Friday, December 29, 2017

The Honor and Dishonor Roll of 2017

2017 has been an interesting year. A difficult year.

I began 2017 having just gotten back from a trip to the Mississippi coast where I was completely revived and ready to face the world ahead of me. And on the 2nd day of 2017 I lost my job. The next few weeks were probably the most important and joyous days I had had in over a year. I was reeling from the Presidential election, afraid of my place in this small Southern town in Mississippi, and when the rug was swept from under me, something that needed to happen...something that might have been easier accomplished by making a move, I was forced to stand up and start stepping.

I had an incredible gift of being able to search for what I wanted to do. I got new headshots and emailed casting directors, I applied for more assistant jobs (I was working in finance at the time. Why? Good question. Might never be answered.) and I dug into this site and the Oscar race. I had more fun covering the 89th Oscars than I have had in years. Two movies, "La La Land" and "Moonlight" with a couple of outliers, "Manchester By the Sea" and "Hidden Figures" vied for Best Picture. 4 movies I loved. Being mostly unemployed I was able to take my time watching films and digging into all the categories, particularly my beloved Foreign Film category (interviewing the likes of Maren Ade ("Toni Erdmann") and Hannes Holm ("A Man Called Ove"). I tried to do the same with Documentary but my interview with "Life Animated" director Roger Ross Williams was a complete disaster. I won't be interviewing documentary directors this year, that's for sure. All the while I was enjoying myself something very disturbing began to happen in the Best Picture race.

Dishonor Roll, #1 
Best Picture backlash

What should have been a celebration of 2 incredible movies, one about dreaming big in Hollywood and the sacrifices one has to make to achieve those dreams, the second a poetic masterpiece about growing up black and gay in a world of drugs, shame and masks became something completely disheartening in the world of Oscarwatching. I think we were hurting from the election. The travel ban was happening. Black men were (and still are) being murdered by white policeman with absolutely no recourse. And for some reason, "La La Land" became the outlet for the frustration the world around us was causing.

I said all along that "Moonlight" was a masterpiece, but I named "La La Land" the best picture of the year. Looking back I wonder if putting "Moonlight" 2nd was my own response to the backlash that "La La Land" was somehow racist because a white man happened to like old school jazz, was the lead character in a film, and a black man, a supporting character was successful taking jazz to new heights. Suddenly this film about two people falling in love, chasing their dreams and sacrificing their relationship to achieve those dreams became a film about a white visionary v/s a black sell out. Complete nonsense. Even typing that sentence next to what was actually happening in the world infuriates and sickens me. And I was afraid to say anything.

Honor Roll, #1 
Oprah Winfrey

Although I still miss the daily dose of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Oprah hasn't gone anywhere.  From her incredible "21 Day Meditation" series with Deepak Chopra to her inspiring Super Soul podcast, her voice is still out there, thank goodness. There were two meditations this year (maybe 3, now that I think about it) and they kept me sane. Particularly this last one, which revealed to me the idea of time sickness, "Making Every Moment Matter." And with interviews with Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert and Shawn Achor to name a few, the Super Soul Sunday podcast has become a positive alternative to all of the negativity in the world.

In one of the episodes Oprah talks about the fact that we are afraid to have a conversation about race. And that fear is what is holding us back from growth. I was so afraid to say that I thought the backlash to "La La Land" was more white liberalism gone bad than racism. Living in Mississippi, I have been afraid to reveal my thoughts on the confederate flag (It's terrible, by the way!!). Heck, I'm afraid to say almost anything I think these days because I've surrounded myself with people who are either so not like me or feel the need to squash my voice to the point that I've almost lost it. I commend people like Sasha Stone, one of my mentors who says exactly what she means. I want that freedom. And I'm hoping I can continue to reach for it.

Honor Roll, #2 
Get Out

Although movies are ahead, many, many movies over the next 2 months (I can't wait to talk about "Call Me By Your Name, BPM, and "God's Own Country" in one piece of writing!!), I feel it is appropriate to mention "Get Out." Thank goodness for "Get Out." I wonder if this film had come out a few months earlier we might not have needed to trash "La La Land" in order to enjoy "Moonlight." What's fascinating to me, is that "Get Out," being many things, including a brilliant piece of filmmaking, is also a tear into white liberalism. It is a perfect film. And a film we absolutely needed. It's been a very long time since a film won Best Picture having been released in the last weeks of the year, but studios keep doing it. Let's see what happens in March, but if the Academy voted today, I couldn't see any other film winning Best Picture.

Honor and Dishonor Roll, #3/#2 

This year saw some remarkable podcasts. And some misses as well. Some within the same podcast! Let's take "Someone Knows Something" first. This is a podcast from the CBC Radio in Canada. It's hosted by director David Ridgen, an award-winning filmmaker and writer who specializes in hard-hitting, character-driven stories, with a passion for investigative work and narrative experimentation. This year began in the middle of the 2nd season. In Season 2 of SKS, David Ridgen joins Odette Fisher on her search for her missing daughter, Sheryl Sheppard. When Odette returned from holidays in January 1998, she expected Sheryl to pick her up at the train station. She never showed up. And Sheryl’s new fiance said he hadn’t seen her for days. It's an absolute devastating journey of nonfiction, however, the 3rd season, which I was so looking forward to, partly because it found David in Mississippi exploring the mystery behind the 1964 murders of Charles Moore and Henry Dee, was a storytelling misfire. I listened to the first episode twice and into the 2nd episode gave up. David has 3 seasons in the works and it shows.

"Strangers" a once great podcast by Lea Thau took an interesting turn last year with several episodes about Lea's love life, titled "Love Hurts." I wasn't really on board with this, especially considering the show was, for me at best when it focused on Lea meeting and interviewing strangers, but I hung on. Then came the election. Lea raged in a couple of episodes while interviewing Trump supporters, and I hated it. Her first subject was the best, but Lea came across shrill and unhinged. Then came the Strangers, "Hate No More" FB page. Not. Good. I joined and quickly left. And then Lea made a "mistake" discussing the transgender community which led to a wild, unnecessary apology, full, apologetic episodes and me unsubscribing. For the next season, Lea has chosen to produce the show on her own. I think this is the opposite of what Strangers needs. If anything it needs a stronger producer, but that's just me. Good luck. I won't be listening.

When the fantastic "Embedded," hosted by Kelly McEvers decided to take a look at Donald Trump, shortly after Lea's episodes, I almost didn't listen. But what came was a fantastic, original, funny and fascinating look at the insanity of Trump and the outcome of the election. That's how it's done. Looking forward to another season.

And then there's "S-Town," from the creators of "Serial." That one I almost gave up on, party because I wanted another "Serial," but held on. VERY glad that I did. And finally, there is was "Dirty John." In "Dirty John," Debra Newell, an interior designer in Southern California, meets John Meehan on an over-50 dating site. His profile looks exciting: Anesthesiologist, divorced, Christian. She falls in love fast. But her children dislike him and warn her that his stories don’t add up. A psychologist advises Debra to set firmer boundaries with her kids, saying she has a right to be happy. It's a true story about seduction, deception, forgiveness, denial, and ultimately, survival. From Wondery and the L.A. Times. Reported and hosted by Christopher Goffard.

Feel free to check out all these podcasts and see what you think!

Honor Roll #4

The lid blew off Hollywood with both the New York Times piece exposing Harvey Weinstein by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and the New Yorker expose by Ronan Farrow. Followed by additional reporting at the Times by Twohey and Kantor with Susan Dominus, Jim Rutenberg and Steve Eder along with more reports by Ronan Farrow. Women and men came forward revealing sexual harassment, rape, and assault in the #metoo movement. More incredible reporting was done and many careers have been halted (although, don't expect all of them to be gone forever. That's not how things work) For me this implies many things but one of them is the importance of investigative journalism and journalistic integrity. We all know that local news is mostly dead and our nation's biggest newspapers are struggling. But if anything has opened my eyes to the importance of both, it has been this. I'm quite grateful to live in what I call a Mississippi bubble town, Oxford, MS. A town that I believe has a strong journalistic voice. How else can we hold people accountable for their actions? This is not just happening in Hollywood. If you are reading this, it is happening where you 

Dishonor Roll #3 
After #metoo

I fear that 2018 might see another backlash. One much more unsettling that one about the Academy Awards Best Picture race.  There is always a pendulum swing. Don't be shocked when Louis C.K. returns to television. Or when Ridley Scott releases the Kevin Spacey version of "All the Money in the World." Men like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck don't seem to know when to shut their mouths and eventually that will become the norm again, I'm afraid. Rose McGowan will be vilified and women (Meryl Streep for instance) will eventually be blamed for what men have done. 

Honor Roll #5

Or not. Because I believe that if we have anything going into 2018, we have hope. Artists and journalists have a voice and they must use them. We must use them. I'm currently working at a fantastic job that has somewhat freed my time and my mind. I will work on my first screenplay as soon as the Oscars are over, and while I was able to direct a 10 minute play this year, I hope to direct my first film and my first full length play in years. I have hope for 2018. You should too.

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