“Get Out” moments are real: Why Jordan Peele’s new film should be required viewing

Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya in “Get Out” (Credit: Universal Pictures)

I’m now joining the list of about a zillion people who have already told you to go see Jordan Peele’s new horror film “Get Out.” This film should be required viewing for Americans because — no spoilers, I promise — of how precisely it captures the experiences of black Americans navigating all-white spaces.

Roughly 400 million people live in America, and only about 13 percent of them are African-American. That means it’s very possible for a black person to be the only black person in the room. “Get Out” moments happen all over the country every day. I won’t ruin the film, so I’ll let you borrow a “Get Out” example from my own personal collection.

You are the first guy from your family to go college. You could have left the state but you have decided to stay local and attend a school 15 minutes away from your neighborhood. Cookouts, block parties and the kind of celebrations that happen only in all-black neighborhoods are had before you even attend one class. The only white people you know are teachers — and of course the hosing police, who always come by to break up the parties.

The hopes and dreams of your entire neighborhood follow you to your car as you prepare to hit the campus for the first time. A veiny caramel hand grips your shoulder as you throw your books in the trunk. “Do good for us, baby.” You turn around and it’s Aunt Mae: She’s not your blood aunt but she is the hood’s aunt, which is just the same. “Make us proud.”

You hug her, hop in the car and pull off. On the way to campus you wonder what college will be like. Will the work be easy or hard? Will you fit in on the first day like you did in high school or will there be a struggle? Will the girls like you, are you smart enough, can you really swing it in general? You wonder why you are the first — why were you chosen to be the one? What’s going to happen, what’s the campus like, what will going to school with other races be like? All your other schools were all black, all the time.

You park on the street because you haven’t figured out the parking laws yet. The campus is only half a block up. You arrive to your university — your white university. You knew the campus would be diverse, but you didn’t know “diverse” meant many variations of whiteness. There’s acoustic guitar whiteness, hacky sack whiteness, jock whiteness, preppy whiteness, motorcycle jacket whiteness, yoga whiteness, pastel sweater with khakis and boat shoe whiteness — and this is just on the front lawn.

Other types of whiteness wait inside the building, clog up the lobby, peak through bathroom stalls, hang from the ceiling and pop up and out of trash cans. They all have the same smirk, and it only shifts when you say, “hello.” They never speak back or directly address you unless they have questions: What sport do you play? How high do you jump? Are you on the team?

You are so confused. You can hoop but didn’t plan on balling for the school team. Maybe you should, you think to yourself. Some other black guys walk by. You well up with excitement and introduce yourself. They greet you with the same smirk, brushing you off. Now you’re even more confused, wondering if this place can ever be decoded. You’re not sure if you should stay, but you can’t go. You don’t want to let Aunt Mae down. You don’t want to disappoint the hood.

A week goes by and you have the chance to study those other black guys. They all seem to have endorsement deals with different white crews. A few of those black guys even tried to recruit you, but you fail all the tests with flying colors. You’ve never seen an episode of “Friends.” You hadn’t heard of Kings of Leon. Your feet are too big for Sperrys.

You take all this information back to your neighborhood and they don’t believe you: “It can’t be that bad,” they say.

You nod your head. “It’s worse.” Now you don’t fit in on campus, but you’ll look like a loser if you quit.

Do you “get out?” Or do you stay? Go see the movie and think about it.

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“It’s been very good”: Republican strategist on Trump’s first 100 days

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Alexandra Sherer is a Republican leader on an island of Democrats. As the Republican District Leader from Manhattan’s 74th Assembly District, the Republican activist often has to stand her ground in a room of people who disagree with her.

Sherer sat down with Salon Talks to discuss female leadership, New York culture and President Donald Trump’s first month in office. Sherer said she doesn’t want to speak for all Manhattan Republicans and acknowledged that there are many differing opinions among her party.

“I don’t have like every single viewpoint of the Republican party, and I don’t share every single view of Donald Trump,” Sherer said. “However, overall I do agree with Republicans more than I agree with Democrats, and that’s why I’m a local activist.”

Sherer said she thinks President Trump has been doing a good job and that his good work has been undermined by the media.

“I think he’s been following through on what he said throughout the campaign, which is what people wanted,” she said. “They thought he would do what he said he was going to do, and he is.”

Sherer weighed in on the many protests that have sprung up in New York in response to Trump’s travel ban and immigration orders:

“There’s been a lot of protests, and that’s just ridiculous–in my opinion–I totally agree with expressing yourself…but I feel like we need to kind of come together.”

Currently a graduate student at New York University, California native Sherer said she didn’t experience an environment allowing respectful political disagreement while a student at the University of California-Davis.  She said she feels that the right is more accepting of other beliefs.

“That’s why I try to elect Republicans on the local level,” she said. “Electing someone to local office is the first step to getting things done.”

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WATCH: Thoreau’s classic work “Walden” gets the video game treatment — yes, you heard that right

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Gone are the days when video games weren’t considered art.

Games are no longer seen exclusively as violence simulators, and they’re more and more becoming artistically aware of their own impact on society.

Some are even utilizing other works of art from the past.

This year marks the 200th birthday of Henry David Thoreau, the transcendentalist author of “Walden.” So it’s only fitting that members of USC’s Game Innovation Lab plan to release a game based on the famous work called, “Walden, a Game.” An excerpt from the company’s website explains the premise:

Walden, a game, is a first-person simulation of the life of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau during his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond. The game begins in the summer of 1845 when Thoreau moved to the Pond and built his cabin there.

This isn’t the first time games have used classic literature as a concept.

Visceral Game’s 2010 gory depiction of “Dante’s Inferno” brought life to the circles of hell in Dante Alighieri’s epic “Divine Comedy.” Another example is Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” which was adapted into a 1995 point-and-click adventure game of the same title developed by the Dreamers Guild. It was even co-designed by Ellison himself.

However, games don’t need to rely classic literature to uphold artistic integrity.

Proteus, a game where players explore an alien world, makes interpretation ambiguous. The player has no agency, and the world reacts — but does this world exist if no one were playing the game? That’s only one interpretation of the game, but many others have been circulated.

The importance of video games in our culture continues to grow, whether it’s through the lens of classic literature or that of contemporary art forms.

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“Get Out” taps real-life horrors, draws audiences and dollars

Film Review Get Out

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Allison Williams, left, and Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from, “Get Out.” () (Credit: Justin Lubin/Universal Pictures via AP)

In “Get Out,” first-time film director Jordan Peele (one half of the well-known sketch comedy duo Key & Peele) took a bold leap, forgoing classical horror movie monsters in favor of something much more real: racism in modern America.

“The scariest monster in the world is human beings and what we are capable of, especially when we get together,” Peele said of his movie.

 

The film’s plot, a mixture of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” surrounds a young interracial couple, Rose and Chris, who take a weekend trip to visit Rose’s affluent white family — and their two black servants. The movie is a not-so-subtle look at microaggressions (both conscious and unconscious) toward people of color in post-Obama America.

Since its premier on Friday, the film has made almost seven times its production budget, taking in over $33 million and making it the third-best No. 1 opener for Universal/Blumhouse. Beyond the jumps and thought-provoking twists, “Get Out” allows audiences to tap into larger social justice issues.

“With the emergence of Black Lives Matter and the discussion becoming focused on the police violence, when the country got more woke, this movie’s purpose transformed into something that was meant to provide a hero and release from all the real horrors of the world,” Peele explained.

According to a USA Today poll, 58 percent of millennials have a favorable opinion about Black Lives Matter — something that could have contributed to the success of “Get Out.” Whatever the draw, moviegoers will definitely leave with something on their minds.

“I think Jordan had something to say about this issue and about what it feels like to be black in a white environment,” said the film’s breakout star Daniel Kaluuya. “And that, its almost like, taboo — even in real life now, interracial relationships are a taboo subject.”

 

 

 

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“Moonlight” is the first LGBT movie to win best picture. Here’s why it matters

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Do you remember where you were when “Brokeback Mountain” lost in the best picture category? It was in 2006, my first year in college, and I was at a crowded Oscar party. When Jack Nicholson read the contents of the envelope, he delivered the news that “Crash” had won with an implied shrug as if to say, “That’s Hollywood, Jake.” Everyone in the room with me was stunned, almost unable to move.

“Brokeback” had been the unbeatable front-runner, a cultural phenomenon that was also critically beloved. It had completed a near sweep during the awards season, winning honors from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards. Meanwhile, “Crash” was a race-relations movie so ham-fisted that the opening titles should have been written in bacon.

The “Brokeback” upset wasn’t just unfair. It was a symbol of wretched homophobia (which continues to plague the film industry). Many members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, including Ernest Borgnine, refused to even watch Ang Lee’s mournful cowboy ballad. Tony Curtis opined that John Wayne, über-masculine patron saint of the Western genre, wouldn’t approve.

It’s perhaps fitting that the restitution for that film’s shocking loss would be just as jaw-dropping. A decade or so after “Brokeback Mountain” was denied the opportunity to become the first LGBT movie to win best picture, “Moonlight” snatched victory from the jaws of tapping feet. Although presenter Faye Dunaway initially proclaimed “La La Land” the winner, she had read from the wrong envelope. As Warren Beatty, who stood onstage with his “Bonnie and Clyde” co-star to commemorate the film’s 50th anniversary, explained, the two had been given a card announcing Emma Stone’s best actress win by mistake. The 28-year-old won her first Oscar for starring in the modern musical, which was heavily favored to sweep the ceremony.

That unbelievable gaffe has dominated the day-after headlines, but don’t let the controversy overshadow what is an important milestone: No movie with an LGBT protagonist has ever claimed the best picture prize, and few have even been considered for the honor. The well-deserved win for “Moonlight” is a necessary step toward inclusion for an awards show that has struggled to treat queer art as having the same importance and relevance as its competition. This is not just about diversity, a perennially hot topic at the Oscars. It’s about equal recognition.

Just a handful of LGBT-themed films have ever competed for top honors at the Academy Awards. These films include “Milk,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right” and “Capote.” Last year Todd Haynes’ “Carol” was snubbed in the category, despite earning nominations for both its leads and a bid for best screenplay. That film, which earned some of the best reviews of the year, joined a long list of films that have been passed over by the academy. Acclaimed films like “Tangerine,” “Gods and Monsters,” “A Single Man,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Philadelphia,” “My Own Private Idaho,” “Beginners,” “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” “Monster” and “Mulholland Drive” failed to earn best picture mentions, even while many of their cast members were nominated in other categories.

The academy loves to give actors shiny trophies for “going gay” in a role, but seldom gives the stories they’re telling the ability to compete at the same level or even recognize queer actors who portray the stories of their own community. To date, 11 straight actors have won an Oscar for playing an LGBT character. But just two out queer people have ever even competed for an acting award at the ceremony: Jaye Davidson (“The Crying Game”) and Sir Ian McKellen (“Gods and Monsters”). Neither won. Actors like Jodie Foster as well as Anna Paquin, was was just 11 when she won the best supporting actress award, came out long after taking home Oscar gold.

When movies with LGBT characters are spotlighted, it’s too rarely in a way that celebrates or affirms the community. Previous best picture contenders include films like “Silence of the Lambs,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Rebecca,” “The Crying Game” and “American Beauty,” and three of these won awards. In these films, queer people are deployed as villains, problematic tropes or narrative props that enable heterosexual characters to go on a journey of self-discovery. Rayon (Jared Leto) dies in “Dallas Buyers Club” so a homophobic white dude can learn a lesson about tolerance, whereas Fergus (Stephen Rea) throws up when he learns his girlfriend (Davidson) is transgender in “The Crying Game.”

If your film does have an LGBT lead, it’s a lot easier to win best picture honors if you ignore his or her sexual orientation altogether. The real-life John Nash was likely bisexual or gay, but “A Beautiful Mind” scrubs any mention of the mathematician’s homosexual dalliances. It was rewarded for erasure with four Oscars. In the novel on which John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy” was based, its protagonist was a conflicted queer hustler. His cinematic counterpart, Joe Buck (Jon Voight), is straight. Joe has one lone encounter with a male client (Bob Balaban), who gives him a very uncomfortable blow job in the back of a darkened movie theater.

There has been a great deal of debate on the subject, but friends of Ron Woodroof, the fun-loving rodeo cowboy played by Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club,” claim he wasn’t the gay basher the movie makes him out to be. Many say he was himself bisexual. The film’s screenwriter, Craig Borten, has contested that, saying that his movie is an accurate depiction of who the HIV-positive man was. “His diagnosis changed him,” Borten told Slate.

Why would movies like these redact their leads’ queerness? It’s because movies starring straight white men about the lives of straight white men play better with Oscar voters, who tend to like movies more when the characters look like them. As of last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that 91 percent of Oscar voters are Caucasian and 76 percent are male; the average member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is 63 years old. Since 2011, 65 percent of best picture winners featured protagonists who mirror that exact demographic.

That doesn’t mean that every single one of these white male voters is another Ernest Borgnine or Tony Curtis; there are plenty of queer people in the film industry, after all. But given that people older than 50 are less likely to support LGBT equality than those in other age groups, there are likely more of them than you think. In the past decade, the academy has done little to indicate that it has changed its stripes after the “Brokeback Mountain” fiasco. Just three movies with queer leads have been nominated for best picture since 2006 — one of which, “The Imitation Game,” was criticized for playing down its protagonist’s homosexuality.

By reversing that trend, “Moonlight” testified to what should be a given: Telling queer stories matters. Although many have attempted to explain away this win as merely an anti-Trump vote, that diminishes the singular power of the film’s artistry. “Moonlight,” which is about a young black man coming to terms with his identity, shows us that LGBT stories are universal. Its director, Barry Jenkins, adapted an unproduced stage play by Tarell Alvin McCraney because its world, one of boys struggling to find their place on the streets, was one he knew intimately. McCraney is gay and Jenkins is straight, but Chiron’s story belongs to them both. And last night, the Oscars proved that his story is all of ours.

“Moonlight” may have finally shattered the glass ceiling for queer movies at the Oscars, but the ongoing controversy over #OscarsSoWhite shows that the academy’s voters still have a lot of work to do when it comes to recognizing the stories of communities that have been shut out for too long. The academy must continue opening the door wider to ensure the stories of the LGBT people are no longer treated as less deserving — ignored, erased and made invisible.

Last night’s win was well overdue, but boys like Chiron shouldn’t have to wait 11 more years for another shot at recognition.

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Sweet charity: From the Governor’s Ball to the streets, post-Oscar food waste feeds many

Chefs To End Hunger

(Credit: Wolfgang Puck Catering)

Every year, from the time the first of 3,000 small plates is sent out to the 1,500 Academy Awards Governor’s Ball guests, until the last dish is washed, hundreds of pounds of food goes uneaten. This year, rich short ribs to an entire octopus, chilled soups to Parmesan funnel cakes and elaborate desserts — including edible “Oscar” statues — was on the menu even though it is well known that celebrities and their entourages don’t eat much food.

The Academy Awards have always been the most lavish display of fame and fortune Hollywood offers-up each year, and guests of the many Oscar balls are known to consume more champagne than they do food.

Which begs the question, what happens to all those lovingly prepared eats that are planned out months in advance by famous chefs like Wolfgang Puck? For the last 23 years Puck’s kitchen has prepared the menu for the annual Governor’s Ball, the largest event, and his staff knows that many of their creations will go uneaten. Instead of wasting them, however, Puck has long partnered with food recovery organizations to deliver vast quantities of leftovers. Since his Spago days, in fact, said Jackie Kelly, one of his executive chefs in charge of Oscar prep and execution.

“Wolfgang has been working with LA Specialty, a food vendor for chefs for the many years, and with Chefs to End Hunger — LA Specialty’s charity organization — for six years,” she told me last week from the Wolfgang Puck Catering’s kitchen, amidst the bustle of Governor’s Ball food preparation. “We are in full production mode right now, and as of today, Thursday, we have 30 people cutting beets, we have short ribs marinating for 72 hours about to get braised, and we have smoked salmon ‘Oscars’”
Chefs to End Hunger is a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation started by LA&SF Specialty, a food vendor that many chefs like Puck buy from.

The company has trucks delivering to over 2,000 locations daily, and is capable of dropping off supplies of boxes and foil sheet pans, which chefs then fill will leftover food. Full, refrigerated boxes are picked up from customers like hotels, restaurants and other food service operations daily.

The day of the Oscars is an early day for the Puck staff: the action starts at one p.m. with hors d’oeuvres out in the lobby, and 3,000 plates later the service is over around nine p.m., said Kelly. “Right around 11 at night, when we know it’s starting to slow down, and the celebrities have moved on, we take a look at what we have left. The short ribs we expect to be left over, because people only take a little bite. The chicken pot pie is always left over, and pasta.”

There is much left over, including dishes for those with dietary constraints. “We can do gluten free, no dairy, whatever comes in: Chef [Wolfgang Puck] and our team will make sure it’s available,” said Kelly, who in the face of trying to stem food waste has fielded all sorts of odd celebrity food requests during the Oscars over the years via Puck’s “accommodations” phone line — including those for less food. “We had a lady who said, ‘Can you just make me a smaller plate of that one you just sent out, because I have no self control,’” chuckled Kelly. “We thought, ‘just don’t eat that second piece of meat,’ but her staff said that she needed the smaller plate.”

Kelly said that on average, Puck’s kitchen packs up 30 large “400” size foil pans on Oscar night, which they leave for Chefs to End Hunger’s 6 a.m. pick-up the next day, when security has cleared. Recipients in the Los Angeles area include the Midnight Mission, with which Chefs to End Hunger has a long-running partnership.
And it wasn’t just the Governor’s Ball and Wolfgang Puck Catering that worked to redistribute excess food.

Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire star, partnered with a San Francisco-based food recovery technology company called Copia, to ensure that no party food was wasted at this years’ Los Angeles awards ceremonies. Copia provides restaurants with pickup and delivery methods to package and deliver leftover food for a volume-based fee, instead of creating waste or composting.

Pinto noted on her Instagram feed that Copia worked with the Independent Spirit Awards caterer to pack up and deliver all excess food to the Los Angeles LGBT Center on Sunday morning. Ms. Pinto, who was unavailable for comment today because according to her rep, she was “midst of assisting in the disbursement of the food collected during the food recovery from last night,” wrote further on Instagram yesterday, “Wastage isn’t glamorous, feeding people is! #zerowaste #zerohunger#eatlikeastar @gocopia”.

The actress spent the days leading up to both the Oscars and Independent Spirit Awards posting on her social feeds about Copia.

Copia may represent a tech solution to a long-standing international problem, one that food recovery advocates like Brette Waters of Chefs to End Hunger argue can easily be eradicated with better waste-food management. Over 40 percent of all food produced goes to waste, she said by phone from Los Angeles last Thursday. “At America’s foodservice establishments, a tremendous amount of excess food is thrown away at the end of each night,” said Waters. “At the same time, nearly 50 million Americans live in food insecure households, including more than 15 million children.”

Instead of using food recovery as a modality for feeding these millions of hungry Americans, restaurants create literal mountains of waste. “Uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of US municipal solid waste, where it accounts for a large portion of US methane emissions.”

The efforts of partnerships like Pinto’s with Copia, where she uses her celebrity to promote the tangible benefits of food recovery, as well as expanding organizations like Chefs to End Hunger, are taking the saying “think globally, act locally” to a new level. The organizations also helping the earth, whose atmosphere suffers the burdens of methane emissions from food waste in landfills.

“California must achieve 75 percent waste diversion by 2020, and the city of Los Angeles must achieve 90 percent waste diversion by 2025,” said Waters. “Food recovery and rescue is a highlighted initiative to tackle this problem, and everyone can participate,” she said. “Chefs feed people — that’s what they do. Chefs to End Hunger is offering food service operators a way to minimize the amount of food wasted, while feeding those in need. It’s a win-win-win.”

“The problem of feeding those in need is not one of availability, it is one of resource distribution,” said Waters. “American consumers, businesses and farms spend over $200 billion annually to grow, process, transport and dispose food that is never consumed.”

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WATCH: Face your fear — Dr. Kevin Meyer on handling anxiety

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We are living in anxious times — even as many of us are trying to overcome our phobias and anxieties so can help others in greater need. But Dr. Kevin Meyer of the University of Mount Union says that even the seemingly most collected and prepared among us still grapple with fears. It often comes down to, as he puts it, a “feeling of lack of control” — and that it can happen to anybody.

Speaking with Salon, Meyer, who runs a “face your fear” project for his students at his university, recalls a tale from a worker at Cedar Point — the “roller coaster capitol of the world.” Several years ago, an astronaut visiting from NASA was reportedly “scared to death” and refused to ride the roller coaster because, unlike on a space shuttle, he knew he wouldn’t be the one controlling the ride. It just goes to show that it’s okay to be anxious, because everybody’s afraid of something. 

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Top five most unjust awards: Tales of Oscar outrages past

Streep, winner of the Oscar for best actress for her role in "The Iron Lady" is congratulated by fellow nominee Davis at the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood

Meryl Streep, winner of the Oscar for best actress for her role in “The Iron Lady” is congratulated by fellow nominee Viola Davis (Credit: Reuters/Gary Hershorn)

My friend Suzanne’s email invitation to her Oscar party this year opened, “I know, I know, it’s Hollywood BS. . . but it’s BS at its best!” And indeed, there are those folks who think the Oscars are total bullshit. They consider the award to be the real-life equivalent to the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.

But then there are folks who feel the Oscars do — or at least should — honor the “best” in Motion Pictures. While many deserving filmmakers and actors as well as set and costume designers, special effects artists, animators and other industry folks receive the prestigious statue for their hard work, there are always those shining examples of films and filmmakers that should have won — but didn’t. (Let’s not get into who should have been nominated — but wasn’t.)

Oscar injustices come in every category. As a rabid devotee of short films, I am still pissed PEZ’s 2013 contender “Fresh Guacamole” — which, at 100 seconds, is the shortest nominee in Oscar history — lost to the inferior Disney entry “Paperman.” And yes, I am irked that “Departures,” an overwrought and sentimental Japanese drama “about people” bested the astonishing animated documentary “Waltz with Bashir” as well as the superb French entry “The Class” for best foreign language film in 2008.

But these are minor disappointments in the nearly 90 years of Oscars. I mean, how has Peter O’Toole been nominated eight times and never won, or Glenn Close gone home empty-handed six times? Injustice, indeed.

This weekend, it looks like “La La Land” is going to take home an armful of Academy Awards. And while the film has its detractors, I am not among them. But as much as I thought “La La Land” was “a worthy showcase for the magnificent Emma Stone, who is heartbreaking throughout,” I am rooting for Isabelle Huppert to spoil a “La La Land” streak and win for her phenomenal performance in “Elle.”

And I’m pulling hard for Denzel Washington’s staggering work in “Fences” to spoil Casey Affleck’s chance at collecting the best actor prize for “Manchester by the Sea.”

Looking at who was nominated and who should have won over the years, there are the some egregious errors in Oscar history. Here are the five nominees:

1. Best Director: Robert Redford, “Ordinary People” beat Martin Scorsese, “Raging Bull”

Talk about a sucker punch! Martin Scorsese’s blistering classic, “Raging Bull,” loses to The Sundance Kid’s directorial debut, a tear-jerking adaptation of a soapy family suicide drama. Now, I understand how “Ordinary People” can win Best Picture over the brilliantly edited (by Oscar-winner Thelma Schoonmaker) Jake LaMotta biopic. And I give credit to Redford for coaxing the dramatic performance he did from Mary Tyler Moore (which earned her a nomination) as well as the fine acting by fellow nominees Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton (who won). But beating Scorsese for Best Director? Really?!

“Raging Bull” is regarded as one of the greatest films from the 1980s, and it is ranked 53 on the “Sight and Sound” critics’ poll. “Ordinary People” doesn’t have that kind of stature. But Redford got the statue? Why? What made Redford’s direction special? Because he captured upper-class white suffering well? Because he is a Hollywood Golden Boy? Can anyone justify this?

Scorsese’s film was a knockout in every respect, from the black-and-white cinematography, to Robert De Niro’s shape-shifting performance, the aforementioned editing, the choreography of the iconic fight scenes, the lighting, the costumes, the art direction, the music. Everything! A contest like this is like Billy Wilder’s poignant “The Apartment” taking the prize instead of Alfred Hitchcock’s game-changer “Psycho.” Oh, wait, that happened, too. WTF?!

It’s actually hard to believe Scorsese’s first (of eight) best director nominations was for “Raging Bull” and not “Taxi Driver,” or even “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” It took Scorsese decades to finally win an Oscar, and when he did, it was for “The Departed,” which was hardly his “best” film.

Redford, however, later understood what it means to have one’s thunder stolen. After all, his outstanding work helming “Quiz Show” lost to Robert Zemeckis and his gimmicky  “Forrest Gump.”

2. Best Picture: “Crash” beats “Brokeback Mountain”

Paul Haggis’ topical ensemble drama about race and class in L.A. certainly pushed some buttons when it was released, but when this wholly mediocre film toppled the more-nominated and favored “Brokeback Mountain,” many people were incensed. Did “Crash” win by accident? How could a manipulative, ham-fisted drama that provoked white liberal guilt pull an upset over Best Director-winning Ang Lee’s sensitive and tragic love story between two cowboys? Were voters — much less viewers — honestly more moved by “Crash”? Was there homophobia in the industry that prompted a “Brokeback” backlash?

It’s hard to know for sure, but over time, Heath Ledger’s remarkable performance (which sadly lost to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s turn as “Capote”) will still be remembered long after “Crash” is forgotten.

3. Best Picture: “Shakespeare in Love” beats “Saving Private Ryan”

Say what you will about Steven Spielberg’s penchant for going sappy, his 20-minute opening sequence in “Saving Private Ryan” was impressive and uncharacteristically unsentimental. But apparently, it wasn’t impressive or unsentimental enough. Or maybe Harvey Weinstein just influenced more Academy members to vote for “Shakespeare in Love.” Regardless, this contest has been considered one of the tightest races in Oscar history, with “Shakespeare” edging out “Ryan” 13 nominations to 11, and seven wins to five.

If dramas generally have an edge at the Awards — think “Gandhi” over “Tootsie” — that wasn’t the case here, and it was a mistake. Certainly the acting prizes helped push “Shakespeare” over the top. Judi Dench earned a Best Supporting Actress statue for her eight minutes of screen time — likely a make-good for the disappointment of her “Mrs. Brown” performance losing to Helen Hunt in “As Good as It Gets” the previous year. Gwyneth Paltrow won a Best Actress Oscar for her turn, beating Cate Blanchett’s “Elizabeth” — criminal! Meanwhile, Tom Hanks’ fine performance in “Ryan” was bested by Roberto Benigni’s more tragic than comic work in “Life Is Beautiful.” Hell, Benigni also defeated three more deserving actors: Ian McKellen for “Gods and Monsters;” Nick Nolte for “Affliction;” and Edward Norton in “American History X.” So there’s considerable injustice this year!

4. Best Actress: Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady” beats Viola Davis in “The Help”

As a general rule (taught to me by friend and fellow film critic Carrie Rickey), it’s not the best acting that wins, but the most acting. This may be why La Streep keeps getting nominated. (She may be the most nominated actor with 20 nods, but she’s also the biggest acting loser, having only won three). I will concede that Streep deserved to win for “Sophie’s Choice” and probably should have won for “Silkwood” (but lost to Shirley McLaine for “Terms of Endearment”). But the glorified actress really did not deserve a prize for her mimicry of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” La Streep was (as I wrote upon release) “shrill” as Thatcher, “giving a histrionic, Oscar-baiting performance that alternates restraint with hamminess.”

Meanwhile, Viola Davis gave a dignified and moving portrayal of a maid experiencing racism in the American South in “The Help.” Granted, “The Help” is a White Savior film, and deliberately feel-good about a shameful subject. And Davis has even recently spoken out about “The Help,” and how some of the best dramatic moments were edited out of the film. But one can feel the strength of those cut scenes in Davis’ nuanced, inspiring performance, which shows the strength of the women like those she portrayed. Thankfully, Davis is expected to win her first Oscar for “Fences” this year, but it would be great if this were her third. After all, Penélope Cruz’s performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” robbed Davis when she was first nominated for “Doubt.”

5. Best original song: Sam Smith and James Napier “Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre” beats Lady Gaga and Diane Warren “Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground”

Last year, the Best Song category upset was so shocking people may have thought the award should have been given based on the performances by the singers on stage Oscar night. Sam Smith struggled to hit some of his high notes in his rendition of “Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre.” Meanwhile his competitor, Lady Gaga, brought the house down with her powerful, goosebump-inducing performance of “Til It Happens to You.“ It was an emotionally staggering anthem about rape from the documentary “The Hunting Ground.” Moreover, Lady Gaga had endeared herself to the Academy the previous year when she did a melody from “The Sound of Music” that also received a Standing O.

But when Sam Smith and James Napier’s names were read as winners of the Best Song Oscar, Gaga fans were angry. It was as if Smith had murdered a baby on stage. Making matters worse, Smith added insult to injury in his speech, wrongly stating that no openly gay man had ever won the Oscar. (“Milk” scribe and openly gay Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black quickly fact-checked him on Twitter). It was a shame that Smith didn’t do a better job of singing or speaking at the Oscars. But for most folks, it was a bigger shame that Lady Gaga went home empty-handed.

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Shattering the false dichotomy: Progressives must mobilize and persuade — and get better at each

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump speaks at the Boeing South Carolina facility in North Charleston, S.C., Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, where he went to see the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Trump visited the plant before heading to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. for the weekend. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Credit: AP)

The 2016 election is more than three months past, and we live each day with its apocalyptic consequences. We need to fight President Donald Trump and what he stands for on multiple fronts. We need to fight the Muslim ban, the global gag order, the border wall with Mexico, rollbacks of consumer protections and health care, and a host of ethical issues. We must link all these fights to a political narrative aimed at restoring progressive power in this fall’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey, and taking back statehouses and Congress in 2018.

But as we do that, we’re still debating what hit us last November. Reliable data is beginning to come in, and as always, there is a cottage industry of consultants eager to interpret it and chart the way forward (often without reference to how wrongheaded much of their advice and predictions proved to be in the last cycle). As the leader of a group of progressive donors, I have sat in at least a dozen election post-mortem discussions and read a stack of reports and PowerPoint decks. I’ve learned a lot.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and am distrustful of those who think they do, since humility is demanded of us after a stunning upset almost no one predicted. If your diagnosis is completely in sync with whatever you devoutly believed the day before the election, or translates into a single magic bullet — or in the case of looking backward, a single culprit — you should think again.

The way I look at it, at the presidential level the 2016 election was like the classic Agatha Christie murder mystery (I won’t say which one and spoil the novel for those who haven’t read it) in which there are a dozen suspects — in this case, James Comey, misogyny, over-reliance on data and ads and underinvestment in the field, lack of an economic message, a flawed candidate, voter suppression laws, Russian interference, “fake news” and a host of other factors. In the end, each of them turns out to have taken a turn — stabbing, poisoning, shooting, bludgeoning and strangling the victim.

When you win the popular vote convincingly but lose an election by about 60,000 votes in three close states, this is almost certainly true. (My own favorite culprit is that you can draw a clear forensic line from the 2010 election of right-wing Republican governors in Wisconsin and Michigan and their successful efforts to weaken the power of labor in their states to the razor-thin margins that shifted those states into the Trump column in 2016.)

There is one emerging conclusion that could very well become the dominant narrative about the 2016 election, and critical for elections to come, that I believe deserves much more analysis and context before it becomes set into stone, because the consequences are very high. It is that mobilization — by which is meant turning out voters in the progressive “base,” such as communities of color, women and millennials — has fallen short. We must shift to persuasion to start winning again; that is, talking with voters who don’t agree with us, and who may have voted for Trump or third-party candidates.

It’s not that I think persuasion is unnecessary or mobilization is sufficient — I don’t. But if we are not clear by what we mean by each, and if we don’t avoid creating a false dichotomy between the two, the progressive base will fracture and we’ll move backwards, not forward.

Here’s what I mean. A mobilization strategy, which Hillary Clinton’s campaign largely seems to have followed, building on the two general election successes of Barack Obama, emphasizes the “New American Majority” of blacks, Latinos and Asians, along with young voters and a large cohort of unmarried women who, when they vote, tend to vote for progressive candidates. It requires investments in voter registration, because many in those communities are not yet on the voting rolls. If the registration gap could be narrowed or eliminated, the thinking goes, you can lock in a progressive majority for some time. It requires investments in turnout, knocking on doors, motivating voters, and getting them to the polls. But given the result last November, we now wonder, of course, whether the Obama strategy requires Barack Obama, or someone like him, who can inspire and galvanize.

Too often, a mobilization strategy presumes the allegiance and even enthusiasm of a voting group. But no one likes to be taken for granted. When candidates and parties speak to the issues most important to communities — police violence, or immigration reform, or childcare, or student debt — passion and turnout rise. The same appears true with some of the disaffected voters Trump turned out, who saw a candidate voicing their grievances with the elites of both political parties.

Further, to argue that mobilization is insufficient to win presumes that it has been fully backed with the necessary resources, but that’s just not the case. Some key electoral field efforts in the past cycle moved more money to communities of color than in the past, but as someone who tried to raise money for black and Latino civic engagement, I know that money for those efforts came, as it almost always does, too little and too late, and in any case, is rarely sustained between elections, perpetuating a boom and bust cycle that saps the fight to build permanent political power.

Persuasion seems like common sense — it’s what elections are all about, isn’t it? But it, too, is contested ground. Many in the communities of the New American Majority and on the left of the Democratic Party fear, from the experience of the post-Reagan/Bill Clinton era, that it’s a synonym for triangulation — for moving to the center, and muting or abandoning key progressive positions. After years of chronic underinvestment in low-income women and men of color, the progressive “discovery” of white working class men in the Rust Belt feels galling to many, particularly when a majority of college-educated white men and women, who are hardly marginalized, contributed heavily to Trump’s Electoral College victory. For black voters whose communities are still feeling the ravages of a drug epidemic that was “treated” (by Democrats no less than Republicans) by prison-building, the sudden empathy with largely white communities disrupted by opioid abuse seems, well, it seems like racism.

Moreover, while progressives have invested much in mobilization strategies for those who are with us, so far we know too little about what works to persuade those who are not. Hundreds of millions of dollars poured into 30-second ads that pollute the discourse and line the pockets of consultants and television stations are not the answer. We have to step up investment in smart and targeted digital strategies, where we seem to have been bested by the Trump campaign last fall, and return to good old fashioned, year-in, year-out, face-to-face organizing in communities. Because listening, and the relationships built from it, matter. Powerfully.

A true New American Majority must have room for those left out of the economy no matter their race or geography. The pain of an unemployed coal miner, steelworker or other casualties of globalization is no less real than that of a struggling fast food worker or caregiver. It makes no excuses for the racism and misogyny fueling a too-large bloc of Trump’s voters — or even for those who swallowed their disgust at racism and misogyny to vote for him anyway — to say that a shared interest in good jobs, a strong social safety net and functioning roads and bridges can forge an electoral coalition that will be powerful. It’s an arithmetic issue, to be sure, but more fundamentally, it’s a moral issue. A progressive vision has to be one that most can see themselves in.

It’s not that we don’t know how to do this, or how to talk about this. Organizing groups like Working America, PICO and People’s Action know how to have deep and ongoing conversations with white working class voters and most importantly, how to listen – as do labor leaders like Mary Kay Henry of SEIU and such thought leaders and activists as Van Jones and Demos President Heather McGhee.

Such winning progressive candidates in purple states around the country as Senators Al Franken in Minnesota, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Sherrod Brown in Ohio, not to mention the new Democratic governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, have shown that strong adherence to core progressive values on human rights and justice issues can and must be coupled with an inclusive economic vision.

Donald Trump peeled off voters in key states who felt betrayed by the elites of both parties. Those voters will be up for grabs when they realize — as we must drive home to them — that they were conned. The extremist and corrupt government that Trump is installing, from his family on down, will line its own pockets and dole out more hardship for working people. As that becomes clear, millions could turn away from politics completely — or be ready to listen to a candidate or party really standing up for them.

No less than skeptical Rust Belt white men, voters of color and women and young people must be listened to and delivered to before they can be mobilized, and campaigns have to start treating them as agents, not targets. The persuasion of Rust Belt voters in economic distress must keep faith with progressive human rights values yet lead with credible remedies for economic pain, delivered by authentic messengers.

In the end, we must both persuade and mobilize. We have fallen short in both. Starting now, we have to do better. If we don’t, we’ll be embroiled in a potentially toxic debate that could do as much harm to progressives as any right-wing Republican.

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Virgin America: Why young adults are having a hard time getting laid

Teens obsessed with smart phones in a train station

(Credit: Getty/AntonioGuillem)

Common sense would suggest the spread of technologies designed to pinpoint potential sex partners would make getting laid a whole lot easier. According to some estimates, the location-based dating app Tinder has around 50 million users, worldwide. A report conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that the online dating apps have nearly tripled in popularity among young people, specifically, in the past few years. But access to the dating world doesn’t necessarily translate into experience with it. According to the same report, one-third of online daters have never made it out onto an actual date. And maybe that can help explain one brow-raising headline making its way around the Internet these days. Virginity in America is on the rise.  

Twenty-five years ago, almost 60 percent of female teens had done “the deed.” By 2013, that number had dropped by 14 percent. The numbers are even more drastic for guys. In the past 25 years, virginity among male teens has jumped up by 22 percent. And if you think things get easier as you get older, think again.

Information collected by online dating service Match holds that one in three 20-somethings still haven’t ditched their virginity. Even those who have don’t seem to be getting much action. As of 2015, 49 percent of people in their 20s hadn’t had sex in a year. A separate study uncovered even more related news. Apparently, if you’re an American in your 20s, your mom has probably had sex with more people than you ever will. Out of the 33,000 people surveyed for the study, millennials reported an average of eight sex partners. Gen X’ers were more likely to have bagged 10 or 11.

We have numbers, but experts are still scrambling to find the reason behind them. Tinder claims to have helped create around 8 billion “connections” among users. But the depth of those connections needs to be called into question. As mentioned earlier, connecting with someone on the app doesn’t mean connecting with them in real life. When it comes to online dating, the game might be more rewarding than the actual action it’s designed to inspire. We all have the ability to “swipe right,” but taking things a step further requires a different set of skills. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London, says, “Mobile dating is much more than a means to an end; it is an end in itself.”

In a now-famous study conducted at Stanford University, researchers found that consumers were more likely to make a purchase when they were presented with a limited selection of merchandise. Having a large pool to chose from may seem appealing at first, but it could also make acting on a decision all the more difficult. In the online dating landscape, too many choices might actually mean spending more time at home, alone.   

And all those choices mean more competition. If you’re going to stand out against the millions of other profiles out there, you’ve got to put your best face forward. But even the most edited version of ourselves might not be enough to get ahead of the rest. While some might win at upping the general standard of what is considered attractive, others will undoubtedly lose out.

Millennials expert and researcher Jean Twenge explains, “For a lot of folks who are of average appearance, marriage and stable relationships was where they were having sex. . . [and dating apps may be] leaving some people with fewer choices and they might be more reluctant to search for partners at all.” Rejection in the technosexual era could be enough to turn us off of the online dating game all together. After all, it hurts.

But attributing a lack of sex to our assumedly ugly faces would be shortsighted. There are, of course, other factors at play.

Tinder users are expected to base their dating decisions off of, at most, six photos and 500 characters of text (and yes, that includes spacing and punctuation). With that, we don’t get the chance to showcase the most basic elements of attraction, like scent, taste and touch. Often, the most shining aspects of ourselves get lost online.

Of course, online dating alone is not responsible for the rise of our virgin America. Researchers have found that millennials are less likely to partake in “risky behavior” than older generations. Sex often falls under that umbrella. And hey, not having to worry about getting laid means you’ve got more time for things like studying, or making money. And if that doesn’t interest you, the Internet offers plenty of other ways to pass the time.

But those who are trying to get laid are increasingly turning to online dating apps to do so. And while it’s surely working out for some folks, others are becoming increasingly frustrated with the algorithm. If you’re one of America’s unwilling virgins, you might want to try logging offline and into real life. After all, the more time you spend worrying about “losing it,” the further inside your head you go. And that’s not a sexy look on anyone.

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