Friday, October 23, 2009

Steve Phillips ESPN scandal - Oakand live talk at Lake Chalet

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This is the first experimental episode of Zennie62 Live. We're at The Lake Chalet at 4:13 PM. The big news of the day is that the Steve Phillips ESPN Sex Scandal is still a top search on Google Trends because of the letter that his now-ex-girlfriend Brooke Hundley, the 22-year old ESPN Production Assistant, wrote about how they came to date.

In Oakland, locally, the news is the truck accident on Grand Avenue, where a big construction truck ran into a man trying to turn on to Mac Arthur from Grand Avenue.

Precious controversy: Tyler Perry movie tests America's readiness for black story - Oscar Buzz

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Precious is a film I've not yet seen and frankly would only do so with a group of friends. Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire, and directed by Lee Daniels, it concerns the purgatory life of Clareece "Precious" Jones played by Gabourey Sidibe and its description, regardless of where one turns, is wince-producing.

Precious was making a headlong sprint for the Oscars, wining several film festival awards this year, until it hit a major speedbump in the form of a snub at the Gotham Awards that's got bloggers talking. I read Tom O'Neill's great post over at LA Times' Gold Derby Blog on the assumed backlash against Precious and had to chime in.

Harlem-born Precious Jones is the victim of a severe degree of domestic violence treatment primarily from her father and a mother who tells her that she's worthless and throws sharp objects at her. A terrible crucible to grow up in. It's a real story of real people and a real problem called child abuse. It's an African American story, but an American story at the same time.

The film has made the rounds at film festivals with no small measure of success. It won the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize, and took the Toronto Film Festival by storm.

During its film festival travels it became known as "The Oprah Flick" as CNN called it because of her financial investment in the movie, and her presence, along with Perry, on the main credits.

Tom O'Neill considers if there's a backlash against the film because of the star power of Winfrey and Perry, then turns to bloggers for reaction. I personally don't think that's the case, but I do think there's a classic issue with the frank depiction of a segment of black life.

Precious was shockingly snubbed as a nominee in any category at the Gotham Awards and in all categories many believed it would win an award in, including best picture. It's not up for even one award. Not one.

What I see developing is what I hope does not come to pass: a variation of another "Color Purple" moment.

The Color Purple was an outstanding movie produced by Quincy Jones and directed by Steven Spielberg, released in 1985, and based on the book "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and didn't get even one.

You could hear the collective cry of blacks around America, including me. It was an exciting moment to hope to see Hollywood bless a movie about hard issues that are part of African American history. Then, in three hours of painful viewing, the hope was dashed.

Like Precious, that hard issue was abuse and Celle, the woman who was the focus of the story, well played by Whoopi Goldberg, was the "Precious" of the 80s. But some didn't feel the movie lived up to the book. Others were resentful that a white director, Spielberg, was at the helm of a "black" movie, which was stupid then and dumb today. The Color Purple was as equally hard to watch in its day as Precious is today.

Not hard to watch in that one doesn't want to see it, but in the case that The Color Purple really tests you and touches your emotions at a visceral level.

But with that, I don't think Precious will suffer exactly the same fate as The Color Purple did in 1985. But I do think the real problem is in the direct, in-your-face depiction of a black story. In watching just the video clips I've seen, Precious took me back to the South Chicago I grew up in.

I think everyone who grew up in South Chicago knew someone that was a Precious or a group of young women that had suffered abuse in different ways like Precious did. That's what's "hard to watch" for me.

But I think it's even harder for some high-brow, non-black audiences to understand because their reactions predictably fall into three groups: one that thinks it's "too stereotypically black" (which is not the case), one that like it but can't get past the depiction of abusive relationships or the violence, or the third group which just likes it as a great movie work.

As you can see if 33 percent of the non-black film snob audience like Precious, then the chance that it may not get the Oscar nod it deserves is rather high. I agree with Scott Feinberg, who offered the observation that the Academy's membership is older and conservative, and falls into the "high-brow, non-black (mostly) audience.

And, like for The Color Purple, there are black bloggers like Keith Josef Adams over at The Root who say the Precious plays "the blame game", but this time puts it on women, where talk show host Tony Brown called The Color Purple the most racist depiction of black men since "Birth of A Nation".

Some believed it was that kind of chatter that killed The Color Purple's Oscar chances.

The degree to which Precious overcomes those hurdles and takes Oscar gold, let alone secures key award nominations really will be a barometer of how far we've come as a society.

I'm going to roll the dice in favor of Precious as well as the idea that America really has changed.