Oscar Buzz Deferred
by Kam Williams
2013 was widely lauded as the “Year of the Black Film,” but you would never know it, judging by the recently-announced list of Oscar nominations. It looks like the Academy settled on 12 Years a Slave as a sort of token black representative, with Steve McQueen (Director), John Ridley (Adapted Screenplay), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Lead Actor) and Lupita Nyong’o (Supporting Actress) landing nominations. Otherwise, the only other black nominee in a major category was Barkhad “I’m the Captain now!” Abdi, the Somalia-born cab driver who made his acting debut as the pirate who took Tom Hanks hostage in Captain Phillips.
Perhaps the most noteworthy snub was that of Fruitvale Station which had won coveted awards at both the Sundance and Cannes Festivals. Or maybe it was that of The Butler, which was my favorite film of the year. Upon that picture’s release back in August, colleague Roger Friedman was not alone in unabashedly declaring Oprah Winfrey already a lock to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
But, in the end, Oprah wasn’t even nominated, nor was her co-star Forest Whitaker, despite his having delivered a nonpareil performance. The list of overlooked thespians arguably extends to a couple other critically-acclaimed productions featuring black principal cast members, namely, the brilliant biopics 42 and Mandela.
What happens to Oscar buzz deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it dream of an NAACP Image Award?
Life of a King
Film Review by Kam Williams
Ex-Con Opens Chess Club for At-Risk Kids in Ghetto-Based Biopic
Eugene Brown (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) was so worried about returning to his neighborhood in inner-city Washington, DC after serving 17 years for bank robbery that he shared his concern with his cellmate Searcy (Dennis Haysbert). The wise, old elder responded by making an analogy between life and the game of chess amounting to the simple suggestion “Take care of the king.”
He also handed Eugene a chess piece, hoping it might serve as a constant reminder to avoid trouble by employing fundamental game strategy. And that practical piece of advice would come in handy, especially since landing employment would turn out to be quite a challenge, given his criminal record.
But rather than break the law again for a quick buck, Eugene displayed the patience to wait until he found a legit job as a janitor. Working at the same high school his children had attended, he was afforded an opportunity to redeem himself when asked by the principal (LisaGay Hamilton) to monitor detention, too.
Instead of just having the students stand at the blackboard and write, “I will not be late for class” or “I will not forget my homework” 50 times, Eugene came up with the inspired idea of teaching them how to play chess each afternoon. Soon, he founded a chess club as a regular afterschool activity and viable alternative to the gangsta ways so many of the troubled youth found attractive.
Meanwhile, Eugene needed to mend fences with his estranged offspring, college coed Katrina (Rachae Thomas), and black sheep Marcus (Jordan Calloway), a juvenile jailbird following in his father’s footsteps. That proves easier said than done since the absentee-dad wasn’t around for either’s formative years.
Written and directed by Jake Goldberger (Don McKay), Life of a King is a warts-and-all biopic based on the downfall and resurrection of the real Eugene Brown. As raw and realistic as it is predictable and cliché-ridden, this modern morality play does at least drive home a pertinent message for adolescents in the targeted demographic.
A Sunday school-style parable which makes very effective use of chess mastery as a metaphor for negotiating the perilous gauntlet of possible ghetto pitfalls.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for drug use, violent images and mature themes
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment
To see a trailer for Life of a King, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24bM9kZp9NQ
Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster--
and Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down
by Stephanie Brown, Ph.D.
Book Review by Kam Williams
Berkley Publishing Group
“This is a book about a new kind of addiction that I believe has taken hold in our culture… I call it the addiction to speed… I’m talking about a culture-wide phenomenon that is snatching people up and carrying them along, convincing them that doing ‘more, better, and faster’ is the path to happiness.
Some people see it as a result of our increasingly wired society… I believe technology is only part of the story, however… what I am seeing in my practice as an addiction specialist is that, especially in urban areas, this speed trap is outstripping people’s ability to manage, to fulfill all their responsibilities, and even to cope…
You do not have the ability to be on 24/7 like a computer, but… you push yourself incessantly, creating an addictive spiral. You can’t stop... I do want to ask if we can slow things down…
I want to identify how so many of us have become addicted to speed, how this is encouraged and reinforced by our culture, and how seeing speed through the lens of addiction can help people reclaim their lives. ”
-- Excerpted from the Prologue (pages 4-16)
There’s a lot more to life than accelerating its pace, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the everyday behavior of most folks lately. People have become so hopelessly dependent on smart phones, computer tablets and the like, that they can’t go for more than a few minutes without texting, checking their messages or looking something up online, however trivial.
I first recognized this phenomenon a few years ago when I was invited to friend’s house for Passover. During the Seder, while his family and friends were taking turns reading from the holy Haggadah, he was secretly texting away under the table. Despite being contrite and embarrassed when I pointed out to everybody that our host was ignoring the sacred ritual, he was right back at it less than five minutes later.
Back then, I had no words for such behavior besides rudeness, but thanks to Dr. Stephanie Brown we now have a diagnosis of addiction to speed. In her groundbreaking book, “Speed: Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster--and Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down,” she bemoans the fact that the culture has morphed into a ramped-up dystopia where machines lead and humans follow.
What’s particularly unhealthy about that state of affairs is that we simply can’t keep pace with demanding electronic stimuli that never need to rest. Hence, we’re fated to fail without the resolve to say “Enough is enough!” and then set reasonable limits.
How do you know if you’re hooked? The author has 20 questions which will help you discern whether you have a problem, including: Do you want to slow down, but cannot? Do you work longer and longer hours, but don’t ever finish? Do you check your email and reach for your phone first thing and last? Do you feel nervous without your tech gear in hand or pocket?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, there is still hope, provided you are willing to redefine success to include “delay, endurance and enough.” The goal is to cultivate a new way of thinking via willpower and reflection to put you on a healthier, less stressful path.
A viable, step-by-step guide to sane cell phone use.
2014 Golden Globes Recap
by Kam Williams
American Hustle Lands a Trio of Trophies
Abscam Comedy Emerges as Early Oscar Favorite
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association staged its 71st Annual Golden Globes in Beverly Hills on Sunday evening, with SNL alumna Tina Fey and Amy Poehler again sharing the hosting duties. The night’s big winner was American Hustle for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) as well as Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence for Best Lead and Supporting Actress, respectively.
Going into the event, Hustle and 12 Years a Slave shared all the Oscar buzz by virtue of their having landed the most Golden Globe nominations (7 each). But 12 Years has definitely now lost momentum, despite prevailing in the coveted Best Picture (Drama) category only.
As for the show, emcees Fey and Poehler again proved to be more celebrity-friendly than their relatively-irreverent predecessor, Ricky Gervais. The pair’s tongue-in-cheek brand of humor ranged from Fey’s praise of August: Osage County as proof that “there are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over 60” to Poehler’s crediting “12 Years a Slave” for changing the way she feels about slavery.
They teased conspicuously-absent Woody Allen for winning the award “for the tiniest man with the biggest glasses,” since the similarly-diminutive and power-framed Martin Scorcese had previously accepted the lifetime achievement accolade. Meanwhile, during the telecast, Woody’s son Ronan was busy tweeting a reminder that his sister Dylan had recently gone public for the first time about her having been molested by their father at the age of 7.
As far as profanity, a few foul-mouthed winners had to be bleeped, although in the case of Jacqueline Bisset the very busy NBC censors were too slow on the button and let the S-word slip out over the airwaves. They also belatedly edited Fey’s raunchy suggestion “Like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio,” although they apparently had no problem with her running joke about prosthetic penises.
But enough about this self-indulgent, alcohol-fueled preamble to the Academy Awards, it’s on to The Oscars!
Complete List of 2014 Golden Globe Winners
Best Picture, Drama: "12 Years a Slave"
Best Picture, Musical or Comedy "American Hustle"
Best Actor, Drama: Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Best Actress, Drama: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"
Best Actor, Musical or Comedy: Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Best Actress, Musical or Comedy: Amy Adams, "American Hustle"
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"
Best Foreign Language Film: "The Great Beauty" (Italy)
Best Animated Film: "Frozen"
Best Screenplay: Spike Jonze, "Her"
Best Original Score: "All Is Lost"
Best Original Song: "Ordinary Love" "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"
Best Series, Drama: "Breaking Bad"
Best Actor, Drama: Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
Best Actress, Drama: Robin Wright, "House of Cards"
Best Series, Musical or Comedy: "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
Best Actress, Musical or Comedy: Amy Poehler, "Parks and Recreation"
Best Actor, Musical or Comedy: Andy Samberg, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
Best Miniseries or Movie: "Behind the Candelabra"
Best Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Elisabeth Moss, "Top of the Lake"
Best Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Michael Douglas, "Behind the Candelabra"
Best Supporting Actress, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Jacqueline Bisset, "Dancing on the Edge"
Best Supporting Actor, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Jon Voight, "Ray Donovan"
CECIL B. DeMILLE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
The “Martin Luther King Awards Dinner” Interview
with Kam Williams
Shirley Sherrod is best known as the African-American government official fired in 2010 by the Obama administration for allegedly making racist remarks about a white farmer. However, a right-wing blogger had edited a video of her remarks to create that false impression.
Shortly after being dismissed as the Georgia USDA State Director of Rural Development she was cleared by the administration, and President Obama apologized to her. Nevertheless, she decided to not return, opting instead to write a book her autobiography, “The Courage to Hope: How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear.”
When Shirley was 17, her father was killed by a white man in Georgia but no charges were ever lodged. A cross was burned in their yard shortly thereafter. The death of her father fostered her lifelong commitment to fight for the civil rights of poor and minority farmers.
She is currently a leader of the Southwest Georgia Project, an organization she helped start years ago. The organization works primarily with female farmers, trying to get more women involved in agriculture, and also marketing vegetables to local school systems.
In 2011, under the leadership of Shirley and her husband, Charles, New Communities, an agricultural cooperative modeled after the Israeli Kibbutz concept, bought a large farm in Georgia. They are establishing an agricultural training center there, as well as a program bringing local blacks and whites together in partnership to promote racial healing.
In a famous quote from Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago notes that, "Who steals my purse, steals trash… But he that filches from me my good name… makes me poor indeed.” Here, Shirley talks about the tarnishing and restoration of her reputation, and also about delivering the keynote speech at the 26th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner in Glen Burnie, MD on Friday, January 17. [Tickets may be purchased by phone at 410-760-4115 or at www.mlkmd.org.]
Kam Williams: Hi Ms. Sherrod. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Shirley Sherrod: Thank you, Kam.
KW: You’re delivering the keynote speech at the annual dinner in honor of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. What did Dr. King mean to you?
SS: Well, Dr. King has long been my hero. I didn’t get to work with him much, but my husband did in the early years. Dr. King gave his life, really, to the struggle for everyone. And he believed in non-violence. That’s what I’ve tried to do in terms of my life and my work, following the teachings of God.
KW: In your biography, you talk about how your father was murdered by a white man when you were 17. How did that tragedy shape you?
SS: I grew up on a farm and, prior to my father’s murder, I wanted to get away from the farm, and away from South Georgia where the Jim Crow laws absolutely controlled anything and everything we did. So, my goal was to leave once I completed high school. But on the night of my father’s murder, I made a commitment that I would not leave the South, that I would stay and devote my life to working for change. So, my father’s murder has shaped the course of my life even up to this very day.
KW: How did you avoid becoming embittered, especially after the grand jury failed to indict the perpetrator who was never brought to justice?
SS: Given the way the system was, what could I do as I one person, other than devote my life to fighting to make it different? If I had allowed myself to be filled with hate, I probably wouldn’t even be alive, because that hate could’ve killed me. That hate would’ve blinded me to my contributions in terms of how I could make a difference. You can’t think straight when you’re consumed by hate and focused on destroying someone else. Instead, I was bent on trying to destroy a system that was not fair to all of us, and I continue to do that.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: What’s it like to come out of a “political lynching” and live to tell about it?
SS: I can tell you that while I was in that situation, especially the first few days, you’re thinking that everyone in the country is believing something about you that is not true: that you’re a racist and that you refused to help a white farmer. It was a very bad place to be for someone like me who has devoted her life to working for change and for fairness for everyone. It was one thing for me to try to defend myself, and quite another to then have a white farmer step forward to say what I’d done for him. Oh my goodness! It makes you know that when you’ve done the right thing, you just don’t have to worry or even think about how you tell the story, because the truth will ultimately come out.
KW: Why do you think that that conservative blogger decided to edit your NAACP talk about tolerance to make you look like a racist?
SS: I kept wondering, “Who is this person and why did he choose me?” because I had never heard of him. I don’t have answer for that. He never apologized to me. I never had a conversation with him. I guess I was just a nobody to him, a nothing, somebody he thought he could literally destroy while trying to get at the NAACP.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks: How did your personal theology inform your response to being fired from your position?
SS: You have to approach people with the truth and with love, and with what’s right. I was determined to get the truth out because I knew that the truth would set me free.
KW: Reverend Thompson also asks: Where do you find fulfillment and purpose in your life?
SS: I love helping other people. When I made that commitment to stay in the South, to work for change, it meant devoting my life to working for and helping others. I feel good when I know that I’ve saved someone’s farm, or helped a family to get a home or access to credit. Or when I can get young people to see that there’s more to life than just trying to make the biggest dollar for yourself.
KW: Leon Marquis asks: Why didn't you sue President Obama for firing you?
SS: That’s a good question that I really don’t have an answer for.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman says: What happened to you was so awful, I don't know how you stood up to it, but I like the fact that you filed a lawsuit. She says: Aside from telling your personal story as well as how the right-wing media had a frenzy taking your remarks out of context, what did you hope to accomplish by writing your autobiography?
SS: I had been telling that story about my transformation and the white farmer for 24 years. And people often suggested that I write a book about it. But I never had the time to until all of this happened to me. Suddenly I was out of a job and being encouraged to write my story by so many people that I just went ahead and did it.
KW: Bernadette also asks: Would you encourage young people to go into farming today if they do not have enough independent financial resources?
SS: The traditional farm, the peanuts, the cotton, the corn, is probably not the thing to do, because you’re up against big farmers who can afford all the equipment to grow those kinds of crops. But we need healthy food. We’re being encouraged to eat more vegetables. Our school systems are being encouraged to buy locally. So, we need farmers who can produce that food. We were recently helping a school plant broccoli and cabbage in a garden, and this 8 year-old boy said, “I don’t eat food from the Earth, because it has nature on it.” When we asked him where he got his food, he said, “From the grocery store.” When we tried to explain where that food came from, he put his hands over his ears, shouting “Stop! Stop! That’s gross.” Our children need to learn how to produce food. That’s where we came from.
KW: Bernadette asks: What do you think of the locavore movement where eco-conscious people concerned about sustainability only eat locally-grown food?
SS: We have landowners, small growers. We have people who are holding onto land that was acquired by their families after slavery. They need to produce some of the food we eat, so they can pay the taxes and hold onto the property. Taxes keep going up. We, and by we I mean black people, are rapidly becoming a landless people. Our ancestors, coming out of slavery, acquired more than 15 million acres of land. Today, we’re probably down to less than 2 million acres.
KW: Did you know J.L. Chestnut, the late civil rights attorney? I know that he sued the government on behalf of black farmers in the South?
SS: Yes I did. He was such a great person. There was never a dull moment around him. And when you got Chestnut and Dr. Lowery [former SCLC President Joseph Lowery] together, oh my goodness! [Chuckles]
KW: How do you feel about GMOs being shipped to Africa and elsewhere in the Third World?
SS: I have a problem with that. I don’t think we yet know the full brunt of genetically-modified seeds.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: How do you feel about the Obama administration today?
SS: I’ve remained a supporter of the Obama administration, even at the height of my ordeal. There’s a lot that he could do differently, but so much of what he’s tried to do has been blocked by the Republican officeholders. I think that he could have been a much better president with more support. So, I’m still supportive of him.
KW: Irene is also wondering whether you have any advice for individuals in government service?
SS: If you’re in it for the money, then you’ll do what you have to do to survive. But if you’re in it to do the right thing, then it might mean that you won’t get to stay there, but at least you can say, “I did what was right while I was there.”
KW: Irene then asks: What do you want the world to know about Shirley Sherrod?
SS: That Shirley Sherrod is someone who is committed to helping others. I love people, and I love doing things that make a difference.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Was it a cathartic experience for you to write your autobiography?
SS: Yes, it’s just amazing to look back over your life and the work that you’ve done. It’s really something!
KW: Patricia also asks: What was the most important lesson you learned from the experience related to the doctored videotape?
SS: The support that I received from people all over the country was really heartwarming.
KW: Patricia says: Many women in powerful positions all over the world still face employment discrimination. What advice do you have for them and how can they continue to break the glass ceilings?
SS: That’s a difficult one. [Chuckles] You can’t give up. Sometimes you get knocked down, but you have to get back up, fighting. You have to think about the others who come behind you as well. And you have to think of the example that you set for others.
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: How do you feel about the cultivation of hemp, as a former official with the Department of Agriculture?
SS: Well, where it’s legal, I guess it’s a great crop to grow.
KW: Irene’s asks: What’s up next for you?
SS: I talk about it in the last chapter of my book which deals with hope and a piece of property that’s been acquired which was a former plantation. We have a racial healing project to teach young people farming and our history so we don’t end up reliving it.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
SS: I have to think… I read quite a few…“My Black Family, My White Privilege” is the most recent one I read.
And before that, Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow.”
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
SS: Gosh! Let’s see. I have two. Sweet potato soufflé and macaroni and cheese.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
SS: Learning to drive a tractor on the farm. I was probably five years-old. My parents kept having children, trying to have a son. They had five daughters in a row. We were his girls, but we each had a boy’s nickname. Mine was Bill. My mother was finally pregnant with my brother when my father was murdered.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
SS: Well, I see someone who’s aging now, and someone who kept a commitment made many, many years ago, and who today is trying to be an example for young women.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
SS: One wish? I wish that somehow, some way we could learn to live together in this country.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
SS: As someone who was dedicated to others and to making a difference.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Shirley, and I wish I could be there for your keynote speech at the Martin Luther King dinner.
SS: Thanks, Kam.
To order a copy of The Courage to Hope, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1451650949/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20
The 26th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner will be held at La Fountaine Bleue in Glen Burnie, MD. Those to be honored for their actions that help keep the legacy of Dr. King alive include: U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, Gerald Stansbury of the Maryland NAACP, Larry White Sr., Marc L. Apter, Dr. Oscar Barton Jr., Antonio Downing, Sylvia Rogers Greene, Kathy Koch, Julie C. Snyder and the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County.
The MLK Jr. Awards Dinner is presented by the Annapolis based Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, Inc. at La Fontaine Bleue, 7514 Richie Highway, Glen Burnie. This year’s dinner tickets are $60 ($65 after January 14th). VIP tickets are $100 including premium seating and a private reception before the dinner with hors des oeuvres and an open bar.
Tickets may be purchased by phone at 410-760-4115 or on-line at www.mlkmd.org.