Desperately Seeking Diversity

Movies help us remember that, despite our differences, we are all human.

| Spring 2019

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Photo courtesy Netflix.

It’s done. I’ve cut the cord and am now strictly streaming. I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around the possibilities. As I cruise through some of the apps, I am amazed at the number of shows available! I’m exploring, and I’m looking to change my way of watching, particularly network series, which will necessitate either letting go of some of those shows or figuring out a better schedule for my binge watching.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with streaming movies and television shows, either through free apps or through subscription services. What are your favorites? Pros or cons to any of them? Drop me a line at jteller@ogdenpubs.com or 645 New Hampshire, PO Box 888, Lawrence, KS 66044.

Diversity on Display

The nominations are out, and it appears that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ move to diversify its membership (in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite movement following the 2015 list of nominees) has borne fruit. In a case of good news/bad news, Black Panther is among eight nominees for Best Picture (it garnered a total of seven nominations); unfortunately, there was no love for director Ryan Coogler or for any of the actors. Black Panther is the first superhero movie to break into the Academy’s top race.



Another Best Picture nominee, Roma, has also been nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category. This black-and-white portrayal of the life of a Mexican housekeeper received 10 nominations, and is generally regarded as the front-runner for the top Oscar. Director Alfonso Cuarón is among the five nominees for Best Director.

Green Book is based on the true story of an Italian-American club bouncer who is hired to drive for a well-known African-American pianist on a tour of the Deep South. Set in the early 1960s, the film examines the friendship (which in real life lasted 50 years!) that results as these two very different men begin to share and communicate their very different world experiences. The ending is quite poignant and heart-warming. Both lead actors are up for Oscars: Viggo Mortensen, who portrays bouncer Tony Vallelonga, is in the leading actor category and Mahershala Ali, who portrays pianist Dr. Don Shirley, is up for a supporting role. This is Mortensen’s third nomination, and Ali won in 2017 for his role in Moonlight. By the way, Vallelonga’s son Nick was a writer and producer for the project.

Of the eight Best Picture nominees, I’ve seen four: Black Panther, Green Book, A Star is Born, and Vice. The other nominees also reflect a diversity not usually seen in the Oscars: BlacKKKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, and The Favourite round out the field.

It has been pointed out, though, that this year’s nominations completely ignored Asian-American actors, directors, and films (can we say Crazy Rich Asians? Fun movie!), as well as projects helmed by women directors. So perhaps not as diverse as we had hoped.

We won’t know the results of the 2019 Oscars until after this issue goes to press. Keep your eye on the news or visit the Oscars' website.

What’s the Brouhaha?

One might ask, “What’s all the fuss?” Our societal institutions—business, finance, politics (local, state, and national), entertainment—do not reflect what we see in our everyday lives.

With various social movements, including #OscarsSoWhite, #BlackLivesMatter, and #MeToo, among others, we’re seeing slow and necessary change. The entertainment industry may be the most visible, and we seem to relate more easily to those we see on big and little screens than we do with those running companies or sitting in a statehouse.

Marc Bernardin of Entertainment Weekly, in the magazine’s Oscars issue, wrote: “The viral clips that spread of African-American children looking up at the impeccably retouched faces of Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Angela Basset on the Panther poster—for once faced with a choice of which black character they wanted to be—were the early flowers of cinematic revolution. … Black Panther was the 18th Marvel movie … but it was the first one that carried with it the hopes and dreams of a demographic who’ve never seen themselves on screen like this …”

Whether a film’s plot is complete fiction or based on actual events, or whether it is a documentary of any length, movies are a gateway, providing a glimpse into another person’s life and psyche, pain and sorrow, experiences, and history. Movies help us build a character trait our world needs more of: empathy.

A new documentary from my home state is on my list of must-see movies: Strangers in Town takes a look at Garden City, Kansas, and how migration has brought challenges and joy to the community. Families from Mexico, Southeast Asia, Myanmar, Somalia, and other nations now call Garden City home, and the city has adapted to welcome the new residents. Produced by Lawrence, Kansas, filmmaker Steve Lerner and his collaborators Reuben Aaronson and Jim Jewell, the documentary speaks to everyone.



“At a time when people from different ethnicities, cultures, and religions aren’t necessarily getting along very well, and we’re seeing more and more ethnic and political violence across the country, Garden City serves as an example of how to be different and how to get along,” Lerner says in an article on the Greater Garden City website and written for the Finney County Historical Society, a co-sponsor of the film.

Lerner, also a psychologist, says, “This is not a political film. In a time when there is so much intolerance in our country, it’s a film about people coming together.”

Other Resources

It would be impossible to list all the films that touch on the wide-ranging topics of immigration and racial tension. The internet is full of examples if we just take a look. I found quite a few articles and websites dedicated to the topics, and while I will never be able to watch all of these (like books, it’s a matter of too many films, too little time), I have spotted a few I hope to view in the near future. These are in no particular order, and it is far from a comprehensive compilation:

Please take a moment to read about and to watch one of these films, and remember we have more in common than we have differences.

How have movies changed your world view? Any favorites you’d like to share? Any notes are appreciated; reach out via email or regular mail at jteller@ogdenpubs.com or 645 New Hampshire, PO Box 888, Lawrence, KS 66044.















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