AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


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1/20/15

Dissing DuVernay: The Lessons Of Selma


By Sikivu Hutchinson 

Quote of the Day - John Lithgow - "Time sneaks up on you like a windshield on a bug."

Every child in the U.S. should be required to see Selma for at least two reasons. First, Ava DuVernay’s powerhouse film captures the political complexities and tactical ambiguities that informed civil rights movement organizing; from the behind-the-scenes factionalism among movement organizers to the FBI’s war on activists to the media’s influence on bringing black resistance to Southern terrorism straight into white Middle America’s living rooms. Highlighting the contributions of black women activists and other lesser known unheralded organizers, the film reminds young people that historical change does not spring from the exceptional actions of visionary individuals but from collective action. In this regard, Selma is an important antidote to mainstream portrayals that fixate on Martin Luther King as the sole impetus for the movement.

Second, the lessons of Selma itself are relevant to DuVernay’s “omission” from the Academy Awards nomination for Best Director. True to Frederick Douglass’ assertion that “power concedes nothing without demand” the snub of DuVernay is criminal but of course not unprecedented. Just as sustained organized action brought down Southern apartheid so must sustained organized action be directed at Hollywood’s billion dollar White Boy’s club. Each year, people of color flock to inane comedies and big budget action flicks in record numbers (Latinos have the highest film going rates and the lowest rates of representation in mainstream film). In the few theater chains that deign to operate in , we watch white people play out themes of heroism, romance, swashbuckling, leadership and political intrigue underwritten by multinational corporations which rarely endorse people of color portrayals that don’t hinge on minstrelsy. Given this, why would the Academy, helmed by a cabal of older white men like the Tea Party, give a brilliant fierce black woman like DuVernay its imprimatur for disrupting one of white supremacy’s most sacred preserves? Shaming white Hollywood into “validating” a few token nominees of color every five years does nothing to address its apartheid structure; refusing to support its lily white fantasies at the local multiplex does.

In Selma, DuVernay alludes to the limits of dismantling de jure segregation vis-√†-vis de facto segregation. Toward the end of his life, King confronted economic injustice and the intractability of capitalist exploitation. Moving from “reform to revolution”, his final push for the Poor People’s Campaign underscored the divide between ending Jim Crow voting rights restrictions versus redressing deeply embedded structural race and class inequities. In some respects, DuVernay’s exclusion from the film industry’s white male director canon exemplifies the elusiveness of the latter. While white Hollywood post-Charlie Hebdo recently patted itself on the back at the Golden Globes for supporting free speech and the increase in diverse portrayals of (white) women, conditions for women of color are still in neo-Aunt Jemima territory. Critiquing this civil liberties’ love fest, black feminist writer Britney Cooper slammed white Hollywood’s empty activist rhetoric as it ignored the Black Lives Matter movement...

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Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of Blackfemlens.org, and she is a commentator on Pacifica's KPFK Radio in Los Angeles. Sikivu is a member of The Women Film Critics Circle.

1/16/15

Oscar Noms 2014: WFCC Members Weigh In - Where Are All The Women?

Claudia Puig, Film Critic at USA Today:
We still have a very long way to go in terms of parity between the genders, and, of course, among different cultures and races in Hollywood, just as we do as a country. When I didn't see Ava DuVernay's name among the best director nominees, my heart sank. Her nomination would have gone a long way to inspire young women, and especially young women of color, to pursue filmmaking as a career. I was truly hoping not only to see a woman burst into the all-boys club, but an African-American woman. That would have indicated some progress in a male-dominated industry. When Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win a best director Oscar in 2009 for The Hurt Locker it felt like perhaps Hollywood was stepping up and opening the doors to its inner sanctum. But that was 6 years ago. I hate to think of her as the token female director Oscar winner.

Having said that, I was heartened to see that Selma was among the best picture nominees. Perhaps fellow directors did not think DuVernay was enough of a seasoned veteran to make it into the elite ranks of director nominees? In general, women behind the camera are given short shrift in Hollywood, so it's not very surprising that they account for a small minority of the overall Oscar nominees in categories like writing, directing and editing. Their presence behind the camera in mainstream films is more rare than in the independent film world, so that accounts for why more creative women pursue the indie avenue, or go into television.


Thelma Adams, Film Editor at ZEALnyc: 
First of all, I welcome more voices to the discussion. Only a few years ago, we women bothered by the bias in Hollywood and at the Oscars were howling more or less alone. Now, the status of women in Hollywood, and the imbalance of the Awards has become a common topic. While we can decry the snub of Ava DuVernay as a Best Director nominee, even as her movie Selma got its rightful place among the Best Picture nominees. Another thing that strikes me is the Best Actor and Actress categories. There has been a lot of talk about the weakness in the potential actress nominees and the incredibly competitive actor category. This is totally symptomatic, not of actors being superior but of male actors having better opportunities and more challenging roles.

If the two categories merged into one, the men would dominate. Perhaps Julianne Moore and Marion Cotillard would compete this year but who knows. So, Amy Adams and Jennifer Aniston fell off the nominees but each and every one of the male contenders -- Benedict Cumberbatch, Bradley Cooper, Steve Carell, Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton -- deserve to be feted. So many were left out: Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hardy, David Oyelowo to name just three. This is not a measure of acting talent, male versus female, but a chasm in opportunity. More leading roles for women where they get to carry the narrative will result in a more muscular and competitive Best Actress race.

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