The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: hollywood

Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

Led By Alyssa Milano, Hollywood May Boycott Georgia Over Abortion Ban

Georgia legislators have passed a so-called “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortion beyond six weeks, and Gov. Brian Kemp appears prepared to sign the legislation into law this week.

But doing so might be costly for the state.

The Peach State has long been a go-to location for Hollywood filmmakers, but the abortion ban has stirred opposition among many big names in the entertainment industry. Actor and producer Alyssa Milano collected signatures for a letter pledging to boycott work that would bring them to Georgia if the bill becomes law.

Other groups, including the Writers Guild of America, embraced the boycott sparked by Milano as well. As CBS News reported, other state governors are stepping up to poach the filmmaking business if Georgia triggers the boycott.

Stacey Abrams, who lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election to Kemp in a contentious and dubious election in which he oversaw the vote as secretary of state, warned about the risks of imposing limits on women’s reproductive rights:

#MeToo: How I Learned What Predators Like Weinstein Do To Women Every Day

OK then,  #MeToo.
Long ago and far away, I had an academic superior who enjoyed sexually humiliating younger men. There was unwanted touching—always in social situations–but mainly it was about making suggestive remarks hinting that being a “hunk” was how I’d gotten hired.
My “pretty little wife,” as she was insultingly called, got to stand there and watch. We had no idea how to defend ourselves. There was a second guy in my department, also an administrator with power over one’s career, who made a practice of inviting younger men on manly hikes in the woods and making aggressive passes.
It was a thoroughly poisonous atmosphere. I knew that to complain would invite ruin: initially through what’s now called “gaslighting”—claiming I’d imagined everything—followed by accusations of sexual panic and homophobia.
A definite no-win situation.
Ironically, life in a New England college town had been among my Arkansas wife’s girlhood dreams. Instead, she found herself patronized to her face when she opened her mouth—always by academics, never ordinary New Englanders, I should stipulate.  
I quit before they could fire me.
But it was a real learning experience. In consequence, although definitely not Mr. Sensitive, when it comes to sexual abuse I’ve always understood what women are talking about.
Much of the time, it isn’t even about desire—apart from the desire to put you down and keep you there.
Yet my situation was far less threatening than that of the women preyed upon by disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein,  and so many others confronting harassment or worse. First, there was no possibility of physical force. Second, my antagonists’ power was limited to the precincts of one provincial academic department.
All I had to do was walk away.
No harm, no foul.
Not so with Weinstein. As the head honcho at one of the most successful movie companies in the world, he had the wherewithal to advance or ruin an actress’s entire career. Based upon first-person accounts in Ronan Farrow’s lengthy New Yorker expose, he was a calculating predator who set the same trap repeatedly in luxury hotel suites in New York, Hollywood, London, and Paris.
He’d invite a young actress to meeting in his hotel suite, greet her with drink in hand wearing nothing but a bathrobe, and then pounce, sometimes violently. A bigtime Democratic donor, Weinstein followed the script as written by Donald J. Trump. You remember how it goes: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. . . Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
If certain of the New Yorker allegations could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt —alas, they probably cannot—Weinstein belongs not in some luxury European rehab but an American penitentiary. He’s more than a sexual harasser; he’s a rapist.
Also, apparently, a bully in other ways. “Lucky me,” commented the British actress Kate Winslet, “I somehow dodged that bullet. The fact that I’m never going to have to deal with Harvey Weinstein again as long as I live is one of the best things that’s ever happened and I’m sure the feeling is universal.”
Although he’s produced humane films such as Good Will Hunting, The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction, and Shakespeare in Love, tales of his temper tantrums are indeed universal.
That said, Weinstein didn’t invent the concept of the Hollywood casting couch nor the louche sexual ethics of the movie business generally. Trading sexual favors for sought-after parts is as old as the theater. The ancient Greek dramatists Sophocles and Euripides were famous for their adventurous love lives. Indeed, one of the most interesting articles to emerge from the Weinstein affair appeared in Slate, recounting a British fan magazine’s 1956 expose titled “The Perils of Show Business.”
Incongruously illustrated with cheesecake photos, it featured the following rules from actress Marigold Russell that working women everywhere would be well-advised to heed: “One: when you have to talk business, stick to offices—and office hours. Two: refer invitations and offers to your agent. Three: don’t give your home phone number, give your agent’s.”
Actress and director Sarah Polley writes that her agent wouldn’t let her meet Weinstein alone when she was 19, which told her all she needed to know. She also figured that “the idea of making people care about [Hollywood sexual predation] seemed as distant an ambition as pulling the sun out of the sky.”
Me, I’m so vain that I can’t imagine wanting intimacy with somebody that didn’t want me back. Which in the final analysis makes a bully like Weinstein seem almost pathetic to me, although not to his victims, I’m sure.
Awful as he is, there’s also something smug and ugly about these ritual media stonings. For a columnist like the New York Times Bret Stephens to write that Weinstein’s “repulsive face turns out to be the spitting image of his putrescent soul” strikes me as seriously over the line.
 We sinless pundits hide carefully behind our bylines.

Actress Debbie Reynolds Dies Of Stroke, One Day After Daughter

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Debbie Reynolds, a leading lady in Hollywood musicals and comedies in the 1950s and 1960s, including Singin’ in the Rain, died on Wednesday, her son said, just one day after the death of her daughter, actress Carrie Fisher.

Reynolds, 84, an Oscar-nominated singer-actress, was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Hospital earlier on Wednesday,

“It’s true, she’s with Carrie,” her son, Todd Fisher, told Reuters, adding that shortly before suffering a stroke Reynolds had said she missed her daughter and wanted to be with her.

“She left very shortly after that and those were the last words she spoke,” Todd Fisher said.

After the news of Reynolds’ death, numerous people took to social media and wrote that “she died of a broken heart.”

One of the most enduring and endearing Hollywood stars of her time, Reynolds received a best actress Academy Award nomination for the 1964 musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Carrie Fisher, who rose to fame as Princess Leia in the Star Wars films and later battled through drug addiction before going on to tell her story as a best-selling author, died on Tuesday at age 60 after suffering a heart attack last Friday.

After Fisher’s death, Reynolds said on Facebook, “Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter. I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop.”

Reynolds had been in frail health in the past year, and she missed a dinner in November 2015 to receive an honorary Oscar. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said at the time that she was unable to attend because of “an unexpectedly long recovery from recent surgery.”

The nature of her illness was not disclosed. Fisher told reporters in May 2016 that her mother was “doing really well,” but she did not give details.

(Reporting by Will Dunham in Washington, D.C., Jill Serjeant in New York, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Ben Klayman in Detroit, and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: FILE PHOTO: Actress Debbie Reynolds (L) and her daughter Carrie Fisher (R) arrive at the 2011 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles September 10, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

Steve Mnuchin: Evictor, Forecloser, And Our New Treasury Secretary

Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump criticized Wall Street bankers for their excessive political influence and attacked hedge-fund managers for getting away with “murder” under the current tax code. “The hedge-fund guys didn’t build this country,” Trump said on Face the Nation. “These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.”

Now, however, Trump has tapped Steve Mnuchin, a 53-year-old Wall Street hedge-fund and banking mogul—and, since May, his campaign-finance chair—to be the nation’s secretary of the Treasury.

Trump’s earlier rhetoric aside, it’s actually a good match. Both Trump and Mnuchin earned their first fortunes the old fashion way: They inherited them. Trump took over his father Fred’s real-estate empire and expanded it through questionable business practices. Mnuchin, also the scion of a wealthy and well-connected family, graduated from Yale in 1985, started his career as a trainee at Salomon Brothers and soon wound up working at Goldman Sachs, where his father Robert had been a general partner.

Both Trump and Mnuchin have run businesses accused of widespread racial discrimination and other predatory practices. They both represent the excessive wealth and greed of the billionaire developer and banker class. And both men have hedged their political bets, donating big bucks to Democrats as well as Republicans.

While Mnuchin ran OneWest Bank, based in Pasadena, California, the lender engaged in a variety of predatory practices that government bank regulators scrutinized and trial judges condemned. As Treasury secretary, Mnuchin would no doubt be one of the Trump administration’s key advisors in trying to dismantle the 2010 Dodd-Frank law strengthening regulations on the financial industry, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which in its short life has already protected hundreds of thousands of consumers from bank abuse.

Mnuchin jumped on the Trump train when many Wall Street executives were wary of the New York developer, not only because of his faux anti-Wall Street rhetoric but also because of his cavalier comments about renegotiating the America’s debt with other nations, which revealed Trump’s erratic understanding of global trade and diplomacy.

When he began his campaign, Trump pledged to self-fund his presidential bid. After the Republican primaries, Trump backed off that promise. Instead, he tapped Mnuchin as his finance chair to draw on his Wall Street contacts to raise money from fellow financiers. At the time, Mnuchin pledged to raise $1 billion for Republicans and the Trump campaign, but he never came close to raising that amount.

Mnuchin will be the third former Goldman Sachs executive to serve as Treasury secretary in recent years, following Robert Rubin the Clinton administration and Henry Paulson in the Bush administration. Mnuchin will be joined in Trump’s inner circle by another Goldman Sachs alum, Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News chief and Trump campaign chair whom Trump named as his chief strategist and senior counselor.

Mnuchin worked for 17 years at Goldman Sachs, where he eventually became an executive vice president. At Goldman, Mnuchin saw how the bank could profit from the 1980s savings-and-loan crisis by buying up cheap assets, repackaging them, and selling them off. According to The Wall Street Journal, he left in 2002 at the age of 39 “with a reported $46 million stake in the bank.” He was recruited by his Yale roommate, Eddie Lampert, to join ESL, a hedge fund, as vice chairman.

A few months later, he jumped to SFM Capital Management as its CEO. Within a few months he changed jobs again, leaving SFM to co-found Dune Capital with his former Goldman colleagues Daniel Neidich and Chip Seelig. Mnuchin is now CEO of Dune Capital Management, a hedge fund has had business dealings with Trump. Dune Capital was part of a group of lenders for the construction of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago. In 2008, Trump filed suit against Dune and the other lenders on his then unfinished Chicago skyscraper, “plunging the project into legal turmoil,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

The 2008 financial crisis inspired Mnuchin to return to banking. According to Bloomberg News, Mnuchin was watching TV in his New York office when he saw a story of customers lined up outside a branch of California’ s IndyMac bank, trying to pull their money out. “This bank is going to end up failing, and we need to figure out how to buy it,” Mnuchin told a colleague. “I’ve seen this game before,” he said, recalling how bankers had enriched themselves after the S&L crisis.

In 2009, after the bank collapsed, Mnuchin assembled a group of investors (including computer capitalist Michael Dell, financier George Soros, private equity investor Christopher Flowers, and hedge-fund titan John Paulson) to buy IndyMac Bank from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as part of a sweetheart deal. They renamed it OneWest Bank and kept its headquarters in Pasadena.

The FDIC had taken over IndyMac—one of the largest banks to collapse during the Wall Street-induced mortgage meltdown—in July 2008. It had specialized in high-risk variable-rate mortgages and loans that didn’t require much documentation, including the income and credit history of borrowers.

The Mnuchin group paid FDIC $1.6 billion for the bank, far less than the value of IndyMac’s assets. The FDIC was so desperate to unload IndyMac that Mnuchin and his colleagues were able to obtain, as part of the purchase deal, a so-called “shared loss” agreement from the FDIC, which reimbursed these billionaires for much of their costs for foreclosing on people unlucky enough to have mortgages from IndyMac.

Within a year, the group that The Los Angeles Times called a “billionaires’ club of private financiers” had paid themselves dividends of $1.57 billion. In other words, the FDIC took much of the risk by subsidizing the bank’s troubled assets, while Mnuchin and his colleagues pocketed the profits.

Under Mnuchin’s leadership, OneWest engaged in a laundry list of predatory practices, including robo-signing and peddling reverse mortgages to senior citizens. In a July 2009 deposition, a OneWest vice president admitted that bank employees robo-signed 6,000 foreclosure-related documents per week. She admitted to not reading the documents before signing them, not knowing how the records were generated, and not signing in the presence of a notary. OneWest also engaged in “dual tracking,” the process in which a mortgage lender processes a homeowner’s request for a home loan modification while simultaneously putting the homeowner through the foreclosure process. In September 2013, a San Luis Obispo County couple won a seven-figure settlement and title to their two houses from OneWest when a judge determined the bank had engaged in dual tracking.

As part of its arrangement with the FDIC, Mnuchin’s group agreed to participate in a mortgage-modification program to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Instead, OneWest engaged in aggressive foreclosure practices. According to a survey of homeowner counselors conducted by the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC), a watchdog group, OneWest was one of the worst offenders in terms of failing to offer loan modifications to consumers facing foreclosure. By 2011, the Office of Thrift Supervision, a federal bank regulator, had accused OneWest of engaging in “unsafe or unsound practices” in its handling of foreclosures and its serving of residential mortgages on behalf of other lenders.

The CRC—a nonprofit organization that pushes banks to reinvest in low income communities and communities of color—determined from Freedom of Information Act requests that the FDIC had already paid out over $1 billion to reimburse OneWest for the cost of over 35,000 foreclosures in California and an unknown number in other states. CRC also estimated that the FDIC will eventually pay out another $1.4 billion for the costs associated with even more foreclosures in the future.

OneWest opened its doors with 33 branches and roughly $16 billion in assets. Mnuchin engineered its growth by purchasing two other failed institutions—First Federal Bank of California and La Jolla Bank—getting the FDIC to agree again to additional “loss share” arrangements so that the owners had little to lose. After these purchases, OneWest had 73 retail branches and $26 billion in assets. It also serviced billions of dollars of mortgage loans on the behalf of third parties, such as Fannie Mae. In multiple surveys of California housing counselors, OneWest was ranked among the worst mortgage servicers in the state.

Mnuchin and his OneWest colleagues were happy to enrich themselves at the government’s expense, but when it came to their customers, they displayed little mercy or compassion. In 2009, according to The New York Post, a judge called OneWest’s behavior “harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive” when it tried to foreclose on a New York family. The judge branded the bank’s conduct as “inequitable, unconscionable, vexatious, and opprobrious.”

Also in 2009, OneWest had the locks changed on the home of a Minneapolis woman in the middle of a blizzard, even after the company sent her a letter stating, “You expressed concern that at the end of the redemption period … you and your mother will be evicted from the property. … Rest assured, that will not take place due to the rescission of the foreclosure sale.”

The bank made a tidy profit on each foreclosure. “On bad loans, OneWest, which bought many of the loans at 70 percent of par value, gets the cash from a foreclosure,” according to The Los Angeles Business Journal, “and is also reimbursed [by the FDIC] up to 95 percent of the difference between the original loan value and the foreclosure sale amount.”

OneWest’s foreclosures were located disproportionately in communities of color. A CRC and Urban Strategies Council analysis of One West’s 35,877 foreclosures in California, from April 2009 to April 2015, found that 68 percent occurred in ZIP codes where the non-white population was 50 percent or greater.

But foreclosures are where OneWest’s interest in those neighborhoods appears to end. Only two of OneWest’s 73 branches are located in low-income areas. It makes few small business loans to businesses with annual revenues under $1 million—the kind of operations common in low-income and minority areas.

CRC executive director Paulina Gonzalez called OneWest Bank “a leader in foreclosing on seniors,” many of whom have reverse mortgages—loans that provide cash payments to help homeowners realize value from the equity in their homes, and become payable when the borrower dies or moves—insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Using another Freedom of Information Act request, CRC determined that OneWest’s reverse mortgage servicing subsidiary, Financial Freedom, was responsible for 39 percent of the foreclosures on FHA-insured reverse mortgages since April 2009.

CRC estimates that Financial Freedom only services 17 percent of the reverse mortgage market. In other words, Financial Freedom is foreclosing on reverse mortgages at about twice the rate that one would expect, given their share of the market.

Inevitably, these rapacious practices became the target of protest and public opposition.

In 2011, OneWest tried to evict Rose Gudiel, a 35-year-old government employee, from her one-story house in La Puente, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles. Guidel, her father (a warehouse worker) and her brother cared for her disabled mother in the small house they purchased in 2005.

They made steady mortgage payments until 2009, when one of her brothers died unexpectedly and the family lost his income. The family was two weeks late on the next mortgage payment. The Gudiels then spent over a year attempting unsuccessfully to get the bank to modify the loan—even though their income had long since recovered after another brother moved in with them. Then the bank started foreclosure proceedings.

“I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I worked hard so that I can own a home,” said Gudiel at the time. “And now Steve Mnuchin and OneWest are taking my dream away.”

But Gudiel said she would refuse to leave if the Los Angeles County Sheriff tried to evict them. She was joined by her neighbors, friends, and supporters from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (a community organizing group) and the Service Employees International Union.

“[The bank] kept saying we can’t do anything. Your case is closed,” said Gudiel. “Our stand was, ‘No, we’re not leaving. This is our home. We worked hard for it and we’re just not going to leave.’”

In August 2011, Gudiel and her allies organized a sit-in at OneWest’s Pasadena headquarters. In October, in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Gudiel and over 200 supporters marched up the winding, hilly roads of Bel Air to the front gate of Mnuchin’s $27 million mansion, where they carried signs, blew whistles, and chanted in English and Spanish, demanding that Mnuchin and OneWest end the eviction proceedings and let Gudiel and family buy back their home. The protests garnered widespread media attention and forced OneWest to relent. OneWest and Fannie Mae authorized a loan modification that allowed the family to stay in their home.

In July 2014, Mnuchin arranged to sell OneWest to the CIT Group for $3.4-billion—more than double what he and his fellow investors paid for the bank five years earlier. CIT Group, a holding company that owned a Salt Lake City-based online bank, wanted to buy OneWest for its low-cost deposits and its network of Southern California retail branches. The consolidated bank now has assets of about $60 billion, ranking it among the nation’s 40 largest banks.

The CRC led an unsuccessful campaign to thwart the merger unless the combined bank pledged to expand its investments in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Over 21,000 people signed petitions against the merger, and over 100 organizations joined the effort to stop it. This groundswell of opposition forced the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to hold a rare public hearing in February 2015.

At the hearing, the CRC pointed out that, like OneWest, CIT Group is no stranger to corporate welfare. It pocketed $2.3 billion from U.S. taxpayers through a Troubled Assets Relief Program bailout that the bank never paid back because it went bankrupt in 2009. Amazingly, CIT Group told its shareholders that it intends to use the bankruptcy to reduce its federal tax bill, thus cheating the taxpayers twice.

Despite OneWest’s and CIT Group’s troubling track records, the Federal Reserve approved the merger, while the OCC granted a “conditional approval,” and required that the merged bank improve its draft plan to invest in underserved neighborhoods, as required by the federal Community Reinvestment Act. Nearly two years after the merger was first announced, however, “California communities are still waiting to hear about CIT Group’s reinvestment plan,” said CRC executive director Paulina Gonzalez.

“There’s nearly $5 billion in corporate welfare between these two huge banks,” Gonzalez said. “This merger is the poster child for enriching the 1 percent on the backs of the rest of us.”

Under the terms of the acquisition, CIT agreed to pay Mnuchin $4.5 million a year for three years as the merged bank’s vice-chairman. Because he relinquished that post in March 31 of this year, Mnuchin was given a $10.9 million severance package, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In CIT Group’s most recent annual report, the bank disclosed that it had received multiple subpoenas in 2015 from the Office of Inspector General at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) related to the servicing of reverse mortgages by Financial Freedom.

After Trump appointed Mnuchin as his campaign-finance chair, CRC’s Gonzalez said that “HUD should release more information about its investigation of OneWest’s subsidiary.”

Mnuchin has dabbled in Hollywood, producing American SniperMad Max: Fury Road, and Suicide Squad, but his sojourn into the entertainment world was also marked by controversy. Last year, Mnuchin resigned as co-chair of Relativity Media shortly before the Hollywood studio filed for bankruptcy. In a story in Variety, some creditors accused Mnuchin of having a conflict of interest because Relativity Media—which had received financing from OneWest Bank while he served as the bank’s chairman—repaid $50 million of those loans right before it went bankrupt.

Like Trump, Mnuchin has showered politicians in both parties with donations, though in recent cycles most of his money went to Republicans. Mnuchin has also spread some of the wealth he earned from his government-subsidized banking fortune to a wide variety of charities. Before their 2014 divorce, Mnuchin and his wife Heather were stalwarts in the high-society world of philanthropy in both New York and Los Angeles, attending and hosting star-studded balls and parties to support their favorite causes.

CRC’s Gonzalez noted the contradictions in Mnuchin’s two roles as philanthropist and as bank executive: “There is a sad irony in the image of Steve Mnuchin as a philanthropist, compared to the reality of Mnuchin as the leader of a bank responsible for foreclosing on tens of thousands of American families and senior citizens,” she said. “Steve Mnuchin was greatly enriched by OneWest Bank and now CIT Group, but those banks did little to serve the needs of ordinary families and working-class communities.”

IMAGE: Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary-designate, arrives at Trump Tower in New York, November 29, 2016.   REUTERS/Mike Segar

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

If Hollywood Does Not See You — And Reflect You — Are You Really There?

Chris Rock said everything that needed to be said. Almost.

The burgeoning controversy over the blindingly white field of Oscar nominees made Sunday’s 88th Academy Awards a potential minefield. Rock, fearless, funny and, fortuitously, African American, was exactly the right host at precisely the right time.

He contextualized the controversy, pointing out that this is hardly the first time the Academy Awards has overlooked African-American performers. He called Hollywood out for racial exclusion and denial of opportunity. He even managed a shout out to Black Lives Matter.

But again, if Rock said much of what needed to be said, he didn’t quite say it all. He didn’t say why this matters.

It is easy, after all, to dismiss the whole controversy as the self-pitying moan of ridiculously rich, appallingly attractive, fantastically fortunate people whose cries of racial unfairness would be laughable to a beleaguered black man or woman struggling to find a job, pay the rent or keep a child from being shot. Rock seemed to suggest as much, noting that previous all-white Oscars went by without complaint because, “We had real things to protest at the time….”

“When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree,” he said, “it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short.”

Which is true enough. Still, there is an insidious real world effect to Hollywood’s habit of racial exclusion. And if African-American actors know this well, others are in position to know it even better.

To put that another way: Will Smith was snubbed for an Oscar this year. Don’t you think Aasif Mandvi would love to have that problem?

You’ve probably never heard of him, and that’s kind of the point. Mandvi is a Muslim actor from India who is likely best known as a correspondent on the “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. He works regularly, but he is unlikely to be the leading man of any big-budget Oscar-bait movie any time soon. And yes, maybe that’s because he’s not good enough. Or never had the right break. Or maybe it’s because America is simply not ready for a dark-skinned Muslim from India as a romantic lead or action hero.

None of this is to invalidate the complaint that black actors find it hard to get their due at awards time. It is only to say the issue is larger than that. Hollywood is the world’s dream factory. It is the most powerful shaper of perception in all of human history.

So what does it mean when Hollywood doesn’t see you?

What does it mean for the Mexican-American mother in East L.A. working 80-hour weeks with dreams of sending her kids to college? What does it mean for the Muslim man in Detroit taking his oath to become a Marine? What does it mean for the Syrian refugee, the gay teacher, the African-American boy walking home under a hoodie?

If Hollywood does not see you — and reflect you — are you really there?

Or is not the very reality of you, individual you, shredded to nothingness by a culture that routinely “otherizes” vulnerable people? As in a certain would-be president who paints Mexicans as rapists and acts as if “Muslim” were the very brand name of evil.

It was once said in a Hollywood movie (and before that, a Marvel comic book) that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Let us hope, then, that the tumultuous Oscars of 2016 turns out to be the moment Hollywood finally chooses to accept the responsibility that comes with its power, finally commits to telling more stories that reflect America and Americans in the fullness of their diversity — and humanity.

Because in the end, this is not simply about whether people of color are validated. In a very real sense, it’s about whether or not they even exist.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at


Photo: Comedian Chris Rock hosts the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016.    REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni  

Column: Golden Globes: Surprising Nominations Reflect The Impossibility Of Shortlisting Great TV

By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

As if determined to avoid the “do any of you even watch TV?” reaction that inevitably accompanies the Round Up of Usual Suspects known as the Emmy nominations, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association produced a jaw-dropping list of Golden Globe nominees on Thursday.

And while it continues the long-standing tradition of Golden Globe wackiness, the list also rather bravely reflects the virtually unmeasurable nature of modern television.

It is simply impossible to quantify television in any meaningful way beyond personal preference or particular intent.

I say this with some authority, having just dutifully put together several end-of-year lists: There is just no way to acknowledge all the quality shows and performances in groups of 10, much less five or six, even if you divide them up, as the Globes do, into comedy and drama.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association clearly wanted to steer attention away from certain award franchises, notably Mad Men, for which only Jon Hamm was nominated, and broadcast comedies of any name, often in favor of shows that may not show up on any other list of any sort, and kudos to them.

The broadcast networks, with their 23-episode work horses, some of them consistently terrific, were mostly ignored in favor of “trophy television” — those newer, sleeker, 12-episode series served up by streaming services whenever and wherever you desire, which is kind of depressing. But with the exception of Flesh and Bone for miniseries (really, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Flesh and Bone?) there isn’t a nominee without merit, and the surprising nature of the lists is, in itself, refreshing.

Game of Thrones is the sole survivor from last year’s best drama list, and this year’s includes Narcos (Netflix) and Outlander (Starz), along with the less surprising Empire and Mr. Robot. I think it is safe to say no one was talking about Narcos as an awards contender, and though Outlander debuted with strong buzz and continues to have a captive audience, it seemed to fall off the top-picks radar, for no better reason than there are far too many top picks.

Both Narcos and Outlander appeal to non-American audiences, and provide an important reminder that the Television Renaissance is not just an American experience. Eighty-five percent of Narcos, which follows the exploits of Pablo Escobar, is in Spanish, and, according to some polls, it is the second-most-watched show in the U.S. and the U.K. (after Game of Thrones).

Outlander is about a British woman magically transported to 18th century Scotland, and though it debuted strong last year, it failed to win any awards — something the Globes may rectify, with nominations in the actor and actress category as well.

The comedy side was a bit less surprising: Transparent (Amazon), Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) and virtually-mandated-by-law nominees Veep and Silicon Valley (both HBO).

But instead of filling the remaining slots with broadcast favorites (black-ish, Fresh off the Boat, Brooklyn Nine-nine), the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, God bless it, went with Casual (Hulu) and Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon). Both of which are very good shows, which now might actually be watched by people and possibly, though probably not, considered for Emmys.

The acting categories are a safer mix of obvious choices — Emmy winners Viola Davis and Hamm, breakout stars Tariji P. Henson (Empire) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) — and celebrations of the underrecognized — Eva Green (Penny Dreadful), Maura Tierney (The Affair) and Rachel Bloom, singing star of the valiant but struggling Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Many great shows, established (no Good Wife) and outlier (no UnREAL) were not acknowledged because, quite frankly, that is now the way it is with these awards. Television has become too vast, disparate and discrete to categorize in any way. During awards season, then, there is much to be said for simply spreading the love around.

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

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr


Spike Lee On Hollywood Diversity: ‘We Don’t Have A Vote. We’re Not In The Room.’

By Tre’vell Anderson, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Famed director Spike Lee is not one to mince words, whether in his films — which range from the Oscar-nominated She’s Gotta Have It to his latest, which opens in theaters Dec. 4, Chi-Raq — or in calls for diversity in Hollywood. The trailblazer received an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards on Saturday night, and in his acceptance speech, Lee as he describes it “let them have it,” once again.

“I just felt that that was a perfect platform,” Lee said in an interview this week with The Times about his 17-minute speech. “Look at the audience. The studio heads are right there; I’m speaking directly to them.”

Lee made appeals to a crowd at the Dolby Theater of Hollywood heavyweights, with his former and current leading men — Samuel Jackson, Wesley Snipes and Denzel Washington, who presented the award to him — at his side. The dynamic trio recognized Lee, in part, for helping to increase the number of black and brown faces in the industry, both with his aspirational rise to fame and his efforts to have people of color leading his films, in front of and behind the camera.

“Spike Lee has put more African-Americans to work in this business than anyone else in this business,” Washington said.

Days later, Lee responded to Washington’s claims: “I know it, and a lot of other people don’t know it. But it’s great when I don’t have to say it and someone else says it,” he said, letting out a roaring laugh.

As Hollywood begins to take heed of Lee’s words, the Atlanta-born, Brooklyn-raised icon remains committed to the cause after more than 30 years of filmmaking.

“I get tired of (the conversation about diversity), but it’s necessary,” he said, adding he will remain committed until the industry reflects the broader world.

Though more people are now speaking up and out about the dearth of roles and opportunities in Hollywood for people of color and women, the industry has yet to arrive at a point when diversity no longer is just a buzzword. How will we know when it’s arrived? Lee cites a song from the well-reviewed Broadway production “Hamilton,” titled “The Room Where It Happens.”

“I know that we’ll have begun to arrive when we get one person who has a greenlight vote,” he said. “We’re not in the room at these greenlight sessions that decide what will make it and what ain’t making it. We don’t have a vote. We’re not in the conversation. We’re not in the room.”

Vanessa Morrison, head of animation at Fox, is the rare African-American in the studio system who has a greenlight vote, Lee said. That’s why he said during his acceptance speech that “it’s easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be the head of a studio.”

“That’s mind-boggling,” he said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

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

Photo: Thomas Rome via Flickr