Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Funny Girls and the Oscars

I was watching GOOD MORNING AMERICA and the smooth, silver-haired Larry Hackett was in during the first hour.  Larry is a pop culture/entertainment expert, formerly a PEOPLE Magazine editor, who's a occasional contributor on GMA.  Today, the topic was Tiffany Haddish.  She brought life and laughs to yesterday's announcements of the Oscar nominees.  Even if she could not pronounce some of the foreign names, she was highly entertaining to watch.  Many folks hoped she would be a Best Supporting Actress nominee for her comedy luminous in GIRLS TRIP.  She got an award from the New York Film Critics Circle.  But she didn't get an Oscar nomination.
Larry said that the Academy loves dramas and comedy doesn't usually bring Oscar nominee love to the ladies.  He reminded us that the last woman to get an Oscar for comedy was Marisa Tomei, Best Supporting Actress winner for 1992's MY COUSIN VINNY.  He also mentioned the nomination Melissa McCarthy got for 2011's BRIDESMAIDS.

Well, this is just a quick reminder from me not to get discouraged if you're an actress with solid comedy chops.
The late, Madeline Kahn was one of the funniest women ever to light up a movie screen.  Did you ever see her in Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN?  She got two Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations in her career -- for playing the floozie Trixie Delight in PAPER MOON (1973)...and for playing the German saloon singer, Lili Von Shtupp in 1974's BLAZING SADDLES.
Claudette Colbert took home the Best Actress Oscar for Frank Capra's 1934 classic, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.  Some film historians have called that the granddaddy of screwball comedies.  Especially screwball road trip comedies.
Carole Lombard was a master at screwball comedy and proof of that is in the classic that brought her a Best Actress Oscar nomination -- 1936's MY MAN GODFREY.

Some other women who gave comedy performances that earned them Oscar nominations are --
Irene Dunne, THEODORA GOES WILD (1936)
Irene Dunne, THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937)
Barbara Stanwyck, BALL OF FIRE (1941)
Jean Arthur, THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943)
Judy Holliday, Best Actress Oscar winner for BORN YESTERDAY (1950)
Rosalind Russell and Peggy Cass, AUNTIE MAME (1958)
Barbra Streisand, Best Actress Oscar winner for the musical comedy FUNNY GIRL (1968).
Diane Keaton, Best Actress Oscar winner for ANNIE HALL (1977)
Julie Andrews and Leslie Ann Warren, VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982)
Teri Garr and Jessica Lange (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner), TOOTSIE (1982)

Whoopi Goldberg was the Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for GHOST (1990).  And Meryl Streep got a Best Actress nomination for giving us some I LOVE LUCY-type comedy moments with her off-key operatic singing as FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016).

There are more performances actresses gave that made us laugh and made Oscar invite those ladies to the party.... but this is just a quick blog post from me and those ladies I mentioned came to mind.  Since MY COUSIN VINNY, there may have not been as many good, juicy comedy script opportunities for women that could bring them a Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.  That's something to talk about.  I'd like to see that change in Hollywood.  I could use the laughs.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Great Work, Greta Gerwig and Dee Rees!

The spirits of the late Dorothy Arzner and the late Ida Lupino must be looking down on Greta Gerwig and Dee Rees and smiling with illuminated joy.  Those two women not only cracked the glass ceiling of Old Hollywood's dome of movie directors, they made a hole in it wide enough for future female directors to enter.  To enter and to make history.  Today, Greta Gerwig got Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
 Her film, LADY BIRD, is also an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.  A few women in Academy Awards history have directed a film that received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.  An even fewer number of women have received a Best Director Oscar nomination for directing that Best Picture Oscar nominee.

CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (1986), directed by Randa Haines
AWAKENINGS (1990), directed by Penny Marshall
THE PRINCE OF TIDES (1991), directed by Barbra Streisand
WINTER'S BONE (2010), directed by Debra Granik
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (2010), directed by Lisa Cholodenko
ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012), directed by Kathryn Bigelow

All those above-mentioned films were Oscar contenders for Best Picture but the women were not nominated for Best Director.  Kathryn Bigelow had previously been nominated for THE HURT LOCKER.  It won for Best Picture and she won for Best Director, making Bigelow the first woman to claim that victory.  But the second film she directed that became a Best Picture Oscar nominee did not bring her a second Oscar nomination for Best Director.

Actor Mel Gibson directed two films that were Oscar nominees for Best Picture -- 1995's BRAVEHEART and 2016's HACKSAW RIDGE. He got a Best Director nomination for each film.
Saoirse Ronan is a Best Actress Oscar nominee and Laurie Metcalf is a Best Supporting Actress nominee for LADY BIRD.
Dorothy Arzner was the first female to direct an actor to an Oscar nomination.  She directed Ruth Chatterton to a Best Actress Oscar nomination for 1930's SARAH AND SON.

Greta Gerwig is also an actress who has done solid work in Woody Allen's TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012) and as Frances in the 2012 indie comedy film, FRANCES HA.  I loved her dramatic supporting work opposite Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in the tragic bio drama, JACKIE, about Mrs. Kennedy's remaining days in the White House immediately following the assassination of President Kennedy.

Ida Lupino was one of the best actresses on the Warner Brothers lot in the late 1930s and 40s.  She showed her impressive acting chops in Warner Bros. films like THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, HIGH SIERRA, THE HARD WAY, THE MAN I LOVE and DEEP VALLEY.
In the 1950s, she continued to act and also took charge behind the camera,  Ida directed several low-budget gritty dramas that did quite well at the box office.  She was also a screenwriter and producer. She added TV to her plate and became one of its most prolific directors when that field, too, was dominated by men.  Ida directed TV westerns, medical dramas, thrillers, cop shows and sitcoms.

As an actress and director, she opened the door for future women like Greta Gerwig, Penny Marshall, Barbra Streisand and Jodie Foster to also to show their chops in front of and behind the camera.
And Dee Rees.  Wonderful Dee Rees.  She did not get a Best Director Oscar nomination for her terrific film, MUDBOUND, but she did get a nomination for Best Screenplay.  She directed Mary J. Blige to an extremely well-deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  Mary J. is a dramatic revelation as the mother of a Mississippi Delta family dealing with all sorts of hardships in the America of pre and post-WWII. Click onto this link to see a trailer.

Dee Rees may be the first African American woman director to direct an actor to an Oscar nomination.  All sorts of history was made with today's nominations.  I am so thrilled.  Keith Price discuss more Black History and Women In Film History in our new podcast episode of MOCHAA.  Check out this link:

Monday, January 22, 2018

Countdown to the 90th Academy Awards

The Oscar nominations will be announced early tomorrow morning.  How early?  At 5:22am Pacific Time.  I'll be up.  For me, the day the Oscar nominations come out is like the football game that determines which two teams will be headed to the Super Bowl.  This year, I'm so anxious and excited to see if Black History and Women In Film History will be made when the nominations are revealed.  If Octavia Spencer makes the list of nominees for Best Supporting Actress, she will make Black History for women in Hollywood.  This nomination could come for her excellence in the perfectly-timed Resistance sci-fi drama, THE SHAPE OF WATER from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.  Ms. Spencer plays the black cleaning woman in a secret U.S. government facility of the early 1960s who, along with a vocally disabled Latina and a gay middle-aged man, helps gets an abused human-like sea creature from a foreign country to safety.
The creature has arms and legs and the ability to communicate via sign language.  He can communicate with the mute woman.  If Octavia gets a nomination, it will be her third Oscar nomination.  That will tie her with Viola Davis and make them the two most Oscar-nominated black actresses in all Oscar history.  Viola Davis is currently the record holder with her three Oscar nominations which include her Best Supporting Actress win last year for FENCES.  Three nominations is a major achievement for African American film actresses but it still puts them behind white actresses such as Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence.  Actresses who, let's face, had more script opportunities after receiving that first Oscar nomination than black, Latina and Asian actresses did.
I will cheer if Dee Rees gets a Best Director nomination for her remarkable film, MUDBOUND. She deserves it.  She directed and co-wrote this film -- a work that makes my Top 5 list of films released in 2017.  Dees Rees could make Black History and Women In Film history.  Rachel Morrison could make --- and should make -- Women In Film history if nominated for Best Cinematographer.  She'd be the first woman to get an Oscar nomination in that category.
I wrote about MUDBOUND in my previous post.  I highly recommend you see it on a big screen.  I want to see it again and I want to see it on a big screen.  I saw on Netflix and felt like giving it a standing ovation even though I was alone here in the apartment.  The cinematography is breathtaking, the kind we got from Hollywood masters such as James Wong Howe (YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, PICNIC, HUD), Nestor Almendros (SOPHIE'S CHOICE, DAYS OF HEAVEN), Caleb Deschanel (THE BLACK STALLION) and John A. Alonzo (SOUNDER, CHINATOWN).

Jordan Peele.  Let's see if gets a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination and one for Best Director with his critical and box office hit, GET OUT.
The nominees will be announced like on ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA.  If an entertainment reporter says that Jordan Peele could be a long shot to be a Best Director nomination because GET OUT was his directorial debut .... or if he does get nominated and entertainment reporters happily surprised because it seemed impossible, consider this:
Orson Welles made his directorial debut with 1941's CITIZEN KANE.  His film brought him Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay.  Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE was also nominated for Best Picture.

Let's see how Jordan Peele makes out tomorrow.  And director/writer Greta Gerwig.  And WONDER WOMAN director Patty Jenkins.  The Oscars will be handed out on March 4th.

I know I've written about the gap in the number of Oscar nominations between white actresses and black and other minority actresses -- but entertainment reporters on TV and in print should think about it.  Today, Viola Davis is the most Oscar-nominated black actress in Hollywood history.  She has 3 nominations.  She's behind the white actresses I mentioned in this post -- Kidman, Blanchett, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams and relative newcomer Jennifer Lawrence.

Rita Moreno, Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for WEST SIDE STORY (1961)
Miyoshi Umeki, Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for SAYONARA (1957)
Halle Berry, Best Actress Oscar winner for MONSTER'S BALL (2001)
Ruby Dee
Cicely Tyson
Diahann Carroll
Angela Bassett
Alfre Woodard
Beah Richards
Taraji P. Henson
Gabourey Sidibe

All those women have one Oscar nomination each in their credits.  Just about all of them turned to TV for steady work because Hollywood did not have a lot of good film script opportunities for them.  This is why we need to keep the fires burning under the diversity and inclusion issues.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


I went to Netflix and started watching it shortly after midnight.  When it ended, about 2 hours and 15 minutes later, I sat there silent, moved and feeling rather blessed.  Like I had just experienced a stirring new member in the fine art of film.  This won't be a long review.  Maybe I'll get to talk about MUDBOUND in a podcast soon.  I'll keep you posted.  But, I will once again heap great praise upon director Dee Rees.  I first did that when I saw her 2011 film, PARIAH.  I will rejoice if Dee Rees gets a Best Director Oscar nomination for MUDBOUND.  She deserves it.
I would be so happy if Jason Mitchell got an Oscar nomination for his performance as Ronsel, the poor Mississippi Delta son who serves in the segregated troops of World War 2.
Jason Mitchell played Eazy-E in the critically hailed box office hit, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.
I would cheer if Rachel Morrison makes Academy Award history as the first female to get an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematographer.

Two families in rural Mississippi on the brink of the Pearl Harbor bombing.  One family is white, the other is black.  Mud unites them on the land that can be a terrible beauty.  The look of vast fields topped by a dusk so pleasing to the eye can't erase the fact that the land is harsh and the weather can be unforgiving.  The white man, continuing a taught lesson of superiority, inconveniences the black family man with his need for help in the mud.  A white son and a black son will both be drafted to serve overseas in World War 2.  Both will signs of PTSD when they return home.  After the war, the world has changed.  But Mississippi has not changed for the two sons who return home.   The effects of war connects them. Will they be able to free themselves from the mud?

I watched MUDBOUND on Netflix because its a nominee for the SAG Awards and I'll be voting soon.

I want to see MUDBOUND again.  On a big screen in a movie theater.  It is that rich a visual experience -- like films directed by David Lean, Fred Zinnemann and George Stevens that went on to become classics.  So.... if you have Netflix and you're up for a fine film to watch... I highly recommend MUDBOUND.  Click onto the link to watch the trailer.  By the way -- Brava, to Mary J. Blige! What a performance.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Another Look at THE APARTMENT

To me, it's perfection.  Absolute perfection.  Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT aired on a cable channel over the weekend and it was just the break I needed from the news of the day.  A Billy Wilder masterpiece took my off the political squabbles of the day.
I watched THE APARTMENT Saturday morning and fell in love with it all over again.  I even felt tears of joy well up in my eyes at the famous "Shut up and deal" final line.
I gave Saturday's airing of THE APARTMENT my full attention.  I was not live tweeting it.  I was not on social media.  In giving it my full attention, I discovered something new that made me fall in love with Billy Wilder all over again.  I love the subtle yet powerful and accurate way he dealt with race in America.  He avoided the grand sweeping gesture -- like placing the action down South and showing KKK members in dastardly progress.  He showed those above the Mason-Dixon line slights, inequalities and insults that can be slipped into everyday life like an inter-office memo at work.  Look at his first teaming of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in 1966's THE FORTUNE COOKIE.  That is very much a Civil Rights era comedy, and a good one, often overlooked when film critics and enthusiasts write about the Wilder canon of classics.  A popular, well-paid, well-dressed and sophisticated NFL star, doing a favor for an injured white cameraman (Lemmon), picks up the injured party's arriving guest at the airport.  She assumes that he's not a dapper buddy doing a favor, but a chauffeur because he's black and driving.

What really stood out to me in my recent viewing of THE APARTMENT was the number of black people he incorporated into his look at corporate culture in New York City.  I loved it. Look at another film that spends a lot of time in offices with a secretarial pool -- for instance, 20th Century Fox's glossy 1959 romantic drama, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING. That's set in the corporate offices of a publishing firm on Park Avenue. You don't see one black clerical worker.
Now look at Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT, Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1960.  When first we see Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter as his desk in those rows of desks on an insurance company office floor that seems half the size of a football field, notice the number of black women in office attire delivering paperwork to desks.  At the big company Christmas party underway on C.C. Baxter's floor, notice the black women and men at the party in business attire. 
Black people work for the company in THE APARTMENT.  Black men are in the elevator, not as the elevator operators, but as shirt-and-tie wearing office employees going to or leaving work.  This is not to say that some stuffy old attitudes towards people of color don't exist within characters.
When Fran Kubelik has her first reunion drink with Mr. Sheldrake in the restaurant, notice that she walks into the restaurant and stops at the piano.  She smiles warmly at the Asian pianist.  He smiles very warmly back to her and plays what we come to know as the theme to THE APARTMENT.  She spots Mr. Sheldrake, the married man with whom she's had a soul-wounding affair, and sits down.  The Asian waiter is very happy to see her again.  "Nice to see you, lady," he says with a sincere smile.  He never looks at Mr. Sheldrake and Sheldrake doesn't look at him.  There is definite warmth and regard exchanged between Fran Kubelik and the two Asian men who work in the restaurant.  She even buys the album that the pianist recorded.  To Sheldrake, those two men are probably like generic domestics in his corporate executive mind.

Near the end of the movie, Sheldrake gets a shoeshine in his private office from a black male.  Sheldrake tips him a quarter or a half-dollar coin.  Sheldrake is highly-paid executive boss.  Did you ever see the 1953 musical, THE BAND WAGON, starring Fred Astaire?  Astaire plays a Hollywood actor who hasn't worked in a few years and has a meeting for a possible Broadway show.  In Times Square, he gets a shoeshine from a black man.  They connect like old buddies and engage in Astaire's first dance number in the film. Notice that the number ends with the faded Hollywood star tipping the shoeshine dude some folding money.

Those touches of Wilder's, his direction and use of actors and his visual subtleties give more texture to a scene.  They tell us more about how the characters relate to the world and how they relate within it.

From a heartbreaking, nearly tragic Christmas Eve, the spirit of Fran Kubelik will resurrect and light up at the end of New Year's Eve. She will start the New Year realizing that she is truly loved -- loved by the company co-worker who has Ella Fitzgerald albums in his record collection -- and who also walked out on Mr. Sheldrake.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Michelle Williams Needs a Better Agent

I read the story early Wednesday morning.  Robin Roberts interviewed an entertainment editor about it during GOOD MORNING AMERICA.  It was a major story on the ABC Evening News with David Muir.  Because of the Kevin Spacey scandal, reshoots had to be done on the movie ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD.  Spacey's role was reshot with Christopher Plummer.  Two stars had to reshoot scenes.  The stars are muscular Mark Wahlberg and the strong actress Michelle Williams.  Reportedly, he got $1.5 million for his reshoots.  She got $1000.  This news comes on the heels of the TIME'S UP movement getting underway.  It shoots down sexual harassment, pay inequality based on gender and the imbalance of power in the workplace.  Here's one thing that really irks me about that report:  The two stars are represented by the same agency.  Michelle Williams -- girl, I know how you must feel.  I have been there to a lesser degree.  YOU are a 4-time Oscar nominee.
I have a couple of questions about this situation.  First, here's how I can relate to the news about Michelle Williams' low fee.  This came after we read that a female anchor on E! was not getting nearly what her male co-anchor got ... and Hoda Kotb is getting nowhere near what Matt Lauer got.  Michelle Williams has a wonderful reputation as a committed actress, a team player and a very gracious person.
Back in the early 1990s, after my three years on VH1, I was contacted by WNBC local news to be a regular on a new weekend morning news show that was soon to launch.  I was told I'd be doing entertainment interviews, film reviews in the studio and some lifestyle pieces.  This appealed to me.  I wanted to break through the color barrier of black folks never being seen as weekly film reviewers on news programs.  I took the job.  It wasn't big money but I was eager to continue the kind of entertainment interviews I'd done on VH1, the kind that some of the SNL folks upstairs from us had seen me do.  Well, the day before the show premiered, my duties were abruptly changed for no good reason.  I would not be doing film reviews or entertainment interviews in the studio. I'd be outside covering local community events.  My feelings were injured.  To add insult to injury, white producer said that she was sure I had "the skills" to cover entertainment.  She had never, ever looked at my VH1 demo reel.
 I called my broadcast agent and told him about this mess.  He sheepishly asked if I could take care of it myself.  Why?  He did not want to rile my WNBC local news boss who was also Matt Lauer's boss.  Matt was a new local anchor who was on the brink of making a big leap up to TODAY.  My agent -- soon to be my ex-agent -- also represented Matt Lauer.

I did push to do some entertainment interviews.  In the show's second month, I got Madonna to talk to me.  After that, I still had to do community events.  My goal was to move up to being an entertainment features contributor for the weekend network edition of TODAY.  I started in September 1992 and quit in January 1995 when I was told my work was excellent and I was popular with viewers but I'd never move up to full time employment and I'd never get network exposure.  Matt Lauer was network by then.  I gave notice.

Jump to the year 2000.  Two print columnists told me that ABC News was seeking a film reviewer/historian for a new live weekday hour-long show it was producing on Lifetime TV.  I aggressively pushed to get an audition.  I had to be aggressive because ABC News producers didn't think I knew anything about films.  One admitted that I was seen as a local funny "man-on-the-street" guy.

I auditioned and I got the job. I'd do an 8-minute segment every Friday which I'd write myself and I'd write reviews for the website.  I had a title -- "Entertainment Editor."  I was reviewing two new films a week, one DVD release, and spotlighting Women in Film history by recommending a classic film with a strong female lead performance.  That was my idea.
The pay was $500 a week.  The broadcast agent I had at that time was shocked to hear what ABC was offering.  "You should be getting $1500 a week for that!"  I told him who to call to negotiate.

He could not get me one penny more.  But you know what? I absolutely LOVED that job.  Films are my passion.  Also, I was doing something I never saw black people do on network TV when I was growing up -- film reviews. I hoped I'd be making an impression on network execs.

As for the pay, ironically my agent took 10 per cent of my weekly pay, as he was allowed to do per SAG-AFTRA union rules, for attempting to get me more money.  Some agents would've just passed because the pay was low.  Not this guy.  He also became my ex-agent.  There I was, talent for ABC News on a live national show every week doing something African-Americans never got to do every week on a network news program.. and I was taking home $330 a week.  After my agent took his cut.

My questions --- if you're an entertainment news reporter looking for a story -- are these:  What's the deal with agencies not taking care of their clients as well as they should?  The other question -- is the pay inequality in Hollywood and TV wider among performers who are people of color than it is for white talent?  Just wondering.

I have had national TV talent jobs since 1999.  The ABC News/Lifetime TV job was one, hosting a Food Network show that ran every week for six years is another and I worked with Whoopi Goldberg on her national weekday morning radio show that ran from 2006 to 2008.  The highest annual income I made for a national broadcast job from 1999 to now --- was $55,000.  By the way, my job on Whoopi's show started at $500 a week.  For a national show.

I bet white performers like Billy Bush, Mo Rocca and Carson Kressley made more -- and had better agents.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Loved Me Some Lena Waithe on CBS THIS MORNING

Yes, an inspiration and a role model can be years younger than you are.  And of the opposite sex.  To this Black man -- well into the AARP category -- young, gifted and Black Lena Waithe is an inspiration and a role model.   My introduction to her was when I discovered her fierce freshness and terrific comic acting skill on the Netflix sitcom, MASTER OF NONE, starring Aziz Ansari.  She plays what she is in real life -- one of his best friends and a smart young female who's openly lesbian. She is a master at underplaying a comedy scene and casually tossing off a comedy line in a most memorable way.  It's so natural.  Lena Waithe wrote one of the best episodes of that sitcom or of any other sitcom I saw last year.  Her character comes out to her family at Thanksgiving.  For that episode, she deservedly won an Emmy.  Lena Waithe became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series.
For Showtime, she has created a new drama series set in Chicago, her hometown.  She's also the executive producer.  The series is called THE CHI.  It's Tuesday, January 9th, and I saw Lena Waithe visit CBS THIS MORNING for an in-studio interview.  She was excellent.
She told Gayle King how deeply she connected to Oprah Winfrey's recent special achievement award acceptance speech on the Golden Globes.  Oprah mentioned how seeing Sidney Poitier win the Oscar for LILIES OF THE FIELD was so significant to her as she watched, a little girl in Milwaukee.

I fully understand how Oprah felt.  We're the same age.  I vividly recall being a little boy, sitting on the living room floor in front of the big bulky box of a black and white TV, and watching when Anne Bancroft announced "...and the winner is...Sidney Poitier!"  There he was with his excited, joyful, grateful and handsome self in a tuxedo.  Anne Bancroft, a future co-star, was also joyful and excited. She kissed him on live TV in that Civil Rights era when network TV execs tried to forbid such a public display of interracial affection between artists.
I remember Mom and Dad gasping with "Hallelujah" happiness and saying "He did it!" when Sidney Poitier's name was announced as the Best Actor Oscar winner.  He was the first Black man ever nominated for an Oscar -- and the first to win.
Seeing Mr. Poitier that night made me feel so significant, as I'm sure it did Oprah too.  I felt hopeful.  I felt that there could be a place for me also in an entertainment field.  I saw myself, my family and our community represented in his wonderful presence.

Today, Lena Waite said that she had the exact same feeling when she watched the Oscar and Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.  That was in 2002.  Halle Berry is, as of now, still the only Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.

In the lives of Lena Waithe, Oprah Winfrey and myself... this is proof that representation matters.  If you've read my previous blog posts and listened to my podcasts, you know that I (with Keith Price) constantly call out the need for people of color to be seen on TV reviewing new films and adding insight to classic movies.  The field of film critics and movie hosts that many of us grew up seeing has lacked race and gender diversity.  Tiffany Haddish recently gave such a warm, funny, grateful and memorable acceptance speech at the recent New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner that she should've received a second award for her speech.  She won for her supporting role performance in the hit comedy, GIRLS TRIP.  During her speech, she mentioned that the only movie critics she'd ever seen growing up were Siskel and Ebert on TV.

I'm not an actor with the range and gift of Sidney Poitier.  I wish I was.  But my love affair with the art of films, new and old, started when I was a little boy in South Central L.A.  Our family was in the curfew area during the Watts Riots of the 1960s.  Just nine months before Sidney Poitier won his Oscar, my parents had me join them watching the long CBS live news telecast of the now-historic March on Washington.  We saw Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech when it happened.  The March on Washington for Civil Rights.  African-Americans demanding the right to vote, the right to a decent education, the freedom to sit at a lunch counter and have a sandwich without the fear of being beaten or killed, the right to use a non-segregated restroom.  Think about it.

I went into TV with the intention of changing images about Black people in and from South Central L.A.  In addition to that, I wanted to show that we too should be added to the network TV discussion of films and be added to the conversation with filmmakers.  We have knowledge.  We have history. We have a voice.
And that's why I tried to present race and gender diversity when I had the opportunity to host film talk on TV.
I feel that it's still important.  Just like when I saw Sidney Poitier win the Oscar and when I was moved by Oprah's acceptance speech Sunday on the Golden Globes, I felt very significant -- and proud -- watching Lena Waithe today on CBS THIS MORNING.  Representation matters.

Look for THE CHI on Showtime and MASTER OF NONE on Netflix.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

She's the Star of LADY BIRD

She's gone from THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL to BROOKLYN to Sacramento.  And she may add another Oscar nomination to her credits later this month.  I find young Saoirse Ronan to be an absolutely fascinating actress.  Back in the 1930s when Zero, the new lobby boy for The Grand Budapest Hotel, falls in love with Agatha the pastry chef, I felt "What's not to love?"  Agatha was like a sweet gourmet pastry come to life.  I loved Saoirse Ronan in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.
She took us to conservative, Catholic Ireland in the 1950s.  She played the warm, witty, independent young woman determined to find a new life for herself.  The lovely Irish immigrant will find that new life in Brooklyn.  For her performance in BROOKLYN (2015), Saoirse Ronan received a very well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Now look at her as the high school senior in a post-9/11 America soon to graduate from a Catholic school in Sacramento.  She cannot wait to flee her hometown and relocate to someplace vivid and interesting, someplace with cultural offerings.  But she's from a working class family, money is tight, and her working mom is a heavy passive-aggressive piece of furniture.  This high school senior call herself... Lady Bird.  LADY BIRD, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, may bring Ms. Ronan another Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Yes.  You just saw the same young woman as the lead actress in both of those movies.  See what I mean?  She's absolutely fascinating.

On the January 7th edition of CBS SUNDAY, Greta Gerwing was interviewed in her hometown by a CBS reporter.  Gerwig is from Sacramento.  In a voiceover during the feature, reporter Tony Dokoupil said that LADY BIRD is celebrated as "the best reviewed movie of all time" on Rotten Tomatoes.  I liked Dokoupil's piece but I felt he was wrong.  I went to the Rotten Tomatoes site.  LADY BIRD got a 99%.  Before Greta Gerwig's film, Jordan Peele got a 99% for GET OUT, the psychological horror film that he wrote and directed.

Just a note for CBS SUNDAY.  Go look for yourself.  Search *Lady Bird Rotten Tomatoes rating*.  Check out the numbers.  Then search "Get Out Rotten Tomatoes rating* and check out those numbers.

I'll review LADY BIRD on my podcast.  But I will tell you this here and now -- Saorise Ronan is, once again, remarkable.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Lovely Black Historymaker on TCM

Her name was Hadda Brooks and I first blogged about our Miss Brooks in August 2014.  If you're a true classic film enthusiast, you've probably seen her in one feature starring Humphrey Bogart and another one starring Kirk Douglas.  But you may not have known that she was a trailblazer for African American performers in the early days of television.  Hadda Brooks was a pianist and recording star.  In the late 1940s to early 1950s, she was one of those rare African American women who had the opportunity to look as glamorous as the white actresses in the movies did.  A Southern California native, she grew up in Los Angeles.  She studied classical piano and fell in love with the theater.  After attending the University of Chicago, she retuned home to L.A. and added boogie-woogie to her talents on the keys.  She came to be known as "Queen of the Boogie."  But she also loved playing and singing ballads.
She sings "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" in the drama, IN A LONELY PLACE, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.

You also see her sing "Temptation" in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL in nightclub scene with Kirk Douglas and Gilbert Roland.  Roland plays the movie heartthrob who's dancing partner is a blonde babe with a deadpan expression. Her face comes to life when her juicy steak dinner arrives.  Gloria Grahame is also in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL along with Douglas, Roland and Lana Turner.

Hadda Brooks was a popular L.A. and New York City act.
 And her records were popular.
The celebrated pianist and vocalist Hazel Scott is credited with being the first African American woman to host her own TV show.  Scott had a 15-minute music show that aired on the DuMont Television Network.  THE HAZEL SCOTT SHOW premiered in 1950 in New York City.  That network went off the air in 1956.

Hadda Brooks hosted THE HADDA BROOKS SHOW in her hometown in 1957.  It was a combination music entertainment and talk show that aired on KCOP/Channel 13.  KCOP is still in operation, now broadcasting as My 13.  On THE HADDA BROOKS SHOW, "That's My Desire" was her theme song.  The half-hour show was live on KCOP.  Hadda did 26 episodes.  Hazel Scott's show lasted three months.  All 26 episodes of THE HADDA BROOKS SHOW were repeated in San Francisco on KGO which is now the ABC/Disney channel.  Here's Hadda Brooks singing and playing her TV theme song.
I wonder if KCOP TV in Los Angeles or KGO TV in San Francisco happens to have any episodes of THE HADDA BROOKS SHOW in its archives.

On Sunday, January 7th, TCM host Eddie Muller has a special interview with that fantastic actress, Annette Bening.  Bening plays the late Gloria Grahame in a new film called FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL.

TCM will air two classics in a row, both starring Gloria Grahame.  First up is IN A LONELY PLACE followed by THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, the Vincente Minnelli film that earned Grahame the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

In both classics, see singer and groundbreaking TV host, Hadda Brooks.  She was also featured in the 1947 comedy, OUT OF THE BLUE and the 1995 Jack Nicholson drama, THE CROSSING GUARD.
The Gloria Grahame -- and Hadda Brooks -- double feature starts Sunday at 8p Eastern on TCM.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sex and Sci-Fi Open My Podcast for 2018.

Lord, have mercy.  We made it through 2017.  I lost my mother and one of my best friends in New York City within a few months of each other last year, a former reality TV game show host with no previous political experience became President of our United States and....well, you understand.  We experienced heartache and pain.  Doing a podcast has helped me emotionally and -- if I may be so bold as to write -- artistically.  I'm so grateful to my friend and producer Keith Price for coming up with the idea for it and forcing me to commit.  We have our first episode of this new year posted, if you'd like to hear it.  We talk about plenty.  In the movie department, I saw something that was like a great big wet dream of a fantasy romance.  THE SHAPE OF WATER is a modern day fable that underscores current issues such as race and immigration.  I tell Keith that some folks on social media described it as THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON meets SPLASH.  In some ways, that's true.  But this new Guillermo del Toro sci-fi movie about the three marginalized people who establish communication with a foreign sea creature in secret U.S. custody is more than that.  It's a Resistance drama for today's audiences.
I also talk about CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.  Wow.  Another love story.  This one between two young Jewish American males in the Italian countryside for the summer.  This is about the sweet and tart feelings of a first love in one's youth and it's presented with a stylish eroticism.
Keith and I kick off the show by discussing some of the New Year's Eve countdown entertainment that networks gave us.  CNN considered Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen to be a festive gay comedy team that we'd love.  Ryan Seacrest on ABC hosted Mariah Carey appearing with the twins.  Her real life twins.  Her two children.  Not the twins right below her neck that constantly pop out for attention.
Then I gave a quick year-end review on TCM's presence of African American guest hosts or co-hosts for 2017.

By the way, it's Friday.  January 5th.  Tonight at 8:00 Eastern, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) is showing Cornel Wilde in the 1966 adventure drama, THE NAKED PREY.  Set in the 1800s, a middle-aged colonial white guy leads a safari deep into the African jungle.  Drama ensues when the white folks in the safari group disrespect the natives' territory and customs.  The pissed off natives kill off the safari party.  The middle-aged white guy leader survives by outrunning the young black African warrior men through the jungle.
Personally, I found THE SHAPE OF WATER to be more believable.  But that's just me.  To hear the podcast, just go here:

Keith Price and I thank you for giving us a listen.

Oscar Buzz for TILL

 I'm on Twitter and, in the last three weeks, there's been Oscar buzz from a few established movie critics. The buzz was that Cate B...