Monday, February 5, 2018

Breakfast with Tiffany on TCM

On many Saturday mornings, I relaxed by having a late breakfast while watching Tiffany Vazquez bring in some welcomed Latinx representation as the new weekend host on Turner Classic Movies.  She was the first woman hired to host and the first Latina host. Man, how I loved seeing her represent!  As an African American, I grew up looking for images of myself and for images of people in my immediate community on TV and in films.  I still do.  Tiffany did such a smooth job as the weekend host.  I will miss her.
When Robert Osborne was host, I associated his presence with diversity.  When I first started watching TCM -- back in the late 90s -- the "coming up next" short bits in between movies in the morning featured a bit of Chet Baker singing "Look For The Silver Lining."  One of my favorite TCM station promos at that time showed a sweet-faced African American boy outside at night lying down and gazing up at the stars. As he looks up, we saw faces of famous Hollywood stars who were the stuff that dreams are made of.  Robert Osborne sat down with Charles Burnett for co-host duties.  The groundbreaking indie filmmaker received an honorary Oscar just a few months ago in Hollywood.  Robert Osborne had Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Guest Programmers.

But, when we started to see less of Mr. Osborne due to health issues, we also seemed to see less of an African American presence in TCM segments.  That was odd.  But noticeable. And I write this as a former network talk show host, film critic/entertainment reporter and freelance contributor to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY magazine.

Back in 2014, TCM devoted the month of October to Africa.  Films about and shot in Africa.  Films about African people.  The host?  Canadian Alex Trebek.  Don't get me wrong.  He's a terrific TV game show host.  But, honestly, I watched and thought to myself "Couldn't TCM get LeVar Burton, Don Cheadle, Lou Gossett, Leslie Uggams, Alfre Woodard or Delroy Lindo? You know...someone black?"

The last African American host I recall seeing was director Julie Dash.  Her brilliant 1991 film, DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST has aired on TCM.  Julie Dash was a fabulous TCM guest host for December.  December 2016.  Since then, I've watched TCM and I feel like the new sheriff when he rode into town in BLAZING SADDLES.  I keep wondering where all the black folks are.

Up to and including January of this year, black talent has rarely been seen as a monthly Guest Programmer in the last couple of years.  There isn't even a black former Guest Programmer seen in the short video montage that precedes the segments.  We see Michael J. Fox, Cher, Conan O'Brien and Bill Hader. But no Diahann Carroll, Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg or Lou Gossett, Jr.

Saturday host Alec Baldwin has not had an African American co-host for "The Essentials."  Sunday host Eddie Muller hasn't had any black folks sipping wine with him in any of his several TCM Wine Club promos.  No black TCM fan speaks in a TCM Backlot spot. Host Ben Mankiewicz was appropriately on the red carpet last April for the TCM Film Festival.  One of the highlights was a special 50th anniversary screening of the Oscar-winning murder mystery/race drama IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.  Director Norman Jewison, composer Quincy Jones and stars Sidney Poitier and Lee Grant attended.  So did the 1967 Best Picture Oscar winner's producer Walter Mirisch.  Ben Mankiewicz asked about the enduring relevance of the film's look at race in America.  It was a great question because, 50 years later, "Black Lives Matter" was a major headline in the national news.
However, there was no black contributor on the red carpet for TCM who could've added even more insight.  No black contributor on a Hollywood red carpet for a screening of a Sidney Poitier classic in a time of "Black Lives Matter" and "Oscars So White."  Last month, Ben was the sole host for the prime time salute to African American filmmakers on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. 

I know that Ben Mankiewicz is a baseball fan.  If he went to ball games last summer and never saw a black player on the field, wouldn't he ask "What the heck is going on here -- in the 21st Century -- with no black players in the games?"?

This is why I was thrilled at the racial diversity and inclusion that Tiffany Vazquez brought to TCM with her presence and knowledge.
On January 27th, Tiffany Vazquez sent out a message on Twitter that TCM had not renewed her contract for another year.  The segments that day would be her last.  Hers was a gracious message, thanking TCM for the opportunity with a note of pride that Robert Osborne liked her.
Many of us viewers liked her too.  I wish all the very best to Tiffany Vazquez. Her departure now leaves TCM with a trio of men doing host duties. Ben Mankiewicz, Alec Baldwin and Eddie Muller.  TCM could now also stand for "Three Caucasian Males."

It was wonderful to see you, Tiffany Vazquez.  Representation matters.

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