Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mailing in the Weinsteins … er … the Oscars

Tonight is the 83rd Academy Awards. I used to be a huge Oscars aficionado. I never missed a telecast and tried my best to see the nominated best pictures before or right after the broadcast. The thrill has long gone, mainly because the awards is the closest thing we have in films to pro wrestling, thanks mainly to Harvey Weinstein. Well, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but this is Hollywood we’re talking about.

Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob used to run Miramax and now The Weinstein Company. He is notorious for his Oscar lobbying, which have lead to upset Oscar victories for The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love. In recent years, Weinstein movies have been nominated over more worthy entries, the woeful The Reader over the exceptional The Dark Knight in 2008 for example. This year, the Weinstein’s The King’s Speech leads all nominations, including for Best Picture. This has led to the best film of 2010, Inception, being overshadowed. Also, Christopher Nolan was once overlooked for the best director nod; a death knoll for its best picture chances.

In any event, here are my picks for the winners in the major categories. This who I think will win, rather than who/what should:

Best Picture: The King’s Speech

Best Director: Tom Hooper

Best Actor: Colin Firth

Best Actress: Natalie Portman

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams

Best Original Screenplay: Inception (note, if The King’s Speech wins this will be an abomination)

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network

Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3

Monday, February 21, 2011

Remembering Malcolm X

Today is the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. Personally, the most influential book I’ve ever read (besides the Bible) is The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read it back in 1991 when I joined the U.S. Army. It had a profound impact on me, and Malcolm X remains one of my idols. I collected documentaries on him, and videos and audio tapes of his speeches. I even had a poster up of him in my barracks room (which confused many of my platoon mates—White, Black, and fellow Latinos alike). He’s a misunderstood figure to many, regardless of race or ethnicity. For instance, he is known for the saying: “By any means necessary.” It’s viewed positively and negatively depending on your POV. It’s ironic that his famous—or infamous—saying is taken out of context. He said it to mean that Blacks should defend themselves by any means necessary.

Many of his views were harsh, but he was willing to reassess them as he gained more knowledge. As he wrote, “My whole life had been a chronology of—changes .… Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.”

There’s a subtle, but important event in the book. A white female college student had been so moved by Malcolm’s speech at her New England school early in his ministry that she flew down to New York to see him. She found him at the Nation of Islam’s restaurant in Harlem and asked him what she could do to help the plight of African Americans in this country. Malcolm bluntly said, “Nothing.” She burst out crying and ran out the restaurant. Later on in the book after Malcolm had embraced the idea of the kinship of all peoples and the races working together to end racism, Malcolm reflects that he regretted telling her that, thought about her often whenever the topic arose, and wished he knew her name to write or telephone her. It troubled me that in Spike Lee’s movie he put the rejection scene in without the context of Malcolm’s later regret in how he dealt with the situation.

A month before his murder in February 1965, Malcolm said during an interview on Canadian television: “I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being—neither white, black, brown, or red; and when you are dealing with humanity as a family there’s no question of integration or intermarriage. It’s just one human being marrying another human being or one human being living around and with another human being.”

This was at a time when intermarriage was not only taboo in the U.S., but still illegal in some states. It was actually counter to his previous views on interracial marriage during his early times with the Nation of Islam. This was a man who evolved in his ministry and world view and recognized this evolution. It is this evolved Malcolm—El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz—who is one of the forefathers of how we view race today, and we can celebrate Black History Month—America’s History Month—with an African-American in the White House.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy 202nd Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

Two hundred and two years ago yesterday, Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin on a farm in Hardin County, Kentucky. Lincoln’s birthday is a legal holiday in only 7 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Indiana). Local government buildings are closed here in New York, including the courts.

Growing up, I had gotten used to having both Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday off from school, but that changed in the mid-1980s with the joint holiday of “Presidents Day” on the third Monday of February. I put it in quotes because the official name is still “Washington’s Birthday.” Washington’s Birthday is actually a federal holiday while there has never been an annual Federal holiday honoring Lincoln. As they say, the South lost the war, but won the peace.