- Created on 27 December 2012
(CNN) -- Can a movie actually convince you to support torture? Can a movie really persuade you that "fracking" -- a process used to drill for natural gas -- is a danger to the environment? Can a movie truly cause you to view certain minority groups in a negative light?
Some scoff at the notion that movies do anything more than entertain. They are wrong. Sure, it's unlikely that one movie alone will change your views on issues of magnitude. But a movie (or TV show) can begin your "education" or "miseducation" on a topic. And for those already agreeing with the film's thesis, it can further entrench your views.
Anyone who doubts the potential influence that movies can have on public opinion need to look no further than two films that are causing an uproar even before they have opened nationwide. They present hot button issues that manage to fire up people from the left and right.
The first, "Zero Dark Thirty," is about the pursuit and killing of Osama bin Laden, which features scenes of torture. The second, "Promised Land," stars Matt Damon and explores how the use of fracking to drill for natural gas can pose health and environmental dangers.
Critics of "Zero Dark Thirty" fear that audiences will accept as true the film's story line that torture was effective in eliciting information to locate bin Laden. They are rightfully concerned that the film will sway some to become more receptive or even supportive of the idea of torturing prisoners.
Opposition to the film escalated last week as three senior U.S. senators -- John McCain, Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein -- sent a letter to the film's distributor, Sony Pictures, characterizing the film's use of torture as "grossly inaccurate and misleading." The senators bluntly informed Sony Pictures that it has "an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film's fictional narrative."
Is this just more liberal whining?
Well, the hostility toward "Promised Land" shows us that it's not just liberals who complain about movie messages. Big business -- namely, the gas industry -- is aggressively objecting to the allegation in "Promised Land" that fracking poses environmental and health risks.
How concerned is the gas industry?
It has set up a rapid response team to counter publicity for the film by using two Washington-based groups that lobby for gas and oil companies: the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Energy in Depth. These groups have scrutinized appearances by the films stars on talk shows, questioned who the financiers of the film are, published parts of the script and mocked the film on social media.
Energy in Depth went as far as to "fact check" a recent appearance by the films co-star and co-writer, John Krasinski, on "Late Night With David Letterman." Within hours of Krasinski's appearance, Energy in Depth posted a blog on its website pointing out what it perceived as factual errors made by Krasinski about fracking.
Regardless of whether "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Promised Land" intended to promote any message, people who watch them will be "educated" in some way on torture and fracking -- even if very subtly.
This is the same reason that minority groups continue to object being represented in a negative light in movies and TV. They understand that accurate representations matter because studies have shown that biases can form based on stereotypes or inaccurate representations. (Being of Italian and Arab descent, I'm acutely aware of this issue as my respective heritages have been represented by a parade of mobsters and terrorists.)
What's Hollywood's role in all of this? The same as it has always been -- to make money.
In fact, there's no doubt that the studios behind these movies are overjoyed at the controversy that has erupted and the resulting free press. Indeed, the response of Sony Pictures to the uproar over "Zero Dark Thirty" tells you about what they really hope we will all do: "We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it."
So go ahead, enjoy these films and ones like them that are based on actual events or current hot issues. But while you are watching them, be aware you might be getting more than the price of ticket. You might also be getting a (mis)education.
- Created on 26 December 2012
Dr. Cornel West, who has long been a vocal critic of the plutocrats and oligarchs controlling the beltway, has never shied away from being politically incorrect, and he didn't start with the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Speaking candidly on the Smiley & West Show, which he co-hosts with his close friend and adviser, Tavis Smiley, West said that though he's glad that celebrities and politicians are finally beginning to call urgent attention to the national issue of gun control, it's a shame that horror had to affect the "vanilla side of town" for it to happen:
"We can't just shed tears for those on the vanilla side of town," West said, "they are precious, but they are no less or more precious than our poor brothers and sisters on Indian reservations (who are killing each other) or be they black or brown or what have you."
"But it's a good thing that we now have a discussion on gun
control. We need one on drone control," he continued, "not a peep, not a mumbling word when black folk get shot. But now, Newtown, Connecticut, vanilla side — low and behold we got a major conversation. That's wonderful. Each life is precious but it just upsets me when we're so deferential."
- Created on 21 December 2012
"Wobble Baby" blared from the speakers, moments after the university formally announced that the long-departed Soul Bowl football classic between Jackson State University and Alcorn State University would be returning to the ASU campus for the first time in more than a decade. Local news cameras rolled as hundreds of Alcorn students, alums and supporters danced in celebration of the news.
Hours later, Dr. Derek Greenfield smiled sheepishly after receiving a call from one of his students. The Director of Alcorn State's Office of Educational Equity and Inclusion and assistant professor of Sociology at Alcorn could only laugh when relaying the news. "They got me. They had to get the white guy doing the "Wobble" on the evening news."
It's a moment that Greenfield, a renowned diversity expert and motivational speaker, has built a career analyzing and working to reverse in underserved communities nationwide. Leading a team of undergraduates and graduate students -- Diversity Champions, as they are known on throughout the ASU community –- Greenfield is positioning Alcorn at the forefront of honest discussion on tolerance and bridge building, all within the context of improving historically black colleges and universities.
"It's who we are and how we operate," Greenfield said. "Diversity and inclusion help make for a richer learning environment, a more empowering community, and a powerful site for preparing student leaders to build bridges and make a better world."
His work has landed him as a sought after presenter in countless seminars and forums as a thought leader on ethnic bridge building in higher education and, earlier this year, on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" series, as the university spokesperson on its hiring of Jay Hopson, the first white head football coach in Alcorn's history and in the history of the historically black Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Greenfield, a former faculty member of the year at historically black Shaw University in Raleigh, NC., says that his experiences have shaped a unique perspective on racial privilege and marginalization.
"Having spent years living and working in diverse communities and particularly at HBCUs, even through my membership in Kappa Alpha Psi, I believe that this context is a perfect fit for my interests, skills, and experiences," Greenfield says of his work at Alcorn State. "With the tremendous love and support that I receive every day, I feel at home here and appreciate our shared commitment to inclusion. We all have so much to learn from one another, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be continually challenged to grow personally and professionally at Alcorn."
Through the work of the Office, Alcorn is leading a new effort of inclusion and diversity among four-year historically black colleges and universities, a novel concept within a culture created to advance education and opportunity in response to Jim Crow and segregated higher education in the south.
Tony Jay Innouvong, a graduate assistant in the Office of Diversity at Alcorn and a member of its Diversity Champions, says the globalized marketplace demands that black colleges embrace diversity, and that the communities served by these institutions have an equitable stake in developing the nation.
"In an increasingly diversified world and globalized market economy, diversity increases the competitiveness of a black college," says Innouvong, a first-generation college graduate and the son of Laotian immigrants. "Not only that, but it is instrumental in encouraging cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competency. Cultivating diversity at historically black colleges thus potentially births individuals with competitive skills to work in the global economy, which can build the value of the education and experience received at a historically black college."
With eyes on an MBA and eventually a PhD in international economic development, Innouvong says that living and learning at an HBCU has challenged much of his thinking about the south and historically black colleges.
"I appreciate this opportunity to become such a passionate advocate for HBCUs and to be inspired by the rich history of the area."
Innovuong and other Diversity Champions lead initiatives on campus to increase awareness of diversity. Their most recent project: A "Bravest Man" pageant, an extension of the group's "No Means Know' campaign" in which male Alcorn students donned women's evening wear to raise awareness of domestic violence and abuse against women.
"I saw firsthand how much it impacted our students, says Ismail Yusuf, a junior intern in Alcorn's Office of Diversity and Inclusion and one of the organizers of the pageant. "Seeing the young men step out of their comfort zones and speak on a sensitive subject like domestic violence and challenge the campus to "keep Alcorn safe" was great for our campus and kept them in tune with our vision to make Alcorn a safe space for everyone."
Yusuf, a Seattle native with Ethiopian-Somali heritage, says that sexual, gender and economic tolerance are vital components in any discussion on diversity, and all work to enhance the HBCU experience by building value of cultures inside and outside of the African Diaspora.
"The unique and enriching experiences that you have at an HBCU cannot be replicated, but increased diversity means that you not only do you see through the eyes of another, but you also give them the opportunity to experience the lessons learned in college through your vantage point," Yusuf said. "To be able to build connections with my peers and give them insight to how I'm the same as them but of a different cultural background and to be received with open arms shows how diversity at HBCUs can thrive and be successful."
"Clearly, the research on HBCUs continues to affirm what we already know – HBCUs, in general, deliver a high-quality academic experience through a close-knit family atmosphere in which students can be loved into their greatness," echoes Greenfield. "Students at HBCUs report greater engagement in campus life, richer involvement with faculty in research, higher rates of pursuing graduate study, and a host of other meaningful outcomes as a result of best practices in education. Therefore, as greater numbers of students from various backgrounds matriculate at HBCUs and encounter the special qualities here, they can become powerful partners in championing the HBCU story."
Greenfield and the Diversity Champions don't just limit their scope to the work they deliver to the Alcorn campus. The office also manages a website dedicated to profiling news and examples of inclusion projects at HBCUs nationwide. HBCYou promotes projects, dialogue and research on diversity at historically black campuses covering LGBT, gender, economic and racial topics. A look at its headlines reveals information on Morehouse College's new LGBT elective course, details about Tennessee State University's new multi-cultural center, and blog entries on the importance of diversity at black colleges.
It's work that Innouvong says is an intentional model for the nation to follow.
"Alcorn is a great example. The work that we do in our office has not only made a difference locally, but it has inspired others nationwide. The effort to increase diversity on our campus goes beyond the office's staff, it's molded and shared by the students, faculty and staff as well," he said. "Alcorn has made a statement. We're here and we're taking strides to not only increase diversity but make Alcorn a truly inclusive campus. In turn, we've gained national attention and hope that it encourages other HBCUs to follow suit."
Yusuf adds that familiar names of successful HBCU alumni help to aid in bulding the example of why diversity is needed at black colleges.
"I think that HBCU's can appeal to more students of diverse backgrounds by offering more appealing programs of study as well as introduce the rich history of HBCU's and how impactful they have been in challenging some of the greatest minds of American history. Names like Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oprah Winfrey are products of HBCU's and give credence to the resilient nature these institutions help to develop."
Hours after the Soul Bowl announcement, the Diversity Champions headed to Jefferson County Upper Elementary, a school located in an area that in 2009 was listed among the five poorest and most obese areas in the nation. Innouvong, Yusuf and Greenfield kept a fourth-grade class laughing, active and attentive to lessons about being different, and the value that difference brings to everyone.
At the end of their presentation, Greenfield bet the class that they could create a rainstorm in the classroom. The skeptical children watched as Greenfield instructed a table of children to snap their fingers, while another table rubbed their palms, while another table patted their laps and a last group of children pounded their desks.
When done in succession, the sound created a simulation of quietly falling raindrops, then sheets of rain, then lightning and thunder. To the children's delight, they lost the bet of creating a Mississippi thunderstorm.
"All of us were doing different things," Greenfield told the class. "All of us had different roles. But working together, we were able to make something most of us thought was impossible to do."
- Created on 24 December 2012
If the group really wanted to make "meaningful contributions" to the conversation about gun control, Keli Goff thinks it would have covered these five points.
(The Root) -- One week after the tragic shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., claimed 26 innocent lives, including those of 20 children, the National Rifle Association held a press conference. The organization, normally known for being one of the most brash and intimidating in all of politics, had been unusually quiet in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Days ago the organization released a statement saying members were "shocked, saddened and heartbroken."
The group also announced plans to unveil "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again" at a press conference. Well, after NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre's shocking remarks at Friday's press conference, many NRA critics, and even supporters, are now probably wishing that the organization had remained quiet.
Instead of taking even an iota of responsibility for the Newtown tragedy, given the group's ongoing efforts to thwart gun-control measures, LaPierre instead spent the press conference calling for armed guards in every American school. According to LaPierre, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
Actually, that's not true, Mr. LaPierre. Even gun owners know that is not true, and some of them spoke up and said so after LaPierre finished.
There are so many things LaPierre could have said that would have truly constituted "meaningful contributions" to the conversation that our country needs to have about gun violence. Unfortunately, he chose not to say any of them. So below is a list of what LaPierre could have and should have said.
1. All gun owners support commonsense control.
One of the most baffling things about the gun-control debate is the failure of both gun-control advocates and gun-rights proponents to admit that every American, including gun owners, supports some form of gun control. Think I'm wrong? Then stop any card-carrying member of the NRA on the street and ask that person if he or she believes that Osama bin Laden should have been allowed to walk into any gun store in America the day after 9/11 and purchase a firearm. No background check. No questions asked. Of course they will all tell you, "Of course not." That's gun control.
But the NRA has done an effective job trying to convince gun owners that gun control equals gun removal from law-abiding citizens. By polluting the conversation about gun violence with such misinformation, the NRA has played a key role in making our country less safe. The press conference was a perfect opportunity to own up to that. Instead, the NRA did what it has been doing for years: blame everyone else.
2. Closing the gun-show loophole will help protect our kids and law-abiding gun owners.
Gun-control laws in America have long been somewhat of a joke because the NRA has helped ensure that they stay that way. There is possibly no greater example than the gun-show loophole. Though gun-rights proponents love to complain about how restrictive current gun laws are, the truth is that they are probably tougher to enforce than many others.
What do I mean by that? Consider this: A child is not allowed to buy alcohol in a liquor store. If the same child attended a wine fair, he or she wouldn't be permitted to buy alcohol there, either. But while those attempting to purchase firearms are subjected to criminal background checks if they try to buy a firearm at a store -- in order to ensure, for instance, that a man whose wife has a restraining order against him for domestic violence doesn't get to purchase a firearm -- that same man can go to a gun show, provide a form of identification (fake or otherwise) and leave with a brand-new gun.
But since the Newtown tragedy, many lawmakers are ready to revisit the gun-show loophole, among then gun-rights supporters. Jerry Patterson, a Texas legislator known for carrying a concealed weapon into the Capitol, admitted that he once sold a rifle at a gun show; however, he said that he is ready to reconsider whether such transactions should remain legal in the wake of Newtown. He is not alone. It's just a shame that the NRA didn't have the courage to speak for Patterson, and other NRA supporters with his common sense, during the press conference.
Read the rest of the story on The Root.
- Created on 20 December 2012
Dear Lil Mama:
Just a few days ago you may have heard that 20 first graders were shot and killed by a young man your age or a little older. There are moms and dads who will never see their little ones alive again. Ever. And that is an absolute tragedy. A child is the greatest gift that can be given and you have one, that I could visibly see. I have no children of my own, but I lost a few in the past. I can somewhat relate to how those parents may be feeling, but you my love have a son, one you can see and hold; a son who you do not seem to treat kindly at all.
I am your neighbor who lives in the middle of the block. I don't think that you have ever seen me, but I have seen you and your little son. He looks to be a little younger than the children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I am writing you this letter because I am concerned for you and your son. Today I looked out onto the street and I first saw you walking ahead of your son who had a backpack that was 2/3 his size and he was crying. I imagine that he was crying because you were not carrying him or holding him.
What alarmed me my love is what you said to this little child. You said, "Hurry yo stupid a... up! Look at you lookin' just like yo sorry a.. daddy! Hurry up damnit!" And you said this while you were on the phone and cars rolled by. Your son at any time could have darted into the street, but fortunately that did not happen.
You are the first example of womanhood that your son will know. All women for the rest of his life will be measured or compared to you. The health of the relationship that you and your son will have can influence the relationships that he will have with other females. At this rate, your son is likely to develop some troubling behaviors towards women that could manifest into violence, mental and physical abuse, sexual aggression, hate for women who look like you and the list can go on potentially.
As your neighbor, elder and a member of our village, I ask you to change your ways. I ask you to think about your son and what energy and information you allow into his young world. His brain will grow the most up until the age of 8 or so. I can imagine that life may have been hard for you and I can assume what your relationship is with the father of your son? You both have to get better and know that I am willing to help because you are a part of my community and I know that sometimes a letter like this or a kind word can help you to turn the corner and break this vicious cycle of violence (in it's many facets).
My life is attached to your life and the life of your son. When I see the both of you, I see myself. I want you to hold your gift tighter because a nation mourns on this day over the loss of so many young ones to senseless violence in Newtown and even here in the Chi. Lil Moma (and I say that in kindness), I want you to BE better and do better for the whole of our community. We together, are only as strong as our weakest link. I pray you well.
Beloved community, when you see something you must say something. Silence strangles our communities and pressure boils to the surface and all that pressure breaks many of us. As human beings we are all connected in this journey called life. As I write this article I hear the Creators asking Cain "Where is your brother Abel." Cain responded, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Genesis 4:9. We have heard too many times about taking care of one another, but yet we seem to be failing as a whole. We are equally as guilty as Cain when we see others and don't care about them. We must do better. We can do better. Peace. Light. Love.