Was ‘Green Book’ Oscar-worthy?

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Peter Farrelly, center, and the cast and crew of "Green Book" accept the award for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Peter Farrelly, center, and the cast and crew of "Green Book" accept the award for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Jim Burke, from left, Charles B. Wessler, Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly, and Brian Currie pose with the award for best picture for "Green Book" in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Viggo Mortensen, left, and Mahershala Ali in a scene from "Green Book." The film is nominated for an Oscar for best picture. The 91st Academy Awards will be held on Sunday. (Universal Pictures via AP)

For many, ‘Green Book’ win was a confounding Oscar climax


AP Film Writer

Tuesday, February 26

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An Academy Awards that sparkled with more women and African-American winners than ever before came to a screeching halt with the night’s final honor. Some would even call it a “Crash.”

In a twist ending that shocked many of the Dolby Theatre attendees and those watching at home, Peter Farrelly’s hotly debated buddy road-trip dramedy “Green Book” triumphed at the 91st Oscars, complicating the story line on a night that had, until that moment, belonged to cultural milestones like Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” and Alfonso Cuaron’s border-breaking Netflix release, “Roma.”

It’s not unusual for the announcement of an Oscar winner to provoke a grimace or two. It’s less ordinary to see members of the crowd leap to their feet, wave their arms in disgust and nearly stomp out of the theater.

The cameras missed it, but that was how Spike Lee responded in the Dolby Theatre. After all, Lee has seen it before. Almost exactly 30 years ago, “Driving Miss Daisy” — a movie with a similarly simplistic view of race that is often compared to “Green Book” — won best picture in the same year Lee’s incendiary “Do the Right Thing” came out. Backstage, Lee joked on the win for “Green Book” that “the ref made a bad call.”

“I’m snake bit. Every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose!” Lee, who won his first competitive Oscar for the script to “BlacKkKlansmn,” told reporters, laughing. “But they changed the seating arrangement.”

Lee was far from alone in his reaction. “Green Book” is the most divisive, and by some measure, most critically derided best-picture winner in more than a decade. Its win was greeted by many as a sign that Hollywood may have changed enough to honor the second and third black female non-acting Oscar winners (as it did Sunday with costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler for “Black Panther”), but it hadn’t progressed so far that it didn’t hand the industry’s top award to a movie criticized for portraying a retrograde view of race as seen through a white protagonist’s eyes.

“Many of us in the black community would like to see greater recognition for movies about the black experience and not just for movies that make the black experience comfortable for white audiences,” television commentator and author Keith Boykin wrote.

Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang called it “the worst best picture winner since ‘Crash’” and, further, “insultingly glib and hucksterish, a self-satisfied crock masquerading as an olive branch.” According to the review-aggregation website Metacritic, not since 2004’s “Crash” — another movie about race relations made primarily by white men — has there been a winner with worse reviews.

But the backlash to “Green Book” — a film about the erudite jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali, who won best supporting actor) and the Bronx-native bouncer-turned-chauffer Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) — goes much deeper than that. Though the film’s fans see in Farrelly’s film an often funny, feel-good odd-couple tale, critics of “Green Book” see a movie that trades on racial stereotypes and crassly capitalizes on the Green Book — a segregation-era travel guide for African Americans in the Deep South — with little interest in dramatizing its important history.

Following the win, filmmaker Ava DuVernay tweeted about the guide’s creator, Victor Hugo Green, “for anyone who may interested in what the Green Book actually was.”

“Green Book” was also fiercely criticized for not consulting with Shirley’s family: his last living brother Maurice Shirley and niece Carol Shirley Kimble. Kimble said there was “no due diligence done to afford my family and my deceased uncle the respect of properly representing him, his legacy, his worth and the excellence in which he operated and the excellence in which he lived.”

“It’s once again a depiction of a white man’s version of a black man’s life,” Kimble told Shadow and Act.

It was noted, too, that in neither acceptance speech did the film’s makers — Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie, who together also won best screenplay — thank Shirley. Asked about that backstage at the Oscars, Vallelonga, the son of Tony Vallelonga, added his thanks to the pianist and addressed Kimble’s point.

“I wish I could have reached out to Don Shirley’s family,” said Vallelonga. “I didn’t even know they really existed until after we were making the film, and we contacted his estate for music; and then the filmmakers, we invited them all to screenings and discussions. But I personally was not allowed to speak to his family, per Don Shirley’s wishes.”

Later, at the Governor’s Ball, Vallelonga defended his film.

“Some of the attacks are unwarranted and untrue. But we believed in the movie the whole time,” Vallelonga said. “If it wasn’t true in our hearts, I don’t think it would resonate with people. It would come out false.”

And “Green Book” had its boosters. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar praised it in a column for The Hollywood Reporter, arguing that discrepancies that irk family members didn’t matter, and that “filmmakers are history’s interpreters, not its chroniclers.” Ali, who became the second black actor to win two Oscars after Denzel Washington, called the film “a legitimate offering” in a November interview with The Associated Press, saying: “I’m getting some crap from people saying it’s a rosy picture of race, but, you know, it’s just a rosy picture of that relationship, not all race relationships.”

The movie’s win also wasn’t a complete shock. “Green Book” triumphed at the highly predictive Producers Guild Awards, which, like the Oscars, uses a preferential ballot. And it won one of awards season’s first telling trophies: the Toronto International Film Festival’s audience award, besting “A Star Is Born” and “Roma.”

At the box office, the Universal release (made for a modest $23 million) was also the biggest ticket seller of any best picture nominee since nominations were announced in January. And two of the biggest rivals to “Green Book” at the Oscars — “Roma” and “Black Panther” — both had some academy members dead-set against voting for them. Netflix is seen as a threat to movie theaters since most of its films debut directly on its streaming service. Others have resentment for superheroes’ dominance in today’s movie making.

Following withering #OscarsSoWhite critiques, the film academy has in recent years moved to diversify its largely white and male membership. Even in his disappointment over “Green Book,” Lee credited former academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and April Reign, who coined the hashtag, for opening up the academy.

“So that’s why three black women, if I’m counting correctly, won Oscars,” said Lee, whose tally included Carter, Beachler and Regina King, the supporting actress winner for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” ”That would not have happened without OscarsSoWhite and Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Facts. As my brother Jay-Z says, facts.”

Kevin Willmott, who co-wrote “BlacKkklansman” with Lee, Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, was less eager to slam “Green Book” and more inclined to celebrate.

“You know, it’s a real breakthrough that any film about race gets to win anything,” said Willmott, who also penned Lee’s “Chi-Raq.” ”When I first started in the industry, it was really bad; and we have come a long way since then. And tonight is a huge step forward I think in many different ways. And it’s still frustrating at times, but it’s great to see progress being made.”

AP Entertainment Writer Mike Cidoni Lennox contributed to this report.

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Frederick Douglass biography among Lukas prize nominees

NEW YORK (AP) — David W. Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass and Sarah Smarsh’s “Heartland” are among the nominees for awards celebrating nonfiction books of social consciousness and literary merit.

On Tuesday, the Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University announced shortlists for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize and the Mark Lynton History Prize.

Smarsh is a finalist for the Lukas Book Prize and Blight for the Lynton History Prize, each worth $10,000. The work-in-progress prize, for a book still being written, awards $25,000 apiece to two authors.

Other Lukas book prize nominees are Shane Bauer’s “American Prison,” Howard Blum’s “In the Enemy’s House,” Lauren Hilgers’ “Patriot Number One” and Chris McGreal’s “American Overdose.”

Besides Blight’s “Frederick Douglass,” history prize finalists are Jeffrey C. Stewart’s Alain Locke biography “The New Negro,” winner last fall of the National Book Award; Andrew Delbanco’s “The War Before the War,” Edith Sheffer’s “Asperger’s Children” and Steven J. Zipperstein’s “Pogrom.”

The work-in-progress nominees are Maurice Chammah’s “Let the Lord Sort Them,” Steven Dudley’s “Mara,” Amelia Pang’s “Made in China,” Lauren Sandler’s “This Is All I Got” and Sarah Schulman’s “Let the Record Show.”

Winners will be announced March 20. The Lukas awards, established in 1998, are named for the late author and investigative journalist. The Lynton prize is named for the late businessman and refugee from Nazi Germany.

On the Internet: https://journalism.columbia.edu/2019-lukas-prize-shortlist

Emma Thompson to Skydance: I won’t work with John Lasseter


AP Film Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — In a letter to Skydance Media, Emma Thompson outlined why she refused to work with the former Pixar executive John Lasseter and was withdrawing from the animated film “Luck.”

Thompson departed the project last month shortly after Skydance chief executive David Ellison hired Lasseter, the Pixar co-founder and former Walt Disney Co. animation chief. Lasseter last year was forced out at Disney after acknowledging “missteps” in his behavior with female employees.

In her letter to Ellison, Thompson said she felt it was “very odd to me that you and your company would consider hiring someone with Mr. Lasseter’s pattern of misconduct given the present climate.”

“If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he’s not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract that he must behave ‘professionally’?” wrote Thompson. “If a man has made women at his companies feel undervalued and disrespected for decades, why should the women at his new company think that any respect he shows them is anything other than an act that he’s required to perform by his coach, his therapist and his employment agreement?”

A representative for Thompson confirmed the letter Tuesday, which was first published in The Los Angeles Times. A spokesperson for Skydance declined to comment.

Lasseter’s hiring provoked a backlash from some who said the animation executive didn’t deserve a second chance so quickly. Time’s Up, the nonprofit organization formed to combat sexual harassment and gender inequality in Hollywood and elsewhere, said his hiring “endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.”

Shortly after allegations were made against Harvey Weinstein in fall 2017, Lasseter announced that he was taking a six-month “sabbatical” from Disney and apologized “to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug” or any other gesture that made them feel “disrespected or uncomfortable.” Lasseter initially said he would return to Disney, but the studio said it was permanently cutting ties last June.

At the time of his hiring, Lasseter, a creative force involved in every Pixar release and numerous Disney hits, said he had spent the last year in “deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for.”

Ellison, the 36-year-old son of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison whose production company has been behind “Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek” films, said in a memo to staff that he didn’t take the decision to hire Lasseter lightly and said Lasseter has been “forthright in taking ownership of his behavior.”


Hate Crimes: One Lie, Many Truths

Jussie Smollett may have lied, but real hate crimes and harassment are on the rise. I’ve lived through it myself.

By Gray Ndiaye | February 27, 2019

Jussie Smollett, a popular actor and singer-songwriter, was recently arrested and charged with filing a false police report.

Smollett alleged that he was attacked in late January by two white men who spewed racist and homophobic slurs as they assaulted him.

A standout detail was his claim that the assailants said, “This is MAGA country.” Smollett has been very critical of the Trump administration and said he believed this was some sort of retaliation.

Originally viewed as the victim, Smollett is now accused of orchestrating his own attack.

This has created an uproar. Smollett’s attack was a major news story, and a plethora of public figures expressed support for him. The public isn’t only shocked but also outraged by the latest accusations — especially survivors of hate crimes.

This situation hits close to home. Though I was never physically assaulted, I’ve been targeted for harassment due to my sexuality.

It’s been a challenging journey navigating between two crucial factors of my identity; I am both Black and gay. In the spring of 2015, a fake advertisement was posted on a college social app. The advertisement listed my college apartment number and was advertising for men to come over.

It was written as if it were a woman. I was gone at the time, but men began coming to my apartment looking for sex. My classmate who lived in my complex saw the ad and let me know.

It was embarrassing because other students had seen the ad. I contacted both campus security and the police. Nothing happened. I still have no closure on this incident.

In the fall of 2015, I was leaving class with a friend. A car followed us while its passengers yelled homophobic slurs at me, chasing me into a corner. This was caught on tape by security cameras.

I alerted campus security, and although they saw the clear visuals on the tape, nothing happened. Since it was a verbal bashing, they didn’t think it was a real threat (never mind my being chased by a car).

It was a Christian university. Since then, I’ve always wondered what they would do if I were a straight, white male who was verbally bashed and chased with evidence on tape.

Though both of these events left an impact, I’m lucky that it was no worse. Due to the current divisive state of our country, hate crimes have been on the rise across most categories.

In particular, there’s been a spike in hate crimes regarding race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign reported that in 2017, 29 transgender individuals were brutally killed. This is the highest ever recorded — though the 26 transgender individuals murdered last year comes close.

In fact, hate crimes have been on the rise for three consecutive years, according to the FBI. As a Black man and a gay man — a member of two marginalized groups often targeted — this is a source of constant fear and anxiety.

Unlike Smollett’s case, which was an extremely rare case of possible false reporting, rights groups estimate that far more real incidents go unreported.

Hatred is still prevalent. Whether verbal or physical, these attacks are very real and can carry fatal outcomes. The Jussie Smollett episode shouldn’t distract us from this. One man may have lied, but the real story is how many lives are still threatened.

Please don’t stop supporting victims of hate crimes or advocating for justice.

Gray Ndiaye is a modern-day Griot who resides in Southern California. He’s on Twitter and Instagram at @graythegriot. Distributed by OtherWords.org.


Starving Kids Won’t Help Them Study

Instead of looking at the real reasons students struggle, one Arkansas lawmaker wants to deny them school lunch funding.

By Jill Richardson | February 27, 2019

An Arkansas lawmaker wants to cut school lunch funding for schools that fail to improve their students’ reading levels.

I’m sorry, what?

I think I understand the logic behind such a proposal. I just strongly disagree with it. It’s cruel, but even more than that, it’s based on a misunderstanding of human nature and human society.

The logic is this: When people do bad things, you should punish them. When they do good things, reward them.

If the schools do a bad thing (fail to teach kids to read), this bill punishes them (takes away their lunch money). Honestly that sounds more like the actions of a playground bully than an advanced democracy.

Perhaps the punishment model of governing would work if schools and teachers and students and parents were naturally bad, or if they were only failing to improve reading levels because they weren’t trying. Maybe if that were the case, a punishment might be the incentive they needed. Maybe.

But what are the odds that an entire state’s worth of schools and children and their families are all trying to do poorly?

Most Americans believe education is important to success in life. Sociological studies like the books Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau and Despite the Best Intentions by Amanda E. Lewis and John B. Diamond found that the parents and school children they studied, even those who were doing poorly in school, valued education and believed it was important to do well.

A much more likely scenario is that the students, their families, their teachers, and their schools are all trying their best and failing. And if they are failing, it’s for a reason. Or several reasons.

I’ve been teaching college for several years now. I have yet to meet a lazy student. I’ve had students cut class or fail to turn in homework, and sometimes they’ve plagiarized. There’s always a reason.

One student who turned in no papers grew up in a rough neighborhood and had an abusive family. He went to substandard schools and he hadn’t written a paper for school since 8th grade.

This student was smart, and he was one of the most motivated students I’ve ever taught. When I asked him about not turning in his papers, I found out he was afraid anything he wrote wouldn’t be good enough. He feared if he went to the school’s writing center for help, he would be ridiculed for being “dumb.”

That student ended up earning a B in my class. Punishing him wouldn’t have helped. Instead, I worked with him. I found out what his needs were and I addressed those needs. That’s how you improve education. The student and I were both fortunate that I had the time and ability to give him what he needed.

When students and schools are failing, it’s because they cannot do any better than they are with the resources they have. They need something they don’t have in order to improve. Punishing them won’t fix the problem. Helping them will.

What’s more, hunger impacts school performance. Denying children food is a sure way to worsen reading levels, not improve them.

I’m not advocating blindly throwing money at all societal problems as a miracle cure. What we need is a careful, measured approach in which we find out what the actual problems are and then study cost-effective ways to fix them.

When people are already trying their best with the resources they have and failing to improve, you can’t punish them into doing better. Especially by making kids go hungry.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in San Diego. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Rep. Brown reintroduces bipartisan prostate cancer awareness legislation

COLUMBUS—State Rep. Richard D. Brown (D-Canal Winchester) this week reintroduced bipartisan legislation with state Rep. Scott Lipps (R-Franklin) to create ZERO – The End to Prostate Cancer license plate to raise awareness about prostate cancer and honor the nonprofit’s work promoting early detection of the disease.

“Since 1997, ZERO has screened over 130,000 men for prostate cancer and has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the disease,” said Rep. Brown. “I am proud to reintroduce this important legislation.”

House Bill 107 will provide the public an opportunity to contribute to ZERO through plate fees and to aid in the organization’s core mission of increasing awareness of the risks of prostate cancer in an effort to encourage preemptive testing.

“Early detection of prostate cancer is fundamentally important—with it, the five year survival rate jumps to nearly 100%. This license plate is uniquely important to promote regular screenings by raising awareness.” said Brown.

The bipartisan lawmakers introduced similar legislation during the 132nd General Assembly.

Peter Farrelly, center, and the cast and crew of "Green Book" accept the award for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122400155-c2dbf24443b64ab78fdb18a7cbfd7358.jpgPeter Farrelly, center, and the cast and crew of "Green Book" accept the award for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Jim Burke, from left, Charles B. Wessler, Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly, and Brian Currie pose with the award for best picture for "Green Book" in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122400155-f0934beedc454f298a78206e21a9dd8c.jpgJim Burke, from left, Charles B. Wessler, Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly, and Brian Currie pose with the award for best picture for "Green Book" in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Viggo Mortensen, left, and Mahershala Ali in a scene from "Green Book." The film is nominated for an Oscar for best picture. The 91st Academy Awards will be held on Sunday. (Universal Pictures via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122400155-bc8e9fd70994427f910029c43ad1ac5b.jpgThis image released by Universal Pictures shows Viggo Mortensen, left, and Mahershala Ali in a scene from "Green Book." The film is nominated for an Oscar for best picture. The 91st Academy Awards will be held on Sunday. (Universal Pictures via AP)
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