Notes on Telluride Film Fest: 2018 Fall Films with Buzz

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Telluride Film Festival, along with Venice and Toronto kicks off the race for the awards season

Award winner from Telluride include “12 Years a Slave,” “Birdman,” “Moonlight” and “The Shape of Water,” which screened there last year alongside fellow eventual best picture nominees “Lady Bird” and “Darkest Hour.” As a result, Telluride Film Festival, has now become where the Academy Award race really begins and where studios test out film buzz sometimes before heading to even the Toronto Film Festival.

Here’s a list of some movies I saw and enjoyed and you should check out this fall as they will definitely be getting some various awards buzz:

Movies

Roma

A visually beautiful film shot in black and white by the ever talented Mexican Director Alfonso Cuaron, whose talents are on display in such films like the recent Academy Award winning “Shape of Water”. Here he returns to his Mexican roots in a semi-autobiographical film about life growing up in Mexico in a middle class family. The story is told through the eyes of a Mexican indigenous woman, Cleo, who is the family’s housekeeper. The story is set against the backdrop of Mexican’s changing politics and how it affects the family, especially the life of the housekeeper.

Boy Erased

Is the story of teenaged boy, Jared, who is realizing he might be gay. However he is the son of a small town Baptist pastor and his devout wife in Arkansas. Based on a memoir of the same name, Boy Erased focuses on Jared and his parents reconciling him being gay which in their world is “sinful”.  Jared is sent to a gay “conversion therapy” day camp. Gay conversion therapy is controversial practice used to convert LGBT identified individuals back to being straight.  What I appreciated about this movie is its nuanced approach to the story. Instead of defaulting to making Jared’s parents out as hateful people who send him to gay conversion therapy, the film shows them as parents who love their child but are struggling with the teachings of their faith as it relates to sexual orientation. Even in the beginning, Jared himself is someone who thinks that by doing the therapy maybe he can correct himself. These emotional struggles of both Jared and his parents are difficult to watch on screen. As a result, the story packs more emotional punch than other films might on the subject because not only does it show you what gay conversion therapy is but what it and related homophobia does to those involved without being directly preachy.  The film is directed by Australian actor Joel Edgerton, whose first brush with social issues in film was in the recently award winning, “Loving” about the American interracial couple, the Lovings, who took their case fighting for the right to be married to the US Supreme Court.

Front Runner

For all you politico geeks out there, Director Jason Reitman has a film for you. Based on the 1984 Presidential campaign, about the man who was the Democratic front runner for three weeks after he announced, then US Senator Gary Hart. It chronicles the spectacular fall from grace and Hart’s campaign about questions over his personal life. The film provides for many of us living in the current 24/7 news cycle especially as it relates to politics the origins of the rise of a whole new era of tabloid-based political coverage. The scandal that took down Senator Hart was a perceived fling between him and a woman named Donna Rice, and possibly other women. In the era of Trump, it seems almost quaint now that this scandal ended Hart’s campaign. Reitman does a great job dropping you into the crazy that was and still is a Presidential campaign. He almost goes too fast to the point, you don’t always catch everyone’s name and their significance in the unfolding drama. Fun point: for those political geeks, you’ll enjoy the portrayal of a VERY young Joe Trippi (2004 Presidential Campaign manager for Howard Dean) who found himself playing a central role as the Hart scandal unfolded.

White Crow

If you love the ballet and have an appreciation of the finest ballet dancers in history and you love Ralph Fiennes, you will enjoy the visually appealing dance heavy biopic on the life of principal dancer and brilliant choreographer, Rudolf Nureyev. The life of Nureyev is nothing short of trailblaziing. He is regarded as one of the greatest dancers of all time sometimes called “The Lord of the Dance” . Nureyev went on to choreograph and train many great dancers after he famously defected from the Soviet Union in 1961. The beginning of his life did not promise such greatness, Nureyev was  born on a Trans-Siberian train, the son of an impoverished Tatar Muslim family in the Soviet Union (now Russia). Fiennes directs and stars in the film as Nureyev’s dance instructor and mentor, Alexander Pushkin, where he speaks lovely Russian. But the star of the film is professional ballet dancer, Oleg Ivenko who brings Nureyev to life as the famously difficult and independent personality he was while showcasing some of the moves that made Nureyev an international star. You get a sense of the man behind the legend who blazed a trail for many artists who came after him seeking creative freedom. 

Old Man & The Gun

This is Robert Redford’s swansong film. Redford plays Forrest Tucker, who in real life was a charming 70 something several times caught and several times escaped from prison professional bank robber. Tucker made headlines especially because he managed to charm his way into stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks with his friends called the “Over The Hill Gang” by the police who tried to catch him. Sissy Spacek stars as the woman who convinces Redford’s Tucker to consider slowing down his bank robbing ways. Danny Glover and Tom Waits are his fellow “Over The Hill Gang” members. You will laugh and be charmed especially at the wonderful chemistry between Spacek and Redford. As it is Redford’s swansong, Director David Lowery makes great use of Redford’s previous films as a tribute and a useful device to tell the story of Tucker’s long career.

Can You Ever Forgive Me

Directed by Marielle Heller, the film is based on the autobiographical story of writer Lee Israel who fell on hard times as a writer of biographies  of famous women and resorted to forgery to keep her bills paid as a writer in New York City. Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel does an outstanding dramatic turn where you get to see the funny she is known for only in great scenes with her friend Jack Hock played by the sardonically witty Richard E. Grant. It is an interesting reflection of the life after the success and the money that comes with it goes away.

The Favourite

Set in 18th century England in the court of Queen Anne, the last Stuart Queen on the throne of England, it is a fantastically funny and bawdy portrayal of life at her court. Olivia Colman, already primed to play the modern day Queen Elizabeth in Netflix’s “The Crown”, plays Queen Anne.  Rachel Weisz plays her close friend, Sarah, Lady Marlborough, and American actress Emma Stone takes her turn as a British lady, Abigail Masham. This is not your dignified period drama but rather a look at the real life competitiveness between Sarah and Abigail for control of Queen Anne who was reaching a frail point in her life. The costumes are fantastic but director Yorgos Lanthimos known for delivering shock in his work, from his previous film The Lobster delivers an interesting interpretation on the relationship of three women. What I enjoy the most is the life at court of one of England’s few Queens and how very much of England’s politics was influenced by the women around her after her husband was long gone. 

Fistfuls of Dirt

A beautiful film intersecting with current events and magical realism Fistfuls of Dirt is about a boy and the mermaid he discovers in a surprising place: post Hurricane Puerto Rico. Not only does it focus on a Puerto Rican boy, Yei, ( played newcomer Julio Gaston Ramos) who struggles to keep him and his mother alive, but it centers on an Afro Puerto Rican community  often not featured in most popular culture portrayals of the Island. Watching this community struggle to stay alive both in spirit and physically is especially hard as we now understand the true toll of that storm a year later.

The film was shot entirely in Puerto Rico post the storm, so the debris scattered everywhere are not props but the state of Puerto Rico in real time. Ramos is a delight to watch as are his interactions with the mermaid he discovers and the adults in his life especially the mother he loves so dearly. Hoping very much to see it on the circuit for award season, because it is wonderful but Puerto Rico could use some visible celebration of its resilience and culture post Hurricane Maria

Why Black Panther’s Box Office Success is Important to the African Diaspora

Black Panther, based on the character of the same name from the Marvel Comic Universe has made $1 billion dollars in the global box office and is now the third highest grossing film of all time. This is FANTASTIC for a film anchored by a predominantly black cast set on the continent of Africa.  As Jimmy Kimmel said at the 2018 Academy Awards earlier this year: ““I remember a time when major studios didn’t think a woman or minority could open a superhero movie,” Kimmel said. “I remember that time because it was last March.”

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Image via Marvel Cinematic Universe

There have been a million (or it seems like) think pieces on the Black Panther and what it means specifically to the black community. In the era of Donald Trump, which to many in the black community has been a repudiation of all that the first black President of the United States Barack Obama represented not just in policy but in skin color, Black Panther has been wonderful albeit temporary salve on that would.

I’m an American born and raised African. Both my parents are immigrants from Africa and so while I was excited about Black Panther as  1) a Marvel Fan  and 2) a black person who loves film. I was also excited as a daughter of the continent.

Recently, I read a tweet from someone who reveled in Ryan Coogler standing up and saying after one of the first showings of Black Panther “you never have to be ashamed about being African”. Out of all the statements about the film:  the importance of seeing black people anchoring a major film; the importance of seeing dark skinned black women in diverse roles as sought after and in charge. The statement that I no longer have to be ashamed about being an African resonated with me the most.

As a kid growing up in a part of the American South, in the 1980s and 90s with black African immigrants  parents, I used to try and hide my African-ness as it was. It wasn’t like it wasn’t apparent. While my accent was purely American with even a slight southern drawl. My African-ness was noticeable in  my dark complexion and the uniqueness of my features that held just enough foreign distinctness from my fellow American black people. And if you still missed all the hints from my appearance it was super apparent in my name first and last.

There was the name calling “African booty scratcher”,  and “porch monkey”. There was the side eye about the food you ate on the days you brought food from home to school. And don’t get me started on the on purposeful different pronunciations of my name I heard.

My dad got me an outfit once from Ghana, when he came back from a business trip. It was a beautiful dress and my face was like “hard pass, dad you trying to get my butt kicked even harder in school?!” I was isolated by white and black kids for being something other than the American they knew and understood.

When you’re a kid you really want to fit in, like really, unless you’re super cool with being on your own, you want to fit in or really just not be bothered for being different. There is much to be said about living in the Trump era where there is this constant feeling amongst some about how people don’t like immigrants or anyone that was questionably not white, native English speaking (since white has been what has denoted “American” for the longest).  But growing up in the 1980s and 90s, in the American South were the ethnic and cultural diversity of America hadn’t grown to the level of what it is now, was rough in many aspects.

Now, despite or maybe in spite of what’s happening in the world politically, there is an increase in appreciation of all things American that are notably ethnically and culturally different from what has been traditionally appreciated.

There was movements to dress in African inspired or imported clothing to attend the Black Panther premiere. There has been an increase in support of American born and raised African writers and filmmakers. The love for African actors and actresses (Lupita, David Oyelowo or Chiwetel) and there opportunities for to showcase their talent has increased tenfold. Times have changed. Those who were born in the minority are becoming part of an increasing majority and with more of us comes acceptance.

Either way, I envy those who experience that celebration of the diversity of blackness and the continent of Africa in a way not any black people  I think has really experienced in a generation since the brief “black is beautiful” in the 1970s. These kids today will grow up with the proud sense of self many of us have pieced back together into adulthood.

This is why Black Panther crossing the line of the most popular superhero film of all time and third highest grossing film of all time is important. Not only because of the many more films with majority black casts that will get funded for future audiences but because of the perception of self it will give to a new generation of black kids across the diaspora.

Why It’s Important the 2017 Oscar Noms Are More Racially Diverse

87thSome may ask, why does these Academy Awards matter? Well I was reminded of a conversation recently I had in my teens.

Oprah Winfrey had produced “The Wedding” a story from the famous Harlem Renaissance writer, Dorothy West.

The story was about 3 generations of black Americans who spent their summers on Martha’s Vineyard. They were educated and successful.

I remember talking to a white classmate about it and I asked of the Sunday night movies (when that was still a thing on network television) was she going to watch. She said she wasn’t sure. I said how excited I was to see the wedding.

She looked at me and very innocently said “I thought it was interesting, but I didn’t think it was realistic”.

I blinked.

And went on to say something informed about how there are actually successful black people in American life pre-Jim Crow.

She was surprised, very innocently so, I remember almost like yesterday.

It’s that conversation I think of when there is an argument about why it’s so important to show a diversity of life in America on the screen.

For better or worse, film and television has always presented a window to the outside world to many societies, particularly America.

Films showcasing African Americans not living in the hood, with single mamas was few and far in between. And while it’s a part of African American life, it’s not the only story.

When even the new President of the United States, thinks and says the only existence black people live in the US is “hell”. You know the importance of stories of black people, all communities of color being told.

So when the annual nominations of the Oscars debuted Monday, I was thrilled.

Because finally, the Oscars bought themselves a clue. #OscarsSoWhite didn’t need to be dragged out again for the 3rd year in a row on Twitter.

These nominations were racially diverse  the most it has ever been in the history of the Academy Awards.

Black cast led films, “Moonlight”, “Hidden Figures”, and “Fences”, nominated for Best Picture!  1/3 out of 10 nominees for Best Picture were movies highlight the lives and stories of African Americans.

This means three black producers also received nominations for making those movies happen: Denzel Washington, Kimberly Steward, & Pharrell Williams

Also African America Director, Barry Jenkins, was nominated for his direction of “Moonlight”. He will be only the 4th ever African American to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards.

Three black women nominated for Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, Naomie Harris, and Viola Davis.

Viola Davis made history by being the first black actress to be nominated by the Academy THREE times.

Joi Millon is the first black woman to be nominated for best film editing award with Moonlight.

Bradford Young was the first African America ever to be nominated for Best

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Collage of Black Actors in various roles in film. Photograph: via the Guardian

Cinematography for “Arrival”.

Three black documentary filmmakers were nominated for their documentary films: “I am Not Your Negro”, “OJ: Made in America” and “13th” from the celebrated director Ava DuVernay of “Selma” fame.

While there was no woman nominated for “Best Director” even though a movie directed by a woman was nominated for Best Picture (Arrival). This was a much improved year for the Oscar nominations and the changes they instituted last year to diversify the Academy (finally) and make younger actors and creatives member of the Academy, clearly made the difference.

We are wealth, we are middle class, we are poor, we are recent immigrants, we are descendants of slaves, we are woven into every fabric of America.

It’s time stories of black people and other communities of color have their stories told on a large scale on screen and and get the support they deserve.

 

 

 

 

 

The Seal is Broken: Hidden Figures, a movie with black women in the lead roles, still at No.1 in week 2

So Taraji P. Henson earned her right to do the dance on the set of filming her TV show “Empire”.

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“Hidden Figures”, a movie about the black women mathematicians who played a crucial role in getting the first men in the United States into space also starring Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer, opened at no 1.

Not only did it open at No. 1 it beat a film in the juggernaut titan film series, Star Wars.’

And to top that, as of Monday morning this week “Hidden Figures” in its second week in a row in nationwide release, it beat all the other movies at the box office, specifically other Oscar bait vehicles out right now.

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Why is that important? Because for a long time, even with the groundbreaking work in film by many actors of color before Taraji, Octavia and Janelle  like Rita Moreno, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Dorothy Dandridge,  filmmakers have struggled to cast major actors of color in major movie roles with regularity because studio execs in Hollywood said films with actors of color in the lead  can’t open films domestically and/or internationally. Washington Post does a great article here on some of the numbers

In other words, actors of color don’t produce the same financial win for studios that studio execs believe white actors have (unless your Will Smith or Denzel Washington or even Halle Berry who all worked hard for their bankability).

And money matters for studios, as much money goes into making a film, they like to usually see either a break even or a profit back. And yes arguably there are films, that lose money all the time with actors, if the actors/directors have a history of making more money on average with their films for the studio, they can be forgiven a flop.

Unfortunately this ends up putting actors & filmmakers of color between a rock and hard place. If an actor of color gets the big break and stars in ONE major film that was a flop, that’s it, it proves the theory of actors of color not being able to open films with a financial bang domestically and internationally. If a director of color or producer of color  tries to get a great story with a cast of color in the lead made, and it doesn’t do well especially abroad, where Hollywood wants to continue expanding, Hollywood is wary of making those type of films or investing heavily in those directors or producers again. So it puts the onus on the communities of color in film to find a way to build a body of work that proves their bankable as much or more than films with that traditionally have white casts.

Examples of films where this happened: “Selma”,  where Ava DuVernay was the 5th or 6th director picked after shopping the script around for a while for money and a director. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler ” had similar problems, even though Daniels had won praise and awards for films “Precious” and “Monster’s Ball” he still had trouble finding financing for it. Both films were box office successes both domestically and abroad.

Hollywood execs have had these attitudes in spite of a changing audience.  According to the Motion Picture Association of America, people of color movie goers make up 44 percent of the nation’s most avid theatergoers, so it’s time for a change.

So yes: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, owe themselves a huge pat on the back, and a huge bottle of good champagne, because they broke the seal for actors of color and films with actors of color in the main roles.

And yes, go see “Hidden Figures”, it IS a FANTASTIC movie. It had a little bit of something for everyone, especially in these times, romance, comedy, history, and people striving to be better people to make history together.

And it’s a lot about sisterhood.

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What Conservatives Get Wrong About Meryl Streep’s speech 

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Meryl Streep, at the 4th International Rome Film Festival/Vincent Luigi Molino 2009

If you watched the Golden Globes on Sunday, or didn’t, you likely heard about Meryl Streep receiving the Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is given to actors, directors, etc who’ve made great achievements in their career and in the world through their art. Meryl Streep won of the most award nominated actors in history and also one of the most popular greatly deserved her award.  The fact she received the award wasn’t in and of itself significant, it was what she said in her “thank you” speech afterwards.

Meryl Streep used her “thank you” speech time to talk about the election of Donald Trump. She never said his name, but it was clear to everyone, to whom she was referring, especially when she said: “It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege and power and the capacity to fight back.”

Streep also discussed  contribution to film by immigrants and everyday Americans. She discussed the importance of empathy, a free and accountable media, and the privilege of the work the actors have to promote art and the stories of others. It was a well done speech and I think relevant tie in to being an actor and having a large platform.  Streep said: ” An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like.”

Well not surprisingly soon to be President, Donald Trump clapped back at Meryl Streep on twitter calling her “over-rated”, various other conservatives gave the standard response of “who cares” what Hollywood says, at the National Review a conservative magazine, writer Katherine Timpf penned an opinion piece entitled: “The Golden Globes Are Why Donald Trump Is Not Going Anywhere“.

And over at Fox News, host Meghan McCain (yes Senator John McCain’s daughter) reiterated similar sentiment:

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But conservatives are missing somethings by a mile here.  1) They assume that the majority of voting Americans voted for Trump, thereby granting Trump some cover to say the things he has, they didn’t. 2) They also assume they (conservatives and/or Trump supporters) are the only people being in their words “talked down to” or “lectured”.  3) They act like they don’t care what Hollywood thinks, when in reality yknow they do.

While conservatives like McCain and Timpf didn’t support Donald Trump in the Primary (and I believe the general), they claim in spite of what he said, Trump still got elected. True, but let’s be clear conservatives speak in terms as if he was elected by a massive mandate. Trump wasn’t

Yes Trump won the electoral vote and will be sworn in as President on January 20.  However, if you look at the voter break down   Trump’s was elected by only 26% of eligible American voters, 26% of other votes to Hillary Clinton and 46% of eligible voting Americans chose to not vote for either one for various reasons.  That’s 72% of America’s eligible voters who didn’t cast a vote for Donald Trump. So we can at least ascertain most voters didn’t subscribe fully to Trump’s views enough to be motivated to vote for  Donald Trump President. Indeed what made Trump so polarizing as a candidate to many voters (many who considered themselves conservative) where the offensive things he said about Mexicans, women, and yes mocking a person with a disability.

This leads me to my second point, conservatives are complaining about the “lecturing” and saying Americans are tired of it. Well again,  saying that “Americans are tired of it” assumes the majority of Americans voted for Trump. They didn’t. And what makes you think many Americans aren’t tired of hearing their concerns dismissed about Trump  and his administration?

Thousands around the country in major cities took to the streets to protest Trump’s Inauguration, not because he ran as a Republican but of the problematic statements he made during the 2016 Primary and General Election. He said Mexicans were rapists. He said he would consider a Muslim registry and at one point ban Muslims from immigrating to the US.   Trump had 11 women come forward and accuse him of sexual assault. There was a tape of Presidential elect Donald Trump talking on a hot mic about grabbing women by the “pussy”.  He mocked a reporter with a disability.

Trump supporters have tried to dismiss his remarks, or say we shouldn’t take Trump seriously  in some cases Trump supporters just deny it happened like his former campaign manager soon to be White House Counselor, Kellyanne Conway.

These are all attempts by many conservatives,  to yes, gaslight the majority of American citizens. To say condescendingly with a pat on the head, “there is nothing to worry about”.  Well many Americans are tired about that condescension, and flat out denial, especially when we see campaign rhetoric take shape already in proposed policy and Cabinet members.  Trump’s rhetoric and the policies suggested from it affect many Americans lives. And just because a great actress like Meryl Streep with an amazing platform gives words to many Americans frustration and concern in a speech doesn’t mean just because she got a few dollars in the bank her opinion is any less relevant, or that she is not entitled to said opinion ( because Freedom of Speech) which leads me to my final point.

Conservatives need to stop acting like they don’t care what celebrity say about politics, because they clearly do.

Why?

1) The fact the Republican Party in the last 35 years has nominated two candidates for President who were celebrities, one being the GOP adored former movie actor Ronald Reagan, and the other? A TV reality star businessman née Donald Trump. (Yes clearly conservatives all can’t stand celebrities so much you saw fit to nominate two of them to the highest seat in the land). Democrats nominating movie starts or reality show folks for President? Zero

2) Republicans always are happy to have celebrities at GOP conventions and Inaugurations like Democrats. And they should be, celebrities, particularly movie or music celebs have a huge platform and can often add some glitz to otherwise dry events for non political junkies, which is most Americans. In 2001  George W. Bush had Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson perform at his Inauguration at the apex of their musical careers as well as the boy band 98 degrees . Barbra Streisand actually sang at Bush I’s inauguration in the late 80s. Other celebrity actors and musicians who either spoke  and/or performed at the GOP conventions in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 include  but are not certainly limited to: Bo Derek, Bruce Willis, Ben Stein, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ron Silver (West Wing Fame),  Angie Harmon (Law & Order; Rizzoli & Isles), Jon Voight, Gretchen Wilson, John Rich, Kid Rock, Trace Adkins, Janine Turner, Jeff Bridges and who can forget Clinton Eastwood and the chair?

2016 GOP Convention could have and should have boasted many celebrities who support the GOP. Most of the aforementioned folks are a good place to start and there are others like Vince Vaughan, Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger who are all big name respected celebs who are conservatives. Well the best the GOP could do this year for the 2016 convention was Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato Jr. to celebs who saw their hey days in the 1990s and nothing really since.  And the 2017 Inaugural is even more abysmal with nearly nonexistent celebrity attendance either as performers or attendees.

And conservatives say “who cares?” And Trump defiantly says he’ll have “the people” at his inauguration and that’s what’s important. But let’s be real,  you couldn’t even get conservative Hollywood and most musicians to come out to celebrate the Inauguration of Trump. This is looks even stranger when the GOP has Donald Trump as an incoming President who built his brand as a celebrity, guest starring as himself in TV shows, movies, and soaps, including building a reality show around celebrities.  The majority of conservative celebratory silence IS their statement and many conservatives know it hence the much shrugging of shoulders about”Hollywood elites” who don’t support them. Rather than call attention to that fact, it’s much easier to demonize all celebrities.

That’s  fine you can save face by dismissing celebrity attendance at your Inauguration or your Convention. But don’t try and play like you don’t care, because history dictates that’s not entirely the truth.

This is why conservatives get it wrong about Meryl Streep. Not only are they hypocritical in their vigorous attempts to convince us they don’t care about celebrity support, but that they don’t realize, Meryl gave voice to good plurality of Americans (and yes that even includes some conservatives) who agree that a Presidency built on openly othering so many Americans is a long term recipe to eventually legislate yourself into the minority.

 

“Hidden Figures” Shines Light on Black Women Math Genius: Katherine Johnson and Contributions to American Space Race

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Real Life Katherine Johnson pictured right (Credit: NASA) & Taraji P Henson pictured left (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Queue my inner black girl nerd who also loves movies!

“Hidden Figures” is a movie set for release in January 2017 about the (finally getting its DUE) history on the black women “computers” at NASA. Black women who contributed to the space race using their expertise in math and science to help Americans launch into space, orbit the earth and eventually get to the moon.

Taraji P. Henson (of Empire),  Octavia Spencer  (Academy Award Winner from The Help)  and the amazingly musically talented  Janelle Monáe, play the important figures in the story.

Henson plays Katherine Johnson,  the woman at the center of Hidden Figures. Katherine Johnson was a physicist, space scientist, and mathematician who contributed to the United States’ aeronautics and space programs. She was a math genius who calculated the trajectories for Project Mercury (the space program before Apollo)and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.

Her calculations were so reliable, that even once NASA had moved to actual computers, Astronaut John Glenn, who was the among the first American men to go into orbit (and later became a US Senator) insisted they check the computer’s math against Katherine’s because if the computer matched Katherine’s math work, then the computer was right.

The debut of such a movie whose story has long been hidden in the history of NASA is amazing, especially to tell the story of black woman’s genius in a subject where people of color of any race are still few today.

Katherine Johnson was so gifted she skipped several grades starting high school at age 10 and graduated from West Virginia State College at age 18.

Johnson and her colleagues came of age and received their educations at the height of segregation. There only options at the  time with the schooling they had as Johnson has said in an interview was to be a “nurse or a teacher”. Their story is extraordinary for the time considering the limitations placed on black people in the US and particularly black women.

For Johnson’s contributions to America’s efforts to get to space she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award on November 24, 2015, cited as a pioneering example of African American women in STEM.

 

If you can’t wait until January to see more of this story come to life, check out Katherine Johnson’s interview with MAKERS, a site that aims to collect women’s stories in the nation.

http://www.makers.com/katherine-g-johnson

 

Women Lead: Game Of Thrones, Season 6, Ep 4 Recap

As a colleague in politics said to me when he was looking for women to lead an organization of which he was a member and leader: “Just let the women lead, because frankly in my experience, they just often do it better”.

Women leading, forcefully and confidently was CLEARLY the theme of last night’s of Season 6, Episode 4’s Game of Thrones.

Now if you haven’t seen this episode yet, be gone with ya, I’m about to spoil an episode:

Spoiler

As I said last night’s episode had all the ladies of Game of Thrones taking a page out of Beyonce’s book and getting in Formation.

  1. Margery Tyrell and Loras Tyrell

So Margery (Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and wife to King Tommen) and Loras have still been stuck in the jail where sinners go to die or repent for their sins thanks to the Faith Militant order (a group that is most easily explained as what would happen if the Vatican combined with the old school Jesuit Order ).

High Sparrow thinks Margery can convince her brother to repent. Queen Margery, ever the defiant wily woman we all love, thinks differently.

Because she has convinced the High Sparrow of her seeming willingness to repent, she gets to see her brother Loras.

Loras is laid out on the jail cell floor looking miserable and worse than Margery.

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Margery & Loras Tyrell in Jail via Tech Insider

Margery tries to lift his spirits: ” You are the heir to our house!!”  But Loras ain’t trying to be lifted, he’s just depressed and curls up in her arms.

About right then, all the viewers are like “girl, we know you are smart enough to run this house, it’s not like there isn’t precedent!”.

Queue the precedent…..

2)  Grandmother Olenna Tyrell & Cersei Lannister

Everyone’s favorite, Grandmother, Olenna, who has run House Tyrell due to incompetent and/or dead male heirs, and is also grandma to Margery and Loras, sits on the King’s Council along with Cersei’s Uncle, Ser Kevan.

Cersei got a heads up from her son Tommen that Margery may have to do the naked  Walk of Shame at the order of the High Sparrow,  that Cersei had to do last season.

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Grandmother Olenna Tyrell And Ser Kevan being told by Cersei and Jaime, the High Sparrow’s plans for Margery.

While there is no love lost between Cersei and Margery, a combination of Cersin being confined to the Red Keep since her own naked Walk of Shame, and seeing her son so miserable and feckless without Margery has Cersei pretty much done with the Faith Militant.

Cersei tells Olenna of the High Sparrow’s plans for her granddaughter and Olenna is like: “NOPE”.

Jamie Lannister who is with Cersei, starts discussing plans with their Uncle, Ser Kevan also on the King’s Council, about waging war with the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant. Ser Kevan, despite one of his sons being a completely brainwashed servant of the Faith Militant, has a naturally vested interest in seeing the High Sparrow gone, but is hesitant to see people die.

Olenna, ever the practical woman:  “Many will die no matter what we do. Better them than us.”  Cersei agees.

Cersei and Olenna don’t like each other at all either. But put those two on the same team, with their combined determination, and their lack of fear of going to war to get what they want, and it easily persuades the men to go big, or go home.

3) Sansa Stark and Jon Snow.

FINALLY after 5 seasons and 4 episodes into Season 6 a Stark reunion!!

Sansa & Jon
Sansa & Jon, a sight for sore eyes after years apart. Credit: Helen Sloane/HBO

Okay it’s a mini Stark reunion of Sansa Stark with Jon Snow when Sansa finally gets to Castle Black with Brienne of Tarth, but STIL considering how many near misses we had with the other Stark siblings in the last 5 seasons this is glorious even though it’s a tiny reunion. And Sansa and Jon never got along well as children, but clearly all that is forgotten after years of war and separation.

The reunion is even better because even though Jon Snow is tired of fighting,  (especially after experiencing the whole murdered and back from the dead thing) Sansa is ready for blood and to take back what is the Stark family’s: Winterfell.

Her quench for justice grows especially after they get a letter from her  husband, Ramsay Bolton

Ramsay, ever the charming butcher/torturer that he is, writes he’s got baby Stark sibling, Rickon, threatens to have his soldiers rape Sansa repeatedly and kill Rickon, because he’ll go to war with Jon if he doesn’t return Sansa.

CHARMING.

Having Rickon changes things a little for Jon, plus that he doesn’t like Ramsay, but the best moment is Sansa, tired of being yanked around and powerless coming into her own as she has over the last few seasons.

You’re the son of the last true warden of the north. A monster has taken our home and our brother. We have to go back to Winterfell and save them both.”–Sansa Stark

With 2,000 Wildlings and a giant vs Bolton’s 5,000, the match of Snow v. Bolton  has been set, with thanks to Sansa.

4) Yara and Theon Greyjoy

So Prodigal Son redux aka Theon’s return to the Pike Islands is less than a happy reunion for Yara and Theon at first.

Yara,  already grumpy that not only did her father die but she was pushed aside for the throne of the Pike Islands by her father’s brother, is not thrilled to see her own brother.

Two seasons ago, Yara tried to rescue Theon from Ramsay Bolton and Theon thoroughly

Yara & Theon
Yara & Theon reunite. Credit Helen Sloane/HBO

terrified and brainwashed into believing it was another trick that Ramsay was trying to play on him, refused to go. The consequence of  Yara’s sneak attack? She lost a few valuable men. A fact of which she reminds Theon.

Theon ever the contrite and changed man for his suffering at Ramsay’s hands,( and in stark contrast to the arrogant Theon, Yara knew from earlier seasons) says that Ramsay: “broke me into pieces”. Yara says she knows and saw one of those…. pieces, which stuns Theon silent, in shame.

She is still angry and yells at him, suspiciously demanding if he too wants to claim his right to the Pike Island throne. Theon finally says he’s there to be home and to support Yara’s claim to the throne.

Now it’s Yara’s time to be stunned silent.

Ah holla! Girl get your throne

5) Daenerys and the Khals of the Dothraki

We return to Daenerys’ time hanging out with the Dosh Khaleen (aka the Real Housewives of the Dothraki show). There is some general chiding from the women about her being the different wife, who thought she had to go off and run the world, when she should have retired from life like the rest of the Dothraki wives, once Khal Drogo had passed.

There is some general talk amongst the wives, about the brutality and misogyny of the Dothraki husbands, one young girl whose ribs were broken by her husband. Daenerys realizes she was probably lucky with Khal Drogo, all things considered.

Jora and Daario, finally get into Vaes Dothrak to rescue her from Dosh Khaleen exile and she’s like please hold “I got an idea”.

Later that night, the Khals gather to consider whether they are going to let Daenerys live out her days with the Dosh Khaleen. While Daenerys patiently listens to them blather, she finally interrupts them and reminds them of the powerful man Khal Drogo was, and his vision to take over Westeros with her by his side and their heir.

Daenerys concludes by saying:

“You are small men. None of you are fit to lead the Dothraki.”

And then she concludes: “But I am. So I will.”

They laugh, they mock her, they then threaten to do what Dothraki men are used to doing (particularly misogynist men) when a woman has stepped out of line. They threaten to rape her as Khals repeatedly, then to let their bloodriders rape her, and then if there is anything left, let the horses rape her.

CHARMING.

Daenerys responds by smiling. She reaches her hand into the fire lantern in front of them, stunning them silent, as they see she is unburned.

Daenerys FireContinuing to smile, Daenerys pushes the fire lantern in front of their disbelieving faces. As they race to go to the door to get out of the building, it’s been locked (thanks Jorah and Daario).  And they burn to death.

 

Danerys then walks out of the now burning structure, to the awe of the Dothraki women and men, unburnt.

Just like that, Daenerys reasserts her power by symbolically burning down the patriarchy.

Conclusion

To be fair, it remains to be seen whether these women with their newfound power will use it well.

Cersei is a consummate example of women who can use power foolishly ( eg. getting herself thrown into the Faith Militant jail after empowering them against her own enemies).

Daenerys’ reign in her adopted city of Mereen hasn’t been without its hiccups.

However, it is a step in the right direction for Game of Thrones, that the powerful women are reclaiming or claiming what is theirs by right and confidently.

An up and coming singer named Halsey whose song “Castle” was  used for the film “Huntsman” would have been also been a great rousing relevant closing to Episode 4 of Season 6, particularly it’s Chorus

“Castle”by Halsey
Chorus
I’m headed straight for the castle
They wanna make me their queen
And there’s an old man sitting on the throne that’s saying that I probably shouldn’t be so mean
I’m headed straight for the castle
They’ve got the kingdom locked up
And there’s an old man sitting on the throne that’s saying I should probably keep my pretty mouth shut
Straight for the castle

Enjoy the full song: