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Diversity at Sundance Doesn’t Carry Over to Hollywood

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This photo provided by courtesy of the Sundance Institute shows, from left, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, and Shameik Moore, in a scene from the film, "Dope."  The movie, directed by Rick Famuyiwa, is included in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. (AP Photo/Sundance Institute, David Moir)

This photo provided by courtesy of the Sundance Institute shows, from left, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, and Shameik Moore, in a scene from the film, “Dope.” The movie, directed by Rick Famuyiwa, is included in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. (AP Photo/Sundance Institute, David Moir)

SANDY COHEN, AP Entertainment Writer

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — One of the most buzzed-about movies at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is “Dope,” a coming-of-age story about three outcasts in the inner city.

Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa and featuring a diverse cast of actors, the film spawned a bidding war before domestic and international distributions rights were snapped up late Monday.

But when Famuyiwa and his producing partners, including Forest Whitaker and Pharrell Williams, initially shopped the film around to Hollywood studios, no one bit.

“I don’t know if there’s a recognition on the part of those who make these decisions that we’re living in a world that doesn’t look like what’s being reflected on screen,” Famuyiwa said.

Two years ago, a similar bidding battle broke out over another film that premiered at the festival, “Fruitvale Station,” Ryan Coogler’s dramatization of the killing of Oscar Grant by police in Oakland, California. A year before that, “Selma” director Ava DuVernay was named best director at Sundance for her debut feature, “Middle of Nowhere,” about a woman whose husband is sentenced to eight years in prison.

But while films by and about black people fare well at the independent festival, that success rarely translates to the Hollywood mainstream. “Whiplash” won the audience and jury awards at Sundance last year, and now it’s up for a best-picture Oscar. “Fruitvale Station,” however, won the same two prizes at Sundance, but didn’t get any Oscar attention.

Studios will have to start paying attention — not only because of the backlash against the all-white Oscar nominations and snub of “Selma” director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo, but because it’s just good business, Famuyiwa and others said.

“It could be why it’s getting harder and harder to get people into the cinemas and multiplexes,” Famuyiwa said, “because we’re just seeing a world that doesn’t reflect reality.”

Sacha Jenkins, whose documentary about hip-hop fashion, “Fresh Dressed,” premiered at Sundance last week, suggests that Hollywood needs more executives of color, and they need to be granted the same room to fail and succeed as other studio honchos.

“Like, just because I’m black or Latino or whatever, it doesn’t mean I’m the go-to guy for all things black and Latino,” he said. “Folks also need the opportunity to go beyond the box that you expect them to be in.”

The chief executives at the five biggest Hollywood studios are white men.

Even with executives in place who are receptive to more diverse stories and storytellers, Hollywood studios still treat such stories as more the exception than rule, Famuyiwa said.

“They’re stuck in … old ways of thinking that the country and many other industries and businesses have already recognized and moved beyond,” Famuyiwa said. “I think there’s a sense sometimes when studios make these films that they’re doing favors or that it’s sort of a charity case — we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do — but it’s just good business at this point.”

Diverse voices and stories are an inherent part of an independent festival, said Sundance founder Robert Redford.

“We believe in diversity and freedom of expression is very much fundamental to us,” he said. “You see films here that are going to upset other people, but that’s OK. We will do everything in our power to keep (diversity) alive here.”

The Sundance Institute intentionally seeks voices outside the mainstream with unique stories to tell. And its own research confirms that as the stakes go up — bigger budgets, bigger distributors — diversity goes down.

“The pipeline of young talent interested in telling stories is there, but somewhere along the way, they fall out of the business equation, of getting that work made,” said Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute. “So as money comes into the equation, diversity — whether it’s gender or racial and ethnic diversity — seems to step out.”

Multiplex movie going is also an issue, said Shaun Kosta, who released his first film, “The Republic of Two,” about a 20-something cohabitating couple facing the challenges of love, over the summer. As multiplexes replace independent theaters and movie going becomes more of an event, both exhibitors and ticket-buyers are less likely to take chances on unproven stories and storytellers.

“It comes down to proximity and what’s available,” he said.

That’s where cinemas may be short-sighted. Famuyiwa cites some of today’s popular TV shows: “Orange Is the New Black,” ”Empire,” ”How to Get Away With Murder” — all of which feature diverse casts.

“There’s a hunger our there for different types of stories, and I think there’s an audience that’s waiting and primed to accept a vision of America that looks like what they see when they walk out of the door each day,” Famuyiwa said. “We’re a country of many different cultures, and that’s always what has made this country stand out.

“It almost feels like making diverse movies is the most American thing you can do.”

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AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr contributed to this report.

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Entertainment

The Mayflower Chorus Presents Spring Show “Higher Ground”

The Mayflower Choral Society is a nonprofit corporation and the parent organization of the Mayflower Chorus, the performing ensemble of the Mayflower Choral Society which supports the educational and cultural benefits of musical performance to its members, the Marin community, and the general public. 

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The Mayflower Chorus will present their spring show “Higher Ground: A Celebration of Music and the Creative Spirit” on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at 6:00 p.m. The free live-streamed celebration can be accessed by clicking on the Events button at www.mayflowerchorus.org/calendar.

 The show will feature songs from diverse genres — rock, jazz, Broadway, and traditional choral. An original composition by David Manley will be presented. Kat Austin, their scholarship recipient, will perform a solo, and Mayflower choristers Kellie Allen and Melissa Muller will lead a sing-along.

Film footage and special effects was added to the spring show to provide the viewer with a full music video experience. 

Choral Director Robert Hazelrigg will conduct The Mayflower Chorus. Music Director David Manley will lead The Mayflower Band. Choreography and costume design is provided by Show Director Cathy Sarkisian. David and Cathy designed and edited the audio/video footage assisted by Gina Chapman.

The Mayflower Choral Society is a nonprofit corporation and the parent organization of the Mayflower Chorus, the performing ensemble of the Mayflower Choral Society which supports the educational and cultural benefits of musical performance to its members, the Marin community, and the general public. 

The Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons culminate in several professional-quality shows with a diverse mix of traditional, contemporary, and original music. In addition to seasonal shows, the Mayflower Chorus also provides vocal entertainment in a variety of musical styles for private, corporate, and community events.

     For more information on the Mayflower Chorus Society, to schedule their small ensembles and/or the full chorus, or to support their educational and cultural programs, go to www.mayflowerchorus.org.

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REVIEW: A Tale of Two Mothers in Radio Play of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”

Mia Lane

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Cathleen Riddley. Photo courtesy of Aurora Theatre Company.

Michael Asberry. Photo courtesy Stuart Locklear Photography

The Aurora Theater is finishing up a run for radio of the stage adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Bluest Eye.” 

Just past Mother’s Day, the tale of two moms, adapted for the stage by Lydia R. Diamond, we meet Mrs. Breedlove and Mama as actor Cathleen Riddley takes on both personas. Perhaps the actor’s success lies in the potential inherent in each of us to do the same if given certain experiences within fixed structural policies or historic mapping.

What does Black geography look like? 

Mrs. Breedlove sees herself as beautiful until she believes the lie. Her melanin too much for a world without color, she frightens her neighbors, even other Black people who are trying to get along and so she stifles her fire; covers her flame until it is little more than a spark, just enough to throw her legs over the side of the bed, put feet into worn, yet comfortably familiar shoes until the weight of her Blackness settles like an anvil upon her once proud shoulders . . . and so, into this world Pecola is born– a beautiful brown baby girl.

     With her marriage to Cholly (Michael J. Asberry), an orphan rescued for a garbage heap, Mrs. Breedlove was so looking forward to this new, sweet life. Leaving behind loved ones — a community reminder to the newlyweds that they mattered —  the newlyweds head north to the bare northern region Lorrain, Ohio, where that sense of self-worth is absent.

All Pecola (Jasmine Milan Williams) wants is for Mrs. Breedlove, her mom, and Cholly, her dad, to love her. Constantly wishing to disappear from the violence and unhappiness furnishing all the rooms in her life, the child notices how in the absent body– her eyes are always left. Her soul refuses to shut its eyes. Perhaps the windows remain open as a witness. Pecola wants to be gone completely– she does not want to take anything forward into the fairy tale captured in films with blonde, blue-eyed heroines or the pretty “light-skinned” girls at school who get all the attention.

Mama, on the other hand, is the mother of Frieda and Darlene (Sam Jackson), two girls who are Pecola’s friends. After a fire, Pecola stays with the girls’ family while their home is being repaired. Pecola has an opportunity to see and perhaps imagine another version of her story. Frieda and Darlene’s mother and father are so different from her own. The story takes place over a season beginning in Autumn.

Dawn Monique Williams, the director, says the Aurora production is for all the Black girls and women who couldn’t find a space to be free, where beauty and liberation were synonymous. 

    “The Bluest Eye” is an adult story, even if the narrator is a child. There is rape, physical violence, and death. It is what one might call a tragedy, so take care of yourself and listen to loved ones. You will want to talk with others afterward. One can feel the love shared among the cast, director, and creative production team. The sound design (Elton Bradman) is marvelous and you will probably never forget this story. We need to be gentle with each other. We literally do not know who is on the other side of the mask, but we can still hold each other in love and light as we recognize their humanity as we look in their eyes as we pass.

    As I spoke to cast members over a week in a series of radio conversations, my suggestion is to listen to all the perspectives. Each is singularly enlightening. It is pretty amazing to watch the actors slip in and out so seamlessly. between personas. There is also laughter and lightness within this story as in life.

    In its 29th Season, it is to its credit that Aurora Theatre allowed Williams, associate director, to take it on a creative journey unlike any before. We hope such excursions continue. Toni Morrison’s work, “The Bluest Eye” is among the classics in the Western canon.

Apply the Family Discount code: BluestCNC50 for half-price tickets: For tickets visit https://www.auroratheatre.org/thebluesteye or call (510) 843-4822

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Residents Celebrate 510 Day, an Oakland Holiday

The holiday started in 2016, when a group of long-term Oakland residents felt that, in the face of Black and Brown native Oaklanders being displaced through the city’s gentrification, a celebration of their cultures was necessary.

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Neptune Jenkins, Tiny Matthews and Zay Coleman at Oakland's 510 Day celebration today near the Lake Merritt Amphitheater. Photo by Zack Haber on May 10.

Demetrius Coats with his legs over his bike’s handlebars as he rides in the bike caravan around Lake Merritt at Oakland’s 510 Day celebration today.
Photo by Zack Haber on May 10.

Over 40 people gathered around Lake Merritt on Monday to celebrate 510 Day, an Oakland-based holiday that honors Black and Brown cultures of the city and their resilience against displacement each year on May 10.

“For us, it’s a protest and a party at the same time,” Leon Skyes, a Black Oakland native who helps organize 501 Day celebrations, told The Oakland Post. “Rather than being targeted, today we’re being celebrated.”

The holiday started in 2016, when a group of long-term Oakland residents felt that, in the face of Black and Brown native Oaklanders being displaced through the city’s gentrification, a celebration of their cultures was necessary. The 415 Day, a San Francisco holiday where residents gather every April 15th in Dolores Park to celebrate against and protest the removal of native SF families, was 510 Day’s inspiration. Both holidays get their name from their city’s respective telephone area codes.

In the years since the first 510 Day, several incidents at or near Lake Merritt have shown the area as a contested place where long-term Black and Brown residents’ acts of celebrating, music making, barbecuing, or simply existing have been under threat.

In the fall of 2016, a woman who lived near the lake called police on Aaron Davis, an 18-year-old Black Oakland native, to file a noise complaint about him playing his drum set. Soon after, Oaklanders rallied behind him with drums of their own to protest the complaint.

In mid-May of 2018, after a viral video showed white Oakland resident Jennifer Schulte calling police on Black Oakland resident Kenzie Smith for barbecuing near the lake, many Black Oakland residents came out to protest the incident by participating in the “BBQ’n While Black” celebration. Later that year, a white jogger threw a Black Oakland resident’s belongings in the lake. The city began evicting many Black and Brown homeless residents from the area and enforcing no camping rules in 2018 as well.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the lake has become a contested site for informal Black and Brown businesses after residents who live nearby have filed complaints against Lake Merritt vendors selling merchandise without permits.

“Gentrification has created a hostile environment for us where we can’t even just exist without getting the cops called on us,” Needa Bee, who helped start 510 Day and organize its Lake Merritt celebrations, told The Oakland Post.

Bee, also known as The Lumpia Lady, has lived in Oakland for about 30 years and has sold lumpia, a traditional Filipino food, for about 10 years at Lake Merritt. She served free lumpia to those who came to the 510 Day celebration.

The celebration included a bike and car caravan that circled the lake about one and a half times. Bikers, many of whom rode fixed gears and did tricks, lead the way. Demetrius Coleman put his legs up on his bike’s handle bars several times as he rode. 

 At one point, Zay Coleman sat entirely on one side of his bike, only using one pedal to move it as he biked down Grand Avenue with both his legs and his face pointing towards the lake. Cars that had signs attached to them supporting defunding the Oakland Police Department and against gentrification followed along, honked their horns loudly, and blared Oakland musicians like Too $hort. Motorcyclists rode along and revved their engines. Two roller skaters also joined the caravan.

After the caravan, participants gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater to eat food and take photos while some of the bikers continued to do tricks. Neptune Jenkins stood on the frame of his bike while grabbing the front wheel, pushing and pulling it back and forth while continuing to balance. Signs honoring historical Oakland events and famous Oaklanders like basketball player Bill Russell, activists Elaine Brown, Bobby Seale, and Fred Korematsu, musician and dancer Kehlani, and rap groups Hieroglyphics and Digital Underground were lined up in a row at the amphitheater.

Nicole Lee, an Oakland native who helped organize the celebration, described 510 Day as a way to “assert joy at the same time that we’re protesting around Oakland natives and Oakland culture being displaced.” 

The politics of 510 Day were present at the amphitheater, as organizers encouraged participants to sign a petition to be sent to City Council, Mayor Libby Schaaf and county and state leaders to support the #WeStillHere Oakland Platform which outlines nine demands including shelter for all and Oakland’s non-cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While people celebrated at the amphitheater with music and some drank alcohol and smoked cannabis, the celebration stayed calm, the crowd was not densely packed, and people left well before dark. Although in years past 510 Day in person celebrations included larger, dense crowds and live DJs spinning loud music, organizers intentionally kept this year’s in person celebrations low key as a precaution against spreading COVID-19. The organizers hosted a party on the internet later in the evening with local DJs Kleptic, AbelDee and DJ Fuze.

“While this isn’t physically the largest [510 Day celebration], this has been one of the best ones, just by the heart of the people, the will of the people, and the vibe,” Skyes told the 510 Day celebrators at the Lake Merritt amphitheater. He looks forward to hopefully returning next year with a larger in person party/protest.

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