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FILM REVIEW: Alita: Battle Angel

NNPA NEWSWIRE — As a self-contained film, this sci-fi/anime/action/thriller is fascinating but not perfect. Viewed as a set-up for a future franchise, it makes more sense. Studied as the next advancement in 3D anime, it’s groundbreaking. And, a teenage Latina lead is unique and could bring a host of young movie goers into the theater to see what’s up.

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By Dwight Brown, NNPA Newswire Film Critic

Rosa Salazar stars as Alita in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

Rosa Salazar stars as Alita in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

As a self-contained film, this sci-fi/anime/action/thriller is fascinating but not perfect. Viewed as a set-up for a future franchise, it makes more sense. Studied as the next advancement in 3D anime, it’s groundbreaking. And, a teenage Latina lead is unique and could bring a host of young movie goers into the theater to see what’s up.

Even if you didn’t know who the filmmakers were, you’d get a hint based on what you see: The main cyborg creation, Alita (Rosa Salazar), is reminiscent of James Cameron’s Avatar characters. The manic pacing of the film and its rough-around-the-edges, aggressive style and perceptive look at youth plays like a combination of Robert Rodriguez projects (From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids, Sin City). If Cameron and Rodriguez had a lovechild, their offspring would be this teen-friendly movie.

Far into the future, in 2563, after the great apocalypse called “the Fall,” only remnants of civilization remain. One of the surviving homesteads on Earth is Iron City, a gutted metropolis. There’s nothing but ruins, killer robots and those—people and cybernetically-enhanced-humans—who have found ways to survive by repurposing tech. Lurking above the horizon is the ominous looking Sky city Zalem. The unwritten rule is “nobody ever goes up to Zalem,” so transport between the landbound town and the one up high is nearly non-existent. That separation has made Iron City residents covet a trip above.

Co-writers Cameron, Rodriguez and Laeta Kalogridis based their script on the book Gunnm, part of a graphic novel series by Yukito Kishiro. The exterior sets often look like helter-skelter way stations from a Star Wars movie or the darkened streets of New Orleans, with curious looking people filling crowd scenes, hoverboards whizzing by, an incessant din and people running to and fro.

The visuals are intriguing: Caylah Eddleblute and Steve Joyner production design; Jeff B. Adams Jr. art direction; and David Hack set decoration. The digital-FX is progressive. Two high-definition cameras recorded Salazar’s face, giving her eyes more definition than the entire Gollum character from Lord of the Rings. Ninety-nine percent of the footage was shot with state-of-the art 3D-cameras (cinematographer, Bill Pope, The Matrix), when other films are shot and then converted to 3D. So, the cyborgs look vivid, the cityscapes are striking and there’s plenty of eye candy for everyone—especially sci-fi freaks.

People fend for themselves, so it is no surprise when Ido (Christoph Waltz), a cyberphysician, is rummaging through a scrap heap and discovers the torso and head of a young angelic looking cyborg. Back in the lab, after a body is attached to her, she is revived. Ido’s creation, Alita, can’t remember who she was or how she got to the junkyard. Slowly she adapts to life, exhibiting latent fighting skills and killer instincts.

Hanging out with street kids, like Hugo (Keean Johnson) and his crew, she learns more and more about her capabilities. Her actions are noticeable in her community, and not by the right people. Alita is under the gaze of Vector (Mahershala Ali), an evil dude who runs the corrupt forces in the city, and he is controlled by a much higher power—someone on Zalem.

As the story evolves and Alita slowly learns of her past and masters her warrior powers, the audience is taken on an intriguing journey of self-discovery. Fortunately, this ride-along counteracts the film’s imperfections: The post-Armageddon municipality is not the most original setting in the world. The mysterious city hovering overhead will remind audiences of the film District 9, when a stealth spaceship floats over Johannesburg, South Africa. Also, Alita doesn’t exhibit any superpowers viewers haven’t seen before.

The introduction of the ultra-competitive and deadly sports event Motorball—a combination of roller blading, basketball, skate boarding and rugby—as a central focus is a tough sell. The game plays out like chariot racing in Rome’s Colosseum or a frenzied NASCAR event. This sports shtick is consequential to Alita, Hugo and other participants because the winner is promised a trip to Zalem, which is about the only way anyone will ever get there. Initial skepticism regarding this plot strategy will subside and make more sense as the film ends.

This very ambitious production could lose some weight. The constant barrage of minuscule plot points, names, rivalries and heavy exposition can be confusing. Adults may have trouble sorting out all the details. Young people may not care or be intimidated by the minutia. The pacing of the action scenes could keep their attention (2hr 2min runtime), the peculiar mechanics of the cyborgs may enthrall them—and there’s always Alita.

Rosa Salazar (Alita) and Keean Johnson (Hugo) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

The heart of the film is this vulnerable young hybrid amnesiac woman. She falls in love, is haunted by her past and fights the bad guys. It’s a lot on her shoulders, and with Rodriguez’s sensitive feel for kids, the film allows her to embody the challenges and insecurities tweens/teens encounter—especially girls and young women. Alita questions Hugo: “Does it bother you that I’m not completely human?” Hugo: “You’re the most human I’ve ever met.”

Rosa Salazar (Bird Box, Maze Runner: The Death Cure and a voice in the video game Batman: Arkham Origins) uses her voice, facial expressions and movement to make an alluring mark on the character. Her acting magically brings Alita to life. Mahershala Ali as the venomous antagonist underplays his role, making Vector seem all the more deadly. The rest of the supporting cast with Jennifer Connelly as Ido’s ex-wife, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr (Bumblebee) as Hugo’s pal, Idara Victor as Nurse Gerhad along with the aforementioned Waltz and Johnson keep emotions piqued.

Granted, there’s room to improve and grow. Still, Alita: Battle Angel is a solid start to what could be a welcomed series of films. It takes FX to another level and teens and sci-fi fans could gladly jump on a bandwagon that features a new and iconic Latina heroine.

Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com and BlackPressUSA.com.

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Activism

Through Ads and Advocates, Battle Over Calif. Gambling Propositions Heat Up

A statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.” The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

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The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.
The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.

By McKenzie Jackson | California Black Media

Clint Thompson, a Santa Monica resident in his 30s, wouldn’t say he has been inundated with advertisements supporting or denigrating Propositions 26 and 27, but he sees an ad focused on one of the legislations each time he turns on his television.

“I usually watch the news during the day — NBC — and on NBC, Prop 26 or Prop 27 comes on every other commercial break per show,” said Thompson, an actor, who admitted he hasn’t researched the sports gambling propositions. “Both of the props seem to have good things with them. The commercials seem to have reasons why you should say ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’”

Prop 26 would legalize roulette, dice games, and sports betting on Native American tribal lands if approved by voters in the Nov. 8 election. It is backed by over 50 state Native American tribes.

Prop 27, supported by sportsbooks DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Fanatics, PENN Entertainment, and WynnBet, would give those sports betting companies the reins in sports gambling in the Golden State and allow online gambling.

If people like Thompson feel the advertisements from the campaigns for and against the propositions seem to be flooding the television and radio airwaves — and to be ever-present on social media (Watched a YouTube video lately?) — they might be right.

The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November. That has led to ads backing and slamming the two propositions to be front and center in all forms of media Californians consume.

Dinah Bachrach of the Racial Justice Allies of Sonoma County, a group supporting Prop 26, said the proliferation of ads supporting Prop 27 is concerning.

“They are all over the place,” Bachrach said. “Gambling is already a pretty big business, but to be able to do sports gambling online is dangerous because it hurts what tribal casinos have been able to do for their communities in the state.”

According to Bachrach, Prop 26 protects the sovereignty of native tribes. “It’s a really important racial justice issue,” she said. “Indian casinos provide a tremendous amount of financial support for the casino tribes and the non-casino tribes, and they contribute a lot locally and to the state.”

Bachrach’s organization is one of several civil rights or African American organizations that have thrown its support behind Prop 26.

Santa Clarita NAACP spokesperson Nati Braunstein said in an email, “The NAACP supports Prop 26, which would legalize retail sports betting at California tribal casinos only and opposes Prop 27 which would allow online sports betting via mobile sportsbooks.”

Kathy Fairbanks, speaking for the Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, composed of California Indian tribes and tribal organizations, and other partners, said winning the approval of every potential voter, including Black Californians, is their goal.

Yes on 27 – Californians for Solutions to Homelessness, the campaign arm of Prop 27 backers, had not returned California Black Media’s requests for comment for this story as of press time. Prop 27 proponents say in ads and the Yes on 27 website repeats that the initiative would help solve California’s homelessness crisis.

Prop 27 imposes a 10% tax on adjusted gross gaming revenue. Eighty-five percent of the taxes go toward fighting California’s homeless and mental health challenges. Non-gaming tribes get the remaining 15% of tax revenue.

Organizations such as Bay Area Community Services, Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, and individuals including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Bay Area Community Services CEO Jamie Almanza, and Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians Chairman Jose “Moke” Simon are listed as Prop 27 supporters on the Yes on 27 website.

On the campaign’s Facebook page, commenter Brandon Gran wrote under an advertisement photo that voting for Prop 27 was a “no brainer.”

“People are already gambling using offshore accounts,” he typed. “Why not allow CA to get a piece of the pie … money that will (hopefully) go to good use.”

However, a statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.”

The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

“Regionally, majorities in the Inland Empire, Orange/San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area would vote ‘no,’ while likely voters in the Central Valley and Los Angeles are divided,” they wrote. “At least half across most demographic groups would vote ‘no.’ Likely voters age 18 to 44 (52%) and renters (51%) are the only two demographic groups with a slim majority voting ‘yes.’”

The survey, titled “PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government,” did not ask participants about Prop 26. The Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, said in a news release that the PPIC’s research confirmed what Prop 26 supporters have said for some time.

“Despite raising more than $160 million for a deceptive advertising campaign, California voters are clearly not buying what the out-of-state online gambling corporations behind Prop 27 are selling,” the statement read.

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Activism

Why Sarah Syed Is My Choice for AC Transit Board of Directors, Ward 3.

As the AC Transit board president, a challenge I am confronted with is that traditional transit planning practice has ignored the pervasive issues of segregation, displacement, and exclusion from opportunity. Although the impacts of redlining can be felt in almost every aspect of life: from access to high quality education, to job opportunities and even healthy food options, our region doesn’t invest in transit service to repair past harms.  

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Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.
Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.

By Elsa Ortiz, President of AC Transit Board

The challenge of inequitable transportation access is felt by tens of thousands of residents in inner East Oakland and communities of color across the Bay Area.

These challenges are compounded by the legacy of redlining, which systematically denied Black and Brown residents access to homeownership and lending programs. Ultimately, the American dream of homeownership, investment in communities and building generational wealth was blocked.

As the AC Transit board president, a challenge I am confronted with is that traditional transit planning practice has ignored the pervasive issues of segregation, displacement, and exclusion from opportunity. Although the impacts of redlining can be felt in almost every aspect of life: from access to high quality education, to job opportunities and even healthy food options, our region doesn’t invest in transit service to repair past harms.

Last week, aboard an AC Transit bus, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured Oakland as part of his new effort to repair the damage done by large federal transportation projects, like freeways, which divided neighborhoods where people of color were the majority of the population.

Residents of underserved communities are the experts in understanding what they need. Unfortunately, the number of local political leaders who are ready to invest in transportation equity are few and far in between. Therefore, we have important ballot choices on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Sarah Syed, a candidate for AC Transit Board Ward 3, is the leader our region needs to turbocharge equitable cities. As a mixed-race woman, Sarah understands that access to transit is a question of equity. Through her work with the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the Valley Transportation Authority, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as a transportation planner and engineer of 20 years, Syed worked to help underserved communities.

In Los Angeles, where 88% of riders are people of color, Sarah took on a heavily bureaucratic system and planned enhancements to the routes disadvantaged riders were already using, including improving service frequency to every 10 minutes on two lines, new bus shelters at nearly 400 locations, and improvements along six different streets to extend the sidewalk and improve street safety and accessibility to bring better bus service.

Through her work with UC-Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, Syed is helping community-based organizations and local government agencies in eight communities across the state of California so that local equity leadership can drive the agenda of transportation planning to meet the priority concerns of underserved residents

As your next AC Transit Director for Ward 3, Syed will champion policy-based interventions to close equity gaps, equitable hiring and personnel practices.

She will work to build broad, ethnically inclusive coalitions to stand up for bus transit and communicate its value in ways that inspire members of the public and potential political allies.

When we improve bus service, we make our cities better places to live and help address some of America’s deepest problems.

Please join me, State Senator Nancy Skinner, Supervisor Nate Miley, the Alameda County Democratic Party, the three Mayors in Ward 3, and three BART Directors in supporting Sarah Syed for AC Transit Ward 3.

Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.

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Activism

We Will Not Incarcerate Our Way Out of This

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

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As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety.
Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area.

People Are Liberating Public Spaces to Fight the Criminalization of Poverty

By Cat Brooks

How many times have you walked by an unhoused neighbor and told yourself it’s their fault, that they made the wrong life choices?

But the truth is that our unhoused crisis is the result of decades-long policies that criminalize poverty, addiction and mental health disabilities and treat human beings like garbage to be swept away with Friday’s trash while ignoring root causes.

Every city in the U.S. responds to visible poverty with fences, fines, cops, courts, and cages. These shortsighted responses make great photo ops, and let politicians pontificate, but all only accomplish terrorizing the most vulnerable, who move into new neighborhoods and reestablish their right to exist.

No matter how many arrests or evictions, the people will continue to be, and as part of that being — reclaim public spaces.

When San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen called for the erection of fences around the 24th Street Bart Plaza, the community struck back and retook the plaza. @MissionDeFence_SF posted a statement in solidarity with other current public land struggles, including: People’s Park in Berkeley, Parker Elementary in Oakland, Echo Park in Los Angeles and Mystic Garden in Daly City.

These struggles are proof positive that the power lies with the people who will rise up, resist and reclaim the people’s space.

Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area. CHP (the 4th most murderous law enforcement agency in California) descended on the camp for phase one of an armed eviction that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wood Street’s estimated 200-300 residents are being offered little relocation support or resources. Only a fraction has been given shelters or RV spots. Two were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience amidst an outpouring of community support.

Most of the Wood Street folks are Black, several are elders, many extremely vulnerable, and almost all are victims of gentrification and criminalization.

I was there to bear witness as the state demolished a tiny home, towed RVs, and destroyed lives. No effort was made to move their homes and belongings. Mayor Libby Schaaf doesn’t believe the city has any obligation to do so.

In an open letter to Schaaf, Governor Gavin Newsom, and others, residents offered concrete solutions and laid out their needs. They’ve been asking for sanitation services and fire safety for years. They’ve been ignored.

In their letter, they wrote, “The Wood Street community stands strong in our determination to keep our community together. We plan to continue organizing and fighting for long-term and permanent housing solutions.”

For now, they’ll be forced to move into residential areas where NIMBYS will call cops to protect their fragile senses from the brutality of visible poverty. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This story is playing out across California.  Instead of meeting people’s basic needs, the state legislature does things like “CARE Courts” — to force unhoused people into court-ordered treatment that will cost millions and target Black and brown folks. The bill is Governor Newsom’s brainchild and a continuation of criminalizing the unhoused under the guise of “care” which he’s done since his days as mayor of San Francisco.

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

Poverty is a political choice. Oakland’s unhoused population increased 24% since 2019 (thank you Libby), yet the Town spends 10 times as much on police as it does on housing.

As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety. We are less safe when we build walls to keep unhoused neighbors out of public spaces. We are less safe when we respond to mental health crises with a badge and gun.

We are less safe when the treatment plan for substance use problems is a cage.

If seeing unhoused people makes us uncomfortable, then we should invest in housing for all. If public drug use offends us, then we should invest in safe injection facilities (a proven public health intervention that Newsom just vetoed).

If watching someone experience a mental health crisis is distressing, then we should invest in community-driven approaches to support individuals in crisis.

Until we do these things, no matter how much our elected officials try to sanitize the crises we face, the people will keep knocking down fences to liberate public spaces.

Cat Brooks is co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and host of Law & Disorder on KPFA, a new show that exposes the cracks in our system and agitates for resistance.

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