Saturday, November 11, 2017


SAYONARA, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, THE DEFIANT ONES, ELMER GANTRY, EL CID, HUD, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, PARIS BLUES, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION, THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, Disney's THE PARENT TRAP, BYE BYE BIRDIE, THE BIG COUNTRY and the foreign film starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW.  All those movies I watched in the back seat of the family car.  For most of the, I had my pajamas on underneath my street clothes so I could be put to bed faster when we got home.  I'd surely be asleep in the backseat on the way home.  I was a little boy.  My sister was even...more little by a few years.  We saw all those movies at the drive-in.  Going to the drive-in, falling in love with films in the backseat as Mom and Dad sat up front, was some of my all-time favorite family entertainment when I was growing up in South Central Los Angeles.  But, if you watched TV news reports -- local and national -- about life in South Central L.A., you'd never guess that black people paid to see such cinema entertainment.  And ours was not the only car with black people in it at the drive-in when we saw those movies either.  I bet filmmaker Charles Burnett knew that working class black families in South Central L.A. went to see such features at drive-ins called the Twin-Vue, The Vermont, The Compton and The Century.  Charles Burnett is an independent filmmaker.  He's familiar with life in South Central L.A.
From our house, I would often walk or take the bus up Central Avenue to high school.  I attended and graduated from a parochial all-boys high school in Watts.  This was the Watts just a few years after being in the national news headlines for The Watts Riots.  The late Karl Fleming was a NEWSWEEK reporter who covered the Birmingham Church Bombing, the Watts Riots, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  He was a Southern-born white man.  He wrote about this in his memoir, SON OF THE ROUGH SOUTH.  I mention that 2005 book because Fleming noted his surprise to be visiting THE LOS ANGELES TIMES when the Watts Riots had erupted.  He was surprised...well, more accurately, stunned to see that there was not one single black reporter on the staff. That was 1965.
 In 1970, I saw a notice in THE LOS ANGELES TIMES Classified Ads seeking film buffs for a new TV game show.  A written test had to be taken.  I talked my mother into taking me to Hollywood to take the test about classic film trivia.  I did better on that test than I would on my SATs.  In a few weeks that summer, I'd be the youngest and first black contestant on a syndicated show called THE MOVIE GAME.  It aired on Channel 9 in Los Angeles.  Army Archerd of VARIETY co-hosted with a guy named Sonny Fox.  With my mother and sister in the Goldwyn Studios TV audience, I became the show's first black winner.  Me. A kid from a high school in Watts who had Phyllis Diller and Hugh O'Brian as his celebrity teammates on THE MOVIE GAME.  My high school, faculty and fellow students, saw the show when it aired and I felt their pride at how I represented our community.  My grandparents in New Jersey saw it.  There was no mention of my national TV game show victory in THE L.A. TIMES or any other local newspaper.

In many ways. our black community was invisible to mainstream reporting in L.A. during my youth.  It irritated me, starting back in my high school years, that South Central L.A. was seen solely by mainstream media through lenses of Watts Riots footage or the sitcom SANFORD AND SON.  But we were not invisible to Charles Burnett.  He reflected the rhythm and beauty of African American working class South Central L.A. life in KILLER OF SHEEP (1977).
This weekend, Charles Burnett receives an Honorary Oscar for his contributions to world cinema.   Here is a trailer for one of his works, KILLER OF SHEEP.
We are so very, very proud of Mr. Burnett.  Other films talents receiving Honorary Oscars along with Charles Burnett this weekend are cinematographer Owen Roizman, Belgian director Agnes Varda and actor Donald Sutherland.

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