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By Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the Oscar nominations in January, the absence of any minority group nominees in the acting categories — for only the second time since 1998 — triggered a backlash of criticism and threats of protest.

But Sunday’s Academy Awards show boasted the most diverse group of performers and presenters in Oscars history, as 15 minority presenters, including Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Lopez, Viola Davis, Idris Elba, Kevin Hart, and Oprah Winfrey, took the stage to deliver the evening’s awards.

It wasn’t by accident.

In the 2012 telecast, there was just one black presenter — Chris Rock. When producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron took over the following year, they made it a priority to have the Oscars show look a little more like the people at home watching. There were eight presenters of color in 2013 and 12 last year.

“We’ve always been very conscious of diversity in terms of our presenters and our performers,” Meron said backstage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood in the days leading to the show. “We feel that’s the way the world exists. We’ve always been believers in having an Oscar show that reflects the way the world exists.”

Zadan and Meron began recruiting presenters and performers last spring and said their choices were not affected by the furor over the Oscar nominations, which focused largely on the omission of actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay of Selma, which won a best picture nomination.

Even so, the contrast between the presenters onstage and the nominees drew notice and criticism.

“The presentation (of minorities) onstage does not bear any resemblance to the nominees and therefore the winners,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been outspoken about the lack of diversity in the academy’s membership and Hollywood as a whole. “One has to wonder whether or not the academy was trying to compensate with optics for what they didn’t do with operations.”

Traditionally the top-rated entertainment show on television, ABC’s Oscar telecast was watched by 36.6 million people in the U.S., according to Nielsen. But the evening’s nominees reflect the tastes of the much smaller, more homogenous academy membership, a group that is 94 percent white and 76 percent male with a median age of 62, according to a 2012 analysis done by the Los Angeles Times.

Since then, the academy has added more women and members of minority groups — but according to the most recent survey, the percentage of older white men in the organization has dipped by only about 1 percentage point.

Zadan and Meron have a history of highlighting minority performers. A number of Zadan and Meron’s previous projects, including a 2012 Steel Magnolias TV movie remake with a black cast and a 2008 TV movie version of the play A Raisin in the Sun, also reflect a long career of working with black artists in particular.

The highlighting of black and Latino performers reflects the support of academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Chief Executive Dawn Hudson, who are grappling with how to expand the demographic reach of the 6,292-member group

Diversity appeared a main focus of the show as actors of color were often shown in the audience (Carmen Ejogo and Murphy), onstage giving out awards (Lupita Nyong’o) and referred to often in comedic bits by host Neil Patrick Harris (Octavia Spencer).

Harris also walked into the audience, engaging Oyelowo, who was not nominated for his leading role as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. He “was so fantastic,” said Harris of Oyelowo’s performance. When the crowd applauded, the host quipped, “Oh, now you like him.”

One of the night’s most memorable moments came from a performance by African-American performers Common and John Legend, who sang the song “Glory” from Selma backed by a gospel choir marching over a replica of the bridge that King and others crossed in Alabama in the push for voting rights that inspired the film. “Glory” went on to win for original song.

Another came when Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu was greeted with a standing ovation when his Birdman won best picture. He dedicated his Oscar to the people of Mexico and told the worldwide TV audience that America should treat immigrants with “dignity and respect.”

Despite the producers’ efforts to draw a wider audience, the telecast suffered a 16 percent drop in ratings from last year’s show. Blame that on a slate of films that relatively few people saw and a host who lacked the star power provided by last year’s host, Ellen Degeneres.

Some critics say the larger issue isn’t the Oscars but a film industry that is not reflective of American society.

“We’re the largest (minority) population in the U.S., and in terms of age demographics we represent a lot of moviegoers,” says Fernando Guerra, professor of political science and of Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount. “Latinos are a huge demographic in terms of purchasing tickets, yet Hollywood is still not responsive. They’re often accused of chasing the mighty dollar. OK then, chase it!”

While the many top Oscar categories lacked people of color this year, several acceptance speeches on Sunday addressed the diversity that some felt was lacking in the awards themselves.

“Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now,” said singer Legend. “We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real.”

Legend also decried the large numbers of black men in prison, saying: “There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”

Patricia Arquette, who won supporting actress for her performance as a single mother in Boyhood, said “wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women.”

“It shows a lot of the artists are far more advanced than the powers that be in Hollywood,” said Sharpton of the speeches. “They need to catch up with the social concerns of the artists. They reflect the culture.”

© 2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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