This searing character study unfolds against a variety of visually-captivating L.A. locales ranging from the seamy to the posh, and is underscored by an appropriately-gritty soundtrack. Director Rupert Wyatt’s (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) job was ostensibly made that much easier by the A-list supporting cast featuring Oscar-winners George Kennedy (for Cool Hand Luke) and Jessica Lange (for Tootsie and Blue Sky), as well as veteran thespians John Goodman, Leland Orser and Michael Kenneth Williams.

If only the self-destructive protagonist were a sympathetic soul instead of a real lout you’d rather root against than for.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, and pervasive profanity    

Running time: 101 minutes

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer for The Gambler, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiiaoUnkMvQ




The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Tolkien Franchise Finale Features Bilbo and Pals in Epic Showdown

The Battle of the Five Armies is the third and closing chapter in The Hobbit series based on the classic fantasy novel of the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien. The film also represents the finale in the sextet of Tolkien adaptations directed by Peter Jackson also including The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

Picking up from where the cliffhanger of the last episode left off, this action-oriented installment opens with protagonist Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf pals fretting over having unwittingly awakened Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). For, the ferocious, fire-breathing dragon has left his mountain lair and begun venting his wrath upon the helpless citizens of Lake-town.          

Fortunately, a savior eventually arrives in the person of Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) an intrepid archer who takes aim at the seemingly-invincible Smaug’s Achilles’ heel. However, piercing the tiny bare patch of skin on the dragon’s vulnerable belly doesn’t settle the question of who gets the gold and priceless baubles still sitting inside the now unprotected Lonely Mountain.

As word spreads of the demon’s demise, greed gets the better of assorted individuals who proceed to descend upon the area to stake a claim on the vast treasure. Only the arrival of a horde of evil orcs doing the bidding of the avaricious Dark Lord, Sauron the Necromancer (also Benedict Cumberbatch), inspires the contentious masses to end their hostilities and join forces against a common enemy.

Clocking in at a mercilessly-brief 144 minutes, The Battle of the Five Armies is not only the shortest, but the most entertaining of Jackson’s Tolkien screen adaptations. Between an engrossing plotline and virtual non-stop combat, the picture proves to be just the perfect way to bring down the curtain on a storied fantasy franchise.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for intense violence and frightening images

Running time: 144 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVAgTiBrrDA  




Ben Crump
The “Black Lives Matter” Interview
with Kam Williams

 

Through his legal prowess and advocacy in the Trayvon Martin case, the Martin Lee Anderson Boot Camp case, and the Robbie Tolan Supreme Court Case, attorney Benjamin Crump has already secured a significant legacy founded in Constitutional law. His considerable acumen as both a litigator and an advocate has ensured that those most frequently marginalized are protected by the nation’s contract with its constituency. His landmark civil rights legal battles will be taught in textbooks and referenced by both this and future generations interested in understanding the scope of our fundamental Constitutional protections.

Attorney Crump has been recognized as one of the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Lawyers, Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 Most Influential African Americans, and bestowed the NAACP Thurgood Marshall Award and the SCLC Martin Luther King Servant Leader Award. In spite of his immense professional responsibilities, he still finds time to serve his local community.

Ben readily shares his professional and personal talents with local, statewide and national causes and charities. He was appointed the inaugural Board Chairman of Florida’s Big Bend Fair Housing Center, Inc., a Federal Grant organization dedicated to the eradication of housing discrimination. He also served as Chairman of the Legal Services of North Florida, and donated $1,000,000 to the organization’s Capital Campaign to ensure that poor people would continue to have quality legal representation as well as access to the courts.

Attorney Crump believes in fighting to preserve the advances in justice and equality that minorities achieved during the Civil Rights era. To that end, he has served as Vice President of the National Bar Association and General Counsel to the Tallahassee Chapter of the NAACP.

In addition, he’s been elected as the Chairman of the Tallahassee Boys Choir, and he is a past President of the National Florida State University Black Alumni Association. And he’s a Life Member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the NAACP.

Ben and his law partner Daryl Parks share their firm’s largesse with the community that has embraced them--most notably--they have endowed scholarships at Florida A&M University, Livingston College, Florida State University, and Bethune Cookman University for minority law students.

Here, he reacts to the “Black Lives Matter!” movement sweeping the nation in the wake of the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Ben, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity, brother.

Ben Crump: Thank you, Kam. I’m glad we’ve finally connected.

 

KW: I have a million questions for you from readers. Children’s book author Irene Smalls says: You have agreed to represent the family of Tamir Rice, the 12 year-old shot by a cop in Cleveland, despite the failure of the grand juries even to indict in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. What fuels your continuing passion and search for justice, in the face of a criminal justice system that seems broken to many of us?

BC: I was just talking to some folks who said, “Ben, you take these cases, and you make a big issue of holding police officers and the killers of our children accountable in the criminal courts, and of making them to go to jail, when you know the history is that police offers don’t get put in jail when they kill little black and brown boys. You win these multimillion dollar victories in the civil courts, but because the officers don’t go to jail, people think you lost the case. Why do you keep insisting on trying to have the police officers put behind bars?” The way I answered them was, “I just can’t bring myself to sell out as if it’s just about money. I know we’re going to win the civil suit in all these cases. But that’s not full justice. Why is everybody else entitled to full justice except our people and our children? Full justice means you discourage the police from ever doing this again because people will know that if you kill our children, you’ll have to do the perp walk and go to jail. It shouldn’t be that if you kill a black person, there’s a good chance you won’t, but if you kill a white person, everybody knows you’re going to prison. We say: our lives are just as valuable. So, the one thing I always know, Kam, is we can’t sell our community out. I don’t worry about whether everybody understands that. Sure, it would be easier to do like most lawyers and only talk about how much money I got for my clients in the civil courts, but to me, that’s not victory.

 

KW: Irene also asks: Do we need to increase the activism in the black community around voting, literacy, etcetera?

BC: Yes.

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: Many people in black communities across this country feel that the legal system simply doesn’t work for them. In fact, we see that racial profiling takes place at every point—on the streets where officers patrol, in the jailhouse, in the courtroom, even in the parole system. On top of that, many people with an arrest record are legally barred from voting. Mr. Crump, what do you tell people when they say they feel like the system is weighted against them?

BC: What I tell them is that it’s still the best system in the world, and that we have to fight to make America be America for all of us. We have to fight to make the words in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence mean something. If they just apply the Constitution, that means we are getting due process under the law and in legal proceedings. It’s not right that we have to fight to make it fair, but we the people have the power to do so. That’s what I love about what’s going on in Ferguson and after the Eric Garner case, and about what I’m sure will now happen with the Tamir Rice case.

 

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Why isn’t the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause applied uniformly? Is there a systemic flaw?
BC: I think there is a flaw in the system. The flaw in the system is that we continue to exonerate the police for killing little black and brown people while holding them accountable in other communities. I once wrote a paper titled, “Police Don’t Shoot White Men in the Back.” You just never heard about police accidentally shooting a white man who’s retreating. What that says is that a flaw in the system allows police officers to be immune for killing colored people. If you think about the grand jury system, that’s exactly what happens. You have local prosecutors who have a symbiotic relationship with the local police officers, and they have no relationship with and many times no regard for the black person dead on the ground. If we keep doing things the same way and expect a different result, that’s the definition of insanity. So, we need special prosecutors with no relationship to the police departments, if we really want to have independent investigations and trials.   

 

KW: David Roth asks: Do you think the race of the police officer is relevant in these types of cases?

BC: Yes. You do see instances where black officers kill Caucasians. They go to jail. And where Caucasian officers kill Caucasians and go to jail. Race matters and the statistics bear that out.

 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What do you think can bring peace to the nation in the wake of the failure of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand juries to indict?

BC: Swift action by the Federal Department of Justice. Other than that, the people are really feeling that the system isn’t fair and that folks in their community can’t get equal justice.

 

KW: Do you think the Department of Justice is really interested in pursuing civil rights cases in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases? Or do they just say that each time a cop gets off in order to calm people down and to give them a false sense of hope that justice will eventually be served? 

BC: I want to believe that Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department are going to do everything in their power to follow through on their words and give some sense of justice to these families.

 

KW: Will the Department of Justice bring a civil rights case against George Zimmerman?

BC: I honestly don’t know.

 

KW: Patricia asks: What advice do you have for young African-American attorneys fresh out of law school?

BC: To be true to thyself, and to remember what Charles Hamilton Houston said: “Strive to be an engineer for social change and justice.” Otherwise, you’re just a parasite on society. Fame, notoriety and material things will come, but first, make it your job to represent your client in a zealous manner and to do good in the world.

 

KW: How would you assess the state of race relations in America? Are things getting better or worse?

BC: Well, with Ferguson decision and then the Eric Garner decision within seven days after that, I think things are tenuous, at best. This could be a defining point for the entire United States of America, because we all need to be better than we’ve been previously.

 

KW: John Hartmann asks: Have you been surprised by the die-ins and other mass demonstrations we’ve seen lately in cities all over the country?

BC: I think we have tough times because some of the frustration from Trayvon flowed over to Michael Brown. Now the Michael Brown frustration is flowing over to Eric Garner, and I think the Eric Garner frustration is going to flow over to Tamir Rice. People are still trying to come to grips with these decisions that don’t seem rational and are certainly not reflective of equal justice.

 

KW: Lisa also asks: What happened to the old legal maxim that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich? Do you think people are outraged because the grand jury is shrouded in secrecy?

BC: Ferguson was all about transparency, because there was such a sense of community mistrust of the court and the government leaders. The worst thing you could do there was have a grand jury proceeding that was going to be secret. And cut off from the rest of the world. It just made no sense. But that’s what they did, and the result is that you come out not knowing what really happened in that room. Words on paper can’t convey the tone and whether a persuasive case was presented to get an indictment. Consequently, when people saw the result, they believed what we were saying from the very beginning, namely, that the system isn’t fair when you use a local prosecutor.

 

KW: I admire that your spirit hasn’t been broken by the legal system’s color coded dispensation of criminal justice.

BC: It is heartbreaking, but you just have to keep fighting the fight, and remember that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Part of what keeps me going is when I see the enthusiasm of the young people. I was recently in Chicago working on the matter of Howard Morgan who was shot 28 times by four white police officers on his way home in one of the worst injustices I ever heard of. These students I met with at the University of Chicago Law School had so much passion, saying, “We’re going to make this world better than what it is today.” And they had so much faith that I could deliver, that it inspired me to go fight harder to reverse this miscarriage of justice that had occurred right before their eyes. After witnessing me making my argument in the courtroom, they said, “We want to do that one day. We want to get the law degree so that we have the power and authority to argue on behalf of the least of ye, and to make them see our humanity, and make them see us not as 3/5ths of a man, but as men with all the inalienable rights of any other American.”

 

KW: Alan Dershowitz in his book, “The Best Defense,” said that one of the things they never teach you in law school is that a policeman’s word is gospel in the courtroom. How do we fight that unwritten law?

BC: With the proposed Mike Brown legislation for video body cameras, because our lies aren’t lying to us.

 

KW: Do you think all the attacks on people of color by police are symptomatic of a racist society or of a class society where people of color have no value or voice?

BC: I think it’s a little of both. I think they devalue our lives. We have to turn the slogan “Black lives matter!” into a reality because our lives do matter.

 

KW: Film director Rel Dowdell asks: How are you holding up? It must be hard flying from city to city to city. We need you, brother.

BC: Thanks for asking that, Rel. This is my first time home in nine days. I’m so happy to be home, I don’t know what to do.

 

KW: How can I, as a lawyer/journalist, help the cause?

BC: First of all, I’m glad you’re a member of the bar, because we need our best and our brightest to be on the front lines fighting for us. You can help by staging clinics where you just teach people what the law is. Most of our people want to fight, but they don’t know how to fight. We need to teach them how to fight constructively.

 

KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Ben, I really appreciate it. Now go gets some rest. Like Rel says, we need you.

BC: Will do, brother, and I look forward to meeting you in person at the march in D.C. on Saturday. God bless.



Reviews
userpicBen Crump (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams

Ben Crump

The “Black Lives Matter” Interview

with Kam Williams

 

From Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Tamir Rice

Through his legal prowess and advocacy in the Trayvon Martin case, the Martin Lee Anderson Boot Camp case, and the Robbie Tolan Supreme Court Case, attorney Benjamin Crump has already secured a significant legacy founded in Constitutional law. His considerable acumen as both a litigator and an advocate has ensured that those most frequently marginalized are protected by the nation’s contract with its constituency. His landmark civil rights legal battles will be taught in textbooks and referenced by both this and future generations interested in understanding the scope of our fundamental Constitutional protections.

Attorney Crump has been recognized as one of the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Lawyers, Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 Most Influential African Americans, and bestowed the NAACP Thurgood Marshall Award and the SCLC Martin Luther King Servant Leader Award. In spite of his immense professional responsibilities, he still finds time to serve his local community.

Ben readily shares his professional and personal talents with local, statewide and national causes and charities. He was appointed the inaugural Board Chairman of Florida’s Big Bend Fair Housing Center, Inc., a Federal Grant organization dedicated to the eradication of housing discrimination. He also served as Chairman of the Legal Services of North Florida, and donated $1,000,000 to the organization’s Capital Campaign to ensure that poor people would continue to have quality legal representation as well as access to the courts.

Attorney Crump believes in fighting to preserve the advances in justice and equality that minorities achieved during the Civil Rights era. To that end, he has served as Vice President of the National Bar Association and General Counsel to the Tallahassee Chapter of the NAACP.

In addition, he’s been elected as the Chairman of the Tallahassee Boys Choir, and he is a past President of the National Florida State University Black Alumni Association. And he’s a Life Member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the NAACP.

Ben and his law partner Daryl Parks share their firm’s largesse with the community that has embraced them--most notably--they have endowed scholarships at Florida A&M University, Livingston College, Florida State University, and Bethune Cookman University for minority law students.

            Here, he reacts to the “Black Lives Matter!” movement sweeping the nation in the wake of the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Ben, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity, brother.

Ben Crump: Thank you, Kam. I’m glad we’ve finally connected.

 

KW: I have a million questions for you from readers. Children’s book author Irene Smalls says: You have agreed to represent the family of Tamir Rice, the 12 year-old shot by a cop in Cleveland, despite the failure of the grand juries even to indict in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. What fuels your continuing passion and search for justice, in the face of a criminal justice system that seems broken to many of us?

BC: I was just talking to some folks who said, “Ben, you take these cases, and you make a big issue of holding police officers and the killers of our children accountable in the criminal courts, and of making them to go to jail, when you know the history is that police offers don’t get put in jail when they kill little black and brown boys. You win these multimillion dollar victories in the civil courts, but because the officers don’t go to jail, people think you lost the case. Why do you keep insisting on trying to have the police officers put behind bars?” The way I answered them was, “I just can’t bring myself to sell out as if it’s just about money. I know we’re going to win the civil suit in all these cases. But that’s not full justice. Why is everybody else entitled to full justice except our people and our children? Full justice means you discourage the police from ever doing this again because people will know that if you kill our children, you’ll have to do the perp walk and go to jail. It shouldn’t be that if you kill a black person, there’s a good chance you won’t, but if you kill a white person, everybody knows you’re going to prison. We say: our lives are just as valuable. So, the one thing I always know, Kam, is we can’t sell our community out. I don’t worry about whether everybody understands that. Sure, it would be easier to do like most lawyers and only talk about how much money I got for my clients in the civil courts, but to me, that’s not victory.

 

KW: Irene also asks: Do we need to increase the activism in the black community around voting, literacy, etcetera?

BC: Yes.

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: Many people in black communities across this country feel that the legal system simply doesn’t work for them. In fact, we see that racial profiling takes place at every point—on the streets where officers patrol, in the jailhouse, in the courtroom, even in the parole system. On top of that, many people with an arrest record are legally barred from voting. Mr. Crump, what do you tell people when they say they feel like the system is weighted against them?

BC: What I tell them is that it’s still the best system in the world, and that we have to fight to make America be America for all of us. We have to fight to make the words in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence mean something. If they just apply the Constitution, that means we are getting due process under the law and in legal proceedings. It’s not right that we have to fight to make it fair, but we the people have the power to do so. That’s what I love about what’s going on in Ferguson and after the Eric Garner case, and about what I’m sure will now happen with the Tamir Rice case.

 

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Why isn’t the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause applied uniformly? Is there a systemic flaw?
BC: I think there is a flaw in the system. The flaw in the system is that we continue to exonerate the police for killing little black and brown people while holding them accountable in other communities. I once wrote a paper titled, “Police Don’t Shoot White Men in the Back.” You just never heard about police accidentally shooting a white man who’s retreating. What that says is that a flaw in the system allows police officers to be immune for killing colored people. If you think about the grand jury system, that’s exactly what happens. You have local prosecutors who have a symbiotic relationship with the local police officers, and they have no relationship with and many times no regard for the black person dead on the ground. If we keep doing things the same way and expect a different result, that’s the definition of insanity. So, we need special prosecutors with no relationship to the police departments, if we really want to have independent investigations and trials.   

 

KW: David Roth asks: Do you think the race of the police officer is relevant in these types of cases?

BC: Yes. You do see instances where black officers kill Caucasians. They go to jail. And where Caucasian officers kill Caucasians and go to jail. Race matters and the statistics bear that out.

 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What do you think can bring peace to the nation in the wake of the failure of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand juries to indict?

BC: Swift action by the Federal Department of Justice. Other than that, the people are really feeling that the system isn’t fair and that folks in their community can’t get equal justice.

 

KW: Do you think the Department of Justice is really interested in pursuing civil rights cases in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases? Or do they just say that each time a cop gets off in order to calm people down and to give them a false sense of hope that justice will eventually be served? 

BC: I want to believe that Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department are going to do everything in their power to follow through on their words and give some sense of justice to these families.

 

KW: Will the Department of Justice bring a civil rights case against George Zimmerman?

BC: I honestly don’t know.

 

KW: Patricia asks: What advice do you have for young African-American attorneys fresh out of law school?

BC: To be true to thyself, and to remember what Charles Hamilton Houston said: “Strive to be an engineer for social change and justice.” Otherwise, you’re just a parasite on society. Fame, notoriety and material things will come, but first, make it your job to represent your client in a zealous manner and to do good in the world.

 

KW: How would you assess the state of race relations in America? Are things getting better or worse?

BC: Well, with Ferguson decision and then the Eric Garner decision within seven days after that, I think things are tenuous, at best. This could be a defining point for the entire United States of America, because we all need to be better than we’ve been previously.

 

KW: John Hartmann asks: Have you been surprised by the die-ins and other mass demonstrations we’ve seen lately in cities all over the country?

BC: I think we have tough times because some of the frustration from Trayvon flowed over to Michael Brown. Now the Michael Brown frustration is flowing over to Eric Garner, and I think the Eric Garner frustration is going to flow over to Tamir Rice. People are still trying to come to grips with these decisions that don’t seem rational and are certainly not reflective of equal justice.

 

KW: Lisa also asks: What happened to the old legal maxim that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich? Do you think people are outraged because the grand jury is shrouded in secrecy?

BC: Ferguson was all about transparency, because there was such a sense of community mistrust of the court and the government leaders. The worst thing you could do there was have a grand jury proceeding that was going to be secret. And cut off from the rest of the world. It just made no sense. But that’s what they did, and the result is that you come out not knowing what really happened in that room. Words on paper can’t convey the tone and whether a persuasive case was presented to get an indictment. Consequently, when people saw the result, they believed what we were saying from the very beginning, namely, that the system isn’t fair when you use a local prosecutor.

 

KW: I admire that your spirit hasn’t been broken by the legal system’s color coded dispensation of criminal justice.

BC: It is heartbreaking, but you just have to keep fighting the fight, and remember that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Part of what keeps me going is when I see the enthusiasm of the young people. I was recently in Chicago working on the matter of Howard Morgan who was shot 28 times by four white police officers on his way home in one of the worst injustices I ever heard of. These students I met with at the University of Chicago Law School had so much passion, saying, “We’re going to make this world better than what it is today.” And they had so much faith that I could deliver, that it inspired me to go fight harder to reverse this miscarriage of justice that had occurred right before their eyes. After witnessing me making my argument in the courtroom, they said, “We want to do that one day. We want to get the law degree so that we have the power and authority to argue on behalf of the least of ye, and to make them see our humanity, and make them see us not as 3/5ths of a man, but as men with all the inalienable rights of any other American.”

 

KW: Alan Dershowitz in his book, “The Best Defense,” said that one of the things they never teach you in law school is that a policeman’s word is gospel in the courtroom. How do we fight that unwritten law?

BC: With the proposed Mike Brown legislation for video body cameras, because our lies aren’t lying to us.

 

KW: Do you think all the attacks on people of color by police are symptomatic of a racist society or of a class society where people of color have no value or voice?

BC: I think it’s a little of both. I think they devalue our lives. We have to turn the slogan “Black lives matter!” into a reality because our lives do matter.

 

KW: Film director Rel Dowdell asks: How are you holding up? It must be hard flying from city to city to city. We need you, brother.

BC: Thanks for asking that, Rel. This is my first time home in nine days. I’m so happy to be home, I don’t know what to do.

 

KW: How can I, as a lawyer/journalist, help the cause?

BC: First of all, I’m glad you’re a member of the bar, because we need our best and our brightest to be on the front lines fighting for us. You can help by staging clinics where you just teach people what the law is. Most of our people want to fight, but they don’t know how to fight. We need to teach them how to fight constructively.

 

KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Ben, I really appreciate it. Now go gets some rest. Like Rel says, we need you.

BC: Will do, brother, and I look forward to meeting you in person at the march in D.C. on Saturday. God bless.



Reviews
userpicJustice While Black (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams

Justice While Black:

Helping African-American Families Navigate

and Survive the Criminal Justice System

by Robbin Shipp, Esq. and Nick Chiles  

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

Agate Bolden   

Paperback, $9.99                                                                      

160 pages

ISBN: 978-1-932841-90-9

          

“The August 9th fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri has focused global attention on the precarious safety of young African-American men... Brown is only the most recent addition to the tragic list of shootings of young, African-American men that have ignited media attention in recent years.

But the fact is that our young black men have always lived under threat from the armed guardians of the white social order. Black males and police forces have been at odds since the nation’s founding, when wealthy planters hired slave patrols to keep the white community safe from ‘dangerous’ escaped slaves.

The tactics have been modernized, and the impact--as we’ve seen at Ferguson--remains devastating… The criminal justice system is not so much a necessary service to society as it is a business that seeks to profit from the arrest and imprisonment of U.S. citizens.

Justice While Black is a handbook for African-American families that is full of practical, brass-tacks advice… on how to avoid being ensnared in the criminal justice system.”

 Excerpted from a Note from the Publisher, Doug Seibold

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in recent months, you know that the incredibly antagonistic and too often deadly relationship between the police and black males is finally garnering the national attention it has so long deserved. Something’s gotta give, when it’s degenerated to the point where you have cops shooting to death a 12 year-old playing with a toy gun in a park and an unarmed 28 year-old merely escorting his girlfriend down the dark stairwell of his apartment building.

Yes, President Obama has weighed-in in the wake of the grand juries’ failures to indict the officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He’s ostensibly attempting to quell racial unrest by hinting that Attorney General Holder might still file Federal civil rights charges against the cops.  

But meanwhile, the question remains: how should the parent of a black boy prepare him for a possible encounter with police, since they’re prone to misread the most innocent of behaviors as somehow menacing? After all, it’s been said that if a cop sees a black man sitting, he’s shiftless; if he’s standing, he’s loitering; if he’s walking, he’s prowling; and if he’s running, he’s escaping.  

I’m not sure whether there’s been a more timely tome than “Justice While Black,” a how-to book written by a concerned sister who is both a lawyer and a mother. With 20+ years experience as a criminal defense attorney under her belt, Robbin Shipp (with the help of Pulitzer Prize-winner Nick Chiles) shares a wealth of advice for young brothers about not only dealing with police on the street, but with navigating one’s way through the court and correctional systems, should you unfortunately be arrested and/or convicted.

Not one to mince words, the author from Chapter One, “Officer Friendly Isn’t Your Friend,” makes it clear that any black man’s encounter with a police officer could easily lead to a close brush with death. Therefore, she relates step-by-step instructions about what to do in situations ranging from being stopped while driving (“If the officer asks for your license and registration, get his permission to reach for them.”) to being placed under arrest (“Resist the urge to explain to them everything that happened.”), and so forth.

A mandatory, must-read that just might save the life or liberty of someone you love.



Interviews
userpicOpening the Genealogy Flood
Posted by Kam Williams

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
The “Finding Your Roots: Season Two” Interview
with Kam Williams

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Professor Gates has authored 17 books and created 14 documentary films, including Finding Your Roots, season two, now airing on PBS. 

His 6-part PBS documentary series, The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, as well as the Peabody and NAACP Image Awards. Having written for such leading publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time, Dr. Gates now serves as editor-in-chief of TheRoot.com, while overseeing the Oxford African-American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field.

Professor Gates’s latest book is Finding Your Roots: The Official Companion to the PBS Series, released by the University of North Carolina Press in 2014. Here, he talks about Finding Your Roots: Season Two, now available on DVD.

 

Kam Williams: Hi, Dr. Gates, how are you?

Henry Louis Gates: Everything’s a little crazy around here, because I’m trying to get out of town. But otherwise, I’m doing very well, Kam. How are you?

 

KW: Great, thanks. So, where are you headed?

HLG: We’re going to South Africa for a couple weeks where I’ll be getting an honorary degree from the University of Cape Town.

 

KW: Congratulations!

HLG: Thank you!

 

KW: And congrats on another fascinating season of Finding Your Roots. How did you pick which luminaries to invite to participate in the project? Did you already have an idea that they might have an interesting genealogy?

HLG: No, we picked them cold. I have a wonderful team of producers. To tell you the truth, first, we just fantasize. Then, we sit down in my house with a big peg board with the names of all the people who said “Yes.” So, we never know whom we are going to get in advance.

 

KW: How do you settle on the theme of each episode? For instance, you did the one on athletes with Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King and Rebecca Lobo, and the one on chefs with Tom Colicchio, Aaron Sanchez and Ming Tsai. 

HLG: Usually, we first do the research and film everybody, and then organize the episodes internally. For instance, Episode One was called, “In Search of Our Fathers.” You might wonder, what does Stephen King have in common with Courtney B. Vance? Well, Stephen King’s father left when he was 2, and Courtney never knew his father. He was put up for adoption. And frankly, that’s my favorite kind of story, when it’s counter-intuitive. That’s why we’ve organized the episodes around those two principles.

 

KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden says: The subject of our roots is fascinating, as shown in your television program on PBS. I'm wondering what you found to be the singularly, most-interesting discovery in your research for Finding Your Roots 2?

HLG: That’s tough to say, because each story has something dramatic and interesting. Take when Ming Tsai’s grandfather fled China after the revolution, all he took besides the clothes on his back was one book, the book containing his family’s genealogy. Isn’t that amazing? He was willing to flee to a whole new world, learn a new language, and start over in a new culture only if he had his family tree with him. That’s heavy, man! It’s like he was saying, “I can do anything, as long as I have my ancestors with me.” I really admire that. And consequently, we were able to trace Ming’s ancestry back to his 116th great-grandfather.

 

KW: Whose roots were you able to trace back the farthest?

HLG: Ming Tsai’s, without a doubt. We’ve traced several people back to Charlemagne, but Ming’s goes back to B.C., because of the Chinese penchant for keeping fantastic genealogical records.

 

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: It seems that your guests have a variety of reactions as each story and new fact is revealed. Whose reaction to an uncovered story surprised you the most? 

HLG: Anderson Cooper, without a doubt. I told him that his 3rd great-grandfather, Burwelll Boykin, was a slave owner. First of all, Anderson was very saddened and disappointed that he descended from a slave owner. But his ancestors were from Alabama, so I told him that was very common. I don’t think you inherit the guilt of your ancestors. We merely reveal whatever we find, without making any sort of judgment. What your ancestors did is what they did. That’s not on you. Anyway, Burwell Boykin had a dozen slaves, according to the 1860 Census. And one of them kept running away. To punish him, he locked him in a hot and humid cotton house. Can you imagine? When Burwell let Sandy “Sham” Boykin out the next morning, the slave grabbed a hoe out of his master’s hands before beating him to death. We found the story in a diary kept by one of Anderson’s ancestors, and then we verified it in the court records which showed that, sure enough, a slave named Sandy Boykin had been hanged in 1860.

 

KW: Marcia Evans says please let Dr. Gates know that this show is awesome and well appreciated. I don't want this series to ever end. There are soooooooo many stories that I want to learn about. This discovery is not just about DNA and history. It's about family, family secrets, and the mindset of folks and their choices. For all of these reasons, I am a dedicated fan. I appreciate Professor Gates and his passion for teaching undocumented history, especially African and African-American studies. I'm a history buff which is why I've been following his work for years. Ask Professor Gates if he is aware of the research work of Professor/Researcher Roberta Estes and her research into accurate testing for Native American genetics?

HLG: No, I’m not, Marcia. But thank you very much for the kind words and the information. I would love to learn about what she’s doing. We’re always fascinated with Native American ancestry, and we’ve found two surprising things about our guests. First, that very few have any significant amount of Native American ancestry, black or white, although Valerie Jarrett did have 5%, and we found her 6th great-grandmother, by name, and the Native American tribe that she was part of. But rarely do we find an African-American with even 1% Native American ancestry.

 

KW: Has anybody ever tried to disagree with their DNA analysis? 

HLG: No, but some people were shocked, particularly African-Americans who believed they had Native American ancestry. They’re always disappointed. [Chuckles]

 

KW: When I was growing up, it seemed like every other kid at school used to say he was part Cherokee.

HLG: The poor Cherokees. Everybody, white Americans and black Americans claimed to be part Cherokee.[LOL]

 

KW: Did any of your subjects ask you not to reveal something you found out about their family?

HLG: No, although I’m sure a few people would like to do so, if they could. But we’re PBS. We’re independent.

 

KW: Editor Bobbie Dore Foster asks: Dr Gates, do you ever answer queries from everyday people who need help with genealogical puzzles and other obstacles to fleshing out their family trees?

HLG: Yes I do, Bobbie, in two forms. At TheRoot.com, we answer a question a week for African-Americans who have a genealogical quandary. That’s co-written with the New England Genealogical Society. And at Ancestry.com, the genealogist there and I write a weekly column that’s on the Huffington Post.

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: We all just love your show. My family tree efforts have literally thrilled my entire family and made them look at themselves and each other differently – as if to appreciate all that our ancestors survived down through the ages. Did you and your family have the same experience when you started looking at your genealogy?

HLG: Oh my God, yes! In fact, CeCe Moore, our genetic genealogist, noticed that I had a whole lot of matches with people named Mayle. We pursued it and, as it turns out, those people and I, on one side of my family, are descended from a white man named Wilmore Mayle who was born in England. He freed his slave Nancy in 1826, and they had children together. We convened all of his mixed-raced descendants for a family reunion in September, and we filmed that for the last episode of the series. And that was done purely through DNA. We don’t even know how Mayle fits in my family tree, but he’s definitely one of my ancestors. 

 

KW: Chandra McQueen asks: What would you say carved out this path for you?

HLG: The fact that when I was 9 years-old, on the day that we buried my grandfather, Edward St. Lawrence Gates, my father showed my brother and me a picture of Jane Gates, the oldest Gates we’ve ever traced, then or now. It blew my mind! She was born in 1819 and she died in 1888. I’m looking at her picture right now. She was a slave and a midwife. I was just so amazed. Between looking at my grandfather in the casket, which was very traumatic, and seeing my father cry for the first time, which was also very traumatic, and trying to figure out how in the world someone who looked like me could have descended from someone who could have passed for white, and then finding out that my great-great grandmother was a slave, intrigued me. So, the next day I interviewed my parents about my family tree. And I’ve been hooked ever since. [Laughs] And that’s a true story.

 

KW: Chan is also curious about what surprised you the most about your own genealogy?

HLG: The fact that I was 50.1% white and 48.6% black.

 

KW: Chan’s last question is: Do you go about gathering genealogical information about African-Americans very differently from the way you do for other ethnicities? How do you get past the obstacle of slavery?

HLG: Yes, we do, because African-Americans generally weren’t identified by name in the census prior to the abolition of slavery. So, we start with the 1870 census, which is the first in which blacks appear with two names. Then you go back to 1860, and see whether there were any slave owners with the same surname, since, more often than not, most emancipated slaves kept the surname of their former owners. Ironically, the key to finding one’s black ancestry during slavery often involves finding the identity of the white man or woman who owned your ancestors. That’s quite a fascinating paradox.

 

KW: Beatryce Nivens says: I have been tracing my genealogy for several years, and other members of my family have been doing it for a couple decades. My great-grandmother was a slave on the Thomas H. Watts farm in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. Her slave owner was her father. In 1977, the white side of my great-grandmother's family gave a second-cousin of mine slave papers listing the slaves on their ancestors’ plantation, as well as their dates of birth and deaths. Unfortunately, that cousin is now deceased and his children can't find the papers. What is the best way to recreate that list? We have used the 1870 Census. Are there any other resources you would recommend for South Carolina? Chesterfield is a County whose courthouse and documents were burned to the ground by Sherman during his historic march across the South towards the end of the Civil War.

HLG: Beatrice, go to Ancestry.com, and type in the name of your ancestor, and it will automatically connect you to any record regarding that particular family member that’s been digitized.

 

KW: Why do you think tracing one’s ancestry is so emotional and transformational, even for celebrities?  

HLG: It’s funny, I filmed Donna Brazile yesterday, and Jimmy Kimmel a week ago, and both of them cried during the reveal. It is very, very emotional. I think people are deeply moved because, ultimately, it’s about ourselves. It’s about you. You are literally the sum total of your ancestors. You are a living testament to your family tree. On Thanksgiving, in the lobby of William Junius Wilson’s apartment building, I met a man who thought that people are so fascinated by the series because of the sense of rootlessness that comes with post-modernity. And one way people gain a sense of solidity is by laying a foundation. And that foundation for anyone is your family tree. Who am I? Where do I come from? You know what? I used to think only black people had what I call “genealogical amnesia.” But I found out that nobody knows more than past their great-grandparents.  

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, brother, and have fun in South Africa.

HLG: Any time, Kam. You know I love talking to you.

To see a trailer for Finding Your Roots: Season Two, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPyoYWnMDxc




Wild
Film Review by Kam Williams

Cheryl Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) life went into a tailspin right after the untimely death of her mother (Laura Dern). The grief-stricken 22 year-old subsequently became emotionally estranged from the people closest to her, including her husband, Paul (Thomas Sadowski), and her brother, Leif (Keene McRae).

And by the time she had finally bottomed out several years later, she was all alone and addicted to heroin. Yet she somehow summoned up the strength to set out on a transformational, solo trek along the Pacific Coast Trail that would take her from the Mojave Desert in California all the way north to the border of Washington and Oregon.

The perilous, 1,100 mile journey would prove to be Cheryl’s salvation, as it afforded her an opportunity to purge her demons while conquering the elements. That magical metamorphosis would also become the subject of her best-selling memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Trail,” an Oprah Book Club selection.

The story has now been adapted to the screen by Academy Award-nominated scriptwriter Nick Hornby (for An Education) as a touching tale of female empowerment featuring Reese Witherspoon as the intrepid heroine. The picture was directed by another Oscar nominee, Jean-Marc Vallee, whose Dallas Buyers Club netted Oscars for both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.

Unfortunately, this flashback flick fails to generate the same sort of sobering gravitas which made Dallas so effectively gripping. Consequently, it unfolds less like the similarly-themed Into the Wild (2007), a riveting survival saga, than Eat Pray Love (2010), another relatively-lighthearted romp about a woman finding herself.

Wild is an uneven endeavor which undercuts its own cause by including intermittent interludes of comic relief, such as when Cheryl’s overstuffed backpack repeatedly causes her to topple over. Hence, rather than ratcheting up the tension of a harrowing ordeal, the film merely recounts the assorted highs and lows of a poorly-planned camping trip run amuck.

Reese Witherspoon nevertheless delivers a decent enough performance to singlehandedly elevate an otherwise mediocre adventure to an entertaining one worth recommending.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and drug use 

Running time: 115 minutes

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

To see a trailer for Wild, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOPl8gKdmYE



Interviews
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Posted by Kam Williams

Karin Slaughter
The “Cop Town” Interview
with Kam Williams

 

Karin Slaughter is the New York Times and #1 internationally best-selling author of 14 thrillers, including “Unseen,” “Criminal,” “Fallen,” “Broken,” “Undone,” “Fractured,” “Beyond Reach,” “Triptych,” “Faithless,” and the e-original short stories “Snatched” and “Busted.” Here, the Georgia native discusses her latest opus, “Cop Town,” a riveting murder mystery set in Atlanta in 1974. 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Karin, thanks for the interview. As a long-term reader of classic murder mysteries, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie to Dorothy Sayers to Dick Francis to Donald Westlake to Edgar Box (aka Gore Vidal), I must say that I really loved Cop Town and would rate it right up there with the very best of the genre.

Karin Slaughter: That is high praise indeed.  Thanks so much!

 

KW: What inspired you to write the book?

KS: I wrote a novel called Criminal a few years ago that was partly set in the 1970s, and I had the great pleasure of talking to all these incredible female police officers who came up during that time.  There were so many more stories that I wanted to tell about them.  What they went through was just amazing, and I think it’s important for people to remember exactly how bad it used to be.

 

KW: How would you describe your creative process? Do you do map out the plotline or focus on character development first?  

KS: It really depends on the story, but all of my books are about characters.  The plot is very important because writers have to play fair with their readers, but no one would care about the plot if the character work wasn’t there.  So, basically every book I work on starts with me thinking not just about the bad thing that’s going to happen (spoiler alert!) but how that bad thing is going to ripple through the community, the family of the victim, and the lives of the investigators.  I am keenly aware when I’m working that the crimes I am writing about have happened to real people. I take that very seriously.

 

KW: How much research did this project entail? I know that the story is set in your hometown of Atlanta, but the events take place at a time when you were just a toddler. And when I Googled some of the names, I discovered that you interweaved some real-life characters and events with the fictional ones. 

KS: I love weaving in fact with fiction, and I know that many of my readers were alive and paying attention in the 70s, so it’s my job to reward them for paying attention with little touchstones from that decade.  I have Sears catalogues for clothing, Southern Living for architecture and entertaining, and of course all the tremendously helpful people who talked to me about what it was really like to live in Atlanta at that time.  That being said, I write fiction, so there were some instances where I had to bend the story a little bit to suit my needs.

 

KW: Is there someone you bounce your early drafts of chapters off of in order to know whether it’ll work with your readers? 

KS: I only work with my editors because pointing out a problem, a slow passage or a character who needs more to do, etcetera, is very easy, but knowing how to have a discussion about fixing it is alchemy.  Many times, it’s something earlier in the book, or later, that needs to be tweaked and then it all makes sense.  A good editor is one of the sharpest tools a writer can have in her toolbox.

 

KW: Do you write with a demographic in mind? 

KS: I write with me in mind, because as much as I love my readers, these are my stories.  I am a voracious reader myself.  I don’t stick to one genre.  My only criteria is that it’s a good story.  I try to bring that to my work because I think people can read your excitement about a story.

 

KW: How long does it take you to write a book, and how do you know when it’s finished?

KS: It depends on the book.  For a story like Cop Town, it takes years to do the research and come up with the plot and really immerse myself in that time period.  Since Kate and Maggie were new characters, I had to do a lot of sitting around and thinking about them.  What’s important to them?  How has money informed their lives?  I also have to bend my thinking, because I write books about strong women who are in control of their lives, and Maggie and Kate aren’t really in control, but they are getting there.  I didn’t want to have this revisionist moment where they stand up and say, “We’re not going to take it anymore!”  That sort of thinking wasn’t in the average woman’s vocabulary.  Change is always incremental, so they might say, “We’re not going to type your reports for you until the weekend!” As for when it’s finished, I think about this quote I heard a long time ago no idea where it’s from: An artist is a painter who knows when to stop painting.

 

KW: Was the protagonist of Cop Town, Kate, based on anyone you know?

KS: I think Kate is an amalgamation of some women I’ve known in my life.  That’s really where all characters come from, though. The thing I wanted to show with Kate was how different the world is if you’re raised with money.  That sort of cushion frames your thinking.  Interpose that with Maggie, who has been raised to think that at any moment she might be living with her family on the street, and you begin to understand why they look at crime—and criminals—differently.

 

KW: I know you’ve already sold the film rights. Who’d you like to play Kate in the movie?

KS: Rosamund Pike is amazing.  I also love an actress named Dominique McElligott.  As for Maggie, how fantastic is Grace Gummer?

 

KW: Where did you learn how to ratchet up the tension so skillfully?

KS: Can I say Gilligan’s Island and not lose all my readers?  I was a latchkey kid, and instead of doing my homework, I watched reruns on TBS until a car pulled into the driveway.  I think that cliffhanger/dramatic arc got programmed into me, along with a predilection toward infomercials.

 

KW: Is there a message you want people to take away from the book?

KS: First and foremost, I want them to have a good read, because I want everything I write to entertain people.  There are always different layers to the story, though, so if you want to think about social justice, or sexism or racism or homophobia, or really drill down into why the world is a better place when the police force looks like the people they are policing, then that’s there, too.

 

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

KS: Why are you so young and thin?

 

KW: Have you ever become embroiled in a real-life murder mystery?

KS: No, thank God.  I am a bit of a Dudley Do-Gooder, though, because if I see a car accident or something bad happen, I am one of those idiots who runs toward the problem instead of away from it.  Not that I would recommend this behavior.  I once stopped my car on the street because I saw a man hitting a woman and I jumped out and started yelling at him.  I was fine, but it later occurred to me that that is a good way to get your butt kicked.

 

KW: Have you ever accidentally uncovered a deep secret?

KS: No!  And I spied on my sisters All… the… time...  I think it’s just because they’re really, really boring.  I could’ve so been the Erin Brockovich of my family.

 

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

KS: My friend Alafair Burke wrote a book with Mary Higgins Clark, and I was really blown away by how fantastic it was.  Michael Connelly’s new one is fantastic.  I loved the latest Jack Reacher.  Lisa Gardner, Kate White, Mo Hayder, Jane Smiley, Phillip Roth…we are all spoiled for choice.

 

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

KS: Flaws, just like every other woman my age.  You know, it really sucks getting older.  Sometimes I’ll be walking along and I’ll just glance over my shoulder to make sure nothing has fallen off.

 

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

KS: I know I should say world peace, but right now I’d just really like for my neighbor’s dogs to stop barking.  Oh, and good health, for me and my family, not the dogs.

 

KW: The Jamie Foxx question: If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend the time? 

KS: I’d want to be with my cats and my family at home.  Wow, Jamie Foxx, that’s really depressing.

 

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

KS: I went to a Christian School, and when I reached a certain age, I wasn’t allowed to wear pants to school anymore.  There was a big conference about it with my parents about how unladylike it was for me to wear pants (this was a school where the principal and once of the coaches stood at the front door with a wooden ruler to make sure girls’ skirts were an inch below their knee).  So, from that day forward, I had to wear skirts, which meant that I couldn’t play on the playground like I used to.  I really feel like I could’ve been the next Serena Williams if not for that.  Or the pre-Serena Williams.  I mean, let’s be honest, she would totally be thanking me every time she won a match if not for that.

 

KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question:How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?

KS: It was a seminal moment in my life, because I was with a real jerk, and once I did the prerequisite eating an entire cake and singing “All By Myself” in the shower, I realized that people treat you badly when you let them, and that I had to respect myself and not let anyone else treat me that way again.  If someone really loves you, they are your biggest champion, not your biggest detractor.

 

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

KS: I saw this thing on TV that makes breakfast sandwiches and I ordered it immediately and now I can pretty much make you any breakfast sandwich you want.

 

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?

KS: People who are interested in life.  I don’t understand people who say they’re bored.  Look out your window.

 

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

KS: I’m afraid of the general things that everyone is afraid of: a bump in the night that could be a cat or Death dragging his sickle across the room; losing my health; becoming homeless, never meeting George Clooney.

 

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

KS: You know, it’s crazy, but I laugh all of the time. It is painfully easy to amuse me.  An author friend of mine and I trade jokes pretty regularly.  And they’re these really witty, intelligent jokes that you’d expect from the literary descendants of Dorothy Parker and the Round Table, like: Q: what’s invisible and smells like carrots?  A: A rabbit fart.  You’re welcome, Edna Ferber.

 

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

KS: The thing is that I never feel guilty about my pleasures.  I love watching television.  I love reading all kinds of books.  I love cupcakes.  Okay, maybe I feel a little guilty about the cupcakes.  They’re kind of a problem.

 

KW: The Mike Pittman question: What was your best career decision?

KS: Choosing to be ethical and fair with people.  My agents are the same way.  We just don’t screw people over because it’s not right.  This is very important to me, because I am a big believer in the Golden Rule.  Though, a lot of times when people are crappy, they get away with it, so I just have to remind myself that life makes you pay for your personality.  They might win on point, but they tend to be miserable human beings.

 

KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?

KS: Flying.  Unless there’s a gluttony superpower I don’t know about, because in case it’s not clear, I really love cake.

 

KW: If you could have a chance to speak with a deceased loved one for a minute who would it be and what would you say?

KS: I would tell my grandmother that she has hemochromatosis and that she should go to the doctor because it’s treatable.

 

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share? 

KS: Determination.  I think a little bit of arrogance, too, but determination is a big part of it.  Every successful author I know faced crushing rejection early on, and they got back up and kept going.  I love watching those family tree shows because all of these famous people generally come from a long line of over-achievers.  I don’t think this necessarily answers the question about nature vs. nurture, though, because people who have opportunities pass those opportunities along to their children.  This is actually a theme I tried to explore in Cop Town with Kate.

 

KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?

KS: I would love to be a watchmaker.  I love putting together puzzles, and the thought of delving into all those tiny gears really puts me in a happy place.

 

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

KS: Don’t try to follow in my footsteps.  Make your own footsteps!  No one else can tell the stories that are inside of you except for you.

 

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

KS: I want to be remembered as kind.

 

KW: What’s in your wallet?

KS: Two credit cards, my license and my Delta Airlines Diamond membership card, because l earned that with my blood.

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Karin, and best of luck with Cop Town.

KS: Thank you for your thoughtful questions!




Tavis Smiley
The “Death of a King” Interview
with Kam Williams

 

Tavis Smiley is the host and managing editor of Tavis Smiley on PBS, and The Tavis Smiley Show from Public Radio International. He is also the author of 16 best-selling books. Here, he talks about his latest opus, “Death of a King.”

 

Kam Williams: Hi Tavis, thanks for the time, brother.

Tavis Smiley: Always nice to speak with you, Kam.

 

KW: I have lots of questions for you from readers. Attorney Bernadette Beekman says: I know that your book deals with the last year of King's life when the tide was turning against him, such as the Black Panthers, Ralph Bunche, and others in the movement.  Now Dr. King is viewed as a martyr.  Was it difficult for those still living to now speak negatively about King?

TS: Good question, Bernadette. Now that he is a dead martyr, rarely do people speak negatively of him. My point is that it’s easy to celebrate and applaud dead martyrs. The problem is that when King was here and in our faces, and talking about inconvenient truths, like what he called the triple threat facing our democracy--racism, poverty and militarism—everybody turned on him. Yet, 50 years after his assassination, what do we see when we look at Ferguson, Missouri? Racism, poverty and militarism! We have deified King in death, so it’s easy for people to say nice things about him now. But in life, we demonized him.

 

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: An historical biography of the last year of Dr. King’s life, no matter how beautiful a tribute, is it really what we need to read now to get it right?

TS: Absolutely! The answer’s “Yes,” because we come to know who we really are in life during the dark and difficult and desolate days of our journey. If you think you respect and revere Dr. King, wait ‘til you read this book. You’re going to feel that way even more so afterwards, because you’ll get to see how he navigated the most difficult period of his life, the last year of his life when everybody turned against him. That’s what fascinates me about him. After reading this book, you’ll have a different appreciation of Dr. King. It’s important to see him in his full complexity, and be honest about the fact that we help to kill King because we abandoned him. And once we abandoned him, we isolated him, which made it easy for someone to assassinate him. It was a three-step process.

 

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Do you have any interest in entering politics?

TS: Let me put it like this, “N, O, NO!” And put that in caps.

 

KW: Patricia also says: I think this is one of your best books. I just finished reading it. I found your discussion of Coretta Scott King’s influence on her husband very interesting, as well as her contributions as an activist, and her criticism of the Civil Rights Movement’s lack of focus, and the roles played by women in combat. About your research process: Did you make trips to Atlanta, Montgomery, the Lorraine Motel and other places in Memphis?

TS: Yes, all of the above. The short answer is I traveled extensively, I interviewed extensively, and I researched extensively. Still, I couldn’t have done this book had it none been for the work of Dr. King’s three principal biographers: Taylor Branch, David Garrow and Clayborne Carson. Those guys did the heavy lifting which made it easier for me to do a book just focusing on his final year. As for Coretta, she’s really an unsung heroine. I’m glad that Patricia took away the critical role that Coretta played not only in Dr. King’s life, but in the Movement. I’m glad that we were able to weave that into the narrative effectively.

 

KW: Patricia says: You quote Dr. King asserting that “Our nation is sick with racism, sick with militarism, sick with a system that perpetuates poverty.” If Dr. King were still alive, what do you think his assessment of present-day America would be?

TS: Excellent question! He’d pick up right where he left off, talking about that triple threat of racism, poverty and militarism. Even in the era of the first black president, racism is still the most intractable issue in this country. Regarding poverty, half of all Americans are either in or near poverty. Poverty is certainly worse for African-Americans now than it was during King’s lifetime. And there’s a highway into poverty, but barely a sidewalk out. This is not a skill problem, it’s a will problem, and King would be challenging us about the lack of our will to eradicate poverty. On militarism, the growth of the Military-Industrial Complex has been exponential since his assassination. If he were here now, he’d have a strong critique of the American empire’s militaristic approach to the world. And frankly, he’d have a strong critique of the Obama administration on its use of drones.

 

KW: Patricia says: You wrote that this book meant more to you than any of your others. I consider it an homage to a legend. What do you think is the most important part of Dr. King’s legacy?

TS: I think Dr. King is the greatest democratic, public intellectual that America has ever produced. What’s interesting is that in the U.S., we regard him as an icon, while elsewhere around the world he’s regarded as a revolutionary. They saw him as the radical revolutionary that he really was. Loving your enemy is a radical concept. Here at home, we’ve sanitized and sterilized him, and failed to appreciate him as the revolutionary and prophet that he really was.

 

KW: Chandra McQueen says: This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Do you think Obama is as deserving of his?

TS: I want to be as charitable as I can be, here. It’s been very difficult, sometimes heartbreaking to watch this war President with a Nobel Peace Prize, navigate his presidency.

 

KW: Have you considered having some of Smiley Books translated into other languages?

TS: We’ve translated some, but we could do more.

 

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian asks: What was the most surprising fact you uncovered when researching this book?

TS: That for all the surveillance and wiretapping Dr. King was kept under, not one time was he ever heard contesting the humanity of another human being.

 

KW: Vassar professor Mia Mask asks: What's up with your campaign against Obama? Isn't it somewhat self-serving? What, if anything, have you and Cornel West accomplished with your public criticism of the President?

TS: I am not engineering a campaign against Obama. My work and witness is about holding our leaders accountable.

 

KW: What do you think is the state of black politics in terms of loyalty to the Democratic Party?

TS: It’s the same old story. Democrats, too often, take blacks for granted, and Republicans, too often, simply ignore black voters.

 

KW: David Roth says: I would love to have a chance to chat with you. I am intrigued by the evolution of the post-civil disobedience African-American identity. Please comment on what Dr. Cornel West refers to as the dousing of the "Black prophetic fire" and the subsequent co-opting of the “we-consciousness” of 19th and 20th Century black leaders by the “me-consciousness” of the capitalistic society all Americans operate within. Now that the majority of Black Americans has been assimilated, there is no longer a singular, collective Black voice articulating the call for true equality of opportunity and equal justice under the law, which has led to the marginalizing of the people who raise their voices today.  

TS: Dr. West is absolutely correct about the black prophetic tradition of speaking truth to power being on life support.

 

KW: Kyle Moore asks: What has to be done to change to the political stalemate we see in Washington?

TS: We need to elect leaders who understand that leadership is about loving and serving people, not about self-advancement.

 

KW: L.A. “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan says: You've been in Los Angeles for 30 years. What is it that you still find so alluring about our City of Angels?

TS: Great question, Jimmy. The City of Angels is a microcosm of the world, and so living in L.A. makes me feel like a citizen of the world.

 

KW: Cousin Leon Marquis asks: What was the toughest question you ever had to ask someone?

TS: That’s a question that every one of my guests would have a different answer for, because they all think I ask tough questions. We’ll leave it at that.

 

KW: AALBC Publisher Troy Johnson asks: What happened with the R. Kelly book project?

TS: We published the book, but for any number of reasons, it didn’t sell enough to make the best-seller list. He was afforded an opportunity to tell his story, and the marketplace decided.

 

KW: Troy also says: I really enjoyed, and now miss, the Smiley and West radio program. Why was it cancelled? Any plans for a similar program in the future?

TS: It wasn’t canceled. Dr. West and I decided to step away from it, primarily because we both just have so many things going on. We’re both very busy people.

 

KW: Troy would like to know: What are the future plans of Smiley Books?  

TS: We’re going to continue to publish books we think need to be read.

 

KW: Film critic Armond White simply asks: Why?

TS: Great question, Armond. I ask that myself everyday.

 

KW: Thanks for another great interview, Tavis.

TS: Thank you, Kam. I look forward to reading it.

 




Birdman

Birdman
Film Review by Kam Williams

A couple of decades ago, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) was sitting atop the showbiz food chain. However, the former box-office star’s stock has been in sharp decline since he stopped playing Birdman after a trio of outings as the popular, blockbuster superhero. And today, he’s so closely associated with the iconic character that nobody’s eager to hire him.

With his career fading fast and no roles on the horizon, Riggan decides to take it upon himself to orchestrate his own comeback. The plan is to mount a Broadway production, with what’s left of his dwindling savings, of the Raymond Carver short story, “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love”.

First, he adapts the short story to the stage, with the idea of not only starring but directing. Then, he enlists the assistance of his skeptical attorney/agent Jake (Zach Galifianakis) and his drug-addicted daughter Sam (Emma Stone), while rounding out the cast with his girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), fellow film industry refugee, Lesley (Naomi Watts), and her matinee idol beau, Mike (Edward Norton).

Will the washed-up thespian manage to make himself over with the help of this motley crew? Unfortunately, Riggan is a troubled soul with more on his plate than the already intimidating challenge of putting on the play.

For, he happens to be haunted by a discouraging voice in his head telling him he’s going to fail, too. That would be his alter ego, Birdman, a nasty, one-note, nattering nabob of negativism.

Written and directed by Oscar-nominee Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (for Babel), Birdman is a bittersweet portrait of a Hollywood has-been desperate for a second go-round in the limelight. The sublimely scripted dramedy simultaneously paints a perfectly plausible picture of life on the Great White Way courtesy of pithy background banter.

The movie features a plethora of praiseworthy performances, starting with Michael Keaton (Batman) who will likely earn an Oscar nomination in a thinly-veiled case of art imitating life. Also impressive are Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and an unusually-sedate Zach Galifianakis, if only for his acting against type.

The theater world’s eloquent answer to Black Swan equally-surrealistic exploration of ballet.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, brief violence and pervasive profanity

Running time: 119 minutes

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

To see a trailer for Birdman, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIxMMv_LD5Q




Little Hope Was Arson
Film Review by Kam Williams

In little over a month, starting in January of 2010, ten churches located within a 40-mile radius of a rural section of East Texas were all burned to the ground. Was this the work of devil worshipping atheists, arsonists in search of a spectacle, or someone else?

The crimes confounded the criminal investigators who mounted the largest manhunt in the history of the region. Eventually, the authorities did crack the case, arresting a couple of troubled young men, Jason Bourque, 19, and Daniel Mcallister, 21.

Daniel soon started to sing, confessing after waiving his right to remain silent. He also implicated his pal Jason in return for word from his interrogator that he’d receive half the sentence of his co-conspirator. But that handshake wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, and both defendants landed life sentences when they got their day in court.

After all, this was not only the heart of the Bible Belt, but Texas, a state notorious for its lack of patience for felonious behavior. And when you factor in the ire of unforgiving church members who’d lost their place of worship, all bets were off in terms of any promised plea deal.

Little Hope Was Arson marks the noteworthy directorial debut of Theo Love. The picture is less sensational than understated as it relates an engaging tale in matter-of-fact style. Along the way, we learn about the family dysfunction in each of the boy’s childhood which ostensibly contributed to their lives spiraling out of control.

Personally, I only felt empathy towards the two upon learning how long they’ll have to spend behind bars, since nobody died during their month-long reign of terror. But maybe I was surprised to see a couple of white kids have the Good Book thrown at them.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that they were taught right from wrong as little boys, and somewhere along the way they simply opted for the dark side. So, now they must pay their debt to society.

The moral? Like the ghetto gangstas say: If you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime. I can only pray that Daniel and Jason’s momentary thrill of setting those buildings ablaze was worth flushing their futures down the drain.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 73 minutes

Distributor: The Orchard / Submarine Deluxe

To see a trailer for Little Hope Was Arson, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwrOdbanxyg




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