Tuesday, April 1, 2014

5 Must-See Movies: Oz to Rome

Thank you, Deborah Mitchell, for inviting me to talk about movies!  I hope your readers like my choices that take them from "somewhere over the rainbow"...
...to the live television scene in New York City...
...to the streets of Rome.
If you know me, you know that I love films.  Classic film preservation is a passion of mine.  My first TV appearance was as a contestant on a game show shot in Hollywood when I was a kid in South Central Los Angeles.  I was in high school and really wanted to prove to my parents that movies were my passion and not just a teen phase.  I talked and tested my way into being the youngest contestant and first black contestant on The Movie Game.  On the syndicated film trivia show, contestants had celebrity teammates.  Mine were Phyllis Diller and TV's Wyatt Earp star, Hugh O'Brian.  My teen opponent for that special edition of the show had Dyan Cannon and David Janssen, star of TV's The Fugitive.

By the way, I also became The Movie Game's first African-American winner.

Through the years, a knowledge of classic films has helped me in the classroom, it's connected me to other cultures, it helped me distinguish myself in the broadcast workplace and it helped me pay off my mother's mortgage and put a sibling through parochial high school after my parent's divorce.  When I started my professional broadcast career, I did entertainment features on radio.  When I moved to TV, as the weekly movie critic on the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee, the classic film knowledge came in very handy.  I was a regular on that city's edition of a syndicated show called PM Magazine and got my first national exposure interviewing celebrities for that show.  Sally Field, Meryl Streep, Ben Kingsley, Jessica Lange, Mary Tyler Moore and Burt Reynolds were some of them.  I'm proud to have been the first black male seen on PM Magazine doing celebrity profiles in the early 80s.  In the late 80s, I was the first African-American male to get his own prime time celebrity talk show on VH1.  My first guest -- Kirk Douglas for a half-hour one-on-one.  I am STILL grateful for that opportunity!  Classic film knowledge paid off.  My premiere show was 30 minutes with Spartacus!

Before I went to college in the Midwest, I graduated from an all-boys parochial high school in Watts.  Our school never had a big budget for fine arts.  Our teachers made the most out of what was affordable -- like student group rates for quality films in Hollywood.  One field trip to see a Franco Ziffirelli classic helped me years later when VH1 sent me to London to interview Paul McCartney.

My love of films has given to fuel to my drive to promote diversity in broadcast TV.  When I was a kid in Los Angeles, I never saw black, Latino, or Asian people doing the weekly film reviews.  On the ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows, we saw only white males reviewing movies.  I wanted to change that in New York City after my VH1 years.  In the 1990s, I encountered resistance in local TV news shows to giving me a regular spot at the desk to do film reviews.  One producer said, "I don't know if you have the skills."  But they had no problem assigning me to do "wacky" live segments in the field.  I reviewed films weekly on WISN TV for four years.  I'd had my own VH1 talk with lots of guests from the film world.  I did have the skills.  The news producer hadn't read my resumé.  The frustrating experience made me question the lack of racial diversity in the field of film critics on TV.  Especially in a major city like New York.

I did eventually get myself a network gig reviewing films for an ABC/Lifetime TV production called Lifetime Live.  I was the entertainment editor and I was on every Friday.
I lived in New York from 1985 to 2011.  I'd love to live in the New York area -- and work there -- again.  In all those years, I never saw a black, Latino or Asian person as the weekly film critic on a local news show.  And New York City is chock full of us minority entertainment contributors who could do the job.  I wondered what was the resistance to people of color in the area of movie critics of TV...and why so few women?  Why were we African-Americans excluded from the mainstream film/theatre arts reporting jobs -- except during Black History Month?  I hoped my talk show host and entertainment features work would open a door to the film arts for minority viewers, especially the young ones.  I wanted to inspire them to see old films in a new way.  I hoped that my work would help open a door to show network/local news executivews that we, indeed, do have the skills.
After Lifetime Live was cancelled, I tried for years to get meetings/auditions for work as a contributor on CBS Sunday Morning or Good Morning America.  No luck.  Never got an email, snail mail or phone call response.  To GMA, I kept pitching to be a segment producer.  I didn't have to be on-camera, just employed.  One morning, GMA's excellent Robin Roberts was interviewing actress Bryce Dallas Howard.  The actress was promoting her lead role in 2008's Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.  The Tennessee Williams drama was about a Southern debutante in the 1920s.
Chris Evans and Ann-Margret co-starred.  Ms. Howard said that she imagined her character to be the young version of Blanche DuBois, the famous character from Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.  Robin asked Bryce Dallas Howard what it was like to work with Ann-Margret.  If I'd been Robin's segment producer, I would've told her that Bryce Dallas Howard approached her character as the young Blanche DuBois.  Ann-Margret played Blanche DuBois in a special ABC presentation of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1984.  Ann-Margret won a Best Actress Golden Globe for her performance.

But I couldn't tell Robin that because I couldn't get an interview for the job.

So...when opportunities like the chance to review movies for Arise TV came along, I jumped at the chance with extreme gratitude.  On Screen is the kind of show I've longed to see.  A black host/film critic.  People of color...and women...talking about films every Saturday.  Think about it.  Lupita Nyong'o was a highlight at this year's Oscars.  She won the Best Supporting Actress gold for her great performance in 12 Years a Slave.

How many black people did you ever see as a regular film critic on a CBS, NBC or ABC network morning news program?  How many black women did you ever see as a film critic on TV?  Is the number 1 or less than 1?
Deborah Mitchell is a producer of the groundbreaking Arise On Screen show.  I'm very proud to have been a guest this year.

Deb asked me to write about 5 classic films that I feel are must-see movies.  Again, Deb gave me a very cool opportunity.  To read my blog post on her site, go here:  DeborahMitchellMediaAssociates.com.                                                  

Then click onto the "Bobby Rivers' Top 5 Movies Not To Be Missed" section on Deb's Ready4Air  page.  Enjoy the movies.

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