Thursday, February 8, 2018

BLACK PANTHER with Robin Roberts, Get TIME

Actors from the critically praised upcoming Marvel Comics action/adventure feature, BLACK PANTHER, will be guests on ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA anchored by Robin Roberts.  The Marvel Comics characters, like the STAR WARS franchise, are under the Disney corporate umbrella. Disney is ABC's parent company.  I will be watching.  This will be significant and not just because the film is poised to be a box office blockbuster.  Not long after the President reportedly called Africa a "s**thole" country, we're getting a big budgeted film that celebrates the culture of Africa and its people.  In an industry in which Hollywood has pulled the rug right out from under people of color with its attitude that African American stories and talent aren't marketable so why promote them or sign them on as agency clients, we get a Hollywood movie with a predominantly black cast that was helmed by Ryan Coogler, a black director.  How I wish there were black film critics on TV to talk about this thrilling achievement but...let's face it...for decades the film critics we've seen regularly on network morning shows, syndicated entertainment news show and in syndicated film review show duos has been a predominant white boys club.  On TV, as I've written before, the field of film critics has lacked in race and gender diversity.  Films are my passion.  For two consecutive years when Oscar nominations were announced live on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, I felt irked that major African American achievements were overlooked by the white entertainment reporters in place to talk about the Oscar nominees.  Recently, on the internet, veteran film critic Rex Reed irritated Latino readers with sort of a "they all look alike" vibe in his review of THE SHAPE OF WATER.  He got Mexican director Guillermo del Toro confused with Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro.  He described the cleaning woman with a Latino surname as being "retarded."  She was not mentally handicapped.  She was mute.  And he hated the movie, a sci-fi horror thriller that's an allegory on racism.  Reed didn't care that the black people in GET OUT were really robots, as he said recently when profiled on CBS SUNDAY.  Well, they weren't. And he hated the movie, a psychological horror thriller about racism in liberal America.  This week, he got major things wrong in his review of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.  However, he still has a job and a generous income whereas black film critics can't even get TV face time -- unless segment producers want to be politically correct and invite them on to discuss films worth seeing for Black History Month.  With that in mind, you must read the current issue of TIME. The cover story, "A Hero Rises," is about BLACK PANTHER.  Buy it, borrow it, look it up online.  The first four paragraphs alone are required reading.  Thank you for this writing, Jamil Smith!
Here's an excerpt:  "Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other areas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multifaceted.  Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us...."
In the late 1980s, when cable was in its infancy, I was the first black person to get his own primetime weeknight celebrity talk show on VH1.  My bosses were ecstatic at the rave review I got in a Sunday edition of THE NEW YORK TIMES, a review that included my photo on the front page of the Arts & Leisure section.  I'm proud to report that Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Diane Sawyer complimented me on my talk show work.  So did Lucille Ball.  She not only complimented me over the phone while I was on location in L.A., she invited me to her home for cocktails.  Yes.  I went!

The 1990s were a steady stream of rejection from broadcast agents who said, "I wouldn't know what to do with you" and network producers asking if I even knew anything about films when I sought auditions for film reviewer/entertainment contributor spots.  This was, I always learned, because they never, ever took time to watch my demo reel or read my resume before I showed up.  I could never get an audition for CBS Sunday.  An ABC News producer thought I was just "a funny man-on-the-street local news guy."  I pushed for an audition and booked a weekly film critic spot on Lifetime TV for ABC News in 2000.
I had to prove again in 2006 that I had film knowledge when I was contacted to be the film reviewer/entertainment contributor on Whoopi Goldberg's syndicated weekday morning radio show. (Whoopi had been a guest on my VH1 talk show and pushed for executive to see me.)  I grew up in South Central L.A. and graduated from a high school in Watts.  A predominantly black and Mexican-American high school.  We took field trips to Hollywood for fine arts education.  We black and brown Catholic high school guys got on buses to movies such as A MAN FOR ALL SEASON, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD and ROMEO AND JULIET.  That served me well in the workplace -- especially when VH1 flew me to London to interview Paul McCartney.
For me, pushing to integrate the TV field of film critics was not just to review movies but to show that people of color also care about the art of films -- new and classic.  I wanted to bring our voice into that arts conversation and help keep our history vibrant and accurate.  Here's a short piece I posted in the fall of 2016.
 In January 2017,  when the Oscar nominations were announced on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, entertainment reporters Jess Cagle and Chris Connelly mentioned Meryl Streep's 20th Oscar nomination and totally missed the fact that Viola Davis had just made Hollywood history.  Her nomination for FENCES, her 3rd Oscar nomination, made her the most Oscar-nominated black actress in Hollywood history.  Viola is also a TV star -- on a hit prime time series, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, that airs on ABC.  Just like GOOD MORNING AMERICA.  For 20 years, Whoopi Goldberg had been the most Oscar-nominated black woman in Hollywood history with 2 nominations.  She's also on ABC.  In daytime on THE VIEW.  Cagle and Connelly missed those African America milestones while there was an "Oscars So White" controversy in entertainment headlines.  A black entertainment reporter voice in that segment would've been nice.  Viola won the Oscar for FENCES.

This year when the Oscar nominations were announced, Cagle and Connelly totally missed that Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis's co-star from THE HELP, tied with Viola in Oscar nominations.  They have three each.  They also missed that, with Mary J. Blige being a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her rich dramatic performance in Dee Rees' remarkable MUDBOUND, that makes Dee Rees the first African American woman to direct an actor to an Oscar nomination.

I ain't lyin'.  I've been seeking steady work for six years now. I'd have given anything to be in those Oscar segments on GMA.

The point is the playing field has not been level.  And, in the arts -- whether making them or talking about them -- it should be.  Look for stars of BLACK PANTHER next week on GOOD MORNING AMERICA.

On Wednesday in Hollywood, Rob Reiner received the Stanley Kramer Award for Social Justice from...the African American Film Critics Association.  Acting awards went to Frances McDormand for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, Daniel Kaluuya for GET OUT, Tiffany Haddish for GIRLS TRIP and Laurence Fishburne for LAST FLAG FLYING.  Did you hear about that on the news?  Did you know there was an African American Film Critics Association?  There you have it.  Thanks for your attention.  And check out that cover story in TIME Magazine about the revolutionary power of BLACK PANTHER.  Representation matters.  www.TIME.com.





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