Sunday, December 10, 2017

Year-End Notes on TCM Diversity

Sunday morning I watched Ed Muller, the excellent host/writer of the Noir Alley weekend show on TCM, present the 1950 film, THE BREAKING POINT.  It starred John Garfield, Patricia Neal and, in a supporting role, the gifted Black/Latino actor Juano Hernandez.
Let's face it. In film noir features from Hollywood, Black actors were never in the lead roles.  THE BREAKING POINT is a film I first saw when I was in grade school.  Dad watched it on local Channel 9 in Los Angeles and I watched it with him.  Even at that young age, I knew I loved movies and even wanted to be in them.  The final scene with the little Black son stayed in my mind.  I wished I was that kid actor.  According to Muller after the film, that youngster was Juano Hernandez's real life son.  Watching THE BREAKING POINT with Dad was my introduction to John Garfield and, later, to Ernest Hemingway.  It was based on Hemingway material.  When Muller mentioned the discomforting racial language in the story, I knew what he was talking about.  Hemingway was one of Dad's favorite writers.  The source material was on our bookshelves in the living room.  Life in South Central L.A.  Hemingway's story had a liberal use of the N-word coming out of one character's mouth.  I was thrilled that host Eddie Muller mentioned that final scene and the performance of Juano Hernandez.  Thanks, Eddie.
But we still have to consider this count:  The number of Black characters discussed in 1950's THE BREAKING POINT?  2.  The number of Black hosts I've seen solo presenting features on TCM this year? 0.  And we're quickly approaching the end of 2017.
Early this year, there was the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood.  A highlight was the 50th anniversary screening of Norman Jewison's IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, a murder mystery and race drama set in the Deep South.  Jewison was present for the screening.  So were stars Lee Grant and screen legend Sidney Poitier.  Host Ben Mankiewicz asked the film's producer, Walter Mirisch, about the racial relevance the Best Picture of 1967 Oscar winner still has today in this age of "Black Lives Matter" and "Oscars So White."  It was a great question.  Ben's a fine host.  Yet, I noticed that there was no African American contributor for TCM on that red carpet who could comment on or add to the discussion of the classic film's racial relevance.

In June, Dave Karger hosted a look at Gay Hollywood for Gay Pride Month.
No films benefitting from LGBT African American talents were in the line-up of films that I noticed.
I would've added the 1961 film adaptation of Broadway's A RAISIN IN THESUN.  The screenplay was by its groundbreaking African American playwright -- Lorraine Hansberry.  Hansberry was a trailblazing playwright, activist ... and a lesbian.
We'll learn more about that come January when a new documentary on Lorraine Hansberry premieres on PBS.
I would've also mentioned Ashley Boone -- a big and beloved power in Hollywood.  I first learned of this African American executive's brilliance from the remarkable Robert Osborne in one of his CBS segments before his TCM years.  I miss Robert Osborne. He felt that Ashley Boone deserved mention in books about Hollywood studio heads because Boone practically ran 20th Century Fox for half a year, taking a top executive spot when the studio was in turmoil and sad financial shape.  Boone was a marketing whiz who moved up within studio ranks.  He took a Fox film that many predicted would be released directly to drive-in movie theaters and he used his marketing genius on it.  His marketing genius worked.  Not only did STAR WARS get respectable theatrical release and become a box office blockbuster, it was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.  Ashley Boone did the same for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, SOUNDER, JULIA, THE TURNING POINT starring Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, ALIEN, Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and Mel Brooks' HIGH ANXIETY.  He and his sister, Cheryl, were the first-ever brother and sister to serve on the Academy's Board of Governors.  Cheryl Boone Isaacs went on to make Academy history as its first African American president.
Ashley Boone died of pancreatic cancer at age 55 in the 1990s.  He was a trailblazer and a visionary. He was survived by his sister and his significant other, Mark Bua.

In addition to Noir Alley, his TCM Sunday morning show, Eddie Muller is also the host in short promo segments for the TCM Wine Club.  We have yet to see an African American sip wine with Eddie Muller in one of those segments.  Have you seen the TCM Wine Club bottles?

 We don't even see a Black screen legend on any of the bottles!

No Lena Horne, no Ethel Waters, no Sidney Poitier.

Alec Baldwin is now the host of THE ESSENTIALS seen on Saturday nights.  He didn't bring on any African American talent to cohost with him this year.
And the African American presence as monthly Guest Programmers for 2017 was, shall we say, rare.  Thank Heaven for actress/director/film historian/TCM contributor Illeana Douglas!

The absolutely fabulous Illeana Douglas presented her final month-long salute to TRAILBLAZING WOMEN. She always brought on a racially diverse group of women to co-host with her.  In fact, in 2016, one of her co-hosts was groundbreaking African American filmmaker Julie Dash.  Dash, the DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST director, was dynamite going from co-hosting with Illeana to being a solo guest host for December 2016.
That's the last time I recall seeing an African American host on TCM.  Last December.  For this December's special TCM big screen showings of 1967's GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, another classic starring Sidney Poitier, it would've been very nice to see an African American co-host the special introduction for the Oscar-winning interracial love story drama with knowledgeable weekend host, Tiffany Vazquez.  Tiffany was the solo host.
I've been a devoted TCM viewer since 1999.  I will continue to watch.  I wish TCM a very happy new year -- and I hope it gets the message that representation matters.  We Black viewers would love to see ourselves represented more.



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IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT on Criterion

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