To see more features proving that Black Lives Matter, you can go to CriterionChannel.com.
However, I've noticed that African American film critics or historians are tapped mostly to do commentaries for films by Black filmmakers or address Black images. When it comes to classics by directors such as Ernest Lubitsch, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Billy Wilder, Vincente Minnelli, Hitchcock, Truffaut and Fellini, commentaries are done mostly by white critics. We are not blended into the overall film discussion. Did Mia Mask, an African American professor of film studies at Vassar, get to talk about all of George Stevens' wonderful Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical, SWING TIME? No. She talks only about the "Bojangles of Harlem" number. If Criterion invited me to do commentary for Vincente Minnelli work, could I talk about MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL? Or would I be limited to just CABIN IN THE SKY because I'm Black and that musical had an all-Black cast?
Racism, systemic racism, is not solely white cops beating and killing unarmed Black people. It's exclusion in housing and the workplace. It's not having equal opportunities and being treated like a second class citizen. It's your accomplishments not given the same regard as a white person's accomplishments. And then there's the frustration that comes when a few of your white friends, who consider themselves to be socially aware liberals, think that the playing field is level because they know you and you always seems to be employed.
I had an encounter with white Seattle cops during which my contained anger eclipsed my initial fear. I was on vacation. I had just come out of a coffee shop where I'd been reading a newspaper, eating a bagel and having coffee -- AND I'd chatted with the clerk behind the counter. I got an itemized receipt. I was walking back to the Four Seasons Hotel where I'd been staying for the weekend while I visited my dad. On me and in my shoulder bag, I had my employee photo ID from Fox5 TV in New York City. I also had my passport, my plane ticket and my hotel room key. All of that was not enough. Three cop cars pulled up alongside me. Two cops questioned me, even after I produced photo ID, because "a Black man with a newspaper" had robbed a bank 10 minutes earlier. Two other cops came up to my hotel room later.
I've had an "Amy Cooper"-ish experience. A young blonde production assistant had two refrigerator-sized bodyguards escort me off the GOOD MORNING AMERICA set during a commercial break, claiming that I had "sandbagged" my way on-camera. I was on-camera because she asked me to be, as a few audience members witnessed. When I spoke up for myself to the bodyguards and when a few of the tourists in the audience verbally came to my defense, the bodyguards weren't listening. It was a white woman's word against mine. I was ordered and escorted out of the building. The irony is -- I worked for ABC News at the time. On a different show. I got an apology six months later.
Katie Couric loves Broadway musicals. She saw the 2008 revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's SOUTH PACIFIC. In her book, THE BEST ADVICE I EVER GOT, she wrote about seeing it and the impact of the song "Carefully Taught." She'd never really paid attention to it before and described it as "prescient." Here's the song as performed in the 1958 film adaptation.
When I was a middle school kid in South Central Los Angeles, we kids knew what that song was saying. We were children of the Civil Rights era. The SOUTH PACIFIC soundtrack was in our classroom and it was played sometimes on Fridays during music period. On my block in neighbors' homes, you could find a Rodgers & Hammerstein soundtrack mixed in with a family's Motown records. Why? Because we all knew that Rodgers & Hammerstein's best work musically shouted down bigotry and intolerance. And the music was great.
The TODAY Show had a special edition for its 50th anniversary in 2002. Katie was on it. Talents who worked on other networks but had once worked on TODAY made guest appearances for that special show. People like Barbara Walters and actress Florence Henderson. Henderson had been a contributor in TODAY's early years. One visual that jumped out at me during the anniversary show's "group photos" was that Bryant Gumble and Al Roker were the only two Black people who'd worked on the show. In half a century. I can tell you they were not the only ones who wanted to work on TODAY. I tried unsuccessfully to land a gig as a TODAY Show entertainment contributor.
Did Katie Couric noticed the minimal amount of Black talent on TODAY? Did she say anything about it? Did she think Gumble and Roker were the only two Black people in the country who wanted to work on the show?
Full disclosure. Katie was nice to me when I worked in 30 Rock for a then new show called WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK. It was a live, local weekend edition of TODAY. It premiered in September 1992 and I was approached to be a member of the show's original trio. For me, it was a part time job and I was paid as such. In the second month of the show, I managed to get some soundbites from Madonna at a downtown press event. Katie called me from her office to congratulate me because the TODAY contributor covering the event didn't have the same luck. Katie claimed to have been a fan of my 1988-89 prime time celebrity talk show on VH1.
Katie would see me occasionally in the building and say she thought I was as funny and talented wondered why my career wasn't bigger than it was. I would just smile. Those exchanges taught me that there's a big difference between "Why isn't your career bigger than it is? and "Why isn't your career bigger than it is? What can I do to help?"
Now we can rent the 2014 film for free because another unarmed Black man was suffocated by a cop and his last words were also "I can't breathe." I wonder how those studio execs and Academy members feel now.