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COMMENTARY: #OscarsBlackAF: Will Packer’s 94th Academy Awards Broadcast Delivers

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The show which has grown from 15 minutes in its first year (1929) to an average of 3 and ½ hours in recent years had some controversy when Will Packer, executive producer of Girls Trip, Think Like a Man and Ride Along, cut some categories from the broadcast in order to shorten the time, which has been blamed for low ratings in previous years. The Florida A&M University (FAMU) graduate stuck to his guns addressing the controversy head on in the opening act and moved through the program effortlessly.
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By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

Über producer Will Packer was tapped to produce the 94th Academy Awards ceremony and he did not disappoint with grand performances, powerful acceptance speeches and an unscripted slap seen around the world. Hosted by comedians Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and renowned actress Regina Hall, the Oscars were infused with African American influence and culture from the presenters to the music of Earth, Wind and Fire, Lupe Fiasco and many more during the transitions and commercial breaks. The show’s musical director was Adam Blackstone and included a super group composed of Blackstone on bass guitar, Robert Glasper on piano, Travis Barker and Sheila E. on drums. The Oscar’s orchestra was led by Baltimore’s Dontae Winslow.

Presenters included Venus and Serena Williams, Halle Bailey, Ruth E. Carter, Rosie Perez, Wesley Snipes, Jason Mamoa, Lupita Nyong’o, Tracee Ellis Ross and Tyler Perry. The ceremony opened with the radiant Williams sisters, who executive produced King Richard, announcing Beyoncé, who performed “Be Alive,” from the King Richard soundtrack, on the tennis courts in Compton, CA where the world champions trained as girls. Reminiscent of the style and look of Tobe Nwigwe’s, “Make It Home” music video, Beyonce sang her heart out surrounded by an all-white clad group of Black performers against a mint green landscape.

The show which has grown from 15 minutes in its first year (1929) to an average of 3 and ½ hours in recent years had some controversy when Packer, executive producer of Girls Trip, Think Like a Man and Ride Along, cut some categories from the broadcast in order to shorten the time, which has been blamed for low ratings in previous years. The Florida A&M University (FAMU) graduate stuck to his guns addressing the controversy head on in the opening act and moved through the program effortlessly.

Ariana DeBose kicked off the ceremony with a Best Supporting Actress win for her performance as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. DeBose thanked Rita Moreno, who originated the role of Anita in 1962’s West Side Story, becoming the first Puerto Rican actress to win a Best Supporting Actress award. DeBose thanked Rita Moreno for opening the doors for other “Anitas like he”r and referred to herself as an openly Queer Afro-Latina, of which she is the first to win an Academy Award. She encouraged young people struggling with their identities to persevere and know that “there is a place for them here.”

Celebrated actor John Leguizamo introduced the song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” from Disney’s Encanto soundtrack. Even though the song has become the highest charted Disney song in the last 28 years, Lin-Manuel Miranda opted to submit “Dos Oruguitas,” for Oscar consideration instead. Miranda, who was scheduled to appear, had to pull out of the broadcast after his wife tested positive for Covid-19. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” was performed by the Encanto cast Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Diane Guerrero (Doom Patrol), reggaeton singer Adassa, Colombian musicians Carolina Gaitán and Mauro Castillo and Grammy award-winning rapper Megan the Stallion. John Leguizano, who actually voices the character of Bruno Madrigal in the film, did not perform, which he joked about during the introduction.

Amir “Questlove” Thompson won for Best Documentary feature for his film Summer of Soul. Thompson, who was accompanied by his mother, was overwhelmed by the win offering that the film covers the Summer of 1969 in Harlem but is relevant to what is happening today.

Comedian Chris Rock introduced the documentary category and made jokes about Denzel Washington’s performance in The Tragedy of MacBeth, at which the two-time Oscar winner laughed and congratulated Jada Pinkett Smith for her role in G.I. Jane 2. Will Smith, who later won the Best Actor award for his performance as Richard Williams in King Richard, approached Rock and slapped him in the face and returned to his seat. American television muted the sound after Smith shouted to Rock to “keep his wife’s name out of your mouth.” Lupita Nyong’o sat stunned at what many thought was a comedic bit but soon realized was a real slap.

Sean “Diddy” Combs tried to calm the situation down following the smack. Upon winning the Best Actor award, Smith wept as he spoke of protecting his family of actors and producers as well as his wife. He spoke about being bullied and forced to take poor treatment due to his celebrity. He apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees but not to Rock. With his win, Smith becomes the fifth Black man to win the Best Actor Oscar in the history of the Academy Awards.

Additional awards were given out earlier. Late last week (March 25), the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences awarded legendary actor Samuel L. Jackson, 73, an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in film and humanitarian efforts. Jackson, a prolific actor who has 197 acting credits, has delivered powerful performances in a host of films including Jungle Fever, Django, A Time to Kill, Eve’s Bayou, The Red Violin and the Star Wars and Marvel Universe franchises. One of Jackson’s most memorable performances was as Jules Winfield in Quentin Tarantino’s classic film Pulp Fiction, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 1995 Academy Awards. In his acceptance speech for the honorary Oscar, Jackson said, “I’m really, really proud to receive this statuette,” and “this thing is going to be cherished.” The Morehouse graduate also thanked “every person who has ever bought a ticket to any movie I was in.”

At the same event, Iconic actor Danny Glover, 74, received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his human rights activism that has spanned the globe during the course of his career. Glover who is best known for his starring roles in The Color Purple, the Lethal Weapon franchise and critically acclaimed performances in The Color Purple, To Sleep With Anger, Places in the Heart, Freedom Song and The Last Black Man in San Francisco has been engaged in civic activism and used his platform to shed light on many causes including ending Apartheid in South Africa. Glover’s activism began in the Haight Asbury neighborhood of his hometown San Francisco, where he was a part of the Black Panther’s Breakfast program and a student activist at San Francisco State University.

In 1988, Glover was appointed Goodwill ambassador to the UN Development Program and an ambassador for the UNICEF division in 2004, respectively. In those capacities, Glover worked with countries in Haiti, Mali, Namibia, Senegal, Jamaica and Columbia on causes including social justice, climate change and HIV/AIDS awareness. In 2005, he combined his love for acting and filmmaking with activism and co-founded Louverture Films in New York City. The production company is dedicated to producing independent films of historical relevance, social purpose, commercial value and artistic integrity. Since its inception, the company has produced nearly 30 films on topics such as Hurricane Katrina, post-conflict resolution in Nepal, and a film about Afghanistan.

The film Coda was the big winner of the night, winning three top categories: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture and Troy Kotsur for Best Supporting Actor.

For a complete list of 2022 Oscar winners, click here.

This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Instagram or Twitter @Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire.

The post COMMENTARY: #OscarsBlackAF: Will Packer’s 94th Academy Awards Broadcast Delivers first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

Nsenga K. Burton Ph.D.

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PRESS ROOM: New AARP Pennsylvania Poll: Black Voters 50+ Say Social Security, Inflation, and Medicare Will Influence 2024 Vote

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “With inflation and the rising costs of living squeezing all Pennsylvania households, Black voters 50+ are clearly looking for leaders with a plan,” said Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP Pennsylvania State Director.  “Candidates would be wise to listen to their opinions and concerns if they want to win in November.”
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AARP Pennsylvania’s first 2024 election survey shows that candidates should pay close attention to Pennsylvanian voters ages 50 and older and highlights the priorities and concerns of Black voters ages 50 and older that will likely influence the outcome of the 2024 elections. Seventy-nine percent of Black voters in Pennsylvania are extremely motivated to vote this year. When asked about the issues that are important as they decide whom to vote for this November, older Black voters cited Social Security (92% say extremely or very important), Medicare (89%), policies to help seniors live independently at home as they age (87%), the cost of prescription drugs (86%) as key issues. Social Security and Medicare emerged as their top priority issue in their vote for Senate this year, with nearly twice as many Black voters 50+ choosing Social Security and Medicare as any of the other dozen issues tested.

“With inflation and the rising costs of living squeezing all Pennsylvania households, Black voters 50+ are looking for leaders with a plan,” said Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP Pennsylvania State Director.  “Candidates would be wise to listen to their opinions and concerns if they want to win in November.” Among Black voters 50+, President Joe Biden (D) leads former President Donald Trump (R) by a large margin: 84% to 8%. In the race for U.S. Senate, Senator Bob Casey (D) leads Dave McCormick 87% to 7%.

Other key takeaways include:

  • 96% of Black voters 50+ say they are more likely to vote for a candidate for the U.S. Senate who advocated making sure workers get the Social Security they paid for through a lifetime of hard work.
  • Four of the five issues measured as cost concerns are important to many Black voters 50+: health care/prescription drugs, utilities, food, and housing; and
  • 58% of Black voters 50+ are worried about their financial situation including 63% of women. Health care/prescription drugs and housing are the biggest cost concerns.
  • 66% of Black voters 50+ and 73% of Black voters 65+ say Social Security is or will be a major source of their income.

AARP commissioned the bipartisan polling team of Fabrizio Ward & Impact Research to conduct a survey. The firms interviewed 1,398 likely Pennsylvania voters, which includes a statewide representative sample of 600 likely voters, with an oversample of 470 likely voters aged 50 and older and an additional oversample of 328 Black likely voters aged 50 and older, between April 24-30, 2024. The interviews were conducted via landline, cellphone, and SMS-to-web. The margin of sampling error for the 600 statewide samples is ±4.0%; for the 800 total sample of voters 50+ is ±3.5%; for the 400 total sample of Black voters 50+ is ±4.9%.

View the full survey results at aarp.org/PApolling.

For more information on how, when, and where to vote in Pennsylvania, visit aarp.org/PAVotes.

The post PRESS ROOM: New AARP Pennsylvania Poll: Black Voters 50+ Say Social Security, Inflation, and Medicare Will Influence 2024 Vote first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Calif. Anti-Sex Trafficking Advocates Discuss Competing Bills, Strategies

OAKLAND POST — “It is time to send a thorough message that if you seek to buy a child for sex, you will pay the highest criminal penalties in this state,” said the Rev. Shane Harris, a San Diego-based activist, former foster youth and founder of the Peoples Association of Justice Advocates, (PAJA), a national civil rights organization and policy think tank. Harris, who was speaking at a rally at the State Capitol earlier this month, was speaking in support of Senate Bill 1414, authored by Sen. Shannon Grove (D-Bakersfield), which calls for people who buy sex from minors to be punished with a felony. The punishment includes a two-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine.
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By Bo Tefu, California Black Media | The Oakland Post

Advocates from across California are challenging state officials and community leaders to support legislation that provides resources and services for survivors and victims of human trafficking, as well as assistance as they transition back into civil society.

Some of those advocates are also calling for more effective state policy to curtail trafficking, a crime that has an outsized impact on Black children, particularly girls.

According to the FBI, a report covering a two-year period found Black children accounted for 57% of all juvenile arrests for prostitution. In addition, 40% of sex trafficking victims were Black and 60% of those victims had been enrolled in the foster care system.

“It is time to hold the perpetrators who take advantage of our children accountable,” said the Rev. Shane Harris, a San Diego-based activist, former foster youth and founder of the Peoples Association of Justice Advocates, (PAJA), a national civil rights organization and policy think tank.

“It is time to send a thorough message that if you seek to buy a child for sex, you will pay the highest criminal penalties in this state,” added Harris who was speaking at a rally at the State Capitol earlier this month. Harris was speaking in support of Senate Bill 1414, authored by Sen. Shannon Grove (D-Bakersfield), which calls for people who buy sex from minors to be punished with a felony. The punishment includes a two-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine.

Harris said the PAJA is the only civil rights organization in the state that supports SB 1414.

Harris urged other Black-led groups who favor anti-trafficking legislation more focused on criminal justice reforms (as opposed to stiffer penalties), to “join the movement.”

Many of those civil rights groups fear that SB 1414 could lead to the incarceration of more Black youth.

Those sentiments were echoed in a panel discussion organized by Black women advocates on April 26 to examine the cause and effects of human trafficking in California’s Black communities. The virtual event was hosted by the Forgotten Children, Inc, a faith-based nonprofit that advocates for survivors and victims of human trafficking through anti-trafficking campaigns and initiatives.

Panelists shared the psychological impact of sexual exploitation on youth and children in the long term.

Author and educator Dr. Stephany Powell shared statistics and information revealing that African American women and girls are the most trafficked nationwide.

Powell, who serves as the senior advisor on law enforcement and policy at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation said that national data indicates that sex trade survivors are disproportionately women of color. She stated that male survivors often go unnoticed because boys rarely report trafficked crimes.

Powell said that decriminalizing prostitution in California could increase human trafficking. She argued that Senate Bill 357, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which was signed into law in 2022 and legalized loitering for prostitution, caused a surge in street-level prostitution.

Panelist and psychologist Dr. Gloria Morrow shared opposing views on decriminalizing prostitution. She said that decriminalizing prostitution could help survivors gain access to state resources and support.

Despite opposing views, Powell and Morrow agree that the Black community needs resources and educational programs to address human trafficking.

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The TINA TURNER Musical Reveals Trials and Triumphs

THE OKLAHOMA EAGLE — The 1993 movie “What’s Love Got to Do with It” portrayed the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner as abusive before their breakup. Ike was also said to victimize Tina, as she shared in a 2018 interview with Oprah Winfrey. But Deon Releford-Lee, the actor who plays Ike in the Broadway musical, says there is more to Ike’s story than is told on screen. In preparing for the part, the Broadway actor searched for the triggers that made Ike who he was known to be.  
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By Kimberly Marsh | The Oklahoma Eagle

According to Tulsans who knew him and the actor who plays him in the musical Tina, The Tina Turner Musical, Ike Turner may have had multiple sides to his personality. However, the Ike Turner the public has seen is a violent man.

The arc of Tina Turner’s career is well-known. Although Ike’s story is lesser known, he had a powerful influence on Tina’s life and career. They had a family together, and he witnessed Tina rise to superstardom.

Naomi Rodgers performing ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?” as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

Naomi Rodgers performing ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?” as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

The 1993 movie, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” portrayed the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner as abusive before their breakup. Ike was also said to victimize Tina, as she shared in a 2018 interview with Oprah Winfrey. But Deon Releford-Lee, the actor who plays Ike in the Broadway musical, says there is more to Ike’s story than is told on screen. In preparing for the part, the Broadway actor searched for the triggers that made Ike who he was known to be.

Ike is part of the musical until the breakup and the start of Tina’s solo career in the second act. Because of the problematic themes of domestic violence, the musical is recommended for ages 14 and older.

Naomi Rodgers performed “Proud Mary” as Tina Turner and the cast of the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Naomi Rodgers performed “Proud Mary” as Tina Turner and the cast of the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Ike Turner 

In an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle, Releford-Lee said playing Ike Turner was a healing experience for him. While “villains” have challenging roles, Releford-Lee said it is liberating in some respects, and he embraces the challenge.

“I have a wealth of knowledge of difficult things to play. My focus is to do as much…research as possible to figure out who this human was, what happened in his path, and what maybe led him to the places to do some of the horrible things he did. Not to excuse their behavior because it’s deplorable, right? We don’t just walk around hating people, throwing them around, forcing them, and manipulating them to do things,” Releford-Lee said. He described Ike’s aggressive behavior, especially with his wife.

Channeling that aggressive hyper-masculine energy takes a toll but also frees Releford-Lee to be softer, more feminine, more free, and more in touch with his emotions off-stage. Having played many villains in the past, he said he learned to become “Okay with my ugliness because that ugliness is in all of us.”

“Ike was a Black man who wrote music and was one of the fathers of Rock ‘n’ Roll but never received the credit,” Releford-Lee said. As Tina took center stage and became the superstar she was, Ike was overlooked.

Zurin Villanueva performed as Tina Turner and Garrett Turner as Ike Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Zurin Villanueva performed as Tina Turner and Garrett Turner as Ike Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

“Those are the things that I focus on to help ground me in the (character) because being rejected for being Black, being talented, being othered, is something that I can connect to.”

Tulsa Connections 

In an article published in June 2023 following Tina’s death, The Oklahoma Eagle Editor Gary Lee reflected on the days when the Ike and Tina Revue came to Tulsa and performed at the Big Ten Ballroom. The Ike and Tina Revue was a Big Ten headliner several times in the 1960s, and they performed together until their 1976 divorce.

Tulsa musician and radio personality Bobby Eaton Jr. knew them both and witnessed much of what was happening around them on the road. Eaton recently held a launch party for his new band, Eaton Out.  During the performance, he recounted working with Ike and Tina Turner as the youngest guy in the band. Eaton said he appreciated Ike as a band leader, a musician/composer, and a businessman who showed him the ropes in the industry. But Eaton acknowledged that the relationship was not easy.

“Tina was there, and a lot of fights and a lot of crazy stuff went on back in those days, but at the same, I couldn’t wait to get away because they had too much drama going on.”

Singer Michelle Love, a/k/a Sweet Randi Love, became an Ikette in 1993 and knew him during the last decade of his life when he revived his career as a frontman. She joined the band despite being familiar with the tumultuous relationship Tina described.

“We were more like a family unit. When it came to work, though, he was a real hard ass. I don’t want to say it like that. But you know what I mean? He was serious when it came to work. As far as that goes, he didn’t play any games because he was like, this is me on stage, and it represents me.

“After the Tina stuff, Ike was self-conscious…about every little thing that he did because he had already gotten kind of a bad rap behind the movie. So, he was a real stickler as far as that goes,” Love said, “But when it was time for everybody to go home and we were calming down, Ike was just a big old teddy bear. Honestly, he was really. I think a lot of what he went through, you know, in the past team as well, had a lot to do with his insecurities. During the Jim Crow days, he went through quite a bit. So, there’s a lot that people don’t know about him. As far as his background story goes, I’m not trying to take away from Tina’s background story because she has a story to tell, but it might explain why he was the way he was.”

Ike was released from prison in 1991 after serving 18 months for drug offenses. Cocaine was his drug of choice, and it flowed freely, in large quantities, around him. Ike’s drug addiction relapse in 2004 led to his drug overdose in 2007.

Love has returned to Tulsa and continues to sing and perform with Sweet Randi Love and The Love Thang band.

About Deon Releford-Lee 

Releford-Lee attended Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, an HBCU. At the university, he studied dance and theater. He began working professionally when he was still not old enough to play certain roles, portraying more mature characters. Although getting attention was difficult, he worked his way from ensemble to lead roles. A move to New York City followed, leading to his current role as Ike.

Deon Releford-Lee plays Ike Turner in the TPAC production TINA: The Tina Turner Musical.

Releford-Lee plays Ike full-time every night but has two understudy actors for this incredibly physical and emotional role.  A self-described Bohemian, Releford-Lee’s personality is very different from Ike’s, and he is shocked when audience members have no idea who he is when the cast goes out to greet them.

Following a night onstage, he does breathwork to unwind and get out of character, which can take about 15 minutes to exit.

“I realized that when I’m feeling anxious, it’s mostly because physically I’m not breathing at all. I’m holding my breath, so I’m just reminding myself to breathe. I’m someone who doesn’t leave the theater right away. I just kind of sit there for a bit, take off my costume, take off my wig, put my jewelry on, put my own clothes back on, and just kind of sit and listen to music, and then move on.”

Releford-Lee said people will learn a little more through Ike’s backstory, how the industry treated him, and why he was the way he was.

“And in the same breath, you’re also seeing him being manipulative and hurtful. And the audience is kind of on his side in one second, and then the very next second, betrayed by him.

“I love the moment where Tina and Ike first meet because you see them laughing, you see them enjoying each other. It’s one of the only times of fun between them. And I think that’s beautiful. I love watching Tina discover herself in the second act.”

Celebrity Attractions describes “Tina-The Tina Turner Musical” as the inspiring journey of a woman who broke barriers and became the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. “Set to the pulse-pounding soundtrack of her most beloved hits, this electrifying sensation will send you soaring to the rafters.” Tina Turner won 12 Grammy Awards and her live shows were seen by millions, with more concert tickets sold than any other solo performer in music history. Featuring her songs, “Tina–The Tina Turner Musical” is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall and directed by the internationally acclaimed Phyllida Lloyd.  

The post The TINA TURNER Musical Reveals Trials and Triumphs first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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